On Saturday, March 12 we ghosted in to Banderas Bay, heading for La Cruz. The morning before we had upped anchor at Tenacatita, expecting to drop the hook at Chamela to enjoy a few more days at anchor in this exquisite part of the Golden Riviera of Mexico. At about 11am,as we were considering changing our tack into the anchorage, we picked up a static filled call to the Port Captain in Barra de Navidad. The sailboat in question was INSISTING they vacate the lagoon there in anticipation of the tsunami. Doug and I looked at each other. Tsunami? Tsunami? What tsunami? What? What?
Famous tsunami painting by Katsushika Hokusai - Mount Fiji in background
The cruisers in this part of the woods use 22A to communicate with each other. Channel 16 is left clear for emergencies. The call from the lagoon came on Channel 16 and it was the first we had heard the word "tsunami". We had heard some exchanges in Spanish but, due to the language barrier, had not clued in to what was being said. We changed to 22A, but we were outside of the range of most boats. Doug made a call to "any station who could give us information regarding the tsunami". Eventually a station called us and let us know about the earthquake and that a following tsunami was expected, but that was it. Doug's next move was to get on the SSB and see what he could hear. It didn't take long for him to be in contact with a maritime net that was able to provide him with all the details and forward a NOAA report. (In this modern world of technology, the HAM radio, once again, proves itself to be reliable and indispensable!). Doug took this information and made an "all stations" call on Channel 16 and moved to 22A to inform all boats within our range of the tsunami details. It was quite an exciting time and many boats came back to us to thank Doug for the information. All we could think about was the incredible devastation and heartbreak the Japanese must be experiencing. Our problem paled by comparison.
Radiating effects of the earthquake
Okay - now we know there is a tsunami coming. What does that mean to the cruising sailor? Well, the reports we received told us that the waves had hit Vancouver Island and the coast of California. We heard there had been some damage to boats in Santa Cruz. The surge we could expect would be 3 to 6 feet high. There might be more surges to follow over the next 12 hours. Nobody really knew what would actually happen until it did. Being in a shallow lagoon, a marina tied to a dock, or on anchor all have potential hazards. Being at sea, well, that's the answer - what's another swell? 3-6 feet seemed pretty small compared to the swells we encountered off the coast of Washington and Oregon in the fall! Everything we had read to date encouraged boats to head to sea. Well, we were already at sea, so we decided to skip the beautiful Chamela and continue on to La Cruz, near Puerto Vallarta on Banderas Bay - approximately another 80 miles - a journey that would take us another 16 hours. Oh well. I wish I could say it was an exciting sail, but it wasn't. Nothing was exceptional, or difficult. We didn't notice anything unusual. But I guess we can say we deserve the T Shirt for rounding the dreaded Cabo Corrientes in tsunami conditions!
NOAA graphics of projected tsunami waveheights - a cause for concern
After a fiery dawn, we approached the anchorage at La Cruz. Where, normally, there would be up to 50 boats at anchor - there must have been 150! We could hear the chatter on the radio and tried to figure out what had happened in Banderas Bay over the course of the tsunami surges. Apparently there was a great exodus of boats from the four marinas, but many stayed put. Boats in the anchorage had pulled the hook and spent the day sailing in the bay. According to what we heard later, there were many boats out there enjoying a gorgeous, windy afternoon waiting for the surge to pass. What complicated all this was the fact that the Banderas Bay Regatta was in full swing. Many of the boats in this regatta had removed their anchors to lighten their loads. When the Port Captains suggested the entrances to the marinas and harbours remain closed overnight, you can imagine the uproar - not just from the anchorless boats, but also from those who wanted to return to the comforts of electricity and the internet!
In the late afternoon of March 11, a surge did enter Banderas Bay. I don't know what the official report is, but it was large enough to create a very strong current in the harbour entrances. I heard up to 12 knots at Nuevo Vallarta. Some docks at the La Cruz marina were damaged, but that, apparently was because they were on their last legs anyway. The surge repeated itself over and over again, becoming less strong each time, over a 24 hour period. As we entered the harbour at La Cruz the following morning, we battled a current but it was nothing Ka'sala couldn't handle. The drama was over for those of us in Banderas Bay with very little to show other than a few good stories. But the Japanese........
Whirlpool created by earthquake in Japan
We intend to stay in the Banderas Bay area for the next few weeks. Our flitting from anchorage to anchorage is near its end as we now need to focus on getting ourselves and Ka'sala ready for the passage to Hawaii. There are many, many boats here now as cruisers prepare themselves for returning to the Sea of Cortez to summer their boats out of the hurricane zone while they return to their homes in the US or Canada. Others will remain in the Sea to cruise for the summer, while others are preparing to do the "Puddle Jump" to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Still others, like us, are heading home via Hawaii. To date, we now know of 4 who will join us, but haven't met any of them yet. Hopefully that will change over the next little while.
In the meantime, we have met up with many of the friends we have made over the winter and it is a real bittersweet joy to get together to trade stories and savour the last few times we will get together before being scattered to the winds once more.