Tenacatita, Mexico

Well, now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, and there has been enough time since the actual event, I’m ready to put it on paper and let the story unfold.

We could have drowned today. You read about accidents all the time but they happen to people you don’t know or have a connection with.  Today, in my mind, is cemented the idea that shit can happen to anyone when you least expect it.

The story sets up like this.  We motored out of Puerto Vallarta Saturday afternoon with the idea of sleeping over at Los Arcos, a rock formation on the South side of Banderas Bay, then moving on down the coast. We did that fully knowing that the anchorage was rolly and there was no protection from the swells rolling in from the pacific.  It’s not the best anchorage for sleeping, but as they say, taking the first step is the hardest part and we had been tied up in Marina Vallarta for almost 6 months.

So at about 5 am, we were both awake and decided to take off for Southern Mexico as sleep was elusive.  After motor sailing all day Sunday and all night into Monday we made landfall at the Bay of Tentacatita, a really sweet little bay.  The curvature of the land making for some nice little anchorages that avoid the relentless migration of waves meeting land; a place to rest and sound sleep.

We anchored Monday morning and promptly took a nice siesta as we really don’t sleep all that well underway.

This bay is nice. There is an access entrance to a small river that empties into the bay and promises mangrove jungle tours, complete with exotic birds, extraordinary plant life, and cocodrillos.  There is an enormous beach that provides room for a hotel with horseback rides and a beach-front bar.  What we saw from the boat upon arrival were grass-topped palapas with tables and chairs and a nice looking beach bar.

We launched the dinghy, attached the outboard and chunked in the essentials for an afternoon excursion: snorkel gear, flippers, hats, a bag of other stuff and a cushion to sit on and never giving a thought to needing a life vest.

We motored away from our anchored home toward the entrance to the jungle tour scoping out the best place to make a beach landing. We stayed out a ways watching the wave sets and deciding on the best place to go ashore.  After what we thought was careful consideration, we went on up the coastline toward the fancy hotel and equally fancy palapa bar.

The waves were coming in from the ocean in fairly regular sets and pretty much were the same size, sort of like Galveston on a mild day, maybe two footers breaking on the beach.  That’s fine, we have seen this kind of thing before and we had several successful beach landings under our belt.  The trick is to follow a wave in, just behind the rolling action and put ourselves onshore between wave sets. There is a shelf where each wave begins, a curl develops and you just follow it.

We were there, examining the wave break patterns when we heard a noise behind us.  That noise was a wave breaking that was easily five times as big as anything we had been studying.  Imagine sitting at a stoplight when a Greyhound bus comes barreling up behind you. We’re talking a major Hawaii 5-0 surfing wave looming above us.  We were actually in the curl of the wave, with the height of the wave hovering above us. It was a shocking sight.

I saw the wave before it hit and exclaimed probably the most common expression known to man “oh shit” so that Gayle could prepare for the upcoming thrashing. Gayle and I had two entirely different experiences during this traumatic event.  I throttled up the outboard way too late and the next thing I knew I was under water, being pushed down by the force of the wave.  I did touch bottom and tried to get up to the surface only to be smacked by the next wave.  I lost track of Gayle and was concentrating on making it to the surface and to shore alive.  She can tell her part of the story.

When I finally made it to the surface after numerous smack downs, and could stay above water, I could see Gayle holding on to the dinghy, but it was upside down with the propeller showing and the engine under water. All of our numerous pieces of gear were floating all around.  Our snorkels, fins, hats, bag, and fuel tank were strewn all about.

In a state of shock, we flipped the dink over and started collecting the debris.  The goggles are gone, but some of the stuff was afloat along with other paraphernalia.

We dragged the dinghy on to the beach which was no small feat as the waves kept pounding in and suction of the under current as the water receded was tremendous.  We tried to take stock of the situation.  The dingy, which is an air inflated doughnut with a wood floor had been apparently folded in half as the plywood floor had been snapped in half.  The biggest questions was how were going to get back to the boat. Then other questions regarding the state of the dingy and how messed up is the motor, and where is all our other stuff?

We dragged ourselves across the beach and up to the bar at the Blue Moon resort only to find that they would not sell us a couple of beer as we were not guests of the resort.  They told us there was another bar down the beach.  They wouldn’t even give us a drink of water after witnessing all that we had just been through.

We dragged the broken dinghy about half way down the beach which was as far as we physically drag it.  I spotted a panga about a mile down the beach and set out to find some help.

Leaving Gayle at the dinghy, I walked down to find out who owned the panga at the shoreline.  My Spanish was pretty unimpressive but the arm gestures and bleeding abrasions got the owner’s attention and he understood what we needed. Pretty soon Jose and I were in his panga and on the way back to the dingy. He helped us load the entire dingy into his panga.  Keep in mind that the waves are beating at us, the undercurrent is sucking us out, as we haul the dingy, full of water and sand, along with the motor into his panga.  Then he helped us get the dingy off of his boat on loaded onto ours.  He stayed a few minutes to make sure we were ok and between my poco spanish and his poco english, I learned that he gave panga tours of the mangrove jungle and the river.  I paid him for his time and effort, though he asked for nothing in return for all that he did for us, including putting his boat and livelihood at risk for us.

I was not really sure how this was going to turn out.  I got the outboard back on the boat, flooded it with WD40 and hung the dinghy off the side of the boat using the spare halyard so that it could fully drain.  As a thank you, we agreed to take the jungle tour with Jose the next day to see the sights and then crashed as our adreline rush was wearing off and we were finally able to take a deep breath.

The jungle tour is a panga ride up a mangrove creek with Jose pointing out all the critters that live there.  We saw many birds large and small, Cayman Alligators (maybe actually Cocodrillos), Iguanas and hundreds of colorful crabs hanging on to the small branches that touch the water.


He took us up the creek and down a man-made ditch to a turn-around point inland.  It seems the people that own the snooty hotel also own all this land and are building a marina there.  So all the nature we just witnessed are just in the way of their plans to build a marina resort.  Before long it will be a long canal for the sport fishermen to use.  The birds, crocks, crabs and other wildlife will have to do what they do best, survive somewhere else.

We’ve had all the fun we can stand here and we’re ready to leave town, lick our wounds, having learned a few more lessons, and headed south.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *