I wrote the following three days ago. We anchored off the village in Bahia de Los Angeles yesterday afternoon. I’m posting this today (Sunday) from an internet café. We plan to leave here soon to explore a bit south.
This is our account of how we heard about and responded to hurricane Odile. It struck Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja peninsula at 2:00 a.m. on Monday, September 15. Today, September 18, Del Viento and crew are anchored with 12 other cruising boats in Puerto Don Juan, near Bahia de Los Angeles in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez, 450 nautical miles north of Cabo. We’ve been here since the 15th and have received only snippets of information via our high frequency radio. We are all quite well, but very concerned about the welfare of friends further south.
September 9: From Bahia San Luis Gonzaga (190 nautical miles north of Santa Rosalia), we day sailed offshore and anchored in a cove at the northern end of Isla Angel la Guarda. We bay hopped and explored, enjoying ourselves for the next few days.
September 14: We dropped the hook in an anchorage called Este Ton. There we met a father and son camping on the beach with their kayaks. They’d left Bahia de Los Angeles a few days prior and planned to circumnavigate this large island over the next couple weeks. We hung out for a bit and gave them cold drinks and 20 liters of water. We’d been keeping tabs on a hurricane brewing south, but we’d missed that morning’s 6:30 a.m. weather broadcast. We told the kayakers we’d get them an update before they left the next morning.
September 15: The news was shocking. We learned hurricane Odile had hit Cabo San Lucas a few hours prior with 130 knot winds. We learned it was the most powerful storm to hit the Cape since 1969. We heard it was a large storm. It was coming our way. We passed this weather info on to the kayakers (they had no communication devices that we know of) and raised anchor and headed straight for Puerto Don Juan, a hurricane hole on the peninsula, just south of Bahia de Los Angeles, and less than three hours away under power. (A hurricane hole is a place that is widely regarded as a good place to weather a severe storm, generally because of natural geographic features that offer protection from stormy seas and wind.) There were already eleven boats here when we arrived (one more sailed in a few hours after us). We said hello to our friends aboard Maitairoa and then found a spot to anchor.
We dropped and set our 66-pound Bruce anchor on 300-plus feet of 3/8-inch chain in 45 feet of water. We hitched a length of ½-inch 3-strand line to a bridle to serve as our primary snubber and then, after leaving a bit of slack in the chain, secured a second bridle of 5/8-inch three-strand to serve as a back-up, emergency snubber. We attached rode to our second anchor (a 55-pound Delta) and flaked the chain on deck, ready to deploy in an instant. We re-furled our headsail and made sure there was plenty of sheet wrapped around it. We put the mainsail cover on and then over-wrapped it with a spare halyard. We wrapped duct tape around our leaking mast deck collar and unzipped the center panel of our isinglass dodger. We double-secured everything that would remain on deck and cleared everything that wouldn’t. We checked and re-checked everything. Down below, the girls got started on a 1000-piece puzzle of a map of Disneyland.
That afternoon, the 20 knots of wind we experienced during our crossing from Isla Angel la Guarda disappeared. It was eerily still. That night, the wind picked up a bit, gusting 15-20 knots before holding steady in the high teens. Neither Windy nor I slept well.
September 16: Windy rose at 6:00 a.m to be sure to catch the weather report on the high-frequency, short-wave radio. The wind was blowing, now strong. It surprised her when she looked out because Del Viento was buttoned up against the rain and very cozy below. The guy who normally does the weather is named Gary, located in Bahia Concepcion, 230 nautical miles south of us. He was silent. Another guy, Bob, in Arizona, reported the weather. Other sailors who checked into the net shared information from their locations. Everything sounded dire. Many, many boats were reported to have sunk or washed ashore in La Paz. There was a list of people missing. One name we recognized was of our friend, Gunther, a singlehander aboard Princess. Straining to hear faint, scratchy transmissions, we learned that one of the two tiny marinas in Santa Rosalia was destroyed and three boats were washed ashore. We learned that the other (FONATUR) marina was damaged and that many of the boats there were damaged, but that all the people aboard all the boats there were fine.
We learned that the hurricane was scheduled to peak for us later this day. It was already gusting close to 50 knots. In the afternoon, a boat near us, Dream Catcher (Eureka, CA), began dragging. We watched, fascinated and concerned, as they reset their hook (two large anchors in tandem) in winds that blew so strong the rain hurt our skin. It was a challenging operation for them. It could have been any of us that dragged, we were glad it wasn’t us. We hoped this wasn’t the beginning of all hell breaking loose.
In the late afternoon, the sky began to lighten in the west and it seemed a dark mass of clouds was moving just east of us. The wind had settled back down to 20 knots. It looked like the worst may have passed. It turned out it had. We slept very soundly that night.
September 17: On the morning radio, we learned only a little more about conditions along the Baja. We learned that perhaps an additional 20 boats were lost in La Paz. These were boats stored on the hard near Marina Palmira, all knocked over like dominos, apparently. We fear that our friends’ boat, Willful Simplicity, is among them. We learned that our friends aboard Manakai are safe in Santa Rosalia, but that their boat is damaged to some extent. We used the day to dry out. During the latter half of the storm, we’d opened up a deck plate and successfully diverted about 30 gallons of water into our tank. This will prove valuable as water (among other things) may be in short supply along the peninsula. We are in conservation mode. Concerned about our families worrying about us, we managed to get a health and welfare email sent to two addresses via another boat’s (Ceilidh) short wave radio. We know that at least one was received, so hopefully that news will spread. It may be a while before we have internet access (and therefore before I can post this report). We launched the dinghy and met some of our dozen neighbors in person and explored ashore a bit. The girls (with help) finished the Disneyland puzzle.
September 18: We learned on the radio this morning that Gunther’s body had been found in La Paz, his boat sunk. We shared the news with the girls, lots of tears. He was old. The girls adored him and his tiny dog, Fritz. Everyone here in the anchorage knows Gunther and there is lots of sorrow. We lowered our Mexican courtesy flag to half-mast and others followed suit. There is still one cruiser missing in La Paz. We’re worried about our close friends who live on the Magote. They live in a concrete house and have lots of food and water stocked up, but they may have lost all transportation off the Magote as well as their infrastructure, including the desalination plant that supplies water to that community. We’re worried about the welfare of our other friends on the Magote and of our friends who live in the city. We heard there is looting and rioting in Cabo and that the airport is destroyed, whatever that means. We have no means of reaching anyone, yet. Though we got through this unscathed, and we have power and food and water and shelter, we are a very small island with scant information coming in. It is a blue-sky day and our setting is peaceful and beautiful, terribly incongruous with what we’ve been hearing.
We plan to stay here for the next couple days, at least. There is another hurricane (Polo), but the projected track doesn’t look as threatening. All of our fresh food is gone and we only have about 10 gallons of diesel. Our plan was to refuel in Bahia de Los Angeles, but they still have no power and we learned the road that connects them to Highway 1 is impassable. Hopefully things will change in the next few days.
We also heard that south of Santa Rosalia, Highway 1 is not passable. This is the overland lifeline for the lower part of the peninsula so we hope that is resolved soon. Windy’s mom is scheduled to fly into Loreto on the 29th of this month. Before making a decision about whether she should cancel that trip, we’re going to wait a few more days to see how quickly things are restored. If things improve even a bit, we may head down to Santa Rosalia so that we may be close enough to bus down to meet her in Loreto and then make our way back north to the boat—assuming that becomes feasible and we are able to confirm that it is.
A Mexican military helicopter just flew low over the anchorage. Our hearts go out to everyone who suffered in this disaster. Following is a list of the 13 boats that weathered this storm in Bahia de Los Angeles (Puerto Don Juan), September 15-18:
Audacious (formerly Shamu); Ceilidh; Del Viento; Dream Catcher *(Eureka, CA); *Dream Ketcher (Tucson, AZ); Harmony; Interabang; Jade Purl; Lunasea; Maitairoa; Sea Note; Swan; Take Five
In our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at http://thelifegalactic.blogspot.com/