Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tsunami Update - Barra de Navidad and Tenacatita, Mexico

Yesterday morning started out like many.  It was 6:30 a.m., dark, quiet and I was still in bed, but awake, mentally making my plans for the day.  Then I heard something on the VHF that got my attention.  (Note:  We leave our radio on at night just in case there is an emergency such as an anchor dragging, etc.)  What I heard was a boater calling another boater asking if they had heard about the earthquake in Japan and whether they knew anything about a tsunami alert.  I jumped out of bed and turned on the computer to learn, that yes, there had been a large earthquake and that a tsunami warning had been issued.

By now, it was close to 7:00 a.m., the radio was quiet and that surprised me.  I made an announcement on the radio to the fleets within hearing distance to alert them of the earthquake and the tsunami warning and asked for others to "come back" with some discussion as to a plan of action.  It wasn't long before I heard from Jake on SV Jake.  He said boats would probably be leaving the lagoon soon.  There was lots of discussion among other boaters on the radio about whether or not to leave the lagoon.  Last year, when a Chilean earthquake spawned a tsunami alert, a few boats chose to stay in the lagoon and were fine.  Early in the day the Port Captain had instructed boats not to leave, yet.  However, mother nature being unpredicable as she is, we chose to take the safer alternative and left the lagoon about 9:30 a.m.  As in a parade, all but seven boats orderly exited the lagoon joined by a few boats from the marina.

Tom on MV Misty Sea did a great job as a radio net controller keeping all of the boats updated on when the "event" might be expected to reach our area and filtering information from others as it became available.  It was a beautiful day with light wind, so after motoring for a while and running our water maker, we hoisted the sails, made water and waited and waited and waited to see what would happen.  Initially, we thought we might go back to the lagoon, but the day was getting long and reports didn't sound promising from the lagoon.  It seemed that there was a strong current that continued to surge through the entrance - not a condition inviting for transiting an already challenging entrance.  We were a few miles outside the entrance to the Tenacatita anchorage, so we headed that way and around 4:30 p.m. we dropped our anchor.  First it looked like high tide and then, nope, it looked like low tide and then high tide again over and over and over.  The water was rising and dropping exposing and hiding rocks on shore.  When we noticed a 5 to 10 foot change in water level beneath our keel we decided to pull anchor and move a little further out to deeper water.  There were about half a dozen boats in the anchorage and after anchoring the second time, we looked up to see another half dozen boats headed for the anchorage.  It had been a long and stressful day.  Bob and Sherry on SV Ponderosa had come into the anchorage along with us.  Once everyone was anchored securely, Bob and Sherry joined us on Odessa for a tsunami party, letting go of all the stress of the day as the four of us sat in the cockpit and discussed the day's events, okay, and we had a few beers and some wine, too.

What we learned this morning from our morning "net" on the radio, is that an 18 inch water line that was previously submerged in the lagoon came loose and is now floating.  This water line has basically trapped the boats in the lagoon and keeps any other boats from entering.  The fuel dock is on the inside of this water line, so that means no access to the fuel dock as well (for those not already in the lagoon).  We also heard that the boats in the La Cruz marina in Banderas Bay further north, were told to leave the marinas and the Port Captain closed Banderas Bay (La Cruz and Puerta Vallarta) and no one is allowed to enter or exit.  There were some boats that were prepared for a big regatta (race) and they had removed their anchors for the event.  Now these boats are out of the bay and have no way to anchor.  I am looking forward to some more first hand information on this particular situation from friends in the area.

Last evening when we anchored, we put out extra length of chain to take into consideration the change in water level from the surge.  This morning we heard that Barra is still experiencing minor changes in water level and that this can be expected to last for 24 hours from the event which was said to be  4.1 feet at 2:37 p.m. yesterday afternoon and 4.8 feet at 7:00 p.m. yesterday evening.

The effects we saw and see are not a great wall of water as some imagine.  It is an extra surge of water onto the beach or shoreline and then the extra surge coming back.  Imagine the big splash when someone does a belly flop in the pool and you start to get the picture.

It is a beautiful day here in Tenacatita, but a little quiet in the anchorage.  I suppose most are weighing their options as we are.  We were not quite ready to leave Barra as we had planned to top off our fuel tank with diesel and gasoline for the outboard motor and generator.  We have enough fuel (after all we are a sailboat) and our water tanks are topped off after running the water maker several hours yesterday.  This morning two local fisherman came by our boat and now we have a lovely provision of Cambria (I will have to look this one up myself, but it sure looks good) and we didn't have to catch it or clean it and the price was right.

There is a bit of a gap from my last posting on February 14th through today and I promise to work on that soon but I thought it was important to let everyone know that we are safe and sound and our cruising life goes on somewhat normal (whatever that means).


  1. Glad you are safe! SO much damage in other places in the US. The harbor in Crescent City, CA wiped out. Many commercial fishing boats from that harbor went out (as you did), and now have no place to dock. Anyway, I'm enjoying your blog--keep posting often! I've started our blog, (click on the blogger logo by my name, but we aren't leaving till end of July-so we are dealing with lists and lists and lists. Take care!


  2. Wow! I was relieved to get your email that you are safe. I just read your blog...quite an adventure.