Crossing the Tehuantepic to the Bays of Huatulco

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn departure from Puerto Madero [including from Marina Chiapas] clearance involves more than a Zarpe from the Port Captain. The Mexican government is really trying to clamp down on drug smuggling and, as Madero is a border port, the Navy has a duty to inspect all departing vessels. We had made arrangements for the inspection to take place at 0800 on 29th October. They arrived, with sniffer dog, at 0645! Fortunately I was already awake and was able to welcome them on board whilst Mike got some clothes on!! The formalities didn’t take long and we had plenty of time for coffee, farewells [for a short time] to Nauti Nauti, who had some last minute battery and engine problems they wanted to sort out and a quick top up with water and fuel before heading off.

Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepic is one of the main topics of conversation for cruisers sailing between the Pacific West Coast of Central America and Mexico. We had been watching the weather very carefully because the gap winds that occur in the Gulf are the most frequently observed storm force winds in the region [outside of tropical cyclones]. There are lots of articles about the winds and crossing the Gulf which can be found, amongst other places, on “Noonsite”, the NOAA site and in the cruising guides to the area. The further out into the Gulf, the broader is the wind area as it funnels down across the Isthmus and then heads south towards the Galapagos so, whilst some boats opt for the direct crossing, most chose the “one foot on land” approach and stick fairly closely to shore. The mileage difference between these two routes is only around 10 miles so we opted for the coastal passage – well, almost – we aimed to head to around Latitude 16 North and then turn out into the Gulf crossing below the commercial port of Salina Cruz. Even though the distance meant that, at our average speed, we could cross in 48 hours or so we wanted a minimum three day good weather window just in case the weather changed sooner than forecast and/or to allow for any problems which might arise along the way. It seems that, at least in October, a “good weather” window means basically no wind. All the forecasts we had been watching leading up to planning our departure showed that as soon as there is wind it really blows up quickly.

We obviously picked wisely. We had to motor/motor-sail all the way but, other than one rather nasty squall which lasted around 30 minutes during our first night, it was fairly uneventful. The squall meant that we actually turned away from the coast a little before planned at 15 30N, headed NE to 15 48N and then SE back down to around 15 37N. We saw only two large vessels making way to/from Salina Cruz so crossing the approaches to the traffic separation lanes was no problem at all and, with an unexpected current flowing in our favour, we had to slow down and then more or less heave to near to Santa Cruz to wait for dawn and also for a cruise ship to enter the small harbour ahead of us.

P1050521The small town of Santa Cruz probably used to be the biggest community in the Hualtulco area but is now mainly just the base for cruise ship tourism and, as such, doesn’t have any large supermarkets or, unless it was well hidden, a local produce market. There are just a few small minimarkets. The main square is quite attractive….

P1050527 (2)……and houses a small coffee shop.

The inner harbour is pleasant to walk round. The Port Captain’s office is at one corner – though he didn’t seem to know quite what to do when we turned up! He took our Zarpe [which we had been told he wouldn’t do] and, when Mike went to get our departure papers at the end of our stay in the area he had lost our Zarpe and again didn’t seem to know how to remedy this. As an official Port of Entry there should be Zarpes available but, fortunately we had kept a copy, and he just suggested that Marina Chahue [more about the Marina later] should put their stamp on our copy and sign it!

There is also a fuel dock just at the entrance to the inner harbour. It isn’t the easiest fuel dock to negotiate because of the moorings and pangas and the concrete posts with jutting out screws. Consequently it hadn’t been our intention to use it but, as a result of fuel not being available at the marina on our day of departure we made judicial use of our fender board [first time] and managed to refuel without any damage to Siga Siga – though the fender board doesn’t look quite as pristine!

Anyway, the small iner harbour is busy with tourist tripper boats….

P1050534 (2)….and fishing pangas for hire.

P1050532 (2)You can just see beyond the harbour entrance Siga Siga at anchor. We spent two nights anchored there and would have liked to spend longer but on the second night a local fisherman came alongside and asked if we knew we were anchored on rock/coral. Although we knew there was coral around we thought we had dropped the anchor in a patch of sand and certainly when we had pulled back on the anchor it held firm but we decided we would move which was a shame because it was a nice place to be.

P1050536You can see that there are a number of moorings further in from where we anchored which is probably where the cruising guide means for you to go, though anchors are also shown more or less where we were?

It didn’t matter. There are nine other bays to choose from in the Huatulco area. The next bay east is a large bay, open to swell. There are two anchorages marked and we decided to have a look at them. At the same time we wanted to “test” the Navionics charts. We don’t use Navionics but were a bit concerned that our CM93 charts of the southern part of Pacific Mexico are, to say the least, very scant in detail – i.e. there are just vague geometric shapes where land might be. So, we decided to download a trial of Navionics charts for the area thinking we would buy them if they proved useful.

IMG_0433Well, there was certainly more detail for some of the anchorages – but, unfortunately, the accuracy in terms of positioning is just as bad. In fact – we decided that it was possibly more dangerous having a chart which looked very accurate- but wasn’t, than the one we already use which is just an approximate outline and which we know needs eyeball navigation.

In addition we noticed that the programme was “communicating” and constantly updating itself/Navionics over our cellular internet connection. We had not realised this was happening until all our available cellular data time expired after only 2 days use [ an amount which under normal circumstances lasts us a month]. Given that SeaIQ supports Active Captain – which Navionics doesn’t – we can also use the anchorages etc plotted by active captain members to indicate just how far out our charts are. All of the Active Captain waypoints we followed to drop the hook were exactly right – even though it looked like we would be anchoring on land. We decided that we won’t be buying Navionics charts – well not for Mexico anyway.

The anchorage we used for most of our stay [two bays east of Santa Cruz] is known locally as “Bahía Tangolunda” – though some charts have it marked as “Tagola Tangola”.

P1050637 (2)It is just off what used to be a Club Med resort and is now Las Brisas. It meant that we were sometimes “entertained” during the day by holiday makers on jet skis, and sounds of Bingo sessions or an annoying children’s entertainer but most evenings the music was pleasant to listen to, not too loud and stopped around 11pm.

There were also some resorts on the opposite beach and the photograph below also shows the entrance to a very small harbour/river entrance where fishermen tend to hang out and where we were able to beach the dinghy and leave it securely attached to one of the trees.

P1050636This dinghy landing facility was really useful.

P1050630A short walk down the track brought us the main road from where we could easily catch a taxi to La Crucecita town. Usually we took the opportunity for a leg stretch and walked [approx 45 mins to the supermarket and 1hr to town] – though we did get a taxi back when fully laden. The walk gave us a great view back to the anchorage – the photograph you saw at the start of this post was the view from the top of the hill.

Our arrival in the Huatulco area coincided with “Dia de Muertos” [“The Day of the Dead”]. Celebrated in several Central American countries and Mexico on November 2nd ceremonies such as all night grave vigils often commence 24 hours previously. It must be linked to All Hallows Eve and All Souls Day in some way but I haven’t actually looked it up. Even though La Crucecita is not one of the towns which really celebrates with parades, markets, exhibitions and concerts, all of the bakeries and many of the restaurants were selling the special “Pan de Yema” which is sweet brioche type bread with a figure representing a dead person.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe coffee they served with it was also special to the day and was spiced up with nutmeg.

As I mentioned above, there is a marina in Huatulco called Marina Chahue. You might remember from several posts ago I said that we had ordered a dinghy and arranged for it to be delivered to us at this marina. Well, to cut a long story short we were told it would arrive on 11th November in Huatulco. It finally arrived on 20th! Once in the marina and on hearing of the delay we took the opportunity of having Siga Siga safely berthed and traveled inland to Oaxaca – which I will leave for now as it would make this post far too long if I included our Oaxaca adventures here.

But just a few words about the marina. It is about five years old – though already a little shabby dock wise. There are two cold water showers which share one open air enclosure [if you understand! – i.e. a brick sided no roofed extension on the side of a toilet]. There is a fuel dock which did not have fuel all the time we were there – though they did get some just after we left. There is a dive shop and four restaurants which open mainly in the evenings.

Having made it sound so enticing I do need to say that we actually enjoyed our stay there. We met a lovely Canadian couple, Chris and Gerry, who live on board their trawler “Misty Michael” with Goof the dog. They have been in Huatulco for the best part of seven years and were a mine of information and great company.

They took us to sample the delights of Huatulco by night – “El Pastor” Tacos, followed by Italian Ice Cream and then a trip to a Mezcal outlet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey drove us to the supermarkets during “Buen Fin” [literally “good Weekend” and akin to Black Friday] so we were able to stock up on cheap booze. They introduced us to other, mainly Canadian, ex-pats and took us to a “Gastronomy Day” in Santa Cruz. These are held every fourth Sunday in the month and have a theme. The November theme was pork and several local restaurateurs/chefs participated….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA….. and cooked up a wide range of pork delights including an Asian style soup, Pulled Pork , Ribs and Tapas.

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Tickets were M$100 [£4/US$6] for which you got five slips each which you could exchange at any of the stalls. With beer purchased at a nearby Tienda it was a great way to spend Sunday lunchtime.

Nauti Nauti arrived in the marina while we were there and we all had a great night out together….even though Mike flatly refused to wear lipstick!

DSCN2243 (2)….Thanks so much to Chris and Gerry for a memorable time there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbout 10 miles west of Huatulco is “Puerto Sacrificios” which is described as a small rock cramped fair-weather bay.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell we had fair weather so off we went. There are two possible anchor spots but from what we could tell both were open to swell so we chose the nearer to land – not that we landed on that beach! Instead we dinghied across to the seafood palapas which line the western end and had lunch with a view….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA[You can just make out the masts of Siga Siga and Nauti Nauti in the distance].

We wandered round the small fishing village which took about three minutes and walked to the top of the cliff and the church of “San Augustin”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADue to the swell we stayed only two nights before moving about three miles east to “Playa La India”. We had intended to anchor at “Jicaral” [between Sacrificios and La India] which Chris and Gerry had recommended but we found it blocked by a swimming area. All of these bays are in the “Bahías de Huatulco Parque Nacional” and many of them have nice snorkelling and swimming areas so it is not surprising that what are probably the best places to anchor are cordoned off. Tourism has suffered from “the Crash” just like everything else and trying to attract and entertain more tourists is far more important to the local economy than providing anchorages for the relatively few boats which actually visit this part of Pacific Mexico.

Anyway, we loved Playa La India with its beach perfect for cocktails at sunset….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA….and its reef where we snorkelled a couple of afternoons away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADoesn’t he look great! And the fish weren’t bad either…

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Whilst at Playa La India we celebrated American Independence Day – courtesy of Nauti Nauti – of course. On arrival mid morning we were greeted with Screwdrivers…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA….were given instructions in making pumpkin pie….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA….and put to work chopping vegetables for what we call stuffing but is known in the US as dressing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a brilliant day which as well as eating and drinking included skinny dipping and several rounds of “Mexican Train”. Allen and Patricia were, as always, perfect hosts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that’s as good a time as any to close this post because, we then left Huatulco behind and headed for Acapulco, taking in some wonderful coastline as we travelled north and west once more.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2016/01/14/crossing-the-tehuantepic-and-the-bays-of-huatulco/

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