Voyage of Traveler / Blog

May 26, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Zihuatanejo

Traveler Postcard From Zihautanejo, Ixtapa,
Barra de Navidad and Rounding Cabo Correntes
May 18 to 25


Zihautanejo and Ixtapa.  These two beach resort towns are next to each other, just five miles apart, but they’re as different as two Mexican towns can be.  Zihuatanejo has been around for hundreds of years.  Sir Frances Drake and other pirates used to lay in wait here and raid the Spanish galleons as they sailed down the coast to Acapulco.  It was then just an isolated, sleepy fishing village, and for centuries it stayed that way, until the road was built in the 1960s connecting it to Acapulco.  The Mexican government helped create neighboring Ixtapa through eminent domain by converting a large coconut plantation to beachfront hotel sites.  Government contractors drained swamps, built roads, installed utilities, and then added two golf courses and a marina, beginning in the early 1980s.  We anchored in Zihau (as the locals call it) for three nights, and loved it.  Fun, laid back, friendly, picturesque, good food, comfortable anchorage–everything us cruising yachties are looking for.  However, we enjoyed a little too much Happy Hour at a beachfront restaurant, with the table and our bare feet in the sand, watching the sunset.  With their two for the price of one drink special, we went for the margaritas. You know the saying: “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!”  The next day, nursing our hangovers, we cabbed it over the hill to Ixtapa where we walked the beach looking at the high rise hotels on one side and the waves on the other, until we found a hotel that looked like a good place to hang out for the day.  As long as we were buying food and drinks, the staff allowed us to used the pool and enjoy other hotel guest privileges.  The waves were up, and we had a fun time body surfing.  Scott had to fly home from here to go back to Berkeley for summer school, but Brian and I had one more night in Zihau.  In the center of town, right on the waterfront, is an outdoor stage where a popular Mexican band was filming a music video.  There were a couple of hundred screaming teenaged girls (think the Beatles in their early days), especially when the lead singer ripped off his shirt.  It was quite a show.  After the video taping, the band was mobbed by their fans as they made their way offstage to a waiting van.  After the show, Brian met up with some locals, played with them in a drum circle for awhile, and then stayed ashore that night at their casa, located next to Cameron Diaz’s gorgeous waterfront home.

Barra de Navidad.  The next morning, Brian hitched a ride back out to Traveler in a fishing ponga, and we departed at 0900.  We motored all day and through the night 190 miles up the coast to Barra de Navidad, arriving the next day, May 22, at 1300 hours. After buying fuel and hosing the boat down at the fuel dock, I asked the rate if we were to stay in the new, upscale marina.  They wanted $140/night(!), so we elected to anchor in the lagoon for free and stayed here two nights.  It is just a couple of weeks after the start of the slow season here now.  But already the marina was only a third full, and all of them long-term, with no yachts in transit. The five star Grand Bay Hotel was nearly empty, with no one on their golf course ($250 green fees!), and we were the only boat anchored in the lagoon. The town is small, rustic and touristy.  It is located on a low-lying peninsula of sand, and the occasional storm has taken its toll, with all the buildings looking a tad weather-beaten and run down. We had an okay dinner at a beachfront restaurant (we were the only guests there all night).  But, while the food was marginal, they fixed a great drink called a Michelada.  It is like a Bloody Mary, but with more spices, lime juice, and mixed with beer instead of vodka. Historically, this is where the Spanish galleons first set sail from to cross the Pacific to trade with the Philippines.  But soon the pirates learned of this port and found it easy to raid.  So, after being New Spain’s main port on the Pacific coast for 40 years, the Spanish moved the fleet down the coast to Acapulco.  The wind blows hard here in Barra in the afternoons, so we left early, at 0300 hours, in calm conditions to make as much way up the coast as we could before the northwesterlies picked up. Our next port of call is Puerto Vallarta, but we must first get around the dreaded Cabo Correntes.

Cabo Correntes.  This is much like Point Conception is to California.  The wind blows hard out of the NW, and the seas are always rough, usually very rough.  As we were motoring into it, the apparent wind slowly increased from 15 to 20, then quickly to 25 knots.  Waves were breaking over the bow and rolling back to the dodger, hitting it with such force that we thought the old stitching on the forward-facing plastic windows would rip out, leaving us unprotected in the cockpit.  Then, as we approached the cape, the wind built to 30, with sustained gusts at 35 knots, and the seas grew with it.  Time to seek shelter.  Fortunately, there is a well-protected anchorage at Punta Ipala, just 14 miles south of the cape, and we ducked in there and dropped the hook for the night.  After watching the anchor for a half hour or so to make sure we were not dragging, Brian and I swam 150 yards to shore to a small cafe.  We bought a bucket of Coronas and kicked back with three local guys in their mid-20s, one of whom spoke some English.  He said the wind blows very strongly here all the time, even in the early morning hours.  Great.  At 0600 the next morning, still dark, we decided to go for it.  The apparent wind was 20 knots and right on the bow, with the occasional wave breaking over the bow, but not too bad.  This is as good as it gets, and we were just happy it wasn’t any worse.  Our normal cruising speed while motoring is 7 to 7.5 knots.  But there is an adverse current here at the cape setting down the coast.  So even though we were able to motor at 6 knots through the water in these conditions, our speed over the bottom, at 2000 rpm, was just 5 knots.  But I was not complaining.  I was just very pleased when we successfully made it around Cabo Correntes and into the much calmer waters of Bahia de Banderas, headed for Puerto Vallarta.

Hasta luego,

Traveler Postcard From Huatulco and Acapulco

Huatulco y Acapulco, Mexico
May 8-17, 2010


Wind storm.  The notorious Golfo de Tehuantepec is an area on the Pacific coast of southern Mexico known for extreme northerly wind due to a constant pressure differential in the weather between the Caribbean and Pacific.  It really kicked our butts on the two day passage from Guatemala to Huatulco, Mexico.  The average wind conditions here is a Force 6 (25 knots), with violent gales (Force 8 or 9, 40+ knots) common.  May, however, is usually the calmest month of the year, and the forecast wind was for only 14 to 16 knots.  We experienced, however, 22 to 28 knots, with steep confused seas and breaking 8 to 10 foot waves.  The rough sea conditions is a product of swells, current and wind waves coming from different directions and colliding.  We had at least 50 waves break over Traveler, pounding our dodger so hard I thought it would rip off, for over a nine hour period from 9:00 pm until 6:00 am the next morning. It was not the highest wind we have experienced on this voyage, but it was definitely some of the roughest seas. Neither of us got any sleep, and we not only wore our PFDs, but were teathered in the whole time.  I thought the boat might get rolled over on one of the waves. But we made it, exhausted.  The North Wind 47 was designed and built for conditions like this, and Traveler handled it well.

Huatulco.  We were very happy to make port and went straight to the marina where we took a berth for two nights.  It gave us a chance to clean the boat, dry everything out, do laundry, and catch up on our sleep.  On our same dock, we met Chris Kaman, the 7 ft. tall center for the LA Clippers for the past seven years.  He, his crew of two, and his two friends, were on his boat, a Hatteras 65, “Sasquatch.”  Chris is an avid sport fisherman and didn’t seem to mind at all that other NBA teams were still shooting hoops in the playoffs because he was doing what he loves best: fishing in Mexico.  We all went out to dinner one night, and Chris promised us comped player’s tickets to a Clippers game when we get back–Brian and I are now big Clippers fans.  The next day, my other son, Scott (Brian’s fraternal twin), joined us here for nine days.  We moved the boat just a half mile up the coast to Huatulco’s main bay, Santa Cruz (much more scenic), where we anchored for two more nights.

The End Is Near.  Mexico marks my 61st and last foreign country on my three-year circumnavigation.  It is also the longest shoreline of any country I have visited, and we plan on spending the next five to six weeks working our way up Mexico’s gorgeous and fun Pacific coast.  We also plan a Homecoming and Traveler Crew Reunion at the Balboa Yacht Club on Saturday, July 3 at 2pm, so mark your calendars, and we hope to see you there for our arrival home.

Acapulco.  After an overnight passage, we arrived Acapulco and took a mooring at the prestigious (and expensive!) Club de Yates de Acapulco.  In addition to paying a fee to be on the mooring, we had to pay the yacht club $35/night to use their dinghy dock.  But that gave us privileges, so we could buy drinks at the bar and use the club’s pool and showers.  The first night we went out to dinner at the famous, wacky Carlos & Charlie’s (now called Acapulco Charlie’s) in the center of town on a Saturday night, and then walked around after dinner.  It was quite the scene.  Bungy jumping.  Night clubs.  Motorcycles racing and doing wheelies in the streets.  Huge crowds of people.  I was tired, but Brian and Scott went to a club, Paradise, where it was all you could drink for 200 pesos (about $16), with dancing and a wet t-shirt contest that turned into a raucous strip tease (all professional girls).  Brian and Scott got back to the boat at 0630, just as the sun was coming up, then they slept in until 2pm.  That night we went to see the cliff divers, which is a great show, and I’m sure many of you have seen it before.  But the street scene around the cliff diving was equally amazing: more motorcycle dare devils racing up and down the street and doing wheelies and tricks, all very close to the huge crowd of people–very wild and dangerous.  There is no way this would be allowed in the US.  But the cops here just turned a blind eye and allowed it to go on, for hours! We enjoyed cheap (5 for $2) tacos al carbon y cervezas from a small sidewalk cafe that night.

Next stop, Zihautanejo.

with Brian and Scott

May 10, 2010

Gulf of Tehuanapec, Mexico: Traveler’s Laptop Out of Service - no blog or emails updates

Hi Jim,
Just got a call from M. His easy motor through the Gulf of Tehuanapec turned into one horrendous night of huge seas breaking on the boat non-stop and throwing her on her side all night long. Winds were 30, which M said was no big deal, just the size of the waves. This gulf is known for its conditions, as the winds build across Texas and Mexico and then funnel through a split  in the mountains. Seas build within minutes. Many boats have been lost in this crossing.
The reason I am writing to you is that the laptop took a dive off the nav desk. The net book has a virus. So, he is without communication except via Iridium phone.
If you can forward this email to everyone to not expect communication through sail or email, thanks.
See you at the 66.

May 9, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvado

Traveler Postcard From Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador
April 28 to May 4, 2010

Hola y buenos dia,

Brian and I traveled fairly quickly through these three countries, spending just two nights in each, so I’ll cover them together in one Postcard.

In Nicaragua, we arrived on April 28 at the Puesta del Sol Marina and Hotel after a terrifying overnight passage at sea.  We had lightning strikes all around us, many within a half mile of our boat, for hours.  And rain.  Lots of rain.  So many boats are hit by lightning down here, especially this time of year.  If hit, the lightning takes out all the electronics and electrical appliances, including your radar, GPS, stereo, running lights, laptop computer–everything.  But somehow we skated through harm’s way, untouched.  I spent much time with Robert, who owns the marina and the surrounding 500 acres, about his plans to develop the rest of his property.  He wants to put in a cashew orchard, a runway for connecting flights to Managua, a nine hole golf course and a second hotel.  I suggested a surf camp because he owns a mile of beachfront property, including the point, Aserradores, which is one of the top five surf spots in Nicaragua (according to Lonely Planet.)  I drove into Chinandega, the nearest city (about 45 minutes away), with Robert to do some banking and buy provisions for the boat.  The check in and check out procedures here were the most pleasant of any country I have visited.  The Immigration officer, Customs officer and Port Captain came together to the marina and the paper work was done at the bar, taking only about ten minutes, while having una cerveza frio, and the total fees are a very reasonable $20.  Why can’t it be this easy in other countries?

Our next stop, after a 50 mile daysail, was the normally sleepy fishing village of Amapala on the Isla El Tigre (pop. 2400) in Honduras.  I say normally because it is that way 362 days out of the year.  The other three, the place goes wild with the Fiesta del Santa Cruz, and by coincidence that’s when we were there.  We did not get much sleep here because the street dance with amplified music played on until 0400, followed by fireworks until dawn.  We met a local guide who spoke English (the only person on the entire island who was bilingual) and he led us on an exhausting hike up to the top of El Tigre, an extinct volcano a half mile high.  A light rain kept things cooler than normal, which was welcomed, but limited our view at the top.  Then after our descent we had a fish lunch with the locals at their favorite beach, Playa Grande, in the rain.  Here, we went exploring in La Cueva del Pirata, a deep sea cave where, legend has it, Sir Frances Drake buried treasure.  We looked, but found nothing, except we woke up about 100 bats which swooped over our heads in the darkness.  Drake careened his Golden Hind here on Playa Grande to make repairs while he was on his circumnavigation.  The island is named after him.  The Spanish called him El Tigre del Mar because of his piracy on the Spanish galleons.  Good timing because I just finished reading his interesting biography, “Sir Frances Drake, The Queen’s Pirate.”  We were not just the only Americans, we were the only tourists here, and they rarely get cruising sailboats of any flag to stop here.  Not sure why.  We thought it was a charming place.

After a couple of sleepless nights in Amapala, we motor-sailed another 50 miles up the coast to Barillas Marina, the only marina on El Salvador’s Pacific coast.  We did little here except swim in their pool, watch ESPN and CNN, eat some nice meals in their restaurant and drink several beers in the bar.  We also read several old sailing magazines left by other yachties and had a load of laundry done for us by the staff.  I never left the marina.  For a couple of hours one day, Brian went for a mountain bike ride with a local guide on a trail through the jungle to see some howler monkeys, which he said was cool.  It felt good just to relax.  No boat repairs to worry about.  The nearest town or sights to see are several hours away, and we just didn’t feel up to it.  So we just chilled at the luxurious (by Central American standards) marina for a couple of days.  The marina is located in the Bahia Jiquilisco, and getting in the entrance was tricky with migrating shoals and waves breaking on the bars all around us.  But the marina sent out a guide in a ponga for us to follow, which I would say was essential, given the conditions.  On the way out, after the guide left us to return to the marina and when we were about two miles off shore, the water shallowed to 27 feet deep, which is normally too deep for waves to form, let alone break.  But a large set of waves came in from a distant storm and one of them broke just off our bow.  It was scary.  The wave crashed over Traveler’s bow and washed back over the deck to the dodger, but did no damage.  Fortunately, all of our hatches were dogged tight.

Obviously, there is so much more to see and do in these three countries, but we have to keep moving to stay on schedule.  We have a weather window and must be north of Cabo San Lucas by mid-June because of the hurricane season, and I’d like to finish on July 3.  If you look at the miles we have to go (2,100) and divide by the number of days we have to do it (60), we must move the boat up the coast an average of 35 miles a day.  If we decide to take a lay over and see a place for day, then we have to do 70 miles the next day to stay on our schedule.  Every day for the next two months.  That’s moving.

Viviendo el Sueno,
y Brian

May 8, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Costa Rica

Traveler Postcard From Costa Rica
April 2010


Passage from Panama City to Golfito, Costa Rica.
What a nightmare.  It started out okay, just Brian and me, cruising along.  We knew the anchor windlass had corrosion and needed repair, but everything else seemed to be working. And then the engine started to sound bad.
We have had so many problems with the engine.  A few months ago my sister said to me, “Don’t you wish you could just go for three months or so with no engine problems?”  I replied, “Three months?  I’d be happy with just three consecutive days with no problems!”
I opened the engine hatch to see what was the problem and water was spraying all over everything, including me.  Also, there was a ton of smoke coming from the engine compartment when I opened the door.  I immediately shut the engine down.  It turns out there were two, unrelated problems.  The first was relatively minor: a broken hose clamp.  But it was for a hose that was not easily reached to make the change (I have several spare hose clamps, all sizes.)  The turbo, air filter and the exhaust manifold would first need to be removed just to reach the hose clamp, making it about a two hour job.
The other problem was an exhaust leak, again.  This is the third time we have had this same problem.  One of the three bolts connecting the exhaust elbow to the turbo sheered off from weight and vibration of the elbow allowing raw exhaust to circulate in the engine compartment, with fine, gritty, oily particles.  This soot was then sucked up by the air intake and put back into the engine.  That makes a big problem even worse.  The air cleaner, turbo, exhaust elbow and the inner cooler were all filthy dirty–inside and out–and needed to be removed, cleaned and reinstalled. This was much more than I could do by myself while at sea.  I needed a mechanic and a workshop.  This means sailing the rest of the way in very light wind.  A two day trip turned into four days at sea, bobbing around.
In calm conditions, we lowered the dinghy from the davits and put the outboard engine on it, then side-tied the dinghy to tow Traveler, at 3 knots.  This worked well, but we didn’t have enough gasoline to get us all the way to Golfito.  We stopped the dinghy side tow with a gallon of gas in reserve to help us get the last few miles into the port.  I managed, with great effort, to replace the hose clamp, a filthy job because everything I touched in the engine room was covered in oily soot.  We decided to run the engine with the exhaust leak, at low speed, just to get into the port.  We didn’t want to spend another night bobbing around, drifting in the currents, with no wind.  We finally made it into Golfito, just before dark.  The cold cervezas at the bar of the Banana Bay Marina tasted muy delicioso.

Golfito: Engine repairs and sport fishing.
We were in Golfito for eight days, much of it spent just waiting our turn for the only mechanic to start work on Traveler.
While waiting, we met and made friends with Dan Murphy from Texas on his sportfishing boat (I think it was a 50ft. Hatteras) called the “Last Stall” (he also raises horses.)  We also met his captain, John Teal and crew, Willy.  They invited Brian and me to go out fishing with them.  After about an hour, I caught a nice mahi mahi, then nothing else was caught for more than two hours.  I felt badly because I wanted everyone to catch something, and we were really hopping for a bill fish.  Then, “Hook up!”  It was Brian’s turn, and after a 20 minute fight he reeled in a 110 lbs. beautiful sailfish!  We were using barbless circle hooks and so we were able to cleanly release the fish, which is great.  Then, within just a few minutes after that “Hook up!” again, and it was my turn.  Another sailfish!  We all saw it jump and dance across the water.  What a thrill.  After a fight of about 20 minutes, I brought the fish to the boat and we successfully released it (after getting a couple of photos.)  Mine was a 120 pounder.  Next, big Willy brought in and released a 140 pound sailfish.  (The weights were estimated by the captain.)  We also caught two more mahi mahis.  What a great day.  Since it was the first sailfish for both Brian and me, on the way back to the marina we were pushed overboard, as is the tradition. The swim felt great.
We finally got all the engine repairs done, including the anchor windlass repaired, then filled the fuel tank and water tanks, and departed for Quepos in the middle of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

Quepos and Manuel Antonio.
We arrived at the new Marina Pez Vela (Spanish for sailfish) at dawn.  The marina has been under construction for 10(!) years, including planning and permits, and it is so close to being finished and ready for business that they decided to allow us to tie up.  We were the first cruising sailboat to stay at the new marina, the biggest in Central America.  I had breakfast with Harold, the owner, and Glen, the sales manager.  Harold told me all about what it is like to build a first class, American-style marina in Costa Rica–not easy!
That night we had dinner at El Avion in the upscale beach resort town of Manuel Antonio. The restaurant’s bar is constructed in the body of a 1954 Fairchild C-123 cargo plane, affectionately known as “Ollie’s Folly” (after Col. Oliver North.) The plane was used by the CIA in the 80s for the Nicaraguan Contras, then it was abandoned at the airport in San Jose after the scandal broke the news.
We stopped here primarily to see Costa Rica’s most popular National Park: Manuel Antonio, named after a banana freighter that sank there.  We hired a private guide who had a telescope on a tripod to help see the wildlife, and he was great at spotting the animals.  We saw a few three-toed tree sloths, an amazing animal that moves very slowly and sleeps 20 hours a day–just like Brian.  We also saw a toucan, iguanas, howler monkeys and white-faced campuchion monkeys.
After the park tour, we met up with Dave and Evelyn, a couple of ex-pats from the South Bay, who are good friends of Bill and Marsha Horsfall (our guests on the Panama Canal) and acquaintances of Barbara.  We visited with them for a few hours at their spectacular oceanfront home, much of that time sitting in the Jacuzzi with howler monkeys overhead, drinking beers and taking turns telling stories about each of our travels around the world.

Papagayo and Playa de Coco.
After a couple of nights at Quepos, we motor-sailed up the coast to Papagayo and anchored off the marina after taking on fuel.  We met and had dinner with Brian and Teri from Newport Beach (friends of my good friend Dick Higbie) who, coincidentally, were there on their trawler named Traveller.
We then motored a few miles to Playa de Coco, a port of entry, to clear out.  The process was unnecessarily complicated and time consuming, and a huge run around.  It took a total of five hours over two days!  While here we went on an ATV guided tour of the jungle and ranch land, which was great fun.  Among the many animals we saw was a boa constrictor in a small creek we crossed. We also took a zip-line canopy tour, which was a blast.
During the night a storm came in with heavy rain, so we decided to stay ashore in a hotel.  The next morning as we were departing, a couple of local fisherman motored out in a 20 ft. ponga to tell me that Traveler had dragged and then swung on its anchor during the storm and smashed into his bigger fishing boat that was on a mooring a couple of hundred feet away from us.   Traveler broke a couple of windows on the fishing boat.  The fisherman asked for $100 in compensation, which I thought was very reasonable and quickly paid, with apologies.  There was some minor damage to Traveler from the collision, really more of a fender-bender.

Check out the photos of our wonderful visit to Costa Rica on the website:

The next Postcard will be from Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador.

Viviendo el sueno,
Michael with Brian

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