Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hurricane Odile

Hurricane Odile was the 3rd major hurricane to head for the Baja Peninsula between August 27th and September 17th. Hurricanes Marie and Norbert were strong Category 5 and 4 hurricanes that passed by close to the west coast of Baja, with menacing clouds, but not much wind and only a few inches of rain in La Paz. Hey, hurricane season isn’t so bad … they’re all near misses, we’re good.

Odile was different. It was headed directly toward Cabo San Lucas, but the forecast was for the eye to veer slightly northwest just missing land. The forecast at 5PM on Sunday is shown below, listing Odile as a major (M) hurricane. We were cautiously optimistic.

National Hurricane Center Forecast - 5PM Sunday

Sunday was much like any other day. We attended a function at Sequoia Yacht Club and acted less worried about the storm than we were willing to admit to ourselves. We spent two weeks preparing Agave Azul for hurricane season, removing and stowing everything that might catch the wind, so we thought we’d be OK. As Odile approached Cabo Sunday evening, reality set in and casual conversation was replaced with frequent searches on the National Hurricane Center website, SailFlow and GRIB Explorer.  As darkness approached we began to see scary YouTube videos showing massive waves cascading over the top of the famous 200' high Arch Rock on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula.

Cautious optimism was replaced with wishful thinking – Please Turn West!

Arch Rock

It had been a long day so we went to bed at about 11PM. A few hours later I woke up and decided to check the NHC website for the updated forecast. Odile made landfall directly on Cabo San Lucas, a strong Category 3 hurricane with 135mph winds. Major bad news for Cabo.

National Hurricane Center Forecast - 2AM Monday

Worse for our boat, the eye was just 40 miles southwest of our marina. The strongest winds in any northern hemisphere hurricane are in the northeast corner of the storm. Both SailFlow and GRIB Explorer showed the hurricane’s strongest winds were directly over La Paz, the worst possible outcome. I went downstairs to channel switch for a couple hours trying to get info about the storm, but there was no news coming out of Baja. When I went back to bed at 3:30, I wasn’t surprised to find Kathryn surfing the web for the same information. Having seen pictures of damage from other hurricanes neither one of us voiced our fear that Agave Azul might not survive the storm.

When we met with our yacht management team in June, Tom Brown & Jeanne Walker of La Paz Cruiser’s Supply, one of my first questions was what should we do if a hurricane hits? They said there’s really nothing to do … power, phone and internet service will be out, there will be no fresh water, food will be scarce, roads will be impassable and the airports will be closed – we couldn’t get to La Paz even if we wanted to. We could only wait for news.

At 8AM on Monday a few cell towers were still operable and we received a forwarded report from Dennis Ross of Ross Marine Services that "a quick walk around the docks at 8AM found the boats to be still floating and no significant damage that we could see …. at the present time we still have 40-50 knots of wind."

Cell service soon stopped completely and the only word in the next 3 days was from a cruiser who used their Single Side Band radio to send another fairly optimistic email message. But with no phone or internet service we were getting a bit anxious about Agave Azul.

Last night, Friday, we received an email message and photos from Tom & Jeanne. Previous storms approached from further west, creating southerly winds, which apparently would have been “better” for our orientation in the slip. Because Odile was closer to La Paz, the wind blew from the east, heeling Agave Azul about 40º over to port. That’s a lot of heel even when sailing, so 40º tied up at the dock was extreme. The result was that our port side hull and rail rubbed against the dock, resulting in minor damage. 

Port side stripe and rail damage

This should be an easy repair

What is amazing is that the boat was heeled so far over that the rail was rubbing against the dock, shown in the photo below. We were very lucky that the dodger and the arch with our solar panels didn't hit the vertical piling when the boat heeled over.

Considering that the wind was blowing 125mph, we were extremely lucky. We are also very thankful that Tom & Jeanne did such a good job repositioning the boats on either side of us so our masts didn't collide, retying and adding extra lines and chafe gear, removing canvas and frequently checking on the boat until the wind was too strong to walk the docks!

Agave Azul safe and sound in Marina Palmira!

Our next adventure will be driving to La Paz the first week in October.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

North to Alaska!

At the end of our first cruising season in Mexico, we returned to Marina Palmira in La Paz and spent two weeks preparing Agave Azul for hurricane season. It was two weeks of long hot days doing everything we could so that if a hurricane does pass through La Paz, Agave Azul should have minimal damage. What next after Mexico? Go to Alaska, of course.

Hanging glaciers on the road to Stewart, BC

When Kathryn asked if I wanted to go to Alaska, I told her I'd always wanted to visit Alaska. When she started researching flights, I said we have to drive, not fly. Drive, are you nuts? Well, yes, but it was an amazing trip and we were able to experience a lot more of Alaska, as well as driving the entire 1,700 mile length of British Columbia. BC is a beautiful province with lots to experience and explore. One of the most dramatic areas was a side trip to Stewart, BC. The drive was through a narrow, steep canyon with 20 hanging glaciers and a receding one, too.

Bear Glacier on the road to Stewart

So what would you expect to see in Bear Glacier Provincial Park? We were surprised to see that when bears are feeding they couldn't care less that you have stopped your car nearby to watch. They were totally focused on food.

Black bear gorging on dandelions

The quiet town of Stewart, BC was a great stop with a nice hotel and a couple good restaurants.

Stewart, BC

Stewart is just a few miles from Alaska, and the road leading north drives by Salmon Glacier, one of the largest in North America. The glacier was impressive ... the road to get there was scary!

Salmon Glacier

We backtracked to travel the Stewart-Cassiar highway north to the Alaska highway. The Stewart-Cassiar travels through some of the most isolated areas of British Columbia. We would often drive 20 - 30 minutes without seeing another car. No traffic jams! 

The photo below shows one of the tourist attractions along the Alaska Highway. The Signpost Forest was started in 1942 by a homesick US Army GI working on the Alaska Highway, who put up a sign with the name of his home town and the distance. Others followed suit and the tradition continues, with about 80,000 signs posted.

Signpost Forest - Watson Lake, Yukon

Wildlife was one of the big attractions of the trip. We weren't really surprised when a moose walked onto the middle of the highway and stopped to watch us for a few minutes. As we slowly rolled toward her (not too close), she finally turned around and ran back into the woods.

Hi there!

Glaciers were impressive from the road and the water, but we wanted to see the view from above. We flew from Haines Junction with an outfit called Icefield Discovery. They fly tourists and mountain climbers into Kluane National Park and Mount Logan in the St. Elias Mountains.

The skis are for landing on the icefield

The plan was to land on the icefield that feeds several glaciers. Unfortunately, the ceiling lowered and we would have been flying into the clouds, which didn't  sound like a really good plan. But we had a great view of the black lateral moraines separating different glaciers.

Kaskawulsh Glacier

On the drive back to the highway, a bear crossed the gravel road right in front of the car. This one was a light tan color and I thought it was interesting how differently bears were colored. Then I saw the hump on its back and realized that it was a grizzly, not a black bear. I quickly rolled the window up to take this photo.

First grizzly sighting

The bears weren't the only ones interested in food. We stopped at Tracey's Crab Shack, one of the must-do tourist stops in Juneau. We were glad we did … Alaskan King Crab, Crab Bisque and Crab Cakes … yum!

Other carnivore sighting

Juneau was the starting point for our cruise to Glacier Bay. We sailed on a small, 150' ship. The company was Un-Cruise Adventures and we were with about 50 other passengers.

Wilderness Adventurer

Cruising with Kathryn's sister, Lynn & her husband, Thom as we departed Juneau

They call this adventure cruising because our activities are all outside, rain or shine; kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, inflatable skiff excursions, bushwhacking (no trails) and even snorkeling. We didn't go snorkeling, but did lots of kayaking, skiff excursions and bushwhacking.

Kayak Kaleidoscope

The kayaks were a lot of fun and we were able to see the glaciers and wildlife up close and personal.

Suiting up for kayaking

A typical trip would start with one our knowledgable guides providing a description of the area, what to look for, some history and info on current environmental issues. 

Kayak raft up with our guide Kent

Kayaking among the ice growlers in Glacier Bay

Up close to Lamplugh Glacier

White & black glaciers

Margerie Glacier

On the skiff excursions, the guides looked for a suitable landing area and we hiked alongside streams to explore the wetlands and forest.

We all wore high boots on the hikes … there was lots of mud

This was the first wildlife sighting, just a few feet from the water. We made lots of noise when we were bushwhacking so we wouldn't surprise any grizzlies.

Grizzly tracks in the sand

Did I mention there were a few mosquitos?

Glacier Bay is a temperate rainforest that gets about 70" of rain annually.

I was surprised to learn that all of our young skiff drivers were Coast Guard licensed captains, with either 100 ton or unlimited licenses … very impressive! We always felt we were in capable hands and safety was high on the staff's priorities.

Skiff excursion

Living on Agave Azul in Mexico, we saw whales almost every day. Humpbacks mate and give birth in Baja or Hawaii and migrate to Alaska each summer to feed. We saw lots of whales on this trip. The crew even postponed dinner one night so we could watch them feeding.



Humpbacks practice an unusual group feeding behavior called bubble net feeding. The whales work together to capture large schools of herring. Each whale has a role in the process; one blows bubbles around the school to keep the fish from escaping, others vocalize to scare or confuse the fish and help bring them to the surface, and others herd the fish together. Once the fish are at the surface, all the whales lunge upwards with their huge mouths wide open and try to gulp as many herring as they can.

Humpback bubblenet feeding

Watching all that feeding made us hungry. We enjoyed great buffets for breakfast and lunch. The dinners were excellent and so was the wine list!

Kathryn, Lynn & Thom

The trip just happened to coincide with our 10th wedding anniversary. We enjoyed a nice bottle of champagne and they made us a yummy dessert.

Happy Anniversary!

Our anniversary also happened to coincide with an Un-Cruise event called "The Polar Plunge". They invited passengers to jump off the second deck of the ship into the icy waters of Glacier Bay. Since we took the plunge 10 years earlier, how could we pass this up?

Here we go … 

Hmmm, this is further than we thought

Brrrr … 

Is was a bit sad to see our trip come to an end. Our cruise ended back in civilization in Sitka, Alaska. The photo below is a small part of Sitka's fishing fleet. Salmon fishing is a very big deal in Alaska. Its on my to do list for our next visit.

Sitka Harbor

We enjoyed our time in Alaska so much that we will definitely go back. Next time we will stay longer and see the northern parts of the state. And we'll fly next time!