Westward Ho'Okele - Dispatch 9

Westward Ho’Okele: Dispatch 9

Cruising from A to Z (not B)

By Peter Swanson

Cruising from port-to-port along the Central American and Mexican coasts certainly reinforced the fact that there’s no such thing as a two-day turnaround in the developing world. Clearing in and clearing out, arranging for fuel, modest provisioning and quick sightseeing take a minimum of three days, and Ho’Okele’s visit to Acapulco was no exception.

It still bothered me, however, because I had long ago learned another truism: “Time in port rots men and ships.”

And though the delivery of Ho’Okele was a great opportunity to make myself an expert on what I feel is my company’s best product, not to mention see the world, this voyage was nonetheless a delivery, with the boat’s owner waiting anxiously in Hawaii for his new boat.

The success of a delivery is measured by how quickly and unproblematically a vessel is moved from point A to point B. The best delivery skipper is often the guy who smashes into six-foot seas for days straight eating only peanutbutter sandwiches and drinking Gatorade to reach point B before that plane lands with the boat’s owner and his vacationing family.

The problem with that approach is that it leaves nothing to write short of a disaster at sea or a crewmember morphing into a madman/woman. It was for this reason, when I was a magazine editor, that I reacted skeptically to stories offered by delivery skippers. If they were any good at their jobs, they’d have nothing worthwhile to write about.

For me, however, time in port was necessary to gather fodder for these dispatches. Plus I needed to keep my volunteer crew happy. So I was torn between my dual roles. And Acapulco, the over-the-top pleasure capital of Mexico, exacerbated my sense of guilt. (By now my co-workers in Gainesville are surely rolling their eyes and thinking “Yeah right! Who’s he kidding?”)

All this is my way of getting to the point, which is that the crew of Ho’Okele spent four days in Acapulco, during which time we entertained my friend Barbara from Jacksonville, who popped down for a visit.

Even so I can’t say I really know much about Acapulco, a teeming resort of 3 million people, but I can report on the facilities for visiting cruisers.

Chef Charles and I arrived at night, as we always seem to do, with the help of our friends Furuno and C-Map. And as always, we intended to anchor. The bottom drops off sharply in the harbor so we idled over to the Acapulco Yacht Club and dropped the hook in the shallowest place we could find, a mooring field in 50 feet of water.

In the morning I radioed the yacht club, which has more than 300 berths and caters to Mexico’s wealthy elite. No room at the inn, the dockmaster politely informed me. Would I care to get on a waiting list? Perhaps, he said, a slip would materialize by Saturday, four days hence.

 Never mind, I said. Is there another place to dock a boat? He said I could try the “New Marina” next door.

I got no answer hailing New Marina. But I did get a reply from a cruiser, who had obviously not overheard my conversation with the Yacht Club or could not understand our Spanish. Mr. Helpful fit my first-guy-on-the-radio stereotype perfectly. The first guy on the radio is usually the guy in the harbor who knows the least about the matter at hand.

First he informed me that there was no facility in Acapulco called the New Marina. There were some disintegrating docks next door to the Yacht Club, but the owners weren’t taking any transients. We would have to suffer as he had, anchored in 60-feet of water, and gnash our teeth when it blew like stink as it had the night before.

I paddled our little inflatable over to the docks in question. The dockmaster apologized for not having a VHF, and said we could have a slip for a few nights no problema, as long as we were willing to pay 50 cents a foot. Mr. Helpful had been right about one thing, however. The wooden docks were in shambles, broken and rotten planks were kept from drifting away by crude polypropelene lashes. Still, the shoreside facility was in fine shape (including a nice swimming pool), the staff friendly and the security good. Welcome to Acapulco.

We walked over to the Yacht Club, where the Port Captain maintains a satellite office, to “clear in” to Acapulco, even though we had already cleared in to Mexico when we arrived at Huatulco. The club was a beautiful world-class facility, with manicured grounds, statuary and a shady open-air restaurant. Here, too, was in the only fuel dock in the city. The boats, mostly of the sportfish variety, were med-moored to both concrete piers and floating docks. A concrete breakwater provided a breakwater against the Pacific surge. Had there been room, the price would have been a buck a foot. There is a small but well stocked marine store on the grounds.

Back on our docks, Chef Charles struck up a conversation with an old guy, who had been cleaning boat bottoms in Acapulco since the days of Errol Flynn. He was a little guy and his wrinkled face was made even more interesting by the permanent oval impression left by his diving mask, which was his only equipment other than a scrapper. He was incredibly fit for his age, tough as wet leather.

Once, he said, the area around the yacht club and the hills behind comprised Acapulco in its entirety, in the days when European royalty and Hollywood stars came here to cavort away from their courtiers and gossip columnists. None of the high-rise hotels that lined the beach opposite existed, he said.

The old guy took some of our old food that was starting to go bad from lack of refrigeration and declared that if we were throwing out any old clothes he would take those too. “In all my life, I have never had refrigeration,” he told Chef Charles. The old guy lived in a shack in a wooded area of the marina.

One of the contradictions of Mexico is that restaurants are significantly less expensive, say by a third, than their U.S. equivalents, but food in the supermarkets costs the same as ours. The bargains we see in Mexico are largely due to disparities in wages and overhead, not the raw materials of life. So you might as well stock the larder while you’re stateside, except for fresh fish and that most excellent of Mexican staples, beer.

For me half the fun of dining out in Acapulco was getting there. In one of the great ironies of the 20th Century, Hitler’s vision of Aryan transport-the Volkswagen beetle, the original, not the retro version-landed in the decidedly non-Aryan nation of Mexico. They’re mass produced nearby with few changes from The Bug of the 60s, and make up 90 percent of Acapulco’s enormous taxi fleet. As one driver quipped, these blue-fendered, $8,000 machines swarm the streets like so many cucarachas. Chef Charles, Barbara and I were stylin’.

Acapulco’s many fine restaurants are an obvious attraction, as is its nightlife and general goofiness. Like the guy who rolls on a pile of broken glass for tips and the 20-story bungee jumping tower looming over the palapa beach bars. Get a few blocks away from the beach, however, and you find a working Mexican city, dusty and devoid of any palm trees. I went no further inland.

Truth be told, Acapulco was only worth only two or three days of my life, but we had tarried to give Barbara her own taste of the place, since she had joined us late. Only 110 nautical miles northwest of Acapulco was another Mexican harbor town called Zihuatanejo; our plan was to make an overnight run and spend a couple days there before packing Barbara back to Acapulco Airport on a bus and continuing our journey.

We fueled at the yacht club (expensive at around $2.30 a gallon), and passed by the city’s famous diving cliff just as a young Mexican plunged for the cameras. Later Chef Charles caught a sailfish, which are abundant in these waters. He was too much fish for us, and we let him go. We dropped the hook in Zihuatanejo the hour before dawn.

The harbor was a scaled-down version of Acapulco. A small marina with gas dock occupied the same well protected northwest corner. A village stood at the head of the bay, and the south side had a modest hotel district. The palm-lined beach was arrayed with dozens of colorful fishing pangas.

Zihuatanejo was a pretty place-the only evidence of menace was a 38-foot cruising sailboat wrecked on the beach and half buried in the sand. The name on the transom was Freedom. Some gringo’s dream had died here.

This harbor turned out to be a big cruising hangout. There were about 90 boats at anchor-mostly sail. Each morning, as if on cue, the inflatable fleet headed toward the beach, each carrying one middle-aged male and female of the human species. Awaiting them were a score of restaurants and hundreds of jewelry and trinket shops. The town was neat and clean and, despite the shops, not too touristy, though the place was loaded with French-Canadian tourists. Not the worst place, I thought, to spend a 48th birthday.

Next morning-January 13, 2003-we packed Barbara off to Acapulco on the first-class bus, and Charles and I readied for the next leg, 600 nautical miles to Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, skipping Puerto Vallarta entirely.  We left that afternoon.

’Til next time.



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