Our Maiden Voyage North & Introduction to the Northerlies

Leaving La Paz, Baja. First day jitters!

Looking back, it’s astonishing how little we knew about Echo, the Sea, local weather patterns, navigation, etc., we didn’t even know how far we could travel in a day. This was a completely new experience for both of us. Unfortunately, we unknowingly got off to a bad start, as our first intentions were to make it to San Carlos as quick as possible (a short 250 miles north!). Lauren’s family lives in San Carlos. Her brother was visiting with his girlfriend and we were excitedly hoping to see them. We also had our Subaru parked at Lauren’s dad’s house with all our personal goodies from the states. 

(Lesson number 1- sailors can know when they are going to leave port or when they will arrive, but they can not tell you both.) 

Nerves on edge, Brian reversed us out of the slip and we tippy-toed away from the marina with butterflies in our stomachs. Only one more stop for fuel and we were off. The first day was calm, the sea was glass, absolutely stunning. We were feeling on top of the world, wondering, “is this seriously our lives and our new home?!?!?” Due to the calmness, we happily motored most of the way, only able to hoist the sails the last 10Nm. We made it 44 miles the first day and we used this to gauge the rest of the trip north. The next day we got an early start with the intentions of making it another 55 miles. Another absolutely beautiful morning, we wore huge smiles and wondered if we were going to be totally spoiled on the sea. 

By late morning the winds started to pick up. By 2 in the afternoon it was starting to get pretty strong, gusts in the upper-20knot range. The swells had grown to 6-8’, hitting us right on the nose, significantly slowing us down. With the short winter days, we lost light around 6PM, and our goal was to be anchored comfortably by late afternoon. We eventually realized we wouldn’t make it to our desired anchorage, forcing us to pull into an area that was more exposed to the North. We dropped hook at 5PM and had one quick hour before the sun set. From our brief time in La Paz, the winds had seemingly died at night, but not this night. Instead they picked up and brought growing swells. Thankful for one tiny light on the beach, the only visual reference point we could use to quickly check our position, we crossed our fingers we wouldn’t drag, not fully realizing how strong our anchoring setup was at that time. That night we didn’t sleep a wink. We were being held beam-on to the incoming swell that was also hitting the rocks behind us and reflecting back, making things very uncomfortable.  Echo all night aggressively rocked back and forth, all the empty cupboards swinging open and slamming closed.  We laid in the cockpit, keeping an eye on the one small light, ever thankful for its presence. 

Before the sun came up we had coffee made and established our game plan for the day, changing our route to Escondido, still a 35Nm trip north and the nearest place to get internet for weather updates. Lauren was going to work our electric windlass (a machine that brings up our chain and anchor) and Brian would be at the helm. As the light came up it exposed the swells, which had tripled over night. It’s no wonder we couldn’t sleep. Lauren went forward to the bow and started to bring in the chain. Due to our lack of knowledge at the time and dealing with the rough conditions, we didn’t do a good job of helping the windlass with the swells and instead just started to bring it in all at once. When the windlass suddenly stopped working, Lauren waited at the bow and Brian disappeared from the helm, went below to troubleshoot, and thankfully realized the only problem was the strain had caused the circuit breaker to pop. It ended up popping three times on us, each time the process repeated, very minor and easy, but in the moment it was terrifying. This was our second night on our new boat as new sailors using everything on the boat for the first or second time. It turned out to be more excitement than either of us wanted. 

Unfortunately, once underway we needed to make it around a point, which also has a dangerous protruding reef, and meant we had to point further from the coastline. We needed to get out into the bigger, angrier sea, now at wave heights in the 15-20’ range. The seas were huge and time between waves was short. Echo would rise up, only able to see sky, and drop into the troughs, spraying water over our bow. It was extremely windy, gusting into the 30’s, and getting blasted with saltwater made the experience very cold and uncomfortable. At this time, we only had an old, pewny, cloth sunshade that offered no protection from the wind and water. We knew it was going to be a rough day. With so many unknowns about the situation, it made for a pretty terrifying experience, and Lauren began to suffer through seasickness. Seeing Brian’s confident helmsmanship eased Lauren’s symptoms eventually. Seven grueling hours later, completely exhausted, we sighted the entrance to Puerto Escondido. We squeezed through the channel and into the comfort of the protected anchorage. Immediately, we went ashore to check the weather, report home to our families, and eat the best cheeseburger in paradise. We were safe. 

(Lesson #2- Northerlies: These winds funnel strong, cold air down the Sea of Cortez in the winter. They can last anywhere from 3-6 days. They are well known as incredibly dangerous, and seriously advised not to be in.)

Seeking Shelter in Puerto Escondido

We patiently waited for the Northerly to end and gave the sea one more additional day for the swells to decrease. Our next moving day was wonderful, back to being spoiled. We even caught a dorado on our hand-line! We sailed another 40 miles north to an anchorage that we planned to make the crossing from. Our destination was San Carlos on the Mainland, a 100 nautical mile trip that would take about 20 hours. We planned on leaving at 5pm to start the trip across the sea, our first night crossing together. It was calm, with a big beautiful moon that set around midnight and left us in complete darkness. The only visible light was the stars and a glowing neon green V our hull carved across the surface thanks to the bioluminescence. 

Thoroughly enjoying ourselves and thankful for the friendly weather, we gracefully motored along happily. Around 2 in the morning, we noticed the stars beginning to fade from view, and realized we were being engulfed by fog. With no functioning radar, we knew where we were going, but we didn’t know who else might be out there. We knew the San Carlos/Guaymas area to have a lot of shrimping boats and container ships. Both of these fast-moving vessels could hit us and they wouldn’t even know. This quickly changed our peaceful feeling to once again fear. As the fog thickened, the moisture in the air saturated our aged cloth bimini top, which proceeded to rain huge, cold drops of water on us. Once again, we naively thought our trip up the sea would be short and warm, so we only brought our summer gear. It got cold quick and we joked that we had taken a wrong turn to the Arctic! Freezing and bundled with every blanket we had on board and covered by makeshift garbage bag jackets, we crossed our fingers the rising sun would burn off the fog, and luckily, about 5 miles out, we sang “Land Ho!”. We arrived in San Carlos at 9am, exhausted and still slightly concerned with dropping our anchor, but absolutely thrilled we made it! 

In total, the maiden voyage turned out to be 261 nautical miles and took us 8 days.

A cold Captain sailing through fog.
Safe Harbor

3 thoughts on “Our Maiden Voyage North & Introduction to the Northerlies

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