The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Hurricane Odile

Thea and Jonathan Avis

Zwerver II
Van de Meer Ketch
May 20th, 2015

From time to time, BCA members cruise down to Mexico by boat to enjoy warmer weather all year long. La Paz is the congregation point for most boats coming south – a great place to re-provision and access materials, and trades people to make repairs. Some then leave for places south or west, while others stay in the Sea of Cortez.

It is truly amazing how many Canadian boats are here, I would estimate 40% overall, 40% American and the rest Australian, New Zealand and a few European boats. The issue facing all Mexico-bound sea-going mariners is the yearly weather cycle on Mexico’s Pacific coast, particularly in hurricane season and where to keep your boat safe.

November to April weather is much like Vancouver in summer temperatures, with no rain. May to August is like a very hot Osoyoos in mid-summer, and September to October is very, very hot, humid and the stormy season.

Some boaters leave before summer season and either go south beyond the Mexican/Guatemalan border, or South Pacific, and others sail back north to the US. For the ones staying, the decision is: do you trust the marina of choice – their docks, their dry storage; or anchor in an estuary, or alternatively escape to known hurricane holes like Puerto Escondido.

From January 2014 throughout the first 6 months of the year, the locals were saying that the water in the sea was several degrees higher than normal – a clear sign that hurricanes would develop more easily, with a higher likelihood of being drawn up into the Sea of Cortez.

Zwerver II had anchored in Puerto Escondido the year before – the well-known hurricane hole. But in 2014, we decided to sail 150 miles north east to the mainland, to be placed ‘on the hard’ in Guaymas, from June to November.

Sea Witch decided to rely on Marina de la Paz, at their docks for safety.   You may remember that this marina was virtually destroyed, with boats piled up in Hurricane Marty in 2003, but has been rebuilt since then and believed to be well fortified.

Thea Avis, Jordan, Jon on Sea Witch's top deck

Thea Avis, Jordan, Jon on Sea Witch‘s top deck

Hurricane Odile hit Cabo in the evening of September 14, 2014, with winds reaching upwards of 200 km per hour.

The track of the storm took it right over La Paz. Over 20 boats left their mooring/anchors and ended up either on the beach or sunk. This site offers a complete account. There are two videos showing the satellite pictures of the storm and of boats being pulled off the sand bars. Unfortunately none of the footage shows Sea Witch at work.

After the storm had passed, the bay was littered with sunk and grounded vessels. Most of the floating vessels required large power boats to work in tandem with pangas and dinghies to pull them off. Of all the power boats resident in La Paz, including the passive Navy/Coastguard, it was Sea Witch and one other motor vessel (Oso Negro) who came to the assistance in pulling these vessels off the sand bars and beaches. Speaking with several locals, it was Sea Witch that handled the more complicated rescues and the greater number of vessels in distress, easily a dozen 30’ – 50’ boats.

Speed of rescue was important for the unattended absentee owners’ boats, as they were subject to being plundered, as some were.

Interestingly, Marina De La Paz had spare dockage for additional boats before the storm, and offered free space (which was refused) in particular to the two boats whose skippers perished in the storm at anchor. The boats tied to docks in the various La Paz marinas saw very little damage, mainly chafing of lines.

A lot of boats on the hard in Adalanta storage facility toppled over due to poor blocking of a few boats, creating the domino effect.

The storm progressed up the Baja Peninsula, passing right over Puerto Escondido and up to Santa Rosalia.

Another 16 boats either sank or beached in the two anchorages. Friends of ours successfully rode out the storm on their boats, on their ground tackle in Puerto Escondido.

Post Odile, I researched the reasons for most of the distressed boats running afoul. I can report that most ran into trouble when the vessel was tethered to a mooring buoy. The skipper typically ties only the snubber to the mooring, which is usually made of rope. These can chafe through in a wild storm. Vessels on their own chain ground tackle, with good scope and good holding ground, don’t subject themselves solely to rope ties and they know the condition of their equipment.

There is, however, one overriding problem with anchored vessels, and that is if your neighbour pulls anchor and becomes a floating battering ram with a grappling hook (anchor) ready to compromise your secure holding. This happened on several occasions with this storm. The result in several instances in Hurricane Odile was for a boat to pull the anchor of the secure boat, with both foundering.

Jordan on the bridge of Sea Witch

Jordan on the bridge of Sea Witch

I would like to end with this recognition:

I have spoken to numerous people about the cruisers involved in the volunteer rescue, after Odile passed La Paz, and am very proud to say that Jordan Shishmanov, Sea Witch, did our country proud and is considered by many in-the-know as an exemplary Canadian skipper.



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