October 1, 2010

If at First You Don't Succeed-Isla La Ventana

The first time we went cruising one of the most common questions we were asked (along with, "What about pirates?" and "How do you afford it?") was, "Have you been in any storms?" People love hearing about storms. I think it reassures them that their life (as safe and ordinary as it might seem some days) is far more sensible than one where you could dashed to death on rocks, or swept away by huge seas.

The Elefante at La Ventana was one of the storm stories we used to tell. Isla La Ventana is a small island that's surrounded by even smaller ones. At the western end is a one boat anchorage, a cosy spot with reefs for snorkelling and hiking trails for exploring. All our friends had been-and raved about it. So we headed there one afternoon. When we pulled in, I saw the reefs through the clear water and a hiking trail snaking inland. I was midway through baking bread and making dinner, so we decided to save our exploring for the next day.

You know what comes next.

Somewhere around 3am the wind gave a gentle warm puff and then all hell broke loose. Within 5 minutes we had a steady 50 knots from the west-the anchorage's only exposed opening. Evan had programmed our escape route into the GPS, but somehow in switching it off he'd lost it. Now we were in a tight rocky anchorage with reefs all around us, a dangerous lee shore astern and no idea how to get to safety. We tried to shine a light to see our way past the rocks-but the spray, which reached as high as our boom, made it impossible to see more than a few feet.

We made our way out at full speed (the only way to progress against the wind and seas) and through luck and happenstance we tucked in behind a rock where we waited out the two-day blow (which was occasionally strong enough to lift and flip our dinghy). When the wind decreased we hoisted our anchor, and discovered that when we dropped it our bow sprit had only been a few feet from the rock's face, which meant we had narrowly missed ploughing into it.

So you can see why we were anxious to return to La Ventana.
We had a score to settle.

Fourteen years ago weather forecasting in the Sea was pretty undeveloped. There were no satellite convection images to let us know about Chubascos, and Elefantes were winds of mystery. Early on in this trip though I read that Elefantes had a straightforward cause-when it was calm in the Sea and calm on the Pacific side Elefantes were more likely to occur.

The thing with reading a detail like this, is it's easy to mess it up and get it backwards. So yesterday when we heard the weather report: calm in the Sea and calm in the Pacific, I thought it would be the prefect time to head to La Ventana.

It was just the way I remembered: stark and beautiful; cosy in a way that only someone who loves the desert can appreciate. We snorkeled and had fresh seafood chowder for dinner, then we watched a movie and planned an early morning hike.

I fell asleep.

I was woken by a warm puff of air and a rising wind from the west. We turned on the radar and planned our escape. Evan double checked the cause of Elefantes and, as we waited for all hell to break loose, we discovered my error.

Luckily the wind stayed manageable and we never needed to escape. And this morning we got up early and hiked across the island. In an hour or so though, we're leaving. We're off to find an Elefante-free anchorage.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

No comments: