By Portia Leigh
It was 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, February 12. For some reason I woke up 25 minutes before the alarm I’d set for my 6 a.m. shift— it would be the last time I’d watch the sunrise alone above deck for a while as we were nearly to our destination, and I intended to savor every last drop of it.
Thankfully, the universe had other plans– I did not spend the morning alone. If I had, we might have found ourselves in a perilously sticky situation.
I heated up some water for tea and poked my head above deck to say good morning to Francisco. “Good morning,” he said with a chipper smile. “We are off course, if we kept going through the night we would have run right into land.”
“Oh man, but we’re okay now?” I asked.
“Yeah, we caught it early enough,” he replied.
I climbed above aboard, wrapped myself in a blanket, and took a seat on the cockpit’s portside bench with Francisco sitting opposite, looking out over the ocean to starboard. It was still dark and the air was filled with dew, but it wasn’t overly cold.
“It’s crazy how calm the water is, it’s like we’re on a lake,” he said.
“I know. It’s kind of eerie. Just think how somewhere else in the world, this very second, another boat is being ravaged by the sea, the same body of water that is connected to us right now.”
Francisco looked up and saw a single cormorant circling above us. “That is the same kind of bird I saw a few nights ago, the one that freaked me out in the middle of the night as I watched it circle our mast hundreds of miles off shore,” I said. (I was quietly thrilled that someone else had a chance to see this peculiar pterodactyl like bird, it seemed otherworldly, truly).
“I see why it freaked you out, what a weird sight,” he replied.
“Hey, you know you can go to bed if you want, I’m up now so I can keep watch,” I said.
“I want to wait until we make this last turn,” he replied.
I smelled smoke from a fire and it was getting stronger, “Do You smell that?” I asked.
“Not really,” he replied.
“It smells smokey, like someone is burning trash on land, I guess the wind is carrying it towards us.”
We sat there for a few minutes, me keeping watch over the water from the bow to the portside of the boat, and Francisco checking our course on the navigation and looking over starboard.
It was barely 6 a.m. and the sun had yet to offer any light, but the moon, that magical full moon, was so unnaturally bright, it was almost bizarre. It was fate.
Looking out on the portside I saw a dark shadow about 50 feet in front of us—I rubbed my eyes frantically and thought to myself: am I still asleep, are my eyes playing tricks on me, WAKE UP!
And then I saw a thin line of water breaking on the shadow in front of us, this wasn’t a trick, “ROCKS, dead ahead,” I screamed, “Right, hard right, turn now!” (In the midst of panic my ability to differentiate between port and starboard flew out the window)… We literally missed a line of jagged rocks (about the length of the boat) jutting out of the ocean by less than 20 feet; we were headed straight for it! Had Francisco not stayed above board, had the full moon not shone bright and illuminated the path ahead, and had I not woken up 30 minutes earlier than usual, there’s a solid chance Violeta would have careened into an unforgiving jagged wall of rocks.
Francisco and I looked at each other, half panting from the adrenaline and half laughing at the insanity of the seriousness of the situation we nearly missed.
“Portia, you just saved us all,” Francisco said.
“Thank god you didn’t go to bed, who knows what would have happened if you did—I might have gone down stairs to make some tea and then what?! We’d have been stranded on the rocks in the middle of the Sea of Cortez,” I said, shuttering at the thought of how the situation could have been altogether different had I been alone.
Francisco laughed and said, ”And we were just talking about how calm and gentle the sea is here, Ha! Maybe that bird was trying to give us a warning.”
“Maybe,” I said.
The depth meter was still occasionally ricocheting from 135 ft down to 35 ft, it was definitely best that we both stayed aboard and kept watch. Two mini rock islets, about 15 feet high, extended out of the sea a few hundred feet in front of us to port. At one point I saw another dark mass in front of us—again, unsure of whether my eyes had not fully acclimated, but after the last near miss, I told Francisco to make another hard right. I still don’t know if the second rock mass was a figment of my imagination or not, but I’m happy we didn’t have to find out.
We cruised for about 30 minutes keeping watch until we were back on course (unfortunately the first rock mass we saw was not marked on the GPS or physical map, although there was a symbol marking “shipwrecks’ quite close to the coordinates, but far from exact). The depth meter continually increased until the water was about 200 feet deep. The sun had finally come out and we both could relax. Francisco went below deck to make us some toast and another round of matte, and I kept my eyes peeled for potential obstacles. Instead of obstacles though, I caught sight of a massive spout of water being expelled several feet above the sea line, I screamed again, but this time with delight, “Whales!” Francisco was above board within seconds, and I ran below deck to grab my camera. We spent the next few minutes watching the whales splashing their tales around, about 20 nautical miles outside Bahia de Banderas (Bay of Flags).
The rest of the crew woke up, and took turns looking through the binoculars as we neared land, everyone trying to spot the breakwater that borders the entrance to Paradise Village Marina—our new home! We found it. We got together and took our first group photo. Cheers to our first journey together.
Welcome to Nuevo Vallarta!