Letter-11 Malaque Jan. 31 2001

Beach Landings

I talk often of going to the beach in the dinghy. I was just reminded by another cruiser that this not something that you all are aware of, because she intends to write it up for a sailing magazine article.

There are essentially no docks to land a dinghy at in any of these little bays and most of the harbors in Mexico. We have to drive the dinghy up on the sand (or rocks) on the beach and jump out. This sounds easy, ya say. Well there are these waves that come rolling in. Sometimes as high as two or 3 feet high. If they are any higher, we don't go there!

The first step is to look for the place on the beach where the waves are the lowest, from the boat. Often there are other dinghies already there. If not, the local ponga drivers usually pick the best spot for their pongas.

Next, approach the beach slowly and watch the waves. If they are not breaking, or are really small, then line the dinghy up perpendicular to the beach, gun the motor a little to get started in the right direction. Next, kill the motor and rock it up out of the water so it won't drag on the bottom. Most outboard motors have a lock to hold it up this way.

Next, if the dinghy stays straight, just as the bow touches the bottom, step out and pull the dinghy up on the beach.

Now, if the waves are breaking a little it gets much more exciting! First watch the wave pattern to see if the waves are coming in sets. Some people believe that the waves always come in sets of three, while others are sure they come in fours. I just watch for a minute. You can see the swells for a ways, because you are closed to the surface. If they are in sets, you try to gun the motor in time to get the dinghy just on top or slightly behind the crest of the last one in the set, or at least on a swell that doesn't have another one close behind it. Timing is much more critical here. The dinghies usually don't go as fast as the waves!

Next, just before the prop hits a rock or something hard on the bottom, kill it and lift it up. Now grab an oar and row to keep the dinghy straight. Again, jump out as soon as the dinghy touches the bottom and pull it up on the beach. After the wave breaks and splashes up the beach, the water runs back down the beach. It tries to pull the dinghy back down and underneath the next breaking wave! This fills it with water and sand and makes it heavy to drag up the beach. It also gets every thing you took to the beach WET!

If you are not able to keep the dinghy straight, or it gets in front of the breaking wave, it surfs up the beach like a surf board. If the crest of the breaking wave is higher than the edge of the dinghy, the water comes over the edge filling the dinghy again. Sometimes, it lifts the edge high enough to flip the dinghy upside down or even rolls it completely over like a log. If the wave is big enough and you get in front of it, even if you keep it straight, it lifts the back and flips it over end to end. A friend did this last week and did a complete 360 forward flip. Quite exciting!

Next, after getting out and beside the dinghy, it is necessary to get the dinghy up the beach far enough to be safe from the high tide. It would be nice it the dinghy was still there when you want to go back. The average inflatable dinghy weighs from 75 to 100 pounds. A 10 horse outboard weighs another 85 pounds. We take a fender (a cylindrical rubber bumper) along and lay it under the front and pull the dinghy across it like the Egyptians built the pyramids. Some people have dinghy wheels. The best ones are like wheel barrow wheels that fold down on each side of the motor. They are just longer than the prop, so you don't have to lift the motor. As soon as they touch the bottom, you jump out, lift the front and roll the dinghy up the beach like a two wheeled wheel barrow. Most of the heavier dinghies have these. Some people bought the smaller, cheaper wheels. When you try to roll these up the soft sand, they dig in like breaks and make it REALLY hard to drag up the beach. They also don't roll over the larger gravel well at all.

OK, we got to the beach. We go to town, shop, and maybe get the laundry done. Now we have even more stuff we would really rather not get wet. Its simple, just put it in the dinghy and take it back to the boat! HA!

First turn the dinghy to point out and drag it back down to the water. Usually the tide went out instead of in, so it's a long ways to the water this time! Don't forget to take your hiking shoes off. If there are no waves ( never) just push it out till it floats, push off, jump in, drop the motor, start it and motor back to the boat. If there are waves, just do it with more precision, timing and finesse.

I push it out knee deep between waves. Trinda gets in the starboard side (left) about mid way up. She tries to lift the bow as each wave comes in. I wait till I see a space between the waves coming. I try to push off the bottom, climb over the aft port corner and hope its deep enough to put the motor down and start it. Most of the time it starts on the first pull. If not, we sit toward the back to try to keep the bow above the waves while we grab the paddles and row out past the breaking water, keeping the bow directly into the waves. If we can't get the bow above the waves, then the wave breaks directly into the dinghy. A good launching only collects two or three gallons of water.

We have not flipped it yet, knock on wood. We have walked the dinghy out a little deeper than we planned a time or two. And also found deep holes when we thought we were close enough to shore and stepped out. Sometimes when I try to climb in, in a hurry, I have pushed the corner of the dinghy down too far and let in 5 or 10 gallons of water. About half the time, a wave sneaks up and breaks over the bow and dumps in 5 or 10 gallons then too.

There is a plug in the back with a one-way valve that lets the water back out as we motor to the boat. It is amazing how fast ice melts while it floats in 70 degree salt water!

Every thing of value goes to and from the shore wrapped in plastic. When most cruisers pull out their wallet, it turns out to be a zip-loc baggey containing only the essentials!