The Baja Ha-Ha Cruiser's Rally begins every year around the first of November in San Diego and ends in Cabo San Lucas. Some call the Ha-Ha a race, the organizers prefer to think of it as a Cruiser's rally so that no one has to feel bad about all the cruising junk on the decks.
This year represented the 22nd Baja HaHa which will begin on October 30, 2016, in San Diego and will land in Cabo on November 11 and the event ending November 12, 2016, in Cabo San Lucas with the "I survived the HaHa event.
The crowd of more than 180 registrants bodes a little better for the cruising season this year. Although far more boats come down independently of the HaHa, it is always a good barometer of the volume of tourists in the year to come.
The Baja Ha-Ha makes the 750 mile trip down the Pacific coast of our peninsula in three legs. The first goes from San Diego to Turtle Bay. Turtle Bay is just south of Punta Eugenia, the elbow in the middle of the west coast. It is a common refueling stop for both north and southbound cruisers and usually a pretty good anchorage for the large number of boats. In Turtle Bay, the contestants will enjoy a potluck supper.
Turtle Bay isn't much to look at anymore. Some years ago, the late '80s or early 90's as I heard) the tuna cannery closed and the population of the town dropped from about 10,000 to about 2,000 today. The rusting cannery and huge boilers from the steam plant are about all that is left of the industry that once powered the town. Things will continue to expand in that area, however, as Pacific development moves their way. Things have changed much I hear since I was there several seasons ago. Still, beware the "laundry scam".
But the comradely is the thing, and by Turtle Bay, the bonds are beginning to form and the mutineers identified. For many of the participants this has been the longest leg they have ever sailed, and as any sailor who has been on a multi-day passage will agree, the third day out is the toughest.
The Potluck gives the crews a little liberty and time to explore the little town. For many, it is the first taste of 'real Mexico' as well. Small blocks cut with narrow dirt streets where the children play soccer and an occasional low-rider passes by. (yes, it's a little non-sequitur) Do beware the laundry scam, though. Cruisers anxious to get some of those mildew clothes off the boat will find the negotiated price changes on delivery.
The second leg of the rally is the jump to Santa Maria Bay. This is one of the most beautiful places on the Pacific Coast in my humble opinion. When we walked the beach there almost 6 years ago, we shared the 4km of white sands with a coyote and some of the largest sand dollars I have found anywhere. Cruisers really feel like they are reaching the tropics in Santa Maria as well, as it is one of the first places you see the Magnificent Frigates, with their 6-7' wingspan circling the bluffs overhead.
The participants get a day off there, in Santa Maria to explore and take a breather from the shipboard life. I highly recommend taking your camera and taking the short hike to the top of the bluff near the point. Looking back down on the boats in the blue-green water below makes a spectacular vista.
The final jump is about a 36hr leg to Cabo San Lucas, where the race ends and the party begins. An arrival night fiesta on November 8th kicks things off, as even the last straggler has usually made it into port by Happy Hour.
With the fleet of 140+ boats that will arrive in Cabo, if you don't have a marina reservation, you are probably going to be at anchor in front of Medano Beach. Having anchored there for years, I highly recommend doing so about 200-300 yards off shore in front of the arroyo. Take the time to set your anchor well despite the urgency of joining the party. The year we passed through two men were in such a hurry to get ashore the Mexican Navy retrieved their boat about a day later, some 80 miles out to sea
On the 9th participants enjoy a Cabo Beach Party and on the 10th the awards banquet takes place on the marina's edge. It is a fun crowd and almost everyone I have spoken to about their experiences enjoyed it immensely. The advantages to participating are many. For a large number of the participants, it is their 'first time away from home'. The benefit of group support and a large number of helpful opinions when it comes to in-transit repairs is obvious. With the number of boats, you are likely to find other cruisers of your sect, tech-heads, old salts, sea virgins, families and more. Cruisers find and form their own little cliques and many form bonds that are enjoyed well beyond the end of the race.
There are some downsides to participating in the Baja Ha-Ha as well. The organizers of this event do a fabulous job from all accounts I have heard from participants. Yet 140 boats is a lot of boats. As I said above, many of the participants are sea (cruising) virgins. For them, it is very reassuring to have some of the veterans around who may have participated in 2 or more HaHa's.
Dragging anchors, wrapped head stays and worse do occur and can present a problem with such a crowd. Only Turtle Bay really has space to comfortably anchor that many boats and like a swarm of locust, they strip the little tiendas of food and prices go up for a few weeks following the passage of the fleet. Every once and a while, trying to maintain the fleet's schedule puts you to sea on days you might rather not.
The biggest single downside I see to participating in the Baja Ha-Ha is the amount of Baja you miss in between. Even today much of Baja's rugged Pacific coast can only be visited from the decks of your own boat.
When we sailed down in 2000 as a solo boat and departed San Diego on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was spent in Ensenada and on the 26th we learned all about doing our own paperwork and checking in. Neither my girlfriend or I were particular 'joiners' and we had been training both physically and nautically for more than a year for a voyage that had intended to be longer than just the trip down Baja. I had been sailing for more than 30 years and had a few trans-Atlantic passages under my belt, so we had no qualms about doing the trip without a buddy boat or fleet.
We explored our way down the Pacific coast, spending a few days in San Quentin and exploring the estuary there. There is San Martin as well, an island obviously volcanically formed, that juts up like a black cone from the Pacific.
One of the most magical stops for me along the way was San Jerónimo Island, not much more than a large rock about 4 miles off the coast and just north of the famous Sacramento Reef, the graveyard of the Pacific. The tiny island is home to an old lighthouse and a tiny fishing camp. The lighthouse maintains it's authentic look but the equipment inside and the lighthouse keeper have been replaced by modern gear.
The amazing inhabitants of the island were the elephant seals. These enormous sea mammals make for a National Geographic moment that is certainly worth the photo opportunity. Do beware, though, these animals are not used to human contact, are WAY bigger than you and will charge to defend their young or territory.
When we stopped on San Jerónimo on December 31, 2000, we rounded north of the island, avoiding the reef passage in the first few minutes of the new millennium. It was a new moon night and with zero light pollution, we enjoyed a spectacular show as the dolphins raced through the iridescent rich waters around the boat. So bright was the illumination the sleek bodies of the dolphins appeared to glow and their swim trails could be seen hundreds of yards off into the calm night sea.
We met other 'pods' of cruisers along the way, some of whom I am still in touch with or run into around The Sea today. It is a deeply bonding experience.
We also took the time to dive and explore ashore in some areas. Cedros Island, for example, was once a watering stop for the Manila Galleons returning from the Philippine Islands loaded with treasure on their way to Acapulco, where it was mule trained across Mexico then ship bound for Spain. The now denuded islands were once covered in cedar trees, all cut down for spars and such over the years.
At the north end of Cedros on New Years night we traded a few cans of beer and a bottle of cheap wine to some partying fishermen for four of the biggest Pacific lobster I have ever enjoyed. In Santa Maria, we traded two company ball caps for several kilos of jumbo shrimp, direct from the gunnels of a shrimper. We hosted a shrimp-a-thon for our little fleet of 4 or five boats that night and had a memorable evening with new friends.
In all, it took us 28 days to sail from San Diego to Cabo, where as the Ha-Ha-ers cover it in 10. It's different strokes for different folks to be sure. Sailing solo might not be recommended if you are too green at the cruising life or if you enjoy the comradery and support of the group. But if you have the time and the huevos taking the time to explore the Pacific Coast is a rare opportunity I am thankful I didn't miss.
Either way, almost everyone ends up in Cabo San Lucas and for some, it's the end of the journey. For many, it is a place of goodbyes, with some cruisers headed to the mainland, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta and points even further south. For others, like myself, they take the turn north, up into the Sea of Cortez. You can spend years exploring the magic of The Sea or you might end up here longer - But as Homer wrote a couple of thousand years ago... The Journey is the thing!