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Preparing for Hurricane Safety in or out of Mexican Waters

This topic may seem a little bit early, but NOAA says that the early part of summer 2024 in the Eastern Pacific (April, May, early June) is still being affected by a lingering El Nino – the more dangerous warm phase that feeds tropical storms in Mexican coastal and offshore waters and the Sea of Cortez. In February, the sea surface temperatures there were 2.9°F above normal.

So, for recreational boaters who are still in Mexican waters at this time, it’s not too early to think about hurricane preparations. “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” said President J.F.K.

TO BASH OR NOT TO BASH?

Migrating out of Mexican waters before hurricanes arrive usually means facing the 720-n.m. northbound route outside of the Baja California Peninsula.

Every year and month present different wind and sea conditions, but look at the Coast Pilot, and you’ll see that northbound boats generally must “bash” into the prevailing northwesterly winds and southbound current. Capt. Jim Elfers’ humorously instructive book “The Baja Bash” details how to safely bash north up Baja with the least amount of pain and suffering.

Personally, I’ve done the Baja Bash with my husband a couple dozen times while delivering yachts. Some trips are unpleasant and slow, but those blessedly “glassed off” conditions are possible too. The Baja Bash requires close attention to weather forecasts in order to pick the least bad weather windows. (We’ll discuss the Baja Bash in more detail in the next issue.)

Alternately, some boaters opt to have their vessels moved north (or south) of hurricane alley. Smaller yachts can be trucked to almost anywhere in the U.S. by either Cabrales Boat Yard in Puerto Penasco, Sonora, or by Marina Seca at Marina San Carlos, Sonora. They all use special hydraulic trailers that conform to the hull shape. Ask about your boat’s height, length and hull shape.

Larger yachts can either get craned aboard a SevenStar Yacht Transport ship, or float on and off a DYT Yacht Transport ship. Check their schedules, itineraries and prices. Popular pick up and pick up and drop off ports on the Pacific are La Paz, Ensenada, Victoria, and Golfito, Costa Rica and Panama.

Migrating south of hurricane alley is another reasonable option for many long-range cruising yachts and big sportfishing boats. They summer over at comfy stops along the 1,100-n.m. coast from Guatemala to the Panama Canal.

Cruisers’ summer hangouts in El Salvador are Bahia del Sol and Barillas. Marina Puesta del Sol is about the best spot in Nicaragua. In Costa Rica, there’s Marina Papagallo, Marina Flamingo, Marina Los Sueños, Marina Pez Vela at Quepos and several less expensive spots in Bahia Golfito. In Panama, check out Boca Chica in the Gulf of Chiriqui, also Bahia Honda and Isla Cebaco. In Panama Bay there’s Marina Vista Mar, the Perlas Islands and Marina Flamingo. All are rainy season favorites with refugees from hurricane season.

BOAT STAYS IN MARINA

Summering over and commuter cruising both became possible thanks to more and better marinas and to good airport connectivity between many Mexican ports and the U.S. and Canada. To summer over, it’s best (1.) to reserve a marina slip for the whole summer, if possible, (2.) to live aboard until the heat gets too oppressive, (3.) prepare the boat for your summer absence (See below.), and then (4.) fly away home or to cooler latitudes for short or long periods.

Marinas in Mexico offer generous discounts for longer stays, such as a 1-, 3- or 6-month reservation. But pick a marina with beefy breakwaters, a good record for hurricane safety and a staff that will contract to look after your boat in your absence.

Some marinas have knowledgeable staffers who will go aboard daily to check your bilges and batteries, while others might put a local captain on board to keep your bridge and cabins aired out and to button it up if rain threatens.

Draw up a list of exact duties you need performed for your boat in your absence; discuss it and sign an agreement with your summer marina manager. Maybe bring your nephew down to boat sit for you.

Before you depart, make copies of important documents to take home with you. For insurance purposes, take lots of pictures of your boat in its “before hurricane” condition. Hopefully you’ll never need them.

SECURE IT YOURSELF

Are you staying aboard? Start securing your boat yourself as much as possible at the first “hurricane watch” (winds 74 mph or higher are possible within 48 hours). Maybe hire a marina staffer to help.

Charge up the house batteries and drain the bilge; you’ll probably lose dock power but will want to leave bilge pumps running during the storm.

Prepare a Go Bag: change of dry clothes, passports, documents, flash lights, power bars, water and medical supplies, because the town might be seriously damaged.

Remove all gear on deck that’s not bolted down: sails and rigging, dinghy and outboard, solar panels, Starlink antenna, canvas dodger, barbecue, jerry jugs, cushions, chairs, ice chests, etc. Flailing sails and rigging often damage neighbor boats, dock boxes, power panels, etc. Dock stairs can blow sky high. Stow it all ashore before the first “hurricane warning” (hurricane conditions will definitely happen within 36 hours).

Set your boat’s four dock lines and at least two spring lines, using ¾- to 1-inch line, doubled up if in doubt. Secured reliable chafe gear in place where any lines might chafe after hours of heavy wave action. Fender the hull with every fender you’ve got, and hang them with a couple tight clove hitches. Avoid granny knots that prevent repositioning quickly. Fender whatever could puncture the hull if the dock finger breaks loose, tips or sinks.

Below decks, imagine you’re entering heavy seas. Dog down windows and port lights. Gather sponges and towels near places that sometimes leak. Fix any latches that might let drawers or lockers come open. Re-stow that top heavy table lamp, restack those heavy paint cans. Cushion the crystal. Use expansion bars in the fridge to corral heavy jugs on a top shelf or big bottles in an overhead locker.

Before 50-knot gusts arrive, grab your Go Bag and step off the boat to hunker down ashore. According to the National Hurricane Center, more than half the deaths in Hurricane Hugo 1989 were boaters, all drowning while attempting to save their boats.

HURRICANE AT ANCHOR?

Set the storm anchor where you have room to safely swing 360°, away from other boats that could drag down onto you. Rig a spare anchor to drop off the bow or forward quarter if you start drag. Hourly, plot the hurricane’s closest point of approach to your anchorage. Set the radar’s perimeter alarm to mark the nearest rocks or shoreline, and watch the depth sounder for any significant change not related to tide.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) website constantly graphically updates cyclone activity in our area of the Eastern North Pacific: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/cyclones/?epac

NOTE: If you think an emergency mooring at Puerto Balleto (21°38.135’N, 106°32.231’W) on Mexico’s Islas Marias would improve your boating safety in Mexico, please email me YES. patrains@mexicoboating.com Thanks.

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