Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dispatch 20 Screaming Blue Norther

December 19-26, 2006

Our travels are very much affected by the weather. We are hesitant to make definite plans to visit people (as some of you have noticed) because we never know if we will be able to make the rendezvous and don’t want to have to travel in adverse weather.

This week has given us a good example of this phenomenon and, as we are holed up on the boat for a few days, we’ll share the experience. We left San Carlos later than we had ever expected and had always sort of intended to get to La Paz before x-mas, but had no definite plans. We wanted to enjoy the islands on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez as we have before and savor them as we don’t plan to come back up this way.

The winter in the Sea of Cortez is known for winter winds called “Northers” that we’ve mentioned before. There are several sources for weather information and we tend to listen to them closely when we are planning a passage. Most weather reports come on radio nets on single side band and one weather guru named Don Anderson is rather notorious among us Mexico cruisers for his weather reports. He is formerly from Great Britain, but, having lost much of his accent, he still retains some of his British figures of speech as you shall see. He’s a former cruiser with a comfortable boat, a Valiant 47, who lives in Oxnard, CA. He’ll often say about the weather, “I wouldn’t take my little boat there,” as he reports on 40 knot winds in the Tuhuantepec or some other hot spot.

Don is passionate about weather and his reports are often peppered with small teaching points that make us all better at looking at the raw data (weather maps). The situation that creates these northerly winds here is a high pressure system over Denver. A gradient develops between that high pressure system and lower pressure in the Sea of Cortez and the wind funnels from high to low pressure and right down the Sea of Cortez. Yesterday he predicted Northerly winds of 25-35 knots for the next 4-5 days with seas building to 10-12 feet in the center of the Sea of Cortez. He ended his report by saying, “Yup, it’s going to blow the skin right of the rice pudding.” On another report while describing Cerralvo channel (a funnel shaped body of water oriented NW to SE known for awesome wind surfing--!!--), he said it was going to blow 40 knots there, blowing the rice pudding right out of the bowl, “Yessir,” he said, “Cerralvo Channel will be a sight to behold” with his signature little chuckle.

Well, it’s no problem to sail in 25-35 knots, we’ve done it before in the ocean, but, as Don pointed out today on his weather report, the problem is the seas that build due to the wind. While the swells are big and far apart on the ocean, in a small body of water like the Sea of Cortez or, even smaller as our friends in the NW know, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the waves become very steep and very tall and close together very quickly. It is the seas that make the travel uncomfortable or worse.

So, we are holed up in a very comfy spot, Puerto Escondito, known as “Hidden Harbor” because it is almost completely enclosed, thus quite protected. It is 15 miles south of Loreto on the Baja and is also very beautiful. As I write, the wind howls through in gusts that make the boat yaw and even heel over a little and anything that is not appropriately secured gets our attention by being blown out of place, like our dinghy that flipped over in a gust earlier today. We know we can’t compete with 100 MPH record winds in Seattle or the likely snow in other parts of the US, but it’s also cold here when the Northers blow, going down into the 40’s to 50’s at night. While we wait, we will write, read, cook and visit with some of the other boats here if any of us feel like having a wet dinghy ride. Christmas may come and go while we wait, but, so it goes when we are so dependent on the weather for our progress.
"A "Norther" hits the La Paz anchorage."

We wish you all happy and health holidays and will send more news as we can.

The late breaking update is that, after another weather system blew through while we waited in yet another anchorage, we made it to La Paz. We had a warm welcome from our friends here as well as some mail we expected. We visited Betsy’s (Denver) brother at his vacation home on East Baja for New Year’s Day and plan to visit here for about a week. Then we will head over to the mainland to continue our travels.

Happy 2007 to you all and may it be a wonderful year.