I’d seen conditions like this driving along the California coast but never had I been able to take advantage of them. With seas almost flat we were able to run our 40′ catamaran at max cruise which meant we could pass through the Golden Gate in roughly 48 hours, as long as we didn’t get big headwinds or didn’t stop. Oh, and those mellow conditions I mentioned? Two days is about how long they last before the next big blow passes through. I wanted to get as far up the coast as quickly as possible.
There are two things to take into account when bringing a boat up into the US from Mexico. First, the wind is frequently against you, often blowing a small gale. And that wind, with over a thousand miles of fetch, stirs up some healthy sized waves. The second thing is that leaving Mexico you are required to check in at your first port of entry so my original plan to stop in San Diego is both logical for immigration purposes and a nice first break in case it’s blowing hard. There are also Coast Guard patrol ships looking for smugglers and every time you run across them it seems they want to come aboard and while it’s nothing more than a hassle, it’s a hassle none the less.
With the conditions mild, we left San Diego 40 miles to starboard headed to the west side of San Clemente island on the rhumb line for Point Conception. As the sun rose we were off the Big Sur coast but within a couple of hours the wind piped up to close to 20 knots and with it steep waves gathered. In the building waves the catamaran leapt from wave to wave and began to pound into the degrading conditions. I pulled back on the throttle to cut our speed and then made a round to make sure we didn’t have any gear adrift. With everything shipshape I settled down at the chart table with a cup of coffee and made a log entry. I then took a dive into the GPS plotter. To keep the boat from breaking our speed had been cut in half. I started to think about maybe stopping in Monterey if things got worse.
Great. So much for our fast, easy trip I thought.
And then, just an hour later, as quickly as the breeze had come up it died back down and soon I was able to push the throttles back up and we were back at it.
Going across an international border with a half million dollar sailboat requires paperwork and immigration officials. Heck just walking across requires paperwork and in the case of Mexico a little bribe money. They call it fees but it’s pretty clear where the fees go. Especially as the USA doesn’t charge. This wasn’t my first time in Mexico so I know the drill but as I walked from San Diego into Tijuana I noticed that the immigration men were busy playing cards so I just slipped past unnoticed. I then grabbed a bus to Ensenada from which the views of the Pacific Ocean are unparalleled. I hopped off right in front of the Marina and there I was an illegal immigrant on Mexican soil.
Since I had never checked in, I couldn’t check out so the owner, a retired SF Circuit Court Judge, and her husband went to immigration and checked out without declaring me. A risky move but it worked and as I changed the engine oil in both engines I kept a low profile. I had both engines warming up as they returned and soon we were underway. Now I was officially attempting to smuggle myself back into the US.
With the wind calm we continued to make good time but the delay off of Big Sur meant that we would be entering over the SF Bar at night and at the end of an ebb tide. As I lined up in the shipping channel for our approach I could feel the waves building under us in the relatively shallow water. The catamaran began to surf off of the waves! The judge got nervous as we flew down the face of wave after wave. I was nervous too but I didn’t want to let on. As we raised Point Bonita on the North side of the Gate we picked up the early flood current and within minutes we whisked safely under the Golden Gate Bridge on our way to San Rafael Yacht Harbor. It was 1 o’clock in the morning as I switched off the engines for the first time in 31 hours; the relative quiet was lovely.
Oh, and my immigration status? Well technically I never left the country.