Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ready to do another tow?

While anchored in the lagoon off the idyllic town of Barra de Navidad we listened to the morning radio net while waiting for the French baker to arrive with our fresh baked baguette and two croissants, plain for me and almond for Connie. No kidding.  There is a French baker who loads his little panga up with fresh baked goods and drives from boat to boat doing business.

As the days go by and the cruising season near its end north bound cruising boats leave and soon there is a need for more net controllers to run the morning radio net.  I volunteered and had a couple of fun mornings joking around on the VHF radio asking for arrivals and departures and general boat check-ins. 

In the midst of this activity the vessel Elegant Sea passed on to the net news that there was a boat by the name of Airborne stuck in Bahia Chamela, 38 miles north of Barra.  Airborne's friends on the sailing vessel Interlude had called Elegant Sea on the cell phone with the news that Hal and Kathy on Airborne were sitting tight, looking for a tow as they had no means of propulsion other than their sails.  They needed to get north around Cabo Corrientes, having failed to do so in six days of sailing back and forth, back and forth.  As a catamaran, their upwind sailing capability was no match for the two knot current and 12 knot wind on the nose that is the normal sea state at the notorious cape.

We'd met Hal and Kathy in the dirt yard in Guaymas where Traveler gets hauled out for the summer.  They'd arranged a birthday party for Connie and threw other holiday parties there in the yard on the concrete pad under their catamaran on blocks.  I remembered that their 70's era catamaran was heavy built for a two hulled boat and had an interesting method of propulsion: one engine powering two separate outdrives via hydraulic hoses.  It turns out that one or more of the hydraulic connections had busted loose and all the fluid leaked out into the hulls.  Such was the location of the drives that the boat would have to be pulled out of the water to do the repair. The nearest yard to Bahia Chamela is in Banderas Bay, 50 miles north and east of the cape.  Actually they were hoping to make it further north, to San Blas, where the haul out is cheaper.

Rick and Brenda

Our old buddies Rick and Brenda on the sailing vessel Dad's Dreams had finally caught up with us up in Tenacatita and were with us in Barra where we went on provisioning trips together and sneaked into the Grand Hotel pools.  With a career in the fire department, Rick was used to rescuing folks in need.  When he heard about the stranded Airborne, even though he didn't know the crew, he immediately got word to Hal and Kathy that he'd be coming their way and could provide assistance.  As we were buddy boating with Dad's Dreams, we would come along as well. 

And so we left our lovely lagoon in Barra and made the rough and tumble run around the corner to Tenactita where we waited out four days of northers, relaxing in a bocce ball playing, beach walking, and palapa beer drinking lifestyle before making the daybreak run 30 miles up the coast to Bahia Chamela and the little town of Perula where we found Hal and Kathy waving from the back deck of the stricken vessel Airborne.

A short weather window opened up three days later.  Hal assembled a 200 foot long tow rope with a hefty yoke and Rick and I took it to both of our boats, in turn, making sure it would fit our rear cleats.  I removed my Hydrovane rudder to avoid catching it under the yoke.  We decided that Traveler would take the first leg of the tow and that Dad's Dream would take over once we got halfway at Punta Ipala, a little fishing town tucked in just south of the dreaded Cabo Corrientes.  Because Hal and Kathy would be hand steering the whole way, we decided it would be prudent to break up the 85 mile journey with an overnight in Ipala so they could get some rest and also because Hal said he'd treat us to dinner there at the seafood restaurant ashore.

Thursday, as the wind started to drop, we took down the shade canopy, strapped the dinghy down on the foredeck, and stowed everything carefully away in preparation for rough seas.  At the appointed hour, 07:30 Friday morning we sided up next to Airborne and tossed them the tow rope.  Kathy hand cranked their anchor up and out of the sandy bottom and we were on our way.

At first, Traveler groaned as she took the tow but when she got her momentum going we were able to maintain four knots at an engine speed of 2000 RPMs. Dad's Dream cruised beside us as escort.  As the day progressed, we passed Roca Negra on our starboard side and the flat seas turned lumpy as the wind came up from the northwest.  Traveler, being pretty heavy, just plowed through the seas.  Airborne, being pretty light, bounced up and down, launching off the crests of waves giving Hal and Kathy a rough ride for the rest of the day.  In the late afternoon Rick let loose the reins on Dad's Dream and surged ahead into Ipala to get ready for our entrance. 

Traveler and Airborne arrived to the little bay as Rick came out in his dinghy to tell us that the restaurant was staying open for us and they'd send a panga taxi for us so we would not have to put our little boats in the water.  After anchoring, I tossed the tow rope to Rick who took it over to Dad's Dream to get her ready for the next morning.

Beer keg as air tank

Our water taxi guy, Fernando, came alongside in his panga as Connie and I frantically turned on anchor lights and grabbed our things for an outing ashore.  Fernando had some simple snorkel gear aboard consisting of a rusty compressor, a rebar anchor, and some lengths of yellowing air hose running to an aluminum half keg once used for beer and now used for compressed air. 

With the six of us aboard, Fernando nosed into the old cobble paved jetty.  Two young boys came running down, perhaps aged five and nine, the younger boy letting us know that he hurt his foot and the older boy taking command by holding the panga to the wharf so we could disembark safely.  Stepping to land for the first time in two days the surface felt wobbly to my land sick legs.  We had to step over a four foot long needle fish lying dead on the cobble.  As Fernando backed the panga away, our group of six stumbled drunkenly up the wet cobblestones to Restaurante Cande.

We passed through the main seating area inside the open air palapa restaurant and continued onto the veranda overlooking the little harbor with our three sailboats floating at anchor.  A pretty young woman (let's call her Ms Cande although she certainly was not the owner) gave us menus and got our drink order.  We were the only customers in the place.  We ordered our seafood and drank our drinks while basking in our day's activities, proud of our journey and happy at our luck at making it into this snug little harbor.


 I could hear someone in the kitchen chipping away at the oyster shells for my fried oyster plate.  Our drinks were long gone by the time the Dorado, shrimp, and oyster dinners arrived.  We dove into the grub with gusto.  What fresh flavors! What a wonderful view! What a feeling of contentment... and safety.  "Senorita, more drinks por favor."  That's when Kathy pulled out two envelopes she'd brought with her.  Thanking us for helping out with the tow she gave each couple an envelope containing way, way to many pesos!  Of course we tried to refuse but Kathy is all persuasive and takes no guff off of anyone, truly a woman to be reckoned with. 

Young Ms Cande ignored our group, staring at her iPhone as she sat behind her counter.  She didn't offer more drinks, or dessert.  She was ready to go home.  Fernando reappeared, came over, pulled out a chair, and sat next to our table, a visible hint that it was getting late and he was ready to go home also.  I went to find Ms Cande for the bill and she started writing it out.  In the U.S. that bill would already be ready and be lying on the table.  In Mexico, the bill is not compiled until you ask for it.  I quickly found out that not only had Kathy somehow already arranged for Fernando's taxi services but she picked up the entire dinner tab too. 

Stumbling back to the quay our little boat boy who must have been waiting for us ran ahead to the beach landing.  Big Fernando hopped into a little kayak and paddled out to the panga, returning within minutes.  Little Fernando steadied the boat, helped the ladies aboard, then hopped aboard refusing our steadying help.  Cleary his duties as boat boy were taken seriously. 

I asked Kathy if we could get the taxi fare and she told us she had already "negotiated" everything and nothing more was due.  "No Mas!"   Clever Fernando got Kathy and Hal off the panga first then went to Traveler to drop us next.  He looked up at me and said, "Propina?"  He wanted a tip, and now that Kathy the negotiator was gone he felt his position stronger.  I passed a 40 peso propina to little Fernando who looked at it disparagingly and handed it over without comment to big Fernando.  The same sequence happened on board Dad's Dreams as Fernando tried to boost his profits.  Soon everyone was fast asleep on their respective boats.

07:00 found us all rummaging around for tea or coffee and soon Rick brought over his dinghy for me to tow so he'd have no interference from the tow rope on his boat.  Normally he'd have his dinghy up on the rear davits.  As the sun rose, Dad's Dream took Airborne on tow and Traveler followed everyone out of the bay and into the glass slick water towards the notorious Cabo Corrientes.

 Just like the previous day, just after dawn the wind was slight and the water was smooth.  As the cape approached, the sea state became more jumbled and the wind came right around on the nose.  The tow boat and the towed boat slowed to 3 knots with Traveler just idling alongside.  Eventually we cleared the cape, the wind veered to the west, sails filled and off we went, charging over the waves at five or six knots.  With the addition of wind on the sails Dad's Dreams had plenty of punch to keep everything very "rapido."  Near the Tres Mariettas Islands we killed the engine on Traveler and let the sails do all the work falling a little behind the other two boats.  I got hailed on the VHF by the sailing vessel Anjuli who was a day ahead of us and while I was down below talking on the radio I heard Connie yell, "Fish On!"

On deck the rod was bending and the reel were screaming as line stripped off quickly.  Connie got it stopped and we started trying to reel it in.  No dice.  So we turned up wind to luff the sails to slow down the boat.  I was able to get the fish in a little bit then he dove under the dinghy and tried to wrap the line around that.  I'm yelling at the fish.  Connie thinks I'm yelling at her.  She starts yelling back.  I appologize, still yelling, of course.  Once Connie gets the dinghy out of the way the fish dives again and wraps the line around the rudder.

That's it. We got problems. We "heave to" but the full Genoa and main keep the boat going forward still at about two knots.  I climb onto the wind vane steering gear to see if I can use a pole to free the line from the rudder but that's a non-starter. She's too deep.

We need to put someone in the water to get that line off the rudder and by "we" I mean Connie.  Gotta roll in the slapping Genoa.  Drop the main.. all over the deck with the boom crashing back and forth.  Secure the boom. Connie gets out the mask and snorkel and plunges into the cold blue water.  The boat is sideways to the waves now and is rolling violently.  Connie pops back up with the thumbs up signal. I bring the fishing pole around and be dogged gone, we still got a fish on!

Fifteen minutes later we haul in a 25 pound crevalle jack.  He's tired. I'm tired.  Connie gaffs him and we get a picture before dumping him back into the ocean.  Crevalle jack is not a good tasting fish so of course, that's the fish we catch out here.  Meanwhile Dad's Dream and Airborne approach the anchorage at Punta de Mita.  They let go the tow, drop anchor and crack open the celebratory beers.  Traveler arrives and we all dinghy over to the sailing vessel Capriccio for dinner and drinks.  We are hailed as heroes, given presents, and our names are lauded to the heavens.

The next morning on the VHF radio net we hear about a boat that broke loose in the night and is washing up on the shore.  I call up Rick on the radio, "Hey buddy.  Ready to do another tow?"