4-Sep-2009, Puerto Escondido, BCS, Mexico
By dawn this morning hurricane Jimena had passed us for good and the winds had died down here. People in Puerto Escondido had rested a bit and could begin to enjoy the relief that it was over after more than thirty hours of very high winds and very heavy rain, followed by hours and hours of gusty wind and thick, dark, cloudy skies. The sun came out this morning and the air has been cool and refreshing; people seem tired but cheerful.
What we have learned about the hurricane's effect elsewhere is sobering, however. After its landfall in Magdalena Bay on the west side of the Baja peninsula, the hurricane passed to our north, hitting Ciudad Constitucion, Mulege and Santa Rosalia before crossing to the middle of the Sea of Cortez, where it sat stationary for some hours, wreaking havoc on Guaymas. The small port village of San Carlos in Magdalena Bay is reported to have suffered 50 casualties. In Ciudad Constitucion a prison collapsed in the wind, killing at least 70 prisoners; 90% of the structures there suffered severe damage. Loreto just to our north is without power or water, though two gas stations have generators and are keeping traffic flowing. The main roads are open but they lead to towns that have been taken over by the army due to widespread destruction. Mulege was badly flooded and one report is that their main bridge was washed away--a bridge that was 25 feet above the arroyo floor. Every roof was damaged in that town, and the floodwaters were more than two feet deep in the fire station, which is on high ground. Geary, the weatherman on the Sonrisa Net, reports that the palapas on the beaches around Bahia Concepcion have all been damaged or destroyed by 100-knot gusts. In Santa Rosalia a policeman was killed trying to save a man whose car was swept into the sea by floodwaters (the driver was saved), and the old marina was very badly damaged (the new Singlar marina fared fine, however). The harbor is apparently littered with cars and refrigerators carried there by the flood. In San Carlos/Guaymas on the mainland, at least fourteen boats were swept ashore or sunk, and boats in dry storage were blown off their stands. They too are without telephone service or electrical power.
Although the storm was long and terrifying, here in Puerto Escondido we have suffered less. At the height of the storm we experienced a maximum gust of 93 knots, or 107 miles per hour. Seven boats were blown free of their moorings; three remain hard aground within feet of each other in the mangroves in the northwest cove of the bay. These include "Spirit", a neglected 50-foot ferrocement ketch; "Waverly", a 41-foot Bob Perry ketch; and "Wanderlust", an apparently abandoned Albin Vega 27. A boat called "Nika" parted its mooring and ran gently aground in the southeast corner of the bay early Thursday morning; it was towed to another mooring by the marina staff. Two other boats cut loose in the Waiting Room just outside Puerto Escondido: "Tortuga", a large powerboat, and "Popeye," a Nelson Out Island 28(?). Both of those boats have been secured. And finally, as I reported yesterday, Jaime aboard "Saltshaker," a Cascade 42, had his mooring pendant part during the storm and bravely reanchored in Cocktail Cove during white-out squalls. His was the only attended boat to break free. Out of around fifty boats on Singlar moorings, only three failed during the storm: Jaime's was one.
Four power poles were blown down on the road out here from Highway 1, and a number of newly-planted palm trees were blown to crazy angles. There is no electricity, water or telephone service here. Cruisers have lent generators to the Puerto Bello restaurant and store to keep their freezers going and the beer cold. People keep arriving, looking a little tired and vulnerable, and swapping congratulations on making it through. Tomorrow night there will be a Hurricane Barbecue to celebrate.
Sarka and I came back to our own boat after two nights hiding in the massively-built Singlar building to find "Mariposa" very clean on the outside but otherwise entirely unscathed. Our chafing gear was tired but the lines are in good shape despite the hours of yanking in the wind. Our Perry-designed Baba 30 sails at anchor, and we watched her dance back and forth for hours during the storm, often heeling precipitously when she was hit broadside by fierce gusts. So when we returned to the boat during the waning storm we were quite surprised to find nothing out of place down below, and she was entirely dry down below. The clock was ticking steadily and the books were in their cubbies. It felt very good to be home.
3-Sep-2009, Puerto Escondido, BCS, Mexico
We're fine after the passage of hurricane Jimena. Sarka and I spent two nights in a steel bunker of a marina building, sleeping on our upside-down inflatable dinghy. We came back to the boat this morning after 30 hours of very, very intense winds and rain. The boat was perfectly fine, no leaks even, and it didn't blow away and wind up on the rocks like six other boats did (there are about 50 boats here). The storm was incredible...the air was totally white with rain and spray at times...we couldn't see more than about 100 feet and we were holed up on dry land, protected by a two-story building. At times people on their boats couldn't see anything at all.
The whole thing started at 1:30 on Tuesday morning and hasn't totally let up yet. The maximum sustained winds here were probably around 60 knots (75 miles an hour) with gusts over 100. There were probably 20 hours of very serious winds and very heavy rain. We got 9 inches of rain.
The only Mexican cruiser anybody has ever met, Jaime, was on his boat during the height of the storm, when it broke off its mooring and drifted. He called out on the radio "I'm loose! I'm loose!" and then managed to get his boat moving under power to a slightly more protected cove, where he anchored somehow by himself. Then he started to drag into some other boats that were already there, and a big, very fancy powerboat left its own mooring, drove over to him and dropped off a crewmember to help Jaime. The two of them managed to relocate Jaime's boat to a new mooring where he rode out the remainder of the storm. It was extremely dramatic, as we watched it from shore with our binoculars.
Anyway, we're really tired now and waiting for the storm to go away altogether. Right now the winds are 10-20 knots with 40-knots gusts, and the sky has some blue windows in it that we are hoping will expand to replace the mess of every other kind of cloud streaming by below it.
The storm apparently traveled north-northeast from here and struck the town of Mulege and then Santa Rosalia, and perhaps went northeast and is now bashing San Carlos and Guaymas. Our different weather sources don't agree about the location, intensity, or future direction of the storm, although multiple reports would have it come back our way. This is hard to believe so we're not believing it and just waiting for things to pass. The eye of the storm apparently passed only about fifty miles west of us, putting us well within the hurricane-force blow.
We took some pictures--of the storm, of flailing boats, of the waterfalls streaming off the cliffs, of our storm shelter, of the orange sunrise through the black clouds--and will post them when electricity and Internet service have been restored.
31-Aug-2009, Puerto Escondido, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Well, the to-do list is mostly done. We have to tie down the boom and the whisker pole, and take off the dodger, and clean up a little, but for the most part we've battened down our hatches as best we can. The mooring lines are doubled and covered in split hose and tape, and the decks are just about clear. It was satisfying work on a clear, hot, windless day; the calm before the storm.
Dozens of other boats came in or were towed in from adjacent anchorages today. The bay echoes with radio voices, "Aristocat Aristocat, this is Bodhisattva." People are pretty self-sufficient and the boats are more or less prepared, but there are still a lot of sun shades up and roller-furling jibs still on the forestays. Perhaps there will be enough time tomorrow.
Tomorrow night at 11:00 pm local time, Hurricane Jimena is predicted to hit land about 70 miles southwest of us at Magdalena Bay. When it hits, the winds will be 135 knots, with higher gusts. The weather graphics show Puerto Escondido with a 40% chance of getting hit with 50-70-knot winds and a 70% chance of encountering 39-50-knot winds. A 20% chance exists of getting hit with full hurricane-force winds. There will be torrential rain and flooding--they are predicting five to fifteen inches of rain throughout the area over a twenty-four hour period. Past hurricanes of Category 1 and 2 have devastated the place; this one is presently at the upper limit of Category 4.
We are contemplating leaving the boat during the storm and going ashore to stay in the sturdy marina buildings. If the winds are above 50 knots there's nothing we could do to help the boat, really, and we don't want to get hurt. We will listen to the forecasts closely to try to make our decision intelligently.
This may be the hardest part, the watching and waiting, wondering whether the clouds building over the clifftops are the beginning of the storm. Wondering when the wind might get too strong for us to get off the boat; wondering what it will sound like and when it will end.
31-Aug-2009, Puerto Escondido, Baja California Sur, Mexico
I just finished an eyesplice in some 5/8" nylon line; our new mooring pendant to supplement the barnacle-covered rope provided by the marina. I think the line will be strong enough, but I can only hope the chain it will shackle to, and the concrete block sitting on the bottom, can hold us. But I'm not as worried as I might be: It feels good to prepare for a hurricane because it wards off the fear.
Jimena is a Category 4 hurricane, the tenth tropical storm in the Eastern Pacific this year, and it's headed our way at about seven miles an hour. It is very intense, and it's the first one to come anywhere near us. The barometric pressure in the eye is estimated to be 945 millibars; sustained winds are 145 miles per hour and gusts are tens of knots harder. Fuelled by unusually warm seawater (1.5 degrees C above normal) and directed in a curve from northwest toward northeast by some low pressure over Baja, it has leapt in intensity over the past two days and pointed itself at the southern half of the Baja peninsula. All of the weather forecast models except one show it hitting the west coast of Baja sometime on Tuesday.
When the hurricane hits land its force will diminish rapidly, and as things stand now, the worst will be over by Wednesday. Because we are somewhat north, and on the other side of the peninsula from wherever Jimena makes landfall, at present it appears we will not bear the brunt of it. We'll probably begin to see some bad weather on Monday night or Tuesday morning, and if the hurricane in fact heads our way, Tuesday night will be a very long night indeed. In that case my eyesplice will be holding us against greater than 70-knot winds; thousands of pounds of pressure tugging at our mooring. Other boats, or our boat, will drag or simply break their mooring lines and make their way to their demise on the rocks that edge the bay. Loose objects will fly through the air, the boat will pitch and toss, the wind shrieking in the rigging, driving rain and spray leaving bruises on exposed skin.
It is against our fear of this very severe natural event that making our preparations feels good. It gives us some control, and gives us some activity beyond worrying. In another age we would spend the time praying or reading Scripture. I made a to-do list of the things we must do before the hurricane.
Create and install mooring line with thimble
Put chafe protection on bridles
Remove headsails and stow
Remove mainsail and stow
Remove storm trysail and stow
Remove boom and stow
Remove dodger and frame
Take down radar reflector and courtesy flag
Fill diesel tank
Remove and stow windvane paddle
Rig stern anchor
Strike whisker pole on deck
Strike boathook on deck
Remove liferaft and stow
Reeve messenger lines and remove halyards; stow
Clean and stow outboard motor
Deflate and stow dinghy
Prepare foul weather gear
Put masks and snorkels somewhere we can find them (if we have to go outside, it's the only way we'll be able to see)
Prepare life vests and tethers
Get food ready
Get settees ready and put up lee cloths (we normally sleep in the bow, but it will be full of the above items on the list)
Probably all the other boaters in Puerto Escondido--and there are more arriving all the time--have a litany of tasks like these. This afternoon people were sitting on the shore having a potluck and passing around the tequila bottle. Alcohol won't help get the list done, though it might help with the anxiety.
On Monday we will spend the day checking things off this list, and once or twice we will get online to see what we have to look forward to. We also listen to amateur weather forecasters on the SSB radio. If you'd like to follow the progress of the hurricane, all of us here are looking at the following two sites to get our information:
http://www.eebmike.com -- all-in-one-place weather imagery for Baja California
http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_ep3+shtml/204214.shtml?5-daynl#contents -- the US National Hurricane Center's page about this hurricane, with lots of very detailed information about wind speeds, rationales for the forecasts, how the prediction models work, etc.
If you want to see where we are for comparison, get yourself to Google Maps and ask it to show you 25.82283N, 111.30592W (in more nautical terms, we're at 25 49.371N, 111 18.571W). If you can get to the right zoom level, you'll see we're in Puerto Escondido, a traditional "hurricane hole" that offers all-around, all-weather protection. In the abstract, safe as houses. In reality, we couldn't be in a better place except somewhere where there aren't hurricanes.
Wish us luck, please don't worry about us, and we'll update you when we can.
Eric & Sarka
9-Jul-2009, Puerto Los Gato, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Puerto Los Gatos was probably the most beautiful place we've anchored in Mexico. A spacious fair-weather cove, it is lined with fantastic pink rock formations, bulgy and lacy and inviting exploration. The water when we were there was as clear as we've ever seen: The boat and dinghy appeared to be floating in space above their shadows on the sand fifteen feet below.
Shortly after we dropped the hook, a boat approached and its fisherman asked how many lobsters we wanted for our supper. Then he went away and a few minutes later, brought us three. As Sarka doesn't like lobster, this was perfect: I could have them all for myself. And at 100 pesos a kilo (about $3.50 a pound) it was quite reasonably priced.
Later we learned that he catches them and keeps them in a pen underwater, and when visitors come he just goes and gets them out...kind of like a seafood restaurant! It seems like a pretty good racket.
In the evening coyotes were yelping on the beach, and the nighttime sky was especially full of stars.
The following day we inflated the dinghy and rowed to shore. The pink sandstone bluffs were just too tantalizing to admire from the boat. Soft and round in some places and brittle and lacy in others, the rocky scenery was breathtaking. We clambered up to the top of a bluff overlooking the cove and out into the Sea of Cortez, sweating in the intense July heat. We could see for miles around, and down through the clear-blue water to the seabed along the cliffs: The classic view of the Sea of Cortez.
7-Jul-2009, San Evaristo, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Mexico's considerable wealth has always stemmed from its extensive mineral deposits. In Precolumbian times Mexico was a major source of obsidian, essential for tools and weapons. The conquistadors brought Spain great quantities of gold. By the 18th century the minerals of choice were silver and copper. And today, of course, Mexico is a leading exporter of oil to the thirsty United States.
Baja never provided much of any of these products, though plenty of attempts were made in the 19th century. Today, the mining is for more pedestrian essentials: Salt and gypsum. The pearl beds have been gone for a hundred years, and fishing is on the decline as huge commercial boats scour the Sea of Cortez, leaving a more and more barren seascape.
San Evaristo is a small fishing village perhaps fifty miles north of La Paz, with some small ranches and a salt farm. The village surrounds a pleasant and well-protected bay; a short walk to the north is a wide-open bay where the salt farm faces the San Jose Channel. We took a very pleasant stroll among the cardon cactus to get to the salt flat, which glimmered like a pink-and-white jewel against the backdrop of black rock cliffs of the Sierra la Giganta mountains behind it. Cattle loafed in the shade of the date palms that line one side of the salt, and at night we could hear goats chuckling around the village. The villagers seemed shy, and we scarcely shared a syllable with them. Yachts stop there often; perhaps they've had enough.