Instead of our first leg to Ensenada being my first overnight at sea (for which I was rather nervous,) we departed more casually in the afternoon for the Coronado Islands, just south of the border and 15 miles offshore. Far gleefully sped out of the United States at nearly eight knots under sail, into eight foot seas and the promise of warmer climes and fish tacos.
By some combination of nerves and seas, I was feeling a bit green, but found an immediately solution: watermelon gum. Chewing without eating does wonders for my upset inner ear.
We approached the Coronados, a marine sanctuary, and anchored in 45 feet of water in a not-so-protected bight on the east side of the southern island. The island was steep and green, with sea lions barking from a narrow ledge on shore. Around 11pm the bright lights of a fishing vessel cruised in and anchored behind us. The wind continued to hum through the rigging.
Despite weather forecast assurances from Chris’ phone, the wind wouldn’t let up that night. With no experience yet with Far at anchor, I fretted and peered out at the walls of the island. Were we getting closer? Josh and I were sleeping in the forepeak, giving Chris the quarter berth in the back of the boat, and this meant we felt every wave pound and yank on the chain all night. But had I only known of conditions in anchorages to come…(There is 300 feet of chain attached to our oversized Rocna anchor. We generally let out between 5:1 and 7:1 feet of chain for our depth, depending on the type of bottom and the conditions. For example, if we are in 20 feet of water, we will let out between 100 and 140 feet of chain. But no amount of chain will make the wind lay down.)
Despite my sleeplessness, I could still appreciate the stars: it was like being back in my desert home. With light from land miles away and the moon waning, we could watch every tiny point of light spin over the island and into the night. Despite the nerves of being new, I felt comforted by the familiar sky.
We rose at 5am, weighed anchor, and motor sailed into first light. The swell had subsided and made for a smooth seven-hour cruise to Ensenada.
How amazing to be in hundreds or thousands of feet of water! The deep blue beyond the visibility is mesmerizing.
In the morning light on calm seas, about thirty dolphins approached, heading the opposite direction. As I dashed to the front of the boat (as best as one can dash clipped in to jack lines for safety), I watched them wheel around under the boat and catch the underwater surf off our bow. They tilted their eyes up toward me as they surfaced, grey and white muscle sliding easily under the hull. Even if just for seconds, making eye contact with a perfectly wild and curious animal seems to take away the boundary of water and air and makes me believe there is hope for preserving our oceans.
So what do you do all day at sea? When the weather is good, a lot of time on a sailboat underway is spent sitting on the cockpit combing scanning the endless horizon for fun hazards (whales) or less fun hazards (crab pots, ships, shipping containers, or kelp, just to get me started…) Although I don’t love sitting in one place for hours, scanning for any visual change comes naturally for a former field biologist, and I keep the binoculars and bird book handy for any momentary geek outs.
Around midday, Josh and Chris both noted a glassy patch on the water only a couple meters off our starboard side, and both wondered if perhaps it was a whale “footprint.” Instantaneously, both jumped up from their seats in the cockpit, yelling, as a juvenile whale surfaced next to the boat, almost touching the hull. I leapt toward the autopilot to change course, and the whale (and it’s mama beside it,) had realized our proximity and slid slowly away. It was an image I will never forget, in part for fear of colliding: the dancing pattern of light on the seemingly white skin of the baby whale slipping back into the blue. How lucky we felt for these visitors.
(There are no photos. It turns out the when you are about to hit a whale with a sailboat, the last thing you think to do is grab the camera. In addition, we finally realize why wildlife photographers exist: it’s really, really tough to capture a photo of marine life in the wild AND sail a boat.)
As we approached Ensenada, the water color became more green and murky, and as we rounded the breakwater we noticed we shared the little harbor with two massive cruise ships.
After tying up at the dock there was much paperwork to fill out, and I was weary, sunburned, and my inner ear insisted I was still moving, but I managed to write by holding my head about eight inches from each page. This was all of our paperwork for obtaining permission to keep the boat in Mexico for up to 10 years. Immediately after the office, we stumbled to the nearby fish market. Women selling fish tacos hustled passersby to try their food at the row of open air restaurants with shaded patios along a mango colored wall. We plopped down at the last one and each gobbled down our fish tacos—even Uly got one.
As we strolled along the quiet malecón, or boardwalk, I realized how different the experience is to approach Ensenada from the sea than by car. The bustle of traffic and construction fill the senses as one drives in under the giant Mexican flag. But here on the water, the throng and noise of commerce was absent. As night rolled in, we could hear something like an approaching marching band, complete with horns, drums, a singer, and even the thump of a tuba, from the breakwater. The music swung into the harbor with raucous, uncoordinated brass of New Orleans “second line” jazz and the brash swagger of Mexican Banda. Despite our fatigue, we wandered off the dock in search of the sound—only to discover a live fifteen piece band squished onto the deck of a fishing boat, tuba and all. It was so delightful we just stood there watching and giggling. As we walked back to the dock, I felt lucky to be a part of the culture on the water.
Once again, this night would mean minimal sleep. Somehow, the breakwaters of Ensenada let a surge into the harbor (the very thing breakwaters are supposed to prevent,) and Far jerked and tugged on her docklines like an impatient horse. Both Josh and I stomped out onto the dock throughout the night to try to adjust the docklines and calm the jerky rocking, but we met only temporary success.
The next morning, we collected out paperwork and walked to the central location where we could check in at Immigration (INM,) pay for and register the boat, and buy fishing licenses. As we stepped up to the INM window, I handed the man behind the glass my passport, which still contained my previous tourist card (FMM) from my last entry into Baja. (I couldn’t hand him my student visa—in a supremely ironic twist of fate, I lost my wallet on the drive from La Paz to San Diego. I only had that precious student visa for about 3 weeks.) When he saw the FMM, he told us that because Chris and I had not had the cards stamped as we left Mexico, we had to return to the border, then reenter with new cards.
This, of course, is ridiculous. He had the power and ability to take our cards there, or simply throw them in the trash. But he refused to budge. He insisted we return to the border at Tijuana. Once again, my entire day fell into the hands of an INM officer.
“Time for a tour of wine country,” Chris exclaimed, determined to make more than the best of the situation. So we rented a car and prepared to drive through Baja’s wine country, cross the border (or just obtain new cards there,) and return eight road-weary hours later.
“One last stop at INM before we go,” I insisted grumpily as Josh drove the car back to the INM office. I knew I might have just a chance if that one officer was gone. If I have learned anything thus far from my time in Mexico, it’s that I should NEVER give up. I was not prepared to bend so easily to one taunting bureaucrat.
When I went back inside, the woman who had been mostly silent behind the counter was the only officer. I took a deep breath and walked over.
I began to explain there were any number of scenarios in which this could work. At first she looked skeptical, then amused, then she invited me into her tiny office. As I started making up more probable examples, she finally laughed. She picked up her cell phone (as opposed to her office phone) and called someone and asked about taking our cards. She put down the phone. “Your friend, where is he?”
“Outside,” I answered.
“Okay, go get him.”
I dashed to the car and waved frantically for Josh and Chris to come inside. I didn’t want a moment of extra time for her to change her mind. Within ten minutes, we all had our new tourist (FMM) cards. In the next three hours, which included confusion around how the US and Mexico write dates differently for the boat insurance (month and day are switched,) and a high-speed quarter-mile dash for copies at 2.25pm before the office closed at 2.30pm, I had registered the boat and departed with our Temporary Import Permit (TIP) complete with a fancy hologram, and paid for a rental car until the next morning.
Exhausted from the stress of these paperwork interactions, we walked back over to our fish tacos. Our waitress from the day before, with her shaved head and somehow charming aggressiveness, greeted us with raised arms, and in English called, “You ready?”
We’re ready. Next stop, Bahía San Quintín.