Ignorance of the perils of navigating Lake Chapala’s waters and failure to observe prudent safety precautions were probably major contributing factors in the recent drowning deaths of three expat residents, local experts say.
Juan Silva, president of the Chapala tourist boat cooperative, points out that multiple hazards well known to experienced lake navigators include uneven levels and radical drops in the lakebed; its dense muddy bottom; fishing nets set out in the water; fences, posts, tree trunks and refuse hidden below the surface; clusters of water weeds growing near the shoreline; and shifting winds that are most dangerous between sundown and sunrise.
Silva surmises that the foreigners may have been caught by an unexpected gust of wind that hit before they were able to raise their vessel’s sails.
Silva and local harbormaster Luis Jorge Ochoa coincide in the opinion that the ill-fated adventurers erred in boarding a sailboat designed for no more than two passengers, not suiting up with lifejackets or flotation devices and casting off at the worst time of day for safe navigation.
A map posted at Ochoa’s Captanía de Puerto headquarters lists seven Chapala wind patterns, each one named according to its geographical source.
El Huarachero blows out of Huaracha, Michoacan. El Mexicano rises from east around Ocotlan, in line towards the nation’s capital. El Norteño, surging from the north, is known as the father of all winds for its power to cut off other gusts. El Tapatio comes from the direction of Guadalajara, hitting the lake at dawn. El Abajeño rises from the lake’s southwest end around Jocotepec. El Sur originates in the vicinity of San Luis Soyatlan, picking up around sunset and diminishing at dawn as it mixes with El Colimote coming from the direction of Colima.