A 'Chubasco' is a fast moving, violent squall that starts
on the Pacific coast of Mexico. They form in the evenings,
and on the Baja side in the summer you can watch the lightning flash nearly every night. Sometimes they spin off and cross the Sea of Cortez, usually hitting in the middle of the night. I've been through two of them so far, but never have seen winds over 35-40 knots. The first was in a really bad anchorage that was wide open to the direction of the wind and funneled the squall on top of me, and it wasn't much fun.
The second went right over the top of me, but I was well protected and it was mainly a lightning storm.
Thursday, August 18, 2011 - my worst Chubasco yet
I owe a lot to this bull Dorado.
After catching him, and doing the old 'filet and release,' I decided to pull in and have dinner. It was my first day out of Santa Rosalia, and I needed to get my head back into 'living on the hook' mode, rather than 'doing projects in a marina' mode.
So I pulled in to the North side of Punta Chivato. I've never stopped there, and have always stayed on the South side.
I almost went around to the South side anyway, just to shave an hour off the next day's sail, but decided against it. The swell, while light, was predominantly from the SouthEast, and I thought the North side might be less rolly. It turned out to be good holding, with a wide easy sand shelf that is 20 feet deep about 1/4 mile off the shore, and is 60 feet deep when you're a mile out.
I anchored, as I usually do, in five-plus fathoms well off shore. People have laughed at me more than once for anchoring well away from the beach (and from other boats) but I've had a totally wrong breeze show up at a totally wrong time more than once, so if there's room for an extra margin of safety I'll take it, especially when single handing.
In the morning, things didn't feel right.
For starters, there really wasn't a sunrise. The picture at the left was taken about 8 a.m., when I was to weigh anchor and head out.
It was only 10 knots, puffs to 15, but it was from the SouthEast which was going to put it right on my nose, so I decided to have another cup of coffee and wait. The forecast was for a light breeze from the North, not 10 knots from the south.
For an hour I walked around, and the breeze wasn't that big a deal. I was thinking things like "So, it's overcast, so what? At least it isn't so blistering hot this morning." and "Okay, now it's 20. So what? You've anchored in 20 knots a thousand times, the boat's totally comfortable."
But 20 knots on the nose makes for a bad day sailing, so I pretty much decided to stay here for the day. I mean, close hauled into 20 knots can be fun, and I used to do it all the time on the SF bay, but my perspective has changed over the last couple of years.
Besides, I couldn't shake a strange sense of 'impending doom.'
Just for fun, I tied everything down and increased scope to 6:1, and zipped my cockpit awning down to the the back of the dodger, clamping it down on both sides with those locking twist-connectors. Since the back of the awning is attached to a stainless steel arch over the cockpit, it's pretty strong and has withstood 40 knot breezes, even from the side when the boat was securely docked.
After an hour of that, I figured it was just another blustery day, and I was just being neurotic, worrying about nothing, etcetera.
Then I looked up and saw a long, horizontal, tubular cloud rushing towards me. I've seen that once before, about 40 years ago, in the Midwestern US, when a really strong cold front blasted through. At the time I was Boy Scout camping, on land, and I remember it as a 'really cool' experience. Tornados are fun if you don't own a house.
So I looked up and thought, 'There's the front. Wow. This is gonna be a blow.' I should have taken a picture, but really still didn't think it would be a memorable day.
About 15 minutes later I decided it might be a memorable day, and took the photo at left. Things really hadn't started to really kick up yet, though. Note that the sand on the beach is airborne.
In the picture, the beach to the North is on the starboard side. The point still gave some protection, I'm sure, but the mess came from the SouthEast, wrapped and stacked, and the water was a washing machine. I actually got airborne for one moment, when the boat dropped fast.
I couldn't take any more pictures, because I was soaking wet and couldn't stick my head outside without getting wetter. So the camera wasn't an option. It wasn't raining, just horizontal salt water.
The nice thing about Chubascos is that they are really just a squall, and don't last too long. I kept reminding myself of that, saying things like 'Okay, it's been a half hour, it'll blow over soon.' and 'Okay, it's been an hour, it'll blow over soon..' 'Okay, it's been an hour and a half, it'll blow over soon.'
Just to keep busy, I verified that backup ground tackle was ready, verified that my ditch bag was ready, put the computer and a handheld VHF in the oven, and stuff like that. I even pulled out the Sunbrella interior awning that I made to keep companionway water from hitting the nav station, and snapped it into place. There really was a lot of water flying through the air, and I have the windshield removed from my dodger to help keep the cockpit cooler. But there wasn't much left to do except stick my head up and look around, and think things like 'Wow, this is intense.'
I decided that it was about 50 to 60 knots, based on the Beaufort scale and my gut feeling. I don't have an anemometer. Heck, most people only use them to brag later about how much wind they saw, and I figure I can lie about that with the best of them without spending the money.
The next morning Jake (on 'Jake') moderated the Sonrisa Net and said he saw
50 knots while tied to the dock in Santa Rosalia, 25 miles North
A few days later I had dinner with some folks heading up from Puerto Escondido, 50 miles south, who said they saw 47. That's about a 75 mile spread, and I was alone in the middle.
It also doesn't really sound like a classic Chubasco, but rather a nasty thing that spun across the Sea, operating outside the box. I don't think a classic Chubasco is that wide. But, what do *I* know?
Well, I know that it was a good learning experience.
Once it blew over, of course, it didn't seem like that big a deal.
The following thought entered my mind: "I could lose my boat today." That was a good wake up call. It's been a while, and really was the first time at anchor in this set of circumstances.
It was also the first time I've really pulled out a second set of ground tackle and got mentally prepared to deploy it. I have four good anchors of different types, and two spare sets of chain/rope rode. To date, the spare ground tackles have just been something that gets in the way, but I've never considered selling them. Stella Blue is *not* a heavy cruiser, and my primary Rocna is oversized. Along with 250 feet of chain and another 200 feet of nylon rode, the boat still sits on her lines, but there's no way I would put a second set of ground tackle on the bow.
To date, I've never dragged my anchor. I didn't this time.
But there's always a first time.
I've always resented having another two sets of 50 feet of BBB and 300 feet of nylon, as well as two good anchors, in easily accessible (but constantly in the way) locations. I didn't need them this time, but was glad to have them handy.
All in all, it was just a squall. <VBG>
But if that was 50 to 60 knots, I really don't want to sit through a hurricane.