5-28-2012 – Mazatlan, Mexico

Hi All,

Well, we’re finally working our way north towards the Sea of Cortez, but we’re taking our time.  We’re in Mazatlan now, having taken more than a week to get here.  We sailed almost the entire way, only starting the motor a few times to start or finish our day.  This is an accomplishment for us, and we’re determined to continue this progress.  There are a number of benefits to sailing over motoring: noise, smell and cost among them.  We have a loose budget, which is not completely realistic but provides a good target for our spending.  It includes $200/month in diesel.  We figured out on this trip, though, that after allowing for our generator usage it only leaves enough diesel for 10 hours of motoring a month.  Hopefully this will work out over an average, although we’re likely to over-shoot when we’re traveling like now.  However, it’s a good feeling to be traveling mostly by sail, possible because we don’t have a firm time-line: we’ll get there when we get there.  We had thought that the trip would only be 4-5 days, but we didn’t end up choosing an especially good weather window, so we ghosted along quite a bit of the time.

The first half of the way, the coastline had a number of well-known anchorages, divots that can offer some protection from winds and ocean swell, at least from one direction or another.  We stopped at three of them, the last of which was Matenchen Bay, which has a river running into it that widens out into a mangrove-edged estuary for quite a number of miles.  Our guidebook described a river tour by panga that sounded interesting, so we tracked it down.  We set it up for first thing in the morning, because that’s when the crocodiles are most likely to be out, and also because it would be more pleasant before the heat of the day.  We were not disappointed!  We saw lots of different kinds of birds, and were surprised at how different the list was from what we saw in Banderas Bay.  We didn’t see any iguanas in the trees like we had on our kayak trip near Paradise Village Marina.  We did spot a couple of crocodiles lounging along the shore, which was cool, but even better was a stop to a “cocodrilario”, a crocodile preserve on one arm of the estuary.  The boat stopped there for 20 minutes for us to take a look.  They had 8 or 10 large pools surrounded by heavy chicken-wire fences.  In each murky pool were 2 crocodiles, we were guessing a male and a female because it looked like there was generally a pretty big size difference.  We stopped and looked at the first pool for a few minutes, where the larger crocodile stayed completely motionless but the smaller one disappeared underwater.  She eased over to the edge near us and suddenly lunged out of the water with a hiss, then pulled back into the water as if nothing had happened.  She did this about 3 times before we wandered away, excited and puzzled at whether she was territorial, hungry, fearful, or ???  We saw similar behavior at two of the other pools, one in particular where she lunged at the fence (more specifically, at Dan, behind it) more than a dozen times.  The crocodiles we saw in the river/estuary were all about 3 or 4 feet long, rather small, but the ones in the cocodrilario were all large: 8 to 12 feet.  One would *not* want to see this behavior in the open river!  When we returned from the tour and were walking back to the beach, a huge “parade” of pre-teen kids rode by on bicycles.  There must have been 200 of them, organized roughly by school it appeared.  They congregated on the beach a mile or two further up the road.  Field trip?  We stopped for a swim before heading back to the boat.  The water has warmed up into the 80’s now, and with air temps in the 90’s a dip in the water is delicious!  Matenchen Bay is pretty long, but very shallow, so the waves that come in travel for a long ways.  The guidebook says that they can boast of having the world’s longest surfing wave.  But where we were, the waves were not tall, just enough to think about body-surfing.  The odd thing is that the waves were running nearly perpendicular to the beach.


The second half of this trip the coastline was pretty straight, and doesn’t offer anywhere obvious to anchor.  Generally people just sail the whole way, but we chose to drop an anchor the first two nights when the winds died off and we started drifting backwards.  It turned out to be an uncomfortable way to do things, so we may not do it that way again!  The last two nights we sailed through, although we made virtually no progress after the daily winds died off.  One night about 1am we had another show of bioluminscent-covered dolphins leaping and twirling.  We were able to watch them for 15 or 20 minutes before our paths diverged.  Another day we saw a huge school of jellyfish drift by.  They had a little bit of color in them, and had long tentacles trailing behind, so we think they might have been stinging jellyfish.  We didn’t test to find out!  But they were beautiful: graceful and flowing.  We watched the sunset each night that we were underway, still hoping to witness a Green Flash.  Although that hasn’t happened for us yet, we were amazed to see a partial eclipse the last night that we were underway.  As the sun hit the water it was about half occluded.  At about noon the last day we were approached by the Mexican Navy.  They asked to board, in order to check our paperwork.  So they sent out a dinghy with 6 well-armed men carrying automatic weaponry, one of whom boarded Lungta.  We had a nice interaction, in mixed English and Spanish.  We were tickled when he asked why we had stopped the previous night.  The funny thing is that we hadn’t intentionally stopped that night, we had sailed through.  We told him we went with the wind, and the wind was very slow at night.  Later that day, as we approached Mazatlan, one of our fishing poles whirred that something had bitten.  We looked back  to see that a booby bird had grabbed the lure floating at the surface and got the hook through his beak.  Fortunately a friend had just told us about this situation the week before we left La Cruz.  Apparently it happens pretty often: he characterized boobies as pretty dumb animals, sometimes even coming back to a line that they’ve already been caught on.  He told us about his technique for removing hooks, so we already had an idea of how to approach the situation when it happened to us.  We pulled him in to the boat, and then wrapped a towel around his face before bringing him on-board.  The darkness soothed him somehow and he quit flailing around, making it easy to use a pair of pliers  to remove the hook from his beak.  Then we dropped him back into the water, and as soon as his eyes were free of the towel he took off flying.  He was a bit wobbly at first, but quickly regained his wits if he ever had any in the first place.  We pulled in the fishing lines at this point, so we didn’t see either him or any of his friends again.


We arrived in Mazatlan just at sunset, and dropped our anchor in the same place we visited in January.  It’s apparently a public anchorage, free except you can pay a nearby boatyard (Club Nautico) $4/day to use their dinghy-dock.  The place had been crowded when we were here before, but now it’s almost empty except for a dozen boats that seem to be abandoned, a dozen that look like they’re weekend fishing boats, and 4 or 5 commercial boats of various sorts (tour/ferry, sportfishing, dredging).  The first day we took the dinghy up into the harbor where the fishing fleet is situated, and found the boatyard that we had been told about that might be large enough to be able to haul our boat out of the water for us to work on the bottom.  We found the place, and although it’s *very* industrial, it looks like it will do the trick!  They won’t be able to take us, though, for the better part of a week, so we’ve had a few days to cool our heels, catch up on some small projects, and enjoy the town.

The second night we were here, though, something unfortunate happened.  We were awakened at 2am by the sound of voices and a splash just outside our windows, and by the time we popped our heads up and were able to take a clear look at what was happening, a couple of guys in a panga had made off with our dinghy, including the attached outboard motor.  🙁  They had cut four lines and towed it away all in about 10 seconds.  You can’t imagine what a helpless feeling we had as we stood on deck watching them motor away with our main form of transportation off the boat!  We called the port captain on the radio, but I don’t think he understood what we were saying (partly because his only questions were what our last port-of-call was and how many people we had aboard).  Then we called a neighbor boat who we’d met the previous day, and Rich graciously brought his dinghy over to see if we could chase them down.  Dan and Rich were gone about half an hour but saw nothing; the thieves had disappeared into the night (and probably the estuary, which goes inland for miles).  We didn’t sleep well after that, fretting over what had happened, what we “should” have done, and  where this was going to take us. 

One of the big advantages to having a large boat is that we have space for more “toys” than most cruisers, including another small boat that we intend for rowing and day-sailing, but which can serve as a backup dinghy in a pinch.  It won’t do beach landings and it won’t deal with choppy seas, but it will help us for the time being get to and from a dinghy dock while we’re in Mazatlan.  So the next morning we lowered the backup dinghy into the water and set it up with an outboard.  We’re also fortunate to have a pair of bicycles on-board, which we tuned up (it turns out bicycle chains & brakes don’t really like salt-water spray all that much) and then lowered onto the dinghy. We headed into town to report the theft.  The Port Captain told us that he first needed a copy of a theft report filed with the state, so we went to the location that he described all the way on the other side of town.  Once we found the building, we realized that there were numerous offices, each with a dozen or more people sitting in the hallway outside.  We must have been looking lost, because a man approached us and offered to help us find the right office and get started.  He was a lawyer, and probably spent an hour helping us get a place in the right line, but he never asked us for any money.  He just faded into the background after telling us that the wait would probably be a couple of hours.  So we sat in the hallway with the other dozen or so folks patiently waiting for their number to be called.  Kathy had a nice conversation with an 11-year-old girl named Janette, another delightful opportunity to learn a little Spanish.  Three hours or so later, one of the office’s workers called us in and told us that we should go to a different office several miles away, one that specialized in tourist affairs.  They have a translator on staff who would take our statement and file the proper papers.  However it was late in the day, and by the time we got there (did I mention the flat tire on my bike?) he had left for the day.  So our first day was spent learning what we needed to do to report the theft, but not much else.  The next day we went back to that office and things went just as they’d said, but by the time we got back to this side of town the Port Captain’s office was closed, so we filed the report with him the third day.  The final report here was three legal-size pages, of which they made five copies each, and they had Dan sign and affix a thumb-print to all 15 pages.  It’s amazing how many steps are in the process, any process, here in Mexico.  They love to make duplicate copies of forms, although they seem to have graduated away from the days of carbon paper.  There was a lot of confusion about which office we should have started with, rather than a clear delineation of responsibilities.  It really makes us appreciate how smoothly the American justice system operates, not that either of us had much experience with it!  What took the better part of two rather grueling days in Mexico, would, in the US, have taken a 10 minute phone call.

Mazatlan has a wonderful municipal market, loaded with fruits and veggies, a meat section, and lots of small odds-and-ends including clothing and souvenirs.  We’ve enjoyed poking around there several times.  On one trip we sought out a hand-grinder for grains.  We had to ask around a bit, but finally found a wonderful store a few blocks away which had one (and lots of other cool stuff too!).  We enjoy hot cereal for breakfast, but are having a hard time finding cornmeal, rolled barley, etc.  So we tried chopping some whole grains up in a food processor, but it came out very inconsistent.  Now we have another kitchen tool in our fleet and we love it!  We’re still enjoying the orange juicer that we got in Morelia and the lime squeezer that we got in La Cruz!  We get big bags of the fruit and enjoy the juice for days or weeks at a time.  Right now, with all of the heat, we’re going through 2 or sometimes 3 pitchers of limeade a day!

We’ve been getting more exercise recently than the last several months.  We’ve ridden our bikes to the far side of town a couple of times (see above 🙂 ), and we’ve hiked to the top of Cerro Creston, a 500 foot hill with a lighthouse on it.  The trailhead is located just across the street from the boatyard where we’ve been coming ashore.  (In the photo below, taken from the top of this hill, Lungta is just to the left of the center of the anchorage.)  It feels good to be active!  And we’re both looking forward to swimming a lot in the coming months…

We’ve heard that La Paz is the best town in the region for goods and services for the cruising boater, so that seems like the right place to go look for a replacement dinghy & outboard motor.  We had thought that perhaps we would make Mazatlan our last major city before hitting “The Islands”, but now it looks like we’ll also be stopping in La Paz.  That will give us another opportunity to post again (assuming that there’s anything interesting to share in the meantime 🙂 ).  Hope all is well with our friends and family out there in cyber-land.  We’d love to know how you’re all doing, so drop us a line occasionally.  Cheers!

>> Kathy & Dan


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