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October 16, 2009

Hurricane Rick To Threaten Baja?

The most recent NOAA forecast suggests that there is only a 5% chance Rick will hit Baja. But all tropical storms and hurricanes must be monitored closely.

© 2009 NOAA

The last thing anybody with a boat in Baja or with a boat entered in the Baja Ha-Ha wants to hear is that Rick, now a tropical storm 315 miles SSE of Acapulco, is expected to develop into a hurricane by Sunday.

While currently still very far to the southeast of Baja and headed northwest out to nowhere, some computer models suggest that there is a chance Rick could sweep north and threaten Cabo and La Paz with what would by then probably be winds of tropical storm force or less. For those with boats in Baja that survived Jimena in late August and early September, just the thought of the possibility of another blow is not at all welcome. People need to keep a close eye on Rick for possible changes in direction and/or force. Everybody is hoping is that it will either continue on to the west or pull a ‘Patricia’ — Patricia was last week’s weak tropical storm that flamed out before hitting Cabo. But only time will tell.

Rick may or may not make a right turn into Baja. Only time will tell.


The two things needed for hurricane development are light wind shear aloft and very warm water. If there are strong winds aloft, hurricanes have trouble developing. Unfortunately, this is an El Niño year, so upper level winds are lighter than normal. But ever shorter days and lower air temperatures are what cool ocean temperatures, and that’s been happening. We spoke with Neil Shroyer of Marina de La Paz this morning, who reports that air temperatures in La Paz have undergone their typical October drop. He also notes that the weather charts show water temps on the Pacific Coast of Baja dropping, too. At Turtle Bay, for example, it’s down to about 75 degrees, far beneath what would support a tropical storm.

What’s all this mean for the Ha-Ha? "The fact that there hasn’t been a tropical storm or hurricane in the last 50 years that crossed the Ha-Ha track is encouraging," says the Grand Poobah, "but it’s no guarantee of anything. As such, we, along with Commander’s Weather, our professional weather forecasting service, are monitoring the situation very closely. Rick would obviously not be a threat to the Ha-Ha fleet, as it will have come and gone far to the south well before our start. Some experts tell us that by churning the waters, Rick will make it less likely that there will be another storm in its wake. Nonetheless, we need to be on guard for conditions that are conducive to the development of storms.

"The nice thing about the Ha-Ha is that we have options," continues the Poobah. "All the way to Turtle Bay, and while in Turtle Bay, we will keep evaluating the situation further south. Given today’s weather equipment, tropical storms don’t just pop up out of nowhere. The formation of one can be seen quite a bit in advance. But we’ll remind everyone that, in the past, both the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and the Caribbean 1500 have found it necessary to delay their events because of the weather. If the situation called for it, the Ha-Ha would also be delayed."

For right now, the Poobah recommends that everyone remain cautiously optimistic, and for their own edification, review Mexico’s hurricane history.

Overdue Bay Sailor Safe

In Wednesday’s ‘Lectronic, we wondered if anyone had been heading south at the height of the storm that wreaked havoc in the Bay Area on Tuesday. Napa sailor Trevor Steel alerted us yesterday to the overdue status of his friend John Dour. Dour, 45, sailed under the Gate last Friday aboard his Ericson 27 Maria on his first offshore trip, bound for San Diego, and had not been heard from since. "I’d been in touch with Coast Guard Search and Rescue," says Steel, "and yesterday we decided that John should be considered overdue." The Coast Guard put out a call for mariners to keep a sharp eye out for Maria but had not begun searching.

Around 6:30 p.m., Steel’s phone rang — it was Dour. He was sailing in light winds about 20 miles off Pt. Loma and all was well.

According to friend Trevor Steel, John Dour was always smiling and laughing during the 18 months he spent refitting Marie. His first storm at sea didn’t quell his sense of humor.

© 2009 Trevor Steel

Dour’s story is fascinating. An out-of-work carpenter, he moved from Biloxi to the Bay for the sole purpose of buying a boat and teaching himself to sail. "I’d been reading the online version of Latitude for years," Dour told us this morning from the safety of the Police Dock in San Diego. "In fact, I found my boat in Latitude!" Over the next 18 months, Dour lived aboard near Benicia, worked when he could, refitted his boat, and sailed as often as possible. "My good buddy Trevor told me that if I could sail on San Pablo Bay, I could sail anywhere," Dour laughed. "Fuckin’ liar!"

When Maria sailed under the Gate last Friday, the NOAA forecast was calling for light winds until early the following week, when a storm was predicted to hit the coast no farther south than Monterey. Knowing he’d be south of Monterey by then, Dour struck out. "The wind was so light, I motored most of the way to Pt. Conception," Dour recalls. "I was about 120 miles west of San Nicholas Island at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning. That’s when the storm hit. That’s when my life began to suck!"

In the building winds and seas, Dour struck everything off the deck except his kayak, which he lashed to the windward side of the boat to protect his portlights. He then fashioned a sea anchor out of an old Danforth, some chain and rode, and a blown-out jib. "I’d just thrown it off the bow when I saw a shark’s fin," he said. "It was five feet off the bow and I thought, ‘Shit, the sharks are circling already!’ Turns out it was just a mola (sunfish)." Dour then rigged his lee cloth and settled in for a wild ride. "I was really wishing I’d brought more than a 12-pack!"

About 19 hours later, the winds had eased, though the seas were still heavy and confused. Dour plotted his position and he’d drifted north at a little over a knot — not too shabby for his first time lying ahull to a sea anchor. Unable to retrieve the set-up, Dour was forced to cut it away to get back underway. It was a slow trip in, but he pulled into a slip in San Diego last night around 11 p.m., none the worse for wear. Dour says he’ll spend a few weeks enjoying wearing shorts in San Diego before heading south to Mexico.

EPIRB Saves Cruiser and Dog

After spending three days adrift in a dinghy, a Canadian cruiser and his dog were succesfully rescued when their EPIRB’s signal was picked up by Tahitian authorities, reports Susanne Ames of the New Zealand-based Cheshire. Forty-eight-year-old Sylvain Caron was en route to New Zealand with his fox terrier Eddie, when his 40-ft ketch foundered the night of October 3. Forced to take to the dinghy, Caron was able to grab the EPIRB and a radio. When the latter succumbed to water damage, Caron’s only hope was the EPIRB. A French Navy aircraft spotted Caron and Eddie the following day and contacted rescue services in the Cook Islands, who ultimately found the pair some 280 miles northeast of Rarotonga a day later.

Electrical Seminar at KKMI

Time flies when you’re getting ready to race solo to Hawaii, so don’t forget to attend Monday’s Electrical Systems seminar for the Singlehanded TransPac. KKMI’s Ron Romaine will be helping racers assess their own electrical systems and give helpful "while-you’re-out-there" troublehsooting tips. "Historically, electrical systems have been the most frequent source of problems for Singlehanded TransPac racers," noted co-chair Bob Johnston, "so this may be the most important seminar in the series."

Doors to KKMI’s Boathouse in Pt. Richmond open at 7 p.m., while the presentation starts at 7:30 p.m. Email for more info.

‘Diver Dave’ Gissendaner rescues a 30-footer whose anchor dragged off Strawberry Point. “The pounding waves helped us pull her off,” he reports.
As Tropical Storm Patricia dwindles to a measly remnant low, the effects of last month’s Hurricane Jimena are still being felt in many places along Baja.
Currently cruising the South Pacific aboard Moonduster with his ladyfriend Neria, Alameda-based cruiser Wayne Meretsky reports from the Kingdom of Tonga: "The big deal at Ha’apai this week — and probably for the month and year, if you don’t count the tsunami and the ferry sinking — is an influx of palangi (foreigners) here, who have arrived in a quest to clean the beaches of Tonga.