Cabo to Hawaii, June 2009
This is a brief recap of a voyage made by Dave Cooper and
myself on Swan Song, a 58’ motor
trawler, from Baja Mexico to
Honolulu. The trip came about through Dave Cooper and
Nancy Terrell, the owners and residents of Swan
Song. Nancy and my wife, Barb, met
on a flight from Hawaii to Chicago a few years ago and maintained
internet contact ever since. I met Dave
and Nancy when they visited Hawaii in August
of 2008 and learned that they were
moving Swan Song from Venezuela to Hawaii. I volunteered for the passage from the west
coast of North America to Hawaii. This was in August of
Barb and I flew May 23rd from Hawaii to San Jose del Cabo, the airport that services Las Cabos at the tip of the Baja peninsula. After a Friday night in a very subdued Cabo San Lucas (not many touristas due to swine flue and economic woes) Barb and I took Executivo Bus Line to La Paz about 150 miles away. That trip revealed the true desert nature of the Baja peninsula…cactus, sand and dust prevailed.
Upon our arrival at the Marina de La Paz, we boarded my home for the passage, Swan Song. Dave and Nancy had been in La Paz for awhile, following their voyage from Venezuela through the Panama Canal and up the coast to Mexico. Nancy showed us La Paz and Dave showed me the systems aboard Swan Song. After three days in the marina we headed out to Isla Partida for a three day cruise. The Sea of Cortez is chock full of birds and sea life, the most prominent resident being bazillions of pelicans. The security lights on Swan Song keep the surrounding water lit up all night, attracting schools of fish, the fish attract pelicans which fly up wind and drift down gobbling up the easy pickings, it was quite entertaining. One day we took the tender, Leda, to Sea Lion Rock at the north end of the island to see….sea lions. Playful and carefree, they sunbathed, swam or just bellowed at us from their rocky perches.
Upon our return to La Paz, I rented a car to take Barb back to San Jose del Cabo for her early Sunday morning flight. We spent Saturday night in that delightful Mexican town. We stayed right in the center of San Jose del Cabo, just off of the central plaza, well removed from all of the beachside condos and resorts a mile away on the coast. It was very quiet with very few gringos in evidence and lots of local folks. We watched a wedding procession in the old cathedral, sampled the happy hours and had a romantic dinner watching an authentic Mariachi band. Great night and an early morning wake up call to get Barb to the airport.
Upon my return to La Paz, Dave and I finished fueling up Swan Song. Between the main tanks, storage bladder on the deck and jerry cans we had a total of 1,800 gallons of diesel for the 2,800 nautical mile trip. It took two days to travel down the coast to Cabo, one night in Ensenada de las Muertes (Cove of the Dead) and one night in Las Frieles.
Our time at anchor was spent installing safety gear, cleaning the bottom and getting Swan Song changed from being a live aboard to passage maker. The process was pretty easy as she is a very sturdy, seaworthy vessel. Highlight of this period were the stingrays leaping out of the water. There would be a half dozen of them frolicking on the surface and every now and then one or more would leap 4-5’ into the air, just because they can , I guess.
Cap’n Dave has completely renovated Swan Song since he purchased her about 8 years ago. Swan Song generates her own power and water, is equipped with all the electronics necessary for voyaging and is damned comfortable. She has a single Detroit Diesel 671 (with Big Red, the alternator), Yamaha Generator with charger and inverter to control the 32 batteries that run the boats electrical power systems. An “Anti Roll Tank”, aka ART, has 200 gallons of fresh water in a baffled tank located on top of the pilot house to dampen any rolling, a unique system that works very well! The galley is equipped with propane stove, microwave/convection oven, refrigerator and freezer, dishwasher and compactor. The washer/dryer combo came in handy, as did the air conditioning for those days when the sleeping areas became a little warm.
After a quick stop at Cabo San Lucas to top off the tanks from our trip from La Paz, we headed into the Pacific Ocean. At four p.m. on June 4th we passed "Land's End" at Cabo and looked over 2,800 miles of ocean to Hawaii, water, water, everwhere.......
The first three days were a real grind as the wind was blowing right on our nose with accompanying waves. The weather gurus had it wrong right off the bat, it was supposed to be relatively calm with a beam sea…no such luck. The second night of the voyage was the only time that I questioned the wisdom of committing to the trip. Two o’clock in the morning, alone in the pilot house, looking forward to another 18 days of the same, who wouldn’t question themselves? Never again did I have any questions or doubts, but of course, the rest of the trip went flawlessly, if there had been problems I might be singing a different tune.
The next ten days were perfect, light winds and small seas, allowing Swan Song to steam along at a leisurely 1,000 rpm generating 5-7 nautical miles (nm) per hour. Dave and I quickly settled into a schedule, I would stand watch from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m., he would come on from 5 a.m.to 10 a.m. We would do flex time until around 6 p.m. , we would hang out together and both of us could down for a nap when necessary. From 6 to 8 p.m. Dave would take a nap and then take a watch from 8 p.m. until midnight. Sleeping would vary from a 1/2 hour catnap to 4 hours for me, Dave was able to get some good “rem” sleep early in the voyage, but not over the last 5 days or so….too rough. Dave was Captain/Navigator/Engineer, I was first mate/cook/assistant. It really worked out well and we are still talking after eighteen days alone together.
Over the length of the voyage, we saw very little sea life. Tiny little flying fish, the size of bumblebees, were the most interesting sight! Flying fish, a few seabirds, one lonely little tuna followed us for about 50 miles, but that was about it. We didn’t catch any fish, but did lose some hooks and a lure, so something snagged the line at some point, the pilot house being 40 feet from the rod holder restricted our abilities to tend the line. Once we neared the Hawaiian islands the quantity and diversity of bird life increased and Dave was excited to see his first albatross.
The final four to five days after hitting 150 west longitude were a little rougher because of elevated winds and seas. The wind was about 15 to 20 mph and the waves were 8’ to 12’, nothing unusual for the open ocean, but a real change from the previous conditions, luckily both winds and waves were coming from our stern. The afternoon of day fifteen was particularly nasty with winds at 25 mph and waves that looked like haystacks instead of swells….all mixed up to 25’ of height. It kicked us around pretty good for an afternoon and then it improved at sunset. For the next two days it was windy and rough, but with regular wind waves and swells from the rear.
The final day we had to cross the Kaiwi channel to make it to Oahu. That day offered the highest winds and biggest waves of our passage. We manually drove the boat for the first time in 18 days. The highest wind was just over 30 mph and the highest waves were nearly 30 feet. Swan Song handled it like the ocean passage pro she is, no wave ever entered the cockpit or the foredeck and she rode the seas like her namesake swan with grace and poise.
We arrived at the Hawaii Yacht Club in the Ala Wai Harbor in the evening of the 18th day at sea after cruising 2,670 nautical miles. The best thing an ocean voyager can say about a passage is “it was uneventful”. That means the crew stayed healthy and the vessel suffered no system failures. This passage was uneventful, no spills, scares or hiccups, everything went according to plan. We had 700 gallons of fuel left in the tanks, plenty of food and the watermaker was operating. Dave said we could have kept going for another 2,000 miles, but, we didn’t want to!
Aloha from Hawaii Click here for more about Swan Song.