Here we are in Huatulco in the Golfo de Tehuantepec which is way down south in the skinniest part of Mexico where only 200km separates the west coast from the east coast. From Manzanillo the coastline runs roughly southeast for 500NM. Decent anchorages are few and far between so we made a couple of 2-3 day passages to Zijuatenejo and then to Acapulco then a final 3 day run down to Huatulco. These short passages are a bit of a pain; there’s not enough time to acclimatize to rhythm of night watches and odd eating hours so once you hit harbour it takes a day or two to recover!
The wind was mostly light and from the west or northwest so we were running down wind (sailing with the wind behind us) most of the way. We are not very experienced “down wind” sailors but now we’ve made a giant leap forward; after twelve years aboard Distant Drummer and 30,000NM under our belts we finally raised the spinnaker! In our defense most of the miles were spent beating across the Pacific where no spinnaker action was required.
Spinnakers look beautiful once they are hoisted but they are tricky things with poles and guys and sheets, uphauls and downhauls; they are much easier to handle with a couple of hearty crew. Anyway when we finally pulled it out of the bag we found it was an asymmetric spinnaker which is much easier to use. After a bit of trial and error we hoisted it up and soon we were zipping along. Our spinnaker is now our new best friend.
Zijuatenejo is a pretty little bay with two or three beaches and not too much development. It can accommodate about twenty yachts comfortably at anchor and is a popular stop for cruisers who are heading further south or as the departure point for sailors bound for Galapagos or the Marquesas. We caught up with our friends Annette and Mike on Rum Doxy as well as a few other boats that are going down into Central America. We enjoyed exploring the town, particularly the market which was a real rabbit warren of colourful stalls selling fruit and vegetables, baskets and hardware, as well as fishmongers and butchers with strings of chorizo and strips of dried beef dangling above the slabs of red meat. It felt like a market in Indonesia!
We couldn’t sail down the coast without a stop in Acapulco. Many cruisers avoid it as it has a bad reputation for drug wars, murder on the streets, theft in the anchorage and probably a few other heinous offences. Nonetheless we wanted to visit the city of sin and follow in the footsteps of Errol Flynn, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and all those other bad boys. We wanted to feel the faded glory of the glitz and glamour of the golden age of Acapulco.
We sailed into Acapulco Bay and were met by Vincent, an entrepreneurial fellow in a panga boat who offered a good deal on a mooring. This was great solution as finding a spot to anchor in the deep and crowded bay was looking bleak. It was also good for security as Vincent was keeping an eye on our boat and he also offered a water taxi service so we didn’t have to worry about the dinghy getting stolen. Perfect!
The clavidistas (high divers) in Acapulco are much better organized than in Mazatlan; they have set show times and for 40 pesos you can watch six or seven dives. We went along just as the sun was setting and watched the divers swim across the narrow gully into which they dive and climb up to take their places on the cliff face. The youngest diver near the base of the cliff was only four years old and they progress upwards as they gain experience. The diving was amazing to watch but I was particularly fascinated with the moment before the dive when they summoning their courage, crossing themselves and patiently waiting for the right wave.
In the 1950’s when Acapulco was a hot destination for Hollywood stars the Flamingo Hotel was the favorite hideaway of Cary Grant, John Wayne and Johnny Weissmuller – they liked it so much they bought the joint. We had a great time guzzling cocktails on the terrace where Tarzan shared a beer with Rooster Cogburn while watching the blood red sun sink into the Pacific.
The sail down to Huatulco was light on wind and the south setting current which had been helping us along since leaving British Columbia finally petered out and was replaced with a bit of counter current. We were not going to make it in to the marina at Hualtulco before sunset on the third day so we pulled in to a busy little cove called Bahia Angel. It was a pretty rolly anchorage with a bit of swell coming into the bay and pangas coming and going so we headed on to the marina the next day.
So our days in Mexico are coming to an end. We will check out from here and wait for good weather to cross the Golfo de Tehuantepec. It is famous for its very strong northerly winds which funnel across the isthmus from the Gulf of Mexico shoot across the bay like a jet flame. As well as gale force winds they also kick up a ferocious swell – not a good place to be. So timing is key, however they can be accurately forecast and only last for a couple of days, then we’ll be on our way to El Salvador and Nicaragua.