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"Juanita’s Voyage" through the Sea of Cortez

Martijn with the Skiffhout 15

Martijn Stiphout, Ventana co-founder and master artisan, is planning his next major project and ocean adventure. He has an ambitious plan, but if anyone can pull it off, he can. What do you think of his idea? Any suggestions for him? Sponsorship opportunities? Read on to learn why we’re calling this “Juanita’s Voyage.”

 


By Martijn Stiphout

Hand-crafted sail boats in the Sea of Cortez

The idea of building lightweight, easily sailed and rowed dories came to me less than a week after completing the Ventana Skiffhout, a 15’ Tango skiff that I hand-crafted over several years. That project stretched my skills, helped me learn new woodworking techniques, and was incredibly rewarding. So, what’s next? I’m considering building two Northeastern dories to sail down the coast of the Sea of Cortez in Baja California, Mexico from San Felipe to La Paz. Why two boats? My brother, professional photographer Sebastian Stiphout, will join me to document the adventure.

Reduce, reuse, recycle, and the Western Flyer boat

My work at Ventana gives me access to some of the most amazing, reclaimed woods in the world, including planks from the Western Flyer, the vessel sailed through the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck, Ed “Doc” Ricketts, and crew in

John Gregg with Martijn and Western Flyer Hull Planks

1940. Steinbeck published The Log from the Sea of Cortez about the adventure. The Flyer is an iconic trawler built in 1937. It has a tumultuous history, including having sunk several times, and it is now being refitted and restored to return to Monterey Bay as a research and education vessel. For several years, I’ve been using hull and rib planks, both the original timbers as well as offcuts from the rebuild, in hollow wooden surfboard construction and other woodworking surf-related products. Building seafaring vessels using the same wood with which the Flyer was built will be a great way to complete the circle and show others what’s possible when one embraces the reduce, reuse, recycle ethos.

I want to build the boats using as much of the original Western Flyer woods, outfit them with a healthy dose of reclaimed and salvaged hardware and gear, and find donations for any remaining gear we might need. New gear is wonderful, but my goal would be to contact companies that produce such gear and ask for their Western Flyer boatrejects or returns. Ideally, we’d be able to outfit ourselves with items like dry bags, clothing, and camping gear, but not necessarily new products. Companies like Patagonia have excellent warranty departments and quality control standards, so to take their damaged and/or returned gear and repair or repurpose it would keep us true to the spirit of reducing our environmental impact. Broken zippers, tears, split seams, and other defects, which don’t necessarily warrant disposal but can be repaired prior to the journey, would be ideal. Short of lifesaving equipment and food, the entire journey would utilize items that would otherwise be in the landfill.

Defeated in the Sea of Cortez

While “mind-building” the boat, it came to me that taking it back through the waters that made her famous would be an homage to the importance of that journey back in 1940. My father and I tackled this stretch of coastline by kayak in 2010 in boats built by him. I was defeated on that voyage, as we were not able to complete the whole journey. So, to take on this challenge again, but this time by sailboat, would fulfill that goal for me and give a wonderful platform to showcase what can be done with discarded materials.

Our 2010 trip started with me paddling a Baidarka (an Inuit-style kayak). My father was in a larger rowboat. By kayak, it was always a danger to get blown offshore farther than our muscle power could bring us back. We ended up paddling at night for

Baja California, Mexico and the Sea of Cortez

most of the northern section since the winds would let up at dusk. We were sometimes stuck on land for days due to the winds and the dangers of having only paddle powered boats. By the time we made it to Bahia Gonzaga, we realized that his boat was too big, heavy, and cumbersome to safely land in high winds and seas, as well as being nearly impossible to drag onto the beach fully loaded. In Bahia de Los Angeles, we contacted friends who were driving up the Baja peninsula, and my father caught a ride to San Diego with his rowboat. There, he purchased a plastic kayak for me and after a few days he made it back to meet me. We continued in two kayaks but ended up not paddling the stretch from Bahia de Los Angeles to Santa Rosalia due to the difficult conditions, a stretch my father completed alone the following year. This to me is the most interesting part of the trip.

Trying again...but with hand-crafted sail boats

The importance of Steinbeck and Ricketts’ journey goes beyond just plying the waters of the “vermillion sea.” Ricketts studied and composed a comprehensive list of marine species found at that time, the first of its kind in the Sea of Cortez. My marine biology background and general interest in everything marine related is another push for me to take this journey. What we encountered in 2010 was amazing, from mammals to birds to countless other flora and fauna. This time, I’d like to document what’s changed from Steinbeck’s description until now, more than 70 years later.

Sebastian is a freelance photographer and adventurer based in Munich, Germany. He writes articles and stories for media outlets and has experience in a variety of different outdoor environments around the world. We would aim to produce both a photo-journalistic essay of the trip as well as write a book or log chronicling the voyage. My personal sailing and boating background combined with what we learned on our previous trip gives me a good sense of what will be necessary for the trip as well as an understanding of many of the challenges we’ll face.

Northeastern Dory

The distance from San Felipe to La Paz is about 600 miles as the crow flies. It’s likely to be closer to 750 or 800 miles by sea. The advantage of small, lightweight dories is that they can beach launch and land, and they aren’t restricted by anchorages as are larger boats. The “Norte” winds can be treacherous, as my father and I found out in 2010, but having the ability to beach the boats and get to shore will keep us safer. The challenges in kayaks versus sail and row boats are quite different. The dories are rigged with single, balanced lug sails. They are easy to handle and reef down in heavy weather and easy enough to stow and row should conditions require it. Another factor is swamping and or capsizing in heavy air or seas. I’m not a very experienced kayaker, so that made me quite fearful on our 2010 journey. These dories, however, if packed right, allow for self-recovery in case of an upset. In heavy conditions it would still be quite challenging, but I believe it will be safer than by kayak. The boats have a maximum payload of about 800 lbs., so if anything catastrophic were to happen, it would be feasible to double hand a boat while abandoning the craft that was in trouble. Of course, we won’t be able to plan for all possible scenarios, but I believe this will trip will prove to be a reasonably safe challenge.

Why “Juanita’s Voyage”?

I asked my 5-year-old daughter, Freya, what we should name the adventure, and she suggested we call it Juanita’s Voyage after the song Everyone Knows Juanita featured in the Disney film, Coco. I imagine singing that tune each evening and thinking of Freya while we sail through the Sea of Cortez and watch the sun start to set.

So, what do you think of our plan?

  • July 26, 2022
  • Martijn Stiphout
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