Learning Beach Landings
11 January 2011 | Bahia Santiago 4 mi north of Manzanillo Mexico
Today we planned to take the bus into Manzanillo with Jake and Sharon Howard.. To do this we have to land our dinghies through the surf onto the beach. We did this in Costacomante without instruction and learned that launching is even tougher than landing. Our friends Lauren and Lauren (SV Piko) managed to get dunked in Costacomante (and wrecked their iPod phone which was in a pocket of Lauren's pants). So for today's exercise we emptied our pockets into a semi-safe place in the dinghy. Then we put the wheels down and turned toward the beach at right angles to the surf. The idea is to drive forward with the motor running until wheels touch and then jump out and pull the dinghy up the beach. The wheels extend below the propellor of the motor so it is not necessary to raise the motor but it is necessary to stop the motor in a timely way else it will lose water cooling. Of course the wheels extend quite a way below the dinghy in order to give the protection to the motor and that means they touch bottom when it is fairly deep (compared to say the length of a human leg from the knee down to the bottom of the foot). So you can see that height is an advantage and generally the women are going to be "first quenched" OR THEY CAN WEAR VERY SHORT SHORTS. You can see Larry likes this already. Now as the wave approaches the beach the wheels touch and if you timed the approach right the front of the boat is ahead of the approaching wave. This makes the water a little shallow for you to leap into. Unfortunately the following wave brings with it much deeper water (more than a foot deeper can almost always be expected even in small surf). So you can see that you have to move fast....something geriatric sloths (aka retired folks) do not excel at. And pulling the dingy UP hill toward safety is a somewhat high energy task. The wheels make it possible to do this, but they don't make it easy. All the while the water is moving at high speed around your legs, tending to knock you over. So you need high energy, speed, and good balance. This does not describe either of us. If you don't move fast enough the following wave fills the dinghy completely up with water. That is a lot of weight...generally stopping everything. Then the surf pushes the dinghy slightly off center which usually folds a wheel under the dinghy and the whole thing tips over. This is the "told you so" condition the crew has been warned to avoid. So you can see that we have an incentive based system for learning. In this learning experience it is not kosher to blame the teacher for failure to learn. In our case, we made it up the beach before the dinghy got filled and we put out the anchor and tied the dinghy to a solid object. What I just described is the easy part, landing.
When we came back from Manzanillo, we got to launch. The nice thing about launching is that if you get wet, you can recover as soon as you reach your boat. You can do this even if you have to swim to reach the boat. But here is how it goes.
The dinghy is walked down the beach and turned to face into the waves. As soon as a big wave breaks we pick up the dinghy from both sides and move it into the water. While we do this the next wave approaches and generally breaks directly into the bow. If the bow is heavy (because a person jumped in too early) the wave will break over the bow or at least splash many gallons of water into the boat. So you can't get in early, and remember the wheels are in shallow water and are "hard aground". You must make sure that the dinghy moves through the breaking wave and then both people jump in ... making sure the alignment doesn't go sideways which the wave tends to make happen. Again, this straightening task delays entry and suddenly the crew finds itself in deep water caused by the passing wave and the decent of the dinghy on the steep beach. It's time to get aboard. Doing this without being neck deep in water is the big trick. And don't forget that your head is down because you are pushing on the dinghy so you entire field of view is of moving water...which water is also pulling on your legs. So, balance is an issue. It is very easy to fall into the water instead of into the dinghy. Once you are in the dinghy you have to get the motor going and move your weight forward (to take weight off the wheels) before the next wave hits. It's a good thing if the motor starts on the first pull. Delay here means the dinghy goes sideways and of course tips over. This is salt water, so dunkings of the motor can be expensive.
I should make clear that achieving this landing enables other worthwhile things, like walking on the beach which is a wonderful experience. And in this case the beach is a high end Mexican living area with lots of nice homes and lawns in a gated community. It's really nice here. After a short walk we catch the bus into the big city. Shop. and return to launch the dinghy where a nap inevitably awaits aboard the boat. Sounds good, huh? This time we made it both ways.