Log 2
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Log 2 - Mainland Mexico
(February 15, 2003 - April 6, 2003)

MAZATLÁN
ISLA ISABELA - PUERTO VALLARTA
CHAMELA - TENACATITA
ZIHUATANEJO
ACAPULCO
GULF OF TEHUANTEPEC


MAZATLÁN


February 15, 2003 - February 23, 2003 (Dana)

Within minutes after arriving in Mazatlán, we were downright giddy.   We'd made it through another difficult passage and arrived at what seemed to be heaven.  Add a few shots of tequila at happy hour, and the giddiness turned into outright bravado.  "Big sea!  Small boat!" was boasted in a Tarzan-like voice complete with hand motions and chest pounding.  Somehow coming to a place as warm and beautiful as Mazatlán is so much more rewarding when you have to cross the Sea of Cortez in a small, slow sailboat to get there.   

And the rewards of Mazatlán were many.  As we were pulling in, the weather felt more tropical and the water temperature was almost ten degrees warmer than on the other side of the gulf.  After being welcomed by fellow boaters who helped us into our slip, we bathed in spacious showers that didn't run out of hot water, and cleaned up in time for the Saturday night fiesta happy hour, with two-for-one drinks, free food and big smiles on our faces.  Eventually, we crashed hard as exhaustion set in.  But the next day, we explored Marina El Cid where we were docked and found it to be a large resort with enticing pool areas, fun activities and plenty of shops and services, all for only $25/night.  To my delight, the place was also crawling with iguanas of which I took about 150 photos.  Moreover, El Cid was full of the happy people we found all over Mazatlán.  We did not run across one unhappy person, even when things would happen that might piss you off if you weren't in Mexico.  One man from NY got hit in the head with a volleyball, smiled and said "gotta pay attention!"  A Canadian woman whose beer was spilled all over her by the waiter also smiled and said "now I don't have to drink it, I'll just absorb it!"   It went on like this.  Even out on the streets, we could hear people singing and literally yelling "weeee!" as they'd drive by in the pulmonia taxis all over Mazatlán that are a peppy mix between a golf cart and a VW bug.  Back at the marina, we observed all the laughing, happy people as we floated in the pool, ate freshly grilled hamburgers and drank Cuba libres at the swim-up bar.  Life was good.

Mazatlán was also good for us because we were able to get a lot of work done on the boat (it never ends), and as a result, to meet Claus, when we hired his carpenters.  Claus is a German now living in Mazatlán with his wife Gail, whom he met several years ago in La Paz after she sailed there from San Diego on a Mariner just like ours.  Claus is another one of those interesting guys who can and does do anything.  He was a sailor running boat deliveries for a while; he formed a successful carpentry business in Mazatlán with several employees (not an easy thing to do as a newcomer to Mexico); he operates a horseback riding club and is an avid rider; and now he organizes sport fishing competitions too.  More importantly, he is a fun guy to hang out with and he really took care of us.  He gave us an outboard motor (non-operable), strobe light for our life vest, some rigging, books, a "Mexican flag" fishing lure, and some good advice about fishing and sailing in areas where we're going.  Best of all, he took us off the beaten path to spend the day at the beautiful Rancho Las Moras resort.  We spent our time at the ranch exploring the resort, meeting new people over lunch and margaritas, horseback riding, helping out with some light ranch work, and then relaxing while waiting for the peacocks to fly to the roofs.  Waiting for the peacocks to fly -- something you just wouldn't find yourself doing in most places.  But Claus mentioned that they do this every evening around sunset, so the group (most of whom had never seen a peacock fly) just had to wait and see it for themselves.  We watched the sun slowly set as the peacocks inched their way to the courtyard, then waited, and lo and behold, they began flying (long jumps really) onto the lower roofs, and eventually up to the highest roof.  Everyone was pleased.  The following day, Claus came by the boat and we said goodbye to a new friend with whom we plan to stay in touch.
 

ISLA ISABELA - PUERTO VALLARTA


February 24, 2003 - March 2, 2003 (Chris)

After prepping the boat in the morning and having lunch, we said goodbye to Mazatlán and headed south/southeast for Isla Isabella. Isabela is a 2 square mile volcanic island established as a National Ecological Preserve by the Mexican government in 1980. We weren’t sure what might be left as Hurricane Henna, which hit the region in October of last year, was reported to have done damage to the island. Nonetheless, it was a nice intermediate stop in between Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta and sounded like it was worth visiting.

This was the first leg of our voyage since we left Ensenada that was uneventful – climatically speaking that is. But vacuums usually seek to be filled and as one would have it, the space left open that evening by the calm weather would soon be cluttered with a mix of engine and medical challenges. We had clear skies and light winds requiring us to run the engine that evening. Dana and I hate running the engine and only do so if we are traveling at less than one knot or if we’re trying to get in somewhere during daylight hours. After about 4 hours of running the engine we noticed a slight change in the humming. When I looked below, I noticed that the belt was very loose. I soon found the cause of the problem - the bracket that attaches to the engine block at one end and to the alternator at the other had broken. The alternator is tensioned on the bracket which in turn tightens the engine belt. All in all it is a very minor and unsophisticated part but one that can be a pain in the arse if it breaks – in the middle of the night – when you're out at sea – and there are no winds. I noticed a small crack on the bracket after installing the new alternator in Cabo and promptly had it re-welded after we got to Mazatlán. That was apparently enough to make sure it broke - in two places! I had read in one of the sail rags about fashioning a better bracket with a small turnbuckle – this is apparently stronger and much easier to tension. So that’s what we did. As poor Dana continued to keep the boat from bouncing around too much after having been at the helm for 5 plus hours, I slid from port to starboard and back with a flash light, various turnbuckle parts and the alternator trying to get this thing installed. After 3 hours of work, we finally got it in and whaddya know, it worked like a charm.

Oh yeah, the medical challenge. As it turns out, the horse I was riding back on the ranch in Mazatlán had more than just a little "giddy up and go". He also had fleas which he generously passed on to me. To be more precise, I had scabies according to the self-diagnosis done with some of the medical guides we have. Scabies are caused by tiny mites that burrow themselves under your skin and then are transferred to other areas by scratching. Within hours, I had hundreds of bites all over my torso. This by the way made the engine work even more interesting as in between the slipping and sliding with engine parts, I would have to stop to do the ape scratch dance.

By the next day we were ready for a break. We made Isla Isabella by early afternoon. Shortly before arriving, we had actually landed a 15lb Dorado (this time we actually caught it – i.e., not a gift from better fishermen – see Frailes log) only to discover we didn’t have a big enough fish net or a hook to land it. Dana poured a fifth of Jose Cuero overboard in the hopes that a few drops would reach its gills. We had heard that tequila poured in the gills of fish will quickly kill them. I know it almost killed me to see all that tequila go into the ocean. As we tried to lift the fish into the boat the line broke. Lessons learned: get big fish net, fish hook, and a lot more tequila.

We spent the next 28 hours at Isla Isabella. It is the protected home of the blue and yellow-footed boobies (yes, that is their official name) and the frigates, also known as "man-o-war birds". The boobies look like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon. Dana describes them as looking like little flying penguins. I’m sure there will be plenty of pictures in the gallery so I won’t try to describe them more here. They are fascinating to watch though as they kamikaze dive into the water to catch their prey. The frigates on the other hand are big, black menacing looking birds with long hooked beaks. The have a huge wing span, forked tales and the males sport red throats. They are known to force other sea birds to disgorge their fish (I’ve also been know to do this with people when talking about latrines at the dinner table). Isabella is a nesting home to both these birds as well as to many iguanas. The frigates dominate the low lying areas of the island while the boobies nest near on top. In both cases you can come very close to them without scaring them.

Another one you could come close to without scaring was Bruce. Within minutes of anchoring, Bruce had rowed up to our boat to welcome us and tell us how many anchors he had helped untangle in the last 48 hours (later he would actually swim down to check our anchor!), the best spot in Banderas Bay for $2 t-shirts and 80 cent beers, and at what time he would be relaying weather information. He was sort of like the president of the neighborhood welcoming committee. Bruce was in a small 24-26’ sailboat with a tiny outboard motor. He had sailed up and down Mexico and claimed to be the slowest boat on the Pacific coast. He was also a former U.S. Marine who didn't mind anchoring in rough waters, and in the afternoon we would watch him as he hoisted himself halfway up his mast in a sitting hammock and swung around as the swells passed. He let us know that he “plays Jimmy Buffet until 6 pm and then Mozart after that”. Bruce is just one of those guys you expect to meet out in the middle of nowhere and tends to make nowhere just that much more colorful.


After a couple days at Isla Isabella we headed for Puerto Vallarta. It was an uneventful overnight sail and when we hit Banderas Bay we had steady 15-20kt winds off the quarter pushing us smoothly through the water at 6 knots. As we entered the bay, the “Love Boat” them entered my head as it hit me that Puerto Vallarta was always their port of call. Dana and I tried to remember the words…”The Luuuv Boat soon we'll be making another voyage... the Luuuv Boat promises something for everyone. Set a course for adventure…” and so on. In short, there was a lot of bad singing that morning and we never quite nailed the entire song. By the way, where do washed up actors go?...They take the Love Boat to Fantasy Island.

We pulled into the old harbor and docked at Marina Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta has a lot of colonial influence and is quite picturesque. Dana and I spent more than a couple days walking around in the old part of town and down along the boardwalk. We spent another day doing boat work (there is always boat work to be done!). Then, near the end of our stay we splurged and stayed at the Camino Real hotel at the south end of the bay. It was so nice to be in a bed that’s rectangular and doesn’t have a mast sticking up through the middle. We gorged ourselves on TV and had dinner in the room. I was a little ill that day but it was fun to relax a bit. Last year, Puerto Vallarta was hit by Hurricane Henna. One of the artisan booths had pictures showing areas of town (including the artisan complex in which we were standing) completely flooded and almost the entire boardwalk damaged by the hurricane. Even though it took place only 5 months ago, you couldn’t tell that anything had happened there. The Vallartans did a great job at restoring their town and the enjoyment of our stay was a testament to that fact.
 

CHAMELA - TENACATITA


March 3, 2003 - March 10, 2003 (Dana)

We left Puerto Vallarta on March third, looking forward to exploring Mexico's "Gold Coast" on the way to Acapulco.  There were several stops we wanted to make en route, which was both good and bad.  It was good because for each of the next several legs we would be at sea for no longer than a day.  However, it also meant that we wouldn't be able to keep up with our planned schedule.  If we spent more days along the Gold Coast, then we'd have to take days away from Acapulco and Central America, in order to head out to the islands with enough time to spend there while avoiding hurricane seasons.  But at this point, we'd rather slow down a bit and have more free time.  As a result, we started talking about expanding our trip to about two years, heading to the islands next March or April.  We'd still have to get to Costa Rica by this May, but then we could hunker down there for ten months.  Costa Rica sounds like a perfect place to spend a lot of time, plus it would finally give us a chance to get to all those projects we thought we'd have time for, but haven't.  We'll see.

 Meanwhile, after one day and night at sea, we arrived at Punta Rivas in Bahia Chamela.   We made it to the anchorage just before nightfall, and celebrated our arrival in the usual fashion - with Cuba libres and a leisurely dinner.  The next morning, we woke up to a long beach and the largest group of boats we've run across in any of the smaller ports.  There was a little village on shore that might have been interesting to explore, but we never made it off the boat.  Instead we drank from coconuts and played around the boat - exactly the kind of day I needed.  Later that day, we moved to a more intimate anchorage off Isla Colorado in Chamela Bay.  This was a pretty little spot that fit only one boat, but the winds were too strong to make snorkeling or exploring worthwhile.  So we spent the evening monitoring our anchor hold and left the next morning for Careyes.

Careyes was only ten miles away - our shortest leg yet.  So we were able to arrive in the middle of the day and get a good look at our new surroundings as we pulled in.  Our cruising book said that Careyes is the type of place one dreams about before starting cruising, and it did not disappoint.  Careyes is made up of three coves all facing a small rocky island in the center of a small bay.  The bay's clear waters lap up against white sandy beaches lined with swaying coconut palms, and the coast is lined with vibrantly-colored buildings that pleasingly accent the natural beauty of the coves.  In the north cove there's a former Club Med with enticing foot bridges and well manicured grounds, but no one is allowed past the beach since the resort shut down.  In the middle cove (Playa Rosa) is a pretty little restaurant where we ate lunch and looked out at the boats.  The restaurant used to be owned by a French woman who was a former cruiser, but we were told it was bought out by the owner of the resort located in the south cove, El Careyes resort.  El Careyes resort is amazingly picturesque and made for some good exploring, complete with cozy lounging on its giant outdoor couches.  But when we found out the one-day charge for using the pool (and "other facilities" that could not be identified) was around $60/person, we moved on. 

After asking at least three sets of people for directions (standard for getting around in Mexico), we made it to the next cove south (Careyitos) where we discovered the first eatery not owned by the El Careyes owner.  This meant we didn't have to pay the high resort prices, but we did get to sit in the shade while eating fresh fish, admiring the beach view and watching the fisherman launch their boats from shore.  We also got to spend some time analyzing why there were twin houses on the ends of the crescent-shaped beach, each one up on a cliff with its own turret.  Apparently, the owner of the twin houses is the same guy who owns the El Careyes resort and the restaurant that used to belong to the French woman.  Put that together with the fact that the Club Med was somehow put out of business (and did I mention the turrets?), and let your own mind wander.  After lunch, we made our way through dirt roads, streamside brush and sandy cliff sides to the large beach further south which serves as the only remaining nesting site for the hawksbill sea turtle.  There were no turtles on the beach that day (it's not nesting season), but we enjoyed the beach nonetheless, and I did find one set of turtle tracks that led to a lagoon.  Also, on the way to Careyes and ever since we've seen a lot of turtles swimming at sea.  They have large arched shells and meander along the surface often close to the boat.  Even more entertaining is when they have a bird riding on top of them.  I guess we're not the only ones who get hitchhikers.

During our second trip to the Careyitos palapa restaurant, some other gringo cruisers found their way to it, and as we were leaving they invited us to a pot luck happy hour on their boat, s/v "Pleiades Lady".  We showed up almost an hour late because as we were heading out from our boat we decided to set a stern anchor, since we were moving around too much for comfort with rocks surrounding us on both sides.  By the time we made it over, however, the happy hour was still going strong with Scott and Mary, seven others and a poodle who quickly learned that I was the sucker who would pet it for two hours straight.  We had a good time getting to know more cruisers, and Mary filled me in on some more SSB cruiser nets that we could listen to on our shortwave radio.  As it turns out, all the nets we've listened to use Don (the amateur forecaster we were already familiar with from the Blue Water net) for weather reports, and many of the same boats report in on multiple nets - usually Blue Water, Amigo net, and Southbound net.  So by this time, when we pull into a port we are familiar with at least a few other boats there, including their names, where they're headed, which other cruisers they buddy with, what's broken down on their boats, and whether they continue sailing if their speed drops below 4 knots.  It's kind of like TV for cruisers.

Two days after arriving in Careyes, we departed on another short trip south, this time to Tenacatita (a fun word to say - go ahead, try it).   On our way there, we managed to get our first fish into the boat, other than the one that jumped in on its own the night we left Ensenada.  This turned out to be a pretty traumatic experience.  Before I explain, let me first give you some background.  When I was a kid I used to love to go fishing, catch them and throw them back in.  Then one day it hit me that catching them just for fun was a cruel thing, so I ditched the hook and started feeding them instead.  All I really wanted was to get a look at them, so feeding them was a win-win.  Now, we are fishing for food, which seems more reasonable, particularly when you consider that we only catch a fish if it tried to "kill" the lure at the end of our line.  The problem is that fishing seems to provide an inhumanely long and tortuous death to the fish, from being hooked, to being dragged through the water by their lip, to being pulled out of the water and slowly dying by suffocation or an inefficient beating.  That is why I was excited to hear that pouring alcohol into their gills could provide a more expedient and humane death.  However, this didn't work too well with "Jumpy", the 15-pound dorado we almost got in the boat.  (There was another fish that got within reach but ended up breaking off with our lure - his name was "Skippy").  As Chris explained earlier, I poured several shots worth of tequila down Jumpy's mouth (I couldn't get to his gills) before we even got him on board.  It worked, and he died a fairly quick death, however he broke off our line while we were trying to get him in the boat and so his death was in vain.  I felt horrible.  So naturally, I decided that in the future I wouldn't be serving cocktails until the fish was on board.  Enter "Icky".  We landed Icky by using a milk crate as a fish net, which wasn't easy but it worked.  I poured about 1/3 a bottle of tequila onto poor Icky, but I don't think much made it into his gills, since he wasn't staying at the right angle for me.  Long story short, Icky wasn't dying and I was starting to panic.  Chris decided to move on to plan B:  cutting the head off.  The problem here was that his machete was not sharp enough and Icky was moving around quite a bit.  Nonetheless, I steered the boat while looking the other way (and bawling at this point), while Chris eventually removed it's head.

Once the fish is dead, my trauma ends, and I have no problem gutting, cooking, etc.  However, I kept thinking of the unfortunate way in which both Jumpy and Icky were killed, and remained disturbed by it for some time.  Regardless, we now had our first dead fish on board and it was time to feast.  While Chris gutted him, I referred to our fish book to determine what it was we'd caught.  With distinctly golden yellow fins, he looked a lot like a yellowtail, but he had a rounder body like the closely-related jack.  Some jacks are labeled as "good" or "excellent" eating, so this wasn't a bad thing.  Unfortunately, as Chris noted that its flesh was as dark as beef, I concluded that Icky was a crevalle jack (common jack), which was labeled as only "fair" eating.  But a little rule I came up with is "you catch it, you eat it" (kind of like "you break it, you buy it").  So provided it wasn't toxic, we were digging in.  After we pulled into Tenacatita, I cut Icky into cubes and sautéed him in light sauce loaded with fresh garlic and seasonings, to disguise the flavor of his obviously less than tasty dark meat.  It worked well enough that we ate the whole thing, but not well enough that he avoided being named Icky.

Enough about fish - onto Tenacatita. Tenacatita is another small beach town, but with its own special attraction:  the jungle river tour.  Rio Las Iguanas is a narrow mangrove-lined river running about three miles, that is too shallow for larger boats to pass through but can be toured in a dinghy.  I am proud (I think) to say that we were the only ones to row the length of the river and back, since we don't yet have a motor for our dinghy.  Though that might have something to do with why we're shopping for a motor as I write this, the silence of rowing did make the jungle river tour that much more serene and pleasant.  Later that day, however, Chris decided he was ready for an alternative to oar power, so we rigged up all the parts we had already purchased to sail our sabot, little "Ker-Les".  Her maiden sailing voyage was under strong winds that Chris thoroughly enjoyed.  The enjoyment turned to frustration later when the winds died and we only had one oar, which we'd brought "just in case".  Even though the winds were calm, the currents were not, and it took a long time and a lot of work to travel the short distance back to the boat.  Hence, a third item was added to the dinghy pre-departure checklist we'd been compiling:  (1) don't forget to put the plug in before lowering the dinghy into the water;  (2) don't forget to bring our wallets;  and now (3) make sure to bring both oars.

ZIHUATANEJO


March 11, 2003 - March 19, 2003 (Chris)

Well we said good-bye to Tenacatita and the some of the last bands of northbound cruisers. These domino-playing, bocce-ball throwing gypsies make Mexico their cruising grounds. Many had left San Diego in November (this year or years ago) and by March must beat their way back up the coast of Baja California to the U.S. and/or Canada, or tuck themselves up into the Sea of Cortez. Because they are working against prevailing currents and winds, much of the forecasting on the single-side band nets is geared towards helping these folks find small windows of relatively light northerlies or, if lucky, westerly/southwesterlies that will assist them in nudging their way back to safety.

Those who are not northbound are called the southbounders. Dana and I belong to this group. Southbounders are fewer and farther between. In fact, since Puerto Vallarta, the vast majority of boats we saw were heading north. Southbounders are those unsettled souls that hear a calling beckoning them beyond the coast of Mexico. For them, there are only two choices – south to Central America or use southern Mexico as a staging place for a trans-pacific voyage to the South Pacific propelled by the northeast trade winds. Once the South Pacific bound cruisers leave Mexico they are no longer known as southbounders but are now affectionately called puddle-jumpers. Dana and I will ultimately become puddle-jumpers but by way of the southeast trades caught from latitudes closer to the equator.

What’s the hurry you ask? Why are people so anxious to get out of middle-Mexico? Well as bartenders often remark to lingering customers at closing time – “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here”. The motivation comes from the upcoming hurricane season that begins mid-May and runs through November. Anyone caught in an exposed area might truly transcend cultures by learning what it is like to become a Mexican piñata. Dana and I intend to avoid that fate by reaching 10 degrees latitude (or Costa Rica) by mid-May. This latitude is the magical line drawn in the water south of which hurricanes dare not go.

The first stop on our journey as official southbounders was the legendary city of Zihuatanejo. We arrived 2 days and some 225 miles after departing Tenacatita. The trip was pretty uneventful. We did catch another fish (our second) and found ourselves more adept at using the milk crate as a net and liquor as an early death inducer. To our dismay, we discovered that our fish was a frigate mackerel – i.e., another bad tasting fish. We named it Yucky and ate it anyway. We have now caught Icky and Yucky and hope that the next milk crate we haul out of the Pacific will bring us Tasty.

Zihuatanejo – the name is derived from the Aztecan conquerors that called it Chihuatlan, from Chihuatl (Women) and Tlan (Place of). The Place of Women apparently was not meant as a subtle advertisement to young Aztecan but rather it referred to Goddess Women or those who died in childbirth. Don’t ask me why – I’m just passing along the information we get out of our travel guide. Later the Spaniards arrived, added "nejo" to indicate the smallness of the bay (it’s about 1.5 miles long and a mile wide). Dana and I really liked Zihuatanejo. It was easy to get around, tourist-oriented without being touristy and all around had a nice relaxed atmosphere. Some of the local highlights were: La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) – a bar/restaurant on the bay with portraits of fat mermaids hung throughout; Rick's Bar – a total cruisers hang-out where you can take showers and do your laundry there for a small fee and Rick himself gives out weather reports on VHF Ch. 22 in the morning; and the Basketball Court – which is, well, a basketball court in the middle of town, but on Sundays it’s converted into a cultural center with traditional dancers and singers. Among other dances, we watched a troupe from Juarez perform La Bruja (The Witch) where the performers dance around with candles balanced on their head.

One of the real highlights for us was meeting Cathie, Eric, Wesley and Tiffany. Eric and Wesley were childhood friends and along with Cathie, went to the same school in Southern California. Cathie and Eric have two young daughters and Wes and Tiffany have one. The four had come down to Ixtapa (about 5 miles from Zihuatanejo) for a vacation while their parents took care of their children, and they made a point of visiting Zihuatanejo thanks in part to its role in The Shawshank Redemption. We met the four of them our first night in Zihua while having 2-for-1 drinks at a beach café fronting the bay where we had our boat anchored. As we nervously debated whether or not our boat had moved (it hadn’t), the two couples sat down at the table next to us. After a few beers I astutely noted that the gents were drinking Bohemia beer rather than Corona, the donkey piss beer that Mexico has most effectively marketed to Gringolandia. As a sign of admiration for their individuality and good taste (and also because I was a little drunk) I had the waiter bring them another round. A conversation ensued, followed by the joining of our tables and more rounds of drinks, and culminating with Wes and Eric taking an invigorating evening swim in the ocean followed by Wesley's rendition of La Bamba sung with bravado accompanied by the band. (Wes had expressly stated that he did not apologize for anything he would do after the first round of tequila shots, and Chris had accepted his non-apology, but actually his singing was quite good. -Dana)  Cathie hand fed the band members margaritas and I would shout out "eso!" whenever they would play a song I recognized. Later, the six of us moved on to another bar where we danced in the street and pretended to be matadors whisking cabs by with our invisible capes.

Our new friends graciously invited us over to their resort in Ixtapa the following day (which began sometime in the afternoon) after we had told them that we hadn’t had a real shower in two weeks. For some reason, the hotels we visited wouldn’t rent us a room for just a few hours so we could bathe – even the more seedier looking places wouldn’t do this! This was all before we found out that Rick's Bar would let you use their showers for $1. After an afternoon at their hotel of lying by the pool and playing water volleyball, Dana and I had a thorough bathing then the six of us watched a beautiful sunset from the hotel room. That evening, we all headed back to Zihua for dinner at the Fat Mermaid and then later back to the boat for drinks. The night before, I had invited everyone to our boat completely forgetting that our dinghy barely fits two persons. Fortunately, we were able to get someone to take us all over and later I got my exercise rowing them back to shore. Wes was an extremely good sport given that he is highly prone to seasickness. In spite of the fact that his face turned various shades of green, he managed to stick with it for about an hour or two contemplatively searching the horizon for relief, and seemed pleased to comment to the others: "dude, we're on a friggin' boat in Zihuatanejo!". We bid adieu to them later that evening and were thankful for their friendship and company.

On March 17th we discovered Rick's Bar, the cruisers hangout mentioned earlier. We had margaritas and hamburgers awaiting the President’s long awaited speech on Iraq. The music stopped and the TV was turned up to hear the President’s pronouncement of war on Iraq. It was an eerie feeling as I recalled 13 years ago standing in front of a TV in another Latin American country as the first war on Iraq began – thirteen years and we find ourselves in the same violent game with the same players. A new musician took the stage as the implications of the Presidents announcement sunk in. A massive assault was to soon take place that would bring with it what war always brings – death from two camps intentionally trying to kill one another. This thought resonated with irony around the musician’s opening number, "Peaceful Easy "Feeling".

After another few days in Zihua, we were anxious to head south to Acapulco. On the morning of the 18th, we filled up our fuel tank and started heading south. Prior to getting out of the bay, Dana smelled fuel in the engine room. Sure enough, the gasket on the fuel pump had blown. We quickly turned around and re-anchored in another part of the bay (Playa Las Ropas). It would take us another two days and 5 attempts to get a gasket to stick. To add to the fun, the bay was extremely rolly from winds and currents coming from different directions. We learned some new ways of anchoring to reduce the roll however as well as refining our gasket setting techniques. Our adventure continues…
 

ACAPULCO


March 20, 2003 - March 30, 2003 (Dana)

Zihua was perfect – the scenery, the people we met, our first taste of truly hot weather, and the casual ease with which one could get to know the place, all enamored us to the town. But as much as we loved Zihua, the south continued to beckon to us, and we were eager to explore other countries. The only problem was that for at least a few weeks, we’d have to do it cameraless. My camera died without warning a few days before leaving Zihua, perhaps because of a screw that I found had come loose inside which could have caused damage, perhaps from heat exhaustion. Whatever the cause, my efforts to revive it were to no avail, so I ordered a new one over the Internet and am waiting to receive it in El Salvador.

Without my camera, I was unable to capture the scenery we passed on our way into Acapulco, but there was a lot to see. We sailed through a narrow passage between the mainland and Isla Roqueta, both of which were lined with pretty beaches that were a flurry of activity. There was a regatta taking place, and as we entered the bay we could see the racing sailboats returning to the bay and crowds of beachgoers cheering them in. Once we rounded Isla Roqueta we passed the regatta scene and entered the huge adult playground that is Acapulco Bay. I felt like we were in an episode of Miami Vice as power boats zoomed all around us with bikini-clad girls sunning on deck, jet skiers and parasailers flying by, and music blasting from every direction. The active bay was also surrounded by large buildings, and it was clear we were back in a big city. As we made our way to the marina, I thought “this is gonna be fun”. Alas, this first impression of Acapulco was to be my best, and it turned out not to be one of our favorite ports.

For starters, thanks to the regatta the marinas were too full for us to get a slip, and we had to squat at a commercial fishing boat’s mooring for a few days. While this saved us some money, we knew that we could get kicked off at any time. Also, the busy harbor was a bit in-our-face out there, as the boats would power by within a few feet of the moorings. Almost all of these boats were part of the machismo boating culture we discovered, where every captain taking out his boat better have a couple of women in bikinis laying out on deck, and doing nothing else except sitting up on occasion to receive drinks, or risk looking completely uncool. The macho boaters powering by weren’t the only ones interrupting our privacy. Soon after putting on my sheer swimsuit cover-up (without a swimsuit underneath – it was really hot and I was sanding railings) local fisherman decided that the fishing around our boat was particularly good. When they weren’t going away, I put some more clothes on and they moved on to a better fishing spot. Clearly, this wasn’t going to be the kind of place where we could get the benefits of more intimate anchorages, which would be okay if there were typical big city benefits of which to take advantage. But another drawback to Acapulco was that for a big town it was quite difficult to find things we needed, like boat parts and camera supplies, that were not ridiculously overpriced. At first, we couldn’t even find a place to walk to for a meal other than Susie’s taco stand, where they spill enchilada sauce on the counter and wipe it back into the pot. (Not that that scared us – we ended up eating there almost every day.)  I figure a big city like Acapulco is just more difficult to get to know quickly than a friendly little town like Zihua.

Nonetheless, we eventually got to know Acapulco a little better, and found good places for things like marine supplies, movies, Internet and meals. We also scored a slip at Club de Yates, which made everything a bit more pleasant. Club de Yates has very nice facilities, including a pretty pool area, good bar and restaurant, and luxurious shower facilities with steam rooms. As we checked in, there was a large picture of San Diego Bay behind the manager’s desk (a gift from San Diego Yacht Club) which made us feel even more at home. The slip at Club de Yates made a convenient spot from which to take advantage of this last decent place to get some boat projects completed. Thanks to Chris’ fluency in Spanish and his valiant networking efforts, we managed our greatest accomplishment in Acapulco: obtaining the outboard motor for our dinghy that would later be affectionately referred to as “puro huezo”, thanks to locals who made fun of it in Huatulco. Puro Huezo started life as the outboard motor given to us by Claus in Mazatlán, which we almost ditched at sea thinking it was too far gone. Instead, we gave it to a mechanic Chris found in Acapulco, and somehow that mechanic found another like it from which to take parts needed to get ours working. This is not to say ours became like new in any way. To the contrary, the fuel tank doesn’t fit well so it’s held on by a zip tie, another part is held on by epoxy, the front panel is half broken off, and there’s no outer shell to cover the whole mess. But it’s small and lightweight (so it doesn’t weigh down little Ker-Les) it’s blue (so it matches), it runs (usually), and it’s our baby. Besides, the guy with the nicer motor would not let us take it for a test run. So now we are the proud parents of our ugly little Puro Huezo, with big smiles on our faces as we zip to and from the dinghy dock.

Speaking of which… often as we’d pass through the water at night we’d see the most amazing thing. The water would glow in a bright neon aqua hue all around our dinghy and other boats as they moved through the water. Different than the sparkling glow we’d seen in other waters, it was really like a neon light wherever the water was disturbed. You could dip your hand into the black water and come up with a handful of the neon aqua glow, and as drops fell back into the ocean the glow would splash in a neon burst that made you feel like you were in a painting or an animated film. It was a captivating reminder that there is something magical about the sea.

After acquiring Puro Huezo and finishing all our boat work, we finally squeezed in a pure half day of tourism, that culminated in watching the cliff divers dramatically plunge into the surging ocean from far, far above in the darkness of night, lit only by surrounding torches, spotlights and the flashes of hundreds of tourist cameras. Okay, so it was pretty well lit. But it still was amazing. I hoped each diver would come to his senses and turn away instead of going through with the jump, but they all dove in and survived to collect tips from the well-entertained crowd. We departed the next night, headed for a potentially dramatic passage across the Gulf of Tehuantepec and into the next phase of our voyage: Central America!
 

GULF OF TEHUANTEPEC

March 31, 2003 - April 5, 2003 (Chris)

As I write this week’s log, we are closing in on the Mexican/Guatemalan border in route to El Salvador. We left Acapulco Sunday evening heading towards the northern edge of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Since our departure from Ensenada we have read about Tehuantepec, listened to weather reports on the net about it, and queried individuals that have passed through it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this area, as we were before this trip, it is the southernmost section of Mexico on the Pacific Coast. It stretches over 225 nautical miles from its western edge, flanked by the port of Huatulco, and its eastern edge flanked by the port of Madero. What makes Tehuantepec unique, and precarious, is its frequent and often uncompromising strong northerly winds. This wind pattern exists due to a combination of factors. For one, this is the narrowest stretch of Mexico between the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico and is relatively flat. This combined with the heat of the land and high pressure systems that regularly pass through the Gulf of Mexico result in strong winds on the Gulf of Mexico side that get shoved straight down into Tehuantepec after picking up speed across the land. It has been reported that winds exceed gale force more than 30 percent of the year. Two days prior to our passage winds were storm force at 65 miles an hour. Our timing and strategy for crossing had to be well planned out given it would take us 4-5 days to make our way down and through Tehuantepec from Acapulco.

We have now been crossing Tehuantepec for two days and have experienced winds no greater than 10 knots out of the south and flat seas. Here’s how we made sure it would be a smooth passage. From the moment we arrived in Acapulco we began analyzing weather maps looking for high pressure systems centered over the southern United States. We noted that there was a high moving slowly eastward across Arizona and Texas. With its clockwise rotation, winds were being forced southward on the eastern edge of the system into the Gulf of Mexico and on through into Tehuantepec. This analysis was confirmed by Don, the amateur forecaster we listen to every evening on the Blue Water Net. According to Don, this system would continue to build strong winds and waves in Tehuantepec over the weekend and through Wednesday. With that information we timed our departure to arrive at the eastern edge of Tehuantepec by Wednesday evening. At that point we would decide whether it was safe to cross or wait it out for another day or so in Huatulco. As we neared Huatulco, our reports from the weather faxes and the net continued to indicate that the system was dying. Regardless, we decided to stay the evening in Huatulco just to play it safe. Prior to entering the bay, we experienced some unusual currents that were moving us as much as 10 knots even when our speedometer was showing 4 knots or less!

The next morning we checked with the Port Captain’s office and picked up some fuel and ice. Because we called the Captains Office on VHF (to check on the weather) they asked us to come in to "check our papers". We have learned that this is just a euphemism for "help us generate revenue" which is just a euphemism for "pay us $30". This is where I discovered …the darker side of Dana. At the first suggestion of checking in with the Port Captain’s office, she shrugged and suggested we just leave. Since I didn’t relish being chased down by the Mexican Navy as we were so close to leaving Mexico, I convinced her that we should check in and that it was likely to be just procedural. When we found out, however, that we had to pay the entrance and exit fee (each $15 USD), Dana was not pleased. She tried to convince me to skip town without paying the fee even though they now officially had record of our arrival which I signed with my name and information. I felt as though the ghost of Pancho Villa had just invaded the body of my sweet Dana. Suddenly, visions of her with a big sombrero and bandoleros strapped across her chest flashed through my mind. She would say “Fee?! We don’t need no stinking fee! Come. We ride. Arriba, Arriba!" We would move across the land from pueblo to pueblo ripping our "Wanted, Dead or Alive" posters off the wall, getting liquored up at the local cantina and then taking what we needed before moving on. They would call her Comandante Dana, the meanest outlaw that ever lived in Mexico, and I would be Sancho Panza, her cowering side kick. The thought of it both scared and emboldened me. I stood firm – “we’re paying the fee and that’s it”. The rest of the morning I stayed nervously alert, watching for any shifty moves of the Comandante as I did not want to end my voyage face down in the sands of Huatulco with a belly full of lead.

The ghost of Pancho Villa exited her body by the time we reboarded Ker-Mor. We have had smooth sailing the past few days and are nearing the end of our Mexican adventure soon to begin our Central American adventure. With the exception of the brief incarnation of a Mexican bandit, my companion has been nothing but a delight to be with. She is everything and more. This trip and my life now without her would truly be a lonesome prospect.

April 4, 2003 - April 6, 2003 (Dana)

My Cristobal may love me despite discovering my inner bandita, but I can’t help but say a few words in her defense. I am generally happy to pay port fees (especially in smaller ports that need the income), but in Huatulco I was frustrated because they were making us pay and go through all the paperwork when we stopped for only a few hours to get weather information. Most boaters stopping for less than 24 hours pass through without obtaining entradas and salidas, as we would have done had we not called in and announced our arrival to the port captain. To boot, the only reason we did so was to get information about the weather conditions in Tehuantepec, which he did not even end up providing. So I felt a bit taken advantage of when he decided to make us go through the whole entrada/salida process. Nonetheless, we shuffled the paperwork, paid the fees, and my frustration subsided as soon as I got some lunch in my belly. And overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our short time in the surprisingly pretty town. Its small harbor full of crystal blue water surrounded by colorful buildings really had me jonesing for a decent camera (since mine died, I still only had a disposable one), and beyond the harbor area we found the town to be very clean and well manicured.  It wasn't at all what we'd expected - the name "Huatulco" makes me think of a town with dirt streets and scruffy men wearing cowboy hats and spurs swaggering into smoky bars, but that was not the case. 

Even better than the scenery was the fact that the water was finally so warm (90°F) that we could jump in with no discomfort. It was heavenly! And the water has stayed that way ever since. En route across the Gulf of Tehuantepec, we often dipped our canvas bucket (that Chris made) into the ocean and poured the ocean water all over ourselves to cool off. I’ve never known water to look so beautiful and feel so luxurious – I just wanted to dive in and bask in it. But so far, Chris is not comfortable with the idea of either of us swimming while at sea, because of the basic rule of ocean safety: keep people in the boat and keep water out the boat. It makes sense, but I think eventually we’ll give in and find a safe enough way to break the first part of the rule.

The warm, clear water was only one of the things that contributed to an enjoyable passage across Tehuantepec. Another was that we really found a perfect weather window for making the passage. We left a day or two after storm force winds subsided, and it turns out that we completed the passage about one day before gales returned. We sailed through sunny days with light winds and calm, warm nights, during which we usually slept outside just to keep cool. We had to motor some of the time, but spent more time sailing with Björk steering for us. We also have become pretty good at the whole fishing thing. So good, in fact, that within 24 hours we hooked three swordfish – two marlin and one sailfish, to be precise, just like the ones you see mounted on walls in seafood restaurants. Though the initial excitement of seeing a marlin soar out of the ocean at the end of your fishing line is exhilarating, it’s quickly followed by “oh sh--, I don’t want to bring that thing on board”, and then we cut the line (if it doesn’t break first). We really only want smaller fish that will feed us for a meal or two, since anything bigger (and the effort required to land it) would be wasted without refrigeration. So we’re taking the bigger lures out of our fishing repertoire and sticking to nice little lures that attract small tuna instead of marlin. By the way, I still don’t enjoy catching fish, but we have become more proficient with the scoop and intoxicate process. We keep mescal tequila handy in the fishing bag, and we even have a fishing net now so we won’t have to use the milk crate anymore.

As if the good weather and improved fishing weren’t enough, we also discovered that once we began getting close to Central America, there were a lot of good radio stations that we could tune in, making the night watches a lot more tolerable. I was surprised, however, to find that these radio stations were playing mostly 80´s tunes from the U.S. And not just the classic hits either – random songs that we’d heard back in high school days and never thought we’d hear again – songs like “Life is Life” (you’d know it if you heard it), Six Months in a Leaky Boat, Eternal Flame (the Bangles), REO Speedwagon hits, and even 70´s tunes by the Bee Gees and Abba. Chris says they’re mostly the same songs they’ve been playing in Central America for the past 15 years, but somehow they don’t get tired of them. In any case, when you take the random 80´s songs, throw in some 70's tunes and a few modern songs here and there, then mix in some of the better Latin American songs, it makes for some good entertainment to keep you alert during the night. Yes… good radio stations, less painful fishing, beautiful weather, warm water, and two happy, healthy crewmates in love. All things considered, life at sea is very good as we say goodbye to Mexico.


 

 

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