As the morning turned to afternoon Sunday, October 4th, what appeared as a pleasant, cool summer day took a significant turn with winds building to 20 and eventually over 30 knots, catching many local mariners off-guard.
According to the UCLA Marine Aquatic Center wind measurements, the breeze started to pick up in the Santa Monica Bay area around noon with winds reaching the teens, but by 4 p.m., a high of 31.3 knots was clocked. While boaters in San Francisco Bay might not have been too alarmed, sailors around here think twice about venturing out with winds blowing that hard.
At 1 p.m., winds were reaching into the 20-knot zone and things began to get squirrelly. Baywatch lifeguards had already saved a reported 420 people that morning during the Los Angeles Triathlon and their day was just beginning.
Two Harbors at Catalina Island held its famous Buccaneer’s Day on October 3rd, which attracts hundreds of boats to the island, most of whom would be coming back the next day. Also, Opening Day of the new lobster season began the day before and lobster trappers that were dusting off their boats were out in force.
“It was a perfect storm scenario,” said Los Angeles County lifeguard Capt. Terry Harvey. “People were coming back from Buccaneer’s Day, boats breaking loose from their moorings, several calls around the hill in PV (Palos Verdes) with people in danger; we had a sailboat going up on the rocks in [Marina] Del Rey and then there was the LA Triathlon.”
There were reports of two kayakers who needed to be plucked from the ocean as they attempted an ill advised crossing from Two Harbors to Redondo Beach, a 33-foot multihull capsizing outside the south entrance, just yards from the safety of the harbor, and a slew of other boats needing assistance in the surrounding area.
“There were calls ranging from Catalina, Redondo, [Marina] Del Rey, Malibu — all simultaneously,” said Harvey. “It was a very crazy day.”
The fact that the stiff winds and high seas were there to meet the many boaters returning from one of the most popular events on the island was particularly unfortunate. Buccaneer’s Day is a major party, and history shows that not everyone is as prepared as they could be to make the 25 to 35-mile ocean crossing (depending on where they depart).
Harvey points out that in big winds and seas like these, he witnesses boaters who aren’t ready for what can be dished out. “Mother Nature rules,” he said, grinning empathetically.
On October 4th as the winds stayed constant between 25 to 30 knots, the VHF radio was popping with Mayday and Pan Pan calls from up and down the coast, with the US Coast Guard doing its best to locate the distressed mariners. While the local Sheriff’s Department was handling calls, Baywatch was working closely with the Coast Guard to manage the situation.
“We work hand in hand,” Harvey said. “If they get a call that develops and they feel it’s more efficient that we get rolling on it before they get there — we’ll do that. Often, we’ll do a size up and if need be ask for resources.”
By the late evening, the winds had settled down and things began to return to normal for the rescue agencies. The sailors and power-boaters caught in the wrath spent the evening licking their wounds or calling their insurance companies.
There was one fatality reported off the coast of Catalina, otherwise no major injuries. As for the Baywatch staff, they say it was just another day at the office.
“It was crazy, but we love diving in when it gets like that because that’s what we get paid to do.”