Sunday, March 27, 2011

Acupulco – kinda like they told me about it

When we were in Manzanillo we took a long cab ride in from Las Hadas to the Centro section. When the cabbie found out we had a few words of Spanish, at least enough to match his few words of English, the trip turned into a joint language lesson. The topic naturally followed into “where are you going?”. When we mentioned Acapulco the cabbie went into his best discouragement speech, clearly letting us know it was too dangerous and full of Narco violence.

We showed up in the large bay that makes up Acapulco just before dark after a good sail down from Punta Papanoa. Henry on the catamaran Rapscullion had been here before and headed to an empty spot near the pangas around the Port Captains office that was smooth and in 20 feet of water. The other anchorage is deep and crowded with moorings. Next morning we hooked up with Henry and Tony and Shannon from Sweetie to do some touristing. Since they charge 100 pesos to tie up a dinghy here and we weren’t comfortable just leaving ours on the beach, we all jumped into Henry’s ride and split the tie-up fee.

We did a busy day of hitting the tourist spots. First, the main square and local church. Then off to the Fuerte San Diego. The old fort that defended Acapulco’s trade (in what was then New Spain) from some famous pirates, English (think Francis Drake) and others, who all wanted some of Spain’s riches.

acapulcoIMG_7065Heading into the fort that is now an interesting museum covering the history of the Acapulco 

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Checking the view from the upper cannon deck

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Looking down on Jeorgia from the Fort

The Hotel section of Acapulco seems to be well protected and populated with a lot of Tourist Bureau helpers, whose job it seems is to keep tourists out of trouble. We wanted to go up and see the Diego Rivera mosaic mural. It is above the marina where we tied up the dink.  The Tourist Bureau guys made it clear to us that we should see the mural in day light and that we should take a cab up and have him wait for us. OK by us. We piled in a cab and headed up.

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Today was Chris’ birthday. For a B-day present I decided to give her a wall with an original Rivera.

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Tony, Shannon, Paul and Chris trying to improve on the Diego Riva mosaic of a mythical Quetzal. 

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You got to love the simplistic signature

Tony and Chris really wanted to see the iconic Acapulco cliff divers. Something to do with too many years of watching Wide World of Sports and listening to Frank Sinatra as kids. This was a 15 minute walk from the main square and we were told it was a safe part of town. The cliff divers do 4 or 5 shows a day. We got a front row spot in the bar that overlooks the cliffs ready for the first night time dive.

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The official union of divers

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Two divers preparing to jump into the shallow abyss

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Diver standing next to the chapel that they pray at before each dive. So far it seems to be working.

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OK, it was too dark to get any action shots, so here’s an abstract of two divers on their way down.

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A shot borrowed from travelresources site online.

It was Chris’ birthday, so she got a cake:

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and a fantasy date with the cliff divers:

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They really are short and young, Chris has not turned into a Amazon giant.

We walked back from the Cliff divers around 10pm. Henry was hungry so we stopped at a tamale place near the malecon. It was late for us, but just the right time for the locals to come out for dinner, so the tables were crowded with families out enjoying a summer evening tamale feast. In the street parking in front of the restaurant were a group of trucks and cars with police officer like occupants. Most had dark AFI shirts or bullet-proof vests on, others had PGR shirts. The AFI is apparently something analogous to our FBI and the PGR are special state police.  There were two white pickups and a Suburban like dark truck loaded with these guys. There were also 2 or 3 sedans full. It all looked pretty low-key, with a few women talking to them and one guy on his cell-phone. We finished eating just as this troop started to pull out.

We walked along the malecon looking for our way back to the dinghy dock. We turned down a dark road that headed us to a dead-end because the tide was too high to cross the beach. On our way back we heard the first shots. As we walked up the street some locals came out and told us we couldn’t turn right (the direction we’d come from) at the end of the street because of a shooting – but left was OK. Off we went- to the left and finally found the entrance to the marina. After a short negotiation the guard let us in. By this time a police helicopter was flying overhead. We walked down the dark path toward the dock and stopped near the pool deck. This is when the volleys started. We heard at least 100 rounds of gun fire go off. We were smart enough to hang tight next to the thick stucco wall and could see the action fro across the small bay we’d just walked around. The police helicopter decided it would be smart to turn off his lights as he flew round and round us overhead. We could see guys inside a hotel-like building moving around with flash lights and heard a few more rounds.

The excitement went on for another half an hour or so, then we decided to brave taking the dink back out to our boats. Henry was driving and convinced that this was just part of Chris’ special birthday celebration. As they say, all’s well…

Paul 

PS: From the morning newspaper report, this was a planned operation to capture 3 ‘assassins’, who are now in a Mexico City jail.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Zihuantengo

AKA Z-town. We’ve been in the Z-town and Ixtapa area for near a week now. Zhuatenejo is where the closing scene in the Shaw Shank Redemption occurs. Ixtapa is the typical big beach hotel al-la Cancun type place.  Z-town is much more kicked back with a really friendly, walking Centro section. Lots of good music and restaurants with a large central market.

022 The first night we got in here we got rolled up with a cruisers dinner out with the crews from Varuna, Rocinante, Sweetie and Sound Effect(1/2). OK food, but great beer and conversation.

zIMG_6988 The dinghy landing in Z-town with the locals playing soccer. Most of the time you show up here with your dink and a local is there to grab it and guide it through the surf --- for 10 pesos. Worth the investment to cover the parking insurance.

zIMG_6970 Heading down here we were seeing a fair number of large ships with their AIS (Automatic Identification System) on. Then on the horizon was a big guy coming our way with no AIS on – strange. Turned out to be Mexican Navy Ship 412, the Usumacinta. Formerly the USS Frederick, built in San Diego in 1968. A Newport Class tank landing ship that made it into Vietnam and Desert Storm. Now doing patrols of the Pacific for the Mexican navy.

zIMG_6964 Coming down the way we had some intermittent issues with our speed log. These get grunged up with marine growth and the paddle wheels stop turning. So I decided to pull the inch and half plug out. This is always exciting as an inch half of water starts flooding the boat till you replace it with the dummy plug. This time the paddle wheel was really grimed up with some ugly growth. I stuck it in some white vinegar to clean out the hard stuff and then picked out the remaining live matter.

zIMG_6989 I like the right-of-way instructions posted on the pier at Z-town. The Capitania de Puerto making sure the fishing pangas know the rules. The bottom left one says watch your distance from sailboats and give sailboats under sail right-of-way. Nice thought.

 zIMG_6960 There are Tortilleria’s in every town in Mexico. Some don’t have as modern a machine as the one above. Giant balls of corn based dough goes in the hopper, out comes flat tortillias to be baked.

A couple of important pictures that I missed posting while we were in Manzanillo.

zIMG_6959Giant blue sailfish overwhelming the waterfront.

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Looking down on the central market from the second floor.

We are off tomorrow heading to Bahias de Huatulco. This should be a 3 or 4 day trip. We may stop at Acapulco for a day or two on the way.

Paul

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tsunami Spotting

lashadasIMG_6939We woke up early and turned on one of the HF radio marine nets (which usually comes in a distant second to NPR). Didn’t take long to hear of the destruction in Japan and the possibilities of tsunami waves cutting across the Pacific. Fortunately we had Banda Ancha internet connectivity allowing us to sift through the random info on the nets with real info on the web. We checked the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center site. They put out an update every hour. Their schedule had the first wave hitting our area at 19:30zulu, or about 1:30pm. We were the only boat in the anchorage, Ensenada Carrizal. This is a narrow, steep-sided little bay. It didn’t look like a good place to try surfing a Tsunami wave into the beach. We hung around for a few hours and then headed out. We did some lazy sailing for 4 hours in Bahia de Manzanillo, around the freighters and tankers (photo above). They’d all headed out of the port of Mazanillo into deep water anchorage to wait it out.

There wasn’t much damage in this area. A freighter that decided not to leave the port needed two tugs to help stabilize his position in the harbor.  The captain sounded a little panicked as he requested them. A few places had some dock issues. The lagoon in Barra de Navidad had a water pipe break loose from the bottom and block the entrance. A lot swirls in the water and buoy's being dragged under in the currents. Just a little excitement on our side of the Pacific. We’re sorry to hear of the real devastation that hit the other side.

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While hanging outside in the bay killing time we kept sailing through these huge flocks of rays who were cruising just under the water surface.

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One broke off from the flock and started to chase down our dinghy.

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We did get an early evening snorkel in at Ensenada Carrizal before we left the next morning. Water clarity was better than it has been since we left Baja and there was a lot of live coral.

lashadasP3100428Chris heading off into the deep.

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Proof that Paul gets in the water too- when it’s 70 or above. (We’re still waiting for tropical water temps.)

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The sunset at the anchorage at Las Hadas resort that we came into once we figured the Tsunami scare was over. This is the beach that Bo ran down in the movie “10”.

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A pod of playful whales passed us on our way to Enenada Carrizal, this shot was taken near Piedra Blanca (on the right).

Speaking of whales, here’s the first person report on the whale that had the run in with Pearson 367 Luffin It in Tenacatita Bay: Luffinit. Sounds like they didn’t see the whale and the whale didn’t see them, rather than a case of aggravated assault on a sail boat. Lots of damage– hope these guys had  good insurance!

Paul

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hanging out at the Barra

No dogs in restaurant

Chihuahuas are also dogs.

sign in local restaurant 

Just so you aren’t too concerned about the tough life we are living. Here’s a picture of the French baker (oui, oui!) delivering fresh croissants to our boat while we are anchored in the Barra de Navidad lagoon (in beautiful Bahia de Navidad).

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This Frenchman has been here for the last ten years. You hear him on the radio in the morning, “Deez is de French Bakerr. Vee have fresh baguettes and croissants todaay”.  He has a 10-acre Palm plantation where he bakes breads and pies each morning.

The lagoon has 18 or 19 boats in it now. A smaller contingent than at the peak of the season. Barra de Navidad is a pretty cool little town that attracts a fair number of ex-pats. There’s one high end hotel, Grand Bay, that is on the far side of the lagoon, away from town. It’s easy to get around on the cheap and fast water taxis.

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25 pesos round trip from your boat to the town, or the island or the hotel.

barraIMG_6874There’s a dinghy tie-up at the Hotel Sands if you want to bring in your own dink instead of taking the water taxi. Classic 1960’s hotel, with kidney shaped tile pool and outside bar. Plenty cruiser friendly. Chris did a yoga class there today.

barraIMG_6868Street signs in Barra- the bougainvillea is blooming everywhere!

barraIMG_6883Bahia de Navidad has a wicked shore break along its miles of sand beach that local kids take good advantage of. There’s also a surf beak off the breakwater here, but not breaking while we were here.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, before Bahia de Navidad we stopped at Tenacatita and took our dinghy into the mangroves for a nature ride. I think we got there too late in the morning to see a ton of wildlife. Nonetheless, it was a pretty cool ride! Here’s some photos.

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The jungle tube

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Jungle guard bird

barraIMG_6856The crocs were well hidden by this time of day.

 

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Chris on her evening swim off the boat in Paraíso.

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Check this space bowl out. That is a full sized lighthouse next to it on the right. It is Copa del Sol (Cup of Sun) that someone decided to build on a point near here – pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

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We’ve seen lots of turtles swimming around offshore. This one seems to be blowing bubbles.

 

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Diving has been really poor lately. There’s some kind of algae bloom, aka red tide (or brown tide), that is making the water clarity very poor. We made water in the water maker offshore when the water clarity looked decent. The water maker filter above turned brown-red. This picture is after I had already cleaned it. Supposedly the heavy rains they had last year brought too many nutrients into the water and the extra nitrogen has led to the bloom.

We checked in and out of the Capatania de Puerto today. The standard paperwork shuffle and stamp stamping required whenever a port has a port captain. We’ll wait for the French Baker to drop bread and croissants off in the morning, then head out when the afternoon wind picks for a spot 20 miles south that is supposed to have good snorkeling – we’ll see.

Paul

Monday, March 7, 2011

Happy Birthday Mike.

Well always miss ya.

Paul & Chris

Moby Dick lives, and she’s pissed!

After leaving Yelpa in the late afternoon we had a good night sail around Cabo Corrientos (the Cape of Currents). Spent a day near Chemela and then a night in Paraiso. Paraiso is a pretty little inlet. We had 5 boats in there, all with bow and stern anchorages to avoid any swinging. Now we are down in Tenactitca. A big bay with nice anchorages with an estuary canal covered with mangrove that you can take your dinghy up for 2 1/2 miles.
The big story out of Tenacatita concerns one very pissed off humpback whale. Two days before we arrived, a sail boat (a Pearson 365 I was told) making their way north upped anchor and quickly set sail in the bay on the way out. They were a mile into the bay when a humpback center punched them. The whale hit the side of the boat, knocking it over 45*. It then went under the boat , turned and rammed it again from the other side. She dropped down under the boat and started beating her tail. This whale had a score to settle. The crew onboard were having a brown undies moment. They called out a Mayday over the VHF and the anchorage emptied with dinghies to go help. They brought the boat in and anchored it. Reported damage included missing part of the lower rudder, bent strut (or shaft), leaking stuffing box, plus they had to use a crow bar to open the head door. Next day, with clean underwear, they headed north with a boat to accompany them. Presumably to haul out in Banderas Bay. This was either one neurotic whale or some kharmic payback event, the motivation was unclear. Either way all the yatistas who have heard this tale are now being very careful of the resident humpbacks they meet!
EDIT: Here's a link to the first hand story of the whale run-in, as opposed to the third-hand rumors reported above: Luffinit
Paul

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Paplapa in Yelapa

A Palapa in Yelapa is better than

A Condo in Redondo

1960’s California long hair saying

After a few false starts we left La Cruz crossing Banderas Bay to the South side. The south side is more jungle like and has steep mountains, the Sierra Madre Occidental range,which go straight down into the water creating deep, poor anchorages.  We had to stop at Yelapa just to say we’ve done it. It is famous hippie, yoga, ganga and peyote hangout from way back. It is populated by Chacala Indians who had the land granted to them  by the King of Spain in something like 1581. The entire town is owned communally. It is built along the steep hillsides overlooking a small pristine bay.

yelapaIMG_6777 A humpback guarding the entrance to Yelapa.

yelapaIMG_6778 While Yelapa might be a kicked back spiritual hangout, it is also a big tourist hype. Before we were near entering the bay we were met by Rafael in his panga to graciously offer us the use of his mooring. When I asked him how much, Rafael says “”What ever you want to pay.” The new, low-key tourist marketing in Mexico. Then he went into telling us that there are no police in Yelpa, so “it was OK to drink and smoke as much as you want”. No, we didn’t. We took him up on the unpriced mooring, as the anchorage is really deep and we didn’t want to hassle with getting our dinghy off the deck. His mooring float was in 160 feet of water. It turns out that Rafael's main gig is to get people to go to his families restaurant, Domingo’s.  I guess we should have figured that out by his t-shirt that said “London, Paris, Rome, Yelapa – Domingo’s Restraurant”.  Rafael dropped us in town so we could do some hiking around. He made sure to let us know he would pick us on the beach right in front of Domingos Palapa right after we were done eating.

yelpaIMG_6802 Steep mountain side architecture.yelapaIMG_6799

The village of Yelapa, approximately 2,000 inhabitants- no roads in.

yelapaIMG_6781A little hike up to the waterfall followed by a delicious limonada.

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Chris crossing the bridge over waterfall run off. Note the re-bar ready and waiting to be turned into hand rails.

yelapaIMG_6794The Yelapa transportation department- no cars here!

 yelapaIMG_6790 Jeorgia (on the left) hanging on her mooring, as seen from the main cliff side road through the village.

After a cruise ship priced meal at Domingo’s of Chilli Relleno’s and shrimp Quesadillas, we got Rafael to drop us back at the boat. I gave him 40 pesos ($3.50) for the rides in and out. Then we were off for an overnight passage around Cabo Corrientos (Cape of Currents) and on south to Bahia Chamela as we start heading down the mainland Mexico coast. Hopefully to some good skin diving and warmer water. This La Niña year has brought a ton of harsh weather to US and left Pacific Mexico with much colder than normal waters.

Paul

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pirates and Mexico Narco Violence

You can’t go on an extended sailing trip without getting asked a lot of times about pirates and safety by friends, family and acquaintances. The recent killing by Somali pirates of four Americans on the sail boat Quest highlights the reality of it.

Besides the Somali kidnappings, when listening to the news reports of drug-related violence in Mexico you end up with two somewhat extreme positions. The mainstream media paints a picture of radical shootings and causalities that is unfathomable to US sensibilities. The other extreme is rags like Latitude 38, a San Francisco-based monthly that has a large focus on cruising in Mexico, where the editor claims all is beautiful and wonderful on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The mainstream media leads with 34,000 people killed, almost all Mexicans, since Mexico declared war on the narco gangs. That’s a huge number and it should scare people. At the same time, how many gun deaths does the US have per year? Oh yea, 52,000 deliberate and 23,000 accidental. So compare the numbers and see if you would ever travel in the US. The border cities of Mexico are out of control. But then so are/were parts of Oakland or Detroit.

The Latitude 38 editor’s cheerleading for Mexico downplays risks with statements about incidents in Mexico like “ 'very minor ones' near the cruise ship terminal this year" and "we didn't hear a single report of a cruiser, RVer, or ex-pat having any incidents." Innocent bystanders do get shot in narco gang shootouts. A Canadian tourist was hit by a stray bullet in Mazatlan recently while stepping outside a pharmacy. It isn’t all safe south of the border for cruisers.

In the Latitude38 story on the recent killing of the crew on the sailboat Quest, the majority of the article actually focused on a trip made by another boat without consequences. Like they didn’t have enough to say about four murdered cruisers so they diverted to some meaningless unrelated story that implies that cruising is risk free. When called on about the rosy cheerleading, the editor of Latitude 38 always points out some article buried somewhere in the mag that shows there commitment to reporting all. About as Fair and Balanced as Fox News.

The sailboat Quest was leaving Cochin, India to travel to Oman and then up the Red Sea. The area they were transiting at the time of the hijacking was not considered to be at great risk for attack by Somali pirates. In other words, at the time they weren’t heading into a really stupidly dangerous area. Now the area is obviously to be considered high risk. Latter parts of their trip would indeed have taken them through the pirate alley. The ship piracy that is taking place these days is overwhelmingly Somalian based, and this includes small cruising boats. The other accounts of attacks on small boats tend to be related to theft gone wrong rather than kidnapping for ransom, not what I would call true piracy. There continue to be occasional issues and even murders in parts of the Caribbean side of Central America.

Why is there so much Somalian piracy? It’s simple- it is good business. The average ransom for a hijacked crewman is US$4 million. The shipping and insurance companies have done their calculations and figured it is cheaper to buy back their crew and ship than to face up to the pirates. A cold blooded capitalistic calculation. It is better for the individual corporation to make the payoffs, even though it hurts all other shipping by encouraging more piracy. Capitalism and the Free Market gone bad. Unfortunately for sailors, this effect has been carried over to private cruising boats and individuals who don’t have these resources available. The Somali pirates don’t make a distinction. An example is the British couple, on the small cruising boat Lynn Rival who were hijacked off the Seychelles and held for ransom for over a year until family was able to raise approximately US$1 million for their release. Now in the last few days a Danish yacht ING with family including three teenagers has been taken while sailing between the Maldives and the Red Sea.

Given the US’s recent experiences with nation-building, it is unlikely that Somalia will gain an effective central government by any acts of ours.  Barring that, the next best approaches are to aggressively blockade Somalia coast. This would mean searching 100% of all seaborne traffic that exits or enters the seaway within some short distance from shore, say 12 miles. This could be done with the existing naval forces in the area that are currently trying to patrol thousands of square miles of seaway. Then enforce an international ban on any ransom payments. If you can’t be straight in saying what you are doing, then call it a ban on funding terrorism. Either way, any shipping company that pays a ransom has their ships banned from US and European ports. When the blockade is enforced and the money dries up, so will the piracy.

So how does that answer the question of what do you do about piracy while cruising. You take calculated risks all through life. Nothing too stupid, but enough risk to know you’re alive. Without taking any risks bad things still happen. For instance, we have family facing some medical issues that are scary and hit randomly and very unfairly. In the end we are all leaving this planet and the most important thing is that we can leave with others looking at our life ‘as a life well lived’.

Paul