Maybe a little more background to the story is necessary…Last Wednesday morning while recovering from a sleepless, windy night in Bahia San Francisquito, I was able to bring up the Sonrisa weather on the single side band. When we heard Gary’s gale warning for the northern sea, looked at each other and said simultaneously, “Oh Shoot!” or something of that nature. We quickly brought up the anchor and started motoring the 46 nautical miles north towards the best hurricane hole in the Bay of LA area, Puerto Don Juan. During the day as I lay napping down below, I heard the engine slow down.
I looked up into the cockpit at Connie just as she was saying, “Oh Shoot!” or something of that nature. Sure enough the boat had slowed. We cut the throttle, put it in neutral, and coasted along. I took up the floorboards and checked the engine and drive train. It looked good. We put her in reverse, thinking maybe we’d hit some seaweed and that would back it off the prop. After some futzing around we got her underway again but now she was making a slight whirring sound. The water was pretty murky with bits of seaweed floating about and the sea was pretty choppy. Should we dive the prop? With this red tide, current, wind, chop and swell it would not be pleasant or even safe. So we continued on to Puerto Don Juan which was another hour or so just around the corner.
Every night for the last five, no matter where we anchored, the wind would come up from the southwest at about midnight and howl along at 15 to 25 knots until daybreak. Our sleep patterns had been to sleep from 10 to midnight, be awake until about 5 AM, and then sleep in until 9:00 AM so we were a little sleep deprived. Once snugged down in Puerto Don Juan we were sleeping a little better with all the lines and gear tied down and two anchor drag alarms set.
|Ensenada el Quemado|
The morning after the fish blood bath we had vowed to somehow get off the boat. After breakfast we got the dinghy into the water and mounted the outboard on it. We motored around the mother ship looking underneath and could see some murky wreaths of kelp or seaweed coming off the propeller area. For certain, we’d have to dive the propeller before we left the anchorage.
We ran the dink south to the beach, about a quarter mile upwind from the boat and hauled her onto the shore. We pulled her above a tide line while noticing that there were other tide lines further up the beach. It was wonderful to get off the boat after five days aboard. Connie had on her hiking boots and I had on my Keen sandals. We saw the tracks of coyote and land crabs and marveled at the cactus varieties. Our hike took us across towards the next bay south, Ensenada el Quemado. Looking for a view we headed uphill and in a half hour found a wonderful summit point where we could see our anchorage and the many islands to the north and east.
|Connie's panorama shot #1. Notice our dinghy just now floating off the beach.|
|Connie's panorama shot #2. Notice SV Traveler anchored way down there in the bay.|
|Connie's panorama shot #3. The precise moment Scott notices the dinghy is afloat!|
I could see Traveler down below, anchored dead center in the Puerto Don Juan and on the south beach I could see our little dinghy. Connie figured out how to take a panorama picture on the camera and as she rotated around towards me, splicing the scenes into one, I looked over her shoulder at our dinghy on the beach. No, not on the beach! It was slowly drifting north, back towards Traveler and we were not in that dinghy nor was anyone else! Connie told me to hold still, as she had not finished the panorama. I told her the dinghy was loose and we had to go get it quick. We uttered our favorite phrase (as of late) and started scurrying down the rocky slope.
Below, there was a little point of rock protruding about 100 yards into the bay. If we could make it down to that point fast enough we could swim out and intercept the dinghy before it drifted too far from shore. What followed was rock, scree, cactus, boulder hopping, and gravel in my sandals. After negotiating the steep hill and the gully we came out on flatter ground where Connie kicked into gear and left me in the dust, her boots flying over the rough terrain. By the time I got down to the water she had jettisoned the boots and socks, dropped the camera and dove mightily, and without caution I might add, into the water. I arrived at the shore panting and started taking pictures as she did the crawl then the backstroke. A side note: I notice in myself, when faced with a tough situation or an emergency condition, my first reflex is to get out the camera so as to document what could be a future blog entry. The dinghy had caught the building south wind and was zooming along, free at last. Connie was on an intercept course. Would she make it in time? The wind was blowing from the south. The lightweight dinghy was being wafted sideways along on a northerly course. Connie’s intercept was from the east so her angle of approach was the shortest possible. I was able to triangulate the vectors from shore, doing my best to help. It was do or die.
I thought, “What if she does not make the intercept?” Then she’d be way out there in the cold water and she might have trouble swimming back to shore. I’d have to dive into the water. No, scratch that. I’d wade in first, and then swim out. When I reached her she’d be at the end of her strength. I’d take her in tow but before making it back to land I’d get a big leg cramp from the 65 degree water and we’d both go down to the bottom together, hand in hand. They’d later find Traveler with breakfast dishes in the sink and the dinghy washed up on shore a half mile to the north.
|Connie is almost to the intercept point.|
|Yea! Now swim it back to shore.|
Back to reality… She made it, just barely, then held onto the dinghy painter while she got her breath. At first she tried to swim and tow the boat until she realized that was a bad idea. The water was cold and she’d drifted far away from the shore. It took two tries for her to haul herself out of the water but she finally flung herself into the bottom of the boat and laid there for a few seconds breathing heavily. I got a great shot of nothing but her legs shooting up from the bottom of the dinghy. Then Connie got out the oars and started rowing.
I watched her row and I did that thing where you hold out your arm and sight along your raised index finger to see if the item being viewed is moving relative to the land or not. She was making zero progress. She also realized that she was making zero progress and that there was a perfectly good outboard motor aboard. Soon boat, motor, and Connie showed up to rescue Scott from shore. And was I ever proud of my dear wife. She hiked, ran, swam, and rowed. She’d done a quadrathlon! What could top that? Well, there’s more…
|Note the feet in the air.|
Back at Traveler a dry Scott and a wet Connie secured the errant dinghy and climbed aboard. I reminded Connie that we’d have to check the seaweed on the prop later today. Looking at her dripping clothing she decided, what the heck, I’ll just do it now. I’m already wet. So Connie got the mask, snorkel, and fins out of the closet. She strapped on the brawny dive knife to her thigh and hurled herself into the choppy water. My heart swelled up with pride at my quadrathlon running, adventurous diva athlete wife.
|Connie returns the errant dinghy and saves Scott's life.|
It took five submersions for her to saw off the weed from the propeller shaft and one more to check the zinc. By the time the diva shivered her way up the swim ladder she was studded with goosebumps head to toe.
|Right back into the cold cold water to cut off the kelp.|