Saturday, May 4, 2013

Escape to Zihuatanejo – March 30 to April 5

For most North Americans, Bahia Zihuatanejo is where Tim Robbins went after escaping from prison in the Shawshank Redemption.  In the movie’s final scene Robbins’ character is on the beach at Zihuatanejo repairing an old sailboat.  The movie is set in the mid-1960s.  Today one would be hard pressed to find any space on the beach at Zihuatanejo to do boat repairs – but looking between the restaurants and tourist shops that line the bay, one can still see that it is a beautiful place. 

Playa Municipal - Zihuatanejo

Here’s how we got there, and what we found there:      

Bahia Santiago to Zihuatanejo – March 30 to April 1:  We travelled from Bahia Santiago to Zihuatanejo in one long, 189 mile passage because the anchorages along this stretch of coast don’t provide enough protection to make them pleasant places to visit; they are used by cruisers only as safe havens.  We knew there would be a lot of commercial traffic along our route so we spent a lot of time calculating when it would be best to leave Bahia Santiago in order to pass the busy commercial port of Lázaro Cárdenas during the day.  And of course Abracadabra averaged four knots rather than our assumed three and a half, and we ended up passing Lázaro Cárdenas in the middle of the night.  There’s something about best laid plans and mice in there somewhere . . .
To spare you having to bring up your computer’s calculator function, 189 nautical miles at an average speed of four knots per hour means we were underway for about 46.5 hours.  We were able to sail about two-thirds of the way, though because of light winds we had to motor off and on the first night (the log book has entries such as:  “02.00 – motor off!”  “03.10 – motor on!”) and for a couple of hours on the second day. 

On our second morning we found ourselves cruising through a herd of sea turtles.  We were reminded of those cartoons of birds riding on the backs of turtles – because in nature .  . .  they really doI 

"Ride, ride, ride, hitchin' a ride."

Less fun were the four container ships and one cruise ship that passed us at night.  The container ships were lit properly – showing a red light on the port side and a green light on the starboard side in order to communicate their course (e.g., seeing both red and green lights on a container ship that is getting larger would be very bad – that would mean it was headed directly toward you).  But the cruise ship had a red and white moving light display on its side.  It looked like a nightclub marquee and from the perspective of a little sailboat a few miles away it was difficult to tell anything but the fact that it was getting closer.  Fortunately, it eventually became clear that it was getting closer because it was passing us . . . but, frankly, we are beginning to dislike cruise ships. 

An Aside re: Standing Night Watch:  Now that the weather is warmer, we stand watch in four hour shifts: Bryce starts at 19.00, Molly at 23.00, and Bryce again at 03.00.  Molly gets the most sleep at night, but Bryce gets his best rest by making sure that all is well with Abracadabra and is better at napping during the day.  Night watch can be tiring and frightening when the weather is rough, the wind is too high or there are large ships approaching – or just plain annoying when the wind is too low and the sails flog noisily.  Night watch in heavy seas is like an involuntary trip on a carnival ride, blindfolded.  But when the sea state is gentle, the breeze steady and the sky bright with stars, night watch can be a most wonderful communion with the planet and the universe. On a good night watch the helmsperson finds him- or herself thinking “Yes.  This is sailing.  This is why I came.”
After just such a beautiful night we arrived in Bahia Zihuatanejo, and dropped anchor at about 10.00.  We celebrated this season’s furthest point south by taking showers and naps.

Zihuatanejo – April 1 to 4:  We have been visiting Zihuatanejo together for over twenty years (Bryce has been visiting since the early 1970’s!) and at one point or another during each visit, we looked out at the sailboats anchored in the bay and dreamed about arriving in the bay under sail.  And it was just as good as we had thought it would be.  Like arriving at a destination after a long hike, or by kayak or bicycle, arriving after a passage on a sailboat makes the destination seem more earned somehow. 
 We visited places we had enjoyed during other trips, and were also happy to see some changes.  In the last couple of years statues have been added to the waterfront:

Statue of Noble Guerrero Fisherman

As an aside:  While taking a picture of this noble Guerrero fisherman, we spotted (and smelled) two modern-day noble Guerrero fishermen taking a marijuana break down by the shore . . .
Uniform awnings/overhangs and signage has transformed the center of the town.   The shade makes wandering much more pleasant and the uniformity of the downtown is quite attractive – even if it comes dangerously close to making Zihuatanjeo look like a Towne and Country shopping center in an upscale coastal California suburb.
Downtown Zihua

What hasn’t been improved is the quality of the air and water in Bahia Zihuatanejo.  Periodically the air will carry an unpleasant reminder that though the city has proper sewer treatment facilities, not all of the little villages in the mountains outside of town do.  And either no one is in charge of preventing the discharge of oil into the water or the entity in charge is not doing an effective job – Abracadabra took on a very unpleasant grungy ring around her hull in only a few short days.  To those looking down from the hotels and restaurants rimming the bay, everything still looks lovely.  We can only hope that the Mexican government realizes that for the protection of its citizens – particularly the less affluent who swim and fish there – the bay needs to be cleaned up.
Fishing In Zihua Bay

And perhaps there would be a slight boost to the local tourist economy if conditions were improved for yatistas and sport fisherperson. 
For those considering a visit to Zihuatanejo: don’t hesitate to go – it’s a lovely place -- just swim at your hotel’s pool, or at beach further along the coast! 

So, while we enjoyed visiting town from our home on Abracadabra, and we hope to visit again next year – possibly during Guitarfest next March ( -- we didn’t really enjoy anchoring in the bay, and moved on to another destination.    

Isla Grande / Isla Ixtapa – April 4:   After three nights in Zihua we decided to try the anchorage at Isla Grande (aka Isla Ixtapa) about ten miles to the north.  The island is a popular tourist day trip destination – no one lives on the island, but it is home to several enramadas and jetski venders.  We sailed to the island, and squeezed Abracadabra into one of the two small bays, just to the side of the route taken by the water taxis that shuttle tourists to and from the island. 

Our location gave us a front and center view of the water taxi traffic as well as the beach antics of the tourists.  After a while Molly began to consider the possibility of a stern mounted water cannon for zapping jetskis . . . but finally the day drew to a close and we watched the last tourists leave, the restaurants close down, and the cooks, kitchen staff and waitstaff depart.  Last to leave were the water taxi drivers, and the garbage boat.  Finally, dark came and we shared the bay with only empty water taxis. 
The next morning we were awakened by the water taxis bringing the workers back to the island, and by the time we left at around 09.30, tables and chairs were out at several of the enramadas.  The business day had begun.   

Marina Ixtapa — April 5
We sailed the five miles into Bahia de San Juan de Dios to our next destination - Marina Ixtapa. 

Molly on Foredeck

As we approached the marina entrance, we furled our sails and started the engine -- and when we saw the swell at the entry to the harbor, we were glad we had the engine nicely warmed up.  The surf into the narrow entry wasn’t the most exciting we’ve seen – but there was one very big break, which meant arrival time would have been a very bad time to lose the engine! 

Surf's Up At Marina Ixtapa

We spent one night at the marina before leaving Abracadabra there to move to The Land of Towel Art on the 6th.  We will post about our time in the tourist zone soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment