Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chamela - Night of living dangerously

We had heard that Chamela was a beautiful anchorage that was well protected from the ocean swells but what we found was an large bay that was open to the southerly swells. The first day we anchored on the outside of the group of 6 boats and the next day we moved further into the bay when most of the other boats left. We deployed our flopper stoppers, large stainless steel plates that are hinged so they act as barn doors when suspended from the outriggers. They do an excellent job of reducing the roll from the swells, better than the fish that we drag while underway. The weather forecast was spotty, unstable weather was predicted for the area but the reception of the daily net on the SSB radio was very broken up and we had a hard time getting the full forecast. The weather forecasts for the Mexican mainland are poor at best. The forecaster on the SSB net in our experience has a .500 average at best and the other forecaster for the area who uploads his forecasts to the internet was having technical problems and had not been able to upload forecasts for a week.

As evening approached we could see lightning out at sea and as the sun set we had a spectacular light show well offshore and the winds were light so we were not worried. We had 175' of anchor chain out in 30' of water and felt comfortable with our anchorage as we went to bed. Around 11 pm we were awakened suddenly when our anchor alarm sounded, the winds had picked up and the alarm indicated we were pulling hard on the anchor. We immediately got up and found that the lightning was just offshore and the wind and swells had increased greatly. We turned on the radar to monitor our position to shore and the other boats in the anchorage and sat and waited and watched. What we experienced was the scariest night we've had at anchor. The lightning moved right over us, a continuous explosion of light directly over our heads and the winds increased to 50 kts with 6' swells in the anchorage. At one point a nearby sailboat drug it's anchor and moved past the boat next to us as if it were under power. The sailboat managed to stop themselves after letting out 240' of rode. A sail catamaran drug it's anchor and stopped itself just as it entered the surf line near the beach. All this time there was constant lightning all around us and we feared getting struck and losing all of our electronics. We stopped counting how long the thunder arrived after the lightning bolt with one-missisippi, 2-missisippi, and started using one-holy crap, 2-holy crap... We watched the radar closely and we were not dragging our anchor but the boat was pounding into the swells and we were afraid that this would pull the anchor out of it's set so we kept a close watch on the radar and anchor alarm as we sat huddled together in the pilothouse.

After an hour the storm cell started to pass over us and headed inland. The lightning moved on shore and the winds died down but the swells continued. At 3 AM we decided to try to get some sleep only to discover that our forward hatch had leaked and our bed was wet. Linda laid down in the mid-cabin and I laid down on the pilothouse berth to continue our anchor watch. As the winds eased we started to lay abeam of the swells and started to roll excessively from side to side. Neither of us could stay in our bunks with the rolling. Something was wrong with the flopper stoppers and I was afraid that we had lost them in the storm so I worked my way outside to the cockpit and started to pull them in. What had happened was 2 of the 4 lines that the floppers hang by had broken leaving the floppers hanging vertically in the water and useless in stopping our roll. I bought the floppers in and replaced them with our fish which are about half as effective in stopping the roll and but made the boat at least livable inside.

As the sun came up the seas calmed and we were able to get some sleep. The next day on the radio a sailboat 100 yards from us said that he thought he had been struck by lightning but had not suffered any damage and a person on shore reported that a palm tree just back from shore had been struck and caught on fire. We were lucky not to have been hit by lightning and that our anchor held. We have a 110 lb Bruce anchor that has never failed us and love it. If we ever see lightning like that in the future we will move our anchorage to an open area and let out twice the rode as we normally would. In high winds you need lots of space around you and to be clear of other boats. The danger is not only that you will drag your anchor but that the boats upwind from you will drag and end up on top of you or foul your anchor and cause you to drag. You have no control over other boats other than to get well clear of them before the storm arrives.

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