He quit his corporate job and moved to Mexico to pursue his dream of sailing solo across the ocean.
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 is two different things and that was more of a challenge,” Shaddock told The Associated Press after stepping onto land 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 aware and the only preparation that you can really do is take the boat out to sea and test the boat at sea,” Shaddock said. He would take short journeys, noting what was working on the boat and what wasn’t, but was conscious that, in late April, hurricane season was coming.
“It was either now or I could not really wait one more year,” he said.
“There’s one moment where you’re going and it’s most likely that you will not stop,” Shaddock said. “And I remember that day very well, because once you hit the Pacific, the wind and the current is behind you, it’s one way, you cannot come back.”
He sailed out of the Sea of Cortez and into the Pacific under a full moon. He thinks it was early May, though the dates are vague in his memory.
“It was very good sailing on that full moon,” he recalled. “The boat was moving fast. It was a clear night. The winds were strong. I was amazed how the boat moved and it felt so good to sail under that moon and perfect direction. It was so easy to make the decision. I wanted to keep sailing.”
When he arrived in Mexico at the beginning of the pandemic in June 2020, he initially lived in San Miguel de Allende, a charming colonial town in central Mexico popular with foreign tourists.
There, he met Bella, a black and brown stray dog, who became his constant companion for the next three years, despite occasional efforts to find her a suitable home on land.
Shaddock and Bella were a few weeks into their journey when a storm changed everything in an instant.
“The current changes direction. So if you’re drifting you’re suddenly drifting in a circle. And the wind, it’s changing all the time,” Shaddock described. “The waves are moving in many directions and it’s hypnotizing, you sort of suddenly feel like you’re in a whirlpool.”
He lost his sail, all of his electronics, including navigational equipment, and his ability to cook food.
Days became a battle against fatigue: fixing things on the boat, fishing, capturing rainwater. He was overwhelmed by the fear that the next day he might be too exhausted, too weak.
Shaddock found comfort in meditation, swimming in the ocean and writing in a journal.
Keeping Bella fed and content gave him added purpose. The two subsisted on raw fish and rainwater.
Shaddock thought he probably would die at sea until he heard a helicopter on July 12. Its pilot, Andrés Zamorano, was the first person Shaddock had seen in months and has since become a friend. 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 a moral obligation Shaddock felt to keep Bella alive helped them both survive.
Aboard the María Delia, Shaddock and Bella were showered with attention and first aid. Crew members spoiled Bella and treated the blisters on her paws.
“He would come up to the bridge every day whenever he wanted and we would drink coffee, talk,” the boat’s captain, Oscar Meza, said.
Two days after the rescue, the boat found a huge school of tuna, allowing it to fill its hold and turn for 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 onto land Tuesday for the first time in months was both incredibly welcome and a bit uncomfortable for someone who had grown quite accustomed to being alone.
Everyone asked about Bella and then felt deflated when told Shaddock had decided to give her to an animal lover on the crew of the María Delia.
“The Australian embassy really made that decision for me,” Shaddock said later, noting that his country has very strict quarantine laws.
For now, Shaddock plans to return soon to Australia to see his parents, sister and his daughter. He still loves the sea, but said he was not sure how soon he would again go out of sight of land. There was still an air of uncertainty in his voice.
“My daughter she might come here, get me and bring me home,” he said. “Maybe. She wants to come.”
By María Verza, The Associated Press