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Stories by Mike Humfreville

Mars Chasing Moon    ( Posted October 19, 2003 )

There was a break in the weather after the first pair of Hurricanes blew through. We arrived at Bahia de Los Angeles just ahead of the second, Marty and Olaf. We'd heard reports that they might veer east, avoiding us with the brut force of a direct hit. It rained off and on for the first two days and nights, but there were still highlights of sun to look forward to and we collected for dinners under the community palapa at Geckos. The camp was full and we all hit it off socially from the first.

Mars Chasing Moon

The moon was approaching full and after dinners we would wander back to our individual camps, position sand chairs between squalls and sit watching across the Sea of Cortez and the islands nestled just off shore. Moon rose a while after dark, a little later each night, followed at a distance by Mars. There were millions of stars in the late night sky, but Mars chasing moon were dominant. With this event, the closest approach of Mars to Earth in our lifetimes, we could feel the magnificence of the moment, the grandeur of our universe and the relative smallness, the almost insignificance of our selves.

Over the next few days, weather improved and we were drawn into the wonderful October weather we had grown to expect. Fishing continued with boats returning from the islands to our beach, each with a story to tell.

Several groups of kayakers arrived, one departed to the islands for a 5-day stay. Others were up early and off for the south end. The first week there were reportedly 8 whale sharks lounging on the surface. We joined them in our tin boat. The kayaks were certainly more conducive to the environment of the sharks as they noiselessly paddled back and forth. Several people jumped into the water and swam with the huge but usually tranquil beasts. They do seem to want human attentions.

Moon Chasing Mars

Somewhere in the middle of our trip Mars passed the moon, if only from our perspective. I sat at night watching the skyward activities and wondering what minuscule influences this stellar event had on us humans. How did these events influence the tides here on Earth from so many distant miles? What else did they influence? Menstrual cycles, moods? What more?

From my sand chair at night I found peace. The quiet water, a campfire down the shore, quiet conversations in which I was and wasn't involved and all the while my two giants of the sky whispering to me subtly that I was only the smallest part of the big picture, implying that I had no worry about charge of anything. I could destroy my planet, just explode it and the universe would continue unaffected and unaware. Somehow that was a great relief to me, to not be in charge, to have no influence over outcomes, to act with no reaction necessary.

A Blow

We whiled away the days, exploring the shore, boating, fishing and sharing the beaches of the bay. Afternoons usually brought an increasing breeze, welcomed on arrival as relief from the heat. One particular near-evening the breeze grew quickly into a strong wind from the north, soon stronger still, until everyone was out of the water. Beached boats were hauled farther ashore and we huddled in small groups wondering if we were in for a blow. Questions about hurricanes Marty and Olaf were reiterated.

Several boats were anchored or moored in the small cove in front of the camp. One of the ladies pointed out that the largest boat seemed to be drifting southward, not as though it were loose, but more slowly. A number of us on the beach watched the boat for a time. It appeared to be dragging anchor.

Within the next hour the boat was a few yards from hitting the rocks. The wind was whistling, blowing sand across our faces and the boat toward the beach. Someone had to do something. News circulated through the gusts that the boat may have been secured with both a mooring and an anchor and that the mooring line may have broken. The guys swung into action.

There was apparently no way to repair the broken mooring, so they decided that a heavier and backup anchor was in order. But getting the anchor into the boat, out to sea and properly positioned during what seemed to us to be a growing tormenta was the challenge. And the wind speed was still rising, driving the ground swells into the beach with a great force.

A tin boat was snatched from its sandy perch, well above the waterline and dragged near the water, the new anchor loaded and we pushed the boat stern first into the roiling sea. Three guys climbed aboard while the rest of us shoved the boat out from shore and tried to turn the bow into the weather and the deeper sea. Holding the bow, lighter than the stern and more easily influenced proved an almost impossible challenge for the men. We were struggling to hold our footing on the rocks forming the shore there, and fighting the wind and sea with little control over either the boat or the elements. For a while we knew we were going to loose both the tin boat and the boat slipping anchor.

At one point, we had maneuvered the boat far enough from shore to drop the outboard. An attempt was made to start the motor but the boat was so out of control it was difficult to find, let alone pull, the start cord. The men in the boat were being thrown violently against the sides, the motor, the seats. The men in the water we at risk of being run over by the boat, crushed between the stones and the keel, the motor.

Finally the man in the stern had enough depth and a moment of relative tranquility to grab and pull the start cord. No Response. The bucking began again and he lost the cord, found it, issued a mighty heave several times and the motor fired. Those of us outside the boat tried to stabilize her enough for the driver to clear the beach. We could here the engine change pitch as the pilot engaged the transmission and the boat lunged out into the safer waters of the cove. The dramatic actions of the waves held the boat at bay and the prop struck rocks several times before the men reached deeper waters.

The men made several passes at the larger boat, still dragging anchor in the sand and within a few feet of disaster. There was little room to maneuver, to align the smaller boat in position where one of the men could board the other. After an eternity of several attempts, failure, renewed attempt, we could see one of the men, then a second had boarded. The smaller boat roared back for shore. It had taken on so much water during its launch and offloading efforts it was in danger of sinking. The pilot drove the boat onto the shore and we pulled it up the beach, shouting directions to pull the bung and drain the boat quickly, to bail out as fast as we could. We had to get the smaller boat back in the water. The plan was emerging slowly due to communications limited by the wind, the sea and the stress of the situation.

Once again the men on the beach slid the boat into the sea. Lighter this launching due to the offloading of the two other men, the event was under better control and the small craft soon bobbed back toward the larger, threatened craft. The pilot of the smaller boat received a bow line from the drifter, apparently secured it to the stern of the smaller boat and began to pull. Those of us standing on the beach could hear the dramatic surge of the engine, laboring under stress to pull the larger boat forward, away from the rocks as the waves crashed and the wind howled. We saw no forward movement. There was little we could do, standing there, pulling in spirit, hoping beyond hope to get the tandem crafts back into deeper water and out of harms way. After five minutes of no movement, adjustment of lines and motor, readjustment and whining outboard stressed to its limits, the boats began to move, just an almost unnoticeable inch, then two, three, then a foot, a yard. It took the men half an hour to move the boats two hundred yards to a safe place, with enough clearance for the larger craft, to drop the new anchor and secure its line to the bow.

Soon the sailors were beached, safe after a great ordeal. There was so much adrenaline surging through the men on the beach that they carried and pushed the boat all the way up to the safe tideline in the sand. The event was over. A seemingly unsolvable problem had emerged triumphant thanks to a major team effort.

We wound slowly down over the next several hours, tired from our efforts, some more than others, but knowing in our hearts we had all pulled together and accomplished what had to be done and what none of us could have done alone.

Late that night Mary Ann was sleeping and I was trying and unable. The events of the early evening were still spinning in me and our remaining time on this beach was now countable in hours rather than days or weeks. We had made so many new friends and rekindled older relationships. Knowing I would not sleep until I had written enough of these events down to form a memory, I slipped on a pair of shorts, grabbed a flashlight and my notebook and, of course, a slug of rum. I searched for a place to write into the night that would not disturb Mary Ann or others, found the hood of my Vaca Blanca Suburban to be of acceptable height, and began to write. In pausing from time to time, to reflect over the events of the day, I found my eyes drifting upward, to the west. The Moon was still almost full and still chasing Mars. But in this final leg, Mars had won the race. A black silhouette formed the finish line, a short distance away but still outside my grasp. A jagged line dark blue above and deep black below stood between Moon and the now-invisible Mars. Mars had set behind the western mountains.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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