San Diego & Getting Ready for the Baja Ha-Ha

This is What Victory Looks Like ….

Crossing the Border

Sorry that picture is so blurry — as it doesn’t do the moment I was trying to capture justice. That point in time was when we first crossed from US waters into Mexican waters, still technically on DAY ONE off the Baja Ha Ha rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas. If blurriness related to elation, you’d know that I was pretty damn happy when I crossed that boundary line that Monday night. Start of a new work week and all … 

For those of you readers out there who may not be that familiar with West Coast sailing, and California sailing in particular, the ‘Ha Ha’ is kinduva a big deal. This annual rally takes ~150 boats and everyone moves (mostly) en masse down the Pacific coast of Baja and enters into Mexico via Cabo San Lucas as a port of entry.

Now that Carrie and I have been down here in Mexico a bit, it’s sorta equivalent to the year you graduated from high school. When chatting with other cruisers about what you’ve been up to so far, you just drop in that you came down on the Ha-Ha on such and such year and then segue into whatever your latest iteration The Plan is at the moment. Everyone nods and you then have some shred of credibility to whatever is about to come out of your mouth next. More often than not for me that’s a glob of guac that lands on my shirt.

BUT —  if we were to wind back the clock a bit (to yesteryear when I didn’t have any sailing street cred), the big thing about joining the Ha-Ha is that it gives you a date to work towards and a very tangible goal of leaving home port and untying the lines. When we left Portland in May, our summer cruising and southbound travel was all tied to arriving in San Diego at least two weeks before November 4th. Take that a little further, and you’ll realize a May departure meant me leaving my job in April, and all of our refitting prep was essentially tied to this target date. So, for us, it was a big deal. I digress. Doing the Ha Ha was a milestone.

Arriving in San Diego

When we left San Luis Obispo, we had planned to spend a little time in the Channel Islands, mostly Santa Barbara and Two Harbors on Catalina. The weather at Point Conception nixed those plans. We decided on a straight shot – two nighter to get to our reserved slip in Shelter Island. We rounded Point Conception at sunset, and the 20+ of wind we had promptly died off. Fine with me. We motor sailed through the night, with Carrie taking us through Anacapa Passage, then heading us southbound toward Catalina. I took the early AM watch; the Navy was going to do some shooting at San Clemente and Range Control actually contacted us by boat name. It was neat for a 0400 radio call.

We got to Point Loma a little before dawn the next day. I ended up doing some slow circles until sunrise until I could see my way into San Diego Harbor proper. There were a couple of Navy warships starting their business day, and some outbound commercial traffic. Once that cleared, we made our way into Humphrey’s Half Moon Marina on Shelter Island. Our assigned slip was way, way up in there and man it was a tight fit shoe-horning Dharma Girl into that slip. We had to let the blood pressure come back down a bit on that one.

Shelter Island – let the games begin!

Getting Ready for the Rally Itself

Humphrey’s is a really nice, upscale marina that even has a small concert venue on the property. We did get to see Three Dog Night, Oingo Boingo (minus Danny Elfman), and some random comic that we didn’t stay up for. 

The fanciest marina lighting we’ve ever seen ….

One of the other key traits of HHM is that we could walk to all of the the key places to spend our money – Downwind Marine (both locations!), SeaTech Marine, West Marine, Eppiq Brewing, the taco place on Rosecrans, etc. etc. 

Latitude 38, the rally organizers, arrange a series of seminars for us noobs, culminating with the Skipper’s meeting and Costume Party in the West Marine parking lot the Sunday prior to departing. It’s genuinely more fun than it sounds.

Besides, our To Do list was actually pretty short:

  • Change the engine Thermostat we suspected was sticking
  • Fix the Autopilot that broke when we arrived in San Diego
  • Get the Watermaker running
  • Install our new mainsail when it shows up
  • Figure out where we’re going to put all the stuff from the guest cabin when Pat shows up
  • Buy everything in sight and/or on sale at Downwind Marine
  • Buy everything in sight and/or on sale at West Marine.
  • Have Pat bring our Mexican Import Permit (El TIP es mucho importante!)
  • Make a Costco run.

I ended up spending a lot of the time we had allocated to fun in the engine bay, trying to get our thermostat housing from leaking. This was a crucial repair that went sideways and would have kept us from leaving the dock. Pat stepped up big time, helping me get a new fastener installed that provided enough torque to clamp the assembly down, thereby preventing leaking coolant when running our engine at cruising RPM. He went so far as to buy an entire Isuzu pump while he was still in Phoenix, paint it at home, stow it in his duffle bag, and fly out to San Diego the following morning. That was the Friday before the rally left.

Saturday morning we decided to make a short hop over to the fuel dock to beat the Sunday crowd. Smart as we all were, we also thought it prudent to sea trial the new wheel pilot drive I had installed and tested at the dock. While the timing of the fuel dock worked out fine, the sea trial did not. Our wheel pilot – which we use when motoring underway – was no bueno. About here was when the sunny San Diego sky fell for me. I made my way to the Skipper’s Meeting on Sunday not knowing if were we actually going to make the rally start. 

One of the big reasons we even decided to do the rally was the social aspect of it – which would be entirely lost if we were days (or weeks) behind the fleet. I was incredibly distraught. I attended the Skippers Meeting while Pat talked to the guys in West Marine. Carrie kept getting the boat ready. We ended up making a last minute purchase of an entirely new autopilot control head and brain to go with the drive unit I had installed the week prior. While other crews were walking back from the costume party, I lugged back a rather large Raymarine box to the boat. We did enjoy a really nice dinner with friends at Miguel’s, Pat’s favorite place in Shelter Island.

Going Clockwise: Kevin (blue fleece) & Gina of SV Raven, the crew from SV Moondance, Shellie & Randy of Moondance, Us, & Bill & Nina from SV Gypsy, & crew from Raven.

Dharma Girl Goes All ‘A-Team’

Remember that show, the ‘A-Team’? Well I do, and there was always a part in every episode where the ragtag buncha characters pull together and weld up a tank out of a school bus or something spectacular. We got up on Monday morning and started installing our new, fresh out of the box, new car smell, Autopilot. I spent most of the morning on my back in the aft lazarette, in Boat Yoga Dead Cockroach Pose, while Pat handed me tools through the open space where our control panel used to live. Carrie made last minute preparations as if we were getting underway to help with the Positive Ju-Ju onboard. While we had bought a lot of Positive Ju-Ju at Costco, you know you can never really have enough on the boat. 

We wired that sunuvagun up by 4PM and it passed initial tests at the dock. We cast the lines shortly before sunset, did a test in the marina fairway with positive results, and decided we were Good to Go to leave for Turtle Bay. Boom. Fist Bumps all around. 

This was an all-in, no-holds barred, team effort of the highest order. 

We were underway and headed to Mexico only nine hours behind the fleet!

3 thoughts on “San Diego & Getting Ready for the Baja Ha-Ha

  1. I am so happy to have been a part of Team Dharma Girl season one. I will always remember the delight and amazement that we got that autopilot installed in 6 hours. Love you Brother.


    • And I’ll still laugh when I think of the moment when I asked you two “do you think we are leaving today” and with your back to me you went from a slouch position to a full erected sitting position. That was my cue to say “I’m going to check the laundry”.


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