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Memo from Mazatlan

November 26, 2000

Whew. We got across the often-dreaded Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California) and actually enjoyed a nice passage. Now we’re enjoying beautiful old Mazatlan with lots of cruising friends.

Bahia los Frailes

First, though, we had to spend four days waiting out a “norther” in quiet Bahia los Frailes at the edge of the Baja peninsula. The fleet has begun to disperse throughout Mexico, some heading north to La Paz, some straight south to Puerto Vallarta or beyond, and many here in Mazatlan. There were about 25 other boats with us in los Frailes, waiting for the same weather window. To cross the Sea of Cortez you don’t want 30+ knots of wind and major waves hitting you broadside. Or at least the Raven (a.k.a. ‘Chicken of the Sea’) crew doesn’t!

There was nothing in Bahia los Frailes except a very primitive fish camp, a few US and Canadian RV’s wintering over, and a four-palapa hotel. In four days, we managed two lunches at the hotel and scored a NY Times magazine section and book review from visiting guests. (Newspapers and reading matter are in short supply around there.) We ended up creating quite the social life in our little community. Jan and I took the Dinghy-as-Mobile-Library out one day, loaded up with magazines and books to pass along. Many boats had decided not to inflate their dinghies (or provision in Cabo), thinking that they would be making the crossing soon. So they were very eager for entertainment.

The Margarita Mishap

They were also eager for a party. As the Mother Ship (i.e. The Largest, at the moment) we invited everyone over. It was a great scene and lots of fun, especially getting to know some of the other Ha-Ha folks that we hadn’t met on the way down the coast. The only downside was that the control panel of our generator took a full frontal hit from a spilled margarita. Is that a quintessentially Mexican problem or what? Being a German generator, and more used to beer and schnapps, it still hasn’t recovered. We can charge up with the main engine, but it is noisy, not as efficient, and Jan hates ‘using a 140 hp. turbocharged diesel to cool the beer.’ So we are doing Parts Order #1 from Back Home. Getting parts down here is so difficult that many people fly to the US to pick things up. We are in a marina now with no power or water, but as soon as we get to Puerto Vallarta, the charging problem will be temporarily resolved until we are home for Christmas and can pick up the part ourselves. Or maybe a kind friend will come for a visit . . . hmmm.

Crossing the Sea

When we finally got a clear weather report for the Sea of Cortez crossing, it was for perfect conditions. The wind blew ten to fifteen knots and the swells and wind waves had dropped to about six feet. This was our first overnight passage with just the two of us, so I was a little nervous. We started about noon, figuring that it would be about a twenty-hour passage if all went well. The key was to arrive in Mazatlan at slack tide since the entrance to the marina is quite shallow, has a four-knot current, and can have breaking waves. At one point, it felt strange to be sitting in the warm breezes in the cockpit, whiling away the time by listening to Frances Mayes on CD, reading “Bella Tuscany.” It’s too bad she had to give such mouthwatering descriptions of the food they ate there. Peanut butter crackers at midnight did not have quite the same allure! We sailed all night, only having a moment of concern (Signe) when a huge cruise ship got within about three miles of us. It was going slightly faster than we were, but on a gradually converging course. Jan still hasn’t forgiven me for waking him up an hour early for his watch.

As we got closer to land we could actually smell the earth. We have read about this in articles about people making passages much longer than ours, and it is really true. We also came across two men in a panga (a small Mexican fishing boat with a big outboard) who started waving to us and pointing in different directions. After being in the Caribbean, we thought that they were the first wave of “boat boys” wanting to guide us (for tips) into the harbor. Being sleep-deprived, it took us awhile to realize that they we just warning us not to get tangled in their fishing nets, marked on each end with flags and empty plastic gallon jugs (the all purpose container in Mexico). After we successfully navigated around the obstacles, they gave us big smiles, waves and wishes of ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’. They laughed when I gave them back an equally cheery ‘Feliz Navidad.’

Cruisers’ Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving blessing of the fleet (62K)The main reason we came to Mazatlan was for the big cruiser Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by Marina Mazatlan. We had a wonderful day, beginning with a  mass and a blessing of the fleet. Then there were tournaments in bridge, cribbage, Mexican dominos, bingo, and horseshoes. At about 2 o’clock, Thanksgiving dinner - It's good! (61K)hungry people (350 of them!) started gathering under the tents (with Corona logos, of course) for the sit-down dinner, white tablecloths, flower centerpieces and all. Meanwhile a twelve-piece band was setting up under another tent for our after-dinner entertainment. (We had watched earlier as “Hava Corona y su Orquesta” languidly unloaded themselves from the bus.) We had four hours of lively dancing after dinner. The whole day was really casual, lots of fun and — best of all — no dishes!

Hava Corona y su Orquesta (1,342K) Video of Hava Corona y su Orquesta (1,342K)

Hava Corona y su Orquesta (61K) Marilyn, Steph & Signe dancing (34K)  Twelve-piece Corona Thanksgiving band (61K)  'Indaras' and 'Ravens' at Thanksgiving dinner (62K)

Marina Mazatlan, where we are docked, is one of many projects in Mexico that was halted by the last peso crisis. Some of the docks have power and water, some have water only, and some have nada. Nobody really minds, but it is sad to see such a great place with so many unrealized possibilities. The services brought in from outside are pretty wonderful, though. Monday, Wednesday and Friday the fruit, vegetable, bread and egg man comes in his little truck. The first day we bought a huge pineapple, a mammoth papaya, six limes, ten oranges, four fresh rolls and a cucumber, all for about $9, which is considered pricey down here. To me, it seemed like the best breakfast ever! There is also an “agua” man who comes every day with five-gallon jugs of purified water. The laundry man comes at ten o’clock each morning to pick up, then delivers it all back clean and folded at five o’clock for 35 pesos ($3.70) a load. I’m personally very fond of this service. Occasionally an itinerant fish and shrimp seller appears, but I haven’t yet figured out his schedule. Best of all for some of the cruisers is the arrival of the beer truck — every day! Some cruisers like it so much, they never leave. The couple who showed us the ropes on the bus system arrived here four years ago and haven’t moved since!


Mazatlan buses are great (61K)We have noticed that the weather is a lot more hot and humid over on this side of the Sea of Cortez. At least it was until the last norther. It has been a trifle cooler the last couple of days — good exploring weather. We took the bus into the old part of town a few times, 40 cents for a very long ride. Away from the main hotel strip, there is lots of nice old architecture. Signe loves the markets (63K)There is a restored 1870-era theater that Mazatlan fish market (61K)interesting pictures and smells; it was also enough to turn the weak-stomached into vegetarians. Prices were even cheaper there, and we went back for more the second day. This seems to be a much more Mexican town compared to Cabo, which was a bit like Ft. Lauderdale at Spring Break, but wilder. And expensive! Perhaps the areas of more charm were hiding there too; we just never found them. From all reports, San Jose del Cabo and La Paz, a bit further north on the coast, are much nicer. We’ll save that for our spring explorations.

Mazatlan market (62K)  Mazatlan old town 1 (71K)  Mazatlan old town 4 (77K)  Mazatlan flower seller (55K)

Mazatlan street scenes: Smiles, cheery waves, and ‘Holas’ everywhere. People crossing the street to offer assistance as we study our map. Mexicans are very family-oriented, traveling the bus lines and playing together. No window-washers at the stoplights, but we spotted a man with a young boy standing on his shoulders, while the boy juggled four oranges for tips! Best local drink is ‘limonada’, fresh-squeezed and sweetened lime juice, often made with fizzy mineral water. Delicious!

Jan has gone off with his tool kit to try to help another cruiser with a malfunctioning alternator. It has been interesting to see this “Cruisers Helping Cruisers” network at work. Every morning on the marine radio network there are pleas for help on various subjects, from directions to the store to fixing a watermaker. Jan specializes in helping with electrical system and radio email issues, while other boats have guys who are good with diesel engines, outboards, watermakers, and so on. Everyone eventually finds help for his problem. People back home who think cruising is all vacation ought to see the hard work that goes into keeping these boats running!

Life is good.

Next stop: Puerto Vallarta.

Love, Signe

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