Although we hadn’t yet stepped foot outside of the all-inclusive resort where we were vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, my husband and I finally ventured out on our fifth night for a sunset sail. Captain Carlos and crew, Ruben and Cristian, collected our shoes in an oversized laundry bag as we boarded the catamaran along with 16 other passengers excited to “awaken our senses to the stunning sights and sounds of a Banderas Bay sunset on a tranquil 3-hour cruise” as the write-up on TripAdvisor had promised. I especially felt comforted by the fact that the website had used the phrase “3-hour cruise” instead of a “3-hour tour.”
Once we were settled into our chosen spots and properly oriented to the bathroom protocols and life vest locations, the crew busied themselves with drink orders. My husband and I, leaning into the tropical vibe, requested a rum punch and a mai tai respectively while others opted for the more traditional margarita and cerveza (beer). Yacht rock classics (the first song on the playlist was “Sailing” by Christopher Cross, I’m not even joking) enhanced the idyllic ambiance without seeming at all ironic.
A consummate observer of people (it’s an occupational hazard), I took note of the other passengers with which we would be spending the next few hours. There was the older married couple (maybe early-60s) from Houston sitting across from us making conversation with the captain. There was the young local couple, the only native Spanish speakers aside from the crew, enjoying a romantic date night out on the water. From the way they were canoodling and making eyes at each other, I guessed they were still early in their relationship and definitely not yet married. There was a family of three from Alabama: a couple in their 50s and their 20-something-year-old son who seemed ambivalent about vacationing with his parents. There was a group of five from Los Angeles comprised of, from what I could piece together, a mother celebrating a milestone birthday with her two adult children and their partners, all of whom were clearly out to have a good time. Lastly, there was a group of four friends on a girls’ trip well-dressed for the occasion in cute and fashionable sailing-appropriate attire. They had asked me to take a picture of them before we embarked so I knew from their accents that they were American, but I didn’t engage long enough to discover more details (I’m a consummate observer, but a selective communicator).
As the boat pulled out of the Bahia de Banderas and into the Oceano Pacifico, the crew refilled drinks and delivered make-shift charcuterie boards for us to munch on. While taking in the beautiful views, our 8-year-old son was playing in his Little League division championship game back home so we were receiving updates from my mom with the play-by-play from Virginia. Once we got word that they had won the big game (with help from his, excuse the #mombrag, 2 doubles and 3 RBIs!), we high-fived before putting the phones away to enjoy being in the present and the remaining 90 minutes of our sunset cruise.
There was no drizzle or sprinkle to warn us. It didn’t start to rain gradually and then increasingly build to a steady stream. The skies just suddenly opened up and the clouds emptied.
While the crew focused on whatever it is that they are trained to do to ready the boat for inclement weather (note: I was expecting the captain to yell, “batten down the hatches!” like they do in the movies, but, disappointingly, he just silently nodded to the crew), the passengers immediately split into two groups: those who made a beeline for the few covered spaces in the back of the boat and those who didn’t.
It was just by sheer luck that my husband and I had initially sat down under the covered area so we smiled at our good fortune and scooted over on the bench to make room for others who were fleeing the deluge. (Before I go any further, I would like to add here that “covered” is really a generous adjective to describe the three-foot blue tarp that hung over our section of the boat and didn’t provide any actual protection from the elements.) Anyway, the young Mexican couple rushed over to our section while holding hands and giggling, as did one of the guys from L.A. and the woman from Alabama (although they were neither holding hands nor giggling). One of the girls’ trip girls hobbled over and approached the older man who was sitting directly across from us with his wife. Even though no words were exchanged, she made it clear from her body language that she was going to need to make this her new seat. He promptly got the telepathically transmitted message and relocated to another spot. While the waves swelled and the boat swayed, she stayed frozen in a hunched-over position with one hand on the center handrail and the other hand on the side handrail. Those of us in her immediate vicinity - to her left, right, and directly across the very narrow aisle - made eye contact with each other, smiled weakly, and silently prayed to whatever deities we believed in that nothing came up other than her sense of equilibrium.
Ruben handed out bright yellow rain ponchos and about half of us took one, recognizing it more as a polite gesture than an actual resource to protect us from the ongoing downpour that was coming at us from all directions. Cristian pumped up the music and made the rounds refilling cervezas as quickly as possible to the people out on the deck. He offered fresh drinks to us, too, but no one in the covered section seemed to be jumping at the chance for a mai tai or a margarita at the moment.
I looked around at those of us huddled together under the flimsy awning. We were drenched under our insufficient yellow ponchos with our heads down, eyes fixed, faces tight, and mouths clenched. We were outwardly miserable and inwardly resentful that we had paid money for this disaster of a sunset sail, or maybe I should just speak for myself. After all, I had been promised an opportunity to “absorb the impossibly romantic atmosphere of this enchanting excursion” and ended up feeling like a wet rat on Noah’s ark (although I’m pretty sure at least that boat would have been enclosed). My husband turned to me and must have seen the look in my eyes. He put his hand on my knee and frowned. “Sorry about this, babe. I checked the weather and it looked like it was only a slight chance of rain.” I heard the disappointment and regret in his voice.
Meanwhile, I noticed that the folks who stayed on the deck seemed to be having a totally different experience. They were dancing and laughing while belting out one yacht rock tune after another. The passengers who had boarded the boat from separate groups had magically melded into one big collection of soaking wet party-goers. This was an adventure! How fun to be caught in the rain, on a boat, on vacation! No worries, no responsibilities, no shortage of cerveza!
It didn’t take a professional observer to assess which group was having more fun.
About 30 minutes later, the rain stopped just as quickly as it started. The woman from Alabama and the guy from L.A. rejoined their loved ones on the deck as the captain pointed the boat back in the direction of the bay. One of the girls’ trip girls came to check on her friend who waved her off with, “I’m fine,” without looking up or moving from her static perch. My husband and I peeled off our ponchos and took stock of the damage. We were soaked to the bone but had made it through the storm. We, and more importantly, our phones, were going to be OK.
Not all of us made it through unscathed, however. The girls’ trip girl miraculously staved off seasickness by staying fully committed to her statue pose while the woman from Alabama puked up her charcuterie and then some. Cristian rushed to the back of the boat to fill a container with ocean water to clear the deck while I helpfully called out to him, “We’re going to need a bigger bucket!” As Cristian returned to refill the small bin for the third time, I followed it with a classic line from a fun party game, “everyone, lift up your legs!” which helped to ease the inevitable awkwardness that is created in a group when you’re trapped on a small vessel in the middle of the ocean and a stranger barfs just a few feet away from you.
Shortly after they got the deck and the Alabama woman cleaned up, the boat came to a stop. After so much movement and activity, the pause was palpable. All 18 of us (well, except for the girls’ trip girl who diligently held her pose until we got to dry land) looked up to watch the bright orange fireball in the sky turn hot pink and fade behind the mountains. We got our sunset. I think it was even more beautiful, or at least we appreciated it more, because of the storm.
We docked a few minutes later and universally understood that we would let the woman from Alabama and her family off first. She flashed us a sheepish, yet grateful grin as she walked by and proclaimed, “I promise it was much better going down than it was coming up!” We congratulated girls’ trip girl for her impressive feat as she slowly sat up and smiled in pure relief. We let the older couple off ahead of us and then my husband and I were next in the queue to disembark. We claimed our shoes before thanking the crew for such a, ahem, memorable experience and set off to find a taxi driver that wouldn’t mind giving two soaking wet Americans a ride back to their hotel after a tranquil 3-hour sunset cruise.
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