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Little Boat, Big Adventure

You Really Don't Need a Big Boat to Live Large

February 27, 2013
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Sears Gamefisher Boat

Sears’ plastic 12-foot Gamefisher took the author to some of his earliest and most memorable boating adventures, including close encounters with sharks, stingrays and young female nudists — all in a single day. Old Sears Catalog

My first boat was a plastic 12-foot Sears Gamefisher powered by a 15 hp Johnson outboard, and to this day – more than 35 years later – I remember experiencing some of the most daring adventures of my life in that little car-topper.

As I look back, one of the most memorable involved a trip to Bahia Concepcion, a 650-mile drive from the U.S. border through Baja California. It was the mid 1970s – a time when much of the Baja peninsula was sparsely populated. In fact, the trans-peninsular highway had just opened, marking the first time a paved road connected the tip of Baja to cities such as Ensenada in the north.

Situated below the sleepy town of Mulege and only four miles wide at its opening to the Sea of Cortez, Bahia Concepcion plunges for 24 miles into the stark desert landscape. The highway parallels its western shore, providing easy access for visitors wishing to camp along the sweeping white-sand beaches and turquoise lagoons nestled between craggy headlands at outposts such as Santispac, Bahia Coyote and El Requeson.

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It was at Coyote that my brother Joe and I decided to camp during our Baja adventure that June. The lightweight boat proved easy to launch for two guys in their early 20s, and we were soon fishing the outlying rocky islands for cabrilla (small groupers), pargo (snapper), sierra (Spanish mackerel) and triggerfish. While trolling on the way back, we also hooked and landed a big black skipjack.

Consider this a prelude. The biggest adventure was to take place later that night. However, we also had interesting encounter in between our fishing trips.

With the boat anchored just off the beach, I decided to clean some fish by the water’s edge. Kneeling with my head down, focusing on the task at hand, I didn’t notice the two young women strolling my direction until I caught a glimpse of their bare feet in the sand beside me. Glancing up at the two shapes backlit by the afternoon sun, I realized that more than their feet were bare. Both were as naked as jaybirds.

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This was a first for me. I quickly averted my eyes downward and continued to clean fish as we exchanged small talk, my contributions a bit halting. Moments later, my brother who was retrieving an ice chest from camp, gingerly approached and greeted our visitors while seemingly admiring a distant cloud.

We established that the girls were Americans, loved the beach and hated clothes.

So what did my brother and I decide to talk about after that, in the presence of two naked girls on a beautiful beach? Fishing, of course. I always felt both us were born to fish, but that encounter pretty much sealed the deal. The nudists soon grew bored with our fish talk, and bid us adieu.

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I’m not really sure if the girls had other expectations, but we were here to fish. So after dinner that night, while watching a full moon rise over the bay, my brother and I decided to venture out on the boat again.

This time we took with us chunks of skipjack, as well as the carcass to chum the calm waters of Bahia Coyote. We cast out baited hooks and were bit almost immediately. The first fish unleashed a blistering run followed by a big jump and then a broken line. The second, third and fourth fish did the same thing, even though we were using four-foot wire leaders. In the dark of night, we couldn’t identify the fish.

In frustration, we lit a Coleman lantern, and in the halo of light, our adversary appeared in spades. Five-foot-long sharks surrounded our tiny boat. Undaunted, Joe said, “Watch this.” He dipped a baited hook in front of one of the toothy cruisers. It inhaled the chunk. Joe set the hook, and the shark streaked for the bottom, but just as quickly reversed course, shot into the air and landed on the starboard gunwale, its writhing head inside the boat, teeth within inches of Joe’s groin.

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He recoiled and gasped, not even noticing that while scrambling to evade castration he had also thrown his rod and reel overboard. I quickly grabbed the rod as the shark slid back into the water. But the fish jumped again on the port side of the boat, this time breaking off and landing several feet from the boat.

“That was close!” I yelled.

“I think I’ve had enough for tonight,” Joe muttered, his face as white as a sheet. We motored in.

Yet Bahia Coyote was to unleash one final surprise. As I eased the skiff into shore, Joe got ready to step off to pull the boat onto the sand. Just as he was about to plant his foot, the shallow water exploded beneath him as massive stingray blew up, turned and bolted away.

“Now I know I’ve had enough for tonight,” Joe said as he turned to me, his eyes as big as quarters. “Me too,” I answered.

Ultimately, I have learned that you really don’t really need to big boat to live large. Sometimes a simple car-topper can carry you to the most memorable adventures of your life.

For more adventures south of the border, check our Trailer Boating in Baja feature.

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