As much as we love tropical Mexico, you’re always taking your chances living in the tropics during hurricane season— which used to run June through October. But due to evolving climate change affecting seawater temperatures and weather patterns, it now extends from May through November, more than half the year. Yikes!
Historically, Pacific Coast Mexico has experienced the most impact from tropical storms and hurricanes in late July through October, and rarely ever in May or June. But this year, all bets were off… in June alone we had four tropical storms and one hurricane (not a direct hit but we got stormy spin-off weather from Hurricane Enrique, you might recall that from our previous blog post)… which was virtually unheard of before this year. And they all had one thing in common. Typically early season storms form and head west, staying well offshore, but this year they all seemed to hug the Mexican coast. Foreshadowing of future trends?
The Weather Gods: NOAA, Windy, E.E.B. Mike, and Predict Wind
During hurricane season we live by the daily weather forecasts, starting each morning and ending each evening by checking the latest weather predictions—and if there’s a storm imminent, we check throughout the day as well. But it’s not quite as easy as turning to the weather channel on TV as you might do at home.
A. because we don’t have a TV…
B. because the weather channel doesn’t cover Mexico… and
C. even if they did, they don’t give as much in-depth detail as sailors need.
So we are grateful for the variety of good weather sources online. This includes eebmike.com (Mexican weather), NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (Eastern Pacific), Windy.com, and our favorite PredictWind, an app for sailors. All of these weather agencies use a variety of computerized weather prediction models from different sources around the globe including the US, Europe, Japan, Australia, and more.
However, it seems like the more the climate changes the less predictable these weather models have become. With most storms, most of the weather prediction models are in relative agreement with each other as to the storm’s track, wind velocity, timing, magnitude, etc. You may have one or two models showing the storm taking a flyer (an errant track) but those are rarely how it pans out.
The first predictive graphic of Norra showing a potential trajectory. You can see where she formed off of Guatemala and squirreled her way north up the coast of Mexico. Most Mexican hurricanes and tropical storms start to form where this one did (near the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ), typically giving us about 4-days advanced warning that unsettled weather is on its way. Puerto Vallarta, being further north, usually has another day or so advanced warning, but not this time.
But Hurricane Nora was different from day one. When we first saw tropical depression 14E forming in the southern part of Mexico (on August 22), we were initially concerned because eight different weather models showed it doing eight different things and going in eight different directions, most of them with Mexico’s Pacific coast in its sites. As the days progressed and the confused weather coalesced first into a Tropical Storm Nora and then Hurricane Nora, the weather models still would not jive with each other.
Each model showed Nora making landfall at a different location along the Pacific coast of Mexico. In addition, because this particular storm was so unpredictable none of the models would commit to when it might make landfall let alone where, nor what category the storm might be when it made landfall.
Would it be a Cat 1 (64-82 kts or 74-95 mph)? 🙀
A Cat 2 (83-95 kts or 96-110 mph)? 🙀🙀
A Cat 3 (96-112 kts or 111-129 mph)? 🙀🙀🙀
Or higher? Since the weather models wouldn’t commit, did that mean it would be a bigger storm? Or peter out before it became anything? Apparently, no one knew or would say… except maybe Mother Nature!
Predict Wind’s forecast from Wednesday, August 25, looking ahead to Saturday. As you can see, this PWE model was initially forecasting Barra to get a direct hit.
Hurricane Prep, Take 2
Although we were still mostly prepped from the previous two hurricanes earlier in the summer (Enrique and Olaf) which both brought lots of rain, there were still things to be redone to prep for Nora.
This is not our first rodeo (hurricane) and on Due West, we have an emergency preparedness hurricane plan. Long ago we decided to stay aboard during a category 1 hurricane (we’ve actually experienced several winter storms at the dock in Seattle that fell into a Cat 1 velocity). But with anything above a Cat 1, we would leave Due West as hurricane-proofed as possible and head for a hotel with the cats. In fact, that’s exactly what we did with Hurricane Newton in the Sea of Cortez five years ago when it was originally predicted to be a Cat 2 (it ended up being downgraded to a Cat 1).
“We” (mostly Kirk while Heidi was studying and working) prepped Due West for the worst while we hoped for the best. Keeping an eye on the computer models and expecting several models would start to align with each other soon, so we would get a better idea of what Nora had in store for us… but no such luck, all eight models kept showing eight different scenarios… talk about nerve-racking!
Kirk rigging the piling mooring lines. We have three pilings we can triangulate mooring lines to during storms, along with 6 cleats on docks. We’re also grateful that Marina Isla Navidad tried to keep boats one to a two-boat slip, so lots of room and no other boats next to us to be concerned about.
To prep Due West for a hurricane, multiple things needed to be done. For starters, we took our headsail jib down, folded it up, and bagged it. Thankfully we had some help from the next-door neighbor boat as our jib is about 600 sq ft of nylon sailcloth, which is a bit unwieldy for two people to fold up. Next Kirk lashed the main cover onto the boom, to keep the mainsail dry and the canvas cover intact. Although he had done this earlier in the summer for hurricane Enrique which passed us by in June, after any storm you have to unlash it, take the canvas cover off, and let the sail dry out because rain will still get inside running down the mast. We also took down our Mexican courtesy flag and our US flag which usually fly all the time, so they wouldn’t shred in the wind.
Next, we stowed all the stuff we store on deck (since we do not have big lazarets —storage lockers in our cockpit), including two crates of spare lines and halyards, our dive bag with all our snorkel gear, bosun’s tackle, two kayaks, and our Honda 2000 generator. This all gets a canvas tarp covering it and that is lashed down to the deck. Then we stowed our dinghy, lashed down to the foredeck over our forward head hatch. This is a good setup because we can leave the forward head hatch open with the mosquito netting on it, covered by the dinghy to keep the rain out. (If we didn’t have a hatch over our Pullman berth as an egress point, we would never stow the dinghy over our forward head hatch, as that could be an important escape hatch in the event of a boat fire in the galley or engine. We know this from personal experience—always have at least two egress points in your boat.)
Moving aft to the cockpit, we pulled back the sun-shade/rain-cover and lashed it to the bimini frame, lashed the side solar panels to the railing, lashed the bimini solar panels to the bimini top, lashed the life raft to the helm, and lashed the helm cover over the binnacle (compass and navigation instruments at the helm). Captain Kirk has always made sure we have lots of spare lines for lashing things down. You never know when they’ll come in handy, and they have many times!
Even the fuel dock was lashed down so the little fuel huts and pumps wouldn’t get blown over.
Finally, anticipating the potential for water and power to be out for several days if not weeks after a major hurricane, we filled our water tanks full. We hold about 100 gallons which can last us about 10 days, or more if we are rationing. We also used the battery charger to fully top off our batteries, in case we did not have enough sun for solar charging for a few days. And then Kirk took our red jerry can to the gas station to fill it with gasoline in case we would need to run the Honda generator for AC electricity after the Hurricane. (You can see some of our jerry cans in the photo below, red cans are gasoline, yellow cans are diesel). All this prep took about two full days of diligent work, and Heidi stood by to help whenever Kirk needed a hand.
We were banking on Nora not being more than a category 1, even though we still didn’t know for sure. Because Nora was so disorganized and none of the models were in agreement on what would happen, that indicated to us it would likely be a lower category storm. If it were going to be a category 3+ it would likely have been organizing and strengthening much more rapidly than it was. If we knew it was going to be a huge hurricane, like a category 3+ we would have taken absolutely everything off deck including all canvas, sails, solar panels, and dodger, and stowed everything inside the boat. Another reason to take the cats and head to a hotel in a bigger storm, no room for us to live inside a boat full of outdoor gear! LOL! With everything lashed down and stowed all we could do was wait…
The Waiting is the Hardest Part…
NOAA’s predicted path of Nora the morning the hurricane hit…but they didn’t get it quite right.
By August 26, Nora was hugging the coast of Mexico moving north, and we were officially in a hurricane warning zone. The latest NOAA forecast showed a high-pressure ridge over the Rockies in the US breaking down, drawing Nora more easterly, closer to shore…Which was exactly what we did NOT want to happen. By Friday night, August 27, it started to rain and we were hunkered down tight, waiting… still not knowing what we were in for.
The latest predictions showed we would probably get 40 to 45 kts steady with gusts into the 50s, which didn’t make sense given we were still in a hurricane warning area, and 40-50 kts would only be tropical storm velocity… but Nora was fickle and all the forecasters were having a hard time figuring her out!
When a storm is in action, NOAA puts out advisories every four hours, so we set our alarm to get up in the middle of the night and check those advisories in case something changed or became more concrete… and each advisory showed Nora arriving earlier and earlier on Saturday, and closer to us too (first 7 PM Saturday, then 4 PM, then noon). One model showed it making landfall south of Manzanillo, about 100 miles south of us. Another showed it making landfall between Barra and Manzanillo, about 40 miles south of us.
This PWG model came out just as Nora was hitting us Saturday morning…
In the end hurricane, Nora arrived in Barra around 11 AM and was in full swing by noon, with torrential rains and winds of 30 to 40 kts steady and gusts into the mid-70s. Eventually, that built to 50 to 60 kts steady, and reported gusts in the marina of mid-80s and one of 90 kts, along with about 7 inches of rain.
Tikka & Tosh, calmly riding out Hurricane Nora thanks to VetriScience Composure Calming Treats!
Tosh and Tikka were loaded up with their favorite calming treats and they pretty much crashed and slept through the entire event. Pretty cool that they were not freaked out at all.
We had a group text going with all the cruisers in the marina keeping each other informed on how they were doing and what was happening on their docks. And it was not pretty. In addition to lots of leaks, a few cruisers needed help securing things, one cruiser’s dock cleat broke and two other cruisers went to his rescue to help him get retied.
Photo courtesy ©Sandra Schneider from s/v EOS. The blue boat across the fairway from EOS is sideways in the slip with the stern up ON the finger pier (the dark color along the hull of the boat is the finger pier). That finger pier broke loose, and the boat was healing to port (left side) by about 45° with all gusts).
Several Boats had their headsails unfurl and shred in the wind. A few Biminis were torn. Some finger piers also started to come apart. And one boat that was unoccupied (photos above ad below) had her headsail unfurl and a cleat on the finger pier break, putting her sideways in the slip, then the finger piers on both sides of her started to break loose. Thankfully the marina staff with the help of a couple of heroic cruisers got that boat under control so she did not sink or crash.
The blue boat was re-secured, and you can see the overturned dock boxes and broken finger piers.
And even though we prepped Due West very well, we still had one snafu in the middle of Nora. Somehow a line (rope) strapping the dinghy down to the foredeck slid loose, and our dinghy flipped up in the air with a gust of wind. Thankfully the spinnaker pole was angled down and captured the dinghy preventing it from flying overboard. But we needed to get the dinghy strapped back down before another gust might damage it. We were truly grateful that this hurricane happened in the middle of the day, as this task would’ve been much more difficult in the dark. Really the whole storm would’ve been much more intense if it happened in the middle of the night.
Kirk donned his bicycle helmet for protection, (and to keep his mass of hair out of his face, up inside his helmet!), since it would clip under his chin and not blow away. Of course, this all happened in the strongest gusts of 70 to 80 kts, and he literally crawled on hands and knees up to the foredeck and back, to re-lash the dinghy to the deck, wearing only his swimsuit, with stinging rain pelting him, the winds were too strong to stand.
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
We also had rainwater intrusion as we have never seen before in almost 30 years of owning Due West! With Hurricane-force driven rain, water made its way into all kinds of cracks and crevices that normal rain would never find its way into. And we suddenly found water pouring out of the light fixture over the NAV station near where all of our electronics are located. No Bueno! We also had water intrusion in our closet which got our clothes damp and inside a couple of lockers, which was likely coming in through deck screws that need to be rebedded in the teak decking.
We thought we had this leak temporarily fixed before the hurricane, but apparently, no dice!
Unfortunately quite a few boats were not well prepared for hurricane Nora. For some cruisers it was their first hurricane, for others it might’ve been that the forecast was so wonky, literally some forecasts that morning we’re still saying we would only see 40 or 45 kts of wind. We saw double that!
Somewhere in the middle of the hurricane, the marina lost power and with no power, we had no modem or Wi-Fi. Cell towers were also flakey and we suddenly found ourselves with no reliable way to continue tracking the storm, so we sat and watched and marveled at the amount of rain, the high winds, and thankfully the pretty nominal waves within the marina itself for these wind speeds. When the wind started lightening up, 30 to 40 kts, (which itself was hilarious that we thought 30-40 kts was “light wind” because normally those wind speeds would be considered pretty strong in your typical non-hurricane force storm), we did not know if that was the eye of Nora passing overhead or if Nora was finally passing us by?
John texted us the image above and we were able to overlay a map of Mexico to determine where we were under that mass of clouds. Wow! Looks like we were in the eastern eye-wall, the worst place to be.
Thankfully we were able to get a message to our good friend John Carscadden (a storm-chaser weather buff and one of our crack crew when we left Seattle), and he was able to text us updated weather reports. He could tell that the eastern eyewall, (the strongest part of any hurricane), had made a direct hit on Barra. The eye itself was actually just offshore. Wow, so we had been in the strongest portion of the hurricane, and the “lighter” 30 to 40 kt winds were indeed Nora finally leaving town. AMF!
The Damage Done
Quite a few buildings in Barra, Melaque, and surrounding areas sustained damage not only from the severe flooding but also from the high winds. A friend of ours in Barra had his rooftop deck palapa blown over in one of the big gusts, uprooting the concrete footings from the palapa support poles, ripping holes right through his flat roof, letting the rain pour in.
We were also trying to keep tabs on another friend who is a hotel manager in Carayes, about 40 miles north of us. We were texting her weather updates while we could… And as it turns out Hurricane Nora pretty much-made landfall in that area. Thankfully she and her guests were OK, but the hotel sustained some damage.
NOAA’s predicted path of Nora was from the morning the hurricane hit… as you can see, Nora did exactly as she pleased, not paying any attention to where NOAA thought she might be going… LUCKY break for all of our friends in the Sea of Cortez, and very unfortunate for Puerto Vallarta who got blindsided.
Sadly, the place that was maybe least prepared and suffered the most damage from Hurricane Nora was actually Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta rarely ever gets a direct hit from a hurricane because it is situated 30 miles inland from the ocean, on Banderas Bay, and the mountains to the southwest of it along the bay generally act as a barrier-breaking up any hurricane that might come from the west.
But fickle Nora was super sneaky, making landfall about 40 miles north of Barra heading due north behind those mountains, blindsiding Puerto Vallarta from the southeast, as you can see in the turquoise hurricane track in the image above. The heavy rains flooded the rivers in the mountains which all empty out through Puerto Vallarta into Banderas Bay. With rising water levels and downed trees in the rivers, the main car bridge over Rio Cuale on Insurgentes in Old Town Puerto Vallarta washed out (see below). The swollen Rio Cuale that flows through Old Town Vallarta, undercut its riverbanks and several buildings along the riverbank collapsed, trapping people inside. Another road in Vallarta also collapsed into the river, taking at least one car and driver with it. All of the artisan’s stalls on the Rio Cuale islands were also washed away. So much destruction in this tourist town that was already very hard hit by a lack of tourists for the past 18 months. Our favorite taxi driver/friend, Alberto, in Vallarta also had the roof ripped off his house courtesy of Nora.
This image is a compilation of several video stills, thanks to whoever shot this footage of the south end of the Insurgentes bridge in Old Town Puerto Vallarta (this was going around online, apologies for not giving proper credit.) If you’ve been to Vallarta and gone to Incanto Bar and Dinner Club (home of the famous Aunt Pearl from Tuna, Texas!), that is their white deck railing at the far right edge of the photo – their downstairs riverfront bar was badly flooded, feet deep in mud and water. On the left side of the photo is the Hostel and restaurant (Bonito Kitchen) that collapsed when the river undercut the bank and foundation. Sadly a young boy was lost in the rubble.
Post Hurricane Nora
As soon as the wind was really gone, we deployed our rain-shade/sun-shade back again, to keep things from getting any wetter… not that it mattered, everything was already so damp inside the boat. So we spent the next day airing things out and trying to prevent mold. Too bad we didn’t yet have our new air conditioner, that sure would have helped! When you live in 300 square feet of space, your home often becomes a work zone when cupboards or closets need to be emptied out. Livin’ the dream, and we wouldn’t change a thing.
On deck, we dried out lines, gear bags, and bosun’s tackle. Below decks, we took all clothes out of the closet and aired them out in the main salon, plus re-tetrised the aft cabin (garage/attic/basement) three storm sails, two spinnakers, a ditch-bag, and more outdoor gear.
The marina and resort here at Isla Navidad in Barra suffered a bit of damage too. So their maintenance and grounds crew is quickly working to repair things around the resort (unfortunately, not as quickly around the marina!). They are getting ready for peak season only two months away, and there is a lot to be done. After the storm, we did our usual post-storm beach clean-up, picking up multiple bags of plastic debris and styrofoam still breaking off the downtown Barra sea wall, made of rocks and spray foam… Oy!
Top: Before and after Nora…Sadly, this lovely old Huanacaxtle tree (Parota wood) lost a major part of its trunk in Hurricane Nora. Middle: Lots of things broke, from trees to navigational markers, to lamp posts.Bottom: Piles of plant debris getting cleaned up.
River in the Road
Déjà vu all over again with the road washed out all goods and guests were coming to the Grand Isla Navidad Resort via panga boat again while they worked to fix the road. This truckload of toilet paper and paper towels arrived in a panga, then got trucked a quarter-mile uphill to the hotel entrance. The hotel is built on a hill and what you can’t tell from this photo is that the lobby is actually near the top floors in the photo, accessed from the road behind it.
But this time it appears that the rive is maybe trying to alter course, or make a new channel on the other side of the road from where it used to run? We heard an interesting story about the road repair delays, whether or not this is true we’re not sure, but it makes sense. The road to access the marina and resort is in the state of Jalisco. However, the marina and resort themselves are actually located in the state of Colima. So apparently Jalisco was in no hurry to repair a road that only services a resort in another state. Check out Google Maps of this area below and you’ll see the strange state line border, some kind of gerrymandering going on there?!
Above photo ©Raul Medina. Looking west towards the ocean, you can see the river which normally flows on the northwest side of the road, looks like it may be trying to make a channel on the southeast side. Many acres of coconut and banana plantations were severely flooded as well. Below, you can see the area of washed-out road, and where the river normally flows into the lagoon. Maybe it’s trying to make a more direct path to the ocean now?
But this time, while the access road was wiped out worse than ever, they actually managed to get it repaired fairly quickly (a couple of weeks). They used gabion walls made of chain-link-fence wire and rock to shore up the river banks, and a concrete road is now in place. As of today (and last night’s rains), this road is flooded again, worse than in the video below, and we saw a photo of a car washed down the river in this same spot this morning. Lots of fords on roads in Mexico, and during peak storm season it’s prudent to mind what’s happening in the rivers up in the mountains before crossing any fords. We also heard that the main highway between Manzanillo and the capital city of Colima, Colima, had a big mudslide that wiped out part of the highway.
Above: 2.5 weeks after Hurricane Nora and subsequent road washout, they have it somewhat stabilized and passable with a deep ford in the river. We rented a car from a friend and are driving behind (he’s in the VW ahead), showing us the way to not get washed downriver! Below: 3 weeks after the top video the river had receded behind the dike on the far left, and they were working on building higher gabion walls along the roadbed.
Some locals get around on horseback here, easier to ford the river?!
It is now October so only another two months of hurricane season remaining, but they can also be some of the fiercest storms. So we still diligently watch the weather every day and are hopeful we do not get another big storm this year. Looks like we just dodged another bullet with tropical depression 16E turning into Hurricane Pamela.
Grateful to Live in Nature
In spite of the occasional hurricane, we are so grateful to be living in paradise, surrounded by nature. And we take advantage of the natural surroundings every day hiking to the beach, or the jungle, kayaking, and taking nature photos. The clouds around here are phenomenal with so many colors, shapes, and sizes every day, we never tire of watching nature. And speaking of size, check out the tail on this baby iguana! Its body was about 4-5 inches long, and its tail is almost 3x as long!
In between clients and functional medicine school, Heidi tries to make time to work out in nature, hiking, yoga, or lifting coconuts!
Breakfast for a King… or a Birthday Boy!
Luckily Nora was long gone by Kirk’s birthday. We rented a car for the day to make the 45-minute drive into the big city of Manzanillo to finally pick up our air conditioner and hit some of the larger grocery stores to stock up on things like frozen berries and protein powder for our smoothies, which we can’t get locally. But the road was not yet repaired then, so we picked up our rental car in Barra instead of at the marina. First stop, breakfast at Mango Day & Night Cafe (not actually open at night?!), our new favorite breakfast place, can you see why?
The birthday boy’s fav breakfast: chilaquiles verde with scrambled eggs, frijoles, and potatoes, and black Mexican coffee. 74 looks great on you Capi!
We had ordered our 8,000 BTU window-airconditioner through Home Depot six weeks before, and between the global supply chain delays and Mexico’s mañana, it took a minute for it to arrive. But here’s the cool thing about the Home Depot in Manzanillo… it’s probably the only Home Depot with an oceanside view! And on that day the container ships and oil tankers were lined up 9-deep to get into the port to offload or load up their cargo. So going to Manzanillo is always entertaining.
We are so grateful for our awesome A/C, not only is it more powerful than our old one, it’s also quieter, and more efficient. Kirk especially loves the “water sling” feature, where it scatters the drain water on the compressor to cool it, evaporating the drain water, so no hoses overboard are needed. Really slick, and we keep the boat at a nice COOL 82-84° all day/night long. All of us, cats included, are grateful for the cool, less humid air.
Fingers crossed, we’ve seen our last hurricane for the season, but we’ll remain humble and prepped, just in case. Tikka is always prepared for anything life throws at her, like tiny crabs or geckos that might make their way aboard. Tosh on the other hand is extremely stressed out about life and we wish he would learn to relax a little! LOL.
Thanks for reading our blog posts, hope you’re doing well and having a great autumn. 🍂 🍁 🎃 🌼
PEACE, LOVE & HUGS from Mexico,
Heidi & Kirk, Tosh & Tikka