by Sylvia Stewart Stompe
I had participated in three Baja Ha-Has before, as crew aboard other boats, but in 2014 the time had come to take our own boat, Iolani.
My husband Barry and I had spent the previous 18 months preparing for a two year cruise, with the Ha-Ha, Oct 27 as the official start date. It had always been a given that we would do the Ha-Ha, since it is such a fun event and a great opportunity to meet other like minded folks, as well as giving us a concrete schedule. We asked a few friends who had raced and sailed with us in San Francisco to come along because the event is all about community spirit, and of course they are very good company.
The prep leading up to our departure is now thankfully a blur, but it was quite stressful and incredibly hard work. Our friends, family and dock neighbors looked at us with both pity and alarm as we dragged our tired, dirty selves home after long days crawling around in small spaces onboard, replacing plumbing, windlass, wiring….so many crucial boat systems.
Those days Barry and I had many a chuckle each time someone said to us, “you are living the dream”, because it was a bit of a nightmare at times. We have shared stories with other Ha-Ha boats that had the same experience, working hard to get the boat ready for an offshore trip, and it feels good to know we were not alone.
Our crew, Brad, Penny and Nihan joined us in San Diego two days before the start and helped with the final boat prep and provisioning. We also enjoyed the costume Kick Off party, dressed as Tropical Depressions, with grass skirts and Maori tattoos. None of the crew had ever been offshore sailing at night before, so it was exciting and fun for Barry and I to set sail, bound for Mexico, to share with them our love of the ocean.
I feel lucky, after hearing many horror stories years past about incompatible crew, that we all got along so well. Chores, clean up, complying with our systems and habits on Iolani, all were cheerfully done by all aboard. Everyone gets a bit tired, and needs to adjust to the motion and some discomfort, but with a good group, the shared experience just brings everyone together. There is nothing like a night watch, two hours spent together to bond, either in companionable silence, marveling at the beauty of the ocean at night, or sharing thoughts, stories and ideas.
We arrived at Turtle Bay, the first Ha-Ha stop, and dropped the anchor at 10 am after 3 days and nights at sea. This is when the fleet really starts to come together, seeing all the other boats in one place, about 175 this year! We get to know boat personalities by hearing them check in on radio, meeting on the beach, and other novel ways, such as the boat that hung nautical flags from the forestay and announced a prize to anyone able to decipher the message. Penny and Nihan read it as “ Why is the rum gone”, so they swam over to collect a homemade wooden bottle cork.
Later, after hearing another boat announce that they had spare fish to share, Brad and Penny rowed over to trade their Mahi Mahi fillets for some of our Tri Tip. Then, unable to row back against the wind, were towed back by another dinghy with a motor. This sort of sharing and collective attitude is why I love the Ha-Ha.
I have heard it called “speed dating” for cruisers, a great way to meet so many like minded folks, and develop the networks that we will have as we continue our sailing adventures. Less happy instances of this collective spirit are the help that is always so readily offered when a boat has troubles. This year a crew member had a seizure aboard a boat underway. When the mayday was called over the radio, many medical professionals in the fleet offered advice, and offered to come aboard, which is no small thing at sea! We also witnessed one boat tow another after they broke their boom and lost their motor. This was after the Ha-Ha, en route to La Paz.
2014 HaHa was unique for having Hurricane Vance interrupt the itinerary. The fleet stayed in Turtle Bay an extra couple days to stay out of its possible trajectory. When we did resume sailing, bound for Bahia Santa Maria, we had strong winds and sloppy seas for a fast 2 day passage. This Bay is the gem of the coast, uninhabited except for a few fishermans’ shacks, it is a vast playground for the fleet. There is a surf break, tide pools, mangroves, hiking, and then volleyball and a massive beach party set up by some locals that truck in beer, food and a band from five hours away by dirt road!
The final leg of the HaHa gave us some “champagne sailing”, sweet gentle breeze and calm seas, perfect for the spinnaker. When the breeze died we trolled and caught a yellowtail tuna. The final anchorage, Cabo San Lucas comes as a shock to the senses after sailing down the rugged undeveloped coast. We rounded the corner at the iconic Los Arcos rocks, and saw a massive cruise ship nearly taking up the whole bay. Then the jet skis and tour boats are everywhere at once, creating choppy seas with their wakes.
We anchored just off the beach, in front of the massive resorts, and then headed in to Squid Roe, where the fleet assembles on the dance floor to celebrate. That is one party not to miss! The next morning, we all went to Lovers Beach, which is by Los Arcos and truly one of the most scenic beaches anywhere, a must see for anyone in Cabo.
Barry and I were however happy to leave Cabo after just two nights there, bound for quieter anchorages, but it was bittersweet to say good-bye to our crew who all flew out from there. We hope to have friends join us along the way as we proceed around the Eastern Pacific.
Sylvia Stewart Stompe has previously been a chef and jewelry designer as well as owning a bridal salon. She currently is sailing around the pacific with her husband on their 48′ yawl, Iolani.
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