November 9, 2011-Anticipating the Tehuantepec
wingssail images-fredrick roswold
It’s just that we’ve been hearing about this one for twenty years. Even the word itself, Tehuantepec, has sort of an evil rhythm: "two wan to peck". I can hear the soft southern voice of our friend Kathy from the yacht Tumbleweed, talking about those awful “Tehuantepeckers”. She shuddered some when she said that and she was a little throaty, not quite a laugh, not quite a choke. It must have been, oh, about 1996, when she told us about the Tehuantepec. She said it was scary and they was glad when they got across it.
The problem is that the Tehuantepec has scared a lot of sailors, us included. It’s not that we haven’t faced rough crossings before: the passage from Fiji to New Zealand was a fearful one which we survived. Sailing the Agulhas current off of Africa’s East Coast was another. And Cabo de la Vela on Colombia’s north coast is a leg that sailors just about universally dread, such is its reputation, and we sailed that one.
In each case we just swallowed our fears and set out. In each case we made it through.
But this one...
Bad Day for Tuhuantepec Crossing
I have to say I’ve been stressed out about it.
Like a huge malevolent back draft, the Tehuantepec seems to pulse and roar with evil intent. So says NOAA. When NOAA personifies a weather phenomenon, then you wonder.
Even so, we need to cross. I sat at the computer and studied the weather maps, the web sites, the NOAA models. I sensed Judy behind me, looking over my shoulder. She didn't say much, but she was watching. Finally I managed to find a weather window; a period of time when the winds should be manageable. Not a period with no wind at all, we must sail. If the motor quits when you are out there without any wind you are a sitting duck for the next pulse. No, we want a window with wind between 10 and 15 knots, out of the north; that would be fine.
We’d leave around 6 AM Friday, noon at the latest. I know what they say about Friday sailings, but we don't pay that any mind, and we'll cross the Tehuantepec by noon on Saturday and be safely into Huatulco by Sunday morning. It was a tight window, because we had to be off the water by Sunday when the next pulse was due, but we could do it.
We swallowed hard and got the boat ready. More than ready, we did everything.
Then Mexico screwed up the plan: they couldn’t complete the paperwork in time to make the weather window. Just one little clearance paper. That’s all we need. It isn’t even an international clearance, just a zarpe for our next Mexican port. They couldn’t do it on Thursday, couldn’t tell me why, so we started on it at 8:30 Friday morning, already late. Then I wound up sitting for hours in one office after another while people typed on their old Underwoods. By 1:30PM we still weren’t cleared to leave and the Port Capitan wanted to bring his drug sniffing dogs to search the boat, so we scrubbed.
We told them we’d leave on Monday.
If everything goes a little better than it did on Friday we’ll get out of here on Monday night. The window isn’t as good, the winds will be light and from a contrary direction, but we’ll have more time, so we’ll go.
Meanwhile, we wait, and after all the stress about deciding when to go, then not going... it put me into a really foul mood. I sat in a funk on my settee berth and thought about all people I’d like to kill. I drank some Tequila. Nothing helped.
But, I’m over it now, and Judy is OK, she thinks if plans get changed it all happens for a reason anyhow, so we’re fine.
Monday, unless the weather changes dramatically, we'll try again to cross the Tehuantepec.
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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Chiapas