Little Tehuantepecker

Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec is one of the most dreaded pieces of sailing in Mexico.  The gulf is a narrow isthmus separating the Pacific from the Gulf of Mexico.  When northerly winds are blowing in the Gulf of Mexico they cross the isthmus into the Tehuantepec and a narrow gap in the mountains funnels and accelerates the wind.  What may be a pleasant 15 knot breeze on the eastern side can become a 40 knot gale on the western.  This is an example of a prediction of the Tehuantepec winds (thankfully, not for our crossing of it).

Tehuantepec grib

Tehuantepec grib

These are GRIB files – raw government weather forecast data displayed graphically.  This one shows 40-45 knots of wind in the middle of the Tehuantepec.  (I keep writing Tehuantepec because I like the way it sounds, although not as much as Topalabampo in the north).   That’s enough to create 15 – 20 foot seas at very short periods – ie, boat breaking stuff.

We download these images, along with other weather resources to see what we will get whenever we go anywhere.  We looked intensely at weather predictions before leaving on the 250 mile (2 day) trip across the Tehuantepec.  We were hoping to leave Monday morning and our predictions varied but some showed very light winds for the entire trip and some showed a short period of heavier winds Tuesday morning.  We decided to brave it and left with one other boat, Wanuskewin with Mike and Holly aboard.  Sure enough Tuesday morning, well more like Monday night, just as we were approaching a shallow sandy bar clogged with large fishing boats, the wind piped up.  We saw a max of about 35 knots, which is a lot of wind, but we reefed (reduced the size of our sails) and carried on.  It only lasted a few hours and for the rest of the trip we had little to no wind.

25lbs. yellow fin tuna

25lbs. yellow fin tuna

Calm enough catch and filet this crevalle jack on the back of the boat.  So those weather forecasters were pretty close to spot on.

By Tuesday morning (and by that I mean about 3 am – we sail the boat 24 hours a day, taking 3 hour shifts) we were ready to get into port.  It was only about 2 miles away and we were motoring right for it in calm weather.  Arrivals after a few days at sea are really rewarding.  However, our trials were not quite complete.  Suddenly, the boat lumbered to a halt and the engine stalled.  Looking over the side, I could see that we were snagged in a large and long fishing net.  What was this thing doing strung right across the main channel into a large port?  Who knows but the fishermen were soon on the scene and, characteristic of most Mexicans we’ve met, they were not angry and took their loss in stride.  They helped me cut the net away and left to salvage what they could of their catch.  This left a large chunk of net tangled around our propeller, daggerboard and rudders like a fly in a giant spider web.  Mary and I anchored the boat in the calm ocean to figure out what to do. Mike and Holly from Wanuskewin witnessed the whole thing from a mile behind us and were super kind to anchor near us and help.

Pete and Mike dive to free the prop from the fishing net

Pete and Mike dive to free the prop from the fishing net

Mike and I dove with snorkels and knives to saw away the remainder of the net that was so tightly twisted around stuff under the boat, being careful not to let it tangle us.  After about an hour we had every last bit of it off.  We saved what we could to throw out so it would not catch any more sea creatures and mourned the fish who were caught in the discarded net.  I kept some of the floats from the net as a reminder of this little battle.

The culprit

The culprit

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About a 6 ½

We anchored in Manzanillo in front of the “Las Hadas” resort where they filmed portions of the movie 10.

Las Hadas anchorage

Las Hadas anchorage

Nice enough place, but it is getting a little long in the tooth and far from our perfect stop.  It was a combination of things; being stuck for a week in a place in which we would rather have spent only a few days, lots of loud BAD music playing until the wee hours of the night and the only real way to shore and into town was to go through the resort.  Although they do have a marina at the resort, they were not overwhelmingly welcoming to the riff raff coming from the anchorage.

Las Hadas poolside

Las Hadas poolside

They charge 200 pesos a day to park at the dinghy dock – about $18US a day.  Most dinghy docks are free or only a few bucks, so this seemed a tad pricey.  However, that fee did allow us to use the resort’s decaying pool and a dip in fresh water is always a plus, so who were we not to take advantage?  And, no, I didn’t get Bo Derek cornrows 😉

Lucy was perra non grata here.  Now, I completely understand her not being allowed in the resort proper, but you’d think you could take her up the service road.  One time after we walked out the guard would not let Peter back in with Lucy, even though it was the only way back to the boat. Unfortunately, this service road was the only way to get the local bus, which was the only way to town, so we cajoled and demanded and played dumb to get her in and out.

Another one rides the bus

Another one rides the bus

Once outside Las Hadas, we were back in action and Lucy boarded buses and walk the streets without anyone batting an eye.

The reason we were “stuck” in Manzanillo was we were waiting for our infamous package of boat parts to arrive from the US.   Shipping anything to Mexico has the distinct possibility of being hung up in customs, misplaced by incompetent shipping companies and a whole host of other issues too ridiculous to bore you with, but the frustration definitely hung over us like a black cloud.

Manzanillo ship yards

Manzanillo ship yards

We had been trying to get this package shipped to us in several different cities, but with each new and devious snag, we moved on and had it shipped to the next city.

After many days of this craziness, we were hoping to celebrate Peter’s birthday with the arrival of our new watermaker pump (yay! He says), but it was not meant to be.

Bar Social

Bar Social

Apparently Peter’s day of birth is cause for rejoicing not only in our family but also in the shipping company’s office, as they decided to take the day off for no apparent reason, except of course to fiesta por Pedro.   So we turned our attention to historic downtown Manzanillo to try and salvage this blessed day.

Manzanillo is Mexico’s largest cargo port city so it is a real working town. It was interesting to see a place where tourism isn’t #1.  The city is a little rough around the edges, but that is what actually gave it some charm.  We met some real characters and had a ball at Bar Social, a famous cantina in downtown Manzanillo.

Bar Social regular

Bar Social regular

It has been there since the 1950s and hasn’t changed much, including some of the clientele and tradition of free botaneras (appetizers) with your drinks.  The bartender brought plate after plate of delicious nibbles from guacamole to ceviche to my favorite -fresh jicama with lime and chili powder.  Let’s just say we sat there drinking long enough not to need dinner 😉

IMG_6471A few days later, the package finally arrived, the black cloud lifted and we sailed off to Zihuatanejo.  Since we didn’t find our perfect 10 in Manzanillo we hope Zihuatanejo delivers all that Andy Dufresne dreamed it would be behind the bars of Shawshank.  (click here for more photos)

Cave dwellers

DCIM100GOPROWe stopped for a few days in the isolated anchorage of Ensenda Carrizal, just a few miles north of Manzanillo where we heard the snorkeling was good.   A lot of the guide books proclaim places as “a snorkeler’s paradise” but often are far from it.

San Luciano ship wreck poking out of the water.

San Luciano ship wreck poking out of the water.

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Carrizal coral reef

If the water is murky and you can’t see 2 feet in front of your face, who cares how many fish are there.   Sadly this was our experience at a site close by in Bahía Santiago where the cargo ship “San Luciano” sank during a hurricane in 1958 and is now an artificial reef.  Although it was interesting to see the top of the 300ft. ship sticking up out of the water, under the hazy waters, we saw nada .  But Carrizal certainly made up for that.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much live coral in one place and it was reassuring to know that there are still thriving coral reefs in this world.

I found Nemo

I found Nemo

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A whole lotta fish

A whole lotta fish

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                                                                      “Kia Ora” was the only other boat in the anchorage and one morning Ken and Julie came by to introduce themselves and told us to jump in our dinghy and follow them to some rock caves they had discovered on a previous visit.  DCIM100GOPRO

Rock Cave

Rock Cave

So off we went around the bend thinking we’d see a cool rock arch (which we did) we could zip through, but to our delight (ok and yes, my hesitation) they lead us to a real cave about a 100 yards long.   It was absolutely beautiful and our own little Pirates of the Caribbean ride sans mechanical pirates and the “yo ho ho” song.   The first time through was a little unnerving as you weren’t sure if the surge was going to push you against the wall, or we’d hit a precarious little rock or my shrill screams would deafen Peter, but alas, we survived and round and round we went back through again and again, no E-ticket needed.   click here see video (ok, I’ll admit after watching the video it doesn’t look that scarey -LOL)

Also in Carrizal is a little fishing shack floating on a raft like contraption.  All a quaint little scene until I heard the bark of a dog.

Floating fish camp

Floating fish camp

So of course I grab the binoculars and sure enough their are two young dogs on the platform portion of the raft and no fisherman in sight. The next day still no fisherman.  I know they are there to do a job and guard this area, but it was hot and god knows when they were fed last.   So, not being able to stand it any more, we take a big bowl of water with ice cubes and a few scoops of Lucy’s food and head off to the raft.

Hungry hounds

Hungry hounds

Initially, the dogs go bananas barking at us as we get closer, but as soon as we pull up next to their raft they slink behind a barrel (some guard dogs).   We leave the food and water and as we drift away, slowly we see them inch forward and gobble it up.    We made another trip over there the next day to do the same, this time leaving a lot more water for the poor pups.   Fellow boaters/animal lovers, if you are in this anchorage and see them and no sign of the fisherman, please drop off at least a bowl of water for them.

To see the photos larger, just click on them!!!

Another Day in Paraíso

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Just like living in Paradise

Actually it was just one, but that is all that we needed. Sailors often dream of having a tiny palm-fringed anchorage all to themselves. This is what they sell cruising dreams on. With the boat floating quietly at anchor and a soft breeze providing just enough cooling, we swim and paddle and just enjoy the solitude. This little bay, Bahia Paraíso, is surrounded by magnificent rock formations with little caves and blowholes that the waves continually

bombard and retreat from. It made for perfect nature watching. The anchorage was just big enough for one boat and had a idyllic little deserted beach for us to let Lucy stretch her legs and sniff at stuff.

Champion hermit crab

Champion hermit crab

The sand was overrun with hermit crabs and each of us picked one for a race – Lucy’s won when mine and Mary’s refused to participate.

It was all exactly as you imagine.  That is…until a swimsuit photo shoot broke out at the small seemingly deserted hotel on shore. I kid you not. It doesn’t get any better than this 🙂

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A man and his dog

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Neko at anchor

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Wait, what??? Swim suit models

Wait, what??? Swim suit models

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Day Trippin’

Sayulita lunch counter

Sayulita lunch counter

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Sayulita surf dog

Sayulita surf dog

We rented a car for a couple of days for a road trip to Sayulita and to see what had changed in Puerto Vallarta since the last time we were there.  Our San Francisco pals Don and Paul discovered Sayulita years ago and it had always been on our “to see” list.   So we took the scenic drive through the hilly countryside and one-horse towns and amazingly didn’t get lost.

Chicas in Sayulita

Chicas in Sayulita

Sayulita street

Sayulita street

What once was a secret oasis is now a happening surf town with a sturdy base of local charm filled with ex-pat retirees and young hipsters “dropping out” from the bourgeois capitalist society back home to start their own here in Mexico LOL.   (Take note Portlandia this place is a sketch in the making.)   Here they’ve opened restaurants, galleries, coffee bars and cool but overpriced gift stores.

Hip, happening Sayulita shop

Hip, happening Sayulita shop

street performer in Sayulita

street performer in Sayulita

DSCN1425 DSCN1430The beach here is enjoyed by local families, vacationers and surfers, as the easy break is an ideal place for the novice rider to hang ten, or just hang out.   We explored the town and had a dynamite fish dinner at a little place called Jakal.  Check it out if you are ever in the area.   It was a toss up between here and the delicious smelling pizza from the wood-burning oven next door.   I don’t think you can go wrong with your dining options in this town.    All in all, it was a wonderful day on dry land, but, sorry to say, the secret is out about Sayulita.  Still, it is well worth the visit.

Next we were off to Puerto Vallarta, a mid-size city with everything from time shares, resort hotels with alligator shaped slides to deluxe private villas with your own infinity pool overlooking the ocean.   IMAG0271 IMAG0273

Regardless of your accommodations, the town itself is definitely worth exploring.  The malecón (promenade) takes you along the beach in front of the older part of town, which is much more interesting than the suburban sprawl around the edges.

Lucha libre mask for sale in Puerto Vallarta

Lucha libre mask for sale in Puerto Vallarta

You’ll find an open plaza with families listening to music and dancing as well as vendors hawking souvenirs.  There are a lot of restaurants, shops, churches and interesting architecture, especially in the older section of town known as Zona Romantica.  Here the cobble stone

Streets of Puerto Vallarta

Streets of Puerto Vallarta

PV street sign

Street sign

streets climb from the beach up steep hillsides, and buildings with wrought iron balconies line up to snag a part of the view.   This section of town is extremely gay friendly, as PV is one of the gay centers of Mexico.   Even with our memory from previous visits we had a hilarious time trying to wind our way up and down the one way streets in search of a water filter store (yes, we are living the life).   Street signs, if there are any, are beautiful tile signs embedded in an upper corner of the buildings.  This of course adds to the charm of the area and is fine when on foot, but we were driving and had a hell of a time locating the little street signs before passing them by.  We went round the same streets 3 or 4 times and felt like Chevy Chase on the roundabout in European Vacation until we finally found the place, only to learn that the store was gone.  Oh well, we still enjoyed the sense of accomplishment from finding a needle in a haystack among the one-way, cobble-stoned, dusty, chaotic, maze-like streets of this town.  Sometimes, completing even the most banal tasks is satisfying.

Upscale dining with Lucy

Upscale dining with Lucy

Delicious dinner at Coco's Kitchen in Puerto Vallarta

Delicious dinner at Coco’s Kitchen in Puerto Vallarta

Afterwards, we parked the car, took a few deep breaths and enjoyed strolling around old-town PV.  We were pleased to find one of our favorite restaurants (thanks to Tom & Andre), Coco’s Kitchen, still alive and well and happy to seat our party of 3.

Potlucks, Pickles and Packages

We celebrated Christmas and rang in the New Year in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle or thankfully just called La Cruz, a friendly little town about 10 miles North of Puerto Vallarta.  La Cruz and PV are located on a big bay called Bahia Banderas (Banderas Bay).

La Cruz coastline

La Cruz coastline

La Cruz

Closest we got to church in La Cruz

And although we missed seeing our family and friends and even a little snow, we did enjoy several potluck parties to celebrate the holidays with some of our old boating pals and several new ones.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

If you are reading this blog and planning your own sailing adventure, don’t forget to add disposable serving dishes and easy one pot recipes to your inventory list, because if there is one thing cruisers love more than calm seas, it’s a potluck.   So everyone feel free to send me your favorite easy recipes that don’t include mayonnaise. (hot sun + mayo = green boaters)

Since we used to keep Neko in Puerto Vallarta and had spent a lot of time there, we decided to only take a day trip into PV proper and focus our time exploring other parts of Banderas Bay.

La Cruz also gave us the opportunity to catch up with our old PV marina neighbors, Val & Ron who now live full time in La Cruz.  We had a great dinner with them hearing about their new life on land.   A big thanks to Val for the ride to the Mega, not having to schlep groceries back on the bus was a real treat!

Mary's maiden voyage on the stand up paddle board

Mary’s maiden voyage on the stand up paddle board

We took road trips to Sayulita (click here for side trip post), Puerto Vallarta and sailed over to Punta Mita (that’s when we saw the whales).   Some days we broke out the boat “toys” which included kitesurfing for Peter and an opportunity for us to christen the stand up paddle board.

Emily, Tom (Girl Four) Mary & Peter rockin' night at Philos

Emily, Tom (Girl Four) Mary & Peter rockin’ night at Philos

Plus great nights out with Emily and Tom from  “Girl Four” listening to live music at Philos (a local bar run by Philo, a timeless musician with a kickin’ band)

I even got Captain Pete out on the dance floor.

Philo and Leon jammin'

Philo and Leon jammin’

Leon, one of the guys in Philo’s band is an 85 years old dude who wears every kind of percussion instrument you can imagine and the crowd loves him.    If you are ever in La Cruz, have dinner at Tacos on the Street, it is a family business that has grown from literally tacos on the street to a sit down restaurant, with their specialty being carne asada tacos.   You know if a place famous for their beef still does a fantastic veggie version for this pain in the ass gringo, it is good.

We went for a crazy dinner with the crews from “Heavy Metal”, “Destiny,” “Ayla May” and “Permanently Temporary”, which included more dogs than people LOL.

Destiny's child(ren) 2 of the 5 dogs in our group

Destiny’s child(ren)
2 of the 5 dogs in our group

Traveling with Lucy has its obstacles but since most restaurants and bars are open air, she is welcomed almost everywhere.   So 11 people brought 5 dogs along for a fun dinner and night on the town.

Best of all, every Sunday La Cruz hosts a farmer’s/fish market that rivals many I’ve seen in California.

La Cruz farmer's market

La Cruz farmer’s market

If you go, go hungry because along with fresh fish and produce they have a lot of prepared foods and baked goods.

Who knew you could buy fresh homemade dill pickles from a Southern lady living in Mexico.  Thankfully you can!!

Yikes, as I write this it dawns on me, all we do is eat and drink.

empanadas

empanadas

Although we had a great time in this area, we ended up staying longer than we planned waiting for a package of boat parts for various repairs.  Long and boring story short, thanks to my Dad’s heroic shipping skills, the package made it to Mexico in record time, but spent forever in customs jail and, because DHL sucks, and it is impossible to call a toll free # in the states from another country and nobody seems to have direct phone numbers anymore, the package was sent BACK to the U.S. against our explicit instructions (warning never try to send liquid to another country).   So with those lessons learned and a refund from DHL, we sail South for new adventures, new friends and hopefully a new package of parts waiting for us in Manzanillo.

Click here to see more La Cruz photos

Whales

Coming into Banderas Bay, we saw a bunch of whales out feeding.  This is a big whale migratory route so we see them quite often – usually it is just a hump, fluke or spout off in the distance.  This time they came close enough that I had to throw the boat in reverse to avoid getting too close to them.

Whale tail

Whale tail

Boats have been damaged by whales bumping or rubbing up against them so we wanted to avoid that.  So the video is not the best but it was pretty cool to see them in person.  Enlarge the video with the bottom right button for best viewing.