Cubar 2019 "Cruise Underway to Baja Rally" formerly known as FUBAR.
our route-planned in advance by Pat Rains and Ann Kinner and the rest of the Cubar Committee
Lawrence and I left San Diego aboard Varnebank on October 30th with the Cubar fleet, or at least part of the fleet. There were a number of cubaristas who had decided the night before that the weather was going to kick up and an earlier leave-taking would be better than waiting until daybreak the next day.
captains Donnelly on board and at work!
captain Lawrence at the helm
Christy at work...have wifi, will travel!
Turns out they were right - but we didn't think it would be anything Varnebank couldn't handle and we couldn't tolerate so for us, a morning departure it was. It didn't take long for a few vessels to turn back, with mechanical issues and just plain "this isn't fun let's do it tomorrow". And I am definitely a proponent of "if it ain't fun don't do it".
However Varnebank is a North Sea Trawler and comes from strong stock. After a few minutes deliberation and a democratic vote, we decided to power on, which turned out to be not a bad decision, but it did give us several hours of some big winds and wet seas. We also hadn't prepared quite as thoroughly as we could have for the weather, so the biggest issues were things not stowed or tied up adequately, leading to some deck time in high winds and drenching seas coming right over the top of the boat. Which is pretty impressive! I felt like an extra in Deadliest Catch!
But once we got things in order, and the captain and crew changed clothes one more time... we dialed into the weather and the wind and the boat just chugged through it all like the steel champion she is.
After it was over I was thrilled we had continued... seeing rough seas in a large heavy capable ship gives you lots of confidence in your own abilities to handle it.
Life settled back to normal eventually and the winds died down, making us very happy cruisers indeed.... 45 to 35 to 25 to 15, just what we had ordered! And goodness knows we didn't want to dock in a high wind situation.
As we neared Ensenada we noticed a lot of smoke along the coast. The winds that had given us the soaking was whipping up fires in the hillsides. We even saw the flames... it was really quite horrible. Similar scenario as Southern California, where the Santa Anna winds were wreaking havoc.
the hills are ablaze
Christy bringing us into Marina Coral
Once tied up at Marina Coral, we didn't even make an effort to go out and explore, so it was dinner and drinks on the boat before we crashed early. It had been a very long day! Lawrence talked Ken into waiting until the next day to wash the boat, thinking that it would be easier with the morning soaking of dew.
So today day two was all about cleaning - unfortunately the predicted dew hadn't materialized and the salt was reminiscent of the salt mines at Guerrero Negro. Hard and crusty and thick!
paperwork... well organized and quick, relatively, thanks to Cubar!
waiting with Christy for her shuttle to San Diego... I'm enjoying the sun and she's... working
So after we did our check in and paperwork, Christy headed back to San Diego to celebrate Hallowe'en with her family, the guys started in in the long process of rinsing the salt off the boat, and I went about prepping future meals and then cleaning inside.
Mid afternoon it was all done!
the wind blew off the HF antenna wire and wrapped it around the radar... no damage to radar, replacement antenna in ships stores...it's all good!
The local firefighters were out in the helicopters slinging buckets to extinguish another fire in the hills above us, so we were treated to some aerial maneuvers as they were refilling just outside the breakwater! It's pretty unnerving watching the smoke but even more so when you see flames licking their way down the hill towards the town.
this morning there were fires in the hills above town... scary
helicopters filling their buckets and fighting the fires... really amazing to watch!
The "welcome to Ensenada Cubar fleet" party was that night, and it was well attended with a few creative souls who even came in costume, and we were well fed and libated. A speaker gave us a lecture about the amazing work being done to bring the sea back to its past glory (must be working because we've noticed a vast improvement in amount of sea life down there!) It was great to recognize that the people who live here are also active in making changes, and brought home the fact that as visitors to this beautiful country we have to respect their efforts and their rules!
We connected with the captain and crew on Traveller, a Canadian Diesel Duck, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. I have always loved the quirky shippiness of the Duck, and the fact that, like the N46, it has a mast and paravanes and looks seaworthy and workman-like. Also it's a blue hull like Varnebank, so she kind of looks like the little cousin!
All day I had watched locals wandering back and forth to a huge tent structure on the north side of the marina - someone talked about a day of the dead party on the 1st... but as we were having our dinner there was an explosion of flashing lights and loud music and we realized that the party started tonight.
Amazingly when I went to bed down in the steel holds of this massive ship I heard nothing... but then I wear ear plugs and had had some wine so I was asleep almost immediately. Lawrence, on the other hand and totally unlike him woke up every hour to the ear-killing brain-numbing high decibel music that continued until at least 230.
After two days in Ensenada, the fleet is scheduled to leave on the morning of the 2nd of November .. it will be a 36 hour run approximately.... and we are seeing weather reports that indicate a good trip.
Fishing on the back deck and lunching on the lanai! Looking forward to a smooth trip! Food is prepared ! It's all good!
This is already turning out to be a great experience, and I am loving spending time on Varnebank.
She is registered as a charter vessel available in both the Sea of Cortez and around San Diego, and I can see that it would be a super boat for day excursions and family holidays. We have a lot of adventures ahead of us! And I am looking forward to meeting more of the Cubaristas on our way down!
remnants of the first day - a tattered flag. Another new one on board, to be replaced later!
Sunday night... we have completed the first overnight... which worked out well. I fished all day yesterday to no avail, lots of work and no success. Weather was so benign, we thoroughly enjoyed the rather novel experience of not being tossed about. Made fishing a rather easy task.. catching not so much. As usual.
The trip was calm, absolutely beautiful seas..and we were treated to a wonderful whale show and a dolphin show. That almost made my continuous lack of fish on the lines tolerable.
whale of a tail
thar she blows! A Cubar boat in the background
Other boats... as in almost all the other boats.. celebrated their fishing success over the VHF as the day wore on. Yellow-fin, Marln, and Dorado... everyone seemed to be bringing them all in. I became quite despondent... just ask the rest of the crew... but hallelujah near the end of the day, half an hour before sunset... I put out a big rapella.... and in seconds had a huge hit that actually stayed on.
We fought each other for a long time, eventually I handed it off to Ken to bring it in and Lawrence did an amazing job of gaffing the yellowfin that was in the end of my line...
we weighed it and my first tuna was 20 pounds! Not wicked Tuna material but wow, what a little butterball! Bringing it in was like fighting a dead weight. But we did it! Once we got it near to Varnebank it decided to make friends with the hull and maybe even the stabilizers, so I grabbed the line and hauled it over to where Lawrence was able to neatly and expertly gaff it.
Done deal! And what a beautiful fish!
worth the wait, just in time, as the sun was going down!
Next task... kill and clean. ... and put on ice for filleting later. I was worried about the beautiful fish sitting on ice all night on the back deck.. ( no kill bag and no cooler) so early in the morning Lawrence brought out the fish knife and filleted the beast.
The good news is Ken and Lawrence had installed an ice maker before we left so we always had a few bags of ice waiting for me in the coolers. Optimistically.
expertly filleted by Lawrence
We must have done something right ( much of our conversation after we landed it was where do I make the cuts to bleed it and how do we kill it because apparently just bonking it on the head repeatedly wasn't working. Enough said) because the pieces of tuna looked perfect.
We ended up with full ziplock bags in the fridge and the freezer. I planned dinner around fresh yellowfin and then Christy said wistfully she would love fresh barbecued fish for lunch, so that was that!
Mango cabbage slaw. Barbecued fresh tuna. Back deck, bottle of wine... absolutely perfect!
Then we cleared up, I put more lines in the water, and we headed to Baha Tortuga.
This is a large bay, with a small fishing village that appears to be getting bigger and more modern every year. Except the pier remains the same, which is scary enough to deter all but the hardiest souls from venturing onto land. We have been promised lobster tonight if we went ashore to a local restaurant but I would prefer they brought it to me like in the old days! I'd pay top dollar!
lobster fishermen, catching and measuring and throwing back... good to see! But wish they would send some our way-legal ones of course..
pretty Baha Tortuga
The town is pretty from the water and the anchorage was calmer than we have usually seen it. The hillsides are very barren and dry though, and it's interesting to compare what we see on the coast with what we see as we drive across Baja. This is south of Guerrero Negro, which is surrounded by some of the more desolate countryside we travel through. The area is a poster child for taupe. But the sunlight on the carved rocks is lovely as the sun gets lower in the sky.
Just got photo bombed by the drone being piloted by Jason, the videographer accompanying the Cubar fleet this trip. I really wish we could have our drone with us but we are required to have a license and to have a license you need to be Mexican so that precludes us! We didn't bring ours, so I can hardly wait to see his results! He is supposed to be photographing and taking drone footage of all of us on the way to make a Cubar video when it is over. And rumour has it he will be joining Varnebank for the SJDC leg to LA Paz... should be interesting to see how he works!
So we are here tonight and tomorrow and leave for Santa Maria and then Man of War Cove in Baha Magdalena.
Two evenings we are doing boat-around dinner parties.. where we visit another boat one night and then host dinner the next night. Sounds like fun and I am looking forward to it!
Monday night. November 4...
Today was one of those "let life live you" days. I had plans to hang out on the boat, prep the food we needed for the boat-around dinner on "No More Games" tonight, do laundry, read, write, NOT go to town.... Christy went out to help deliver medical supplies to the local fire hall / ambulance station ( yes, Turtle Bay has those! Or at least the ambulances, thanks to a donation from a family whose son needed help when he was riding his motorcycle in the area ). She called us saying the group of volunteers wanted to say thank you by taking some of us to where the lobsters were collected for shipping offshore, and the abalone were raised in tanks and so on.... so Lawrence and I joined the small group in a small van on the bumpy drive through the desert to the camp where the fishermen work. We saw the lobster being sorted and shipped.... the abalone bred and grown... all in professional enclosures and tanks that would make a university marine biologist proud. When we were done touring the labs and learning how to sex abalone we went to the little village where the fishers live while they work the few months the season is open.... and we were fed an amazing lobster and fish lunch. I finally got my lobster! and they cooked it for us! Amazing meal!
the lobster tanks
say hello to my little friend!
it's a boy...I think
wee baby abalone... pretty soon they will be sent out to live in the wilds of the ocean shore!
checking out the abalone
Justin the videographer checks out the decompression chamber
The genuine appreciation and hospitality of the people who showed us what they were accomplishing and how they lived....just unbelievable. Mind you all the lobster is slated to go to China and I can't help but think the abalone breeding lab is for the future dinner bowls of the Chinese, although the village will be paid well and thus benefit too. ( that is my unconfirmed theory)...Pity. We all love abalone, would love to see some come our way! They also deep dive for sea cucumbers, hence the decompression chamber.
Sea cucumbers were fished out of the Sea of Cortez years ago, after all the other commercial fisheries were wiped out... sold to overseas buyers.
We did not expect to go out for lunch but this was absolutely amazing. More lobster than I have ever even imagined eating, and fresh fish...canned snails..canned tuna...they made delicious tacos and ceviche.
But the best part was the graciousness of our hosts. So glad we answered the call!
Then we had to drive back as the sun set and find a panga to take us to the Varnebank and get over to our host boat...they were making dinner for us and here we were having a huge meal in the middle of the day.
Larry and Gwen checking out the bay
pretty little temporary homes for the fishermen
Justin showing Jesus, our host, how to fly his own drone
chef du jour, also works with the local fire department/ambulance service
it's a feast!
cooked to perfection!
golden hour-beautiful hills
some quirky artwork!
But somehow we managed! The panga got Christy off at "No More Games" without damaging the other boat and we went to collect the rest of dinner we were supposed to be supplying. I had the salad ( luckily made it ahead of time) and Ken had bbq'd the asparagus and prosciutto for me but dessert was sadly missing. Not that we needed it!
the crazy dock at Turtle Bay
panga ride to the boats, Justin and Lawrence
The idea of organizing small multi-boat get-togethers is an interesting one, and we enjoyed the opportunity to both be entertained on another boat ( who doesn't love checking out other boats) and to entertain a couple of boats on our own! People tend to jump at the chance to get a tour of Varnebank, she's pretty amazing!
Next over-night was to Santa Maria - not as long as the Baha Tortuga run and definitely not as rough! In fact it was a beautiful trip...except for the overnight medical emergency on one of the boats ... dealt with admirably by another Cubarista on-board doctor and our own ham radio emergency guru Christy.
more "long beaked common dolphins" I believe...IMHO
coming in for a look!
During the day I caught two nice little Yellow fin tuna, and made the executive decision to have them filleted right away, after a short cooling down and bleeding out. Four nice fillets were deposited in the fridge for later processing and I was a happy fisher.
Lines were brought in and that was it for the day. Unfortunately I had lost all the line on the big reel - something hewwwwwwge took it! And my rapala! So the only fish catching apparatus was the light line and the hand line.. seemed lucky enough. But I was pining for more line and all we have is 30 pound test. So as we were coming into Santa Maria and Bill the cruise director came over to say hi, I decided to ask them if they had any line on board. They didn't. but apparently he asked around because not long later they came back with a huge reel in their hands- a loaner from the guys on Fish Limo who apparently have dozens of rods and reels on board.
That was sweet! So with new big reel installed I was ready for the next day, a short run from Santa Maria to Magdalena Bay.
Everyone had been catching dorado and we hadn't yet, so when I mentioned that on the radio while I was thanking our benefactor, another boat offered to bring us some dorado ...yes please! This is what Cubar is all about! Generosity of spirit!
We gave them a tour of the boat and then after they left we sat down to a big salad and fresh caught pan fried Mahi-mahi. Delicious!
fresh dorado, come and get it!
The next morning we were up early and ready to head south. Ken rigged up a lanyard for the reel so couldn't lose it..Christy made bran muffins for breakfast.. I put the lines in the water and we were off!
Unfortunately the only fish we caught were small skipjack. After three I gave up and we headed further out. I put a lines back in and we finally picked up something different - not a dorado but a nice yellowtail! Not complaining! We processed it and by then we were heading into Magdalena Bay so that was it. Happy times, Life is good with a fish on-board .
one of the jobs-putting on the snubber!
another meal on board -love the galley and love the options for dining - inside or out!
Tonight was supposed to be an on-boat evening... seemed like a good time to fire up the margarita maker (aka Lawrence) and I made tortilla soup and shrimp quesadillas to celebrate Magdalena Bay and all things fishy. However some smart cookie organized a beach bbq with the locals and we eventually decided to go in and be part of it - we supplied a piece of yellowtail for the cook to barbecue which turned out to be delicious!
impromptu dinner on the beach
Magdalena Bay to San Jose Del Cabo- our last overnight, and our shortest. This run was going to be about 24 hours, easy peasy. We wanted to arrive in SJ Del Cano in daylight so we didn't want an early departure, and Justin was keen to do a group video with the drone while we all left the bay.. so general consensus was for a 9 am start.
It was actually super well organized and against all odds the group managed to stay in a line and with Varnebank at the forefront we headed out of the bay looking rather gorgeous!
leader of the pack! The ducks all stayed in a row!
a drone shot courtesy of Justin Edelman of the fleet underway.. different viewpoint!
After that we steamed towards the fishing grounds where I tried to no avail to add to the fishing larder. Very depressing. But the sunset made up for it! And we all had a great dinner together and settled back into our shifts. I wasn't worried about the night, only 24 hours so who needs sleep? which ended up being about right...l don't sleep on first shift off after making dinner and eating..so 6 to 9 pm was a bust. I don't sleep during the day because I am fishing.
The 12 to 3 sleep was ok, got about two hours in - then the 3 to 6 watch was so full of beautiful moon set and sun rise and watching people moving around there was no way I could sleep at 6..
another stunning sunrise
And then it was light and I could put lines in the water...so no sleep for me!
We arrived in Cabo and found our slip after an uneventful but beautiful trip. Coming around Cabo Falso in calm weather, and watching the sun rise as we passed the arches of Cabo - spectacular.
coming into San Jose Del Cabo
Christy in command
deckhand Ken aka Captain Ken!
deckhand Lawrence...it's a LOT of boat to dock!
the elegant Varnebank... not your usual yacht!
Christy once again docked the boat like a champ and everyone decided to catch up on their sleep. Not so successfully for me, so I went for a walk to check out where the other Cubaristas had ended up....came back and organized dinner.
We entertained Miss Miranda for an impromptu dinner which was a LOT of fun, and now.. dishes are done, laundry is spinning, the swamp cooler air conditioners are whirring away like mad trying to cool down this huge steel heat sink... life is good.
Our only complaint is we are right beside the dolphin pens. None of us feel happy about cetaceans in captivity and these poor animals are right there... all day long bus loads of tourists don bathing suits and life jackets and slide into the filthy water to paddle around these locked up intelligent creatures. It's painful. They also have seals doing the same thing, it's lucrative for the humans and so sad for the animals.
We were feted two nights ago by the folks at Puerto Los Cabos.... unfortunately the weather, surprisingly, did not cooperate and it rained all day! Fine for us, the good people of Varnebank dragged out sewing machines and computers and settled in to some fine work- all of us had a hand in getting a line drawing of Northern Ranger 2 digitized, so we could embroider on our new beach towels. Job well done.. took a while but the product is amazing and we have a digital picture we can use for almost anything.
Northern Ranger II gets her own custom beach towels!
almost done a set of little art quilt works to make a wall hanging
our own little sweat shop-literally!
I decided to use some of my Cubar photos as inspiration and created some mini art quilts, which I will turn into a wall hanging and leave on Varnebank when we go.
Christy is making little sun dresses for her grand daughters... absolutely adorable!
So the party - we initially were bummed that we had to leave the boat and get a ride into town at the alternate venue ( us old farts you know) but when we arrived we were treated to a beautiful setting, and good food, wine and tequila, and dancing. The musician played our kind of music and we all hit the dance floor and boogied the night away. Well maybe not the night away... but we had a lot of fun!
Christy - if the hat fits, wear it!
still life with tequila
There was a lot of interest in flying drones, so Justin offered to give a quick lesson on the lawn beside our dock, and the guys all got a chance to pilot his drone..lots of good reasons to own one of these and get a license... including how much fun they are! Trick is to make sure they stay away from the water.... right, Justin?
look up... look wayyyy up!"
We were thinking of leaving on the 13th but decided that with the sewing machines already deployed another day of working was in order. Justin the videographer was booked to move onto our boat so all in all we decided hanging around was a good idea.
Thankfully Varnebank is a big vessel - video photographers don't travel light, especially with two drones in the mix! He got a crew cabin in the front hold of the boat and couldn't be happier. Apparently reminds him of his navy days.. doesn't hurt that it's pitch black, silent, and relatively cool down there!
new crew member on deck! Welcome to Varnebank Justin!
So the fleet that hadn't left for PV earlier, left this morning, at first light. My goal today is to catch a fish.... after making breakfast for the crew I was on the deck pitching lines in the water as soon as we left the breakwater. Hours later, no luck, but then it appears no one is catching anything. Sadness. Some of the crew members have gone back down for naps ( including the youngest LOL!) so maybe now isn't the best time to catch a fish.. but I will persevere and keep my fingers crossed!
This was the calmest weather we have ever seen this stretch, from SJDC to Muertos. I was anticipating getting into Muertos with plenty of time to swim, and the kind people of Miss Miranda (Our N50 sistership on the adventure with us) had invited us for a fresh-caught fish dinner, so we wanted to arrive with plenty of daylight. But the fishing! Although I wasn't getting any joy, others had found a pod of dolphins and apparently tuna right under them.. so Captain Ken squandered some of his fuel and we high-tailed it over to where the excitement was. By the time we arrived on the scene the other boats had left but the dolphins were putting on the kind of show people pay big bucks to watch in crappy little aquariums. It was absolutely spectacular, and our photographer guest slept through the entire thing. I was sure our crazy Ivans trying to circle around the outside of the show would tip him out of his bunk but no such luck. Anyway I had no luck either but just seeing these magnificent creatures looking as if they were actually having a rip-roaring time was worth not catching a fish.
But all good things must come to an end and we trundled back on course, lines still rather futilely in the water, and made it into Muertos long after everyone else had anchored. Christy found us a nifty little spot and by the time the mud had settled around the chain we were in the water. Pretty wonderful feeling, water was warm, the sun was setting, and it was exactly what we needed after a long day! Justin the sleeping beauty managed to wake up in time for that! He was able to grab just enough daylight to launch the drone and get some footage of the bay and our Cubar fleet before the sun totally set. And then he showed us why the name Aquaman is so appropriate - he donned snorkel gear and that guy swims and dives like a dolphin!
our own Aquaman!
aquaman handed me the camera and said come take a picture...playing with anchor chain..
We had a delicious fish meal on Miss Miranda ( grits! And butter! My new favourite pairing with mahi-mahi!) and then called it a day.
The next morning we all agreed that it would have been a good idea to follow our original plan to hit Muertos a day early so we could have played for a day, but we had enjoyed sewing in San Jose Del Cabo so had to be happy with an early morning swim before we headed out again - last but not least.
Another calm amazing day - this time Justin stayed awake and was able to take some footage of life aboard the motor vessel Varnebank. I fished ... and the captain took us over to "Jacque Cousteau" island, where there is a sandy beach behind a spit that is perfect for anchoring, kayaking, snorkelling, and droning.
And apparently fishing, as just before we got into the anchoring spot I had the biggest ever hit on my line... it screamed out and I grabbed it with my (gloved) hand-ouch! Burned through the gloves in half a second and boy! Did that hurt! Then ping! Line snapped.
Brought it in and saw that it wasn't operator error ( all my knots held) .. but the end of the line was frayed and chewed so my best guess is a large Wahoo, ironically enough, as the other line had a steel leader on it.
(My guess of wahoo was confirmed later numerous times by actual fisher people who, when I described the screaming reel and burnt palms informed me that wahoo move at incredible speeds very quickly and have teeth that can saw through a line in nanoseconds. Sounds about right)
Three strikes... I was out!
But the kayaking and swimming cheered me up and that will be another "must visit" next time we are in the neighbourhood.
what a gorgeous private little bay!
And then it was up anchor, throw lines back in the water ( ever the optimist, other fisher persons around were talking about dorado in the area and I just had to keep trying)...and head for La Paz.
By-passing Costa Baja, it was very interesting bringing the big boat down the channel and into Marina de la Paz. The assigned slip is on the inside, and once again. I was blown away by Christy's handling of Varnebank to maneuver her perfectly into place.
down the channel into La Paz
last few pics of the deckhand captain at work!
And that was it! Sun was setting, bringing a brilliant end to an amazing trip!
We opted for another night on the boat, and Justin headed out ( filled the Uber with his equipment and luggage...) to meet his family at the hotel Costa Baja.. and we had an early dinner at the marina restaurant and then off for an much needed bedtime.
Lawrence and I had signed up for the whale-shark trip but he was busy with work, so I met up with Justin and his family and another panga-full of cubaristas to head out to where these gentle giants feed.
Last time we tried this with Andrew and Adrienne the waves were at least 7 feet and it was incredibly difficult to swim - this time I had borrowed a wet-suit and used my own snorkel gear and it was flat calm. Unfortunately not sunny but I am not complaining! Justin lent me one of his go-pros and I was set. Our guide, David, and pangiaro (?) were amazing. At first all we spotted were dolphins, but then suddenly we had a young whale-shark right beside us. To say it was amazing is an understatement. The problem was no sun and slightly murky water, so if we had not had David showing us where the animal was, we would never have kept up ... and you had to be so close to the whale shark before you saw him so a lot of times I was backpedaling like mad trying to stay the right distance from him. ( I say him because I have it on good authority that the majority of the whale sharks in this area are ravenous juvenile males gulping tons of plankton...typical teenager)
We got a workout trailing along with him, and I hope I got lots of good footage. Although for all I know, my usual habit of hitting the wrong button and filming when I think it's off and vice versa may have come into play... won't know until Justin checks out the footage. How embarrassing would that be....)
So we were out there for two hours and it was money very very well spent. The program is much more regulated, only 14 registered boats out at a time, no private boats allowed, and you have to follow strict guidelines. I have no problem paying to help them keep these beautiful creatures safe!
After that it was back to Varnebank to start the process of moving out and cleaning up. I can not believe how fast the time has gone, but what an incredibly adventure it was. We could not have had a better boat to "crew" on and we could not imagine better people to spend the time with! But all good things must end and we are happy to get back to our own boat and our own bed and think about where to go next in the week and a bit we have left here before we head off for Christmas.
Mind you.... Hurricane Raymond-downgraded-to storm is passing through right now with wind and a lot of rain. so we aren't in a hurry to go anywhere! I feel sorry for the Cubar and Ha-ha people who have just arrived into the Sea of Cortez for the first time ever and are being treated to this downpour!
On the other hand - it does clean the boat for free!
Varnebank in La Paz - an amazing boat and an awesome trip!