MANZANILLO, Mexico (AP) — He quit his corporate job and moved to Mexico to pursue his dream of sailing the ocean solo.
Australian Timothy Shaddock, 54, bought his 30-foot catamaran two years ago in the Mexican Pacific resort of Puerto Vallarta. He needed a place to live and he liked the isolation.
“Of course, living on a boat and sailing on a boat are two different things and that was a bigger challenge,” Shaddock told The Associated Press on Wednesday after stepping ashore for the first time in months.
As his training ground, Shaddock chose the Sea of Cortez, a narrow finger of water between the Baja California peninsula and the Mexican mainland.
“I was conscious and the only preparation you can really do is take the boat out to sea and sea test it,” Shaddock said. He took short trips, observing what worked on the ship and what didn’t, but he was aware that hurricane season was approaching at the end of April.
“It was now or I really couldn’t wait another year,” he said.
“There is a point where you go and you most likely won’t stop,” Shaddock said. “And I remember that day very well, because once you get to the Pacific, the wind and the current leave you behind, it’s a road, you can’t go back.”
He sailed from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific under a full moon. She believes it was early May, though the dates are vague in her memory.
“It was very good sailing on that full moon,” he recalled. “The ship was moving fast. It was a clear night. The winds were strong. I was amazed at how the ship moved and it felt so good to sail under that perfect moon and direction. It was so easy to make the decision. I wanted to keep sailing.”
When she arrived in Mexico at the start of the pandemic in June 2020, she was initially living in San Miguel de Allende, a charming colonial city in central Mexico popular with foreign tourists.
There he met Bella, a black and brown mutt, who became his constant companion for the next three years, despite occasional efforts to find her a suitable home on land.
Shaddock and Bella had been away for a few weeks when a storm changed everything in an instant.
“The current changes direction. So if you’re drifting, suddenly you’re drifting in a circle. And the wind changes all the time,” Shaddock described. “The waves move in so many directions and it’s mesmerizing, suddenly you feel like you’re in a whirlpool.”
He lost his candle, some electronics, and his ability to cook. Shaddock said in other interviews that he still had the ability to put out an emergency call, but he hadn’t. It is not clear why.
The days became a battle against exhaustion: fixing things on the boat, fishing, collecting rainwater. He was overwhelmed with fear that tomorrow he might be too exhausted, too weak.
Shaddock found solace in meditation, swimming in the ocean, and writing in a journal.
Keeping Bella fed and content gave her additional purpose. The two subsisted on raw fish and rainwater.
Shaddock thought that he would probably die at sea until he heard a helicopter on July 12. His pilot, Andrés Zamorano, was the first person Shaddock had seen in months and he has become a friend ever since. Zamorano had taken off from the tuna boat María Delia in search of schools of fish.
They were 1,200 miles from the nearest land.
Zamorano believes that the moral obligation Shaddock felt to keep Bella alive helped them both survive.
Aboard the Maria Delia, Shaddock and Bella were showered with attention and first aid. Crew members pampered Bella and treated the blisters on her paws.
“He would come to the bridge every day when he wanted and we would have coffee, we would talk,” said the ship’s captain, Oscar Meza.
Two days after the rescue, the vessel found a large school of tuna, which allowed it to fill its hold and turn towards its home port of Manzanillo.
“The best moment was being with the dolphins when they catch all the tuna,” Shaddock said. “You hear their sounds, you see them move and you feel their magic. That is the magic of freedom and it is the truth of why we are alive.
Stepping ashore on Tuesday for the first time in months was incredibly welcome, and a little uncomfortable for someone who had gotten quite used to being alone.
They all asked about Bella and were then bummed out when told that Shaddock had decided to give her to an animal lover on the Maria Delia crew.
“The Australian embassy really made that decision for me,” Shaddock said later, noting that his country has very strict animal quarantine laws.
For now, Shaddock plans to return to Australia soon to see his parents, sister and daughter. He still loves the sea, but he said he wasn’t sure when he would lose sight of land again. There was still an air of uncertainty in his voice.
“My daughter, she could come here, pick me up and take me home,” he said. “Maybe. She wants to come.
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