Reflections from Baja and Bahamas
2000+ nautical miles
13,000+ km towing
A trip like this one takes some planning. There are many things to think about when executing such a trip. Our initial plan was to spend 5 months in the Sea of Cortez, the second leg of the trip in the bahamas was an add on. We will explain how we came to this decision later in this section.
We had a general idea of the route we wanted to take and got some more information on the cruising area, where the facilities where and how to prepare. One of the key ressources we used is a recent publication , The Sea of Cortez A Cruiser's Guidebook by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer. Its an excellent ressource with detailed maps of most anchorages and all facilities. There is some very valuable information in this book and we read in and re-read it many times.
However no matter how much you read, information directly from other sailors that have sailed down there is very valuable. Ideally if you find someone that has a similar type of vessel to yours that is even more valuable information. Some of the trip considerations and challenges are influenced by the choice of vessel. We didn't know anyone in our entourage that had done this trip or had even sailed in the Sea of Cortez, so that was a bit of a problem. We scoured the internet for some information, blogs, cruisers forums etc. We found that this was not the most effective way to get information , a lot of the post are out of date or anecdotal. On the other hand there were a few useful youtube videos that showed what it was like down there and were interesting. One particular video documented a F27 Trimaran like ours that traveled to the Bahia de Los Angeles Area.
About 1 month before departure we had a lucky break in getting beta for the trip and this came in the most unexpected way. In the lead up to the trip we did a "shakedown cruise" to desolation sound north of Vancouver. This is our local cruising ground in the Salish Sea. We had made many improvements to the boat and wanted to make sure everything was working well. On the very last day of the trip sailing towards Squamish in Howe Sound, we spotted another sailboat that looked like a Trimaran of about the same size as us. We sailed towards it and sure enough it was a Corsair F28 named Ptarmigan! We hailed him on the VHF.
This is how we met Tom Bohanon from Colorado. He was a newly retired veterinarian and he had spend most of the summer cruising the pacific northwest coast after completing the Race to Alaska in June. ( and coming in 4th) As we were talking on the VHF we told him about our plans and that were headed to the Sea of Cortez in the very near future. He immediately replied with excitement that he had been there 3 times with his boat.We exchanged contact information and agreed to do a phone a call within a weeks time.
We called him at the agreed upon time and spoke for about 20 min. This call with Tom revealed some important information we had not considered despite all our previous preparation. Here were some of the key takeaways.
It's a challenge to get weather information. There is no marine forecast in the Sea of Cortez. There are often strong winds from the north during the winter and its important to know when those are coming. Use wifi when you can, use a single side band radio receiver to listen to a daily broadcast from a local enthusiasts and to get on the "cruisers nets". Our initial plan was to use our Inreach gps to reach my brother so that he could forward us weather bulletins from NOAA and Windy, this worked well throughout the whole trip.
Anchoring is a big deal in the Sea of Cortez, its windy and make sure you have very good ground tackle and a good bridle system to keep the trimaran steady. He suggested a Rocna Anchor. We went out and bought one right away. We bought a 9kg ( 20lbs) Rocna vulcan. This turned out to be one of the most valuable tips. We spent many nights anchored in 25 to 30kts of wind and never once did we drag. The rocna became our primary anchor. We still brought our 2 Fortress anchors fx 11 model (only 7lbs) as secondary or Kedge. As it turns out we never had to use either of them.
Bring enough water. Tankage is limited in our boat 18 gallons tank. This is not drinking water, we use this water sparingly to brush our teeth, rinse dishes. We got some refillable 5 gallon water jugs for drinking water. They find nicely under the cockpit behind the cooler. We got 5 jugs for a total of 25 gallons of drinking water. On average each jug of water would last us 1 week. We were not sure how often we would be able to get water and we were worried about the quality of the water, as a precaution we brought some water tablets that we could put in the water to kill bacteria. As it turns out every village had a good water refilling station with good quality filtered water. They would refill our jugs at a very low cost. We didn't use all of the jugs later in the trip. For the Bahamas portion of the trip 3 jugs was more than enough for our needs. Water is heavy and adds a lot of weight to the boat.
Good fishing gear is nice to have. We fished on passages using a cedar plug setup with a bungee on the line. We caught a few tunas and dorados, they boost morale considerably on board when you have fresh food. In Mexico it was often possible to buy fish from the local fishermen. This was always super fresh and cheap. We did this quite a few times.
Bring a good dinghy. In the Sea of Cortez Marinas are few and far in between and a good dinghy is a must. We often had to reprovision using the dinghy. It would need to carry 2 adults with a couple of water jugs and groceries. We have a 10ft achilles inflatable with inflatable air floor, its light and can be easily put on the nets when sailing. The motor is 2 stroke 6hp yamaha. It's a very simple and powerful little engine. It weighs 60lbs. We removed the engine from the boat and put it on the stern a stern rail bracket when sailing. The boat planed easily with 2 on board.
We had decided to sail along the entire length of the Baja Peninsula and minimize the amount of driving in Mexico. Therefore the logical starting point was San Felipe, about 2.5 hr drive south of the US/Mexico border. However driving over the border has some additional logistics involved. We needed to purchase insurance for the vehicle ( truck and trailer separate) we got theft and liability coverage which was reasonable. Our insurance from British Columbia is not valid in Mexico.
We had to find secure vehicle storage. The truck trailer had to be stored safely somewhere while we were sailing. There was no secure storage at the marina or near the boat ramp. Luckily this turned out to be fairly simple, we found a secure storage spot about 10km outside of San Felipe. They were very friendly and we were satisfied with how secure the area was. They even gave us a ride back to the Marina.
Boat insurance as we found out was unavailable for us in Mexican waters. This surprised us a bit , as our friend Tom was able to secure some insurance for his boat, but Canadian and American insurance companies are different. While boat insurance is a nice peace of mind, we got used to it and the fact that we were always on the boat made us feel better about it. We did however have liability insurance for the boat - this was a requirement so that we could moor in Marinas.
I think if we were going to undertake another big road trip with the boat. I would get some coverage for the road portion of the trip when the boat is on the trailer. I was always worried that someone would potentially hit it when we were driving down the road. You can purchase this type of coverage from auto insurance companies.
Our tow vehicle is a Nissan frontier 2010 4x4 mid size pickup truck with a 6 speed manual transmission. We were cautious and did not push the vehicle too hard our average towing speed was 55-60mph or 90-95km/h. We had more gear that we normally would have on the boat and additional equipment for this 5 months journey. We could definitely feel some of the extra weight. For this particular vehicle a set of airbags for the rear suspension would have been nice. It would have kept the vehicle a bit more level and improved ride quality. The tow capacity of the vehicle is rated a 6200lbs I estimate that with all our gear , trailer etc our total towing weight was just over 5000lbs. Once we crossed into mexico we did a big grocery runs and filled all our water tanks and gasoline tanks we were probably nearing 6000lbs. We could really feel the change in the vehicle for that short portion of the trip.
I think if I did such a long tow again I would consider getting a full size truck than could handle at least 30% more towing capacity. It would be nice to be able to cruise at 65mph instead of 55mph and at least being able to go the same speed as the big rig trucks. Despite the slower speeds the vehicle performed well and we had no mechanical issues.
Our trailer is original and came with the boat in 1994. Its a pacific trailer tandem axle trailer with surge brake set up. The trailer itself weights about 1200lbs. Before the trip we installed 4 new tires and serviced and greased the bearings on the axles. We also did a service on the brakes.
We learned that in regards to trailer brakes there are only three types of Corsair boat owners.
those who are expert on brakes.
those who will be expert on brakes in the near future.
those whose brakes don't work.
At the beginning of the trip I thought I was option 1 but then we quickly became option 3.
The surge brakes are always finicky with trailer that in go in salt water. With the help of a mechanic we took them apart , replaced some corroded parts changed the oil in the actuator. Unfortunately as we neared Los Angeles and hit some traffic the brakes overheated and seized, causing all the grease to come out of the rear axle. Luckily we were able to disengage the brakes by activating a switch on the actuator, and we were able to get some grease at the next exit. We proceeded the whole rest of the trip without trailer brakes. This didn't cause us any problems. This is one advantage of the manual transmission, whenever we went down steep grades I was able to downshift and maintain speed easily. In addition I adjusted my driving style accordingly by driving more conservatively. Other than this brake issue , the trailer performed well and was very stable even in windy conditions.