LEAVING EL SALVADOR AND RETURNING NORTH TO MEXICO
We had stayed in El Salvador for nearly11 months, safely moored in the fast flowing river at Bahia Del Sol, our longest stay at one place in our sailing life.
Our original plan was to continue south to Panama and then cross the South Pacific to New Zealand but Alec's illness had demanded a rethink.
We are now in our mid seventies, neither of us as strong as we were and maybe that was a step too far. So decision was made to retrace our steps for the first time, going back north to La Paz in Mexico with a view to selling the boat and possibly buying a camper van and become land travellers.
We knew it would be a horrible trip, directly into the generally light prevailing north west winds and so it proved, with lots of motoring and upwind sailing.
Our boat was looking good, with the inside all revarnished and the outside gel coat repainted.
On 16th April we departed from the river estuary and across the bar at high tide with the assistance of the pilot and we set sail for the three day trip to Chiapas, the most southerly port in Mexico. Then a minor disaster, the auto pilot failed to switch on and smoke poured out of the motor unit. Our trusty Navico had served us well but nearly a year of inactivity had probably corroded the small motor. So Zodwa our windvane was pressed into service until the wind died and then it was hand-steering, the bane of all cruisers.
The marina at Chiapas was new to us and is a popular stopping place for Canadian and American cruisers who park their boats during the summer hurricane season, while they return home. We call them Snowbirds, cruising every winter up and down the central American coast and spending summers at home, a convenient and comfortable way of life, They were a happy crowd and many enjoyable “goodbye” meals were had at the marina restaurant, wishing couples 'Bon Voyage' as they retrurned home. We ordered a new auto pilot for delivery at our next port, Marina Chahue at Huatulco, supposedly in seven days.
To get to Huatulco, we had to cross the Tuantepec, a large bay were hurricanes seed and develop. We had a three day window, so went for it. The first night, we were boarded by the Mexican coastguard to check our papers and they said that strong winds were coming in two days, earlier than forecast. So we decided to cut straight across the bay rather than go round 'with one foot on the beach', which is the usual method of crossing. We had lovely following winds and sailed all the way and arrived at Marina Chahue at Huatulco one day earlier than planned.
Our new auto-pilot took for ever to arrive, stuck in Mexican customs for two weeks. The phone number we had been given for the matina was wrong and unbeknown to us customs required payment before they would release it, rather than payment on delivery, as we had been informed. Two weeks wasted through misinformation, extremely frustrating!
13th May we eventually left Huatulco, making our way slowly north, sometimes day hopping and some overnight sailing but motor was running almost all the time, to maintain any sort of speed. Cherry made a very important discovery, that a large tot of rum instantly cures her seasickness. Downside is that she hates the stuff, particularly in the morning! Alec usually has a tot too, to show solidarity.
By 25th May we had reached La Cruz de Huanaxtle, where we had been before. After fueling up, we sailed to Puerto Vallarta marina, which has all facilities and shops nearby and easy to access the tourist city and attractive old town. See Photos.
After two weeks we returned to La Cruz to meet up with our friends from Victoria, Vancouver Is. Barbie and Wolf, who were visiting, staying with friends in the village, so we had a very pleasant interlude with them.
Another minor disadster, our fridge was no longer holding its gas, confirmed by a local fridge man. He could not repair it but recommended Mexicolder at Mazatlan. So for the time being it was a daily trip to the marina convenience store for a bag of ice.
We also found a lady who supplied Sunbrella to replace our cockpit cushion covers, which had badly faded. Cherry had recovered them the previous year while in San Diego, using 'outdoor' material, which is supposed to be UV resistant but started fading almost immediately. We now have lovely striped cushions which should last.
14th July we set sail for the three day trip to Mazatlan, where Michael Wilson of Mexicolder, another Brit who just happens to make British type bitter beer, rather than the multitude of lager beers we normally have to endure. He replaced our fridge condenser plate with a tiny freezer compartment, which Cherry finds much more convenient. Michael and Melissa very kindly took us to the the local malls and to their favourite restaurants. They also lent us their Sea of Cortez cruising guide, which has proved invaluable.
They put us into contact with Patrick and Ellen on Endeavour, with whom we have spent many enjoyable days and shared meals while cruising the Sea of Cortez. Patrick is a superb cook, a fellow Zulu speaking South African from Durban and even lived in the same street as Cherry in Durban, though at different times. So they have much in common.
We have had an ongoing problem of an overheating port engine but we cannot find the root cause. Normally overheating is related to the raw water heat exchanger and impellor but they are apparently working perfectly. In Mazatlan we replaced the thermostat and the freshwater pump, which was very badly corroded but still it overheats, though it is much better.
18th August we left for the two day trip to La Paz, crossing the Sea of Cortez, with very light beam winds, so had to motorsail all the way. A pleasant trip and went directly to Caleta Lobos, or Sealion Cove, where we met Patrick and Ellen. At the entrance is Roco Lobos which is the home of many sealions and we have enjoyed many snorkelling trips to swim with the sealions, a first for both of us.
Having arrived in La Paz, it had gradually dawned on us that we were not yet ready to sell the boat. We still very much enjoy our lifestyle, always keep occupied and are constantly meeting lovely people, with whom we have much in common. Becoming land based in a strange country, we would lose all that. We are somewhat older than almost all the cruising sailors that we meet and we also pleasantly find that we are something of an inspiration for many of them. Particularly here where only a few are fulltime cruisers but some dream of crossing oceans as we have done. Physically we can still manage to sail our very easy to handle small catamaran, provided we sail a little more conservatively, which is a good idea anyway.
We stayed in La Paz area until the beginning of October, making short trips into the town when needed, provisioning and getting boat maintenance jobs done. La Paz is maybe the biggest cruising area in Mexico, with five big marinas and a large open anchorage area, where we always go. La Paz is a popular holiday destination for Mexicans and there are a constant stream of day trips to snorkelling and dive spots. The town itself is not particularly attractive, very spread out, with a long 'malecon' coastal road and paved walkway, off which is the old town and traditional markets. Mega and other large supermercados are a taxi ride away.
We had to avoid our first Mexican hurricane. The hurricane season is from June to October, so we keep a constant check on the weather and know where we can hide in a hurricane hole when required. On 5th September Hurricane Newton threatened, heading north towards us, so we decided to go to Marina Costa Baja, which is the most sheltered, being inland and so completely closed off from any swell.
As luck would have it while manoeuvring in the marina our port engine overheated and then the starboard engine gear cable broke with the gear stuck in forward. So we were helpless and gently nudged into another boat, damaging his stern pulpit. We then had to be towed to our pontoon. All very embarrassing and cost us $1800 damage to the other boat.
As it happened Newton's track was 50 miles west of La Paz, so we had maximum 45 knot winds and some heavy and very welcome rain and need not have come into the very expensive marina ($100 a day) but the stormtrack only became evident a few hours beforehand.