Monday, November 19, 2007

FUBAR: Heading for Puerto los Cabos

Our man James Kirby makes like Papa Hemingway in the Sea of Cortez.

Date: November 16, 2007
Time: 00:05
Position: Approx. 40 miles north of Cabo San Lucas
Course: 129 Degrees (True)
Speed: 9.32 Knots
Visibility: Approx. 10 Miles

Before going on watch I stop off in Pacific Escort’s engine room to visit my friends—Grendel and Beowulf, which is what I affectionately call the two beasts that propel the boat—twin Lugger 1066 marine diesels. I also check on our tireless 20-kilowatt Northern Lights diesel generator that runs 24 hours a day, supplying all the electrical power we consume. The diesels are all just fine, so I escape the 115-degree heat and deafening racket of the engine room (nobody enters here without sound-deadening headphones on) and go up to the pilothouse. I’m greeted by a blaze of lights from some boat about 500 yards in front of us! “What the hell is that!” I ask Eric Leishman, whose watch is just ending. He tells me it’s a commercial sport fishing boat out of San Diego called Red Rooster. As many as 20 to 25 sport fishermen pay thousands of dollars for the privilage of cramming into Red Rooster and fishing day and night off this coast. (gee, I really want to be on that boat). Red Rooster has AIS (Automatic Identification System), so Eric has known its course, speed and distance for a long time, and our radar indicates its closest point of approach, but the vessel has failed to answer our hail on VHF channel 16—too busy to talk, I guess. So Eric had to throttle back Pacific Escort and change course to avoid them. Red Rooster and their blaze of spotlights, finally fades into the distance, as they head for some fishing bank about ten miles off our port side.

When my night vision finally returns, I go out on deck to check out the stars. The familiar southern constellations are much higher in the sky now and the constellations of the northern sky, such as the big dipper are on the horizon. Back in the pilothouse, I imagine this is what it would be like on my own personal starship—moving through the starry sky, surrounded by the dim, red glow of instruments. Completely self-contained.

12:40— On the radar display, and spread out for miles around us, I can see the navigation lights of the rest of the fleet. The cruise ship Carnival Princess calls and politely warns us that some of the boats are directly in her path. She is about five miles off our port, and no threat to us, but some of the boats east of us will have to move out her way. The officer on watch apologizes, but says that there is a shallow bank to her west and the coast is to her east, so she must maintain her present course. Moving at 23 knots, it won’t take long for her to overtake them. We wonder if the guys on Brown Eyed Girl got the message. At 30 feet, she is the smallest boat in our fleet and does not show up on our radar, but Larry Lu Core and his experienced crew (all retired fire fighters) are on top of things. They make contact with Carnival Princess and arrange to avoid her. I watch Carnival Princess speed by in the darkness. Even at five miles, she is enormous! Lit up from one end to the other, and looking like an office building on its side.

06:00—The Cape!

“The great rocks on the end of the Peninsula are almost literary. They are a fitting Land’s End, standing against the sea, the end of a thousand miles of peninsula and mountain.”
—John Steinbeck

I’m awakened by a distinct change in the motion of the boat. Up till now, Pacific Escort has been making an easy trip south—the wind and sea at our back. But this wild pitching, corkscrewing motion tells me we have turned east toward Cabo San Lucas—the southern-most point on our voyage. In the pilothouse, a beautiful sunrise and the twin spires north of Cabo Falso greet me. The wind is blowing 20 knots across the deck and short, steep waves hit our port side. I go down to the galley and pour myself a cup of coffee, but while trying to negotiate the stairs back up to the pilothouse, I manage to spill a good deal of it on me. Ouch, that woke me up!

07:15—“Hook up!” This is the great sport fisherman’s paradise, Eric and James have four trolling lines out and it’s not long before they hook a fish. Jim chops the throttles and we all race back to see what’s on the line. It’s a yellow fin tuna—the first of four we will catch over the next 15 minutes. We are hoping to get a Marlin, as well.

As soon as we round the cape the wind drops and the sea goes flat. Looking toward the beach we see continuous development: Mile after mile of condos, multi-million dollar homes, hotels, divided highways and golf courses. After the wild desolation of Baja Sur, the effect is stunning—we could easily be cruising along any beach in Southern California. The big cruise ship that passed us last night is already tied up in the harbor and a fleet of fishing boats full of enthusiastic anglers is headed out from the harbor.

09:15—I count 46 fishing boats around us—everything from little pongas to the big sport fishing “battle wagons”. “Must be a tournament,” Jim remarks. He tells me that the next fish we hook is mine. Little do they know that will spell the end of their luck. When I fished with my family as a kid, I never caught anything, partly because there is no way to make an eight-year-old boy sit still for that long. However, it’s not very long before we get another strike and I grab the rod. I end up reeling in another yellow fin. Which will be part of tonight’s dinner.

10:00—We are about ten miles past the cape now, with our destination in sight—the new Marina Puerto Los Cabos at San Jose. We pass the breakwater and enter the harbor at 10:31. The marina is so new that concrete is still being poured and there is new construction everywhere. When it’s finished, it will be a great stop-off for boaters who want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Cabo San Lucas. Bruce Kessler is already at the dock, using a hand-held VHF radio to help direct boats to their appropriate slip. Quite a few of the fleet are over 50 feet in length and there aren’t enough big slips for them, so they have to med moor. Mediterranean mooring is common in Europe, but not in the U.S. To do it a boat drops it anchor, backs up and ties its stern to the dock. It sounds easy, but with a 10-knot wind from the side, tight quarters, a busy harbor and a big boat with lots of windage, it can be a real challenge. Several boats in the fleet have to make numerous attempts before they make it (no doubt we are the biggest entertainment this little harbor has seen in a while). With its experienced crew and powerful bow and stern thrusters, Pacific Escort has no trouble.

The first order of business for us, and the other boats in the fleet, is washing the boat and sprucing up the interior. Once everything is squared away and shipshape (I just love using those nautical terms), we all head off to a local hotel for fish tacos and cervesas. Unfortunately, it’s our last meal together. Jay and Jeff Leishman have to return home, to work, families and the normal world. They have been such good company. After lunch, they pack their bags and are off to the airport. With only five aboard, the boat is emptier now, but it never seemed crowded before (the sign of a happy crew) and they will be missed.

Later in the evening, there's a party for the fleet at a newly opened restaurant adjacent to the marina. It’s a time to get caught up with everyone, share gossip and find out how their vessels faired on the way south. Most of the boats in the fleet are not heavily ballasted passagemakers, like our Nordhavn 55; just motor yachts or sport fishing boats, but there have been no mishaps, injuries or mechanical problems to speak of. Attribute it to good preparation on the part of the FUBAR staff, and the skippers, fair weather and a bit of luck. We return to Pacific Escort—quiet now, except for the hum of its generator. Tomorrow, we get to sleep in and then explore the nearby town of San Jose.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort in Marina Puerto los Cabos

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