Weather Rage

This was originally supposed to be another of my posts about us waiting for a proper weather window to go to our next destination. But it ended up being something different.

We stayed in Santa Barbara since arriving here in Thanksgiving, mostly working on some land-based “projects”. By the time we were getting ready to leave, a weather system was parading across the Pacific Ocean, thus threatening to delay our departure.

As I started my now-usual discipline of monitoring the development of this system, I noticed it was a little different to the others we had witnessed previously in Crescent City and in Monterey – larger, more structured, lower pressure, and associated with a patch of dense moisture, which promised a lot of rain. Things were getting “interesting”.

 

THE PRELUDES:

We were originally planning hoping to leave Santa Barbara on Friday, as soon as Adriana arrived from a business trip. I knew there was a front forecast to hit the West Coast, and did my first “serious” check on Wednesday. It didn’t take much to realize we would be stuck at least through the weekend: a massive low pressure system was swirling across the North Pacific, moving east and aiming somewhere between Oregon and Washington, but with significant spillover expected for California as well.

Probability of rain was forecast at 100% for Friday, and Hazardous Outlook warnings were starting to pop on the NOAA website. I went to the Marina’s office and extended our reservation here accordingly.

Day broke on Thursday with partially cloudy skies, and almost no wind – quite disguising. But at that time, the front had already started to hit the northern portion of the US West coast, and the headlines were sobering:

WC3

 

Due to the anti-clockwise swirling movement of the system, it would hit California several hours afterwards, and with lower intensity than in Oregon or Washington – but still, with a lot of punch:

WC 2

 

As I read through the multiple information sources, I quickly moved from Curious to Anxious and then Action Oriented. There was still no wind here when I decided to double up all our mooring lines (something I would not regret AT ALL a few hours later).

Back in the cabin, I started checking on the sea conditions in places we have been to just a few months ago:

Real time readings from a NOAA buoy offshore from the Columbia River, where Astoria is: 35 to 43Kt winds and an astonishing 27 feet high waves !
Real time readings from a NOAA buoy offshore from the Columbia River, where Astoria is: 35 to 43Kt winds and an astonishing 27 feet high waves !
Further south, a few miles west from Newport: 30 ft waves. That's almost 10 meters ! Things were ugly out there ...
Further south, a few miles west from Newport: 30 ft waves. That’s almost 10 meters ! Things were ugly out there …

 

I went back on deck and did a thorough check on everything that could potentially move from the deck upwards. By that time, the skies were starting to anticipate what was about to come:

Pesto-12Dec14-002

 

As I watched these developments, my concerns now fell on Adriana, who was flying across the country due to arrive in LAX by late afternoon … I knew she had boarded and was flying. But would her flight be “bumpy”? Could it be diverted to somewhere else? And when she arrived, would she make it to Santa Barbara after the storm had started?

 

THE MAIN MOVEMENT:

The storm made its way into California from the North, affecting Crescent City, San Francisco and Monterey before it hit here:

WC 1

 

At 6PM, Adriana contacted me from Los Angeles saying she had arrived, the flight was uneventful, and she was getting the shuttle bus to Santa Barbara. Phew !

As soon as I hung up the phone, the wind started to blow from the South. It was a warm wind, typical of an approaching front. Within an hour it was already howling on the masts of the yachts in the marina.

I spent the two hours it took Adriana to arrive juggling between Pesto’s barometer – which was falling steadily, NOAA’s real data from buoys nearby – which were starting to read 30-40 knot winds, and weather channel’s doppler radar, which showed a well defined front of torrential rain approaching from the SW. When I went to pick her up at the shuttle’s drop off station, gale-force winds were in full swing, but luckily the rain had not yet started.

When we came back to Pesto, the wind felt even stronger, and I switched on our anemometer:

A time-lapsed series of pictures from Pesto's anemometer- at first, a steady 30knots. Then 35, 40, and eventually 45knots, where it stayed for a good, solid hour.
A time-lapsed series of pictures from Pesto’s anemometer- at first, a steady 30knots. Then 35, 40, and eventually 45knots, where it stayed for a good, solid hour. Even if you are not familiar to these numbers, trust me: that’s a whole lot of wind !

 

The more the pressure dropped, the higher the wind, which was now screaming on the rigging. By now, Pesto was healing significantly to the force of the wind, and from inside the cabin it felt as if we were sailing.

At around 10PM, the wind reached its peak and blowed for a good hour between 40 and 45 knots. At this point, stuff started to break around us. Across the masts, we could see a couple of yachts whose headsails had unwrapped from the roller furlers and were swinging wildly to the wind. I took advantage that the rain hadn’t started yet and went quickly to the dock – first to check on Pesto’s mooring lines, and then to try to take a few pictures:

This is the best image I could capture of how the marina looked like in the middle of the gale - i was pressing the camera hard against a bench to avoid it from flying away with the wind !
This is the best image I could capture of how the marina looked like in the middle of the gale – i was pressing the camera hard against a bench to avoid it from flying away with the wind ! The water appears smooth because it was a long-exposure photo. But in fact, it was choppy, and foam was being blowing across the dock all the time.
This 30-something yacht heels to a 40-knot gust
This 30-something yacht heels to a 40-knot gust. The sound of the wind against the masts was so high at that point !
A headsail blown out of its furling. Flapping hopelessly and violently to the wind - and being quickly destroyed in the process.
A headsail blown out of its furling,. Flapping hopelessly and violently to the wind – and being quickly destroyed in the process.

The rain caught me while in the dock and I ran back to the comfort of Pesto’s cabin. At 12:15AM, precisely when weather.com had on its forecast, the rain became torrential and the wind decreased instantly. At that time I felt ok to go to sleep. Pesto had managed through the ordeal unscathed.

 

DRAMA:

Day broke on Friday with scattered heavy clouds, and patches of sun in between, and a cold breeze from the NE. I joined the other folks on the docks assessing the aftermath of the gale:

Some deep blue skies above the puffy clouds, even a small rainbow - but things weren't all that sweet out there.
Morning, the day after. Some deep blue skies above the puffy clouds, even a small rainbow – but things weren’t all that sweet out there.
The once-crystal clear waters of the marina were now murky and covered with debris - signals of the flash floods nearby.
The once-crystal clear waters of the marina were now murky and covered with debris – signals of the flash floods nearby.

Pesto-12Dec14-017

The harbor patrol towing on this brave soul who chose to face the grunt of the gale outside of the sheltered harbor.
The harbor patrol towing in this brave soul who chose to face the grunt of the gale outside of the sheltered harbor.
The marina's flags were all ripped by the wind.
The marina’s flags were all ripped by the wind.
Mant yachts had their headsails partially or totally damaged.
Many yachts had their headsails partially or totally damaged.
The wind also flipped dinghies ...
The wind also flipped dinghies …
... and in the case of the motorboat, it even managed to rip up it's bowsprit, together with the anchor and chain - ouch !
… and in the case of this motorboat, it even managed to rip up its bowsprit, together with the anchor and chain – ouch !
There were visible signals of the wind strength on the parking lot ....
There were visible signals of the wind strength on the parking lot ….
... and even more so on the streets.
… and even more so on the streets.
The wind was not the only offender - the torrential rain nearly sank a few unattended dinghies ....
The wind was not the only offender – the torrential rain nearly sank a few unattended dinghies ….
... and created big puddles on the ones that were covered !
… and created big puddles on the ones that were covered !
And then, the real problem in a gale - the Seas. The swell and the surf "ate" the beach adjacent to the marina.
And then, the real problem in a gale – the Seas. The swell and the surf “ate” the beach adjacent to the marina.
The rain and wind might be gone, but the swell would persist for a few days, breaking heavily against the jetty ...
The rain and wind might be gone, but the swell would persist for a few days, breaking heavily against the jetty …
... and forcing its way into the protected harbor. From above and through the breakwater.
… and forcing its way into the protected harbor. From above and through the breakwater.
This cormorant was clearly disoriented, as if trying to put itself together after the ordeal of the previous hours.
This cormorant was clearly disoriented, as if trying to put itself together after the ordeal of the previous hours.

 

GRAN FINALE:

The “day after” developed quietly, and in the afternoon I decided to check in the walkway above the harbor’s breakwater, venturing between that spray created by the waves as they broke against the jetty:

The walkway, covered in sand and seaweed, thrown there by the waves exploding against the rock wall.
The walkway, covered in sand and seaweed, thrown there by the waves exploding against the rock wall.
The views from above it were well worth the risk of being "sprayed" by an exploding wave.
The views from above it were well worth the risk of being “sprayed” by an exploding wave.
At the end of the jetty, people congregated to watch the surfers ...
At the end of the jetty, people congregated to watch the surfers …
... who were revealing with the well-formed swell at the entrance of the harbor.
… who were reveling with the well-formed swell at the entrance of the harbor.

 

The swell would break against the breakwater and form a backwash wave. At times, this wave would crash again the next incoming swell, creating beautiful images against the dimming light of the setting sun:

Pesto-12Dec14-063_HDR

Pesto-12Dec14-076_HDR

 

And like this, as if nothing had happened, the day ended here with this nice sunset over the harbor:

Such a contrast to the violence of a few hours before.
Such a contrast to the violence of a few hours before.

 

It was the strongest wind and most intense overall weather situation that both Adriana and I had ever seen in a boat. We were in awe, definitely glad to have faced it well tied up in a protected marina. But above all, it was a good opportunity to feel what bad weather “feels like”. And even more importantly, to see how Pesto behaves. Even if tied to a dock. And she passed with honors, making us yet again all so grateful to be on this adventure with her.

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