Hop Aboard: Crossing the Tehuantepec

My only warning is the brief lurch as the bow of the boat dips, then a wall of water crashes over me, and, ironically, the Fundamentals of Sailing book open in front of me. This is our first indicator that things could be a little different in the Golf of the Tehuantepec than the placid waters we’d experienced so far. 
I jumped up, as the boat pitched again, and ran to grab ahold of the guide line, for the first time really needing the rope rather than just using it as a precaution. The rope spans from the cockpit to jib sail and in addition to raising the sail also serves as something to hold onto to when walking across the boat. We usually hold it just to keep Bob from yelling, “One hand on the boat!” Now I used it for fear of being thrown over the low wire rail between me and the ocean, which, for the first time since we had joined the boat, was forming white caps. 

The increasing intensity came as no surprise. We had spent the past three days in bays surrounding Huatulco waiting for an opening in the weather in which to cross the Tehuantepec. The golf spans 260 miles and is backed up against the narrowest portion of mainland Mexico, allowing for winds to funnel down from the Golf of Mexico and creating a high potential for gale force winds. In addition, this hazard is expected to be the greatest during the months of January and February. We are right in the midst of “gale season.” 

So, back in Huatulco, when Seth’s scanning of weather reports yielded a prediction of a three day weather window, we lifted anchor the next morning. 

But still, as I rushed into the cockpit with my sundress drenched in salt water, I knew the choppiness and dipping of the boat only startled me because I was an amateur, spoiled by nothing but smooth sailing on the steady catamaran. For now we had nothing of gailforce winds often present at this time of year and the swells — which seemed big to me — were nothing to concern the captain. 

The boat continued to roll and pitch enough to keep us all in the cockpit unless we needed to go out to adjust sails, but by the time darkness fell it had subsided enough to let some of the crew sleep and to not pose too much concern for the lone watchman throughout the night. 

This was only day one of the crossing. 

By the time day two arrived the sea was so flat we could see turtles swimming under the surface of the water and the only wind was straight on the nose of the boat, making it useless for us to even lift the sails. We motored through the calm seas, with our only concern dodging the fishermen’s nets that occasionally appeared out of nowhere and forced us to make sharp turns to avoid them. It was easy to see why the nets were so plentiful in the area. We caught three of our own fish back to back on our trolling lines. 

And the rest of the crossing passed without another wave, proving to the Tehuantepec, for the brief span of time we occupied it, to be as gale-less as the rest of the coastal waters. 

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