Trip Reports

Birds Fly At Night (26-Mar-2003-12-15):
12:15 PM local time, Wednesday, March 26 (1715 Mar. 26 UTC) 14 30 N 092 45 W. Temp. 86, Humidity 70%, Cloud Cover 40%. In the Gulf of Tehuantepec, offshore Chiapas, Mexico

Since we last wrote, or more precisely, since we left the Panama Canal on the 17th of March, we have been traveling northwest along the coast of Central America. Stopping only once for a couple of hours for minor repairs and fuel in Costa Rica, we have passed the countries of Nicaragua (pronounced Nick-ah-rahg-yew-ah by the British), Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala and this morning find ourselves off the Mexican shores. Our intended landfall is the port of Huatulco which cruisers favor, although sometimes all that means is that there is a yachtie bar with a lot of white folks drinking cheap beer. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The sailing so far been easy, what there is of it. We've not seen winds over twenty knots and often have a gentle sea breeze in the afternoon, accompanied by flat seas. The sea has put away her other moods and there is a notion of strength at rest, languid undulations the faint remains of storms a thousand miles away. The only worry is the thunderstorms at night, as we have learned to respect the danger of lightning.

The area is busy with wildlife. We spot sea-turtles every few minutes, sometimes several at once and at times we have to turn the boat to avoid hitting them. Mr. Shrode spotted a manta ray swimming near them. Dolphins are more plentiful and exuberant than any we've seen elsewhere, leaping clear of the water or smacking their tail fins on the surface. We've left the ubiquitous frigate-birds and royal terns of Panama behind, but have seen mysterious white birds that fly around the boat at night, appearing almost luminescent. I haven't figured out what they are, as it's difficult to make them out in the dark, so if you know give us a shout. The most spectacular wildlife exhibition so far was occasioned by Ship's Ichthyologist Terry Shrode. Mr. Shrode was at his piscatorial best, drowsily lounging in the cockpit while the pole and the line and the hook did all the work, when we heard the "zzzzzzzzzzz" of the reel.

"Fish on!!"

We jump up and look back. Behind the boat, just like in the movies, is a gigantic marlin jumping clear out of the water, the newest victim of Mr. Shrode's prowess. But not for long. After about fifteen seconds, before he even got the pole out of its holder, there is a muted "snap" and the line goes limp. The marlin continues leaping, no doubt to try to make sure he's free of the line, but also as if to say, if you think you can catch me with that silly little city-boy gear, you're dreaming, pal. It's a good thing he didn't bite the hook on the other line, which is far more substantial. What would we do then? No doubt there are fishermen out there who would pay a lot of money to catch a marlin, but man, it's, like, bigger than our dinghy. Mr. Shrode and I, sportsmen that we are, wouldn't want to get anywhere near that thing unless it was in an aquarium.

Shortly after that, as Mr. Shrode was bathing on the foredeck naked as a mackerel, another fish is caught and this time it's a Dorado, which we can handle. Mr. Shrode lands the fish in his (Mr. Shrode's) natural state, and the Captain serves the fillets that night sautéed with butter, garlic, shallots, and capers. Occasionally, we eat well.

We are motoring along in a flat calm heading out across the Gulf of Tehuantepec. This can be a nasty bit of business. We've been watching the faxes and studying this area ever since we were in Colon awaiting our canal transit, and from that time until now there has not been one of the dreaded "Tehuantepeckers" that sweep down from the Gulf of Mexico, gaining strength as they cross the land to emerge into the Gulf of Tehuantepec with storm force winds. The Captain, ever the optimist, has been saying, "Wait until we get there." Isn't he the smart one? Sure enough, just to provide a little drama, the weather gurus have predicted one for this weekend, bringing winds of up to sixty knots and seas of twenty-five feet. We'll be fine and should be safe in Huatulco by then. If nothing goes wrong.


I am in possession of a new epistle from David Tolmie, one of our favorite correspondents. He was particularly exercised by the Captain's use of the term "chatty," as he apparently found it too effete. Very well, then, Dave, we'll change it to "loquacious." Otherwise, his letter is filled with calumny, invective, and the sort of billingsgate that would make a sailor blush. Since, unlike Mr. Mead, he has not had the aspiration to join and progress in rank in Maverick's Navy, nor for that matter any other aspiration, we cannot hold him to the same standards we do our regular troops, and will simply rise above his impertinence.

Not a few people have hypothesized that Mr. Tolmie's shocking lack of social grace and common decency presuppose a tawdry upbringing and consequent lack of education beyond the second grade; that, during a jail term in Alabama, he volunteered to be the subject in the tests of experimental drugs for mental enhancement, with unfortunate results; and that he issues from a bloodline which includes in the not-to-distant past, lemurs and eels. But you certainly won't read those things here. On the contrary, it is the Captain's view that David possesses all the virtues known to man, among them honesty, cheerfulness, temperance, righteousness, valor, generosity, courtesy, humility, and thrift. It is this last virtue with which David has, in a manner uncommon for a person of his diminished state, chosen to govern the others, concluding wisely that each virtue, like a diamond, retains its value primarily in relation to its rarity. Thus, David husbands his virtues with an admirable frugality, saving them for that time in the future when they may be most needed. Less disciplined people may carelessly spend their best qualities in a willy-nilly fashion, even on strangers, heedless of the likelihood that come old age, they may have none of them left. But that is not the way of our Mr. Tolmie. So heroically is he committed to his principle, and so steadfast in his application of it, that no living person has ever seen him want only acting according to any of the many virtues he possesses, as listed above. Huzzah, Dave!

Next report more-or-less from this location: Here Today Gone Tamale

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