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.


  1. We're very glad to read that Agave Azul only suffered cosmetic damage! Molly & Bryce (S/v Abracadabra)

  2. Glad all is well aboard Agave Azul! Alaska looks pretty good too! El Tiburon is at Farallone Yachts, where we are now employed. We will return to La Paz for the 2015 sailing season.
    Until then, Fair Winds to you both. Sarah and Darrell