Wednesday, December 28. In Chiapas, by way of an obstacle course.

Written by Jack van Ommen on December 28th, 2016

I have arrived at my last Mexican port, just a few miles north of the Guatemalan border. I will be checking out here. This means that I have spent just about two months near or in Mexico. My 52nd country since I started my circumnavigation in 2005. I have been coming to Mexico for winter vacations since the late seventies. This was a very different way to experience the country and the people. Sailing down its entire Pacific coast line, it amazes me how beautiful it is and that there are still many wild and undisturbed shore lines. Something I did not see in the usual tourist vacation spots. So very close to the United States and yet so very different. At home on the boat I usually have the FM radio going and every country reveals some of their peculiarities. What I found in particular unusual is the many public service instructions. To the point that I wonder if these many government and social agencies feel that their radio audience needs to learn how to boil water. To the point of condescension. Maybe a left over from the colonial times when the savages needed redemption. A good part of the radio stations’ income comes from their state agencies, in particular the governor himself who constantly has to boast of his achievements. My frustration is my lack of knowledge of the Spanish grammar. I have a decent vocabulary. I plan to spend more time on the irregular verb conjugations. But when I try the Mexicans are kind enough to understand and to help me along.

I left Hualtulco at 6.45 am on Christmas Day. The very short video of the Christmas Eve service in La Cruz can be seen at: https://youtu.be/7_oRRMkugb4.

Another boat “Allora”, the couple from Bozeman Mt., left right after I did. It was another gorgeous day and I partially motor sailed and sailed towards Salina Cruz, following the coast line of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. I wanted to make good time to try and get ahead of the next hard blow scheduled for Tuesday but already packing strong winds on Monday. The trick is to stay within 2 miles of the beach to avoid the increasingly meaner sea state, away from land.

Christmas Turtle near the boat in Bahia de Rosario,Ox.,Mx.

Christmas Turtle near the boat in Bahia de Rosario,Ox.,Mx.

Just after I had photographed and filmed the amazing number of Sea Turtles, I started the engine up to keep the sailing speed up. But the prop was just spinning. I first figured that I had picked up something on the prop and tried to dislodge it by going in reverse. No luck. Then I concluded that I might have lost one of the folding prop blades. By hand turning the shaft I could hear one blade opening up.

What to do? I was going to need the engine to go against the wind in the hardest part of where the Tehuantepec gathers its first strength, just beyond Salina Cruz. “Allora” was already approaching Salina Cruz and they reported 20 plus knots on the nose. They were calling the port’s traffic controller to advise that they were crossing the designated shipping lanes to and from the port.

I explained my problem to Diana and then got the controller involved. There was a lot of back and forth because he was confused as to who had the problem Fleetwood or Allora. In the end he arranged for an assistance boat the “Marlin” to come to my aid. It was getting decision time. I still has some maneuverability under sail. Once the wind stopped or the 20 plus knot came my way, I’d be in serious trouble. It was around 4 pm. I decided to sail to the nearest beach and dropped my heavy plow anchor, under sail, in about 35 feet depth. It was hot and I had already spent time in the engine compartment. I concluded that most likely it was in the transmission control cables. I crawled in the quarter berth and made some adjustment on the control lever end. That did not help. I also had to constantly grab the VHF to report on my position and problem. No “Marlin” to be seen. Finally I discovered that it turned out to be transmission end where the outer cable housing was slipping out of the clamp and this caused the forward gear to never to be pushed into its forward position. It was a lot of fussing in the heat and my body cramps up in the narrow hole so that I have to constantly stretch out for a few seconds. But that was the trick. And I cleaned up my mess and hauled the anchor, which turned out to be a chore. I have been using the much lighter Danforth anchor. But I just wanted to be sure that I was secure to the bottom in case I had to spend the night or the Tehuantepec promised for the next 24 hours was going to reach me there. After I got on my way I did see a boat with search lights. There was a net set in his direction and I figured it was a fishing boat, but it turned out to be the “Marlin”. A big work boat. I had a heck of a time communicating with them. I told them I was o.k. and that I would cover their costs. I will try get a hold of them from here. And only within minutes of being on my way the wind came hard from the nose and the seas were nasty. I forgot to close the forward hatch and have a lot of salt to clean off in there. When I did get closer to the shore beyond Salina Cruz, the seas got flatter and I motor sailed with just my little storm jib in about 20 plus knots of wind from the port quarter. Once I had passed the most treacherous part of the Tehuantapec winds, somewhere at longitude 94, I cut the corner and headed straight for Porto Madero, instead of hugging the beach. On Monday the winds were light and I had to make several jibes for a better wind angle. I ended up paying my dues. Since I had not made progress away from the upcoming danger zone and take one jibe too far north I got hit with a chunk of the Tehuantepec at around 8 pm Monday evening. All of a sudden all hell broke loose. I had to wrestle the full main and Genova down and hoist the storm jib in a hurry. Fortunately it came out of the east and I was able to take it on the port beam in the safer direction of the shore. It had to be a good forty plus wind strength. The wind was howling through the rigging and a couple of my halyards were clanging like crazy on the mast.  But by 1 a.m. I had sailed out of it and I had made decent distance with just the storm jib. The waves slapped me around but never slammed over the boat. It was scary. On Tuesday there was very little wind and the motor ran most of the day. I left Hualtulco with about 11 gallons in my 13 gallon tank. So far I have never ever on these maximum four day overnighters had to refill the tank from my spare 5 gallon jerry can. When I checked on Tuesday afternoon I was down to 2 gallons and still 65 miles to go. I filled up from the 5 gallon jug. I had run the engine on Sunday and Monday morning at higher speed than I usually do, because I wanted to cross the Tehuantepec howler as quickly as possible. After that I slowed it back down again. But I would not be able to make it in before dark into Puerto Madero. But I have an excellent Google Earth overlay of the entrance and harbor on my new small P.V. WallMart $120 laptop/tablet. Not on the Toshiba. It all worked slick. I could take the detachable tablet part into the cockpit instead of having to constantly check the Toshiba in the cabin. But the new toy kept closing down and while approaching the marina I could no longer check the boat’s position on the chart. It was 3 a.m. Wednesday. I went by memory. When I guessed where the right turn was the green buoy light was not lit. And from there on it was guess work which fork to take. The cruising guide I have for this port told me that the route to the Chiapas Marina is clearly buoyed and lit. So very wrong. I grounded in soft mud. I figured, since I was going at minimum speed that I could back right off. But since I was now not going anywhere I attempted once more to bring the electronic chart up on the tablet. When I tried backing off I was not going anywhere. So I put the anchor down and figured that I might just as well get some sleep until daylight. Little did I realize that this became a 12 hour ordeal. I hit it at maximum high and the boat came to lay at a 40 degree on its starboard side. Low is at 10 am and the high at 4 pm. Trying to move through the boat, take a leak, is like rock climbing. Even sitting here right now writing this I have stomach cramps propped up with pillows. This is a swampy bog and I have a front row seat of all the water fowl. Egrets, bittern, black and white herons, sand pipers, turkey vultures, etc. Two boats managed to pull me off at around 2 pm. The Chiapas Marina is an impressive operation.

How the well heeled never miss their cafe au lait, Ca-Phe Sua with a good gimballed stove.

How the well heeled never miss their cafe au lait, Ca-Phe Sua with a good gimballed stove.

taken by the local Marines sent via Enrique and Memo to me

taken by the local Marines sent via Enrique and Memo of the Chiapas Marina to me

Egret

Egret

Egret

Egret

Tri colorod heron

Tri colorod heron

 

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