Poppa Neutrino (aka David Perlman) is now in New Orleans.
His Pacific adventure raft, the Island Rooster,
is at anchor in the bay of Puertecitos, about 50 miles
south of San Felipe, Baja. A few days ago his first mate
Joel packed and left Mexico when he heard Poppa Neutrino
did not intend to return. A short time ago, an urgent
request came by email from New Orleans, addressed to Catalina
and Ed Meders of the San Felipe Title Company bookstore.
It asked that Poppa's two suitcases be retrieved from
the raft. It also said everything else was expendable.
Ed 'Che' Meders, Mike Halpren and myself made
the trip to Puertecitos in Ed's air conditioned Subaru.
Mike had never seen the Island Rooster. For him
it was a slice of Baja trivia too irresistible to resist.
Ed and I went to retrieve our advertising signs, which
were screwed to the sides of the raft for the sole purpose
of spreading the fame of the bookstore and Blueroadrunner.com
to the ill-informed denizens of Baja's west coast, and
eventually China. An added agenda were the two suitcases.
Like most Baja trips, this one made its hat-tip to the
science of logistics. We brought along a screw driver.
The fact the raft might be floating in the middle of the
bay was the furthest thing from our minds.
The road to Puertecitos is quite Zen-like. It is a wonderful
example of the yin and yang of local road construction.
Now a road - now there isn't. The yin and yang become
a little gray in the areas where there is neither, only
a very bad complexion of scarred and reticulated asphalt
that forces the car into a series of circus bumper car
maneuvers to avoid the especially deep hazards. But where
the road top disappears completely, it's a comparative
is not what you might call a boom town. In fact it resembles
nothing so much as a ghost town. It offers two abandoned
Pemex gas stations, one of which was pre-emptively abandoned
by never having been manned in the first place. There's
a Berlin wall that effectively separates the Mexican quarters
from the gringo residents. And empty homes stretch in
every direction. There's almost zero construction activity,
maybe because of an air of poverty and neglect that pervades
the town like the dusty patina on a street bum's shoes.
The vulture population has sensed this moribund quality
and positioned themselves with opportunistic vigilance
on top of power poles and electric lines. Judging from
what is happening in San Felipe these days, it will not
be long before they will have to surrender their posts
to real estate agents.
We exchanged a few words with a Checkpoint Charlie guard
and were permitted to pass from East Berlin into West.
Ed parked the Subaru beside the palapa restaurant. That
was when we saw the raft. None of us were engineers, but
we instinctively knew we couldn't reach it with a screwdriver.
Mike suggested the water was shallow enough for someone
to walk out to the vessel. He didn't mention any names.
I had never seen the bay completely devoid of water so
I had my doubts. Ed just stood there waiting for a better
"Too bad I didn't think to bring my bathing suit,"
"It's not very far," returned Ed with a wonderfully
uninflected tone, a voice that left the decision-making
completely up to the one with the idea.
Oh hell, I thought. It's 90 degrees and
there's a bit of a breeze. How long would it take for
my clothes to dry anyway?
I kicked off my sandals, removed my socks and waded into
the water, careful to shuffle my feet as a warning against
any manta rays that were peacefully sleeping under the
sand a footfall ahead. Then I eased into the tepid water
and began a steady Australian crawl (why that
name? all the Australrian crawling I've ever seen was
in bars) toward the raft. Well, it was either further
out than I thought or my arms had gotten shorter while
I slept the night before. I had to change to the breast
stroke (why that name?) and the back stroke,
then back to the crawl before the raft finally let me
There was a small aluminum dingy alongside, partially
filled with water. I climbed onto the raft. A nice shiny
Johnson outboard was chained, screwed and then tethered
to the rear of the Rooster (isn't that an image?).
I snapped in the kill-switch grommet, gave a couple of
squeezes on the gas line's rubber bulb, set the choke,
put the motor in neutral then yanked the pull cord. Surprisingly,
the engine came to life. My thought was to power the raft
to shore and plunder it at our leisure. But first I had
to swing about and bring her directly over the anchor
The Island Rooster has no tiller. The rudder
is controlled by two lines that swag on either side of
the cockpit to the cabin. The idea is to pull on the respective
line to turn her to port or starboard. But even with the
rudder hard over and the Johnson echoing the sentiment,
it became apparent the bay was too small to accommodate
the Rooster's ability to come about. So I killed the engine.
My next idea was to transfer the Johnson to the dingy
and motor back to shore to pick up the others. But that
required some bailing beforehand. And the only thing I
could find for this job was a scoop-shaped plastic bottle
with its cap missing.
When the dingy was nearly empty, I stepped back onto
the Rooster to deal with the outboard motor. First there
was the braided nylon mesh strap that passed through a
hole in the stem of the Johnson. I found a piece of split
pipe under some gear and proceeded to beat the strap with
the edge of it, using a two by four as backing. It took
a great deal of pounding but the strap finally relented,
especially after I slipped the fluke of a small anchor
under it and pried. Next came the chain, which was padlocked
to the transom. I remembered that the frames of most of
these motors were made with a kind of pot metal, good
shear strength but pretty cheap and brittle in any other
direction. I rummaged among the things strewn on deck
and found what looked like a peeve hook on a handle. I
slipped this into the link nearest the motor and swung
the handle up. A small piece of the motor frame popped
off and the chain fell to the deck. Finally I loosened
the motor clamps and rocked the engine back and forth.
The screws pulled out of the damp plywood without a sound.
The Johnson was free of its fetters.
It was a heavy motor. Easily a hundred pounds. Wrestling
it into the dingy was not a pretty sight. I probably looked
like Helen Keller at a pinata party. But it was finally
onboard and I scrambled to join it. Now the trick was
to lift it into the water, slide it down the dingy transom
and give it a bit of a twist as the clamp collar aligned
with the upper transom. Hopefully the thing would just
fall into place.
The collar slid right on by the lip of the stern and
tried to make a beeline to the center of the planet, using
the middle of the bay as a starting point. In a panic
I planted my foot on the transom, reached to the back
of the motor lid for the hand grip and heaved with all
my might. The lid flipped off the Johnson and fell into
the water like a cockroach sewering down a sink. I held
onto the sides of the motor and watched the white lid
fade to green and then vanish into the murky bay.
Now the engine was unbelievably heavy. And the dingy
no longer offered any freeboard. With both our weights
at the stern of the little vessel, we made that aluminum
boat look like a Viagra ad. I grabbed the back of the
motor and heaved. Water poured over the transom in a torrent.
With a tremendous effort the motor was onboard and I was
scrambling to place my weight at the bow. There was now
several hundred pounds of sloshing ballast in the dingy
and one seesawing arm that was doing its best to remove
it with the help of that ridiculous bailing scoop with
the hole in its end. After a quarter hour, most of the
water was out. I found two canoe paddles and shipped them,
along with the gas tank. Then I untied the painter and
cast off, feeling a little silly paddling to shore with
a perfectly good motor as a second passenger.
Ed and Mike dragged the boat onto the beach and helped
empty it. We rolled the dingy to clear it of water then
set it in the shallows and clamped the Johnson to the
motor mount. The engine came to life with the first tug
and we let technology do all the work on the return trip.
On board the Rooster, Ed began unscrewing the
wood gussets that secured the cabin door and I turned
my attention to the advertising signs.
"I'm in," called Ed.
I pulled out the last screw of the largest sign. The
long swath of plywood suddenly twisted out of my grip
and plunged into the brine. I watched as it breached halfway
out of the water like a two dimensional porpoise, then
calmly floated over to Mike's outstretched arm in the
"I was waiting for that to happen," he said.
"But you sure lucked out with the way it
"God, I can't believe this," came Ed's voice
from inside the cabin. "This is frightening."
I heard several items being relocated or overturned. "There's
a dish of rotting dog food in here. There hasn't been
a dog on the raft for a month."
"In case of emergency?" offered Mike with a
"I'm afraid to touch anything," Ed
complained. Then the cabin door disgorged a big plastic
suitcase. I moved around to the stern of the raft and
began unscrewing Ed's sign. I heard another suitcase join
the first one.
We loaded the signs and baggage into the dingy and gingerly
found our places. I yanked the motor to life as Mike cast
off the line. We made the trip back at a cautious two
knots, careful not to swamp the little boat with the water
it was plowing.
Ed fully expected the Johnson to make the trip back to
San Felipe in the back of his Subaru. It was a nice car
and I didn't see the need to leak gas all over its interior.
Besides, the email said the suitcases were the principle
stars of the opera. The motor and dingy were expendable.
So we put the signs and cases in the car. Ed suggested
we eat at the restaurant before we leave. We went inside
as the cook stepped out of the kitchen to greet us. The
affable Mexican proved to be the restaurant's entire work
force. As the waiter, he took our beverage order while
we looked over the menu. He brought over a botana,
fried tortilla chips with hot sauce. Ed
took a great liking to the sauce and when the meals arrived,
good and hot, he smothered his with the sauce.
the cook brought us another round of sodas and beer, we
held him from returning to his grill. Mike and I explained
in passable Spanish that we wanted to give him something.
We took him outside and pointed to the dingy and Johnson
outboard. We told him about the email, told him the owner
was not coming back. We also explained where to find the
motor lid at low tide. He nodded politely but seemed remarkably
unenthused by our wild act of generosity.
"He thinks it's a joke," said Mike.
I explained it wasn't a joke and after the fourth time
of reassuring him that it was free for the taking, we
paid our tab and boarded the Subaru. As I turned to glance
at the raft, I saw the cook looking with new eyes at the
dingy and motor. It was now obvious we were preparing
to leave. Without the Johnson and dingy. So maybe....
As an antidote against the heavy grayness of Puertecitos,
we stopped by a place with some color -Kreuger's zany
property, a few miles out of town. Along with the condition
of the road, it helped put the bounce back into us.