Sunday, December 30, 2007

Marina Chahué

Jan and Joan from Casteele knocked on our hull early yesterday morning. We’re glad they’ve caught up with us, and after some wavering about whether to continue immediately or stay and await the next Tehuantepec window, they’ve decided to stay. They’re tied up right next to us. The four of us are planning a trip to Oaxaca for a few days later this week. Mark from Con Te Partiro said he’s happy to dog sit Märzen while we’re gone.

Mark is also from Seattle (that’s where Casteele is from), and continuing the small world theme, he bought his boat from the same yacht broker we did, Pete McGonagle at Swiftsure Yachts. Our other neighbors here are David and his parents, Norm and Janet, on Shimmer from St. John, USVI, and Roger and Lorraine on Black Dog II from Seattle (Everett).

Shimmer came through the Panama Canal from the East Coast, and we happily sold David our Mexican cruising guide and bought his Costa Rica courtesy flag. It was an international currency exchange as well. We got US dollars from David since that’s what we need in El Salvador, and we’re paying him in pesos.

Enrique, the harbor master here, helped with Jan’s and Joan’s decision to stay by not showing up at the marina yesterday afternoon. To leave Mexico, you need an international zarpe, a document that clears you out of Mexico. Jan and Joan learned yesterday at the port captain’s office that there are two places to get a zarpe stamped: at the airport outside of town and here at Marina Chahué by Enrique. John and I did meet Enrique yesterday and he’s a great guy, but he’s elusive. He doesn’t keep regular office hours during the week, and now it’s Sunday and both Monday and Tuesday are holidays.

I’ve included links to Casteele’s and Swiftsure Yachts’ websites on our links page.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Lighthouse in Huatulco

We arrived at Marina Chahué about 11:00 this morning after a three-day passage from Zihuatanejo. John figures we averaged 4.5 knots. Although we were able to sail for brief periods, we mostly motored. It looks like we’ll be here for awhile. We have things to do (oil change, provisioning, laundry, boat washing), and by the time we’re done, big winds are predicted for the Tehuantepec. Maybe things will settle down again in a week.

Meanwhile, this seems to be a very nice place to be. We’re at a cantina called the Lighthouse, which caters to the cruising crowd (it’s a small crowd) and has free, secured wi-fi. Now that we have the key, we may be able to get it from the boat. If not, it’s a pleasant place to hang out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Feliz Navidad

We’re thinking of all of our family and friends today and most days, really. We’re still in Zihuatanejo, but we’re continuing south today. We delayed our departure so that the Tehuantepec winds could die down at our destination (Huatulco) when we’re due to arrive in three days.

We moved to the anchorage at Zihuatanejo’s Playa Maruda on the 23rd. When we arrived, we found a spot next to Volcano, in front of Wingstar. Another Baja Ha-Ha 2007 boat, Tribute, is on the other side of us, but we’ve never talked with them. (Volcano moved on to Isla Ixtapa yesterday.) Casteele followed us to Zihua and anchored on the other side of Volcano.

The first evening here we enjoyed a lovely evening aboard Casteele getting to know Jan and Joan better. Tom and Sue from Volcano were there too. They were both in the merchant marines, and the rest of us were glad to learn more about how those huge commercial ships see us little sailboats. In their onshore lives, Jan is in residential real estate in Seattle, and Joan is a book editor. Jan and Joan are heading to Huatulco tomorrow, and we’re looking forward to returning their hospitality aboard Solstice while we’re there. If all works out OK, we’ll buddy-boat with them through the Tehuantepec and possibly on to Panama.

The winds in the Tehuantepec are a major consideration for cruisers in the area. Northerly winds in the Gulf of Mexico funnel through a gap in the Sierra Madre and can be very strong as they enter the Pacific. Meteorologists call these winds Tehuanos; some cruisers call them T-peckers. (If you want to know more about these, try entering “Tehuantepec winds” in Google.) We will be doing the “one foot on the beach” method of crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec, and we’ll wait in Huatulco for a relatively calm window. Keeping close to shore means smaller waves since they don’t have a chance to build up (shorter fetch).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Most excellent winter solstice

The winter solstice found us in transit this year from Manzanillo to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. We spent the night before dodging freighters and being dumped on by rain showers, but dawn brought dolphins cavorting around the boat, clear skies, and not another boat in sight. Even better, by early afternoon we had wind! What a relief to shut off the engine, no matter how glad we are to have it working again. We celebrated with cockpit showers.

We flew the spinnaker all afternoon and switched to wing-on-wing with the jib poled out at sunset. And what a gorgeous sunset it was. Although the morning’s dolphins were far behind us, we found more in the late afternoon. With the moon nearly full, we could see them jumping all night long. That certainly made the night watches more fun, but there was still plenty of commercial traffic to contend with.

This morning early we anchored at Isla Ixtapa, right in front of Casteele. The palapas and snorkeling are supposed to be excellent here, and there’s even wi-fi when we swing the right way. We’ll spend the night and go on to Zihuatanejo in the morning.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ready to go again

The engine is fixed! The mechanics arrived yesterday with the rebuilt injection pump. It was installed and tested and we are good to head out again. We are going to top off the fuel tanks this afternoon and leave Manzanillo around 4:00 PM local time. We should have a position report tonight while underway.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

New photo pages added to website

We don't really have any news, but while we've been sitting around waiting for the mechanic to show up (maybe mañana), John has caught up on his photo pages. They're posted on our website. Enjoy!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Still waiting for the mechanic

I guess we were a little overly optimistic about the mechanic. He did come to the boat yesterday and looked at our problem. He confirmed that it was what John said it was (a leak between the fuel injection pump and the controller), but he was still tied up with another repair and couldn’t get to us until mañana. It’s almost noon on mañana now, and we still haven’t heard from him. We checked in with Ruben around 10:00 and then went to breakfast (with our handheld VHF radio on so that we wouldn’t miss the call). On our way back to the boat, Ruben was away from his office. It’s starting to get frustrating now. We think the problem will be relatively simple to fix (it is a boat, after all) if we could just get the guy to do it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We’re back…

at Las Hadas anchorage. We were about 40 miles down the coast last night, motoring after the winds died, when the automatic bilge pump kicked in. Considering that we were in flat seas, John had to investigate. It turned out that we had developed a leak by the fuel injection pump that we had had rebuilt in Olympia last winter. A significant amount of diesel was going into the bilge instead of into the engine. We were still much closer to Manzanillo than to Zihuatenejo, so we turned around. We anchored here again around 5 a.m.

Ruben, the harbor master here, knows a mechanic and tried to get him out to the boat today. The job he was on turned out to take longer than expected, so now we should see the mechanic tomorrow morning. Things on a boat are bound to break, and we’re just glad that this happened near where we can get it fixed relatively easily. Tom on Volcano was impressed that we found a mechanic so quickly, and though we’ve yet to set eyes on him, so are we. We don’t know how long this repair will take, but we’re safe in a nice harbor, so we aren’t too stressed about it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Leaving Manzanillo

Lazy Days was gone when we got up this morning. Ron wanted to go surfing on their way to Zihuatanejo, so we’ll probably catch up with them there. We should be able to leave tomorrow. Package tracking indicates that our mail has cleared customs in Guadalajara and is on its way to us here. We should get it today. Volcano hasn’t caught up with us here yet. They’re probably hanging out in Barra de Navidad, but maybe they’ll show up today.

Most exciting is that we were able to connect with Jim Stork and Mags Petela yesterday evening. Jim hired me at my last job and then retired and moved to Mexico a couple of years ago. They live in Ajijic, but they’re vacationing in Manzanillo. They’re the reason we planned to stop over here in the first place, so it was great that we were able to get together. I started calling their hotel before they even got there, but my Spanish wasn’t good enough to leave a message, and the hotel reception desk’s English over the phone wasn’t up to it either. I tried again yesterday morning, but they were out. That time I did leave a message, but they didn’t get it. Finally, using two different parts of our Spanish phrase book, I was able to get through and talk with Mags. They came right over to pick us up, and we all went out for dinner. The funny thing is that while I was trying to reach them yesterday morning, they were sitting at Las Hadas trying to figure out which boat was ours. Later when John and I went shopping, they were at the same mall, but our paths simply didn’t cross.

Besides all the catching up we did, Jim and Mags were full of good information for us based on their experience as ex-pats in general and Mexican residents in particular. We’re all politically on the same wave length. (Kucinich is more than just a guy with a beautiful wife, and what’s wrong with the Democrats in Congress: get a backbone!) Jim and Mags are active in Democrats Abroad Mexico and gave us a URL to register to vote and vote from abroad. We’re registered for absentee ballots, but the reality is that we might not get them – and be able to return them – in time. So, Democratic cruisers and ex-pats who are reading this, here’s the link for Democrats Abroad and to register to Vote from Abroad.

Friday, December 7, 2007

First Impressions

Barra de Navidad seemed like a good place to spend a few days, but we only had one night there. We spent it finding a safe place to anchor in the shallow lagoon. That took two attempts. Although we felt safe enough the first time, some cruisers who had been there for awhile came over and told us that we needed to put more chain out, and we couldn't do that safely where we were, so we had to move. By then it was time to have dinner, and after that, it was too dark to go into the town with our dinghy since we didn't know the water that well. The next morning was beautiful, and John got some great photos of the locals throwing their fishing nets in the lagoon. But it was time for us to move on to Manzanillo so that we could arrange to have our mail forwarded before the weekend.

When we came into the anchorage at Las Hadas, we saw a familiar boat. We'd seen the motor yacht Lazy Days from Long Beach when we were at Tenacatita. We didn't talk with them then but heard that they'd been through the Panama Canal a couple of times. This time we went right over and introduced ourselves. We're looking forward to talking more with Ron and Cheryl and benefiting from their experience in Central America and cruising in general.

The Las Hadas Resort is beautiful but strangely vacant. It was the setting for the movie 10, which introduced Bo Derek. That was a long time ago, and it's been renovated since then, but it still seems like it's past its prime, especially around the marina. Storefronts and restaurants around the marina are vacant now. We're paying $15/day to use the dinghy dock and facilities of the resort. For that we're also supposed to get a discount at the restaurants. It's a nice anchorage and fairly convenient, so it seems worth the money to us. We'll know more after we've been here for a few days.


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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Märzen's first Mexican adventure

Today Märzen had her first excursion in Mexico. Usually we leave her to guard the boat. She wouldn't enjoy all the walking in the heat that we've been doing, and at La Cruz she would have gotten filthy in the dust. But today we did the jungle river dinghy trip, made famous by the Captain Rains Guide, and Märzen got to come along.

The jungle river trip is about two and a half miles long and runs along the north side of Bahía Tenacatita on the Rio Iguana. The dinghy trip begins at the mouth, near where we're anchored, and follows the river through tunnels in the mangroves to a beach (Playa Escolleras) on the other side of Punto Chubasco at the entrance to the bay. To enter the river you have to paddle or get out and pull the dinghy over the bar, or in our case, a little of both. Along the river are lots of birds (pelicans, egrets, ibis, kingfishers, heron, and something we didn't recognize), butterflies, crabs, and a few reptiles. The crabs seem to live on the mangroves. I don't remember seeing them in the mangroves in Costa Rica, so they may be unique here. Supposedly wild crocodiles hunt iguanas here, but we didn't see any iguanas and only saw one baby crocodile.

Märzen started out sitting on my lap in the bow of the dinghy as usual until she smelled something that got her so excited that she had to drape herself over the bow, craning her nose in front of the boat. When we reached Playa Escolleras we found more than a dozen cantinas lining the beach so, of course, we had lunch there before heading back. Märzen sat quietly under our table and behaved beautifully. The whole adventure was a lot of excitement for a little dog. When we got back to Solstice, she promptly took a nap. (And so did we.)


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Playa Rosa &Playa Recife

This is the prettiest place we’ve anchored in a long time. We’re between two tiny coves, tucked behind a small island that shelters them – and us – from the ocean swells. A third little cove here shelters Playa Blanca. (Playa means beach.) The cliffs above the beaches are filled with little houses painted bright colors. There’s a restaurant just above the beach at Playa Rosa that’s bright pink (rosa means pink) and surrounded by palms. The private residence at Playa Blanca is quite drab compared to its colorful neighbors. When we look away from shore, we see the rocky island with pelicans fishing and the ocean on either side.

The “Captain Rains Guide” gave us a GPS waypoint to find this area, which they call “Careyes.” Otherwise, we would have missed it. Even then, we were starting to doubt. The chart plotter has us about a mile inland, and there’s no detail for this area on the paper charts. The approach reminded me of various coves on the west coast of Vancouver Island: you have to get close to the breaking waves on the rocks in order to see where you’re going. Close is, of course, a relative thing. When you’ve been at sea, two tenths of a mile (the scale on the chartlet in the guide) looks awfully small.

As soon as we anchored, we donned our snorkeling gear and jumped in the water. It was surprisingly chilly considering that our instruments said it was almost 90°. It turns out that there’s upwelling here, and the water changed from cool to quite warm and back again as we swam along. (That two tenths of a mile is also much farther when you’re in the water.) The snorkeling wasn’t great – a little murky and not that many fish – but it was definitely refreshing.