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Rambler capsizes in Fastnet Race with ASA co-founder Peter Isler onboard

Category : American Sailing Association, Safety, Sailboats, Weather

rambler capsizedDuring last week’s Fastnet Race in the Irish Sea, the yacht Rambler, which Sailing World called “the most advanced, powerful monohull race boat in the world,” capsized after its keel broke off. On board was ASA co-founder Peter Isler, Rambler’s navigator. In our latest e-newsletter, we reported on Rambler’s record-breaking performance in the Transatlantic Race. Now, Peter Isler describes a very different experience in detail.

According to his account, it was “a nice, nasty day on the Irish Sea,” with low visibility and the sea stacking up. He went on to describe how, though no one is quite sure why the boat failed to hold together, Rambler “pushes the limits.”

“There was an earth-shattering bang…and the keel broke off. The heel of the boat changed immediately.” Rambler went over on its side. Isler said it was lucky that only a few crew members were in their bunks, with the rest on deck in their life jackets and foul weather gear. Isler attempted to make a mayday call from the ship’s main radio, and received no response. As he was making another mayday call with a handheld VHF radio belowdecks, the boat turtled entirely. “I thought it was going to stay on its side,” he said.

Now Isler was faced with a harrowing swim, in frigid waters and wearing full foul weather gear and sea boots, from the hatch of the boat, under the lifelines and back to the surface. “I didn’t think I was going to make it, honestly. I didn’t pop up like you do in your skivvies…I was coming up like a sea-anchor.”

The crew huddled together for 3 hours before they were rescued, some of them fully clothed and others in nothing but long underwear. At least one member of the crew was hospitalized for hypothermia afterwards. The wait for rescue was agonizing: “Leopard went by maddeningly close, but of course, no one knew. The Volvo 70s went by…” The 21-person crew of Rambler was finally rescued by a volunteer Irish lifeboat service after dark when the lifeboat crew spotted their flashlights.

When asked how this compared to winning a race (Isler is a two-time America’s Cup champion, among many other victories), he said, “This is way better, having everyone together and everyone survive.”

On whether this experience would have a long term effect on the experienced open-ocean racers of Rambler’s crew: “Oh, yeah. It was eye opening. The lessons are: A. Wear your lifejacket. B. Stay with the boat. C. If you can’t stay with the boat, stay together.”

After several attempts, Rambler was finally righted and towed back to port without her mast or rigging. Isler said there was damage from an electrical fire, and obviously the keel was missing. What’s next for this cutting edge boat? That is yet to be decided.

You can listen to Peter Isler’s full, candid, and engrossing interview here.

Sailing Tragedy in Race to Mackinac 2011

Category : American Sailing Association, Safety, Weather
Wingnuts capsized

Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Journal

As you may have already heard, on Monday the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed the death of two sailors competing in the Chicago-Mackinac Race. A late night storm had hit the racing fleet with winds in excess of 50 knots, and the boat WingNuts capsized. By all accounts, the crew handled the boat properly and made full use of their safety equipment, but the storm simply overwhelmed their 35-foot craft. Six sailors were rescued by a nearby boat, Sociable, but two were lost, one of whom was the skipper.

ASA sends our condolences to the families and friends of those who passed away, and we wish them the best in this difficult period. At the same time, we applaud the heroic efforts by the crew of Sociable to save the other six sailors in ferocious weather conditions.

For more on this story:

Sail World
Chicago Tribune
Milwaukee Journal with details of the rescue.

Voyaging with Velella: How to Sail Across a Bar

Category : American Sailing Association, Safety, Sailboats, Weather

Continuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Harvey. Meghan and her husband Prescott have been cruising aboard their boat Velella for the past 8 months, first in Mexico and now in the Pacific Northwest.

Rites of Passage, Part 2

Anyone who has decided to sail South from the Pacific Northwest faces the dangerous prospect of having to “cross a bar.” The Northwest coast of the United States is considered a “hostile coast,” in that there are very few shelters to pull into over hundreds of miles–and those harbors that do exist are 90% of the time protected by a big sand bar entrance. While these “bars” create great quiet harbors protected from the wave swell of the Pacific Ocean, they are often dangerous and sometimes impossible to cross, depending on the weather.

On our first trip down the coast a couple years ago, we were hit with buckets of awful weather, compounded by HUGE ocean swell (8-10 feet on a good day;10-14 was also common). Sailing was nearly impossible because, in addition to seasickness I prefer not to recall in detail, every time we would slide down into a trough of one of these enormous waves, our sails would be completely blocked from the wind by the next upcoming roller. Then we would surge up with the wave, the wind would snap our sails taut, send a shutter through the entire rig, and slew the helm sharply to one side or the other. It was the kind of weather that gets you to start thinking about putting your boat up for sale in the nearest harbor.

The problem is that, as the weather gets worse, so do the bar conditions. When large swells, waving hundreds of miles across the unobstructed deep ocean, all of a sudden reaches a shallow little sand bar at the coast, all that enormous wave energy has nowhere to go but up, constricted on the sides and below by land. So the swell builds vertically into huge, steep breaking waves in an effort to cross over the bar. It often becomes bad enough that the Coast Guard will simply close off the bar to any vessels intending to cross. And truthfully, staying out at sea is often safer than attempting to cross a bar.

This summer, as we left Cape Flattery astern for the second time and turned our bow South, I couldn’t help but worry a bit about the Columbia Bar, the hurdle we would have to jump in order to make it to Portland, Oregon. The Columbia is the biggest and baddest of all of the bars on the Pacific–-over 2,000 boats have been lost trying to cross it. (In fact, here’s a website dedicated to documenting all of those wrecks!) Still, we’d made several successful bar crossings before, and learned a few things in the process.

Timing your bar crossing is critical. Tidal action moves water in and out over the bars and either compounds or subtracts from any swell that’s coming across. When the tide starts ebbing, pulling out against wave trains crashing in over the bar, this is the worst combination. Not only do the opposing forces multiply the height of the waves and their tendency to break, but certain geographical features can also cause dangerous tide rips on a strong ebb. But timing your bar crossing at the right tidal moment can drastically improve the experience.

The key is always to cross a bar on a flood tide-–preferably at the very end of the flood where the water has slowed to almost slack. It’s amazing how very dangerous bar conditions can lay down in a matter of hours with the turn of the tide.
sunrise
So before we left Neah Bay to passage South to the Columbia Bar, I checked both the weather forecast and the current tables repeatedly. I wanted to make sure that we arrived during a favorable tide, AND during the daytime, because crossing an unfamiliar bar at night would be unthinkably imprudent in my mind. Luckily, we had a tide flooding until about 3pm that day, very light swell coming from the West, and only a hint of Northwest breeze. Ideal conditions for crossing. We calculated how long it would take us to sail the 145 miles in light wind, and departed from Neah Bay right on time.

Using the Coast Guard as an information resource is another important step in preparing to cross a bar. As dawn arrived and we started making our way towards the mouth of the Columbia River, I switched on the radio and started receiving periodical bar condition reports from the Coast Guard. All along the coast, the different USCG stations broadcast bar reports regularly–-and if you don’t hear one you can always call them for the current report. They provide up-to-date conditions on the bar, sometimes even breaking it down into particular sections (for example: the North main channel has breakers 4-6 feet, the South outer channel 1-3 ft). Luckily for us, as we approached the Columbia, conditions at sea were almost glass calm, and there were 4-6ft waves reported in the main channel over the bar.

You don’t know how big a wave really is until you’re on top of it. Viewed from behind, rolling waves look a whole lot smaller than they do from the breaking side. No matter how calm the conditions appear, it’s important to prepare your boat for strong forces and rough seas when crossing a bar. Secure everything down below and make sure deck-stowed gear and anchors are lashed down tightly. Everyone should be on deck, wearing PFDs, and preferably clipped in to the boat on tethers and jacklines. We had little to do to prepare Velella for the bar crossing because everything was already stowed securely for passage at sea, but we clipped ourselves in to strong padeyes in the cockpit for good measure.

One of the major causes of boats foundering on a bar is engine failure. It’s not just Murphy’s law that would cause a motor to quit just when you need it most. What often happens as you pass through the turbulent waters over the bar is that gunk sitting on the bottom of your fuel tank gets churned up and sucked through the lines, choking the engine. Or, the extra work the engine has to do to get over the rough bar waters uses up much more fuel that you’d expect, so people run out of gas! Then you’re left adrift right on top of the worst part of the bar, and good luck getting your filters changed and lines bled before your boat gets sucked sideways in the currents. We had planned for this, and brought an extra jerry jug of fuel, which we topped off our tank with before entering the channel. We also changed our fuel filters out for clean ones, just to be safe. And lastly, we kept up our main sail while going through the channel, because a sailboat is still under control if its engine dies–-as long as its sails are up!
harbor
Our preparation paid off in the end, because crossing that big bad bar turned out to be a cakewalk. As we passed over Clatsop Spit and rounded the corner towards the port of Astoria, the breeze filled in from dead behind and we unfurled the genoa into a beautiful wing-on-wing run. So, contrary to my fears of becoming “trapped” in the Columbia, I think we’ll be able to easily slip over that bar again soon, and point our bow South once again.

Voyaging with Velella: Rite of Passage (Part 1)

Category : American Sailing Association, Sailboats, Weather

sailing puget soundContinuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Harvey. Meghan and her husband Prescott have been cruising aboard their boat Velella for the past 8 months, first in Mexico and now in the Pacific Northwest.

Almost two years ago, we left Seattle tentatively on a boat we barely knew. We had spent weeks and months preparing for our big voyage–-going over everything with a fine toothed comb, packing and repacking, whittling away at our big Excel sheet of to-dos. For 8 weeks, I studied navigation and trained to get my Captain’s license. We serviced all the fire extinguishers and the life raft, we installed lazy jacks and solar panels, hired a weather route to help us interpret our best window, and had all sorts of support as we left town on a foggy morning in August, having no idea (but some very vivid dreams) about what we were getting ourselves into.

Last week, we arrived again at departure day, from the same marina in Seattle, on the same boat. This time, we simply bought a copy of this year’s current and tide tables, picked up a few bags of fresh food, and slipped our lines. No losing sleep several nights in advance, no libations and pleas to Neptune, and no wondering what was around the corner.

What was around the corner was the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and I knew it well. The first time we’d fought our way out to the Pacific Ocean had almost convinced me that I’d made a grave mistake in choosing to buy a boat and live on it. As we pulled anchor on a lovely morning in Port Townsend this time, my stomach tightened in anticipation of what I knew to be a very challenging 90-mile entry-way to the Pacific Ocean. I was mentally prepared for disorganized wave chop, relentless seasickness, pathetic speed against the strong currents, and longer night watches because this time we didn’t have a third crew member with us to share the load. I was nervous about the exhaustion that I knew the Strait would induce, but I was expecting it this time around. Sailors ruefully call it the Strait of Juan de Puke-ah.

The current was with us as we nosed into the East entrance to the Strait this time, and the early morning wind was light and variable. We motored on glass-flat water at 7.5 knots, and I couldn’t believe our luck. I actually didn’t trust it at all, because I knew that when afternoon rolled around and the sea breeze started funneling towards us over the opposing ebb current, we’d be sailing in a washing machine. So, while the morning weather was still mild, we knocked off about 30 miles and pulled into Port Angeles at noon. No sooner had we tied up than the wind started whipping through the marina, and I enjoyed a thick cup of coffee with relish and self-congratulations at making the right call to pull in early.

The next morning, we did it again–-arose with the ebb that would carry us West, hoping to make as much way as possible before the westerly wind set in against us. This time, though, the wind rose earlier than we’d hoped, and dark clouds congregated in our path. Par for the course, I thought. I could see sheets of rain ahead, and I knew that our ebb tide was about to turn to flood in a couple of hours, making everything more of a slog. The clouds were moving fast, and I had heard radio reports that foretold a cold front. Cold fronts are more furious than warm ones, but they’re also quicker passing. As I zipped my foulies to the chin, stuffed handwarmers into my gloves, and put on a yellow sou’wester hat, I decided that I would like to handle this weather snarl like the salt I am now, rather than the trembling newbie I was two years ago.
sunset over neah bay
On the leading edge of the front, the winds picked up suddenly, and rain fell in pinprick waves across our uncovered cockpit. Visibility dropped rapidly and the tanker that had been abeam of us only 2 miles off disappeared in the mist. Prescott flipped on the radar and I braced myself against the cockpit sole as we pressed on through it. Something about the look of the clouds and behavior of the winds around them told me this wasn’t going to last long. Sure enough, after the first onslaught, the dark clouds rose slightly and became a little lighter. The wind eased ever so little, and the rain stopped. We emerged about 2 hours later into sun-pierced afternoon mist, and I could see the line of clouds storming east into the Puget Sound. Ahead, out over the Pacific Ocean, the sky winked with patches of baby blue sky.
sunset over water and sailboat
We reached Neah Bay, the farthest West you can go before turning South, and dropped our anchor in a bay drenched in sunset. We still had the Washington coast to transit before reaching Oregon, but Juan de Fuca was behind us, and we’d walked through the squalls gracefully. We enjoyed a dignified bottle of wine on the hook, as all good sailors should be able to do after a passage, and fell asleep soundly, trusting our anchor completely, and trusting our ability to handle the next leg of our journey. My dreams that night were laced with visions of rounding Cape Flattery proudly for a second time, savoring our last offshore night watch, and crossing the notorious Columbia River Bar–the final high hurdle in our seamanship exam.

[to be continued!]

Out of Office: Communication Options for Cruisers

Category : American Sailing Association, Equipment, Social Media, Weather

wiring SSB radioWe’ve received a number of reader questions about internet access at sea. This guest blog by ASA cruising expert Meghan Harvey has the answers!

Lots of people preparing to go cruising wonder what their options are to stay connected. Gone are the days of truly intrepid adventurers who simply cast off, never to be heard from for months until they land on some island with a payphone somewhere in the Pacific. Most mothers nowadays—or fathers, girlfriends, siblings, friends, or kids—might be okay with you going cruising, but expect you not to just fall off the face of the continent! Even if you’re the solitary type who would want to sail away to blue nothingness, most people want to have a line back to their loved ones.

Internet technology continues to change, but currently there are several ways that cruisers access the internet while globetrotting.

First, the old-fashioned coffee-shop method. It takes some getting used to not to have the internet at your fingertips right at home, but if you’re going cruising, do consider this option. Especially if you’re cruising internationally, where personal internet connections are less frequent, wifi coffee shops abound in almost every port. I was shocked to find wifi cafes even in the most remote stretches on the Mexican coastline. You will have frequent and inexpensive opportunities to connect to the internet while cruising, even if you don’t purchase any additional gear for your boat.
prescott working remotely
Another popular internet source while cruising is a wireless internet card. Offered by many cell phone providers, this little USB device wirelessly taps into cell phone networks and allows full internet access from your computer. What’s great about these things is that they’re very small—about the size of a flash drive, and they are relatively inexpensive. Most companies charge a fee for the card itself ($75-150, usually), and then either a monthly fee for a set amount of gigabytes, or prepaid chunks of gigs. For example, in the US, we pay about $50/month for internet via Sprint’s “aircard” (with a limit of 5 GB); in Mexico, we purchased a Telcel card and bought 3GB prepaid chunks for about $30USD. If you’re planning to cruise in a single country for awhile, the wireless internet card is a practical purchase, which many cruisers prefer. Note: Since these cards run off of cell networks, you will not get service very far offshore, or even in some remote anchorages. However, we got service at anchor about 70% of the time in the Sea of Cortez and Mainland Mexico. Most companies have coverage charts that you can check out before buying.

A third option, which is quite uncommon in the cruising crowd in our experience, is satellite internet. With virtually worldwide coverage, satellite internet gives you broadband internet anywhere—even in the middle of the Pacific. However, because this option is quite pricey, it’s not a common choice for cruisers. If you are interested in looking into it, try contacting the provider Inmarsat Fleet Broadband.

Other Communication Options
installing ssb through hull
But, do you really want to be checking Facebook while you’re at sea? I can answer that for you—NO, you don’t. (Well, maybe just the ASA page. -Ed.) You’re going off the grid, checking out, sailing away! As soon as you go, your priorities will change, and you’ll have a lot more time for exploring if you aren’t connected to the internet while cruising. Besides, the internet is not the only way to get weather reports and stay in contact at sea. These are both important things to have access to, and right now there are two great solutions available.

An SSB radio, paired with a Pactor Modem, is almost one-stop-shopping for your communication needs onboard. Though the purchase of the equipment and installation is a factor in terms of cost, the service itself is free. The SSB radio is a long-range communication tool, letting you tap in to professional weather nets multiple times daily. The Pactor Modem connects the radio to your laptop computer, allowing you to request and receive weather files to your computer via radio. In addition to weather files, you can send and receive text-based emails (sadly, no photos though) via the downloadable Sailmail program. It’s magic; I don’t really understand how it works, but it’s awesome. Of course, with a long-range radio, you can also keep in close contact with other cruisers as you make passages together, and become involved in the ever-amusing daily cruisers’ social nets. Note: transmitting via radio is verrrrry slow—think dial-up internet from the 90s speed. But thankfully, you’ll have plenty of time.
prescott and nessie wiring
Rather than the installation hassle of an SSB radio, some cruisers choose to purchase a satellite phone and modem. While you can’t get on the cruisers’ and weather nets this way, you can make a phone call to your onshore weather router (or your parents), and you can also use the modem to download weather files to your computer. My understanding is that you can send email via sat phone and modem as well, though I’ve personally never used this setup. While the initial cost is cheaper than an SSB radio (around $1000 for the phone vs. around $3000 for the SSB setup), sat phones charge users by the minute (often around $1.50/minute). Check with providers Iridium or Globalstar for current phone prices and minute rates.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the SPOT Tracker (~$150), which we use on Velella to track our progress via GPS points on an online map. It can’t send email or make phone calls, but it can send a pre-programmed message from anywhere in the world that “All is well aboard” or whatever you want it to say, along with your precise position on a Google map. When you’re at sea, and in the absence of any other form of contact, it may be just what the folks back home need.

Now, go put up your virtual “Gone Cruising” message and cast off already!

Two Cool Videos for Sailors

Category : American Sailing Association, Elearn, Members, Sailboats, Social Media, Weather

bahamas
A couple of videos ASA sailors should see this week:

#1

Our latest advanced sailing tip produced in cooperation with Forespar Sailing. See this video and plenty more in July’s online “Sailing with Style” magazine.

#2

Now this is cool. All sailors have to be keen observers of the sky (night and day) and the shifts in weather conditions. Clouds, wind direction, and color are all critical in sailing and learning to sail. Here they are on spectacular display in Spain’s Canary Islands.

“Every man needs to find a peak, a mountain top or a remote island of his own choosing that he reaches under his own power alone in his own good time.” – Alain Gerbault, In Quest of the Sun

El Cielo de Canarias / Canary sky – Tenerife from Daniel López on Vimeo.

Keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter for even more videos, tips, news, etc.!

Voyaging with Velella: Hitched!

Category : American Sailing Association, Weather

Continuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Harvey. Meghan and her husband Prescott have been cruising aboard their boat Velella for the past 8 months, and are now taking a honeymoon sail in the San Juan Islands.

Sitting here on Velella this morning in the fog, drinking my coffee “blonde and bitter” like usual, and checking the tides to determine our best time of departure, it’s hard to believe that just last weekend we were tying the knot. I mean, THE king of all knots.

For weeks leading up to our wedding day, the weather was PERFECT. The intense yellow and pale pink wildflowers faded in May but were replaced by carpets of purple lupines, starlike bachelor’s buttons, and feathery queen anne’s lace as our wedding day drew near. We kept congratulating ourselves for choosing the most idyllic time of year in the Columbia Gorge–the grass was still bright green, rippled by the warm June wind, and the tree buds burst open into shady canopies just in time–it was a fairytale setting. Still, forced by habit, I checked NOAA’s weather forecasts and our own SSB GRIB files daily, just to make sure we had a good weather window for wedding day.

Of course, on the morning of June 18th, I woke up to heavy-hanging clouds and rain pelting the huge windows of the house we had rented for the wedding party to share. My wonderful bridesmaids flitted about and distracted me with hot coffee in bed, and everyone seemed a bit nervous about whether I would become bridezilla on account of the weather. We piled into cars and headed out to get manicures, chatting over the sound of squeaky wiper blades.

As we came out of the manicure salon in a downpour, I thought, I met this boy in the rain, fell in love with him in the rain, sailed with him unprotected from the driving rain!–this is romantic too. Plus, life on a sailboat has really driven home that weather is truly and completely outside of my control, so there’s no use worrying about it. So, I didn’t. Instead, I took a jacuzzi bath with a mimosa.

Anyway, as you can see by the pictures, the sun won out, wiped away any trace of dampness, and crowned the afternoon with the most glorious light. Ceremony time crept closer and the guests started to arrive. The rest went by so fast, I felt like I was barely there. But as we get underway on Velella again today, certain words from our ceremony still ring in my mind:

“Up until now, your commitment to one another has been incredibly full of adventure. You were both free to step off at any moment, but you didn’t. Now, in preparing for your next adventure, you agree that this outstanding partnership will outlast all adventures. This journey is for life.”

It was a long time ago that we left this very slip in Seattle, headed out on an adventure that would last almost three years. That morning I was up at 4:30am, my hands shook when I untied the cleats, my heartbeat was loud in my chest as we backed out of the slip and the bow rose past the breakwater. Everything about departing on our first major voyage was terrifying and unknown. But this time, it couldn’t feel more different. We have thousands of miles beneath our steady keel. This boat is our comfortable home. My first mate is now my mate for life.

I couldn’t think of a better way for us to spend our first weeks of marriage than at sea together again, retracing our very first steps of our first adventure, while beginning another one. It’s the same, but very different.

Traditions in Launching Spring Sailing Season

Category : American Sailing Association, Sailboats, Social Media, Weather

Sailors are a superstitious lot. We don’t just hop on a boat and cast off–certain rituals must be observed. Most of these are simple: Don’t leave on a Friday for a long passage, don’t whistle on board, always wear a certain lucky garment, etc. Some of them are practical. For example, a boat needs to be thoroughly inspected and maintained before it is sailed, and of course the people handling the boat need to have quality sailing training.

And then, once in a while we go in for something a little more elaborate. At the launch of a new sailing season, many people take some time to mark the occasion in a special way. One tradition that goes back centuries is the Blessing of the Fleet. This practice began in the predominantly Catholic fishing villages of the Mediterranean Sea, where a priest would say a blessing over the town’s fishing fleet in hopes of a prosperous season. Immigrants from Europe brought this idea to America, and over time it has grown to be a less denominational ritual and more of a festival or pageant, featuring  a number of odd and interesting performers.

Some notable annual “Blessing of the Fleet” events in the U.S. are:

  • Darien, Georgia. This small town near the Atlantic coast throws a 3 day festival complete with a 5k River Run and country singer Rhett Akins performing his hit song “I Brake for Brunettes.”
  • St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where they’ll have a reptile house and a “comedy magician.”
  • On March 13, sailors in both Detroit, MI gathered at Mariner’s Church, built in 1842 and formerly a mission for sailors, stop on the Underground Railroad, post office, bank and grocery store.

I asked some of our members what they did to celebrate the start of spring sailing, and “margaritas on the waterfront” was a popular answer, while others had small lucky rituals. Did you, or are you planning to, attend a Blessing of the Fleet or some other kind of celebration? Do you have your own way of getting ready for spring sailing? Leave us a comment.

Also, make sure to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. This month’s social media photo contest theme is going to be “Spring Launch.” You could submit a snapshot of your first sail of the season, getting together with some friend to see the boats off, or (if you’re unlucky) shoveling snow off of your boat. However the start of sailing season looks to you, we want to see it.

Pacific Tsunami — News, Updates, and How to Help

Category : American Sailing Association, Safety, Social Media, Weather

tsunami noaa
Those of us in the United States woke this morning to hear about a massive and devastating tsunami in Japan, the result of a powerful 8.9 earthquake off of the country’s northeast coast. At ASA our prayers are with the families of those who have been killed and hoping for the continued safety of the survivors.

Damage has also been reported in Hawaii and the West Coast of the US; mostly boats and docks hit by the surge. Boats that moved out to sea were unharmed. Beaches and piers are closed due to strong undertow and currents.

Here are some key places to get information about what’s going on:

I’ll be updating our Facebook and Twitter pages as there are new developments.

Youtube is compiling eyewitness footage that you can find here, and this video will give you an idea of the magnitude:

London newspaper the Guardian also has aerial footage of the surge that must be seen to be believed.

The Weather Channel is posting constant live updates.


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can visit the Red Cross and make a donation to their relief fund.

Please feel free to comment, discuss and share information.

Voyaging with Velella: Entrance Exam

Category : American Sailing Association, Sailboats, Social Media, Weather

velella in sea of cortezContinuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

Last week, after over three months living on the lush tropical coast of mainland Mexico, it felt strange to be leaving it for good. We spent a couple of nights sleeping soundly in the gloriously still estuary at San Blas, surrounded by complete peace.

The morning of our departure was hazy; the water still as glass, broken only by pelicans. The sails hung like rags and we drifted. Finally, we decided to make some way by motor, and proceeded under power through the silent night, under a full moon reflected perfectly in the mirrorlike surface of the quiet ocean. We knew that strong north winds were coming, so we inched our way as far north along our course as possible, knowing that once the wind came up we could fall off on a starboard tack and have a better shot at making our northwesterly course across the Sea of Cortez.

Come morning, weather forecasts made it clear that we were going to get some substantial wind howling down the Sea, then it would let up for 48 hours, then howl through again. Instead of trying to hustle up across the 300 mile expanse before the wind arrived, we prudently slowed down, trying to pace ourselves so that we started crossing right when the wind let up.

Despite our best efforts, what might have been a three-day passage in good conditions turned into an almost six-day slog in less-than-good conditions. We had tried to maximize our best weather window, but the reality was that the window was a rather small moving target. So we buckled down, tucked in a couple reefs, and nosed our way into the heavy chop that often builds in the southern crossing of the Sea of Cortez.
handling sail
The first days, much like those on any passage, were uncomfortable. We knocked around the cabin, spilled things as the boat lurched, felt thick in the head most of the time, and acutely queasy whenever we would go below. Forcing our bodies into a six-hour night watch rotation (mine began at 2am and lasted until 8am) made us perpetually tired.

It was almost comical how each day we calculated optimistically that we could close the rest of the distance by the next morning. Then the wind would veer or strengthen and put us just enough off course to really put the kibosh on those plans.

There wasn’t a lot of point in becoming demoralized about how long we had left to go, because there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. We stopped miserably eating crackers and began to make the most of our floating world.

Beneath us, the deep water foretold a dramatic change in scenery waiting for us on the other side. The water near the mainland was murky and moody, often affected by red tides that stained the entire coast.
clear waters
But by the middle of the sea we’d left all that behind and cruised across deep clear blue, tinged with turquoise when the sun hit it at an afternoon slant. The closer we got to Baja, the more vibrant the water became, until finally one morning at sunrise the huge dry mountain ranges of Baja stood up in stark contrast to the drinkably clear Sea of Cortez lapping at its beaches.

Sighting landfall is always a cruel mind trick. You think, “There it is! We’re so close to dropping the hook and sleeping for as long as we want!” But usually it takes almost another day or more to reach anchorage after sighting land from sea. And this passage was no different; we still had almost 24 grueling hours between us and our protected little bay.

That morning the sea had flattened out and the wind, though on the nose and fresh, was manageable. As we approached the coast, I eyed the notorious Cerralvo Channel on the chart warily. The 16-mile-long Isla Cerralvo lies parallel with the Baja shoreline; in order to reach La Paz, we would have to sail all the way up this channel, then turn left and head down into La Paz bay. The problem is, this channel is perfectly arranged to act as a wind tunnel for any prevailing wind. Pile a squeezed tidal current on top of the accelerated winds, and you have a nice recipe for a rough passage that could very well last all day.

As it turned out, we arrived at the mouth of the channel just after the afternoon winds had reliably built to their peak for the day, and on a strong opposing tide. Whereas any other day we may have scrapped it and pulled into an anchorage south of the channel to wait out more favorable conditions, we needed to make it into La Paz before the forecasted Norther was going to hit the following day; we had friends coming to visit and didn’t want to get stuck on the other side of the peninsula due to weather. We were between a rock and a hard place.
safe harbor
As we inched our way up the narrow mouth of the channel at a speed of 2 knots per hour, we were pleased by how well Velella was able to hold her course, and how well we were feeling despite the extreme turbulence. I realized elatedly that I was even still able to read my book without getting sick: I had bona fide sea legs! So we bashed through steep chop, our bow rising and falling at 45-degree angles, and had a decent time of it. Later in the evening as the channel widened to the north, the chop subsided and I was able to sleep for a couple hours.

When I awoke, the moon had not yet risen and the night sky was deeply black. Large dark hulks of unlit land surrounded us, with no light loom anywhere in sight. We screamed along at 6 knots completely blinded by the night, headed for our ever-nearer anchorage waypoint. Finally at 1am, we reached the bay and could just make out a white sliver of beach running around its edge.

As we dropped the hook for the first time in a week, I felt like we’d accomplished something. We’d never been sailing that long before—but if we can do one week here, we can do three weeks on the way to Hawaii. The Sea of Cortez just gave us a little entrance exam: we passed.

Velella is safely at anchor in La Paz and getting some well deserved rest:

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