Saturday, March 29, 2014

Road trip: Guanajuato

We left the town of Tlaquepaque in the early afternoon and arrived at the outskirts of Guanajuato around 4:00 pm. It's not a very large city, with a population of around 154,000 in the municipality, but it is tightly packed into a narrow and steep-sided valley. The original town was built on the banks of the Guanajuato river way back in the 1500's.  During the rainy season the river often overflowed its banks and flooded the town. By 1905 the place had been flooded 68 times. The federal government then stepped in and rebuilt the city on ruins of the old town, and in the process created a system of tunnels beneath the streets of the new city. Some of these were based on the course of the river and some were dug out of hard rock. Since the town was originally the site of some of the richest silver mines in the world, there were plenty of miners around to do the work. The result is a truly unique city with most of its thoroughfares underground. It makes a lot of sense and for a few moments I tried to imagine what LA would be like if its freeways were all underground.

Aside from its network of tunnels, Guanajuato is famous for its confusion of narrow streets and "callejones", which are really just alleys too narrow for motor vehicles. We were unprepared for this and immediately got lost searching for our hotel. Eventually a local climbed onto the back of our car and, shouting orders from the rear bumper, guided us through a couple of tunnels and bunch of twisty little streets to the staircase that led up to the Hotel Chocolate, which was perched on a steep hillside at the top of a row of tiny hotels and restaurants. It was sweaty work lugging our baggage up what amounted to about nine flights of stairs to the hotel lobby, then to our rooms which were three flights further up. But the view was spectacular and we enjoyed our brief time there.

Hotel Chocolate. The views from this quirky hotel were splendid.

View of the Jardin Union (Union Garden)  from the Hotel Chocolate. This is ground zero for the incredible festivities that go on every night. With lots of loud music and throngs of people out until around 4:30 every morning, it's a tough place to get a good night's rest.

We could only stay one night at the Hotel Chocolate so we moved down to the Hotel San Diego, which was across the street from the Jardin Union. We could see all the festivities from our third story balcony and of course it seemed like the band was playing right outside our window.

The narrow streets and classic architecture of the city give it a distinctly European flair that was an enjoyable change from the more modern and Mariachi flavored Guadalajara. Because of the confusing streets and tunnels, and the fact that the car was parked miles from our hotel, we hired a guide to give us a tour of the city. This turned out to be a great way to see the place. With the four of us, the guide and a driver in a van, we visited many interesting places and quickly got acquainted with the lay of the land. After the tour we were able to explore central G-town without getting lost.

The church bells in town toll every fifteen minutes 24-7-365.
A pair of mermaids guard the entrance to a home next to the Hotel Chocolate.
Guanajuato Cityscape. The building with the beautiful facade on the left is the University of Guanajuato. 

Main mercado in G-town.
Parrots waiting to be sold at the mercado.
The city of Guanajuato has adopted the classic novelist, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. His most famous work is Don Quixote and the city has built a museum in honor of the author and the book. It was interesting to learn about the author, but is was far more fascinating to wander the galleries and see modern artists interpret the the main character of the book, Don Quixote.

A whimsical interpretation of Cervantes' Don Quixote.  
A bust of the Man of La Mancha

Pipili became the city's most famous hero when he strapped a large stone on his back as a shield against Spanish bullets and set fire to their fortress way back when Mexico was fighting for independence from Spain. He is everywhere in Guanajuato.

Pipili, the hero of Gunajuato stands guard on a ridge overlooking the city

Guanajuato is by far the most interesting and beautiful city we have visited in Mexico. We would have liked to stay longer and learn more about this fascinating town, but after three days it was time to move on to Morelia.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Road Trip: Guadalajara

After the Banderas Bay Regatta we were ready for a different kind of fun so we joined our friends, Ed and Connie for a road trip up-country. We drove about a thousand miles, or perhaps it just seemed like a thousand miles throughout west-central Mexico. Here is a list of the notable towns and cities we visited on the trip:

San Miguel de Allende

That's a lot of traveling, so for this post I'll focus on Tequila and Guadalajara.  Ed has a car here in Mexico and was kind enough to do nearly all the driving so I was free to just watch the world go by from the backseat of his Isuzu Rodeo, and occasionally hang on for dear life as Ed demonstrated his high speed driving prowess on the unpredictable roads of Mexico. Actually, we only stopped in Tequila for some beer and tacos along with a couple of souvenirs from the Jose Cuervo distillery. Anyway, we blew into Guadalajara and took rooms at the beautiful old Hotel Morales in downtown.

After the high speed run into town, I was more than ready for a stiff drink and we were fortunate that the hotel had an excellent restaurant with a fairly good bartender. The next morning we began our tour of this sprawling, gritty, bustling city. With about four and a half million residents in the metropolitan area, Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico and is a major center of commerce and industry. It is also the capital of the state of Jalisco. It has a long and colorful history dating back to the 1500's, and if you'd like to know more about this fascinating and diverse megalopolis, feel free to check it out on Wikipedia.

Like most of Mexico's cities, Guadalajara is full of churches, and we wandered around several of the biggest ones, taking photos and people-watching. One thing I have noticed in all of the churches and cathedrals I've visited in Mexico is the strikingly beautiful architecture and sculpture combined with a musty sense of dilapidation inside them. Outside, soaring spires and magnificent bells. Inside, cracked icons and peeling paint. Never a fan of organized religion, these aspects of the churches seemed to me to be a fitting metaphor for the Church itself.

Guadalajara is also a city of music. In fact, it would be fair to say that Mexico is a country of music because almost everywhere you travel in this beautiful country, someone is strumming a guitar or singing. This is a happy country in spite of all the troubles it confronts. I think the US could learn something about enjoying the simple pleasures of life from Mexico. Anyway, Guadalajara is said to be the birthplace of Mariachi music, that distinctively Mexican musical style. We were treated to lots of this kind of music but we also experienced a wonderful classical music concert in the plaza a couple of blocks from our hotel as well.

Atrium in the Hotel Morales

Central Square with the obligatory church in Guadalajara 
Guadalajara is the commercial center of Mexico but it is also a city of music. 


Guadalajara is said to be the birthplace of Mariachi music.  This sculpture is a tribute to the genre.
After a couple of days in the city we were ready to move on. Our next stop was the town of Tlaquepaque, which is known for its artisans and craftsmen. I found it to be a bit too touristy for my taste and Ed agreed, so while the women shopped we set out on a mission to find some decent margaritas. Alas, we failed and had to settle for some watery concoctions that the waiter claimed were margaritas, but tasted like Fresca and lime juice. With that we piled back into the car and headed for the beautiful city of Guanajuato.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Banderas Bay Regatta

It is officially called the Regata Internacional Bahia de Banderas. It is a three day, three race event for cruising boats and it is hosted by Vallarta Yacht Club. It was interesting to see how many of these cruising boats opted to fly in crew member from the States. We sailed aboard Snapdragon, a Beneteau 473, which is a big sister to our 423. Instead of flying in from the states we took a bus from our current and very lovely home port of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle to Paradise Village, where the race was headquartered.

Snapdragon is outfitted and equipped, like most Beneteau 473's, with a smallish jib, in-mast roller furling mainsail and lots of cruising gear. By cruising gear I mean dinghy davits, bimini and dodger, and a long list of other cruising must-haves that are never seen aboard racing yachts.

The 473 incorporates many of the same features as the 423, including the cast iron bulb keel and conservative sailplan.
Basic dimensions of the 473:
LOA:  46.92'
LWL: 43.83'
BMAX: 14.16'
DRAFT: 6.92'
SA: 914 sf
DISP: 24,277 LB
BAL: 8157 LB

Sistership to Snapdragon courtesy of

The photos show a boat with good speed potential, especially off the wind. Like the 423, it's keel shape is not particularly well suited for upwind work, so I was a bit surprised at our upwind performance which was better than that of our competitors in Class D. This enabled "the Dragon" to get to the weather mark first in all three races.

Here are the results for our class. (For complete results go to

D Start

Sailed: 3, Discards: 0, To count: 3, Rating system: PHRFTOT, Entries: 6, Scoring system: Appendix A
RankBow_NumFleetBoatClassOwnerRatingBBR XXII - Race 1BBR XXII - Race 2BBR Race 3TotalNett
1stD18Cruiser Class DDaringDawn 48 KetchCraig Chamberlain1101.
2ndD16Cruiser Class DSnapdragonBeneteau 473Russ Johnson892.
3rdD67Cruiser Class DSurBeneteau 49Alajandro de La Pena934.002.004.0010.0010.00
4thD19Cruiser Class DAdiosColumbia 43Craig Shaw1163.004.003.0010.0010.00
5thD20Cruiser Class DWind ChimeHunter 430Neal Albrektsen1335.005.005.0015.0015.00
6thD17Cruiser Class DScoutJeanneau SO 52.2Greg Himes1016.006.006.0018.0018.00
Our pickup crew consisted of a couple of experienced racers and some inexperienced friends. What the friends lacked in experience they more than made up for in enthusiasm and good humor. We didn't exactly laugh our way around the course, but it was a lot of fun sailing together. As you can see from the results, the Dragon finished second in class. To make it even more interesting, none of us, except for Lisa and I, had ever sailed together or, except for the owner, sailed aboard a 473.

Snapdragon's Crew. We started the regatta with six but by day three we had recruited a couple more guys.

In race 1 we won the start and led at every mark of the course which was a triangle-sausage-upwind finish. We sailed conservatively, given that our foredeck crew had never actually done foredeck before, so we didn't have any boathandling errors but we missed saving our time on the second boat by two seconds.

In race two, we won the start and in about 15-17 knots of wind sailed out to a comfortable lead against all of our competition. The course was a 16 mile long triangle-sausage-upwind finish and as we approached the last leeward mark we were about five minutes ahead of the second place boat. Unfortunately we wrapped the kite around the headstay on the jibe and blew the lead, finishing third.

On day three, the wind lightened up. We started in about 8 knots of wind and Snapdragon suffered in this light air. We managed to eke out a small lead at the weather mark and bore off on a reach to the jibe mark which was about four miles away. On this leg we were caught by Adios and Daring just as we approached the jibe mark.  There was plenty of drama at the mark as Daring and Adios fought their way around it. We chose to take the high road to the mark and both of the other boats rounded ahead of us by less than a boatlength, but we came out of the rounding going higher and faster than them and quickly regained the lead.
We held onto it until we were within a few boatlengths of the last leeward mark before the finish where we snarled the jib furling line and were unable to completely unroll the jib. Daring passed us and held the lead to the finish. We ended the regatta with a second in class, which I thought was pretty good for our crew. And, like I said earlier, we met some great new friends and had a wonderful time sailing on what is arguably one of the finest sailing venues in the world.

Russ and I after the trophy presentation.

After the regatta we celebrated with the rest of the crew at Paradise Village. To mark the occasion Lisa reached deep into our wine locker and brought out a bottle of 1997 BV Georges de Latour cabernet to share with the crew. It was superb.

In summary, we were fortunate that Russ had his cruising boat well prepared for the regatta and proved to be an excellent helmsman, which was a key part of our success. I also want to thank Greg, Alan, George, Lon, Steve, and most importantly, Lisa for making this a really great regatta.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

In the La Cruz Vortex

Sunrise from near the center of the Vortex

We've been here about six weeks now and probably won't escape what I call the La Cruz Vortex until sometime late in the month of March. The problem is that there is so much to do, friends, projects, inland travel and just relaxing, that it is difficult to leave. Here are a few news items:

1. We spent about ten days anchored outside La Cruz, in mostly picture-perfect conditions. Then a few days ago a large Pacific swell rolled in from the northwest and converted the normally peaceful anchorage to a lumpy, bumpy place, and we decided to return to our old slip on gangway 10 in Marina La Cruz. Here are some interesting boats that were anchored near Finisterra.

This steel cruising yacht is named "Go For Broke".  Notice the outboard motor mounted on the transom bracket. 

Look closely and beneath all the stuff on deck you can just make out what looks like a Newport 41

Much has changed in the anchorage since we were here three years ago but this fine vessel has been here the whole time. I guess it's having a little trouble escaping the Vortex. I hope that's not the fate that awaits Finisterra.

 This Dencho-built Peterson 43, a former IOR racer, has found new life as a high performance cruiser.
"Pied-a-Mer", a Seawind catamaran, looks shipshape and seaworthy.  

2. For the first time that we know of, a cruising couple was attacked while walking home from a local waterfront cantina late at night. There were no injuries and the would-be robbers didn't get any money. Still, it was a wake-up call for those of us who assume that our little community around the waterfront is perfectly safe. Now, before everyone jumps to conclusions about the dangers of life in Mexico it should be noted that this is the first and only time we know of that anything like this has happened around here, and muggings, robberies and worse are daily events in Orange County. I still feel quite safe here.

3. We learned that cruising yachts need to have a liability insurance policy from a Mexican insurance company in addition to your regular boat insurance. A standard policy from Novamar Insurance runs about $200 USD. It's important to have this insurance because Mexico's laws are based on Napoleonic Law, which means that you are guilty until proven innocent instead of the other way around. If you don't have Mexican liability insurance and your boat damages another boat or causes some other property damage, you're likely to be calling home from a Mexican jail.  I never liked Napoleon anyway.

4. Since we're going to be here in Mexico quite a lot this year, we decided to join the Vallarta YC. It's the racing club here in the Bay so we'll be doing some fun racing, and we're looking forward to spending lots of time in the club's swimming pool this summer, and perhaps in the bar as well.

5. The Banderas Bay Regatta is coming up March 11-15. This is a cruising boat regatta, but the top boats in the event take it quite seriously, with some boats flying in crews from the States. I'll be sailing aboard Snapdragon, a Beneteau 473 for this event.

6. Sirena, the boat that was dismasted finally had the stump removed and is awaiting a new rig from the states. Fortunately SeaTek rigging is based at the La Cruz shipyard so we're confident that the new rig and other repairs will be first class and it won't be long before Sirena is back to her cruising ways.

7. After the regatta, we may stick around for Mexorc, which starts around March 23rd, or we may take a road trip to Gudalajara, Morelia and Guanajuato, or maybe both, or neither...