We’d been living on the water aboard Ingenium, our 40’ sailboat, for a little over two months. It was finally time to go further than Bahia San Carlos, off the northeastern coast of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, further than the couple hours’ sailing we’d managed so far just outside the bay.
New and rapidly becoming dear friends, Tom and Lynn Dee, invited us to join them in spending a few days about 15 NM (nautical miles) north of San Carlos, Sonora, in a beautiful bay called Bahia San Pedro. (Babysitters for newbie sailors? Awesome.) And off we went. There’s the little story of motor mishaps, yes, more than one, the day before we were to depart for San Pedro, but that’s another blog.
- The Trip There
We provisioned up – cruiser parlance for grocery shopping – and sailed 4-5 hours in 10-12 knot winds and 4-5 foot seas. If you’re not familiar with sailing, 4-5 foot swells coming about 3-5 seconds apart makes for a pretty bumpy, or lumpy, ride.
We had enough banging and bashing that poor little tender-tummy Moko, our all-black boy cat, had himself a big howl and a little puke partway through the trip. His calico sister Princess seems to deal with rocking and rolling boat action much better: she perches on the cabin table, right in the middle of the boat where the motion is least unpleasant, and sleeps.
- Wind, Sails and Sea
As we got closer to the bay, we realized we had a wee challenge: the sails had to come down and it was still windy, the seas still rough. But I bravely took the helm and steered into the wind, just as I was told. John, as he always does, took care of going to the bow to handle the sails.
Apparently, it doesn’t always happen that the wind and the seas come from the same direction (often, but not always, and I’ve discovered there’s disagreement about whether wind or ocean current and the moon ultimately cause waves), but that day, at that moment, they did. Which means that by turning Ingenium into the wind so that it would be easiest for John to drop the sails, I was also turning into the five-foot swells. Which meant that John got to enjoy the roller coaster ride up front, with the bow plunging into the waves, drenching his legs from calf down, while lowering the sails. (Neatly folding the sails obviously came later!)
The wind and the sea both calmed down completely as we arrived in the Bahia San Pedro, and they stayed that way until the day we left.
- Bahia San Pedro
It is a beautiful and remote bay that we anchored in for three days. No internet, no phone service, no roads or houses, no noise. There were only three other boats and two of those belonged to our buddies. They shared fresh yellowtail they’d caught in the rocky outcrops edging the bay (we don’t yet have any fishing gear) and otherwise I did some work, we relaxed, and soaked up the sunshine, beautiful vistas, piercing quiet, and dazzling stars. THIS is why we’re doing this! Incredible.
We saw whales, whales, whales. On two different days. Once when we were exploring, in our 9′ inflatable dinghy, how far we needed to go out to sea before we got an internet signal (far). We found whales before we found a connection, and they were coming toward us in our tiny little boat so we a) took pictures and b) skedaddled to avoid getting flipped!
The following day, we were out for a sail and another search for a signal. We didn’t actually do much sailing because there was very little wind, so we dropped our sails and drifted on the flat blue glass-like sea. We swam beside the boat, and saw more whales. We heard them first: this loud but distant whoosh of air as they breach to grab another lung-full and dive back beneath the surface. When we turned toward the sound quickly enough, we caught sight of the spray and that told us generally where to watch for their next breach. We must have seen 8 different whales within about an hour, travelling in twos. We were awestruck, feeling very vulnerable and small on our tiny little 40’ sailboat as these immense and impressive mammals made their way past.
- Cat Swims
Princess joined Moko in the ranks of Wagner-Stafford cats who swim. Her experience was rather more dramatic than Moko’s, if only because we were witness to her inaugural dip. The details of both cat-swims will be the feature of another blog but suffice it to say John and I were easily as traumatized as Princess was! Moko, the veteran swimmer of the siblings, was very cute, sticking by her side as soon as she was out of the water, helping her lick herself back to dry.
- The Return Sail
Our sail back to Bahia San Carlos was really fun. We were doing 8-9 knots (that’s pretty fast in a 40’ sailboat!) in a following wind with following seas. John was displaying his sailing prowess: trimming the jib, adjusting the main, navigating the waves “just so” to minimize the pounding and still keep us on course. Ingenium endured a few pretty hard jibes. (A jibe involves the mainsail and boom slamming to the opposite side as the boat changes course, as opposed to a tack where it’s the jib switching between starboard and port.) These jibes were loud, fast, and to my inexperienced eyes and ears seemed violent and painful. On what was to be our last jibe before returning to the entrance of Bahia San Carlos, John suggested I try to soften the impact of the boom and “help” it from port to starboard along the traveler. And that’s when I made my big rookie mistake.
- The Shoulder
Instead of standing up, turning around to face the mainsheet (aka the ropes that run between the traveler and the boom and allow the captain to trim the mainsail) I remained seated, facing the bow. I reached up and behind me with my left hand, grabbing the mainsheet just in time for the big, fast and powerful jibe to port. My thumb caught in the sheet, my upper arm got slammed in between the 6-line-thick mainsheet track and the bimini’s 1” steel frame (a bimini is an open-front canvass top for the cockpit, supported by stainless steel tubing, that provides shade and weather protection). The velocity pulled me right out of my seat so that my body was half out of the cockpit and half lying awkwardly across the traveler. I couldn’t move my arm myself… in the wind and waves and still at the helm, John had to untangle my hand. I actually thought I’d broken my arm, and I’m thankful I didn’t.
However, that put a wee damper on our plans to drop sails. At least in my mind. But John, ever-calm, ever-competent, knew exactly what to do. We sailed past the entrance to Bahia San Carlos where we could use the famous Teta-Kawi double-peaked mountain and the cliffs marking the western entrance to bay to shield us from the wind. With one hand, I gingerly steered us into the wind, and John got both the jib and mainsail down. John took over the helm and I held my useless left arm all the way back into the Bay.
A visit to the good Dr. Canale the following day proved that I hadn’t broken my arm, hadn’t dislocated my shoulder, but I did some damage to the muscles and tissues around the rotator cuff. 12 weeks of being careful and daily rehabilitation exercises and I should be good as new!
- The Car
It was just a couple days after our return from Bahia San Pedro that we discovered our car had been stolen… but that, too, is a story for another day…