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I Learned About Boating From This: Ignoring Storm Warnings

Read this true life tale, as told by a fellow boater.

September 20, 2020
Learn the importance of storm warnings
This boater learned to heed posted warnings…the hard way. Tim Bower

The early-November morning in Morro Bay, California, was near perfect: light overcast skies and dead-calm. Reports from earlier in the week had late-season albacore within 6 miles of the harbor, and we jumped at the chance to put a few of these coveted tuna in the freezer before winter finally shut down things for the season.

As we motored past the harbor master’s building in our 15-foot center-console, my dad and I both noticed the two red flags flying. The gale warning was in stark contrast to the current conditions. Concluding the flags had mistakenly been left up from the day prior, we continued on our way.

Rounding the harbor jetty, we quickly accelerated to clear the shallow entrance that is often closed during large northwest swells common this time of year. While the swells were indeed large, the near-perfect conditions and lack of wind made clearing the harbor and the short 6-mile run offshore quick and uneventful.

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Shortly after setting the lines and getting settled in for a day of trolling, we noticed a light breeze had begun to blow from shore. Suddenly and without warning, a fierce Santa Ana windstorm hit, and we found ourselves surrounded by wind-ravaged seas. Combined with the large swell that previously had not been a concern, our situation was dire. Unable to perform a simple task of reeling in the lines, we cut free all four lures to concentrate on the emergency at hand. Though only 6 miles from the harbor entrance, we donned our life jackets and contacted the Coast Guard to inform them of our plight, position and plan.

The tops were blowing off the seas, and the large swells coming from an opposite direction created an equally ominous danger. The distance that had taken us 20 minutes to cover on the way out now required more than two hours to reverse as we tacked in every direction to avoid any direct contact with breaking seas.

Soaked and tired, we approached the harbor, but quickly discovered the swell had increased and was now breaking across the harbor entrance. We were informed the harbor-entrance bar was now closed. As such, we were forbidden from entering the harbor and instead directed 9 miles to the south to the deepwater port at Avila Beach.

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The decision to violate the order was an easy one—we simply would not have survived the trek south in our small boat. Timing the swells, we made our first attempt, but aborted to avoid running down the steep face of the building breaker. On the second attempt, we remained between two large swells and were able to turn the corner just before the white water from the following wave reached us.

As we timidly passed the Coast Guard cutter that had been dispatched, presumably to rescue us, an attempted wave of thanks didn’t elicit a response. We had put ourselves in danger, and in so doing, we had put these Coast Guardsmen in a position of danger as well.

Read Next: The Benefits of Satellite Radio Weather

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We were extremely lucky that day. The primary lesson I learned is an old one: Don’t assume. There are many sources of weather data available, and simply tuning in the right channel or a quick check of a weather app would have verified the gale post. We also violated a stand-down order that day. It was my responsibility to get my boat and passenger (my dad) to safety, and I knew my best chance for doing so was the action taken. Nonetheless, it was a long car ride home.

Raymond Pollum

Dana Point, California

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