Walking up to our beached dinghy just after dark I quickly noticed something was missing — our outboard engine. “SON OF A BITCH, someone stole our engine and gas tank!!” I yelled to Jill and our buddy Robbie who were a bit behind me.

Standing around the rubber boat — our family’s main mode of transportation — we were in shock, as we’d only been gone for 90 minutes. Rain fell and the wind seemed to provide a stiff slap in the face while we decided what to do next. With the boys back on the J/120 SUR playing with their friends, the most logical step was to report it to the police.

Back through the muddy streets we trudged and found a lone police officer in his office. Rather than an official form, which wouldn’t have made much difference anyway, he folded a blank piece of paper in half and handed us a barely serviceable pen to write a description of the engine and our phone numbers. “I’ll look for it,” he said, and away we went through the muck to row slowly and solemnly home in the rain and wind.

We hung around Turtle Bay for the next few days in hopes that the engine would turn up. But that was a waste of time. Not surprisingly, it was never found, which is a hard pill to swallow. I bought that outboard for $700 in Alaska and it was truly priceless. Not only was it the engine to our “family minivan”, but it was incredibly reliable and fun to watch the boys learn how to use. Unfortunately, buying an equivalent to it will cost much more. In the meantime, though, we’ll get stronger rowing to and from shore with four people, gear, groceries, and jerry jugs of diesel and water.

In general, my attitude towards the safety of our dinghy and engine in Turtle Bay was brought on through the word-of-mouth grapevine of other cruisers. As a community, we are our own best source of information and I’d previously heard numerous statements about how, “Turtle Bay is totally safe.” “I’ve never locked up my dinghy or engine in all the seasons I’ve cruised Mexico.” “I wouldn’t have thought that could happen here.” And so on. What I hadn’t heard yet was that another cruising boat had their outboard stolen in Turtle Bay 10 days prior. 

From the locals themselves it was a mixed bag. Jill and the boys from Yahtzee and SUR made flyers and posted them around town, talked to townspeople and checked in with the police. The overarching sentiment was shock and disappointment, especially from older residents. But we also got laughed at, and a couple days after the theft I returned to our engineless dinghy to see rocks being thrown at it. That’s not the hospitality we’ve experienced previously in Mexico and nothing remotely close since.

Even though I thought our family and personal property would be respected in Turtle Bay, I was completely wrong, and the bottom line is that stuff is never guaranteed safe no matter where you are. In San Francisco a park ranger told us to beach our dinghy in a certain place so it wouldn’t disappear. In San Diego I’d heard numerous stories of outboards and dinghies going missing. Like it or not, it’s the world we live in.

Overall, whether it’s in Mexico, the US or anywhere, having something stolen from you creates a feeling of violation that is hard to shake. It’s an experience that I hope other cruisers and travelers can learn from — I certainly have.

I’m also fully capable of admitting that it’s my fault for being naive and for not locking the engine to the dinghy. I get that. But who’s to say the lock wouldn’t have been cut or that the dinghy itself wouldn’t have been picked up and put in the back of a truck, never to be seen again.

If and when we sail this stretch of coast in the future, I would definitely choose to stop in places besides Turtle Bay. And I’m not saying that due to our engine being stolen there, either. Even though the bay left an exceptionally sour taste in our mouths, we moved on and savored the sweet flavors of Mexico a little farther down the coast in the villages of Bahia Asuncion and Punta Abreojos. Equally good anchorages in northerly winds, they are much cleaner, more user-friendly, less rundown and have the Baja beach vibe that we expected, which Turtle Bay certainly lacks. 

Overall, the experience is just a passing squall along the voyage of life. We live and we learn. We’ll figure out a way to get and pay for a new outboard that we’ll lock up, and our crew will keep enjoying and sharing what makes sailing Mexico so wonderful.

Turtle Bay

24 Replies to “THEFT in Turtle Bay”

  1. Hi Andy,
    Welcome to Mexico !!
    When you get you new out board motor, paint the motor housing a bright orange.
    That way it is easy to spot and must be re-painted to hide. Bolt cutters are everywhere in Mexico. I am surprised they didn’t take your dingy too. Never leave a dingy unattended. I have traveled Mexico for 30 years. In 1999 I stopped traveling to Mexico.
    All the best,

  2. Well written, we keep a boat down in the East Cape. And have had our issues. The Pueblo’s so small that ours was easier to solve.
    Mostly meth driven

    1. Thanks, Steve. The police and some locals said theft in Turtle Bay has been on the rise and that it’s mostly driven by drugs.

    1. Yeah, I saw his post when that happened. Things like this have happened to us in the Eastern Caribbean too, just need be more aware after being in Alaska and the PNW for so long. Honestly, Turtle Bay seems to have had the life sucked out it and is not a place I’d choose to visit again.

  3. We came down with the Baja group and there was a dingy and outboard stolen out of San Carlos this year. Sorry to hear about your experiance. There are some recources for used engines in La Paz if that helps.

  4. As the Poobah of the Ha-Ha, I’ve been to Turtle Bay with over 3,000 boats over the years. In all that time, I can remember only two sailboards having to be bought back, one dinghy stolen, and one guy thinking his wallet had been stolen only to have found he’d hidden it onboard in a shoes. Having a dinghy stolen is a terrible thing, I know, having lost them at Palm Island and Cartagena, where no dinghy tied up behind a boat lasted for more than 10 minutes. If you want to believe the life has been sucked out of Turtle Bay, that’s your business. But I know of literally thousands of people in just the last few years who love Turtle Bay and who have had a blast there. Of course, things are a little different when you’re not in a group pouring thousands of dollars into the village. By the way, anyone who told you that you don’t have to lock a dinghy in Mexico, or anywhere else, is totally ignorant. Lifting it out of the water at night is all but mandatory, and even that hasn’t worked off Stone Island.. Remember, you’re now in a land where $250 a week is a good salary, so an untended anything of value is a huge temptation. Heck, if you leave an iPhone sitting on a table it a streetfront restaurant in Paris, it will be stolen in front of your face. One has to be careful everywhere.

    1. Thanks for your comment. My overarching sentiment is that, like you said, one has to be careful everywhere. I should have at least locked the engine to the dinghy. Our experience in Turtle Bay was what it was. Fortunately, it didn’t dampen our spirits and we’re loving cruising in Mexico. Cheers!

    2. Grand Poobah: while I agree with your comments, I was sad that both us and another boat had their dinghys (and engines) left in the Turtle Bay Surfline all through the baseball game during Ha-Ha (after paying the boat boys)…meaning the dinghys were filled with water and sand and engines full of salt. Now we’re spending more money to get engines running again. Fairly minor annoyance, but a bummer all the same

  5. Andy and Jill,

    I’m so sorry to hear of this violation to your family, and glad to hear you aren’t allowing the bitter aftertaste to taint everything else…

    Its been over 25 years since I last sailed in Mexico, and can still smell the wonderful local cuisine and remember all the friendly locals. During my tenure there, theft was very rare, but still happened. At that time, there were usually ‘dock kids’ that would keep an eye on things for a few pesos. I reinforced it with a promised bonus upon my return, but also cabled my hard bottomed dink through a hole in the bottom of the hull… [I kept the 4″ Beckson cover in my pocket when leaving the dink on land…]

    We have also fallen out of the habbit of locking the outboard. If one does, to keep a determined thief from cutting a notch out of the transom, it needs to be covered with a SS plate to thwart errant saw blades….

    These days, should we ever depart our current cruising grounds, I might consider hiding a SPOT Satellite Tracking devices on devices we depend upon- especially in areas where a cell signal might alert us when it first leaves the geofence boundary…


    I know you are already well aware of all these tactics, and it is ashame we have to protect ourselves from the few nefarious ones who likely also think because we live on boats, that we can easily absorb such losses…

    Best wishes with a resolution, and please do chow down some carne asada tacos for me… [with your cervesa of choice of course!]

    Hi to the boyz…

    PS: Downwind Marine in San Diego used to organize a Cruiser delivery service where cruisers departing SD voluntered to bring cargo to other cruisers already in Mexico… [in case that is a consideration, and still viable…]

    1. As always, wise beyond your years, Bill. After we hooked up with you and Donna in Appleton Cove and dropped that Seafoam in the tank, the engine ran even more like a dream! Great to hear from you and thanks for the tips, tricks and tactics. Hope you’re doing well.

  6. Andy, we met u at the Hydrovane party in San Diego. We were in Turtle Bay with the Ha-Ha and both us and a friend (Kyrie) had our dinghys left in the surf line by the boat boys and swamped. Turtle Bay was also dirty and not kept up. We’ve got a 6 horse 2-stroke extra engine if you catch up and need an outboard.
    Chad on Tulum

    1. Thanks, Chad. Good to hear from you. Bummer about your dinghy experience at Turtle Bay. We’re hoping to get a replacement outboard relatively soon, but I appreciate the offer on the 6-horse. Hope we cross wakes again soon.

  7. Very sorry to hear about the outboard, we heard of this just before arriving at Turtle Bay. I must say I found the whole experience of the visit was marred by the aggressive behaviour of a certain local who was threatening us sailors if we tried to buy diesel from the Pemex instead of from him.
    That with the thefts we heard of, means we won’t visit that bay again. As is mentioned, Fuel and a lovely clean town are available just a few miles further south in Asuncion.

    1. Thanks, Paul. Sorry to hear you and others didn’t have a great experience there either. Unfortunately, I’m finding a common theme. Nearly every cruiser I’ve talked to since leaving Turtle Bay has had a similar story and assessment — skip it.

  8. We sailed down the U.S. coast from Vancouver, Canada, to the Baja (and beyond) in 2006, and were very careful of our dinghy at all times. We learned from very experienced world cruisers when we reached San Francisco that it was a good idea to paint the engine. So I painted it bright yellow–making it far less desirable and more noticeable. No problems through the two-year voyage into the Sea of Cortez, across to Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta and south to Bahia Tenacatita, back way north in the Sea of Cortez, and finally across the Pacific to Hawaii, through the Hawaiian Islands an back to Vancouver. So, a big key is painting the engine a bright colour!

      1. Glad my comment was of some use. Seriously, nobody is going to steal a bright yellow engine! We were careful with our dinghy, which BTW is a Port-A-Bote so less desirable looking than an inflatable, but very sturdy and good for going through surf. Plus much easier to row if you want or need to row. Hope you and your family have a wonderful time out there! Check out our website, if you are interested in what we did, with great pics and stories, at http://www.lightwave99.com.

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