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At Anchor In Zihuatanejo

January 2002

We are mellowly hanging out in our favorite Mexican anchorage, Zihuatanejo Bay, also known as Cruiser Central. We arrived here about the 6th of January and plan to stay until early February. We sailed down here very quickly, doing two overnight trips with a day’s rest between. There are about fifty other cruising sailboats (and a few motorboats) here in various parts of the bay. Many of them are good friends from last season, including a large group of boats from Canada. Inflatable dinghies buzz around the anchorage all day, and the resulting social life is very active, but we can participate or not as the mood strikes. The weather is perfection, about 85 degrees during the day, with cooling breezes out on the water, dipping down into the low 70’s at night. The water temperature is 78 to 80 degrees, so we swim off of the boat several times a day. It’s a tough life but someone has to do it!

The question most frequently asked by friends back home is, “What do you do all day?” This is an excellent question and we wish we could answer it. Somehow the days just seem to slip by. Most days we don’t even know the day or the date without consulting a newspaper (El News, the daily English language paper published in Mexico City) or the three-time-zone clock over the chart table. Two of our biggest pleasures are falling asleep to the sound of waves on the beach and waking up to sun every morning with no pressing business to take care of. It significantly improves morale! Two days a week a big cruise ship comes into the bay at dawn, so we awake to a huge anchor being lowered into the water. The town gets a bit crowded for a few hours, but the ships always leave before sundown. The QE2 departed last night just at sundown, during our Friday evening dinghy raft-up cocktail party. She was a beautiful sight, disappearing into the big red globe.

The Daily Grind

We start the daily grind by listening to two cruiser radio networks every morning over breakfast. The first is the 8 a.m. Amigo Net on single sideband radio that covers the area from San Diego down to Costa Rica. We talk with friends in different locations, help people solve mechanical dilemmas, of which there are always several, or maybe just listen to all the weather, news, and gossip. Then the local Z-town Net comes on at 9 a.m. with a check-in of boats in the bay, Boaters’ Assistance (“Does anyone have a spare Shurflo water pump pressure switch?” “How do I contact Ishmael to have diesel fuel and beer delivered?”), services offered or needed, activities, general announcements, and that all-important category, Treasures of the Bilge. Lots of people sell (or ‘trade for coconuts,’ as it’s called, since we are technically not supposed to sell things in Mexico) stuff they no longer need. Most boats don’t have room to store anything that's not essential.

After the nets we try (the operative word here!) to do a few projects before the heat of the day sets in. This may consist of laundry or boat cleaning of some variety for me, and mechanical projects for Jan. Today, for example, the fresh water pump stopped for no apparent reason. Unusually, it was a simple screw that hadn’t been replaced after the last water pump crisis, but of course it took Jan an hour of diagnosis to figure this out. We have twenty-plus different pumps aboard, so one of them is always throwing a hissy fit. Some days, one of the crises will lead to two or three related breakdowns. Those are the bad days, but the Captain seems to enjoy the challenge and usually comes up with a fix, albeit after some colorful language, a deep delve into his huge store of spare parts, and a T-shirt covered in grease. (We now have a world-class collection of grease-stained T-shirts.)

We also do lots of emails in the mornings, mostly correspondence with family, friends, and parts sources. Contacting family back home, or ordering parts, used to be a real headache, but just about everybody has on-board email now, and it has really transformed cruising. Jan has always been into research, and now he’s working hard on our South Pacific plans via email. We even have some friends who don’t do email, so I write honest-to-goodness letters to them. Mailing anything is an interesting dilemma here. The best way is to take the letter to Rick’s Bar, the local cruiser hangout, put it in the Outgoing-US basket, and wait for someone flying north who will mail it in the US. This actually happens almost every week in the season and works well. The other way is to put it into the Mexican mail system and hope it gets there within the year; most times there aren’t even Mexican stamps for sale. Forget deadlines! To say that communication is difficult down here is putting it mildly. Email is everyone’s salvation.

Shopping Z-Style

Here in Zihuatanejo, since we’re anchored in the bay, every shore-based activity – shopping for food or boat parts, cyber-café visits, dining out, etc. – requires a dinghy trip to the beach and carrying whatever we buy back to Raven in canvas bags. We’ve made a few of trips to the big, beautiful Comercial supermarket, each of which means putting the dinghy in the water (we hoist it up on davits every night, for security and also to prevent barnacle growth), a bumpy, wet ride to the town beach, a bus to the store, a taxi back to town with our purchases, then back into the dinghy and home. It takes most of three hours for two of us to bring back a few bags of groceries. This is normal and we don’t mind. There’s even a sense of minor adventure every time we shop, since you never know what you’ll be able to find in the stores.  With all this dinghying around, especially surf landings on the beaches, we are always partially wet, so Tevas and quick-dry shorts are de rigueur. Glamour is a pretty low priority among cruisers.

Some days a group of women gets together to shop or explore the tiendas, while the men explore the hardware stores. There is always something we need, so there is the constant search or research on where to find it. Forget the yellow pages. If you want something, you have to hunt. There is a store for everything here, though, so after a bit of time, any issue is resolved and anyway the hunt can be fun! Jan and his cronies found the ¼” socket drive (whatever that is) he needed in the eighth little hardware store, after about an hour . . . for $4. The rule in Mexico is, “If you see it and might need it someday, buy it immediately because when you really need it, you won’t find it.” There is a famous Mexican shopkeeper response to almost any question: “No hay!” – “We don’t have any!”

There is a central Mexican mercado where I can find almost everything in the food line, but I feel a bit hesitant to buy meat or fish there. Refrigeration is in short supply in the hot and airless mercado, so I tend to buy meat at the Comercial. They do have beautiful fruit and veggies though, and big bouquets of herbs and flowers, especially in the morning.

Social Whirl

Social life usually heats up about 5 p.m. with visits to or from other boats for drinks, dinner, videos, or board games. Last evening we went to a birthday party at a beach restaurant for one of our many Canadian friends. We all met about 5 for a party menu of cake and beer. (They’re Canadians, eh?) I’m proud to say I won the watermelon seed-spitting contest  . . . hands down, so to speak. Then we had to try out the hamburgers made by a little man with a pushcart; several cruisers swear by him. I did not indulge, having had a mammoth lunch with friends. Jan vowed they were quite wonderful with “the works” (whatever that is in Spanish): ham, onions, tomatoes, chilies, avocado, mayo, and two kinds of cheese. There is a group that walks quite strenuously at seven in the morning, three days a week, then goes for breakfast. We’re going to join them when they start up again next week. We’re gonna need it!

Some days we go hang out at our favorite beach palapa restaurant, La Perla, on Playa la Ropa right next to most of the fleet in the anchorage. Getting the dinghy ashore through the surf is always a wet undertaking, but La Perla has lots of shady mesquite trees, red and white umbrellas and comfy chairs. Twice a week there are volleyball games, Mexican Train dominoes, and bocce ball organized by the cruisers. We take over a whole corner of the beach and just visit and have a totally do-nothing-decadent day. So far The Raven Crew has been able to hold this down to a once a week Sunday celebration. We could very easily be tempted out there every day, but we must be firm with ourselves.

First Tropical Rain

We did have one very unusual occurrence last week . . . . rain. Last season we didn’t see any at all in Mexico, but last Sunday it rained all day. Or should I say RAINED?! This was not your Tacoma winter mist. This was your tropical down pour all day long, several inches falling all at once. Luckily, or unluckily, we had washed the boat the day before, which meant that we didn’t have a total mud slide aboard from all the Puerto Vallarta dust we were still carrying. It also meant we could open up the deck fills for the water tanks and collect fresh water from all the deck runoff. We collected well over 400 gallons in two hours and totally filled our 600-gallon water tanks, a new first. Since we are anchored for a while, the extra two tons of weight isn’t of any consequence. The other benefit was that we now have a squeaky-clean boat and dinghy. There is nothing like having plenty of fresh water when you swim a lot, rinse off and shower a few times a day.

The unfortunate part of the rainstorm was that the river that runs through the town also tends to be a bit of a trash and sewage dump. As we’ve said before, the Mexicans are wonderful, but sadly they haven’t yet figured out the trash thing. When there is a downpour, this smelly mess all flows out into the bay. The beaches were littered with trash, some of it picked up by cruisers, some raked away by the town. Two days later it all seems to be tidy again. We did not swim for a day or two until the water cleared up, but all is back to normal now. There were even rumors of a crocodile hanging out near the dinghy beach. It had me checking the water very carefully when we went to town and scrubbing hands and feet that had been in the dirty water.

Jan is in the cockpit, having gotten stuck into a new novel. (Guess he won’t surface until sometime around midnight!) He called down to see where I was, having heard a large splash in the water next to him. Turns out it was just a large booby (Shame on you! That’s only a brown and white seabird.) that had successfully dived for a fish two feet from where Jan was sitting. The huge schools of mullet love to hover in the shadow of our hull, and marauding predators like crevallys and jacks are sometimes attracted. It’s a fish-eat-fish world down there. We always have panga fishermen around us when we wake in the morning, usually catching baitfish. Every once in a while, they come so close that I’m not sure who is more surprised to see the other so close up through the portholes.

Parting with Friends

Zihuatanejo is the place where the two groups of cruisers start dividing up. Some of us ‘turn right’ and head for the South Pacific, the rest go for the ‘left turn’, south to Central America, the Panama Canal, and the Caribbean. We are all feeling a bit sad as we part from friends we will probably not see again for a long time. We are such a small community and have the time to really get to know each other very well. It becomes quite difficult to say good-bye. This is going to happen a lot more as we prepare to head for Tahiti, and then we will meet an entirely new collection of cruising friends.

Paul and Michelle are coming for a brief visit this week. We are very eager to teach them how to hang out, Z-style. We think they’ll take to it like naturals.


Love, Signe

P.S.: Yes, we had a wonderful time during Paul & Michelle’s visit, and we think they did, too. A few photos are included.


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This page was last updated on 04/13/04.


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