You always have to pay the Piper!

8 Feb

We come here every winter obviously because it’s warmer than anywhere in British Columbia. The sun shines virtually every day, the temperature sits at a balmy 22c, on average, and if it clouds up and rains, well maybe 20 rain drops will fall from the sky. Ok, once every winter we do get a downpour and it can last an hour or so, but for the most part the weather is pretty awesome. It might not be the tropics, but it’s pretty close and it’s good enough for the folks I hang with.

There is however, a price that must be paid for this…..El Grande Norte, The Big North. This is a wind that blows pretty much every winter, down from the north. It can start anywhere after the end of November and blows on and off until April.

You can go from this......

...to this, in less than 1 hour!

Some years it’s like living with a raging gale that just never seems to let up, and then you get a year like this one, were the winds have for the most part, been fairly gentle. All this winter we’ve had winds that have averaged between 5 and 15 knots, with lots of days with little or no wind at all. At least until last Tuesday! The Grande Norte came for a visit last week and hasn’t really left, he’s just taking a momentary rest.

The view for 5 days. Cold and very windy!

February is the month when the winds are at their worst and this is the time most of the Kayak companies have the bulk of their trips out to the islands. Imagine paying $1200.00 to come to Baja for a week of kayaking beautiful Carman Island only to be trapped on a beach by winds exceeding 50 knots (That’s 57 miles per hour or 92 kilometres per hour for those of you who are not nautically minded), not even knowing if you’ll be able to get back in time to fly home! We’re talking 8 and 9 foot waves here folks, and most of the folks who come for these paid excursions have absolutely no kayaking experience!. Not only that but it can come up so fast that it’s easy to be fooled and over the years some folks have died, either because they didn’t realize how fast the weather was deteriorating, or because they figured they had to take the chance to get back for their flight home.

Now I must interject here and tell you that the Guided Kayak adventures have NEVER lost anyone, so you’re safe with them, but it can still be a miserable trip, hunkered down in your tent for days on end, unable to even go hiking because the wind is so strong it can knock you off your feet and do damage to exposed eyes and skin. To add insult to injury, the sky generally remains clear and beautiful during these major wind events!
Some 7 years ago, 3 Canadians, one of whom was a Kayak instructor, were caught because they assumed they knew what they were doing and had a flight to catch. They left Carmen Island in the middle of one of the worst storms seen in years, and they ended up tossed out of their kayaks. The water here is definitely warmer than at home but you can still die from Hypothermia in 18c water, it just takes longer and that’s what happened to the Instructor. The other 2 managed to get back into their kayaks and were eventually found alive, but the instructor stayed under her kayak trying to keep out of the weather. She had a VHF radio with her and called and pleaded, but no one could get a boat out to her and there is no Coast Guard here. She eventually succumbed to Hypothermia and died. Those who had listened, were so shaken by the experience that they got together and created the Puerto Escondido Hidden Harbour Yacht Club Radio Net.

It broadcasts every morning at 8:15 AM and it is specifically designed for emergencies of any sort and to make sure that all who use the water know what the weather is going to be for at least 3 days in advance. The Kayak companies, sailors, anglers and those of us who just kayak for fun make sure we all listen every morning and organize our trips around that information. Since it’s inception, no one has been lost, injured or died. That’s quite an accomplishment!

Standing out in this can cause severe sand burn, if you can stand at all!

Now, back to last week.
We were warned it was coming and come it did! It blew for 5 full days.

Sometimes it sounded like the moaning and shrieking of an insane person, other times like the intake of a jet engine! The worst 2 days were so nasty and cold that we never ventured outside except to take the pictures you see here and for Richard to help the Fisherman next to us. His boat had broken it’s lines and was pounding ashore, so they tied it to our Suzuki and pulled it up the beach, out of the water.

A useless effort to stop the boat from pounding on the shore!

Aren't Suzuki's wonderful vehicles?

 

Carmen and Danzante disappearing!

You’ll notice that Carmen, and Danzante disappeared, except that wasn’t fog or clouds covering them, it was sand and dust in the air. Grummy rocked, shook and swayed in the wind, and even though every window and vent was shut tight, we still had to sweep and dust constantly as microscopic particles pushed their way through the very walls it seemed. Generally, when the wind is too high for water activities, the folks around here will head into town or venture out behind the beach for walks in the desert. Not this time! No one budged from their warm hidey holes until Friday when the worst was past, human, animal, bird or bat! Not a one was seen until the wind dipped below 25 knots(46 kph), then gradually life came back to the beach.
By the time the bulk of the storm had passed, our beach had completely changed. All of our lovely sand had been totally blown off the beach and was now up the road behind us. The rocks Richard had so carefully removed from our Kayak landing zone were now back, and there were twice as many than we started with. At one point, just below the locomotive sound of the wind, you could here the rumbling of rocks rolling under the waves. Broken branches from Mequite and palm trees littered the ground, and anything left outside needed to be rescued or dug out. The folks in the harbour are still trying to find and/or return all the lost articles blown off their boats. The locals say that this last blow was one of the coldest and windiest ones ever.
We not finished either. We’ve had a bit of a respite, with Sunday and Monday calm enough to get out and clean up, even to sit outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun, but it’s coming back! Tomorrow it’s supposed to start again and blow for another 4 or 5 days. Then after that, who knows? It could continue for weeks, gradually fade away or simply just stop and go back to the weather we’ve enjoyed up till now. There’s always a price to pay for everything, and for us El Grande Norte is the price we pay for the warmth, serenity and beauty we get to enjoy down here on the Baja.

You just never know when the piper will come calling.

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One Response to “You always have to pay the Piper!”

  1. Ruth Woodhouse February 11, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Alexis, the radio net has been going on for many more than seven years. The kayak check in has been more active since that tragic accident.

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