February 25 – March 26, 2020
As some of you may or may not know, this was the year we’d tentatively planned on leaving Mexico for environs further south. Ideas abounded – perhaps we’d cruise Central America for a season, then maybe go through the Canal and into the Rio Dulce (Guatemala) for the following storm season, then maybe we’d start on the Great Loop, then spend a season or two up in Michigan with Rand’s family before completing the Loop, then perhaps head back toward the Windward/Leeward islands in the Caribbean, then – who knows? Maybe? Perhaps? Getting a commitment out of a cruiser – as inconsequential as making dinner plans to as significant as buddy-boating across the Pacific – is like pulling teeth. Some of our good cruiser friends unabashedly refer to themselves as utterly unreliable; they’ll make plans one day and the next day they’ll be off on the opposite direction. It’s classic cruiser behavior though – we go where the winds, real or metaphorical, take us.
Our epic 2019 summer road trip (see previous posts) was so consuming, mentally and physically, that we barely had a moment to contemplate what was to come for the 2019-2020 sailing season. Once we returned to da boat and decision time was upon us, I balked at the notion of leaving Mexico. I just didn’t feel ready to travel into the more remote areas of Central America and beyond with so little preparation – both logistically and psychologically. Plus, we never made it up into the Sea of Cortez in 2019, and we both want another crack at it. Decision made. The season would be spent in Mexico, but this time we would sail further south than Barra de Navidad. We would head to Zihuatanejo to partake in the famous Zihua International Guitar Festival – a first for us – then sail back up into the Sea for summer. (Although as of this moment, our plan has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.)
After nearly two months on the Barra – Tenacatita circuit, it was time to bust a move to Zihua. We’d heard so much about this place – that the food is amazing, the town is amazing, the people are amazing, but the water in the anchorage is nasty, so to enjoy water play, anchoring across the bay at Playa La Ropa is a must. The music is beautiful, mind-blowing, and more than worthy of the trip and the cost. All of it was true. There is even a concierge service when taking the dinghy ashore – for $40 pesos round trip, a ragtag group of guys will assist in beaching the small boat and “keep an eye on it” while you’re wandering about town. At the end of the night, they’re not always sober, but they do their best to help get the dinghy back in the water, sometimes displaying serious heroics when the waves are big.
Before we tell you about our time here, a quick aside. As you are well aware, Rand is a dedicated fisherman. Whenever we’re underway, there’s a line in the water. Which lure he chooses depends upon boat speed. Sometimes he uses a rod and reel; other times he uses a hand line. If we’re in an anchorage with clear water and lots of topography, he’s spearfishing or we’re trolling from the dinghy. Unfortunately, the fishing has not been great. In fact, we hadn’t caught a fish we wanted to keep since we were in Bahía de Banderas, and we were dying for some fresh-caught fish! So, every time a line goes in the water, we pray to the fish gods for a fish to find its way to the end of the line.
Take note – apparently when one prays to the fish gods, one should be specific. Don’t just pray for any old fish, pray for a specific species – a dorado, a Sierra mackerel, and NOT a skip jack, for instance. We were non-specific in our request when sailing between Bahía Maruata and Caleta de Campos on our way to Zihua when suddenly, lo and behold, on the end of the hand line was a big frickin fish. Like, big. A big sailfish, to be exact. You know the kind with the giant billboard of a dorsal fin and a long, sharp bill that can impale the fisherman?
We didn’t think for a second that we would land it, but Rand was using the lure he refers to as Pinky, and he wanted to retrieve Pinky, if at all possible. So, as the fish thrashed about, the poor thing wore itself out (thankfully), and we were able to play it forward enough to cause Pinky to inch its way back up the line, away from the bill, and eventually into Rand’s hand! Pinky was saved! And so was the sailfish. We cut the line and away it went – unfortunately, with a hook in its bill and a short piece of line trailing behind. Hopefully, it’s fallen out by now. The moral of the story? Whenever you ask the gods for something, be specific. We certainly didn’t request a 5-ft, 70lbs sailfish, but that’s what we got – and let go.
Ok, on to Zihua! There was much anticipation leading up to our trip to Zihua – we were about to experience a few new anchorages along the way; it would be our first visit to this city; we were going to reunite with our friend, Jenn, a wonderful woman we’d met the previous sailing season, along with a bunch of our cruiser friends who were also going down for the festival; AND, of course, it was guitar fest!! After spending a couple of days in Bahía de Santiago just south of Barra, we were off to waters and lands unknown to us. The quaint little anchorages en route to Ixtapa/Zihua, included Cabeza Negra, Bahía Maruata, and Caleta de Campos. All of them were rolly as all git-out because of a large south swell, but luckily they were far enough apart that it wasn’t dangerous or too uncomfortable (cannot speak for our friends on monos). Large swell translated to a huge beach break, which was both thunderous and exciting to watch. Needless to say, there was no going ashore at any of these stops – not for us anyway, but we did watch the fishermen expertly launch and beach their pangas amid the massive surf.
Ok, another quick aside. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, it’s always somethin’. We were forced to do more motoring than we like because of fickle, light winds, and at some point between Maruata and Caleta de Campos, the alternator belt on the starboard engine shredded. Normally, an alarm on the ignition panel would sound loudly, alerting us to a potential overheating problem. But, no alarm. Luckily, we noticed the red light that is displayed when said alarm is (supposed to be) sounding. So we killed the engine and Rand immediately discovered the problem and changed the belt lickity-split. At this point, the breeze picked up again, so we were making our way in spritely fashion toward the waypoint at Caleta.
Once we had the anchor down in Caleta, we double checked the belt tension, which was perfect, and decided we should do an engine check on port as well. This is when Rand discovered a large quantity of sea water in the engine compartment. Turns out the sea water pump was on the outs and by the time we got to Caleta de Campos, it had given up. Luckily, we had just the part we needed, and MacGyver had it replaced in no time. Can I just say that early on in our Free Luff days, I used to complain about the space requirements and weight of all the spares Rand wanted to have aboard. After nearly four years of full-time sailing, I welcome every spare nut and bolt, watermaker part, alternator, starter, water pump (fresh and sea), belt, and autopilot ram. If it will get us out of and keep us out of trouble, bring it. I’ll find a place for it.
On top of these mechanical issues, we’ve experienced glitchy sh*# with our IridiumGo! – our off-the-grid satellite communications device, as well as our Raymarine chart plotter and Navionics chart card. These things are important pieces of the navigation/safety puzzle aboard this boat. Rand was able to, by virtue of his stick-to-it-ness, resolve the Go! problem, and through the submission of several, in-depth support tickets with Raymarine, our plotter/chart card issues are partially fixed. Not super satisfying, but it’ll do for now.
Alrighty then, back to Zihua. As is our typical MO when we arrive in a new place, we went on walkabouts galore to chat with the locals, discover tasty food establishments, little nooks and crannies, and, of course, wall art. And Zihua didn’t disappoint, thanks largely to our friend and personal tour guide, Jenn, who has lived terrestrially here for the past 4-ish years and is in the throes of establishing her permanente status. Connecting with her got us off the beaten path, and we ate and shopped at the lesser-known local spots. I got my hair trimmed by her hair person, we ate scrumptious vegan mole and al pastor (heehee – to be clear, it was two separate meals), and she showed us a new shop specializing in bulk/refill eco-friendly products (La Bio Tienda – funny thing, we Googled the business name and it was actually listed as a gay bar. Hopefully, they’ll get that fixed.). Aside from getting the inside look at Zihua, we enjoyed several nights of amazing music and camaraderie at the annual International Zihua Guitar Festival.
For years, we’d heard about guitar fest, but never made it far enough south to partake. This year we weren’t going to miss it, and we are so, so glad we made the trip. Not only did we have pretty darn good sailing going south (largely eastish, really), but the music was phenomenal and the vibe was mellow. The format was great – on opening night, all of the bands played a few songs each, giving the audience a taste of what was to come. That way we could decide who to go see at the various venues around town throughout the week. Then on closing night, all of the bands played again, often collaborating with one or two or more other bands. It was a fantastic display of talent; can’t wait to go back.
By the time the festival ended, it was mid-March, and the COVID-19 pandemic was kicking in. It was time for us to skedaddle. Time to get out of the “big city” and back to little Barra and the French Baker!