Climate or weather? A rare west wind.

We are here in Les Saintes where we headed to prepare for challenging weather and while it is a bit choppy, the conditions are so much nicer than we had experienced in Dominica where we rolled terribly for days.

Having said that, between winds that were out of the north, followed by southerly winds, both strong, followed by no wind, the weather has been a bit crazy this season. However, after a week of rolly conditions in Dominca we decided that we’d backtrack to Les Saintes with the hope of calmer conditions.

We were not disapointed.

Shortly after our arrival, we enjoyed a lovely dinner out with friends at a wonderful French restaurant. What an idyllic spot with the water gently lapping up on the beach.

I really do not understand the fascination with posting photos of meals. However, of wine? What’s not to like?

For several days Chris Parker had been warning boats that an unusual weather event was in the forecast. A front moving through the area with winds expected to come out of the west. A forecast like that was an unusual occurrence in an area where winds are generally very predictable and almost always out of the east. Perhaps a bit north or south of east, but from the east. His advice was that boats should prepare to find shelter from what were likely to be strong west winds. This sort of issue is common in the Bahamas where cold fronts come crashing down from the north, often more than once a week. These fronts bring strong winds that clock from east to south, through the west and back to the east, all within a 24 hour period.

During the four seasons that Brenda and I spent in the Bahamas we tired of the weekly need to run for cover in an area with precious few options for safety. This is one of the reasons we decided to spend our winters in the Caribbean.

The issue in the Bahamas, as well as the Caribbean, is that many popular anchorages are not protected from the west and what is normally a secure place to anchor can become a dangerous lee shore, pummeled by big waves bringing a risk that you will be pushed onto the beach and pounded in the surf.

Chris is always careful to provide a “worse case” scenario in his forecasts so that his clients can be fairly confident that conditions will not be worse than he is forecasting. Better to overstate it as opposed to having clients later remarking “Chris, it was a lot worse than you said it would be!”. It is certainly better for his business for them to say “Thank goodness that you warned us. It wasn’t all that bad and we were prepared.”

Because of his abundant caution, some feel that Chris overplays risk and feel that he can be an alarmist. As a result, they don’t always take his warnings seriously and the other night was a good example.

The problem was that the GRIBS seemed to show that while winds would be clocking from the south through the west, but it would be very rapid, giving the impression that seas would not have an opportunity to build much as the wind shifted. Chris did not see things the same way and urged caution.

His forecast was that overnight there would be west component winds as strong as 25kts with gusts to 40 in squalls. And, along with that there was a risk of 10′ waves driven by those strong squalls, something that the GRIBS really did not capture. He strong recommendation was to find shelter from west winds and that anyone with exposure to the west could find themselves on a nasty lee shore.

Oddly, in spite of that forecast a lot of our boats did not move into an area offering good protection and found themselves in difficult conditions, fighting to stay off of a lee shore.

Fortunately, none of the Salty Dawg boats were lost but in a number of harbors boats broke loose and ended up on the beach or rocks. Here are a few photos of boats that met their fates as posted by Salty Dawg members.

In Dominica, we had faced some really nasty swells the prior week, and even when there was no wind, conditions were very rough. This boat is about the same size as Pandora was driven up on the beach. I have no idea how they are going to find someone to pull her off as there aren’t a lot of commercial boats in the area.

When a boat ends up on the rocks, there are often holes in the hull and the boat fills with water and sand stirred up by the surf. Not good for this boat in St Pierre. This area is one where we have anchored many times. It’s an open roadstead and even under perfect conditions, it can be rolly.

You can imagine, even if the hull isn’t breached, the force of the waves breaking over the boat can down-flood into the interior quickly. The power of water an not be overestimated. More than once we have pulled our dink up on a beach only to have her swamped by a single wave filling her quickly with water and a load of sand. Imagine the mess after hours of crashing waves. It doesn’t take long until the boat is trashed beyond repair.

There really can’t be much hope in removing a boat intact under those conditions, especially in a location where sophisticated salvage services are not available.

Here is a shot of Deshaies that I took recently, when things were settled. A lovely spot. It’s worth noting that the town dock is designed in a way that allows them to pull off the entire deck so that the waves can break over and through it and not do any damage as all that is exposed is a metal framework.

It doesn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse as witnessed by this short video from a fellow Salty Dawg of the waterfront in Deshaies taken the “morning after”.

I had written about the work that Mark and I did on a dock in Dominica last week. We were pretty proud of our work.

The same dock less than a week later. It must be depressing to work hard to keep things in shape only to have them trashed a short time later.

There is no doubt that many cruisers were surprised by how quickly things went south and fortunately nobody in our fleet lost their boat. There was some damage including overturned dinks and I am sure other issues given how bad conditions quickly became.

The following morning I called Chris back to get his thoughts on why conditions had deteriorated so much and so quickly. His answer was that this had been the worse cold front that he had seen in this part of the Caribbean in 20 years.

After more than a few seasons here in the Caribbean the weather seems to be weirder than ever and it makes me wonder. What about easterlies? Southerlies, Northerlies, wind from the west? What gives?

You do have to ask yourself if this is weather or climate? Strong winds from the north, south and west, all in a week. All I can say is that it’s wierd…

Well, at least there are croissants, and baguettes, and cheese, wine… Well, you get the idea.

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