Monday, April 21, 2014


18 April, 2014 9:27am  17*16.570N 101*03.510W (Geography fun - where were we?)
After a night of little sleep I am in bed waiting for the head. Yes,  I’m a poet and I know it.

GRRUMBLE, VIBRATE, RRRUMBLE.  The first thought that pops in my head as I scramble out of bed is that we have drug anchor and are grinding horribly over large rocks
“What’s that!?!”
We both make for the companionway to look out and check our position for the umpteenth time in 12 hours, this time running.
“What is it?”
“An earthquake!”, Darren replies.
Darren is halfway up the companionway stairs blocking all outside view so I can only say, “How can you tell?”
“Because the trees are doing this.” He turns partway and motions with his arm a palm tree waving violently back and forth like a pom pom wielded by a cheerleader on her third can of Jolt cola chasing a handful of NoDoz.  “Let’s get out of here in case there’s a tsunami.”

My thoughts exactly. We both throw on our ‘above decks/salty’ shorts from their home by the companionway as we turn on the windlass and grab the keys. By the time I am scrawling the time (the engine meter has been acting weird so we are keeping a log of our run times as a backup) on the cruising guide that is laying open on the nav table it is 9:29 and Darren is headed for the foredeck to raise the anchor. I go out to the helm to give the engine light taps to ease the force on the windlass and get my first glances around as I watch for Darren’s hand signals. There are a couple of rock slides that are billowing dust but it doesn’t look like anything near homes and everyone looks pretty calm. A couple of pangas race by one right on the tail of the other.

Dust plumes from rockslides
Darren gives me the ‘off the bottom’ hand signal and I start easing us towards the mouth of the harbor. There is another panga heading towards us across our path so I keep it slow to pass behind them. Darren throws me the ‘out of the water, go ahead’ signal and turns to question me when I don’t gun it. I point to the oncoming panga, “I’m going behind the panga.” Darren turns to see the panga he has been too focused to notice and one of the fishermen motions the ground shaking. Darren yells back, “Terremoto!” and the fisherman replies, “Yeah, terremoto!” as his partner keeps the panga at top speed towards the shore. I open our throttle and raced (a relative term when your top speed is about 6 mph) out of the bay in search of deeper, safe water.

In deep water, on the other side of the point, we saw what looked like a cell tower and Darren took the helm so I could go down and grab the computer and banda acha (I think they call them dongles up north? – for internet service) to try and get a signal. I had 2 thoughts – see what info we could get on the earthquake (will there be a tsunami?) and, I can post Happy Birthday to Jo on his birthday! Adoring aunt that I am, I can’t promise the thoughts were in that order. The computer booted up, but even with Darren sailing towards shore we couldn’t get a signal. Finally we had to give up when the depths became too shallow to be safe if there was a tsunami. We would just have to go offshore and try again when we got to a town. Fortunately, we had posted a birthday message to Jo before we left Zihuat (Zihuatanejo). A short bit later we were about a mile offshore and we felt another rumble. Aftershock.

We later found out that the main earthquake was a 7.2 (or 7.8 depending on which article you read) that was centered about 25 miles straight inland (so no tsunami) from where we were anchored. We were about as close to the epicenter as you could be and still be in water.
After the second quake we were far enough offshore to slow the adrenaline pumping so Darren went forward to throw a few stitches in the genoa. Our original plan had been to do it that morning in the harbor before we left as the wind hadn’t been coming up til between 11:00 and 13:00 on this section of the coast. We were getting a late start on the morning when the earthquake hit as we had been awakened several times in the night by the sound of the anchor chain dragging across the rocks in the harbor bottom  and getting up to check our position . At one point the GPS alarm we had set went off and Darren sprinted to the companionway to check our position (we were fine, we had just made the alarm too conservative). 

Again, ‘sprinted out of bed’ is a bit different on a sailboat. Imagine your bed surrounded on all sides by walls except for a 20” opening by your heads to get in and out of with a ceiling 2’ tall except for a spacious 3’ tall space about 3.5’ wide at your head tapering to about 2’ wide near the bottom of your ribs. So to ‘sprint’ out of bed you sit up, pull your feet up and scooch closer to the head of the bed so you can swing your legs around without bashing your head on the low part of the ceiling (and hopefully missing your spouse) and slither off the waist high bed onto the slanted floor. You then ‘run’ down the narrow rocking corridor grabbing handholds as you fly through the salon towards the companionway. I have to add rolling Darren out of the way of the opening to get out of the bed as it is entirely on his side of the bed to my process. This results in Darren doing a higher percentage of sprints, fair enough, since his process is shorter, right?

Our first Mahi!
Later in the day we were sailing along under 89 degree blue skies doing 5.5 knots with the main and newly repaired genoa up and eating the rice mango almond bowls I had made for a late lunch when we got a hit on the handline. Darren pulled in the line while I got out the gloves and gaff. He soon had our first Mahi (dorado) on the low-side deck (don’t ask how we know this is the best place to clean a fish)! It was small but very tasty lightly pan fried in coconut oil with salt and pepper. Yum.

It looked bigger head on
As the sun got low in the sky Darren was taking his late afternoon mini shift when he spotted a freighter on the horizon headed straight for us. He turned to port figuring they wouldn’t want to go any closer to land and tried to raise them on the radio to make sure they could see us with the sun in their eyes. When they didn’t answer and seemed to turn ever so slightly more towards our new course he called me to come try and hail them. Rumor has it that they are more likely to answer calls from women than men!

After alternating  hailing them in English and broken Spanish (how do I say ‘westbound’?!), I did get an answer in Spanish accented English that they were turning to starboard to pass port to port. I signed off with a “Gracias, buenas tardes” and breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully they were laughing and not horrified at my butchering of the pronunciation of 'unknown ship' the first time. Hey, you try saying “buque desconocido rojo” 3 times fast while a freighter is bearing down on you! Hindsight might suggest that we should have practiced the phrase beforehand but we have always had ships pass on courses that very clearly would take them out of our path. Or, more to the point, keep us out of their path!

How many sunset shots does it take to get a level one?
A sunset snuggle to calm the adrenaline and it was 20:00 - time for my night shift to start. I was alone with the normal stargazing, bioluminescence wonders and a just-past-full moonrise alternated with reading a little bit of the book ‘Two Against Cape Horn’ by Hal Roth that we had scored in a book exchange with Islena (a twin Pearson 365!) in Zihuat. Every once in a while it seemed the sky lightened almost imperceptibly and I would spend 10 minutes or so scanning the horizon for lightning but saw nothing. I had just about decided it was light from the instruments reflected off the disco ball when, around midnight, I saw a real flash of lightning in the distance off our port stern. I watched it move ever so slowly closer as the wind eased and by 00:40 the sails were slatting in the confused seas. Usually the wind waited til 01:00 to die making it easy to take down the sails during shift change. Darren came up early, awakened by the rolly seas and we took down the sails then had a tired discussion about the path of the lightening. It was a bit stressful, being my first time seeing lightning on the boat , even though it was so far away (behind the mountains) that we couldn’t even hear the thunder. For insurance, I put the handheld GPS and VHF in the oven (Faraday cage) before I tucked in to try and sleep and Darren delayed putting out the flopper stopper till it calmed down in case we had to move quickly. 

I awoke to smoke filled air and went up to check it out. We couldn’t see the flames in the predawn light, but there were obviously fires as we could smell the sagebrush scented smoke on the light breeze from shore that was filling the sails Darren had just raised.
I think I took about 60 shots of this sunrise!

Blue Raspberry Icee!
 I had an easy morning watch and couldn’t resist a swim in the gloriously clear warm Blue Raspberry Icee colored water (like what we had off the Oregon coast on the Ilwaco to Newport leg but lighter and even clearer!) during the midmorning shift change after we took down the sails (becalmed again). We were about to get to Acapulco (at the end of Semana Santa – what were we thinking!?!) and figured the water might be too dirty to swim in like it had been in Zihuat. Darren declined, but kept watch for jellies and warned me when one drifted towards me so I could clamber out of the water while it passed.

What a day.

J. – Hope you had as much fun on your birthday as we did! Happy 13th!

Moms – Don’t worry, this day was multiple times crazier than our previous worst passage. As you can tell from our posts, most of our passages are mile after mile of watching dolphins, whales, turtles, birds, endless miles of empty ocean under blue (or starry) skies and sun and moon sets and rises.

Jodi and Darren

s/v Gratitouille


  1. Quite an adventure. Way better to watch an Earthquake on the water than be in one on the land! - Theresa (Hood River Jewelers)

    1. Definitely! Though still a bit nerve wracking when you are in a small bay and don't know if a tsunami is coming! Hope all is well in Hood River!