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Haha Leg One

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Monday morning. Day one of the official Haha. There was a Halloween party and BBQ on Sunday, which I missed due to laziness and Ali’s disinterest. Richard showed me the photos he took from it on Gary’s laptop and it looked to be a good time. I would have been upset at missing it except I knew plenty more parties were planned for the way down.

The bay was blanketed with a soupy gray cloud of fog, limiting our visibility to no more than 100 yards. On our way to the starting line, we stopped at the police dock on Shelter Island to meet Peter, one of the boat’s partners. He brought us some last minute supplies, mostly gallon jugs of drinking water. There’s a water tank and a new (read: untested) Spectra water maker, but my belief is that you can never have too much water.

We motored our way to the starting line and loitered with all the other boats. The so-called “Grand Poobah” of the Haha was on VHF channel 69 doing roll call. 10 of the 150 registered boats never made it to the start line, the first casualties of casualness. The fog was beginning to burn off and the wind was blowing at a pace fast enough to keep you from yawning. I never did figure out where the actual start line was and when the Poobah announced that there were 25 or so boats over the line, Larry reckoned that Crystal Blue Persuasion was probably one of them. While debating what to do and where we were, the Poobah pardoned the delinquent boats and cried, “Bang! Bang!” That was the gun and the race had begun.

The crowded herd of boats quickly dispersed, each  betting on the direction with the best wind. We were running with a northerly wind on a port tack, then decided to fall off to gain more speed at the expense of heading farther West. We planned on gybing to correct any unwanted displacement this would cause. In a matter of hours, we were well off shore, seeing another boat only periodically. Our highest speed at that time was maybe 5 to 7 knots.

We passed another school of dolphins. These ones were more energetic than the first batch we encountered. A few jumped as high as five feet out of the water, giving us a full body shot. Referencing the California Sea Mammal book I bought at Torrey Pines State Park, I guessed they were Saddleback dolphins. Since my camera was out of juice, I failed at getting photographic evidence of yet another dolphin sighting.

By nightfall we slowed to a boring 2 to 3 knots, partly because of wind conditions but also because we gybed to make our way to shore. We pulled the jib back to the starboard and feed the sheet through a cleat on the edge of the boat rather than the normal block that’s a few feet off the center. We also put at preventor on the main sail to keep the boom from whacking anyone in case of an unintentional gyb. With this wing-and-wing set up, it was the best we could sail downwind without at spinnaker. We maintained this tack for another 24 hours, when, after conferencing with other boats, we decided to fire up the motors and pollute our way to Turtle Bay.

On the morning of the second day, while I was in the salon, sipping my coffee, the main halyard got cut and the sail lowered itself, helpless and limp. This happened once before, on the way from Oregon to Santa Cruz, according to Gary. He blamed it on the ratty old halyard. I thought there was more to the pattern than just the same rope. The cut looked smooth and was in the same location as the last one, 6 inches from the shackle, suggesting that something atop the mast was sawing it. Without an extra halyard, someone was going to have to climb the mast and feed the new one down.

The jib halyard could be used to hoist a man 90% of the way to the top but there was still at 7.5 foot height difference between the top of the jib halyard and the top of the mast. Gary, the craziest and heaviest crew member volunteered, which is appropriate because he’s also the most responsible for the boat’s condition, and he did it when the halyard broke the first time.

Gary strapped himself into a makeshift harness and attached it to the jib halyard. Richard and I slowly cranked his 260 lb. body upwards with the winch. Being a catamaran, Crystal Blue Persuasion‘s mast doesn’t tip as much as a typical monohull’s. Regardless, Larry was at the helm, steering into weather, attempting to maximize stability. Nikki was watching, praying all parties came out of this debacle alive. After many sweaty grinds of the winch handle, the jib halyard was as high as it could go. Gary would have to pull himself up to the top spreaders at that point to reach the top of the mast on his own. There was nothing anyone on deck could do to help him at this point. I gripped the jib halyard, hoping I’d soon be using it to lower him. Watching his torso curled around the spreaders that he was trying to get his feet on, we realized we put too much line on his harness where it attached to the jib halyard. Had we attached the jib halyard closer to his belly, we could have hoisted him high enough where climbing would have been easier.He wasn’t making any headway and spent most of his time up there simply resting from the energy it took to just hold on. Admitting defeat, he asked to be lowered.

Tired and unsuccessfull, Gary couldn’t go up again. I kept mum, hoping I wouldn’t be selected because of my weight. Richard was the most eligible candidate and even though he was somewhat seasick, he volunteered before anyone asked him. Learning from our mistake, we attached the jib halyard as close as we could to his harness. Gary and I cranked him up with ease. Once at top, it was up to him. All Gary and I could do was give him slack when he asked for it. He managed to pull himself up and stand on the top spreaders, the position that Gary aimed to be in. At 5’7″, Richard was too short to reach the top of the mast from the top of the jib halyard. He tried to shimmy his way up it, replacement halyard in his teeth. I couldnt see in detail his manueverings but he did’t look or sound successfull. Like Gary, he just looked tired, exherting most his effort on trying not to fall. It didn’t make it easier that 12 feet of the excess 3/4″ diameter line from the harness was dangling freely between the shrouds, weighing him down unnecessarily. Richard finally gave up on trying to reach the top, but there was a D-ring, for what I did’t know, that he could reach. It was better than nothing so he feed the replacement halyard through the D-ring. As we lowered Richard and he approached the deck, he kept yelling, “All the way! All the way!.” Gary and I complied and he plopped on the deck like a fish that had been dragged through the water too long to put up a fight on deck.

After two attempts, we had no proper main halyard but felt we learned the hard way how to get it done. From Richard’s position on the stays, Gary would be tall enough to feed the halyard down the mast properly and with the replacement halyard in the D-ring, we could hoist him high enough to get there. The only setback with this solution was that Gary would be suspended from the replacement halyard. We therefore had to send him up with another line to feed through the D-ring and replace the replacement halyard for his support. The plan worked. First we made sure Gary was secure on his new rigging. Then he successfully threaded the replacement halyard. I grabbed it at the bottom and we had a main sail again.

At our current vector we would arrive at Turtle Bay, the first stop, at 3 in the morning. To avoid anchoring in a dark unknown harbor, we eased the throttles. It was my watch that early morning. The ocean looked like a parking lot with all the boats around us zeroing in on Turtle Bay. It was the most traffic I’d seen at night but I wasn’t concerned about collisions because every boat was going about the same speed in the same direction. I was too exhausted to go all the way and retired once the next crew member awoke.

I was awoken by footsteps, clinking, clanking and mixed sentences of Spanish and English. We’d been in Mexican waters for 3 days but this was the first indication of it. From my berth I could tell we were at the fuel dock (the only dock) topping off on diesel. I went on deck to find a quaint Mexican puebla and circular bay with 100 gringo boats anchored behind us. At the end of the dock was a fenced-up rusty tin sardine cannery. I learned later that it closed in 1996 after the last sardine was caught. The population of the town had slowly dwindled since then. The next largest structure was, of course, the iglesia. After viewing our first destination, I became anxious to escape the boat and do a reconnaissance of Bahia Tortugas.

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