Every Sailors Nightmare
12 November 2010 | Mexico
E-mail from Mark
The below is an e-mail we received from a very good friend of our. This is every sailors nightmare. Please read and let all you know that is comming down the coast to Mexico know about the currents at this particular place. Our friend Mark is however in good spirts. This story will also appear in Latitude 38. Here is a little background on Tachyon. Mark bought her and spent many years gutting her and rebuilding her. She was in tip top condition. Now here is his story.
LOSS OF S/V TACHYON
The following is a brief recap of the recent week. Please excuse if some of the dates are incorrect. Many things have happened during the past few days and keeping track of time, especially here in Mexico, is almost unimportant.
Somewhere around 0430 on October 31, while about three miles from the anchorage at Bahia Santa Maria, Tachyon went hard aground on a sandy beach.
The chart plotter showed the light on the point just north of the Bay, and the auto pilot faithfully maintained the course I trusted to bring me to the entrance of the anchorage. A nice NW breeze and double reefed main kept us moving at about 5 knots. I was dozing lightly in the cockpit waiting for enough light to avoid entering what, to me, was a strange anchorage. Unfortunately, I wasn't fully aware of the strength of the currents in this area, which is also very shallow very far out. Daybreak gave testimony to this by revealing the remains of a cargo ship and, within a few miles, the hulls of three other sailboats.
Although on the "correct" course, the current and wind pushed me too far to the east. I awoke to the noise of the keel hitting bottom and the roar of the surf. I immediately tried to recover but the elements worked against me and I was washed further ashore. Around 0530 I sent a Mayday requesting assistance. Forgive me for not remembering the names of the first responders, the same ones who agreed to get together and form some plan of action. The information was relayed to Profligate, who left the anchorage and appeared to my west around 0700.
Richard and his crew agreed that the situation was tenuous at best and advised that they would send a shore party to assist. During this time I was being pushed further ashore by the latter part of a rising tide and the hull was now pounding on the sand and rollng from side to side on her keel. Around 0800 the first of a party that eventually reached more than 50 people arrived and suggested that we begin to strip the valuables from the boat. My hope, of course, was to get her off the beach and I wanted to remove only the most valuable items for safe keeping on shore. However, the majority of the rescue party saw what I didn't want to see. Namely, that the boat was lost and everything should be stripped before it was too late. At the end of the afternoon, after an heroic effort working on a severely listing boat, nearly everything of value was removed and placed in piles on the beach. Thanks to Andy Turpin for his organizing skills.
Robert Hoyt of Mag Bay Outfitters based in Lopez Mateo overheard the radio traffic and arrived with four or five men and three trucks offering to transport and store the gear at his place in Lopez Mateo. In the early evening we began to make plans to attempt pulling Tachyon off the beach. I spent the night aboard sick at heart and discouraged, but somewhat hopeful that she could be set free. At 2200 I awoke to the sound of people climbing aboard and scary thoughts began to run through my mind. As it turned out, these were part of a group of marines that were sent to question me, set up a camp and stand guard over the rescue effort. On the morning of November 1st, I went ashore to sort through the piles of gear remaining, get acquainted with the marines and organize my thoughts. During the afternoon, Bob and his crew worked with the rising tide, lines, anchors and trucks to reposition the boat so she was bow on to the sea and placed two anchors 500' out. Early in the morning of the 2nd, Bob and his crew used 1000 feet of line and a Panga with a 75 hp motor to try towing the boat off the beach. Although unsuccessful, we were able to see some movement and agreed to try again in the morning with bigger equipment. This week saw steadily increasing tide heights for five successive days, so we were encouraged. However, the increasing tide height also increased the height of the surf to 15 to 20 feet. I spent the rest of the day organizing gear, helping the marines set up camp to shade us from the sun and getting lessons in Spanish. We used cushions, lines, sails, whisker poles and anything else to create a comfortable place to stay, dubbing it "Casa Linda". Bob had also contacted the Navy stationed at San Carlos and advised them of the situation. During the afternoon they dispatched one of their new "Interceptor" boats to recon. These boats are large, flat bottomed, heavily armed craft with twin jet engines used for quick response drug interdiction. I was able to return to Lopez for a much needed shower, hot food and a bed that was not moving. On the 3rd, we once again tried a tow with a Boston Whaler equipped with a 300 hp motor. Although some slight movement was noticed, we were still unable to move the boat off the sand enough to free her. At the same time, the stern of the tow boat was almost pulled under and we had to abort. It became apparent that the boat would have to advance at least 100 feet to gain enough depth and get off the sand. During the afternoon, the captain of the interceptor arrived with crew, more officers and photographers. It was his intention to turn the rescue operation into a training exercise and he spent the rest of the day instructing his crew on how to attach a bridle, towing angles, testing, line dimensions, etc. The plan called for the Interceptor to arrive at 0630 the following morning with 1000 feet of heavy line. A Panga would deliver the line from him and attach it to the bridle on Tachyon. My marine guards left in the evening since there was nothing left to guard and, quite possibly, the boat would be free in the morning. I spent the night on the beach in a Panga with mixed feelings of hope and discouragement. "Hope" because of the tremendous amount of work expended, higher tides, a powerful boat standing by and encouraging words from friends. "Discouragement" by hearing the sounds of Tachyon pounding on the sand, listening to the shrouds and stays shudder violently with each impact, piles of wet sandy gear spread over 25 miles, a cold, wet, sore and sand scoured body and the sudden loss of years of work and preparation. The following morning saw an increase in the feeling of discouragement when no one showed up at the appointed time. Eventually it was discovered that the higher tide had also increased the height of the surf to 25 to 30 feet, the Interceptor had been called off on another mission and the vehicle access on the beach had narrowed to the point where driving was impossible. When I was able to reach the boat, I discovered that the lashed wheel had prevented the rudder from swinging freely and the subsequent hobby horsing and yaw had damaged the quadrant, rendering the steering mechanism useless. Water was also observed in the bilge, but I assumed it was from water coming over the gunnels and through the companionway. Later in the morning a messenger from Bob arrived on a 4 wheeler confirming what was just described. I was able to phone and discuss with him my intention of declaring the boat a derelict. After the tide receded enough to allow vehicle access, Bob's crew and I started removing everything else of value, including the engine. We returned that night to Lopez to make further plans. On the 6th, I remained in Lopez while the crew returned to retrieve the mast and anything else that may have salvage value. Upon their return, they reported finding sand in the bilge and the portlights broken from wave damage. The hull had been breached and this report finally closed the adventure that Tachyon and I had started on so many years ago. Last night I hitched a ride with a San Diego native, returning home from a fishing trip off Mag Bay. We arrived in San Diego in time for me to purchase a ticket for a flight to San Francisco leaving on the 8th.
To get an idea of the tremendous effort expended, one must realize that this beach is a narrow edge of a barrier island stretching from Punta San Lazaro north to the entrance to Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateo, a distance of nearly 30 miles. To the east of the beach is a range of inhospitable sand dunes. As the slope of this beach is so gradual, any increase in a tide narrows the width of the part able to be driven upon. The tide cycles for this week were such that any vehicular traffic had to be done in the middle of cold, foggy nights. In addition, since this is an island, all the gear transported from the boat had to be reloaded onto a pontoon ferry for a trip to the town's dock which is another hour away, where it was once again loaded onto trucks for the trip to the storage yard.
The men operating these vehicles are utterly amazing. Driving on this beach in the middle of a moonless, foggy night, maneuvering between the waves and dunes, appeared to require nerves of steel. Yet, they approached this with the calm of years of experience. I have never before been afforded such help and comfort by anyone, anywhere. These people are truly misrepresented by the US media.
Another group to whom I owe a debt of gratitude I can only hope to repay goes to the members of the Baja Ha Ha 2010. It was an awe inspiring site to witness more than 50 fellow sailors arrive by foot and car to work together for a common cause. Working on a boat lying on her side is difficult at best, but an heroic effort managed to save almost everything of value. In addition, they took up a collection and donated some much needed money that will help me get home. Without this assistance, a bad morning could easily have turned into a disaster with much more significant proportions.