It’s a Hurricane Party!

Last I wrote we were in Bahia San Francisquito getting ready to depart due to the prediction of a new tropical storm that was possibly going to make a track up the Baja peninsula in the Sea of Cortez. We discussed the plan with our buddy boat, Adios, and determined that the best place to wait out the storm was a protected bay up at Bahia de Los Angeles called Puerto Don Juan. We wanted to break up the trip and decided to first stop at Isla Salsipuedes before making our way to Don Juan.

I think Adios was ready to get out of San Francisquito as they were having quite a problem with the bees! I’ve mentioned the bees in the Sea of Cortez before. You never know if you are going to encounter them until you drop anchor. They are in search of fresh water difficult to find in the desert, so they come out to the boats en masse. If they find water, they will signal their buddies and you will have a problem. We’d had probably 15 or 20 at one time flying around outside Adagio. We were doing pretty good at keeping them out of the boat. Every once and a while one would make its way in and we would have to evict him. Mike and I each got stung once, but these were honeybees (not wasps) and the sting only lasts for a minute. I’m not sure how the bee got in Mike’s rash guard when he was trying to put it on, but it certainly surprised him!

Well, poor Adios on the morning we were going to leave somehow got hundreds of bees in their boat. They couldn’t think of any way to get them all out except to pull out the Shop Vac and start vacuuming up all the bees. It sounds pretty funny now, but I’m glad it wasn’t me trying to vacuum the bees.

We made our way up the Salsipuedes Channel to Isla Salsipuedes. Salsipuedes actually means “Get out if you can!” But, the channel wasn’t that bad. It can be a challenge at times due to the strong currents. This far north in the Sea of Cortez there is a large tidal swing, and narrow channels can funnel large amounts of water through very rapidly.

We came into the anchorage at Isla Salsipuedes about an hour before sunset. We had to carefully monitor our GPS as we entered the anchorage, as there is a large rock and reef about 3 feet under the water right in the middle of the entrance to the anchorage. Our boat drafts 6 feet, so the rock was a definite hazard.

As soon as we dropped anchor, Mike was anxious to put the dinghy in the water and do some fishing. Some local fishermen further south had given Mike a tip that the fishing was good at Salsipuedes, and he was ready to find out! We took the dinghy out for the last hour of daylight and did what Mike calls “catching” instead of fishing. We hooked up a dorado, 2 cabrilla, 2 triggerfish, and a needlefish. We let all the fish go, but it sure was fun to catch them.

We settled in for the night, but were jostled awake at 2 am by the wind and swell. We checked to make sure all was ok but only half slept as we kept checking on things. The current was strong and moving the boat around quite a bit. Around 3:30 Mike had gone up on deck to check out the surroundings and suddenly yelled at me to get dressed and up on deck. I scrambled upstairs as Mike was starting the engine. Then, I could see that Adios was only about 20 yards from our boat, not where he had anchored. Mike feared that Adios was dragging his anchor and coming way too close for comfort. Dale was up on deck of Adios trying to sort things out too with his engine on. We were prepared to haul anchor and move to avoid a collision.

But, then the boats suddenly swung apart. We were connected to Adios on the VHF radio and determined that Adios wasn’t dragging his anchor after all. Boats in an anchorage that are all anchored with a bow anchor will face bow into the wind with the anchor line pulled out in front of them. As the wind shifts, the boats should all swing the same direction. So, even though we may have 150 or 200 feet of anchor chain out, we should not be at risk for a collision.

What we noticed, however, was that Adagio was stern into the wind with the anchor chain pinned against the bow and under the boat! The current was running in the opposite direction as the wind and keeping Adagio from swinging into the wind. Adios was closer to shore where the current was swirling around instead of directly opposite the wind making his boat swing back in forth in opposite directions about every 10 or 15 minutes. In the middle of this swing, his bow was coming right toward Adagio. In the black of night, this was the frightening sight that Mike saw.

We realized neither boat was in danger, but it was not a comfortable position to be in. So, each boat had someone up on deck all night watching things. Mike and I took turns, but neither of us really got any sleep. When there started to be a little daylight, Dale pulled anchor and moved Adios further away in the anchorage. Of course, by this time the current and wind both died down anyway. Why do these things always happen in the middle of the night?

The next morning (after catching up on sleep for a couple of hours) we downloaded a new weather forecast. The news was not good. The tropical storm was now named Newton and was projected to become a hurricane and head right up the Sea of Cortez quicker than we expected. So, instead of exploring Salsipuedes for the day, we were going to need to head to Don Juan that afternoon.

Since we had not kept any of the fish we caught the day before, thinking we would have time to catch more, Mike wanted one last shot at fishing. So, we hurried out and caught a nice cabrilla. They are locally called cabrilla, but I think they are some sort of grouper or sandbass. Anyway, they are delicious.

We then took off for Don Juan, which was about a 30 mile trip and would take us 6 hours. There wasn’t any wind, so we had to motor. But, we did see some pilot whales and caught a nice dorado trolling on our way.

We pulled into Puerto Don Juan about 6 pm. Don Juan is a large bay that is surrounded on three sides by land with a narrow entrance, making it nearly landlocked. This is what makes it a natural hurricane hole and protected from wind and waves. We came in to find 15 boats already anchored at Don Juan, which is the largest number of boats we have seen since leaving La Paz. Everybody looked to already be preparing for the storm.

Today was prep day for hurricane Newton, which should weaken to a tropical storm by the time it gets this far north. The other boats in the anchorage established a net on the VHF for everyone to monitor. We had boats calling us to welcome us in and offer any assistance that they could give. The boats decided to do a group call every three hours to share the latest weather forecasts, as we all have access to different weather download and radio sources.

Not a bad sunset waiting for the storm…

Mike and I got to work trying to bring into the boat or tie down any loose items. Although the forecasts were saying that we may only get winds of 25-30, further south they were getting gusts up to 85 mph! So, we wanted to prepare for the worst. If the storm track changed even a few degrees, it could hit us much worse. So, here’s a list of our preparations: 1. Chafe protection on the anchor snubber rode
2. Bring below all cockpit cushions, sails and other items that were stored on deck or in the cockpit 3. Take off canvas covers that could possibly catch the wind and blow off 4. Lash the mainsail and cover down over the boom
5. Move the scuba tanks, gas cans and other items onto the cockpit floor 6. Take down the dodger
7. Move all extra lines into the cockpit or lazarettes

As you can see, we had our work cut out for us. The wind started blowing 20-25 around 1:00 and hasn’t let up. There are dark clouds looming but no rain yet. We’re certainly hoping that the storm will follow the projected path and cross over to mainland Mexico before it gets this far north, but we’re prepared! The storm should move over our area sometime tonight, so I don’t expect we’ll be sleeping much.

Waiting for hurricane Newton…

Whenever we have some sort of challenge and I am tired and cranky, Mike always just grins and says, “It’s all part of the adventure!” And, he’s right. There might be a lot of hard work involved in what we are doing, but we both agree that it is the most rewarding work we have done. It is giving us the adventure of a lifetime!

~katie

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