by J.E. Martin
A startling learning experience whilst sailing the west coast of the Baja, Mexico.
|We had arrived in Bahia Santa Maria, on the west coast of the Baja, after a two-day sail. Once Warana was “ship shape and Bristol fashion” we decided to head ashore to do some exploring. Bahia Santa Maria is a huge bay lined with mile upon mile of white sand with a pristine and deserted shoreline. And as there was only one other sailboat at anchor in the bay we didn’t exactly have to worry about crowds. We have an eight-foot Titan tender with a four horsepower Yamaha engine. We lowered it over the side, attached the outboard, loaded the gas tank and off we went.
Len and I always wear our life jackets, it is like putting on a seat belt on when you get into to your car; force of habit. We continued towards the beach and were sitting a few yards off, sizing up the waves breaking on the shore. We had never attempted a shore landing with breakers rolling in from the open Pacific but knew it was something we were going to have to become adept at. We had read the literature outlining the theory and we felt relatively confident. So, we hung on as best we could, picked up the smallest of the 9 waves and proceeded to shore. Things were feeling and looking pretty good when suddenly our tender began to yaw and before Len had a chance to do anything a wave picked up the tender, turned her completely sideways and flipped her. This launched Len and me into the air and then back down into the water for another interesting, if somewhat shocking, experience. I am certainly putting physics theories to the test, “for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction”. Well this reaction sent us towards the beach and the tender racing off in the water parallel with the shore with the engine still running!! Len and I were up and floundering and splashing our way to the tender. We were soaking wet and laughing so hard we could barely stand up, let alone chase after the tender, but at that moment it veered towards us and we were able to catch her and shut down the motor. We looked at one another and realized how close we had come to disaster. It was a very sobering thought. Once ashore we hauled the tender above the high tide line.
I went in search of sand dollars, the bay isn’t called “Frisbee Beach” for nothing and Len went the other way to explore the NW side of the bay. We could have walked for hours before coming to the end of the beach. There were literally hundreds of sand dollars, as well as other interesting and unique shells. Driftwood lay scattered all along the high tide line and other flotsam and jetsam from the open Pacific. As the afternoon waned we returned to the tender with the idea of heading back to the boat, but from the size of the seas now coming in to shore we thought that it would be a night on the beach for us. But we decided to wait awhile and the seas eased off enough for Len and me to try a beach launch. We were hoping to climb aboard once we were passed the breakers, but if you have never tried to pull yourself into a tender while in water over your head, you would know just how difficult it is. I had thought with four years of swimming and years of winching sails and hauling on sheets and lines my upper body strength would be sufficient for this. We quickly learned that that we had to return to shallower water so I could launch myself from the bottom. Even then I had to struggle onboard. Len pushed us out into deeper water and then managed to pull himself onboard. We returned to the boat as the sun began to slip beyond the horizon and we rinsed off the salt water and donned clean, dry clothing. It was a rather eventful day, all in all, and we sat back to review our first shore landing with the large Pacific swells pounding in to the beach. These are the lessons we learned:
1 - always attached the instant shut off cord from the motor to the driver so when they
suddenly leave the boat the engine automatically shuts off.
2 - always have your life jacket on; you and your rear end leave the tender so quickly
you would never have time to put it on or even grab it.
3 - breakers from the waterside always look smaller than breakers from the beach side.
4 - keep to the rhythm, 3 small breakers, 3 medium breakers and 3 large breakers. The
size attributed to each of these is relative to each other and a small breaker one time
will be a large breaker the next.
5 - it is better to leave the tender in deeper water, prior to the wave breaking and “swim”
the tender to shore or at least to water where you can stand and hope to control the
6 – Wait on shore, as long as necessary, before attempting a return to open water. The
force required to get the tender and occupants beyond the breakers is surprising.
7 - finally, when in doubt, abandon shore time, sit back, open the wine and wait for
We were certainly thankful that the propeller on the outboard had injured neither of us, nor had our startling plunge into the water. Everything occurred so quickly that neither of us had the chance to prevent anything from happening. We were merely passengers in what could have been a tragic occurrence. We were far from medical or any other assistance and realized Neptune must have been looking out for us.