Mother Nature and Boats

Peaceful Setting on the Sea of Cortez

Peaceful Setting on the Sea of Cortez

Hi Everyone!  I’m anchored at Isla Coronados among some very great people, beautiful scenery, and loving it.  I’ll be heading out in the morning for the roughly 40 nm trip to Agua Verde.  Life is good…

About a week ago, I left Santa Rosalia (fun food, SHORT haircut, boats with air conditioning) for Bahia Concepcion, 40-50 nm back down the coast.  I have always loved night passages, so I left around 0130.  As I left the harbor entrance, there were hundreds of softly glowing yellow lights, a signal the Pescadores were out, as were the squid.  I made my way slowly through the pangas.  Just as I was clearing the fishing area, I noted lightning from across the Sea toward San Carlos, about 80 nm away.  I made the statement, “You stay over there, and I’ll stay over here.  Deal?”  No deal!  For the next 25 nm, I skirted the front, watching as lightning went cloud to cloud, or more dramatically, cloud to water.  I didn’t hear much thunder, which was reassuring to me, as I foolishly thought that meant the lightning was farther away.  Both on radar and by eyesight, the front approached as close as two nm, but I couldn’t stop watching.  It was kinda like the looky-loos that must look at the bad accident.  The electrical show was fascinating, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and pretty darn scary.  There was no place to run to, as the clouds were heading in the direction from where I came, but engulfed the direction I was going.  I began pulling my electronics off their mountings and putting them in the oven, leaving my GPS plotter and radar for last, as they were the easiest to remove.  Why the oven?  Wives tale?  I’ve read for years that putting sensitive electronics into an insulated area may, could help prevent the massive electrical charge from scrambling the intricate workings.  And the fuses probably  won’t block a lightning strike.  So, I did it.

As the hours went by, the front kind of curved away from me as I tried to curve away from it.  This was tricky, as there were numerous rocks, islets and reefs along the way.  With the radar taken out of service, a keen watch was essential.  As dawn approached, I was about 6-8 nm out of the entrance to Bahia Concepcion.  I noted a sailboat coming in from an angle across the Sea, but they were moving nicely under full sail.  There was some radio traffic on the VHF, with a boat calling out to 2 other boats pretty consistently.  They were never answered.  Finally, the operator called out if anyone could hear him.  I responded on my handheld, and another boat answered from Bahia Santo Domingo, the cove right at the northeast point of Concepcion.  The caller wanted to know where this “Dominguez” was.  I told him it was right at the entrance to Concepcion.  After a little more conversation, I determined this boat was the one I had in sight about 1-2 nm off my port bow.  We talked some more, and he stated his depth gauge didn’t work.  Bummer.  Then he said he wasn’t sure about locations because he didn’t have any charts.  I thought, “What kind of a dunderhead goes into a bay that has tons of rocks and islands without a chart?”  And no depth?  He was just looking for trouble.  Then it hit me.  I asked him if his boat had been struck by lightning, and if that was the reason his electronics were down.  He confirmed my suspicions.  He stated after they were hit, they continued on sailing to the Baja side, trying to move away from the activity.  If they had turned around, they’d go right back into it.  As they continued to sail, they noted the boat getting a bit sluggish, so they pulled the floorboards and saw water had filled the bilges.  The engine starter was soaking, so they were reluctant to try to turn the engine over.  Their friends were already down at El Burro Cove, another 10 nm or so inside the bay.  I offered to lead them into Bahia Santo Domingo, allowing them to drop the hook, assess the damage better, and make some repairs.  They opted to try to find El Burro Cove and their friends.  I gave them some waypoints for outside the large cove and then on in to El Burro.  They gave some thanks, and continued sailing on.

A few minutes later, they called back on the radio and I could hear their engine purring nicely in the background.  They said they were having trouble shifting the engine into gear, and found water had gotten into the transmission. This wasn’t turning out to be a little lightning strike.  Later, I heard their friends and other cruisers helped them get things sorted out, irrigated their tranny with oil, got their electronics up and running, and they even got to enjoy the Fourth of July party at the cove.

The next morning, I was happy to hear them on the radio saying things were good and they were sailing along nicely.  Within the hour, they were back on the radio stating they had lost their headstay/roller furling due to the upper shackle being obliterated.  They tied some lines and spare halyards off and headed back over to San Carlos for some big, expensive work and a long call to their insurance company.

This boat was a 47′, newer model of a popular production line.  It had all the bells and whistles boat builders can put on.  For my own lessons, it doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles you have if they don’t work.  Often times, I feel the basics are more important than bells and whistles.  In my humble opinion, two of the most important basics are paper charts and a running log of your position.  My routine includes an almost hourly note of position in my log, and if I’m extra bored, I’ll plot those positions on the paper chart.  If I don’t plot them then, I can always go back later and plot them as needed for a fix, a new waypoint, or a way to navigate myself out of trouble.  Some people have said this is excessive, but it’s a routine that keeps my charting skills up, dead reckoning skills up, and looking at the chart often familiarizes me with any upcoming hazards I may need to be aware of.  This of course is if your charts are accurate.  Here in the Sea of Cortez, the charts plainly state they can be up to 2-3 nm off.  Pretty funny.

I’m happy to say I learned a lot from this leg.  Number one lesson is that I don’t like lightning very much, and plan to stay as far from it as possible, especially with this tall, metal stick thingie that lightning loves in the middle of my boat.  Number two is putting the electronics in the oven seems to be a popular preventative, even among the electrical gurus down here, so I’ll stick with it.  I just need a bigger oven!  Number three is to continue my routine of frequent log and position entries, and plotting of positions on the chart.  You never know…

After I make Agua Verde, there won’t be much internet until La Paz, that I’m aware of.  I know I’ve said this just about every post, but I do know there’s not much out there south of my location.  Take care, Everyone, stay cool, and do good things!  I love and miss you all…

4 thoughts on “Mother Nature and Boats

  1. Stazee

    Sounds like a harrowing time, Wendy! Glad to know how careful and thoughtful you are with your documenting and triple checking of everything! You were very kind to offer assistance to that other boat but it sounds like they were in a world of hurt. Yikes!

    Keep up the good navigation, young lady! 😉

  2. svalcyone

    Your are such a savvy sailor nice job helping those folks, like we always laughed about redundancy rules!! great to keep up with you can’t wait to get back out. Give the big cat who thinks he’s a dog a rub for me and a pat to the little girl.



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