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SPORTS WEEKEND | OUTDOORS

Cabo: Wet and Wild, but Not So Wonderful

September 26, 1997|PETE THOMAS

Anyone who has spent much time in Cabo San Lucas this summer knows firsthand that the marlin season has been a washout, with El Nino being blamed for driving water temperatures up and the billfish elsewhere.

But anyone who has been there recently has found the poor fishing to be the least of the problems: The entire resort city, on the tip of the Baja California peninsula, has been a washout.

Cabo San Lucas, referred to by many as the marlin capital of the world, has been inundated with rain in recent weeks, first by Hurricane Linda and most recently by Hurricane Nora, which earlier this week forced the closure of the port and turned Cabo into a quagmire, leaving tourists with nothing to do.

"I live a mile or so out of town and I couldn't even get my ATV through all that stuff," said Jeff Klassen, owner of Los Cabos Sportfishing Center in downtown Cabo. "I had to wade through mud up to my waist just to get to my office."

Once there, Klassen has had little to do in recent weeks. Business in Cabo San Lucas during the heat of summer is traditionally slow, but the one-two El Nino-hurricane punch and outstanding fishing north of the border are leaving many business owners at Land's End reeling.

"Spirits among fishermen were down, of course, as we had mediocre fishing due to the warm water," Klassen said, "and tourism is definitely down because of this and now we have to put up with this . . . weather.

"What I don't like about the hard times, financially, is that the crime rate skyrockets. They'll take the underwear right off of you if you give them half a chance. Everybody goes through your garbage 50 times a day. My truck was stolen right in front of my house [inland, away from tourist areas] a couple of months ago."

More recently, automobiles have been broken into for such items as purses and cameras. This is the dark side of normally sunny Cabo San Lucas, and this summer has been particularly gloomy in this respect.

"As far as I'm concerned, this was the slowest [August and September] in seven years," said Minerva Smith, owner of Minerva's Tackle and Sportfishing, and a Cabo businesswoman for 21 years. "And the crime rate is pretty high right now. People do desperate things in desperate times."

Cabo business owners are quick to look on the bright side, however. They consider themselves fortunate that neither Linda nor Nora directly hit Cabo, sparing lives and millions of dollars worth of property.

And they are just as quick to point out that summer is over and that the fall season typically brings cooler weather, no hurricanes, an influx of giant blue and black marlin and a steady cash flow generated by ordinary tourists on up to the wealthy yacht owners, who spend much of the fall living in Cabo and competing in the various big-money marlin tournaments.

Many of the more popular hotels are booked or nearly booked through October. Finding a cruiser from a reputable fleet on short notice will become increasingly difficult in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, there is still this matter of El Nino.

"We've had extremely high water temperatures, and it has resulted in some very slow fishing, particularly for billfish," Smith said. "This El Nino . . . we've had readings as high as 91 degrees and we never want it to top about 88, which is what it is right now."

And as Cabo residents continue to clean up after Nora, an advisory from the National Hurricane Center points to a tropical disturbance detected Thursday a few hundred miles south of Acapulco.

Whether it grows into Hurricane Olaf, and what path it takes should that happen, is anyone's guess.

ADD NORA

Boxer Oscar De La Hoya, whose home away from home is Cabo San Lucas, was among those in town earlier this week anticipating the arrival of Hurricane Nora. He didn't seem too concerned.

"I've faced tougher opponents," he told the Associated Press. "I have a pretty good wine cellar, so I'll just stay inside if the hurricane hits."

LAST ADD NORA

Amigos de Baja has been tracking the recent hurricanes and giving detailed accounts from Baja locals on its web site (geocities.com/thetropics/4888/). Nora knocked out power briefly Monday at the East Cape, but resort fleets resumed normal operations by Thursday.

La Paz experienced rain and large swells, but little else. It was a different matter in Loreto, where a dozen or so homes were damaged or destroyed in the western part of town because of flooding.

On the bright side, fishermen throughout Baja are hopeful that fishing will improve as it often does in the days after a major storm, particularly for dorado, which gather beneath floating debris left by the storm.

ADD EL NINO

The wacky weather phenomenon that has pushed all sorts of colorful and exotic fish farther north than usual--a marlin reportedly was caught recently near the Canadian border and a sailfish reportedly was hooked off Northern California!--may be exciting for sportfishermen up and down the West Coast, but commercial salmon fishermen off Alaska can do without it.

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