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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Safety Cat Aground

We are back in Bahia Concepcion at anchor in Burro Bay. It’s the first of July and the outside temperatures hover just over 100. The waves are building and our rigging is singing as we bounce in the building waves. Todays waves were even higher than usual but no one complained because the winds were the only thing that made it even marginally livable here. It was too rough to kayak or swim and no one was attempting to land a dinghy on the beach so most of the cruisers sat tucked in their boats keeping an eye on their anchor set and waiting: for evening, for calm, for relief. With the thermostat pegged at 93 at 11:00PM instead of tossing and turning for hours I finally grab my pillow and retreated to the cockpit looking for a sip of air.

The routine afternoon high winds are the reason we are here. Not because we sought them out but because they caused a near disaster. Most of our friends had plans for the annual 4th of July bash in Burrow Cove but we were going to skip it in favor of the cooler anchorages to the north. Just the day before Panta Rhei along with Nick, Andrea and seven year old Pandy on their 30 ft. catamaran Safety Cat had left us in Sweet Pea Cove headed for the party.
40nm away in Sweet Pea Cove we intercepted a Pan-Pan radio announcement on VHF emergency CH16. Our ears perked up at the sound of our friends on Panta Rhei calling for any local assistance for a boat that had drug anchor and was now being pounded in the surf on an empty beach just off the mouth of the river into Mulege’.
Headed for sightseeing and groceries both boats were left anchored at the mouth of the Mulege’ river, when they returned and rounded the corner at the lighthouse Panta Rhei was right where they had left her but Safety Cat was not. Every boaters nightmare: in the time they had been gone the 30 foot cat had drug anchor and been washed ashore and now rolled and heaved on a steep beach. Safety Cat was in serious trouble
The Pan-Pan that Panta Rhei was sending out said that Safety Cat was on the beach taking a pounding and they were asking for assistance from anyone in the area who could help them try and get her off the beach before she was holed and left unsalvageable. Another boat in Sweet Pea was the first to respond but wanted to switch to another channel to gather information but Panta Rhei declined wanting to stay on the emergency frequencies with the Pan-Pan hoping to raise someone close enough to assist.
40 nm away we listened for a minute or two as Panta Rhei repeated the Pan-Pan on CH16 and then again on the cruisers Ch22 but no one locally responded. We responded making suggestions about calling for outside help and then stood by while they continued the Pan-Pan. One of the ideas was to call Garth on “Tunaholic” in Guaymas knowing he spoke fluent Spanish and had friends in Mulege’. We had met him when we attended his “Fishing the Sea” seminar at Loreto Fest and then again in Guaymas where I stayed a few days on my own while Bill flew home for a few days of business. I found him working in the local boat yard and he had helped me get around town for groceries and even given me a tour of San Carlos. I knew he spoke Spanish and I knew he had friends and connections in Mulege’. Hermie on Iwa one of the other boats in Sweet Pea picked up our conversation and happened to have Garths telephone number so with her Spanish and our cell phone we soon had Garth on the line and a number for a fisherman on “Gringo Loco” in Mulege’.
Our Spanish is still not exactly fluent so we jumped in our dinghy and raced across the anchorage to Iwa with our phone to try and make a call. The first number we called was not correct so we had to call Garth back but the second time we got Gringo Loco’s owner who agreed to leave right away to get his panga and head out to help.
About 90 minutes had passed with us thinking that a rescue was underway when we heard a VHF call coming in for Island Bound. It was Nick on Safety Cat saying so far no one had come to offer any help, Safety Cat was now holed and taking on water and did we know anything else.
The wind had continued to build and the heavy swell continued to drive her harder onto the beach. In the time between the VHF and telephone calls the crews of both Safety Cat and Panta Rhei worked frantically but Panta Rhei’s dinghy alone could not drag Safety Cat off the beach. Andrea had even gone out to the road to try and flag someone down with no luck. From 40 miles away listening to the frantic calls and hearing that the Cat was taking on water we wondered if it was already too late but we set off again to Iwa for another round at telephone calls.
Hermie called straight off but we were startled to learn that no panga had been launched because there was no cash for gas for the engine! They had instead sent their son by foot alone to the beach to try and get gas money from Safety Cat - Abel the pangaro we had called was waiting at his boat and would launch as soon as the son returned. By the time we got back in touch with Safety cat the son had arrived and was now running home. The rescue panga we hoped would soon be headed their way.

We didn’t hear anything for some time and no one was answering radio calls anymore so we stood by waiting to hear the news, any news. Hours later finally we got a call back: they had been successful in getting her off the beach and up the river.
Finally with two pangas and now loads of locals they had pushed and pulled and heaved and hauled finally getting her afloat. With one pontoon listing dangerously low it took hours but they got her towed up river and she was now sitting just off the boat ramp in a foot or so of water. Immediate crisis over, everyone slowly left leaving Nick working late into the night hauling off anything of value from the boat but unfortunately things didn’t look good.

The next day an announcement went out on the Sonrisa Ham net and this time the call was answered. A group of cruisers loaded into Baja Geary’s truck (the local weatherman) and headed into town to help. At the same time a Good Samaritan on vacation from Ensenada showed up and quietly began offering assistance. He makes his living salvaging and then parting out abandoned and neglected boats in Ensenada and he had a truck and a great idea. It was a trick he had used many times before to temporarily plug a leak: bee’s wax toilet seals. You plug the wax into the holes from both the inside and the outside and you can generally stop the incoming water long enough to begin repairs.

Volunteers fanned out all over Mulege’ looking for the bee’s wax rings and systematically bought up every one they could find. In the morning we sailed south to offer our stash of West System epoxy and glass mat but the days’ hard work had already begun. The cruisers crew had already arrived to catch a five am low tide. Working with a hookah and the bees wax they plugged the many holes, pumped out the water with a high speed pump and with the Good Samaritans truck hauled her ashore. By the time we arrived Burro was quiet except for the wind and we had nothing to do but sit and wait. By afternoon we had our update. The boat was pumped dry and ready to be staged for repair. But there is plenty of work left to do before Safety Cat is going anywhere.

Having your boat wash up on the beach or a reef is every sailor’s nightmare. When a boat hits the shore even if they are not holed often there is significant damage if the surf is pounding. Everything gets soaked through with saltwater and often is pretty much a total loss. They worked for hours in the surf and then were holed too. Though all the damage has yet to be discovered it looks like the boat IS salvageable.
The family was poised to head home and back to the real world of jobs and school. Now they are left with a damaged boat in an area where there are no boatyards. The plan is for Andrea and Pandy to go home to California while Nick will stay and begin repairs with the hopes that he will be able to get Safety Cat to San Felipe to dry dock. Not exactly how they planned on ending their first dream cruise but everyone is safe and that is of course the most important of all. We wish them luck and know that the offers for help will continue to flow their way.

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