The Cops Try to Squeeze the Gribbler again but Find Him Trickier This Time.

A bogey on my six.
Driving through Veracruz one day with a sheet of plywood on the little trailer I was horrified to find a motorcycle cop pulling me over . He was a young guy, did not seem mean. Most Mexicans aren’t. It went something like this:

“Good day”
“Good day. License please. Where are you going?
“To the hardware store”
“You have no plate on your trailer”
“Yes I know. It fell off somewhere. But I made this today (I showed him a makeshift wooden number plate) but I had no bolts to mount it with. That’s why I’m going to the hardware store”
“Well you need to have the original plate”
“There is no way I can get that. New York State is not going to mail a plate to Mexico. I’m trying to do the right thing here”
“You also have no reflectors”
“Didn’t know I needed reflectors. All the lights work” ( This is just nuts, everywhere you see vehicles so dilapidated they have no signals or lights or anything) They looked it over at the border and said nothing about reflectors. Here’s the insurance for car and trailer, everything in order” (Mexican drivers are not obliged to buy insurance. If you get hit by one, good luck to you)
“And you need (some kind of document) in the windscreen right here”
“They didn’t mention that at the border either”
” No plate, no reflectors, no something document. I am going to write you up an infraction”
Silence. I had decided I would not pay a bribe. Fuck ’em. Continued silence. He was very clearly waiting for an offer. This went on for a while. I pretended not to know what he was waiting for. Then:
“Is that camera on?” He had noticed my video camera, on the passenger seat beside me pointing up at him. I had put it there and hit record as soon as I saw him behind me.
“Yes it is” “Because of me?” “Yes. And you know why. It is not always easy being a Gringo in Mexico. Most policemen are professional (not so actually) but some are not and I have had…”
“Bad experiences?”
“Yes, bad experiences” Silence. He looks down at my documents and shuffles them about. Even with his helmet on I could see he was frowning and thinking furiously, not reading the documents at all. I waited. He thought for a good while. What could he do? He could not very well demand the camera. He had not actually asked for a mordida but this business of taking bribes must be risky for him… a policeman may seem to have someone at his mercy but in a corrupt country his intended victim may know someone who knows someone… Plus gringos are pretty rare here and may have unexpected superpowers. This one was filming him! Finally he reached a decision.
“Drive carefully” He handed over my documents and almost ran back to his bike. I came close to feeling sorry for him. I have the whole thing on tape, and it caused great hilarity when I showed it in the village. People here just love a victory against the cops and I felt pretty good about it myself.


Another little victory against the forces of darkness occurred last week. Late at night as Gringo Jack and I were returning form an art exhibition in Veracruz (because I live for art you know. Art! Oh, Art!) we picked up three guys – this is highly risky here and well beyond any call of duty – hitching a ride from Anton Lizardo. It transpired that we were not taking their road but we went out of our way to drop them in their village, El Zapote. Next morning Jack discovered they had stolen a box of beer from the back of his car. But in their inebriation they had left a cellphone too. Two days later I noticed a familiar face in Old Raimundo’s truck bringing folks from El Zapote to Playa Zapote to help haul the lanchas down and up the beach. Lord kn ows we need all the help we can get. I asked him if it was he we had given a ride to the other night. Yes he said, do you have my phone? In front of fifteen people I demanded to know why he had stolen from us, and after we had helped him too. Shame, shame, I said. And you think I am going to help you get your cellphone back? If you want it you can go to Jack’s house with the beer and an apology. (he never did) I came close to giving him a slap but instead left him hanging his head in front of his fellows.

I am getting a little tired of hauling boats up and down the beach but I’ll keep it up not least because it is very good for relations. It is not uncommon for me to meet someone I think I don’t know only to have him say “You’re the one who stopped on his motorcycle a couple of years ago and helped us push our boat up the beach” and not only does that feel good I but I know that I have another friend here and he will look out for my interests. And for my pains Raimundo the owner of the nearest lancha recently brought me a paper cup filled with a delicious mixture of shredded coconut. orange and sugar, and yesterday some fried sierra I think this is Spanish mackarel or something like it, perhaps the most highly prized fish caught here, delicious) and some tortillas but Changa stole and ate the lot. I place a very high value on such gifts. Meanwhile the fishermen are having poor luck, netting only tiny catches which don’t even pay for the gasoline. They say that the fish have been declining for many years but dramatically so in the last three or four. Raimundo’s remaining engine (the other was stolen) has packed up and needs $550 in repairs. He could get a replacement used engine for this in the States, but here things like outboard engines cost far more than they do up north, perhaps quadruple. Raimundo himself is such an extraordinary fellow. 63 years old, usually barefoot, wiry and strong as a horse, he owns a tidy old truck, (The insides of Mexican cars are the cleanest in the world, you may guess why) two lanchas and the healthiest-looking watermelon field around, the only one with corn planted between the rows to break the wind. He works his ass off. There is much about him that radiates integrity and wholesomeness and engenders liking and respect, so when his boat needs pushing I push like hell and if that needs doing at 5am then so be it. I absolutely love it that these folks feel comfortable enough with me that they can knock on my door at 5 in the morning when they have a boat stuck in the surf and need every hand they can get. I feel equally comfortable with them, as I never have amongst any people including my own. May I am just older, but I think it is something in them, not me.

We push and pull the boats, Raimundo does the cheering EY-YEH!, EH-YEH! HUI!  HALLAHLA HALLAHLA HALLAHLA HALLAHLA! EH-YEH HUI!that we may all use our maximum strength simultaneously. If the boat doesn’t move after a few of these another guy takes over  who has such talent and intensity to his cheering that  it usually makes the difference and the boat moves. The palm logs upon which the boats are rolled sink into the soft sand in the shallow water, and things often get very difficult and exhausting. It’s a brutal way to wake up but good legsercise.


(Things are quite a bit out of sinc here. I wrote the above paragraphs a couple of weeks back; since then the weather has been so bad that there has been little fishing, only brief launchings during lulls in the wind. This only rubs salt in Raimundo’s wounds but he remains philosophical. The only upside about this crummy weather is that I get to sleep in more.) (later: Raimundo has been catching a few more fish lately but is even happier about the harvest of sandia, watermelons from his one rented hectare. Twenty-eight tonnes. Yes 28,000 kilos from one hectare! This is not the best year ever – 40 tonnes per hectare has been achieved – but it is pretty good, and amazingly it is done with neither rain nor irrigation. As far as I can tell the plants survive almost entirely on the dew which comes nightly off the sea. I did not participate in the harvest this year, it is utterly grueling work and I rarely take a break from my own tasks.)


The Sailing.

The boat now does not need nearly so much work so I am able to sail several days a week. Crumpetina showed up from Oregon which was very pleasant and we went out a few times between nortes and social obligations with the locals who are enchanted by this slim fair-haired beauty. So am I. I am a grumpy fellow and don’t deserve her attentions though. I have taken a few locals out sailing though many are afraid. But mostly I go out alone; though I like passengers for the company and their counterbalancing weight which helps prevent capsizes I figure in these early stages I would prefer to deal with emergencies at sea alone. As both the boat and my control of it improve I am beginning to range further afield, out to the little sandy islands on the reef a few kilometers away, down to the village of Salinas 6km down the coast over the rolling hills of water with Crumpetina. Then with Gringo Jack who swore he would be seasick and hate it but wasn’t and loved it, 5km and around the point to Anton Lizardo for a restaurant lunch followed by snorkeling out on the reef and a fast return with a strong wind behind. Though there are always more improvements to make there are no repairs for the boat takes an astonishing beating with little or no wear and tear as far as I can find. One improvement is the Capsize Recovery System 4000 (TM), a stout stick used as a lever which enables me to right the boat singlehanded and gives me much confidence. other changes make the lines less likely to jam during shunts, longer spars, sails recut to improve shape.

Last Thursday I launched and headed straight out to sea and did not stop for 21km, when all land had entirely disappeared. I wanted to see what this felt like, and it turned out quite comfortable, but then the wind was not too strong, the waves not too big, the water was blue and warm. It is beautiful out there. I did not have to work hard at steering and could enjoy the scenery, an awful lot of water. Every few seconds flying fish startled by the boat would burst from the water just yards from the bows and fly up to 100 meters generally to windward. They are about the size of a banana with two pairs of wings and they glide, dipping their tails in the water at intervals for a burst of power. Often whole schools (flocks?) of 20 or 30 would appear simultaneously and scatter ahead like startled sparrows. I do not see them near land, there I see another creature, a sort of pipefish, that manages the same trick without wings, powering along with most of its long body out of the water but its tail below; they do not go as far as the flyers but they are a cool sight. These flying fish of course have evolved this ability to evade predators, though the predators in turn are known to have evolved the ability to follow beneath the waves, turned on their sides so as to see their prey above, so it is by no means a sure thing that the flyer will escape. Other sights on the open ocean… a distant buoy marking a reef. Strange patches of calm water unruffled by the wind, often in long lines stretching far away. Floating sargasso weed, rootless, which grows free-floating in the sea and when trodden upon on the beach before dawn phosphoresces brightly, sometimes found on the ocean in great swampy patches the size of a tennis court that makes one think that the weed must be connected but it isn’t. How does it congregate like this? The weed may be in lines like the smooth water just mentioned. Then there are “trash lines”, again lines that stretch far away but this time with little pieces of other kinds of seaweed and plastic in them. A lost butterfly, or maybe it knows what it is doing, but it is hard to imagine it can make it so far to land. A portuguese man-o-war, a dangerous jellyfish with a blue air-filled sail, A pair of dolphins emerge from one wave, disappear into another and are not seen again. And of course…

Waves and Swells

For those who have not been to sea, swells are big, regular ridges of water that form on the open ocean as (much smaller) waves organize themselves over long distances. On my trip out the swells I was traveling directly against (for the swells in this case were not going in the same direction as the local wind and I could hit them at 90 degrees) were about two meters peak-to-trough which does not sound like much but from the vantage of a tiny craft so near the water they are pretty impressive, huge hills steaming towards one at speed, every wavelet on their face rising and rising, then the boat climbs and climbs, peaks, then slides down the back side. Though these swells are much taller than the waves that move about upon them like sheep on an embankment they do not soak me as the waves sometimes do because they are not sudden and steep. Much of the return 21km on this day was into the lowering sun and with the wind behind me much faster than the trip out The boat eats ocean distance when conditions are right and it is continuously exhilarating. I angled northwards towards a lighthouse marked on my GPS chart as “Area to be Avoided”. Good seamanship I figure to head directly to such places. I found it was a reef, with creepy bits sticking out of the water and a great shoal over sand and coral. After some deliberation I headed in over the shoal towards a gap in those scary above-water lumps in the distance… I feel sure that if this reef was off of New England it would have a name like “Satan’s Teeth” or the like. The rudder cleared the bottom by a meter or more but I remained alert and ready to shunt and get the hell out of there if that clearance narrowed. It was nerve-wracking but very interesting to watch the bottom zip by below through the clear water. In a few minutes I was happily across and within six kilometers of the beach, distance which passed at speed but without incident. I landed at sunset feeling rather pleased with myself. I had survived my first encounter with the open ocean in a small sailboat.


Mocambo with Gringo Jack.

Before my first rip out with GJ he swore he would puke within yards of the shore but this did not happen. It has not happened to me either which has been a great surprise for I am unpleasantly prone to motion sickness. We had a very pleasant day indeed (Jack says it was one of the loveliest days of his 67 years) and now Jack is all about sailing. The fact that we land on sunny crumpet-infested beaches in the most exotic watercraft anyone has ever seen does no harm to the experience. So, he says, let’s go to Mocambo (by Veracruz, around 17 km by sea) and eat lunch at such-and-such a beach restaurant. I explained the possible hazards of this enterprise but he was not to be dissuaded so we set off at 9am, rounded the point at Anton Lizardo 4km distant and began the 13km downwind leg to Mocambo. We were becalmed for an hour or two during which time I embarrassed mysef by falling over board but then the wind returned and we carried on. Then, I’ll be damned…

I Catch a Huge Fish
I have been fishing. I mount a reel to the deck and wind it in and out during the long hours at sea with nothing much to do. I am not entirely comfortable with this. Worldwide the oceans are dying, and you can stick your head in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening or that if it is it’s the pollution but this is just denial: this is happening because we send out millions of fishing boats (there are at least 80 on this beach alone) specifically to kill the life in the oceans. The responsibility and the guilt for this is upon all who participate; I accept no excuses from adults, we have all known about it all of our lives. For 25 years I ate no fish (or any other animal product whatsoever except by accident or very occasionally a tiny taste through curiosity) but I find myself in this extreme situation, where I eat daily with the (very) poor people of a fishing village and I find the social consequences of refusing their food very difficult to live with, as has never before happened so intensely on any of my travels. This does not explain why I am trailing a line from the boat but then why should I have to explain to most of you, who live daily creating such damage and inflicting such ghastly cruelties upon suffering creatures in the industrialialized creation of animal products for no better reason then that you enjoy the taste. Folks, compassion is not something you can pick and choose. Selecting to be humane only to members of your own species is not compassion, it is self-interest. If you daily inflict cruelties or pay someone else to do so, as almost every non-vegan does, are you not a cruel person? Go ahead, tell me that the truth does not really lie in the evidence of one’s actions.  Or just keep wearing the cultural blinders and the rose-tinted spectacles and ignore the whole thing because everyone else does, and in general wait until a problem like the death of the oceans becomes so severe that a government has to force you not to do things you should not have been doing, by which time it is too late anyway, but that’s ok ’cause you can blame the other six billion. Don’t blame the fishermen: you are putting up the cash, do you think there should be no takers? With fish, I have long said that we might reasonably eat them but we must catch them ourselves and quit this profit-oriented industrial operation, give the creatures a chance.
I do not relish the suffering I will cause a creature during its capture though I feel that if anyone has earned the right to catch a fish and not agonize about it too much, it is me (though clearly I am agonizing). I sort of hope not to catch a fish at all. I won’t pretend I don’t enjoy the ones I eat here with the locals but I will cease to eat fish as soon as this is over and become once again one of the three people in a thousand who can legitimately claim to give a shit.

Rant over. For now. Anyway I have been trailing a line with various lures on it. Nothing. Not a nibble. Probably 200 nibbleless kilometers. The lures don’t swim like real fish, this I suspect is the trouble. Then Garobo, a fat jolly fellow with seven daughters, he once spent 24 hours floating alone in the Gulf after his lancha broke in half and sank, the whole village went out and found him… Garobo showed me how to use an ingenious set of three hooks linked together in a line and a small fish recovered from the beach after a morning net pull, coupled with a hairy thing like a tiny hula skirt made from polypropelene sacking, to make a lure that swims convincingly and right between Anton Lizardo and Mocambo BANG! the reel started spinning and I knew I would have to make a decision. With me pulling the line and GJ reeling in the slack we soon had the thing close, flashing around and around down below the boat, then he just gave up and let us pull him in, Huge, about 30 inches long and 11 or 12 kilos of jorel vaca, a kind of a tuna. How ironic that after telling people for years what they already know, that tuna is a particularly bad fishery the first fish I should catch is a tuna. Had to put a line around his tail and heave him aboard, then the decision about whether or not to keep him or let him go was made for me by the fact that I could not remove the hook for fear of his powerful jaws and to leave it in and cut the line would doubtless condemn him to slow death, for a fish must be perfect to survive. We dropped him in cargo bay 3 and continued our journey. Landing and eating in Mocambo, a resorty sort of place, was uneventful, but as we ate (myself the much-frowned-upon-by-fancy-restaurants beans and rice) the wind came up and by the time we launched it was around 15 knots on my wind meter, 18mph ish, 29kmph, oh bugger all these units. This is getting up there for small boats. We launched and beat out to sea, the wind fierce and coming directly from where we wanted to go and the waves throwing us up and down and whamming into us at an angle of 30 degrees or so chucking buckets of water in our faces. The boat was soon very clean, and so were we, and despite the weight of two of us on the platform we were constantly in danger of capsize. This went on for three hours and I was incredulous that the boat could hold together under such a hammering, but it did and with no apparent injury. The sail seemed in danger of a blowout but no, it lived on. Jack was a star, chilled but cheerful and encouraging, still no seasickness for either of us. During the fourth and fifth hours we got in behind and then above a reef which smoothed out the water considerably though the wind was undiminished. We could hear the foul thumping of scumbags on the beach at Anton Lizardo easily from two or three kilometers (three weeks ago we could hear the Veracruz Carnival very loudly from a distance of around 17km) Finally a long shunt took us near the point where we encountered student sailors from the Navy school out practicing in a variety, twelve or so, of small and medium-sized sailboats.

Spanking the Mexican Navy

Well ok we didn’t really spank them but I thought it made a good subtitle, I was going to give them a wide berth because they appeared to be racing around three buoys but I had a beer and decided what the hell so we shunted and charged the pack. They were clearly bemused by our strange interloping craft with its weird sail and duo of gringos and they tried to pace us but on this downwind leg they could not keep up which was gratifying. Then we got sandwiched between the pier and an oncoming vessel so I played it safe by shunting and reaching out of there. You could feel the surprise…”What the hell just happened? the sail was at that end and now it’s over there and the it just reversed itself and now it’s taken off like a ping-pong ball! Just what was that thing anyway?” I got the feeling there would be some questions asked of the instructors the next day.

The Dolphins

It was now sunset. We were soaked and exhausted after five hours of battle and Jack was very chilled for he had taken the brunt of the spray and was late to put on the foul-weather gear. The wind had dropped right off and we had 5km still to go. Our spirits were not the highest. But as we rounded the point we were joined by two dolphins, one big, one small, that paced us for a half-mile or so just a few yards to windward. With the sunset and all this was just terrific. Most interestingly, as they appeared to be leaving they both leaped clear of the water, then were gone, which we felt was a clear signal of “farewell”. The last kilometer or so was done in the dark which felt fine since I knew the water, though not the exact location of the day’s net deployments which can get snagged under the outrigger when unfortunate. It didn’t happen, I  felt the rudder hit something once then we passed over. We landed, stowed the mountain of gear and the boat, hacked off a steak each from the huge fish and slapped them on the barby. The stuff was much like beef, or what I seem to remember of beef and I did not like it much. Reyna has better plans for the rest of the thing. (Later. Ate some more of the fish in the form of Reyna’s minilla , the fish finely divided and spiced up, delicious, with tortillas, salsa and casamiento, a marriage of black beans and rice which is definitely more than the sum of its parts, washed down with pozol, a thin cold drink made from cooked maize and cacao.  Yum.

I have a mountain of other things to relate including how reports of my death were greatly exaggerated, but they must wait.


3 thoughts on “

  1. Firstly – Reminded me of this..

    Hehehe bloomin’ peskytarians 🙂 How’s ‘Grill the Tuna’ for a nickname! 😉
    (so – if you count yourself as 1/1000 – who’s the other 1/1000!?)
    [making the assumption we know approx 1000 between us??]

    How wonderful – the land is somehow integrating you. You seem to be assimilating the gentle humour and peace of your neighbours and it’s wonderful to hear the charming detail of your ongoing exploits. From early morning keel-haulings to late star-navigated returns – what a wonderful story / story full of wonder. The boat sounds better and better – the final honing of sail, spar & hook-sets* seems to be paying dividends and the ocean sojourns extending your horizons & confidence levels. (*although this final one, to me, sounds counterproductive to ship-shape sailing, and is in all senses a ‘reel drag’!).
    Spank that Navy blue! Gosh lad – whup those Sailors bottoms big time – I say. trounce those tardily tacking tushes, their nautical nether regions should be nailed – those boating bums should feel the salty fret of the prancing proa’s prow! Well sounds like you’ve built a beauty – you can walk tall anyhow.. whether pounding posteriors or no.
    Big congrats on righting wrongs, staying true (I do understand the fish based philandering, probably wouldn’t do it myself – but salute your reasoning and accept the underlying humanitee. Which I think is a hybrid homo sapien / sea cow that even you’d draw the line at nibbling!!)
    Enough cheesy jokes from the vogon anyhow – thanks So much for all the detail. Wonderful to get the views of open ocean marine life, the flavour of the foods you find – and the excitement of sailing vicariously up & down the Mexican coast, even without the acrid splashes of vibrant colour that would have accompanied the adventures had you or your passengers lived up to their vomit emanating promises. Still, can’t have everything 😉
    Take care mate – Never forget how nature has a changeability to test the strongest among us. You are such a one – but ensure to stay within your limits as surely as you stay in my (our) hearts. Love to Crumpetina. xxx P
    PS ‘Areas to be avoided’ isn’t Mexican GPS speak for ‘Here lies Treasure’ btw ❤

  2. Holy shit, Son! What a delightful read! I’ll send more via email, but I am so pleased your vessel is giving you back some of the long and arduous effort you have poured into her/him these many months.


  3. Hi Chris

    Glad to see you got it together to balance your rig.

    Now all you need to do is graduate from that rope catching, spray making, stearing contraption.

    Thanks to your persistence and determination you are one of the few people of this generation to have experienced real traditional proa sailing.



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