Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bahia del Sol Marina

Ready at the dock was a whole helpful entourage of not only other sailors, but friendly marina/hotel staff and Customs & Immigration persons, all to facilitate an easy check-in and clearance. At the Marina office, we signed up for our discounts as part of the El Salvador Rally Group, meaning we would get 50% off of dock rates, plus beer for $1, 30% off meals, and 10% off drinks at the Marina. We were also told that whether we stayed at the docks or anchored out, we would have full access to all the facilities (showers, 2 swimming pools, internet, etc.) and discounts above. What a deal! (El Salvador currency is the US dollar.)

Next, it was off to the pool for a cool dip with cruising friends, Lue and Claes. Apparently cruisers seem to be the only ones that use this fabulous, perfect temperature pool all week long, but then on the weekend, a few hotel visitors also enjoy it. So every day, cruisers get together around 16:00 for a "cruisers' net" in and around the pool, with the net being conversation and sharing of tips and adventures. This is so much better than the traditional cruisers' net where cruisers listen to a controlled VHF radio net each weekday morning on their boat.

Pool coolin'

Monday was spent lazing around but Tuesday morning we went to Zacatecoluca - Zacate for short (N13°30' W88°52') with Cheryl of SV Stolen Kiss. This town is not too far away, depending on your chosen mode of transportation. We had been offered a car ride so the trip took about 45 minutes. Our reason for going was to stock up on fresh produce at the street market and perhaps also at the supermarket store. The market was massive, stretching on forever and up and down narrow covered alleyways. It was the largest we have seen to date. But apparently it is not always this big. Cheryl suggested that perhaps it was market day.

Market on one of the main streets

Almost every woman vendor wore an apron. The fancier the apron, the more elite the woman is considered to be. I even saw one man wearing a fancy blue apron and several of the women customers were also wearing them. Aprons were everywhere! And some were indeed much fancier than others with bright colours, plenty of lace, and heaps of pockets.

We bought bags and bags of produce, I got a new pair of shorts for $1, and Jordan even found a small nozzle piece to fix our broken solar shower spout with. After a cold ice cream and a quick stop at the supermarket, it was time to find the right bus to return to the Marina. Cheryl knew it was No. 193 and we boarded it at the bustling bus station.

We soon discovered that we were not on the direct route bus but on one of the "chicken buses", a bus that makes several stops. It took 2 hours! (You are supposed to catch the direct route bus on the street, not at the bus station.) But it was quite the adventure. With the music booming, they pack you in like sardines and then at town stops the vendors squeeze on selling their wares. The ice cold water/juices/sodas were very popular as it was extremely hot on the bus.

4 vendors selling their wares as 1 interested passenger looks on

It has become very evident that you can get almost anything in El Salvador with even larger and more stocked stores than Mexico. When we got back to the Marina, we unloaded all our groceries, put on our bathing suits, and dashed to the pool. How so very refreshing after a hot, hot morning at the market and a crowded 2-hour bus ride.

The Marina/Hotel then put on a BBQ for the sailors where they provided rice, delicious vegetable medley, and teeny tiny baked potatoes. All they requested was that you bring your own choice of meat which the chef would then prepare and BBQ for you. All for $3! Everything was done to perfection and we retired with full stomachs and weary bones after a busy day and relaxing evening.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

EL SALVADOR!

How exciting - we're finally on our way! We have thoroughly enjoyed our visits to Mexico with an incredibly diverse country and super friendly people. We have learned that you can't judge Mexico and its people by the sensationalist media reporting. We never felt threatened or insecure personally or for our property. But now, after spending 1.5 years, not to mention other trips in the past through various parts of Mexico, we were feeling it was time to move on.

We left under an almost full moon on the 22nd as we motored down the coast with no wind. We had planned on crossing the feared Gulf of Tehuantepec with "one foot on the beach". This means staying very close to the shore, where the possibility of the often treacherous winds that funnel out of the northern Gulf of Mexico won't affect you. If a sailor is hit with winds, you don't want to be out in the middle where seas can build to humongous heights. But shortly after starting out from Huatulco (our staging area for the crossing) and upon getting close to Salina Cruz where normally you would start feeling any effects of strong wind, it became evident that the forecasts were correct and the air was idle so we decided to veer right, away from the shore, for the more direct and shorter route straight across.

Now the downside of waiting for no winds is it's likely you will be doing a lot of motoring, something that a "sailor" would rather not do. We started out motor-sailing a bit with 6 knots out of the SE. There was a definite current pushing southward and we crabbed 10 degrees to port. But all in all, it was virtually a windless passage, as predicted by weather-guru Don Anderson.

The treacherous Tehunatepec??

We made short order of the succulent Dorado fish that Jordan finally caught after his lengthy drought with a line trailing off the stern of the boat.

Striking blue and yellow colours change to dull grey when out of salt water

We had a very safe and benign crossing of the Tehuantepec and reached the Guatemala border of Central America around 02:00 after 2 full days at sea. We didn't stop anywhere along the Guatemalan coast as it is not very "cruiser friendly" in the sense that it lacks protected stops with facilities (but we will visit via a land trip from El Salvador). 

Now paralleling the coast about 25 km off shore, we passed into El Salvador waters shortly after midnight March 26th. It dawned on us that we are now becoming serious sailors when we think nothing of starting out from one county, sailing past another without stopping, and sailing over half the way down the coast of the next country before turning in.

And that we did, arriving at the "meeting room", a waypoint outside of Bahia del Sol, at 17:45, a day earlier than expected. To pass from the open ocean to the inner waters of the bay, you have to cross a shallow sandy buildup shoal that has, particularly at low tide, breaking surf. So it is a must to time the crossing with as much water under our keel as possible, i.e. high tide.  Next high tide: the following morning, so we set anchor (N13°16.223' W088°53.840') with a depth of 15 m under us, in fairly calm waters and toasted ourselves of a job well done and arriving at a new country! We were one of 4 boats waiting there.

Throughout our passage from Huatulco to El Salvador, we saw so many lackadaisical sea turtles, leaping rays, and even spotted a shark that came right up to our stern with its intimidating dorsal fin and swishing tail visible! We were also treated to a visit by hundreds of dolphins coming at us from all angles.

So graceful, one of many dolphins leaping

The next morning, the organizers of the El Salvador Rally contacted us and said a sea-doo would come out to meet us and guide us in over the surf. They arrived and signalled us to follow at full throttle. We only had a couple of not real steep waves that picked us up from the stern and gave us a boosting ride

Here we come!

Apparently we picked a good safe day to cross. Once clear of the bar, waiting dinghies escorted us about a kilometre or so up the bay to the marina and hotel facilities. It had been a week since any boats were ushered in, so when we arrived at the docks of Bahia del Sol Marina (N13°18.060' W088°53.533'), not only were we met by the Rally organizers but there were a whole bunch of other sailors there to welcome us in including two great friends, Lue and Claes of SV Whiteshell II, who all made us feel so welcomed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Time for Tehuantepec

We've been spending our time getting caught up on last minute boat preparations and exploring the different areas of Huatulco as we wait for a weather window to cross the Tehuantepec. The Tehuantepec can be a very treacherous area of water to cross IF the weather is not good as the area can get gale or even storm force winds. That is why we listen to many different weather forecasts to be sure that the weather is good before crossing this area.

We have moved Sea Turtle from Bahia Santa Cruz to the marina in the next bay, ChahuĂ© (N15°45.838' W096°07.315'), as we needed to be at the docks to do boat jobs. The Huatulco area has several beautiful bays to choose from to explore.

As we left Santa Cruz, we stopped at the bay entrance to see if we could spot the blowhole that is written up in the guidebooks. After waiting for several minutes, we were amazed at the height of its geyser and were so busy watching it that we almost didn't see the 3 whales that came right past our boat!

Blasting blowhole

Jordan installed 2 metal plates on the boat stern for the attachment of our drogue in case we are ever in bad enough weather and need to slow down the boat (just attach the drogue chute with about 75 m of line and throw it out the back where it will open up like a parachute and obviously slow down the boat). He also removed the fittings on the stern that held our old weathervane (auto pilot). Then of course the holes had to be filled and painted. Looking much better now!

In preparation for this next jaunt, Jordan did an engine oil change and inspection and found that the raw water pump bearing was failing, so fortunately we had a rebuilt spare and he did the change.

We walked to lovely little La Crucecita, the original town a couple of kilometres inland. Here you will find the normal and traditional Mexican scene rather than the gringo-oriented newer developments along the coast. On our way, we passed a Zocalo/park with mini waterfalls which didn't seem to be used too much. What a shame as it is so very beautiful.

Waterfalls spout from all 4 corners

We also walked back to Santa Cruz where we saw a young Mexican woman, Elizabeth, working on an old hand loom making rugs, placemats, wall hangings, etc. We asked her if she could do a specific design if Jordan drew it for her, and here she is working on it...


And here is the end result which we will be mounting on the front of our window screen holder made of green fabric...


There are an amazing number of birds around, all having their own melodies. We saw 2 kinds of egrets, a yellow kingfisher type, cute little swallows looking to nest on the boat, a variety of heron, cormorants and pelicans, a noisy black bird with piercing little yellow eyes and a long tail (they are everywhere, like crows at home), and while walking around, we saw fleetingly, a black and brilliant yellow guy. When we heard an unusual chirping above our heads, we looked up to see another new sighting, this one was grey and yellow, long tail and a large curled head feather similar to our quails, and others that I'm sure I am leaving out.

We went to town one day and had to dinghy under a large catamaran to find a place to dock our dinghy as the bay was full of pangas and party boats for tourists. As we were leaving, I took a picture of us beneath it!

This party catamaran was really big!

Customs showed up unexpectedly early to inspect our boat (we thought they would be arriving at 17:00). Unfortunately we were not in proper attire for officials to be arriving, but they were very pleasant and friendly. They were quite amazed that our solar panels could supply the required power for our boat. Then, as a panga had dropped the two of them off at our boat and left, they needed a ride back to shore. One of them thought for sure that they would sink in our "little" dinghy but bravely accepted Jordan's offer of a ride back to shore, sitting as low as he could in the dinghy!

Next, was a trip to the Port Captain's office to get our zarpe (exit permit), then to the Immigrations office to get the papers stamped, then back to the Captain's office for his signature, then back to Immigration to leave copies. Then later in the day, we had to pick up 2 Immigration officials to take to our boat at anchor to inspect it and pick up copies of papers that we had to make as they wouldn't do it! So we asked the Port Captain's office for copies which they very gladly did.

Now after waiting several days for a weather window, and with everything signed, stamped, copied, and inspected, we are off to cross the Tehuantepec to enter El Salvador in Central America. We finally left at 20:15 local time today - 2 days before our Mexican VISAS expire!

Our ETA is 4 days 9 hours with a distance 485 nautical miles, so we should arrive at Bahia del Sol around 09:00 Sunday, March 27th.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Huatulco

We were getting everything ready and shipshape to leave Puerto Angel for Huatulco (with all of its bays) when another boater dinghied over and asked if we had heard of the tsunami that was expected to arrive at 13:00. We had not, so we tuned in the Ham radio to 14.300, the marine frequency, and it was a constant chatter, the Hams were abuzz with latest breaking news of the 8.9 earthquake in Japan - wow, what a big one! Up and down the coast, marinas were asking, and sometimes demanding, that boats head out to sea for safety.

Fortunately, we were far enough south that not too much was expected at Puerto Angel. But all the panga owners were moving their boats as far up on shore as possible. The beaches were deserted and all the chairs and tables had been removed. It really seemed eerie, as locals were expecting the worst.

Pangas are NEVER placed this far up onto the thin strip of shore

At 10:15, we headed out to sea towards Huatulco as originally planned, and had an unexpected great spinnaker run!

It was a little difficult to find a spot to anchor, as Bahia Santa Cruz (N15°45.015' W096°07.552') was full of pangas. The guidebook says that there is very little usable anchorage here as it is a tight cruise ship venue. And we later found out that as a result of the tsunami, the pangas and other boats had moved out of the wee inner harbour to deeper water as the harbour was having continual tsunami surges of 1 to 2 metres at intervals of about 5 minutes.

(Even the next day, the water was still surging. Within a few minutes, it would rise and fall about a metre as we watched it rushing in and then rushing out.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Taxi to Zipolite

We took a taxi into Zipolite, a couple of km away from Puerto Angel. We visited Zipolite 3 times as our favourite beach during our 2009 motorcycle trip! Things haven't changed too much except for the very pitted road has now been paved - no need to dodge all the potholes anymore. There seems to be fewer visitors and businesses are hurting.

We walked the beautiful sandy beach from one end to the other and then had veggie pizza and lasagna that was so yummy.

At 1 end you watch sunrise, at other end you watch sunset!

We finished the day back at Puerto Angel where we were corralled into having an enjoyable beach nightcap overlooking the bay and Sea Turtle.

Sitting on rock wall of beautiful Puerto Angel with Sea Turtle in background

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Crepes & fins

After checking in on the Ham radio net in the morning, Jordan being the breakfast maker, asked what I wanted for breakfast. I gave him my usual answer "Whatever you want to make." In reply he said "How about bananas and mangoes topped with my own pineapple/coconut cream cheese syrup." I said "You're joking, right?" With that, he jumped up and 20 minutes later, all I could say was "Mmmm mmmm!"

The rest of the morning was spent snorkelling the nearby rocky reefs. Jordan said he saw a school of about 100 bright yellow angel fish swimming all around him while I was closer to the beach finding tiny bright blue guys skirting in and out of the coral and striped sergeant fish, as well as many others. The water was a bit cooler here than we expected though, so the warm shower on deck was a great feeling.

OK, not the best photo, but it's my 1st attempt with underwater camera!

Again we were asked to check in with the Port Captain which we did as well as pick up some fresh fruits and veggies in the little market in town.

Another lazy day in paradise at Puerto Angel (Mexico)!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Puerto Angel

After 1.5 nights at Puerto Escondido, we pulled the anchor for a short 7-hour hop down to Puerto Angel. At first, there were only fluky breezes that we tried various sail plans to capture, but after a couple of hours, we relented to motoring again. However, about 3 hours into our trip, the wind filled in nicely so we raised the spinnaker that sent Sea Turtle into a good jaunt.

We passed by our favourite beach, Zipolite, just before our destination, and at about this time not only was the wind getting too much for the large light-weight spinnaker, but the seas were growing and had become very choppy. The auto pilot at this point couldn't manage these confused waves, so we struggled at the wheel. The Captain gave me the helm and I wrangled it with all my might so he could go to the bow and muscle down the spinnaker.

It was an intense few minutes, but as soon as the dousing sock made its way down the spinnaker, things became much more manageable. Good timing as we were then making a left turn into the small bay of Puerto Angel, just before sundown. The bay was filled with many pangas and another couple of cruising boats, but we found a good spot (N15°39.888' W096°29.620').

The day had been smokin' hot, so we sprayed ourselves with water and sat under the fans to call it a day with a well deserved rum.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Puerto Escondido

Leaving Acapulco, we motored again most of the time. This part of the coast is known for light to no winds. We passed a beach where 2 years ago on our motorcycle trip we visited a turtle sanctuary where we released newly hatched baby turtles (hatchlings). Perhaps some of them are among the numerous ones we have been seeing!

We did manage to get a good sail for only about 2 hours. The current was with us so we made much better time than we had planned. We therefore arrived at Puerto Escondido at 02:15 instead of closer to noon as originally planned. The bay is very deep in most places, but in front of some roaring surf, Jordan found a shelf of about 17 m where he set the anchor (N15°51.375' W097°03.727') with lots of chain and then made sure it wasn't dragging.

We settled in for the night and slept in later than usual. Upon rising, we re-anchored to a more secured and protected spot that was amongst 70 pangas - still in very deep water. We then checked in and out at the same time with the Port Captain as requested and then went for a walkabout, reminiscing about being here in 2009. When we looked back at Sea Turtle, she was really bobbing in the very rolly waters! We stopped at a cute beach bar and had margaritas lying in the shade for protection from the blistering sun (the man who took this picture was on his honeymoon from Israel - that's his new wife in the background).

Hiding in the shade, as was everyone else!

There were even manned lifeguard chairs along the beach which is something that you don't see very often, probably because of ferocious surf with undertows.

Puerto Escondido beach with hand sculpture

Puerto Escondido is a great little town. It even closes off the main beach street each evening to all traffic so the pedestrians can wander freely. On our way back to the boat, we watched some young men having a riot skim boarding into the ocean. Looked like a lot of fun...

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Beyond description

After a lazy day, we untied the dock lines at 18:15 and started towards Puerto Escondido on the south coast of mainland Mexico in Oaxaca. (Yes, there is another Puerto Escondido on the Baja.) The sky was very cloudy over Acapulco but cleared as we continued to head SE. This will be a 2-night passage.

Around 22:30, we once again were treated to the spectacular 45-minute show of dozens of dolphins all around us lit up with the phosphorescence of the water - approaching Sea Turtle with lightning speed, zigzagging, shooting away, and then rocketing back trailing 15-metre long brilliant luminous streaks. We could hear as they were rising for deep breaths of air.

This is one part of our journeying that we wish everyone could experience - seeing this sight in the dark of night is beyond the mere description of words and the ability of our cameras.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Acapulco

On our way to Acapulco, we saw several sea turtles, with one so close he bumped right into our boat! We arrived at Acapulco (N16°50.876' W099°54.347') around 13:30 but when Jordan tried to set the anchor in 21 m, it appeared to be dragging. This bay is very deep and is written up in the guides as having a poor holding bottom so we enquired about a mooring ball and were told a higher price than staying at the Performance Marina so we fuelled up and then Med-moored to the dock.

Med-mooring is when the stern of a boat is tied directly to a dock and the bow is attached to a mooring ball. This way, a dock can hold more boats than when boats are tied side-on.

The marine staff seemed to have issues with tying up Sea Turtle! First, they would tighten the ropes, then they would loosen them, then someone else would tighten a rope, then they would swap cleats and on and on it would go until they were finally satisfied. I think even I could have done it quicker! But they were very happy when Jordan offered them an ice cold beer or pop for all their efforts!

We walked through the city's Zocalo (city square or meeting place) up to the old fort. This fort, Fuerte de San Diego, was built in 1616 and is very unusual in that it's in the shape of a pentagon.

Atop Fuerte de San Diego with Acapulco in the background

We then caught a taxi to the restaurant of the hotel that John Wayne and Johnny Weissmuller (former Tarzan star) once owned to watch the nightly show of the famous cliff divers. On 2 walls of the restaurant behind a large old movie camera were signatures of numerous Hollywood stars that we recognized.

Clint Eastwood, Eddie Arnold, even Roy Calhoun...

People have been diving from the cliffs here from as far back as the 1930s. With the spotlights on, we watched as several men climbed up the face of the cliff and then dove, individually and/or in a group from different heights of 25 to 35 m into the surging waters of the narrow basin below. Unfortunately, we couldn't get any photos of their spectacular dives as our camera takes poor shots in the evening.

It's been super hot with virtually no wind lately. So with all the windows open (and no screens on as we hadn't yet seen any bugs anywhere), we were pestered by mosquitoes throughout the night. (In the morning, I was covered with bites.) We finally put our mosquito net over the bed and were able to sleep. Sure glad we had one to put up!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Las Gatas treat

We dinghied into Zihuatanejo on the last day of February without having to fight any surf and wandered around. It was suggested that we walk in behind the market where we would find great fruits and vegetables. The open air vendors were selling their produce everywhere right next to the streets. We bought all sorts - large, fresh, delicious, and so cheap.

Zihuatanejo has done a great job of beautifying its streets and buildings in the last couple of years and we were very impressed. It is a great place, especially as it's not filled with tourists everywhere.

I hoisted Jordan up the mast so he could fix some rigging problem at the top as well as replace the steaming light with an LED. The other light not only used up too many amps, but got so hot in the little light enclosure, it was continually burning out.

At the suggestion of SV Precious Metal (a boat from Victoria BC), a group of us were boat-taxied over to a nearby beach, Playa Las Gatas, that you can only access by walking a long distance or by boat (no road access). At the restaurant, Chez Arnoldo, we had a fabulous meal, great hosts, and great company.

At the end of the meal our hosts and panga drivers, Noillo and Memo, said there was no charge - just payment of drinks and a tip for the chef! They have been accommodating boaters that come here, particularly during the annual Sailfest, a destination fund raising event by cruising sailors. The proceeds build classrooms in the poor areas around Zihuatanejo. We will miss it by a couple of weeks, as we need to continue south.


Front row: Linda & Doug of SV Aquadesiac. Back row: Leo - crew of SV Aquadesiac, Pamela of SV Precious Metal, Lynn of SV Lucky Lexi, and Jordan & me. Be sure to look up this place when you are in Zihuatanejo!

After checking in and out with the Port Captain the next day, we motored the very short distance back across the bay (to Las Gatas where we had our great meal yesterday) where the water was much cleaner than at Zihuatanejo. Jordan wanted to do a quick clean on the bottom of the boat using the Hooka gear.

We were underway by 15:15 for an over-nighter to Acapulco. Once again, we saw a whale sounding and so many dolphins southbound (you must be tired of hearing this!) Soon after, we passed quite a few small manta rays, some jumping and jumping.