The one rule we live by while cruising is that the weather (WX) dictates EVERYTHING. Where we go, what we do, schedules, etc., are all dictated by the weather. The weather isn't usually much of a factor on shore, in a house or car. If it's pouring rain, windy, or snowing, you generally just get in the car and drive somewhere anyway. But out here on a sailboat, it's a different story...
If you've been following our blog for long, you may recall we had to wait out storms for weather-windows in Newport, OR, Crescent City, Monterey, and Santa Barbara, CA and in Ensenada, MX last fall and winter. Due West
is no stranger to high winds and storms either. In 1997 we sailed her in 65 kts of wind across Puget Sound in the Easter Day Storm. (This was the one and ONLY time we did not listen to the WX radio, and it taught us a BIG lesson. But it also gave us great confidence in our boat and ourselves that we could sail in high winds if we needed to.) And we rode out the Hanukkah Eve Storm of 2006 at the dock in Elliott Bay Marina with hurricane-strength gusts of over 70 kts. Now days we look at and listen to WX reports daily. With weather forecasting tools being what they are today, we hope to NEVER find ourselves dealing with a hurricane or nasty storm again, but we know that's always a possibility as a cruiser.
This image from NOAA shows the projected trajectory of Javier. La Paz was in the Tropical Storm Warning zone (blue), very close to the Hurricane Watch zone (pink.)
So the report from the National Hurricane Center on Friday August 5 wasn't exactly what we wanted to hear...Tropical Storm Javier was headed our way (towards La Paz) with the potential to become a hurricane. To quote our nephew Tate who just turned 17, "No Bueno!" For you non-sailor types, a Tropical Storm has winds ranging from 34-63 kts (or 39-73 mph), while a Category 1 Hurricane has winds ranging from 64-82 kts (or 74-95 mph.)
We got up to view NOAA storm warning text updates at 0300 each morning. It made for a restless night's sleep when the Mexican Government issued a hurricane watch/warning for southern tip of Baja!
During a storm event NOAA and the National Hurricane Center post WX updates online every 3 to 6 hours. We checked the forecasts before we went to bed at night, then set our alarm to get up at 3am Saturday, and Sunday when new WX updates were posted online. We watched the tropical storm warnings turn to hurricane warnings, creeping ever closer to La Paz, to include Cabo (90 miles south of us) and then Los Barriles (45 miles south of us). Javier was still 2-days away, but we knew we'd better start to prepare for the worst. The "nice" thing about natural disasters like Tropical Storms and Hurricanes is that you actually get several days to prepare (unlike, say an earthquake!) After each WX update, we conferred with our awesome cat-sitting friends John & Boni, and we made plans to help each other out if anyone needed anything.
Due West with decks clear, canvas cover and dodger coming off. We did leave our jerry cans of diesel, gasoline, and water tied and locked to the lashing boards. If it looked like it would have progressed to a Cat 2+ Hurricane, those would have come off and stowed below decks too.
So Saturday we stripped everything off the deck and stowed it all below. Our main cover was still lashed on with line from when we'd gone to the states and we left that. We took the jib off the furler, deflated and packed up the kayaks, stowed the snorkel and dive gear bag, removed our big canvas awning and dodger canvas, and packed everything into the salon. Tosh & Tikka wondered WHAT was going on?!
Our mainsail and cover were tied down to the boom using a chain-stitch lashing. This is actually the neighbors boom as we untied ours before we thought about taking a photo, but it looked the same.
We double-tied all mooring lines, filled the water tanks and fuel tanks, and stocked up on food and cash from the ATM. When Hurricane Odile hit La Paz three years ago the whole city was without electricity for 10-days. No water, no fuel, no stores open, no cash machines working. We aimed to be as prepared as possible in those two days.
We left the air conditioning unit in place to help keep cool a bit longer, since we could always stow that at the last minute if need be. We also made provisions to get ourselves and the cats OFF the boat in the event that it did become a hurricane. Thankfully our cruising friend Lisa who has a house here (and is currently in Seattle) said if the storm hit we could bring the furbies and seek refuge at her house, along with John & Boni and their dos-gatos as well. BIG THANKS Lisa!!
As we scurried around all day getting the boat "hurricane-proofed", many other local Mexicans on the dock and gringos cruisers who'd been in La Paz for a while and had seen lots of hurricane warnings come and go, weren't doing the same thing... they were all nonchalantly saying this would blow by and be a non-event. We are generally very optimistic, and it would be fantastic if it panned out that way, but that was not what NOAA and the National Hurricane Center were saying. In the fable of the ant and grasshopper, we were the ants getting ready for winter.
This projected storm-track image shows Javier starting to veer west. The day before this image, all tracks were headed up the Sea of Cortez and over La Paz... Unfortunately we were too preoccupied stowing and stashing to think about downloading that image!
But by Monday morning all warnings were off, and the most we saw was a bit of rain and about 20 kts of wind on Tuesday. That was it...Tropical Storm Javier fell apart as quickly as he formed. It was a non-event. As it turns out the locals were right this time. Whew! We skated by on this one. And with the added knowledge that we CAN take everything OFF our boat and store it inside within a day, if need be. We'd rather be safe than sorry, and will do it all again next time. Even though we now face the chore of putting it all back ON deck and securing everything for our voyage north.
The calm before the storm...La Paz is known for it's fantabulous sunsets, and the night before the storm was scheduled to hit was no exception. The old sailor's adage "Red Sky at Night..." doesn't seem to apply here!
Since hurricane season is officially here, we're skedaddling. We plan to leave La Paz on Sunday and make our way north to Bahia de Los Angeles for a month or so, then likely east across the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos/Guaymas area before coming back to La Paz in mid-November after the hurricanes have gone. Stay tuned, follow our IridiumGo track
, and to all of you sailors out there, stay safe this hurricane season! Fair winds and following seas...