Darkest Before the Dawn

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.

Heading down Baja was a new type of journey for me. There were moments of adventure, frustration, bliss and sorrow. The night passages were some of my favorite and yet some of hardest moments of the trip for me. My watch is normally 2-6 am, the darkest hours leading into the light of a new day. The nights where the wind was steady and the sky was clear, it felt like being in a dream. The wake around the boat would glow from the phosphorescence and an occasional dolphin would grace me with its company. I’d listen to podcasts and music, watch movies and read, but, more often than not, I’d sit with my face in the wind and my eyes on the sky. I’ve never seen more shooting stars than I did on our way down the remote Baja coast. Those nights were the ones I wish I could capture and share.

Most nights though, the winds were heavy and seas steep on our beam. It was like living in an endless earthquake. Large swells from the west, mixing with the wind chop from the east, had us feeling like we were living in a washing machine.

Everyone had told us cruising down Baja would be a breeze, “Just set your sails and you’re downwind cruising!”. Well, we couldn’t have had a more different experience. With La Nina conditions, we had cold weather, large ocean swells and heavy winds that always seemed to come from the wrong direction, or no wind at all and were forced to motor.

Mornings with him make me so happy.

So, when we left Turtle Bay just as sun was setting, I had prepared myself for another uncomfortable night. We headed offshore for our 240 mile sail south to Bahia Santa Maria with about 15 knots of wind, but as soon as it got dark the winds completely died. We ended up having to motor most of the night, watching lightning storms off in the distance. The second night of the passage we decided to head in and anchor in San Juanito since we had less than favorable conditions all day and were too exhausted to deal with the +25 knot winds and steep swells offshore. We pulled into the large bay around 1 am to find the anchorage lit with about forty large fishing boats. We navigated our way through the fleet to a spot we felt was a safe distance away and set the hook. We woke around 6 am to books falling off the shelves and decided to pick up our anchor and tuck further into the bay to try to find a more protected spot to get a few more hours of sleep.

It felt a little odd being the only cruising boat in an anchorage with so many old, dilapidated fishing trollers, even the fisherman came by in their pongas to wave hello, (mostly while I was showering on deck).

After some much needed rest we continued our journey south to Bahia Santa Maria. Finally, we had great conditions and were able to sail most of the way, we even caught a large sierra mackerel!

Sunrise in Santa Maria

That night during my 2-6 am shift, we hit a pocket of cell service and I received a message from my mother in law. As soon as I read it, tears started streaming down my face. She
was trying to contact us to let us know that Josh’s grandmother was sick in the hospital, and it wasn’t looking good. My heart sank, and in that moment, all I wanted was to be back at home to support Josh’s family and spend more time with Grandma. As the sun rose and we approached the bay, Josh’s watch began and I debated when the best time was to share the news with him. I decided it would be best to wait until after we had set the anchor and settled in. As soon as the anchor dropped I had a hard time holding it together, he asked me what was wrong and I shared the message I had received.

Entrance to Bahia Santa Maria.
Calling home.

It was one of those moments in life where you feel utterly stuck. We thought sailing meant freedom, but in that moment, we couldn’t have felt less free. We were anchored halfway down the remote Baja peninsula, with no access to roads or an airport. All we could do was sit there and pray for comfort for our family back at home.

Josh inflated the dingy and grabbed his board to have some alone time out in the water, I’m sure it wasn’t how he wanted his first surf session in Baja to go. That afternoon we were able to find weak cell reception and got a call out to Josh’s mom to speak with grandma to tell her how much we loved her and wish we could be there with her. With heavy hearts, we fell asleep for a much-needed nap.

In the afternoon, we decided to get off the boat for a bit and explore the estuary. There in the mangroves we found a small fishing camp, as we approached, the fishermen stopped cleaning their daily catch of clams to wave hello. We noticed a few lobster traps lying around and asked if they had any for sale, sure enough they did, $3 for a whole lobster! We bought four!

That night we feasted aboard Sloboda, with our new friends Mike and Nicolle and their adorable labradoodle, Dexter, who we had met earlier in the day. Little did we know, this couple would become some of our closest friends and one of the biggest blessings of our trip. In the morning, we buddy boated twenty miles south to Bahia Magdalena to explore the mangroves and small fishing village littered with whale skeletons.

Bahia Magdalena is most noted for the hundreds, if not thousands of grey whales that visit the bay each winter to give birth and mate. The locals make a living during that season taking tourists out in their pongas to get up close and personal with the whales. The town itself is on a small peninsula and completely cut off from the rest of the mainland. There are no roads, in or out, and yet there are about a dozen rusting, old vehicles littering the small village.

Preparing the lobster for dinner.
Whale bones piled up on the beach.

That night we went to shore to have dinner at the one “restaurant” on the beach. When we arrived and knocked on the front door, we noticed a man reclining on a couch under the window, watching television on a big screen. When he answered the door, we asked if this was indeed the restaurant, and if they were open for the evening. He eagerly replied that it was indeed the “restaurant” and they were indeed, “Abierto”. He called out to his wife, who was somewhere in the back of their house, and led us to a table out on the front porch. He quickly informed us the village had completely run out of beer, but, if we wanted we could go back to the boat and bring our own drinks for the night. He also informed us there was no menu, they would only be able to serve us lobster or fried fish tacos. Both sounded delicious, so we all ordered one of each! As we sat getting to know our new friends, I noticed the photos hanging on the wall. There were photos of fish larger than children, men petting whales and trucks floating across the sea on rafted up pongas.

Well, that solved the mystery of the cars in a place with no roads! I asked the owner, who happened to also be the town’s sheriff, why they brought cars over when they can’t drive anywhere?

Basically, he explained they did it to feel normal. It was the same reason he had a big screen TV, and most of the houses there had satellite dishes. There are less than 50 people living in this remote, small village, and even though the fisherman enjoyed living simple and quiet lives, they also wanted to enjoy the luxuries most of us have.

Exploring Bahia Magdalena’s mangroves with Sloboda.

It’s these memories that stick with me the most. Meeting the locals, hearing their stories and getting to see the world through their eyes, even for just a brief moment, humbles me and brings me immense joy.

The next day we left for our last passage down the Pacific coast of Baja, we were headed 200 miles to the southernmost tip of the peninsula, Cabo San Lucas. This time, the sea gave us exactly what we needed, perfectly warm, sunny days with 15 knots of breeze! It was beautiful!

Caught our first mahi. He was just a little guy so we threw him back!

The second night into our passage, on my 2-6 am watch I received another message, grandma had passed… I had just begun my watch, and as the tears streamed down my face once again, I turned my eyes to the sky ahead of us. There was no moon and the sky was clear. The stars shown brighter than ever before and the warm breeze kissed my wet cheeks. As I prayed for comfort for those we loved back at home, the sky ahead lit up with shooting stars. Over the next few hours I watched dozens, if not hundreds of shooting stars stream across the little patch of sky directly in front of us. Whether or not it was grandma waving goodbye, or saying it was ok to move forward, or just a random meteor shower, it brought me peace in those dark hours.

Josh taking down the main.

This time when Josh woke he knew immediately something was wrong. We decided to pull into the anchorage in front of Cabo even though it was still dark, instead of continuing on three hours east to the Los Cabos Marina. We had been there before and there were enough lights on the beach to help us spot the other boats in the anchorage. We dropped the hook, had a good cry and crashed hard.

Again, we woke to the boat rocking and rolling, we pulled the anchor and headed to the Los Cabos Marina where we planned to leave Agape to fly home for Grandma’s funeral. We definitely weren’t planning on returning home so soon, or having to say a true goodbye to someone we loved so dearly.

It was a hard lesson to learn so early into our voyage. For us, family always comes first, but we realize the lifestyle we have chosen will sometimes mean we cannot make it back home for certain life events. What we can do, what we all should do, is make sure our loved ones know how much we care about them. Life is truly precious and it’s most often better spent with the ones you love.

Offer Accepted!!!

After we sent in our offer for Entre Nous, the real work started. Luckily, I have a work schedule that allowed me the time to be able to go and see the boat a few times before we had to commit to anything, (I work 7 days offshore followed by 7 days off). When I got off work that next week I barely got to see Rachel, maybe eight hours before I hopped a plane back down to La Paz to see the boat again. The owner Kevin was very welcoming and let me spend two days peaking into lockers and snooping around the boat before having the official survey conducted. We discussed what he thought of the boat and what he would have changed, what systems worked well and which ones had issues. He was very honest and forthcoming with the pros and cons of the boat and when the day came for the sea trial and haul out I had a good sense of what to expect.

As far as sea trial goes, it was just ok. There was about 4 to 4.5 knots of wind, the sailing was slow and not as exciting as I thought it would be. I was able to get a feel for the boat or as much as you can while essentially drifting quickly. The haul out was the only thing that gave me real pause about the boat. Kevin had been honest that the boat was overdue for new bottom paint. We aslo discovered some small blisters on the hull and a few larger ones on the trailing edge of the rudder. Other than that everything went very well.

I called Rachel and explained every detail I had learned about the boat and gave her my thoughts as well as the surveyor’s. We talked long into the night. The next day before I flew home, I met with the owner again and the broker to hash out the last details and sign the paper work!!!!!!

Woooohooooo!!!!!!! WE OWN A BOAT!!!

I had been very worried about handling large sums of money through Mexican banks but as it turns out the brokers used an escrow company based out of Washington to hold the money and complete all the paperwork work for an offshore delivery. So buying a boat in Mexico is really the same for us as it would be buying a boat in San Francisco area. We could have saved ourselves several thousand dollars in sales taxes if we would have left her down in Mexico for a year but we couldn’t imagine leaving her there. We couldn’t wait to start small projects and take her out to the islands just off our coast.

The only problem was trying to figure out how to get her back to the states…..

Higher a captain, or take the time off to bash up the coast ourselves?

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Time for the haul out.

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DCIM100GOPRO

Here is a list of what the boat had on it at the time of purchase:

  • Navigation and electronics:
  • SSB: ICOM 710.
  • SSB TUNER: ICOM AT 130 Tuner.
  • RADAR: Raymarine C120 Digital MFD system, Plus Raytheon RL70C, Garmin 521 with world maps.
  • VHF: ICOM MC412.
  • VHF #2: Standard Horizon.
  • HANDHELD Standard Horizon.
  • GPS: Furuno standalone GPS which is tied into Raymarine chartplotter. Raymarine C120 also has internal GPS. Garmin 521.
  • TV/DVD/VCR: 22” Samsung Flat Screen TV.
  • STEREO: SONY New 2010.
  • PRINTER / SCANNER / FAX : Furuno SSB Weather Fax.
  • DEPTH SOUNDER: Raymarine ST60 Depth plus C120 digital depth.
  • SPEED RaymarineST60.
  • WIND SPEED / DIRECTION: Raymarine ST60 series.
  • AUTOPILOT: Garmin under deck autopilot New 2012 with remote control.
  • PLOTTER: Raymarine Radar C120, Raytheon RL70C, Furuno RN300, Garmin 521.
  • SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS: Antenna and Boat wired for Iridium.
  • Furuno NAVTEX system with dedicated antenna.
    Electrical:
     
  • HOUSE BANK 1: (2) 8d AGM of type AGM.
  • START BANK: AGM New 2011 of type AGM.
  • BATTERY MONITOR: E Log Xantrex. LINK 10.
  • INVERTOR: Xantrex New 2010 2500 watt.
  • ALTERNATOR: Heavy duty high output with load meter.
  • BATTERY CHARGER: Xantrex New 2012.
  • SOLAR PANELS: 3 x 140 watt with two Blue Sky Controllers.
  • SMART REG:  Balmar plus spare.
    Mechanical:
     
  • WATERMAKER: Spectra 200T Tropical watermaker with electronic controller for auto flushing and filling. 100 hours
  • OTHER: Dual fuel filters and Fuel Polishing system with auto change feature (Filterboss) installed 2012.
  • WINDVANE: Monitor windvane with light and heavy air vanes, new 2010.
  • BOW THRUSTERS: New in 2010.
  • BILGE PUMP: Manual and electric. Electric new 2011.
  • FIRE EXTINGUISHING: Halon in engine compartment.
  • FUEL FILTERS: Dual racer filters. Full automatic. Filterboss system with alarms.
  • FRESH WATER COOLING SYSTEM: Flushed and serviced 2012.
  • HEAD TYPE: Electric with Manual over ride. New 2009.
  • WATER HEATER: New in 2011.
  • TRANSMISSION: Rebuilt 2009.
    Sails and rigging:
  • MAIN: New Doyle 2010.
  • JIB: New Doyle 2010.
  • SPINNAKER: New 2010.
  • STAYSAIL:  With loose fitting club and deck sweeper.
  • PRO ROLLER FURL
  • WINCHES: 3 – 2 speed self tailing in cockpit, 2 winches on mast (new 2011).
  • BOOM VANG: Garhauer Rigid Boom Vang.
  • MAST: Both the mast and boom were stripped and professionally painted with 2 part paint in 2010.
  • STANDING RIGGGING: New 2010.
  • WHISKER
  • OTHER: Spare Main and Genoa under v berth in good condition.
    Deck and hull:
  • ANCHOR: ROCNA 25KG with 330 feet HT chain.
  • CQR: 45lbs.
  • ANCHOR 2: Fortress 25 with 50 feet of chain and 150 feet of rope.
  • WINDLASS: New 2010.
  • NAV LIGHTS: Upper LED’s, lower are standard.
  • LADDER: Folding wood ladder.
  • DECK WASH: Salt water wash.  New in 2010, never used.
  • SWIM STEP: Life Line expanding stainless steel ladder.
    Galley:
  • REFRIGERATION: Adler Barbor.
  • FREEZER: Dometic.
  • MICROWAVE
  • PRESSURED WATER SYSTEM
  • WATER HEATER
  • STOVE: Propane (2 burner and oven).
  • COOKING FUEL: Propane, 2 tanks plus 1 BBQ Tank.
  • SINK: Deep Double .
    Covers & cushions:
  • DODGER: New 2011.
  • BIMINI: Full bimini custom made in 2011 with screens.
  • HATCHES: 4 with custom screens.
  • FULL WINTER COVERS: Full cover for summer.
  • GENOA: New 2010.
  • STAYSAIL: New  2010.

Love at First Sight

Rachel and I had been casually looking at boats online for about a year and a half with the idea that maybe, one day we would be able to buy a boat and go cruising. You know when we retired or something…. We thought that we would take a year off from work and backpack from the Yucatan Peninsula all the way down to Argentina. The plan was to save up fifteen thousand dollars each and see how long we could make it last while backpacking through Central and South America. Just as we were making plans, Rachel’s job took off . We decided to stick around a little while longer so Rachel could take advantage of the influx of work. I started spending more time looking at boats. In November 2013 I got a new job too, working for Dos Cuadras Offshore Resources (DCOR). After we started saving we saw the possibility of making our dream of buying a sailboat a reality, a lot sooner than we had originally planned. We lived simply, rented a fully furnished home so we didn’t have to purchase any furniture or decorations, and saved every penny in hopes or making our dream come true. Rachel and I made a list of what we wanted in a boat. Offshore capabilities, easily short handed, ample storage, affordable!!!! To be honest, the perfect boat for us was one that made cruising feel like home and not camping. We thought we had found our dream boat… A 50 ft Tayana built in the Ta Yang boat yard. She was a real fixer upper and wasn’t outfitted with anything needed for blue water cruising, but she did meet the number one criteria of being affordable. She had wide open decks, beautiful teak interior, room to start a family or have friends and family visit. She was beautiful! Even though it was affordable, it would have taken so much time and way too much money to get her ready to sail around the world. Too be honest, looking back she was way more boat than what we realistically need, and way more work than we wanted to put in. When Rachel and I first started looking at boats, we had come across a few Tayanas but were turned off by the teak decks. Teak made no sense to me, it just means work, leaks, and money, (it’s cruel and twisted that we now have a boat with teak). Other than that, they seemed like very well build boats, with lots of storage. The 37 foot Tayanas have an amazing reputation and have been sailing the world for over forty years. Most of the 42 ft Tayanas we came across we liked, but they had center cockpits and didn’t have the layout we were looking for. Right around the same time, Rachel met Melissa at Spencer Macenziez’s (the local fish taco bar). Melissa and her husband Ryan, had moved out to California from Utah after finding their dream boat, Sea Wolf, a Tayana 37′. They were finishing outfitting their boat before sailing down to Mexico and across the South Pacific. Turns out we had found our new best friends. I wish we would have only met them sooner or they could have stayed in Ventura longer. Rachel had Melissa over for dinner the night they met and we ended up hanging out with her and Ryan almost every day until they departed for Mexico. Once they departed for Cabo San Lucas, Mexico we decided to visit them along the way. We drove down to Ensenada to hang out with them for a week while their boat was on the hard and getting the bottom repainted. We played at the beach, ate way too many tacos, spent six hours getting pruney in remote hot springs, spotted a zonkey and played with a jaguar cub.

As fate would have it, the Swans invited us to come down for another visit in Cabo before they headed of to the Maquesas. Up until then we had not looked at boats down Mexico or anywhere else in the world. I guess a purchase that big in a foreign country and all the paperwork that comes with it scared us a bit. While we were in Cabo I searched to see if there were any boats in the surrounding area that met our criteria. Sure enough, we found a couple boats online that caught our eye and one in praticullar up in La Paz. After spending a couple days having fun in the sun, we rented a car and drove up to La Paz. We had been emailing back and forth with the broker and owner of a 1984 Tayana Vancouver 42 named Entre Nous (which means ‘Between Us’ in French). It looked great in the pictures but we had been deceived before, so we didn’t have our hopes up. We mostly wanted to see it to get an idea of the lay out.

Then we saw her…
‘She kicked off her shoes and climbed aboard making her way to the bow, I followed. Rachel looked up and down the mast, quickly navigated the deck aft and disappeared bellow. I stayed on the deck taking in the sloped teak decks and stay sail boom, trying hard to identify any flaws or pitfalls. I was making my way to the mast, looking at the oversized rigging when she surfaced again.
“Josh! Josh! Come down and look, she is beautiful. Come and see she’s perfect.”
After being on her for less than a hour, I could see it in Rachel’s eyes and feel it in my heart. This was a boat I could love!!!! ‘ —–from our journal, March 15, 2014.

Boat shopping is a funny thing… I think that it is starts with the mind, and finishes with the heart. We looked at a lot of boats that seemed like good and sound choices, but for some reason this one was different. We had a really good feeling about this boat. Except for the teak decks… We were so rushed that day, we expected to see just another boat that would give us a better idea of what we wanted and didn’t want. We hadn’t planned on it being THE BOAT! We had so many questions and not enough time. We got so wrapped up in surveying the boat and asking the owner questions that we almost missed our flight home.

The whole car ride to the airport the four of us discussed our options.  We went over all the boat’s pros and cons, and  the cost. We really just wanted to buy the boat then and there, sail it around to Cabo for a bit and leave with the Swans to see the world. But it wasn’t our time, not yet… On the flight home Rachel and I had a serious talk.  I wanted to give her a out. One last chance to say this wasn’t her dream, or that she wasn’t ready to commit to this yet. It is a huge commitment, for two newly weds that have been saving every penny they could, to pull the trigger and finally make the purchase. All I know is I am blessed. Rachel gave me that look like, “Are you kidding me?” She was in!!! God gave me a wife that would let me play pirate for the foreseeable future!!!!!!!

As soon as our plane landed at LAX we emailed the broker our offer!