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The Two Captains


Volume 63
29 Janurary 2002
Bahias de Huatulco, Mexico

Huatulco (15*45.10N; 096*07.70W) is a kind of crossroads for cruisers. Because it is 353 miles south of Zihuatenejo, typically the southernmost destination of the Mexican winter cruising contingent, the only boats that come through here are passage-makers, either or those headed south to Central America, or, in a smaller proportion, those headed north to Mexico like us. Because it is adjacent to the "dreaded Tehuantepec," the cruisers that do pass through Huatulco are more focussed on watching weather windows or recovering from their crossing than on the area in its own right and move on quickly.

This is a shame. We have now spent two weeks here, and could easily spend longer. There are nine or so small type anchorages, mostly uninhabited, along a ten-mile long stretch of coastline, that runs, surprisingly from northeast to southwest. On the most detailed navigational chart we have, the bays look rather like someone cut the coastline with pinking shears. In reality, each has a tremendous amount of personality, which includes all sorts of submerged rocks and reefs!

As if gunkholing (cruising in short hops to small anchorages) weren't enticing enough, as part of their development investment in the area, the Mexican government installed a chain of 40-some dive moorings along this ten-mile stretch. These are well maintained clearly identified moorings, for exclusive use of people wanting to dive! Wow!

The only hitch in our plan to cruise and dive here occurred the night of January 17th, when some dastardly person snuck up to Tackless II while at anchor in the main harbor and stole the dinghy! So much for the marines with guns and all those vigilant port officials, eh? In eleven years of living aboard and two and a half years cruising, this was our first experience with theft! The good news is that within an hour of our reporting it to the Port Captain, someone called in a sighting of an apparently abandoned dinghy. We all piled into the harbormaster's launch and zipped east along the coast to a hidden beachlet where we found frolicking vacationers playing football (soccer) with the Little Tacky Taxi high and dry in the middle of things! Incredibly, all the miscellaneous equipment - two anchors, pump, life jackets, rod holders, oars, and fuel tank were all still there. Even the fancy stainless steel motor lock was there, pried open and loose on the floor, of course, as the outboard was GONE. It was so much better than the initial loss of the whole kit and kaboodle, that the 2Cs were nearly joyous.

Losing the outboard was a big deal, of course, as the dinghy is not just our car into towns, but it is our means of exploring and diving. It's also a pricey item. However, we had not been totally happy with our little Johnson. Almost since we got it, we had had problems of unreliability. It would work flawlessly as long as there were other boats at hand, but as soon as we got out of sight of help, it would invariably act up. This had made us reluctant to be as adventurous as we wanted to be, and we had already decided to invest in a new Yamaha (for which service is available everywhere) before heading out across the South Pacific.

The bad news is that, thanks to NAFTA, Yamahas are not quite as cheap in Mexico as we had been led to expect. (Since Mexico has recently mandated that offshore fishing pangas now carry a backup outboard for safety, it's not hard to see how they've inadvertently also created an incentive for theft.) There was a Yamaha dealer in La Crucecita and after three visits to town we thought we had sorted through a maze of communications confusions to get a 15hp Enduro delivered the Monday after the theft. However, when they lifted the lid of the box and revealed our shiny new motor, it turned out to be a long shaft model! They tried hard to convince us it was a negligible difference, but it was a good four inches! All was not lost as the dealer has a branch in Acapulco, and the correct motor (we hope) is already waiting for us there.

Without an engine, however our style was going to be a little cramped for diving and exploring the Bahias of Huatulco. Enter Pete and Jean of the southbound Catalina 42 Neener3. They had two small outboards and generously lent us their 2hp Honda! This is the first time we have used such a diminutive outboard, and actually we got quite attached to it! This arrangement cemented itself when Neener's Zodiac inflatible got a puncture (we probably don't need to mention that Don did it!), and they were without a tender during the patching process which took a week. By great good fortune, neither N3 or TII were in a hurry to move on in their respective directions and indeed had much the same agenda in mind. By greater good fortune, the alliance quickly went way beyond one of convenience as a happy friendship blossomed.

This made for ten really pleasurable days, gunk-holing from picturesque deserted anchorage to picturesque deserted anchorage. Actually, they were none of them totally deserted, as the big party boats from Santa Cruz showed up daily wherever we were, bringing mayhem for about 2-3 hours. However, when they cleared out, we'd be totally alone, without music or electric lights, just lapping waves on sand and the waxing moon. The weather, at least at this time of year, is crystal clear every day with an exceptionally bright winter light. Daytime temps reach a moderate mid-80s, while nighttimes are consistently cool in the high mid-60s. The beaches are gorgeous, nearly white, and the water almost Caribbean clear. Once you get over the unsettling fact that the hills are clothed in wintry-looking leafless trees, it's a really pleasing place to linger.

Pete is also a diver, so on most of our excursions there were three of us. Most of the dives we made were shallow, with lots of rocks and, to our surprise, filled with coral, the first we have seen to any extent in the Pacific. Almost every site has had dense populations of burrfish, a four-inch version of the comical porcupine puffer fish such a hit with divers in the Caribbean. When we say dense, we mean hundreds of them! Back home they're fairly rare. Next most common are a second type of puffer, coming in two patterns, black with white polka dots and brilliant yellow! The rest are various damsel fish (including the Pacific giant version), purple head wrasse, gobies (including the Pacific's giant version) hogfish, snappers, grunts, hawfish, jacks, etc, all similar enough to Caribbean species to identify. Highlights were lobsters, morays, a snake eel, an octopus, several guitarfish (a kind of cross between a stingray and a nurse shark) and two eagle rays. We made a total of five dives but as there are about 40 sites moored, clearly we could have amused ourselves in this under-appreciated area a long time.

Currently, we are at anchor in Bahia San Augustin, also known as Puerto Sacrificios (15*41.40N; 096*14.10W). The beach here is exceptionally long and beautiful with deep swashes of golden sand, with a cluster of palapas (seafood restaurants) at the far end (among which we passed a great Sunday afternoon drinking cold beers and eating great platefuls of guacamole and grilled fish.) The bay itself is filled with scattered rock piles and islets with the big bulk of Isla Sacrificio in the center, and although it is one of the most beautiful of our getaway anchorages, it has been the most rolly. We all spent several hours in the middle of Sunday night setting and resetting stern anchors for both boats by moonlight!

This is the last in the string of Bahias on this coast, and the N3 and TII partnership is splitting up thanks to the pressures of travel schedules. This is the sad part of cruising, for these seemingly spontaneous friendships quickly grow deep roots. Pete and Jean are the type of couple we feel like we have known forever. But, weather faxes suggest a window opening for Neener's crossing of the Tehuantepec which, as we well know, they can't ignore, and it is time for us to be getting that outboard in Acapulco before they sell it to someone else. Neener pulled anchor an hour ago, and shortly we will hoist our own for our next multi-day (40 hour) motor trip.

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