Chapter 14: November 8th — December 2nd, 2002 -- Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude: Heading South from Puerto Vallarta to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo
(Above 10ft. fellow, as seen behind our boat at Marina Ixtapa)
November 8th: Follow-up from last chapter and preparations to leave Puerto Vallarta (after 6 months) … finally
When I last wrote, I told you about our delay in departure from Puerto Vallarta due to having a non-functioning refrigerator/freezer and bees up our mast… not to mention the setback work-wise due to Hurricane Kenna. Well the refrigerator repairman finally gave up on “fixing” our system and we ordered a whole new compressor unit from a store in Shelter Island, San Diego. We found a person who (for a fee) would pick the part up and put it on a bus to Guadalajara from Tijuana, and then arrange for it to be picked up at customs and sent to us at the marina. Miraculously, it arrived 2 days ago and was installed today and, knock on wood, will still be working by tomorrow! (Final cost for this repair was over $1,700!) So now I am in the process of re-provisioning (stocking up our refrigerator and freezer of goods) to last us for several months and we are going through our last-minute deployment checklist to get ready to leave here in 2 days.
So with this problem fixed, we thought we were mechanically ready to go… then, this morning, Joe went to tighten a generator fan belt and found out now we have a leak in a generator water pump, but we DID have a spare (finally something we needed, we actually had !!!) and he was able to install it so we are functional again. But of course that means now that he has used the "spare" we need to obtain another "spare" for our inventory. That won't prevent us from leaving here, but is something we will need to replace before heading for the South Pacific, and of course something that is not available from Mexico, so the cycle starts again. There is a definition for "cruising" that goes something like: cruising is the act of doing boat repairs in exotic places! How true it is.
As for the bee problem I wrote about in our last chapter, the bees from our mast are finally gone!!! WE THINK!!! That was after the “flame thrower” smoke-em-out approach to getting rid of them followed by the soapy “poisoning” injected thru holes in the top of the mast, followed by the hurricane (after which they were STILL there), and finally infusing gallons of big guns-kill-anything-that-moves poisoning also at through the holes in the top of the mast. Some day if we ever have to take the mast down we will probably find the 500,000-700,000 (average for a hive) dead bees plus their hive as so far they have not fallen down the mast into our bilges and we never saw the whole massive hive fly away.
The resort we are at (Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta) has been fully cleaned up from the hurricane mess. Amazing how fast the Mexican workers can go if the incentive is right (i.e. lots of money from a rich resort owner!) They had several crews working 24 hours a day and bulldozers on the beach within hours after the storm left... so 2-3 days later, it almost looked as good as new. However other places have not been so lucky and were probably hit harder by the storm. I went into town a couple of days ago for an errand and I walked around for a bit looking at the hotels and surrounding area and was totally amazed at how much damage was done by the storm. They were still (2 weeks later) shoveling mud out of the lobbies and sidewalks; there was broken glass still everywhere and in the street was an area filled with mud soaked mattresses, TV sets, chairs, computers, etc. The little gift shops around the hotels had no more windows or doors and all the merchandise had floated away as the waves and surge crashed through their places. It was really sad. And I'm talking about big 1st class hotel mega-resorts (Inter Continental, Sheraton Grand, etc.)... The paper says they will be closed probably until January with the cleanup, repainting, and restocking of merchandise in their lobbies and lower rooms.
The heat and humidity here has not let up at all, so doing any work outside in the sun continues to be pretty miserable, and now that we have gone off of daylight savings, it seems we have even less daylight hours. I keep thinking this is November and it SHOULD be cooling down some. And of course, now that we are about to head south, where it is closer to the equator and warmer!!! What are we thinking! But we are both mentally READY to get going and to start cruising again — we definitely need (as my favorite philosopher and songwriter, Jimmy Buffet says) a change of latitude for a change of our attitudes and mental well-being!
November 10th: Finally on our way!
Well we finally pulled the plug today and left our dockside home of 6 months and are heading south again. We left without too much fanfare at around 1030AM and it is now around 9:30 PM. I'm on watch, with Joe resting, and I’m having a heck of a time staying awake for some reason (probably exhaustion combined with the rocking of the boat!) so thought I'd jot catch up and jot a line or two. We are doing an overnight passage for our first leg out of there. There is one bad part of the trip (the most dangerous cape on Mexico’s west coast which is at the south mouth entrance of Banderas Bay ... bay where Puerto Vallarta is located ... ) that is "famous" for very high winds and seas, called Cabo Corrientes. We have passed that already (only 25+ knots of wind and 10' seas today) and are now heading on a downwind southern passage with our first stop tomorrow morning in a small bay/village called Chamela. It was supposed to be an approximate 24-hour trip (going our usual average slow speed) so we anticipated an arrival at mid-morning tomorrow. Well we've really been hauling butt and according to our projected log now, we are due to arrive at about 3 AM (8 hours early)!!! And of course our safety precautions would never let us enter a bay for the first time and try to anchor in the dark, so we'll probably have to do big circles for a few hours until sunrise. And we even slowed ourselves down by not putting up the main sail and reefing (making smaller) the forward (jib) sail and using only our tiny mizzen (sail on small mast) sail to steady us. But of course the nice thing is, this is about the longest run we've had so far without the use of the engine and it is great to know Mi Gitana can really sail again!
One thing has broken already since our departure... our wind speedometer and wind direction meter. Of course they both worked during our "pre-flight" departure checks-- but went kahplooie as soon as we left the marina. We can get by without both of them as we watch the flags to get the wind direction and watch the waves and whitecaps to "guess" the amount of wind. But more exact measurements are a big help when deciding what sails to use, how much sail to let out or bring in, and to watch trends. But the gizmo that measures both is all the way at the top of our big mast. We are thinking something might have caused it to short out with all the bees and bee-removal projects... all of which were right where this measurement device and its electronic wires are located. So we will get by w/o until we get to a marina, and then Joe will probably be back up the mast again to check it out. (He went up it 3 times already last week for another project-- NOT His favorite thing to do!!)
Shortly after leaving port, we put out our 2 fishing lines. We have not had much good luck so far. (So far with our $300 Mexican fishing license we’ve got aboard one tuna… and when we went home this summer we renewed it again in hopes of getting a less expensive fish this time around!) But we did not break the “luck” chain this time. We first snagged a giant piece of plastic on our hand line. I hauled it in, unsnagged it and let it go back in the water. Stupid me, as we then snagged it again (same piece) seconds later on the other pole line! Then about an hour later, we “caught” a brown seagull-type bird… silly bird went after my lure! That was sad though as when we reeled it in, the bird could not get loose and was still fighting. We were afraid to pull the scared and fighting bird up onto our boat so ended up cutting the line to get rid of him. By this time we were approaching Cabo Corrientes with the winds and seas increasing and the boat was doing 30-degree rolls (not very conducive for trying to sit over the butt end of the boat in efforts to clean any caught fish) so we decided to pull the lines in.
We supposedly (according to yesterday's satellite) have a clear weather window for the next few days and hopefully all the big storms of the season are gone. Perhaps we will luck out and the weather report will be right this time around! Right now we have a quarter moon glistening on the waves outside w/ plenty of stars decorating the sky. It is a wonderful feeling to be out here again… plus it is a lot cooler and we have, at least for now, escaped the heat!
November 11th-14th: Bahia (Bay) Chamela
The fast winds of our above passage did finally slow down around midnight allowing us to arrive shortly after sunrise on the 11th into a beautiful bay about 100 miles (and one degree of latitude further south) of Puerto Vallarta. There are only 2 other boats in the anchorage with us. The bay has several islands, and ashore is a beautiful sandy beach lined with palm trees with a jungle behind them. There are several palapa-hut restaurants on the shore, panga fishing boats, and a few houses. There is no real village to speak of here, but at least there is a paved road in and out of here… so it is not as isolated as some of the anchorages we’ve pulled into.
Shortly after arrival, we got the dinghy deployed after a 2 hour hassle in the hot sun and no wind this morning (nothing's ever easy for us!!) but then decided to recharge the refrigerator plus our bodies (from our overnight passage) and took a nap until mid afternoon. By then the wind had picked up and we headed to the beach for lunch/dinner at one of the palapa restaurants at about 4. There we had 3 whole red snapper fishes (eyeballs, tails and all) that had been fried crisp (and were delicious!), tomato salad, rice, tortillas, chips and salsa, 2 beers (for Joe) and 2 sodas for me… and the total bill was around $11.
When we went to shore, there was some medium/small surf for our landing, getting us wet enough that we walked around and dined in wet butts. When we left though with the wind picking up, we had a challenge trying to exit the shoreline through the surf in our rubber dinghy. For those of you who don’t think of this as much of a problem, picture this: To exit the shore, we have to drag the dinghy into the water about knee deep, then I get in (I’m the dinghy “captain”) the back of the dinghy, start the engine (which NEVER starts on the first, and usually not the second, attempt) while Joe steadies the boat keeping the nose pointed in the right direction. Then as I put the boat into gear and gas it, Joe is supposed to jump in over the sides gracefully and we are off! Also note, we usually put on halfway decent clothes to go to shore when we go out to eat… so the aim is to also not soak ourselves with salt water in this process. That is what is supposed to happen in IDEAL conditions. This however is NOT an easy process when there is surf and breaking waves right close to shore, not to mention, we have had little practice in these coordinated skills. On this exit from the shoreline, before I could even get the motor started, 2-3 large waves crashed into the dinghy, flooding us (and everything inside the dinghy), and totally, pushing Joe under the boat, almost folding the boat in two in the middle... I say "we" but of course I was to blame. We had to take the boat out of the water drain it of gallons and gallons of water and try again. Of course this also attracted the attention of all the panga drivers and the kids. On our second attempt, 2 kids came running to our rescue with their boogie boards and I think were going to try and paddle us out to sea... but we (still dripping wet) did manage to get the boat out, start the motor, and only get hit by one crashing wave before heading out (hiding our faces, not wanting to look back at the people on the beach being entertained by us!) Joe MAY talk to me again in about a week... we'll see.
After sunset, there has been very little wind at the anchorage, however the swells still persist, so we've had a few rolly polly nights here at Chamela for attempting to sleep. Also every night (always it seems in the “middle of the night”) we do our “rain dance.” At night we open every porthole as the heat and humidity are still with us, in hopes of getting something that resembles a breeze to help us sleep. Then in the night after we’ve gone to sleep, it starts to rain… and we have to jump up to close everything up again. Joe sleeps under an open hatch, so it’s his job to “feel” the rain and wake up so we can do our rain dance and close all the portholes up. Well our first night he was so dead tired that we awoke almost 2 hours after it had started raining… so Joe found himself sleeping in “the wet spot!” But it was a light rain, at least, so other than our sheets, the damage to the rest of the interior with the open portholes, was minimum.
The second morning here, we woke up at 6AM with bright lightning and horrendous thunder (THAT got our immediate attention!). Within an hour we had 30+ mph winds, as a squall went by. (Obviously no one told the weather gods that “officially” squall/tropical storm season ended 2 weeks ago!) Once we were sure our anchor was holding us firmly in place and we were safe, Joe and I sat in the cockpit and watched the spectacular light and sound show as the sun came up. In the last couple of days here (after our dinghy adventure), we’ve ventured to shore once more (still getting wet, but not quite so bad!) for a delicious shrimp lunch but otherwise have just stayed on the boat and read in peace. It's been overcast for the last 2 days with intermittent rain (as per above, always while we are sleeping), which for a change, I am delighted about as it has broken the heat and given us some relief. It even got cool enough for me to get in the mood to do some bread baking and to cook more than a one-pot meal aboard.
November 14th-17th: Bahia (Bay) Tenacatita
Our trip on the 14th from Chamela to Tenacatita was uneventful… We had overcast skies and no wind, so we motored the whole way… only about 45 miles further south. We picked up a hitchhiking beautiful egret (like a great blue heron only snowy white in color and about half the size) for the last hour of our trip. He landed on our bow rail and just held on tight enjoying the view and free ride. When Joe had to go forward to get things ready to anchor, it would fly away, and then a minute or two after Joe left the forward deck, it flew back down and attached itself back to our bow. He left finally when we began to set anchor in Tenacatita. We are still ahead of the southbound cruising crowd though and instead of 20+ boats crowded in there, we were greeted by only 3 other sailboats there upon our arrival.
[Note, every year the last few days of October a rally of about 200-250 cruising boats, (called the Ba-Ha-Ha), leaves San Diego for Cabo San Lucas. They have only 2 designated rest stops and all arrive in Cabo within a day of each other. Then after usually a few days they all disperse throughout Mexico, however the majority of them head for mainland Mexico, where we are and have been… and try to get to Zihuatanejo by Christmas… hence, we are trying to stay AHEAD of this crowd on our voyage south.]
Tenacatita Bay is supposedly one of the cruiser’s favorite anchorages along Mexico’s Gold coast, and we could see why. We are anchored just a short distance away from the jungle on one side of us and the beach on the other. The only thing ashore (and quite a ways from us) is a huge luxury hotel. We can faintly hear their entertainment shows and music at night, which is in contrast to usually just the sounds of the jungle birds and crickets ashore and the plop of jumping fish nearby in the water. But it is beautiful and peaceful and for sure a memorable bay.
On our second day here, we took our dinghy down a 2-hour (each way) jungle river trip. The river empties out into another inlet of the bay close to where we are anchored. We hit one spot in the beginning that was shallow so Joe got out and pulled me along (with me pretending I was Katherine Hepburn and he Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen -- only without the leech scene!) But otherwise it was deep enough for us to motor slowly through its winding course. For most of it, a canopy of lush foliage of trees and vines, birds and butterflies covered us. We were surrounded by tendrils of aerial roots coming from the mangroves and I feared we would catch some of these in the prop somewhere along the way, but we did not. In some places it was so narrow, we could hardly get through with blind twisting corners, and naturally, those were the places a couple of times, we came face to face (bow-to-bow, actually) with pangas (Mexican fishing boats) carrying life-vested tourists zooming in the opposite direction as ourselves in a head-on collision path. Somehow our lives were spared! We didn’t see any of the rumored crocodiles that live in there, but did see something we’d never seen before: Great big ol’ pelicans sitting high up in the trees along the river. With their big webbed feet trying to curl around the branches, they looked pretty out of place up there.
At the end of the river was a lagoon and ashore was a beautiful sandy beach and lots of palapa restaurants. We celebrated our safe landing and near misses of death from panga drivers with a gourmet fish dinner: Mahi-mahi fillet stuffed with shrimp, wrapped with bacon, and covered with an almond sauce… pretty fancy for a palapa restaurant in the middle of nowhere! Joe was the dinghy “captain” on the return trip, and although he won’t admit it, he kept crashing us into trees and bushes … probably more due to the rum and cokes we sucked up sitting in the hot sun with our meal, rather than his steering abilities, but we got back to our boat safe and sound.
Another beautiful site in this bay is 3-4 dolphins that seem to hang out here. We have seen them several times each day as they slowly meander between the sailboats anchored here. It is quite amazing to see them so close up while we are standing still versus underway as we usually see them.
On our last day here, we awoke to find one of our friend’s boat (named Long Tall Sally) anchored along side of us. We had shared several meals and games of cards with Penny and Greg at the marina in Puerto Vallarta. They left a few days after us and are heading also to Zihuatanejo for Christmas. They brought down for us a packet of mail that arrived at our marina a day after we left. So we got together with them for that as well as another evening game of Baja Rummy on board their boat for our last night in Tenacatita.
November 18th-24th: Barra de Navidad
The trip from Tenacatita to Barra de Navidad was another short one on a clear sunny day… only about 25 miles further south. But we only had very light winds (and what winds there were, were on the nose also w/ a slight southerly swell) so we motored the whole way. It was pretty uneventful except for one thing. Two boats that had been anchored with us in Tenacatita left an hour or so ahead of us…And good thing too as one of them (in front) warned the other that they had just got caught up in some "long line" fishing nets and were in the process of trying to un-tangle. But despite the warning the second boat also went through them but didn't get caught on them quite so bad. We kept looking and looking but didn't see them and thought we had bypassed them as we were not right on their same path. But sure enough, we got to them also but were able to turn to miss them just a few yards before disaster. It seems each area we’ve cruised, the panga Mexican fishing boats have their own unique methods of fishing. Around here they use small green (Sprite) or worse yet, clear (Coke) plastic soda pop bottles to mark their lines in the water. (And the green and clear just blend into the seas even when you’ve been warned and are looking for them–when you’re NOT expecting them, they are impossible to see.) The fishermen run clear filament lines between each of these bottles with about 60-100 yards or so between each bottle (making them even harder to spot) and underneath these filament lines are hundreds of individual lines below the surface with hooks on each one. Anyway, this time we lucked out and turned just in time to miss tangling in their lines
Here in Barra de Navidad, we are staying for a few days in another marina, and again one attached to a 5 star resort hotel. We were surprised upon arrival that there are only 7 other sail boats -— the rest are mostly power (big fishing and mega yachts) here-- but that is probably most "rag boaters" have a smaller budget than the power/fishing mega yachts and to stay here costs a pretty penny also... about $65/day (the most that we’ve spent since the outrageous charges we paid at Cabo San Lucas). But also the marina is mostly empty -- maybe 70% (of it’s 207 slips) are empty! (Quite a contrast from the other marinas we have been at that have been mostly or completely full.)
The resort itself (Grand Bay Hotel, Isla Navidad) climbs in multiple terraces up a large hill with cliffs into the ocean/bay. It is a Spanish/Mediterranean Colonial type masterpiece with a European palace marble-look inside and wrought iron terraces outside each room. It is luxurious and opulent in a very different way from the Mayan Ruin/jungle type motif of from Paradise Village Resort/Marina where we just left. The grounds alone must have cost millions! What was really surprising though was when we walked around the hotel grounds, we only saw 5 people around the pool -- no kids anywhere, no one in the lobby... no one walking around (except some people on the docks that belonged to the boats)... It is really deserted here. Hard to believe they can keep this place staffed and open (hotel, marina, plus 6 restaurants, 27 hole golf course, tennis courts, etc), but maybe the $400/night room charge may have something to do with it's low occupancy rate!
Upon arrival, tying the boat up, securing the boat, and checking in at the marina office, we had our traditional welcome-to-paradise, glad-to-be-on-land-again- margarita at the hotel pool bar ($7/drink!!!) and then took off to explore the town of Barra de Navidad which is across a lagoon from where our marina/resort is. To get there and back we have to take water taxis, which go back and forth every few minutes to the town, and is only a short 3-minute ride.
The town of Barra (as the name is shortened to by the locals), is very small (population less than a couple of thousand), quaint, and a combination of “typical” Mexican seashore town with a few tourist shops and restaurants dotting it’s streets. Very different from the glitz of Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. It is 25 miles north of the city of Manzanillo and is located on a small spit of land with a long curving beach on one side with lagoons on the other side extending the full length of the town. The streets are paved with cobblestones and bricks and many are sectioned off for pedestrian only. You can walk the whole town from one to the other in less than 15 minutes.
Our first afternoon evening here we walked around Barra and (having found the prices in the hotel high even for OUR budget)… found a Happy Hour at some Harley Davidson biker bar on the ocean (called Piper Love), watched a gorgeous sunset, and then went to eat at one of the many restaurants in town. We also that night ran into a couple on another sail boat (one of the few) here at marina. They are “commuter cruisers,” who leave their boat permanently at various marinas in Mexico and them come down several times a year for a month of sailing and then returning to their business (they are sculpturers) in Montana, of all places (not what you think of as a sailboat cruiser’s state!) They seemed to be nice enough people and we have since that first night shared some more time with them around the pool and eating out.
Our cruising itinerary with plans to stay here for Thanksgiving and to be in Ixtapa/ Zihuatanejo for Christmas, was set a long time ago. Leaving Puerto Vallarta 8-9 days AFTER our “plan” put us behind our schedule and we have skipped a few destinations down here and stayed in places a little shorter to “catch up” by the time we got to Barra. However we made one big mistake… Joe swore that Thanksgiving is ALWAYS the "third Thursday of November" so that is what we marked on our calendar and made our travel plans by... to have Thanksgiving in Barra and then depart shortly thereafter. However, we were foiled again. We didn't find out until the day before we got to Barra (and 4 days before our planned “Thankgiving day”) that the big turkey day was this year the 4th Thursday (and NOT ALWAYS as my “I’m never wrong”-husband thought). And next Thursday, the real Thanksgiving is a day when we (according to our present voyaging schedule) are going to be at sea enroute (for our longest leg of 2 1/2 days/nights out at sea) for "Z-town". Oh well -- I guess we'll have a lot of those types of holidays now and in the future. So there will be a no turkey feast for us, however we will still say our “thanks” for all the wonderful things in our lives.
Since our initial exploration of Barra, we have been to town a few more times for meals but mostly have been puttering on the boat in the mornings… me catching up with this journal, and Joe doing a few more boat repairs (Yes, things are still breaking!!!), but we HAVE made it to the resort pool a couple of times in the late afternoon after the chores are done. They have one of those gorgeous pools that is actually 3 pools terraced down several layers and connected by waterfalls and water slides. In the afternoons, there is a not-too-loud steel drum band, and also one of the pool attendants goes by to all the sunbathers (or “shade bathers”, as we are) and hands out ICE-cold damp eucalyptus scented washcloths to wipe your face/body down with. Nice Luxury!
The days haven’t been quite so hot (normally only in high 80’s) nor quite so humid (usually less than 50%), and we can actually cover our bodies with at least a sheet now in bed at night. I recently came across my huge Eskimo microfiber fur lined hooded coat I wore 11 months ago as we were coming down the outside of Baja and laugh at the thought of wearing it again any time soon in our travels.
On one of our last nights in Barra, we were invited by the resort’s concierge to go on a baby turtle release trip after sunset. This sounded like it would be a great experience so we accompanied a small group of hotel residents in a van, which took us throughout the hotel’s property (over 500 acres) to a private deserted beach. Many years ago with encouragement from the environmentalists (yes, Mexico has them also), in efforts to save the diminishing population of sea turtles, Mexico banned the selling of turtle meat…, which had been popular (soups, stews, etc). Well it seems, they may not sell these dishes in restaurants anymore, but the local Mexicans still like these dishes in their homes and are still illegally killing the sea turtles. Additionally, they think that eating the turtle eggs helps them be more virulent so they also steal the eggs from the beaches when the sea turtles lay them. So our hotel, in partnership with one of the research groups, sponsors saving the turtles by: the researchers patrol this strip of deserted beach by 4 wheelers 24 hours a day to keep the poachers away… and while patrolling, also gather the eggs once they are laid; Then they incubate the eggs, and within 24 hours of hatching, help the baby turtles make their way into the ocean for their first swim of their new lives at sea. Even with all that help, supposedly only 10% of the baby turtles will survive. So our part of the release was the research group drove down to us with baskets on the back of their 4-wheelers containing about 120 newborn turtles… each about the size of a 50 cent piece. We all took a half dozen babies a piece and placed them in the sand about 15-20 ft. away from the surf and watched “our” babies to make sure they made it to the water. The reason for not just releasing them directly into the water is this trip to the water helps the turtles to develop their “orientation.” They have to find their way on their own — and somehow they figure out which way to walk and they all made it to the ocean. It was an interesting event to be able to experience.
UPDATE: We, at the last minute decided to stay an extra day here in Barra De Navidad. We were due to leave on Saturday (yesterday) and Joe was cussing, and muttering, claiming to hate our boat (which for him is normal in his love/hate relationship with Mi Gitana) and grumbling about having spent all this money to stay in an expensive luxury resort marina and not having time to enjoy it [For almost every day of the 6 days we had been here, he had some type of project (including replacing/ rebuilding various fuel and water pumps onboard) to do that seemed to take most of the day.] So with the boat ready to go and all the “must-do” jobs completed, I suggested we stay another day and just bypass our next planned stop at the Las Hadas Beach Resort so we could just lie by the pool one day and do nothing but enjoy ourselves. He thought that was a great idea, so instead of leaving yesterday, today, Sunday, we slept in, had a brunch on board the boat, and then spent the day by the pool, doing nothing but reading our books and swimming. That was our "rose smelling" day. Then that night we dressed up (yes, Joe actually got out of his cruiser’s “uniform” and put on a pair of long pants) and we went to the hotel's upscale restaurant where we enjoyed a 6-course meal as nice as any we've ever had in San Diego. The menu was continental but eclectic and the presentations very unique and beautiful. When we got there for our 7:30 PM reservations, Joe and I were the only customers in the restaurant... kinda like when in a movie a man reserves the entire restaurant for a woman he's trying to impress romantically. But about an hour later another group entered to dine, but even then, they were seated in a different room. Still hard to believe they could operate the restaurant and kitchen, especially one of this caliber, with just 2 customer groups for the night. But it was a beautiful meal and a great change from the fish and rice plates we've been having at most of the restaurants here locally.
November 25th-27th: 200 miles further South… Passage from Barra to Ixtapa
11/25: We left yesterday and headed down to the mouth of Manzanillo harbor only 6 hours away from Barra, anchored and spent the night in a tiny anchorage another cruiser told us about at the entrance to the giant commercial shipping harbor called Carizal. It is calm and no other boats were there. We arrived mid-afternoon, so set up the cockpit table and played Baja Rummy, drank a bottle of wine, and barbequed some chicken breasts for dinner... watched a movie I had on tape, and slept in late again this morning.
11/26: We left about 1PM today for our long trip (200 miles... about 40 hours) to Ixtapa. (The only other time so far in our "adventures" that we had 2 nights continuous at sea was when we made the crossing from Baja to the Mainland at Mazatlan.) The coastline from here on down is very mountainous with deep water up to the shoreline and very few shelters, so most people do not stop unless weather forces you to seek protection. That is why we are heading on this long passage versus anchoring along the way. (When we head north in a month, we will probably have to stop along the way, if the winds are as bad as we expect in that direction.) We are trying to plan our arrival time so we don't arrive there before daylight or before the marina opens in Ixtapa -- but it's so hard to estimate our average time when we don't have any idea how the winds are going to be. Going as slow as we are now and motoring (we can only get up to about 4.5 knots of speed when we motor, versus 6-8 knots when we sail), we should arrive there on Thanksgiving morning... a day earlier that we were originally planning... SO IF ALL GOES WELL, WE MAY JUST BE ON LAND AND BE ABLE TO FIND A TURKEY SOMEWHERE FOR THANKSGIVING DAY, instead of the planned peanut butter sandwiches.
We had a couple of dolphins “riding the bow” for about 10 minutes today. It was calm enough that I went up to our bowsprit and leaned over to watched them up close. They catch a free ride in the pressure wave formed as our boat moves through the water and the bow thrusts out of the water. They position themselves in the small region of forward force where they can stop active swimming. For a few minutes, they were continuously flickering about in the wave until they found the exact spot for an effortless ride.
I also tried to fish again today (it is prime sword fishing season now… but all I was hoping for was a small mahi-mahi to put on the grill!) But those stupid brown birds (same as ones we had as we left Puerto Vallarta) kept circling us and diving again for my lures. Not wanting to catch a bird again, or to lose my lure again, I just brought the lines in. Then I waited for about half an hour and with no signs of the birds anymore, I again set my lines. Within 30 seconds as if they have radar, the brown birds appeared again trying to dive on my lines. I did this little exercise (stubbornly not believing it) for several more times before I decided to give up for the entire rest of the trip. [Note, after talking to several different people, I later found out these dumb birds are brown boobies!]
We have seen floating coconuts in the water along our entire trip. However one time, I saw one coconut… then another… then another and another, and they seemed to be spread out in a somewhat straight line. The realization that they were part of another fisherman’s “long line” (as I described earlier… only this fisherman came up with the bright idea to use coconuts instead of pop bottles to mark his lines!) came a little too late for me to go around. Fortunately I got the boat in neutral and we went over the lines without getting them caught in our prop. Also fortunately, this was also after I had given up on fishing for birds so I had no hooks of my own out!
We went through one patch of sea (for about an hour) that looked like we were driving through a shoreline jungle… first there were coconuts everywhere, then we started seeing the entire trees floating … and once even part of a dock. Things we did NOT want to run over, so we played “thread-the-needle” in and out precariously throughout the area, and prayed that we were done with it as sunset was rapidly approaching and we’d never be able to see or avoid these objects at night.
11/27: Joe is asleep now and I'm "on watch" and catching up with my journal again. Since there is very little if any other boating traffic at night along our path, I have a timer I use (one that you wear around you neck) and set it to “ding” every 8-10 minutes. Then I check the radar, look around outside at the wind, waves, sails, for any traffic or lights on the water, then do my navigating on the computerized charts... then take a break writing or reading in between waiting for the next “ding” on my timer.
This is our last night at sea on this leg and so far, the winds have not been cooperating. From our weather reports, we ANTICIPATED, as well as hoped for, the prevailing Northwest winds so we would have a nice downwind sail for our entire trip from Puerto Vallarta to Zihuatanejo… Ever since our crossing of Cabo Corrientes (our first day leaving a couple of weeks ago) we HAVE had light winds most of the time but so light they will hardly fill our sails. Today we’ve been going even slower than our USUAL putzing along. For the last 20 hours even with the engine cranked up as fast as it will go AND 3 sails up, we are going only between 3.5-4.0 knots. We finally calculated that we are going so slow because of a strong 2-3 knot current going North (as we head south)...something that doesn’t show on our charts, and meaning at this rate, we will still end up missing the Thanksgiving meal. Oh well, I guess we will still be able to give thanks that we arrived safe and sound. Of course a miracle could happen and we could get some nice strong winds tonight to push us a little faster!!!
November 28th-December 2nd, 2002: Thanksgiving day Ixtapa arrival and Exploring Zihuatanejo
We DID miraculously make it here in Ixtapa in time for our Cruiser’s Thanksgiving meal. At about midnight on our last night out, as if Mother Nature paid attention to my whining about arriving too late for Thanksgiving, the wind finally picked up, and perhaps we got out of the current, as we finally were able to increase our speed and make up for lost time. Anyway, we landed at the marina at about 1030 AM on Thanksgiving morning, took about 90 minutes to tie up, reconnect to power and get the boat back all turned "on" ... then did our check in procedures w/ Marina office, took a quick shower, and were ready to join up with the other cruisers staying here (who assisted us tie up as we arrived) by 1:00 to take the bus into Zihuatanejo for the 2:00 meal. It was rush, rush, rush for us... but it was great to be here and to not be alone eating a sandwich on Thanksgiving. There were about 40 people (all cruisers) who gathered at Rick’s bar/restaurant who was hosting the dinner. And amazingly, it was a great meal. In order for the restaurant (small place with only one oven) to cook 6 turkeys, he used one of those turkey fryers, so each one only took about 45 minutes to cook. I had always wanted to try one cooked that way, (but never wanted to do it myself!) and it really was moist and tender. He also deep-fried a previously smoked turkey (cooked it less of course) and it also was good. They somehow found Mexican pumpkins and made pumpkin pie, but it was more of a blonde color than deep caramel colored... but otherwise tasted okay for the pumpkin lovers (of which I am not). They even found some real fresh cranberries. The wine was Baja type and terrible, but at least the restaurant tried really hard, to provide it for us. For us it was the first time we had rum and cokes with turkey... but what the heck... we enjoyed it. It was also the first Thanksgiving I think I've eaten in 90-degree heat, but we situated ourselves under a ceiling fan, and then again, the rum and cokes did seem to help with the heat! All in all, it was a great meal and nice to be with other people who also were away from homes and families.
This whole area of Ixtapa (one city) and Zihuatanejo (pronounced: Z-what-tah-nay’-ho… and called “Z-what” by locals) is a lot larger and spread out than I ever thought it would be. Joe and I came here on our honeymoon cruise w/ Dad and Maxine 4 1/2 years ago and hired a taxi driver to take us around for the day excursion ashore. For some reason, we don't remember seeing anything more than 1-2 streets in Z-what (and thought that was all there was to it) and we remember coming out to a restaurant/bar and having a drink right in front of the marina where we now are. Joe and I knowing that someday we would be coming here on our sailboat, were interested in the marina, and we remember it being sparkling new, with hardly any boats in the marina. So we were surprised that the marina is now full and unfortunately rundown and not in that great of shape. (We’ve learned that since our visit it went into bankruptcy, and has just recently been bought, but few upgrades or repairs have been done since then). It is certainly no where near as nice as the others we have stayed in, plus there is almost no breeze and it is near a swamp so very buggy with biting "no-see-ums" (deadlier than mosquitoes) that invisibly come out about an hour BEFORE sunset. There also is no cable TV hook up and no laundry facilities, and no fuel dock... something every other marina has had. But the staff is friendly and there are several other cruising sailboats here that we have made friends with. But we will probably leave here in a day or two and go out to anchorage to Z-what bay to see what that is like, and then either stay there for a while or come back here and possibly go back and forth for the month. (It is only around the corner from where we are.) We want to get to the anchorage before the deluge of boats from the Ba-Ha-Ha (mentioned above) arrives here. They expect about 30-40 boats to arrive and fill up the tiny Zihuatanejo bay by Christmas day!
One exciting (???) thing about the marina is that it was built on what once was breeding grounds for crocodiles. They keep trying to remove the crocodiles, but they keep returning to their “home.” We thought some of the stories we had heard through the grapevine of divers refusing to go in the water to clean or repair boats here or of small dogs disappearing from the docks was probably exaggerated… but NOT so. We have about an 10 ft. crocodile (see picture above) that swims by the stern of our boat every evening! And he does NOT look friendly!
The other surprise (beside the growth of the marina boat population) is Z-what is a lot bigger than we remembered — or at least bigger than our touring cab driver showed us. much time to explore there, so I'll write more about it when we've gotten around more.
According to my guidebook, 30 years ago, Zihuatanejo was a very small fishing village and Ixtapa was a coconut plantation and crocodile swamp. Then the Mexican government tourism organization (that had built up the resort of Cancun on the Gulf side of Mexico) decided Mexico needed a Pacific coast resort like Cancun to bring in more tourist dollars and they chose the location of Ixtapa. The coconut plantations were leveled and today Ixtapa is a string of luxurious resort hotels along what was once isolated beachfront. It has a sort of artificial glitz to it — with very little Mexican “atmosphere.” Zihuatanejo, on the other hand (only 5 miles away), although no longer a tiny fishing village, still maintained it’s easy-going costal town ambiance. It is set on a small beautiful bay, surrounded with hills and mountains… also with several miles of white sand beaches. From what I've seen so far, I really like it as it still has a Mexican "feel" to it, and it still has it’s fishermen, but the tourist shops, bars, and top-notch restaurants are also still plentiful. I’m sure this is mostly because Cruise ships anchor in the bay with it’s thousands of passengers flooding the streets several times a week. The population of Z-what is now over 60,000 people (NOT including the tourists that nearly double the area’s population during their busy months of December through March).
From the Ixtapa marina, we can catch a bus into Z-what (as above, only about 5 miles away, but takes about 20 minutes due to all the stops. And taking the bus is always an adventure. The first day, we were rear ended (and the people who were with us and who had been here a week already, said that was their 3rd fender-bender in a week riding the buses)… and then yesterday, our bus quit and a little hunched over ol’ Mexican man (had to be over 80 years old) got out and pushed the bus so the driver could jump start it. Another frequent occurrence is a Mexican passenger will jump on with a guitar and sing and play songs for the duration of the bus trip (asking for tips, of course at the end of the trip). Sometimes the singer/player is pretty good… but other times, you just would prefer to pay him to STOP playing!
The really exciting thing about the buses though is the way the drivers race each other down the narrow streets. Evidently, the drivers must work on commission or for a percentage of their fares… so they are in competition with each other in picking up the most passengers. We get on at the beginning of the route (at the Marina going into town) and the driver first of all drives along barely moving (about 2 mph) next to the sidewalk, whistling and calling out to people walking along, trying to get people to get on HIS bus. Then, however, if he sees another bus coming up (on his same route) in his rear view window, he speeds up with his accelerator pedal to the ground racing to get to the next bus stop before the guy behind him. Yesterday, another bus behind us, actually passed us, really pissing off our driver (thinking the other bus was going to get his fares ahead), so he was drag racing the other bus to pass him to get ahead again. We of course were holding on for dear life, and grateful that we didn’t have to get off anywhere along the way during this race, as I’m sure he wouldn’t have stopped for anything! Never a dull moment on the bus! (By the way, this entertaining transportation only costs us about 30-50cents!)
It for sure though is very hot and humid again. After we left Puerto Vallarta, the heat and humidity seemed to decrease... in that we could actually pull a sheet over our bodies at night (usually we sleep naked spread eagle with all portholes and hatches open plus 2 fans revved to high blowing on us all night... as it is so hot and humid) Anyway, it SEEMED to be getting cooler, even though we were heading south... but now we're back into 88-92 degree days with 85% humidity... and it only drops to 80 degrees at night! This is one of the few places we have been to in Mexico that practices “siesta” . Most of the stores and businesses are closed from 2 PM to 5 PM as that is when it is beastly hot… then they re-open and close again around 8-9 PM. In this kind of heat it makes sense. We are hoping it will be cooler out in the anchorage as if there IS a breeze, at least we have a better chance of catching it.
So now we have completed a total 3 degrees in Latitude more southerly than we started 3 weeks ago (We are located a little less than 17 ½ degrees north of the equator, that is, almost exactly 15 degrees in latitude south of our original departure point, San Diego)… and have reached our most southerly destination in Mexico (at least until we complete our circumnavigation). In a month we will start to back track this chapter’s trip and return to Puerto Vallarta in preparation for our planned departure to the South Pacific from there in March/April. At 18 pages in length, I guess I’d better end this chapter for now and save something more to write about for next time.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all of you reading this! Please keep sending your e-mails as we really enjoy reading them.
CREW CHANGE NOTICE: Joe and I had talked all summer about taking along a crew person along with us to the South Pacific. Obviously we have been managing by ourselves as a crew of 2 for almost a year, but Joe ends up doing about 80% of the manual labor and of course all of the mechanical/electrical/plumbing etc. repairs and it really is hard on him at times. I am pretty much useless for him and when I do try and help on the latter, we usually end up getting on each other’s nerves and he gets frustrated with my inabilities. Also, I am not very strong, and at times, Joe needs strength-type help. I'm all he has and we manage, but we both have our “old people” ailments (shoulder problems for me and knee problems for him). So I thought taking along a crew person that would be able to help and give Joe some more relief with these types of things — at least on a temporary basis (especially for our spring time 3,000 mile passage to the South Pacific), might be worth a try. Also I feared that if Joe really is ever injured (incapacitated w/ bad back, his knee gets re-injured... or a million other things that could happen), that I would never be able to physically handle the boat by myself. I'm confident in my sailing and navigational skills and could get us "mentally" from point A to point B... but physically there is no way I could handle the boat on my own. So finally Joe agreed that it would be a good idea to give it a try. Of course the main disadvantage is giving up our already too little privacy and space aboard... and of course the way Joe and I verbally banter all the time, I worry about us driving the other person crazy... So all that said, out of quite a few interested possible candidates that we corresponded to for a few months, we did finally select a young guy, Jake (22 years old). He graduates from college (Iowa) in December and is willing and excited about taking 6 months off for an adventure of a lifetime. He's never left the United States so it will for sure be a unique experience for him. He is flying to where we are now, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo on the 30th of December and will travel and sail with us until we return to Puerto Vallarta mid-February. It will be like a trial run for us as well as for him. We will have to teach him to sail, navigate, use radar, "rules of the road", safety, etc. and assuming he is a quick learner and a good worker AND we are mutually compatible, he will continue on with us to the South Pacific and get off the boat once we reach Tahiti and fly back to the USA (June/July). Anyway, we are now both glad we made the decision at least to try this out. If it works out, then we may take on crew for other long "legs" of our journey. We have corresponded a lot to Jake, spoke to him once on the phone, and are really looking forward to meeting him. We will tell you more about him in my next chapter after we have met him.