Safety at Sea: When Fury Overtakes a Cruisers’ Safe Haven
Anchoring lessons are learned, some the hard way, when a freak winter storm blows into Mexico's Bahía de Banderas.
Bad weather is something we’re prepared for—at sea. But when the passage is over and we’ve dropped the hook, hurricane-force winds and 6-foot seas are the last things we expect. But we realize that extreme weather can happen just about anywhere. We experienced this firsthand when winds in excess of 80 knots ripped through Bahía de Banderas, on Mexico’s mainland near Puerto Vallarta, toppling trees, blowing windows out of high rises, and cutting power to towns around the bay. Over half of the 60 or so boats anchored in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, in the northern part of the bay, dragged or lost their anchors, and dozens more ended up with shredded sails or impact damage. Two boats went aground.
We’d pulled into La Cruz in the afternoon of February 3, 2010, having just completed a four-day, 500-mile light-wind passage from Bahía Magdelena, on the west coast of the Baja peninsula. After taking a pass through the packed anchorage, we chose a spot on the seaward edge of the fleet. In a light offshore breeze, we set our anchor with 150 feet of chain and 30 feet of rope in 33 feet of water.
It was raining and a swell was running, but my husband, Evan Gatehouse, our daughter, Maia, and I headed to town to enjoy an early supper. When we got back to the boat, we noticed a polypropylene fishing line wrapped around our propeller. After failing to free it, we decided the 1/4-inch line would be easier to remove in the morning.
Around 2130, our digital barograph’s weather alarm went off, signaling a rapid drop in barometric pressure; it eventually dropped 7 millibars over 2 hours. By the time the big swell arrived, it was clear that something odd was going on, and we decided to pull our dinghy up into its davits.