Wednesday, September 30, 2009

For My Next Hurricane

Holding the Middle
Holding the Middle
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
As part of the recovery process from Hurricane Jimena, I made it a point to interview my fellow crew and captains as to what worked and what didn’t work. While the consensus was, “No mas hurricano” never again... get the hell out of dodge... there were also many ideas of how to improve the odds for the next one. Just in case. While there are books written on this subject, it never hurts to talk to the people who just lived through a big storm.

Unfortunately, I conducted most of these interviews during the Grace e deos/Soccer party the day after the second time Jimena hit us. The following are the ideas and suggestions I can remember:

More Fenders Everyone wanted more fenders. If you don’t use them, someone else can. Also, fenders need to be blown up so a fender-blower-upper.

More Lines Everyone also wanted at least one more line. Everyone. Little docklines good for tying up to a fuel dock are just not going to prove helpful in a big storm. Get 1” line and store it dry and safe somewhere, ready for a storm. Have at least one, and preferably two pieces of anchor road that are at least 150’ long so that you can run lines a long distance. Four boats in Santa Rosalia had to run multiple lines over 100 feet to a far side breakwater. These lines were critical to keeping those boats from smashing the docks during the storm.

Don Quixote’s Strap More than one captain asked me were we got our 300 feet of 3 inch cargo strap. I’ll write a tech tip about how this worked and why.

Alex’s Telcel It was fantastic downloading the latest radar and weather over Maitairoa’s 3G Telcel. Yes, you can get this information over your SSB, but the SSB requires huge bandwidth and doesn’t work so well when there is a lot of electricity in the air. The Telcel modem plugged into Alex’s notebook, used almost no power, and worked all the way through the storm.

Prepare Food for a Passage Treat the storm as a passage when it comes to the galley. Have meals prepared in advance, snacks ready to deliver whenever tired crew come in. Always have hot water ready for coffee, tea, soup, and chocolate.

Clean Everything Before It Hits It is quite possible that boats in Santa Rosalia will not be allowed to do laundry for over four weeks. Make sure all your sheets and towels and clothes are clean in advance.

Get Cash After the storm, no one can take credit cards and the ATM machines are not functional because the phones and power are out. Make sure that you stock up on a substantial amount of cash, preferably in small bills.

Take Your Meclizine If you are prone to sea sickness, you are going to get sick on the dock from the movement during a big storm. Take counter measures in advance.

Manning the Lines
Manning the Lines
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Attend the Boat This came as two recommendations: if you can, be near your boat where you can attend the lines, anchor points, and fenders yourself. Boats in other hard hit locations such as Escondido and San Carlos report that attended boats survived, unattended boats broke moorings, drug anchor, or smashed on docks. Staying in a marina with a dedicated, hard working dock crew helps enormously. The boat captains at Santa Rosalia could not say enough positive things about Escaula Nautical Singlar, her staff -- particularly Arturo and Alfonzo -- and her management. Harbormaster Carlos and his team were impressive, courageous, and critical to the survival of the boats in that harbor.

* *

I know quite a few of my readers are fellow Sea of Cortez cruisers. While the storm experience is still fresh in your mind, please add comments and suggestions to this post. If I get enough, I’ll compile them for a second round.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jimena (Thursday, 7 PM): She’s Back

Setting Them Again
Setting Them Again
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
ji men' a, adj. unpredictable, changeable, likely to change course quickly. EG: A jimena driver just cut in front of me to get to the exit four lanes over!

I hate this storm. I HATE THIS STORM. She’s coming back. The cruisers who listen to Don Anderson and monitor these things just got done listening to the latest updates and checking EEBMike for the weather forecasts. After squatting on top of us for hours, Jimena apparently drifted over to Isla Tiberon, parked again and proceeded to beat the crap out of San Carlos and Guaymas. We are only beginning to hear how bad it was over there. In the meantime, she’s turned around and started heading back over the sea towards us.

The good news is that apparently Jimena has been downgraded. Instead of 90 from the east, we can anticipate 40 to 50 from the north west and south west. There are a lot of reasons why this is a considerable relief, not the least of which is that we won’t face nearly the fetch or swell coming into the harbor, and both the hills and large marina buildings to the west should go a long way towards protecting us. But the forecast is for a great deal mas agua.

I do not understand how this city can withstand any more rain. Frankly, I don’t really know how we’ll stand more rough weather ourselves. Everyone is so tired. The gear is in incredibly bad shape, though I guess we can be thankful that we were all way too tired today to take any of it down. With few exceptions, the fenders are destroyed. All the boats are on their last lines. Another problem we face is that it’s much harder to run off side breakwater lines to the north. During the storm, Ballina nearly pulled out the one piling we had run over to the Navy pier. I’m not sure they are going to be particularly excited about us running another one.

We got the news just as I was serving dinner. Joanna has been doing most of the cooking, while Don Quixote has taken the lion’s share of the hosting. We decided to feed the children and then hustle them back off the boats and into the ladyies’ bathrooms. Of course, the only two tasks I managed to get my poor tired body to accomplish today was to wash the cat laundry and to move everything we owned back on to the boat. Reversing the process just so we can get run over by Jimena a second time adds insult to injury. I resent this storm deeply.

CONTINUED (Thursday, 12PM): Rain Rain Go Away

Adios Jimena
Adios Jimena
Originally uploaded by svmaitairoa.
Squalls have been passing through all evening as the bands of Jimena move over us. However, so far we have not seen winds any greater than 25. The rain is steady, sometimes heavy but mostly a light drizzle. Unless Jimena is still parked in the middle of the sea, we may be done. With all the lines strung on the boats and dock, we could sit through 25 to 30 knots squalls until hell freezes over.

Here’s to sincerely hoping bitch Jimena is dead.

CONTINUED (Friday, 2AM): Stick a Fork in Me

I can’t sleep on the floor of the bathroom any more. There is hard, rock hard, diamond hard, and this bathroom floor. Joanna appears knocked unconscious at the entrance so the kids won’t panic if they wake up and find me gone. I’m taking the cat home. If Jimena decides to throw up another temper tantrum over my head, she better be ready with some serious winds. It’ll take another Cat 2 to wake me up.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jimena (Thursday, 9 AM): After the Storm

Going Down
Going Down
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
After a few hours of exhausted sleep, we emerged this morning to a wet overcast world. Only the truly bold are leaving the marina. When I go to the upper story and look out, the streets are a sea of mud as far as the eye can see. The surf is still pounding on a shore transformed with debris, driftwood, and boulders mounded 15 feet high and 20 feet deep. The bus station next to us is awash in mud, vehicles smashed into one another.

But all the boats are still here. In fact, with few exceptions, the boats sustained no major damage. The marina itself is clean, washed by over a foot of rainfall of even its usual patina of dust and bird shit. We feel like a clean island in a sea of sticky dark mud.

Don Quixote is untouched. I can hardly believe it. I’ve checked each line, each fender. I’ve looked in the bilge and started the engines. No damage. It almost seems selfish to feel so gleeful, but we’re here. We’re afloat. We’re okay. Well, we’re wet. All three cabin hatches leaked, and we had water pouring in through the port winch as well as in the port front hatch. I caught a good fraction of it in bowls or buckets and the rest is drying rapidly. We should be able to move back on tonight, sleep in our own beds for the first time in nearly two months.

Ironically, the worst damage we sustained during the storm was self-inflicted. Leaving Dulci on the boat the first few hours of the storm was a mistake. She was pissed. She elected to graphically display her displeasure by enacting out the word ‘piss’ on my bed -- an act this cat absolutely never engages in so there is no question of chalking it up to an accident or poor training. I can see her peeing and then dancing on it in a vengeful rage to ensure it would soak all the way through to the mattress. Two blankets, two sheets, two mattress pads thoroughly soaked in cat urine, and a promise from the harbor master that there is no water to the docks for at least 4 weeks, no laundry for the same. In desperation, I went out and caught two large buckets of rain water, filled one with soap and bleach, and started the process of detoxifying the vile mess. For the first rinse, I laid the bedding out flat on the marina patio and let the rain just soak on it for an hour.

Alex of Maitairoa and his wife walked into town this morning. Their pictures convinced me that the girls and I will not do so. Mud everywhere, houses and cars buried, favorite spots, tiendas, and stands simply gone. We understand that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, have lost their homes. It is hard to know how these people will recover, though the evidence of their capacity for doing so surrounds us. A crowd of men descended on the marina parking lot this morning, many half covered in mud from their walk through town. They clambered up on to the earth moving equipment parked here the night before the storm and headed out. It’s only mid-day, and Highway 1 through Rosalia is already clear enough for large equipment and 4-wheel drive, emergency vehicles.

I took the children for a short walk one block to the south. It is too dangerous and the mud far too deep to take them north into town. The drifts of mud are roughly six feet high in that direction. To the south, however, a decorative berm rises high enough above the highway to be clear of mud. We used the walk to talk about hurricanes: what they do to the landscape, how wave action undermines buildings, the sources of landslides, how fast objects can move in a 90 mile per hour wind, how a beach ecosystem changes due to hurricanes and how the shoreline is modifying permanently. We examined pieces of metal thrown from buildings at high speed and embedded in trees, walls and mud. At this point, the kids started looking a bit ashamed of themselves -- and rightfully so. I can’t tell you how many times Joanna had to yell at the kids when they tried to slip outside to ‘look at the storm.’ We also made lists of things required for disaster preparedness: water, food, shovels, gloves, money, wood.

The children were very creative, very thoughtful in their answers. The five of them have been through an amazing experience. It is clear their understanding of how to prepare themselves for a similar event has grown exponentially and in ways that even the littlest -- Aeron and Skylar -- will not likely forget. These are not children who will fail to have an earthquake bag or an emergency medical kit.They have a profound respect for the power of wind and rain now and are probably the only children in Santa Rosalia not dancing in their bare feet in the mud. You only need see one piece of rusted metal poking out of the mud to know that bare feet are a bad idea in this environment.

Breakfast After the Hurricane
Breakfast After the Hurricane
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I am watching them very carefully, however. There was no crying, no wailing, no fear during the storm. My three girls spent their time reading, playing, and watching movies. Only at the peak when Steve and I were at our personal nadir did the storm seem to touch a core fear. But it’s in their eyes. Mera isn’t smiling. Her new composition -- Lull-A-Bye for A Hurricane -- is haunting, slow and sad and eerie. She plays it almost obsessively which drives Aeron out out out of the house in her own expression of frustration and fear. I can’t get Aeron to stop moving. Not to eat, not to change into clean clothes, not to watch a movie or read a book. The child whirls around the marina like a small, blonde tornado. Right now she is squeegy-ing the plaza, pushing water from the cold room all the way to to breakwater and shouting with pleasure as it pours down the wall. At some point, the crash will come. It will hit them.

I haven’t cried yet either. It will hit me, too. Not yet, however, and until it does, I have a lot of work to do. I think I’ll go find another sqeegy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Intermission -- Almost Done With Hurricane Thoughts

Okay, folks. I think there are only two more of these flashback posts, a couple of "what I learned during the hurricane" musings, and we're done with this. I just want to reassure readers that after motoring up to Bahia de Los Angeles, dropping the hook, and vegetating for two weeks, the girls and I have largely recovered mentally and physically. We've been watching the weather, but so far so good. Nothing else swirling up to hit us on the back of the head.

In other words, the family isn't dwelling... just my blogger queue. Since I still receive quite a bit of email each time one is published regarding ideas and thoughts from other people who have been through similar circumstances, I'll just let the content continue to stream out for the next week or so.

It's hot up here, but today a nice breeze has set up so I think I'll make Aeron pineapple upside down cake for her birthday. Mmm... pineapple upside down cake.

Jimena (Thursday, 1 AM): I Don’t Understand

We're Still Afloat
We're Still Afloat
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Between 11PM and midnight, the storm just stopped. I don’t know exactly when. With no access to the Internet or SSB, we have no idea why the wind is gone. For an hour, we have been waiting on the dock or near the entrance to the bathrooms, ready for more. Now one by one, the boat crews and dock hands are allowing for the possibility that we are done. Someone will swing by the bathroom to check on us or to grab a bit to eat, exchange the forecast, and then admit that they are going to bed.

I made a quick check of the boat. In the stygian dark, she appears unscathed. I find this difficult to believe. Only a few hours ago, there was little question in my mind that we were going to lose her. Now as I empty pots and buckets and wipe down the floor, I marvel that the books are still on the shelves. The seas remain a roiling, boiling herky jerky, bouncing nightmare oddly more disturbing now that the wind and rain have vanished. I tumbled in the cabin and bruised my shoulder against the lockers while gathering extra bedding. There is no question of taking the children back to the boat tonight.

I would like to blame the incredibly hard bathroom floor for my insomnia, but I suspect the problem is mental instability. Monday night saw my family on a 16 hour bus trip from Tijuana to Santa Rosalia. Tuesday night I went to bed exhausted and worried about the coming hurricane only to be awakened at 3 AM by a phenomenally fierce, albeit short-lived chubasco. Since dawn I’ve been working outside in the storm or sitting with the children attempting to hold the center together. I spent most of that time soaked to the skin. Sheer physical exhaustion, lack of sleep, and the two beers coursing through my system should combine to knock me catatonic and instead here I sit in a hard plastic chair with a Tecate logo writing by the light of a dim LED. Maybe I have just forgotten how to relax. Maybe the sheer intensity of these three days has been such that my mind doesn’t know how to stop pick pick picking.

Toast After the Hurricane
Toast After the Hurricane
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I don’t understand it. I didn’t understand the ridiculously confused forecasts as Jimena moved from Cabo up the Pacific coast. It was bewildering to watch it repeatedly defy all predictions and models as it veered with almost sentient glee towards the most populous ports on the northern Sea of Cortez. It was impossible to get our heads around the ferocity of the wind even as it knocked us over on the docks and nearly sent us into the waters of the harbor. We were taken completely by surprise when the wind tunnel and deluge abruptly stopped, and now I just can’t get my head around the notion that it might be gone. I keep waiting for the other half, the part where the wind clocks around 180 degrees, and we do it all over again in reverse.

They tell me this is not what is going to happen. Alex pulled down a radar and track from EEBMike showing Jimena is on her way to Guaymas. What is left of my educated, rational self believes him, but my monkey brain is still jumping up and down, screaming and throwing shit at the wall. Monkey brain needs to shut up and eat the oranges.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Jimena (Wednesday, Midnight): The Sky is Falling

The Sky is Falling
The Sky is Falling
Originally uploaded by svmaitairoa.
In the last hour, we were finally able to settle the children and cats on chairs and tables, small pink, green, and blue islands floating on a one inch sea of rain water. The rain was a stinging horizontal wall outside forcing its way through window sills never designed for more than a light drizzle. To make matters worse, a small leak in the ceiling three stories above us gradually grew to a steady pour of water. Like a tiered alfalfa sprouter, the water accumulated at the top and gradually poured down the sides of the building, collecting in pools on the floor above before running down to the next layer.

Then abruptly, the sky fell on us. The ceiling in the cool room, after soaking up the rain for nearly twelve hours, gave up. Sheets of plaster gave way with a tremendous crash, nearly burying Skylar in sodden chunks of white mud and electrical components. Only a warning pop and her quick movement saved her from serious injury. Abruptly woken from a sound sleep, Aeron was a wreck, crying and almost incoherent. Jaime, Johanna, Steve and I practically catapulted the younger children out of the building and down to the only dry room remaining on the entire property -- the woman’s bathroom. We then returned to quickly gather our gear before the remainder of the ceiling gave way. Food, bedding, clothing, paperwork, and electronics -- all we might have left in the world if the docks give way and which took us hours to move up from the boats the day before -- was moved in less than 10 minutes from the office to the bathrooms.

It's Gone, Right?
It's Gone, Right?
Originally uploaded by svmaitairoa.
It is only now, after we’ve settled the children in the back room on the floor that we can look around and realize that Jimena is gone. Sometime between our Chicken Little act and provisioning a slumber party in the women’s head, the rain and wind stopped as though some fickle sky god flipped a switch. I’m sitting at the entrance to the ladies room sipping a beer with Steve, Joanna and the dock hands waiting for a forecast. This is probably the eye. We probably have hours more to go. But for however long it lasts, we’ll sit here and listen to the drip drip drip as gravity works its will, nerves humming and twitching with adrenaline and exhaustion.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jimena (Wednesday, 9 PM): We’re Losing Her

Steve can’t move. He’s sitting across from me wet to the bone, numb and blank with exhaustion. The wind and rain are a solid vertical wall slamming the office from the east with relentless, violent force. We don’t know if Festima is going to hold. A large motor yacht has worked partially lose and broken the end of the dock across from Ocean Blue. While the crews managed to literally tie the dock to the piling with industrial sized anchor rode, we don’t know how much longer it will hold.

As Steve slowly sips a cup of soup, the details emerge bit by bit. Most of the leeward fenders on the boats abeam of the storm are nothing more than flat chafe guard leaving the boats to beat against the docks with no protection against damage to both boat and pier. The spray and wind are so fierce, we can’t see the breakwater, we can’t see Festima from the main dock. We only know she is still there because we are still here.

The wind is too strong to walk against, the boat crews have largely disappeared into their boats unable to work outside any longer. The monohulls abeam to the wind are heeled over so far some have their leeward rail in the water. For hours, the crews have replaced lines, added chafe gear and fenders. Lillith cobbled together boogie boards when their full set of fenders smashed. Arturo scrambled from slip to slip tightening every dock cleat, every bolt holding this lego set of a dock together. But now they are done. Even the hardiest and most willing soul is hunkered down in the boat, engines on, waiting for the dock to dissolve or the last lines to part. There is absolutely nothing left to be done.

Steve can not talk about it. He is clearly deeply torn. He wants to be on his boat, but at some point in the last half hour, he reached the wall I hit several hours ago. The boat is important, but the children on shore are more important. I can’t help but wonder how this would have played out for the crew of Don Quixote had DrC been here. Would I have spent more time assisting out in the storm, trading off with my husband the care of our children? Or paradoxically, would I have felt any obligation to be out there, instead maintaining the serene supportive calm of Joanna for the children hour after hour while Dean struggled to save our home. And at what point would DrC have been sitting here in this room with the same haunted look I see on Steve’s face now?

We’re losing our homes. Jimena just won’t go away. Stories I’ve read about hurricanes talk about their ferocity, the noise, the wind and the incredible volume of water. But I’ve never read an account of a storm’s height lasting for more than a few hours. It’s late. I don’t know how late, but the storm has been raging with winds at least in the 50s since late morning. Sometime in the last hour, someone turned the wind dial to 11 ratcheting up the speed exponentially and pegging all the wind indicators. We’ll have to wait till tomorrow to know for sure but I think at least 80, maybe more. It’s late. I’m writing by LED, no power left on the computers. We must be approaching midnight. God damn storm must have stalled right over our heads.

As Steve speaks, I can see Mera and Aeron processing the information. Jaime, little Steve, and Skylar are largely oblivious, but my little ones are so sharp, such intelligent, curious and deeply -aware- creatures that they immediately sensed the difference in him when he came into the room this time. I know they are eavesdropping. DrC and I have never tried to protect the children from the harsh reality of the world by blocking their access to information. When a clear picture began to emerge, they came to me and wrapped their arms around me, shook and unhappy. It is time to do my own damage control and start protecting what I have left.

Arturo Resetting Line
Arturo Resetting Line
Originally uploaded by svmaitairoa.
I’m doing my own hunkering down now. Aeron and Mera and I talk about how boat insurance works. We discuss our plans to go to New Zealand anyway and how that will not change if we lose Don Quixote. In fact, we won’t have to worry about finding someone to maintain or charter the boat now while we are gone exploring another part of the world. Mera wants to know the probabilities: losing Don Quixote, getting a job in New Zealand, salvaging more personal things off the boat if she gets smashed up on shore. Aeron wants to know how to translate the probabilities into terms she can get her head around. After absorbing the possibilities and cuddling with me for awhile, they are now dosing off on their bench island.

We are all here. Everything that is important is in this room. Steve kept Ocean Blue and Don Quixote afloat as long as he could, but the bottom line is that I’m glad he’s not out there any more. We’re done. Grace e deos.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Jimena (Wednesday, 7 PM): Tipping Point

It's Getting Ugly
It's Getting Ugly
Originally uploaded by svmaitairoa.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to post this. We just went to the backup generators at the marina and port office. The computer systems and Internet are not on that circuit, naturally. So Internet is down until power comes back. And I can’t go to my boat.

Jimena decided to move directly north, which put Santa Rosalia very much in the path. I’m sitting in the Cool Room with the five children of Don Quixote and Ocean Blue and watching the wind and rain howl. I’d guess the wind speed in the 50’s and we’ve probably seen at least 6 to 10 inches of rain already. The kids have renamed the air conditioned cruiser lounge the Wet Room. The window sills are flooding as is the office above us, and water is pooling on the floor everywhere.

I’m scared. This morning after the first blast I learned graphically where the expression “keep your shit together” must come from. As my stomach cramped and my body rejected dinner, I squeezed my eyes shut tight, took deep breaths, and chanted the phrase which is now my mantra, “We matter, money does not. We matter, money does not.”

Because our boats are getting the crap beaten out of them. Everyone did the best they could, but now we’re essentially helpless in the face of the weather. The storm surge is blasting against the breakwater in 30 foot splashes for all the world like Mickey Mouse on a sorcerian rampage. The boats are bouncing against their lines, children’s toys in the Santa Rosalia bath tub. Everything is jerking and pounding, the wind is screaming and the rain is a stinging deluge. Imagine standing in a shower on the pound-the-hell-out-of-your-shoulders setting. This is the most water-wasteful shower head in the world which alternates massage and sting pellets with a sporadic high pressure open facet.

Santa Rosalia must be a complete disaster. Even what we can see of Highway 1 is a solid wall of mud and water. Occasionally, an emergency vehicle goes by and it’s a wonder it doesn’t simply float away.

Despite the surging waters, the swirling gale, and the incredible bounciness of the boats, the docks are still there and our boats are still afloat, but I don’t know how long that can last. All the captains and most of the boat crews are on the dock, including the port captain and the harbor master. We have several marina staff as well. All told, there are roughly a dozen people manning the docks, the lines, the chafe. Typical of the team, Steve of Ocean Blue can’t bear to spend more than ten minutes at a time away from the boats.

As a group, our single greatest worry is a boat tied to the fuel dock upwind of the marina. We all thought it was a fine place for them, almost completely sheltered in the lee of the breakwater, until we discovered to our horror after the winds had already begun to pick up that the lines and secure fittings on the boat were limited and inadequate. While there is almost no wind at that spot, surge is rolling past s/v Festima Lente’s bow, raising the boat nearly 8 feet on each rolling wall of water and slamming her against the pier. She has snapped every line originally securing her and most of those we’ve desperately thrown over the remnants.

If that boat goes, it takes out all the breakwater lines set by the south side boats, which include Ocean Blue, Rhumb Line, Lillith and Don Quixote. Even if we cut those lines before Festima Lente yanks us off the docks and on to shore, that leaves us with no off side lines to prevent the large, windy catamarans from beating the dock to pieces. Losing this fuel dock boat is simply not an option. After Festima started snapping lines, the rest of the cruisers took over setting an anchor and getting an extremely heavy duty line wrapped around the masts and dock pilings as well as hanging a tire on the side. The crew of all the boats worked like dogs to get that boat set. They continue to work like dogs monitoring the docks, the decks, lines, chafe, movement. Wet, yellow shadows moving in groups of two, three, five where necessary to make sure none of the boats is lost.

Saving Festima Lente
Saving Festima Lente
Originally uploaded by svmaitairoa.
But I’m not one of them. I was. I tried. But now here I am with the children in the safe room. I think I could have stayed out there working, but at some point, I would have needed to have a serious breakdown. I could feel it coming as the wind built and the boat started jerking hard against the lines, bouncing against the dock, twanging the lines holding her to the far pier. I felt the tears starting as I leaned into the spray off the break on my way to the port captain to get line for Festima. However, if I break down, the girls will know. They will see evidence of it on my face, in the redness and puffiness of my eyes. They will know. And what’s holding them together right now is Johanna and I sitting here calmly reading novels.

Every time my breath hitches, terrified at the potential loss of Don Quixote, our cruising lifestyle, and our plans for the future, I remind myself that we matter. These three girls, even this kitty cat by my side. We matter most. I matter more than Don Quixote, and DrC doesn’t want to lose me. So I’m not a heroine today. I’m a mother, I’m scared, and I’m going to sit with my children in relative safety while this hellish wind and rain move slowly past, trusting to the hard, dangerous sacrifice of my fellow cruisers working out there.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Little Editorial Therapy

All Tied Up in Knots
All Tied Up in Knots
Originally uploaded by svmaitairoa.
As many of you are now no doubt aware, Hurricane Jimena hit Santa Rosalia square on. With winds from the east of upwards of 90 knots and an enormous swirling surf, the safety of the boats was by no means certain. The safety of ourselves was by no means certain. Just as I’ve been told that telling a particularly harrowing birth story can make the whole thing easier to put behind a woman, I’ve been using writing to work through my own issues regarding this experience.

I never promised that Toast Floats would be a strictly accurate, autobiographical account of our cruising life. It is probably pretty clear that many of the articles are somewhat fictionalized exaggerations. I take liberties with the order of events, the exact dialog, stretch the truth a bit. I attempt to interweave current, topical bits with stuff I may have written months ago and like to have a least three weeks to two months in the blogger queue in case I can’t get online. And while I enjoy writing the informational articles with tips and ideas on how to cruise, I mostly use Toast Floats as a way to have fun, to explore a style of writing which is the antithesis of the regimented, formulaic composition required of my profession.

However, I’m afraid this time my own needs are going to take precedence over keeping Toast Floats a humor blog. I need to get this stuff out of my system before I feel I can move on or write about anything else. So for the next month or so, I’ll gradually write, edit and reedit the hurricane related content. Most of the content is autobiographical, some a technical post mortem of what worked and didn’t work, much of it serious and a portion of it highly emotional. I thought to mix it with the lighter pieces I drafted while on the road with my family in the United States, but I think I'll just get it over with instead. It’s probably going to be a bit of a slog for long time readers who usually expect a chuckle from their toast-feed.

Please be patient with me. I’m a resilient, irrepressible personality. My mommy told me so. I’ll get back to the fun stuff sooner than even I probably think possible at the moment.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Out the Other Side

It's all good. We'll go back to our regular time shifted blog now. I am borrowing a TelCel connection at the moment so I can't post up a lot of articles. If you don't see anything here for about a week, my apologies. We're doing fine, but I'm having trouble with our SSB and can't use the Internet for posting my usual blog stream.

I encourage you to browse Maitiroa's pictures at: I declined to take many pics myself so some of those will reappear in this blog in the future as I write about our experiences. Alex took pictures before, during and after.

We're putting ourselves and our boat back together. Most of the work is actually recovering from being gone for over a month. As soon as we get all the pieces back aboard in a form where they won't simply rattle apart, we'll head north. You can follow our SPOT track (link on the upper right of this page) as we motor (flee?) north. We have a solid weather window for at least a week, so I'm MOVING. Our buddy kid boats waited the hurricane out in Willard's Bay and barely saw any overcast. -THAT- is where I plan to put us for the next hurricane.

Thank you again for all the comments, emails, Facewall posts, prayers, and support. It means a great deal to us.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Jimena (Thursday, 8PM): It's Just SITTING There

After spending nearly 11 hours beating the hell out of Santa Rosalia, Jimena headed out to sea towards Isla Tiberon. On arrival, the storm parked itself and spun around inflicting a similar hell on San Carlos and Guaymas. We have heard rumors of boats lost off moorings and other damage on the docks, but we know very little in the way of details.

Then she came back. We were feeding the children a nice hot dinner last night when Rhumb Line came down the dock with Don Anderson's weather report. Confirmed by NOAA and other sources, the consensus tracked Jimena doing a 180 and coming back towards Santa Rosalia. Because what we needed was another hurricane. No one had loosened any lines, but there was still a great deal of work to be done. Ocean Blue and Don Quixote finished feeding the kids and then hustled them back up to the girls' bathroom for the night. We prepped the marina's emergency generator, moved the cats, and then set to work on the docks. T

The reports estimated we had two to four hours before winds of 25 to 35 with gusts in the 45 range. That's not bad when everything is in fine shape. But Santa Rosalia is a mess. The marina is doing surprisingly well, but the boats, the crews, the gear... we're worn. Also, we'd set for east and south east the day before. Now we were looking at north and northwest initially before the storm would pass and clock around. So more work on lines, chafe gear, tightening every cleat and every bolt on the docks. We ran additional lines for the north side boats over to the naval pier. And we scavenged everywhere for supplemental fenders for those boats whose fenders were smashed absolutely flat the night before.

Then we waited.

And waited. And waited. All night long, we experienced small squalls with winds 5 to 15 and a steady, dreary drizzle which would occasionally get serious but reminded me most strongly of a Seattle storm. The kids settled down eventually. The cats also finally decided we were not going to change our minds and reluctantly set up camp near their food and carriers.

By midnight, we decided that weather forecasters know nothing about Jimena. Not one prediction of this storm ever seems to subsequently materialize. Not Don Anderson – for many the cruisers' guru of all things Baja weather, not NOAA or NOGAPS, not the Europeans or the Canadians or the Mexicans. We all agreed that we could basically put the weather up to a vote of the sailors on the dock and produce an equally accurate result.

By two, we stopped waiting and collapsed. Figuring we would wake up if the wind picked up, the exhausted crews and the marina employees just fell down dead, many in their gear, and trusted that Jimena would let us know if we needed to get up. Since Monday, I've had a total of approximately 10 hours of sleep caught in one and two hour catnaps, on a bus, on the floor of the bathroom, in chairs. I actually think it would have taken a Cat 2 hurricane to wake me up. Jimena spitting at me in tropical storm mode wasn't going to do it.

This morning, my body finally decided that I'd had enough rest to be a responsible adult again and allowed me to awake. Unbelievably, the weather hadn't changed, nor had the forecast. Jimena is still sitting out there stuck halfway between Guaymas and Mulege. Bands of wind and squalls pass through from the north periodically. Dark, fast moving clouds still fill the sky though we now catch glimpses of blue. The port captain announced that it would dissipate by noon. However, here we are at noon... Like I said. Take a vote. I vote that we're done.

The city is a disaster. The authorities and people were getting ahead of the mud and rock yesterday, but I cringe at the thought of what all this steady rain is doing to already unstable hill sides. The flooding and mud yesterday were truly unbelievable. I didn't walk up into the town itself, but have seen the photos of those who have. I hope to be able to share these with you as soon as we have a solid connection. The town of Santa Rosalia we know has disappeared under drifts of mud and stone – all our friends, our favorite tiendas, taco stands, and verduras vendors have been scraped off the streets and into the harbor.

We at Singlar Marina are incredibly lucky. While the officina is essentially a write-off, the rest of the facilities are still operational. Unbelievably, the staff just got the power up to all the buildings and are working on the dock circuit. Water is still our biggest concern, though all the boats have full tanks. We'll also be able to use the storm and pool water for washing ourselves, dishes, and the mud off the boats.

DrC was able to send me a message from the States. The emotions are so close to the surface that just holding the printout in my hand almost made me break down. Aeron and Mera both seemed equally moved. It was important to have that bit of contact. To know that he was aware of our safety.

He did say that he hoped we could get out before the next storm arrives. I'm afraid that's just not possible. The harbor is closed for the foreseeable future. The town surely must want to get rid of this fleet as we're just another set of mouths to feed and water at the moment. However, there is an island of debris floating just outside the entrance that renders the harbor unnavigable. If these Santa Rosalians pull another rabbit out of their incredibly hardworking hat, we might get out in a week.

At this rate, Jimena will still be sitting in the middle of the sea contemplating it's soggy navel.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Jimena (Thursday, 5 PM): We're Still Here

I am so sorry we couldn't report in sooner. Don Quixote, Dulci, the girls and I are doing fine. Our only casualty on the boat may be the SSB. Or DrC disabled it before he left without telling me. I have to prowl around and do some troubleshooting.

Santa Rosalia was hit extremely hard by Jimena. I suspect you have little news, the American news media noted that Cabo survived and said little else. Well, Jimena weakened and slowed as she made land fall, moved north and then parked somewhere near Bahia Concepcion about 70 miles south of here. The problem was not really the winds. We mostly saw 40 to 50 with only about an hour or so in the 60s. The problem was the duration. The high winds and heavy seas started blasting at about 3PM and didn't stop until roughly 11PM. Equipment, lines, docks, boats and people almost didn't make it. It felt like it was never going to stop.

I am writing up several long reports about our experience, some of which I wrote during the storm itself. I'll post these as I can when we have Internet. That may be a very long time, however.

First the bad news. Santa Rosalia is a disaster. Flooding in the city and surrounding area is tremendous. The four water pump stations between here and Mulege are all destroyed. The harbor is full of trucks, cars, and household debris. We know of one fatality -- a policeman trying to rescue someone in a truck that was washing out into the harbor. We anticipate more, though. The extent of flooding and landslides in the region has to be seen to be believed.

Now the good news. The resiliency of these people is tremendous. Highway 1 -- our gateway to food, water, transport, and aid -- is already opening up. The harbor crew believe we'll see the power back on within a few days and water trucks arriving on roughly the same schedule. The local favorite restaurant -- Terco's Casa de Pollo -- had not one, not two, but THREE large refridgerator trucks park outside their restaurant for the duration of the hurricane. We expect to be having our roasted chicken within a day or so.

The crew here at Marina Singlar Santa Rosalia were nothing short of heroic. The incredible length of the storm was killing us. I admit freely to all of you that we thought we were going to lose the boats.

Steve and I could feel it, we could see the lines parting and the docks coming apart. We had a dangerously positioned upwind boat who could have taken out all of us. And the storm just keep going on and on and on. The crew of all the boats pitched in however and where ever they could. I've never seen such a strong sense of community and shared purpose. There is not a boat on this dock who can say they rode it out without the essential help in effort or equipment of the Singlar crew and/or other boats.

In particular, I want to mention Steve of Ocean Blue and his wife Joanna. Steve's been a friend, a codependent afternoon beer drinker, and a gadfly at times as he rags me about the van, Cal Berkeley, catamarans, hell... anything. But last night he was simply amazing. He saved our boats. He saved other people's boats with his work. His wife Joanna concentrated on taking care of all the children. Between the two of them, I was able to be half parent, half sailor. I could split my time between the girls and the docks.

Don Quixote herself rode the storm out well. All our preparations before leaving the boat paid off. When we arrived Tuesday morning, we had a boat fully prepared for hurricane winds. All we had to do was provision and set out the long lines. This was critical because there just wasn't time to do anything else. Believe it or not, we sustained no discernible damage other than this inexplicably silent SSB. Because we were bow to the storm, we didn't even destroy our fenders and surprisingly there was no chafe to speak of on any of our lines. We did get very very wet. I've discovered leaks in the hatches and holes in the boat we didn't know existed. But with a few days of concerted effort, we should be back to normal.

The girls spent most of the storm in the cool room. However, the three story building was like being in an alfalfa sprouter, water pouring in through the top and then progressively down each later. At about 10:30PM,the ceiling on the bottom floor where we had the kids resting collapsed precipitating a move to the ladies bathroom. The bathrooms were reinforced with title due to moisture and sustained no storm damage. The kids were hot but they were safe.

Dulci did not like the hurricane. She particularly hated the cool room where seats and tables made small islands in a one inch sloshing lake of flood water. She liked the bathroom much better but was happy when I moved her with me to the boat at 1 AM after the storm passed.

We're now in recovery mode. We woke this morning to mud, rocks, and debris absolutely everywhere. The harbor is closed for at least a week while they dredge out the debris and the storm dross outside the harbor dissipates. We have food, water, and power for at least two weeks after which we'll probably head north to Bahia de Los Angeles.

Tomorrow, I'll start putting the boat back together. Our suitcases remain unpacked, there are dishes and wet towels everywhere, and -- probably most critically -- we have no shade covers or dodger up. Once these clouds leave us, Don Quixote is going to be an oven unless we get to work.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Jimena (Tuesday Evening): And Now We Wait

The good news is that according to most of the major models Jimena is stalling as it hits land fall and tears itself apart.* The bad news is that it is probably going to rain buckets in central Baja between Santa Rosalia and Guerrero Negro for days. The probability of Highway 1 making it through the storm is, IMHO, roughly the same percentage as your average soccer score. The strong rains could bring serious flooding to the entire central part of the peninsula closing off these areas -- and incidentally everything south of here including Cabo and La Paz -- for potentially quite a long time.

Historically, the last time a major hurricane stalled over those mountains, Santa Rosalia flooded. This sent tons of garbage, mud and debris sliding down main street and an arroyo to the south of the marina. There was so much gunk swooping down on the water front that the port captain had to close the harbor for nearly two weeks. Locals tell us that Highway 1 wasn't clear of large boulders for months.

It's good time to be on a fully provisioned boat with my own capacity for power and water generation.

Speaking of the boat, we rode out several early bands of strong rain, wind, and lightening starting with an incredible opening act at precisely 3AM. The skies simply opened up. The lightening and thunder were very impressive, though the winds never really topped gusting 30. The deluge lasted about 20 minutes and then it turned off as quickly as it started leaving us in an incredible, eerie warm damp calm broken only by sirens in the hills. Power went out briefly then came almost immediately back on. Aeron asked me if that was the hurricane. I told her it was just a sampler, like the little cups distributed at Costco. She informed me that she decided she didn't want to buy a big package. Can't say as I blame her.

At about 8 this morning, the wind finally started to climb consistently. We're now at about 20 kts/hr steady with gusts to 25. We could ride on this for weeks. To provide perspective to our non-nautical folks, Don Quixote and Ocean Blue rode out 30 gusting to 35 with a few 40ish peaks on these same docks without any special preparation of the boats or lines whatsoever. The storm tracks now seem encouraging that our peak winds may only be in the 50s here. With all the extra lines and work, the boats should hold well. And at this point, it's looking increasingly like the boats could hold the dock itself together we're so laced up to the shore and other fixed points. We anticipate the worst of it to start about mid-day with the intensity peaking this evening and into the night.

The girls have moved their hurricane party gear into the building on shore where we will take shelter as the winds pick up. Currently, we're letting the kids run around and enjoy the odd light and the wind. The boats aren't bouncy and with no rain, it hardly seems worth locking them up. We -are- banning the pool of course. Thunder cells have been moving in and out since early morning. So far, we still have power to the dock and everyone is charging their batteries up until the last possible moment. With our solar panels down, we're all reluctant to unplug until the power actually starts to fluctuate on shore.

I think I'll spend the morning cleaning house. That prosaic. I might even try to get some laundry done. It's better than fussing over my lines and worrying. The kids do not have school today, but they are becoming considerably more knowledgeable about hurricanes, as you can well imagine. You can talk all you want about wind speed and direction, cyclonic action, storm tracking, and weather bands in a cyclone, but when you watch the weather change moment to moment as the hurricane touches the area, it's a living, breathing science lesson. Mera in particular is fascinated. She's trying to figure out just how six international agencies can come to such totally different conclusions with regard to the track after it hits land. If she figures it out, I'll let you know... I wouldn't put it past her. At present, her opinion of NOGAPS is pretty dim.

I want to thank everyone for all the good wishes and positive karma. If you believe in prayer, then the storm track models suggest it worked since we are no longer in the worst path of danger. If you're more of a pure random number theory type, we rolled lucky 7's that the Navy boys' model was the wrong one. I'll continue to tweet updates until I can do so no longer. There will be a time, no doubt, when I won't even be able to safely use the SSB. No worries. That 'dark time' is when the girls and I will all be safe in a building on shore, and Don Quixote will be riding on her lines out in the harbor. As soon as it's safe to do so, I'll go back to tweeting our status from the radio.

* If you are looking for a good web site to track Jimena, I recommend It has everything there you could possibly need from text to moving graphic representations. Please make sure you click the sponsors as this is cruiser funded, cruiser provided service.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Jimena (Tuesday): Arrived in Santa Rosalia

We interrupt this normally totally time shifted blog for an important emergency broadcast.

Yes, Toast and the girls are in Santa Rosalia and a Cat 5 hurricane is bearing down on top of us. No, we are not too happy about it.

We didn't mean to do this. We first heard about it from a call to Glenn yesterday as he drove us to the Tijuana bus station. At that point, there was no going back, no going forward faster. We just got here when we could. Hurricane Jimena has been drifting around like a drunken sailor so no one knows really where it's going to hit. For awhile, it looked like it it would run directly over Santa Rosalia. Now it looks like it's veering farther west and north. We'll see.

In any case, we're getting ready. Fortunately, Don Quixote was damn close to hurricane ready before we left. We arrived after our 16 hours on the bus to a flurry of activity to set the last lines on everything. DQ is now cross tied to the breakwater and on the pylons. We're pulled off the dock far enough to make it a challenge to clamber on and off. We have food for nearly two weeks, water for that long if we're frugal (and we can make more), enough diesel to motor us anywhere in the Sea that isn't smashed flat if we need to get out of here.

It's way too late to run. In fact, there are over 20 boats here because no one seems to really know where this damn thing is going. Puerto Don Juan is chockablock full of boats, Guaymas is still in the target zone... hell even Escondido isn't considered a safe harbor. The whole sea is just bracing for the worst. I'm almost reluctant to look at the storm tracks.

Tomorrow night is what the consensus appears to be on when we'll see the worst of it. We have arrangements with the harbor master to move all the children (and the kitties) to the harbor master's office on shore when the weather starts getting really ugly. They've started putting wood on the windows to protect the kids. There isn't enough room for all the adults so I suspect it'll either get super duper crowded or a lot of people are going to try to sit it out on their boats. I'm not one of them. We'll tie her down as best we can, I'll go out with a partner captain to check lines every few hours, and otherwise I'll stay with the girls.

Please send us all the positive karma you can.