What Tropical Storm?
August 9, 2016
Sometimes you make decisions you didn’t expect to make that day. That’s what happened a few days ago when we were at Isla Coronados. We had been enjoying the beautiful little anchorage but started discussing where we were going to head next. We had skipped over some anchorages on Isla Carmen and Isla Danzante on our way north from Puerto Escondido, because we had stopped in Loreto for some provisions.
So, we had to decide whether we were going to go back south to check out the islands or continue north for now and hit Isla Carmen and Isla Danzante when we headed back south at the end of the summer. Well, that discussion led to how we were going to renew our Mexican visas, which were going to expire in a few weeks.
I am a rule follower and Mike basically thinks rules are made to be broken, but we both agreed that as guests in this country we wanted to follow the rules and not overstay our visas. If you enter Mexico as a tourist, they will give you a 180 day visa when you enter the country. We discussed getting a longer term visa before we left, but that was going to require applying at the consulate in LA and we were so busy preparing to leave that we just ran out of time. There isn’t a way to renew your 180 day visa in Mexico. But, you can step across the border in the US and back across into Mexico and get another 180 days. I have no idea why, but these are the rules.
The closest border crossing is Tijuana, which is not remotely close to here. Baja is pretty sparse. And, not only do we have to find a way to the border (plane, train, bus) but we have to leave the boat somewhere safe. There are not many marinas on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez once you get north of La Paz. We did not want to leave the boat at anchor. We had spoken to some other cruisers who had suggested going up to Santa Rosalia where there is a very small marina. From there, it is an eight hour bus ride to the border.
Santa Rosalia is 95 miles from Isla Coronados. But, there was another option nearby. We had just come from Puerto Escondido, which was only 20 miles south. Puerto Escondido is 14 miles south of Loreto, where there is an airport!
Puerto Escondido is one of the most protected harbors in Baja. It is nearly landlocked and known as a “hurricane hole.” There isn’t much of a marina here yet, except for small boats. (Most boats are at anchor or on moorings.) But, there is a dock we had tied up to the week before, just for the day, which was nearly empty given the time of year. We called them on the sat phone and found out that the dock was available and quickly made the decision to pick up the anchor and head south.
We were able to get a flight from Loreto to Tijuana the next day. The Tijuana airport sits just on the Mexican side of the border, and there is a bridge directly from the airport to the US side. It is really convenient to go through immigration and exit the airport back in the US. We decided to make the most of this last minute trip and do some shopping for things to take back with us that are difficult to find in Mexico. So, we rented a car and found a cheap hotel on the border for the night and then took the next available flight back to Loreto. Although we would have liked to have made it a longer trip to see friends and family, our summer in the Sea of Cortez was going to go by quickly and we wanted to make the most of it. We’ll be back for an extended trip in December.
When we got back to Puerto Escondido yesterday I went up to the marina office to settle up with them and get some laundry tokens. I mentioned that we were going to head out that afternoon with plans to go anchor at one of the islands (Isla Danzante is the closest). The office manager looked at me closely and said, “Have you checked the weather?” Well, of course not. That would have been entirely too sensible! Apparently there was a tropical storm hitting Baja. Uh, where did that come from? It wasn’t there a couple of days ago
We have the ability to download weather forecasts from our sat phone as well as get weather information from the SSB and VHF nets. For at least the last month, the weather forecasts have been exactly the same every daysunny, hot, light winds from the southeast So, we had gotten a bit complacent about checking the weather EVERY day. It is hurricane season, so of course we look for tropical activity in the weather forecasts. But, so far every tropical storm/hurricane has headed west away from land.
After talking to the marina, I came back the boat and let Mike know we needed to fire up the computer and the sat phone to look at this tropical storm I just heard about. Sure enough, Javier was looking like it was going to head up the west coast of Baja and bring strong wind and rain on our side of the peninsula as well.
So, we made the decision to wait out the storm in Puerto Escondido. But, we did not want to pay to stay at the dock for a couple more days. (It was very pricey for a marina.) We were going to anchor out in the bay, but the marina manager convinced us to take a mooring instead. They charge the same price ($11/night) if you are anchored or on a mooring.
We were a little skeptical only because some friends we had met a few months ago told us a story of their experience in Puerto Escondido last year when their boat broke free of the mooring. But, the marina assured us that all of the moorings had been replaced in the last year. A new company has recently taken over management of the marina and moorings from the government, and we were satisfied with his explanation.
If you don’t know what a mooring is, it is essentially a concrete block on the bottom of the ocean with a chain or rope up to a buoy. From the buoy there is another rope which you attach to the boat. So, it is like a permanent anchor on the ocean floor. Although we were confident we would be secure on the mooring, we decided to set the anchor alarm anyway. We have an app on our iPad that uses GPS (not internet) that we can set at night to tell us if our anchor drags. So far, our anchor has been holding us without any issue, but we always set the alarm to be safe.
We finished the laundry and had some lunch and prepared to get off the dock and pick up a mooring. By then the wind had picked up to about 20 kts. We were side-tied to the dock with a bow and stern line and two spring lines. The wind was on our nose and blowing us off the dock and backwards. There was a boat tied up behind us, so the trick was now how to get off the dock without blowing into something!
I was at the helm and Mike was on the dock getting ready to release the dock lines and jump on. Without any wind, this would have been no big deal. But, the wind made it a whole new ball game. Mike released the stern and aft spring line first. As he grabbed the bow line, the stern swung way out from the dock. Mike was putting his entire body weight into pulling the bow line back toward the dock. I put the boat in gear and throttled up to try and keep us from blowing backwards. This pushed the boat forward, but there is no way to swing the stern back in. I was a bit nervous at this point that Mike was not going to be able to get on the boat, and I was going to have to find a way to maneuver back around to try to pick him up. Somehow the boat swung back just close enough for Mike to jump on, and I hit the throttle to get us away from the dock quickly. Whew! In hindsight, we should have done this differently, but everything is a learning experience!
With one obstacle out of the way, the next one was picking up the mooring. We motored out to the mooring field. I was at the bow and Mike was at the helm. As I described the mooring above, you need to pick up the second line from the buoy and attach it to the cleat on the bow of the boat. I had a long boat hook that I was going to need to reach over the bow and hook the line, pull it up and attach it to the cleat. The trick is getting right on top of it (without hitting the buoy, of course). That sounds easier than it is, especially when the wind is blowing like crazy and you are headed into the waves. From Mike’s vantage point behind the helm, he was going to be coming up to it basically blind once we got close and was relying on me to give him signals. Miraculously, he put me right up to mooring line as I hollered “reverse” to stop our forward momentum giving me time to hook the line with the boat hook and pull it up. At least we got this second obstacle done the easy way!
We settled in for the evening and took a look at the growing black clouds over the mountains in the distance, but it was still clear above us with the stars and crescent moon out. Despite the sun having departed for the day, it was pretty warm. Closing up all the hatches and portlights was going to make for an uncomfortably warm night sleeping. We figured that if we started to hear some raindrops, we’d get up and close everything.
Waiting for the storm…
Although we’re adapting to the heat, sleeping when you sweat just lying there isn’t really that fun. In order to be comfortable, we have the hatches open, a fan on, and usually no sheets, blankets, clothes or anything that would make you warm. So, that’s how we were when I was suddenly jolted awake at 3:30 this morning with a torrential downpour!
I think I scared the crap out of Mike waking him up as we both bolted outside (no clothes, remember) into the pouring rain. Believe me, cold rain at 3:30 in the morning will definitely wake you up! As we were getting drenched, we quickly closed all of the top opening hatches. Since we had installed screens on the hatches, it was really difficult to close them from inside the boat, so we had to run up on deck. We then raced back inside dripping on everything to close all of the portlights. We dried ourselves off as we grabbed towels to try and dry everything else that got wet. So much for a few raindrops giving us a little warning!
It’s been raining on and off today, and so we are doing our best to keep busy (like writing long blog posts). Mike decided to take advantage of a downpour this morning to get a shower in on the deck. I hope he didn’t scare any fish, or our neighbors!
The forecasts show Javier being downgraded over the next 24 hours. Looks like we should be clear of rain tomorrow and will hopefully be able to leave Puerto Escondido.