Mayday, we´re out of beer

I won´t be able to upload new content for the next ten days as I´m leaving for an excursion on the Lake Titicaca, so I´ll leave you with a longer story. So don´t read all at once…

Lake Titicaca with the Cordillera Real in the background

There comes a time, when everyone has to admit a weakness. Probably, I could have avoided getting the altitude sickness four times, but I´ve been always a bit stubborn. So after having to give up the idea of reaching the summit for a fourth time, I gave up the idea of mountain climbing at all. At least for mountains reaching more than 5700 m.a.s.l. Unfortunately, most of the Bolivian mountains with less than that qualify for hiking rather than glorious summit conquests. Being confronted with the vision of becoming just another Nordic walker, I was forced to search for a different hobby. There were a few options available (paragliding, downhill etc.), but fate had decided for me already: At a party in La Paz I met a sympathetic guy from Bremen (Germany), who was about to leave the country and was searching for a buyer for his sailing boat. To make a long story short (for the detailed version, look up A month later and about 2000 USD poorer I could call myself a proud owner of a wooden, six meters long sailing boat. Made not by anyone, but by the Catari brothers, who also worked with Jacques Cousteau in 1968.

In Huatajata there is, besides from many restaurants offering trout, a yacht club. Allegedly, the highest-lying in the world. Well, my boat isn´t there. It lies a few hundred meters to the south. Probably, the membership in the club would have cost me more than the boat itself. So I decided to be a pirate in 3800 m.a.s.l., on the border between Bolivia and Peru – in a region known as a smuggling route for natural gas and drugs. The Lake Titicaca itself is 13 times larger than the Bodensee, but my boat lies on the small part of the lake, not much bigger than the Bodensee. And there is one big difference: On the Lake Titicaca you won´t have more than 3-4 boats in sight at a time.

Three times we were the only one on the lake. And the last time, we got even an (unwanted) explanation why.

As always, before leaving we asked the locals about the weather expecting us. The weather was fine, the crew (two Dutch, one Bolivian and a Polish) in a good mood, the wind just perfect and the beer cold.


An hour later, the situation was slightly different: Clouds obscured the sky, the crew was getting worried, the wind was becoming stronger and starting to form big waves and…we were out of beer. Actually, all of it wouldn´t have been that bad if only Murphy’s law wouldn´t have surpassed itself.

It happened before I even got to finish my thought and to articulate the command to reef the sails (I had to show off with some nautical knowledge, before this story comes to its inevitable and for me unfavorable end): A sudden squall hit us and finished off our mast. One of the shrouds got ripped out, which caused damage to the base of the mast. We were forced to lower the sails and to use the outboard motor to head back to the port, sheepishly.

Happily, I was at least intelligent enough to buy the boat with a small, but reliable outboard motor. I pulled the cord with a self-satisfied and cool smile. And I pulled it again. And again. I won´t describe the following 30 minutes in every detail, but the outcome was as follows: I reached a point where I wasn´t any longer able to lift an empty beer can, the engine remained silent (although, in the morning it did work without any problems), the wind had changed and was carrying us off – away from our harbor. Fortunately, we had two engineers aboard. Unfortunately, they knew exactly how to establish a production line for wooden toys, but not how to fix an engine. So instead of the engine, we fixed the mast the best we could and raised the jib – which didn´t bring us any closer to the port, but allowed us to avoid at least the bigger waves. That brought back some of the good mood. Under those circumstances, we had only two options left: Use the wind to head for one of the inhabited islands and rent a motor boat to tow us back to the shore or to contact the Bolivian coast guard. With the first option we would have arrived way too late in Huatajata to go back to La Paz. The second one had a little downside too: There is no coast guard in Bolivia. So I decided to call the Cataris and to explain our two small problems – no main sail, no engine.

Don Ramon Catari acted immediately and rented a small motor boat to have us towed back to Huatajata. One hour later, we continued to be the only boat on the lake. So I called again. Don Ramon explained to me, that the rescue mission started so quickly, that the motor boat owner forgot to check the level of the gasoline in his tank. Additionally, he observed that his boat was way too small for the waves. So he decided to turn around.

fishing boat on its way to one of the islands

With this new information available, I decided to bring us nearer to the islands in the case the waves would become even higher. But Don Ramon managed to find a bigger motor boat and was on his way to save us. One hour later we finally saw a beautiful white boat headed in our direction. Maybe, not reaching the impressive speeds seen in Baywatch, but it was good enough for us as the strong wind damaged even the jib. We managed to repair it, but landing on one of the islands was becoming a real option at this point.

But there it was, 10 meters long, equipped with two powerful outboard engines, built out of fiberglass – and preparing to get alongside with us. And suddenly, we saw the reason why it didn´t head with full speed in our direction. It still had a group of Bolivian and French tourists aboard. There it came, rescue and humiliation in a 2×1 package. I already saw the YouTube hit – “stupid sailor cannot return to harbor”. Fortunately, for once the waves proved to be helpful. Most of the people onboard the motor boat had other problems than filming…

My valiant crew didn’t even hesitate when asked to change boats by a Frenchman. In exchange the daughter of Don Ramon came aboard my sailing boat and managed the most difficult task of securing the towing line. The same Frenchman also asked me to leave my boat, but I declined firmly and a slightly offended – as long as my boat was afloat, I would stay aboard and manage the helm with the last bit of dignity left to me. We reached Huatajata without any additional incidents…


P.S. Well, I tried paragliding, too. To ignore all my basic survival instincts and to run towards the abyss was even easier than I thought – but instead of flying towards the sun, we flew towards the rocks. You may see it here:

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