Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Last Leg of Mexico!

It's been a little while since the last Timoneer update! We are currently back on the boat in Chiapas, after having spent a few days in Guatemala followed by 3 weeks in New England, USA. It was refreshing to get off the boat again, and catch up with family and friends, but unfortunately we have returned to the boat to discover our fridge is not working! So we are stuck here waiting for parts and even considering possibly hauling out for a while as we have plans to work in France later this year. Could be a good opportunity for us to work through the 'Jobs List' that we never seem to be able to get around to when we are on the move! Remembering all the gritty details of the last month of cruising is proving difficult- here is an attempt to sum up the major events of the last leg of cruising Mexico- mostly we were trying to move as fast as possible, knowing that hurricane season was fast approaching and we were so close to the Tehuantepec!

View of where the Pangas dock in Zihuantanejo

In Zihuantanejo (a place Mark had been looking forward to because of its reference in the film 'The Shawshank Redemption'), aside from the usual tasks of provisioning...something special happened. Mark lost his i-phone, placed it down to eat an ice cream and proceeded to walk away without it. This phone is our lifeline in many ways- we use it to access the internet and do research, get weather updates, stay in contact with family and friends, so it was very problematic and upsetting for us. A few days later, we were sitting in the town square when a man approached us and explained that his son had found a phone and asked if it might be ours! He had recognized us from the photo on the screen of the phone! We couldn't thank him enough, gave him $100 and walked away completely in awe of life and its magic. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!

Basketball court right on the beach front

Next port was Acapulco. As we motored into the bay I suggested that Mark might want to reel in his fishing lines. Of course, he shrugged it off (he knows best you see) and minutes later we heard the reel go off- A FISH?!! Could it be? Our first fish caught on the Timoneer!! Looking back, I saw a man dive into the water and his jet-ski come to a halt. Nope, we hadn't hooked a fish- we had hooked a jet-ski. Well done Captain- next time, listen to your woman! Luckily the man wasn't injured, just seriously pissed off! Speaking of jet-ski's we'd heard of the recent James Bond style execution on the beach of Acapulco, where the culprit had fled the scene on a jet-ski. We had also been warned that there was nothing for cruisers in Acapulco, but we needed fuel and I wanted to see it for myself. I'm always excited to drop anchor in an unusual place. In this case, we had spectacular views of the skyscrapers! Acapulco is at once a beautiful tourist mecca of luxurious hotels and also Mexico's most violent city boasting 12 murders a day. The most concerning thing for us was making trips to shore and having to leave the dingy on the beach unattended. We asked a man who was renting jet-ski's to look after it, but you just never know. Fortunately, both times we returned to find our dingy waiting for us.

One afternoon we ventured into town for some dinner and while we were eating it began to rain HEAVILY. Within 40 minutes the streets were flooded, we watched as the water rushed down the streets and out towards the ocean. We hurried back to the boat, concerned we had left some hatches open, and of course, we had. The ocean was brown with filth, all the rubbish of Acapulco was now floating around us, yuck!

Hurry up Mark! The storm is coming!

Local man surfing a shovel

That's the Timoneer out there!

From Acapulco we sailed to Puerto Escondido, hoping to catch some waves at the famous world class surf break. Again, like most other places we'd been so far, we were the only sailboat around, being so late in the season. The town is split in 2 parts- one side is the local side, where we checked in with the Port Captain and shopped for food. The other side is the tourist side, which has a laid back surfer vibe, a long street of cafe's, restaurants and surf shops adjacent to the beach break. The cool thing about surfing here is that there are breaks all along the beach, which means the surfers are very spread out. The further you walk down the beach the less crowded it becomes. We were lucky because there was some serious swell building, meaning good waves, but also this made for an uncomfortable and risky anchorage.

The waves were so good and got so big that on the fourth day I broke my board in half! It was never a longboard wave to begin with, but that's the only board I had...and it was great fun while it lasted!

View from the Port Captains Office

We made a trip into town to buy a new board (found a cheap 7.6ft beater that should be more suitable to the waves around here), and on the way back the winds picked up suddenly. This was unexpected and lasted a few hours, reminding us again of our predicament- It was time to go! But the following day, when we attempted to check out with the Port Captain, he informed us that they had put up the RED FLAG warning and no boats were allowed to leave the port. We were stuck. Unfortunately for us, we would have been safer out at sea, where our boat can safely handle swell and wind. At anchor, we run the danger of dragging anchor and ending up on the rocks! We endured an uncomfortable wait, and at first sight of the green flag, we picked up anchor and headed straight for our next port- Huatulco- 1hr 57min by car and for us it would take about 14 hours! May as well have been walking..

In Huatulco, we decided to stay at the marina, in preparation for the next passage, where we would be crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec, a reputedly dangerous section where winds funnel in from Eastern Mexico causing fierce storms and high seas. We hoped to find other sailors we could strategize with about the best weather window to make the leap. However, only 1 boat remained for the season and we were nevertheless thankful to speak with them. They even showed us around!

View of Santa Cruz, where the big cruise ship docks

The organic farmers' market

All kinds of tortillas- coconut, chocolate, sesame, cactus etc.
The day Timoneer almost adopted a puppy!

There was a teachers' strike happening in the state of Oaxaca at this point, with blockades and strikes. This meant we were unable to buy diesel. Also the supermarkets weren't able to restock their fruit and vegetable supplies, the shelves were filled with old, rotting produce. We needed diesel, food and a good weather window to leave and we had none of these yet, so we decided to anchor our boat in a clean, quiet anchorage a couple of nights. This was a good opportunity to scrub the bottom and enjoy some beach time.

Empty shelves at the supermarket

View of the lighthouse and the blowhole
We returned to the marina with news of a favorable weather window and prepared for the Tehuantepec crossing. The strikes were still happening, but we managed to find a small local store with some produce and decided we had just enough diesel in the tank to make it, provided we had enough wind to carry us. As we sailed out towards what we hoped would be a safe and uneventful passage, Mark caught his first worthy fish! A mahi-mahi! Surely this was a good omen!

That night, as we sailed past Salina Cruz (with a full genoa and mizzen out) we hit 28-30 knots of wind. This lasted a few hours and was the worst of our T-pec crossing. Not too terrible! It was actually an enjoyable passage, with fresh fish for supper, the entertainment of dolphins and the usual pleasures of sailing along a beautiful blue ocean in total solitude (and the freedom to do so in the nude!).

Chiapas greeted us with huge swell, as we motored into the entrance of the port and down the channel of the estuary. The marina itself is about a half hour drive from the town center of Tapachula (not very convenient for buying groceries), but it is well priced and recommended as a very safe place to leave the boat. After some research and discussion over our plans, we decided this was a convenient place to leave the boat for the month, and make an inland trip to Guatemala (whose border is 15 minutes away from Tapachula) and then fly out from Guatemala city to Boston to spend 3 weeks visiting Mark's family and friends. From our time living in Ensenada to the past few months spent sailing down from San Diego all the way to here, we had finally arrived to the Guatemalan border! Stay tuned for the next post- Our travels in Guatemala!

In the town center of Tapachula

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bahia Chamela, Tenacatita and Barra de Navidad

Bahia Chamela, a humble coastal town with a few palm-thatched restaurants snuggled in the corner and four miles of nothing but sand and tiny fragile shells. Deceitfully peaceful, the afternoon thermal winds would pick up making for a very rolly anchorage. Sleeping in the V-berth meant listening to the chain cry out and contsantly worrying that our anchor had lifted and we were drifting towards the beach, a hundred meters away.

Spined Venus Clams

After a couple of nights, we migrated to a little island 2 miles off, the sand was whiter there and it was completely vacant. With the Stand Up Paddle board, I became its only inhabitant. A few hours of total solitude and beauty. The water was quite clear, though upon closer inspection was full of 'bioluminescent dinoflagellates', the reason for the water coming to life at night. Mark called me out from bed one night to watch as he spit and peed and fluoro circles appeared. Truly amazing!

As we sailed away from Chamela towards Tenacatita (about a half day sail), we were greeted by a pod of dolphins; Google: In places with a high abundance of food, pods can merge temporarily, forming a superpod- such groupings may exceed 1,000 dolphins! We sailed through this SUPERPOD, standing on the bow sprit, close enough to make out the scratches and spots on their sleek bodies.

In Bahia Tenacatita we anchored off 'The Aquarium', a field of brain coral, bleached but in its way no less beautiful, inhabited by puffer beach and small electric-blue fish. Low tide meant it was an obstacle course of channels and trying not to get our bellies scraped.

A hotel, damaged by weather and now vacant.

We walked to the lookout and were kicked out by a guard. Then we walked along the road to the other side of the peninsula, to the other beach. Again, guards came and asked us to leave. This too, was private property! We decided it was time to get back to the boat before we got into real trouble.


Around the next bay we visited the township of Manzanilla, stumbling upon a crocodile park. US$2.00 gets you a long walk along fenced, wooden bridges through a crocodile infested mangrove. Such an adrenaline rush and perhaps a miracle we came out the other end alive!


And then, imbued with partial fear we did what the locals do, taking our dhingy for a little drive down the other end of the same river, apparently croc-free. It was also a good opportunity to practice my advanced dhingy driving skills resulting in a few gnarly scratches!



Another half days sail and we arrived to Melaque.

This hotel never recovered from the cyclone that destroyed it before it was ever finished.


Crossing the bay to Barra de Navidad, we decided to anchor in the lagoon for a couple of nights. The tide was coming down and we followed the channel on our chart plotter into belly-button height water and RAN AGROUND!!! After failing to drag ourselves out with the anchor, we were defeated and subjected to the humiliating taunts from the passengers on the water taxis 'Hahahaha Capitane!'- all we could do was hide or get off the boat and go for a meal; watch our boat lift out of the water and lean to one side, whilst eating delicious fried fish and cold beer waiting for the tie to rise us off.

Motoring into the lagoon, all was going well until....!

Never put too much faith in a chart!


We discovered that Marina Isla Navidad has cheap slip fees off-season (less than half price) and decided to leave our boat for a month. Mark was asked to join the SuperYacht we previously worked on to cross the Atlantic. I used this time to fly home to Australia to visit my family and friends.

The yellow foam was a failed attempt of the Governments' to stop the erosion. Also a wave deflector lines the beach and breaks incoming waves (bummer for surfers!)


Water taxi transports a family and some fresh produce

SV Timoneer ready for a month alone in Barra de Navidad