Over the time I have been sailing, I have come to the realization I am responsible for my own safety, and that of others I sail with, whether I am skipper or crew. As crew, if that sounds egotistical, I apologize. I don’t mean to be. I firmly believe the captain makes the final decisions, however, I also believe all crew must be aware and keep their captain aware also.
I recently had the pleasure of crewing a former Tradewinds boat “M” while the owners participated in the Baja HaHa. Overall, it was a great trip, calm conditions, good company, and some fun stops along the way. So why mention the trip during a tip on responsibility and safety? There were two occasions where observation, research, and discussion prevented at the very least some uncomfortable sailing possible safety issues.
The initial weather forecasts on the first leg from San Diego to Turtle Bay (400 miles down the coast) were for winds of 10 to 15 knots, which is typical. However, it was quite right. The first night out we experienced conditions that could be described as “lumpy”. Sustained winds of 30 knots with seas 12 to 15 feet. Nothing the boat and crew couldn’t easily handle, but definitely lumpy. Those same conditions continued the following day, and were building as we approached the second night. The updated forecast was for an even more interesting second night. About two hours before sunset, the captain and crew looked at options, continue or look for an anchorage for the night. Bahia de San Quintin happened to be about a two-hour sail from our location, so we made the turn that direction, arriving right at sunset. Eleven other HaHa boats and two local fisherman had made the same choice. We had a wonderful “sit down” dinner, good fellowship, and a fabulous night’s sleep. Afterwards, I spoke to several people, and all indicated it was a bad night and they wished they had made the decision to stop. And, there were some casualties that night. One boat experienced a broken auto pilot (possibly due to conditions) and ended up “on the beach”. Everyone onboard is safe, however, the boat is a total loss. Another boat shredded the mainsail in the high winds, then lost their motor due to conditions causing “muck” in the fuel tank to get stirred up clogging everything. Again, everyone is safe, however the boat took several days to make Turtle Bay, and the trip was over for them.
Conditions mellowed the next day, and we enjoyed a great sail the rest of the way, arriving in Cabo late morning on the 10th. Our plan at that time was to sail from Cabo to Puerto Vallarta, leaving either the 12th or 13th. Talk from the experts on the 10th and 11th indicated there was a small storm southwest of PV, but no big deal. Because Tradewinds taught me to always do my own weather research, I did just that the morning of the 11th. Sure enough, there was a storm out there. It was somewhat more than the experts in Cabo were talking about, but not a problem, with only a 10% chance of developing into a tropical storm (winds over 39 knots). By afternoon, it was a 10% to 40% chance, and headed directly for the waters off PV at 5 to 10 miles an hour, which would put it right in our path just about the time we would be 100 miles or so off shore. Again, captain and crew discussed options. The decision, instead of going to PV right away involved the boat owners sailing a bit north, then west to Mazatlan (over the top of the storm), then drop down to PV. As I write this, the boat should be enroute to Mazatlan. Unfortunately, I could not join them because of commitments. I needed to return home.
Of course, I kept feeling that I was a wimp and should have recommended just doing the trip as planned. Because of that I have been following the storm’s progress since I got home two days ago. This morning, the “minor storm” officially made tropical cyclone status, and as such received a name. Tina and her effects are not going to make the news. She won’t make landfall, so there will be no damage, however, I am very glad I am not on a 42-foot boat 100 miles from shore off of Puerto Vallarta right now.
The moral of the story. Regardless of your position on the boat, when it comes to safety of yourself and crew, don’t just rely on those claiming to know what they are talking about. Do the research yourself. Discuss it with the rest of the crew, and make an informed, safe choice.