Waiting For Gulf of Tehuantepec Weather Window
07 November 2007 | Puerto Madero, Mexico
While we all wanted to continue with our northerly passage, we were forced to pull into Puerto Madero, Mexico and wait for a proper weather window to pass through the Gulf of Tehuantepec. We anticipated making the passage to Huatulco in one shot, although the original weather window for the Gulf of Tehuantepec was pushed slightly back. It turned out okay as Julie and Chris are taking care of customs and immigration matters in the meantime. I, of course, am left to baby sit Cisnecito, which I'm enjoying very much. My forward hatch has a bit of a leak, so I spent the majority of the morning pulling it apart, cleaning up the various seals, and prepping it for a fresh coat of silicon caulk. I also cleaned and cut up our last papaya from Nicaragua (which literally weighed 8 lbs-we got two), put up the sun awnings, and dug out our storm sails located underneath my berth. For now, I'm sitting on deck in the shade, listening to Beck, and enjoying the putrid smell from the fish processing plant, slowly drifting from across the way. But then again, I'd much rather deal with foul smelling fish than a grumpy Gulf of Tehuantepec.
As I mentioned before, the Gulf of Tehuantepec is notorious for extremely high winds, potentially treacherous seas, and is obviously feared by any boater crossing its path, including large commercial vessels and cruise ships. The cause for potentially extreme winds and horribly rough seas is fairly simple to understand and grasp, when one looks at a map and geological features of this particular area of Mexico. A natural venturi effect is created by high mountain ranges located to the northwest and southeast, and a low-lying, thin isthmus in the center of the two mountain ranges. To the northeast is the expansive Gulf of Mexico and its mighty weather systems. To the southwest, although significantly smaller, is the Gulf of Tehuantepec. These natural features make an hourglass or funnel shape, and can create a classic venturi effect, which is the principal that a moving air mass significantly increases in speed as it passes through a narrow or smaller area. (By the way, this same principal is exactly why you DON'T go under an overpass in a tornado as the wind can be upwards of 1.5 times as strong .be sure and remember that next time you have a tornado on your ass). So, depending on the barometric pressure in both gulfs, wind from the Gulf of Mexico can literally shoot down, across, and over the isthmus, exiting into the Gulf of Tehuantepec with immense force and ferocity. This phenomenon has been coined a "Tehuantepecker" by the close-knit yachting community, and we are doing everything we can to avoid getting caught in one. However, this time of year is notorious for Tehuantepeckers and, much to my dismay, occur very often. Great huh.
The area of main concern lasts for approximately 275 miles, and we are about 175 miles from that area, or 30 hours. So, once we confirm our window, we will factor the additional 30 hours into the equation, and set off. For now, it looks like we will leave very early tomorrow morning and attempt to pass through the hairy part of the gulf on Friday morning starting at 6 a.m. But then again, plans tend to change very quickly, so I am not banking on anything.
Fortunately I am sailing with two highly experienced and able sailors that just finished sailing Cisnecito around the world for the last 3 years. The boat is in tip top shape (actually, I still have to seal the forward hatch), and sails quite well in high winds and rough seas. On our way out of Nicaragua we saw 30 knots of wind with full main and genoa, so who says we can't sail through 50 knots if we can take in a few reefs and throw up the storm jib? It will be an exciting passage regardless, although I am anxious to cross this one off my list. That and settle down with some guacamole on the other side of the Gulf.