January 30 - February 5, 2002 : The Not-So-"Perfect-Storm”
January 30th, 2002:
We're now at the end of our 2-week stay in Cabo San Lucas and tomorrow we head out to La Paz. It's been a great time, and a much-needed real vacation with mostly lazy days, lots of sleeping in, daily walks (a requirement, since our feet are our only transportation!), and of course a daily margarita or Cuba Libra and some great as well as some not-so-great food.
For the last 3 days and nights we took a break off the boat and stayed in a condo-type suite on the beach. It actually had the HBO movie channel and CNN so we entered into civilization again. We lounged by the pool, read our books, and spent a lot of time by the pool bar, and... I didn't have to cook for 3 days or make a bed... so a REAL vacation for me. Views of Cabo from our rented condo
In general, it's been a fun 2 weeks. My only criticisms of the area are it is hard to walk even 20 feet without being "bothered" by a vendor trying to sell you silver, Indian ladies trying to braid your hair or sell you beads, or time share salesmen wanting to "greet" you and sweep you into their sales pitches. After a while, it's easy to lose your patience with saying "No, gracias" every minute and want to say, "What part of 'No', do you NOT understand!" And God forbid if you ever DO slow down or even look at any of the items they are selling, as they will hound you and follow you everywhere.
It is funny though hearing them talk their spiel in American slang statements (when that is about the only English they can speak), such as "Mister, Lets Make a Deal..." or "Today only, 2 for one, Okee-Dokee?" Twice we were approached asking if we wanted "some good weed." Ain't that a kick! I mean myself and gray-hair, bearded Joe, looking like a good prospect for marijuana. They MUST be desperate.
The only other criticism was the cost... but I guess that's the fault of so many tourists here. But after a while of experimenting with different places around town (the advantage of being in a place for more than a few days), and we eventually found some good and even great food and good Margaritas for cheap or at least reasonable prices, and no matter where we went the service was friendly and accommodating. So all in all, I can see why this is a haven for the fun-loving, partying, and/or beach or golf or outdoor-loving people. I would certainly recommend it to anyone in those categories and would gladly come back here anytime. We met and talked to many people who have made this their home for 1-4 months per year and they all seem to love it.
We spent the day checking out of immigration and with the port Capitan, getting all our papers stamped, paying more fees (yes you have to pay to LEAVE also!... Explain that one!) so we are legal and ready to go. We leave for our next destination, La Paz, tomorrow (January 31st) early morning, with 3 scheduled overnight-anchorage stops enroute. We have enough flexibility that if the anchorages and the weather is nice, to stay a day or 2 in these places before arriving in La Paz between the 6th and 8th of February. There are supposed to be some good snorkeling and diving spots, but for me the water is still too cold... but I'm sure we'll find something fun to explore.
There, in La Paz, we will be again staying in a marina, but this time for a month. It is well known for being more "Mexican" and more cruiser (sailboats) friendly than Cabo and we are ready for a change of scenery.
February 2nd, 2001:
I am supposed to be writing you now from an anchorage, called Los Frailes enroute to La Paz, but I'm not. We are back in Cabo San Lucas, anchored in their anchorage out off one of the beaches. What we have been through in the last few days was an experience, I never want to go through again... we call it our "not-so-perfect-storm." So here's our tale ... (Joe said at least now, I'll have something "interesting" to write about, but I'd rather have our voyage "dull" than have this type of experience to relate to be "interesting.")
When we departed Cabo, we left under clear skies, and were prepared for a easy light wind motor or motor/sail around to the east/north east just a mile or 2 off the coast line. We were only going 45 miles our first day. We expected this to take us between 6-8 hours. The first several hours we had almost no wind and so just used our motor to cruise along. Although we had a red sunrise, the morning turned out sunny and warm and we viewed 2 humpback whales snorting their spouts and flapping their tales a little ways out.
Then the winds started to pick up so we decided to raise our sails. Within just a few minutes (by the time we made the decision and we got them up) the winds went from about 10 knots to 20+ knots. So we thought, we might be being cautious but we'd put a reef in the main sail. (For you non-sailors, that means you decrease the sail area, by sort of tying down the bottom portion of the sail... as too much sail area in too much wind can cause you to not be able to control the boat, or worse case scenario, be tipped over). That was about the smartest thing we did all day.
Within an hour we had winds 30-35 knots (gale force = 34 knots, as a reference) and as the winds increased, so did the waves, 10-15' seas with breaking waves over the bow of the boat. To worsen the situation, the winds and the seas were as we call them, "right on the nose," meaning come right at us (NOT GOOD), so we were having a difficult time going forward even with the motor supplementing the sails as hard as we could run the RPMs. We were moving only a couple of miles per hour. It was really something to watch our bow sprit to submerge in the water and then to go straight up in the air 20' over our heads with water pouring over the decks as we cuddled in the cockpit and down below.
By now it was dark (we were supposed to arrive by 3:30 in the afternoon) and we were only about 10 miles away from our "safe" anchorage, so we decided to continue. But to make any forward progress, that required us to tack back and forth (to get the wind and waves hitting us slightly off the port and starboard bow instead of head on, which was pushing against us). But that also meant leaving our safe cabin, going out from under the protection of our dodger, and into the wind and waves (Now huge waves were crashing on the deck and all around us) and turn the wheel manually (which takes tremendous force). [Note, usually we can make most of our course changes with a remote auto pilot... where we just push the buttons and our boat moves the degrees we want. So we can do this from inside, away from the bad weather.] We both stayed up all night, taking turns and taking catnaps for 15-30 minutes each in between these tacks (turns). Our other reason for continuing was USUALLY the wind dies down after sundown, which was our hope -- but not so on this night. Throughout the night the winds and subsequently, the seas, actually increased so by sunrise the winds were up to steadily over 40-45 knots with a few gusts OVER 50 knots. (Again for reference, 64 knots is a officially a hurricane!) We still had the main and mizzen up (both of them now double reefed, meaning they were just enough to give us some momentum forward and yet allow us to still control the boat). From about 8PM that night to 7AM the next morning, we had progressed about 4 miles towards the anchorage (do the math... that's about 1/3 of a mile an hour!). And now w/ the winds and seas even higher we were tacking back and forth and actually LOSING ground, i.e., going backwards.
Our sails were taking a beating and more importantly, we were exhausted, so Joe said we were going to turn around and go back to Cabo. That's when I lost it and started crying... partially out of exhaustion, partially out of fear and frustration. I couldn't believe we were visibly in sight of where we wanted to go (just 6 miles in front of us!) but couldn't get there. Even though I was scared to death and wanted to get somewhere safe, the idea of turning around and going back after all the work we had done all night long (and for 26 hours straight!) was even worse. I told Joe I was afraid if we went back to Cabo, I might not ever want to leave again. But he was right, we couldn't go forward, and we had no idea whether the condition was going to change for the better any time soon, (the skies were mostly clear so it wasn't a squall or a rainy front weather situation which would have blown over)... so we turned around.
The scariest moments of all (and finally, even this scared Joe!), Joe had to go out of the safety of the cockpit, to the mid/front of the boat, to the mast and drop the main sail. Equipped with a harness, lifejacket and 2 tethers to tie him on the boat, he crept into the 45-50 knot winds, with me at the wheel to control the boat while he lowered the wildly flopping sail. When the first wave (there were several more to come) crashed over the bow and over his head totally drenching him, he looked at me with a shocked look. I guess it was a look of fright. Every muscle in my body was tensed and I held on with strength I didn't think I had to hold the boat steady. We did get it down safely, and then the mizzen down, and Joe back safely tied in the cockpit and out of harm's way.
With the wind and seas now behind us and with NO motor, NO sails, and only the wind hitting our dodger (for you non-nautical, the "dodger" is sort of our windshield, to "dodge" the weather) to propel us, we were "surfing" 6-8 knots back towards Cabo. We made it back by around 4PM, 35 hours after we left. Since we had given up our slip and already checked out w/ the Port Capitan, we anchored out in the bay (hoping not to be noticed as we didn't want to do the "cha-cha-cha" again).
So how did we get ourselves in this situation... Why were we taken so by surprise and so unprepared for this weather? Mostly, despite our books, our readings, etc., we were not familiar w/ local Mexican weather patterns and thought the worse of the weather we could expect was over (from our trip on the Pacific side). The Sea of Cortez is known for having to motor mostly as the winds are usually very light. We had heard through our readings of some occasional winds, the local's call "Northerners," but they do not show up on any weather map. Our big mistake was thinking we were now in safe cruising waters. We had only looked at a 2 day old weather fax posted at the marina. And Joe, as compulsive as he usually is, did not send away for a customized weather report for our 45-mile away destination. We also did not listen to the local "cruiser ham nets" where they discuss the weather in different locations in the Sea of Cortez.
Now, a day later from our return to Cabo, we have listened to the radio networks down here and have found out we were experiencing was one of those "Northerners" where the wind comes from the north or north/northeast instead of the Northwest. It was part of a deep jet stream and also we heard that San Diego is now experiencing unusual Santa Annas also, causing a shift of the winds down here. (Who ever heard of Santa Annas in February?!) So when we left Cabo, the weather was fine (and still is here, calm w/ almost no wind at all) and headed North east, it was okay, but when we were heading up around the corner of the tip of the Baja peninsula, the winds kept increasing until we were heading straight North right into them.
The good news is, Mi Gitana did great in the storm, despite the beating she took from the wind and waves, and we are now confident she can handle anything. Although we did take in some water, which today we are cleaning up and drying out various compartments. (Again another mistake as we "closed" the portholes, but didn't tighten them watertight, so our "living room" area, was drenched.) Also we learned the hard way what things on the boat were not secure or battened down tight enough, as things got quite topsy turvy and things were tossed all over the boat. Our fault again, as we were not expecting any heavy weather, so we did not secure things away they should have been.
But the story has a happy ending... the boat's okay and we're okay, although both of us are sore all over today with plenty of aches and pains... but they'll go away. We learned some lessons which is the only good thing about the last 2 days, but I would have preferred to learn them a different way.
The local "net" weather reports we are getting now is these winds are expected to continue for the next several days perhaps decreasing by Monday. So for now we will sit it out here at anchorage with hopes of leaving on Monday the 4th.
February 5, 2001
Well, guess where we are now! After 4 days of anchoring out and waiting for the winds to die, we left Cabo for the 2nd time yesterday morning. Now equipped with weather reports and "local" radio newscasts for the Sea of Cortez, of continued North winds (still from the wrong direction) but only expected 15-20 knot winds, we optimistically were on our way. We made a pact that if we reached winds of 30 knots, we were turning around. We had zip/zero wind on departure and at exactly the same spot as 5 days earlier, about 3 hours into our trip, we hit winds that within 5 minutes climbed up to 30-35 knots plus white caps with some waves breaking over our bow. There was no discussion. We immediately turned around and went back, entering the harbor at Cabo for the 3rd (and hopefully, final!) time.
So now we have local weather information and it still wasn't right (i.e., it may not sound like a lot but there's a lot a difference when sailing between 15-20 knots, which is what was reported, and 30-35 knots, which we had!) Today, Tuesday, again, Joe and I have been listening to every weather net/station we can find down here, and he is now downloading the weather faxes into the computer. We were hoping to try again tomorrow, but at this time we don't know when the weather is likely to change, some say "decreasing tomorrow" and others say, it may be like this for the whole month of February. One of the local fisherman who I was talking to told me they have a saying down here about the weather: "Febrero, Loco; Marzo, otra poco mas" interpreted, Crazy February; March is a little more of the same. I guess they should have had input into our cruising guides which say there is a "Zero percent chance of a tropical storm (defined as "cyclonic disturbances w/ wind speeds from 34-63 knots") in January and February." Yeah, right!
It is raining today (our first rainy day), but warm and tropical feeling. We are actually very grateful for it, as since we are anchored out, we had no way to wash down our decks from the storm. Yesterday there were so many salt crystals on our deck, it looked like someone took a saltshaker all over the place and then somehow, glued the salt down in place. Very yucky. Hopefully the rain will give Mi Gitana a well-deserved bath.
We may become permanent residents of Cabo, which, all in all, is not a bad place to be stranded, although since anchored out, we no longer have the comfort and conveniences of our $200 a day marina slip. But we do have a beautiful view of the Beaches, the mega-condo, a huge Norwegian Cruise ship, and tons of jet skis and para-sailors are surrounding us.
I will leave this tale now with you suspended as to our whereabouts until I write again.