Good morning, it’s Wednesday and Beetle and I are motor-sailing (more motoring than sailing) on our way south from Bahia Santa Maria. The conditions are light air (5-7 knots from the N/Nw – so well aft of course), fairly decent swell at 7-8 feet, which makes for a rolly time on the boat. Swells are coming in from the starboard aft quarter and we’re definitely doing the rocking and rolling way through the water.
Sun is up nicely, some high overcast clouds up there, it’s warm. The front went through North of Bahia Santa Maria yesterday, generating some strong winds and lots of cloud cover; that front has moved east and the High has spread out, leaving a gentle pressure gradient out across the lower end of Baja and over to Puerto Vallarta. The general plan is to do a straight shot over to La Cruz, where I have a slip reserved in the marina there.
The reason I’m taking a slip in La Cruz as opposed to the much more frugal model of anchoring out is that I had a disastrous dinghy beach launch in Bahia Santa Maria. I’d gone ashore to walk the dunes and the beach, landed at mostly-high tide with 18-24″ little waves. By the time I returned the tide had dropped and the waves had increased to 2-3′. As I learned, a 3′ wave is too much for the dinghy to handle, as I flipped it in the surf. I also learned that outboard motors do not like being held underwater upside down in the surf for 4 minutes or so, and will fill with sand. The dry bag I had with me was not all that dry after being immersed in the surf for the same length of time. I also lost my dark glasses (I have several spare sets as I keep the older ones; I will get a new pair made in Puerto Vallarta, I need to visit an optica store to get that done). The Nikon D90 camera was damaged as well. All in all not a good way to end what was a delightful afternoon on the dunes.
What happened was I watched the wave pattern for a while prior to launching from the beach, and there were definitely lulls in the sets. It was also obvious the waves were larger than when I had come ashore. I watched the bigger waves come in, watched the lulls arrive, got all set, went in and waited for the lulls with the dinghy in the water next to me, and then I hopped in the boat and started to row out. That’s when the biggest wave appeared, and it broke directly into the boat, striking my shoulders and knocking my glasses off. The wave pushed the dinghy back towards shore and either the dinghy wheels or the outboard motor struck the sand and became the fulcrum that flipped the dinghy over, while I was still sitting in it. I ended up beneath the dinghy and for whatever reason it was difficult to push the dinghy away from me. Each time I tried to stand up I discovered I was lying sideways in the water and one foot or the other would glance off the bottom, so I wasn’t able to stand up.
Eventually I pushed the dinghy away and abruptly stood up to find I was in maybe 3′ of water, the dinghy was washing back and forth in the small surf, upside down, wheels in the air and the fuel tank was still tethered to the boat by the rubber fuel hose which, amazingly enough, did not break. I waded back over to the boat and it took many tries to get the leverage needed to get the boat right side back up – there’s not a lot to grip on the tubes and I’m trying to lift the motor up and over the height of the dinghy wheels as the water is pushing the dinghy away from me. And eventually the whole contraption was right side up again and very very soggy. Bleah!
The dry bag never came free from the dinghy and unfortunately it was no longer dry inside – a couple of cups of water in there had made my camera body damp, damp enough that it hasn’t wanted to turn on since then. The motor was my biggest concern, as I really depend upon it out here – it’s the aquatic car. Without an outboard and dinghy things become very different for a boat out at anchor.
About this moment I felt like I had stepped into a Fellini film. I’m in the middle of nowhere along a lengthy deserted beach, there’s nobody around for miles, and I look up and there’s suddenly a fellow standing there looking at me while holding a 5 gallon plastic pail. Where did he come from?!? He points down the beach towards the estuary to the mangroves and says, ‘Tranquilo. Mas tranquilo’. Through sign language I indicate I’m going to walk my dinghy the two miles down the beach to the more tranquil launching area, he nods his head and indicates the waves are far less down there, and off I go. Took a while to get there, and I extra appreciate the dinghy wheels – made it possible to move the dinghy that distance.
Eventually I reached the mouth of the small estuary that leads up into the mangroves, on the opposite side of which is the fishing camp of perhaps four shacks, some pangas, and families. It also looked like the estuary has completely silted/sanded up at low tide as there was a panga stuck in the middle of it with two guys working away, one on the bow and one on the stern. I set my load down, sat down on the dinghy to rest, and watched the waves coming in – much smaller, these are waves that one can step over, way more my style. I was also watching the wind, as rubber dinghies are terrible for rowing and rowing against the wind is even worse, if not impossible. Starting from here I would be well upwind of Beetle, which was happily riding at anchor a half mile out from shore. So I hopped in and rowed and rowed and rowed… eventually getting in front of Beetle and the dinghy drifted down and I tied up.
First concern was getting the water out of the motor, so I got out the tools, pulled the spark plugs and some water came out – not a lot. At least the motoring wasn’t running when it went under. However, upon opening up the air filter and intake to find that it was filled with sand, and removing the carburetor and inspecting it to find that it was filled with sand, and then went further back up the line and pulled the manifold intake off and found that it was filled with sand. It turns out the entire motor is filled with sand. I vacuumed out what I could, cleaned everything else off with fresh water and rinsed parts in the gasoline decanted from the fuel tank that went into the surf, reassembled, oil changed (it was filled with water), swapped new fuel into the tank, purged the fuel lines, and the engine actually did run for 15 minutes. Wouldn’t idle or anything like that. I expect the sand is going to abrade all the surfaces inside and that motor is toast. Where to find a replacement motor? This could become a big problem. At least I’m not headed to Turtle Bay, where there’s nothing to be had…
I was able to exchange email and telephone calls with Mike at PV Sailing (the North Sails loft in Banderas Bay, he’s located at Marina La Cruz), courtesy of the cell towers with Movistar and TelCel atennas on them. I learned that one can easily purchase Suzuki and Mercury outboards right there in Puerto Vallarta, going back to the States and returning with a new motor is expensive and then there’s taxes and importing not to mention transport for me each way (or shipping). Upshot is it’s easier and simpler and less expensive to purchase a replacement outboard in town. After some more digging online I was talking with Dave at Zagaroza Marine in Puerto Vallarta and they have the Mercury motor in stock. I talked with Smitty at JP Motor Sports in San Diego, the Mercury 9.9 is a Tohatsu head with spark plugs, and the small Suzuki motors are the only little engine running electronic fuel injection. There is also a Tohatsu distributor for Mexico across on Gulf of Mexico side.
Result of all this is I’m headed for La Cruz, have a slot in the marina to make getting ashore possible, I’ve got a line on a new outboard, Kristen has ordered up a replacement camera for me (Nikon D7200 – current replacement for the D90 and will work with the wonderful lenses I have) and will be bringing it with her next weekend when she visits Beetle in La Cruz. The dinghy itself is fine, I lifted it onto the foredeck, pulled out the metal rollup floor and spent 45 minutes with the deck washdown pump and garden hose removing all the sand and crushed shells from the boat and floorboards. I can get new dark glasses made up in PV, and while it was an expensive wave it was also not the end of the world. I did learn that the dinghy, at least in the configuration of wheels and outboard, is NOT a good surf boat – I need to take more care in choosing when and where to launch, leaning towards NOT launching (or landing) if I’m not at all happy with the waves. And not be concerned about wheeling the dinghy off to a different location if it’s better to launch somewhere else – even if that somewhere else is a mile up the beach!
Which brings us up to speed on what’s been going on ’round these parts. Monday was a completely un-fun afternoon as that’s when the dinghy went over, Tuesday was working on the motor, the camera, the dinghy, and making lots of phone calls and learning what I could about what options are available. As the possibilities became clearer things settled down and I sort of got my plan back in gear and things are looking good today – back on the road and enjoying the ocean!
And now I’ve made the turn down the coast, rolling along 467′ of water, at that depth the swell does not rise so much and feels a much nicer 3-5′, and with the course change the swell is now coming in from behind – Beetle does not roll so much. Breeze is light at 2-5 knots, motoring reef is set on the mainsail. Time for lunch.