Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico

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Entries in weather (18)

Monday
Sep152014

hurricane odile slams into la paz, baja sur

Hurricane Odile's eyewall an hour approaching the Baja coast. The outer bands were already lashing La Paz.Last year, when we spent the summer in the Sea of Cortez on Rebel Heart, we left La Paz and spent some long weeks up in Puerto Escondido

Puerto Escondido is, delicately speaking, a dump. But right or not I had it in my head that I didn't want to experience a strong hurricane in La Paz. In truth no sailor wants to experience a strong (or weak) hurricane anywhere, and even a "safe" hurricane hole in a strong upper category storm is going to be various shades of extremely dangeorus.

The weeks that followed for us became one of the more hilarious weather moments. "Dangerous" La Paz got a few drops of rain while up in "safe" Puerto Escondido we got slammed by half a dozen cyclones.

Hurricane Odile however decided not to play favorites and slammed directly into Cabo San Lucas, marching directly over the peninsula, laying waste to everything in its path in all directions. As I type this up in San Diego, a thousand miles north, we're having a hot and humid night because of the magnitude of this storm.

I finally got some first hand info and pictures tonight. These quotes, the text below, and the pictures are from Shell Ward at La Paz Yachts.

The big thing is that we are getting the Navy to help us search for 4 missing people. Gunther on Princess, was last heard from last night with water up to his knees saying he was leaving the boat.

 

Our good friends Paul and Simon on Tobasco II are missing as well. Their boat sunk sometimes in the night and all we can see the masts sticking up. 

 

There are at least 20 boats up on the shore incliding my old one EROS.
 We also saw an 8 man liferaft on the beach which we hoped belonged to Paul and Simone. No one was in the liferaft, so we are hoping they went and found a place to stay on the Magote. 
Believe the winds were worst at 2am when Autum said her anchor chain parted. 
By some miracle I have Internet. No phone and 110 only because we are running a generator. So this is the only way to get a message out. We are OK, and my boat is fine, but a lot of people are not. There are at least 20 boats up on the shore incliding my old one EROS. The big thing is that we are getting the Navy to help us search for 4 missing people. Gunther on Princess, was last heard from last night with water up to his knees saying he was leaving the boat. Gabriel on Damiana, which is a Mexican kid on a steel boat, have not found him or the boat yet either. Our good friends Paul and Simon on Tobasco II are missing as well. Their boat sunk sometimes in the night and all we can see the masts sticking up. When wind laid down some, earlier today Mike and I went out in the dinghy (wearing lifejackets!) and picked up 2 people stranded on the beach, Autum off of Rascel and Doug on Starduster. We also saw an 8 man liferaft on the beach which we hoped belonged to Paul and Simone. No one was in the liferaft, so we are hoping they went and found a place to stay on the Magote. There are some people over there in their houses, but we have not been able to reach anyone because the cell phone service is down. Tom on Colisto and Tim on Rock Bottom are both on the beach but OK as well as several other people. Tichard on Toloache and Paul on Cementress are both stranded on the sandbar without dinghies (blown away during the night). Believe the winds were worst at 2am when Autum said her anchor chain parted. 
We could use some help down here to get things cleaned up. It will be a long week! Thanks for all your prayers and please keep them coming for our missing friends. Over and Out.

 

Thursday
Feb202014

dodging the el nino bullet

An "El Nino event" (in the ENSO) is basically the term for the Pacific getting warmer than normal near South America. When that water gets warmer, things change. The water temperature is always changing but during an El Nino event it changes so much that more dramatic weather impacts are felt. More moisture comes into South America. Australia can experience drought conditions. Cyclones can range farther and pack more punch. The trade winds weaken, or even reverse. 

That last aspect there has had me a bit worried for the last week ever since a client prediction center said there's a 75% of an El Nino event happening in 2014. In a worst case scenario that would mean you're sitting in the middle of the ocean with no wind: a bad place to be.

Fortunately though if you look at the data and forecast models, the general consensus is that if an El Nino event occurs in 2014 it will be around the time that we're hoping to already be out of the trade winds, although there is certainly an El Nino impact on New Zealand which we'll take into consideration. 

It's also worth pointing out that NOAA, which is no slouch, will only issue El Nino warnings six months in advance of increased likelihood and they have not (as of now) done so. They have however indicated that some models are suggesting El Nino activity, although they point out that those models might just be responding to normal seasonal variation. 

For those of you looking for some absolute truths, realize that climate models are built by software developers and as a software developer I assure you that we are generally a lazy and error prone bunch.

On a personal note, I've really enjoyed getting to know the weather. It's one of several aspects to sailing that really helps ground you to the world we live on. At a micro level you're paying attention to wind direction, but at a zoomed out macro level things like global warming (seasonal, man made, or natural) really do have a material impact on our plans. I've never had that kind of connection before. 

In our previous land life bad weather was this thing that while inconvenient was rarely a truly life threatening event but here on the big blue ocean it's different. Taking the time to learn about the weather and to care about meteorology can be the difference between happy and well timed passages versus bobbing around with no wind or getting the crap kicked out of you. Both happen anyway, but you can avoid those extremes as much as possible by making smart weather decisions.

Know your boat and know the weather, and nine times out of ten you'll be zipping along happy as a clam. 

Monday
Feb102014

weak el nino year possible for 2014

I just spent the last hour combing through forecast models and am slightly bummed to find out that there is a better-than-zero chance of a weak El Nino event happening in the middle of 2014.

2/6/2014 - (Reuters) - U.S. weather forecaster Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said on Thursday there was an increasing chance of the El Nino weather pattern after expecting neutral conditions through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014.

That represented a change from the CPC's previous outlook of neutral conditions through summer 2014.

In its monthly report, the CPC maintained its outlook that El Nino was unlikely through the spring, but noted that a change in temperatures "portend warming in the coming months."

The good news about that is three fold:

1) It's possible that no El Nino conditions will happen at all.

2) If an El Nino does happen in 2014, it looks to be weak. 

3) If an El Nino does happen in 2014, it looks to happen in the summer time which although still not great for Pacific sailors at least leaves the big Americas->French Polynesia route relatively untouched. 

Reading through the NOAA forecasts you really a strong taste of all the phrases like "might", "could", "possibly", "waiting on data", "still being determined", etc. If you peel back the layers further you'll see that budget cuts to oceanographic warning systems have been chiefly responsible for the lack of finality in recent forecasts. 

Apparently the $3,000,000 USD needed to fix NOAA's buoys was simply not available. To put in context, that's the cost of two Tomahawk missiles. I don't think it's a reach to argue that knowledge of global weather patterns that affect crop production, transportation, and so much else might be slightly relevant than what two cruise missiles can accomplish. In 1998, damage from El Nino weather conditions caused over twenty five billion dollars in losses to the US economy. 

 

Wednesday
Nov272013

four days at sea later, we're back in la cruz

We spent the last four days and three nights underway, about 25% of that motoring across the typically flat Sea of Cortez, and the other 75% bouncing around at or near hull speed whilst double reefed with terrific force 3-6 conditions. For one evening in particular things got a little beefy, but we have a heavy cutter and with the mainsail double reefed and the staysail on its boom, the boat rarely ever feels over powered. Still, it's weird to see 7.4 knots for a Hans Christian 36.

Double reefed, Hydrovane steering, flag flapping, ripping long before the weather really started up.

One really weird thing that blew my mind were the two encounters with upper tonnage commercial ships. In both cases I saw them on AIS early enough, and they saw me as well (visually, on radar, and via our AIS transponder). Normally in an open seaway things are a bit clearer: you're generally moving on one heading as is the other vessel, so potential collisions are spotted early. 

But in narrow bisecting channels that curve and look like spaghetti noodles piled onto the chart, AIS isn't smart enough to do the math that you're going to be making a turn in a few minutes (to avoid shoal waters, for example) as is the other vessel. 

Both times I contacted the bridge via the VHF and politely explained that we were a sailing vessel with limited options for maneuvering, and acknowledged they are probably restricted in their options because of the channel depth. It was blowing pretty good, I had two preventers rigged, and the wind vane was in the water: yes I can officially state that it would have been a pain in the ass to move out of their way. But I also know, because hey, I paid attention in captain school, I was intersecting a channel that they were crossing: we needed to figure out a mutually beneficial solution to our problem.

Closer than most of us want to get.

Both deck officers were more than polite and shot our stern. The captain of the Mazatlan Star in fact [figuratively] ran into us again a day later and hit me up on the VHF just to chit chat and say hello. As a footnote, if you ever run into a good merchant captain out there, consider taking the time to send an email or make a phone call to the company that they work for. These are men and women with jobs, and the good ones should be aknowledged more. 

I don't know if I'll ever get used to really long passages. I enjoy them much more these days, in large part because we have the boat (and ourselves) much more dialed in. The self steering systems work well. With paper navigation and a windvane we eliminate two of the always-on power consumers on many sail boats: the autopilot and chartplotter-electronics-suite. Charlotte's a good cook and has dialed in more and more recipes underway that make use of what provisions we might have, don't require a ton of cleanup, and doesn't sentence anyone to long stays in the galley doing prep work.

My navigation and weather skills are definitely better than they were, and my ability to balance the boat and keep her as comfortable as possible in a bucking seaway is improving. All of these little steps: from changing out incandescent light bulbs to LED, all the way to a balanced sail plan to avoid over ruddering constitute a base that doesn't eliminate problems, but has certainly freed us up to concentrate on other ones. 

Sunrise on the Pacific, just south of the Sea of Cortez.We're safely back in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and even within two hours of being on the mainland we were clinking glasses and getting hugs from friends we made last year. In less than an evening we were welcomed back by numerous people, invited to a local birthday party Saturday night where a lady has been dying for us to try her posole, and I hugged our old cabby Oscar that almost caused Lyra to be born in the back of a van.

And with that, the Sea of Cortez is now officially behind us. 

Sunday
Sep222013

farewell, solar furnace: the equinox has arrived

Cora's tan-dots from her Crocs.To Mr. Sun, you who are a third a degree lower in the sky today than you were yesterday.

You have left your mark on our bodies, our boat, and our minds. In the short run we all have weird tan spots, in the long run probably some skin cancer to go along with it. We've learned a lot about sunscreen, big hats, and long sleeve clothing. Varnish has peeled as if under a heat gun. Paint has cracked from the expansion and contraction of the wood underneath.

You are still high in the sky: roughly 7 degrees higher than our friends in San Diego are experiencing. But you are lowering, every day, as our planet makes its orbit around you. Like many of its inhabitants our planet is not upright but tilted. The northern hemisphere has been seeing you at a lower angle in the sky and for less hours. Starting today, at the fall equinox, we'll finally start seeing you for less than half the day.

One of Rebel Heart's two 135 watt solar panels, complete with bird shit and sun.

I must thank you of course, Mr. Sun, for all the electricity you created for us. Hundreds of gallons of fresh water, hours of movies and music, fans, lights, phones charged, and tools operated. Radar signals, AIS transmissions, VHF and SSB conversations, and even powering the Iridium phone that connects to satellites. Forgetting about the capital costs of the panels and associated storage and wiring, all of this power was free. So thanks for that, big fusion reaction in the sky.

Of course we're headed back further south this fall, so we'll be seeing more of you shortly. And then we'll be at the equator in the early Spring, where you never go away. And further still, just to flip this whole thing on its head, we'll be in the southern hemisphere. Down there winter is summer and summer is winter, people read right to left, and walk around upside down on their ceilings. 

Tuesday
Sep172013

yup, still in puerto escondido

Rebel Heart sitting on her mooring in Puerto Escondido. Note the bird shitting from the spreader.Well we're still here. It's still hot, this place still basically sucks, and we're really looking forward to getting out of here as soon as we safely can. In the mean time though I've been oddly productive. With us staying in a weird apartment nearby I've been able to turn the boat into a workshop and do all sorts of jobs that are a pain in the ass to do when you live on the boat (think: interior varnishing).

Look familiar? No, this isn't an old picture. I took it today.The heat has been paralyzing as usual, but a few days ago I noticed a betterment of sorts. The "improvement" of the weather was that it had stabilized. Yes, it was still 100f in the cabin today. Yes, there are clouds of mosquitoes and flies. Yes, there are scorpions, roaches, beetles, wasps, hornets, bees, and kissing bugs.

But there aren't anymore than there was a week ago: that's a first. The weather had been, until recently, getting progressively more shit-tastic every few days. We're not jumping for joy or anything because it's still punishing outside (even at night), but there's a ray of hope. No bigger than Sarah Palin's book collection, but it's there. And we need to cherish these things.

Speaking of bugs, I'm not a "bug guy" and only through Baja-induced desensitization therapy have I come to not scream like a little girl when a roach the size my child's fist is walking (or flying) around. But I must say that some of the bugs are down right interesting. Beautiful moths with vibrant colors. Clouds of mosquitoes with mating pairs of dragonflies buzzing through them like RAF Hurricanes through Luftwaffe bombers.

My daily commute.Every day I, normally with Cora, hike the 1/2 mile or so from the apartment down to the docks. I can get wifi at the apartment, but not cell reception. At the docks I can get cell reception, but not wifi. Oh what's that, you need to be on the phone and online to do your job? Too bad, so sad, laughs Puerto Escondido.

And then of course there's the work on the boat I need to do.

Some days when I'm really lucky I get to go back and forth a couple of times. Man, it's great, let me tell you. To the clouds of blood sucking insects I represent all that is good and holy in this world. Sometimes I actually feel bad for them, but I only have so much blood to go around so I rush through coated in DEET.

The Sierra de la GigantaMany aspects of this area are beautiful but in a raw and savage sort of way. Everything is scrambling to live. The businesses need your money, the bugs need your blood, the barnacles need your boat. Walking even two feet out the front door of the apartment you immediately get the very accurate impression: you're in hostile territory. Walk five miles in any direction and there's a good chance you'll die. And no shit, the vultures follow you around, just in case.

Puerto Escondido or any given city scene after a violent revolution?Puerto Escondido also makes an excellent argument against government-planned business ventures. Dating back hundreds of years, Puerto Escondido was a place anyone with a ship wanted to be if there was a large storm coming through. Numerous sailors came here, and some even built docks to get out to their boats. A small community was formed.

What did Mexico do? They placed (uninspected, poorly designed) moorings into the bay and started charging money (even if you want to anchor). Because hey, if a few guys with cheap sailboats like this place, that means that lots of people with expensive sailboats will like it, right? Sure!

Street lights illuminate dirt lots, buildings are either half finished or half demolished, and guard houses are manned, but guard absolutely nothing. And even then, the guy outside swatting mosquitoes is only in his plastic chair from 10am-4pm. Apparently the criminal element of Puerto Escondido keeps bankers' hours.

***

Only a few more weeks until we can close the chapter on our Baja summer. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Wednesday
Sep042013

the weather here is like a crazy ex girlfriend

(From the beach at San Evaristo, a local panga is aptly named.)

In La Paz, I got used to the blazing heat. The few times it "rained", it would evaporate as quickly as it landed on you. It was my first experience walking around in rain that for all intents and purposes really didn't matter. As punishing as the heat was, you get used to it: a nice chilly mid 80's at night, 90 by mid morning, and 100 and change mid day. Those are ventilated interior temperatures. During the day you did all you can to avoid the sun, and at night you lay naked with a fan inches from your body.

(The remanent clouds of Tropical Storm Ivo, 2013, Puerto Escondido.)

Someone told me that the last week of August is like a switch gets flipped in the Sea of Cortez and it's no joke: the switch as been flipped. It's only September 4th and already the weather has gone haywire. Tropical storms have passed through, whip sawing everything with powerful winds and several inches of rain per hour.

I'm up writing this at 3:00am because of a chubasco that passed through: squalls with nearly the wind speed and rain of a small tropical storm but much shorter lived and much harder to predict. And like all bad weather they of course like to come in the absolute dead of night. My kingdom for a daytime storm.

(Sweet, it's September 4th and we're right in the middle of this shit.)

If you read glowing accounts of the Sea of Cortez, take note of the month. In September you are nature's weather tampon: used, saturated, and discarded with extreme prejudice. I honestly think the reason so few people write about summers here is because so few people do it. 

The storms do more than blow you around and get you wet. Streets are destroyed and it takes a week to repair. Fuel becomes unavailable. Engines are advised not to run in the filthy water that persists for days: desalinators are completely off the table in the very bays you want to hide out in. 

Hurricanes unleash more than 2.4 trillion gallons of rain in a day. Most of that goes right back into the sea, but the portion that makes landfall creates huge pools of stagnant water. The aftermath of tropical systems are clouds of mosquitoes, desperately searching for a blood meal.

Does that sound a little rough? Welcome to a summer in Baja Sur.

The chubasco is over, the lightning flashes and rolls have thunder have gone away with the driving rain. Time to go back to sleep. Tomorrow, whether I'd like it or not, is another interesting day.

Wednesday
Jul242013

it's fucking hot

The interior temperature of Rebel Heart was in the upper 90's today, starting around 10 in the morning. It dropped under 90 by 11pm. This is terrible for a couple of reasons:

#1 It's not the hottest time of the year yet. These days will be a pleasant memory in a month or two.

#2 The humidity was just over 60% which although not a "dry heat" certainly wasn't as bad as some days when it's sauna style.

The ocean temperature is climbing as well and at a certain point, like in a month, hurricanes can start tracking directly into the Sea of Cortez. 

 There's a joy in sweating my metaphoric balls off in a developing nation. Marching around the streets and looking at Cora, realizing that if we don't drink some water, soon, we'll probably get heat exhaustion. Followed by heat stroke. Followed by death.

We flag down the ice cream truck and our cones melt within a minute. I washed my hands the other day and flipped on the hot water lever by accident. So I flipped the other lever, which provided even hotter water. There is no cold water. It's either warm or hot.

It's midnight and 85 degrees which is downright chilly. 

With that, I'm off to bed. I have another day of putting my body's (and my family's bodies) thermal regulation systems to the test.

Sunday
Jun302013

it's official: shit's getting real

We're up here San Diego amassing a pile of boat equipment, ready to head back down to Mexico in a couple of weeks. In the mean time I've been watching hurricane after hurricane spin up in southern Mexico and barrel northward, stopping 18 degrees north to make a hard left and die out in the Pacific.

The catch is that as the Sea of Cortez warms up, reaching over 90f in the peak of summer, cyclonic storms track directly in, or even hop over the Baja peninsula from the Pacific side.

One of our primary goals when we get back to Mexico is getting the f out of La Paz and putting ourselves in the more northern areas, at least with enough proximity to Puerto Escondido or Bahia de Los Angeles that if a cyclone is headed our way we'll have enough time to put ourselves in a relatively safe location and prepare.

Below is a YouTube video of Hurricane Marty hitting the very marina that Rebel Heart is sitting in now: Marina La Paz. I'll try our luck in a more protected bay with our own ground tackle, thank you very much. The camera work is shotty and the editing is circa 1966 but it captures a lot.

Sunday
May192013

balandra, home of the ice cream cart-barge

One thing that makes the La Paz, Baja, Mexico area pretty cool is that there are a lot of neat places nearby. Hailing from San Diego, the closest “cool place to go anchor for the weekend” was 80 miles away to windward, at Santa Catalina Island. And honestly you couldn’t even anchor there as the primary destinations have moorings installed. Here in the sailing Mecca of La Paz however, there are several islands, many large bays, and countless smaller coves within a few hours. Further destinations are merely another hour or two away beyond that, and so the story goes for hundreds of miles up Baja’s interior peninsula.

Balandra isn’t the closest stop north of La Paz, but it’s the most popular. On a busy weekend you’ll have a dozen boats in the cove, half of which are local charters letting their sunburned gringo clients zip around on suped-up tenders and drink margaritas. And yes, that’s “busy” for here.

Though we had plans to head to Espiritu Santo Island, a student in Cora’s Mexican preschool we have her enrolled in gave us an invite to a birthday party on the beach in Balandra. We’d been here before for a single night when coming in from Bahia Los Muertos, and this time we spent three days and two nights anchored in this beautiful cove. 

We had some friends on Classy Lady II that showed up as well with their five year old daughter Solis. They sold their last sailboat, bought a powerboat, and are looking to build a new sailboat. If you think we have an interesting story, trust me, these guys have us beat hands down.

There are really two aspects to Balandra: as an anchorage and as a beach.

As an anchorage it is relatively straight forward although first time people in the La Paz area will likely be spooked by the Los Coromuelas that kick up around sun down, howling wind out of the south west until ten the next morning. There are also crappy little flies that don’t bite but otherwise manage to annoy the hell out of you as they land on your face, neck, ears, and every other square inch of skin. Happily, these odd insects don’t seem to enter the cabin all that frequently and don’t hang out after sun down. Their domain is the uncovered pitch heat: probably where you’ll spend the least amount of time.

The beach of Balandra, or Playa de Balandra, is the real gem of this bay. It’s weird to look two hundred yards out and see people standing in waist high seas but that’s how this place works. The water is crystal clear, fish zip around by your feet, there is no surf, and for hundreds of yards the water is so shallow and calm that even the most timid beach goer finds themselves happily flapping around in 80 degree (f) water. Also, the bugs that are present in the anchorage are mysteriously absent here.

The ice cream man has his little cart that he pushes with high volume wheels: not only do they handle the sand well, but in deeper water the whole thing floats so he can push it along like a barge. Like a lot of Mexico, it’s the strange blessing and curse of stunted economic development that allows beaches like this to be accessible to the average citizen and not have a resort built right on the sand. Charlotte and I frequently walk around and shake our heads saying, "Imagine what this place would look like if it was in the States." I sincerely hope that as Mexico continues developing and growing as an economy it can preserve locations like Balandra: the natural beauty around here is quite literally, priceless.