Monday, March 31, 2014

"Fun in Acapulco" and Heading South (well, East-ish, really) -- March 17 - 26, 2014

Greetings from Marina Chahue (pronounced cha-HWEY") outside of La Crucecita (Little Cross) in the State of Oaxaca enjoying marina luxuries. The marina is small (90 slips) and is only half occupied; there are six live-aboard vessels here at the moment.  Because the boats can be spaced at least two slips apart the marina is relatively quiet and breezy. There's a bit of a surge, but after seven nights at anchor and four nights underway since Ixtapa, we're not bothered by a bit of ocean motion.  

We have already visited with the crews of Liebling and Flyin Sideways, compadres from "up north".  Recently we've been joined by Palarran, a boat we "met" over the radio on our way to Acapulco.  Those that have been here for awhile tell us wonderful things about nearby La Crucecita and we are looking forward to snorkeling in the famous Bahias de Huatulco.  

The shower arrangement here is somewhat primitive.  We aren't put off by the outdoor shower stall per se, but there are no hooks or bars inside the shower enclosure.  Reaching outside to access clothing seems fraught with the possibility of, uhm - unintended exposure.  So - we have been using Abracadabra's awkward but private hand-held shower.

But given all the pluses for this location, including the opportunity to use available Internet access and shore power to bring Travels on Abracadabra up to date, we are happy to be here.

Acapulco -- March 17 to 22

We didn't anticipate enjoying Acapulco:

  • On our last visit (1995-ish) Bryce got food poisoning from the over-priced buffet at the restaurant that offers views of the famous La Quebrada cliff divers (subsequent rule: avoid buffets).  
  • In the intervening two decades Acapulco has suffered a variety of economic set-backs - drug business violence, hurricanes, etc. and the tourist business has fallen on hard times. 
  • The city's storm and water sewer infrastructure needs improvement.  
  • Sailor lore is full of unflattering stories about Acapulco as a destination: few, crowded marinas with funky docks; fueling difficulties; big city dangers; etc. 

We planned to stay for only a couple days to rest up between the overnight passage from Ixtapa and the two or three night passage to Huatulco. But stuff intervened - some fun stuff and some life's-like-that-sometimes stuff - and as it came to pass, we spent a full week at anchor there.  And, unexpectedly, enjoyed a lot of things about Acapulco!

Fun Stuff: Fort San Diego 

We toured the Spanish fort built to guard the port of Acapulco, from which Nueva Espania (New Spain) controlled the world-altering trade route between Spain and the Philippines.  The English language signs in the museum are awkward translations - even comical by times - but the story of the fort and the trade route it supported is fascinating. We highly recommend a visit.  

No Fort Should Be Without A Moat . . . 

Or A Nice Color Scheme

Treasures of the Orient For Nueva Espana

Welcome to Acapulco, Cruceros (Cruise Ship Passengers)!

More Fun Stuff: La Quebrada Cliff Divers

The La Quebrada divers are the most famous tourist attraction in Acapulco and we decided their show warranted a second visit. There are four performances a day, but only one during daylight. The night shows are more spectacular (torches and lights and all that show-stuff) but we didn't want to be away from Abracadabra at night (more on that), so we saw the mid-day show. 

We watched the divers from the shady balcony of the La Perla restaurant at the El Mirador Hotel.  La Perla was the source of Bryce's long-ago near death (or so we say) experience and is much reviled on Tripadvisor. It's a great place to watch the divers and neither of us got sick this time -- no buffet for lunch -- but we still don't recommend that you go for the food.  

The El Mirador's heyday has long passed - but evidence of its former glory is displayed in pictures and copies of signatures on the restaurant walls:

Bryce's Favorite La Perla Celebrity Photo
For Reasons He Can't Explain

We Think We Took This Same Picture On Our Last Visit ---
Who Can Resist A Picture of Trigger's Signature?
The divers' show, which over the decades since it began in 1934 has become almost laminated, is still impressive. 

The divers first swim across the inlet, and climb up the side of the cliff:

And You Think Your Commute Is A Pain

Then there's a lot of looking at the inlet and contemplating of risk. At least that's what the audience is doing.

And Really, Who Wouldn't Be Praying At This Point . . . 
Interestingly (to us anyway) the divers didn't engage in the public expression of religious belief (making the sign of the crucifix, leaving offerings to statutes of La Virgin, etc.) that we recall seeing at this point in the show we saw years ago.  Divers less religious? Audience less religious? Flawed memory?

And then - they dive:


Synchronized Diving

When the show is over the viewers that arrived by boat head back to their hotels.

We Hope They Left A Tip
Again at odds with our memory, the divers did not come to the restaurant and solicit tips.  They were waiting at the door as we left.  

The whole La Perla experience cost about $50, including a tip for the divers. The food was unexceptional, but we had a great view and shade.  Alternatively, there's a public viewing area that's a lot less expensive (about $4, one soft drink included). However you choose to see the divers: Go if you are in Acapulco.  At least once. 

Anchoring In Bahia Acapulco

Anchoring in Acapulco Bay is not a tranquil experience - even tucked into the cove overseen by the Base Naval Icacos, as we were. This anchorage has good protection from wind and swell, and is also calmER than other anchorages around the bay in terms of tourist activity.  For the most part we were happy with our choice of holding ground.

During the day we were entertained by tourist boats, fishermen, jet-ski riders (los diablos, we call them) and banana ride riders. We watched the navy's swim drills, rescue boat drills and helicopter beach landing drills. 

Abracadabra even acted as a rounding point in a race among some teenage sailors using the Navy's recreational boats.

The Two Girls Won
For day-time shore visits there are beach entrepreneurs that will assist with dinghy landings on Playa Icacos.  For the princely sum of $100 pesos ($7.75-ish) a day we received assistance in landing, launching and hauling the dinghy up on the beach; the dinghy was kept secure from random acts of tourist stupidity (the dinghy as trash receptacle is more common than dinghy theft); and our trash was taken to a nearby restaurant's trash bin.  

The anchorage had less traffic at night and Senior Frog's was high enough up the hill that music that must have been deafening inside the restaurant was background music for us. 

We had a great view of the Mexican Navy's tall ship, the Cuauhtemoc.

Cuautemoc By Night

But our stay wasn't without some weirdness: Our second night at anchor we were approached by a panga full of fishermen, wafting marijuana smoke. We had anchored in a good fishing spot and would we move?  We declined - it was about nine at night and power boats were still coming and going from the area.  In fact, later that night the fishermen's net got caught in the prop of a big power boat entering the area -- we were not their primary problem. The next morning we decided that we would be good neighbors and move when we returned that afternoon -- not wanting to re-anchor just before leaving Abracadabra for the day.  

As it turned out, we didn't have to re-anchor.  When we returned from our trip to shore Abracadabra was anchored about 100 feet east of where we had left her.  Hmmm. No evidence that she had dragged (a drag would have gone in a different direction). No footprints on the deck (not boarded). Same group of fishermen busily laying a net where Abracadabra had been (ah, hah!).  We concluded that they must have raised the anchor, put it in their panga and dropped it closer to shore. 

Not a little creaped out, Bryce sat in the cockpit watching to see if the anchor had actually set. Molly made dinner. We ate at the cockpit table watching for drift and glaring at the fishermen. It was dark, but we don't think they even looked our way. No movement. Captain Bryce slept fitfully. The next morning we were in the same place.  Sigh - one's own incompetence isn't the only anchoring risk, it seems.   

This odd experience aside, we enjoyed much about Acapulco.  It's not really a "destination" anchorage for us - but we wouldn't hesitate to go back for a rest between passages. 

Office Depot -- That Well Known Tourist Destination  

Under the heading of "life's-like-that-sometimes" our primary reason for spending so much time in Acapulco was to visit the (fortunately) near-by Office Depot to scan and e-mail documents in a frustrating, but ultimately successful, attempt to extend our insured cruising ground to include Central America.
Last season we changed the parameters of our navigation coverage a couple of times with little difficulty.  This lulled us into believing that extending to Central America wouldn't be an unusually complicated task. Fools.

The brokers that arranged our previous changes had left the insurance brokerage, and we found ourselves dealing with a woman that evidenced little knowledge about insuring sailboats outside of the United States. And, to make matters worse, she was apparently working with an underwriter that was similarly under-educated.    

For two weeks we struggled through the following:

  • We were asked for a "Plan B" hurricane plan - maybe moving the boat when we learned of the likelihood of a direct hurricane hit?  Score negative on knowledge about how fast a 33-hp diesel can move a 36-foot sailboat. Five knots an hour is not how to outrun a hurricane. When asked if this was what the underwriter really meant, we got no response. Score negative in client communications.  
  • We were told that the insurance company always requires that a boat located outside of the United States that is not occupied by its owner for a period of longer than two weeks be hauled out of the water and dry stored.  Hmmm.  For two summers we have left Abracadabra in the care of professional boat maintenance companies, in the water, in Mexico.  After scouring the policy, we asked our new "broker" where that limitation was. She never responded to that question. Score negative in client representation.     
  • Frustrated and stonewalled, we began looking for dry storage in Central America (which would have a negative impact on Abracadabra's five month old paint job). After several frantic days of trying and failing we even proposed truncating this season's plans and leaving Abracadabra "on the hard" in Chiapas, Mexico where dry storage is available.  It took us several attempts to get a response to this. Score negative in client communications. 
  • Our "broker's" response was the tipping point. "Gee, I don't know - things are really dangerous there right now".  Score negative in knowledge of the new, security rich marina facilities in Chiapas.
  • Molly, the crew member assigned to insurance, became . . . apoplectic. And then she became extremely unpleasant. The "broker" said that she was sorry that we had had such a hard time, but that she usually worked in "outside sales" and was "just trying to help". Score negative in oh so many categories . . .. 

No one died - not Molly, not the broker, not the underwriter. We contacted our prior broker at his new firm.  Ironically we had not switched firms when he first changed because we thought that to do so would unduly complicate our insurance situation. Bad call. Within two days we had a quote for insurance from our existing insurer that will allow us to cruise in Central America.  No dry storage requirement.  

We recommend Novamar Insurance Group, Inc. to anyone stuck in the never-never-land of working with an insurance company and/or broker that does not understand how the security and weather risks in Central American can be mitigated by the use of competent boat maintenance staff in well run marinas.  

Finally - Off To Huatulco -- March 23 - 26

Insurance issues settled and tourist check-list items taken care of we left Acapulco on March 23.  

On our way out of town we fueled up at Performance Marine. FYI, they have a rather funky floating fuel dock without any cleats.  Dock lines must extend over the floating dock and tie to the supporting hard dock.  Without any warning of this "glitch" we scrambled to add extra long lines at the last minute.  The fuel dock staff initially acted as though we were the first boat not to have super long dock lines . . . but finally secured Abracadabra and filled the tank and jerry cans.  Oh - and they don't take credit cards on Sunday.  Just FYI.  

Fueled and watered we left, motoring past the multi-purpose "cruise ship" dock:

German Cruise Ship?
Our trip south (actually east-ish due to Mexico's geography) was very pleasant.  We motored out of Acapulco bay, turned east and put up the spinnaker - and sailed almost the entire 240 nautical miles (our longest passage to date) to Huatulco. We were apparently on some great turtle migration route, as we saw many of them drifting by.


The nights were beautiful, and we enjoyed using our AIS to identify traffic by name.  We heard dolphins snorting and rays slapping in the dark.  

We did have to motor for three hours on our third day out to fill the batteries in order to avoid imminent electrical disaster.  Because we had been running the auto pilot (lazy lazy!) the batteries had been drained so that we couldn't power the coffee grinder. Hand steering is one thing - but drinking instant coffee was just not on.  We are considering the purchase of a wind generator to augment our solar farm next season. To grind our organic coffee beans.   

Not that we didn't sacrifice for our "we are sailors, so we are going to sail!" principles.  Each morning the wind would drop to below the 7 knots that Abracadabra needs to keep moving in ocean swells and current, and we would drift for a couple of hours waiting for the breeze to fill in. Sadly on our last morning the wind disappeared for an even longer period of time than usual.  We drifted, we moved a little, the current that had helped us now hindered our progress . . . the sun began to get hot. Ugh.

This is what trying to get into Bahia Chahue in not-enough-and-even-that-is-shifting wind looks like:

Gybe, No Wait, Maybe We Can . . .  
In desperation we fired up the engine again, and motored the last two hours to the marina.  We arrived in the late afternoon on day four, in time to check in with the marina, shower, and eat dinner at a local restaurant with a (given the circumstances) really great bottle of Spanish wine. We fell profoundly asleep - nothing like being tied to a dock to make one feel (rightly or wrongly) safe.  

Soon we will post pictures of La Crucecita and surroundings!  Oh yea - and fill in the trip from La Cruz to Acapulco.  

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