Little House on the Proa

Headland at Roca Partida

Aqui estoy mis amigos: Here I am:  

Thank you all for your feedback. Maria Teresa and Maru I am so sorry I did not get to say goodbye to you, but we shall meet again, probably soon. Thank you for caring for Changa, it broke my heart to leave her.

I do not understand all this about not sending a SPOT message for ages. I have been very diligent about this right from the start; I like to send the messages, it is a cool device. I have been unable to find computer with a modern enough browser to actually see the maps, so I don´t know what is going on. I send at least three messages daily.

Sorry no video. Even if I could find a computer with a modern browser I do not know how to get hd video out of an sd card and onto the blog. Can anyone advise me?

Well, it has been a hell of a ride. If I wreck the boat tomorrow it will all have been worth it for the wonderous experience I have had. It has not actually been easy though.

I left Monte Pio and Galo´s hospitality in a light afternoon rain and even lighter winds, pulling out to sea from that lovely place with my host´s dire predictions ringing in my ears  ¨I say you, now is coming… tropical depression! Winds 150 kilometers! Your boat broken, you dead… I say you, you donkey sailor¨ Galo himself is that rarest of things in Mexico, an experienced sailor, and he was wholly negative about my prospects. However he predicted I would make only two kilometers that day and I made nearly thirty, and seventy the next, so there.

     Out to sea, southwards 30km to near Punta Zapotitlan. The wind died, I had to paddle to shore keeping a sharp eye out for savages. Some appeared and helped haul the boat out. Set up camp, my crummy little house on the platform, fried two fish that some fishermen had given me during one of their frequent lancha visits at sea. Always fun to see their faces; though they take it in their stride (I think this sort of thing is expected of Gringos, we are mad and fearless) they are clearly bemused by my appearance. I think many have never seen any kind of sailing vessel before. There is always talk of “El Mundo Aquatica”, Waterworld, Kevin Costner’s terrible movie. Hard to believe the same guy made “Dances With Wolves”.

As darkness fell many villagers appeared from beyond the dunes wielding flashlights. They were friendly enough but paid me little attention; they were busy collecting the amazing and endangered, legally protected blue land crabs which come ashore to breed this season. Later as it began to rain again I heard voices. Estevan and Narciso(?) appeared with a bucket. “What are you doing out in the rain and dark?” I asked. “Collecting turtle eggs.” This was too much. “They are protected!” I exclaimed. “No, no, we work for the government. We collect the eggs and they go to a hatchery. The turtlets are released into the sea.” Much better. Mexico does not enforce many of its laws, but the turtle thing is now being taken very seriously indeed and violators face many years in prison. I accompanied the lads down the beach for a mile or so, we forded a river and I finally left them to go on when we reached their quad bike. On turning back it started to rain more heavily, and soon there was a downpour such as I have rarely experienced. I could see nothing. I tell you fording a strange deep rivermouth alone in the dark in such circumstances is no joke. I ran down the beach so far I thought I´d missed the boat but I found it, crawled into the dark interior of the bubble and started to dry off. Then I looked up.

No! I had made the bubble from a heavy duty nylon gazebo covering and it was suposed to be waterproof, but the rain was coming right through! What a miserable night! completely soaked bedding, then when the rain stopped out came the mosquitos and I discovered a 2-foot rip in the mosquito net, and after I had sewed it another similar one, then the sandflies came which are so small they go right through anyway. No sleep at all. The next night, four long rips (this net is like wet toilet paper), more leaks despite draping sails over me… It rains every night, sometimes int the day too.

Endangered blue land crab. yummy, apparently.

Drying out after The Long Night.

I’ll not try to describe every day.  A typical one goes something like this: I get up early and start to tidy every thing up, dry sails and bedding if I can, take every single thing out of the boat to lighten it to the point where I can work it down from above the tideline to the water´s edge. Everything that can get wet must be bagged in plastic. The combination of  sea, nightly downpours on the beach, humidity and heat leaves me with everything soaked, rotting, and very sandy, and it is only by stopping somewhere like here, Chiltepec, Tobasco, for a full day that I can hope to win the battle to keep things together. I have so much stuff, three or four hundred pounds of it; I hate it, but most of it seems indispensible.

I do all this work on the sand in an awful cloud of mosquitos and sandflies; they love me but the feeling is not mutual. They are a curse.

There must be wind before I can launch; usually it does not arrive until about 11am, but it takes at least that long to get ready. Once the boat checked over, sail changed if necessary and is loaded right at the water´s edge I heave it on rollers down the steep sand and into the breakers. The boat is heavy and the side current strong so the seaward end tries to break free and head down the beach, but by titanic efforts I drag it further out and leap aboard. If there is wind from the side it is a simple matter to run the breakers: I head straight into them and though the boat is repeatedly swamped he powers through and out to sea. Wind from offshore makes things more difficult: I have to build up speed between breakers then turn into the bigger ones; I get bashed and swamped a lot but I make it. So far none of the morning breakers have been huge.

By the way the boat is now called Desesperado which means desperado. Previously he was called Rocinante but I learned there was another shunting craft named after Don Quixote´s horse so I changed it. He has performed magnificently and required virtually no maintenance at all. 

I then usually head straight out to sea fo at least 5km. I feel that the shore is the most dangerous place, and if I have a big problem I will have time to fix it and regain control before I hit the land. If I can´t fix it I will cling to the wreckage until blown to shore in a day or two – so far the wind has always blown that way, at least by day.

There offhore I can get becalmed for hours, no wind at all. I might take down the sail to stop it flapping about annoyingly. At least, you might think, miles offshore I am not being constantly bitten, but no. Amazingly, miles from land thousands of mosquitos are flying about and they encrust the boat. Stinging, itching, burning and scratching in the fearful heat I drift for hours and hours until a little wind comes up. It strengthens and strengthens until I am pounding and bashing along, ama (outrigger float) diving right through waves and waka (main hull) ploughing its nose into wave after wave and throwing up spray. There is a lot of stress on the connection between iakos (crossbeams) and the ama which worries me, but so far Desesperado has thrown off everything that comes at him; it just amazes me the pounding he can take and seem none the worse for wear.

The ocean is lovely even when angry. We climp over swell after swell, great moving hills of water which silently and majestically sweep by to destroy themselves on the shore. Since Monte Pio there have been few other vessels at all, and no visits from lanchas. I see jumping fish, a few dolphins, the odd sea turtle but they always submerge before I can get very close. When the wind grows to create¨”Numerous whitecaps” I would rather be ashore. When it reaches “whitecaps everywhere” I grow genuinely concerned and look for shelter, but fear the surf in such a wind.

Always there is the awful decision on the beach of which sail to use. Light winds require the biggie or I go nowhere slowly, but if a strong wind comes this is way too much and I risk damage and capsize. I cannot predict the weather, and nothing the fishermen say is reliable, so I go blind. I have never tried to change sails at sea, it is possible I think but not easy or quick, and there is no option to reef. Now I use the medium sail which moves me ok in poor wind and can just handle in a blow.

Towards late afternoon I must find a camp. By this time I am usually close to shore as the northeast winds have forced me closer and closer, sometimes I must tack out to sea again. I approach. I may have passed a harbor or two because Iwant no truck with officialdom so I prefer the beaches, but to get to these I must run the surf. It gives me the willies but actually it has not been too bad. I look for a spot with some kind of habitation nearby so I can get help hauling the boat up and avoid places with a sand cliff on the steep beach, over which I will have to lift the boat to raise it above the tideline for the night. I wait outside the surf; when a couple of really big ones go by I follow them in, surfing perpendicular to the waves at ludicrous speed which is a blessing because I go so fast that following waves cannot catch me, I stay between the breakers for the most part. I hit the beach with a bump, then begins the struggle to lift him out, far too heavy, the current turning him sideways. I can´t get a roller under the nose and back to the stern to lift and push fast enough, the rollers don´t work in the soft sand and it is too steep anyway. I gets stressful with my boat being hammered by one breaker after another on the steep shoreline. If people come – great! If not I must lift each end of the boat in turn and walk him up the beach. It nearly kills me. I get him just out of the water then unload everything and work him the rest of the way above the tideline. The bugs are on me instantly.

 I do not enjoy my camps much. There is much to do and usually I must do it with a large audience of lovely people hanging about, asking me questions and dogging my every move. I cannot cook food or eat it or change clothes or do much of anything privately until dark.  The children are adorable though, I love them dearly. After dark I crawl into the bubble I have erected and spend a ghastly night scratching at sandfly bites. Nights are long and I do not sleep much, if at all.

Laguna Cuahtemotzin and the Cables of Death.

Bad wind. I landed on a beach. A fisherman told me there was a river up ahead I might enter for shelter, so I changed to a smaller sail and smashed out through the breakers again. I saw what must be the river, went in through crazy water where river current meets ocean current over the sandbar, light swampings, then all clear and the river opened up into a great lagoon. There were open-mouthed fishermen casting nets from the shore, lanchas going to and fro, shoreside restaurants, dancing maidens… I was so busy looking for water hazards and trying to look cool for my audience that I did not see the three power cables hung all the way across the lagoon entrance, dipping lower than my yard. That they were there at all is an indication of how very rare sailing vessels are here. I hit them, at each one I got a mild shock. They burned through the lacing that fixes the edge of the sail to the yard, and left burn marks all along the upper sail edge, but did no other harm.

Phew.

I anchored there the night, my first night afloat. Bad mosquitos. In the morning I was so anxious to escape them and so desperate for a poo that I weighed anchor and floated out the lagoon entrance before there was any wind, and got sucked into the mad breakers over the bar. Soon there was not a grain of sand on the boat. I thought I was done for but broke out the padde and by great exertions got the hell out of there.

Chiltepec.

Two days ago was the most dramatic day yet. I saw a breakwater at the mouth of a river after a nasty afternoon´s pounding and waited outside in the crazy water near the sandbar whilst some fishermen in a lancha hauled a net from the muddy water, then I waved them over to ask for advice on entering. They were amazed at my appearance (I get this a lot) but took it in their stride and showed me which side of the entrance was best, and off I went. The waters rose, and after a short while we had launch commit, there was no turning back. I wish I could have filmed this, but the battery on the Go-Pro headcam had died and my hands were too full to hold another camera as we heaved inwards, the seas rising and breaking behind, me surfing at warp factors that would have had Scotty bitching about his engines again, the rudder hissing and throwing a tail of spray up behind us, me pulling on the tiller like mad to stop us slewing sideways under the brown wall chasing us. Then a mad crosswave struck and the boat went under the next breaker, but both hulls burst forth immediately and charged on , then the same thing  again, this time the emergency paddle is ripped from its lashings but hung on by a thread, and my sunglasses were gone but suddenly we were passed the worst and into calmer water and the lancha catches up and its pop-eyed crew say something like Jesus motherfucking Christ mate! and before I reach the pretty little town I am famous, the Gringo who came in from the cold.

Chiltepec is comfortable, nothing special but nice, and has a concrete mole at which I have been tied for two days while I sort out my gear, tar the cover of the Little House on the Proa, swim in the river and make friends. I have also sealed the hatches better, they leaked annoyingly. The winds are now from the east which is where I wish to go so I am not missing anything on the ocean. The river is gorgeous, lined with palms and festooned with floating clumps of river plants on their way out to sea. The  land around here is a vast maze of lagoons, rivers ansd swamps, very tropical, coco palms and lushness.

Desesperado is constantly mobbed by marauding rafts of river plants. I have my own garden.

Sorry no time for proofreading and fancy stuff like grammatical correctness. I hope to regain Chiltepec (I am now in Paraiso) in time to explore upriver.

I will be back when I can.
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5 thoughts on “Little House on the Proa

  1. Hot Damn! Sounds like you are really having fun — uncomfortable, but you are building up enough stories to enthrall (or bore) folks for years and years. I have been reading with real excitement, as the adventure unfolds.

    I know you hate officialdom, but I would think the difficulty on the beaches, and the bugs, would make the choice of beach or harbor an easy one. Particularly as they have cold beer in harbors.

    Just looking at Chiltepec from space on Google Earth, and can see exactly where the boat is tied up alongside the dock. The satellite image is an old one, so you can’t see all the floating weed you mention, nor does the surf across the entrance bar show up. From the photos, it looks a straightforward entrance with no hazards. Obviously, on the ground (sea) it is a different matter.

    Looking ahead, the next real harbor seems to be Frontera, which appears to be about 28 miles ahead. Again, the entrance(s) look open and clear — but who knows what the reality is. The first entrance seems quite narrow, but the second, about three miles on, seems wide and open. There appears to be some small structures just inside the first entrance, and about a mile inland from the second, but the actual town of Frontera seems to be about 6 miles inland from the second entrance. I don’t see many boats and/or docks, which supports your experience that nobody sails in Mexico. I looked the town up on the net, and it says it is a major port for fishing shrimp. When I looked it up, it was confusing, as there are two Fronteras in Mexico. The second is at the border of Guatemala, and it has lots of soldiers and fences to keep out the illegal immigrants. Go figure —

    Hang in there!

    Dad

  2. Hi Chris

    Wonderful stuff, sounds like a blast except for the not sleeping part. Do you have deet?

    The sail choice stuff is interesting. Sounds like the boat is performing well, bugs aside. Have fun!

    Kevin & Joy

    • I use something called “OFF! Botanicals”, supposedly some kind of plant extract. It is plenty effective, for a while, but I can’t go slathering it all over my body all the time or I will soon run out.

  3. Good grief – I can’t even walk across Dartmoor without getting blisters on my blisters.. Epic my good man.. I am in awe – fabulous, fantastic and fantasmagorical – which is reaching a little in my alliterative blithering style – but works.. Thanks for transporting me (us) in your wonderous way – reminds me of the magical transportational device that Douglas Adams used.. erm – actually it was the same one – words. Sublime, apposite, heartwarming and true. Good on ya.. And because my feet must meet their soaking water (I wasn’t joking about my little 3 day wander) I shall leave you with the image that your episode conjured – which following Tom Lehrer’s exhortation to ‘plageurise – let no-one’s work evade-your-eyes (but be sure to call it ‘research’) pads out my poor response to looking half decent & hopefully packs a giggle for good measure. (I struggled for 20 mins to crowbarrr my pirate joke in last time & it’s getting late!) Take care cap’n – all the very best.

    “Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was not a pleasant sight, even for other
    Vogons. His highly domed nose rose high above a small piggy forehead. His
    dark green rubbery skin was thick enough for him to play the game of Vogon
    Civil Service politics, and play it well, and waterproof enough for him to
    survive indefinitely at sea depths of up to a thousand feet with no ill
    effects.
    Not that he ever went swimming of course. His busy schedule would not
    allow it. He was the way he was because billions of years ago when the
    Vogons had first crawled out of the sluggish primeval seas of Vogsphere,
    and had lain panting and heaving on the planet’s virgin shores… when the
    first rays of the bright young Vogsol sun had shone across them that
    morning, it was as if the forces of evolution ad simply given up on them
    there and then, had turned aside in disgust and written them off as an
    ugly and unfortunate mistake. They never evolved again; they should never
    have survived.
    The fact that they did is some kind of tribute to the thickwilled
    slug-brained stubbornness of these creatures. Evolution? they said to
    themselves, Who needs it?, and what nature refused to do for them they
    simply did without until such time as they were able to rectify the
    grosser anatomical inconveniences with surgery.
    Meanwhile, the natural forces on the planet Vogsphere had been
    working overtime to make up for their earlier blunder. They brought forth
    scintillating jewelled scuttling crabs, which the Vogons ate, smashing
    their shells with iron mallets; tall aspiring trees with breathtaking
    slenderness and colour which the Vogons cut down and burned the crab meat
    with; elegant gazellelike creatures with silken coats and dewy eyes which
    the Vogons would catch and sit on. They were no use as transport because
    their backs would snap instantly, but the Vogons sat on them anyway.

    • Funny how Douglas Adams has something relevant to everything. You are a madman Mr. Froog. Thy micturations are to me as plurdeled gabbelblotchets on a lurgid bee.

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