“But how will Santa find you?!”
It was my dad’s biggest worry when I told him we’d be leaving San Jose del Cabo on Christmas eve, not projected to arrive at Isla Espiritu Santo until sometime Christmas morning.
“You need to make it easier on him! How will he bring you presents? Stop before midnight, or at least email him your GPS coordinates around 11:30!”
Since we rounded the top of Vancouver Island on September 3rd, we have been steadily pulsing south. Always looking for an easy breeze behind us, always watching the sunset to starboard. The prevailing northwest winds make south a good direction to go this time of year.
But Cabo is as far south as you can get on the Baja peninsula, so now we are headed north inside the sea of cortez, towards La Paz, against the wind and waves. It’s slow and less pleasant, but on we bash, making progress back up the coast.
It’s 11:07pm and I’m on watch, sitting in the cockpit listening to a very funny Tina Fey audiobook while we motorsail along in a light head wind. John pokes his head out the companionway.
“Did you just rev the engine?”
I hadn’t touched it. I pull out my headphones and tune in to the familiar sounds of the boat underway. The rumble of the motor beneath me, the rush of the water past the hull, the gentle clank of dishes in the sink. The engine changes pitch. That’s not supposed to happen.
I throttle back and the engine dies. Ergh. With a sigh and a nod to John, I unfurl the jib and trim the main so we are sailing in generally the right direction. John grabs his tools and folds himself into the engine room.
This is a place John has been spending too much time. Taking advantage of our prepaid slip in San Jose – complete with calm water and easy shore access – John performed some engine maintenance, changing the oil and swapping out some filters. In typical boat project fashion (see: The Absurdity of Boat Projects article in the December 2016 issue of 48 North), what should have been a 1-hour job took a day and a half when, with fresh filters and clean oil, the engine refused to turn over.
And in typical boat project fashion, the culprit was a hairline split in a washer the size of a dime. Once diagnosed (shout out to James on Golden Hind IV and his excellent engine diagnostic skills!), it was a $0.30 solution.
In the frustrating hours of not yet inviting James to take a look, John bled the engine probably 11 times (this is a process performed to encourage the flow of diesel through the injectors after introducing air into the system either purposefully or accidentally).
So John sighs louder than I when the engine sputters and quits, an indicator of a plugged filter and prerequisite to another round of engine bleeding. Practice makes perfect, right?
I keep the boat going while John quite deftly swaps the plugged filter and bleeds the engine. We bob along with our full main and jib up in a pleasant 6 knots of wind. OK Dad, we are more or less sitting still. Is that good enough for Santa to find us?
As we fire the engine back up and John unfolds himself from the engine room to clean up, the wind inconsiderately soars from a calm bobbing 6 knots to a boisterous 25. Like a light switch. This new persuasive breeze grabs the bow of the boat and spins us 160 degrees, backwinding the jib (filling the wrong side of the sail with wind), tacking the main (pushing the boom to the other side of the boat) and shaking the rigging (making a racket).
I am hurled into action. I drop the main sheet so the wind can spill out of the sail instead of heeling us over. I blow the jib, now flapping around like mad, and grab the furling line to try to roll it up. I don’t have enough hands to keep the boat turned the right way and get the sail in. I call for John. We roll in the jib and double reef the main (reducing our sail area from as much as we have to a very small amount). The wind builds. It is, of course, coming from precisely where we’d like to go.
We settle the boat in with its new sail plan and freshly bled engine, but quickly realize this is not going to work well. We are approaching a point, around which this newly emancipated wind is whipping the waves into a confused state of fury. We are bashing into it at no more than 3 knots and getting wet. Ergh.
Luckily, all this mess takes place just 10 miles out from a cove tucked under that point, one of the very few protected anchorages in this stretch of coastline. We make the very easy decision to head for cover. Above us, I see a shooting star with a long tail that is bright enough to stay in my vision long after it dissolves from the sky. I look at my watch. It’s 11:32.
Wait a minute – I know what you’re thinking. I’m not saying there was some kind of mastermind plan to bring us to a halt by midnight on Christmas Eve. I’m not pointing fingers. Engines die all the time, right before the wind kicks up, just outside a protected bay, while Santa a comet streaks across the sky, just before midnight on Christmas Eve…
Whatever the causes of our sudden change of movement that Christmas night not long ago at all, there was one more obstacle. The wind, fighting hard to keep us stationary, stretched that 10-mile motor into a 3-hour bash. It was nearly 3am before we could cut the engine and crawl into bed for a long winter’s nap.
So for future reference, if you ever need to help some friends or loved ones out by ensuring they are stationary for Santa to find them, please do keep in mind that all those big choppy waves really slow a boat down.
Not that you would ever do that.