I worry that this blog may lose its interest if I do not have a disaster of some kind at least once every couple of days.
The run of 40km or so to Champoton was pretty easy. First I had to escape the lagoon… I cast off, sailed halfway to the sea exit, got grounded, slogged through the mud a bit until Iwas free, sailed up to the bridge at the narrowest point of the passage where by my tide calculations there should have been a current to carry me out to sea, dropped the sail so I could drift under the bridge… and slowly reversed back into the lagoon.
Puzzling. The tide should have been going out which by my logic meant a current out to sea. I was reduced to paddling, which is frankly embarrassing. But once out at sea, which was beautiful (as indescribable as a ciruela, that fruit like no other) the lagoon smell was soon washed off the boat and I piddled on a light northeasterly through the octopus fleet which now numbered at least 200 vessels within sight with many more appearing on the horizon as I went along. They were not doing well. The light wind meant that the boats did not drift along fast enough to to cover much ground, and there were few octopus anyway. Why do they all fish concentrated here not far from the lagoon exit? I asked one. “The gasoline” they said. Peculiar. Either the octopus are stationary in which case this area would very quickly be fished out, or they move around in which case why did we keep shifting from spot to spot all day, reloading the dinghy 5 times I think, when I went out with them on Monday? How would moving about at random in a limited area help? “The octopus are migrating” they said. “New ones come along. Sometimes there are many.” Still, it would seem to me that it would make sense to get out of this area which had been so thoroughly swept the day before.
When I approached the last lancha of the fleet, a solitary vessel some two kilometers north of the rest of the fleet the old man within was pulling aboard a ‘pus as I approached and another as I came alongside seconds later. “You are the last” I said “Are you having any luck here all alone?” Yes! he said emphatically, smiling as only a Mexican can. “And the last shall be first” I said, and sailed on.
Between Coatzacoalcos and Sabancuy the coastline had been low and the shore an endless sandy beach. Now as I started the northerly climb up the west coast of the Yucatan the shore became rocky with only occasional spots of sand upon which I might haul out the boat, and these spots I dare not approach for fear of pranging the boat on rocky shoals. This is worrying for I liked the idea of being able to run to land whenever I wanted, but the silver lining is that the waves are small here and there is almost no surf at all. The rock itself is compressed shell, coral stone, and limestone.
I played dodge-the-rainstorm all day with some success and passed a few more small groups of octopus boats.
Piddle, piddle. A bit of a becalming, windless roasting, the platform as hot as Vegas asphalt. Then the wind came up with a vengeance but I made no better time. If I sheeted in the boat heeled and I came close to capsize many times. Eventually I heaved-to and unloaded some heavy items from Cargo Bay Three and put these along with the anchor upon the trampoline to weigh down the ama. I always carry a bag of ropes and another big bag of water, diving gear and miscellaneous useful stuff I need handy on the trampoline but do not like to put too much stuff out here; I feel it strains the iako connections and though of course the weight helps me stay upright I worry that if I do capsize it will all have to be untethered and moved elsewhere before I can right the boat. If I can right the boat. Anyway with the extra weight out there I was able to sheet in and go.
A pretty strong wind approaching Champoton close-hauled as I had been all day. I had been encouraged to look at a satellite photo of the town which showed two enclosed harbors which I might enter for the night, but try as might I could not spot these. From a maximum height of eight feet above the ocean there is no perspective, the shore is simply a line, and a harbor breakwater just blends in with the rocky shore. I kept trying to flag down passing lanchas but they would not stop, and between all the hunching down to peer under the sail which was always between me and the land and being ignored by passing fishermen I got pretty irritated. How in the hell can anyone go past a motorless Pacific Flying Proa in a blow or at any other time without at least saying hello and what the hell is that groovy thing you are sailing? Baffling. The water had been full of floating dead seagrass all day (the boat was festooned with the stuff) and now it became turgid, a deep brown soup swirling with dead vegetation. I could not tell how deep it was but all the swirling implied not very. There were rocks sticking up here and there, more as I moved in towards a rivermouth I could see easily. There were storms left right and center and I was getting rained on but there was not much lightning at least. The pain in my shoulder and neck has become a serious thing lately and it was bothering me a lot. This was getting stressful. Finally a lancha stopped. “Yes you can enter the river. It is deep enough. It turns left and there is a dock.” Bueno, gracias caballeros..
What followed was beautiful. I shot into the narrow, chocolate-brown river (Mangroves tint the water thus). There were many open-mouthed bystanders on the promenade. As the river turned left the mangroves shaded the wind, and I came to a stop, hanging fire as still as a stone balanced on a knife edge in the turbulence between backwinding and being pushed back out to sea by the current in disgrace, or getting enough wind to move me around the corner into a few wind-ripples I could see just ahead. Twenty meters to my right a policeman stopped his car to grin at me. I saluted him and pantomimed blowing on the sail. He took his hat off and flapped it hard at me and phew, I was off around the corner. Upriver a hundred meters I shunted the boat in a narrow space and reversed across the current, throwing the anchor off the stern as I approached the wharf and dropping the sail in time to just nose up to the concrete whereupon I jumped overboard with a line to tie to a ringbolt. I doubt I could repeat such a manouver successfully one time in ten, and was so glad it came together because half the town was watching.
Nine times out of ten the sailing comedy happens when approaching or leaving one’s mooring.
Not one Cargo Bay Three had leaked this time so I did not have to unload the boat and dry everything out. There was no ghastly ordeal of hauling the boat above the tideline. Half an hour later I was in lovely dry clothes and shoes and ready to walk to town for a well-earned cerveza. The dock was watched over by two uniformed guards who were most friendly, they and the nightwatch give my boat special vigilence. I do not know who pays them and nor do they. It is probably the syndicate of fishermen… there were about fifty lanchas all rigged for octopus tied along the quay.
Champoton is a fish town or at this time of year an octopus town. You cannot hear too much about octopus on this blog. Sugar is grown roundabout. The place seems orderly and clean and very well policed and I like it. There are many colonial buildings near the center, and many older buildings are not made horribly of horrible concrete which is a rare thing indeed in Mexico. I met Lizbet and Octavio the owners of the restarant in which I had a beer. The cook made me a veggie-platter. Octavio said he knew of a masseuse who might help with my shoulder trouble. I went back to the boat and constructed the bubble and after a night swim in the river had a beautiful sleep.
Morning brought the shouts and howling-engine departure of the octopus fleet; one was a bit delayed because my anchor had fouled theirs. As all the 2-stroke oil bottles floated by on their way out to sea andf a beach near you I sat on the platform and shaved in the river, had a swim to reset my anchor, deconstructed the bubble. Shortly thereafter I was on the doorstep of Octavio’s restaurant waiting as appointed to hear more of the masseuse; Octavio didn’t show but Bernardo appeared and asked me what my GPS was.
Bernardo, 22, very handsome, flamingly gay and more than friendly. I asked him what he did, perhaps expecting hairdressing but no, he showed me his camos in a bag – he was a “navy soldier” at the base nearby, studying chemistry and spending some of his time searching boats and vehicles for drugs, for fighting the narcotraficantes is a military function here. We went for breakfast, but first to pick up his transvestite partner Argentina. At Argentina’s pad I asked Bernardo was there any problem being gay in the Mexican military? None whatsoever. The armed forces were I said presumably very macho, and you are not. How is it that you joined up? Well, he said, I get to play with beautiful boys all day and they pay me $200 USD a week to do it. Why should’t I want to join?
Bernardo and Argentina’s obsession with my skin was comical. Apparantly I need a jolly good exfoliation.
Breakfast was panuchos, maize flour mixed with 25% wheat flour, formed into tortillas which puff up when deep fried. These are then collapsed and the flattish cup thus formed is loaded with beans, lettuce, avocado, tomatoes and salsa, plus chicken for my friends. Mexican food is not healthy but it is so good that one’s well-being is a small price to pay.
Bernqardo and Argentina let me go gracefully when they finally got the idea how terribly straght I am. Octavio took me for a drive. The massage with old but strong Rosaura was the greatest(I have never before been desperate enough to seek help like this). I had to make her concentrate on the huge balled-knot of muscle in my shoulder. It had me yelling like no other massage ever. I need more work but it was hopefully a beginning to the end of the only serious fly in the ointment of this trip. Afterwards I walked back along the sea front past at least 300 returned octopus boats; every one of them had had its propellor removed by its owner. I saw also through clear water the maze of shoals I had miraculously passed through the previous afternoon.
The next morning I slipped my mooring, raised sail and moved out into the river current. There was a terrible bang, and I looked across the river to see a delivery truck had piled full-speed into a tree, wrapping the front end of the vehicle around the tree just as it happens when a car hits superman. The tree was pretty big and was uprooted. The driver got out rubbing his head. Very probably my vessel had distracted him.
I am now in Celestun, Yucatan, about 150 kilometers to the north. That is another story which does at least involve some fear, uncertainty, coldness, mud and thirst. And of course octopus.