10/10/2014, La Paz
Were almost back! This community has been nothing short of incredible, jumping right in and getting everything put back in order. Just in case you have been living in a bubble somewhere, or don't have any idea of where we live or, what happened just a little less than a month ago, on September 14th, our newly adopted hometown of La Paz, Mexico was struck by Category 3 Hurricane Odile. This was the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Baja of Mexico since hurricane records have been kept. And, as bad as the town of La Paz got it, our neighbors to the south, Cabo San Lucas, San Jose Del Cabo, and Todos Santos got it even worse. They saw steady winds above 125 MPH, gusts to 145 MPH and catastrophic devastation throughout the south cape region.
The timing of this storm is in no way extraordinary, falling right in the middle of the peak season for Eastern Pacific Hurricanes. All the long time locals, and cruisers who have kept track of the 'trends' in hurricane forecasting were all saying for months that this was the year....everything was setting up to be a monster hurricane season. The biggest indicator was the water temperatures...nearly 10 degrees warmer that it should be, and months ahead of time. We had a few close calls, several major hurricanes (category 4 or bigger) who all passed by to the west, some traveling as far as Hawaii. As of today, the 9th of October, the 2004 Hurricane season has had a record number, 8 Major hurricanes in the eastern Pacific.
Then along comes Odile (pronounced Oh-Deal) and from the get go she looking like she was targeting the Baja. At 3 days out, we all knew we were going to get at least a part of this storm. The closer she got, the more it looked like we were going to get a lot more than just a part, and finally we all knew we were going to get pretty much a direct hit. Most of the forecasters were calling for sustained winds of 125 MPH with gusts to 140 MPH. The seas were pushing waves ahead of the storm, or surge as it is called with heights nearly 30 feet.
As many of you all know, one of the components of our business here in La Paz is full time or seasonal management of yachts and sailing vessels while the owners are away. We had spent a considerable amount of time this summer making sure that we had prepared boats to be as ready as possible for whatever Mother Nature decided to throw at us. Strip the decks of sails, Biminis, and any other canvas that would come off. Extra dock lines, all with chafe guards, as many fenders as possible and if it is loose, move it inside or tie it down! Despite all our advance preparations, the last few days were crazy busy with last minute checks, double checks, and what the heck, even a few triple checks. It was the little things that really paid off in the long run. Things like looking to make sure that your boat and the neighbor's boats mast were off set. If they should start swinging, you don't need the masts to be doing a sword fight in 100 MPH winds.
Finally it was getting dark, and you could feel the steadily increasing winds start coming thru the marine, and singing in the rigging. 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, each hour it just kept ramping up...and then the rain started. At this point the wind was still in 50-60 MPH range.....so next time you are driving down a major highway, stay within the speed limit, then stick your arm out the window. Then imagine the rain coming down at a rate of 4-6 inches per hour with it. Dive mask, ski goggles, or safety glasses, are required to be able to see while on the docks and function. The rain at 70+ just plain hurts. But, we were not done yet. I continued checking on our boats until about 3:00 AM when the winds were making it nearly impossible to move on the docks and sidewalks. I really never feared the moving boats, they are to me at least, somewhat predictable. It was walking the sidewalks at the top of the docks that I was concerned about. Flying coconuts, palm fronds and building materials were my biggest concern.
At this point, Jeanne said NO MORE!!! We have done what we can, and at some point they are just boats, not worth an injury or human life. So we settled in our beloved Eagle, and rode out the balance of the hurricane. Several times she healed over to the point where the toe or cap rail on the top of the deck, was below the dock!! That is about a 40 degree lean and in some cases, very close to a knock down! The peak wind speed reported here in our Marina was 117 MPH!
At 6:00 Am, as the sun started to lighten the steely gray sky, I headed back out to survey the damage....and I have to tell you we were blessed! A few scratches, a few dings, one bent stantion, a few dock cleats pulled out (all in the brand new Marina at Costa Baja) several lines worn thru, and that was it! Our fleet had come thru the tormenta in what I felt was superb condition.
The town, of La Paz was not so lucky.....trees down, power lines toppled, roofs blown off, thousands of windows broken or blown out, and in some cases entire homes leveled! In the Magote anchorage area, off the city of La Paz, 32 boats were washed ashore, or sunk, and three of our cruising friends lost their lives! The stories of damage, and catastrophe were just beginning.
But then a crazy thing started to happen. The people came out of their houses, the shelters and business, and started to clean up. Not just a few, but thousands of local La Paz citizens, known as "Pasenos" started to put things back together. There were no crime sprees, no rioting or savage gangs roaming the streets. Just a very proud community, starting to rebuild. And that is what they did, by sweeping, cutting, piling and hauling off in trucks the debris that was formed. The La Paz water front with its beautiful Malecon, or sidewalk saw hundreds of workers with brooms and shovels cleaning whatever had been washed down from the surrounding hill sides. I found that there was no age limit to this effort, as children, were right there sweeping and picking up with their Parents and Grandparents.
Then the mighty effect of the Mexican government started to be felt. The Mexican Electric Company "CFE" started sending literally hundreds of trucks and crews from the mainland. The ferry system was for all matters commandeered, and the only passengers allowed on board were CFE trucks and employees. Right behind them came the Federal Police, or Gendarmes. While there is no question a very large part this CFE and police movement was directed at the Cabo area, at one point when Jeanne drove down town, there was a minimum of two federal officers, and sometimes as many as 15, on every block the length of the Malecon, or down town, and water front area. An exceptional show of police strength and control. Again La Paz just felt to me like it had a special kind of pride that was evident everywhere I looked.
The cleanup still continues here in La Paz. It would fool hardy of me to try to tell you otherwise. There are still parts of La Paz, especially the lower income areas that have a long way to go to getting back to normal. There are some areas, low priority areas such as the roof on the baseball stadium that have yet to be tackled. But fear not, it will happen. There is just way too much pride in the community to not get everything back to the way it should be.
At this point I feel confident that I can say that the major infrastructure is 100%. Especially the areas that the seasonal tourists, most of which arrive by boat, are concerned about. The hotels are all completely repaired. Every marina in La Paz fully functioning, with fuel, power, internet, even the pool at Marinas Palmira has been drained, scrubbed and refilled. The fishing fleets and dive/snorkel trips are ready and waiting.
The sun is out, the skies are as blue and beautiful as ever and La Paz is back and ready for a visit, so some on down and see us! Let La Paz show you how special this place is.
09/29/2014, La Paz
We're mostly back to normal around here - normal as 'normal' can be! We're still cleaning up, and getting boats ready for the owner returns... but the really good news is PANCHO will live to trek the Baja once more!!!!
A collective round of applause please! And many, many thanks to the awesome mechanic that put Pancho back together!
For a mere $350.00 USD he got all the electrical running, totally cleaned the engine, new filters, new plugs, points, wires, battery cables, flush of the radiator, fill all fluids, change tranny oil, checked the brakes, and I'm sure there's more I'm missing..... picked the car up at 11 one morning, returned the next day at 3! Yes, he picked it up and returned it!
Pancho is currently at the window shop getting new 'shades'... we're not jumping as high on this price, and we've settle for acrylic in the canopy, but it's all fixable!!!! and we should get it back this afternoon!
So, we'll have to plan for an excursion to the beach or camping. There's just this little storm that's building off of the coast of Mexico to watch first.....
09/23/2014, Atalanta boat yard, La Paz
Despite the incredible damages reeked on the Baja by Hurricane Odile, boats that were in Marinas, and boat yards really came thru it in pretty good shape. That's not to say there wasn't some damage, but I don't know of a single boat that was sunk or lost while in a marina.
There is one exception to that...the boat yard next to our Marina, marina Palmira. The Atalanta Boat Yard is a DYI (do it yourself) yard, with no real facilities, but it is priced accordingly. We hauled Eagle there, and highly recommend the yard, just not during a hurricane.....
While there are 24 boats that have fallen, I believe that only three will be considered a total loss. There will be the need for some new masts, some rigging and such, but I have to keep reminding myself that we experienced the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the Baja.
I am including a few shots so you have an idea of what it looks like down here.
09/21/2014, La Paz
Well, while we and Eagle survived the recent hurricane with nary a scratch, our beloved Pancho didn't fair so well.
Pancho is our 96 ford Ranger pick up with canopy that we use for around town, checking on our boats and exploring the Baja.
Normally it's parked in front of our store, between the coconut palms. Due to these coconuts, Tom moved the truck to the middle of the parking lot with several other vehicles - well away from the trees! Good plan, but too much wind.
The storm blew out the drivers window, the small one in the jump seat behind, and all the canopy windows except the pass through to the cab.
The rain then filled up the car with lots of water, especially on the steering column. When Tom came up to check on things, he found the damage and the 'flashers' buzzing. It's since been cleaned out, but the electrical system is no bueno...... won't start right now.
We're attempting to contact a mechanic who we're told is excellent with Fords and their electrical systems.. we'll deal with that and the feasibility of repair before we tackle the windows!
Can you say bicycle?
09/20/2014, La Paz
Slowly, but surely, things are returning to somewhat normal!
I drove across town yesterday afternoon to check on Dulce's family and the people at the shelter.
I'm happy to report that everyone is ok, as are their homes and other structures.
Dulce, her father, brother Israel and his girlfriend stayed in Cabo during the storm. They were returning to La Paz as I was there visiting with the rest of the family. Unfortunately, Dulce called with car problems, so the guys were gathering up tires and tools to get them home.
Mama Benita's Shelter has been without water and power. The children were all moved to a military base until services were returned to the house. One of the adult residents said the power had been on and off during the day, and the power crews were all over their neighborhood.
The town is sweeping and cleaning. Power has been returned to a good portion of the city, although we're still without power and water at Palmira. We're hoping it will come back soon.... Otherwise I'll be doing laundry in a bucket on the dock!
Grocery stores, tiendas, gasoline stations are open and seem to be well stocked. Some stores like Oxxo's (Mexico's version of 7-11's) are open, but you place your order from outside! Restaurants are slowly returning, some with limited menus, but are open. Our airport has flights in and out, although I'm not sure many are being allowed to fly in. I saw construction projects being worked on - things that had been underway before the storm, as well as repairs.
Mostly the city is returning to normal, or something similar to 'before the storm'. Our friend Jason, of MV Gypsy Fade, also at Marina Palmira, has many New Orleans friends. He commented that those friends all talk about either 'before the storm' or 'after the storm'. We find the same is true down here....it's truly been a life changing event.
We learned the road to TJ is open, with some slight detours and puddle crossings. We don't' hear much from Cabo San Lucas, other than it's not good there. The marinas in Los Cabos survived quite nicely, with mostly small boat - panga- damage. The rest of the town is not good.
So, we're getting back to normal, slowly. Tailhunter's restaurant is planning on being open tonight for the Ducks game... so yes, our world is returning to normal......... well, at least for Tom!
I have no doubt that this beautiful city of ours will rebound better and stronger than before this 'little' blow!
09/18/2014, La Paz
Are we all confused yet?
Last week I preprogrammed several blog post to cover my quick trip to Washington Sept 4-9th. We've been busy doing final hurricane prep, and then serious prep due to the forecast. I figured that getting a few blogs lined up would cover us for a bit. Yes and no, as it turned out.
As the storm got closer the blog never even got an inkling of a thought.
So, let's get on with what everyone wants to know - a brief report for now, details later.
Jeanne and John of Timepiece arrived back in La Paz on the 9th. All three of us got to experience firsthand a Category 3 hurricane - 117mph! On the boat, at the dock. I don't care to do it again.
Both Eagle and Timepiece and their owners came out just fine.
Timepiece popped a couple of fenders, and the rest of the zippers on his dodger, but, that's the extent of damage- pretty lucky. Oh yea, I set a pair of reading glasses on the table... just as Tom walked by, the boat 'lurched'. Down went the glasses, right under his foot!
There are at least 32 boats in La Paz harbor that are lost/sunk, or well aground. The boats that Big Left Turn Yacht Management manages are all fine - we've a couple of scratches and very minor cosmetic issues, but all is good on that front.
Unfortunately there is some bad news. Captain Gunter of SV Princess went down with his vessel. Gunter was in his later years and had some health issues late last year. We almost lost him then. He got an extra few months of life aboard his boat, and with the community that he was definitely a part of. We are all sure, that his trip around the sun, ended as he would have wanted.
Also, there are two others that are missing, the boat has also sunk - they were not found aboard. Rescue/recovery efforts are still going on.
We had a command center set up at the Club Cruceros clubhouse for the past two days. I manned the radio as 'net control' and had a team of ladies helping me keep track of all the communications and information coming in and out. We had multiple teams of cruisers in dinghy's out searching an assisting those in need.
On the good news, We (the proverbial 'we' - the teams!) were able to pull four boats off the beach! Yea Team! There is still work underway to help two others that dinghy's may be able to help. The others will likely have to call in the professionals with big gear. We just heard tha the Navy is sending up a helicopter to search the mangroves.
It's very heartbreaking to see all the boats on the beach - the dreams that have been literally washed ashore.
We are still without power here. Water - not potable is back on the dock. Fuel - gasoline is being used carefully and some stations are still open and have fuel - some with limited purchases, but open.
Cell phone and land based internet services were restored yesterday. We just watched another 100 CFE trucks - the electrical company- pass by. They just arrived from the mainland to assist with the rebuild of our cities.
We understand the reports coming from Los Cabos are not good. So far this city is doing fine. People are out sweeping streets, clearing debris and helping out.
That said, Tom and I are heading to the boat to regroup, unpickle the watermaker for anyone who needs water.
While it looks like Tropical storm/hurricane Polo will sneak past us, we need to prepare ourselves anyway. We don't care to experience a Cat 3 hurricane again!
We'll be back with more later. We appreciate all of the warm thought, hugs and wishes for all of us down here. Thanks everyone.
Jeanne & Tom