The tropical tranquility of El Salvador’s Bahia del Sol was dramatically interrupted Saturday when a lightning storm quickly accelerated, creating a microburst with Force 12 winds (73 to 84 knots). Ironically, there were probably more cruising boats in the area than at any other time of the year, as the annual El Salvador Rally is in full swing, with its closing ceremony slated for Sunday.
Singlehander Zachary Lough of the Catalina 30 Panache was one of the visiting sailors caught in the blow. He was having dinner with friends Aaron and Nicole aboard Bella Star, which was tied to a guest dock, when all hell broke loose: "I was perched halfway in Bella Star‘s companionway watching Aaron and Nicole in unison call out the knotmeter reading, “35 knots, 40 knots… 50 knots!” My eyes were like saucers, “67 knots!”
"By the time I turned around, the rain literally blinded me. By the time I acclimated to the wind speed and rain all I could see was black. A huge bolt of lightning struck the background less than a mile away and lit up everything for only a moment, and then faded back to complete darkness. Was Panache safe at anchor? I was in panic mode, and I could see nothing. The wind was without a doubt too strong to dinghy out — dangerous even."
In the darkness, he could see that his boat and others were dragging rapidly toward the marina. "The dock was moving like it was an earthquake, and the rain was lit up like comets, making for a dreamlike, correction, nightmare-like landscape."
The Vancouver, BC-based Vagabond 47 Sundancer broke free from its mooring and went adrift through the mooring field, then the Everett, WA-based Tayana 42 Talaria broke loose and smashed into the San Carlos, CA-based Brown Searunner 37 Hotspur, "smashing the cap rail, stanchions, and solar panels on both boats," Zachary report.
But the worst damage was played out at the docks. The sailboat Tolerance dragged violently into a concrete dock, and its fiberglass hull was stove in as was pressed into the dock’s footings by the storm. Zachary recalls the scene vividly: "Tolerance was being pressed like a grape against the pier. Hopping on deck to help (owner) Mick pull up his anchor, I could see a concrete column stretching out of the fiberglass with a huge gash in its wake. This was bad. Luckily, the gash ended literally right at the waterline."
Prior to this surreal patch of intense weather, Zachary had been lamenting in his blog that life at Bahia del Sol was a bit too laid-back even for some cruisers. But we suspect he and others will stop themselves the next time they start yearning for more excitement. (To read Zachary’s full account of the big blow, see his blog.)
"The Yacht Racing Association (YRA) is taking a chickenshit position on the Coast Guard’s just-announced revocation of offshore racing permits," Matt Peterson of FastBottoms Hull Diving wrote on our Facebook page. "The YRA is advocating that sailors simply bend over and take whatever the Coasties want to shove up our collective behinds because it’s in our ‘best interests’ to keep the people who rescue boaters in distress happy. I say bullshit. The Coasties aren’t out there doing the boating public a favor when they save someone’s life, they are out there doing their taxpayer-supported and government-mandated duties. And they are overstepping their bounds with this knee-jerk reaction to what is absolutely a terrible tragedy. This wasn’t an industrial accident requiring government intervention and oversight. It was something bad that happened to people that made a choice to pursue a risky pastime. The Coast Guard does not need to restrict our freedom to sail because five people unfortunately lost their lives sailing any more than the National Transportation Safety Board needs to ban air travel when a plane crashes."
While we’re certainly nowhere as vehement as Peterson in his disagreement with the Coast Guard and the YRA, it seems to us that the Coast Guard could have achieved the same goal by requiring the YRA to temporarily establish depth and/or distance limitations from the Farallones.
As for Coast Guard Captain of the Port Cindy Stowe planning to call in US Sailing to determine if safety regulations for offshore races need to be changed, we’re of a mixed mind. We think it’s correct of her to look to sailors for expertise, but shouldn’t she have looked to local sailors, the ones who sail these waters, the ones who know them best, to decide if safety regulations for the races ought to be changed?
How can that be? It turns out, this year’s big prize was for cumulative elapsed time. So while Lone Fox hadn’t done well in the first two races, she was only a few seconds off the pace in class and in fleet. And when she won the last two races, she’d won big on corrected time, not only in class, but also in fleet. When it was all over, Lone Fox surprisingly had the best cumulative corrected time.
In the future, it would be nice if Panerai specified who the watch was to go to.