Into the Eye of Odile

Odile Up Close

Hurricane Odile making landfall.

During the second week of September, 2014, a Category 3 hurricane by the name of Odile had the tip of the Baja Peninsula in her sights. On the 14th, at approximately 11:30PM, she moved ashore and wreaked havoc. She was one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall on the peninsula and easily the strongest storm in recorded history ever to make a direct hit on Los Cabos. (The only storm comparable was Hurricane John, which in 2006, hit a much less populous area here in the East Cape where, in comparison, only a small number of people were affected). In her wake, Odile left two cites, Cabo San Lucas and especially San Jose del Cabo and their quarter of a million citizens without power, communications or running water. Because I live off-the-grid, I had power, running water, and even an Internet connection. Between here and town though, power poles and major electrical towers were downed everywhere, making it difficult or impossible to drive the local roads. Most homes had serious damage, especially those on the beachfront, which were inundated by a storm surge created by massive waves unheard of in the region. In the panic after the storm the stores were quickly emptied of any and all of their contents. With no way to resupply – the airport and roads were impassable – people who hadn’t prepared for the storm, or who lost everything, were left completely destitute. To quote six year old Lucas Nobili, Odile was “quite a bitch.”

Lucas Letter to Odile

English writing exercise by Lucas Nobili Photo: Pablo Nobili

The good news is that ten days after the storm hit, the citizenry of Los Cabos have restored order, begun a massive cleanup effort, and with the help of the federal electrical commission, power is being reconnected little by little, allowing stores to reopen.

My account of going through the storm, alone, has been published on an online magazine called The Scuttlefish. Check it out by clicking on the link below and let me know what you think.

Into the Eye of Odile on The Scuttlefish

Cold Feet in June

Well, I finally bit the bullet and made the drive down to Nine Palms today despite the conditions appearing to suck from the house. There was a bump on the water and the breeze that had been blowing onshore all night didn’t appear to be about to let up. A large fog bank that sat several miles offshore was making the air fairly brisk. I wondered how cold the water was and, assuming the worst, packed my spring suit. On the drive there, from a distance, I saw what looked like a decent wave breaking at Nine Palms. There weren’t too many people in the water either. Then I saw a good set breaking at Tiburones, the break just before the turn off to Nine Palms. “Hmmmm,” I thought, “looks like perhaps there are some waves.” Apparently that was a teaser set because I didn’t see anything resembling that for the rest of the morning.

Standing on the beach surveying the waves to determine which board to take out (I had my 6’6″ Eclipse egg and my 9′ Stewart noserider), I noticed a commotion a little ways down the beach. A group of adults and children from a large camp nearby were gathered and looking at something lying on the sand. A closer look determined that it was a squid,purplish red in color and about two feet long. It was injured but alive, missing a tentacle and a chunk off his tail. Three little girls were taking turns touching it’s tentacles and then squealing because the suction cups on the tentacles were sucking onto their fingers when they touched it. I’d never touched a squid’s tentacle, so followed suit. What a strange sensation! And powerful grip. I remembered that giant squid are found further up the Sea of Cortez and shivered at the strength they must wield. I returned to my rig to get ready to go out and noticed that a short while later one of the campers put the squid in a cooler. I wondered if they intended to eat it or if they’d use it as fish bait.

I took my longboard out after determining that the waves were weak and it was high tide. Figured I should give myself as much advantage as possible to avoid the frustration of being under-gunned. More frustration I did not need. I dawned the wet suit based on the air temperature, then got out there and discovered the water was pleasingly warm. Even with the foggy mist hanging overhead I was overdressed. I caught a few slow waves and then went in and took the suit off. Paddled back out with my hair still dry after four waves…that’s how small and lackadaisical the waves were. At one point, as the tide switched and the conditions cleaned up, I thought perhaps I was in for a pleasant surprise…it didn’t last though. The wind switched suddenly at 11 o’clock and came hard out of the SSE as this morning’s buoyweather.com report had indicated it would. I caught one more wave to the beach and got out. That SSE wind is cold, pushing air and water up from the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean. It’s cold enough now that my feet feel icy and I am considering putting a sweater on. It’s the 2nd of June in the tropics.  Go figure.

Seasons Sandwich

Sailing the Windy Sea by Barbara Harper

A week ago, a former colleague and friend posted a photo on Facebook of this year’s first snowstorm. From where I’m sitting, that’s pretty hard to believe. Admittedly the snowstorm occurred on Victoria Island in the Arctic Archipelago, where Cathy and I used to work together. It’s been exactly ten years since I last got to witness the tundra turn various shades of gold, red and sienna, but I remember marveling at how, in August, autumn was already evident. Along with the landscape taking on new colors, the days shortened noticeably, mountain peaks became frosted with nighttime snowfall and the air would take on a chill that the sun’s rays couldn’t beat back like it had at the peak of summer.

In Baja, where I live, just below the Tropic of Cancer, variations in weather from one season to the next are not as dramatic as they are in the temperate regions of the planet, let alone the Arctic, where they are at their most extreme on the planet. Nevertheless, the passage of the autumnal equinox marks the transition towards shortening days, cooler nighttime temperatures and eventually to a lessening in the intensity of the sun.  Finally, sometime after mid-October seawater temperatures begin to decline.

It’s been four long months since the mercury fell below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30°C) and many a day when they did not dip below 90. The last couple of mornings, however, when I’ve ventured outside to release the hounds, the quality of the air has changed – it’s got that autumn crispness to it and the moist coolness feels good on my skin. I lift my arms up and let the air envelope as much bare skin as possible. These mornings as I sit on my surfboard waiting for a wave, the air feels incredibly refreshing as it flows through my wet rashguard. It’s down right cold as it whips across the skin on my legs as I and my board rush across the face of a wave. It’s still hard to imagine that in another month, it will feel cold enough to consider wearing a shorty wetsuit (Short legged and made of thinner material than that of a full wetsuit).

As the days wear on though, the daily high temperature still exceeds 95 degrees and the sun’s rays remain intense (it being a only little over two weeks since the equinox). Despite wearing ample, good quality high SPF sunscreen, the skin on my face has been burnt more times in the past three weeks than it has all summer. The concrete block that the garage is constructed of still absorbs the sun’s energy, turning the garage into a little hotbox that I am reluctant to lock a couple of the dogs in overnight.

Other signs of the changing season include the remarkable fact that the water coming out of the taps is no longer scalding hot, but cool like the morning air. At the height of summer, I often have to jump out of the stream of water because it’s too hot, despite the fact that the water heater gets turned off in May. One of the more remarkable signs of winter’s approach came a few days ago when I saw the first Humpback Whale cow with a brand new calf in tow, making their way North up the sea towards their overwintering habitat between El Cardonal and Cabo Pulmo. When I emailed my friend, the whale researcher Urmas Kaldveer, to tell him, he confirmed my suspicion that we were ahead of the normal schedule for female Humpback sightings.

And then, three days ago, midway through my morning session the wind shifted and took on an all together different quality that told me winter was inexorably on its way. It switched from offshore to come from the North and picked up quickly, turning the bay into a mess of wind chop and white caps. It was a stiff, cool wind, unlike summer wind.

The North Wind is a phenomenon in eastern Baja that brings windsurfers and kitesurfers from the world over to play in the waters off her shores. As temperatures in the Rocky Mountains plummet, the wind funnels down the Colorado River to the Delta where it blasts down the path of least resistance, the Sea of Cortez.

Like the roads here, the wind is a blessing and a curse. It can blow 30 knots or more for days on end, throwing sand and dirt everywhere, making gardening and weeding impossible, causing sinus infections and blowing out what would otherwise be perfectly good surf. For wind-sport enthusiasts it creates the right conditions for them to have the time of their lives.  It’s the reason I took up kitesurfing in an “If you can’t beat it, join it” moment of clarity.

Despite the North Wind, we currently have two tropical storms, Hurricane Jova and Tropical Storm Irwin, spinning just South of us and a third tropical disturbance further South off the coast of southern Mexico is gaining in strength and organization. Sea temperatures remain in the mid-80s, which means her waters offer little resistance to the movement of storms.  Autumn truly is a transitional season – we are experiencing winter and summer weather patterns at the same time!

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Buy Sailing the Windy Sea by Barbara Harper

My Love Affair with Cortez

Ocean Wave by John Sweeney
We’re hovering at the peak of hurricane season here in Baja California Sur. By this point in the summer, we usually have had several tropical storms and hurricanes form somewhere south of the peninsula, generating waves, wind and occasionally rain showers. So far we’ve had three hurricanes produce some nice swell – Dora, Greg, and Eugene came and went with the only consequence being a few minor surf-related injuries and broken surfboards.
 
For the past two weeks, daily notices from the National Hurricane Center consistently reported that there was no chance of a storm forming. So when I awoke last Sunday morning to a sky blanketed in a layer of dark grey clouds, I was surprised. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, considering how, throughout the night, bright bursts of blazing white lightning woke me every hour followed by the rumbling of distant thunder.
 
That morning, looking North up the Sea of Cortez, the sky seemed to seep into the sea – air and water, both the same color of gun-metal steel, obscured any separation between them. Overhead and southward, patches of blue sky showed, but to the East and West large thunderheads grew and grumbled, threatening to envelope the East Cape. Grey vertical lines told me it was already raining out at sea and, I thought, probably inland closer to the mountains.
 
I checked the surf at my local break through the binoculars to confirm the surf report indicating the current swell was peaking. No one was out yet, but the sets were coming in consistently, breaking well outside the boil I use to get a clear idea of size from my mile-distant vantage point.
 
I hurried my preparations, applied a coat of sunscreen despite the overcast, loaded the ATV with a small cooler of water and fruit while I let the engine warm up. I stopped on my way up the driveway to rally my guest, a surfer who quickly loaded his board and jumped on the back of the moto with my most portable canine, Peanut.
 
There were three people out when we arrived at the break and by the time I paddled out there was one more, making us five in all. My friend opted to wait on the beach and chat with another surfer who’d just arrived. The paddle out was uneventful and once in the lineup and not noticing any large swell lines on the horizon, I decided to paddle a little inside to catch one of the smaller waves I’d seen breaking consistently from the beach.  As I paddled past the other surfers, they chatted seemingly oblivious to the perfect wave lining up with where I was headed. A couple more strokes and I was gliding down the face, cutting back to the curl and then carving up and down across the face of the glassy, head-high wave. I laughed at my luck, how the wave seemed to come right to me. I’d barely been in the water ten minutes.
 
Paddling back out I noticed the tell-tale sign of a dark bulge on the horizon – a set was headed our way. I paddled further out past the other surfers who stayed where they were. I was intent on determining which wave to go for, so I didn’t notice when Dave caught the first, smaller wave of the set. The third wave was the beauty and I turned and paddled hard. I was a bit late and the wave jacked up threatening to pitch me forward off the now vertical face. I jumped to my feet and somehow, by some miracle, managed to dig the rail of my board into the face of the wave just right and make the takeoff. It was easily four feet over my head as I carved along the smooth face, feeling the surge of power under my feet. I kicked out just as it closed out and saw Dave digging through the white water generated by my wave. Two perfect waves in a row – this was boding to be a good session.
 
Somehow as the morning progressed I managed to be in the right place more often than not. I surprised myself at how good I felt on each wave. I finally seemed to be in tune with my new-used 6’8” Roger Beal hybrid fish – was it was the blue lightning bolts painted on the deck? As I considered the possibility, the clouds pressed in from overhead and a clap of thunder announced the coming rain.
 
It started gradually – I felt the odd drop on my back and then saw the dark impressions they made on the water’s shiny grey surface. As the drops grew in size, their impact grew to flashes of dark and light, a large drop of water rebounding with each one and then disappearing in the embrace of sea water. The sensation of the droplets’ coolness against my skin was arousing and contrasted with the warmth of the seawater enveloping my legs.
 
The tide was rising and there was talk in the lineup that the quality of the waves was diminishing. A couple people went in and then another, until finally it was just me and one other surfer. That’s when my friend paddled out. As we sat there, surrounded by grey clouds and pock-marked grey water, he remarked that he’d never surfed in the rain in Baja. “I feel like I’m in Indo,” he said. Indonesia, I thought, one day I’ll know what it’s like to surf Indo.
 
Soon it was just the two of us and while my arms were starting to fatigue, the waves seemed to be getting better than they’d been just a half hour earlier when everyone else went in to the beach. I smiled at my handsome friend and the thought occurred to me that it was a shame there were people on the beach – the coolness of the rain and the warm sea water caressing my skin sent me into a reverie in which I pictured the two of us peeling off our suits and surfing Hawaiian-style.
 
There is a sensuality about surfing, about immersing yourself in a warm sea that I’ve never heard surfers discuss. It’s that sensuality that I believe made me fall in love with the water the first time I felt it against my skin: Half Moon Lake, Quebec may be thousands of miles away and radically different from the Sea of Cortez, but it’s all the same water, evaporating, condensing and morphing from mountain stream, into river, and cool ocean currents. For me, it’s been a life-long love affair that just keeps getting better.
 
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