Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricane Norman, 1997

It was the year of the big El Nino. I was camped at my favorite spot and only 2 other camps were there. The weather was as humid as the tropics. At least 80%-85% humidity and the air temp was 85-90 degrees. The mosquitoes were thick as any place I’d ever been. I couldn’t believe that this was the arid Baja I was so use to. It had been raining so much over the last few months that every square inch of land was covered with flowers. It was the most beautiful I’d ever seen it. Yellows, greens, reds, violets and oranges filled the landscape. The air was still, not a breathe of wind and the sweat was pouring off just sitting still. The water temp was in the 80’s. The surf was 2-4 foot and real good form. It was quite an accomplishment if I could get from my camp to the shoreline without acquiring more than 10 mosquito bites.

I had to fully cloth with my trunks on and run waving my towel frantically around me trying to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Then shed my clothes as fast as possible and try and maneuver over the rocks fast without spraining an ankle and keeping the mosquitoes away which got me no less than a dozen or more, sucking my blood before I was deep enough to submerge myself and find relief. It stayed like this for about a week. Then about the fourth day, in the night, in the southern skies I could see what looked like the skies of Desert Storm. It looked as though a war was going on. I didn’t think much of it because I’ve seen those kinds of skies plenty of times in years past. Summer storms, hurricanes down south so I wasn’t thinking that anything different was happening. I had no idea that the hurricane down south would be coming directly at me that same night.

I had just had a great evening surf session and was looking forward to another great one in the morning. That night it started to drizzle just after sunset. Within a few hours it started to get a little breezy and the rain began getting increasingly harder. I began putting a few things under the Big Red. The rain was actually a welcomed relief because it kept the mosquitoes away. I had no screens on my doors so my doors were shut all the time and it was like a sauna inside. If I went outside I’d get eaten alive. If I stayed inside it was guaranteed a sweat box, there was no relief except in the ocean but it was night time. It began raining harder and harder and the wind was really starting to pick up now. The time was around 9 or 10 p.m.. The it began blowing so hard that I began pulling things inside Big Red. Everything was soaking wet and it was no use having clothes on so All-Natural was my dress code.

Each time I went out the rain came in and the wind kept picking up in velocity to where it was in the 50-60 mph range and rising. Big Red was getting a good shaking. Within an hour all hell was breaking loose. It was now blowing somewhere in the 70-80 mph velocity and the rain was pouring down and in every crack in the windows and doors. Now I was starting to get concerned. I knew I was in for a long night. I knew now that the hurricane I had been watching the last few nights was outside in my neighborhood knocking at my door. I had to start Big Red and move it so the corner of the rig was splitting the direction the wind was coming from. I didn’t want the wind hitting directly on its side, thinking if it got much worse it could possibly roll It over on its side. The winds were so strong by this time it was as if I was driving down the worst dirt road in Baja at 65 mph. I was rocking and rolling like a corn kernel in a popcorn pan. Things outside began flying around so I decided to go and fetch what I could before I lost all of my boards. I opened the door and jumped out just in time to see one board take off in the dark into the desert. I went to grab my other board and my dog took off somewhere.

I yelled for him but the wind was blowing so hard I could hardly hear myself yell for him. When I turned around I could see Big Red starting to billow smoke at the passenger door. I thought to myself, “Oh great, here I am in the middle of Baja in my birthday suit and Big Red is going to go up in smoke and I’ll be standing here bear butt naked holding my surfboard in the middle of a hurricane!” I ran to Big Red to see what was up and the wires from the solar panel that were attached to the battery were shorting out and starting to melt red hot on the carpet. Seems as though by leaving the door open the rain which was now horizontal to the ground, had flooded across my battery and caused a short in the solar panel wires. The carpet was smoking up a storm and Big Red was filled with smoke so I just grabbed hold of the wires and yanked them from the battery and let the rain soak the carpet and stop the smoke. I grabbed another board from underneath the rig and stuffed it into Big Red. My chairs and some camping stuff were on lift off with no chance of catching it. I would just have to wait out the hurricane and look in the morning.

By now my dog had decided he didn’t want any flying lessons so he came back and jumped in Big Red and we rode it out till morning. About 4 a.m. the hurricanes worst part had passed by and by daylight it was calm. The waves were huge. So huge they were breaking out as far as you could see. I couldn’t tell exactly how big they were but they must have been 30 to 40 feet. I found out later in my trip that the winds had peaked at 95 mph and that the eye of the hurricane had passed less than 20 miles from me. There were fish on the road from the hurricane, it must have picked them up similar to a tornado and thrown them around. Quite a night.