It was mid-morning when we set the anchor in the harbor at Mazatlan, located on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The trip from San Blas had been slow but without incident. The last night had been truly memorable; a total cloud cover made the bioluminescence appear with exceptional brilliance in a quiet sea. When the nearby dolphins surfaced to breathe, concentric ever-expanding rings of light formed in the water.
An expatriate Canadian, Gus, rowed over to welcome us; he invited us over to meet Lydia, his wife. Since I had previously talked with Gus on the cruisers’ Ham Net, it was like meeting a friend. We enjoyed cups of dark and robust Mexican coffee while they gave us the benefit of their local knowledge. It is the exchanging of current information such as this that makes cruising much easier and more pleasant.
Later that morning, we rowed the inflatable to a sturdy concrete pier on shore. We had all the pertinent data such as where to leave the dinghy, what bus goes to the Capitania del Puerto (i.e. Port Captain’s Office), where we can get the best lunch in town, and find the best buys in fresh produce and meats.
We planned to take care of paperwork first and then eat lunch and explore the city. It was low tide. The pier had been designed to accommodate large vessels. It was no small task to leave the dinghy and crawl atop a structure that had no boarding ladder. The bus stop was less than three blocks from the pier. Everything was just as Gus and Lydia had told us. The formality of port clearance was quick and easily accomplished. We now had the rest of the day to see the town. After being aboard the boat for a long passage, we welcomed the opportunity to exercise our legs. With knapsacks on our backs, we set off on foot to explore the city.
It was late afternoon when we returned to the pier with our stomachs and knapsacks full. The day had been delightful. Then came a rude awakening. The dinghy was not where we had left it! To a cruiser, losing your "aquatic wheels" is a very serious, potentially expensive situation.
"It’s been stolen" was the first thought that came to mind. How else could it disappear? There was a group of local men fishing from the pier. In slow and faulty Spanish, I asked if they knew where the dinghy had gone. From my hesitant query, It was obvious to them that a verbal response in their native tongue would not be understood by this gringo. Hence they just pointed down under the pier. Initially, their message did not make sense. I took off the knapsack, hung over the side and peeked around the concrete pilings. By putting the top part of my head in the water, I could barely get a glimpse of the dinghy.
While I got over that initial anxiety attack and regained my composure, the scenario became clear. That morning, we had to climb up because the tide was out. Later, an onshore breeze blew our inflatable under the pier and there it stayed as the tide came in. Now it was being squeezed against the underside of the pier. Since the tide was not to full height yet; it was very likely that the dinghy would be compressed until it burst by the time of high tide. Without a moment to spare, I started stripping down to my undershorts. Louise, my first mate, thought I had lost my mind. She was not at all happy when her deranged spouse disappeared beneath the dirty water of the harbor. (Her concern had substantial merit as Mazatlan is well noted for having a very high incidence of hepatitis.) Those feelings of concern soon changed as she first felt anger, which was then replaced by fear; when I didn’t come up for air, she thought I was drowning. Although her words were English, the gestures and facial expression effectively conveyed her message to the fishermen. With a stoic look, one gently led her to the end of the pier and pointed to where she could see my head above water.
Meanwhile, I frantically deflated the dinghy. With most of the air gone, I was able to drag it out from under the pier. And with that problem solved, our next problem was to get back to the boat. The local fishermen were on top of the situation. A panga—an open fishing boat—appeared with three of the fishermen aboard. We got in and the five of us headed for our cutter—dragging the nearly deflated dinghy. After getting aboard Oui Si
, we offered to pay the locals for their fuel, efforts, and inconvenience. They indignantly refused payment! However, their eyes lit up when I asked them if they would like some Pacifico, a locally brewed beer. They graciously accepted a sixpack of that delicious, hearty beer from our refrigerator.
An ad hoc review of the incident gave rise to the following points:
My own lack of foresight placed us in that situation.
My initial thought of theft was natural—but grossly wrong and my ensuing feeling of shame/guilt was intense.
The attitude of the fishermen changed 180 degrees when I took off his clothes and went into the water to recover the dinghy—I was then accepted as a "marinero" instead of a foreigner.
The patience and generosity of those fishermen from Mazatlan was a major factor in our developing respect and regard for Mexico while we were guests in their homeland. And I’m convinced that the incident has been a good lesson for me since I have not repeated that mistake again.