sailing homepage : trip reports : 5: pv to zihuatanejo : bahia chamela

Jan 5-7: Passage from Punta Ipala to Bahia Chamela, turtle sighting and exploring small islands

We left Punta Ipala early, as soon as there was enough light to make out the bouys and fenced-off oyster farm area. Ipala was pretty good protection, but the anchorage made me claustrophobic. There wasn't any room to drag anchor, there wasn't any room for other boats, and I was nervous about a wind change blowing us towards shore and the rocks.

Sun rising over the Sierra Madres


Just finished raising the mainsail

The section of coast between Ipala and the next available anchorage, Bahia Chamela, is beautiful. We had a pleasant shore breeze as the sun rose, and we motorsailed south at an easy five and a half knots. We usually motor if there's not enough wind to keep the sails full, which happens more than you would think!

I used the light winds and calm seas as an opportunity to rethink our running rigging. We have five lines on the boom that need to come back into the cockpit: the mainsheet, first and second reef lines, boom vang, and outhaul. The topping lift and halyards don't come back, they're perfect right at the mast.

The mainsheet, which has blocks for mechanical advantage on the boom, the traveler, and the deck in front of the mast, is well thought-out. It's the most important line in the bunch, and it works great. I lubed all the blocks, safety-wired the connectors, and checked everything for stress indicators. No problems.

The other four lines are run forward along the boom, down to the deck just aft of the mast, and back to the cockpit. Arranging these lines so they run fair is a challenge! I think my latest attempt at this is the fourth or fifth iteration of changes Sean and I have tried.

Instead of running everything back to the gooseneck, I moved the blocks to follow a similar route to the mainsheet. I'm happy to report it works flawlessly. One of the cool things about sailing an older boat is the challenge involved with getting it setup the way you want. We've been on so many newer boats where the owners weren't aware of how things were rigged. They've never thought about the blocks, clutches, winches, etc, and wouldn't dare change something that wasn't working well.

Drilling out an old deck-mounted block


Sara the turtle hunter

While I was mucking with stuff, Sara was quietly reading. She came over to check out the new setup and suddenly shouted "TURTLE!", pointing off the bow. I ran back to the cockpit to turn off the autopilot. It would suck to run over the first turtle we had ever sighted.

We're not sure what type of turtles we saw - we think they might be Hawksbills - but they were huge. I think the biggest was almost four feet long! We would see them a few hundred feet off, floating leisurely at the surface, and they'd let us get within a few feet before they would dive and swim away. A few didn't even bother, barely turning their heads to check us out as we circled them. Too cool.

So graceful


Pretty damn quick, too

The winds lightened as the day continued. The jib was too heavy to stay full without flapping, and the main just wasn't doing much. Bring out the spinnaker! We've got this down to an art now, and we launched it in just a few minutes. Crazy to think that we were once intimidated by this sail. At times I find myself wishing for something bigger, something symmetrical, but other times I love the simplicity of our cruising 'chute.

Love this sail


Love this girl

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We had a great sail into Bahia Chamela where we eschewed the traditional anchorage behind the rocky headland, clustered with other cruising boats, and instead decided to drop the hook between two islands in the middle of the bay. The islands created a small area of protection from the swells, and we nestled in as close to the shore as we could. It was a great spot, and for the first time in what feels like months, we were the only show in town.

Pretty close to shore


Swinging in the breeze

Sara managed to don her snorkeling gear and jump in before I could finish putting the sail cover on, and I went forward on the bowsprit to ask her to check out the anchor. As she followed the anchor chain away from the boat, looking down for the anchor, we were both surprised when a small (foot-wide) bat ray leapt almost ten feet in the air just beside her! I've never seen anyone swim so quickly back to the boat.

I don't believe the stingray hype - we don't know anyone who's been stung, okay, anyone except Sam - so I dove on the anchor while Sara watched for attack-rays. The anchor had set fine, but it had set sideways. It's usually not something I worry about, the Bruce holds in any direction, but with us so close to shore I didn't want to take any chances. I turned the anchor around and Sara backed down on it while I swam nearby. It was cool to see the whole thing from the anchor's perspective!

The boat moved away in reverse, the anchor line went straight, and the chain slowly lifted just a little off the sand. By this time Sara was powering back at half throttle - that's a lot! - and our Bruce slowly wriggled deeper into the sand. Sara gave the throttle one last tug and the anchor buried itself perfectly. With good scope, I would trust this anchor in a hurricane.

Crazy cactus!


Crazier puffer fish

The next day we dinghied around the islands, checking out the crazy cacti and the wildlife. There were tons of boobies and frigate birds, and some strange gull-like creatures with white/red beaks. I knew they weren't seagulls because they seemed interested in working for their food, unlike all other sky-rats I've ever seen. Wish we had a bird book.

While checking out the island near our boat (Isla Passavera) we must have caught the fancy of a huge puffer fish. It swam after us, following our dinghy, and I had to be careful not to chop him up with the propeller! Who needs an underwater camera? If we wait long enough, they'll come to us!

Cactus tree thing


The spraying rock formation

We went ashore and examined the huge cactus trees. I think they must have been twenty feet tall! The tops were covered in white guano, giving them an other-worldly look, perhaps like some snow-tipped cactus mountain or something. Very cool.

We also found this cool spot in the rocky shore, where the incoming waves would bounce together in a small hole between two rocks, and shoot spray way up into the air. It was funny to watch - it was hard to predict which waves would shoot spray, and which would just fizzle at the waterline.

After all this strenuous exploring, we retreated to Wanderlust for an afternoon of reading, cooking, eating, and laying around talking about nothing in particular. We swam to shore, skipped rocks from the beach, and enjoyed each other's company.

The next day we dinghied over to the southern island (Isla Colorado) and took trusty Purpeat through the breaking surf to further explore the area. Braving the surf and landing the dinghy is yet another challenge that we must be mindful of - we know too many people who have misjudged the waves and end up flipping their landing craft. It's not a problem if you're on a kayak, but we've heard about more than one who've been chopped up by the propellers on their still-running outboards.

Our anchorage from the west


From Colorado looking north

We landed safely and dragged Purpeat up the beach. We noticed a few tents and met the six or seven twenty-something Mexicans who were camping there. They seemed like an interesting bunch of people, hailing from all over Central America, probably originally friends from high-school or something. Very friendly, very interested in our boat, our life, etc.

We hiked up the cliffs and made our way through brambles and painful thorny plants to the top. This is the first time we've seen this strange dishevelled-looking cacti. I guess it's also the first time we've seen the cactus trees.

I never get the vicious pounding surf in these pictures


Spaghetti cactus on the cliffs

There's probably some naturalist out there reading this, thinking "what an idiot!" Guess what, buddy, you're a friggin naturalist. Who's the idiot now, huh? Yeah!

Waaaaay off in the distance: Hawaii


Enjoying a quiet moment

We found a nice spot on the cliff and shared a beer, quietly appreciating the surf roaring against the rocks, the birds floating above us, and the best cervesa Corona makes. Marriage is all about compromise, so it was good that I brought two beers and shared the first one a little.

Cliffs at the edge of the beach


Waves from two directions!

We hiked back to the beach and prepared to launch Purpeat into the even-bigger surf. I was dragging the dinghy back to the water when I noticed Sara checking out someone walking past. Of course it was one of the quite-attractive Mexican girls, and of course she was topless. Why am I ALWAYS looking the wrong way? Sara got a good laugh as I tried to nonchalantly turn around while pulling the dinghy, but of course almost fell over.

We expertly launched without drama and motored around behind the island. We had seen a little protected cove the day prior and wanted to explore further. It was beautiful! The beach was at the end of a small circular cove; a rocky pass in the cliffs also let waves roar in from the other side of the island. Surf breaking on one side of the beach would wash up, over, and down onto the beach on the other side.

Rocky inlet


Sitting on the sand spit

We explored a little more, Sara enticed and captured the blue-footed boobie shown near the cactus, and we had a fantastic boobie dinner. I can't tell you how tasty these cute little birds are. They taste just like chicken!

Just a little closer...


...Mmmm, boobie breast filets for dinner

Okay, I don't think I can get away with many more comments about "boobies", and how we ate "breasts" for dinner. Look, they're really called that - the birds are, I mean - and it's not my fault the best-tasting part is the frontal chest area.