Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Wreck of the Windward
The wreck of the Windward in Yelapa, 1958.
Skip's friend, Dick, took these photos in 1964. We're wondering what happened to the mast that ended up in front of Hotel Lagunita? Was the hotel there in those days?
57 years ago, the night of Feb.28, 1958, a sailing tragedy of great proportions occurred in Yelapa. The beautiful, all varnished, M class sloop WINDWARD was anchored just off the beach. After setting an elapsed time record in the 1958 Acapulco Race, WINDWARD's owner, Don Chilcott, and delivery crew, including famed seaman Bob Dickson, were sailing her back to Southern California and had stopped at Yelapa to visit the waterfalls.
WINDWARD was 82 feet on deck, 55 feet of waterline, 14 feet in beam, and 24 tons of outside ballast. WINDWARD's hollow spruce mast rose 102 feet. She had been built in 1929, #14 hull of the M Class Universal Rule. Her races against sisterships PATOLITA and PURSUIT were stuff of legend. WINDWARD was probably the prettiest and one of the fastest boats ever to sail on the West Coast.
That afternoon in '58 WINDWARD's crew went ashore in Yelapa for fresh fish dinner. WINDWARD's stern was only 150' off the beach. But she was well anchored with a 125 pound Fisherman anchor and 100 feet of 1/2" chain. While dining ashore, the crew did not notice an increasing ground swell. At 2200 hours it was Dickson who first spotted WINDWARD broadside to the beach, her anchor chain broken at a link 20 feet from the bow.
The crew stripped off their clothes and hurriedly swam to the boat. The engine was started, and the 22 inch, two blade, feathering prop churned a frothy wake. The spreader lights were switched on, and just as the crew thought they had escaped catastrophe, the engine died and wouldn't restart. That afternoon the fuel filters had been changed, and the engine has not been test run.
Helpless, WINDWARD slowly took the beach, bow first. She bumped first aft, the deepest part of her keel, and then slowly laid over to 45 degrees on her port side as surf broke over the hull. WINDWARD had broken her anchor chain at Yelapa and gone ashore in the pitch dark. Things seemed to happen in slow motion. A bonfire was built in the sand to light the scene. Attempts were made to row an anchor out to kedge free. But attempts were futile given the surf and difficulty in communicating.
The next morning WINDWARD was mostly emptied to lighten ship. More attempts were made to pull her free. Locals were recruited to hang from halyards to help leverage the varnished hull to a bow out position. At one point they had what seemed half the population of Yelapa hanging from the halyards that overhung the beach. As WINDWARD would rise and fall in the surf, the locals would be lifted off their feet "like goosed marionettes."
It was a difficult situation compounded by nearly impossible communications with the insurance company back in the U.S.A. The nearest town, Puerto Vallarta, was really just a village with a couple of streets, a gas station and hotel, but no telephone. The nearest telephone was in Tepic, 70 miles away. There was a local freighter, the SINALOA, that could have possibly pulled WINDWARD free. But SINALOA's captain was drunk, and could provide no firm cost or plan. Lastly, WINDWARD's salvagers were running out of anchors and rope. In 1958, most anchor line was manila, and the 1.5" diameter rope was breaking like string under the strain.
On the fourth day, March 4, 1958, a final attempt was made to free WINDWARD. Four long bow lines were led seaward to anchors and to the stern of the big. black schooner SEADRIFT. At high tide they began to pull, winching like maniacs with SEA DRIFT's powerful engine running wide open. WINDWARD rose to the swell and her bow began to move.. Then with resounding crack, SEADRIFT's 5/8" anchor chain parted. Too much strain came onto the other lines, and they too broke. It was the end. Over the next few days and weeks, WINDWARD came apart. Her mast was cut down, an ultimately reerected as a flagpole on the Yelapa beach. Only her lead keel remained buried in the sand, the end of a beautiful ship.
On a recent visit to Yelapa in 2014 we went in search of finding any remnants of WINDWARD. Hopefully, we criss-crossed the beach, and asked at the beach bars and hotels. Nobody we found, all born after 1958, had heard of WINDWARD and what happened that night. Nor could we find any boat parts that might have come from WINDWARD. She has been recycled into history, 82 feet of splendor.
I recently came upon this 1964 picture (35 mm slide) of the top part of WINDWARD's mast stepped against a cement wall in Yelapa. Does anyone recognize the location of the mast against the wall? The second photo of the three boats at anchor was also taken in 1964, near Casa Santa Cruz. From left to right the boats are the K-50 RASCAL, the Cal-32 AMORITA, and the big 73 foot KIALOA II. They were all returning from the '64 Acapulco Race and stopped in Yelapa Bay to visit the waterfall. Notice there is no path along the rocks out towards El Jardin and Karina's. And the third photo is of WINDWARD on the beach, before she broke up becoming Yelapa's most famous shipwreck...............