Zephyra's Exodus from Mexico
23 December 2008
We sat in Huatulco for 9 days waiting for a good weather window for crossing the Tehauntepec . A gale had been blowing with winds of 40 to 45 knots all week, but all forecasts looked good for the weekend. Along with 6 other boats, we began the checkout process on Friday morning with a visit to the Port Captain and Immigration. On Saturday morning, Enrique, the marina manager in Chahue took all our paperwork back to the Port Captain and an inspector from Immigration and one from Customs visited all departing yachts. They asked a few questions, stamped a few forms and issued our International Zarpe Some of the boats left Saturday night, but we didn't go until midday Sunday, because we were waiting to catch up with Enrique and settle our marina bill.
While in Huatulco, we met up with Steve Ott and his crew Dave and Tony, who had just brought their boat north from Nicaragua . We shared a few beers and meals in town, visited the villa where they were staying (they happened to met up with a friend from Tahoe who offered them a fabulous villa) and shared stories of their and our voyaging. It is always great to meet up with people from home and we enjoyed hanging out with Solmate crew. They left their boat at the marina and flew back to the states on Friday.
We finally cut the dock lines Sunday afternoon and spent 2 days, motorsailing in the Tehauntepec. The winds were so light that we needed the engine the whole time. We kept in radio contact during the passage with the other boats, who were all ahead of us but one who had also waited until Sunday afternoon so they could pick up crew. Being the larger boat, we passed them on Sunday night, but were still in VHF range during most of the trip. Steve, who Russ's take on things is "eats a bowl of Lucky Smucks every morning", told us he stopped in Puerto Madero for fuel, came in, fueled up and was gone within 35 minutes. He also told us that diesel in Puerto Madero was $2.10 a gallon and was over $4 in El Salvador. We passed this information on to all the other boats, but because of the time they left, they passed Puerto Madero in the night. We thought our timing was perfect, it was 9am when we arrived in Puerto Madero and turned in to get the fuel. Our cruising guide also said that you could pull into Puerto Madero to sleep a night if necessary after the Tehauntepec crossing.
As soon as we were about mid-channel, we got a call on the VHF from the Port Captain. Russ told him we just want to buy diesel and we have already checked out of Mexico. The Port Captain informed us that "this is the last port in Mexico and you must check in and check out again". Russ reiterated that we just wanted fuel and we did not want to stay. He told us that we must come see him first and started giving directions where to anchor to get to his office. His English was definitely much better that our Spanish but we were having a hard time understanding where he wanted us to go. We turned the boat around to go where we think he is telling us, and thump, "what the hell" the depth sounder is reading 18.6 feet but we are on the ground. What happened is our depth sounder reads from under the galley stove (Russ was always meaning to relocate that depth sensor forward where it belongs), but the forward part of the keel was in the mud and we had an ebbing current of about 2 knots pushing us onto the shelf. It was like a 14 foot mud wall under water. The Port Captain is still shouting directions on the VHF where to go until we finally get through to him that we a stuck and not going anywhere until the tide changes. It was still about 1 ½ hours to low slack. He says he will send out the Navy to pull us off and do our inspection.
As we waited for the Navy, the boat continues to heel more and more. By the time they got to us, there was no way they could pull us off, so they just did the inspection. In the Navy's boat, there are 7 guys with M16's, a drug dog and an officer. The Officer boarded Zephyra to fill out the paperwork for the inspection. Nobody speaks any English, but we give him out paperwork from Huatulco and he uses it to fill out his forms. By now the boat is at a 30 degree heel and the lower port lights are just above water. They ask if they can bring the drug dog aboard, who was not a happy puppy having to walk on fiberglass at a 30 degree heel. They finished their inspection and left and we continued waiting for the tide to float us off. Then the Navy boat came back with another officer who spoke a drop of English and filled out some more things on his form. After the Navy left the second time, we started to float, so we fired up the engine and called the Port Captain to ask if we could get fuel and then come see him. He informed us that the fuel dock was open to 6pm, but his office was closing in 45 minutes. We had deflated the dingy for our travels, so we had to inflate the "dink", close up the boat and row to shore with all possible paperwork he might want. At the Port Captain's office, we signed their papers, paid our fee and were told that after we get our fuel, we needed to go to the API office which was a short cab ride from the fuel dock. Then before we leave, we would need to be reinspected by the Navy and return to the Port Captain's office (we weren't sure about the PC office). We purchased out fuel, reanchored the boat by the fuel dock, rowed to shore, found someone to exchange dollars for pesos (we had spent our last peso the day before we left Huatulco), and waited for a cab so long that a local businessman felt sorry for us and took us to API . At API we paid another fee and were given some paperwork for the Port Captain. We started walking since again there were no cabs (in Huatulco every other car is a cab) and realized it was getting dark and we didn't know the way back to the fuel dock. Finally found a cab and in our terrible Spanish explained where we wanted to go and got back to Zephyra right before dark. At that point there was nothing to do, but relax and sleep the night at anchor.
We tried to call the other boat that was still behind us and warn him not to stop, but they needed to drop a crew member off so they came in after dark and anchored next to us. The Navy came by their boat at about 9:30 at night to do an inspection. They landed up having to hire an agent the next day to straighten out their crew list problem.
The next morning, we called the Port Captain who arranged for the Navy to inspect us. Again 8 men carrying weapons and a drug dog were in their boat. Two officers came aboard to do paperwork and then the dog and his handler to sniff for drugs. The dog, named Rex, was a lot happier this time around since the boat was flat. After completing the inspection they told us to go to the Port Captain's office, so we reanchored (uneventfully) in front of the Port Captain's office, rowed to shore, talked with the crew of the other boat, Gypsy, and paid the Port Captain another visit. He told us we were free to leave. We raised the dingy and secured it to the deck and motored out of Puerto Maderas at about noon on Wednesday. This little episode cost us approximately $30 and 26 hours so we are trying to warn other boats heading south against stopping if already checked out of Mexico.
The rest of the afternoon we were rewarded by a nice spinnaker run and crossed in Guatemala mid-afternoon. We continued on using the land and sea breezes whenever we could and arrived at our destination in El Salvador at sunrise Friday morning. We radioed the hotel at 6:30am and another cruiser picked up the call and said she would advise them that we were outside and needed a pilot. All the information we had about the place said "do not attempt to cross the bar on your own", so we waited and at about 7:30 the pilot in a panga came out to lead us in. There was some swell, but nothing too bad, and we safely crossed and tied up to the hotel's dock behind one of the other boats we know from Huatulco, Manana. Fairly quickly, a representative from the Navy and Immigration came to the boat to check our Zarpe and passports. We then followed the lady from Immigration up to the hotel office to pay for our visas ($10 USA each) and we were checked into El Salvador. The whole thing took less than 30 minutes.
The place we are staying is called Bahia del Sol (N13 18, W88 53) and is lovely. The landscape is lush jungle with lots of flowers and birds. We are anchored in the lagoon and by paying the hotel $14 per week, we can use their dock for our dingy, their 2 pools and showers and get 30% off food and drinks at the bar. The other night we had pupusas which is the national food of El Salvador. They start with a maza ball, fill it with beans, cheese, chicken, pork or fish and shape it like a tortilla. Then they grill them and serve with cabbage and a red sauce. They cost us 40 cents each and I ate 3 and was stuffed. The best $1.20 dinner I have had in a long time. So far we really like El Salvador and are planning make some bus trips for provisioning and sightseeing. We were only on the dock for a few minutes when a Canadian ex-pat invited us for Christmas dinner. We are enjoying nearly perfect weather with temps being 80's during the day and low 70's at night. Cannot say we miss the snow that we have heard Tahoe is getting.