As posted before, we were on the track of Hurricane Blanca – the earliest recorded hurricane to make landfall to Baja California. This post is a compilation of what we did for preparations, how we felt during the storm, and what worked and didn’t after it went by.
<This the fifth in a series of posts I am publishing about the three weeks we spent at Puerto Escondido, Baja California. Click here to access the first post>
Blanca was the earliest major second named tropical storm since NOAA’s accurate data collection started in 1971. It was also the earliest Named Storm to ever make landfall in Baja California. It passed some 50 miles to the west of Puerto Escondido. Here’s how we dealt with it:
- Daily weather monitoring allowed us to be aware of Blanca before it even formed, giving us precious time to evaluate our options and prepare
- Understanding the situation, and moving on: as soon as the storm formed and the first track forecasts were revealed, I hired a professional weather forecaster to help us evaluate the situation. We exchanged valuable notes about track, probabilities and location. This enabled us to quickly and definitely decide our location strategy, and focus our attention on preparations.
- Location, Location, Location: we were lucky to be in a safe bay – Puerto Escondido. That, again, saved us time, which we then spent in other aspects of the preparation. During the storm, we had strong winds. But the water was always flat – a major safety aspect.
- Location, Location, Location II: Having time available, we scouted the bay and positioned Pesto in an area where it would be likely on the windward side of all other boats that would come into the bay – thus reducing the possibility of being hit by another boat during the storm
- Getting the boat secure: we chose to have Pesto tied at a mooring for the storm. We inquired many people in the bay about them. I inspected them myself. We hired a diver to also check it, and add a redundant line between it and Pesto
- Prevent Chafing: we learned that all boats that got loose here during hurricane Odile last year did so because their mooring lines chafed through. I spent one full day covering every length of our mooring lines that might be exposed to chafing.
- Getting the Genoa down: it is a pain to take the genoa out of the furler and back into the cabin. However, we’ve been in three events with 40+ knots already, and in all three we saw boats having their genoas blown away from their furlers. Results can be catastrophic in such circumstance, especially if the winds blow in excess of 50 knots. We took our genoa, it was a pain, and we never regretted.
- Lashing things down: winds of 40+ knots are very strong, and can blow stuff away. Everything that was not removed from deck got heavily lashed down, including our solar panels (we only kept them in for we had strong confidence that the winds would not reach 50 kts. Otherwise, we would have removed them)
- Waterproofing: hurricanes bring a lot of rain. I sealed all opening portholes, turned our dorade vents back to the winds, and sealed the fuel caps on deck, to ensure rain water wouldn’t make its way in.
- Filling Up: we filled up in fuel, water and electric energy should we not be able to run the engines and/or get access to fuel on the days after the storm
- Adriana did one last provisioning trip the day before the storm to ensure we would be well stocked for at least two weeks after it hit
- Finally, we did our laundry, just in case we were not able to run the generator on the days after the storm (if the rain threw too much debris in the water)
DURING THE STORM:
The hurricane, then downgraded to a Tropical Storm, reached us on a Sunday night. It was still reasonably sunny and quiet when night fell. Shortly after sunset it started to get cloudy, and the wind started blowing at midnight. Gusty in the beginning, then gradually consolidating in strength and direction. It blew all thought the night, and while standing watch at the cockpit, I wrote posts on our facebook page recording the experience real-time. What follows is a transcript of these posts:
- (7.30pm) Blanca has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm as predicted, is losing strength quickly, and may throw some wind/rain here tomorrow early morning. We are well prepared, Adriana is playing the guitar, kids are in the water with their friends, and there is a beautiful sunset with just a gentle breeze to cool us down. Looks like we will have a better-than-anticipated night o’sleep. A great way to wrap up this weekend!
- (2am) It’s 2am, and the wind started blowing almost 2 hours ago, consistent with the last forecast. Some times it rains heavily, and then it dries up. The wind is not too strong (yet) – 15 to 20 knots. But the hills and mountains around us make it blow in sudden gusts, and swirling. That makes us swing around the mooring wildly. It’s nerve-wrecking. There are over 40 boats in the anchorage. All left their lights on. No one is coming on the radio, but every now and then I see the flashlight of someone checking their lines. It is going to be a long night.
- (4am) Winds have increased, as expected, and now peaks at 30knots. Still very gusty and variable. It has started raining generously as well, and water found it’s first way in through a dorade vent … Luckily it’s the one over one of our heads (bathrooms), so not much of a problem. It’s all wet outside and I am now standing watch in the cabin, checking the wind instrument and listening to the occasional chatter on the radio. Every now and then I see flashlights onboard our friend vessels s/v Coastal Drifter and m/v Adagio and it is heartwarming.
If the forecast holds, wind and rain shall still increase a bit for the next two or three hours, and then recede.
Soon it shall be over.
All is good onboard.
- (5am) Conditions have actually improved over the last hour. Maybe the Giganta mountain range nearby is providing a more effective windshield as the center of the storm moves further North. Wind gusts aren’t going much beyond 25 kts and the direction is now constant, which is excellent. The highlight of the hour was when I had to go on deck to untangle the mooring lines. The driving rain drenched me and yet I didn’t feel any cold. This reminded me that some 4 months ago, irrespective of how many layers of clothes I might be wearing, I would start shivering immediately upon leaving the shelter of the pilothouse.
In one more hour there will be daylight, and things shall start to look and feel better.
All good on board.
- (6:30am) The wind got a little stronger again, topping 42kts on our anemometer. Some gusts are very short and intense, more like blasts, and I believe wind speed may be higher than our instruments capture. But the direction now is very consistent, and that’s very good for the mooring. I have been checking the mooring lines every 15 min or so, and they are OK.
As the wind picked up, the lights of all vessels in the bay started moving more nervously. We also heard on the radio that a small, unattended sailboat went loose and ended on the mangrove nearby.
Now, another unattended sailboat next to us had its staysail blown out of its furling. The sail is flapping wildly, the sailboat moving, and we are now on a heightened level of attention.
Other dorade vents gave way, and I went on deck to stuff their openings with dry cloth. Seems to have worked.
Spoke to Adagio and Coastal Drifter a little while ago and they are holding pretty well.
- (8:30am) It’s still cloudy and windy. The highest gust captured in the bay was 50kts, but it didn’t catch us, for we are tucked behind the hills. I have the impression the wind has diminished a bit. Low-lying clouds are racing across the sky, but it hasn’t rained anymore. Apparently conditions will start to improve materially after 2pm. Looking forward to it
(PS – as i was writing this, a strong gust healed us hard to Starboard, just as a reminder that it ain’t over ’till it’s over).
Gear and crew onboard all in good shape.
- (10am) On one of my routine inspections of the mooring attachment, I noticed we had lost one of our anti-chaffing gear … Without it, the anchor would have cut through our mooring line in no time. I stayed there for some 15 minutes installing a replacement, and that gave me the opportunity to appreciate the full strength of the gusts. As a wise friend wrote to me a few days ago, “nature can throw quite a show”!
All is back in order, and still holding strong.
- (11am) It’s still blowing. We just got a 45 kt gust. A patch of rain crossed the bay a while ago, but otherwise it is mostly dry. The kids are up and Adriana will try to do homeschooling – which I’m not too optimistic will succeed for Pesto is moving too much.
I heard through the grapevine that I may get a Cappuccino in a few minutes, so spirits are way up now.
- (3pm) I did get a wonderful Cappuccino and even managed to get some sleep afterwards … The sweet life! Back on deck now, I was surprised to find it still windy. A large catamaran anchored upwind from us. The poor guys changed their position continuously – i understand their anchor is dragging. Some yachties put their dinghies on the water to take their dogs “for a walk” … Well, if one’s pet gotta go, it gotta go, regardless the weather smile emoticon
The highlight of this update goes to Adriana, who managed to homeschool the kids while I was taking my nap. Not an easy task with all the movement and noise outside!
- (7pm) It’s nearly over now. We can see clear skies some 10 miles out in the sea, and I heard radio conversations mentioning light winds out there. In here, there is still a bit of clouds and wind, but I attribute that to the large Giganta mountain range nearby. We just had a nice meal – thanks to Adriana – and will soon watch a movie, and then I plan (hope) on having a long night of sound sleep. Tomorrow will be a busy day, undoing all the preparations that we implemented over the last week.
WHAT WORKED, WHAT DIDN’T AND WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED:
- The location we chose proved appropriate for the storm. The water was always flat, no mooring in the bay gave way, and for all of the storm we were to the windward of the boats in the bay.
- The local wind probabilities forecast of the NHC site slightly under predicted the winds we got in the bay. On the other hand, the spot forecast from Sailmail was surprisingly accurate – both in timing and intensity.
- The mooring lines took a hard beating during the storm, for the wind was not constant in intensity and direction. Our anti-chafing worked well, and at the end our lines were intact.
- However, the dual line system to the mooring chain didn’t work. They tangled around each other and around the chain. I was able to untangle them, but should the winds be stronger, we might have been in trouble. Next time, I’d rather have one single bad-ass line – well supersized for Pesto’s dimension – tied between Pesto and the Chain.
- No water made its way through the portholes and the fuel caps on deck. Good thing I sealed them.
- However, 3 out of 4 dorade vents let water in. Next time I will remove them and have their openings sealed.
- Being emotionally and physically ready: some 24 hours before the storm approached, I reduced significantly the rhythm of work. I also managed to over-sleep the night before. When the storm hit, I was feeling satisfied with all the precautions we had taken. That gave me some serenity during the storm, which trickled down to Adriana and the kids. They understood what was happening, how safe we were, and never during the storm had any of us to be calmed down by the other.
- Being alert: Twice during the storm our mooring system required human intervention. And I consider this to have been a moderately weak storm. I believe it is crucial to always have one person awake and running regular checks at short intervals on a storm like this.
- Some 24 hours before the storm, forecasts were showing a significant reduction in strength. Because of that, I didn’t establish and implement a communications plan with our weather router and family back in Brazil. Looking back, I think that was an oversight. Should telecommunication antennas be compromised nearby, we might have significant others worried about what might be going on.
- Somewhere during the preparations, I forgot to run a test of our satellite phone at the height of the storm, which is a pity. It would have been nice to know whether it can work under the typical heavily clouded sky of a hurricane.