Nov 2012 – Feb. 31, 2013
Passage Note #47: Goodbye Mexico, Hello Central America
We arrived back to La Paz, Baja from our European odyssey in October to find Jacaranda in great condition after being watched over by Dennis & Susan from Ross Marine Services (in Marina Palmira). The temperatures were still in the upper 90’s and a bit of a shock after our cold summer in Europe.
We quickly put the boat together and moved over to Marina de La Paz to be closer to town, in a nicer marina, and with a cooler breeze. After a 5 day haul out to paint the bottom and do some maintenance (in the Abaroa yard), and goodbyes to good friends, we departed slowly for Puerto Vallarta in early November so we could fly back to NY and Philadelphia for our annual Thanksgiving holiday family reunion.
The first stop out of La Paz was our favorite spot - Balandra, with its turquoise water - for the evening. The next day we sailed south to Bahia Muertos to meet up with friends Mike and Sherri on MV Ambar who were on their way to Socorro Island. Having a quick visit, we waved them on with a bon voyage.
In mid-November we up anchored from Muertos and headed to Puerto Vallarta with strong wind warnings in effect from a Sea of Cortez norther. Having a fine sail almost the whole way was just what we wanted. Listening to the SSB nets while underway it appears we were the only folks moving during this breezy time. Everyone else seems to be hunkered down waiting for the winds to go calm before motoring on. It was an excellent crossing with the first day seeing 155 miles traveled and we pulled into Punta de Mita in Banderas Bay in early evening. PV was like coming home since we had been in and out of this city multiple times in 7 years. But there were not many cruising boats in the bay, signifying we were way early for people returning from their summer respite.
Heading south along Mexico’s Pacific Coast
We left the boat in Nuevo Vallarta Marina and after we returned from Thanksgiving in Phila. with Linda’s family we spent a week doing some projects while at the dock, had a few goodbye parties with friends, and then headed south. We stopped in Tenacatita for the night to visit friends Robert & Virginia on Harmony but they were in Barra de Navidad picking up kids and grandkids so we missed them. We departed when the wind came up the next morning only seeing one other boat at anchor in the (usually crowded) harbor.
From Tenacatita we traveled nonstop to Zihuatenajo and were able to sail about 75% of the way. We love Z-town and enjoyed a couple days there walking around visiting the market and having a nice dinner ashore. The town was very quiet with only 4 other boats anchored out and no cruise ships. Heretofore this was the southernmost reach of our Mexican cruising careers.
Once we left Zihua we were traveling in new territory for us!!! Z-town to Acapulco we again were able to sail about 75% of the way and pulled into a small bay just to the south of the main harbor called Puerto Marquez - a very pleasant spot. We anchored near a Catalina 34 named Paniolo and Linda swam over to say hello. A wonderful Mexican family from Mexico City owned the boat and kept it at the Acapulco Yacht Club. The father had recently passed away and his daughter (Nayeli) was onboard, with her boyfriend Willy, her mom Araceli, and her cousin Michelle. We had such fun spending time with them and enjoying their company that we stayed a few days.
Our next stop south was Puerto Angel. Arriving Christmas eve, we found the anchorage full of small coke bottle mooring floats for the large panga fleet. The only place for us to anchor was to carefully squeeze into the center of the small bay but this put us right into the sizable swell rolling in. Since it was holiday time, we thought we might be able to ignore launching the dinghy and going ashore to check in. But about 4:30 p.m. the Port Captain called us on vhf channel 16 and told us he expected us to come in and do the paperwork. We launched the dink and picked up the folks from another sailboat that arrived after us. The Port captain was very nice and allowed us to check in and out at the same time. Even though it rained that night, the town was full of music and partying for Christmas Eve. We departed early the next morning after a rolly night at anchor.
A short sail south brought us into Huatulco, a cruising ground with 9 beautiful anchorages and a refuge for many boats waiting for a good weather window to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec. We spent a couple of days exploring and snorkeling a few of these (Playa Chachacual, La India, Organo) before moving into the very surge-y Marina Chaue (in Huatulco Bay) in order to do some inland travel. It has to be one of the worst marinas we have been in for a long time with regards to the swell coming in. Most boats were taking up two slips so they could tie across and pull themselves off the dock. A number of boats burst fenders and snapped dock lines. These surge-y conditions were all caused by the strong winds in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, often called Tehuantepeckers.
A few days later we headed inland to visit the terrific city of Oaxaca. We arrived in time for New Years and stayed for 10 days. This beautiful colonial city in the mountains was much cooler than the coast and we found it to be a great destination! We stayed in a wonderful family run hotel and there were lots of Mexicans enjoying the Xmas / New Year’s holidays. We will have a separate Passage Note for our time in Oaxaca and a Trip Report .
Crossing the Tehuantepec
After returning from our inland trip to Oaxaca City, our next step was to cross the “dreaded” Gulfo de Tehuantepec. We had been watching the weather for 3 weeks trying to get a handle on good timing for our crossing. This area is known for strong winds that get squeezed thru the gap from the Gulf of Mexico. About every 3-4 days during the months of Jan-March there is a gale blowing. So a favorable forecast of at least 2 days is of paramount importance for a good trip. Once we returned to the boat we did a quick provision and, finding a favorable weather window, we checked out and headed across for Marina Chiapas (Puerto Madero) on the other side. The weather window we picked was perfect with the wind in the right direction (behind) and not very strong, allowing us to sail / motor sail the entire way to Chiapas. We never saw much wind strength over 18 knots from the SW. Instead of one foot on the beach, we were able to stay offshore a little further. In hindsight we could have probably sailed most of the way but I was concerned that we get across the 100 mile gap section quickly where the winds could really blow.
Puerto Chiapas has a brand new marina that is very POSH. Marina Chiapas offers great security, excellent cruiser bathrooms/showers and very nice docks - and provided another good spot to leave the boat for some more inland travel. Plus it has one of the best marina managers in all of Mexico - Enrique - former manager of Marina Chaue in Huatulco who is also a sailor. Unfortunately, the marina is miles from anywhere and you are very isolated, requiring a long taxi ride to Tapachula, the closest major city and capital of the state of Chiapas. But the marina staff will run you around to clear in and out and get fuel and propane for you.
From Marina Chiapas we took a luxury bus up into the mountains to another terrific colonial city called San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas. We stayed at a wonderful BandB and took many day trips to the incredible mayan villages in the surrounding countryside. To our surprise, almost every village we visited was having a local festival which meant colorful pageants, music, costumes, and local trajes (traditional clothing). It was spectacular! Although we didn’t get to see the Mayan ruins of Palenque, we did go to the closer ruins of Tonina and had it all to ourselves. Linda will be posting a separate Passage Note for our time in San Cristobal de Las Casas as well as a Trip Report.
Leaving Mexico for El Salvador
Arriving back on the boat from our 8 days inland, Linda did a quick provision in Tapachula, we checked out, and received our international Zarpe (clearance paperwork necessary to leave Mexico). Just the same as when we had entered this port, we waited until we were boarded by the Navy with their drug dog (standard procedure) and then we were cleared to leave Mexico. Next stop: El Salvador!
The section of the coast below Mexico, along Guatemala (which we bypassed because we did not want to stop at Guatemala’s only expensive port) was forecast to be light winds and slight seas. We expected to have to motor a bit more than we did but were surprised with good winds and a nice following current of 11⁄2 knots. We sailed all but the last 40 miles of the El Salvadorian coastline where the papagayo winds started to build almost on our nose and motor sailed to the estuary entrance of Jaltepeque (known to cruisers as Bahia del Sol) on January 31. So once again we were pleased to sail about 75-80% of the way!
There are currently two destinations in El Salvador for cruisers: Bahia del Sol and Barillas. (A third is in the process of being built but more about that later). Both are in estuaries requiring crossing a bar to enter. Bar entrances usually require surfing the waves and can be dangerous. Bahia del Sol requires a high tide at slack water, daylight, and low surf to enter accompanied by a bar Pilot; Barillas, 30 miles further south, needs similar conditions but does not require a slack water tide. We decided to see what time we arrived and what the bar conditions looked like before determining which destination we would go to. If the surf at Bahia del Sol was too rough we would abort and continue south to Barillas.
As it turned out we timed our arrival for near high tide at Bahia del Sol. The entrance was calm with only a slight swell to give us a push across the bar. We entered an hour earlier than high tide because we wanted to enter in the daylight. So 5pm found us waiting outside the entrance for the bar pilot on his jet ski - he led us in with no drama. “Pan cocida” as they say in spanish (“piece of cake”). We tied to the dock at the Hotel Bahia del Sol Marina and cleared in with immigration; clearances with the Port captain and health inspector followed the next morning. Interestingly enough, the Port captain had us sign a paper saying we would not offer any bribes to anyone in El Salvador. Try that in Mexico!
Fishing Report since leaving Puerto Vallarta:
3 Large Jack Cravelles
3 Mexican tunny’s
No keepers!!! Grrrrr