SAN DIEGO — As I’m writing Hurricane Florence is battering the Carolinas and three more hurricanes are lined up in the Atlantic, with other storms threatening the Pacific.
Living in SoCal, we often think we’re immune to hurricanes’ impact. For now, we’re safe, but we don’t know what climate change will bring. But if you’re taking your boat to Baja and beyond in Mexico, you cannot ignore the weather, since hurricanes have inflicted major damage in recent years on boating enclaves like La Paz and both Cabos, as well as devastating fishing villages.
Most cruisers heading south to Mexico depart around early November, the end of the normal Mexican hurricane season, which means they sometimes catch bad storms. That’s why it’s always critical to keep a close eye on the weather and identify the most reliable sources of weather information.
To understand Mexican weather patterns better, arm yourself with a copy of Capt. Pat Rains’ book MexWX: Mexico Weather for Boater, along with the latest edition of her Mexico Boating Guide, which most of us regard as the ultimate guide. If you need to take refuge from a storm, you’ll find recommendations for safe coves to anchor along with detailed information about coastal communities, local services and amenities.
When planning your trip, start as early as possible to check out all your mechanical and other systems, making any necessary repairs well before your planned departure. Be sure to stock up on spare parts, erring on the side of generosity. Replacement parts, especially obscure parts, can be elusive in Mexican ports or extremely expensive; you might have to fly them in or have friends transport them for you. The San Diego Yacht Club has an excellent cruisers’ mechanical/spare part checklist on their website at cubar.sdyc.org/documents2017/, plus other useful information.
Don’t neglect your watermaker, essential equipment for a long cruise. When Arv and I cruised with CUBAR (Cruise Underway to Baja Rally, previously FUBAR), most of the fleet’s 30-plus boats had problems with their watermakers. Get yours professionally checked out before departure, know how to fix it yourself and lay in replacement parts. Consider equipping yourself with a backup, such as the portable models now available.
Plan out your fuel usage – especially critical for powerboats – because fuel supplies are limited between Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas. Especially if caught by a storm you’ll want adequate fuel. You can buy fuel in Turtle Bay, but may need to pay cash.
Stock up on food as well before heading south. While Mexican cities all have large supermarkets and familiar big box stores, coastal villages have only small shops with limited offerings. For maximum flexibility, provision for at least two weeks. See theboatgalley.com for provisioning guidance and checklists.
For clothing, think layers. Leaving San Diego and Ensenada in November, you’ll probably need warm clothing. But halfway down the peninsula it’s warm, time for shorts, sandals and swimsuits.
In addition to Pat Rains’ essential guides, available at mexicoboating.com/, consider adding Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer’s “Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guidebook,” for excellent insight into the fascinating waters, and even John Steinbeck’s classic “The Log from the Sea of Cortez,” which documents his 1939 exploratory and specimen-gathering expedition.
Unless you’re truly fluent in Spanish, treat yourself to “Spanish for Cruisers,” Kathy Parsons’ handy guide offering invaluable words and phrases for boat parts and repairs, tools, mechanical and other marine systems. She also has sections on provisioning, listing Spanish words for foods never found in a pocket dictionary, and medical and other emergencies.
Go ahead and take that trip to Baja. But plan well – and watch the weather!