Dock lines are untied at the ungodly hour of 4:30 in the morning. Quietly Tom steers Camelot out of the Santa Rosalia Harbor while I busy myself pulling up the fenders and tidying up the lines on deck. I take a few seconds to silently offer my thanks to this quaint little town and its people for their hospitality.
Carrying the two biggest mugs I own, filled to the brim with strong coffee, I join the Captain in the cockpit and inquire about our upcoming trip. It’s about 78 miles to our next destination, Bahia San Francisquito, more or less a 13 hours stretch. It’s black as liquid ink all around us now, the lights of Santa Rosalia fading as we move further away. Not a lick of wind, flat seas. We settle down, chit chatting and sipping coffee, trying to get rid of the grogginess. We are not used to get up this early anymore! As I wake up I start noticing here and there a few lights in the distance, fishing vessels out to do their job. Slowly the sun comes up in all its glory and kaleidoscope of colors and I tell myself that I should really get my ass out of bed this early more often.
At around 8 o’clock peace is disrupted; the wind starts to blow, the sea builds up. Well, good morning to you, too, Mother Nature! Cranky, today, are we… So much for the weather forecast that predicted no wind… Where did this monster-wind come from??? At the first sign of breeze Tom had already raised the mainsail and we’re now unleashing the headsail, trying to harness in all the wind power we can. Soon we’re slashing through the sea at 8.2 knots, a more than respectable speed for our fat-bellied, overloaded Camelot.
We continue sailing at a sustained pace for a few hours, despite the waves coming in big rolls on our starboard side. It’s a rolly ride, but Tom’s grin gets wide and wider as he tweaks the sails trying to squeeze out one more tenth of a knot. Maniac, I think to myself… Once a racer, always a racer… But it sure is nice to sail this fast!
The exhilarating ride lasts for about three hours and then the wind, temper tantrum over, suddenly disappears. Ok, engine on and we motor in calmer seas for a while. During the course of the trip we raise and douse the sails a couple more times, following the wind moody appearances. By the time we arrive to our destination, Tom is beat and I’m pretty whipped, too.
Bahia San Francisquito lies in front of us in all its simple splendor, cactus and desert scrub bordering the pebbly beach. We quickly make ourselves at home and soon enjoy a relaxed dinner. It’s going to be an early night, we’re so tired!
As soon as it gets dark Tom turns in for the night, while I read just a few more pages of my book, comfortably splayed in the cockpit, enjoying the light breeze. Twenty minutes go by.
I’m so engrossed in my thriller that my brain doesn’t register the faint engine noise in the background. I don’t even truly notice this small boat making slow loops around our boat, until I hear a loud “Hola!” and finally snap out of my bubble and raise my head. Sure enough, about fifty feet from me, there’s a boat with a big spotlight on and it’s circling Camelot! As I yell “Hola!” back, I suddenly realize:
a) The only thing I’m wearing are my reading glasses
b) Good grief, are those men ARMED???
I fly down the stairs to the bedroom calling Tom, clutching the first rag I find to cover myself up and grabbing a flashlight. Startled and sleepy, Tom gets up in a flash at my mention of “armed guys” and we both return to the cockpit. In the 10 seconds it took for all of the above to happen, the small vessel has closed in and is now leaning against the port side of our boat.
It takes Tom’s practiced eye a split second to see that the guys are wearing uniforms, to notice the “Ejercito Mexicano” sign on the side of their boat, and to determine that we have nothing to fear. I, in the meantime, am considering blinding them all with the mega-power flashlight in my hands…
It’s a group of eight young men, all smiling and very polite, all carrying some sort of rifle across their chest.
The group’s leader quickly explains that they’d like to do a swift check on our boat, so as Tom consents I start opening the side “gate” to let them up. But three of the soldiers are already aboard, having quickly shimmied up the side commando-style. Well, ok then…
Tom defers communications to me, so I wave the leader in and escort him down in the cabin while Tom tries to chat with the other soldiers.
I turn on all the lights I can, so that this young soldier can take a good look around. He’s extremely polite, but he’s wearing a very serious expression on his face. He tells me “please don’t be alarmed, we’re soldiers of the Mexican Army and we routinely patrol this region. We just want to make sure there are no illicit goods aboard your vessel”. Then he proceeds to ask me where we came from, our last port of call, our next destination, how long are we staying here, all the while walking around, opening and closing cabinets and cupboards. His right hand never leaves the rifle, which makes me a little nervous.
Suddenly Tom hollers from above to toss him a few Cokes for the fellows (leave it to Tom to make instant friends with the Army), so I mindlessly start digging under the dinette table to get the drinks while I keep talking and answering questions. Now, that seems to make my pal nervous and he shifts his rifle just slightly with his palm, following my every movement. I slowly draw the cans out of storage and show them to him, offering one. Visibly relieved, he declines. Completing his assessment, he decides we’re no threat either and finally cracks a friendly smile. He introduces himself as Armando, apologizes for the inconvenience and tells me to please call him on the radio if we notice anything strange going on, or if we need any help. I ask him where to find them, just in case. He vaguely replies “we’re around, just call us on any marine channel, we’re always listening”. And with that he climbs back to the cockpit and back to his small vessel. The other guys who were aboard leave Camelot in one fluid move.
With plenty of smiles, thanks, waves and goodbyes, they finally leave. The whole deal took all of ten minutes.
Wide awake now, Tom and I sit and comment on what just happened. We both agree that, after the first few uncertain moments, we actually felt reassured by the presence of the Mexican Army. Rifles and all.
The next morning, as we sip our coffee and stare at the beach, we notice a lone coyote walking the whole length of the small bay, occasionally stopping and sniffing the air, the ground, even the water. How strange! But it is desert terrain out there, and we did hear them yelp and howl late into the night. I’ve never seen a coyote before, much less on a beach!
We spend a few hours thoroughly exploring our surroundings by dinghy, discovering a tiny cove on the side of the bay where –surprise!- the small Mexican Army contingent has set camp. Tom immediately decides to go visit the guys, so we beach the dinghy right in front of their barracks.
But there’s absolutely no one around! Just a couple of small boats tied up to a dock, a few well-worn small buildings, a skittish, skinny cow that disappears as soon as we set foot on the shore. Totally deserted, no sign of the boys. We leave pretty soon and slowly return to Camelot, after taking my customary hundred of pictures of everything surrounding me: birds, rocks, lighthouse, caves, giant cactus.