“Our plans are made in the sand in low tide” Scott would say, echoing the cruising aphorism. The same can be said for deliveries.
I hired Holly Scott, veteran USCG licensed captain, author of Charlie’s Charts, and esteemed sailor, to take Juniper from La Cruz to the Bay Area. My plan was to take Juniper back to where Scott and I started our epic cruising adventure. In my imagination, I saw myself aboard Juniper, returning under the Golden Gate Bridge while I held up a bottle of champagne, toasting Scott and the wonderful life we lived that had come to an abrupt end.
We left on May 5th. The first ten days of the delivery were what I more or less expected: bashing into seas that, on all accounts, weren’t “that bad.”
Captain Holly, Terri, and Kathy were friendly and tight knit, having known each other for years. They clearly liked each other and worked well as a team. They were quick to share funny stories, boat advice and experiences. Their laughter filled the quiet spaces aboard Juniper. Kathy made filling and comforting meals and her wittiness combined with her Bostonian accent had me in stitches. Terri was kind, considerate, self-effacing, and understated, with a quiet competence. The trio spoke almost endlessly about their tribe of women friends, their adventures, and their enduring friendships. These were nice people savoring life. They almost immediately referred to themselves as my aunties.
However, the trip was a constant reminder that Scott was gone and I had a hard time finding the space and comfort to openly grieve. It was emotionally difficult because I regularly wanted to wail, to step out onto the deck and scream his name out over the endless ocean. When I saw the night sky and the Milky Way, I just wanted to scream “Why?” at the universe. Instead I regularly screamed and sobbed into a pillow in the bobbing forward cabin, trying to keep it down so that I could have some privacy. I ended up stifling my grief because it was so uncomfortable for me to cry and then not talk about what I was going through. Captain Holly and crew were nice people, but they were doing a job. I did not anticipate how lonely and isolating the experience of grieving aboard a full boat would be for me.
At around day ten I started to adjust to this new reality, the momentum of the bashing which felt like an endless push forward, the hum of the engine strong and unending. I heard plenty of stories about the Baja Bash and how tough it can be. I didn’t anticipate how physically tiring it was. I slept a lot. To the point where I thought something was wrong with me. But your body is continuously tensing and relaxing with the boat’s movement. Add mild seasickness and a 2-4am watch schedule and you’re going to be beat.
On day ten, the 15th of May, we were 10 miles from Bahia Asuncion when the engine made an unfamiliar noise. Captain Holly immediately stopped the boat and we all looked overboard to see if anything was wrapped around the prop. Seeing nothing, she started up the engine and gingerly put it into gear only to quickly put it back into neutral.
We popped off the engine hatch and discovered that the prop shaft was malfunctioning. It being too late in the day to figure out why, we tacked over to Bahia Asuncion with the goal of anchoring and sorting out what was wrong in the morning. I reached out to Shari, whose name and number we were given just prior to leaving La Cruz as a contact for refueling, to see if she could get us a tow. With assistance en route we sailed until the wind died. After several tries to locate us, it wasn’t until late in the evening that Lery, a young local sailor and fisherman tasked to tow us in, was able to find us bobbing in the dark. We had a few mishaps getting our tow line tied to his panga and then we actually went in the wrong direction, heading south for the first hour instead of north! It wasn’t until 1:30 in the morning that Juniper’s anchor dropped into the bay.
The next morning at anchor Captain Holly dove into the engine compartment, swearing and sweating in a tiny space, contorting to access the shaft and the transmission. She would spend hours of her time down in there over the next few days. To our horror, we discovered that I had quite a few tools missing. Specifically all my socket wrenches and all but a set of 1/2″ sockets were stolen along with new preventer lines last month when on the hard*. Imagine having to work on an engine offshore at anchor with only a crescent wrench and a pair of channel locks because that’s what Holly had to do until the weather let up enough to get off the boat to buy a socket and a driver. The lack of these tools could have been catastrophic.
After some tinkering, Captain Holly discovered that the prop shaft had broken inside of the coupler. After brainstorming possible options over the phone with her mechanic friend back in LA, she realized that we had no choice but to turn around and sail back south to the nearest boatyard which was in Cabo San Lucas to remove and replace the prop shaft. Captain Holly went to work to try to jury rig something so that we could use the engine in case of emergency.
But first, we released our stress and frustration by plowing through the booze that Scott and I had in our bilge.
There was a lot of talk from the Captain and crew to accept the messages and the signs. To accept that this is how it’s happening, to not be negative, that there must be a reason for it somehow. While I appreciate the ability to take things as it comes, I had experienced loss, abrupt changes, and uncertainty this year to let it roll off of me so easily. It was stressful and frustrating to have to turn around and I was beside myself with the idea of having to change plans. I cried a lot and it took me time to process. Yet, I somehow had a lot of luck in this situation. First off, having Captain Holly Scott on board 100% prevented this from being a disaster. With over 30 years of experience sailing, a mechanical background, and curiosity and cleverness to engineer solutions like MacGyver, she kept all of us – and the boat – safe. I cannot overstate how lucky I am to have hired such an experienced captain and sailor because while we were in Bahia Asuncion, we overheard another cruising boat on the VHF who lost propulsion and needed a tow. We eventually learned their fate: they had to abandon their vessel and get rescued by the Mexican Navy. There but for the grace of God go I.
We also met Lery, that local sailor and fisherman I mentioned who towed us into the bay. He was eager to help us and curious about four women sailing a boat from Mexico to the States, so he spent a lot of time with us aboard while Holly worked. Meeting Lery ended up being a blessing.
When we discovered that tools had gone missing Lery took us into town to buy what we could find. Captain Holly also discovered a broken motor mount bracket. Luckily, Lery’s brother is a welder. It was on this trip to Lery’s house that the most amazing thing happened: Lery’s family had a prop shaft sitting in their backyard. No kidding! It was longer but the right diameter. All we would need to do was have the yard in Cabo machine it to fit, saving me time and money in one of the most expensive marinas in Mexico.
While we waited for favorable weather, I gathered up Scott’s sailing gear: His many waterproof jackets, his foulies and Dubarry boots, his offshore PFD and a recharge kit. Headlamps. Books. Snorkeling fins. An older but working Standard Horizon VHF radio that we had been meaning to sell at the swap meet but didn’t get around to it. A 40L backpack dry bag. All of these things would help Lery a lot, especially as a fisherman in rough waters. The next time Lery came to the boat I surprised him with all of this. It was an emotional exchange for both of us and I knew Scott would be happy to see his gear go to a fellow sailor who would make proper use of everything.
We left Bahia Asuncion on the 19th day of our trip. We quietly sailed off the anchor and Lery hurried up to us to give us one last goodbye. While the reasons for stopping in Bahia Asuncion were frustrating, I was happy to have had the experience of meeting Lery and I enjoyed the small town, the great food, and the people. Definitely make it one of your stops in Baja!
Getting towed into Cabo was incredibly stressful. I never want to do that again. Captain Holly navigated Juniper flawlessly through boat traffic that was disinterested in yielding to a disabled vessel and glided us into the travellift slip surrounded by concrete. We were elated when we stepped off the boat because rounding the arches and sailing into the Cabo anchorage, and getting towed was incredibly tense. There were hugs all around.
Once we got hauled out, the amazing folks at the boatyard immediately started to work. This was an easy job for a yard that works on huge powerboats. They cut down and tapered the shaft to size, rehabbed the coupler, serviced the propeller, and made sure to align the engine properly. Captain Holly also had the prop re-pitched as she felt it wasn’t pitched correctly. She was right. We went 1.5 knots faster once we were back in the water.
So why did the shaft break? Captain Holly and Cabo’s yard think it was due to a misalignment. Whether the misalignment was caused back in April before the delivery when I had a seal replaced on the coupler which required the yard to remove the transmission is not something we can guess on. We don’t know. The takeaway is regularly check your engine alignment by checking your alignment points, which include your coupler, motor mounts, and your shaft. Thankfully everything is fixed and Juniper is running smoothly.
The folks at the Cabo boat yard were gracious enough to let us stay aboard Juniper while they worked. We were the first people to stay on a boat while on the hard and they did their best to make us feel welcomed, cleaning up the bathroom and shower that was typically used by the workers and installing a shower curtain for us ladies. It wasn’t easy staying aboard the boat but it was a lot better than spending a whole bunch of money on hotel rooms in this resort town. Seventeen dollar burgers was already too much!
After a successful splash back into the water we sailed onto La Paz instead of heading north to the Bay Area. The plan to take the boat where Scott and I started from? Wasn’t going to happen. There’s the option to head north again once the boat was fixed but there’s only so much money and time, not to mention the additional engine hours to restart the delivery from Cabo. Captain Holly put on her Auntie Holly hat: Think of the time and the expense. It just wasn’t worth it when I could sell the boat in La Paz.
Our sail from Cabo to La Paz ended up being lovely with lots of sailing, with stops at Frailes and Bahia de los Muertos. I had hoped we’d do some sailing on the delivery. Didn’t expect to go about it in quite this way.
Failing to complete the trip as planned was frustrating. In exactly 30 days we went 1,446 nautical miles to end up 375 nautical miles from where we started. It was a frustrating, melancholic, and bittersweet end to find myself in La Paz instead of California.
So what now? Captain Holly helped me make the decision to list Juniper for sale here in La Paz. She put the word out to her vast network and passed me the names of a ton of interested people. Pacific Seacrafts are great boats and Juniper is an excellent and well cared for sailboat.
And me? I head back to the states to figure out what’s next. Scott and I had plan to cruise until it was no longer fun so my future is wide open now. In the meantime, this will probably be the last update until Juniper’s sold. Thank you for following along on our cruising adventures. It sure was fun.
*The yard responded quickly and decisively, firing the employee responsible and reimbursing me for the stolen items.