Chapter 30 - The Flounder on a Lee Shore


The day had been long and tiring and the catch had been worse than meager. Jesus and his father had awakened before the sun rose and then ventured deep into far northern waters in search of the ever more elusive schools of fish. Now, nearing the end of daylight, they found themselves discouraged, many hours away from home, exhausted, and with little to show for their efforts. It had been a discouraging season in general. As the summer had transitioned into fall and then into winter, Jesus had been dismayed to see the marketable catch from the village fishing collective steadily plummet into insignificance. Today was no different. Once again, their entire day's labor had yielded little of value.

"Pull up your net Jesus. It is time to go," said his father wearily. "Where will we go?" asked Jesus. "We are hours away from the village."


"I am tired my son. I need to rest. There is a small cove a bit further to the north. We can sleep there and fish along the way home tomorrow. Maybe we will get lucky after a good night's sleep," he said without conviction.


It wasn't just Mamacita and her crew that were having difficulties. The entire La Cruz fishing fleet had been hurting lately. And it wasn't just seasonal variation to the catch. Winter usually brought a bountiful harvest to their nets. In a typical year, cooler waters to the north drove vast schools of fish south to the warmer waters along the Mexican Pacific coast. Mysteriously, this year the fish didn't appear as they normally did and all the fishermen in the village were affected.

"Where is the cove father?" asked Jesus.
He was unaware of any protected anchorage in the area and wondered how much sleep he would be getting. If his father's suggestion of a small cove didn't provide sheltered water, their panga would be rocking uncomfortably all night.


"It is just south of Punta Tortuga. The anchorage is not much, but while the wind continues out of the north we will be comfortable enough."


Jesus nodded to his father. He knew that he must be very tired or he would not have even made the suggestion. The winds this time of year were variable and they could easily be blown out of the intended anchorage with a small wind shift. Despite his misgivings, he held his tongue and began pulling his empty net from the sea. There wasn't anything to be done about it anyway. They had a long voyage back to the village and no fish to sell when they got there. His father was right. If they were lucky, maybe they could fill their hold in the morning as they made their way back to the harbor in the village.
It was nearly dark when they arrived at the cove. As Jesus had feared and his father had admitted, the anchorage wasn't much. That was probably why Jesus had never heard of it from the other fishermen in the village. It was exposed to any wind and waves from the southeast all the way to the northwest. It was calm when they arrived but Jesus knew that conditions could change in a heartbeat. By the time they had dropped anchor and settled in, it didn't matter. They were too tired to care. After a small dinner of raw fish and water to wash it down, father and son went to sleep aboard Mamacita under light covers.





About an hour before daylight, Jesus awoke. Their fishing panga was rolling uncomfortably from side to side. It was an unpredictable, nausea inducing motion that Jesus detested. An occasional wave would slap the gunwale, throwing spray high into the air where it was blown back into Mamacita. Jesus' blanket was thoroughly soaked, caught between the effects of the wave action and the morning dew. Everything he touched was damp or dripping wet, making it seem even colder than the temperature implied.


The western sky was still dark, but to the east, a pink glow had already begun creeping up the horizon. In the dim light available, Jesus could see that sometime during the night they had moved into a potentially dangerous situation. As he had feared, the winds had shifted while they slept, and they were now coming directly out of the south, perhaps presaging an unseasonably late storm.


With the wind shift, came a directional change in the way the panga was oriented, but the wave action hadn't yet caught up with the wind shift. The waves, though not large, were coming from the northwest. Mamacita was now pointing south, her nose into the wind, and uncomfortably broadside to the motion of the sea. Worse, even in the dim light, Jesus could see that they were being blown in the direction of a rocky shore that would break their Mamacita to bits if she managed to drag all the way to the edge of the water.


"Father! Father! Wake up!" Jesus spoke with some urgency. "The wind shifted while we slept. We must leave here soon!"


His father, only half asleep anyway, grunted wordlessly. The same uncomfortably nauseating motion that had awakened Jesus had made deep slumber difficult for his father as well. The words of warning from Jesus weren't a surprise. Even without looking, he had detected the wind shift with his nose. Winds off the shore have a distinctly different smell from those coming off the ocean. When they had arrived the previous evening, he knew the land breeze was pushing them away from the rocks lining the shore. The air had an earthy smell to it that he recognized immediately. Now his nose was telling him a moisture laden sea breeze was pushing them onto the land. He knew they needed to be moving on, but had let his son come to the same conclusion for himself. Now it was time. With both of them awake, they should be leaving.


Shaking the sleep out of his head, his father slowly sat up and peered into the darkness. With a wary squinted eye, he noted the waves breaking on a lee shore.


"Yes," he grunted again. "Even with my tired old eyes I can see it is time to go."


Jesus, by now fully awake, watched the shore nervously, suspecting they were inching closer to the rocks even as he watched. Was it his imagination? It was difficult to tell in the dim light. Still, it was best not to take a chance.


"Father, it looks like we are getting closer to shore. Do you think our anchor might be dragging?"


His father, busy draining his bladder, only grunted again. He suspected Jesus was correct. It really was time to be moving on.


"Bring the anchor in boy. I will start the engine."


Jesus, glad to have a purpose, crawled forward to the bow where the anchor was tied to the gunwale cleat. He saw immediately that the anchor line was stretched taut in a trajectory that led just below the dim horizon. He realized instantly that there was a lot of tension on the anchor and it was almost certainly dragging along the sandy bottom with every wave, just as he had suspected.


"Are you ready father?" he asked.


"Wait a moment. The engine will not start," came the mumbled reply.


In shocked silence, Jesus turned to watch his father as he hovered over the engine. The only sounds he could hear were the waves as they slapped the hull and the wind as it shrieked past his ears.


"What is wrong?" Jesus asked in a confused tone.


"I do not know. It just will not start. You better look at it."


The boat was rocking wildly by now and Jesus was careful as he scrambled back to the stern where the motor was mounted. His father pointed at the on/off switch and the battery, grunting again in consternation. Everything looked normal to Jesus and he could feel the nervous tension growing. He was convinced that every wave was carrying them closer to shore. Out of the corners of his eyes, Jesus could see the waves crashing on the rocks and the resultant spray being blown to shore.


It was growing lighter now. There was no need for a flashlight to see the engine. After a cursory assessment, Jesus saw nothing that would prevent an uneventful start. He reached for the switch, hoped for the best, and toggled it slowly.


Dead silence. Nothing. Absolutely nothing resulted. He tried again and got the same result.


"Did you check the battery?" he asked his father in desperation.


"No," his father grunted, lost in thought. "It was fine yesterday."


Jesus realized the battery was unlikely to be the problem, but he had to start somewhere. The rocks along the shore would be unforgiving if they dragged down onto them.


The boat was convulsing uncontrollably now. The waves were building and last night's shelter had become open ocean. Reaching for the tool box, Jesus nearly fell out of the boat, but his father grabbed at his belt and steadied him before he could go over the side.


A close one, Jesus said while rummaging through the tool box in search of some wire. As quick as he could in the difficult conditions, he attached the wire to the positive lead on the battery. As he was moving the other end of the wire to the ground post, another large wave caused the boat to lurch, pushing Jesus on top of the battery. Big, bright sparks started flying everywhere.


"It is not the battery," he said grimly after regaining his seating. "Could it be the starter switch?"


"You might be right," said his father thoughtfully. "If it got wet last night from dew and salt spray, it might be shorting to itself."


Jesus was silent for a while. He had been glancing all along at the shore and was certain now that they were closer; dangerously closer. He suspected that the waves were getting larger because they were in the shallow waters adjacent to the beach. In a few minutes those waves would likely start breaking on top of them, filling Mamacita with water and sinking her.


"We are too close to the rocks," he replied in obvious alarm.


His father, deep in thought, grunted again and barked at Jesus.


"Give me that big adjustable wrench. I will bypass the starter."


"Let me get you the gloves. You might get shocked," Jesus said, while handing the wrench over.


"There is no time for that mijo," his father responded. "We need to get out of here. We will be on the rocks in seconds."


So saying, his father positioned one end of the wrench on the positive lead of the battery, and the other on some exposed wiring that effectively bypassed the starter. The engine instantly responded with a roar, bringing relieved grins to the faces of both the fishermen. Jesus scrambled forward again to bring the anchor aboard hand-over-hand, while his father manipulated the throttle to keep them in deeper water as he brought it up. They had survived the ordeal.


In an hours' time, father and son were deploying their nets on their way south.


"Maybe we will get lucky today," his father said to no one in particular.


Jesus said nothing in response. He was afraid that maybe they had already been granted all the luck they would get in one lifetime.