“I'm sure that squall will die out before it gets here.”

Stories with Photos

This page is an overview of random stories some short and some long. They are usually filled with photos, shocking surprises, intrigue and ironic endings. Ok, well at least there are photos.

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Sarana Travels Southern Mexico to El Salvador

Sunday Apr 22, 2007

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Words (8989)

This is a very long story that covers thousands of miles of coastline of Southern Mexico and El Salvador. We sail the coast with some good friends, do a lot of surfing, take an in-land trip to Oxacca with our pets and start to get our feet wet for the first time in Central America.

A Dream Come True

Our GPS has a little feature that keeps track of the total distance traveled, like an odometer on a car.  Sitting here at the bottom of Mexico, I was surprised to notice that during our 3 years in Mexico we traveled 4,000 miles.  That's an incredible distance considering the country is only about 2,000 miles long and before this year we have mostly stuck to the northern half. 

Sailing the Southern Coast of Mexico and Central America

We had amazing experiences in Mexico, ranging from surviving cancer to surviving hurricanes.  You might think those were bad things, but in the end the crises passed and we were given a new lease on life and a fresh perspective.

We were happy to consider ourselves residents of this country, as we had FM3's (resident visas) and never left Mexico once in two 1/2 years -- not even to buy boat parts.  Yes Mexico was good to us.  Considering how overrun the country is with foreigners with money, they manage to remain Mexican -- very warm, honest and happy people.  We wish the best for all the people we've gotten to know along the way, and who have been there to support us through it all.

Our time spent in this wonderful, beautiful place really was a dream come true, but now I'm gushing.  So, let's move on to our final leg out of Mexico.  To see the interactive satellite view of the above map of our anchorages starting with Mazatlan click here.

Hurricanes and 34 Cats Need Help

We had high hopes while Sherrell recovered in Mazatlan from 5 surgeries and radiation treatment that hurricanes would ignore us.  After all we had enough going on, right?

Hurricane Lane Attacks MazatlanWell, the weather disagreed.  Hurricane Lane tried to thump us hard, but took a quick turn to the north and missed us by 60 miles.  That was the closest hurricane in 30 years.  Lane brought 45-50 knots of wind and an amazing amount of rain which caused severe flooding in some parts of town.  But if that wasn't enough we had Tropical Storm (TS) Miriam, Tropical Depression (TD) 2-C, TD 3-C, TS Norman, TS Olivia, TD 4-C and then Hurricane Paul.  Paul was a biggie and built up fast.  But luck was with us as Paul fell apart rapidly before making land fall.   If youâ??re curious about Pacific Hurricanes, Iâ??ve found a good summary on Wikipedia.

While we were keeping a "weather eye out" we took on a project of making pets out of all the wild cats that have been set loose or wandered into the marina.  Their population was completely out of control.  We started trapping them in a humane trap from the volunteer animal shelter, Amigos de los Animales (friends of the animals).

By the time we were finished, we had rescued 34 cats (including kittens born from captured pregnant cats).  These little kittens found homes!Most were quickly adopted out to homes and about 4 were sterilized and released back into the marina property.  We picked the toughest survivors who could fend for themselves and also didn't wander onto the docks.  Those 4 cats would act as a long-term barrier against other cats settling into their territory.  The other 27 were setup for adoption and sterilization.  Three cats ended up being adopted by cruisers:  Jordan (adopted by us, Sarana), Tripper (adopted by Ocean Lady) and Captain Jack (adopted by Two Can Play).

Margarita was released back into the fields.It's no easy task catching wild cats.  Often it was an all-night affair and we had a lot of doubt about catching some of them, but patience paid off.  The last two kittens were tough.  They even resorted to diving into the water to escape us!  I got a pretty good bite by one of those buggers.  By the time we caught those last two we were exhausted and sleep-deprived.

Fortunately some of the other cruisers banded together to raise some money for us to help cover all the costs for getting the cats sterilized and adopted.  It was a nice surprise to break even on the deal and get all those cats care they needed.

There's a hurricane coming, but look at this cool snorkel I found!

After our new crew member, Jordan, settled in to living on our boat, we decided it was time to take our furry feline to sea.  So we dusted off the cobwebs, pulled out the charts and departed Marina Mazatlan the first week in November.

Sailing sailing sailing on SaranaOur first stop was in Matanchen Bay which is a great surfing spot if you can get there when the southern swells are rolling in.  And WHOO HOOO! they were pumping.  Even though I was tired, we unloaded the dinghy and the engine and all my gear.  Then fate stepped in and slapped me.

The outboard wouldn't even pretend to start.  Something happens when you live on a boat and you're always taking care of stuff.  There's some kind of unhealthy emotional attachment that drives you to always keep things working.  So I became obsessed with getting the engine working again.  Despite warnings from Sherrell that I'd better take the surf while it was there and just row the dinghy, I proceeded to tear down the engine.

As I was into my third try at cleaning the carburetor the following day, the surf Couldn't get the 2HP goingdied.   Frustrated, I rowed my way over to the line-up, but it was way too small.  I realized I was a bit delusional about riding these little waves when the fins on the surfboard bumped the bottom.  The waves were just too small to surf.

Dejected I rowed back and took the engine apart again.  Without much luck on the engine we headed down south to Punta de Mita at the Northern edge of Bahia de Banderas (Puerto Vallarta).  We hung out for several days all by ourselves.  It seemed there were no longer any cruising boats in Mexico.  There was an air of "Twilight Zone" but I had a motor to fix.  No time to worry about where the masses were.

A new spark plug (after 4 hours of bus travel and countless miles walked) didn't do anything even though the spark looked good.  I knew it was the carburetor, but I didn't know why it didn't work.  I took everything apart, cleaned it with gas (for the 5th time) and the motor wouldn't even give out a sputter for me.

We were listening to the daily single-side band net when we heard there was a large depression that was starting to rotate.  This little bugger was to become Hurricane Sergio, a rare November Hurricane.Hurricane Sergio missed us

Great, just when our friends were ready to catch up to us from Mazatlan this nasty appears -- Sergio.  Well, Punta de Mita is no place to sit and wait for a hurricane.  It's exposed and we'd be ground into sand if Sergio decided to show us a bad time.

While we were dinking around with deciding what to do, Sherrell lost her clip-on sunglasses overboard.  In an instant they sank.  She was almost in tears because she takes meticulous care of them and they are impossible to replace (and she also looks great with them on).  Much to my chagrin I donned my mask, snorkel, and fins and began the search.

The color of these sunglasses blended into the sand.  There were no reflections and no sign of them.  Wind blew our boat around and we were quickly loosing track of the location where they were dropped overboard.  Sherrell rigged a float and dropped it in as a marker.  I kept diving but I was a bit congested and going down 25 feet repeatedly was beginning to be painful.

Somewhere along the 20th attempt I quit.  Sherrell tried to remain stoic and said thanks for trying, but I could see the disappointment.  So I offered to go to shore and track down a dive tank.  Her eyes lit up and soon we found ourselves at a surf shop that happed to have a half empty tank we could rent for $10.

Down I went in the fading sunlight.  I criss-crossed the bottom in a wide search pattern, but nothing.  The half-empty tank only had about 1000 pounds in it, so I breathed deeply and slowly trying to conserve the tiny bit of air.  I gave up the search pattern and began to check areas randomly to speed things up.  Suddenly I spotted a nice snorkel laying in the sand.  I happily snatched it up thinking at least we found something!

As my air ran low, I realized I probably wasn't going to find the sunglasses and I surfaced.  "I couldn't find them, sorry.  But I did find this cool snorkel, it's just like mine."  As I handed it up to her from the water I noticed there was a name on it -- MY NAME! Sherrell said, "Great you found your own snorkel.  Good job."  It had come loose while I was searching the bottom.  At least I didn't loose that too.

Despite our misadventures in diving we were feeling a bit like we isolated in Punta de Mita.  There was no one there and the weather was a bit rough due to the wind direction.  So we sailed further into the bay to La Cruz.  We found a few boats anchored there.  One of them, Effie, we knew from Mazatlan.  Cool!  We joked around with them about all the wimpy boats we could hear on the radio who were hiding in the marinas because of Sergio.  (However we both made sure there was still space for us if we had to hide too.)

We had a little pot-luck amongst the 4 boats there and waited for Senior Sergio to do something.  Sergio spun around and around and wandered a bit drunkenly before burning out and bringing us a surprise downpour.  Phew!  That was a close call.

While in La Cruz, we bumped into our friends on Endeavor who were staying in one of the marinas.  I mentioned my outboard problem and he proceeded to tell me cleaning it with gas won't work.  I needed some forced air and probably some nasty chemical to scrub it.  Effie had a compressor, and I found a shop with a carb cleaner.  After taking the engine apart again, and cleaning every orifice with air and the chemicals, the engine started the first crank and has been running great since...sheesh.  I'm glad there were other cruisers around to help me out!

With the demise of Sergio, our friends were finally able to leave Mazatlan, so we sailed back to Punta de Mita and waited for the parade to show up.  Four boats slowly drifted in:  Ocean Lady, Willow, Tara, and Godspeed.  Everyone in the group are surfers, so we had a surf session in the mediocre waves (the swells just weren't working for us) before ingesting a HUGE Thanksgiving Day feast.  There are also several musicians in the group, so once the food settled, instruments were brought out, and we listened to some wonderful jamming late into the night.

All good things must come to end, and we had a deadline to meet. So we had to cut the fun short to meet up with our visitor flying into Barra de Navidad.

Thumped at sea but ready to surf

Heading further south requires going around Cabo Corrientes (Cape of Currents) which marks the southern entrance to Bahia de Banderas.  Corrientes is one of those places everyone yaks about endlessly using terms like "Cape Horn of Mexico".  The massive mountains on the cape produces its own weather and it's usually not nice.  Our forecast was for 20 to 25 knots from the NW.  That usually translates to a windy bumpy ride.  But we had a schedule to meet, only a few days until Sherrell's mom arrived and we figured she probably wouldn't like it if we didn't show up.

What we got was a 22 hour sleigh ride, rolling through the rough waves.  With the double reefed main and the reefed head sail we rocketed down the coast to Chamela.  We arrived in the morning and slept most of the day.  I couldn't pass up snorkeling but Sherrell wasn't game.  The visibility was about 15 feet and there was a bunch of fish.  Good ol' Chamela never lets me down, unlike the battery in my little underwater camera -- sorry no photos.

So, with time getting crunched, we left early in the morning for another passage to Barra.  We were able to sail some until the wind switched on the nose and we had to keep moving so we burned some liquid wind.

Barra de Navidad is at the top of our list of cool anchorages in Mexico.  The lagoon, while often tricky to enter or exit provides 100% protection from the outside weather.  We can surf at the beach and the town has just about everything.  Beautiful Barra de Navidad.  Our favorite anchorage.

To top it off, we're anchored in the middle of a beautiful placid lagoon and there's a hotel that let's us use their pool.  What more could you want?  French pastries delivered to your boat, you ask?  Yes, in fact, there's a French-Canadian who delivers his pastries right to you every morning, if you have the funds for such things.

Sherrell's mom arrived safe and soundSwimming pool in Barra (she's on the right in the photo) and looked forward to some warmth and relaxation. It was only a couple days later before our sailing friends caught up to us from Punta de Mita.  The swell finally showed up as well, so after lots of waiting we could finally surf!  We Relaxing in the tropics of Barra de Navidadhad a good time on the beach, by the pool, and touring the lagoon.  Sherrell's mom got to see a different, more tropical part of Mexico (she last visited us on Baja) and meet some of our friends.  She departed a little less pale, only to return to a record breaking Seattle autumn storm.  Bummer.

During her visit, Cassie, one of Ocean Lady's dogs, passed away after some violent seizures.  We had the sad job of helping to organize a burial at sea late in the night.  It was very dark, so we called a water taxi (panga) to take us out of the lagoon and into deep water.  Under the dark sky Swimming in Punta de Mitawith 'Cassiopeia' overhead, for which she was named, we slipped Cassie overboard and said our goodbyes.

It took us quite awhile to get over Cassie's death.  We had spent so much time with her in Mexico, that we had grown very attached.  It was a real shock because she was such an active pup, even for a 12 year old. 

Picking Offshore Coconuts

Shaking off the mood, we planned to head to Zihuatanejo non-stop as soon as Sheila departed.  But then, Sherrell came down with a nasty cold.  Willow and Tara had left a few days earlier and Ocean Lady talked us into going 25 miles further to Santiago Bay and see how Sherrell was feeling.  Things were ok, but Sherrell really needed more sleep, so Ocean Lady left in the early morning, and we decided to leave in the afternoon and take our time.

It was brutal.  There's no other way to describe it.  We both ended up with the cold and we struggled hard to complete each of our watches.  And that was just the first night.  By the second night, we thought we were going to die.  The wind was almost constantly on our nose and the seas were sloppy.

So sloppy in fact the Mexican Navy tried to board us, but couldn't because the seas were too rough.  Ok with me, but we wasted 2 hours trying to maneuver around and answer their questions in Spanish by yelling across to their boat.

At times the wind seemed to never want to stop blowing on our nose, it was driving us mad and we were both bonkers from lack of sleep and the colds we were fighting.

Once, Sherrell woke me up in the middle of the night to go on watch (I had slept thru my alarm).  I remember looking up at the dPicking coconuts offshore while on watch at night.ark sky and seeing coconuts on our mast (I was still inside the boat at this time).  I told her in an irritated tone, "No, I don't want to pick coconuts." and I went back to sleep.  A few minutes later she woke me up again and I found myself sitting in the cockpit with the harness on and clipped into the boat.  I was looking around and I remember thinking, "I'm not picking coconuts, I'm on watch!"  That's how badly I needed sleep because of the cold.  Once the story got around, no one let me live that one down.

It is a bit scary how the lack of sleep can really warp your brain's ability to function.  After that leg we swore to never do another passage if one of us is feeling at all sick.

There was very little sailing for us on this leg.  Almost all 200 miles were covered using the iron beast.  Top that off with a cold, lack of sleep, the navy attempting to board us, and picking coconuts and you get a sucky passage.

Surfing, Partying, and Free Diving for Stainless

We decided to settle into Zihuatanejo for Christmas Finding the boat at night in the dinghyand New Years with the whole gang.  There's a pretty sizable tourist industry complete with bars, restaurants, and a lot of water sports.  The bay is nice, but the jet skis, cruise ships, and parasailing speed boats we could do without.

Z-town is usually as far south as most of the Mexico-based cruisers go.  It's a Mecca for Sail-Fest, a fund raising event for schools that is driven by the sailors who come down to Zihuat.  So we had a chance to meet lots of new people, eat lots of cheap sopes ("so-payz") and drink $1 beers.  But, after a few days we were ready to get away from the busy town activities.

We were itching for some surf, so we sailed up to an island to the North of the bay where we could anchor securely and only be a mile or so from the surf at Playa Linda.  The break was a classic beach break with peaks all up and down the beach.  The folks from Ocean Lady and Godspeed and I found our very own personal peaks to surf and had a blast! Sun setting in Zihuatenejo Bay We talked Tara and Willow into joining us and pretty soon we had our own fleet out there surfing.

After a couple days, we decided it was time to head back to town, but it was such a short distance, there was plenty of time for 1 more surf session before departing.  Playa Linda was a pretty long dingy ride for Willow, Tara and us with our tiny outboards, so we decided to just temporarily anchor the big boat in the roadstead off the beach and paddle into the line-up.  I got up early, all excited about surfing and started to haul up the anchor.

We have a manual windless which means when I want to pull up the chain I have this special stainless steel handle that inserts into this device, then I pump it back and forth and it slowly pulls up the chain.  Well, we were anchored in about 20 feet of water so there was really no force involved in pumping up the anchor chain so I was cranking it up as fast as I could.  I watched two other boats already get their anchors up and start motoring over to the beach.  Not to be outdone, I cranked faster.

Then suddenly I hit my hand on something hard and I jerked it back in pain and I watched the handle fly through the air in slow motion. It bounced off the lifelines then cartwheeled over the side of the boat with a splash.  I yelled down to Sherrell that I lost the handle over the side.  She was none too pleased.  Apparently I'm always dropping things over the side according to her.

So we broke out the snorkeling gear and in the hazy light of dawn I went diving.  At 20 feet down on the bottom it was still pretty dark.  After several attempts to locate it by swimming along the bottom, I told Sherrell to call Tara to borrow their scuba tank.  I watched them do a U-turn and start to head back, meanwhile the other boats left to get to the surf beach.

Not to be beaten by the stupid stainless piece of pipe, I dove again looking for that handle.  If you've dove down to 20 feet before, you'll know that you don't have a lot of breath for swimming along the bottom.  So I kept making multiple short dives while Tara crept closer.  Suddenly I saw something odd shaped -- the handle!  I fought the urge to surface and managed to grab it!  I surfaced to Sherrell's cheer with the stainless handle high in the air.

Ok, so now there's coconuts and throwing my windless handle in the water.  Fortunately the waves were good and I quickly forgot about it.  (I keep a slightly tighter grip on it now.)Christmas in Zihuatanejo

The surfing was great fun.  The waves were easy and everyone was getting good rides.  Life couldn't get much better.  We went back to Zihuat for more grub, Christmas and New Years Eve and started thinking about departing further South.

In the meantime, Nicki on Tara had a family emergency and had New Years in Zihuantanejoto return home leaving Ben alone on the boat.  And then Liz's dad (Ocean Lady) passed away from an illness that had slowly taken over his body and mind.  His death was a mixed blessing as he could no longer eat, talk, walk or even sit up, but it's still always sad to loose a parent.

Our fleet was split.  Two boats had to stay to deal with family matters.  Two other boats weren't quite ready to leave (Godspeed and a new friend Get Lost) and two of us were itching to go (Willow and Sarana).  After some late night bar talk, we decided to be the vanguard and find some surf and report back to the others so they could join us.

Spanish Fortresses, Uncharted Bays, and Surf Heaven

We left our friends and began the long leg down south.  Southern Mexico has proven to be a real challenge for sailing with notoriously light winds.  If you're happy going less than 2 knots and drifting most of the time, you'll do well here.  So, we were ecstatic to be able to sail about 45 of the 110 miles to Acapulco.

Willow sails into Acapulco Bay

Sarana sailing with double head sails.

 

 

 

 

 

Deploying a double headsail with our drifter and the genoa created a massive amount of sail area.  In the light, but building winds from astern, we flew along under these two big sails.  In grand style Sarana and Willow sailed into the bay through a narrow slot between an island and some cliffs.  Like the ships of old we opened a can of whoop-ass and sailed all the way up to the anchorage.

You don't even have to ask if we saw the famous cliff divers.Acapulco Cliff divers

And we also toured the old Spanish fort built to protect the city from pirates.

Spanish Cannons in the Acapulco Fort 

Named El Forte de San Diego and built between 1615 and 1617 (rebuilt again in 1776 due to an earthquake), this fort helped Spain keep control of these waters until the Mexicans booted them out.  The fort has been converted into a cultural museum and historic center for learning about the pre-Hispanic and Hispanic people.  Archeological digs have indicated that people have inhabited this region for over 3,000 years.

Like the Fort, Acapulco is a shell of what it once was.  The city is suffering from years of neglectArtifacts from tribes in Acapulco and the appeal as a touristPaintings of wrestling events in Acapulco destination has faded.  It's too bad because the place definitely has some potential.  The artwork and artifacts in the fort were really cool and there's a strong sense of history in the city.

After a couple of days, we decided to haul up the anchor, which was over 60 feet below us in the deep bay, and keep moving.

We had spotted two very interesting things about this next leg - There was a nice shaped bay on the chart which lacked any attention in the cruising guides that seemed to have some anchoring potential.  And, more interestingly, a surf magazine had an advertisement with a tiny map highlighting some areas with surf in Southern Mexico with one spot somewhere along our route.  The name of the surf spot was not listed on our chart, however Sherrell's brain registered it as being something she had seen before.  She said, "Hey!  I bet there's surf at Punta Galera!" after realizing that the name on the surf map was the same as a big lagoon behind this anchorage.

Either way we had to get moving and as usual the wind was hiding somewhere from us.  Throughout the day we couldn't get much speed going, so we had to make a decision.  The charts of Mexican waters are so poor that you shouldn't ever try to make landfall in the dark. Our only choices for making the P. Galera anchorage before dark were to slow to 2.5 knots or speed up to 5.5 knots. Neither of those ideas seemed attractive, So we decided to try a spot that Sherrell had noticed on the charts called Bahia Dulce. The chart was pretty sketchy and no guides had mentioned it, but we thought we'd tool around and see if there was a place to anchor out of the swell.

We arrived at Bahia Dulce (Sweet Bay) at dawn and slowly crept into the uncharted bay.   We were treated to a very welcoming sight, with beautiful beaches and calm peaceful waters. As we were motoring in, a Boobie bird landed on my head while I was A boobie lands on my head and helps fold the sailtying up the mainsail! We were both equally shocked and he leapt to the mainsail and stood there looking at me like I was guilty of messing up his perfect landing. So he stayed with us for about 45 minutes and endured several leaping attempts by Jordan. Ourselves and Willow found a spot in about 35 feet and the holding was good.  We went below and that's when the party started. It's amazing how much crap one little bird can make. No problem, it just washes off, Jordan hunting boobiesbut it was funny watching Jordan stalk the bird because she was a little afraid of the feathery monster that was as big as her.

After eating and sleeping for about 5 hours, we decided to press on and see if Sherrell was right about Punta Galera.

Light winds again cursed us and we sailed about 20 miles before it completely went away.  So we motored for about 12 hours to arrive in the bumpy anchorage of Punta Galera.  It didn't take more than a quick glance to see that we were in for some INCREDIBLE surf (Greg in the foreground and Sarana in the background).

Surfing right off the boat

We stayed a couple of weeks.  Long enough for Tara, Godspeed, Get Lost and Ocean Lady to catch up to us and see this incredible surf.  The real bummer was after we hyped up this awesome wave with tubes for a week, the day they arrived the swell died down!  Talk about bad luck.

It was still good enough to surf, so we kept going at it.  Panga Get Lost is anchored in the lagoonGet Lost (see Panga to Panama) was able to go up inside the lagoon (out of the rough water) and anchored comfortably right off the tiny village.  They got mobbed when they pulled in.  Everyone wanted to see these gringos on the crazy super-panga.  All the kids were touching it and pretty soon they were playing soccer with them on the beach.

Meanwhile we planned a big meal and bonfire (fogata) with a local beach restaurant and the owner of the restaurant picked us all up so we wouldn't have to risk the mouth of the lagoon in our small dinghies in the dark (the surf line moves across the entrance).

On the beach we met other tourists who were vacationing there.  There was a group of kids from Mexico City who played guitar and sung really well.  My voice was hoarse the next day from singing, but it was better than what my head felt like.

Music Jam by the bonfire

The lagoon has been made into a national park, and is said to be the largest in Mexico.  Reported to have a lot of wildlife inside the lagoon, we did a tour in our dinghies (braving the entrance with the 2HP -- not a wise move).  We saw lots of birds inside this massive lagoon that runs about 20 miles along the coast. 

Wildlife in punta galera lagoonWildlife in punta galera

All of the boats had different things they wanted to do and times they wanted to depart.  Tara and Willow were anxious to get down to Central America, so they departed one afternoon when the wind was really howling (a rare event).  Godspeed decided to go with them, since Ryan's parents were flying into Huatulco a few days later.  They were planning to go the next day with us, but when it started blowing hard, they opted to take the wind.  After a crazy fire drill of getting up the stern anchors in that wind then loading up the boats they took off.  Two hours later the wind was back to calm and they were motoring.  We left the following day and didn't have much luck either with the wind.  Since Ocean Lady and Get Lost had only arrived 4 or 5 days earlier, they decided to stay and enjoy more of the "best surf" in Mexico (Ocean Lady's words).

Sherrell and I decided to stop in Puerto Escondito because it was a famous surf spot and we thought it'd be cool to check out.  There were some great restaurants, but the swell was way to powerful for me to even think about surfing (it's known as a board breaker).  We hung out a couple of days enjoying the scene and some good vegetarian food before we took off for Puerto Angel.

Anchored in Puerto Escondito

There was absolutely no wind again the day we left, so 37 miles later we anchored in Puerto Angel without having even made an effort at sailing. Bird riding on a turtle We did see lots of turtles though.  Actually thousands of turtles.  Turtles everywhere.  So many turtles, in fact, that even the dolphins were using them as toys and flinging them into the air - I kid you not.  We've all watched enough nature documentaries to know that dolphins aren't always the sweet, cute, and gentle creatures we'd like to believe, but it was still a gruesome shock to see this behavior first hand.

Gringos' Butts are Really White.

Puerto Angel ("AHN-hell") is barely a port.  It's pretty wide open but tucked far enough away from the coastline that most of the waves don't find their way in.  We arrived at about 5:30pm, hot, tired and hungry.  So while Sherrell started dinner, I decided to shower.  I set everything up and sat on the floor of the cockpit.  Life was good, the sun was setting, I was getting all that salt off, when I had a funny feeling.  One of those "I'm not alone" feelings.  I peaked out over the cockpit combing to see a panga full of armed Navy guys coming right at us at full speed.  I jumped up and dashed down below just as they pulled up to us.  I quickly dressed as I heard a voices calling out their identity and informing us they were coming aboard.

The port captain was with them and he was the first one to scramble aboard and into our cockpit just as I climbed back up wearing clothes.  There was soapy water everywhere and my hair was a wet mess.  He didn't seem to register anything unusual, but the Navy guys had changed their minds, and didn't want to do an inspection after all.  I wonder why, I thought.

The port captain was quick.  He took our papers and said we could pick them up in the office and then they all left en masse.  What can you do but laugh.  I'm sure they went back and told some stories about how white gringos butts are.

The Undiscovered Country

From Puerto Angel (remember that's "AHN-hell" not "AYN-gel") we snuck around the corner to a series of bays, known collectively as Bahias de Huatulco.  Why snuck?  Well, we had heard mixed stories about what happens on this part of the coast that runs NE along the Gulf of Tehuantepec.  When the winds blow, and I mean BLOOOOOW, in the Tehuantepec we didn't know what happens in Bahias de Huatulco.

We had heard a range of stories ranging from horror to picnic.  Not knowing what to believe, we probed Port Captains and locals for more details.  Most of them assumed we were talking about the actual center of the Tehuantepec where it can be deadly.  So it was hard to communicate our questions because they don't sail and they don't really know what type of information we're interested in.

So we snuck around the corner, wondering if 20 foot waves with 8 second periods would trash us (as one sailor had warned some friends).  It was blowing pretty hard in the middle of the Tehuantepec that day and sure enough we saw some weird waves.  They trucked along.  Steep little suckers just ripping by at a speed that seemed impossible.  Fortunately they were only about 5-6 feet and were about 5 seconds apart.  It was very uncomfortable but manageable and we actually managed to have a nice downwind sail for most of the day, before finding a gorgeous anchorage protected from the waves.

From our own ensuing experiences we learned that this area is pretty protected from the winds of the Tehuantepec, but a diminished version of the large waves still truck on into the coast.  Since the Tehuantepec BLOOOOWS so hard from Jan. to April, we got used to the occasional wacky waves and enjoyed the bays in spite of them.

We spent 6 weeks in these bays, so I'll just tell you about our favorites running from SE to NW.Fish and coral reefs

Jicarral had the best snorkeling.  All these underwater fish pictures were taken there.  We had a few parties on the beach with all our friends (minus Willow and Tara who moved on) and we made some great memories there.

Chachaqual had a nice beach, some ok snorkeling and the anchorage was a little rolly.

La India right next to Chachaqual is probably the best anchorage.  Tropical fish are coolYou have your own personal reef protecting you and a very pretty beach to call your own.

Cacaluta probably had the most interesting beach, but the anchorage sucked as we had SW winds pounding us and rolling us the whole time we were there.

Santa Cruz is the best place to anchor for provisions.  You can dinghy to the Pemex fuel dock for ice, water, and fuel or you can take your dinghy intoSnorkeling in Jicaral with the fish the darsena (public docks) where you can leave it while you go into Crucecita (the main town) for supplies.  Ironically there is no actual town called Huatulco.  Huatulco is an Indian word that means a view of the trees.

Marina Chahue ("CHAH-way") has all the bells and whistles, but you have a long walk or a taxi ride just to get to a store.  There's an undeveloped section of Marina Chahue off to the right as you enter.  If you tie up on one of those unused docks (no power or water) you only pay 1/3 the price.  We spent two hours sounding most of the channel in our dinghy before going in there so we can say with some confidence that the first half of the channel gets no shallower than 6 feet at low tide, and the first set of docks has 10 feet of water, while the next several docks have 5 - 6 feet.  The docks on the left-side of the channel have only 4 - 4.5 ft of water.  It was very quiet and we had a big 100 foot dock to ourselves.

Downtown in Crucecita we found some great restaurants ranging from Vietnamese Salad rolls to pizza.  On the street corners you could buy AMAZING tamales de elote (corn tamales) at about 3 for $1.  Oh, how I love those things!  MMMMMMM...tamales de elote.

4 Cats and a Dog Go Driving

After Godspeed left for C. America, we decided to take a side trip to Oaxaca ("WHA-ha-ka") with Scott & Liz from Ocean Lady to see some of the oldest ruins in Mexico.  Getting there with our personal zoo required some planning.  After lots of questioning, we decided just getting two small rental cars was the way to go.  We contacted a bunch of vacation rentals who stated they were "pet friendly", but only one had availability.  The owner of this one (who was American) said, "Sure, bring your pets.  [Pause] How many do you have?"  When we said quickly, "just a dog and uh... 4 cats."  He didn't even break his stride and said, "No problem."

So we loaded up and took off through the mountains.  We climbed up and up, turning through switchbacks every 100 feet or so.  In fact we probably drove twice as far as we needed to just because of all the turns.  My arms were sore 8 hours later when we arrived in the city of Oaxaca.

Scott and Liz in the lead car managed to find "CASA RAAB" in the dark and unlit rural area outside of town while getting directions over the cellphone.  To this day I'm still not sure how they did it.  And Casa Raab has a great poolCasa Raab turned out to be PARADISE.  We each had our own very large room with nice bathroom, and free run of the entire house.  They had a swimming pool, 40 acres of land, horses, donkeys, cats, dogs, and even birds.    Better yet, they grew their own Agave (a plant used for making Tequila and Mezcal).

As luck would have it, Tony, the proprietor, was unveiling his cooked agave for makingAgave getting ready to be made into Mezcal Mezcal the week we were there.  The rare event was a blast.  They cook the hearts of the agave underground in a pit and leave them for about 2 weeks.Still for making Mezcal

Then they mash up the pulp and put the juice in big oak barrels for about a week or so while they ferment.  Then they distill it in a homemade still.  Mezcal became a central feature of our trip in Oaxaca.

We were so pooped from the long day of traveling, that our first day was spent hanging out on the property and by the pool.  On day two, after feeling fully rested, we drove to Monte Alban which has some of the most spectacular ruins I've ever seen.  Check out the 270 degree view from the steps where we sat and pondered the immensity of the structures and the culture.Panaromic view of Monte Alban

The complexity of these structures, built around 500 AD was staggering.  Unfortunately most if not all of the significance of these buildings has been lost in time.Monte Alban temples

Of course they have some ideas, but even just recently in Guatemala they discovered new paintings which threw a wrench into their understanding of the Ulmecs and the Mayans.  It's hard to stand there and see all this knowing that there's no one around to explain it anymore.

After spending a day hiking around ruins, we decided to spend our next day in the city where we met up with our friend Mark from Con Te Partiro.  We toured the zocalo (town square) and the cathedrals, after having a nice lunch.  The old Spanish architecture here is amazing - you really feel like you're in Europe.

Church of Santo Domingo (1547AD)

Very baroque, eh?  It's the church of Santo Domingo built in 1547.

And (upon my constant insistence) we took a trip to see the worlds largest (in diameter) tree, called the Arbol de Tule.  It took nine photos stitched together to bring this one image together so you could see the tree.  Pretty damn cool.Biggest tree trunk in the world.  Tule Tree is 2000 years old.

Then we went to see the Dianzu ruins.  These were less popular ruins and so they decided just to let tourists trample all over them.  Not being the superstitious types, we climbed into the tomb chambers and had a look around.

Hanging out in the Dianzu Tomb

It was a bit like interactive archeology, but we were careful not to do any damage.

Following the Dianzu ruins we went to see what was happening at Mitla (built and active from 500BC to 200AD).  Since the well publicized riots in Oaxaca had scared off all the tourists, we basically had the place to ourselves.Catholic church built from the ruins of the Zapoteca tribes

The architecture was unusual as they used columns.  Not that I know much about these things, really, I read that somewhere.  I could see they spent a lot of labor in their construction.Columns are unusual architecture for this time period.

It was beautiful and dazzling.  Constructed in 500BC to 200AD these were some of the oldest buildings still standing.  The wooden roofs of course didn't stand a chance, but a lot of the carvings and artwork survived.  If you get a chance, visit Oaxaca and tour it for yourself.

Oaxaca was a blast.  We had Mark come join us at Casa Raab for dinner a couple of times and we explored the intricacies of Mezcal together.  The animals had free range on the ranch and the owners even took them on walks while we were gone!  It will be hard to top with our future land travel.

Hurricanes Again?

We took a different route back from Oaxaca, which went through the town of Tehuantepec ("teh-wan-TEH-peck").  The Tehuantepec was doing it's normal thing: BLOOOOWING (See Tehuantepecker "teh-wan-TEH-pecker").  It was hard to keep the car on the road at times.  When we approached the shore from the hills the sea looked white and we'd see massive balls of sand lifted off the beaches and blowing out to sea.Tehuantepec blowing hard.

Later we learned it was only a Storm Force condition and not quite at the hurricane force yet.  We drove down to the beach and saw first hand how it would SUCK to be caught in a Tehuantepec BLOOOW.

We returned to the Marina and went back to Jicarral and a couple other bays to kill some time and wait for a weather window for that stupid Tehuantepec.

Crossing the Tehuantapec

We stocked up and kept watching the weather.  After much discussion we saw what looked like a good 3 day window approaching.  Our plan was to go about 50 miles and anchor southwest of Salina Cruz (near where we took pictures of the wind blowing) then cross the windy zone of the Tehuantepec the next day. 

If we were able to sail enough, we could keep going to El Salvador.  However, with only 50 gallons of fuel, we weren't sure we'd make the 545 miles without stopping somewhere.  There's never any wind when you need in this area, and you don't want to drift around in the Tehuantepec waiting for it, that's for sure.

In a bit of a rush, we prepped the boat for heavy weather and departed early in the morning.  Often when there is 20-25 knots from the N in the Tehuantepec there's a wrap-around effect along the coast which makes for a nice SE downwind sail to Salina Cruz.  We were counting on it for saving fuel.  In fact during our 6 weeks there it seemed to be the one local wind event that was predictable.  Naturally there was no wind when we set off, just a nasty adverse 1.5 to 2.0 knot current.

We motored the whole way and anchored for the night off Punta Chipehua, where our guide book says, "Ships anchor here sometimes, but there is no protection."  Great.  Well the book was wrong.  There is no way a ship could anchor there with all the lobster pots the pangas put out, but it was dead calm all night long.

Early in the morning we rose to face the "Gates of Hell."  We checked the weather forecasts which looked good, and threaded our way across the shipping lanes of Salina Cruz and entered the shotgun barrel of the Tehuantepec.

We saw winds up to 16 knots from the SW and had some smooth sailing in the morning.  That nasty current still dogged us though and again we ended up motoring most of the time because the wind died.  And like I mentioned earlier no one wants to sit around in this part of the world and wait for it.

All along the coast we dodged shrimpers and pangas.  It kept us busy at night and due to the all the motoring, we were forced to stop in Puerto Madero for fuel, which is the last port in Mexico.

Madero was alright.  The Navy was a bit aggressive in their need to search us upon arrival and departure (including the drug dog).  Also we had to pay API $7 just to anchor for the night.  But we got our fuel and some sleep and got out of there for the coast of Guatemala.  They plan on building a marina here in a year, so maybe that will pave the way for easier entry and exit procedures for pleasure boats.

Upon leaving Madero we had a wonderful surprise:  wind and positive current!  We blasted along the entire coast, rarely under 6 knots, often at 7!  It turns out we didn't need fuel after all!  After doing 3-4 knots all the way to Madero this was undoubtedly nirvana.

It wasn't without it's troubles though.  Sherrell had to play dodge the pangas for several hours one night, as they were often everywhere with only small lights.  We learned a few days later that an experimental boat from New Zealand doing an around the world trip using only biodiesel collided with a panga, killing one fisherman and critically injuring another.  They hit that unfortunate panga in the same area we passed through 24 hours earlier.

31 Foot Surfboard

We had been trying to catch up to Ryan (now known as "Admiral" because he owns two boats thanks to a stranger giving him his own boat in P. Madero) on his new boat Sonrisa.  Our plan was to sail the coast with him out of Madero, but he wasn't there and we hadn't heard from him.

So we continued on down the coast to El Salvador.  The current carried us the entire way!  We were arriving 1/2 a day before I expected we would and that gave us two options.  We could either stop in Bahia del Sol or continue on to Barillas.

Bahia del Sol is famous for the bar crossing at the entrance.  Boats caught by large waves have been broached and damaged trying to enter the estuary.  Barillas has a much easier entrance, with waves rarely breaking across the channel.

As we approached Bahia del Sol we saw Sonrisa sitting outside the entrance.  Ryan had been waiting for 5 days because the waves were too big to safely cross the sand bar.  Once I saw him anchored there, I thought, ok, we're going in here too.

We got word that the waves were a lot better and the bar was going to be open at high tide around noon.  There were 4 of us waiting outside to go in, and two boats waiting to get out.

Around noon we got the word on the radio that the bar was passable and Murray (the guy who guides people across the bar) was coming out with our friend Chad (from Get Lost) to guide us all in.

A big catamaran that had been anchored outside with Ryan for 5 days went in first.  They somehow got too close to the beach and within minutes surf pounded their starboard ama sending spray up over their spreaders (about 30 feet in the air).  Then, a second wave hit them.  At this point I stopped pulling up the anchor and said to myself, they aren't going to make it and there's no way in hell I'm going in there.

A third wave hit them.  I could hear Chad on the radio calling them over and over trying to get them to turn out to sea.  Fortunately the sets stopped and their reply indicated they were confused about what was going on.  But Chad got them back on track and into the channel.  So I started pulling up the anchor again, thinking we'd better stay in that channel.

With the boat buttoned up (we even took off the solar panel and our bimini) and us harnessed in, we approached the bar.  Following Chad and Murray's instructions and the lack of any rogue sets made the crossing safe.  We still did some surfing and there was lots of waves that rolled us about 30 degrees to each side.  But the breakers stayed outside of the channel and life was good.  Sherrell even said, "That was fun.  Let's do it again."  At that point I looked closely at her to see if she was really Sherrell.

We turned the corner, and spotted the marina with a few boats anchored nearby.  Once we had the anchor set, the navy came out for their regular inspection and we checked into the country.  We met up with Ryan, Scott (also from Get Lost) and Chad at the bar and celebrated our exit from North America and our glorious arrival in Central America!

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the best things about El Salvador are the PUPUSAS ("poo-poo-SUH").  They are like hearty corn tortillas stuffed with goodies cooked inside.  We get the bean ones, but they have shrimp, chicken, and other combos.  Here's a photo of some cooking on the grill -- YUM!

We did manage 3 side trips to San Salvador where the local markets were booming away.  The cost of living is a bit surprising, though.  It's quite high and one of the taxi drivers told me he felt that not much has really changed since the '80's during the war.  I pointed out there seems to be a lot more work and less war.  He just sort of shrugged and said, more jobs yes but everything costs a lot more too.

I have to say I've struggled to define El Salvador (if I may be so bold to try).  There is still a strong class division between the rich and the poor.  Where the rich are so very very rich they fly from place to place in helicopters and the poor, well they have it tough.  We could see how the class wars fought in the '80's could again emerge.  Many people have a guarded edge to them, but they are still friendly once you break the ice.  Perhaps in some sense they still feel they are fighting a little bit of the war.  Maybe they are just shy of foreigners, it's hard to say after only 4 weeks of exploration. 

El Salvador is definitely an interesting place though and worth a visit.  On a personal note, I've made myself sick eating too many mangos and pupusas.  Oh and I learned why cashew nuts are so expensive.  Apparently the tree that bears them only produces one nut per fruit.  Check out the photo!  That thing on the bottom of the fruit -- that's the cashew nut!

Well, we're pretty much loaded up and ready to check out some hidden surf spots further East (that's right, El Salvador's coast runs West to East) followed by Nicaragua.  Now if the swell would just calm down enough for us to get back out over the bar....