The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico, Thursday, 09 March 2006

Zihuatanejo! What a Town!

Now this is a really nice place! Zihuatanejo, “Zihua” (as even Mexican bus-drivers sometimes call it) or “Z-Town”, as Americans affectionately refer to the place, has managed to retain much of its small-town atmosphere. There are no large hotels, though there are lots of small ones. On the periphery there are a few big supermarkets but in town the Tiendas are all small. Many of the streets are blocked to vehicular traffic, which makes walking a treat. There is a nice mix of tourists, tourist restaurants and trinket shops cheek by jowl with local, home-grown activities like hardware, clothing, cobblers, appliance and food shops, not to mention a proper Mercado and an outdoor basketball court smack in the middle of the town where it faces the beach. While there is a small dock or breakwall behind which the Armada Mexicana have a small station, there are dozens of fishing pangas drawn up on the beach and a palm-shaded area in front of rows of beach-front dining establishments where fishermen hang out and keep their storage boxes, and where fish are laid out on tarps for purchase. Of course, there are multitudes of children of all ages and no small number of slow-moving and frequently somewhat mangy dogs walking or lying about. In Mexico only the dogs inside fences bark; the free-range hounds simply gaze at you and amble out of the way. Daytime or evening, there are lots of people about.

The sports fishing fleet has commandeered the best sheltered area over near the breakwall. About half a mile away, out at Playa Ropa (so named for a Spanish wreck containing silks that once washed up there), there are a couple of dozen sailboats with US or Canadian flags and in the smaller, inner bay another dozen anchored. When we arrived on Saturday, we settled the boat at the far end of this small, circular, inner bay in front of the town. It is in fact quite a row to the other end of the beach where the surf is the least threatening for landing. But where we are the daytime sea breezes keep Vilisar’s bow pointed at the long swells coming in from the Pacific, and the gentle land winds at night swing us completely around to face the beach so that our stern is pointed at the swells. We are therefore always refreshed by breezes while the boat itself pitches slightly or simply rides up and down on the swells but does not roll.

We have run into a few old acquaintances here: Kurt aboard S/V Sea Reach out of Nanaimo, BC; Alex and Susan on S/V Mai Tai Roa (spelling); Stephane and family on the gaff-rigged converted lifeboat S/V Emigrants from France, for example. Al and Judy are here aboard S/V Monrova out of Vancouver; and so is Maggie aboard S/V Kismet; and Lew, Oy and their 10-year-old daughter, Merritt, aboard their sailboat from Portland, Oregon. And we have also met some new people: experienced South-Sea sailor Chuck with Linda aboard S/V Jacaranda, San Diego; Ron and Linda on S/V Morning Star II out of San Diego; Frenchman Bernard single-handing aboard S/V Honu out of San Francisco; Penny and Phil on the catamaran Sisiutl out of Seattle; and Harald, currently ashore looking for a crew position on a vessel heading south.

We are still scratching our heads about a visitor who, according to Susan on S/V Mai Tai Roa, came by while we were ashore the other day: Howard, a Canadian who insisted on coming by before departing to the Marquesas as a crewman aboard S/V Aquarelle. We wonder if it might not have been Howard Lund of Long Beach, California, but Susan insists he is a Canadian. We are puzzled. One day, perhaps, the puzzle will be solved.

Zihuatanejo is definitely hotter than, say, Barra de Navidad. The water here, a little murky here in the bay, has already reached 80° F. Daytime air temperatures are now in the low 90s. If there is no breeze it definitely feels hot and we are happy to have the awning up. We have also begun using the swatches of “Cooleroo”-brand artificial sun-shading material to keep the direct sun off the skylight and to keep the cabin from heating up. We also use this material for side-curtains that we hang from the brown-canvas awning with clothes-pegs. It is much hotter in town where the sea breezes cannot penetrate; I have no idea how anyone can stand it there in the summer. I imagine a hurricane passing through must at least appeal for its cooling impact.

This is the southern terminus for Mexican cruising boats, we are told. In another month most if not all of the cruising boats will have left here. It’s one hundred miles and at least one overnight to Acapulco. Boats that are not heading back up to summer over in the Sea of Cortés or to be hauled out at Puerta Vallarta, Mazatlán, La Paz or San Carlos will, like us, be jumping off from here for longer passages to other countries: southeast down the coast to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama; westward to French Polynesia or Hawaii; or south and east to The Galapagos and/or Ecuador. The cruisers here organise small seminars for themselves where the more experienced sailors give them tips about dealing with new waters. Chuck of S/V Jacaranda spent ten years in the South Pacific and had lots of good tips. The talk is of cruising guides, dealing with southern-hemisphere weather, attractive places to visit; entry and cruising permits; fuel and water sources; anchoring techniques for deep coral lagoons, etc. Some cruisers have also banded together to get good deals on provisioning from the one or two big supermarkets here. This morning, for example, they were headed up to Commerciale Mexicana to make arrangements with the butcher to prepare meats for them. After they go together to buy a side of beef or pork, the store will cut it and wrap it into one-pound packages and then freeze it for the end-users who will then store it all in their freezers back aboard. This sounds great. But, without refrigeration, it is out of the question for us. We have to find non-perishable foods.

In one sense we are not so eager to get to Acapulco. We could just as easily replenish here for our two or three-week offshore voyage to Isla San Cristobal. Zihuatanejo has everything we need and we can anchor here for free. In Acapulco, on the other hand, it reportedly costs US$10 a night (APPI fees) just to anchor off in the large commercial port, and between twenty and thirty dollars (sic) a day simply to land your dinghy at a yachting facility. We were originally going to meet friends from Chicago in their time-share apartment there and so everything else became organised around Acapulco too; i.e. the visit of Kathleen’s mother and sister, and the arrival of son Andrew to crew with us to The Galapagos; provisioning for the bluewater passage. I am sure it will work out but we have decided to leave it till the last minute to arrive in Acapulco and will therefore leave here next Monday or Tuesday, putting in only at Bahia de Tequepa before we embark on the overnight to Acapulco. I can give the boat bull and prop another scrub before we get settled in a dirtier commercial harbour.

Looking for ways out of the financial squeeze

Our financial situation is really miserable after prepaying some child support and buying Andrew’s airline tickets to here and later back from Guayaquil. We decide to follow the advice of other “budget cruisers” and attend a presentation for a time-share.

Ten miles from here lies Ixtapa, the Mexican-Pacific’s answer to Cancun – in other words, a stamped-out-of-the desert city of full of flown-in-every-week-by-the bloody planeload tourists and time-sharers. All along the bay are tower hotels to house and entertain them: they’re just like the apartment buildings they live in back home! Forget Mexico! It’s the Poughkeepsie Riviera!) In Cabo San Lucas and Puerta Vallarta the streets swarm with young Mexican guys ready to chat you up and rope you into a time-share presentation. They offer as much as US$200 up there to get you to go along. In our desperation we jump a local, rattle-trap bus over to Ixtapa to make our fortunes listening to time-share sales pitches.

Sure enough, there they are, little so-called “Tourist Information” booths lining the boulevard that runs past all the multi-story hotels. We permit ourselves be drawn into conversation with a fresh-faced young man named Daniel. After a while I say we should be glad to go to the presentation, but, as in Cabo and PV, he should pay us some money. At first he declines, and we walk away thinking we need to perfect our non-pitch. A couple of blocks later, though, Daniel catches us up in a panel truck with “Royal Vacations” on the side and says he will give us $100 if we pass the pre-qualification stage (i.e. age, valid credit card, minimum income requirements, etc.) We agree, and he drives us to one of the hotels, leads us through to a sales centre, and introduces us. We pass the pre-qualifications, and he gives me his name-tag so I can find him later.

Right from the beginning, I tell everybody that we are interested, but under no circumstances will we sign anything today. Our friend Jens aboard S/V Veleda warned us to take this line; he himself used to sell time-shares. We are passed up through three separate salespersons: a very nice American man who warms us up with lots of positive comments about anything he can think of – “You live on a sailboat! Wow! That’s fantastic!” He also gives us a tour of one of the flats. Then we get a hard-nosed and clearly bored or exhausted but, of course, nicely dressed and coiffed Mexican lady who yawns continuously so I can see her tonsils while she talks to us like a machine. Three hours later, when we still have not signed, the head honcho, another American, goes to work on us. He does everything but tie his dick in a knot in order to get us to sign. Actually, I think he might also have done that if I had even hinted that it would lead to a signature. By the time he finally gives up, he has the price-and-benefits package structured so attractively that it is hard to refuse. But of course, we have no dough so, no matter how attractive, we cannot afford to bite. Thank God! No matter how great the package you still have to lay out some money up front and monthly and you have to pay for your flights to wherever it is you intend to hole up for a week or two. And how badly do we actually need a stay in an industrial-tourism plant anyway? We own the whole Pacific Ocean as it is! We don’t have to work for 50 weeks a year on the 45-year-plan to be able to afford things like two weeks here or in Cancun or wherever! Brian, “our representative”, keeps trying to identify what it is that we don’t like about “the concept” so he can work on that angle. Is it the money, or the company or the bennies? Meanwhile he pulls out all the stops and keeps adding more bennies. But I for my part just keep repeating my mantra, “The concept is very appealing. It’s just great, fact. But I simply do not sign on the same day!”

“Well,” he says trying not to show his frustration, “the special offer is off the table when you walk out of here.”

“Are you saying,” I reply, “that if I come back tomorrow morning and am willing to sign, you will not offer me this package?”

“Nope! That’s Mexican law.”

“Rubbish! Mexican law has nothing to say about that at all.” I say.

“Well, I can always go to my supervisor and I usually get what I want”

Aha! It’s all total bullshit, naturally. But we have been bullshitting just as much. Daniel, however, gets paid just to be the cowboy who ropes in passing tourists for a presentation, and he has a deal with us: we go to the presentation, and if we pass the initial screening he will get his pay. We leave the sales centre totally wrung out after four hours, hungry and depressed having only had a dried-up club sandwich to eat since early that morning.

Back on the street there is no Daniel. Nor anyone else, for that matter! Everybody seems to have disappeared for lunch.

“He’ll be soliciting at Elvira’s Restaurant in Zihua tonight,” one of his buddies says after we have waited several hours for them to get back from siesta break.

Needless to say, back in Zihuatanejo, Elvira’s Restaurant is closed on Mondays and there is of, course, no sign of Daniel. We check again the next night and see no trace of him then either. This morning we take the bus back over to Ixtapa and talk to his colleagues. We even go to their administrative offices.

“Daniel has quit and moved to Acapulco,” we are told by the receptionist, clearly trying to fob us off.

More BS! Well, we didn’t solve our financial problems by doing time-share presentations, or least we have not solved them yet. But we did come out of it with a bottle of Tequila and a bottle of Kahlua.

Drown your sorrows Captain Ronnie, Boy Spot-Welding-King-of-the-World; Captain Epoxy!

Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico, Friday, 10 March 2006

What bugs us most!

About ten days ago we first noticed them: two types of creepy-crawlies. One is a small, black beetle (it doesn’t look like a cockroach, at least); the other is an insect with wings that it doesn’t seem to use. It could be that they are the same bug, but one is a juvenile. Switch on a light suddenly at night and you are likely to see one or the other of them standing motionless in the corner of the galley counter or along the wooden coaming above the port settee. I also saw one way back up on the galley stove. Lunge at them and you will witness a new definition of “fleet of foot” (or perhaps fleet of feet). They’re tough to catch and they are seemingly crush-proof. I kill about three out of every four I go for. Kathleen first freezes and squeals but has taken, however, half-heartedly, to attacking them, having first given them a reprieve by waving her hands at them. I suggest she should shout “Argh!”, like a pirate. Maybe they will jump ship.

We have been well over four years aboard and have never had bugs. But this is the tropics and bugs can be a problem. Books on cruising recommend you never bring any cardboard on board or can with labels on them since cockroaches – cucarachas! - lay eggs there. It’s a lot of work to strip and label all the cans especially when you are anchored off and we have never actually done it. Mind you, we don’t use many cans anyway. But we do stock up from time to time. Eggs come in cardboard cartons, of course. Maybe the bugs came from there. They just don’t seem like cockroaches.

Last week Kathleen emptied all the Ziplocked bags of flour and other dry comestibles out of the dry-storage well behind the galley sink, cleaned everything with a strong bleach and soap solution, inundated the whole box with roach spray and clapped the lid back on the unit. Then she inspected each of the bags for weevils or other non-vegetarian matter. Nothing! Eventually everything went back in, but the bugs are still in evidence. These guys can multiply very quickly so we do something fast about it.

Enter Rick, the owner of the bar in town of the same name. He is a great resource for any cruisers coming into Zihuatanejo and was himself once a cruiser. His bar has fresh-water showers, laundry machines and computers; not to mention beer on tap, CNN; i.e. all the things cruisers normally need. He speaks Spanish fluently and knows where to get help for you in town. Despite the fact that he seems to be working like a dog, he always has time for your problems.

He thinks that an exterminator is the only way to go and he calls one up that he wants to use himself. His whole two-story restaurant cost only Pesos 400 the last time so it should not be too expensive even given our pinch. We should pick the guy up from the beach tomorrow morning at 1000.

After checking our emails and using our new credit card again to raise some cash, we drop by the mercado to buy fruit and vegetables, corn tortillas, eggs and one or two other items. It’s nice to be able to feed ourselves for a few days for only a few dollars.

Bernard of S/V Honu is leaving today for the U.S.A. for a couple of weeks. When he came over for dinner last night he brought us a couple of bags of fresh veggies and fruits and a huge amount of cheese. He doesn’t eat meat so he also made us a salad of raw beets and carrot chips (he normally grinds them but we don’t have a grinder) that he marinated in lime juice, salt and dried pepper flakes. Delicious! For the main course we had boiled potatoes and blue-fin tuna steaks fried in oil, ginger, garlic and onions. The fish, which tasted like red meat and was super-delicious, was sent over to us by Lew and Oy and their daughter Merritt. They are cruising aboard a small sailboat out of Portland, Oregon. Lew told us that this was the first time he had ever caught a fish and didn’t really know how to fillet it. They cannot store a whole 20-pound tuna and shared it with us. Now this is my idea of hunting and gathering! Later in Rick’s I explained to him how to fillet fish the way Susan on S/V Liberty Card taught me last year in the Sea of Cortés.

Lew is a pretty interesting guy and one of several Americans we have met in Zihua who have more or less turned their backs on the U.S.A. Lew won’t fly the US flag. He doesn’t even have a name on his sailboat. It is not uncommon to find people in the cruising community who have exiled themselves. There are two kinds: the ones who find the whole, high-maintenance urban lifestyle “bullshit” and those who are disgusted with the current government and its illegal and immoral behaviour both at home but especially abroad. There currently seems to be no alternatives for them that have any chance of succeeding. The Democrats are Bush Lite. There are some conservative “libertarians” who don’t want to pay US taxes because there is too much government and anyway, we’re not using the highways anyway.

This second group seems pretty limited but I don’t have any problems with the first category and clearly there is almost nobody in the political spectrum in the U.S.A. who is seriously opposing Bush et alia. The last Federal-Election campaign was a farce, surely. Have we ever seen anyone so klutzy as John Kerry? Even people like Hillary Clinton signed on for the duration. Comic figures. (“Don’t get me going!”)

The old saying, “My country, right or wrong!” can have several layers of meaning. If it is just blind obedience to whatever the government says, that is surely misconceived and you have essentially abandoned your critical faculties and your responsibilities as a citizen in a republic in favour of Cadavergehorsamskeit, as the Germans call it (the loyalty of a cadaver). It is the loyalty of the SS camp guard.

At another level, however, I have a responsibility to correct abuses, evils, etc. because it is my country. I encourage all of my American friends to try to get rid of the Bush-Cheney cancer in the body politic. You don’t have to emigrate to Canada. Nice as it is, Canada has a lot of problems of its own to deal with. It’s your country! Right the wrongs!

In transit from Zihuatanejo to Acapulco, Monday, 13 March 2006

Waiting for Antonio

Rick had arranged for the fumigadoro to show up at the dinghy beach at 1000 on Saturday morning. We spent Friday night and early Saturday morning clearing out all the food and sensitive items so the spraying could be done quickly and efficiently. Early on Saturday we move Vilisar closer to the dinghy beach so I won’t have to spend so much time and energy transporting the guy out to the boat and back and then we go ashore to be there punctually at 1000.

Kathleen goes off to check her emails while I wait. I chat in broken Spanish with an 18-year-old (he appears that old, at least) marine sentry at the barracks by the beach. He is wearing immaculate battle fatigues with polished jump boots, metal helmet and a bullet-proof vest. He carries a rifle and has eight or ten 20-round spare magazines in pouches so he has about 100 or more rounds on his body. He tells me it gets really hot in all this gear. Daily temperatures are heading for the 90s now. On the beach in front of the gate where he stands watch is a fenced off area to protect the eggs laid there by green sea turtles. It looks like he is guarding them. I also watch Mexican kids frolicking in the water, their mother sitting in the shade with a toddler. None of the kids wears a bathing suit; they just swim and play in street clothes. That’s pretty typical. A cruise ship is in and the mole is busy with tourist coming ashore and people selling fishing tours, golfing, etc.

After an hour I head over to Rick’s Bar. He tells me that they called to say they couldn’t make it after all. Then he calls them up and they agree to come at noon. I sit around reading and talking to other cruisers. About 1400 three guys show up. At first I think I shall be rowing them all out to Vilisar. Rub-dub-dub! In the end only Antonio comes with me. About twenty, he is clearly nervous about being in the dinghy and clutches his spray things for support. On board, he starts spraying and I direct him. Everywhere around the galley sink, dry storage, the cupboard under the sink, the storage spaced for cleaning materials by the steps, all around the stove, under the settees and all around the water tanks there, under the cabin sole after I tear open the floorboards. I don’t spray the forecastle because we have never seen any bugs there. Twenty minutes later we are on the way back to shore and the whole thing cost about $15 though I gave the money to Rick and he will just put it all together with his bill when the guy comes to do his kitchen.

That night, when we get back on the boat, there are a few groggy bugs staggering around. The next morning I saw a couple too. But since then we have seen no more. Maybe we were lucky and were able to nip all this in the bud. We surely do not want a plague of them while we are on a long passage next month. It turned out, of course, also be an opportunity – let’s call it that - to clean everything including all the dishes and bottles and spice jars.

Money in the bank

Thank you, thank you Sebastian, for the translating job! I got a four-page legal translation from the agency in Germany that will bring in € 200. If Sebastian pays me promptly we might not actually have to declare bankruptcy, after all. I sat all day Sunday in the shade just outside Rick’s Bar and did the translation. I made sure I did not pull up another chair to the table since that it only encourages people to sit down and have a longer chat. Friends and acquaintances would come by but only stay a few minutes.


We have met Penny and Phil, a really nice couple aboard what they call the sailing cat(amaran) Sisiutl. They are from the US west coast and have been cruising up in Alaska and the Charlottes and are now on the way to Central America, though I think, like us, that this is one of those vague plans to which cruisers adhere to strictly. We have spent a couple of evenings with them and really enjoy their company since they are not part of your typical beach-holiday-on-a-boat crowd who have little or no intention of going offshore. We had a delicious Thai-chicken dinner with them on Sisisutl (B.C. native word for some sort of double-headed sea creature or god) on a very bumpy bay last night (there have been big though slow swells here the last day or two).

Off to Acapulco

It was too dark and bumpy to put the dinghy on deck last night. Going to bed, we set the alarm for 0545, but both of us toss and turn most of the night knowing we shall be moving again today. I am awake and reading from about 0430. When the alarm goes off it is still very dark, and we wait till 0630 when there is enough light to get the dinghy unbolted, separated into two parts, lifted and stowed onto the foredeck. The bottom of the dinghy is surprisingly clean considering that Vilisar’s hull had quite a bit of green whiskers at and plant growth below the waterline when I tried cleaning it yesterday afternoon during my swim.

I am rather hesitant to do much swimming off the boat here. For one thing, the water is pretty murky at best and dirty and possibly polluted at worst. For another, some people say the crocs from the lagoon swim here too though nobody who has told me this has actually seen one anywhere near where we are, and they have never lost a tourist or local yet to the beasties. I come back dripping on deck and covered in sea lice. They live in the marine growth that I have just scraped off. They can be brushed off and they squirm and die out of the water. They feel a little icky, though. There is actually quite a lot of fauna down there including little crabs that crawl up the rudder from underneath the boat where they too live in the marine growth. Maybe there is a fumigadoro for all that too. All-in-all, my enthusiasm for swimming is, shall we say, dampened. I originally only jumped in for a quick wash and to cool off. But that’s when I saw that some cleaning was required before our trip. I got out the plastic scraper and did what I could reach without mask and flippers. The prop felt rough but not encrusted. Maybe I can do more if and when we reach our destination of Punta de Pampanao today, there is still enough daylight, the water is clear, shark- and crocodile-free, and I can screw up my courage and enthusiasm to the sticking point. A clean bottom and propeller saves diesel fuel and motoring time. That ought to help me get going. Although we seem to be going very slowly coming out of Zihuatenejo this morning, we are actually going 4.5 – 5.5 knots. That’s normal for us.

We listened to the Southbound Ham Net last night with Phil and Penny. Sainted Don of meteorological fame predicts 15-20 from the W today and Tuesday and the seas, although fairly large, are slow (17 seconds). We might actually be able to sail at least part of it today. We have a little less than half a tank of fuel, which should get us to Acapulco and to spare if we do have to motor it all. But it would be nice to sail.

We pass a cruise ship coming in for the day as we get Vilisar headed out to sea. First we pass Sisiutl to holler good-bye. We visited Kurt, our Danish-Canadian friend yesterday afternoon before he sets off on his single-handed voyage to French Polynesia. He will likely leave on Tuesday. Hearing bon voyage twice certainly can’t hurt so we also tootled past S/V Sea Reach to say farewell. His dinghy is there but no response from below. Fair winds and following seas, Kurt!

In Transit to Acapulco, Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Yesterday turns out to be a long, hot day. Our total distance is only less than 40 Nm and, leaving as we did at dawn and making about 5 knots we made it in eight hours. But until the last couple of hours the only breeze we have we make ourselves by motorsailing. The Horse Latitudes! About noon a wind does come up from behind but not enough to help us much. We had thought about waiting till later in the day to leave Zihuatanejo. But since the sea breezes don’t come up till about noon anyway and only get some useful muscle about mid-afternoon, we would not have made our anchorage by nightfall.

About and hour after we get our anchor down behind the first of two breakwalls at Punta de Pampanao, get the awning rigged and a cuppa char in our hands, we hear Sisiutl hailing us on Channel 16. The transmission is quite broken up but they are not too far away. They have decided to bypass Pampanoa and sail through the night on their catamaran to Acapulco. By the time this is written they should already be at the Club de Yates. Their cat is much faster than we are and probably needs less wind to get her skirts up.

Pampanoa is probably our penultimate stop before Archipel de Colón (the Galapagos Archipelago), and very likely the last quiet one. Acapulco is a big city and a big port. Kathleen and Vickere, Kathleen’s mother and sister, arrive tomorrow in Acapulco. In a couple of weeks my son Andrew arrives and shortly thereafter – April Fools? – we head offshore. Both Kathleen and I are still feeling fairly sanguine about the bluewater passage, where other big jumps in the past – e.g. from Cape Flattery to the Golden Gate - gave us heart palpitations in advance. We talk about our feelings for these steps, trying to hear if there are any concerns that the other has. My only concern is whether our old sails will hold up. Our new acquaintance, Chuck on Jacaranda, said he never used his mainsail in the South Pacific and, if there were no winds, he just waited. He sailed to Fiji on three gallons of fuel, i.e. just getting in and out of harbours and lagoons.

To pass the morning and to appear busy while Kathleen is baking belowdecks, I repair the dinghy seat by setting bronze screws. Of course the battery-operated hand drill is dead and, using the brace, I break off one of my good drill bits. But eventually it is done. At some point I shall fill the screw heads and paint the whole seat again. After Acapulco it will be stowed in the forecastle for the offshore voyage (You see! It’s on my mind all the time now!).

That little job completed, I get out the fins, snorkel and mask to clean the hull again. It was not possible to see clearly enough underwater in Zihuatanejo. The prop has picked up some more barnacles, of course. I scrape and use the stiff wire brush to get nearly all of it off. Then I make the circle around the hull from stern to bow and back down the other side scraping the little black furry things off as far down as I can reach. This is about 75 % of the way to the bottom of the keel. In the swells that are coming into the harbour, the boat tends to hit you on the head with a thump when you swim down. I also do not have weights to get near near-neutral buoyancy, which also makes it more difficult. I have come to accept “good” over “best” here. Before we leave Acapulco we shall stop at the outer cove and do the bottom again, I am sure.

Well, we are motorsailing today. After a little calculating, we decided to leave once the wind started up today. Promptly at noon, we had the anchor up and were motoring out from behind the breakwall and out around the point. For some reason, the swells near the shore seem to be much bigger and certainly more confused as we get waves ricocheting off the rocks to meet the swells coming in. We have not hoisted the mainsail which would certainly steady us.

Our tactic for today is to use the BRD (Big Red Drifter), possibly together with the staysail. In other words, we shall try Chuck’s approach and use only headsails. Since we have to go to windward to get around the point, however, we are motoring and have no steadying sail up. This makes a big difference in how much one rolls around. We pass a number of panga fishermen and a diving panga and once we are out a ways I fly the BRD. There still is not enough wind for it to help us much but at least there is enough wind to keep it filled with air. This comes from the fact that we do not have the mainsail up. If it were it would partially block the flow of following breezes to the headsails.

The secret reason for not raising the main is that, with it down, we can leave the awning rigged. Yesterday was very exhausting in the sun. I can take it but it is unpleasant and, by late in the day, you are getting tired and dehydrated no matter how much you drink. The electrolytes help. But you are wiped out anyway. Today we shall be in the shade!

While we waited for the wind this morning Kathleen baked a loaf of bread since our last tortillas turned mouldy. We ate Huevos Rancheros without tortillas! Yesterday we had Quesadillas with refried beans and salsa for dinner. The leftover beans – made from canned refritos (just add oil, sautéed onions and salsa) - along with eggs sunny side up made up our breakfast. An hour later we were sampling fresh dark-bread with country honey. Delicious! I love Mexican food! So far we have not bothered to make our own flour or corn tortillas but this may change. Certainly in stocking up for the long passage we will be buying refritos and other Mexican-food items and will learn to make our own tortillas.

Kathleen has found the perfect time-passer for when she is on watch: SODUKO puzzles. Our friend, Bob Ferguson, introduced her to them, and Kathleen brought several books of them back with her from Germany. She can sit in the cockpit with the tiller on a bungee cord and look up occasionally to make corrections without it distracting her from what she is doing. The amazing thing is that she can do even the hard ones.

I have no interest really. So she ordered a book of the easier Guardian Crossword Puzzles for me. I cannot do the hard crosswords. The so-called easy ones are not that simple either. The difference is that the easier ones require an encyclopaedic general knowledge (River in Mexico [6], for example, or “Tudor composer [4]”) while the hard crosswords require a lot of that and lateral thinking as well (e.g. “Cleaning Goetz’s body part [4-2-4]”, or “Tired love is wearing [8]). If you know the answers send them to me at

Oh, so you like tests? Try these too:

1. How long is a fathom?
2. How long is a chain?
3. How long is a cable-length?
4. What is a jicama?

Winners may be sent one of the above as a prize.

At anchor in Acapulco Harbour, Guerrero, Mexico, Wednesday, 15 March 2006

We finally got here, entering the big wide harbour mouth at sunrise this morning, and having motored the whole way. A few hours after left Pampanoa yesterday noon the wind dropped and the seas flattened until they were like glass. Thank goodness we had the awning up! Without it we would have been fried! At one point we had the BRD and the staysail up and tried sailing. But soon we had to haul the BRD in, leaving the staysail up to catch whatever zephyrs happened our way and to act as a steadying sail.

Learning a lesson the hard way

We were tooting along at well over five knots when we realised that we would arrive in Acapulco about 0300 and then have to stand off until daybreak before entering what for us is a new harbour. We don’t do that so we throttled the engine back until we were doing between 3.5 and 4 knots. To do that it seemed that we had to cut the engine back by quite a bit and couldn’t get her slowed down. Strange! But it was a lesson for us for our coming bluewater passage.

A boat is like a bicycle; the faster you go the more energy is required for each incremental bit of speed. A boat has a maximum speed in still water (disregarding currents) – this is called Hull Speed - based upon its length at the waterline (LWD or Length of Designed Waterline). In still water (i.e. no currents) the boat cannot exceed its Hull Speed no matter how much you pour on the coal. There is a formula for calculating Hull Speed but the essential bit is that, the longer the LWD, the higher the Hull Speed. Big container ships can travel at 25 knots (they have a restriction on their top speed as well, of course) while little ol’ Vilisar with it approx. 34 feet probably has a Hull Speed of only about 6 knots (I don’t have an accurate measurement for our LWD so have never calculated Hull Speed exactly).

The obverse rule, I was made to realise yesterday, is that each marginal cut in speed will not reduce the boats speed equally. The first cuts don’t do very much to slow you down. In practical terms, if you don’t push the engine to get top speed you will burn fuel far more efficiently. Do you see where this is going? Assuming that on a long bluewater passage where you have lots of time but only a finite amount of fuel on board, it is better to sacrifice a little top speed in order to save fuel. If we are becalmed in the Doldrums north of the Equator on the passage to The Galapagos Islands and we decide to use the engine, we can get much better mileage if we travel at three knots rather than push for 5.5 knots. Experience shows that even in lighter winds you can often get 2 or 3 knots out of a boat even in what appear to be quite negligible winds. That’s why we fly the BRD, a lightweight head sail for light following breezes. Using headsails (sails in front of the mainmast) for downwind sailing instead of the mainsail (behind the mast) also balances the boat much better – pull-me sails rather than push-me sails – makes it possible also to use the windvane steering effectively.

So, although our original intent was simply to slow Vilisar down by cutting the engine rpm’s so we wouldn’t arrive in the dark, we learned a useful lesson. Running the engine slower also meant that the engine also ran much cooler, something that in the tropics is devoutly to be wished. The only thing we sacrificed was time and we had and will have plenty of that. It’s a lesson in patience too.

This whole learning thing is about the only aspect of our voyage from Zihuatanejo to Acapulco that compensates for the fact that we had a boring motor passage while at least two other boats that we know of – Sisustl and Morova left Zihua later on the same day and were able to sail the whole way in one go because they took advantage of the winds on Monday while we put into Pampanoa and for the night and fell into the next day of no wind at all. That’s another lesson we learned the hard way: if there are winds forecast take advantage of them now!

Well, at least we had a full moon to sail by. The sea was lit up as if it were daylight. We stood two-hour watches, which seemed less onerous at night than our normal three-hour gigs. We still don’t have our tiller pilot rigged. But with bungee cords attached to the tiller the watchkeeper could read or watch the dolphins that accompanied our boat at night or just sit and watch the sea. Yesterday afternoon we played canasta in the cockpit and fixed a lunch of eggs, frijoles and chorizo and a light evening snack of jicama with lemon juice and dried jalapeños sprinkled on top followed by Kathleen’s dark bread with slices of goat cheese. The voyage was a little tiring, of course, but it was actually kind of fun.

It was cool enough under our awning to be out on deck all day and it was warm enough even at night to wear essentially nothing until shortly before dawn when the land breezes brought the intense smell of the land to us. Motoring is not our favourite activity. But you couldn’t fault the climate.

Getting settled in Acapulco

I am at the helm when our perfectly timed approach brings us to the Boca Grande (Big Entrance) just as it is getting light. A long line of sports-fishing boats are heading out with tourists for day on the water; they wave to me sitting on the boom gallows and steering with a foot on the tiller. The sun comes over the mountain to the east as we turn into the inner bay and begin to look around for the Yacht Club anchorage.

We spotted the boat basin easily. The marina is full of big motor yachts, no doubt that go with the spectacular houses hanging from the cliffs that you pass coming in. But I see Al’s boat S/V Monrova on a buoy and over there is Neil’s sailboat with its yellow sail covers and yellow and white-striped striped sun-awning. Sisiutl, I think, was heading for the marina yesterday.

The buildings are packed together on the hills all about the anchorage, and there are lots of high-rises scattered higgledy-piggledy up and down the hills. There are a surprising number of empty shells. Big ones too. There aren’t that many beaches here in Acapulco Bay, in case you’re wondering. Over along the eastern side the towers are huge, hotels likely. I guess people come to swim in the pool.

We are approached by a man named Angel in a rubber dinghy who wants to offer us a mooring buoy at US$ 8 per day. We say we prefer to anchor and leave him. We actually do anchor though it is very difficult to find a suitable spot in water depths that are manageable for a boat without a power-anchor windlass. Most of the free spots are at least twenty or thirty metres deep; the attractive spots, of course, are filled with mooring buoys. At last we find a spot in just over thirty feet, however, and drop the hook. We don’t have much room to swing. Half an hour later as we are settling down to breakfast, a panga comes by and the Mexican chap politely suggests we might find it a bit dangerous where we are parked because the big day-tripper boats need “our” space to swing around to their dock. In a hard wind they are a little unmanageable and can easily collide with us. I consider briefly just ignoring this advice. But eventually we up anchor and try another spot nearby only to find that our anchor will not set; it simply drags over rocks. Finally, tail between our legs, we head over to find one of Angel’s mooring buoys. Even that has its trials since the one we tie up to initially turns out to be wrong and, when he finally returns, he moves us to another one. Two anchoring attempts and two mooring buoys! Practice maketh a man perfect! By 1000 we are at last settled, and sea breezes have sprung up and are being funnelled through the anchorage to keep us cool under our awning. (Where were they yesterday when we needed them?)

We are not sure where we are going to get the money for moorage since we only have Pesos 80 (ca. US$ 8) in hand and it will cost us another US$ 5 to land the dinghy each day at La Marina not to mention bus fares into town and the cost of groceries. We might be able to swing things for the four days that Kathleen’s Mum and sister are here. But then we shall likely have to move to an outer bay, Bahia de Marques, a long way out of town and landing through the surf). We can perhaps come back for a day when Andrew arrives on 28 March for the Galapagos passage. Looks like no more beer for a while. I wonder if Sebastian has paid me. Kathleen heads into the forecastle to catch up on her sleep while I drag out the laptop and sit out in the cockpit to write this. We’ll launch the dinghy and deal with Acapulco later today. I think I need a nap too.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Friday, 24 Feb 06 to Saturday, 04 Mar 06

Day 1. It’s Hard To Get A Big Boat Moving! Barra de Navidad to Bahia de Carrizal. Friday, 24 Feb 06

We decided last night to get the vessel ready for “putting to sea” this morning and leave when the sea breeze picks up in the late morning. Actually, I prepared most of the deck items yesterday, including putting all the remaining paint items down the lazarette hold or into the portable-paint locker under the cockpit seat and lashing down the additional plastic fuel jugs and whatever else might be lying around loose abovedecks. This morning we only need to get the awning and sail-covers stripped off and stowed below (the dew has been light and they are already dry by the time we finish our coffee), and bring the dinghy aboard.

The dinghy is a real time-eater. Unbolting the two parts and hoisting them onto the foredeck is not the issue. The bottoms are heavily encrusted with barnacles and coated in slime as they come up. This has to be addressed immediately or the barnacles become so dried out that they become impossible to remove without a grinder and the slime dries on in a stinking rotting mess. In the back of my mind I am hoping that the anchor chain is not covered with marine growth and making our living space reek with the smell. Been there, done that! In all, it takes us an hour to scrape and scrub everything clean, nestle the two parts over the wooden foredeck hatchcover, and secure everything so it will not move.

Some people argue that it is bad seamanship to have a dinghy on the foredeck. To be frank, I tend to agree with them. But, the staysail boom clears the stowed tender, and I still have lots of room to move around to either side when going forward to bring in head sails or work the anchor windlass. The clinching argument for not stowing it aft of the mainmast and over the main cabin is that, with the skylight where it is, the dinghy will just not fit there. So, this is where the Chameleon lives when we put to sea.

By 1100 the Bruce anchor is up, set into place on its bow roller, its anchor chain lashed down with a length of quarter-inch line so the anchor cannot accidentally bounce out of its parking spot while we are moving and go overboard, dragging fathom after fathom of 5/16-inch chain with it. I check to make sure that both the 44-pound Bruce, the anchor we normally use, and the backup 40-pound CQR anchor that is positioned on the left side of the bowsprit are both immobilised and will not be clanking and clinking as we move. Although the wind is very light, the mainsail, as always, is up to reduce rolling.

Our goal for today is Bahia de Carrizal at the entrance to the big bay where Manzanillo is situated. We shall likely give the latter a pass since we have no need of fuel or provisions and the town is reportedly not particularly attractive. We have anyway had enough of towns for a while, nice as Barra de Navidad and San Patricio-Melaque have been. Of course, Kathleen has been away in urban Germany and is ready for sunshine and peace and quiet.

It is only a short hop to our anchorage and we have the anchor down in a remote little cove where we are, unusually for this cruising ground, the only boat present. There are no houses or hotels here either. The swells do refract around the point but there is a steady wind from the beach at the top of the cove so we are kept fore-and-aft to the swells. While Kathleen works on dinner, I place the swim ladder amidships, get out my snorkel, mask and flippers, organise a plastic scraper and the wire brush, and jump over the side in the fresh and relatively lucid water to give the prop and bottom a cleaning.

I have only just recently begun to undertake this process myself and already the US$ 20 I invested in a good, used face mask has paid for itself. Divers charge US$ 1 a foot of waterline in most places and an exorbitant US$ 2 a foot in Puerta Vallarta, that valley of grasping tourism and cruising service-providers. Avoid it like flee-ridden sewer rats! I pat myself figuratively on the back for having paid for the mask after doing only about one metre of the boat’s length. With the scraper and mask I can reach down from the surface to get to sixty or seventy percent of the hull. Everything is thickly covered with black sea-urchin-like plants that adhere with a calcium-based glue. But they do come off the poisonous anti-fouling paint quite easily. There is slime and plant life and barnacles around the prop shaft. The former two come off easily with the wire brush but the latter have to be chipped off. A miserable job, though I do get most of it and leave only a few on the nut that holds the prop to the shaft. The blades are now smooth, though they have a residue of calcium glue.

All of this has taken only about 45 minutes, I should estimate. But we are at high slack tide and there is not much current: the approximately 70° F water has become turbid from the gunk I have scraped off and I am now getting cold without a wet suit. Even though I have not attempted to dive down to the lower depths of the hull where there is still black plant growth, I am satisfied that we will now make better and more fuel-efficient speed in the days ahead. When the prop is heavily encrusted there is a radical loss of power from cavitation and any attachments to the hull, though perhaps less of a hindrance, also cause significant drag. “Keep a clean machine!” applies here as in so many situations. I throw all my gear up to the side deck and climb back aboard, calling self-righteously for a schnapps to help me get warm again.

Getting a big boat moving, converting it back from a caravan to a cruising vessel requires overcoming personal inertia. A short first day is always a good idea. There was basically no sailing wind today and we motorsailed everything. But we are on the move again and that feels good.

Soon Kathleen passes up a hot meal and we sit in the cockpit and eat and talk as the sun drops behind the ridge to the west. Beginning a voyage on a Friday has also so far not brought any bad luck. In fact, this is perfect. The stars come out as the cove shuts down for the night. We are alone.


Since we have to cover about 50 Nm today, we are up at dawn and, while the water is boiling for coffee, we get the anchor and mainsail up, and motorsail SSE across Manzanillo Bay. It’s the usual clear skies, very light or non-existent winds and lots of motorsailing.

We plan our two-hour watches at the helm and the off-watch heads below to read out of the sun. The early-morning watches are pleasant but, breezes or no, the glaring sun is hard to take after late morning. The sea breezes do spring up around noon and the engine-driven vessel creates its own wind. But it is hot and drying. In fact it would be perfect weather if only we had a bit of shade for the cockpit. I try jury-rigging an awning using the Cooleroo screening material but, while it works, it inhibits the operation of the boat and we finally take it down. It is very easy to get a sunburn or become very dehydrated and we are careful to wear a hat and take regular swigs at the Suero de Dehydrante (serum for dehydration; essentially sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium). Nevertheless, a long day out on the water is exhausting.

The coast we pass about a mile out is one continuous white beach. One can hardly believe how many or how much beautiful beaches Mexico has. There is a coast highway but I judge that there is only about a vehicle every ten minutes. There are occasional groups of thatched palapas; it’s a weekend and there are people there on the beach. But otherwise the beaches are deserted. Where the coastal stretches are flat the land is generally full of palm trees. These are coconut and banana plantations. Occasionally I spot groves of what might be citrus trees running up the hills. In the interior the mountains rise in one row after another, the colours becoming darker the farther they are from us.

We are making an easy 5 knots this morning so cleaning the prop and hull has paid off. We should be able to cover the 50 miles in ten hours. About noon, the fishing pole stuck out over the side begins to jump around. I call Kathleen up from below and she reels a bonito tuna in, about two and one-half feet in length. They are good eating and, while Kathleen steers for a bit, I fillet the fish in about ten minutes. This little sucker has really swallowed the lure! I bet he got a surprise. I place the fillets in a bucket of sea water in the shade under the cockpit seat, and throw the head, tail and skeleton overboard for the crabs. Vorfreude ist die beste Freude!, one says in Germany (the anticipation of joy is the best joy!) We discuss how we should cook the fish for dinner. Since we have no meat on board, getting a nice fish will provide us with a couple of great meals. We decide to simply fry the huge fillets in a pan with onions, ginger and oil, to eat half tonight and the other half cold for lunch tomorrow.

In the early afternoon there seems to be enough breeze to hoist the big cherry-red drifter, which I have bent on the jibstay flying free (no hanks) and we get enough speed that we can stop the noisy Lister engine. We are making 3 to 3.5 knots. Very gentlemanly sailing speeds and downwind at that.

Nice as this is, unfortunately by 1700 it is becoming clear that we are not going to make our anchorage before it gets dark (pitch dark around 1930) unless we motorsail. In comes the drifter and the engine starts throbbing. Our goal is the bight at Cabeza Negra (Black Head). We have an alternative anchorage in mind on the other side of Cabeza Negra if it is too rolly but I suspect we shall get to the first choice just before dark.

Sure enough, as we come in past an anchored off panga and get our anchor down in behind a rocky reef, the lights are going on in the expensive beach houses that line this little beach. We are close to shore and it is in fact a bit rolly. But it will do provided the wind or waves do not intensify during the night.

Wind! Intensify! Not sure how I would cope any more with intensified winds on this coast. We are actually a little south of the “Horse Latitudes” or “Variables”, normally between 20° N and 30° N. In the days of the old sailing ships, the crews would either throw the horses overboard for lack of water or just eat them. Lacking livestock aboard, we motor.

The fish dinner is terrific!

Day 3. Cabeza Negra To Bahia de Maruata; Just Another Day At Sea. Must Haves, Should Haves, and Could Haves. Sunday, 26 Feb 06

We want to be in Zihuatanejo by next Sunday so we can call William on his 14th Birthday. Today will be another long-ish day and we are up at dawn and through our getting-under-way drills in a record ten minutes. As usual, Kathleen takes the first watch since she is already at the helm when we get started; I always pull up the anchor and get the sail(s) up, which accounts for the marvellous figure so admired by all who see me. There has got to be some upside to this physical work.

I often think about ways to reduce the actual muscle-power needed to operate the boat. But, when I see our fellow cruisers using rubber dinghies with outboard motors rather rowing, frequently quite powerful and expensive inflatables and motors, when I see large boats with electric or hydraulic anchor windlasses, power sail winches and bow thrusters, when I understand that these same people often buy memberships in “fitness clubs” and are constantly dieting, I stop fussing about the work. I have saved money and I am fitter for it all. I normally drop weight steadily when I am cruising and put on weight when I am ashore near doughnut shops, bars, etc., I am in good health and after the first couple of days of hauling on halyards and anchor chains, it no longer fazes me.

During my watch I take Vilisar closer to the shore so I have something to look at. Not that anything is particularly different. The cruising life is not for you if you need a rapid succession of scenery changes. Watch the TV news or go to a movie for that. Things are slow. I do run through things I need to do before going offshore to The Galapagos in April and I make up a list of things that, if I had the money, I would do to make Vilisar a little bit more comfortable.

-good mattresses for sleeping and for the settees (which are also sometimes used for sleeping);
-good cushions for the cockpit. Since I painted everything with non-skid sand, not only has the seating remained harder than a buckboard, you can scrape the skin right off your posterior as well!
-wind-scoops for the forecastle and companionway hatches. There are parts of the boat below that get a bit of breeze. But other parts are hot and get no moving air. We do have a couple of low-amp Hella electrical fans, but I would like to have wind-scoops for when we are at anchor;
-it would be really nice to have a hi-fi system and an MP3 to store the music. I think the salty air is going eventually to damage our CDs and they take up a lot of room anyway.

Is any of this really too much to ask? Peu à peu, I guess. Right now we are under the gun to buy airplane tickets for the kids this summer: Andrew will join us soon in Acapulco and then fly back from Guayaquil at the end of May; return tickets for Antonia and William to Ecuador when we arrive. They also need passports. So I guess it’s hard mattresses and sore butts for a while longer. So, what else is new?

My cockpit pondering also extends to safety items for the boat:
-a replacement for the life ring that probably blew overboard in Barra lagoon in the gusty afternoon wind;
-a much more effective radar reflector (I fancy a Luneburg brand); and even,
-a radar itself.
(I am assuming that the SSB (single sideband) radio receiver that has been following us from Tucson to San Carlos and now, I hope, to Picayune, Mississippi, for Andrew to bring with him will actually finally make it to us. We need it for the weather forecasts when we go offshore.)

And than there are some “should haves” like:
-new deep cycle batteries for our electrical needs. I only hope we don’t -need a new alternator and/or voltage regulator.

We would also like:
-additional bookshelves in the main cabin and forecastle, new;
-more colourful tiles for the diesel furnace and galley; perhaps,
-some native art work for the bulkheads.
But these are “could haves” and not likely to be acquired any time soon.

Actually, none of these are really out of reach but it will just have to take a little time. And, of course, we have to finish paying off the boat, continue child-support payments, put money aside for a new or used suit of sails, etc. We are not that much different from other families: living beyond our means.

Bahia de Maruata is small and we tuck in behind a rocky point and reef that breaks up the swells. The beach is lined with palapas. It is Sunday and there is lots of family activity all along the beach including soccer, volleyball, swimming and sandcastle construction. We don’t go ashore. We are anchored far enough out that we can skinny-dip without offending anyone’s sensibilities. The water is clear and a little chilly but a great refresher after a long hot day in the sun.

Day 4. Maruata to Ensenada de Pichilinguillo. Monday, 27 Feb 06

Up and at ‘em at dawn; anchor aweigh and under way by 0730. Man! This is getting to be easy. The land breezes drop to nothing by 0800 or 0830 so we just motor on out down the long, windless Costa Grande with its endless white beaches. We forgot to buy coffee so are trying black tea for our morning starter. Actually, not bad.

There are, surprisingly, many fewer fishing vessels the farther south we go. Even the number of pangas seems lower than, say, up in the Sea of Cortés. We do occasionally see a shrimper operating out a ways but not many. Undaunted, we troll our lure. But, motoring along at over 5 knots, I suspect we are going too fast to attract bonito, mackerel and the like. Big tuna farther out like this speed but it is probably too quick for other fish.

How mountainous Mexico is! I can count ten or twelve lines of mountains coming down to the coast ahead of me for about twenty-five miles and about four or five lines of ragged peaks looking inland. The Pacific Tectonic Plate is pushing up against the America plate. Where there is a rocky promontory that has been bashed by the sea and wind, you can see the differing levels of stone, sea-bottom, sand, even coal, etc., that have been pushed up out of the sea bed at a slant. In fact, nearly all of Mexico is mountainous with not a few of its cities a mile high. It is also volcanic and prone to earthquakes, not to mention hurricanes, inundations of tropical rain and mudslides. Communications within Mexico must be a nightmare, highways difficult to build. There are two parallel ranges of mountains in the north: Sierra Madre Occidentale and Sierra Madre Orientale. Down here we are looking at the Sierra Madre del Sur. There are lots of dormant or extinct volcanoes and one active one at Colima near Barra de Navidad. It last erupted in 1997, I think. I notice that, here, many of the peaks have logging roads cut up to them and there has been a lot of clear-cutting. Just like British Columbia. Stupid! We fish out the waters and strip the hills and then move on.

The sea is nearly dead calm and we are motorsailing and heading to Pichilinguillo. We encountered the name near La Paz on Baja California and were told it was a corruption of Vlissingen in the Netherlands. Basically it was a nest of Dutch pirates that preyed on the Spanish bullion ships coming from Manila in the Philippines. The bullion, I believe, was transhipped by land to the Caribbean coast for on-shipment to Spain. It is very boring today. Wouldn’t mind seeing a pirate or two! Argh!

There are lots of fish swarming around us but no luck catching one. All we need is one fish and then we pull in the pole, clean it and eat it for dinner. Only when we are out of fish do we start fishing again.

I am reading Margret Wittmer’s Postlagernd Floreanna, a personal account of a German family from Cologne who moved to the Galapagos as survivalists in 1932. I am reading it in preparation for our voyage there. It’s fun to read and gives me some idea of weather and conditions in the archipelago.

Pichilinguillo is a large curving bay between two rocky points. We find a parking spot in 30 feet of clear water behind a 200-foot high rocky island and bird sanctuary. Although it seems very exposed to the sea, the water between the island and the mainland is actually a submerged reef and it breaks up the power of the big, slow Pacific swells. We swim and clean the bottom of the boat a bit more. Expecting the whole time that we shall soon be rolling in the refracted swells, we spend a very calm night at anchor. Soon after we arrived, another vessel, S/V Snow Leopard, came into the bay from the south and anchored a dozen boat lengths away. Neither one of us launched our dinghies; we just waved and minded our own business.

Day 5. Pichilinguillo to Caleta de Campos. Tuesday, 28 Feb 06

The sea is calm the next morning too although we can clearly see swells pounding on the rocks ashore on the other side of the reef. Since we do not have quite so far to go today, we decide to wait until the sea breezes come up late in the morning and sail the whole way. The winds refuse to come up and around noon we cannot expect to make it to the next anchorage before dark unless we get going now. Once again, coastal sailing forces us to use the engine or take the chance that you will have to stand off all night or bypass certain ports. Our goal for today is only a few hours away. We leave at 1130 and have the anchor down by 1600. Caleta de Campos is another one of those pretty little Mexican beach towns lined with palapas with a gaggle of fishing pangas drawn up on the beach in the portion of it with the least surf.

Day 6. Caleta de Campos to Lázaro Cárdenas. Ash Wednesday, 01 Mar 06

Uneventful day except that at around 1300 I look up and spot some whales surfacing off to our port front. They swim right towards us and cross our path very close in front of us. They pay us no heed although occasionally one or other of the small pod raises its mammoth head and eyes us. We see plenty of dolphins, some of them playing around the boat. But otherwise the day is uneventful until we spot the smoke and factories of Lázaro Cárdenas as far as twenty miles away (the whole distance today is only about 35 Nm, all along the endlessly long Playa Azul.

Lázaro Cárdenas was a Mexican president who in the early 1940’s began a campaign of forced industrialisation of the country. Elsewhere I have mentioned Latin America’s love affair with “import substitution industrialisation”, which wreaked much havoc to the economies. The idea was to continue selling the products of resource-based economies while substituting the import of manufactured goods with locally-made products. It worked to a degree. But unfortunately, Mexico and other countries had to borrow money to industrialise. It built car-making and many other plants far too big to be efficient in such small national markets. During various recessions (especially after OPEC had induced two major recessions in the industrialised world by rapidly jacking up oil prices), Mexico and other countries were unable to sell their natural resources. Over-simplified, these were the reasons why Mexico became unable to repay its debt in 1980 and again in the 1990’s and threatened to renege. The price for being bailed out by the U.S.A. was a greater porosity of it borders for American products.

Lázaro Cárdenas was a large, artificial industrial-harbour at the mouth of one of Mexico’s largest rivers, Las Balsas. Off the coast were anchored several large bulk carriers. We passed huge plants that seemed ominously quiet. One very large factory had obviously suffered physical damage from storms or hurricanes; others had no sign of life about them such as parked cars, truck traffic, even smoke. Only one plant looked alive: it was gushing out huge amounts of brown smoke that drifted on the 10-knot sea breeze inland over the 12,000-population city. Periodically the same plant would release a huge volume of steam that followed the brown smoke into the afternoon sky.

After a mile or so of motorsailing parallel to the groins that held very large surfs at bay, we arrived at last at the broad entrance to the harbour. Although there had certainly once been a tidal bar here at the mouth of the Balsas, the channel is dredged to 45 feet to permit the ocean freighters (and us, I guess) to get in and out. There are several anchorages farther up into the port. But just inside the entrance breakwall is a small cove to the right and we put in there and drop our anchor in twenty feet of turbid water. A large bulk carrier is being unloaded (of what I do not know) with continuous shovel-type cranes and conveyor belts. Not many jobs at that dock; only a security guard or two. As dusk approaches, we see the hatchcovers being put back into place and three heavy tugs appear from somewhere farther up the port, pull the vessel, Amazon from Monrovia, away from the dock to windward, and accompany it as it runs out of the channel and puts to sea. When it is gone we do not feel quite so small and insignificant. As dusk approaches pangas begin to pull into the cove. The fishermen use throw nets to catch small bait-fish while they laugh and tease each other. Their action of throwing the circular nets from the prow of the panga is like watching a discus-thrower except these men are not huge and beefy and do not utter grunts and umphs when they gracefully but powerfully throw their nets with an economy of effort. While some pangas are collecting bait we see lots of other pangas heading out of the harbour for their night’s fishing work. Some also jig for fish at anchor in the chip channel. Not sure I would want those fish for food. We hear them in the night talking or calling to each other and occasionally we hear a fisherman singing. There are plenty of lights around from the factories and quays.

Day 7. Lázaro Cárdenas to Isla Ixtapa. Thursday, 02 Mar 06

I am awake at 0400. Everything is covered in a very heavy dew and the factory is still belching smoke and steam, although at night the factory throws it lights from its internal fires up into the sky as well. Back to bed.

Up and away shortly after dawn bound for Isla Ixtapa, our last stop before Zihuatanejo. A bulk carrier is on the way in and the three tugs come out to greet it. We are well out of its way and down the beach-lined coast.

Around 0830 I see whales breaching about a mile away off our port bow and turn the boat in that direction. This is usually fruitless, since the breaching, I believe, comes at the end of a team effort to corral swarms of food fish. The whales shoot up from a depth with their maws open and their speed carries them right up through the surface. The same activity, however, eventually scatters what’s left of the fish and the whales submerge to start another round somewhere else. I never see them again.
We do see lots of floating sea-turtles, however, two of them with sea birds standing on their backs. The turtles may be sleeping on the surface, for when we come near them, they suddenly jerk up their heads in what appears to be surprise, take a look at us and awkwardly flap their flippers and dive.

The day’s run is otherwise uneventful and we arrive in Isla Ixtapa around 1400. The island provides anchorages both on the north and south sides. We are at the former as are several other cruising boats. On the mainland shore there is a huge hotel complex and there are a lot of pangas ferrying tourists out for the shore to the palapas along the island’s sheltered beach. Everything is active until about dark when everything closes up and we are left with the lights of the hotel in the distance. Fortunately we cannot hear the disco music from this distance.

In the afternoon, we get into the water again and scrub Vilisar’s waterline of the green scum that accumulates there over the weeks. The bottom and the prop still look good and we are definitely doing much better from a speed point of view now than before I cleaned things. This constant attention to cleaning the bottom and waterline is sometimes a nuisance. But so is cutting grass or watering the garden on land and now it doesn’t bother me. I look for an anchorage with clean water and, (I hope) no sharks, to do the work, do a little at a time if necessary and am content even if it does not look totally Bristol.

Later I listen to some of the CDs that Kathleen has brought from German especially Franz Joseph Degenhardt and other similar CDs given to us by our friend in Frankfurt, Emanuel Neumeister. After these I start listening to Hadyn quartets. Thanks, Manny!

While I am listening I am coating the new daggerboard-plug for the dinghy. I had a carpentera make it for me out of teak back in San Patricio – Melaque. It gets a good soaking with a sealant that should keep it from swelling or bending in the water. Maybe I shall paint it and maybe I shall just leave it oiled.

I have the 1200 – 1800 mile voyage to the Galapagos and to Ecuador always now in the back of my mind. I am slightly apprehensive. But it is nothing like our earlier voyages. We have met a lot of things along the way and we have a lot of confidence in the boat. Extreme situations can always occur, however. We are too early in the season, normally, for tropical storms; they start in May and we should be well out of the storm belt by then and, I hope already in the Galapagos. Kathleen and I talk about our apprehensions but we both believe we are ready for this and are actually looking forward to it and beyond the actual voyage to the stay in Ecuador where our plan to conduct choir and conductor workshops appears to be going forward.

The director of the Ecuadorian Choral Association has already blocked out two weeks for us in each of four cities, including Quito. There is still a lot of work to do to decide exactly how these workshops should be structured. But we are confident that something will come of it. We will be staying with local families and hope to leave the country with a residue of good friends through music. And if this approach works, it might be something we can use in other countries as well.

When we talk with other cruisers, however, we are told that Acapulco, where we need to be by 16 Mar 06 to meet Kathleen’s mother and sister, is a very big port and expensive for cruisers to boot. Just anchoring off in the harbour costs $10 per diem and they charge $20 or $30 a day just to land your dinghy. This is a bit rich for our blood. Closer is wiser, I always say. Maybe it’s not as bad as some people say.

We meet Stephan off the converted lifeboat S/V Emigrant. It’s a gaff-rigger as well. He is French and his wife is from Argentina. They have an 8-month old little blond baby on board who is just learning walk. Adorable. They have sailed through the Panama Canal and up the coast from Central America and are moving north.

Day 8 & 9. Isla Ixtapa to Zihuatanejo. Friday/Saturday, 03/04 Mar 06

We need to get to Zihuatanejo soon since we are, for all intents and purposes, out of food and are living on things like pancakes. There was no point in getting there before the beginning of the month when my pension hits the account. After a second night here we shall sail the eight miles around to Z-Town, as some Americans call it. We want to be there too to call William on his birthday on Sunday.

We loaf around Isla Ixtapa on Friday and leave late morning of Saturday. After motoring around the point we set the drifter and the main and sail at around 2.5 or 3 knots to the entrance to the bay where Zihuatanejo is situated. Pleasant day. To top it off we catch another nice bonito for our dinner that night. We pull in the sail at the entrance to the bay and motor in, anchoring off the town near the surf. I try to situate us so that we are pointing at the swells that come straight into the bay from the Pacific and hope that the land breezes at night will turn our pointed stern to the swells as well. It seems to work. I certainly don’t want to be bothered putting out a stern anchor is I don’t need to. The disadvantage is that it’s quite a row into the beach where the surf is the least. But we are used to that.

JON CARROLL - Jon CarrollFriday, April 8, 2005
The following is the first communique from a group calling itself Unitarian Jihad. It was sent to me at The Chronicle via an anonymous spam remailer. I have no idea whether other news organizations have received this communique, and, if so, why they have not chosen to print it. Perhaps they fear starting a panic. I feel strongly that the truth, no matter how alarming, trivial or disgusting, must always be told. I am pleased to report that the words below are at least not disgusting:
Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.
Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism -- 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!
People of the United States, why is everyone yelling at you??? Whatever happened to ... you know, everything? Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea? Sister Immaculate Dagger of Peace notes for the record that we mean no disrespect to Jews, Muslims, Christians or Hindus. Referred back to the committee of the whole for further discussion.
We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.
Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.
We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.
We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.
Brother Gatling Gun of Patience notes that he's pretty sure the world is out to get him because everyone laughs when he says he is a Unitarian. There were murmurs of assent around the room, and someone suggested that we buy some Congress members and really stick it to the Baptists. But this was deemed against Revolutionary Principles, and Brother Gatling Gun of Patience was remanded to the Sunday Flowers and Banners committee.
People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.
Startling new underground group spreads lack of panic! Citizens declare themselves "relatively unafraid" of threats of undeclared rationality. People can still go to France, terrorist leader says.
Michael row the boat ashore, and then get some of the local kids to pull the boat onto the dock, and come visit with
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle


CHENEY SAYS SHOOTING OF FELLOW HUNTER WAS BASED ON FAULTY INTELLIGENCE Believed Shooting Victim Was Zawahiri, Veep Says Vice President Dick Cheney revealed today that he shot a fellow hunter while on a quail hunting trip over the weekend because he believed the man was the fugitive terror mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri. Mr. Cheney acknowledged that the man he sprayed with pellets on Saturday was not al-Zawahiri but rather Harry Whittington, a 78-year- old millionaire lawyer from Austin, blaming the mix-up on “faulty intelligence.” “I believed I had credible intelligence that al-Zawahiri had infiltrated my hunting party in disguise with the intent of spraying me with pellets,” Mr. Cheney told reporters. “Only after I shot Harry in the face and he shouted ‘Cheney, you bastard’ did I realize that this intelligence was faulty.” Moments after Mr. Cheney’s assault on Mr. Whittington, Mr. al- Zawahiri appeared in a new videotape broadcast on al-Jazeera to announce that he was uninjured in the vice president’s attack because, in his words, “I was in Pakistan.” An aide to the vice president said he believed that the American people would believe Mr. Cheney’s version of events, but added, “If he was going to shoot any of his cronies right now it’s a shame it wasn’t Jack Abramoff.” At the White House, President George W. Bush defended his vice president’s shooting of a fellow hunter, saying that the attack sent “a strong message to terrorists everywhere.” “The message is, if Dick Cheney is willing to shoot an innocent American citizen at point-blank range, imagine what he’ll do to you,” Mr. Bush said. Elsewhere, aviator Steve Fossett completed his three-day journey around the globe, setting a world record for wasting both time and money.