Hurricanes. They occur in the Atlantic and the East Pacific oceans (they are called cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian oceans, and typhoons in the Western Pacific). Mapache and I are sitting on the edge of the eastern Pacific, and hurricanes happen here. They start in areas of low pressure, caused be warm water and humid air. The air rises and rotates, and new air pushes into the low pressure, following the rising-and-rotating pattern. If conditions continue, the wind grows in strength and a tropical disturbance becomes a tropical depression, becomes a tropical storm, which becomes a hurricane when winds reach over 74 miles per hour.
When reading about hurricanes, I found that most forecasters’ sites say they are rare. And in prepping for this particular season, I read that, because it is a La Niña year, the hurricane season will be light. However, the season just began and already we have seen three named storms (two hurricanes and one tropical storm) close to mainland Mexico’s Pacific coast. The height of hurricane action is historically the end of the season, not the beginning. So this seems alarming, right?
Yes, because this is an indication of how the world’s climate is changing and that historic predictions are not as reliable. No, because we have tools besides history to help us predict storms, we chose a safe harbor, and we properly prepare our boat.
Staying Ahead of the Storm
The first hurricane in this area and season was Hurricane Agatha. She struck southern Mexico’s coast near the Bahías de Huatulco only a few weeks after we left there to come north to Banderas Bay. Her winds were powerful (over 110 miles per hour), but the devastation to communities was caused by the torrential rain she poured down. She landed at Puerto Ángel, just up the coast from Huatulco, and her impact spread from there. She took at least 11 human lives (plus over 30 people are missing); destroyed bridges, roads, and homes; wiped out farm crops; and isolated communities, preventing access to power, water, and food. Organizations continue to assist the people affected and to rebuild the infrastructure. If you would like to donate toward delivering water to isolated communities, Mapache is collecting money for the Huatulco Rotary Club, who is heading a water-delivery project in Oaxaca State to communities affected by the hurricane. Go to our Donate page for information on how to send money for that cause.
We are now safely docked in a well-protected marina in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. La Cruz is a small coastal town tucked inside Banderas Bay. The bay acts as a hurricane hole for two reasons—it has a mountain on its southern edge that depowers storms coming this way; and the bay’s under-water topography creates pressure above the sea surface to push storms away. Still, I wake up every morning to check multiple sources for weather forecasts, plus the local weather expert’s daily report, given over VHF radio.
I’m on a Mexican Radio
The VHF weather report is part of the local “cruisers’ net.” Cruisers’ nets are organized virtual gatherings of boaters via VHF radio that inform on the local events and news in most popular cruising locations. Rob and I have mostly avoided them, because they can be repetitive, long-winded, and focused on gringo activities. But they are important tools to tune into when you are watching for weather. I have found that I actually do not begrudge turning on the VHF every morning to hear the Banderas Bay net, because it is efficiently run with helpful information…or maybe it’s just that I am finally turning into a “real” sailor.
Before I get out of bed and listen to the net each morning, I open one of my weather forecast applications on my smart phone. I watch as the future minutes tick by on the bottom of the screen and the colors of the prediction model morph and swirl like a digital lava lamp. The slow-burn suspense is waiting to see whether the color blobs spin into ominous reds and blacks anytime soon, or if they dissolve into cheerful blues and greens. I then verify on at least two other weather applications (and of course with the net’s weather report). In the past week, two nearby spots have spun into red and black, becoming Hurricane Blas and Tropical Storm (predicted to become Hurricane) Celia.
The prediction models daily showed Blas, and now Celia, tracking west, avoiding Banderas Bay. But I know that predictions are not always truths, so I made sure the boat is prepared.
Swab the Decks
Mapache sits on a sturdy inner dock, cross-tied to it with double lines, each of which is protected with chafe guards. I have cleared her deck and stored almost everything inside, including her sails. This reduces windage and limits the things that could fly away. And, just to be sure, we have followed all of the good juju protocols, from the official naming ceremony to a boat blessing to occasional sage-burning.
Last Friday, Hurricane Blas passed by Banderas Bay, but we had little more than intermittent heavy rain and lightning. And Celia should be well clear of us by the end of this week. My eyes are on new low pressure areas, waiting for them to turn more violent colors. But until then, I’ve sewn and mounted some shades, because Mapache’s interior is getting hot!
When I see the signs of a potential high wind storm, I will take the shades back down. But, without them, the interior of the boat is in the high 90s when I go to sleep at night. The shades reduce that temperature by 10 degrees. I made the shades out of tarp material that I found at a local fabric store. It is large blue and white stripes, typical of fancy resort awnings and umbrellas. I thought it would keep Mapache looking classy while covered up, but the design is reminiscent of a circus tent. At least I can quickly identify my boat in the marina.
Where in the World is Capitan Rob?
Rob is also daily watching weather, but from San Francisco Bay, because he is there prepping to deliver our new boat to us. He is waiting on a weather window with waves smaller than 9 feet at 7 second periods (if you aren’t sure, that’s bad to dangerous) to sail the new boat to La Cruz.
The new boat, Rob’s late-father’s boat, is a 1996 38-foot Hunter 370. We took her over one month ago, and Rob has been in California tirelessly working that entire time to repair and upgrade the boat, making her safe and ready for their long passage south. Don’t worry, nobody has to buy a new shirt or hat (although you can on our Merch page), because the new boat’s name is also Mapache—Mapache 2.0. And of course, our original Mapache is for sale, please let us know if you are interested or know anybody who might be. You can check out her complete listing HERE, and marvel at all of the work we have put into making her the amazing boat she is.
For now, we are wishing fair winds and flatter seas to Rob, followed by cold beers, which you can supply him HERE if you are so inclined (and if you’ve already donated to the hurricane relief fund).
Mapache bashing north from Huatulco to Banderas Bay, away from what would become Hurricane Agatha
A quick fuel stop — delivered by panga — in Zihuatanejo, on Mapache’s way north for the summer
Our final destination for the summer hurricane season —the marina in La Cruz (Spanish for The Cross) de Huanacaxtle
The sea wall of the marina in La Cruz, which will hopefully protect us from any large storm swell
Rob repairing our dock lines before he leaves Sarah and Mapache for California, where he will pick up our new boat
A weather model, showing Hurricane Blas as it passed by Mapache (the white dot) on Friday, June 17
Frigate birds on storm watch above the sea wall at the marina in La Cruz
A typical summer evening in La Cruz with the thunderstorm clouds rolling in
Mapache’s new shades, aka the Clown Tent
The new boat’s name — Rob put on temporary stickers
We stuck with sailor tradition and held a naming ceremony for the new boat before the stickers went on, although it was just the two of us, via a video call
Meet Mapache 2.0
She needed quite a bit of work before she was ready to sail south — this is just one electrical project that Rob worked on
And here is our friend Mike from SV Algeria, helping rig the headsail furler. Rob would not be able to get Mapache 2.0 ready and south without Mike’s help. Thanks, Mike! Thanks also to Point San Pablo Yacht Club for the dock space. And thanks to Art for his garage space for receiving packages necessary for the boat’s repairs. These things take a village.