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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Whatever the weather we weather the weather


Today we are bobbing along on anchor at La Ventana in Bahia de los Angeles. After hitting the August Full Moon party at La Mona and a quick stop at the Village we spent three nights anchored in Puerto Don Juan arguably the best hurricane hole in the northern Sea. With no place to be we move with the rhythm of the Sea in summer: no hurry, relaxed, bits of fishing or clamming in the mornings, stay out of the sun in mid-day, jump in the water to cool off, hope for a cooling breeze. Everything revolves around the heat.

Our second night we woke around 3:00am hearing a very odd and unfamiliar sound: what, huh, is that rain? Quick run around and close the hatches and ports! The last time we saw rain was Oct 15th 2010 yet here in Bahia de los Angeles they last saw measurable rain seven YEARS ago. As I worked to get back to sleep I had great flashes of getting up and taking a walk into the dessert to see the transformation the rains would bring. When we woke up the skies were overcast and the day felt cool so we set off early for that walk.
Disappointingly the dessert had not transformed over night by the rains. Despite our dash for dryness at the sound of raindrops on our decks it all added up to nothing measurable. No glorious carpet of color was produced and though the walk was pleasant we saw nothing more than coyote tracks, spikey shrubs and cacti and a few tiny bright red blooms.

The heat of the sun rules the entire fleet this time of year. We have run to the Northern Sea of Cortez as an escape, historically from the path of the annual hurricanes. In early spring as we made plans to go north to the Sea the rest of the fleet was breaking off: west across the Pacific to the South Pacific, South to Central and South America or through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean or simply home to their “real life” in The US or Canada. We choose the northern Sea for safety knowing that the summer sun still will control us. It is the heat of the sun that warms the water that draws the winds that fuel the storms. It is the heat that fuels the convections and katabatic winds. The Chubascos and the Elefantes, Coromuels and Hurricanes all are ruled by the suns warming of the land masses and the tides of heated water. Add that to the reality of no internet and no telephone service in the Northern Sea and you have a recipe for little or no warnings coming our way when trouble is brewing.

The fleet tries to counter the absence of at hand reliable weather forecasts by building a network of relayed information. At the most basic level it comes from the boaters actively utilizing the VHF radio to pass along information on current weather activity.
“Ponderosa, Ponderosa, Ponderosa this is Island Bound.”
“Ponderosa here.”
“Switch to Channel 69.”
“ 69.”
“Ponderosa, this is Island Bound, we saw you raising anchor right behind us on your way out and just wanted to warn you that as we rounded the corner out of Don Juan we ran smack into 25 mile per hour winds and are now seeing gusts to 35, over.”
“Roger that Island Bound, good luck, we’ll keep our sails down until we see what’s what.”

We had been at anchor in paradise for three nights when we decided on a whim to move to another anchorage. It had been still and windless all day but as we rounded the corner we ran smack into the beginnings of a daytime Chubasco. In fact as we radioed Ponderosa other friends less than 5 miles away were listening to our reports of weather and thinking perhaps we had gone mad because where they were sitting there was no wind at all. But a mere couple of minutes passed when they were hit first by wind waves and then by the very winds we were calling about.

At the same time miles north our friends on Bravo were under sail bound for Refugio when in the middle of bringing in a lovely big Dorado when the winds found them. Busy reeling in a fish under full main and a stays’l they were suddenly in 50 mph winds. Another group of three boats coming north from San Francisquito were caught unaware as well. Far from their last port but still hours away from the next shelter the high winds overtook them. One of three ended up sailing under bare poles at 6 ½ knots while another, V’ger lost their back stay, both port side lower shrouds and suffered a crack in their mast from the strain. All on what started out as a clear and sunny summer day.

Now lest you get to fretting thinking we might be caught in a hurricane let me assure you that hurricanes do not come without warning. Other nasty little weather can but not hurricanes. They are tracked for days and definitely make themselves known giving us all plenty of time to get as far out of their path as possible. Again, the problem is the lack of forecasting that can be the bear.

This time of year we have access three ways to weather forecasts. 1.) Baja Geary gives us the weather 7/days a week via his ham radio and the report is then recorded and transmitted via the VHF. 22. 2.)Twice daily 6/days per week we listen to Don on Summer Passage from Oxnard California. He has been the resident weather guru for the west coast and Pacific Ocean for years. In addition to his daily weather forecasts for the outer Baja coast, the Sea of Cortez and the Mexican Riviera south to the infamous Tehuantepec (sounds like: two-wanna-peg) boats underway can check in with their current location via Ham radio and Don will fashion a personal forecast for you which he did for us aboard S/V Western Grace on my maiden Pacific Ocean voyage from Cabo San Lucas to Hawaii in 2005. Back then Don had been doing this work (for free) for many years and now in his late 70’s he is still here today.

So, for the small fleet here in the northern Sea it is a matter of weather. We are here because we seek safety but of all the places I have sailed the Sea has the weirdest wildest weather. It is early in the season but already it is common to catch ourselves looking at the clouds searching for a hint, any hint. “Is that cloud headed our way?” “If the wind shifts will we sleep tonight?” and “What did Baja Geary say this morning?” Once caught, twice shy. kat

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