Goin’ with the flow

Cruisers rely on weather forecasts. It’s important to have, at the very least, a general idea of which way the winds will blow, how strong they’ll blow, and what direction the swell will be running. Sounds simple, right? If only…

We subscribe to various weather forecasting programs in an effort to gather a consensus of opinion, but alas, we’ve been cozen-ed (my latest crossword puzzle word…look it up!). Yesterday was a perfect example of how a deceptive forecast can throw us a curveball.

After being tied to the dock in Santa Rosalia for a week while waiting out Hurricane Blanca, we were eager to be back on our way heading north to some of our favorite anchorages. We left the dock just before sunrise in the midst of rush hour traffic. The entrance to the harbor is a narrow one, guarded on each side by a rock breakwater. Near the entrance is a large semi-submerged rock with an oversized hazard buoy resting over it. The dock that we pulled out of is about 100 feet from the breakwater. Picture this small area in the dark full of 18 pangas, some with lights, some tossing nets, some tossing lines, and all zipping back and forth across the entrance as they call to each other while catching their bait for the day. Enter Happy Dance stage left! We made our way through the maze like the first slow dance at the high school prom along with many hails of buenos dias” and “buenos suerte”, and then we were out to sea.

As we made our way to deep water the big orange beach ball came up over the horizon to light our way. The forecasts had predicted light morning winds from the NW, changing to NE 13-17 in the afternoon, with a low SW swell. So it’s 6am and we hoped for calm conditions as we headed around Cabo Virgenes before we pointed the bow NW toward Bahia San Francisquito, 80 miles away. We expected to motor for the first part of the day, but had hoped to sail on the NE winds with the SW swell behind us in the afternoon.

Here’s what we really happened! As we pulled out out of the harbor, we unfurled the mainsail planning to motor sail until we made the corner at Cabo Virgenes. There was a nice offshore breeze on the beam so we unfurled the genoa, turned off the engine and enjoyed a few moments of ahhh, before the craziness began. The cape we were heading for is backed by five magnificent volcanic peaks ranging from 4,200 to 6,300 feet. The striations of red and gold in the cliffs of the volcanoes is stunning, especially with the of the sunrise. However the heights seem to create their own weather patterns and this morning we were headed right into the midst of it. The wind and waves built quickly, jumping from 10 to 25 knots with gusts in the 30’s, and ugly steep waves coming down on us.

Neither of us were quite awake yet, considering that we’d left the dock at 0600, and it was now only about 0630 and we hadn’t had time yet for even a sip of java! When the initial gusts hit us, Marty was below so I hollered, “I need you!” (something he usually loves to hear). I don’t think I’ve ever seen my darling husband move so fast, but he was instantly in the cockpit saying, “what do you need, what’s happening”. It was so funny that I started laughing even as I was trying to keep the boat from rounding up into a particularly big gust. We still had full sails out at this point and were completely overpowered, so it was time to reef and reef quickly!

We double-reefed both sails and headed straight off-shore to get away from what appeared to be a huge down draft off the mountains. The wind waves were steep so we were pounding against them while also getting tossed by an opposing swell. Include a tidal current running against us and it all adds up to a less than perfect morning. On the good side though, our speed over ground was 8.2 knots even with double reefs and crashing directly into the waves. It was a wild ride!

We held this point of sail for about 12 miles, slowly turning more north as we were able, until we were clear of the cape and could see a bit more of what the actual winds were going to be like for the day. Once we got out of the volcanic wind tunnel, the winds slowed and we were left with a nasty steep NW swell coming down on us. It was time to furl the headsail and turn on the engine to make way for Bahia San Francisquito. However with the crashing and bashing directly into the waves, our speed had dropped to less than 4 knots. With over 60 miles to go that meant a very long day and an arrival after dark.

It was decision time. We couldn’t find a heading that gave us any relief from the pounding and we expected the afternoon winds to increase the size of the waves, so we figured our choices were to either turn around and go back to Santa Rosalia, or change course and head across to the mainland side. Neither choice was anything we wanted to do, but as the title of this blog suggests, we’ve learned to go with the flow when we have to. It’s just not worth the wear and tear on the equipment (that includes us) to bash when we don’t need to bash.

It was 62 miles across the Sea to Bahia San Pedro from our current position, so we altered course and headed east. With the waves on our stern quarter we were able to unfurl the genoa and enjoy a relatively smooth ride under sail. We were still getting rolled occasionally but Happy Dance was much happier, and a happy Happy Dance makes for a happy crew!

Along the way we enjoyed plenty of wild life sightings; a spouting humpback whale, sea turtles, dolphins dancing on the bow, blue footed boobies circling the mast, flying fish skimming across the water being chased by bright blue dorado, and four sharks! The shark sightings are new for us, and one even jumped completely out of the water twice right behind the boat. It was about 6 feet long, with a white underbelly, and gave us quite the eye! NOT a good time for a swim!

We dropped anchor just before sunset and enjoyed a well earned anchor beer after a day of battling the elements and changing plans. It was a frustrating day to say the least, in that we had to skip visiting San Francisquito and Animas Slot, but we’ll visit them next season on our way back south. For now we’ll enjoy the bays north of San Carlos for the next couple of weeks before we tie Happy Dance to a dock for the rest of hurricane season.

As far as weather forecasts, I think in the future we’ll buy a weather ouija board.