Today (Friday, 1/15) we got underway aboard Miss Miranda for the first time since March 25, 2020. We worked our way through all of the system checks at the dock and were finally ready for a real-world test. The weekend weather was shaping up nicely, with N winds of 10-15 for Friday and calm conditions through Monday.
We waited for the outboard guy to bring back our Tohatsu 3.5 hp engine for the small dinghy. He serviced it and found it to be completely gummed up with bad fuel, in spite of our having used fuel stabilizer. He also checked the big engine, and we concluded that the problem was the same. Bad, old fuel. Oh well, at least we know what the issue is.
Our first hiccup was before we left the dock. We started up all systems, including the wing engine and were rearranging dock lines when I noticed that there was no water flow from the stabilizer cooling pump outlet (yes, the one I just replaced). A quick check in the engine room showed both input and output through hulls were open and the pump appeared to be running. I concluded that the pump must have lost it’s prime, and because (unfortunately) it shares an intake through hull with the the wing engine, I wondered if by starting the wing engine first, the cooling water pump somehow lost it’s prime… maybe couldn’t pull enough water? So, shut the wing engine down, opened the priming valve on the pump (too much) and got a nice little geyser of water as I struggled to get the bolt back in place. Once that was done, I restarted the pump, and sure enough, water was flowing. We elected not to run the wing… trying to keep things simple.
Once out of the marina we headed North on the 20 mile run to the the Islands of Espiritu Santo and Partida, on what was a beautiful afternoon. The boat was running well, no problems at all, until I noticed a mysterious spike in the AC power demand. That is unusual because there are really only three things that use AC power when underway… the refrigerator, the freezer, and the stabilizer water pump. After a few minutes the power draw decreased. I began to suspect the freezer. More on that later.
There were only two other boats in the anchorage and we picked a spot midway between them, dropping the anchor in about 18 feet of water. Unfortunately, it did not want to set… catching, then dragging as we slowly backed down. Eventually we got a very solid set, though a little farther from shore than we would have liked. One of the guidebooks indicated that anchoring could be a challenge because of sand over rock, and that seemed to be spot on in our case. Of course, the wind started to come up just as we got set, a solid 15 knots gusting regularly to 20+. Eventually it died down, but knew I would have a fitful night’s sleep worrying about our set.
We enjoyed a beautiful sunset, a nice cocktail, and good dinner. It was utterly quiet, save for the lapping of the waves against the hull. Above was a beautiful, clear, dark, star-filled sky, and below a phosphorescent show in the water around the boat. This is what we have been looking forward to.
Before turning in, I noticed another spike in power consumption. This time we were able to confirm that it was the Sub Zero freezer. We thought the freezer died in Mazatlan last year, but apparently it had runout of refrigerant. After a refill it seemed to be running fine at the dock in La Paz. My suspicion is that it does indeed have a coolant leak and the compressor must run constantly to maintain temperature. Anyway, we emptied it of critical items and will get it looked at when we return to La Paz.
The next morning, we pulled up the anchor and moved to the South side of the bay, nearer to the passage to the other side and the fish camp. The water was clear enough to see the anchor on the bottom turn over and start to dig in as we slowly backed down. This time we got a very good set first time, and here we would stay for the rest of the weekend.
Finally, a systems gripe. We have an Iridium GO, which is an inexpensive, slow satellite data device that we use to get weather info when we are out of cell range. It worked just fine last year, but when we reactivated it this year, it was having problems. After endless tinkering and back and forth with PredictWind support, it started working… for a couple of days. Now that we need it…. nope. Very annoying, considering how much we are spending for the service and the PredictWind software subscription.
Gwen will have her own take and many more photos from Caleta Partida in a separate post later this week.
Boat projects can sometimes be fun and satisfying (OK, at least satisfying).
There are three conditions that must be met for this to be the case.
Having the right parts on hand
Having the right tools on hand
Having the project be in a (relatively) accessible location
In my experience, the confluence of these three factors, which I call the triple play, is very rare. Well, yesterday it happened.
The project at hand was replacement of the sea water pump for the stabilizer heat exchanger. The stabilizers are powered by a hydraulic pump running from the main engine, and the fluid moves the fins. This fluid is at high pressure and gets hot, so it needs to be cooled. On our boat this is by means of a heat exchanger that is cooled by seawater. A 120V pump circulates this water, and it runs all the time that the boat is underway. If the pump dies, no more water circulation, and soon, no more stabilizers, which will shut down when the fluid gets too hot. So it is a pretty important piece of equipment, and it is one of those single points of failure… there is no backup pump installed.
I have been suspicious of the pump for a while. It runs pretty hot, and in fact, part of underway engine room checklist is checking the temperature of that pump. For that reason, I bought a spare pump before we came down to Mexico. I did not install it, however, following my new “ain’t broke don’t fix” rule. Well, coming back to the boat I discovered that it now is broke, so its gotta be fixed.
Getting the old pump out was pretty easy. It was clear that the line from the pump to the heat exchanger needed to be changed, but as it happened, I had some spare hose of the proper size and almost exact length. One small complication was that the new pump has the motor control unit mounted on top of the motor instead of the side. In the picture you can see the unit on the old pump on the left side of the motor. That makes it easier to access the mounts, but interferes with the 90 deg elbow for the water output, seen in the middle of the picture.
Putting the new pump in was straightforward save for running the hose. I had to angle the elbow off the centerline in order to get the hose and clamps attached and then had to make sure it didn’t rub against the side of the compartment. Of course, the mounts were laid out differently from the old pump, so I had to drill new holes, and it was a bit of a tight fit getting the screws in. After it was mounted I just had to wire it up to AC power. Once installed, all I had to do was open the through hulls for the inlet and outlet and prime the pump – a simple matter of loosening the bolt to the left of the elbow until a little bit of water flowed out. A quick test confirmed that we had good water flow. Success!
I was surprised when finished to find that the job had taken most of the day – about 5 hours or so. Things just take a long time on a boat, due to a combination of tight spaces and rummaging for various tools and parts. When it all comes together, though, it sure is satisfying!
I had a little bit of apprehension this morning. The plan was to start the main engine… after sitting for 9 months. I primed the fuel system, Gwen pulled off the stack cover, and I turned the key… YES, it fired right up!!
We all need some distracting reading away from the news of the day, so here’s an update on stuff we are finding as we reopen the boat.
We know the temperatures here were around 100 for a few months during the summer time, and the humidity was quite low. Despite the record number of hurricanes this year, none of them hit this area at hurricane strength. The boat was looked after by some local boat watchers, but we still had some interesting findings. All of our canvas and screens were intact and in place, with the exception that the dingy cover had blown off and was hanging by a bungee cord, and the cover on the spotlight looked like it got burnt!
I have been pleased to find that all my galley preparations have meant that we did not return to a bug infestation – one of my big fears. I had tossed anything open, sealed stuff with my vacuum sealer and cleaned out the fridge and freezer – no mold in there either! The weirdest thing I found was that the tips of my rubber gloves were all melted away into a sticky goo.
Inside, the boat was covered in a thick layer of dust which I have been working through, and along the way we discovered that tools with rechargeable batteries, like our small vacuum, are all dead.
We have been spending much of the day, after having a good breakfast and relaxed wake up with coffee, working on our extensive task list. In the afternoon we are settling into a routine of siesta after late lunch, then walking the marina to get some exercise. The temperature is just lovely at mid-70s during the day, with a good breeze that can get stiff at times. In the evenings we enjoy the sunset, a beverage, and watching the birds.
This will be our typical day for the month of January as we work through a bunch of tasks, get the muffler replaced which is scheduled for late in the month, and watch the weather.
After a largely sleepless night at an airport hotel near SeaTac, we got up at 4am and headed into the airport for our 7am flight to Los Cabos.
The flight was about 25% full and had more than it’s share of people who, a year into the pandemic, were playing dumb about how to wear a mask. The Alaska flight attendants were diligent and persistent in reminding them how to do it.
We arrived into sunshine and 70 degrees which was a WONDERFUL change from the chilly monsoon and gale we left behind in Washington.
Customs and immigration were no problem this time for us – breezed through and got the green light so no check of our bags!
We then picked up our rental car, and finally removed our safety gear with relief. 25 minutes later we were at Marina Puerto Los Cabos, where we stayed last year, and picked up our mountain of parts that our friends Kevin and Alison so graciously schlepped for us.
Hopefully these are parts that will ensure we never need them.
Two and half hours later after an easy drive up the toll road, passing Todos Santos, many cacti and numerous police cars, we arrived at Marina CostaBaja and Miss Miranda!
Larry unlocked the door and we proceeded to open windows, unload our massive amount of stuff and get our drinking water and heads operational. Now on to some dinner!
After a crazy, unprecedented 9 months back in the USA we are preparing to return to La Paz and Miss Miranda. We have booked the flight on Alaska Airlines for January 3rd, and have arranged a one way rental car from the San Jose Del Cabo airport to Marina CostaBaja. We arranged to to ship a bunch of spare parts to the boat, kindly warehoused in San Diego by Ken and Christy, CUBAR buddies on Varnebank (thank you!) and to be delivered by Kevin and Alison on Red Rover (thank you!). In fact, Kevin and Alison may still be in Cabo by the time we arrive, so we will likely swing by for a parts pickup on the way from the airport.
We will keep the rental car in La Paz for an extra day to do a big provisioning run out to the Soriana. Hopefully we’ll be able to stock up enough there to avoid many other stops as we travel around the Sea of Cortez.
We thought long and hard about our return to Mexico, out of concern for our health as well as not wanting to impose a health burden on the people of Mexico. We do not want to come across as ugly Americans living it up on our fancy yacht oblivious to the daily suffering of those who are less fortunate.
The United States and Mexico are very similar in how poorly the virus situation has been managed, with rampant spread and full to overflowing hospitals in many areas. Gwen has studied the situation and feels that our biggest area of exposure, and of exposing others, is getting to the boat which we are doing by flying and by car, so we have a plan. We hope that in returning to Mexico and following a strict set of precautions we will cause little additional burden and will bring some much needed spending into the area.
We have and will use N95 masks and face shields for the flight, interactions with the car rental and shopping. We feel that flights are reasonably safe, provided that we wear masks for the entire time. Airports, we think, are less safe, so we will try to minimize time and maximize distance. Provisioning is going to be no more or less safe than going to the grocery store here. For work on the boat, we will provide masks and sanitation equipment and do everything possible to ensure safety for us and the workers.
As we had before, we have medical evacuation insurance. These companies now have clauses specifying how things are handled if one contracts COVID and they do have ability to extract ill people with COVID, but that is something that we need to avoid at all costs. One thing many do not realize is that if you are being taken back to the US by a medical evacuation service, they first have to ensure a hospital agrees to take you. Currently, many US hospitals are at disaster levels and are not even accepting regional transfers, much less international ones, so one cannot count on this being possible. Gwen has also upgraded our medical supplies to be able to cover even more medical issues that could arise, so hopefully we won’t need to seek any other type of medical care.
Finally, we are going to be explicit about monitoring our interactions by keeping a log of any contacts with people and will be strict about distancing and mask wearing. Once we get Miss Miranda ready to go and leave the Marina, we are likely to go weeks without any close contact with people, though we hope to encounter plenty of whale sharks, dolphins, turtles, fish and birds! It will be a very different experience from last year where we explored a lot of communities, dined out in restaurants and socialized with lots of people, but we are very happy to be able to experience the joys of solitude and nature.
We have been poring over our third copy (other ones are on the boat) of Anacortes neighbors Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer’s guide to the Sea of Cortez. Theirs is by far the most complete guide, including chartlets of the anchorages, which is critically important for an area in which the official charts are notoriously inaccurate. We used their guide to the Pacific Coast of Mexico last season, as well as electronic versions of their charts on an iPad-based chartplotter app called INavX. The charts were much better than the ones we had on our PC based navigation systems. The guidebooks also included a downloadable set of GPS waypoints identifying navigational approaches, hazards and preferred anchorages. Very useful for us, and absolutely required for any cruisers planning to visit Mexico. This year, fellow N50 owners and Pacific-crossing veterans Ron and Nancy recommended another super helpful piece of charting software. This one is called ChartAid and it allows you to grab aerial photos from Google or Bing maps and add them as overlays to Coastal Explorer (our primary PC-based navigation system). Ron and Nancy used this for the poorly-charted Pacific Islands and atolls they visited and are also using it for the Sea of Cortez.
The image on the left above shows a chartlet from Shawn and Heather’s guide (they actually did all the dpth soundings listed on the chart). The image on the top right shows the same area as represented on a C-Map chart (the only charts of the area available via Coastal Explorer), while the bottom right image shows a satellite photo imported into Coastal Explorer. Obviously, we are happy to have both the chartlets and the Sat Photos. By the way, the C-Map charts cost $250, while the ChartAid program was $99 and the charts from Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guidebook were $29.
So, we’ve been looking through the guidebook, identifying interesting spots and then grabbing nice, hi-res satellite photos. Our plan, at the moment, is to stick to the southern half of the Sea between La Paz and roughly Mulege or possibly as far North as Santa Rosalia, following more-or-less what Shawn and Heather call the “Classics” Itinerary. From that area, it is a pretty short run across the Sea to San Carlos and Guaymas on the mainland side, so we’re thinking about spending a couple of weeks over there. So far our longest run would be about 75 NM from the Mulege area to San Carlos, with most other distances between anchorages less than 30 miles. Sounds like some pretty laid back cruising.
We have been told that winters in the Sea of Cortez can be challenging. The main weather feature is Northers, which are 2-3 day periods of sustained strong North winds that result when High pressure systems develop in the Great Basin of the US. Because the Sea has so much fetch, large, steep, dangerous waves can form in these conditions. The key with Northers, we’re told, is to be in a secure anchorage that has good northerly protection, which is called out in the guide. We’ve also heard that it can be cold in the Sea in winter, but I guess one’s definition of cold depends on where you are from. Here is what we found comparing January weather for Anacortes and La Paz
Anacortes: Daily high temperatures increase by 2°F, from 45°F to 47°F, rarely falling below 36°F or exceeding 54°F. Daily low temperatures are around 38°F, rarely falling below 27°F or exceeding 46°F. The chance of a wet day over the course of January is gradually decreasing, starting the month at 48% and ending it at 45%. La Paz: Daily high temperatures are around 75°F, rarely falling below 69°F or exceeding 82°F. Daily low temperatures are around 53°F, rarely falling below 47°F or exceeding 59°F. The chance of a wet day over the course of January is essentially constant, remaining around 5% throughout.
Put another way, January in La Paz is slightly warmer than summer in Anacortes! We’ll take it. Now it is true that the water temperature in the Sea of Cortez goes down significantly in the winter, but at 69deg, still a bit warmer than the frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest.
There is, of course, a never ending list of projects to look forward to when we return to the boat. The big one is left over from last spring, when we finally got a replacement Racor fuel filter manifold, but left before we could install it. We hope that replacing the filter manifold (listen to me furiously knocking on all the wood I can find) will finally resolve our air in the fuel line problem.
One non-project (knocking on wood again) may be the Subzero drawer freezer. Last spring the freezer died (while nearly full) in Mazatlan, and we didn’t have a chance to diagnose the problem before leaving. As I was compiling a parts list this fall I wondered what might have caused the freezer to fail, and was planning to buy all of the replaceable components, just in case. Our boat watcher had his refrigeration tech check out the freezer and it turns out that it simply lost it’s refrigerant charge. Once filled up it seems to be working fine. A good thing, too, as Gwen is planning to fill it.
A major project that we have decided to take on is replacing the dry stack muffler, which we were told back in 2019 was a rusted hulk in desparate need of replacement. We didn’t have time to get the work done before heading to Mexico, so we took a chance on it. Lately, we’ve heard too many stories on the Nordhavn Owners Group about mufflers disintegrating underway, so it is time to get the job done. The problem is that there is no way to remove the muffler without cutting away a significant amount of fiberglass to gain access. Evidently, the idea of “design for serviceability” was not a thing when Miss Miranda was built. The good news is that 1) Many other N50 owners have taken on the job, and I even have a pictures of the recent work from on N50 sister ship Les Voguer (thanks, James!) 2) The muffler is still available from the manufacturer along with all of the other parts needed, including the insulation blanket. Now I just need to find someone in La Paz competent to do the work, and I have a couple of good leads so far.
I’m sure that other things will come up, as one might expect after leaving the boat for more than six months. I think/hope we will be better prepared for issues that might arise than we were last season.
Return to the Pacific Northwest
While we have note decided on the precise timing, we will definitely bring Miss Miranda back up the Pacific Coast and home to Anacortes by the end of summer 2021. We look forward to exploring the Sea of Cortez, and have thoroughly enjoyed our cruising adventures in Mexico, but realized that there is plenty of cruising to do closer to home.
It is Sunday March 22. We are back in La Paz, where we intended to start exploring the Sea of Cortez. But life as we know it has shifted dramatically in the last few weeks because of COVID 19. We have had a lot of difficult discussions here on Miss Miranda as we worked to a mutual decision on what to do.
The bottom line is that we have decided the best course of action for us is to shut up the boat for the season here in La Paz on the Baha Peninsula and return home. This was our original plan, it’s just being put into action earlier than we hoped and planned. We plan to return next season to fully explore the Sea of Cortez.
We made a whirlwind trip to San Diego in the last few days prior to making this decision. Fuel system parts had been shipped to us there to replace the Racor dual filter system, and we had time sensitive bureaucratic details to address. The night we arrived, California was placed under a stay at home order. We were lucky that mail seems to be an essential service, so we were able to take care of our business while trying to stay 6 feet away from other people. We flew back to Cabo San Lucas airport on an Alaskan flight that had one passenger other than us. Flight attendants reported that flights are about half full at the moment with people returning to the US.
You may be saying to yourself – “why would you go back to a hotbed of the virus?”.
1. Our 20 year old college sophomore daughter is there, currently alone without any family support. I cannot imagine isolating ourselves here in Mexico for potentially months and not be able to reach her. She already went through the mess in France and we had to fly her out on a moment’s notice when Trump declared travel from Europe was closing (which had to be clarified later, after many people, including us, had panicked). Flights do continue to and from Mexico for now, and we understand that Alaska Airlines is unlikely to completely shut down flights. But, we have observed Canadians having a difficult time getting flights home and they’ve told us there are no flights in April from our region to Canada. Who knows what is going to happen.
2. Mexico is a wonderful country, currently with a low number of cases. This will change. No country is exempt from this virus. The healthcare system here will have even more challenges than we are already seeing with the US healthcare system. I am immunosuppressed because of medication I take for rheumatoid arthritis, therefore at higher risk of getting severely ill if I do get sick. I prefer to have access to the system I am familiar with, even though it is far from the best in the world.
3. I am a doctor, currently on a year sabbatical. I can’t stand by and not do anything to help.
We have talked to many boaters here, both from the US and from Canada and heard many second hand reports of more, all of whom have struggled with the same decision. My observation is that the majority are taking the government advice/demand (for Canadians) that they return home. This has been particularly hard for those who planned to take longer voyages, such as to the South Pacific. Many countries are now closed to all foreigners including boaters, and many are also not allowing boats to check out of the country if they are already there. There have been reports here of boaters not being allowed to check out of Mexico on their boat. The situation is very dynamic and difficult to predict where things will be in the coming weeks and months.
Some are making the choice to hunker down in this beautiful place with 2-3 months of food and supplies and stay away from people. I trust they are going to have a wonderful solitary time in nature. There is no right or wrong answer, everyone has to do what fits with their situation. Only time will tell how things will turn out for all of us.
I hope you all are staying home and practicing excellent hand hygiene. If you have masks or other personal protective equipment at home, please donate them to your local hospital. I have many colleagues working without adequate masks to protect them and the US is in dire need of these supplies.
We look forward to virtual happy hours and phone conversations with many of you when we return home.
I’d rather have a palapa in Yelapa than a condo in Redondo – quote from a Mexico boating guidebook.
After doing some work on our chronic fuel delivery problems we decided to run across Banderas Bay to the pueblo of Yelapa, located on the South side of the bay, a bit East of Cabo Corrientes. The only way to visit is by boat – there are no road connections from Puerto Vallarta. It is 15 NM across the Bay, so a couple of hours each way. A great way to spend a sunny day and a good check on the repairs we made on the fuel system.
We headed off around 9 AM and saw several different groups of whales along the way. We slowed and watched a couple, but after a while, we decided to keep going, wanting to get over to Yelapa before lunch. Approaching the entrance to the bay, we were greeted by Philipe in a panga from Fanny’s restaurant, a beachside palapa. He offered to guide us in to a mooring buoy, necessary here because the bay is very deep with only a small shelf suitable for anchoring. Yelapa is absolutely gorgeous, with steep cliffs covered in vegetation rising from the bay and sandy beach. It is, however, very rolly… open to the NW Pacific swell. Friends reported spending the night moored between two buoys, but also reported that their guests got seasick. If we stayed, we certainly would have had to deploy both flopper stoppers.
After tying up, Philipe took us over to the village dock, where we walked through the hillside town up a paved path to the waterfall. Along the way, we met Charlie the burrow and his owner, Manuel, a lifetime Yelapa resident. Here along the path, families set up open air shops featuring their handmade wares. We wound up buying two light blankets made by a son and daughter of Manuel.
The waterfall was beautiful and served as the fresh water supply for Yelapa. Returning to the town dock, we hailed Philipe again and went across to his family’s restaurant on the beach. There we had an outstanding lunch. I had the whole red snapper, grilled with garlic and butter, while Gwen had some gigantic, and tasty shrimp.
After a couple of pleasant hours enjoying the scene, we returned to Miss Miranda and started back to La Cruz. The highlight of our return trip was a breaching, dancing, playing whale that was right in front of us, seemingly unwilling to let us pass without putting on a show. Gwen got some outstanding pictures. We also saw a school of rays swimming just under the surface, but they swam off before we could get photos.
We got back to La Cruz without incident and with enough confidence in the fuel system to take on the next leg, 171 NM North to Mazatlan.
Our friends Park and Carol arrived in Barra for a week of cruising with us in late February. We would be celebrating Gwen’s birthday and Park and Carol’s wedding anniversary. We spent a couple of easy days and nights in Barra getting ready to go, including a wonderful dinner at a place called Galería de Arte, a fantastic restaurant run out of the home of a local family. The maitre’d /owner is a photographer, and his works are all around the place, which is arranged in a courtyard garden for open air dining. Robert is a very gracious host, his kids are the waitstaff, and his wife Ruby runs the kitchen. The menu is limited to two traditional Mexican main courses, and there is always a surprise appetizer. Also, Robert is a bit of a Tequila aficionado, so there is a huge list available for tasting. It was a wonderful meal, and without doubt the best restaurant in Barra.
The next day we headed north to Tenacatita. We spent a couple of nights at anchor in a relatively uncrowded bay (many of the sailors were down in Barra for the sail festival). We did some beach landings with the micro tender, getting good practice in very mild conditions, walked the beach, and swam off the back of the boat in 80 degree water. We celebrated Gwen’s birthday with fish tacos, and Carol delivered Gwen’s number one birthday wish…. Not doing any dishes!
The forecast was calling for higher winds associated with a frontal system, so we left early the next morning to head down to Manzanillo, about 35 miles south of Tenacatita. The forecast was wrong in the best possible way… a beautiful sunny day with light winds and nearly flat calm… maybe the mildest conditions we have encountered to date. Entering Manzanillo bay we passed between the off lying rocks of Los Frailes and large cargo ships in the anchorage. Our destination was the marina at Las Hadas, well protected by rock breakwaters all around and adjacent to the Brisas Las Hadas resort. This area gained notoriety way back when by the movie “10”, starring a nubile, hair beaded Bo Derek. I am not sure if Bo has aged gracefully, but Las Hadas has not.
We had to med moor in the marina, which requires dropping the anchor in front of the dock and then backing in, tying stern lines and getting on and off via the back of the boat. They had us in a spot between two other boats with an odd angle between them, and tied to bow mooring lines that made it difficult for us to maneuver. And of course, the afternoon wind was starting to come up and push us to one side. It took two attempts –on the first one I didn’t drop the anchor far enough out, so it did not set well enough to hold the bow. The second time I went right out to the middle of the basin and dropped the anchor with plenty of room to set. All was good, save for the substantial surge, which caused us to put out all of the ball fenders we had on the back of the boat, and actually flattened one of the smaller ones.
One surprising thing in the marina was the crystal clear water – clearest we have seen on this coast. The shoreside of the marina actually had a very healthy ecosystem with various anemones, sea cucumbers and lots of different tropical fish. After spending quite a bit of time watching them, you could clearly see there are neighborhoods in there – with fish staking out their little bits of space, patrolling it and pushing out other fish and generally looking like little busy bodies.
The marina had adequate power, non-potable water, and very few transient boats. There were a couple of long term yachts and some sportfishing/charter boats. It took a while to find the restroom/shower facilities… and we wished that we hadn’t. They were borderline disgusting. I could see in a pinch, using the toilets, but there was no way I was going to take a shower in there. Why am I even talking about this? Two reasons. When we are in a place with no potable water, and can’t/won’t run the watermaker (i.e. in a marina without pumpout facilities) we tend to shower ashore. Second, the macerator pump in our master head chose this moment to go belly up. Yes, you read correctly. This was the second macerator pump failure in two months… with two couples on the boat! More on this later.
Having settled in at the Marina, we made an expedition into the town of Manzanillo. We took the bus in from the resort after climbing straight up an incredibly steep hill to the road. The first bus was ancient, bouncing perilously over the cobbled roads hugging the steep hills between the beautiful Cliffside residences in the area. The second bus was driven by a young driver who thought he was qualifying for the grand prix, running the old heap as fast as it would go and scaring the cab drivers that dared to get near us. Relieved to be alive, we got off at the main square and made our way to the municipal market, which was filled with produce stands, carnicerias, etc. We were sorely disappointed that we were unable to find a fresh pig head to show our pesca/vegetarian friends… had to settle for a beef shank on the hoof.
After the market we found the Iguana refuge which provides shelter for Iguanas and an odd assortment of other animals (including raccoons). Inside, it was feeding time and dozens of Iguanas came around to eat various vegetable leaves. Then they would climb over the fence. When we left the refuge, we realized that they were climbing into trees on the refuge property over a small stream/drainage ditch. There were well over 100 sunning themselves in the trees. We had a big lunch in a small restaurant, did a little shopping and then took a cab back to the marina.
The next day we decided to pony up the stiff fees ($60 US p/p) for a day pass to the resort, which entitled us to towel service, the pool, the restaurants, and open bar. I will note that they must control alcohol consumption by making some of the worst margaritas I’ve ever had. The food was good and plentiful, however, and the pool was great. Given the situation with our head on the boat, access to bathrooms alone may well have been worth the price of admission. We really had a great day, and towards the end of the day Park and Carol told us that they had decided to book a room at the resort, in deference to our head problem. This was really very thoughtful of them, but as fellow owners of a Nordhavn 50, they really knew the score. We had a last wonderful dinner outside at the high end restaurant, which was nearly empty. Again, this was a story of faded glory… a huge place festooned with AAA four diamond awards from times past, with maybe 4-6 parties dining that evening. Nevertheless, the food was good and the company outstanding.
The following day Park and Carol departed for the airport and their return to Washington, and we set off to visit the port captain to change our crew list and then to do some shopping at La Comer, a big Mexican supermarket chain. We got to the Port Captain thanks to our taxi driver, as we never would have found on our own, it was so tucked away from the street. We were met by a helpful official asking what we needed. Gwen explained (her Spanish is getting really good) that we needed to check out and change the crew list. The officer listened and, realizing that we were a pleasure yacht over at Las Hadas, told us there was no need to check out… just call on the radio. Manzanillo is a huge commercial port, and clearly seems to have no interest in making pleasure boats submit to the normal paperwork that other port captains thrive on. So, off we went to La Comer. On the way, Gwen struck up a conversation with the cab driver, talking about family, etc. We learned that he was from Guadalajara, so we (she) talked a bit about that. He also talked a bit about how much tourism was down in the area, referring to fear of Narcos. It certainly did seem that occupancy at the resort was even lower than we had seen at Barra and other towns down here, though there appeared to be plenty of Gringos at the marina-side restaurants.
It was finally time to bid the Coastalegre good bye and make the trip back to La Cruz in Banderas Bay. We decided to do the entire 150+NM in one shot, and set a departure time for noon, in order to arrive in La Cruz after sunrise the next day. The forecast was for light winds, but 5-7 foot seas. However, things were predicted to freshen up in subsequent days, so this window was as good as we would get. The winds were light for the entire passage, and the seas didn’t really pick up until about 20 miles South of Cabo Corrientes, where we started bashing into the NW swell. We rounded the cape in the wee hours of the morning with no drama and found ourselves in La Cruz with 20 minutes to wait before it was light enough to enter the marina. We were very glad to be back on the move, headed North for the Sea of Cortez, and thankful that my jury rigged fuel filter system worked without the slightest hiccup. I spent some worried hours thinking about what it would be like running on the wing engine around Cabo Corrientes, and glad that it didn’t happen!
Finally, the same day we arrived, Lance’s crew showed up, replaced the head pump, and started helping me rebuild the fuel lines and filter system. More on this later.
The morning after our spur of the moment decision to book a trip to Guadalajara we loaded a duffle bag and our backpacks and trudged through town to the bus station by the big marlin. By the time we got there we were sweat soaked, so it was a wonderful surprise to discover the luxury of the ETN bus! It was a double decker with very comfortable reclining seats, foot rests and personal video screens in case you wanted to watch movies in Spanish. And it was air conditioned… almost too much. We were dressed for the hot Barra weather in lightweight shorts and short sleeved shirt, ready for 85 plus degrees… not 68. I got my hoody sweatshirt out of my duffel at a stop where I tipped the porter to dig it out for me. Larry didn’t think to prepare for cooler weather, so spent some time actually feeling chilly. The ride was about six hours over mostly toll roads, with stops in Manzanillo, Colima, and the airport before ending at the Guadalajara bus terminal. The roads were initially lined with short banana trees with bunches of bananas waiting to ripen and tall palm trees interspersed. As we continued we had some spectacular views of the 12,000+ foot Colima Volcano and went through an area of deep gorges where the road went across viaducts over the canyons below.
Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico with about 1.5 million people. It’s actually made up of three separate cities – Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara proper. It has recently become a tech hub and also a city for foodies. Lots of Mexico’s history happened here.
After arriving we made our way by taxi to Tlaquepaque, which is an artsy district in the old town area where a century ago very wealthy Guadalajarans had country homes. Kind of like the upper part of Manhattan was in the 1800s. Our bed and breakfast was a charming small old building with rooms off of a small narrow courtyard. The key to our room was the largest brass key I have ever seen – we had to leave it at the front desk as it was too big to carry, and probably irreplaceable!
On our first morning we walked most of the Tlaquepaque neighborhood, scoping out galleries and trying to get into the historical sites. We visited the Centro Cultural El Refugio, a former free public hospital funded by wealthy citizens in the 1800s until the last century – there are still people in the neighborhood who were born there. In recent past it has gone through cycles of disrepair, but now has been partially restored and turned into a cultural center and museum. Most of it was closed for refurbishment and repairs from a hail storm a year ago, but when we stayed to look at the small open area, the museum staff decided to give us a personal tour of some of the closed wings.
Unfortunately, another recommended historical site, the Casa Historia, was closed indefinitely after the collapse of the ceiling. It is clear that money for the arts and restoration can be a challenge in Mexico.
In the afternoon we headed to the new Acuario Michin (Aquarium) in the center of the city. It was very well done. Excellent exhibits with detailed signs in Spanish and English. They also had a small set of animals in the back – some of the happiest and healthiest looking goats and sheep with lots of babies that I have ever seen, along with crocodiles and otters. There were quite a good number of people there for a weekday, and they clearly have taken a lesson from American versions – I saw brochures advertising birthday sleepovers in the Aquarium.
That evening we had the good fortune to meet up with some boating friends from Washington, Jim and Sandy, who happened to be in Guadalajara for a few days as well! They are long time Mexico aficionados, so we met at a fantastic restaurant of their suggestion and had a wonderful meal and catch up.
The following day we took advantage of tour company to get a whirlwind tour and education about the downtown historical sites surrounding the Plaza de la Liberacion and Plaza de Armas and to visit the neighborhood of Tonala, where much of the furniture and crafts sold in local markets is actually made.
Our tour guide Ronny picked us up at our hotel in the morning, and gave us the wonderful news that we were fortunate to be the only people on the group tour for the day! This was fantastic, as he was a font of historical knowledge and we had a terrific time visiting beautiful plazas surrounded by a number of the cathedrals and historical government sites and getting an excellent history lesson on the Mexican war for independence and other skirmishes in Mexican history, many of which played out in Guadalajara. I wish I had taken some notes as I forgot a lot of it soon after.
After lots of touring, we returned to our neighborhood for a late afternoon lunch and mariachi concert at El Patio. Guadalajara is the home of mariachi. An excellent all female mariachi band performs at El Patio most days. This was simply not done in Mexico until the last 10 or 20 years. They were excellent. Ronny said he thinks they are better than any of the male mariachi bands.
We ended the day with visit to several art galleries and to the Museo Regional de la Cerámica, which had some beautiful ceramic displays in a former mansion that has become quite decrepit.
We really just touched the surface of Guadalajara. There is so much art, food, culture and history here. Definitely a city to return to!
We took a day trip from Barra up into the mountains to tour a local coffee cooperative. Larry is a bit of a coffee nut, roasting our own back home, but we’ve have never actually seen a coffee bush in person. This tour was to Cuzalapa up in the hills in Jalisco and the El Grupo de Mujeres Color de la Tierra cooperative, run by the women of the village. The day we went was their annual coffee festival. The tour was run by a company called Mex-ECO tours, which we highly recommend for their focus on culturally sensitive and environmentally sound tourism. Our excellent tour guide was a young woman named Eugenia, and she was amazed when I told her my mother has the same name! Apparently not common in Mexico either.
After an hour and a half drive in a comfortable Mercedes van, we arrived at the village, which was little more than the cooperative buildings and residences along the side of a single cobblestone and brick road.
We went to a morning meal of outstanding tamales and coffee at an open air restaurant. People were very welcoming and lovely!
The coffee cooperative was formed in 2001 by the village women to keep more of the value generated by their coffee plants that grow freely on their properties in the village. One of the women of the co-op spoke to us through an interpreter to tell us their history. Before the co-op was formed, they were paid a peso per kilo of coffee fruit from their coffee plants. They banded together to learn how to harvest, process, roast and sell the coffee for about 200 pesos per kilo. Most of the women in the village participate and it has been a good source of income for them, but they told us about having some challenges with machismo, and at least one woman in the village is still not able to be a part of the cooperative because of that.
Another cooperative member, Maria, led us around her property to see her coffee plants and some prehispanic petroglyphs on a large rock. An unplanned but happy occurrence was the presence of an anthropology professor from the University of Guadalajara who was there to discuss the importance of this petroglyph for an ancient indigenous game with some university students. We were lucky to listen, and that one of the students translated the lecture for us.
On our way back we made a brief stop in the town of Cuatitlán de García Barragán for ice cream and a walk around the square. Eugenia discussed the town namesake General García Barragán’s conflicted history. He was appreciated by the town for the investment he made in local schools while Governor of Jalisco, but he is also known for ordering the military to fire on the University students demonstrating in Mexico City in 1968 when he was Secretary of Defense. Of course, we have some similar history in the US.
Overall a great day trip, and when we got home we booked a bus the next day for Guadalajara!