Sunday, May 10, 2015

Three Weeks in La Paz

Finisterra took a berth in Marina Palmira on April 24th where I had planned to do some routine engine maintenance, the most important of which was to service the fuel injectors. Rob from Cross Marine did the injector work and gave the engine a complete inspection while I replaced filters, tightened belts and generally puttered around the engine. In the course of his inspection Rob discovered a slight leak in the raw water pump. Fortunately I had a rebuild kit in my spare parts cache and within a day or two that job was done.
La Paz  with Marina Palmira in the foreground. It's a nice hike up a rocky trail from the marina to the top of the hill where these pictures were taken. 

La Paz is the only city on the gulf coast of Baja California. It boasts a population of around 250,000 including nearby suburbs. Mulege, Loreto, and Santa Rosalia are also located on the Sea of Cortez side of the Baja Peninsula, but I categorize them as towns or villages with populations of  4,000, 15,000 and 12,000 respectively.

Because of its location La Paz is the place where cruisers gather before heading up the Sea. Of course there is a fairly large contingent of cruisers who have become more or less permanent residents of this area, some of whom anchor out in the channel between the city and the El Mogote Peninsula, which lies between La Paz and the Sea. Hurricane Odile ravaged the Baja Peninsula last year, passing just to the west of the city and wreaking havoc ashore and among the boats in the anchorage. As we sailed down the channel on our approach to Marina Palmira, we could see evidence of Odile's fury in damaged buildings and torn up docks in the marina. Odile did almost one and a quarter billion dollars worth of damage in Mexico and took over a dozen lives.

The pilings in the upper left are all that's left of the docks at the entrance to Marina Palmira. Notice the boats in the storage yard.

One day I helped deliver a boat out to the Tramper, a heavy lift ship that was anchored in the bay. The Tramper was on a voyage delivering yachts from one place to another. After its stop in La Paz, it was headed to Ensenada, then British Columbia.

As far as I know, the Tramper picked up three boats in La Paz

This 40' racer/cruiser was picked up before our boat.
The boat comes alongside the ship, a couple of handlers descend the jacob's ladder and the slings are lowered aft of the boat. Then a pair of divers, which you can see holding the slings in this shot, align them under the boat, making sure they aren't touching the shaft, prop or rudder. 
Before the boat is hoisted aboard the ship, they do a test lift to make sure it hangs in the slings the way they want it. If all is good, the boss gives the order to load the boat.

Our little boat was up next. It has spent many years cruising in Mexico and is headed home to Canada for a rest and refit. It got shoe-horned between the dark hulled C&C and the white boat with the black stripe.
With the job done, we climbed aboard a panga and headed back to shore.
La Paz is usually a hot place this time of year, with average daytime temperatures of 92 degrees under a usually blazing sun. But over the last couple of weeks we've enjoyed temps in the low eighties with cool Coromuel winds blowing almost every night. It's made hiking and exploring the city quite bearable and we've enjoyed the place more than ever. Of course, friends are what really make a place enjoyable and we've spent a good deal of time socializing with great people.

With Finisterra well provisioned, fueled and ready to go, we're heading out tomorrow for the islands to the north of us. The rough plan is to spend a day or two in Puerto Balandra, then a few days in the coves of Islas Espiritu Santo and Partida before heading further north to Isla San Francisco and beyond.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Passage to La Paz

As usual, we enjoyed Mazatlan more than we expected to. Every time we visit this city we find new and interesting places to visit, and meet new and interesting people . This place is working its way up toward my top five favorite places to visit in Mexico. But all things come to an end, and our time in Mazatlan ended at 1100 on Monday, April 20th as Finisterra cleared the breakwater at El Cid, and headed northwest along the mainland coast.

The forecast was for light northwesterly winds so we motored in that direction, keeping about 10 miles off the coast, with the idea that we would be in a good position to make a quick passage across the Sea once the wind veered around to North. We wanted to pass to the north of Isla Cerralvo and avoid the Cerralvo Channel, which has earned a reputation in my mind as a frequently unpleasant stretch of water.

By dusk we were some 50 miles northwest of Mazatlan, still motoring over flat seas in 2-3 knots of wind. Later that night we bent our course further toward the west, expecting the wind to shift north and build to a forecasted 15 knots. That shift didn't happen and we continued across the Sea under power through a beautiful night with a sliver of waning moon hanging low over the western horizon.

We motored along all the next day over the same glassy seas. By late afternoon, Isla Cerralvo was off our port bow. About ten miles before we passed the rocks that lie off the northern tip of the island, a wind came up out of the south. It wasn't what I expected but I was glad to have it and quickly unrolled the jib, thinking that if it lasted more than ten minutes I'd hoist the main and we'd have a nice close reach across the north edge of the Cerralvo Channel. Instead the wind, a Coromuel, piped up to 25 knots and veered SW and then WSW, bringing a lumpy head sea with it and erasing my thoughts of a pleasant passage through the San Lorenzo channel.
The San Lorenzo Channel lies between Isla Espiritu Santo to the north and the Baja Peninsula to the south.

San Lorenzo is a fairly short and narrow channel with hazards to navigation on both sides, and it didn't take long to get through it in spite of the Coromuel wind and rough seas. I knew that once we passed through the channel the wind would back around to SW and continue all night. So as soon as we were well clear of the channel we turned and headed southeast to Puerto Balandra. The wind was still blowing 25-30 as we approached the bay in pitchy darkness. We could see the lights of a few boats anchored there, but as we approached closer we were able to pick our way between them and came to anchor at 2330 in the southwest corner of the bay, about 100 yards off some low bluffs that offered good protection from the waves, if not the wind.

With the big Rocna anchor and 120 feet of chain down in 20 feet of water, we had a quick dinner and a glass of wine. Then Lisa turned in and I sat for a while in the cockpit watching the stars twinkling in the moonless night. I kept an eye on the GPS as well, just to make sure the anchor was doing its job, then turned in myself around 0100.  I was up again at 0300 and 0600, monitoring the GPS but the anchor, as always, kept us in place.

The next two days were spent in lazy solitude in Puerto Balandra, the Coromuel wind blew both nights, giving way each day to lighter northerly winds and overcast skies. After two peaceful days we got the anchor up and headed into Marina Palmira in La Paz, where we'll stay a couple of weeks.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Copper Canyon

Since we first visited Barranca Del Cobre (Copper Canyon) back in 2011 we've wanted to return and explore more of that fascinating place, so we started planning the trip as soon as we arrived in Mazatlan. We were joined by friends Jamie and Elaine of S/V Tardis and boarded a bus for Los Mochis on April 9th for the first leg of our journey to the high country.

Express buses in Mexico can be luxurious. Ours was equipped with individual monitors built into the big reclining seats and offered a variety of entertainment options as well as a USB charging port. As we boarded we were each handed a bottle of water and lunch bag with a sandwich and cookie.  It reminded me of an elementary school field trip. The landscape between Mazatlan and Mochis is mostly farmland and looks similar to California’s Central Valley. This year corn is very popular and we rolled past mile after mile of sweltering cornfields in air conditioned comfort.

Our first stop was Culiacan, about 140 miles up the highway.  It is the capital of the state of Sinaloa and boasts a population of over 675,000, making it the largest city in the state. It’s an old city, founded in 1531 by the Spanish mariner Nuno Beltran de Guzman. It was not much of a place until the 1950’s when the Mexican government started building dams in the region to stabilize the water supply. Now it’s the center of a vast agricultural area. It is also the worldwide headquarters of the Sinaloa drug cartel as well as the birthplace of famed dog whisperer, Caesar Milan.

We stayed in Culiacan only long enough for the driver to take a smoke break, and then got back on the road to Los Mochis, another 142 miles up the highway.  You may be surprised to know that the original colony of Los Mochis was founded in 1893 by a group of American socialists who hoped to establish a utopian society next to the seaport of Topolobampo. Needless to say, that project hasn’t worked out exactly as planned.

We spent a night in Los Mochis, then caught an early bus to the town of El Fuerte, which lies about 53 miles to the northeast on the banks of the river of the same name. Founded in 1563 by a gang of Spanish conquistadores led by one Francisco de Ibarra, the town struggled to survive because it was frequently beset by angry natives who didn’t appreciate the newcomers. In 1610 the Spaniards built a fort (“fuerte” in Spanish) and the place has been known henceforth as El Fuerte (The Fort).  For the next three hundred years the town was an important commercial center, but more recently it has evolved into more of a tourist town.  It is the gateway to the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains and the Copper Canyon area, and a destination for hunters, birders and adventure seekers.

Civic buildings in Mexico are often decorated with impressive murals. The one at the El Fuerte city hall depicts town's history. In this view the native Amerindians are fighting against the invading Spaniards.

This view continues the story of defeat and subjugation of the natives. The Catholic priest brings religion and the natives switch from their traditional clothing to more "Christian" garb and are forced to work for the Spaniards. It's a sad but all to common story in Mexico.
Every room in the Hotel La Choza is equipped with a crucifix.

We arrived around noon and hiked uptown to the Hotel La Choza, where we planned to spend the night. It’s about two blocks from the central plaza, where the city hall and other official buildings are located. A couple of blocks further on is the Fort, which today houses the town’s water tank and a historical museum. After dropping off our gear at the hotel we checked out the plaza and fort, and then wandered over to the Hotel Posada Hidalgo where we knew we could find a good meal and a nice view of the sunset over the Rio Fuerte. 

The museum in the fort houses a collection of artifacts from El Fuerte's history. This exhibit shows the fashions that the natives wore around the time that the Spaniards showed up. The deer head on the woman's head certainly adds a bit of flair to her costume. El Fuerte must have been an interesting town back in its heyday.

Rio Fuerte runs placidly through the town. Before the dam was built north of town, the river often overflowed its banks.

Route of El Chepe from Los Mochis to Chihuahua.

hummingbirds are a common sight in El Fuerte.

Saturday morning we boarded the Chihuahua-Pacifico train. Affectionately known as El Chepe by the Mexicans, it’s a beautiful old train with about six passenger cars and a dining car that winds up the western slope of the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains to the city of Chihuahua. I love that you can stand on the landings between the cars and hang your head out the side of the train and feel the air rushing by and watch the landscape change from rolling hills to magnificent gorges as you approach the summit at Divisidero, about 132 miles up the line.

The train

The weather forecast called for rain on Sunday so as soon as we arrived at Divisidero, we dropped our bags at the Hotel Divisidero Barrancas and hiked a mile or so up to the Parque Aventura, where the zip lines are located. The last time we were in Copper Canyon we missed the zip lines so we were determined to take a ride on them on this trip. Jamie and Elaine would be in Divisidero for only two nights so, with a storm approaching, Saturday had to be the day.

When we arrived at the zip line place, the weather was deteriorating, with storm clouds bearing down on us. There was a Mexican gal at the ticket counter who looked doubtful when we told her we wanted to ride the zip line right then, but she took our money and pointed the way down to the shack where you suit up for the adventure. We were surprised to find that the same girl, who was a good 30 pounds overweight, was going to be our guide. She looked like she’d be more comfortable working the candy counter at the concession stand, and she was clearly not happy about doing the zip line on a cold Saturday afternoon.  Anyway, we suited up and, somewhat puckered, we walked down to the first take-off point of the line. Figuring ‘What the hell…” I volunteered to go first.  I clipped in to the cable and the girl was just about to shove me off the platform when a guy came running down from the office waving and shouting that we can’t go. The weather was here and the thunder and lightning was rumbling nearby. I was relieved to climb down off the platform. We told the girl we’d be back after the storm passed and for the first time she cracked a smile.

It was raining by the time we got back to the hotel, and by nine the next morning the rain had turned to snow, a rarity in Copper Canyon.  We stayed indoors and watched the snow do its magic, transforming the desert-like landscape to a white wonderland. In the afternoon the weather cleared and almost as fast as it appeared, the snow began to melt.  By the next morning there were only patches of it on the ground. It was amusing to see the locals out playing in what was clearly a rare treat for them.
View from the hotel dining room. The rain was just beginning to turn to snow.
An hour later.

The conductor wasn't outfitted for the weather.
The crew climbed up on the locomotive and took lots of selfies to show friends and family the snow day at Divisidero. Notice the lack of winter clothing. 
The Hotel Divisidero Barranca is pretty basic as far as the accommodations go, but little details like hand carved fence posts add a touch of charm. This post shows the sandals that the Tarahumara Indians wear. These people are known for their running ability. You can learn more about them in Chris McDougall's book, "Born to Run".

Hummingbirds entertained us even at over 7,000 feet elevation.

A Tarahumara runner.

The beautifully carved and painted front door at the Hotel Divisidero.

Elaine and Jamie were scheduled to depart the next day so we got up early and hiked over to the zip line again, hoping we’d be able to do it before they had to board the train. This time the guides were professional and experienced and we quickly donned our gear and headed for the first take-off point.  The Copper Canyon zip-line is one of the fastest and highest in the world. At one point on the seven-leg line you’re flying at 68mph, 1,476 feet above the ground. I’m no zip-line expert but this thing was a pretty exciting ride.
Lisa and Jamie geared up and ready to go. Elaine chose the more civilized route and took the tram.

There is another zip-line at Divisidero called the ZipRider which opened just last year. Located within walking distance from the original, we decided to experience that one as well. It is reputed to be the longest single line in the world at 8,350 feet, with a vertical drop of 1,450 feet and a maximum speed of 65mph. Instead of a simple harness, you are strapped into a seat similar to a bosun’s chair. When you get launched out of the starting gate you are instantly a thousand feet or so above the canyon floor. Pretty exciting stuff.
Lisa on final approach at the bottom of the ZipRider.

Both zip-lines finish near the bottom of the aerial tram and we rode it back to the canyon rim after the last zip-line. From there we hurried back to the hotel and gathered Jamie and Elaine’s bags, but it turned out we needn’t have. The train stopped running that day because a locomotive had derailed a few miles down the track. Fortunately the road was open and later that afternoon our friends caught a bus to their next destination, which was the city of Creel, some fifty miles further up the line. After we saw them off, we wandered back to our hotel and spent the rest of the day watching the canyon change colors as the shadows shifted with the setting sun.

The Tarahumara Indians are known for their beautifully crafted baskets. This fellow found a good use for them.

By the next afternoon the derailed train had been cleared off the tracks, so we were able to board the southbound Chepe only about an hour late. We relaxed in the dining car while the train barreled down the mountains toward Los Mochis. We arrived there at 9:45pm and by eleven thirty we were safely tucked into our room at the Plaza Hotel.

We were up early the next day and caught a cab to the bus station where we boarded a Tufesa bus to Mazatlan. We pulled into town around five in the afternoon and were back at the marina well before sunset. Finisterra was in good shape when we got back, just as we left her. Being tired after a long day of travel, we decided to catch a pulmonia into town and had an excellent dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant. We’re back aboard the boat now, getting ready for the next leg of our voyage, which will take us northwest across the southern Sea of Cortez to La Paz, the gateway to the Sea’s beautiful cruising grounds. 

Last night we joined our friends Ed and Connie for dinner at Topolo's in old town Mazatlan. On the way, we had a drink at the rooftop bar at the old Freeman Hotel in the Zona Dorado. No green flash but it was magnificent.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Passage to Mazatlan

Dawn off Mazatlan

While we were in La Cruz I was able to dig further into the charger/inverter malfunction and confirmed that the charger part of the unit stopped working. This is a big deal because though we have solar panels on the boat, they are not sufficient to keep the batteries charged over the long term. The charger/inverter, a Newmar 1800, has been in the boat for about nine years so I can’t complain too much about it.

Charger/inverters are not easy to find here in Mexico and it was beginning to look like we’d be stuck in La Cruz for a few more weeks while we went through the hassle of shipping the unit back and forth to Minnesota for repairs. But as luck would have it, John Pounder at JP Marine in La Cruz happened to have a brand new Magnum 2000 in his shop that had recently become an orphan. It was ordered for a boat in Puerto Vallarta that burned up before the unit could be installed.  It took about three hours to replace the unit and another couple of hours to wire in a new remote display at the chart table. Total cost for the new unit was about $2,400. We’ll take the old one home, have it repaired and then sell it.

With that little project completed we were ready to leave La Cruz for the last time this year. Finisterra cleared the breakwater at 0810 on March 31st, bound for Bahia Matanchen, the correct pronunciation of which is Ma-tan-CHEN. We arrived late in the afternoon and dropped anchor about ¾ mile from the beach. This area has always been known for its vicious noseeums and, more recently, dengue fever carrying mosquitos. The best defense for these pests is anchoring well out in the bay, screens on hatches and ports, and DEET laced insect repellant. We spent a peaceful night at anchor and the next morning took the dinghy ashore and hitched a ride into the town of San Blas. It’s the holiday season in Mexico, with Semana Santa (Easter week) followed by Semana Pascua (Resurrection week), so the town and beaches are full of Mexican vacationers. We wandered around the town for a few hours watching the festivities, then got back aboard Finisterra around noon.
Matanchen Bay. San Blas is surrounded by one of the largest mangrove ecoregions in Mexico, encompassing 770 square miles of what we might call swamp land. No wonder the place is full of no-no's and mosquitos.

We departed Matanchen at 1330 on April 1st and headed out around the rocks that lie off Punta Camaron before heading northwest toward the beautiful city of Mazatlan. There was only about three knots of wind all afternoon and most of night as we motored over glassy northwest swells. A big waxing gibbous moon was already well above the eastern horizon when the sun set so it was a beautiful night on the sea. We arrived the following day at the anchorage off Isla de La Piedra at 0830 and anchored a couple of hundred yards east of the Escollera de Las Chivas in about 15 feet of water. People call this place Stone Island anchorage.  The last time we anchored here, the place was deserted and the palapa restaurants that line the beach were mostly closed, victims of a combination economic recession and narco-violence. Since then the cruise ships have returned and the restaurants are packed with Mexican vacationers, and a few gringos as well. 
Finisterra at anchor off Stone Island.

We spent a couple of days anchored off Stone Island and hiked to the top of Isla de Las Chivas, which is actually not really an island anymore, but is connected to the mainland by the "escollera" or breakwater that was built years ago to make Mazatlan a suitable deepwater port. There was just enough of a south swell running to make beach landings in the dinghy dampish at best so on Saturday, April 4th we got the anchor up and motored around the small islands that lie just offshore from Mazatlan to the El Cid marina where we will stay for the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

XXIII Banderas Bay Regatta

Not long after we arrived in La Cruz the J/109, Joyride appeared on our gangway and the owners, Jim & Jenn invited us to sail with them in the upcoming Banderas Bay regatta. Joyride came down from San Francisco Bay in the Baja Haha last November and has been cruising along the mainland coast with their two schnauzers, Harvey and Phoebe, for the last few months. The boat is fully outfitted for cruising, including a dodger, bimini, solar panels and a full load of cruising gear, supplies and provisions aboard. To further complicate matters for us, we were given a rating of 73 for this PHRF event and were limited to using the class jib instead of a genoa. Needless to say, the combination of extra weight and small sails made Joyride a sticky boat in the light conditions and chop of Banderas Bay, so we harbored no delusions about where we might place in the regatta. Instead we focused more on enjoying three days of casual racing.

 Our competition consisted of:
Olas Lindas (Varianta 44) PHRF 56
Gypsy (Columbia 52) PHRF 107
Bright Star (Jeanneau Sunfast 40) PHRF 80
Wings (Serendipity 43) PHRF 78
Alarife (Ron Holland 40) PHRF 99

Sistership to Olas Lindas. The Varianta is a Judel/Vrolijk design built by Hanse Yachts.

On the first day of the regatta there is always a parade of the competing boats as we head out to the starting line. This year the theme was Pirates, so our crew, including Harvey and Phoebe, were dressed in pirate scarves and brandished bottles of rum as we made our way past the reviewing stand.


The forecast was for 12-18 knots of wind so we felt okay about the small jib. Jenn was our designated driver and Doug worked the sharp end of the boat while Jim, Lisa and Josette ran the cockpit. Harvey and Phoebe took up stations in the quarterberth as we lined up for the start. Being the smallest boat in our class I positioned us at the committee boat end of the line when the flag dropped. Unfortunately the wind stayed light and we got rolled by the bigger boats. The course was a triangle-sausage and we were the third boat around the weather mark. On the reach out to the wing mark we passed the Jeanneau, with the Varianta well in the lead. We got passed by Wings just before reaching the leeward mark. Then the deck got shuffled. The wind went light and shifty. Wings went right, along with Gypsy and Bright Star. We tacked to starboard and headed out to the left side of the course and managed to find a bit more breeze. We could see Wings in the distance going slow as we ghosted along. Before long we were near the port tack layline and had a quarter mile lead on them as we worked our way out to the last weather mark. But as luck would have it, Wings found a breeze and came barreling at us, making up nearly all the distance we had gained on them. We rounded the weather mark and set the kite a hundred yards ahead of them. As soon as the kite was up and drawing the wind shifted to NE, turning the run into a beat. We quickly doused the chute and unrolled our jib and managed to cross the finish line in second place, about three minutes ahead of Wings and ten minutes behind Olas Lindas. Though we corrected out to 5th, we felt good about our performance.

On day two, we started again in light air a little down the line from the committee boat, seeking a clear air lane. Again, we got rolled by the big boats off the starting line but managed to round the weather mark in third. The next leg of the race took us on a close reach to the sea buoy off Puerto Vallarta. It was all about waterline length and, being the small boat in our class, we got passed by all of our competition and corrected out to 6th.

On the last day of the event we sailed three times around a windward-leeward course. Though the committee boat end of the line was favored, we opted for a clear air start closer to the pin end of the line and crossed it going fast in about 12 knots of wind. We played the left side of the course on the first beat and rounded in second place behind Olas Lindas. With a steady breeze all day, we worked the shifts and were the second boat to finish, about eight minutes behind Olas and 24 seconds ahead of Wings.

Overall, it was really fun sailing the J/109 in spite of our unfavorable rating. The weather was perfect and we were entertained by breaching humpback whales throughout the regatta. Vallarta YC was, as always, a splendid host and brought in Luna Rumba, a Latin/fusion band for the party after the trophy presentation.

With the regatta behind us, we had time for a quick trip to California where we took care of some business and reconnected with friends. We're back in La Cruz now and preparing to head north to Mazatlan and the Sea of Cortez.

While in California I had time to go for a long bike ride and got a nice picture of Newport's Back Bay in the late afternoon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Acapulco to La Cruz

Taking our departure from Acapulco, we set a course that would take us about three miles off the point at Papanoa, From there it was a straight line to Isla Grande, which lies just outside of Bahia Zihuatanejo. We stayed fairly close inshore throughout this passage and enjoyed the beautiful coastline in the area. Arriving around noon the following day, we anchored in about 20 feet of water and spent a couple of days relaxing and exploring the island. On February 1st we motored the short distance to Bahia Zihuatanejo just in time to participate in the festivities at Sailfest. It was a lot of fun and proceeds from the event go to a good cause.  You can learn more about it at

The following Sunday, Finisterra departed from Zihuatanejo and set a course for a point about 10 miles offshore as we passed the port of Lazaro Cardenas. As usual, there was lots of ship traffic there, but once again, we managed to get past the port without knocking any ships out of the ocean. During that time the weather was balmy, with scant wind and flat seas. A few miles further on, the wind jumped to about 20 knots out of the northwest, bringing big lumpy seas with it. We banged along with spray flying all night. It's hard to sleep when you have to hang on even in your berth. By the next morning conditions improved and we were able head directly for Roca Vela at the southern entrance to Bahia Manzanillo.   Arriving at La Hadas around 1800, we were greeted by our good friends, Ed and Connie aboard Sirena, who were anchored nearby. They invited us over for a delicious pasta dinner as soon as we had the hook down. Nothing beats a hearty meal and good company at the end of a passage.

There is room for three or four boats in tiny Ensenada Carrizal.

We stayed at Las Hadas a few days, then headed out around Punta Santiago and across the bay of the same name to a little cove called Ensenada Carrizal. For three days we had the cove to ourselves,  There are beds of coral here which attract a variety of colorful tropical fish. With no other humans in sight, we spent a good deal of time exploring this underwater wonderland. One day we took the dinghy out among the wild looking rock formations that make up the southwest part of the cove. With a good sized swell running, we had fun surfing the dinghy between the towering rocks, and managed to do it without capsizing. This cove is reputed to be a drop-off point for drug traffickers, and we heard that some cruisers had been warned by gun wielding Mexicans to leave the place. As long as we were there we found nothing but a peaceful cove that looks almost untouched by human activity.

On February 12th we said goodbye to Ensenada Carrizal and headed northwest to Barra de Navidad, about 18 miles further up the coast. With no wind and a flat sea, we used the three hour trip to charge batteries and run the watermaker. By 1300 Finisterra was at the channel entrance. In the past, we had to be very careful navigating this channel due to shoals all around the area. There is now a dredger keeping the entrance channel clear and is widening the channel between the marina and the town of Barra. We took a berth on gangway B and settled in for a few days of relaxing by the pool at the Grand Bay resort. The marina here used to be very expensive and was always fairly empty. In the last couple of years the slip rates were brought more in line with other marinas in Mexico and consequently there are lots of boats taking advantage of the place. We have lots of friends here and enjoyed a week or more of socializing...a contrast from the solitude of Carrizal.

The marina at Barra is visible in the center of the photo. A small portion of the Laguna is navigable and there are always a few boats anchored in the southwest corner of it. The afternoon winds can be strong here and it's not uncommon for boats to drag anchors.
Whenever Finisterra is in a marina we connect to the 110 volt shore power to keep the batteries full. Unfortunately, our charger/inverter stopped working the day we arrived. There are no real boat repair facilities in this town so we relied on our solar panels to do that work until we could get back to La Cruz where there are lots of resources for this kind of work. So after a week or so in beautiful Barra, Finisterra departed for Cabo Corrientes and La Cruz.

It's about a hundred nautical miles from Barra to Corrientes and for the first 85 miles we motored over a glassy sea, dodging long-lines and trolling for dorado. As we approached the cape, the wind built to about 20 knots on the nose and stayed that way until we rounded it and bore off for La Cruz, another 28 miles ahead. As soon as we cleared the cape the wind dropped to almost nothing and we resumed motoring, arriving at the harbor entrance just before dawn. By 0700 we were snug in our berth on gangway 10.

Friday, February 27, 2015


We arrived at Bahia de Puerto Marquez just after sunrise

Finisterra departed from Marina Ixtapa at 0815 on Sunday, January 25th, bound for Acapulco. The wind was very light and we motored all morning, helped along by a half knot current. By early afternoon a light breeze came up out of the northwest and we were able to sail on starboard jibe until late afternoon. This put us about 20 miles offshore so we jibed to port and began angling in toward the land in hopes of picking up a land breeze after sunset. By midnight we were a couple of miles off the beach in the vicinity of Punta Apusabalcos. There the sea breeze died and the land breeze failed to show up, so we motored the last few miles to Acapulco. Rather than heading straight for the city, we anchored in beautiful Bahia de Puerto Marquez, which is a good sized bay near the entrance to Bahia de Acapulco.

Bahias de Acapulco and Puerto Marquez
Puerto Marquez is undergoing something of a transformation. The area was hit by torrential rains and floods in 2013, suffering a direct hit from tropical storm Manuel in September and a near miss from Hurricane Raymond a month later. The waterfront was devastated, with many buildings damaged or destroyed. When we arrived, some of waterfront restaurants were open, but the place was clearly still suffering.

On another note, there is a new marina under construction here. You can see it in the lower right corner of the bay in the photo above. We explored it in the dinghy and it looks like it will accommodate around 100 boats. That should be great news for the locals as well as the cruising community. The marinas in Acapulco proper are not very cruiser-friendly.

We were sitting in a little waterfront cafe when we met this charter captain preparing his boat to take some customers out for a sail on the bay. He wanted to know if we had any blocks we could give him. Unfortunately Finisterra's blocks are a little too big for his yacht.

With no West Marine store nearby he had to use the materials on hand to rig his yacht.

I had to admire his workmanship

With his customers outfitted in regulation safety gear, the skipper set off on a three hour tour of the bay. Fortunately the weather stayed calm and the tiny ship made back to port safe and sound.

After a couple of days in Puerto Marquez we headed into Acapulco and took a berth at Marina Acapulco. It's not much of a marina and most boats are med-tied there, but we were able to secure a side tie for a couple of days. It was the most expensive marina we've been in this year, with the least amount of amenities. It did have a beautiful rooftop pool but we were told it was for members only so we always waited until afternoon to use it.

This is from the US State Department:

Travel to Acapulco and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo only by air or cruise ship, exercise caution, and remain in tourist areas.  Travel in and out of Acapulco by air and cruise ship is permitted for U.S. government personnel.  U.S. government personnel are prohibited from traveling within Guerrero state by land, including via the 95D toll road (“cuota”) to/from Mexico City and Acapulco, as well as highway 200 between Acapulco and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. In Acapulco, defer non-essential travel to areas further than two blocks inland...

We have been hearing and reading these warnings for the last five years. While in La Cruz a couple of months ago we talked about visiting Acapulco with some of our Mexican acquaintances who said we were "loco" to be visiting the city. But when we arrived, the place appeared to be peaceful.  We walked a couple of miles to the Port Captain's office and later shopped at the local supermercado and saw no signs of violence. One evening we walked a mile or two to the famous La Quebrada cliffs to see the divers. We watched from the Las Perlas restaurant which gave us a perfect view of them. It was quite a spectacle to see them diving from a height of 115'. It was late when we finally left the restaurant so we grabbed a cab back to the marina. I knocked on the massive steel gate and a man opened a small opening in the gate and checked to make sure we weren't bandidos before letting us in. Everywhere we went the town looked under-used. There were a few people on the miles of beautiful beaches along hotel row, but they all appeared to be Mexicans. In fact, there was an eerie absence of gringos everywhere we went in town. We even stopped at a McDonald's, certain that we'd see a few gringos enjoying a Big Mac & fries, but nope, not a one to be seen.

La Quebrada

The divers. 115 feet above the water. They offer a prayer at the illuminated shrine before each dive.
He did a beautiful forward flip in a pike position.

The next day I was chatting with a local who was working on a large yacht in the marina. The conversation eventually turned to the lack of tourists in this beautiful city. He said that the hotel occupancy rate is only about 20% these days because people are scared of narco-violence. "So, is it dangerous here or not?", I asked. "No, it's good here." , he replied. "See those hills over there, behind the city? That's where the killing is going on, not down here in town." He went on to say that the narcos are busy killing each other and don't have any interest in boaters.

The vibe we got from wandering around the city was not the relaxed and open feeling we always get around Puerto Vallarta. However, I do think it's probably pretty safe in Acapulco as long as you take the usual precautions...and stay out of the hills behind the city.

It was in Acapulco that we had to make a decision whether to continue on to El Salvador or spend another season in Mexico. After weighing to pros and cons, we decided in favor of Mexico. So a couple of days later Finisterra departed from Acapulco and headed northwest toward Zihuatanejo.