Check out more photos of Hurricane Newton in our photo gallery.
These ominous clouds were building on Monday evening as we were finalizing all of our hurricane prep.
Hurricane Season in the Sea of Cortez
As we've mentioned before, summer is Hurricane Season in the Sea of Cortez. So we knew when we decided to summer in the Sea that coming face-to-face with a hurricane was a definite possibility. Our friends Jim and Christine had taken a direct hit when Hurricane Marty headed straight up the Sea of Cortez in 2003, and hearing their tales we had no intention of riding out a hurricane on board if we could help it.
Watching WX forecasts is always forefront of our minds so we knew Hurricane Newton was headed our way several days before it arrived. Some hurricanes are easier to predict with a variety of computer models all showing the same general track. Other hurricanes are much harder to predict due to regional weather patterns, geography, and sea temperatures, and each computer model can show it going an entirely different direction. Unfortunately Hurricane Newton was one of the later, and every three hours NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) and the NHC (National Hurricane Center) showed its trajectory changing.
Although we love our home dearly, Due West
is insured and is replaceable, whereas our lives and our kitties are not. So our hurricane plan (and what all insurance companies recommend doing) is to secure the boat to the best of our ability and get OFF the boat, seeking shelter somewhere safe.
Tropical Storm Javier in La Paz was our first experience preparing for a Tropical Storm/Hurricane. Due West
was well secured with everything off the decks, all sails and canvas stowed down below, and we had a back-up plan to seek safe shelter with the gatos del mar if it became a hurricane. Luckily that storm didn't amount to much of anything, and it was a good practice run.
Arial view of Puerto Escondido and Hidden Harbor. The two "Windows" to the east side of the bay had been enclosed by rock dikes hundreds of years ago by the local native tribes. The only way into the bay is via a very narrow entrance in the south. The marina and boatyard can be seen where the development and roads are. The rest of the land around the bay is uninhabited desert.
Hurricane Newton's Predicted Track
With Hurricane Newton on track for a direct hit on Cabo, La Paz, and Puerto Escondido where we now are (about 150 miles north of La Paz), we knew it was time to move Due West
inside of Hidden Harbor, Puerto Escondido. This is a known hurricane hole with good protection on all sides, and a mooring field full of buoys owned by Puerto Escondido Marina. We would rather have been inside the marina which is even more protected, but all the slips at this small marina were already full of boats who'd been left for the summer in this hurricane "safe haven."
It should be noted that the Puerto Escondido marina and mooring balls were previously owned/maintained by the Mexican Government's FONATUR, but had just been sold to a private corporation on July first, and things are still very much in transition here.
Kirk talked to the new marina manager about which mooring ball would be best to take, and he assured Kirk that all of the mooring balls had recently been checked over, all were safe and secure, and we could take any one that we chose. Friends with local knowledge recommended taking a buoy near Piano Cove in the north corner of the bay, as it was a bit more protected from the west and the fetch (waves building up inside the bay.) [For reference to those of you in the Pacific Northwest, Hidden Harbor is roughly the size of Lake Union in Seattle, but completely undeveloped on all sides except for the small marina complex on the south-west shore.]
Monday, September 6:
We moved Due West
into Hidden Harbor and took mooring ball #15 as it looked to be in the location we wanted to be. Friends John & Boni on s/v Ingenium
took another mooring ball near by. Our hurricane chafe protection consisted of double-lines running through a piece of sturdy hose, lead through the mooring ball pennant to form a bridle which was secured to our bow. (See diagram below.)
All day Monday we scurried around like ants stowing everything down below, taking down all sails, canvas, strapping down solar panels, securing jerry cans to the rail, and thought we were ready for Hurricane Newton. It was predicted to hit Puerto Escondido in the middle of the night late Tuesday / early Wednesday morning, so our plan had been to leave the boat early Tuesday morning and head for Hotel Tripui just down the road from the marina.
So we were keeping a very close eye on the weather forecasts (THANKS JPJ for sending us WX forecasts via satellite modem when we could no longer get internet!) By 2100 (9pm) Monday night Kirk was double-checking our bridle to the mooring buoy pennant, while Heidi was listening to the VHF weather forecast from the few cruisers who still had wifi.
No Bueno--Newton had just been upgraded to a Cat 2 Hurricane and was now slated to hit us a full 12-hours earlier than originally predicted--by mid-day Tuesday instead of late Tuesday night. Along with high winds, this particular system was very large in size and was expected to dump lots of rain, up to 15" in some places. With the new change in forecast, we realized that we had to get off the boat right away Monday night if we were going to get off it at all.
Heidi quickly stuffed things into an overnight bag including: cat food, cat litter box with lid, cat toys, our toiletries, some clothing, canned food w/ can opener, head lamps and flashlights. We put both cats in one carrier (luckily they like to be in the one carrier together even though it's a tight fit--if we put them in two separated carriers they both cry but in one together they keep quiet--go figure?). Meanwhile Kirk re-checked mooring lines and everything on deck again, and got the dinghy ready to go.
Four Drowned Cats
With this latest forecast, Boni & John had also decided to leave their boat along with their two cats, and as their dinghy was already secured onboard their boat we offered to ferry them to shore. By the time we left Due West
at 2200 (10pm) it was POURING rain, and the wind was blowing about 15kts. Kirk took Heidi, Tosh, and Tikka to shore then went back for Boni, John, Princess and Moko. Then Kirk and John pulled the dinghy into the boat yard (thanks to our Danard dinghy wheels!) and locked it to a jack-stand holding up a boat. By now the rain had temporarily stopped but the wind had increased to 20+ kts. Luckily the hotel sent their shuttle van to pick us up,and four drowned rats and four less-than-happy cats piled into the air-conditioned hotel van, brrrrr, but at least we were off to the safety of the hotel!
Tuesday, September 7:
We awoke early Tuesday morning to find that Newton had been downgraded back to a Cat 1 (phew!) and was expected to hit around 1400 (2pm.) The hotel staff was busily prepping for the storm while we ate breakfast in the restaurant. Kirk and John decided to take one more run out to the boats and triple-check everything again, closing all through-hulls which had not been done the night before. (Through-hulls are the valves that let seawater in/out of the boat for things like flushing the head, raw water into the engine, for the water maker, and for the salt-water foot pump in galley sink, etc.) The guys were just back by 10am when the winds really started to kick up.
When the Levee Breaks...
For the next several hours we all hunkered down in our hotel rooms watching the pouring rain. Tosh and Tikka were hiding under the king-size bed, and when Tosh came out soaking wet that was our first clue that the rain was running in rivers under the window sill, under our door and into our room!?! We used every last towel we had to sop up the water, rang towels out in the bathtub as much as we could, and put them down on the floor again and again to catch more of the river that was becoming our room. It was raining almost 2" an hour.
Hurricane winds swirl in a counterclockwise direction with the north-east quadrant being the most dangerous part of the storm, and unfortunately we were situated in the north-east quadrant. Newton finally arrived around 1430 (2:30pm) and we watched the palm trees at the hotel bend and bow as they were buffeted by the easterly winds, palm fronds flying into the pool. The wind raged on and a few cruisers who'd chosen to stay on-board their boats in Hidden Harbor radioed in periodically with weather condition reports, which was great as we no longer had internet at the hotel and couldn't track the storm's progress.
A gust of 53 kts was recorded before the Eye of Newt passed by us a few miles to the west of the Sierra Gigante ("E-ghaunt-ay") mountains. The fact that the eye stayed to the west side of the mountains made things a bit more tenable here. We got a report from the on-board fleet that Due West
were both riding fine on their buoys during the eye of the storm.
Windyty.com shows Hurricane Newton as it's passing Puerto Escondido, with the Eye of Newt just to the west of us.
Things calmed down when Eye of Newt was passing by, and the palm trees stood tall again for 10-15 minutes before the heavier gusts from the second half of the hurricane slammed into us and the palm trees were suddenly bending in the other direction as the west-southwest winds beat down on them. These winds after the eye seemed much more ferocious with more palm fronds and debris flying through the air. And in fact Loreto just 15 miles north of us clocked a gust at 73 kts.
1600 Tuesday afternoon (4pm):
The winds finally died down again to 20-30 kts, and Hurricane Newton was done and gone. We got another report from the on-board fleet: "Those two boats over in the north corner, the tan one is ok, but the white hull with navy canvas is in the mangroves, on the rocks..." Our hearts sank! That was Due West!
How could it be? We had triple lines on the mooring plus chafe hose. The highest winds were clocked at 73 kts, we'd ridden in winds that strong at the dock in Seattle before...We were in shock, our home was in peril. Such a horrible feeling.
HUGE THANKS to John, who offered to head out with Kirk to see if they could rescue Due West
as it was still unclear if she was smashing onto the rocks or stuck in the mangroves. Luckily we had confirmation from on-board cruisers that she was still vertical. They also informed us that it was still far too rough to dinghy out there, advising against trying, and recommending talking to the marina or the Mexican Navy.
Big thanks to Danny from s/v Cyclides
who was also staying at the hotel with a car and offered to drive Kirk and John to the marina. The Mexican Navy Safe Boat with their three-300HP Mercury outboards was tied at the marina dock, and Kirk asked if they could help us. They told him we needed permission from their Commandant, so Kirk and John talked to the marina manager who offered to help with that. He drove the guys over to the Navy headquarters and convinced the Navy to help with the rescue. When the Commandant gave permission to four Navy seaman to help out, they took off at a sprint and ran the mile back to the marina.
Back at the dock, Kirk and John jumped into the Navy Patrol boat along with the Navy seaman and raced across the bay in 30 kts of wind and 2-3' seas. Thankfully Due West
was still standing upright, about 5-feet from shore and in 5-feet of water, stuck in a scree-pile of small volcanic rocks (basketball-size or smaller) that had long-ago slid down a gully between two hills. Fortunately there were no sharp pointy rocks to do further damage.
Two Navy seaman swam the 100' from the patrol boat to Due West
in choppy water with mask/snorkel/fins and a tow rope in hand, and climbed on board via the wind-vane on the transom. Kirk radioed them the boat lock combo and they went inside, checking everything and determined that she was not taking on any water. Phew! Huge relief! And a HUGE THANKS to the Mexican Navy!!!
The tried to tow her off the rocks, but tide was already going out and she wouldn't budge. However, a huge piece of the marina's mooring ball pennant was still attached to our bridle, so we knew the marina's mooring had failed, NOT our hurricane chafe-proof gear. There was nothing more they could do that night as it was almost dark. So we just had to HOPE that she would remain upright through the night. Wednesday's hight tide would be mid-day, at 12:30pm, and the Navy offered to help again then.
This diagram shows the mooring buoy, how we were attached, and what broke...After the hurricane the marina claimed it was an "Act of God" and held no responsibility. They even claimed that their moorings are not intended for hurricane use, even though they are in a known hurricane hole?!
The guys arrived back at the hotel and it was DARK as the power had gone out. We pooled our odds and ends of food and shared dinner with John & Boni from s/v Ingenium
and Danny & Debbie from s/v Cyclides
. We feasted on canned salmon, tortilla chips, crackers, black olives, apples, peanuts, and dark chocolate--thankful for our Petzel headlamps. Although we were worried sick about our lovely home on the rocks, we also knew that worrying wouldn't help a bit, and she's a strong gal with every chance of surviving through the night. So we partook in a rousing game of Hearts after dinner, to help keep our spirits up. Although that night neither of us slept much at all...
Oh what a difference a day makes. Beautiful sunrise over the Sierra Gigantes, 24-hours after Newton passed by. An auspicious start to the day.
Wednesday, September 8:
We were up early but had to wait 'till 9:00 for the marina manager, diver, and Navy to begin work. Our B.C. Canada/Puerto Escondido friends George & Ruth from s/v Sea Flee
came to our rescue! They heard about Due West's
plight on the morning Net, and arrived at the hotel to pick us up, and get started with the rescue. Having been around boats on Vancouver Island their whole lives, George and Ruth are a wealth of knowledge and rode out Cat 3 Hurricane Odile in Puerto Escondido three years ago. We are SO grateful for all of their help and expertise.
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
We got to Due West by 9:30am and thankfully she was still sitting upright, about five-feet off shore from the mangroves on her port side. All morning long we tried to kedge her off with anchors from the bow and stern and another off the spinnaker halyard from the top of the mast set out to starboard, but we couldn't get her to budge. Meanwhile both the diver and the Mexican Navy stopped by, saying they'd be back before high tide at noon-ish. We still had two feet more water to come in, but would it be enough? We're pretty sure she got lifted UP onto the rocks in the surge, and was sitting higher than high tide might be able to float her off.
BIG THANKS to John from s/v Ingenium for diving Due West, and everything else you did to help us out! We can't thank you enough.
John, Kirk, and Heidi all dove the boat, assessing the situation. Kirk and John moved a lot of rocks out of the way, but the front half of the keel was still sitting about one-foot deep in crushed rocks. We emptied the port water tank, and moved as much stuff to starboard as we could, to get her to heel more to starboard. And with the kedged anchors we did get her to move about 7°, but that was not enough. We kept grinding in the lines, trying to kedge her more. And we waited, and waited, and waited... for tide to come in, for the diver to show up, for the Mexican Navy to return...and finally it was high-tide, 12:30pm, and still no diver, still no Navy. Lest we forget, this is Mexico folks, mañana is a way of life, but time and tide wait for no one...
Looking straight down Due West's transom to the water, you can see the blue rudder sitting on the rocks below.
Heidi finally put out a call on the VHF radio asking all cruisers with dinghies and large outboards to please come assist, time was running out and we did not want her to sit for another 24 hours. In this part of the Sea of Cortez, there is really only one high-tide a day not two like in other locations. The cruisers came out in force, but that call on the VHF must have awoken the Navy and the diver, who suddenly showed up as well, half an hour after high tide.
The Navy took a line to our bow (our Rocna anchor was still out on its chain), and Carlos the diver tied on to the spinnaker halyard kedged out with the Bruce to tip is more to starboard. All cruiser dinghies out of the way and watching, both the Navy and Carlos the diver (with a 40HP on his panga) were full-throttle ahead pulling on Due West
. At first nothing, she didn't budge (but Heidi, Ruth and Kirk were all ducking in the cockpit in case a line parted!) Then Carlos surged his panga back and forth a few times and when he and the Navy went full throttle again, she finally started to move, heeled so far over her starboard gunnel was under water...crunch, grind, bump over the rocks, and then she was afloat!!
The recoil of the Navy's tow line sling-shot us toward their SafeBoat at mach-speed and they were yelling at us "reverse! reverse!" not realizing we had no engine running! Heidi yelled at them "move out of our way, we're not under power!" Then suddenly our Rocna anchor grabbed and stopped us in our tracks! The cheers from all aboard Due West
and all of the cruiser dinghies plus the Navy combined were deafening!
We are forever grateful to George & Ruth, John & Boni, Carlos, Javier, and the Mexican Navy without whose help we would likely have lost our home. Also MANY MANY thanks to all of our family and friends who sent their love and positive energy which surely helped Due West
(and us!) survive!
Thankfully the damage to Due West's
keel and rudder was minimal, and we can repair it ourselves with the help of our friends George and Ruth. The hull is intact, as is the prop, strut, and shaft. It could have been so much worse and our hearts go out to those in San Carlos and Guaymas, where the hurricane hit so much harder and many boats were damaged or a complete loss.
We're madly working away in the boat yard now, stay tuned for Part II to come soon...
Check out more photos of Hurricane Newton in our photo gallery.