Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Mafico - The Hydraulics Shop
I had forgotten that we needed to go back to Mafico to get more hydraulic fittings before Scott could finish installing the auto pilot.  We got up at a decent hour and walked into town, arriving there by ten.  Unfortunately, the owner was home sick.  His wife was minding the shop, but didn’t know where anything was.  She called and got him out of bed, but we had to wait 20 minutes or so for him.  She and I passed the time chatting.  She told me that her daughters lived in San Pablo and she was familiar with Benicia, where we live, because she has to go there to visit them.  She complained that, when they text her, they always do it in English.  They speak Spanish, but don’t know how to write it.  I assured her that they could study Spanish in school when they get older.

FerreTool - Hardware Store
Once we got our fittings, we walked over to Casa Pepe and FerreTool to buy solder.  They were surprised that we wanted a whole roll (apparently they sell it by the foot in Mexico), but I explained that there were no shops at sea, so we needed to be prepared.  On our way back, we both stopped at a barber shop and got our hair cut.  It cost about $8 for both of us.  We took a taxi back to the boat to save time.  Scott spent the day fixing the autopilot while I took down all the shade structures, reinstalled the gypsy on the windlass, and rolled up the water hose and power cord.  Finally, at 5:30 PM, we were ready to go.

Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec
The first 21 hours of our crossing were idyllic.  The autopilot worked like a charm.  As prudence dictated, we followed the coast, staying a couple of miles off the beach just in case a Tehuantepec gale blew up.  Winds were light, but enough to make it cooler than in the marina.  It was very humid.  As soon as it got dark, the dew fell so heavy that it seemed like rain was falling from a cloudless sky.  Visibility was very poor because of all the water in the air.  There was only a tiny sliver of moon and that didn’t rise until near morning.  It was pitch black.  We motored along at 5 knots.  We were both very tired.  Not having to stand at the wheel, I found myself nodding off on the 8 PM to midnight at 4 AM to 8AM watches.  I listened to my iPod and played solitaire on the iPod to stay awake.  We didn’t see a single other vessel all night.

We got to Salina Cruz just before I came on at 4AM.  We had to avoid the traffic controlled shipping lanes there, so we left the coast at Chipehua and cut across at a right angle until we were free of the lanes and could continue on to Bahia Ventosa.  We motored parallel to a low, sandy beach through the morning and early afternoon.  I took the watch again at noon.  At 2:30, the engine died.  At first, this didn’t seem like a big deal.  We had emptied the first fuel tank and needed to switch to the second one.  I woke Scott so that he could see to that task.  He switched the fuel tanks, but couldn’t get the engine to run for more than a few minutes.  It was very hot.  Temperatures both inside and outside the boat exceeded 100 degrees.  I was driving in my bikini.  Poor Scott labored in the sweltering engine compartment to change the fuel filter, but still the engine wouldn’t run.  Eventually, the starter froze.  Scott tried to take it off to work on it, but couldn’t get the last bolt undone because it was up against the hot engine manifold.  Every few minutes, he had to come up on deck to cool off.  His t-shirt was soaked through with sweat.  At one point, he actually took it off and wrung it out.

The Genoa We Bought in La Cruz
When it became clear that the engine wasn’t going to start right away, I had rolled out our new, larger genoa.  There wasn’t a lot of wind, but at least we were able to make a few knots of progress.  Without the motor to produce power for the autopilot, we had to steer by hand.  Scott had been working on the engine, so I drove from noon until 6:15, at which point I was dead on my feet, having only slept a few hours the night before.  I told Scott that I needed at least a couple of hours of sleep, so dinner service would be suspended.  I slept until 7:45 and then got up and cooked some hamburger patties, which we ate in the cockpit in the dark.  Without the motor, we were low on electricity, so had all non-essential items turned off.

I drove from 8:15 until midnight.  There was almost no wind and we could no longer follow the coastline.  The prospect of being out in the middle of the Gulf of Tehuantepec without a working engine was not something we wanted to think about.  I sailed the best course the wind would allow until I actually found myself sailing southwest.  I then gybed and went back northeast at two knots until Scott took over at midnight.  By then, at least we could see the lights on shore again.  It was very warm and much dryer than the night before.  I sailed all night in my bikini.  It was pitch dark and we could see the milky way. I could hear the cries of terns in the night.  If we hadn’t been moving frustratingly slowly, it would have been perfect and I did manage to enjoy the pleasant aspects of our plight.  It was the first time on the whole journey when we had actually had a relaxing sail.  A fair wind began to blow offshore around one in the morning and Scott made good progress for the rest of his watch.  When I came back on at 4 AM, we were fairly close to shore and making about 3.5 knots.

The wind started to die when the sun rose and soon I was, once again, struggling to make 2 knots.  It was a beautiful morning.  The coast on the east side of the Gulf of Tehuantepec was mountainous and looked exotic.  I saw a tern standing on the back of a turtle.  Scott had asked to be awakened early and he got up about 7:00 to rig the second solar panel.  I had been watching a panga in the distance and was somewhat concerned that they were in my path, since I didn’t have good steerage at our slow pace.  Before Scott came on deck, it became obvious that the three men in the panga were approaching our boat.  I wasn’t sure what to make of that.  They were the only vessel we had seen in two days and I didn’t really think they wanted to sell us fish.  I called Scott.  The panga pulled alongside and then men began yelling something that I couldn’t hear, but I eventually got the message that they wanted beer.  We figured being shaken down for beer was about the best possible scenario, so we were content to give them three beers and wave them on their way.

Visiting Tern
Scott rigged the solar panel.  While he was working a least tern landed on the boat.  He didn’t seem at all afraid of us.  He landed on the rail, but was soon standing on the cockpit combing when I could almost reach out and touch him.  He wandered around the boat for about half an hour and kept me company.  I was sorry to see him go when he finally fluttered away.  Scott finally relieved me about 8:30 and I got a well-deserved nap.

The wind came up while I was sleeping.  When I came back on deck at noon, we were making 5.5 knots, although we were going 25 degrees out of our way and could no longer see the shore.  We had originally hoped to make the crossing in under two days, but losing the engine was going to add at least another day to the trip and possibly more.  I kept my fingers crossed that we would still arrive during daylight, since it was going to be tricky enough to sail into a strange marina when we could see where we were going.   It was cooler than the day before, although still quite warm.  The wind got gradually lighter as the day progressed, but at least I was able to sail closer to our desired course as the velocity decreased.  Soon, we were rocking along at three knots.  Steering was fairly easy and at least we were making visible progress.  The number of miles to our destination, displayed on my GPS, continued to fall.

Scott took the helm at 4:00 and the wind continued to lighten.  Eventually, it became necessary to steer further and further from our course.  For the first time, I did not feel it necessary to sleep through my entire downtime.  I worked on my blog and then cooked some pork that would have been made into ham if it had come from an American pig.  I made guacamole and salad to go with it.  Scott and I ate dinner in the cockpit and then I took over at 8:00 PM.  It was another beautiful evening but, unfortunately, unmarred by wind.  We crept along at one knot.  The current was stronger than the wind, so I couldn’t even gybe and head for shore.  At least it didn’t require much energy to steer.

Dawn with a Glassy Sea
Scott at least managed to gybe during his watch from midnight to 4 AM.  He failed to wake me, although he said he tried, so I slept like a rock until 4:10, when I jumped up and made ready to take the helm.  The sea was like glass.  The sun started to rise about 5:30, its colors reflected in the still water.  I saw a Navy ship inshore of us, but they must have decided that no one moving as slowly as we were could be up to no good because they eventually stopped watching us and sped away.  I drifted slowly towards shore until 7:00 AM, when a very light breeze sprung up.  I turned the boat away from shore, once again, but was at least able to make 2 or 3 knots.  I had planned to let Scott sleep in, but he got up early and sat in the cockpit with me to eat breakfast.  He took the wheel at eight.  It was the morning of the fourth day and we were still a day away if conditions didn’t change dramatically.

Scuppers Full of Dead Bees
Scott’s watch passed uneventfully. The wind dropped until we were hardly moving.  I came back on at noon just as the faintest of zephyrs disturbed the glassy water.  Scott had been heading northeast.  I turned the boat, the sails filled and we gradually began to make slow progress in the direction of Puerto Chiapas.  At first, it was only a knot or two, but gradually built up to three and a half.  About 1:30, the first of the bees appeared.  One bee, I could handle.  Soon, a couple of more arrived.  I killed one, but more took his place.  It became impossible to steer and swat bees at the same time.  I had to call Scott.  He came on deck to defend me from the insect swarm, but neither could I steer with him dancing about the cramped cockpit, swatting at bees. Eventually, I had to go below and steer from the inside station and leave Scott to battle the bees.  I killed the few that penetrated into the cabin.  It felt absurd to be swarmed by bees when we were out of sight of land.  Scott thought they must have been the first hatching of a hive somewhere aboard the boat, but we couldn’t find them.  They seemed to be coming from somewhere on the port side of the boat, probably one of the vents or drains on the side of the hull.  Since two out of three of the incidents where I have been stung by bees occurred on board sailboats, one of them on this trip, I was feeling paranoid.  By 3:00, however, the frequency of arriving bees had dropped to the point where I could resume steering and let Scott go below.  I continued to kill bees for the rest of my watch, but at least we continued to rock along at 3.5 knots.  When I went below, we were only 30 miles from Puerto Chiapas.

We made decent progress during that evening, but we were afraid we would arrive at Puerto Chiapas before dawn.  By the time my watch was over at midnight, I was so tired I just couldn't think what to do.  The wind had died.  I tried to gybe and got stuck half way around.  Since we were effectively hove to, we decided to leave the boat that way and I went to bed.  Even hove to, we were drifting towards the shore at a knot and a half, which would have put us in danger before dawn.  Eventually, Scott had to sail slowly back and forth until I came on watch at 4 AM.  When I came back on, winds were light and we were still 12 miles from Puerto Chiapas.  We were able to sail in the general direction of the port, so I turned the boat around and headed for the marina.  The wind got lighter after the sun came up and shifted so that it was coming directly from where we wanted to go.  We had to tack back and forth to get there and the going was very slow.  By early afternoon we were still 9.5 miles away and started to fear that we would be stuck out there for another night.  We put the dinghy in the water and attempted to use it to push to boat in the right direction, but we were only making a knot or so and couldn't really steer.  At this point, we saw two fishermen in a panga nearby and waved them over.  We explained that we were stranded and asked if they could give us a tow. At first, they didn't seem interested, but then they changed their minds and came after us.

Our Rescuers
Their big concern was that they might not have enough fuel.  After we told them that we had two tanks of fuel for our dinghies that they could use if necessary, they agreed to tow us to the marina.  It was very slow going.  It took them over three hours to tow us the 9.5 miles to the marina.  It was hard work for them, also, since they had no good place to secure the line and spent a lot of time just holding it to keep it away from their 75 hp outboard.  

Ever since the start of business hours, I had been attempting to hail both the marina and the port captain on the radio without luck.  Since Puerto Chiapas is the last (or first if you are northbound) port in Mexico, security is tight.  Our cruising guide said that the Navy boarded all incoming vessels unless you had a reservation at the marina, in which case they would meet you there.  I finally managed to raise the port captain, just as we reached the mouth of the harbor.  I still hadn't reached the marina, but I told the port captain we were disabled, under tow, and were going to the marina.  They gave us permission to enter.

Port Captain's Office in Puerto Chiapas
Our towboat ran out of fuel right in front of the port captain's office.  The tow rope wasn't long enough to reach back to the dinghy where the fuel tank was, so they cast us off and went for the fuel, leaving us drifting helplessly towards the rocks.  Fortunately, they managed to pour our fuel into their tank and pick us up again before we came to any harm.  They towed us through the port, past the Navy and the fishing fleet, and through the narrow private channel to the marina.  I finally managed to reach the marina on the radio just before we got to the private channel.  They were very accommodating and met us on the dock to take the line from the towboat.  We had to pay the fishermen 1100 pesos for fuel plus $200 and a bottle of wine.  That was expensive, but worth it to avoid spending another night at sea.  We would have needed a tow to get into the marina, in any case.  The marina would have done it for less, but we couldn't reach them on the radio and my Mexican cell phone was outside its service area.  We were happy just to be safely tied at a dock.

Docks and Dry Storage at Marina Chiapas
Enrique, the harbormaster, and his whole staff were extremely helpful.  They took our trash and called a mechanic to come and look at our starter.  One of the workers took our laundry home for his wife to wash.  The marina has nice showers, a convenience store, haul out facility and an open air restaurant.  We were exhausted and glad to take long, warm showers and then eat dinner at the restaurant.

Marina Chiapas Office and Travel Lift

Restaurant at Marina Chiapas


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