By Rob Piwowarczyk
We had first learned about CUBAR back in 2017, and from the very start it sounded like this was something that we wanted to do, even though we didn’t own a boat yet!
Not having done any long-distance trips or any trips into foreign waters, joining the CUBAR rally seemed like a fun and safe way to travel to a distant place.
2019 was going to be the year! Having owned our Selene 55 Bella Luna for 2 years, we felt like we were ready. We have enjoyed exploring the Southern California coast and the California Channel Islands, so it was time for the next big thing. A 1000-mile voyage to Baja and the Sea of Cortez sounded ideal.
The spring and summer of 2019 were full of planning and preparations. I started going through every system on our boat. By the end of the summer I felt like I could work at Jet-Tern Marine building new Selene trawlers! We started the spring with a scheduled haul out for bottom paint and the stabilizer service. To our shock and surprise, we found out that our propeller shaft was corroded badly and ready to snap. After a $30,000 boat yard bill and a shiny new propeller shaft, Bella Luna was back in the water and ready for the next phase.
Next came the electronics and navigation equipment upgrades. Bella Luna had 3 previous owners and over the years, a number of upgrades have been done to her. Unfortunately, as new equipment was installed, a lot of the old wires, cables, power supplies, etc. had been left behind creating a big wiring mess in the pilot house. With the help of my electrician, I spent a week onboard cleaning up the old mess and installing the upgrades. The result was a very clean, simplified installation that is mapped out and easy to troubleshoot.
As the summer went along not a system was untouched. From rebuilding the master head toilet, overhauling the water maker, rebuilding the fuel injection pump on the generator, to replacing every single hose and clamp on the main engine; I felt like I had checked every single system onboard. I tried to do most of the work myself, in order to be more familiar with the various mission critical systems onboard.
Another important part of the preparations was acquiring all the various spare parts and maintenance supplies. The goal was to be as self-sufficient as possible, to be able to do all of the general maintenance ourselves so we were ready and able to handle most breakdowns. I must say that all of the hard work paid off, because our journey went as planned without any major mechanical problems.
Finally Going South
Our first leg of the trip from Channel Islands Harbor to Dana Point was as good as it gets. Flat seas and warm California sunshine all the way.
The second day – Dana Point to San Diego- was the worst day of the entire journey! Strong head winds combined with very steep, short period seas, slowed us to running at 6-7 knots most of the day. We even managed to break some of the “Unbreakable” dishes in the galley!
We were glad to get the worst behind us and the rest of the trip was “smooth sailing”.
Our stay in San Diego was full of last-minute preparations, provisioning and filling up our fuel tanks. With 1500 gallons onboard, we were one of the few lucky boats in our group that can go down to the Sea of Cortez and back, without having to refuel.
The CUBAR sendoff party at San Diego Yacht Club was a lot of fun and it was where we met a ton of new friends for the first time.
During the party we were informed of an incoming Santa Ana wind event. It was suggested that we might consider leaving that night instead of waiting for the scheduled departure the next day.
We decided to depart that night with a small group of other boats. Leaving San Diego harbor in the dark and having to deal with boat traffic in an unfamiliar harbor was pretty nerve wracking.
We managed to leave without any problems and proceeded south for Ensenada. This was our very first overnight passage, ever. The investment that we made in new radar and navigation equipment paid off, as it gave us the comfort level to be able to navigate in the darkness for the very first time. Our journey south that night went very smooth, the horizon was full of lights on the US/Mexico border and the air was filled with the smell of smoke from distant fires in Mexico.
We arrived in the Ensenada harbor early the following morning. It was too early, since the Marina Coral office was still closed, so we had to circle the harbor for an hour before we could get our slip assignments and enter the marina.
Welcome to Mexico
Our decision to leave the previous night turned out to be a good one. The boats leaving San Diego that morning were hit with some vicious Santa Ana winds; some turned back and departed later. Coral Marina helped us with checking in to Mexico, and everything went smoothly. Ensenada was our last stop in “Civilization” until we reached Cabo about a week later, so we stocked our provisions with anything that we had missed earlier and made sure we had our bar stocked with good Tequila for the long journey south!
Our stay in Ensenada happened to coincide with Halloween and also the Day of The Dead – El Día de los Muertos. My wife Deanna loves to dress up for Halloween, so she made sure our crew came prepared with Pirate costumes. On Day of The Dead the entire crew had their faces painted by professional makeup artists in the local Mexican tradition. That evening with our faces painted and our costumes on, we proceeded to have some fun in town before we departed for Turtle Bay, late that night.
Baja Here We Come
With our faces still painted, we departed late at night. This was to be our longest non-stop leg of the trip – 280 nautical miles totaling 35 hours underway. We left civilization behind us and quickly fell into our routine. The hourly engine room checks and watch crew rotations make the time go by fast. The fishermen in our crew were getting pumped up with the possibility of catching Yellowfin Tuna, Dorado and maybe even Marlin!
Heading south of Ensenada you enter the real Baja; the coastline looks wild and spectacular. As you get closer to Turtle Bay the water gets warmer and we finally caught our first fish – Yellowfin. Our crew celebrated and we caught many more fish before we entered the bay.
Turtle Bay is a large protected bay with a rustic fishing town on its shore. Some of the boats in our flotilla had to refuel here. With a successful 35-hour passage behind us and many fish caught along the way we relaxed a bit and felt like we’d developed into more experienced cruisers. While anchored in the bay, we hosted many fellow Cubaristas onboard, for wine and fresh sushi. This is one of those things that make trips like these special, meeting new friends in faraway places while all soaking in and appreciating the amazing surroundings we are fortunate to be visiting.
After a couple of days on the hook in Turtle Bay, we departed for the second longest leg of our trip – 235 nautical miles and 30 hours run time to Bahia Santa Maria followed by Magdalena Bay. As we got closer to Magdalena Bay, we finally felt a sense that we were getting closer to a warmer climate. The water temperature started rising and the fishing got a lot better. We started reeling in all the fish that we came here to catch. Dorado is the most beautiful fish and great to eat. We even caught and released two Marlin!
Magdalena Bay is a huge natural harbor, an annual destination for migrating whales. The little fishing village on its banks is even more remote and rustic than Turtle Bay. We experienced some of the most incredible colors during each sunrise in this beautiful bay. We visited with fellow Cubaristas on their boats and hosted more get-togethers onboard while sharing much of the fresh fish we caught on the way. With all of the celebrating, we unfortunately ran out of beer and the small store onshore was sold out. The local fishermen came to our rescue and offered to take their panga across the bay to bring more supplies, a couple of hours round trip. Now that’s what we call customer service!
After our stay in Magdalena Bay, the flotilla departed for San Jose Del Cabo; our final overnight passage – 190 nautical miles taking 24 hours. Fishing along this part of the coast was the best so far. We were blessed with an amazing sunset and caught more Dorado. Chef Alex prepared his best Dorado dish yet and we slowly made our way to Lands’ End. As we travelled through the night we slowed down, trying to time our arrival at the tip of Baja Peninsula – Lands’ End, right at sunrise.
Our timing worked out perfectly! Just as we arrived on the west side of Lands’ End, we enjoyed watching the sun rising on the eastern horizon. WOW, what a special sight and we couldn’t have timed it any better!
Good Morning Cabo
As we made the turn, around Lands’ End, we decided to take a small detour, before we headed for San Jose Del Cabo.
We were joined by our friends onboard Tennie Ann, a Grand Alaskan 64, and anchored our boats a short distance from shore at Medano Beach in Cabo. After completing most of our journey, we felt that this was the most opportune time to celebrate with Margaritas onshore. Deanna, and our friend Monica, couldn’t wait any longer, so they proceed to jump in the water and swim to shore. The rest of us took a water taxi and commenced our celebration at The Office, a famous restaurant on the beach.
I have visited Cabo as a “typical” tourist many times and I had never imagined that someday I would be here, on this beach, having traveled on my own boat, many hundreds of miles, to see it anchored just a few hundred feet away. I have an incredible memory and clear mental picture of the sight of our boat anchored that morning off the beach in Cabo – it certainly was the climax of our journey.
San Jose to La Paz
Marina Puerto Los Cabos outside of San Jose, was the first time that we docked in a marina since we left Ensenada. The marina put on a huge party celebration for the entire flotilla. It was a bittersweet time. A sense of great accomplishment, but also time to say our goodbyes to many of our friends. Some boats in the fleet started turning back, others made the hop across the Sea of Cortez to Puerto Vallarta. The rest of us continued on deeper into Mexico.
After spending a couple of weeks heading South it felt strange to change course to head East, and then North, as we entered the Sea of Cortez and headed for our final destination – La Paz.
However, before we reached La Paz, we spent one last night on the hook at Muertos Cove.
This is a lovely, quiet anchorage, with warm and incredibly clear water. We anchored in 30 feet and could peer down to see our anchor dug into the bottom. The next morning, before we departed for our final stop, the crew jumped in the warm water for a refreshing morning swim.
Underway, we turned the corner around Muertos Cove and headed North as we entered the magical Sea of Cortez.
The sea that day was totally flat, not a ripple on the surface, and it sparkled with the famous deep blue Baja color, and clear blue skies. It turned out to be one the warmest days of our journey.
We entered Marina Costa Baja, got into our slip and all of sudden – this long journey was over.
CUBAR organizers and Marina Costa Baja hosted our final dinner and celebration for all of the 2019 CUBAR participants. It was time to celebrate with our new friends and make plans for what to do next. Some of our friends were making plans to head across Sea of Cortez to Puerto Vallarta and spend the winter in the warmer climate. Some of them decided to continue further south down to Panama and over to the other ocean. Some will stay in the area and head back north to the US in the spring of 2020.
As for us, we came back to Marina Costa Baja after CUBAR and took Bella Luna north to Loreto. Puerto Escondido Marina is our new home base.
CUBAR was a great experience for us with memories and friendships made that will last a lifetime. Our preparations for and completing this journey, gave us the confidence that we can do this again and continue exploring. It is a big world out there and there is so little time.
Rob Piwowarczyk is a licensed California yacht salesperson with JMYS. Rob and Deanna purchased their Selene 55 through JMYS. Rob liked the experience so much and embraced the trawler lifestyle with such enthusiasm that he asked Jeff for a job and he’s now enjoying being a trawler owner and helping other clients sell and purchase trawlers. If you would like to get in touch with Rob please call or text his cell: +1 720.490.5662 or send an email to Rob@JMYS.com.