Of friends and hurricanes and … the Sea of Cortez
I have thought about writing this every day since Hurricane Odile.
I want to put to digital paper some thoughts on sailing, hurricanes, news, friends, and the dangers of cruising. It is first and foremost an homage to the folks in La Paz and the fleets of the Sea of Cortez or, if you are weather-wise and politically incorrect, the Gulf of California.
La Paz, Escondido, Cabo San Lucas, and numerous bays–well known to cruisers of Mexico’s Coast and the Sea of Cortez–took a direct and heavy hit from Hurricane Odile on September 14-15, 2014. Cabo and its problems with the hurricane are well (or not so well) documented by news agencies all over the world from a few pictures and videos–mostly from touristas.
For those of us with friends in La Paz and other parts of the Sea of Cortez, the wait for news was and–to some extent–is still agonizing. To their immense credit, the only news available to most of us–regarding the cruising community–was info and updates provided by a blog, a sailing magazine, the cruisers’ club in La Paz, a yahoo news group, and email to friends.
First and foremost, “Latitude 38”, a magazine that is known more for its advertising than for its news content provided the best overall coverage of the disaster related to La Paz. They are best known for the Baja-Ha-ha every year for the last twenty years or so. I do not praise them lightly, I am a critic–not a supporter–of the magazine, BUT, this time … they got it right. Pictures and information were available to all, once they got their storyline up and running. Kudos, guys!
The blog for Rebel Heart–which many of you may know or remember for its harrowing rescue at sea, earlier this year, by the US Navy– was the first (to my knowledge) to publish any real info on the situation in La Paz. It was in the form of an email and some early photos from Shelly Ward on s/v Avatar of the boats damaged or lost in the Mogote. It was also Shelly, I believe, who first posted that Gunther Trebow might have perished, as well as Paul Whitehouse and Simone Wood being missing (now confirmed deceased). Shelly’s pictures of the wreckage and devastation were heartbreaking.
Club Cruceros of La Paz got a photo collection going as soon as the internet was restored, showing many of the boats at Atalanta shipyard where we also knew a young couple working on their catamaran and living in a trailer at the yard (just outside). I think these pictures were from Susan on s/v Two-Can-Play. There are now more than a 150 pictures of what has happened.
The Southbound Group on Yahoo news groups posted an early email letting us know early-on that some of the news from La Paz would not be good.
There was not much early-on in the newspaper, “Baja Insider”, probably because of the internet and power outages that La Paz suffered.
The American and world news media was less than useless. Their focus was the 24,000 American tourists who were playing in Cabo when the hurricane hit. Their only other focus was the ‘looters’. Mention of La Paz and the other affected parts of the Sea of Cortez was almost non-existent. With an attention span … news cycle of less than four days … the American news and public has moved on to Brittany Spears’s old boyfriend and the new iPhone 6.
I will give links to many of the sources mentioned above at the end of this posting. But first some thoughts.
I AM GLAD SPIRITUS WAS NOT THERE. I AM GLAD CAROLYN AND I WERE NOT THERE!
Ok, I have said the words out loud. As human beings, at least as caring human beings, we cannot help but wonder: What If. We can’t stop feeling that we should help. BUT, the first thing to learn in life is to stay away from destruction and death. No matter your sympathies … no matter your skill set, count your blessings, say your prayers, find your friends, and above all thank God, you and yours were somewhere else.
I know of what I speak. I spent my professional life as a manager of Emergency Medical Systems, big ones and small ones. Actually ran a county-wide system on Oregon’s Coast, so I am very familiar with what happens in disasters. I also designed Emergency Response plans for multiple counties with coastal towns and ports. I know what a response should look like on paper and what they look like for real. I have been a paramedic and nurse for most of my working life dealing with emergencies. You do what you do because you are there NOT because you want to be there.
Now all that said. Do not read this as anything other than utter admiration for those who pitched-in in La Paz. They are tired. They are probably exhausted. They need a well-deserved rest from all of this. Friends have died. Boats have sunk.
Spiritus spent all of last year, including the hurricane season in La Paz. We have friends all over it. They are both cruisers, workers, staff, and locals–Americans. Canadians, and Mexicans. We have written as many as we can to see how they are doing. Most reply, others are having it worse than they are. Most have been able to respond. We will see them soon. They will remain in our thoughts till we do.
We knew we were taking a chance last year as one of the things that La Paz and the Sea of Cortez is not is a hurricane hole (if indeed there is such a thing). This year we were headed south towards Chiapas with Senta II with intentions of spending the season in Chiapas or south. Plans changed, and we decided to stay in Barra de Navidad south of Banderras Bay. It has been a good decision, in retrospect.
Sounds like the marinas in La Paz did very well. Kudos to Marina La Paz for its efforts to have a good plan and stick to it. Looks like all the work after Hurricane Marty paid off for those staying there. I mention them because that is where we stayed. We also anchored out for a while so the Mogote is also familiar to us.
BOATS ON THE HARD
Supposed to be relatively safe. I have had our boat out at Atlanta and had work done there. My only thoughts –while Spiritus was there– were what a great crew the shipyard had and “Please God, let me get my boat back in the water before it rains.” Yeah, very sandy soil and water are a great mix for either mud or concrete. Still, I was surprised and dismayed at the photos of the destruction. It was on the edge of unbelievable, based on what I thought about putting a boat on the hard.
BOATS AT ANCHOR
Everyone who has been in the Mogote understands tides, maybe tidal surges, and moderate-to-strong winds. But, like anyone who has been there, I question leaving a boat unattended for a season, or derelict, or at- anchor without a crew.
We, too, understand the feeling that the only thing you have left in the world is your boat (and maybe a pet). So, I do understand anchoring-out as a cost saving, as a way of life, as a ‘live -free’ expression. I also understand that you risk your boat and your life when you do it. Even when you do it right. I believe and understand that, for some, that risk is acceptable. For others, there is no alternative. For still others, it is an expression of a way of life. It is an expression of a way of life … where safety is not the measure of all things.
Sailing is risky business. SAILING IS RISKY BUSINESS! Ok, I said that out loud, too. And before all the empiricists break out the actuarial tables and statistics on how dangerous driving your car is … I will just say, I don’t care …. SAILING IS RISKY BUSINESS!
Doesn’t mean you should not go sailing. Probably a good reason to do just that. But never underestimate the objective danger of wind and water in motion.
Those lost in the Mogote would probably tell us all …. sail …. just go sailing! By continuing what we do, we honor them. Get on with it .. go sailing .. drop an anchor … look at EEB Mike … listen to the morning net … and get out there.
For me, personally, there are worse ways to go than drowning in a storm!
BOATS AT ANCHOR WITH NO ONE ON BOARD
I will try to restrain myself here. Derelict or neglect or evacuation. Is there another explanation? Who knows how many boats were struck by other boats adrift with no one on board. If you have spent a windy night in the Mogote anchorage, this sentiment will probably not surprise you.
All of us leave a boat at anchor for small sections of time to go to the store, to the docks, to get groceries. But leaving a boat out in a storm in a crowded, even if less-crowded anchorage, is (in my opinion) negligence.
At least one of the deaths in La Paz was after (we think) an occupied boat was separated from its anchor by another boat adrift in the storm.
I know what I think about this behavior … but I think I will let you decide for yourself, rather than reducing it to words. For now, it is just inarticulate anger at the loss and a wondering thought of ‘was it really necessary?’
I would really like to know: How many of the boats in the mangroves and beaches of the Mogote were unoccupied at the time they broke free? As a sailor, I would like to know. I know that we move heaven and earth to not leave our boat unattended. Do others disagree?
NEWS COVERAGE OF LA PAZ
There was none. There is none.
CABO SAN LUCAS
Americans go home. And, there is looting all over. Did I miss anything?
Now let’s talk a little about reality and not-reality news. Disaster planning for Americans traveling abroad by air is apparently an “I’m outta here!” philosophy. Seriously, having ignored the impending weather, having sat in the pool and watched to a full-blown hurricane come ashore, having gotten a good home video, now what do I do?
I suppose you can wait, and then complain when the US government sells you a return ticket for 500-600 dollars to replace the one you already bought from the airlines. Hmmm … disaster planing is apparently not a part of the advertising literature for Cabo vacations. I think that is the famous “What happens in Cabo stays in Cabo…” campaign.
In Cabo, the marina was apparently relatively undamaged. But, we got pictures of all the flotsam and debris littering the waters near the docks. No sunk boats, no loss of life in the waters nearby …. but debris like coke cans, life preservers, throw rings, and boat fenders was considered newsworthy.
In La Paz, people died. Boats ran aground. Boats sank. Ditto for Loreto/Escondido and other coastal locations. But no national coverage. Why?
Maybe because 24,000 Americans were not trying to get out of town. Maybe because there was no looting. Maybe because La Paz is not yet a resort town or as Cabo is now called a “Celebrity Resort Town”. Maybe because the people of La Paz live in the town and not just in the areas surrounding the resort town.
Maybe because there is no million dollar fishing tournament in a month in La Paz. . . Just maybe.
My heart goes out to the people who live there all year long.
LOOTING IN A DISASTER
I know there will be some disagreement with this part, but so it goes. Looting of water, soft drinks, toilet paper, food, beer, chips, and all kinds of lighters, cigarettes, matches, all the stuff of convenience stores is not “LOOTING” writ big. It is survival.
I read with some interest the tales from tourists that hotel staff stayed at their jobs … making sure guests had food, soft drinks, sandwiches, ice, and toilet paper, etc. I guess, if you are a guest at a good hotel, there is no need to LOOT.
I seem to remember, in the big hurricane in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina when there was a big brouhaha about the cop seen “LOOTING” a convenience store thru a blown-out front window. He had donuts and milk, which only made it worse. Kind of the “Police are looting, too!” yellow journalism headliner story. Turns out that,when questioned, the policeman had been on duty for more than 48 hours without relief and simply needed some food to keep going. To keep being a cop for everyone. He also (if I remember correctly) left cash under the counter for what he took.
My point: In a disaster, ‘NORMAL” property rules do not apply. When your family has no water or food, the blown-out windows of a store with no employees are not just tempting … they are an invitation to take what your family needs to survive. In that situation, the validity of the moral outrage of groups of people– waiting for airline tickets out-of-town– seems a bit ludicrous .
Now, that being said. Unquestionably one does not need TVs, computers, or DVD players to survive. That is LOOTING, writ big. But, I have not seen many of those kind of pictures of Cabo. Have you?
I will link below to an email about the looting in Cabo from someone who was actually there. It paints a different and more believable picture of the behavior of Cabo’s residents. (We decided to just paste the email … with permission of the author, et al.) It follows:
I can’t agree more with Chris, thank you for posting this.
I am posting below a news update from Cabo very recently. They want to get a better and more honest picture out. I got it from Charlie’s Charts Facebook page.
Some brighter news about the situation in Cabo!!!
From group: HEART FOR CABO
I just off the phone with a good Mexican friend Jay Vazquez that is at ground zero. He has been spending a lot of time on the streets of Cabo. We spoke for an hour and this is what he told me. Very good news. Also my girlfriend spoke to her aunt that lives by Soriana in San Lucas who confirmed this information is true.
1) The stories of gangs driving the streets with machetes and guns is highly exagerated. He said he has heard of some isolated incidents of a few home robberies and that was it. He said that the streets have been peaceful. No riots or fires. He has not seen one vehicle driving around with gangs in it. He told me that some of the Mexicans out of fear have spread exaggerated stories of multiple home break in’s which in turn the gringos heard which in turn made the gringos scared to death leading them to barracade their neighborhoods especially when they see other people doing it. Yes some homes have been brokren into. It’s caused a wide spread panic out of fear of danger that doesn’t even exist. My friend has been moving freely around San Lucas and San Jose each day and has not seen any violence or gangs. That doesn’t go to say that he is seeing everything so if you have actual ‘facts’ of anything else and are confident of the information please report it but only if you know it’s not gossip created out of fear.
2) 14 prisoners broke out of jail but they did not start gangs. They simple broke out and are no where to be found but they are not running gangs.
3) The looting at Costco went like this. Costco told their employees and families that they could go in and take the necessities they need with military patrol overseeing the area. When other locals saw this they felt that they should be able to join in and proceeded to get what they wanted which caused it to be disorderly but not violent. The military could not really stop them without shooting so they let people take things and even things that they really didn’t need like tvs. However it was not a forced violent entry and started off with the permission of Costco. This has been the case with some other businesses as well. It’s not to discredit the fact that some stores have actually been broken and looted in Los Cabos.
4) He said the basic needs are water and food. So we must continue to raise funds to donate to legitimate organizations that will deliver them asap!
5) He is seeing CFE starting to put up temporary power and phone lines. Some areas he is being told will have electricity in 3-4 days but not all areas
6) He is seeing more and more military come in steadily and restoring order
7) He said the government is doing a great job in making things happen very quickly
8) Roads between San Jose and San Lucas are clear and safe to travel
9) He said he is feeling peace where ever he goes and no sense of fear
I think it’s important we spread this news while still telling our friends and families there to be alert in protecting their areas as there will still be those that will steal and take advantage of the situation.
Help is on the way and people will be fed and have water. Continue to pray because the prayers are working and continue to pray for this next hurricane to go west as it seems to be headed that way more and more very second.
Please forgive me if I posted anything different yesterday as I was being giving information from people on the ground in San Lucas that were feeding off the fear of others who may have actually experience a isolated event in the area.
I think we can find a lot of peace in todays information as we continue to pray and believe with confidence that everyone will be OK and taken care of. Let’s focus our energy, efforts and thoughts on building support for supplies so that we can get them there as soon as Baja roads clear. Remember “fear is faith contaminated”. I need to practice what I preach!
PLEASE REPOST EVERYWHERE!!!!!
After the storm. Searching for info from anywhere, I finally was able to get the webcam for the weather station to come up and this is the picture. I kept it because I thought …” yep … they will be okay now that the sun is back. Look at the bay! Everything important is still there.” Later, we heard the final news about Gunther. Then, Simone and Paul.
Each email we get back from a friend, we are checking-on, helps us sleep a little easier.
For those of you who got the news out, while trying to save friends and boats … I can’t tell you how much it means to those of us who care about you all. THANK YOU, writ very big.
And finally, this video will make your heart sing.
It is posted on Youtube and in the referenced Latitude 38 article. It is called “Refloating the boats!”
Credit to Shelley Ward of La Paz Yachts and all the helpers.
READ FOR YOURSELF RESOURCES:
Latitude 38 Articles
Hurricane Odile Disaster overview
Special Update La Paz Boat Tally
Hurricane Odile Damage Update
Special Report Hurricane Odile Damage
Club Cruceros Photo Record of Storm Effects
Sailing Vessel Rebel Heart Blog (some of the earliest news and pictures)
How can you help? If all of this moves you to help, see links below
or for the children and people of La Paz, I am posting an email forwarded thru southbound_group in Yahoo groups
Various organizations are collecting donations for the people who are suffering great losses because of Hurricane Odile. Especially hit were the families of the outlying neighborhoods who lived in houses built of wood and lamina, some made of tarpaper or cardboard.
For in-kind donations to Fundación Ayuda Niños La Paz (FANLAP) you may bring donations to Tailhunters on the malecon. Or you may bring them to Marina de La Paz, and be sure to tell them it is for FANLAP. FANLAP serves children and adolescents in the area of Marquez de León, Laguna Azul, Vista Hermosa and Villas de Guadalupe and other colonias in the same area on the outskirts of la Paz.
You may make an online donation to FANLAP through International Community Foundation (ICF). To do so simply click DONATE or put the following in your browser: http://icf-xchange.org/donateonline/index.php?webkey=losninosdelapaz
ICF is also collecting is also collecting donations to be used on immediate disaster relief and rebuilding efforts. They will partner with the Mexican Red Cross (Cruz Roja) and their grantees (including FANLAP) throughout the region. Contributions may be made to the Baja California Disaster Relief Fund at the International Community Foundation or just click HERE.
State DIF (family development institute) located on the Highway to the North and Boulevard Colosio has a collection center for distribution to people in need in the whole state of BCS.
The Red Cross ( Cuuz Roja) also accepts donations.
The following list includes (but is not limited to) some of the most important things needed for the families:
FOOD ITEMS: bottled water, boxed milk, rice, beans, sugar, salt, bullion, tomato sauce, tuna, flour, flour de maiz, other nonperishable items.
FOR HYGIENE: diapers for babies and adults, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, shampoo, soap, dish soap, laundry soap
CLOTHING: used clothing (adults, adolescents and children) should be clean and in good condition.
Also band aids, antiseptics, aspirin.
We are grateful to you for helping the children of La Paz and their families.
Judith A. Peterson, President
Fundación Ayuda Niños La Paz, A.C.
Click DONATE to make a 501 (c) 3 donation
visit our website at www.lapazninos.org
follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fanlap