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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Loreto Fest and the Big Blow

It’s early evening here in Puerto Escondido and I am listening quietly as the fleet continues to chatter on CH 22. Earlier the mood was light and relaxed while roughly 400 folks were ashore enjoying the last day of Loreto Fest. Most had come ashore in their tenders leaving scores of dinghies tied to a couple of small dinghy docks and nearly every boat empty of captain and crew when high winds began rolling through the anchorage. As the winds grew the afternoon quickly disintegrated into chaos but now thankfully the emergencies are passed and everyone is back safely aboard their boats.

This year was the 15th annual Loreto Fest, which by the way is held in Puerto Escondido not Loreto and the weather had been perfect for the first two days. This year’s event drew well close to 200 boats, spanned three days and included numerous seminars with titles like “Diving Baja,” “How to Catch Baja’s Bottom fish” and “Jewelry Making.” There were extremely serious competitions in Bocce Ball, horse shoes, dominoes and Baja rummy. In between the seminars and cut throat competition they sold hot dogs and hamburgers, held a spaghetti feed and a pancake breakfast, poured icy cold kegs of beer and gallons of margaritas and Bloody Mary and held a silent auction and raffle all to raise funds for a local school and a handful of other charities.

It had been gusty and the weather reports had called for winds in the low 20’s by afternoon but no one seemed overly worried. The main venue had a clear view out into the bay and over the 100+ moorings scattered across the main anchorage. When the wind began to blow slowly we all began to take notice. The tents set up for the event began to flog and rumble. One tipped over and was caught as it began to skitter away like tumbleweed. The shade tarps began to whip and bang and folks started looking out towards the anchorages. We moved in little groups to the harbor wall and looked off into rising winds. All the boats were swinging and bucking but holding tight. Soon an announcement was made: a boat was dragging. More of us moved to the sea wall as the conversations began questioning when the winds might ease and how we might begin making it back to our boats.

There are only two dingy docks one right in front of the marina and one tucked off behind the marina office in the “Ellipse.” (My captain chose to take the long route and tie in the “Ellipse” around the corner and out of the days prevailing winds.) Per the dinghy dock rules we had all tied to the docks with extra long painters. The long painters allowed for a great many dinghies to be tied along a line run round the small docks edge. In normal situations we would just muscle our way through the pack of dinks, tie our painter to the rope and climb out on the dock. When we returned we would untie the painter and climb from boat to boat then muscle ourselves through to the open water. Now in the rising winds we watched as the main dinghy dock was quickly turning into a roiling heaving knot of rubber, rope and banging outboards. The mass was pushed around and behind the dock itself and was coming seriously close to a mega yacht tied in a slip. It became clear that getting off the dock was going to take a whole new technique this afternoon.

Under brilliant blue skies Bill and I watched the building winds, checked our dinghy tied round the corner and then moved back to the sea wall to discuss and watch some more. By this time everyone was beginning to crowd into groups of serious discussion and decision. I was hoping the winds would die as the afternoon slid by but I was also aware that if we waited too long in hopes of a lull we risked adding darkness to the problem. By this time getting off the dock at the front of the marina was simply impossible but thankfully our tender was safely tucked out of the brunt of the winds. After a handful of other boats safely made it out to their boats the Captain decided it was our turn to try.

With Bill at the tiller and me sitting forward on the floor of the dinghy to help keep the nose down the quite, private mooring a quarter mile out that we had been enjoying so much seemed to be a very long way away. The launch off the quieter dock was easy enough but as we turned the corner of the “Ellipse’s” breakwater we instantly plowed into the surf. I was glad I had put hats, sun glassed, cell phone and camera inside my day pack and tied the pack to the dink. Surprisingly, though the water here is 74 degrees and the sun was still high when we hit our first trough I was instantly soaked through and cold. I rode that ¼ mile with my left arm wound through the safety line and my eyes shut tight against the salt spray or sneaking peeks back at Bill to see how he was doing at the tiller.

We made it back to Island Bound wet and chilled but without any real problems. Bill checked the mooring lines and I did a quick tour to take down all our flags, put away the hose and haul in a sagging head sail sheet. Once everything was ship shape we settled down in the shade of our safe and dry cockpit to check the wind indicator and monitor the radio for problems. The wind gusts were hitting 40+ and sustained winds were about 30. In retrospect we realized we had never been off the boat in these kinds of winds. In every other instance we simply would never been off our boat in this kind of wind. At the first signs we would have either chosen to stay on the boat or returned as soon as any winds began to build. We also realized we now trust our own anchoring ability and our trusty Rocna anchor over any 6’x6’x6’ block of concrete. If it hadn’t been for the party we never would have left our boat with a forecast of high winds.

It was an unusual set of circumstances to find ourselves surrounded by competent boaters all basically trapped onshore. It was also an experience to see first hand the competence and community that came together to handle the problems that did appear. All hands came together to close down the festival and everyone quickly took responsibility for grabbing hold of the floating gas tank, the loose oar or the piece of runaway canvas for later return. People hooked up and communicated to take care of whatever was in front of them. We were fortunate to not have had a single boat go aground and no major injuries. Tomorrow mornings the forecast is for even higher winds and it feels sort of like a snow day. Movement is limited but communication is thick on the radio and happily I doubt there is a boater amongst us who doesn’t actually enjoy an excuse to spend the day doing pretty much nothing other than simply quietly being aboard their boat.

Kat

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