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.