People having fun with their boats
Published on November 20th, 2018
Len Bose sells boats in Southern California, and rarely misses the offshore races that leave his coastline, but in this report he slows down the pace and shares how the other half lives, and one person who is encouraging them to live it.
Over the end of October and the first part of November I joined Chris Killian aboard his Lagoon 41 “Derive” for the 25th running of the Baja Ha Ha cruisers rally down the Baja California Peninsula.
The Ha Ha starts in San Diego with a party and ends in Cabo San Lucus with a party. In between, there are two stops – one at Turtle Bay and the other in Bahia Santa Marina – and yes, the Ha Ha is no friend of your liver. It’s a rally, which became the battle cry aboard “Derive” for the next ten days … “It’s a Rally.”
When I first stepped aboard “Derive”, the skipper Killian was very concerned that I would have difficulty with the concept of cruising and that we would not be racing. Killian would repeatedly remind me, “We are cruising, leaving the rat race behind us.”
I just kept thinking to myself how we are sailing down Baja and I am going to see what this cruising catamaran can do. As we provisioned the boat, I started to look at the weather closely and yes, we would be cruising, because there was no forecasted wind down the Baja coast. I then shifted into Plan B which was “while cruising, do as the cruisers do.”
Killian and I headed to the sendoff party that was located in the parking lot of the San Diego West Marine. During our walk, Killian explained that the organizing authority of this rally is the Grand Poobah and his many helpers.
We were headed to a Halloween custom send-off party so I started looking for a person wearing a tall blue furry hat with water buffalo horns coming out the sides that said yabba-dabba-doo. What I found was 6’4”+ surfer with a tall black top hat, black jacket with tails, short pants, and flip-flops.
I knew he was Richard Spindler, the original publisher of the sailing magazine Latitude 38, which he had sold a couple years earlier, and owned one badass looking catamaran that appears to be doing 20 knots just at anchorage by the name of “Profligate”. The next day the rally started with the Poobah breaking the silence on VHF channel 69 to start the rally.
We are cruising so we were running a little late and turned the corner around the Shelter Island Customs dock into the main San Diego channel, and that’s when it hit me. All 156 boats were lined up in the parade with crews in costumes and large smiles. We were off to see the wizard and start our eight hundred mile tour out the channel.
By the time most of the fleet was just outside of Point Loma, the Grand Poobah informed us it was a rolling start and wished us all good luck in our cruise and fair winds. He and his crew were heading offshore in search of more breeze.
Aboard “Derive”, I was moving around the boat like a big dog locked in a small house as the skipper turned off one engine and cut the boat RPMs by half. Killian laughed and said, “We are cruising Len and have 320 miles to go and just enough fuel to make it at this speed.” I looked back out to sea and decided that our 5-knot VMG straight at the mark made more sense than heading out fifty miles looking for wind.
The night was pitch black with every star in the universe looking down at us, with a light show of shooting stars racing across the sky every minute. All 156 boats had their running lights and steaming lights on and it looked like a long string of white lights reaching across the horizon behind us and in front of use.
The white lights in front of us were the ones bothering me and I kept wondering how they got so far in front. I am a strict believer in no alcohol while underway at sea and each time I looked down at the chart plotter and noticed our 5 knots speed over ground I would rub my face and felt like I was going through rehab.
I took a deep breath and convinced myself there were more lights behind us, and by the time the rally had reached Cabo San Lucas, I realized that if I was racing we would have turned around halfway through the first night. But as I became at one with the cruising lifestyle, I was pondering the thought that this was the 25th Ha Ha with over 3,000 boats entering this cruise and 10,000 soles completing this pilgrimage.
This Poobah dude has done as much for our sport, of boating, then Hobie Alter or Roger MacGregor. While in Cabo I walked up to Richard Spindler, the Poobah himself, and asked for an interview.
Spindler is constantly being surrounded by the cruisers and his volunteers with questions just as if he was working on the floor of a stock exchange during the rally. I was extremely surprised when he said yes, “Let’s meet at the party in a couple of hours and walk off to where it is quiet, whatever it takes.”
Spindler was born in Berkeley and went to school at UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley. “At first I was a surfer but then I developed a hole in my eardrum and it was recommended to me that I stay out of the water. Well, that really did not work for me so I started sailing a Flying Dutchman in the San Francisco Bay estuary. The first time I saw God was when four of us took the Dutchman into the Bay while it was blowing 25 knots and the water at 55 degrees. The mast broke when we flipped the boat.”
Spindler put his head down and shook his head as if he was still counting his blessings. I never found out how the made it back to shore. He just said yep, clicked his head to the side and moved to the next question.
Spindler has been very successful at observing things in the marine business, and then tweaking them to make them better. He started with the Sea of Cortez Sailing Week and had 150 boats entered in 1982 which lasted for five years. “Then a Mexican fellow decided to commercialize it and it all went to pot. That’s what happened when I could only work one week into the event each year while running Latitude 38.”
In 1990 Spindler had noticed the Long Beach Yacht Club’s cruise down Baja and felt that it was a little too complex for the vast majority of the cruisers. “What was needed was the antithesis of a yacht club event. Cruisers do not need a large formal dinner banquet or race committee at a finish line. Just keep it simple, with a few rules yet keep it safe.”
It also helped to have the largest distribution of any other sailing magazine on the planet and Spindler sold the event from his heart. “My whole thing in life is to watch people have fun with their boats.”
I have been selling in the marine industry for 28 years and admired and respected his love for our sport.
When I asked Spindler what was his favorite part of the rally he replied, “Love the party on the Bahia Santa Maria hill – it’s so surreal. Also the fabulous sailing moments and all the people using their boats. I’m very, very proud of the Ha Ha.”
Another feature to the Ha ha that sticks to your mind is the VHF & SSB Net or broadcasts that occur throughout the day. How Spindler keeps his cool through all the traffic is beyond me while orchestrating the organizational part of the broadcast.
While in Turtle Bay, a cruiser asked if he should buy fuel here. In his typically blunt yet good-natured style, he replied “I am not sure how to answer that, do you need fuel? There is not a lot of choices here, I’m not sure how to answer this.”
Another one was this lady with a deep Norwegian accent that came on the radio, with panic in her voice, to find out where had everyone had gone to, on the second night. “Ha Ha cruise, Ha Ha cruise, where did everyone go? I do not see anyone on my A.I.S. What happened… where is everyone? Over.” Fortunately, a voice came down from the stars and calmed the panicked boater by explaining how the fleet spreads out and your A.I.S only goes out so many miles.
My favorite was an elderly voice asking the Poobah if she can bring the dog to the beach. The Poobah replied that there really is no enforcement on the beach and if she kept the dog on a leash and it did not bite anyone it would be okay. When she replied that he was an old dog and does not have any teeth, the Poobah came back with a deep laugh and said: “It kind of sounds like me, we should be fine on the beach.”
The radio net is a huge part of this rally which gives people a source of insurance that is easy to understand and comforting enough to sleep through the night after a problem is solved or should one sneak its head up. You can almost hear that guy from the Allstate Insurance commercial.
When asked why boaters should do the Ha Ha, Spindler notes how there is safety in numbers, yet the bottom line is to have fun with your boat.
I then asked how he replies to the questions of safety in Mexico. “You have people that do the Ha Ha that tell me they feel safer in Mexico than many of our inner cities. Mexican people are so nice and so warn, yes there are troubled places but we know where they are.”
How does the rally help the locals? “We don’t change their lives, but I have such good friends that I meet for one of two days for the last 25 years, watching the kids grow up in Turtle Bay and Mag Bay. Those big burly guys running the pongas – we have known them from when they were in diapers and they know we have known them since then. It’s just really special. It’s kind of like New Year’s Day or the Fourth of July for them.”
Spindler sells boating better than anyone I have ever met, and if you have never cruised Mexico, sign up for the Baja Ha Ha next year. Power and sailboats are welcome and then you can say you did it. It’s a memory you will keep for as long as you live. Have fun, enjoy your boat and check out of the rat race. I strongly recommend it!
Also, should this story make it to someone from the National Sailing Hall of Fame, I nominate Richard Spindler for the Class of 2019. In my opinion, he has earned the recognition.