We ended up bringing the boat back to the dreaded El Coco anchorage anyway the next day. Because Jeff needed to get his stamp still from the Immigration lady and we needed groceries and gasoline for the boat, we figured we may as well deposit Jeff and his baggage at the El Coco bus station and get all our business done in one trip. Jeff double and triple bagged all of his belongings inside his duffel bag and I sat in the front of the dinghy with them held high during the landing. We had good timing, plus it was early in the morning when the swells are not as rough, and we only got a little water in the boat.
We arrived at the Immigration office around 9am or so and the lady seemed truly surprised to see us. I told her hello and that we brought the father this time. She smiled and was actually extremely friendly. She stamped Jeff’s passport with yesterday’s date and sent us on our way saying, “I’m pleased to serve you!” We kept telling Jeff, “She wasn’t like this yesterday, really. She was SURLY!”
We ate some breakfast, saw Jeff off on the bus to Liberia, did a lot of walking back and forth trying to figure out our plan of action (groceries, gas, ice, both? Laundry?), and finally headed off to the grocery store. The El Coco grocery store is really well stocked and has a lot of imported products, probably due to the large expat community (or gringo time-share owners). The prices are a bit on the high side—we were told by a local boat guy that groceries in Liberia are cheaper—but we didn’t want to deal with a bus ride to buy only a few things and then we proceeded to fill a cart with almost more than we could carry. The wine and booze selection is particularly elaborate although by this point we were trying to limit our load and there is a French bakery right in the store—a good one too, in my starved-for-baked-goods opinion. The first day we visited I agonized over the quiche loraine or the raisin bun (those flat spirally things with the raisins and custard) and went with the raisin. This day the choice was between the quiche and a ham and cheese croissant, so we got both. The croissant didn’t survive more than ten feet out the door of the store; it was so good—buttery and the cheese was Gruyere or something (i.e., fancy cheese). Since it contained easily seven thousand calories, we wrapped the quiche up in the now oil-soaked paper baggy for later.
We lugged all our stuff back to the dinghy on the beach and regarded the surf conditions: bad. Ugly and bad. And noisy. The tide was maybe two hours before low tide and there were about thirty surfers a hundred meters down the way by the reef bobbing in the waves. We had prudently brought a plastic bin to put stuff we didn’t want splashed in and we set about filling it with all the imprudent things we thought we were going to dinghy-surf back to the boat, like paper towels and toilet paper. We put the lid on and placed the bin squarely in the center of the Porta-bote. The remaining bags of groceries we tied up to one of the seats to keep them more or less upright if we did any bouncing around. We decided that ice and beer would have to wait for the second trip (we had to come back for the laundry anyway) and pushed the bote down to the water.
I removed my shorts and put them on the seat to keep them from getting totally salted and we sat and sat waiting for a break in the waves. Finally Joshua decided we had one and started in with “go go go!” while I whimpered “no! wait!” but pushed the boat out anyway because I always say that. Joshua jumped in to start rowing and while I continued pushing the stern out until I was thigh-deep or so. Joshua started shouting “get in! get in!” and rowed madly into the swell; then the swell broke and water poured into the bow. This swell pushed us back toward shore a bit too and I could see a large set of swells coming in. Joshua kept rowing out and we took a second and a third into the boat; me bailing as fast as possible. Now Joshua was trying to turn us around to go back to shore but another swell broke right on us as we were turned broadside, nearly flipping the bote and swamping it completely. We were in the water by now and pulled it as far as we could back onto the beach, which really wasn’t very far because it now weighed a ton with all the water. We were both sandy and drenched and I was still kneeling at the stern bailing like madman as each wave crashed into us, filling the boat again.
This is when we noticed that the transom was cracked, right in half. Either it cracked when we nearly flipped or it cracked as a result of the waves that were coming in bashed into it. Then we noticed that all our bags of groceries were bobbing all over the place and the plastic “splash-resistant” bin was floating on its side in the middle of the bote. We carried all these up the beach a bit and then went back to remove the cracked transom. We didn’t know how we were going to get the bote it up the beach at this point; we couldn’t budge it at all with all the water inside and we couldn’t empty it because every other wave or so that came in filled it with water. One of the surfers came over and asked if he could help. Between the three of us, we were able to lift the bow a little so that water poured out of the floppy part of the stern, then drag it a little further up the beach. Joshua bailed the remainder of the water out while I scooped the sand out with my hands.
We pulled the dinghy up to dry sand and tried to figure out what to do. The groceries were totally drenched and the plastic bin was full of water. Our earlier plan to make two trips—one to ferry groceries to the boat and the other to fetch beer, ice, and laundry—was dismissed as crazy talk and Joshua took off to get our laundry. I set out to dump the water and reorganize the grocery situation and then I realized I still was in my underwear, so I rinsed the sand out of my shorts in the surf and put them back on.
I put the broken bote back together as Joshua returned with a large garbage bag containing our laundry; now we could get our clean laundry drenched too. Excellent. After assessing the grocery damage, we discovered one soaked roll of paper towels and other than a squashed avocado, only a little bit of one roll of toilet paper got wet. Everything else we bought was pretty much impervious to salt water. We moved the remaining paper products to the laundry bag, repacked our poor abused bin, and Joshua started tying up everything with all sorts of fancy sailor knots.
By this time, one of the local guys who seemed to hang out on the beach came over to see what was up and help. He was an older guy with a beard and we distractedly chatted with him about the surf exit. We turned the boat around, pointed it back at the waves and pushed it down a little to watch for a lull. And we watched for a lull for a long time. So long that the guy finally abandoned us and wandered off. We turned the boat around and pulled it back up the beach again. I had to go find someplace to pee or else I’d die and we just weren’t ready to face the waves yet. I went to find a bathroom and get a couple of beers (the last we’d have for a while since our ice and beer plan was totally shot) and left Joshua standing, staring at the ocean.
When I returned, Joshua had waded out into the breakers to see how deep it actually was and declared that they mostly break only at about waist level—so, if we could just push the bote beyond this point, and very very quickly, it should be fine. Two of us in the water could probably do this quickly enough but then getting back into the pitching bote might be too hard to do in a hurry so it was decided that one of us had to jump in earlier and paddle while the other continued to push it out. Once the rower was beyond the breakers, the pusher would swim out and climb up into the boat as well. I was to be the rower and Joshua the pusher/swimmer.
After we finished the beers, we turned the bote around and pulled it down to the water. I really didn’t think that the surf had mellowed out and was not feeling very optimistic. I actually could feel my chest pounding at times, I was so nervous. Since we were only in toe-deep water, we had to pull the bote in farther. Then waited some more, watching as the pangas anchored out beyond the breakers bobbed up and disappeared down in the swell. We pulled the bote farther again—as far as we could before just having to go for it. I kept saying, “No, not now, look at how huge that one coming is!” And Joshua kept saying, “We have to go sometime, we just have to go.”
Finally after two gnarly waves brought in a lot of water and floated the boat high, Joshua started pulling the boat out. We were going now and I started in with the “Oh shit, oh crap, oh shit, oh crap” and began yanking on the bote; at about thigh-high water I vaulted in. Grabbing a paddle (I didn’t have time to set up the oarlocks) I frantically paddled on one side then the other, Joshua pushing from behind. The swells were beginning to get bigger again and I started to swear loudly. “They won’t break—just keep going, and keep it straight.” Joshua was shouting from behind because he couldn’t push me anymore. The boat bobbed up steeply over a swell, which didn’t break or else I would have totally freaked out, and then did it again with another steep one. I popped the oars in the oarlocks and inexpertly rowed like a crazy person out out out until Joshua started shouting at me again, “STOP! Wait for me! You’re OK!” It seems I had totally left him behind and he was swimming, trying to catch up with me in the water. Honestly, I had a hard time stopping and the swell felt insane even though it wasn’t breaking. We didn’t get a drop of water in the bote at all, aside from what dripped off Joshua when he climbed in. I was shaking terribly and needed the row out to the boat to calm myself down.
Once back at the Time Machine, we rinsed the sand off of ourselves, then unpacked, rinsed, and dried all our groceries. At the bottom of the bin, we found the quiche loraine. We had forgotten about it completely and there it was, un-squashed and still wrapped in the oil-soaked bag. The crust was perhaps not exactly flaky anymore but no worse really than any several-hour old quiche that hadn’t been dunked in the ocean. We discovered we were starved and ate it for dinner.
[Assessing the damage.]