Tehuantepecers, Trash and Pirates?

Marina Chiapas, lies within Puerto Madero, Mexico’s southern most port, but to get there you’ll have to brave the dreaded Tehantepecers.

Tehuantepecers, or Tehuano winds, are strong mountain-gap winds traveling through Chivela
Pass and are most common between October and February. The winds originate in eastern Mexico and the Bay of Campeche as a northerly wind, accelerated southward by cold air, which crosses the isthmus and blows through the gap between the Mexican and Guatemalan mountains. These winds can reach up to gale and hurricane force. They can even be observed on satellite images, as they create fetch which grows into swell, which can sometimes be observed as far as 1,000 miles
away. These winds often come in cycles, blowing for a few days and then calming down to almost nothing, only to start right back up again.

There are two ways to cross.
The first way is to motor like heck, straight across the 210 mile bay and hope that you don’t get hit by the Tehuantepecers and stuck battling the high winds and huge waves that can build with them.

The second is to keep one foot on the shore, staying 1/4 to 1 mile offshore, making it a 260 mile trip. But, if it does start to blow you’ll have less fetch and a shorter distance of heavy winds to battle, as the further offshore you get the wider the band of wind gets.

Motoring into our first night crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec.

We chose the direct route. Leaving Huatulco on the 14th at about 2:30pm, just as one system was dying out. We hoped that this break in weather would give us the 72 hours we needed to safely cross the bay and enter into the marina before the next system started to blow.

We had a pretty uncomfortable start, as the chop had not completely died down from the last big blow, but after a couple of hours we were out of the washing machine like waters and the two knot counter current. The sea eventually laid flat and we enjoyed a long and hot motor across the bay. Of the 40 or so hours it took us to cross, we only sailed for two. We got lucky, having no wind and flat seas is about as good as it gets in the bay. Other boats we’ve met had very challenging crossings, breaking gear and ripping sails while batting the gale force winds and strong currents.

A massive mahi mahi we almost landed on the second day of our passage.
Seconds before getting him on board the mahi snapped our gaff in half and shook the hook. It was one of the most disheartening moments we’ve ever had aboard Agape.

We did have one exciting moment though. As Rachel was finishing up a podcast on piracy, we noticed three pangas way off in the distance. At over 50 miles offshore we rarely see pangas, as this is normally the maximum or their range. Suddenly one panga turned and headed straight for us at a racing speed. Rachel nervously asked what I though we should do, to which I replied, “I’m not sure what they want, but you should go put some clothes on before they get here.” I also asked her to grab the flare gun as well, just in case things got weird.

As the men approached, we waved and smiled, they smiled back as well and asked if we had water and food to spare. For these men, their livelihood comes from fishing and the longer they can stay out the more fish they can catch and money they can make for their families. It’s a hard life on the sea, in a small boat with no sun or wind protection. Often 2-3 men will spend days offshore in these small boats. We were happy to give them water, food and some cold beer. They were so thankful that they gave us a small shark they had caught as a thank you. We told them we had plenty of food on board but they insisted we kept it. We waved goodbye and I went to work filleting dinner.

At one point we motored through a three mile wide band of micro plastics and trash. It was heart breaking so see and not be able to do anything about it.

On the afternoon of the 16th we arrived in Marina Chiapas just in time as the raining season began threatening us with daily thunder and lightning storms passing so close they shook the boat. This would be Agape’s new home for the next 6 months while we travelled inland throughout southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, sailed the Caribbean on a sister ship, and visited family and friends in Hawaii and the western United States.

Shortly after arriving in the marina Customs, Immigration and Navy officers, as well as their drug sniffing dog came to inspect Agape.

Huatulco and Road Tripping to Puerto Escondido

In 1984 the Mexican tourism agency Fonatur, began to develop the area of Huatulco and its nine surrounding bays as a tourist area, in hopes of it becoming the next Cancun. During the early development the existing population was moved to Santa Maria Huatulco, freeing up 21,000 hectares of land for the government to develop. It also set up protected areas, or “green zones”, that would make for an ecologically friendlier development and help to preserve the beautiful but fragile aquatic ecosystems surrounding the bays.

The Bays of Huatulco and the numerous small coves stretching along 26 kilometers of jagged coastline, includes 36 white sandy beaches. The most centrally located bay is Bahía de Santa Cruz, which is just south of the town of La Crucecita. It is also the center of commercial and tourist activities, with a large pier where cruise ships dock, as well as the small Marina Chahue, just to the south.

We anchored in Bahia Oragano with S/V Ardea and after 2,500 nautical miles of searching we finally found warm, clear-ish water!!!

The best visibility we’ve had since leaving California. One day….

We anchored in about 20 feet of water and watched our big Rocna hit the bottom! I was so excited to jump in and play that I totally forgot how tired I was after our overnight passage. We spent the day swimming and snorkeling the rocky point.

We even broke out our scuba gear, and for the first time since coming into Mexico we used it for something other than cleaning the bottom of the boat! Although I did end up also using it for that as well.

We would have loved to stay here longer, but after getting an updated weather forecast found that a hurricane was forming off of Guatemala and El Salvador, and the early prediction models showed it making land fall just north of Huatulco. If it formed, it would be the earliest recorded hurricane on record and would be Rachel’s and I’s first. We decided to not take any chances, and after only two days in the beautiful water we pulled anchor and headed into the nearby marina that offered limited protection. 24 hours later it was down graded to a tropical depression and after pushing its way through the Tehuantepec ended up being a low pressure system. But, better safe than sorry.

At this marina, as it is with many others we have stayed at, it’s about the same price for the discounted weekly rate as it is for three or four regular priced nights, and since we thought we’d be riding out a possible hurricane we had paid for a week up front. With Agape safe on the dock, we decided to stretch our legs and spend Rachel’s birthday doing a mini road trip up the coast to Puerto Escondido.

We rented a small car and took three days to explore the coastline to the north. Puerto Escondido is one of the largest surf destinations in Mexico and the waves can be monsters! When we arrived there was definitely surf, but they weren’t the waves that would make the cover of a magazine. We found a nice hotel just off the beach called Hotel Santa Fe and enjoyed a great dinner overlooking the water with champagne for Rachel’s Birthday.

Birthdays and holidays in general are hard for us as we travel. We really treasure our friends and families, and when it comes to these special days we wish we could spend them with the people we love most. I know this rings especially true for Rachel as she tends to get a little more home sick than I do. This is one thing that many people tend to overlook when dreaming about cruising.

Walking the board walk on legendary surf beach Zicatela.

Bahia San Agustin
Bahia San Agustin

This entire stretch of coastline is amazing, with so many beautiful and protected bays, white sand beaches and palapa restaurants. You could spend months here exploring and playing in the water and still not see it all.

Upon returning to the marina we had a choice to make, return to the beautiful bays to the north or continue our voyage south. With rainy/hurricane season in full swing we decided it would be wise to make the dash across the Tehuantepec as soon as we got a good weather window.

Bahia San Agustin
The beautiful Puerto Angel
Pier jumps in Puerto Angel

We waited out one more system and when it looked like we’d have a few days of calm conditions, we said our goodbyes to our friends on Ardea, Grace, and Halcyon and began what we hoped would be an easy passage across the dreaded Tehuantepec.

Acapulco the Crime Capitol of Mexico

When we told people we would be sailing from Zihuatanejo to Acapulco they all seemed to give us this look of worry and disapproval, and for good reason. The city has the highest crime rate in Mexico and since the break-up of the major drug cartel in that area over a decade ago, the city’s gangs have been in a constant power struggle. We actually thought about skipping it as well after we googled, “crime in Acapulco”.  In the week before there had been several gruesome killings, though all but one was gang related.

A perfect day sailing 77nm into Acapulco. We saw dolphins, turtles and even two sea snakes on our way.

Rachel and I have a couple of rules for “unsafe areas”. First we always listen and trust our instincts, we don’t second guess our gut feelings as we find they are there for a reason. If we see women and children playing on the street, it’s probably safe. The locals know the area and most of the time they will try to avoid the shady areas. So if you see families playing without a care, it’s most likely safe for you too. Most importantly we don’t flaunt our wealth. Even if you are in your normal “American street clothes”, look at your feet. Those $200 Nike shoes are worth what a lot of people here make in 2 to 3 weeks!!! We try to be careful and observant whenever we travel and it has paid off. I am fortunate to say that we haven’t had any bad experiences so far, at least crime related.

Acapulco’s municipal market is massive! This is just one small corner of the fish market section.

That being said, our experience in Acapulco was great!!! We walked around the whole city never feeling unsafe. We saw the cliff jumpers from a beautiful balcony restaurant, ate amazing street food until midnight, went to the local markets and never felt like we needed to be nervous.

Acapulco used to be a very popular tourist destination, enticing Hollywood’s elite, congressmen, presidents, and the rich and famous from around the world to come and enjoy the city’s beautiful beaches, fishing, tropical climate and rich culture. Even though tourism has declined over recent years you can see it’s influences everywhere. The city is full of huge hotels, beach front bars, restaurants and amenities available everywhere.

Whatever you need, you can find it here in Acapulco’s massive municipal market.

Now that cruise ships have stopped making Acapulco a port of call on their Mexican route, the people there are starved for the money that tourism brings in. This means that they go above and beyond to make sure that you are happy, stay as long as possible, and go home to tell your friends about the great time you had.

We were only able to stay for three days and two nights, as we were pushing south excited to get to Huatulco and the ever elusive clear waters we were searching for.

Zihuatanejo: Massages, Surf and Pastor, What More Can You Ask For?

190 nautical miles will normally take Agape about 34 hours to sail, we usually average 5.6 knots, or 6.5 mph. So what do four people do within 42 feet of each other for a day and a half passage you ask? Not Much.

Overnight and multi-day passages on Agape are normally pretty mellow. On board we have two autopilots, a hydraulic one below deck and our wind vane that hangs off the stern. So after twenty minutes of hand steering I get bored and turn on the autopilot.

Putting out our two fishing poles and hand line usually knocks out 30 minutes or so picking out which lures to use and getting them all rigged and set up, but then its just a waiting game. After that, it is a lot of butt time. Reading, watching movies, and talking, luckily Rhianna and Weston were still with us so we had good company and conversation for all our watches.

We got in a five hour spinnaker sail and some challenging light wind sailing. The high point of our sail was catching a marlin on the hand line that we were able to release. We saw tons of other wildlife as we drifted along including whales, dolphins, jumping devil rays and turtles.

Agape and friends anchored off Zihuatanejo.

We ended up making pretty good time and got into Zihua at midday on the 5th, with enough day light left to launch the dinghy and head into town to do some shopping and get dinner out.

For many boaters Z-town is as far south as they go before turning back north to make the most of the cruising season in the Sea of Cortez or beginning preparations to cross the Pacific.

Sunset beach walk with Rhianna.
Fisherman heading out for the night.

Rachel’s sister would be with us for only four more days, so we made the most of our time left together snorkeling, souvenir shopping, massages on the beach, surfing, lazy margarita afternoons and even hired a panga to take the boys out fishing for a day and scored a big tuna.

We were thankful to have Rhianna come down to visit and to see such a fun city like Zihuatanejo!

Chatting up the local fisherman about their catches.
Diving with Jesus!

Rachel and I would end up spending 23 days anchored here relaxing, surfing, fishing and
exploring. We even managed to knock off a few sneaky things that made it on our never-ending to do list while here.

We often get people asking were the best places to go on vacation are, and this would
definitely be one of them, especially if you are a surfer. Zihua is surrounded with great surf spots, delicious food, and friendly locals. There are also $10 massages right on the beach!!! I  recommend asking for “quatro manos” or four hands, where you get two people massaging you for an hour for just $20. I believe our friend John on Halcyon came up with this one and I think it’s genius!!!!

Daily surf session.

You know you’ve made it to the tropics when a weeks worth of laundry is six pairs of board shorts.
Rented bikes on Easter weekend to check out the beaches of nearby Ixtapa. Everyone else had the same idea!