Planning the sailing, and motoring, trip up the Pacific Coast from the Panama Canal to Mexico, took a lot of planning, because one wanted to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec during a planned time that the katabatic winds were not fiercely blowing over the isthmus of Tehuantepec and into the gulf. We made plans based on the weather forecast in Golfito, Costa Rica.
On the planned day, we checked out of Costa Rica and made our way north, by sailing with a light breeze off the land and motoring to keep the sails full. We made it as far as Guatamala and the port of Puerto Quetzal, still in international waters, when suddenly our mainsail blew out its stitching. Once we brought the sail down, we radioed the Harbor Master of Puerto Quetzal and asked if we were authorized to come in as we had an emergency and and needed to repair the sail. The Harbor Master returned that a navy vessel was dispatched to assist us.
So we waited, wallowing in the waves that had been left after the breeze had died off. About 20 minutes later, we saw the navy vessel approach. It jettisoned a smaller rubber boat with three well armed men aboard. The smaller boat came alongside our Rhiannon and two men came aboard both with machine guns while the third stayed in the rubber boat. One stood aft, at the back of the boat, and the other, a young Lieutenant introduced himself and asked to inspect the boat. So we did. Since once navy person was on deck, Bob stayed with him and I went below to answer any questions of the Lieutenant. To be clear the deck stationed guy had a direct line of sight from the back of the deck into the below deck of Rhiannon.
The waves had not abated, so Rhiannon was still wallowing about, and as the Lieutenant inspected the lower deck, he took on a odd shade of green and his eyes were watering. We had progressed to the head (read toilette) and suddenly as he opened the door to the head he shoved his machine gun into my hands and dove into the head and threw up in the toilette!
Picture what the deck guy holding his machine gun saw!
1.) The back of me facing the head with a military issued machine gun in my hands.
2.) His Lieutenant’s back end sticking out of Rhiannon’s head and on all fours throwing up loudly into the toilette!
Hmmm, funnily enough I had never read anywhere in any sailing or self help book what to do in such a situation!
Here is what I did:
1.) I held my hands out at arms length with the gun in them (remember the boat is still rolling and bucking, so not an easy thing to do)
2.) Slowly turned around smiling and put the gun on the the table and put a strap over it so it would not get tossed around.
Fortunately, we survived as the deck guy had seen what happened and was trying to control laughing. Once the Lieutenant recovered, still green, he collected his gun, went on deck, said “Thank you” and got back into his small boat and went back to the larger navy boat.
We were allowed into port and actually allowed to dock in the navy yard. The next day leaving the navy yard to provision in the town, the same Lieutenant was at the gate entrance and waived sheepishly our direction.
I am sure that his mates ribbed him a while on that one.
Ahh, travel, you never know what is going to happen next. That is the beauty of it.
So get out there and travel! I would love to help you get there!