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I was just recently, two and a half weeks ago, asked to do a boat delivery from Puerto Vallarta to San Carlos. September is pretty slow here and the timing was right so myself and one of my ex sailing students, Ron Brown, hopped on the bus to Paradise Village in Vallarta to sail Esprit; a 30 foot Catalina north. On August 31th Ron and I grabbed the bus to Vallarta at around 8 pm and arrived in Vallarata the next after noon Monday the 1st of August, around a 17 hour bus ride.
Tropical storm Norbert was just forming and was expected to become a hurricane quickly so we decided we would have to wait a few days to let the storm move north and west of us. On Wednesday the 3rd of September Norbert had not yet formed into a hurricane and was tracking northwest and predicted to go a bit more west as it marched up the coast of Baja. After checking buoyweather.com wind predictions for the west coast of Mexico, predictions showed 15 to 20 knots out of the south for the area between Vallarta and Mazatlan and after two full days of getting familiar with the boat, but not as familiar as I should have gotten, Ron and I couldn’t take it anymore and departed Paradise Village a few hours before sunset.
Norbert’s position on that day was Lat 19.7 Long. 108.3 which placed the storm approximately 175 miles almost due west of us. As we left Paradise Village there was no wind and calm seas within the bay. A few short hours later about 5 miles from Punta de Mita the wind picked up to around 20 knots and we beam reached past the two well marked rock hazards, hung a hard right hand turn and got a wild sled ride down wind to Mazatlan.
We sailed through some wild squalls over the next 48 hours with some of the biggest waves I have ever seen on the west coast of Mexico. Average wave heights were around 5 feet but frequently, we would encounter swells of up to 20 feet. The sailing would have been absolutely perfect on this 30 foot Catalina if the starboard side steering cable had not snapped. The one thing I never bothered to inspect was the steering cables. The boat looked so well maintained that I simply assumed the cables were in good shape. On a Catalina 30 built in 1986 the steering cables are covered with a fiberglass hatch under the cockpit. To get at the cables you have to remove this hatch. Once the hatch was removed the problem became obvious. Over the years the starboard steel reinforced cable housing had completely disintegrated in one small section in the middle of the housing which thus totally shredded the cable.
The cable parted Thursday afternoon about 60 nautical miles from Mazatlan right around sunset. The auxiliary tiller was a simple piece of stainless steel tuping around a foot and a half long and steering the boat through the night in 10 foot sees and 20 knots of wind would have been very difficult so I decided we would simply heave to on a port tack which would allow us to slowly sail towards Mazatlan without having to steer the boat. The next morning after sailing through several more squalls by 10 a.m. on Friday the sun was shinning the wind was dying and we motored the remaining 30 miles to Mazatlan using the Auxiliary tiller. The now hurricane Norbert continued on its North Westerly track as predicted and eventually petered out on the west of the Baja after becoming a category 2 hurricane for a few short hours on the 6th of September.
In Mazatlan we did a quick fix on the cable and housing which essentially lasted the rest of the way to San Carlos and the rest of the boat delivery was pretty uneventful. Lesson learned on boats that are in great shape cosmetically? Always check the steering cable before you leave port. No matter how well maintained the boat looks!!
As I finish typing this Hurricane Odile is now a catagory 4 and taking almost an identical storm track as Norbert but much closer to the coast. Glad to be back in San Carlos!