Mexico 2011

Tsunami in Banderas Bay

14 March 2011 | La Cruz, Nayarit, Mexico

After the tsunami: broken parts of docks in La CruzFrom Craig, on the day of the tsunami, 3/11/2011: This is a quick update following the massive earthquake in Japan. The ensuing tsunami did get to Banderas Bay, MX, where Puerto Vallarta and La Cruz (where we were docked) are located. Unlike hard-hit locations in Hawaii, Crescent City, Santa Cruz and others, we were relatively lightly hit here. Sequoia and her crew are fine.

We are not unaffected, however. This message is being sent by Craig, at anchor, while Barbara, David and Tara are finding a hotel room in town. When Barbara left to go to the airport this morning to pick up David and Tara for their short visit, we made the decision to take Sequoia out into the bay in case the surge might ground her in the harbor. So I spent the afternoon slowly tacking back and forth in deep water while we waited to see what was going to happen. This turned out to be a sequence of heavy flows in and out, which raised and lowered the water level in the harbor by 4 feet or more. More significantly, these oscillations (which started at 1340 local time, and 5 hours later are still going strong) led to currents of 8 knots and more in the entrance channel. Shades of the Pacific Northwest!

At this time, there is damage to some of the docks at La Cruz, and the port remains closed for the night. I think the boats that stayed are undamaged, but those of us who left did so out of an abundance of caution. So I will miss the dinner reservation at the Back Forest Restaurant and the accompanying flemenco concert, and will batch it tonight until the waters settle down and the marina does some damage control. I won't starve, I'll just miss Barbara and the family.

All of this pales in comparison to the incredible havoc in Japan. Before I left this morning, I saw CNN images of the tsunami and found it difficult to put a scale to what I was seeing. My heart goes out to those poor people for the death, destruction and disruption that has been inflicted on them. We are indeed thankful for what we have.

Barbara wrote on 3/14: Friday noon (knowing the tsunami was about an hour away), Craig took the boat out into the bay and drifted/sailed around. At the same time I left on the bus for the airport to pick up David & Tara. They arrived on time, and we returned to La Cruz, arriving after the first wave of the tsunami. The sea wall was wet, up about five feet. As we watched, the water dropped more, then rose up past the original high water mark, all in the space of about 20 minutes. We waited around all afternoon while wave after wave came in. No actual "waves" -- it was just that the water rose and then fell -- a five or six foot rise and fall, visible by watching the water along the sea wall. David, Tara and I walked out to the end of the sea wall, overlooking the harbor entrance. The water there was churning and boiling at 12 to 14 knots, reversing directions about every ten minutes. It knocked the buoys on their sides, and set up areas of standing waves, much like the extreme rapids at narrow passes in British Columbia. At one point, the incoming current was so strong it took out the outermost two finger piers on dock 11. We watched as the current streamed over the first finger pier, broke it up, and slammed it into the second finger pier, which in turn broke off. The harbormaster, port captain, federal marine police, and marina security were on top of everything, corralling the pieces of finger pier, and staying on the radio to give frequent updates to boats inside and outside the marina. No boats were damaged, but there was a lot of creaking of docks and pilings in the marina. There were whirlpools and violent currents inside the marina, but everyone was well tied up. A lot of mud was stirred up, and the water is still quite murky.

I was in touch with Craig by radio, and we fully expected he’d be able to bring the boat back into the evening, so that we’d all be together for the night. At one point the harbormaster declared the marina open again, but the opening lasted only about ten minutes before they closed it again. Just before the harbor was declared open, I booked and paid for rooms at Philo’s (local cruisers’ pub/restaurant with rooms in back). When I heard the harbor was open, I unbooked them, and then had to immediately reverse myself again! The strong currents at the entrance (still reversing about every 10 minutes) continued into the evening. In the end, all boats that were out had to stay out. The Banderas Bay regatta race for that day was cancelled, but some boats were already out in the bay, some without anchors (lightening up for racing). There was lots of radio traffic about lending anchors between boats. Someone said there were 100 boats in the La Cruz anchorage that night, and the marina was about half empty. David & Tara & I spent the night at Philo’s. The next morning, Craig was able to bring the boat in, and there were about 10 people on the finger pier to help him with lines.

Red channel marker, ripped out of its position by the tsunami, ended up at distant dock.[Postscript, May, 2012:  As I'm going through the process of putting pictures together with last year's trip reports, I realize with astonishment that I have NO PHOTOS of the tsunami and hardly any of its aftermath.  Obviously I wouldn't make a good news photographer.  I was simply transfixed by all that I saw, and didn't think to take photos (or better yet, videos) of that water churning in and out.  I've looked at other cruisers' websites, and they are similarly devoid of any photographs.  Never mind -- I will never forget the sights -- they are burned into my memory.  For whatever it's worth, the photo at the top of this page, taken the next day after the tsunami, shows the pieces of dock that broke off during the tsunami, which were subsequently corraled by the harbormaster.  Here's a photo, also taken the next day, of one of the red channel markers, formerly in the channel, that was torn out of its position there and ended up at this distant dock.  You can see the channel out into the bay, in the distance.]

We had a great time with David and Tara (see photos, above), and have just put them on the bus to the airport. One day we went to central Puerto Vallarta and did the tourist thing. Then on Sunday, we motored out to the Islas Marietas and had an opportunity to go swimming. We cleaned grass off the waterline, and barnacles below the waterline. The bottom paint is obviously failing, so we’re looking into having the boat hauled and bottom painted before we set off for Hawaii in about a month.

So, in sum, all is well, we survived the tsunami, and learned a few things in the process.