Welcome to our mid-life crisis! These are the chronicles of Laura and Patrick, their young son Jack, and their goofball Labrador Retriever named Evinrude (Rudy), as they travelled the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico in their catamaran. We went cruising in search of a change of pace, a closer knit family, and peace of mind. We found all three and more. The fun all started in October, 2008 and nearly four years later the Mexican adventure came to an end August 3rd, 2012. With our mid-life crisis cured in Mexico, we are excited to start a new adventure - life back in America.

Candeleros Chico

Candeleros Chico
Just another beautiful day at anchor on the Baja. 2010

Dolphins at play in the bow wake 2011

Dolphins at play in the bow wake  2011

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Feb 27 Tsunami Regatta

Feb 27 found us still anchored in Bahia de los Ninos, fast asleep at 8 a.m. when there suddenly came a hail "Just a Minute, Just a Minute." There was a dinghy just off our stern with a fellow cruiser calling urgently for us. We came awake quickly and went on deck. Fearing that we were dragging or some other small catastophe, it took a few seconds for his message to sink in. There had been a giant earthquake in Chile and the entire coast of Mexico was on Tsunami Alert. Thankfully, this kind man was going around the anchorage to make sure everyone had heard the news, a good thing since people like us turn our radios off at night so we aren't disturbed by radio traffic. Cruisers had already been broadcasting the news on the VHF radio. Though it was only an alert, vessels were cautioned to head out to deeper water, in the event of a tsunami. The local time was 8 o'clock and the tsunami shock was supposed to hit our area in three hours. Quickly, the boats anchored around us were pulling anchor and heading out to sea. You just can't stay behind when everyone else is leaving, so we followed suit

It was a parade of boats. I have never seen so many boats at sea at the same time in Mexico. Boats from all the marinas and anchorages began leaving. A lovely 10 knot breeze quickly had everyone raising their sails and soon the horizon was filled with the beautiful sight of full sails. We all had a lovely day on the water and then after the danger was past we all returned to anchor. We chose to head back to Tenacatita. Quickly the anchorage filled back up and once agains there were over 20 boats anchored here. The tsunami alert came to nothing in our area and we would have been fine to just stay put - but it is always better to be safe.

Rudy was very excited because he heard that we were on a "Salami Alert." Of course, Rudy is always on Salami Alert. Alas, that didn't pan out either.

Internet access is getting harder and harder to find as we head south and from now on I will try to keep a running post going on my comjputer and then post several days' posts whenever I get a chance. Also, the connection has not been good enough yet to upload video or pictures, but I have some great stuff I can't wait to post when I find a good connection. We caught some video of the mother and baby dolphin, and have very funny footage of anchoring in the squall at Ipala and the bash through the waves at Cabo Corientes.

Feb 24 - Bahia de los Ninos (Bay of Children)

When we finally pulled anchor in the first bay at Tenacatita and headed around the corner, we were stunned at the sight - wall to wall cruisers anchored tightly together at one corner of a large cove. After our experience in the Weather Bomb, both Patrick and I just gulped. We did not want to be anchored that close to so many boats. So we motored off to the side and dropped anchor well away from everyone else.

Seeing the bay for the first time was like finding the elephant's graveyard. There were 36 boats anchored in this bay, even more than had been in La Cruz. What was truly amazing was that we had found the kid boats. When we pulled in, there were 11 boats with families on them! Jack was in heaven. There were so many kids around that the bay was jokingly renamed Bahia de los Ninos. The cruisers here are very organized with get-togethers and games planned every day. We settled in to the new experience and just started hanging out on the beach with everyone. Bands of children roamed the beaches, volleyball players sweated in the sun, and Mexican train domino players enjoyed the shade of the beach side palapa. We met many new people and found out that loads of kid boats are planning to spend time in the N. Sea of Cortez in the coming summer. Yeah! Our next summer in the Sea will be even more fun.

This cove at Tenacatita is truly a new level of paradise. A family of four or five Bottlenose dolphins lives in the bay and is often seen fishing around the boats. Since we are on the outside edge of the anchorage, the dolphins spend a lot of time around us and come very close to our anchored boat. We wake at night to the sound of their breath just on the other side of the fiberglass, and we have heard their sonar clicks and squeals through our hull. Rudy is very excited to see them and races around the boat to watch their progress. At the mouth of the cove, humpbacks have been feeding and once gave a great aerial show of joy, with two leaping repeatedly out of the water. The weather continues, warm, sunny and benign.

Feb 20 - 23 The Gold Coast

The golden morning when we woke up in Ipala was the beginning of a new experience for us. The "Gold Coast" or "Mexican Riviera" is the stretch of coastline between the south lip of Banderas Bay and Manzanillo, 80 miles further south. Everyone raves about it and hundreds of cruisers ply these waters over the winter months. We kept joking to each other about the "Gold Coast." Our three weeks in Banderas Bay were filled with gloomy skies, rain, chilly temperatures, and storms with a couple of nice days thrown in. If this was the "Gold Coast" then the north Sea of Cortez was Platinum for sure.

We spent 3 weeks in Banderas Bay since we were waiting for immigration paperwork there. We finally applied for our FM3's - the visa that allows a foreigner to stay for one year. Everyone entering Mexico is granted 180 days but when that time is up you are supposed to leave the country. You don't even have to be gone long - you can cross the border and turn around and come back in. Over the last 17 months in Mexico, we have made several trips home, but we now know that going home has a high cost, and it's not just the cost of gas. Travel costs, tickets, lunches on the road, eating out, hotels and car rentals are cheap compared to the amount of money you spend when you get to America and start buying all the products and boat parts that you can't find in Mexico. It's better to stay here and not tempt yourself.

So back to the new experience. When we woke in Ipala, it truly was like starting a new trip. We had a lovely sail south with a light breeze on our backs to Chamela. Along the way, we were joined by some Pantropical Spotted dolphins, a mother and baby played in our bow wake for quite a while. It was like she was teaching him the ropes of how to do it. Chamela is a big bay with a couple of islands in it. We went straight to the islands and found a beautiful little spot in 16 feet of water. The water was so crystal clear that we could read the writing on our anchor on the bottom. Beautiful rock reefs surrounded our anchorage, offering lots of interesting snorkeling. And best of all, we only had to share this paradise with one other boat. We stayed for two days and then pulled our hook, heading south to find 3rd Day.

Our next planned stop was the next anchorage in our guide book - Careyes, just 6 miles south. It sounded lovely, but we knew it would be crowded since the bay is home to several high-end resorts including Club Med. When we reached Careyes we were very disappointed. Yes, it was lovely; yes, it was crowded, but no, it was not really an anchorage. It is obvious that the wealthy land owners and high end resorts do not want to have riff raff cruisers fouling up their view! The Careyes Bay is like lace work - three little coves with reefs between them and high cliffs surrounding it. Very pretty, very intimate. Of the three bays available to anchor in, all were filled with moored pangas, and roped off swimming areas. One little cove had five beautiful little pangas all painted the same, completely stripped of any gear - no engines, oars, fishing takcle, just the shell of the boats. Obviously no fisherman used them, they are simply there to fill up the anchorage so no one else can moor there! There is one mooring spot behind a tiny island, but a large power boat was filling the spot, so we toured the anchorage and headed back out to sea to hit the next spot - Tenacatita another 17 miles south.

The wind was 22 knots by now since it was in the afternoon, but it was on our backs and we just flew along. We averaged 8 knots under sail power alone. Very fun, and we reached Tenacatita well before sunset. Tenacatita Bay is ENORMOUS. We knew 3rd Day was anchored in Tenacatita, but when we pulled in that night to the first bay we didn't see any other boats. So we dropped anchor off a beach lined with restaurants and settled in for the night. We found out the following morning that all the cruisers were anchored out of sight around the corner in the next cove. We were enojoying our spot, so we stayed put for a couple days.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Feb 18 - 19 Funky Weather Continues

We have finally left Banderas Bay, but it took two tries over two days to accomplish it.

Wednesday morning found us visiting with family friends Gale and Dee Flake who happened to be vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. After saying our goodbyes, we motored out of the PV harbor around noon, headed to Yelapa, a small village on the south side of Banderas Bay. Our plan was to anchor there for the night, and then get an early start on rounding Cabo Corientes, the souther lip of Banderas Bay. Cabo Corientes is known to be difficult to navigate around. This headland funnels wind and current. It is best to try to round it in the early morning hours, since you are more likely to find calm seas and gentle winds. Remember that Banderas Bay is huge, about 20 miles wide and 20 miles deep, so being at Yelapa would bring us much closer to Cabo Corientes.

At noon, as we left PV it began lightly raining. Over the next hour as we headed to Yelapa, it became apparent that there was a storm quickly forming over Cabo Corientes, and that we were headed right into it. Lightning began lighting up the gathering dark clouds and the rain became a torrent. Swells quickly grew to five feet with white caps and the wind increased to 28 knots. We prepared for a possible lightning strike by placing our hand held electronics and computers in the oven (I don't know if it really works, but that's what we have been told.) Three miles off of Yelapa, it became clear that it would not provide any shelter in the current wind and swell direction, so we changed direction and headed 12 miles back to the La Cruz anchorage on the north side of Banderas Bay. La Cruz was the lightest spot on the horizon, a lighter gray against the menacing dark clouds. It's ironic how happy we were to drop anchor in La Cruz just at sunset, since we had been so happy to leave the memories of the Weather Bomb just the day before.

Wednesday night in La Cruz, we listened to the Southbound Net on the SSB to hear Don Anderson's weather report for the following day. He reported mild conditions for our area, so we decided to head out the following morning. At 4:30 am we were up, raising the anchor trying to get to Cabo Corientes by morning.

We were nearing Cabo Corientes by 10 am, but it didn't seem to matter that it was still morning. Five miles from the lighthouse, the wind began to grow from the south. We were beating into it. There wasn't much to worry about, it was just a fun day crashing into the waves. We were in the company of 3rd Day, with another two boats a few miles ahead of us, and one a few miles behind. Soon the waves had white caps and the winds were a steady 25 knots, with some gusts to over 30. Waves began breaking over our bow, sending green water over the cabin roof and drenching us in the cockpit. Never seen that before, not even in the Weather Bomb! Jack loved the excitement of the circus ride and took a long turn at the helm, to better enjoy it.

Our speed dropped to 2 knots as we pounded into the wind and waves, with a strong current working against us, too. We began talking with 3rd Day about options. The next closest anchorage was Ipala, and the two lead boats were on their way there. When they reached Ipala, they reported that the anchorage was untenable and they were going on to the next anchorage over 40 miles away.

What to do? Over several conversations, we weighed the options with 3rd Day - turn back so we were running with the wind and get to Yelapa, keep going to the next anchorage, or check out Ipala. 3rd Day was making 1 to 2 knots; we were doing 3 to 4 knots since we had pushed our engines up even higher. It would take forever to get anywhere against the wind and current, even though the wind was now slackening to 15 knots.

About this time we began noticing that storm clouds were gathering north of us in Banderas Bay. This storm looked even bigger than the one we had run from the day before. We weren't about to turn around and head into it. 3rd Day decided to head on to the next anchorage, but Patrick wanted to see Ipala for himself. In 1 1/2 hours, we reached Ipala. The entire way, we watched the storm clouds advance against the wind, getting slowly closer to us. I have never seen storm clouds travel against the wind like I have here. It just shouldn't happen!

We were bummed when we got to Ipala. It is a tiny impression in the coast, offering little shelter and little room. Making it more challenging, local fishermen have placed fish pens through the center of the cove and there is a known submerged pinnacle rock on one side of the cove. One boat was already anchored as we approached. Patrick was determined to anchor here since we were tired from the last two days. Patrick can be very determined. It took five passes through the anchorage to note all the hazards and three attempts to set anchor before we were anchored safely far enough away from the fish pens and the boat, yet still close as could be to the sheltering land.

As we were trying to set the anchor the first time, the wind suddenly changed direction as the storm overtook us. Suddenly the wind kicked up and rain began pouring down. Thankfully the wind was now coming from the direction of the land, so the anchorage provided some protection. Anchoring took almost 40 minutes to complete, unlike the usual 15. We anchored in 40 feet on the outside edge of the anchorage, in the ocean swell. While we were anchoring 3rd Day hailed us and we told them that Ipala was indeed a bad anchorage, but we were staying. Little else could be communicated with 3rd Day since there seemed to be radio problems.

Other boats began showing up in Ipala, seeking shelter from the storm. Everyone was anchoring deep on the outside edge of the anchorage, just trying to get a toe in the door. I now truly empathize with the saying "Any port in a storm." Over the radio we heard the worried calls of the two boats who had left Ipala earlier. They had been overtaken by the squall and were reporting cyclonic winds to 40+ knots. 3rd Day and other boats were out in the squall, too. We tried repeatedly to hail 3rd Day, but could not raise them. Later we learned their mainsail had come apart at some seams while they were trying to lower it in the squall's strong winds. However, they made it safely to an anchorage 60 miles south by daybreak.

The next morning, we woke to beautiful sunny blue skies. We pulled anchor and headed south enjoying warm sun, light winds, and a glorious day like we haven't seen in a month. Go figure!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Heavy Weight of Anchoring

Our last posting generated lots of comments from readers and this posting is in response to one of them. One reader wrote to us:
"There is an opportunity here that would surely benefit the cruising community! Please consider doing a quick survey of each boat and ask them which anchor they had out when the storm hit and what their rode consisted of. The results of your questions would be a very valuable resource for cruisers everywhere. We only know you had a Manson and it appears to have done a stellar job. It would be good to know which other anchors did their job and which failed, ya know?"

This is a very interesting question, and believe me, I contemplated trying to find all the boats involved and ask them each about their experiences that night, even before reading this comment, just for curiosity's sake. However, there was one big problem with that. As I talked to people in the days after the storm, it became clear that everyone was a "hittee" and no one was claiming "hitter" status. Ah, the dreaded "responsibility" that life in America has pushed on us. Never claim responsibility for any accident, or you get the insurance bill. Don't they teach that as part of Driver's Ed? And some people were embarrassed to say they dragged, something in the cruiser's world that is equivalent to ED.

I know of 8 boats involved in collisions, but I bet there were more. And you can't assume that of those 8, four were hitters and four were hittee's. One boat that I know of is fortunate enough to have a picture of the collision that they were involved in that night. The picture was taken by another boat that had been hit, and who was now following the progress of the "hitter" as it went on through the anchorage. Even so, the alleged "hitter" boat is still claiming innocence. All reasons why I very carefully left boat names out of the story - who knows what happened that night in all the craziness? I certainly don't, and you can't always trust the info that others give you.

But you can trust the info I will now give you: Any anchor will drag in the right conditions. We have done our best to minimize that problem for ourselves, but some day, we may still drag. We aren't experts, but so far these steps have worked for us. With that said, here are the steps that we have taken to protect ourselves:

1) The Anchor. When we bought our boat, it had the anchor supplied by the factory on it - a 35 lb Bruce anchor. Patrick laughed and immediately purchased a 60 lb Manson anchor. All anchors will drag, but bigger is better since it reduces your chances of it dragging simply by its weight. The weight of your anchor is determined by how big your boat is, and how much windage it has. Windage is the factor of how much your boat sticks out of the water. We have a lot of windage with our twin hulls and high bridge deck, so we bought a bigger anchor. In our current life as cruisers, we knew that our anchor was top of the list for safety. We spend much more time using our anchor than our sails, engines, or anything else.

2)The Chain. Next we bought 200 feet of 3/8th inch chain to secure the anchor to the boat. That is heavy chain. Again, simply the weight of the chain helps hold your boat in place. We now wish we had bought more chain so we could have the option to anchor deeper than we do. When we drop anchor, we generally take the depth that we are in and times it by (a minimum) of five, to figure out how much chain to set out. This is called Scope. The general rule in all the books is for 7:1 scope. However, we have found that amount of scope to be not always necessary or practical. We know of other cruisers who routinely set out 3 to 1 scope. To each his own. Generally in close anchorages everyone needs to be setting out about the same amount or boats are going to hit as the wind changes directions.

3) About Rode - at the end of our 200 feet of chain, we do have heavy line (called rode) spliced onto the chain. We could let out this rode to allow us to anchor in deeper water. However, any chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the place where chain meets line is comparatively weak. It is very easy for the rope to be chafed by the chain and to break apart, especially in high wind situations. So we have never set the anchor with the rode out, as of yet. We like being all chain.

4) Backing Down. When setting the anchor, we always back down on the anchor. After dropping the anchor and releasing the right amount of chain, we put the engines in reverse and slowly increase speed until the boat is stopped by the anchor. And then we hold it there for up to 2 minutes while we increase the power up to 2000 RPMs on both engines. This digs the anchor into the bottom and approximates a "big wind storm." If your anchor holds you in place during the test, it will probably work in a storm. Once, we left an anchorage when the anchor would not hold us after repeated tries backing down on it. We have often seen other cruisers back down on their anchors very little, or not at all. It always scares us if they are anchored close.

5)Sand is King. Some bottoms are better than others. Any boat with any anchor can drag in mud like you find in estuaries and river mouths such as anchorages in San Blas, Barre de Navidad or Teacapan. Generally, sandy bottoms hold well. Rocky bottoms are tough to set in, and sometimes you can lose your anchor when it becomes hopelessly fouled in large boulders, as frequently happens off of Isla Isabella. Many times in the Sea of Cortez, the water clarity was good enough to tell what the bottom looked like as you drove over it, which is really nice.

6)Equipment failure. Oversize your tackle and watch for chafe. The "weather bomb" at La Cruz was an extreme situation with the storm bearing instantly down on us from our sterns. It snapped everyone back on their anchors from the opposite direction they were set. Many boats instantly had broken equipment. I don't think anyone could have expected those kind of conditions. We feel extremely lucky.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Problem with Big Anchors, OR The One Hour Maelstrom, OR Boat Bowling - The Latest Craze Sweeping Banderas Bay

***REVISED February 5th and 6th. Toward the end of the posting , I added information I kept gathering through the day of boat damages and the experiences of other cruisers. I also added a little more detail of our position in the group. And I fixed some grammatical and spelling errors for the sake of my mother. I apologize for those - too excited to concentrate on proper English. ***

I've been thinking through the titles for this posting and couldn't pick the one I like best, so I went for all three. Once again, so much has happened in the last week since leaving Stone Island, that I can't even begin to organize it into a cohesive posting. So I'll pick the most exciting story and get through that.

First off, Just a Minute is relatively undamaged and no cruisers suffered injury. I don't know how that is true, but it is.

Unusual weather patterns have been playing havoc with the beautiful weather we should be experiencing in La Cruz. Since we arrived, it has been overcast and the weathermen have stated for days that we were in an "unstable" area of weather. There was going to be lots of rain in the foreseeable future. Well, that's fine. We're from Washington.

So for five days we bobbed at anchor in the swell along with 20 to 30 other boats, coming and going around us. Then two nights ago, all hell broke loose. There were lots of boat anchored that afternoon, enough so that I counted them up - 32 in all. All anchored in a cluster around La Cruz, but no one very close to one another since there was plenty of room. JaM was anchored toward an outside edge of the pack, midway to the shore, at the furthest east edge. There were only a handful of boats further east. It was raining pretty hard when I went to bed around 9:30 and I missed seeing the two gigantic shrimp boats pull in to anchor at the western edge of the pack that night.

The next thing I knew, there was a horrible sound and the boat was jerking and tossing a great deal. I knew it was the wind as I came awake and could see through my hatch that our sun shade was about to be blown off. I jumped up to get dressed and go secure it. Jack was just emerging from his bedroom, as I left mine. Crashes of thunder were booming through the air, frequent lightning flashes gave glimpses of our surroundings. I could tell that the wind was as bad as the 50 knots we had seen at anchor in LA Bay earlier this summer, and I was not too worried since that experience had been such a cake walk for us. I knew our 60# Manson and 150 feet of 3/8th chain was well set in sand at 25' and that we should be fine.

Then the lightning revealed a stupifying sight - boats turned sideways to the wind were flying past us at remarkable speeds. The radio screamed to life with people sending frantic calls. "Mayday, Mayday, This is Stepping Stone. We are on the beach!" The wind had only been blowing about 5 minutes at that point. Patrick was still sleeping through this and we began calling for him to wake up. He is a slow one to wake and was thinking the same thing I had earlier - it's only a wind storm. Patrick was trying to calm Jack down and told him not to worry. We were outside in the cockpit at this time and the wind was throwing rain at us so viciously that we could not look forward very well. Jack said, "Dad, You don't understand. Look!" and he took Patrick's head in his hands and turned it so that Patrick was looking to the side of our boat, just as lightning flashed again. And then Patrick knew. Three boats were flying past just fifty feet off, turned sideways to the wind.

Patrick instantly assumed control and began giving orders as he sat at the helm. "Turn the batteries on! Get life jackets on everyone! Get GPS, Navigation going! Turn all our lights on! Secure the portholes!" Jack and I instantly began working through the orders as they came, all of us working together. Batteries first, so the engines could be fired up and idling. Then life jackets on - that was a hard one. Rudy was hiding under the table and would not get up. I was hitting him, pushing him, trying to drag him out so I could get his life jacket on, and finally had to be happy with two of the three straps secured before giving up and going on to the next task. Rudy was terrified but thankfully did not snap at me as I struggled with him. All of this took about 5 - 10 minutes.

By this time, the waves had worked up to 10 - 12 foot, steep, fast and close. Between the flashes of lightning, the night was pitch black and unfathomable. The wind was so loud that nothing else could be heard, except the calls on the radio. The rain punished our skin, made it nearly impossible to look forward, and drenched us through. Our boat was pitching wildly. Our plant flew off its ledge and crashed into a big mess. Books leapt of the shelves, dishes came out of the cupboards. All things that many boats have experienced before - BUT WE ARE A CATAMARAN. It's unheard of for a catamaran to pitch enough to send a coffee cup sliding over a table, let alone, make it leap out of the cupboard. I kept moving back and forth between cabin and cockpit trying to secure items, and minimize our damage.

Meanwhile, I was terrified that Patrick would be swept from the boat by the wind or accident, so I was getting the harnesses and tethers out. I struggled, trying to put them on Patrick as he manned the helm. At this point, our engines were idling, but since we were not moving on the anchor Patrick was simply sitting there watching the happenings, not really steering or anything. Even, so it was nearly impossible with the pitching to get him into them, and tethered to the boat.

Then things got really interesting. More boats dragging, but these were closer. The first passed within twenty feet. We could see that it was passing close, but safely. But the next flash of lightning stopped our hearts. The lightning revealed a nightmare image of a giant knight on his steed, galloping toward us with his jousting lance aimed at our chest. There was a 50'+ sailboat in the knock down position, hurtling directly at us. The power of the wind had pushed it all the way over on its side, and its mast was skimming over the waves, aimed right at us. It was coming so fast. I was inside with Jack at this moment, Patrick at the helm. He left the helm to come to the cabin door and said, "We are going to be hit. There is nothing I can do. Brace for impact." He then returned to the helm.

A second later, the next flash of lightning revealed that the sailboat was righting itself since the wind had slackened a bit. The mast was no longer a danger to us, but the boat was still bearing down on us, looking to T-bone us between our bows. It was still a nightmare., but a little better. Then Patrick just punched the port engine to the max, our boat lurched and pitched so hard that I thought we had been hit since I was inside and could not see what was happening. The crew of the other boat must have pushed their boat into reverse at the same time because miraculously in the seconds before impact our two boats began to pull away from each other, and passed within inches, the prow of their boat dancing down our life lines and stanchions without really touching. We could have stood on the deck of our boat and easily touched it as it passed. Unbelievably it even missed our fishing net set in a pole holder on the side when a big wave caused their boat's bow to rise wildly and pass just over the top of our net. I came into the cockpit just in time to witness that little miracle. And in the next split second they were past and free to carry on their mad journey. From the time we first saw the knocked-down sailboat until the time it was past took less than a minute.

After that, it became slowly apparent that the wind was slackening slightly. The relief was there, but it wasn't over yet. Boats were still on the move, the waves were still wild. Off to our starboard about 50 feet away, a cluster of four boats were unimaginably close to each other, seemingly locked together in some sort of tangle, still marching past. One's head sail ripped in tatters. The chatter on the radio became incredible. Over-excited people making ridiculous calls, clogging the radio for real traffic. A fight broke out with one woman who refused to stop talking. People were screaming expletives. Then the local weatherman came on and started giving a blow by blow of the weather that had happened.

So when we looked to our bow and saw another boat bearing down on us, Patrick had to call repeatedly "Break, Break" before the man stopped talking. The problem? The boat coming at us appeared to have had a man overboard situation and was empty. It was an eerie sight. The boat's anchor was dragging, but holding enough to keep the bow into the wind, so we had a good view of the stern that was marching slowly towards us. The cockpit was brightly lit by a red light. We could easily see that the gangway door was open, the door in the transom was open, and there was a life ring floating in the water, tied off to the stern. There was no one visible.

After our hail was heard, Patrick described the boat in detail, hoping someone knew something about the crew. The open transom door made the name unreadable. After Patrick described it, a boat that was in the marina came back with the news that it sounded like the boat "Amistad" and that if it was, the owners were safely on land. Great! That eased our great concern about a man overboard, but we still had another boat to dodge. And this time, we had to do it without the other boat's help. Thankfully, the wind was dying off quickly and was now down to the 20 knot range, but the waves were still wild and the boat was hopping backwards on the waves, aimed directly to hit us between our bows. It was a beautiful boat, twin helms, new and fast looking. It was going to make us into one nice looking trimaran. By this time it was about 40 feet off, directly in front of us.

It became apparent that the only way to avoid it was to pull up anchor. I manned the helm and Patrick and Jack crawled forward to work as a team to pull the anchor. As it continued to march closer, I eased into forward and Patrick began pulling in the chain on the windlass. We knew we simply couldn't steer out of its way like we had the last time because it would snag our anchor chain with its dragging anchor, and then we would be in a world of hurt. But obviously, pulling in the anchor brought us closer and closer to the stern of the dragging boat. I kept bumping the port engine to move us over but I couldn't go too far without messing up the anchor. We passed within 7 to 10 feet of it, but it went well. And then we were free!

Now we were feeling great relief. The wind continued to die as we motored through the boats that were left, heading toward the marina entrance. Within 15 more minutes we were tied to the dock and breaking out the grog and Coca-cola for the crew. Drenched, shaking, absolutely wired. We were the first boat in but soon, many more were joining us from the anchorage.

The intense winds lasted about 45 minutes to an hour. It started at 10:30 pm, and we were docked around 12:30. The storm caught everyone by surprise. Multiple people clocked 80 to 88 knots on their anenometers. Some say they saw up to 100. Two separate people on land reported seeing a funnel cloud converge on the boats at anchor. The wind just before the squall struck was a comfortable 5 knots from the SE, which put JaM at the head of the pack. Then from the NW 80 knots slammed into the sterns of the boats in one instant - like a giant fan being turned on. Suddenly JaM was at the back of the pack like a bowling pin in an alley. Except in this bowling game, there was one pin and about 25 or more bowling balls.

Within the first five minutes, several wind generators exploded, canvases shredded, and multiple anchor snubbers broke. Throughout the night, multiple dinghies were lost or flipped, and at least four boats completely parted from their anchors and were free falling through the anchorage, wildly out of control. The vast majority of boats dragged, some up to a 1/3 mile. Several boats report taking on water when they were knocked down. One owner told me he was 5 minutes from his boat from sinking when it was knocked down and green water began rushing in through three open portholes.

At least two boats report their anchors were twisted and bent from the force put on them. I know of eight boats which were involved in collisions with other boats, most receiving fairly significant damage - stanchions and life lines mangled or ripped out, metal toe rails gouged, twisted and bent, some fiberglass holes high on the boat, bow pulpits crushed, anchor rollers knocked off, and more. There may have been others involved in collisions, but I haven't heard, as most of the boats once at anchor are now tucked throughout this huge marina trying to assess the damage and seek repairs.

We met a man on the beach who owns a beach house positioned close to the anchorage. He states that every window that was facing the bay was blown out - EVERY window. He also said he was in his house during the hurricane that struck Banderas Bay in 2002 and "this was much worse" based on the extent of his damage.

No one was injured, and no cruiser boats lost - not even "Stepping Stone". This family of four called the Mayday at the beginning of the night. Their anchor was lost quickly when the rode separated from the chain. Their boat was pushed up on land, tilting to the side. Elias turned off the engines. Then unbelievably, they found themselves pushed free again and floating. So he cranked the engines back on and floored it - safely motoring back off the beach and out into deeper water.

The docks are like a giant encounter session as survivors tell their stories and show their damage. And boy, did we learn some good lessons on JaM. We did so well together. Everyone worked together, stayed calm enough to do their jobs and kept it together. Jack was an invaluable help. I am so grateful for coming out of this basically unscathed. Our only damage was our lazy jacks that hold in the mainsail blew apart (almost releasing the main, but not quite). And some seams on our bimini cover were ripped apart.

And the problem with big anchors? They hold you in place while seemingly everyone else flies at you.

What an experience to add to our life list! An adventure worthy of great adventurers, let alone little old us.