Since late January we’ve been living in a world of firsts. That’s when we left Barra de Navidad to continue our journey down the Mexico coast. Barra was our southerly most port last season before we backtracked north to leave the boat in Puerto Vallarta for the hurricane season. All the places past Barra are new to us and we’ve had a whirlwind five weeks checking them out. There are several where we’d love to spend more time but we have to keep moving or we may never make it out of Mexico.
Leaving Barra we made a couple of quick overnight stops on our way to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. Our first stop was a small cove called Ensenada Carrizal, which offered some good snorkeling and a short hike to stretch our legs. The guide books didn’t mention how the waves stack up on the rock beach in a straight west swell but we found out quickly and did our hike in soaking wet clothes after getting dumped from our kayak and paddleboard on landing – not the planned way to cool off but it worked.
Our second stopover was in Caleta de Campos, a pretty bay surrounded by a white sand beach and a small town crawling up the hill at one end. Unfortunately, due to the swell and rolly conditions, we didn’t leave the boat to go ashore.
Upon arriving in Ixtapa, as we were taking down our mainsail, a humpback whale paid us a surprise visit. Neither of us noticed him until the HUGE splash as he breached just 20 yards off our port side! Needless to say, we did not capture it on film. With a shot of adrenaline fresh in our blood from that encounter we anchored at Isla Grande, a small island just off the coast of Ixtapa. During the day the water around the island is a lively scene with pangas ferrying day-trip passengers from the mainland and old ski boats pulling water weenies with screaming beach-goers. Ashore tourists hang out at the colorful palapa restaurants feasting on fresh seafood and cervezas and snorkel in the crystal clear water of the cove on the south side of the island. By nightfall, the anchorage returns to peace and quiet.
The next day we sailed the short distance to Zihuatanejo, or “Zihua,” where we spent the next three weeks. A city of about 100,000 people, Zihua still manages to retain a laid-back, fishing village charm, especially in the Centro and beach areas surrounding the bay, which is very popular with sailors and fishermen.
Each year in mid-February a week-long festival called Sailfest is held to raise money for local education initiatives, including new schools and scholarship programs. For a small donation, folks can participate in a variety of activities, such as auctions, dinners and parties throughout the week. One of the most popular fundraising activities is the opportunity to ride aboard one of the sailboats, for a daysail or a sunset cruise, or during the “Rally ‘Round the Rock” race or the final day parade of boats to Ixtapa and back. We participated in the race (taking 1st in our class!) and hosted Canadians Denise and Krys onboard for the parade. We’d heard of Sailfest for a long time – it’s been going for 15 years! – so it was neat to be a part of it this year.
After Sailfest, we rented a car and drove to the nearby towns of Troncones and Playa Saladita to check out the surf. We loved the area and mentally added it to our “return someday” list.
Wrapping up our time in Zihua we had a visit from our good friends, the Grabans. We had only one day with them but we wrung the life out of it with a daysail, swimming, snorkeling, sunset, and dinner at a local favorite taco joint. It was the perfect end to an awesome stay in Zihua Bay.
After an overnight sail from Zihua we arrived in Acapulco. We had heard mixed reviews about Acapulco. The city has been battling serious drug-related crime for the last several years and it’s sad to see the impact of severely decreased tourism as a result – empty beaches, shuttered businesses, fishing charters without customers, never-finished high rises. Looking past that, though, we quickly discovered a wonderful city with beautiful beaches, clear water, friendly people and tons of stuff to see and do. We saw the world famous cliff divers – honestly, we’ve both been waiting for this since seeing them on “The Love Boat” in the 70s.
We visited the Fort of San Diego, which includes a wonderful (and air conditioned) museum. We strolled around Old Town and dined on the beach at Caleta.
We’re hopeful that the situation in the city will continue to improve and the crowds will return. Acapulco deserves another chance.
Our time in Mexico is nearing its end but we still have many more firsts in the future so stay tuned!
The day started out innocently enough…breakfast, coffee, listen to the morning radio net, then it was time to make some more water. Onboard Gadabout we have a reverse osmosis water maker that allows us to turn seawater into drinkable water at about twenty gallons per hour and only millions of dollars per glass. In order to do this we must run the generator. That should be easy enough; it was just running while we made coffee and toast. (Editors note: for any of you who are following along super closely you might ask, “But wait, I thought they had a DC water maker and didn’t even have to use the generator. As a matter of fact, he even bragged about it!” Well, that’s another story for another time, suffice it to say we like spending MANY thousands of dollars to make water, instead of just SOME thousands of dollars.)
So, start the generator I did, and within a few minutes Paula commented that she smelled something burning. I responded with my preformatted answer “all generators do that, honey…” while quickly turning it off and trying to locate the origin of the odor. All the diesel stuff on a boat uses ocean water to circulate around a heat exchanger to help cool the motor. After starting a marine diesel engine, one should always, ALWAYS, check to see that the water is being expelled from the exhaust. This means that the pump is working. I mean, this is basic Cruising 101 stuff here, guys, any idiot knows to check the exhaust. Well the one time (ok, maybe second) I didn’t go up and check, Neptune and Murphy decided to team up.
Upon gaining access to the generator and opening the pump housing it was readily apparent that the impeller had failed. Impellers are rubber paddle wheels that are somewhat vindictive and like to choose the most inopportune times to fail, usually by shedding rubber parts deep into the heat exchanger. Check. Ours did that, right on schedule. Now, instead of simply changing out the impeller, we (Paula was now fully involved) had to start taking off rubber hoses that are so difficult to remove that it makes you wonder if they started with the hoses and built the motor around them, and start fishing for rubber pieces all the way to the heat exchanger.
One hose was removed by destruction due to a combination of its intransigence and my frustration…and, of course, it’s the one size of hose for which we do not have a spare. So, leaving Paula on impeller replacement/shrapnel recovery duty, I dinghied to shore, grabbed a cab and was off to find a hose guy. You see, in Mexico, there is seldom one-stop shopping. If you need screws you go to the screw guy (Casa de Tornillos, in our case). If you need hose, you go to the hose guy. But wait, hose guy doesn’t carry clamps. You need to go to the clamp guy for that. You get the picture. These stores are seldom anywhere near each other, so every parts trip becomes an adventure in expanding our Spanish vocabulary with words seldom used in conversational society.
I will spare the build up and suspense, but as we (the cabbie and I) got turned away at tienda after tienda (this one sells hydraulic hoses, but not your kind…this one sells water hoses…) we worked further into a labyrinth of back alley repair shops where they found it less and less amusing that a gringo in a collared shirt would be darkening their doorstep. The guy at the final shop where I managed to purchase my hose looked straight up like a caricature of every bad hombre Mexican stereotype Hollywood has ever portrayed. He even spat on the floor when I walked up, for effect. But, after a few minutes of searching and a joke about gringos that I didn’t fully comprehend but made even my cabbie visibly uncomfortable, we were on our way back to the boat.
By the time I got back Paula had found all the pieces and installed the spare impeller, so I simply had to cut the hose to size, lacerate my hand, re-do the hose after it leaked the first time, and bingo-bango, we were making water, only ten hours after I began. And a mere hour later, I had that glass of water!
We finally finished all our lightning-related repairs on the boat and broke the dock lines tying us to Puerto Vallarta. We were there two months longer than planned this season. While there was certainly some stress and a lot of work involved, we also had a ton of fun exploring the area and spending time with friends.
Our new landlubber pals, Chris and Steph, introduced us to awesome local restaurants, let us tag along on Costco runs, and provided us with frequent dog fixes (thanks, guys!).
We visited with cruising friends in the marina and friends who happened to be in the area on vacation. Our friends Jessie and Dave made their annual pilgrimage to Gadabout to escape the Pacific NW winter.
We even had the opportunity to partake in local Mexican Christmas Eve festivities, thanks to our amigo, Juanito, and his family.
We wouldn’t have experienced much of this had we been on our original timeline. I guess Mother Nature wanted us to have a bit more fun before leaving this beautiful area.
Our first leg was a short trip across Banderas Bay to Punta de Mita for the night then the next day was a long one, 90 miles, to Chamela Bay. There were a few whale sightings along the way, including a mother and calf, and a pod of dolphins paid us a visit to play in our bow wake. The seas were a bit sloppy but the weather was beautiful. After no open ocean for 8 months, though, plus the stress of an after-dark arrival in the anchorage, we were exhausted when we finally dropped the hook at the end of a 14-hour day of (mostly) motoring. We spent three days in Chamela exploring and catching up with friends, then continued south to Tenacatita Bay.
Last spring, we were the only boat in Tenacatita but in the high season, this anchorage turns into a busy, activity-filled cruising community with a fun atmosphere and tons to do. We spent three days kayaking, paddle-boarding, surfing and relaxing. On our last morning, we awoke to dolphins swimming between the boats. A short while later, a trio of whales was spotted in the bay. A call went out on the VHF radio and soon everyone was on deck watching as the whales made their way into the anchorage, in just 30 feet of water. One of them rolled on its side, appearing to wave at all the people ooh-ing and aah-ing over their presence then they turned and headed to deeper water.
We took that as a sign to leave, as well. A short 2-1/2 hours later, we pulled into a slip at the marina in Barra de Navidad, where we’ll spend a week before plying new waters (for us) as we continue south along the Mexican coast.
“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get struck by lightning.” – Wags
In early October, we received a message from Juanito, our boat manager, informing us, “Tengo una mala noticia,” which basically means, “I have bad news.” After several more texts and a series of mediocre Google Translate attempts, we determined that there had been a lightning strike on or around our boat and there may be some damage. Juanito’s English is marginally better than our Spanish, which is to say, less than conversational grade, so we weren’t able to get a detailed account from afar. We knew there were a few lights inside the boat that wouldn’t work and, unfortunately, a few lives lost, as evidenced by the picture Juanito provided of the three dead birds that were found on our deck. So, after an amazing summer in the Pacific Northwest, we arrived back in Puerto Vallarta late last month with hopes of finding only minimal damage and being able to stick to our plan of an early November departure. Those hopes made it only as far as the 15-minute taxi ride from the airport to the marina.
The bright side was, Gadabout was afloat and there were no external signs of damage, to the hull or deck. The (now quite crispy) dead birds were still there, lying side-by-side on the dock, left as proof, we assume, that the photo sent to us was real. We entered the sweltering cabin and immediately turned on the air conditioning, except that it didn’t start. The air conditioning was fried. This was going to be less than fun. Over the next several days, in 95 degrees and 80% humidity, we worked our way through all the systems onboard to find that the damage from the lightning, which was, in fact, a direct strike to our mast, was extensive. It destroyed everything on the mast (wind indicator, VHF antenna, anchor and navigation lights, and radar) and all of our navigation electronics inside, as well as the AC, inverter, and fridge and freezer controllers.
After five days of staying on the boat with no AC and no refrigeration, we threw in the towel and booked a week in a nearby condo. Sure, we could’ve powered through, but we decided our sanity was worth the cost. Besides, there was a washer/dryer at the condo, so that would offset the cost of having to go the Laundromat at least a few times – Wagner logic, at its best.
Three weeks later, things are progressing. We’re back on the boat, the AC is fixed, we’ve installed a new inverter and the batteries are fully charged. We had a spare refrigeration controller onboard and were able to source another quickly, so the fridge and freezer are back in service. New electronics are ordered and installation is underway.
Best of all, our insurance company, Markel (a division of USAA), has been wonderful and is covering everything (minus our deductible, of course)! We’re pretty sure the dead bird photo was the tipping point for them – it was one of the photos we sent them to show that the damage was indicative of a lightning strike.
We’ll be in Puerto Vallarta much longer than we anticipated but we can see a light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll come out of this better than before. Plus, we have the opportunity to spend time with friends – some from last season and some new. It took a little time but we now see the silver lining in this cloud. Let’s just hope there’s no more lightning!
When cruising in the tropics there is inevitably a decision to be made come hurricane season. One can:
1) Clear out of the hurricane zone (usually between latitude 30 deg N and 05 Deg S). This is the least risky option but severely limits the cruising season as it allows only four to six months in the tropics before it’s necessary to clear out of the hurricane zone.
2) Put the boat in a safe harbor and cross your fingers. Option 2 carries some risk as the boat will be stationary and will require a fair amount of prep to be storm ready should a development occur. Selection of a well-sheltered location with a low probability of hurricane landfalls (based on past history) helps minimize this risk while enabling an easy continuation of cruising after hurricane season.
3) Continue cruising and hope that you will have enough warning and be close enough to a safe harbor should a storm develop in your area. This option is typically reserved for the brave and uninsured as storms can develop quickly and sailboats aren’t fast enough to easily get out of the path of a storm. Insurance companies don’t like this option and usually won’t provide coverage.
After careful consideration, we chose option 2) and decided to use the time to visit friends and family and enjoy the beautiful PNW summer. In late May, we finished our cruising for the season and docked Gadabout in a protected marina in the Puerto Vallarta area. For the next three weeks, we worked day in and day out preparing Gadabout for her summer break – washing and removing sails, maintaining winches and anchor chain, removing lines and canvas, cleaning the interior, strapping Engelbert H. (the dinghy) to the foredeck, and finishing small (and a few large) projects.
We developed a storm plan and secured the boat with extra dock lines.
We hired Juanito, a well-respected boat manager, to maintain and look out for Gaddy in our absence and booked our tickets home.
We have plans for a couple of “Year 1 Wrap-up” posts, so do stay tuned. And we look forward to sharing new experiences when we continue south in the fall. Thanks for being part of our adventure!
We took a pause from boat projects last week, rented a car and headed to the small town of San Sebastian del Oeste, an old silver mining town in the hills two hours outside Puerto Vallarta. There’s not much to see or do in San Sebastian, but the town is charming, nonetheless, with cobblestone streets, a beautiful chapel, a few shops and restaurants, and the natural beauty of the hillsides surrounding it.
There’s no silver mining around here anymore. The area is, however, home to agave farming and, with it, a number of tequila and raicilla distilleries. Raicilla is a liquor distilled from green agave rather than the blue agave used in tequila. Green agave grows wild in these parts, making it a very accessible resource for small-scale (and home) distilling, thus its moniker, “Mexican moonshine.”
On the drive home we stopped at a small distillery to check it out for ourselves. The manager, Luis, gave us a fantastic tour of the facility (even though we’re pretty sure we interrupted his siesta with our midday timing) and described each step of the distilling process.
First, the agave is burned in a large earthen fireplace, where it smolders for three days. It is then transferred to a wooden hut and left to ferment in large barrels.
Once the fermentation is complete, it is double distilled, passing through a carbon filter the second time.
As in all good distilleries, the finished product is available for tasting and purchase. We were happy to oblige. Raicilla tastes similar to a good tequila, but with a smoky finish. In addition to raicilla, Luis produces reposada and various flavored liqueurs, as well.
We settled on a bottle (or two) of raicilla and thanked Luis for the great tour. Back on the boat, we toasted a much-needed break and a fun day trip. ¡Salud!
It’s 0830 and the sun is already warming the docks at the marina in Barra de Navidad. We’ve had the VHF radio on since waking, waiting to hear our favorite words… “The French Baker is entering the marina.” He’s here! I press the button and say, “French Baker, French Baker. Gadabout, dock B” to let him know we would like to purchase something. When he reaches the dock we greet him with our best “Bonjour!” and try to control our urge to buy everything in sight.
Barra de Navidad, on the Pacific Mexico coast, is a wonderfully laid-back town with a protected, smooth water lagoon, a surf break out front, a relaxed vibe and lots of good restaurants and beachside watering holes for an afternoon cerveza.
Emeric, the man known simply as the French Baker to most, has built an enviable reputation and clientele over the past 16 years and was, for us, one of the main reasons we were so excited to visit. His shop in town is easily recognizable by the “El Horno Francés” sign out front. Stopping by for a crepe and café is always an option, but the best, at least for us cruisers, is his daily delivery of fresh baked goods – baguettes, croissants, danishes, quiches and tarts – to the marina and anchorage, in his panga.
This year, we arrived late in the season and had only a week of daily bliss before Emeric closed his shop for the summer. We took full advantage, though. By the end of the week we had gorged ourselves with enough almond croissants and raisin sticky rolls to induce a food coma and stocked our freezer with enough baguettes to last until June. We’re already looking forward to visiting next season and hearing the friendly “Bon Appetite!” from our favorite French Baker.
About a week ago, we asked for suggestions for a dinghy name. What a creative bunch of friends and followers we have – there were a lot of great (and funny) submissions!
Here’s the list in its entirety:
3 Hour Tour
Everyone’s a winner, but we had to choose only one. And the honor goes to…
Englebert H. (Humperdinck)
The winner will receive this custom Frida keychain straight from Melaque, Mexico! We’re sure she’ll be anxiously awaiting the postman.
And to everyone who participated in this little bit of fun, here’s your participation trophy.
Seriously, thanks for the suggestions. And thanks for sharing in this adventure with us!
Actually, we built a large stainless steel arch on the back of Gadabout. Okay, so it’s not a “garage” in the traditional sense, but we do store our dinghy (aka, water pick-up truck) and other assorted stuff there, so for all intents and purposes it is a garage. And for further clarification, when I say “we built” I actually mean “we financed and supervised.” Small details for sure, but they say that’s where the devil is.
For the less than nautically inclined, an arch on the back of the boat serves multiple purposes. It is where additional solar panels will be mounted; it has davits (lifting arms) off the stern which are used to hoist the dinghy (we really need to name that thing); and we built it with room to strap our surfboards underneath the top. Clearing the dinghy and surfboards off the foredeck has made life much easier, and with the davits it is now quick and easy to hoist the dink out of the water each night, which prevents it from being stolen.
First, we mocked up the design with PVC. Next, the entire arch was fabricated onboard with tack welds. The structure was taken back to the shop for final welds and polishing then brought back, hoisted, and bolted in place. The entire process took about three weeks.
I know there are purists out there (you know who you are) who will decry an altering of a sailboat’s aesthetic lines as pure sacrilege and those of ya’ll without sin can cast the first stone, but we are very happy with the final product and the options it gives us.
p.s. If anyone has a suggestion for a name for the Dinghy please send it our way!
An overnight sail from Mazatlan brought us to Isla Isabel, a small island 18 miles off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Isla Isabel is a national park and, as of 2003, a World Heritage Site. It is nicknamed the “Galapagos of Mexico” because of the large number of nesting birds and iguanas that inhabit the island.
Frigate birds, boobies (blue-footed, brown and red-footed varieties), brown pelicans, white-tailed tropic birds, Heerman’s gulls, sooty terns, and brown noddies fill the shores and air.
There is also an active fish camp and a tourist eco-camp on the island. This is no cushy resort, though. Unless you have your own boat, the trip is a 40-mile open panga ride from the nearest town of San Blas.
We anchored, caught up on our sleep and, after a little snorkel exploration, took the dinghy ashore.
Due to the lack of natural predators, the birds are unafraid and willing to allow people to get very close.
A short hike to the lighthouse put us right in the middle of a blue-footed booby colony. We watched as the birds interacted, communicating via whistles and croaks, the males trying to impress the females with their dance moves. It was like an avian version of Saturday Night Fever, and we were front and center.
One particularly amorous pair even cooperated for this short video (apologies for the wind noise – we promise a better video camera is coming soon). Enjoy the show!