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Archive for October, 2015

Category Five Hurricane Patricia comes ashore near Barra de Navidad

Cat Five Qualified!

Well, we have internet again.  Power was restored to the docks today and should have water tomorrow.  Our boat, Spiritus, has sustained no damage.  This in spite of heeling to about 18 degrees at the dock under winds, estimated at 165 mph a mile from the marina.

The Marina at Isla Navidad did superbly.  No boats lost.

After Patricia First Morning

Four boats in the marina sustained damage.  Two had furlers open.  Both lost sails on the opened furlers.

Staysail Furler Damage

One of the two lost its mast (to be honest this boat (pictured below) had marginal maintenance and was essentially a derelict at the docks.)



Two other boats broke loose from their cleats at the docks.  One was the result of a failed cleat and the other looks like a line parted on the boat itself.

Boats Breaking FreeNeither suffered more than cosmetic damage as dock hands and boat workers re-secured them during the passage of the eye wall.

One sailboat, in the mangroves on a small island in the lagoon, had its furler open and drove itself aground after several tacks  alternating between turns, anchor holding, drags, and finally a hard grounding near Maria’s restaurant in  Colimilla, which is the small community adjacent to the Grand Isla Navidad resort properties.  Most boaters in Barra know Colimilla for its restaurants.

Most of the boat owners, who were present during the hurricane, spent Friday night in the hotel.  We all got to watch our boats get battered from the relative safety of a room in a five-star resort.

Storm Watch

This sounds like the easy life, until you watch a friend’s boat next to yours break free  and begin the process of destroying the dock between itself and your boat. You care because you know the boat that is in trouble.  You care because the owners of that boat are dear friends.  You care because you know your boat is next. All you can do is stand by and watch. Your heart is torn because you are praying your boat is still there in the morning.  Then you think maybe you should be praying everyone’s boat is there in the morning.  The other thing to note is that when you’re in a hurricane of this intensity, you have to remind yourself that between you and the full fury of the elements is a pane of glass.

As evening and dark set upon us, the last thing we saw were the docks being lifted by the storm surge and high tide for the day.  There was only about four feet of pylon left and the water was climbing.  When we went to bed we did not know if we we’d see Spiritus in the morning when the sun came up.

Maybe it is fairer to say, we didn’t know what we would see when the sun came up.   Then the lights went out and the hotel fell into darkness.  All that remained was the wind, the blinding rain, and the worries of a boater and their boat.

The hotel is built like a Spanish Fort on a point of land overlooking the entrance to the lagoon.  The emphasis is on the word fort.  The walls are two feet thick and would probably stop a cannonball.  Everything is concrete, stone, and marble.  Substantial is the word that leaps to mind.  More importantly, nothing flexes in the wind.  It is a rock.

Barra deNavidad Harbor Entrance

Winds in the picture (above) were in excess of 100 mph.  The waves were approximately 23 feet and breaking at the harbor entrance.

Many boaters think of Barra de Navidad as a hurricane hole.  We came here with that in mind.  I think it is safe to say that any marina that endures a category-five hurricane landfall, with no boats damaged and no docks damaged beyond power and water loss, is probably okay to call itself a “hurricane hole.”

The lagoon is another question altogether.   It is open to the wind and a setting for disaster in high winds.  It has low-holding power on anchors, because it has a combined river silt and sand bottom.  Read this as the ‘slide pool’.  At the start of the hurricane, the only boat there was saved because its owner flew down from the US to Guadalajara and hired a taxi to drive him to the resort.  He got into the marina about an hour before the hurricane hit.  He had 30 knot winds in his face in the marina entrance, but almost none once he entered the marina itself.  By the time he had the boat secured with help from the marina staff and workers, the winds were above 60 knots and climbing.  His boat survived undamaged in the marina.

The fuel docks for Barra de Navidad are located in the lagoon.  During the high winds, they were torn apart and relocated.

Relocation of Fuel Docks



The staff and management of the hotel were exemplar.   Accommodations were made for all the boat owners on boats in the marina.  A special rate was even offered, because we were residents of the marina.

Boats that had pets were allowed to bring them in for the storm.   No one was turned away.

Staff worked round-the-clock, sleeping and staying at the hotel during the storm.  It provided food and beds for all staff who stayed.  The hotel has its own generators, so power was maintained for most of the storm.

Its kitchens made food available to those sheltering in the hotel.  We actually had TV during the storm, as well as internet for a portion of it.

Hotel damage was mostly limited to the edges of the tile roofs as the wind caught the tiles and lifted them up and blew them away.  The other casualty was some of the larger windows in the restaurants.  The pools are filled with debris, but being cleared even as I write this.


The local workers who care for foreign-owned boats stayed thru the thickest part of the storm and kept checking boats. Retying and moving them when necessary.  They saved at least two boats ,maybe three. with their selfless efforts.  I say this, because no one bills you for their help.  The marina staff and security also stayed during the storm.  Everyone turned in to help preserve the boats at the docks and the docks themselves.

We lost potable water, electricity, and a few dock cleats.

Almost full amenities are back at all docks, just five days after the storm.

I cannot tell you how much respect I have for the dock workers and staff of the marina at Marina Navidad;  they are the unsung heroes of this category-five hurricane here at the resort.  On Sunday, many finally took off to check on their families and homes.


This is a substory of the storm.  It is a remarkable substory of life in Mexico.  The town and the resort are separated by a half mile of water.  It is traversed daily and hourly by water taxis.  Many of the workers for the marina and hotel live across the harbor.  The taxis ran until they could not safely go out.  They ran until the batteries on their radios gave out.  They ran in breaking waves in the harbor.  When the dock they had just rebuilt blew down, they found another and continued to run.  Only during the worst of the storm did they stop for safety reasons.

Taxi Acquatico docksThe town lost power and parts of it are still without power today, five days later.  Life goes on.

This was/is Maria’s just down the street from the water taxi docks. What you are looking at was an indoor restaurant under a palapa roof a couple of days ago.  Parties and dinners were often held here.  This is the kitchen bar below it is the main restaurant area.

DSC_0059 DSC_0058

The church called San Antonio de Padua suffered minor damage.  This is the church with the Jesus on the Cross figure called the Cristo de Ciclón .

San Antonio de Padua

The church was standing room only for the services the second day after the storm.

Businesses are trying to clean up before this weekend, which is Dia de la Muertos (Oct 31-Nov. 2, a festival coinciding with the Catholic Church’s  Allhallowtide, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day).  Dia de Muertos is one of three most popular holidays along the coast (Christmas and Easter, being the other two).

Streets First Day

And the famous pizza place under the tree took a hit from the storm.  Most of the trees leaves are gone but it still stands.  You can see this tree from space in the Google earth Maps.   Glad it survived.

LocoLoco and the great tree


This is the large rock formation due west of the Marina on the other side of the headland.  Distance for the marina is a mile or so.  Currently,  the bulk carrier ship under Mexican Flag, the Los Llanitos,  is aground and probably will break up.

The video above is from 11/1/2015 and is the best example of what I am talking about.  Ship gets lots of visitors by helicopter but no visible environmental response.  The latest messages seem to suggest they are thinking of making it a reef.  I am not sure how that differs from doing nothing and hoping the fish like it.

The cargo seems to be grain so at least that is a relief, if true.

The video and pictures are of a 71,000 ton freighter that left Manzanillo just ahead of the storm.  It foundered and ran aground about a mile west of us on a rocky headland.  the winds were simply too strong.  Crew had to be evacuated after the storm by helicopter.  The Mexican Navy is not working to get her afloat now as she had broken her back and will never be sea worthy.

Bulk Carrier Breaking Up Along Mexico Coast After Running Aground in Hurricane Patricia – PHOTOS and VIDEO – gCaptain


I am adding this not as a criticism, but as a series of observations.  I have a background in Emergency Planning and Response in a previous life before cruising.  I have watched with rapt attention how the response system works in this part of rural Mexico.

Barra de Navidad is a small town of about 4,000 (according to the traffic sign at edge of town).  It has a two communications towers: one from Carlos Slim’s Telcel, which seems to have its own generator since it kept working when all power was out, and another that I do not know who installed but I suspect it is some kind of public works.

The warnings before the storm consisted of an emergency vehicle with lights and a siren hitting up the siren as it drove past the marina and announcing one hour before landfall that ‘a hurricane was coming.  Get to safety!  Stop all maritime activities!  Seek shelter immediately!’  I did not hear any warning by the Port Captain. He did close the port in an announcement.  The red ‘port is closed’ flag was flying at harbor entrance.  We were monitoring channel 16 for the captain, channel 22 for cruisers, and channel 23 for the water taxis.

No one knew wind speeds locally, and both local weather stations at the airport and in Manzanilla went off-line.  Internet was available until just after the storm ended; so, we got a lot of info from the sites we use to plan trips that I mention in another blog entry here called “Guessing the Weather along Mexico’s West Coast”.  This file is also available in the South_Bound user ground on Yahoo Groups.

No preparation at all.  No boarding of windows.  No pre-positioning of resources.

Storm hits.  No sirens, no response to emergencies, no presence of anything like response teams.  The local EMTs seem to have staffed their ambulance at the small clinic for Seguro Popular, the Mexican health program.  It is a very safe building at the edge of the commercial part of Barra.

After storm.

No police.  As of today, I have still seen no police in the town.  No military.  Well, except for a chopper that brought some meals and water.  No disaster teams.  No local use of generators (except at the Grand Isla Navidad Resort where we sheltered).  I have seen one small generator at a private home in five days of looking.  What is very interesting is NO LOOTING, no increase in crime, no breaking of windows.  No reports of any weird disaster-related social breakdown.  Small town, small town values: we take care of ourselves.

Stores stayed open if they were locally owned. Franchise stores like OXXO and Kiosko (these are like 7- Elevens) were closed for the duration (plus two days), because their internet based registers would not function.  Just closed.  No electricity = no register = Not Open.  Even in an emergency where supplies of food stuffs are immediately short.  Local tiendas (vendors)  just wrote things down in a small ledger for payment and for resupply.

Beer.  It was amazing to watch as the beer supplies got used up further and further from the town’s commercial district.  Each day to get beer, you had to walk further and further away from the town core.  Milk and anything refrigerated was gone or spoiled after the first day.  The ice plant kept running or had a store of bagged and block ice so that beer and sodas were kept on ice.  Everything in a cooler, powered by electricity, got hot.

Clean up.  No heavy equipment at all.  Shovels and Brooms.  Clean your own street of debris and sand.

Rebuilding.  Hammers and Machetes.  I’m not kidding.  Bolt cutters, stainless-steel hacksaws. hammers. small (very small) sledge hammers.  Wood and trees as big as five inches being worked and cut with machetes.   We saw a couple of power saws being used at the Grand Isla Navidad Resort.

Power.  The power companies were the only organized response I have seen.  There were half a dozen power trucks in town on the second day after the landfall.

No round-the-clock response.  Everyone seems to go home or shut down at night.

The ship wreck on Punta Graham (west of the marina).  The most response of all.  Half a dozen helicopter flights to and from the wreck site daily.  No spill-boom for fuel and oil containment.  No pumping of cargo off-boat.  Emergency response seems to be of an observational nature.  No interventions to prevent spill or mitigate damage.  Response by government seems to be ‘Just watch’.

News Response.  Oh, yeah.  Even though no one is talking much about the aftermath, lots of reporters on day three taking pictures.  Seem to be Mexico TV crews.


Boats in the Marina. Cruising boats have power, generators, solar, wind generators, fresh water-makers, water storage, refrigeration, food stocks, medical supplies, radio communications, phones, satellite communications, light, sewage, etc.  We fair well and are not a part of the problem.  But, we are also not part of the solution.  Not sure what to make of this.  Seems like a wasted resource to me.


As I have said elsewhere, the marina is located in a five-star resort which is by definition a gated community.  It remained so during the storm.  If there is cooperation between the resort and any local community as a shelter, it is not obvious to the casual observer.  What this means is that the only place for miles on the coast that could shelter in true disasters is essentially a business even during a disaster and not a community resource.  Seems like another wasted resource to me.

If the resort had a disaster plan, it was not obvious.  Windows (big ones) not boarded.  Last minute removal of furnishings from places likely to be opened to the elements.  No contact with guests.  An occasional “Are you guys OK?” would have been nice.

When the hotel’s dining room closed because of window damage, the hotel provided an emergency meal for workers and guests.

No apparent call in of off-duty staff.  Though, if you were staff here at the start of the storm you stayed.  Food and bedding was provided to workers, who did not leave for a couple of days.  Do not know if they got to contact family.  Most do have cell phones and the cell phone services never went down.  Bless you Carlos Sim and your self-powered cell towers.

I am adding a note here that the ad hoc response by staff on duty at the Resort was phenomenal.  They met each emergency need flexibly with what ever staff was not busy elsewhere.  It is clear that the staff is dedicated and very experienced but that is not an emergency plan that is experience.  It is safe to say that each year a hurricane is a distinct possibility at this resort.  It would make sense to organize a plan about how to handle one.

Marina.  No extra staff called in  during storm.  The few marina staff and security and the individuals who work on boats and any cruisers available handled emergencies in the marina.  Lost power.  Lost water.  Lots of damage to electrical system.  The big boats provided night-time illumination so we could see on the docks.

Marina management did stop by boats to check before the storm on what the owners’ plans were.  But no requirement that a boat prep for the storm.  No ‘take down your furlers’, no ‘remove all canvas’, no ‘add lines’.  One dock was mostly cleared of boats, and a few were moved to other locations in the marina.  I am guessing to reduce stress on certain docks.

Please note that the observations above are for information only.  They are entirely subjective in nature.  All I can attest to is what I have seen personally.  That being said, I am somewhat a keen observer of this kind of setting.  Just my two-cents worth.

It is very unlike a stateside response which tends to be heavy on governmental involvement.  There seems no help rebuilding support whatsoever.  Not sure if agencies here do disaster planning or just ‘respond’ in an observational posture.

Very interesting experience.

I actually had it in my head that cruisers would be much more use to communities in which we harbor.  This was based on an approximation of what we all carry on our boats.  I will have to rethink this assumption after this.


Lest you think these recollections are just the imaginings of a ‘cruiser’ in a foreign country, try to remember that for those of us who live on our boats, they are our homes.  We do not just fly to Mexico for the sailing season.  We live here with commitment.  That means that if the boat is sunk or heavily damaged, we are not simply unhappy while waiting  for a check from the insurance company.  We are homeless, just like anyone who loses all they have.

With that said, we try to never forget that all cruisers in Mexico, to some extent, live in secure gated communities called marinas.  We and they have security round the clock,  We don’t live where there is no backup generator.  We don’t live where there is no potable water.  We don’t live where the only help you have is your friends and neighbors.

A well-equipped cruising boat, after the storm passed, had electricity, potable water, food and medical supplies, internet, phones, television and DVDs, radios, and the ability to just sit out the period after the storm.  This was true even if the docks and marina had no power, water, or other amenities like sewage removal.

The bathrooms in the marina kept working.  You can’t imagine what that small thing means to cruisers.  We can’t imagine what it means to the town which had no such amenities after the storm.


There will be more added to this posting as info gets to me.  I just wanted to post it so, if you had an interest in Barra and the boaters here, you would have some info.