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The Two Captains


Volume 64
12 February, 2002
Acapulco, Mexico

Acapulco (16*50 N; 099*54W) is a great glittering jewel of urban tourism. Put your thumb and index finger together in an "OK" sign, part them a bit, and curl the top joint of your index finger in just a bit tighter, and there you have the shape of this fantastic natural bay. About three miles across, the bay is tightly ringed by steep mountains all the way around, which to our surprise are covered in green (remember, our last stop was leafless!) At night, when the millions of electric lights twinkle on the slopes, there is the forceful illusion of a false ridgeline, so abruptly is habitation stopped by terrain.

The eleven kilometers of shoreline within the bay itself is unrelieved and unrestrained tourism! Along the water, which is amazingly clean and clear, is beach -- beautiful, white, sandy, accessible beach. Behind it is La Costera, an avenue reaching the entire circumference of the bay, lined from one end to the other with restaurants, hotels, shops and discos, along which the 3.5-4 peso busses (depending on whether they're air conditioned or not!) run within minutes of one another along with a huge fleet of blue and white VW Beetle taxiis! We have been here two weeks and we have hardly set foot a block inland from the Costera. Who knows what's back there?

Within the crook of your index finger is "Acapulco Nautico," in the old part of town. If you are in Acapulco and you are a boat, whether a fishing panga, a tour boat, a sailboat or a megayacht, here's where you'll be. Even the cruise ship dock is nearby. There are two marinas, the high-end Club de Yates and the hurricane-damaged La Marina.

Tackless II has been tucked into a slip at La Marina since January 31. We arrived after an uneventful 40-hour trip up from Puerto Sacrificios just after sunrise. When we pulled in, we were the only sailboat amongst a warren of small to medium powerboats. Since then, the next wave of cruisers headed south have been coming and going around us. The marina has been on shaky financial footing since a hurricane hit five years ago. The floating docks are wobbly, standard dock services like power, water and showers are practically non-existent, and the office doesn't even have a radio! It is, however, half the price of Club de Yates and it has a very significant asset in the person of Gisella, the office manager. She is up front about all the marina's faults, yet somehow leaves you with the impression that nothing you need will be a problem! And really, that is pretty much how it's been. For example, within an hour of our checking in, she had called our Yamaha dealer and with no effort on our part our new outboard materialized on the dock!

Another attractive feature of La Marina is that Gisella takes care of all the customs, immigration and port captain rigamarole for you AND the fees are included in your dockage. You may wonder why we are dealing with customs, immigration and port captains when we took care of entering the country back in Huatulco? Well, here's the bad news about Mexico: all this stuff has to be done in every port of any size! Worse, a newly instituted fee structure means it will cost Tackless II about $25 for every arrival and every departure in each! Coupled with the current slide of the US$ against the Mexican peso, the price of cruising here is not looking good! On the other hand, the people are warm, the food is great and quality of the beer matchless.

We had timed our arrival in Acapulco to coincide with the arrival of our friends Mac and Sam of Sandi Lee. They flew in on Friday, February 1 from Costa Rica, having put their boat in the hands of a delivery crew, thereby relieving Mac and Sam of all the stress of 1000 miles worth of multi-day passages, the Papagayos and the Tehuantepec. The 2Cs acted as liaison between the boat and the anxious "parents" via a morning radio rendezvous, which allowed us plot the boat's progress daily. It was interesting to see our last seven weeks of cruising get condensed into about eight days!

Mac and Sam got a hotel room with a brisk pool and a view, up the steep hill of Caleta, the neighborhood even farther out the curve than the marinas. Caleta is still tourism, but an older sort, with steeply tiered hotels catering to a more budget-minded clientel. We were particularly amused to meet a lively group of seniors whiling away the heat of the day around a beer bucket special in a neighborhood tacqueria. Gave us hope for our future 20 years down the road!

While we waited for Sandi Lee to arrive, the four of us used the time to enjoy ourselves Acapulco. We started right off with Super Bowl Sunday, which we spent, after some research, at the Planet Hollywood down on the most chichi part of the strip. Planet Hollywood is a worldwide chain that is (or was?) conceived and owned by a group of movie stars including Arnold Schwartzenegger, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis (or so I am told). It is kind of a Hard Rock Café type place (which was just next door!), and not the type of haunt the Two Captains usually seek out. It was, however, a perfect venue for the Super Bowl, which is as American an experience as can be had. The restaurant was studded with large screen TVs and we secured a comfy upholstered banquette for the duration of the afternoon. The staff was excellent, keeping the bucket of iced beers full and the flow of snack food steady.

Our corner was all but exclusively Patriot fans, the only Rams holdout being Sam, who, being of a betting mentality, had a new bathing suit on the line with her husband, and, if only to dig her hole a little deeper, added a bottle of champagne between her and Don. The restaurant handed out balloons, color-coded to your team of choice, and there were several outrageous "hats" made from these (Don wore his home on the bus, in the front seat for all to see and admire, somehow managing not to kabonk the driver in the head with it!) The match, for once, was excellent…not that I know much about football, but a couple from Rhode Island sitting to our left, narrated for us. This was very fortunate as, despite the crowd being 75% American, the first half was broadcast in Spanish. I don't know whether it was our request or 75 others, but management did find an English broadcast on their satellite just in time for half-time.

Our next outing was several nights later to take in the famous La Quebrada Clavadistas (cliff divers). Remember our hooked-finger image? Well, La Quebrada is just over the ridge of the index finger's second knuckle, on the Pacific side, where a fabulous gorge cuts deep into the cliff face. There, since 1934, young men have been wowing onlookers by diving from niches in the cliff into the gorge below. Currently there are about 53 active clavadistas from four or five families, who put on five "shows" a day, once in mid-afternoon and four hourly performances in the evening. For each performance, four to six divers, wearing bikinis with taped wrists and nothing more, dive into the gorge from the observation side, swim across it, and then scale the cliff face freehand. Some stop partway, at about 25 meters (one of these was a twelve-year-old!), while the masters go all the way up to 35 meters. On the ledge at the top there are three shrines, all lit up with Christmas lights clearly visible to onlookers. Mexicans are big on such shrines; you find them in the most amazing nooks and crannies, overseeing all sorts of activities. But the clavadistas are clearly ones who take their protection very seriously. Each "show" is a little different, but in each there are several dives to see. It might be a single diver, or it could be a pair or a threesome plunging in perfect synchronicity. Nowhere did we see data on how far out they have to launch themselves, but it wasn't insignificant. We stayed for three hours, and the highlight is definitely the final dive of the day, when all lights in the gorge are turned off, and the last man dives blindly into the dark gorge with a flaming torch in each hand! After each show, several of the clavadistas assemble, damp but barely shivering, to sell photo prints which they enjoy autographing. (Good thing, as there is no way the digital camera would have been up to the job.) Our favorite clavadista was definitely young Fabian, the twelve-year-old, who postively sparkled with his thrill to be in the big league. Next to him, forty-year old Raul (who looked about 25) had been diving 21 years!

Our last out-and-out tourista adventure took place this past Sunday afternoon when we attended the weekly bullfight at Acapulco's Plaza de Toros, only a few blocks away from La Marina. There was much ambivalence about attending; on the one hand, with its flair and machismo, it is such a part of the Spanish culture we felt we should see it once; on the other hand, we suspected our American sensibilities would find it cruel. Quite honestly, those mixed feelings were pretty well born out. At least we can say "Been there, done that."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…..it has not been all play and no work. Acapulco has been a good place to take care of such major paperwork as our temporary (10-year) import permit and the very important fishing license for boat and crew. The import permit allows us to order in replacements when boat parts break and a boat caught with fishing gear aboard and no license can be hit not just with big fines but with possible impoundment! The fishing license took me six-hours (on the second try) and a great deal of Spanish to obtain. This was a very impressive accomplishment as it usually takes a week!

One virtue of La Marina is that each slip has floating finger piers on both sides, making it the ideal spot to take care of our teak caprails. We are embarrassed to confess that our brightwork has had no attention of any positive sort since we left Trinidad more than a year and a half ago. In our defense, it seems like the last twelve months or so have been rainy season! Anyway we hired a guy, who sent his son, two days late, to tape,
strip and sand. After the first coat, Don paid him off and took over himself, and the improvement is so marked we have vowed to keep going and bring the rest of our teak up to snuff. Tackless II has way too much wood on her,…but it sure is handsome!

These and other chores filled in all the hours of the days while we waited for Sandi Lee to arrive, which she did safely just before the weekend. After her hard push for pretty near 1000 miles, Mac and Sam had some chores to attend to, but now they are moved back aboard and we are all cleared out, fueled up, and set to depart on our next 20-hour leg to Zihuatenejo, one of the cruising world's most popular anchorages in Mexico. However, this morning we woke to thunder, lightning, 25-30 knot winds, and rain-- the first we have seen in months! This part of Mexico has such benign weather, that it doesn't get included in any of the weather faxes available to mariners! However, the same huge front that brought 40-50 mph gusts to Don's folks in their RV in Texas and 50-60mph Santa Anas to Tiffany in California has apparently pushed it's way down this far, so we are hanging in here another day while we wait for the seas to recalm themselves. We're sure glad we aren't anywhere near the Tehuantepec today!

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