About 2 AM PDT Tuesday September 23 the five boats anchored in the West Bight of the East Bay at Puerto Refugio on the north end of Isla Angel de la Guarda (N 29 32.209° W 113 33.486°) began to realize they had made a terrible mistake and that Hurricane Marty was going to make a direct hit on the anchorage. By 3 AM we were seeing a steady 45 - 50 knots of wind with extended gusts to 65 knots. More problematically, the waves were coming directly onshore and were building rapidly. By 4 AM breaking waves were sweeping over all the boats and filling the cockpits with water.
Four of the five boats were anchored in 30 feet of water, about 300 yards off shore. The fourth boat, SV Spirit Healer a Pacific Seacraft 37 from Seattle, was already ashore on some rocks and had a hole thru her bottom. The violence of the breaking waves was astounding. When I stood on Mirador's bowsprit, 5 feet above flat water, to work on the chafing gear I would be submerged above my waist as breaking waves washed over Mirador and the other boats. Pure Chance, a custom Ted Brewer 42' sloop, was anchored 100 yards from Mirador and would disappear behind a wave every 20 seconds or so.
Let me make three important observations at this point.
1) All four boats suffered major structural damage to their bow sprits and anchoring systems. SV Kula, a Tartan 41 from Seattle, had her anchor roller torn UPWARD from her bow. The mounting bolts pulled up thru the deck as Kula's bow was slammed downward by the waves and the rollers encountered solid water. The anchor rollers on both Pure Chance, and Aires, a Catalina 42 from San Diego, were bent severely. I can not overstate the stress placed on the bow rollers, bow sprits, and bows themselves when anchoring in eight to ten foot breaking waves. I'll talk more about Mirador's bow roller in a minute.
2) All three boats that survived the storm without dragging or parting anchor lines were anchored with Bruce 44 anchors in heavy sand. All three had over 10:1 scope with a minimum of 200' of chain on the bottom. Don't let anyone tell you that a Bruce is not a storm anchor. None of the boats moved from their original anchoring positions.
3) It is essential that you be able to run your engine with enough control to keep some of the load off the anchoring systems. In our case that required constant manual driving of the boats from 2 AM until about 7 AM. The helmsperson had to stand there, facing 60 knot gusts with heavy rain and continual spray from the waves, while keeping the boat headed into the waves with just enough force to absorb the blows from the waves as they broke over the boats.
At 2 PM (00Z Sept 24) on Monday the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was forecasting that Hurricane Marty would go ashore near Isla Tiburon in Sonora Mexico, about 90 miles SE of us and then head off to the North in the Sonoran desert. At his point of closest approach (CPA) Marty would be 68 miles east of us, in the desert on the other side of 3000' mountains. The gale force winds were forecast to extend outward only 25 miles to the NW from the center at it's CPA.
At 2 PM Monday we had to decide whether we should stay in Puerto Refugio where we would be exposed to N and NE waves or run off 42 miles to the west to Bahia Willard where we would have good protection from the NE wind and waves.
We chose to stay in Refugio for the following reasons:
1) Each of the last four NHC forecasts (once every six hours) had moved Marty further east and moved its track more to the NE
2) NO storm since 1949, when record keeping began, had curved to the NW once it got as far north as 29°. The storm was already east of us and if it didn't curve NW we would hardly feel it's impact.
3) Willard can only hold five to six boats in a storm and there already three there. If any one of the Refugio boats headed to Willard all would go along.
4) Marty was moving at 21 knots and the storm force winds only extended out 20 miles in the NW (toward us) quadrant. At that speed, even if Marty moved towards us, we would see storm force winds for only an hour or two.
At that point we knew Marty had hit La Paz in the early morning with 98 knot winds and had sunk 7 boats there, dismasted four others, and had put 13 on the beach. Additionally we knew Marty had hit Puerto Escondido, 245 miles SE of us, with 80 knot winds at about noon.
The 8 PM NHC update was a little more ominous. Marty was now moving NW toward us and staying over warm water rather than going ashore to die. However, he was still moving at 18 knots and would get no closer than 40 miles. The storm force winds extended out 20 miles and gales only 50 so we still thought things would be OK. He would just sweep by to our east and with his rapid forward motion we would only see strong onshore winds for a few hours. While in Mexico Mirador has spent many nights anchored in 25 to 35 knot onshore winds that bring up 5' seas for eight to ten hours. I was fully prepared to sit thru several hours of bumpy seas.
About 3 AM, Tuesday I downloaded the 2 AM NHC update but really didn't need it to tell me that Marty was very near us. The barometer was plummeting and the winds were in the mid-50 knot range gusting to over 60. The really bad news in the NHC update was that Mary was going to slow to a crawl as it got east of us and would not move very much in the next six to eight hours. The updated forecast showed that Marty was 58 miles SE of us at 2 AM and would pass just 15 miles east of us at about 6 AM. He was moving NW so the winds would continue to blow from the NNE for at least another nine hours.
We are pretty sure the 2 AM NHC position for Marty was in error since our barometers hit their lowest point at 5 AM. Kula's recorded the same 992 Mb pressure that NHC reported as the central pressure in Marty at 2AM. Mirador's barometer dropped 8 Mb in three hours beginning at 3 AM. As far as we could tell Marty was further west and north (closer to us) and somewhat stronger than the NHC forecasters thought. Their technical disscussion page which I also downloaded at 3 AM was talking about how hard it was to determine exactly where the center of Marty was located.
Too bad we couldn't call NHC - we knew where Marty was - just a few miles to our east!
And that was the BIG problem. We had had onshore gale force or stronger winds since midnight and were expecting 40 to 50 knot winds to continue blowing directly onshore for another four or more hours. The seas were steep, high, and very close together. About 3 AM is when I began to realize that some of us would probably end up on the beach.
I was not overly concerned about Mirador. I had the Spade 66 pound anchor deeply buried in very heavy sand. There were no rocks or reefs on the bottom within 300 yards of Mirador. I had 125' of 5/16" chain and 100' of 5/8" nylon rode deployed in 27' of water for an 8:1 scope. I was checking the chafing gear every 15 minutes to half hour and it was showing no signs of chafe. There was 18 inches of nylon fire hose, enclosed in an 18" split rubber collar, both of which were enclosed in a 3' long section of 1 1/2" diameter rubber exhaust hose. The chafing gear was staying in place and showed no sign of damage.
At about 4 AM I had just been on the bow checking the chafing gear and was down below with no clothes on while trying to dry off so I could put on some warm dry clothes to wear under my rain gear. I felt Mirador lurch to the right and then take on a new feel. I threw on a pair of shorts and ran to the wheel. I quickly saw that Mirador was blowing broadside to the wind headed straight for the rocks.
The radar was operating as was the GPS set to show my position relative to where Mirador sat after the anchor was originally set and the chain and rode were tight. It was easy to see that Mirador was no longer attached to her anchor. The problem was "what to do?" The West Bight is surrounded by many rocks and reefs and is about 3/8 of a mile wide and 1/4 mile deep. Three boats were anchored within a 1/4 mile of Mirador. I was very reluctant to head to sea since I would have to negotiate a path between two reefs and also miss Aires who was anchored in that pass.
I tried to motor out of the anchorage but could make no progress against the waves that would just stop Mirador dead in her tracks. The wind would then catch the bow and spin the boat left or right. I tried for 30 minutes with the 50 HP Yanmar running a 3200 RPM to get out of the anchorage but made only 200 yards to windward. Finally I let the boat spin to go back into the anchorage with the idea of motoring in circles. I quickly realized that I did not have enough control of the boat to motor in such a confined space, while much of the time broadside to 8' breaking waves, while also dodging the anchored boats. I bumped Aires one time and almost hit Pure Chance three times.
After 40 minutes behind the wheel I was shivering violently because I had on only shorts, it was raining hard, gusting to 65 knots, and the air temperature was 76 degrees. There was no way I could use the autopilot to drive the boat long enough to grab a jacket and I was constantly having near misses with rocks and reefs that showed up pretty clearly on the radar. The wind and waves were not letting up a bit and I saw no hope of keeping the boat under control for another three to four hours.
At that time I chose to minimize the damage to Mirador. I drove her toward the only sandy beach with no rocks. I waited till she was in seven feet of water and turned her broadside to the wind and waves and then killed the engine. Within seconds she bumped the bottom and came to rest on her port side with the mast towards the beach.
Here is Mirador on the beach at about 9 AM. She is heeled about 50 degrees at this point.
That is the remains of the anchor line hanging off the bow.
I'll write another update about life on the beach.
The MIRACLE of the whole day occurred at 12:30 PM. High tide was at about 1:30 PM and by noon of so Mirador was starting to float a little higher in the water. At about 12:30 PM the wind suddenly shifted from onshore 20 knots to offshore 20 knots. By 1 PM Mirador had only about a 10 degree heel to port. I
Shortly after that I pulled the 120% genoa out to starboard and then dragged the clew to port to get a deep, fat belly in the sail as the offshore winds continued to blow consistently in the 13 to 20 knot range. Over a period of 30 to 45 minutes Mirador's bow slowly working its way 45° to starboard until the bow and the keel were in seven feet of water. Only the skeg was till aground. Finally, during the next 10 minutes, three big gusts of wind hit just as three big waves lifted Mirador clear of the bottom.
She was FREE!
I sailed her into to 25' of water and dropped the Bruce 44.
Three cracks in the port hull above the water line where Mirador pounded for over seven hours. None of the cracks extend into the interior and all compartments are dry as are the bilges
The middle third of the port hull looks like it has been sand blasted. A lot of gel coat is missing.
The steering cables jumped off the steering quadrant as I was anchoring. They were easily repaired.
My Cannon IS90 Digital camera got some salt spray in it while taking the picture above
My Gateway laptop will not start. When I took the battery out I found water and corrosion around the battery contacts. This is a mystery since it was working fine at 3:30 AM. I put it into a dry box at 5 AM and it remained there until I took it out and found it would not start. As an aside, another boat had the same problem, their laptop was in a Pelican Case during the whole storm. After things calmed down they opened the case and water ran out.
The Portabote tore itself apart and sunk. It had been tethered behind Mirador. I think it was too close to the stern and could not move easily enough. It should have been on a 50' line rather than a 10' line.
That's all the damage!
I want to thank Caliber Yachts, Clearwater Florida, for building such a strong boat. If you cruisers doubt the need for a skeg hung rudder - just think of Mirador bouncing on her skeg for 10 minutes while I tried to sail off the beach. Close inspection of the rudder and skeg, and the rudder post and bearings inside the hull reveal no cracks or damage anywhere.
Once Mirador was on the beach the waves were breaking over the starboard toe rail and washing into the cockpit. I figure the toe rail was eight feet in the air. The weight of the boat was concentrated on the middle port hull above the waterline, the skeg, and the rudder. The fact that the hull stood that force is astounding.
WHY DID THE ANCHOR LINE PART SO SUDDENLY???
Once on the beach I was able to walk around Mirador and was shocked at what I saw on the bow. The mount for the port side anchor roller had torn loose from the bow sprit. The port anchor roller is mounted about 11" in front of the bow sprit and is attached to the 1 7/8" diameter stainless tubing that forms the bow sprit by two parallel 1/4" thick stainless plates that are welded to the sprit tubing.
The plate on the left side was completely torn loose from the bow sprit and the roller was bent at 40° to the bow. The weld that had torn apart left jagged edges of stainless on both the bow sprit tubing and the bow roller support plate, right in the path of the 5/8" nylon anchor line as Mirador sheared back and forth in the wind gusts and breaking waves. Those jagged edges went thru the chafe gear and line like a hot knife thru butter.
The broken anchor line I found hanging from the bow cleat was just the right length to touch the broken weld.
The right hand mounting plate for the port bow roller also tore loose from the stainless fitting that attaches it to the starboard roller mounting plate to form a box structure. That was also a failed weld.
My plans are for now un-certain because of all the damage done throughout the Sea of Cortez. Mirador must be hauled out, inspected, and repaired. The problem is that so many boats are damaged that the only three yards in the Sea of Cortez are over whelmed.
In La Paz 80 boats suffered significant damage and two marinas were destroyed. I wanted to get the work done in La Paz but don't have any idea when they could do it for me.
I will stay in the Refugio and Bahia de los Angeles area until the end of October and then decide where to go next. Hurricane Juliett hit La Paz on about October 22 in 2001 so I don't want to start south before late October.
I will write a lot more about this event during the next week including my thoughts on what mistakes did I make and how could I have avoided these problems.
SV Spirit Healer is currently being stripped of all salvageable parts. She has a hole in her starboard side that is at least eight feet long and four feet high. All of the interior bulkheads and furniture are torn loose. She is completely submerged at high tide and is a total loss.
Robert and Leslie were forced off the boat at about 2 AM on the 22nd during the height of the storm. They had no dry clothes and very little shelter on Isla Mejia. We were not able to get them off the island until 8 AM on the 24th. It rained and blew continuously from the time they went ashore until about 4 AM on the 24th. They were able to huddle in a small religious shrine with two Mexican fisherman who were also stranded by the storm. The floor space in the shrine was three feet wide and four feet deep and it opened directly to the NE where the wind and rain were coming from.
I'll write more about Spirit Healer and post some pictures of here in the next week or so.