By Gene Kira, July 22 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Only a few hours after my recent East Cape Hot Boat Story column was posted on the internet, a cryptic message appeared on my website message board:
"Hey, mi hijo! Your column about the sailboat in front of RBV is garbled--nasty email follows. Jimmy."
Oh oh... The message was signed "Jimmy Smith," and I knew it could only be from the legendary Jimmy Smith--James Pledger Smith to be exact--who is not only Baja's greatest folk historian and story teller, but who knows more about East Cape history than any other person I can think of.
If Jimmy had caught me with my editorial pants down--as it were--I figured I was caught pretty good. I learned long ago never to argue the details of "old Baja stories" with Don Jimmy. After all, he was personally involved in many of the good ones."
Now, as it turns out, Jimmy actually was a participant in the Hot Boat Story, in the most "visceral" way imaginable.
My original version of this East Cape legend was about a grossly overweight American who died while crossing the Sea of Cortez in a sailboat that he had won in a poker game in Guaymas. By the time the boat ran aground near East Cape's present-day resort of Rancho Leonero, his body had decomposed inside the sweltering boat cabin to the point that it literally fell to pieces when attempts were made to remove it.
The man's erstwhile "crew," a sixteen-year-old boy from Guaymas, jumped ship, and the abandoned boat was claimed by both Col. Gene Walters of Rancho Buena Vista and Gil Powell, builder of the original Rancho Leonero. The partially liquefied body--contained in five-gallon buckets--was supposedly buried "on a hilltop somewhere between Rancho Leonero and Rancho Buena Vista," and the boat mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again.
Since Jimmy Smith is the last person living who actually participated in this story, the following may be the most authoritative version of events that will ever be published:
According to Jimmy, it happened in the summer of 1964, or thereabouts, and the boat was a 30-footer named the Ila, out of Acapulco, not Guaymas.
The American poker game winner was not on the boat. He hired two Mexican brothers--a fat one and a skinny one--to sail the boat to San Diego. But the skinny brother quit en route and disembarked at Mazatlan. There, the fat brother hired the 16-year-old boy, and they set sail for Baja. But halfway across the Cortez, the wind died, and they were under motor power when the fat brother was overcome by fumes and "expired while sitting on the john."
Eventually, the boat went aground at East Cape's Rancho Leonero fishing resort after running out of fuel and drifting for several days, and from this point, I'll let Jimmy tell it in his own words:
"I was working up at Bahia de Palmas (now Palmas de Cortez) Hotel, and Gil came over to tell us of the problem. We notified the Ministero Publico in Santiago and he came down with the cops. As you stated, the cabin was pretty ripe, and the cops decided to rope the cadaver and haul it down the passageway in the bunk area and up the ladder to the aft deck. They left bits and pieces along the way.
"The Ministero at that time was a most accommodating type named Mauricio Palaez. Mauricio told [Gil Powell] that the boat belonged to him since it was on his beach.
"I brought our only big cruiser, the Feliz over, and towed the Ila off the beach, and we anchored the smelly thing in front of Leonero. Unfortunately, the wind came up during the night and the Ila slipped her anchor and drifted over to Rancho Buena Vista where it was intercepted by one of Gene Walter's boat crews."
(HOT BOAT STORY PART 1, PART 3)
(Related East Cape articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main East Cape information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the East Cape area in "Mexico Fishing News.")