I was planning to meet my buddy Jimmy in Puerto Vallarta in two weeks time, a voyage of more than five hundred nautical miles as the crow flies. Northwest winds are typical for the Sea of Cortez in winter (and much of Pacific Mexico for that matter) and a consistent 10-15 knot breeze piped up just as I pulled out of Guaymas. It drove me along at a consistent 6 knots for hours and hours and I managed to make a lot of mileage. I took a peek at the chart, and instead of sailing through the night, I decided to anchor up in an indentation in the coast just south of Isla Lobos that looked eager to block the northwest swell for me.
There were white caps all day long, and about 10 miles from the anchorage, the water color gradually shifted from its customary deep blue to a greenish brown color. The charts didn't have much detail about the shoreline, but there were quite a few soundings, and it looked like the water on the approach to the anchorage would have plenty of depth to accommodate me. At about 2 miles from the shore, the chart showed a depth of 40 ft. I decided to flick on the depth sounder for the hell of it and to my surprise, it registered 12.5 feet. "Surely that's not right," I thought, "maybe there is a missing decimal point." I bent down to get a closer look and the display had the audacity to shrink down to just 10ft. "Crap," I thought, "better get ready to gybe and head out to deeper water." Just as I started to put the tiller over, I felt a sensation that no sailor ever wants to feel. Bump.
Even with the tiller all the way over, heading out towards what was presumably deeper water, I could feel a little rub at the bottom of each swell. I glanced quickly at the chart, there were no shoals or rocks marked in this area - the depth should still be above 36 feet. There was no question about what I was feeling however.
I immediately turned the engine on, figuring that it would have more thrust than the sails when push came to shove. The tide chart showed that I was just before low tide and it should be rising as the night went on. The sun was quickly setting, but I could see that it was even shallower further away from shore and there were waves breaking there. There was no way I could've made progress back towards where I came because the wind and swell were both pushing in the other direction. I thought about dropping the sails, but I quickly realized that they were helping to heel me over and draw less water. Thus, there was nothing to do but slowly work my way down wind, with the engine pushing me forward and the sails heeling me over and pushing me down wind. I kept a sharp lookout and tried to avoid any areas that looked particularly shallow (which was very tough to discern). I slowly rubbed in this manner for 2 or 3 minutes (rubbing at the bottom of each swell trough, floating across the peaks of the waves). It was agonizing and I apologized to the Rascal the entire time. We eventually drifted clear of the swell and the Rascal seemed happy to be floating again, but we were still only in about 8 feet.
In retrospect, I probably should've just dropped the anchor there and waited for high tide, but the swell was heavy and that didn't occur to me at the time. I could still see breakers in the direction where deeper water was supposed to lie, so I continued working down wind. Eventually the Rascal started rubbing again, but this time it was only for a minute or so and finally we made our way back into deeper water. I decided to drop the hook to make sure that nothing was leaking and everything looked hunky-dory down below. I was totally shaken and blown away at what had just transpired.
Though I doubt she totally enjoyed such a belly rub, in comparison to what she saw when she was beached during Hurricane Odile, this was probably pretty small-fry stuff. Shes a really sturdy, well-built boat and she protected me in a situation that would've reduced a racing boat to kindling. She sure is a hell of a boat.
The next morning, a couple of middle aged guys came by in a panga to pass the time of day (which happened to be just after sunrise) and I chatted with them for about a half hour. Apparently the shrimping had been really terrible over the last few months and almost nobody was getting big enough catches to make ends meet. I asked them what they thought the source of the problem to be and they both immediately said over-fishing. They were apparently the buyers that transferred the shrimp from the big boats to the market. The little village clearly didn't have much to begin with and I'm sure a couple of months of poor catches puts them in some pretty dire straights.
I dove to inspect the bottom of the Rascal and found that no damage was done except for a little bit of bottom paint on the tip of the keel that had rubbed off. Not the end of the world, I reckon.
That evening, I saw a pair of old (maybe mid-late 70s) men fishing with a couple of nets along the beach. They were wrangling small baitfish and they had an old donkey carrying their catch on an old wooden trailer for them. I would imagine that's the same way they did it a couple thousand years ago. Fishermen don't get much more hardcore than that.
Once the storm passed, I made a big provisioning run, cooked a big meal or two, and struck out for Puerto Vallarta with a spectacular sunset looming over the resorts and hotels of Mazatlan.
Isla Isabel is a federally protected preserve and is often described as "The Galapagos of Mexico". Though I didn't see any giant tortoises during my visit, its easy to see why it receives such praise; its absolutely covered in birds and lizards.
Poseidon must've been listening in, because as I went down to put my harness and life vest on, a horrific squall came out of nowhere, and by the time I got back up on deck, the Rascal was doing almost 7 knots with the spinnaker pushing her along at an incredible clip in exactly the opposite direction I wanted to go. I went up on the foredeck and wrestled the spinnaker into submission on a heaving deck and I got absolutely drenched in the downpour that accompanied the winds.
The squall passed in about a half hour and I resumed my course for Puerto Vallarta. Later that night, I repeated the performance when another squall popped up. I was immensely glad when dawn came and at least allowed me to see the squalls approaching, but of course they had all dissipated by that point, with just a high deck of gray taking their place. These Mexican dolphins really have a knack for welcoming a weary sailor to a new port, and the Dolphins of Puerto Vallarta were no exception that morning.