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September 16, 2014

SPECIAL REPORT: Hurricane Odile Damage

This image from Puerto Escondido hints at the power of Odile. Note the tattered headsail. And this was after the storm’s force had diminished.

© Shelly Ward

With most communication out with Baja, it’s difficult to get an accurate picture of the destruction caused by Hurricane Odile, but the following should give a general idea.

Currently, four cruisers from boats anchored out at La Paz are missing, according to reports by Shelly Ward and others. They are Gunther on Princess, who was last heard from saying that water was up to his knees in his boat and that he was getting out. Gabriel, described as "a Mexican kid on the steel boat Damiana," has not been found; nor has his boat. Also missing are Paul and Simon on Tabasco II. Their boat sank sometime during the night and all that can be seen now are masts sticking out of the water. We want to emphasize that this report doesn’t necessarily mean that the four are dead, as it’s a chaotic situation in the bay and on the Mogote — the peninsula that defines La Paz harbor — where most of the 22 boats were driven ashore by winds to 80 knots. La Paz is a tight cruising community, so everyone is praying for the four missing friends.

Cabo San Lucas — Cabo took a terrible hit with winds reported to 125 mph, making it either the worst hurricane to hit Cabo in recorded history or the second worst after Carla in 1967, back when Cabo was not much more than three palapas. Officials say that 135 people were hurt, but nobody was killed. If true, it would be a miracle.

In Cabo, storm-driven waves pushed sand to the doorsteps of waterside resorts.

© unknown

There is video on the Internet taken by a guy on a boat in the marina at some point during the storm. We don’t have details, but it seems that boats tucked into the marina past the dogleg to the right did quite well.

Photos of damage to the rest of the city are all over the Internet. Keep in mind that when taking pictures of hurricane damage, photographers always focus on the worst destruction. Residents of one badly damaged hotel said the staff spent the post-hurricane hours making sure guests were as comfortable as possible — and did so with big smiles on their faces. Mexicans know how to deal with adversity.

The Cabo airport is the fifth busiest in Mexico, getting something like 150 flights a day in the season. It looks totally devastated in photos, but officials from Southwest and other airlines say that local officials tell them they hope to have it up and running in some form by next Monday, the 22nd. We remember the September that it rained 24 inches in 24 hours in Puerto Vallarta, knocking out the only northbound bridge out of town. They had a new bridge up and running by Christmas. Cabo needs the airport back ASAP, as the entire population of the Cape depends on tourism, and the start of the season is just weeks away.

The unsettling news is that it looks as if another hurricane is headed in the general direction of Cabo. This would be Polo, which is currently a tropical storm but projected to reach hurricane force near Cabo on Saturday. Do hurricanes strike the same place twice within a week? That’s what happened with Luis in 1995, which destroyed 700 recreational boats in St. Martin’s Simpson Bay and was followed a week later by Hurricane Marilyn, which fortunately wasn’t quite as nasty. Chances are Polo won’t hit Cabo, and, even if it does, probably not with hurricane force.

The Cabo airport was trashed by wind and water, but resilient locals expect to have it operational again by early next week. 

© Merry Collins

La Paz — As mentioned above, all the concern is for the four missing mariners. Beyond that, in excess of 20 boats were reportedly either sunk or driven onto the Magote. The marinas and boats in the marinas apparently did quite well, notably Marina de La Paz, which suffered major damage to itself and berthed boats during the last big hurricane.

The following is a more detailed report from La Paz that is making the rounds on the Internet: "This is an edited email from very reliable friends on their boat in Costa Baja Marina. I have removed personal details and their names and boat name, but the latest based on the info they can get is here. This was via Sailmail at 3:30 p.m. PDT on Monday. Obviously it’s difficult to get around to see things first hand at this point.

"There are 22 known boats beached and several others sunk, and yet still several others missing. There are three known folks missing. That said, they may be ashore on the Mogote. But, getting to the Mogote via vehicle is problematic as the road northbound out of La Paz to Centenario (where you would turn off and drive out to the Mogote community) is not navigable, generally speaking. The wind is still blowing between 22 and 32 knots at present and the sea conditions on the bay in the vicinity of the Mogote anchorage are barely navigable. There is extensive damage throughout the city; almost every block in town evidences damage — trees down, roofs gone, some buildings collapsed. Part of the big sports stadium collapsed.

"Setting aside how accurate their instruments are, several boaters in Marina de La Paz reported 108-knot winds at 2:30 this morning. At the same time we observed 46- gusting to 68-knot winds here in our slip on the F dock on the inside of Marina Costa Baja. To put it in perspective, my barometer bottomed out this morning at 4:36 a.m. at 29.37 in. of mercury, and my recording barometer shows a pressure trace that mimics the shape of a golf tee. I don’t precisely remember the specific digital reading, but it was on the order of 978. The parking structure adjacent the Club Cruceros clubhouse is gone altogether.

"For those who know folks who normally anchor out in the bay and who didn’t flee for a slip somewhere, it’s hard to be certain of all boat names. So give us a day to sort it out and we’ll be in a better position to pass along specific boat info. Doing so now on the sketchy info that is out there would not be prudent.

"We had great Internet all through the storm but about mid-morning today it got dodgy. It seems to me that the eye of the storm was inboard of the western side of the peninsula, bounded by the mountains that parallel the western coastline extending up from Cabo to La Paz. The eye passed to the west of La Paz, which meant we were subjected to the worst quadrant of the storm as it came ashore and moved up the peninsula. Tom on Seizure drove out to Playa Tecolote. There is nothing there. The next two ferries from the mainland will be exclusively packed with military and CFE trucks to restore essential services ASAP.

"There was no damage to the docks at Marina de La Paz. A window in the office blew out, lots of water damage in the office. The wall adjacent to the boat ramp and work area is gone."

The ground floors of many Cabo hotels were damaged. But most, if not all, will likely recover. 

© Matthew Rankin

And from Shelly Ward:

"By some miracle I have Internet. No phone and 110-volt only because we are running a generator. So this is the only way to get a message out. We are okay, and my boat is fine, but a lot of people are not. There are at least 20 boats up on the shore including my old boat Eros. The big thing is that we are getting the Navy to help us search for four missing people. Gunther on Princess, was last heard from last night with water up to his knees, saying he was leaving the boat. Gabriel on Damiana, which is a Mexican kid on a steel boat. He and his boat haven’t been found yet. Our good friends Paul and Simon on Tabasco II are missing as well. Their boat sank sometime in the night and all we can see are the masts sticking up. When the wind lay down some earlier today, Mike and I went out in the dinghy (wearing lifejackets!) and picked up two people stranded on the beach: Autumn off Rascal and Doug on Starduster. We also saw an 8-man life raft on the beach, which we hoped belonged to Paul and Simon. No one was in the life raft, so we are hoping they went and found a place to stay on the Mogote. There are some people over there in their houses, but we have not been able to reach anyone because the cell phone service is down. Tom on Callisto and Tim on Rock Bottom are both on the beach, but are okay. Richard on Toloache and Paul on Cementress are both stranded on the sandbar without dinghies, which got blown away in the night. We could use some help down here to get things cleaned up. It will be a long week! Thanks for all your prayers and please keep them coming for our missing friends."

Puerto Escondido — The following is the report is from Jake Howard on the Hunter 45 Jake, which has spent the last seven summers in the Sea:

"Just a quick note to all to let you know we survived Hurricane Odile. It was absolutely the worst storm experience we ever encountered, and we are in no hurry to ever encounter one like it again. Odile passed within 50 miles of us to the west as a Category 2 hurricane.  We had gusts here in Puerto Escondido of at least 70 knots. It was unbelievable. We would get knocked down by a 40-knot gust that came from our forward starboard side, to be immediately followed by another 40-knot gust from our rear port side, all in driving white-out rain. Four boats — three were unoccupied — here in the main anchorage broke off their moorings and are now on shore in various places around the anchorage. Out in the Waiting Room anchorage, where we usually moor, two boats broke off moorings and are on the shore, and two more were dismasted. We have some minor damage, but nothing that can’t be fixed. We had an amazing amount of rain. I imagine the road washouts and flooding must be pretty serious. There is no power or Internet service available, so I am sending this via SSB radio. Currently the wind is blowing at 11 knots and the air and water are 84°. We’re very glad to be still living the dream."

 This morning’s Ham net came out with a list of damaged or destroyed boats in the Puerto Escondido area:

  • Lunacy – dismasted.
  • Sea Toy – sunk.
  • A 42-ft tri with no name – high and dry on the jetty.
  • Estancia – sunk.
  • Red Dolphins – on the rocks.
  • Illusive – sunk.
  • Angel – on the rocks.
  • Nika (sic?) – dismasted.
  • Equity – dismasted.
  • Manta – holed hull but repairable.
  • The catamaran Rapscallion – on the rocks.

It was also reported that the new marina in Santa Rosalia did well, but the old one broke apart.

We’ve been to a number of areas shortly after hurricanes. It’s amazing how quickly nature recovers. Structures take longer. Our prayers continue to be with the four sailors who are missing.

What a rush! Tom Thayer’s J/70 Rampage was looking fast at the Rolex Big Boat Series, but Andy Costello and Paul Cayard on Double Trouble won the 13-boat class.
Shortly before 11 p.m. Sunday night, the leading edge of Hurricane Odile, then a Category 3 ‘major’ hurricane covering an unusually large area, hit Cabo San Lucas and the southern tip of the Baja peninsula.
More than 150 boats have paid up for the 21st running of the Baja Ha-Ha Cruisers’ Rally, from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, which starts October 27 with stops at Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria.