The irony of this story is that we left Mexico for a month to avoid hurricane season only to return for the biggest hurricane in Baja history! We returned from our incredible adventures in Scotland on Sunday night. On Monday we were double tying our dock lines and hunkering down to wait for Hurricane Odile who was threatening to head right over us. Thankfully (for us at least) Odile after having made an unpredicted turn east toward the Sea of Cortez decided to head NNW and work her way over land up the Baja peninsula, all the while weakening slightly into a Tropical Storm.
As of Monday morning the projected storm track showed that the outer bands of Odile would pass over us, dumping lots of rain and carrying winds of 40-50 knots. We knew that the storm had arrived when the eerie quiet was shattered by the opening gusts of wind; jarring Happy Dance into some kind of crazy disco. The anemometer jumped immediately into the 20’s and climbed into the 30’s with gusts in the 40’s within a very short time.
We are docked in Marina San Carlos, which is located at the end of a dog leg that gives us protection from the wave action blowing down the channel and the winds are blowing from the SE passing over a low spit of land that also provides a bit of protection from the full brunt of the storm. We saw a few gusts in the 50’s but thankfully those were pretty few and the main force of the winds were in the 30’s with gusts in the 40’s.
A few boats waited until the last-minute to get situated for the night and Marty along with plenty of other helpers went out to help tie boats to docks. One of the boats that came in had been dragging anchor so the solo skipper had let his lines go to come into the dock. With borrowed lines and many hands the sailboat was soon safely on the dock even in the heavy winds. Eventually all the boats that had decided to come in had a place to ride out the storm.
As darkness settled in we began a long dark night listening to the rain pound the decks and the wind screech in the rigging. Even with double lines at all cleats we were rocking and rolling and the waves slapped against the stern all night. The power went out about 2:30am, and the entire marina, including the houses on the hillside went black. Everyone had their VHF radios on, so we heard a few calls of concern and encouragement through the night.
At first light heads starting popping out of cabins like a bunch of ground squirrels as people came out of their boats to survey the wet windy world. We immediately started hearing about boats on the rocks and others that were slipping on their moorings due to the higher winds and rough seas in the anchorage. The reports from the anchorage were sketchy at first due to the limited visibility in the heavy downpour. We loaned 200’ of line to one boat so that some other helpers in a tender could attach the line to a mooring buoy to relieve some of the pressure on his slipping anchor, since he was without propulsion and headed toward the rocks. Thankfully the extra line did the trick to hold him steady until the weather calmed enough to tow him to a safer mooring.
The next problem to surface was the call for help from the larger boats on S dock. Being outside the entrance to the marina, this dock was getting the brunt of the wave action all night, and was literally breaking up. The cement pontoons were buckling with the swells and only the lines from the boats were holding it together. With help from fellow cruisers a few boats were moved to other docks and more lines were brought out to hold the dock together.
Some of the visuals that will stay with me from this storm are waking up to see a bedraggled looking osprey hunkered down on the top of a neighboring boat’s mast, a flock of birds that were flying in one direction and being swept 90 degrees in another direction, black billowy clouds moving faster than I’ve ever seen, the sound of wind in the rigging of 200 boats sounding like a crazy orchestra tuning up for a concert, and most of all the spirit of a sailing community that will do whatever is necessary to help each other in a time of need.
We are incredibly thankful to have dodged the bullet of Odile, and we are impatiently waiting for word of our friends in La Paz and other ports that received a direct hit from the hurricane. We know for sure that many boats were lost in La Paz, and at last count we’ve heard of 4 or more boats washed up on the beach here in San Carlos. It has been eye-opening to see the force packed into just the outer bands of a storm that was essentially winding down. Once again we thank our lucky stars that we were in the right place in a very wrong time.
We can’t help thinking about all the idyllic little ports we visited just a few months ago that may now be facing hard times after the wrath of Odile. The little towns line Santa Rosalia or Bay of Los Angeles, or the tiny fishing villages of San Evaristo and Bahia Los Muertos are places that aren’t big enough to have news coverage or much outside help I would guess and will be left to deal with any damage on their own. We’ll be visiting some of those places again and I only hope that if there are problems that we’ll somehow be able to help.
There are only a few more weeks of hurricane season, and it looks like Mother Nature has saved the best for last with another storm, Polo, already on the horizon. Guess we’ll leave those double lines on for a while!