Me And The Mexican Navy
A story of Survival and Human Compassion
This is one story I never thought I would be writing…
I will begin by saying in my travels throughout this small world of ours
There is far more Good than Bad…
I know when I mention traveling into Mexico the general population
at least in America, they think of illegal people crossing our boarders,
The Mexican cartels but this story will tell of the REAL heart and sole
of the Mexico I have come to know and love..
Yes there will be a bad apple or two but you can’t let it spoil the whole
country..Something I think we all should think about when looking at people
cultures and countries all over the world. In my travels I have found most
large cities and border cities have more discontent and anger than is found
within the country itself..suffice to say “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”
Dave and I have been sailing the Baja California area for the past 2 months
(our second year since our original sail with the Baja Ha Ha) and have certainly gone thru our ups and downs mostly weather wise but for the most part have found the people warm, generous and more than willing to help whenever they can.
We departed from Cabo San Lucas on our final leg up, (what is referred to as the Baja Bash) known at this time of year for the Northern winds..which are helpful if you are going south…lol
It’s about a 30 hour trip non-stop, not one of our favorite legs. And for the first time we decided to stop at Bahia Magdelana. We were really looking forward to cruising with our Zodiac thru the mangroves and seeing San Carlos, the small town tucked away in the vast harbor..
We left Cabo at 2am Friday morning and by mid morning had made great progress and enjoying some unusual low winds and warm weather..for the first time we were feeling Christmas and hoping to get back to our families before Christmas.
Jamming to Christmas music when about 20 miles south of our destination (approx 6 miles from shore) we came upon some large swells
and some obvious weather coming our way. Since we were reasonably close and not new to big seas we weren’t to concerned…Until
A migrating whale appeared about 20 feet from the starboard side of our boat heading straight for us..shortly thereafter our world as we knew it took a radical change..the whale dove but apparently he took our rudder with him, leaving us with no way to steer.
I jumped on the radio starting to call for help, to no avail, there was no one on the channel most frequently monitored by sailors and ships alike..
Dave went into what I call his SeaGuyver mode, create a new rudder…
He took a cover from one of our storage holes and a pole and started drilling cutting and creating..Bam we had a new rudder..now keep in mind the swell are getting bigger (about 10-12 feet) but far enough between them to ride them out..Fortunately he is a professional commercial diver and tethered up & off he went from the swim step to attempt to put the rudder back into the hole where the previous one once was..(did you know that the covers to those storage holes float?) To say the least he had difficulty getting the rudder down especially with a current now about 5 knots..
After several attempts it broke off and off floated our new rudder..
You could actually see his mind going on to plan B (or C if you count my calling for help) He was going to use the engine and our Jib sail and Mizzen to steer the boat..to Jib and Jibe..
I have to stop here to tell you that our boat is a 45ft Columbia Motor Sailor, very low draft (about 6ft) and very high free board, this will become important later.
Well we were moving along to our entry point to the bay but the current was so strong that even with a 20 knot wind we were only going 5 knots due to the current. Almost backwards…so he decided to go around the most southern end of mag bay a little entrance (Isla Santa Margarita) which was a lot closer to us and with our conditions would make before nightfall, which was coming soon. Note: This is NOT a recommended entry to Bahia Magdalena.
This is where it all began..we got caught along side of a reef and with the wind it was creating waves 15-20ft high and we were headed right for them, soon to find ourselves just outside of them and using the engine and reverse and a little sail to turn the boat we were able to get the boat to head up over them.. On the back side of the wave we went bow down like we were a submarine and slowly came back up to face yet another wave, after a few hours of this the waves and currents won and pulled us closer toward the breaking waves and they were hitting us broadside..
Dave would not give up..thru the dingy in the water with motor trying to push the boat toward the wave and beyond the breaking point..it didn’t work and shortly thereafter we lost the dingy and our motor fortunately Dave was safe on board…No need to say anything here, know what you are thinking “boy was that dumb” and we whole hardly agree!
Now the waves were breaking over us broadside…I think this is when I first saw my life passing by me..
When you are sitting on the deck and looking up with your boat broadside to a 20ft breaking wave you pray out loud please don’t push us over..with Carolee having such a short draft (created for river sailing, our keel looking a lot like a football cut in half and stuck to the bottom of the hull weighting about 31,000 pounds.) and our extremely high free board may have been what saved us…
At this point Dave and I are realizing we have to deploy our safety raft and let Carolee go to her final destination alone..we grabbed what was important to us (it’s amazing what you grab in a situation like this) and Dave threw the raft over and deployed the raft.. OMG it didn’t open! ..it popped but nothing inflated (yes it was inspected and good to go) and the next wave filled it with water and down went..what seemed our last option.
The waves were coming in sets of 5..during the next lull (if you can call it that) we prepared to jump and pray for the best.
During these hours I’m constantly on the radio crying, pleading for help, shooting of flares, since we could see lights of one of the local shrimp boats..but to no avail..We later found that one of our American ships passing saw the flares and it somehow got to the office of the president of Mexico and from then things I guess started to really happen, although we knew nothing of what was going on.
Finally I could at least hear chatter on the radio, in Spanish of course but sounding like someone trying to call someone who could help..Or at least that is what we wanted to think was happening…
We were about ready to jump when Dave’s last attempt with the sails he was jibbing and jibbing and I was controlling the engine, forward, backward and we finally got clear of the huge waters and into the sea..at least someone was listening to our crys for help! not to say it was much better but winds were strong enough that it took us north of where we were and far enough away (and shallow enough) to throw an anchor out and….
We rocked and rolled but the waves were now safely to our south…
Shortly after that a Navy boat (small) came along side..remember we are still dealing with 10-15ft swells ) it was pitch dark and to be quite honest have no idea what time it was or how long we had been battling our inability to steer but I can safely say it was well after 10pm and we started all this around 1:30 -2 in the afternoon when we lost our rudder..
They made a couple of attempts to come close to us and a couple of times I thought the way they hit us the nose of their boat surely would have put a hole right thru our hull causing our final demise..but Carolee proved to be a strong girl and kept us safe..but it was too dark and violent for any successful rescue attempt..I did however feel a little relief know someone knew we were there.
They said they would be back in the morning, at least that is what we thought they said, and off they went..Maybe we just wanted to believe that is what they said and after a couple of hours watching our anchorage we got some sleep, well I did, think I just passed out..Dave was still up and down..
But he was able to catch a cat nap..got the picture to prove it..
When I woke in the am and discovered we were still anchored (still in big seas) I got on the radio…this time it was minutes before we got a response..
It was actually from another sailor who was anchored somewhere in Bahia de Almejas, a large Catamaran (have no idea who this was but would love to find out) and offered to come to us and tow us in…Due to the heavy seas and bad weather the Harbor Master would not allow him to leave..So here we sat again knowing we would not survive another day/nite out here..
Shortly after, well it was shortly to us since the day before we had nothing, we got communication from the Mexican Navy whose base was located just the other side of Isla Santa Margarita where we were (at that time probably 2 miles from shore) They were chatting back and forth some of which we got but knew someone was trying to help us…FINALLY!
A couple of hours later we didn’t have one boat but now 3..we were getting towed in…Thank You God!
I was to say the least a mess, Dave held himself together extremely well, a trained first response person must have helped. Or he is a great actor!
Even though we were now safely tied to the boat towing us and others following I couldn’t stop the tears..think it is a pressure release valve so I just let it go..not the most complimentary picture but it speaks volumes
The team of Navy guys boarded our boat and after all was done with tieing the boats together we all sat on the deck while Dave made one pot of coffee after another , offering cokes, water and in general making our new friends comfortable..One of them Edgar (the man that appeared to be in charge of the crew) spoke reasonable English..so we could talk..
I can safely say we wore the Mexican Navy out..
Now here was the next hurtle, they weren’t going to tow us to San Carlos but just inside Mag Bay not even to Cortez Navy base, they were going to leave us anchored out about a 4 mile walk to the base and no where close to get what we needed to repair the boat…and our only mode of transportation left was a Kayak.
During this time they had brought a Navy doctor aboard to see how I was doing apparently whoever reported us in the first place said I was pleading for our lives and sounded distraught.. Duh! ..Anyway as embarrassing as that may seem..my reaction to where they were dumping us…got my blood pressure sky high and the tears were back…Doctor took my BP said something in Spanish and the next thing I knew Dave came from the bow and said “not sure what you did or said but it worked they are towing us to the base”
I’m not to proud to say but some of the things us girls can do really work..and crying uncontrollably seems to be one near the top of the list..I know I haven’t mentioned at all thru any of this, I’m NOT a sailor..I only mention this because during all of this I know little or nothing about the actual process of sailing like what sails do so other than I follow directions pretty well and am very logical I was of little to no help at all to Dave..but love and respect of the ocean and spend a lot of time on it..Anyway!
The rest of the ride in was reasonably uneventful..and I was given a ride to shore to call home and use their computer, escorted by the two Captains on duty. XO Jose Antonio Alvarado Mamcilli and Captain Humberto (hope the spelling is correct, they both deserve the medal of honor) which gave me a warm welcome hug and said “Mi Casa Y Su Casa” while rolling out the red carpet treatment…they were everything I have come to love about Mexico and their people…
Compassionate, Warm, Friendly and only wanting to help never asking for money or anything other than our happiness. They even wanted to make sure we had enough good food, water etc on board.. they gave Dave access to their tool shop and head mechanic and all the steel or whatever was needed to build our new rudder..FREE!
I know that every country in the world has people just like this but unfortunately are not seen or heard about nearly often enough it seems that the ONE bad apple or the squeaky wheel always gets the attention..
We should make an effort to change this…
Well here we are our first full day at the base and apparently their ONE bad apple Captain showed up, knowing nothing of why we are anchored in his bay and demanding our removal…panic struck again..(and that is as much space as I will give him in this story)
The one main guy that helped our rescue (Edgar Rodriquez) jumped in and explained to the bad seed (nope not even name recognition) what was going on, after a lot of back and forth we were now able to travel to and from our boat with only our Kayak ( our one remaining floating mode of transportation) and Dave could use their workshop but not their personal and I could use the phone and computer, which I opted not to do because diplomacy is not one of my finer traits and I thought best to leave the bad seed to himself.
Dave jumped on the offer and zipped over to the machine shop and a few hours later returned with our new (extremely heavy, Mexican’s build things to last FOREVER) rudder with a smile from ear to ear…
apparently not everyone listens to Bad orders and between Edgar and the mechanic we got the piece done without anyone knowing..Sometimes you have to step up to the plate and just do what is right..and this young man did.
Here is the hole in the aft cabin where we had to pull up our new rudder.
Winds have kicked up again this afternoon so we were told to stay tonite..
There is a small town around the corner “Alcatraz” where we can get supplies and stay as long as we want..so this afternoon Dave is going to attempt to put the piece in and with Gods blessing sometime tomorrow we will be off and running..well at least around Mag Bay until we know for sure she is going to hold and work..and hopefully will be able to take some time to drive the Kayak thru the mangroves..Dave had his heart set on seeing them after our trip thru some at Espiritu Island and God know he deserves to see them..Sometimes after an experience you have to stop and give yourself a little breather and smell the roses..
The Mexican culture and people are one that hold friendship, family, pride, work ethics and life close to the heart..They work harder and longer days than I have seen anywhere in America for far less pay and for the most part without ever seeing the wealth that Americans enjoy and I feel more often than not take for granted..They are devoted to their families and friends and truly want to help whenever they can, even if it means bending some rules..
Im not here to bash America because I love my country but see so much waste of talent , time and in general life…We are the greatest nation in the world, hanging on by a thread…We are living off our Laurels and seem to have lost what made us so great , our creativity, re-resourcefulness and in some instances our soul… Mexico may not have all the riches of America but they sure appreciate and use all they do have and celebrate it each day…
Dave and I are now going to learn how to live with less and celebrate what we do have more, like each other..We were both so blessed the day we ran into each other on the boat dock in Ventura and now we realize how truly blessed we are..especially because we have lived thru yet another wonderful day..
At the end we looked at each other at Sunset with a cocktail in hand and said,
Ok what have we learned from this..what do we need to change?…
I for one said..as a Brownie, Girl scout and Mariner growing up there motto was “Always Be Prepared” I wasn’t but you can rest assured I will be in the Future and hopefully there will NEVER be a next time…
Here it is our 3rd Day at the Navy Base harbor. Last nite the winds kicked up again and we lost our anchorage hold drifting about 50 ft…Dave got up and put out more chain and we stayed put for the rest of the nite. In the morning when I woke up I found the sound of the winds brought everything up again, tears, I was truly traumatized. I put ear plugs in so I couldn’t hear the wind and it worked to settle me down..I truly thought I was over it since I knew we were safe. Now the hard part for me is going to be “as we say in the cowboy world” getting back on the horse..I just pray I have the strength to sail the rest of the way home with Dave and not jump ship…Im certainly no help if I’m crying..
The rudder is in and a few more adjustments have to be made. We will test it out here in this bay which hopefully will restore my confidence and take away some of the fear..
We Are Off and running Our Captain Humberto gave us a huge stick of sugarcane..and all of his contact information so he can email us all the pictures they took during the rescue..
Just as we are to go thru the entrance of Mag bay we see our friends from Cabo so we are going to hang out for the nite in Man O War and check out the San Carlos Village..then we will be off.
And our new rudder is working beautifully!
P.S. We successfully made our first leg and are getting our sea legs back..oh and no more tears!!!