forms a huge bay where winds created by pressure systems in the Gulf of Tehuantepec Gulf
of Mexico funnel across the lowlands and build in velocity until
they reach the Pacific Ocean. Once on the pacific side
of the land mass there lays a small gap at Salina Cruz. This gap forms a venturi
which accelerates the winds creating blows in excess of 70 kts and nightmarish
conditions for boats traveling this coastline. The key to a successful crossing
of the Tehuantepec is to closely monitor the weather windows, go after a system
has passed and do your crossing very quickly. Most windows last a little over
48 hours. The other key to success is to keep one foot on shore….this is a scary
option for sailors as we view the shore as a dangerous place, a place to be
avoided in transit. The rational for sticking close to shore (within a mile) is
it shelters you from the huge short period breaking waves that develop a little
further off. The winds will still be gale force but the water is relatively flat as
the land mass prevents fetch.
We monitored our “weather window” along with about 10 other boats in the marina. The weather was looking promising over the next few days so we decided to leave on a Tuesday morning which would put us into
in the morning on Thursday. Our friends on Kia Ora decided to do the same. A
large ketch decided to leave the afternoon before us, riding the remnants of
the blow. Several others opted to wait one additional day. We had a group of
power boats also heading south at about 8 kts that were about 6 miles or more
ahead of us. They had left earlier the morning of our departure. We had light
winds of around 6-10 kts and the seas began to build into short period chop as
we rounded the first point off Huatulco. We were motoring bare poled as we had
been told and read that it was too risky to try and sail as the winds can
develop to gale force within minutes. We were about 3 miles off to avoid known
rocks and shoals. The seas continued confused and winds continued to blow into the
mid teens. It was uncomfortable but not worrisome. As we approached Bahia de
Bamba we were losing daylight. The power boats called us on the VHF to report
gale force winds nearing Salina Cruz and heavy seas. They were a few miles off
and heading to shore for protection. Paul and I decided to stay close in as we
would be in Salina Cruz in the dark. We would rely on radar to help define the
breakwater and help with buoys and moored boats. We also had our AIS to
supplement radar. Salina Cruz is a major port for southern Mexico.
It can be as busy as Los Angeles or
Seattle. In addition to heavy
traffic they also have a large shrimper fleet to watch out for. The plan was to
stay off the breakwater but transit inside the mooring field for the tankers.
As we rounded the last point the winds were 25 with gusts to 35. The water was
flat with some minimal slap upon the hull. We both stood watch until we cleared
all the heavy traffic. The most challenging was to identify the slow moving
targets observed on radar, as their steaming lights were often hidden among all
the shore lights and moored vessels. With the wind it seemed like everything
was in movement. We passed through the heavy traffic area and started to rotate
watch for the rest of the night. The winds continued until morning and the top
gust was 40 kts. The seas were eerily flat. The distance from shore was
approximately 1 mile. There are no obstacles to navigation along this section
of coast and the depth was around 40- 60ft. The following morning we set our
course to Chiapas staying about
3-5 miles off. When we arrived in Chiapas
the new marina was a welcome sight. It is beautiful. The staff was answering
the VHF (wow! This hardly ever happens in Mexico)
and was on the dock to help with the lines. As soon as we tied up the Capitania and the Mexican Naval staff was boarding to check our papers and boat documents. They are more formal
here with transiting vessel protocol as it is a stone throw from the border of Guatemala.
The process was quick and the staff accepted hot coffee once the check in was
complete. We will need to go thru the same process and inspection before
acquiring our internatinal Zarpe when we get ready to leave.
An interesting note on the rest of the boats that left before and after us: The ketch that left the afternoon before us encountered heavy gale force winds and heavy seas as he was outside the mooring field when he passed Salina Cruz. The winds were so strong and seas so heavy he had to run with it. He did not have the power to make his way into protected waters. He arrived in
Chiapas 24 hours after we did
with sail damage. The power boaters continued on to Panama.
The boats that left a day after us had no wind and clam seas the entire
The marina is less then 2 years old. It is much protected, clean and the staffs are GREAT!!! The shore bathrooms and showers are like a spa. Nice change from Huatulco’s outdoor open air showers. We arranged a tour with some of the other cruisers on Sunday. Arturo took us to his cousin’s farm where the family has a lovely restaurant, lots of vegetation and most interesting cacao trees. The family is Mayan and they make their own chocolate the traditional Mayan way. Most families in this region do the same, each having their own special little recipe. We were treated to a fabulous breakfast, traditional tamal in banana leaf. Better than anything I have eaten this season. We walked the property and went thru the entire process of opening seed pods taken from the trunks of the cacao trees; we roasted the pods on a camal over a wood fire, husked the seeds by hand, ground them using a matate and finally mixed the slurry into some water to drink thick delicious chocolate. It is not sweet as there is no sugar added. It had the taste of rich cocoa and flavor of the nut, smoke and minerals. It is fabulous. This is the way it has been done by the Mayan people since the beginning of time.
|Mayan cayoco, otherwise known as a canoe, at the|
entrance to the chocolate farm.
|Janet roasting cacao beans under the watchful eye|
of the chocolate maestra.
|The maestra approved as Janet used the matate to|
grind and prepare the beans.
|Just add water for a delicious cup of hot chocolate.|
|Janet once again demonstrated her culinary skills as she|
mixed the chocolate with the water, but of
course under the careful scrutiny of the maestra.
|Once we had our fill of chocolate, we headed for the|
Mayan ruins just up the road at Izapa. It was a really
hot day so the umbrella was a nice touch to help
keep us cool. It worked, sort of.
|At one point a gust of wind almost took Paul to flight.|
|The Mayans were really into pyramids.|