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AUGUST 15, 2008

Jacaranda Passage Note #26: Chubascos, Close call (Dragging Tuna Boat) and July 4th Party!

Isla Partida Norte, Baja California


We're on the way northward - our destination: Conception Bay and the annual 4th of July Cruisers Party.

With the forecast of a 15kt northerly we anchored in the lee of the impressive 475 headland of Punta Pulpito, a beautiful spot where a giant streak of black obsidian on the cliff shore makes a sharp contrast to the sand colored hills. By 5pm the northerly had switched back to the normal southerly wind direction so we moved around the corner 3 miles to Bahia San Nicolas to get protection from the south. Good thing too!! That evening we experienced our first Chubasco.

Chubasco!! Sounds like a Mexican pepper sauce or a type of salsa  but its a kind of seasonal storm we encounter in the Sea of Cortez. It is a violent but brief summer squall caused by convection, originating from the mainland, accompanied by strong winds and often lightning, thunder, and rain. Its Chubasco season now, peaking in August. Were on the alert for one every evening since they cant really be forecast.

The drama begins on mainland Mexico where huge thunderheads build up during the heat of the day in the inland mountain ranges. We often see them forming, like bouquets of full white peonies or gobs of mashed potatoes. When evening comes and it begins to cool off, the thunderstorms move down to the coast and then across the Sea of Cortez. These Chubascos can pack up to 60 knot winds! In the dark, sitting on the bow of our boat in the cooler night air, we are often treated to fantastic sky shows of lightning flashing far off to the east of us. But sometimes the flashes move closer and the wind picks up. These chubascos cannot be readily predicted but the best indicator is the movement of the convection cells that shows up on satellite imagery. We get a chubasco report from a fellow cruiser every night at 9 p.m. on sailmail. Our first chubasco in San Nicholas hit at 3 a.m. with 30 knot winds, no clouds, and no pressure drop on the barometer. Usually by noon the clouds, if any, are gone and the wind is back to the normal 10-15 kt range or less.

From Bahia San Nicholas we had a stellar sail all day to Bahia Concepcion, riding the last few hours of the chubasco with wind aft of the beam and then building to a 20kt sea breeze towards the end of the 38 miles. We actually stopped at Las Pilares, a picturesque anchorage just before Bahia Concepcion hoping to spend the night, thus delaying our actual entrance into the bay until the last possible minute because we knew it would be 10 degrees hotter there. Unfortunately, Las Pilares had a southern swell that made it too rolly and uncomfortable to stay so we sailed around the corner to Santa Domingo, the first anchorage inside Bahia Concepcion, and WHAM!, we were hit with a wall of hot air. Temperatures were now close to 100 as we anchored and we quickly jumped over for a swim in the 86-degree water. By the time we got out and reached for a towel we were almost dry and hot again.

That night, our second chubasco blasted us with 30+ knots starting at 5am. Again we were glad we moved out of Las Pilares anchorage which would have been dangerous and very uncomfortable; here in Santo Domingo we had excellent protection from the strong E-SE wind. At 6 a.m. a 100 foot steel Mexican tuna boat sought the same shelter and moved into the anchorage a safe distance away to the side of us; he anchored but continued to run his engine. However by 8 a.m. the strong wind switched to the southwest, turning us all in the direction of the 20-mile head of the bay with the wind swells starting to build to 3-4 feet. This put the Mexican tuna boat directly upwind of us and we started getting his engine fumes below; we closed our hatches. I was running the Amigo net that morning and copying weather from Don Anderson, the weather guru in Oxnard, California. I mentioned to Linda that as soon as the net was over we would move to get away from the fumes from the Mexican boat. I was busy talking on the SSB radio when suddenly Linda heard loud whistling and yelling outside and what seemed to be a helicopter overhead. She ran on deck to investigate and stuck her head below, eyes the size of dinner plates. Were just about to be hit by the Tuna boat - they are dragging down on us!!! I dropped the microphone and jumped up on deck. By this time the tuna boat - with no one on deck - was less than 5 feet from our bow and drifting down fast. No time to cut and run; Linda ran forward as the stern of the Tuna boat crashed into

Jacarandas anchor roller. We were pinned and could not move. The Tuna boat continued to drag along side and quickly, before I could yell stay away, Linda leaned over the side and pushed us away from the runaway vessel, thus averting any damage to our hull. We were yelling at the top of our lungs and 2 neighbor boats were also shouting, trying to gain the attention of the Mexican crew. Even though their loud engine was running they must have been below having breakfast and were oblivious to the problem. Finally a crewmember popped up and looked at me like what are you doing here? The skipper immediately rallied the troops and began to get underway. He quickly steered away while they worked to get their anchor up, finally succeeding in getting the anchor aboard and staying away from us, then motoring off and out of the bay, never to be seen again. Did we expect them to come back and check our damage? That would have been the proper thing to do but we were not surprised that they didnt. Luckily the damage to Jacaranda was so very minor - there was a piece of rusty tuna boat metal embedded in the flair of the bow roller which I easily filed off. Thank you Es Iverson for building us a very stout bow roller! Even though it was extremely dangerous for Linda to push us apart we both believe that it saved us from major damage. A 4 swell and a steel boat do not mesh very well with a fiberglass hull. Big giant thank yous to Beyond Reasonand Hipnautical for alerting Linda to the danger with their shouts and whistles! What a close call!

The next day we moved 12 miles further into Concepcion Bay to join the 25+ other boats at El Burro Cove for the traditional July 4th festivities at Gary's place. Gary, a gringo who lives here full time, occupies one of the many palapas lining the beach. He has enclosed his, making an interesting palm roofed cabin on the beach; a few others keep theirs open and drive their RVs or set up tents underneath. Gary, who gives daily weather reports for the Sonrisa Net, invites all the boats in the area to join him for hotdogs and beer every year and the gathering is heartily anticipated by all the cruisers as the early social event of the summer. In addition to the all day partying with good food and company, there were fireworks in the evening. Oh  and Linda won second place in the Rubber Ducky Race - her favorite rubber ducky, Dearie, was the second one to wash up on the beach after it was released with 40 others from a dinghy in the bay. Her cash prize of 70 pesos bought us a round of cold limonadas and a handsome propina (tip) to the local bartenders.

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