Monday, December 8, 2008

A Tiny Slice of Paradise

Greetings from Chacala! ...a tiny slice of paradise on Mexico's west coast.

Our story left off with us departing Mazatlan in the afternoon for an overnight sail to Isla Isabella. We enjoyed Mazatlan-- especially the outdoor restaurants in the Machado plaza in the old part of town-- but weren't too happy with our anchoring situation. We were staying in the port, and paying $3 a day to drop our hook and use the dinghy dock and shower facilities of "Club Nautico".

Sounds nice, right? Well, the port is downwind of a sewer treatment plant, and "Club Nautico" has definitely seen better probably hit its zenith around 1962 and has been steadily eroding since then. For example, the showers...the stalls had crisp red and blue sailing burgee tiles inlaid in the wall-- evidence of better times--but we needed to wear flip flops at all times because, as Naomi puts it, "you didn't want to drop anything in there". It was good to put it behind us, lest we bring home a new strain of foot fungus or something.

Anyway, after the overnighter we were treated to a great sunrise (see pic) and made our way to Isabella. This small island is a nature preserve and breeding ground of the blue-footed booby. As we got closer to the island, the skies above it appeared to be in motion...probably several thousand birds all circling over the peak, which was visually cool albeit vaguely unsettling and reminiscent of a few scenes from Alfred Hitcock's movie, The Birds. A few tried to land on our windvane and radar tower-- they were quite aggressive, actually-- but blasting the air horn and making threatening jabs with the gaff hook finally did the trick.

When we arrived, we were a little concerned to find the wind coming from the southeast instead of the (usual) north, turning the rocky shore into a lee shore. For non-sailors, I should point out that this is a bad thing...if the boat drags anchor or drifts, there is a good chance of ending up on the rocks. However, we were tired and there was another boat there, so we dropped the hook.

After two tries at anchoring, we finally stopped the boat and I dove in to check the anchor's set. To my dismay, the Delta was sitting upright on a patch of sand, and the rode (chain) was wrapping itself around some big coral blocks. As I noticed this, I also noticed the other boat, a catamaran, trying to leave but having a hell of a time getting their anchor back up...clearly, they had spent the night there and in the meantime their anchor had gotten itself into all kinds of trouble on the underwater rocks and coral heads.

So, we realized we had to keep moving, and pronto. This is one of the unpleasant realities of cruising...after sailing for any extended period, you're exhausted and just want to stop and get some rest, but sometimes you simply have to push on, either because the anchorage is foul (as in our case), or a weather front is moving in, or whatever. No rest for the wicked.

Our choices were either San Blas or Chacala as next ports-of-call. Neither was ideal: San Blas was closer, but the narrow estuary generally requires a pilot or panga guide. Chacala was farther-- 54 miles or so-- which doesn't sound that bad, but at an average speed of 5 knots or so it was at least 11 or so hours away. Since we'd arrive at dark at either place, we chose Chacala.

Along the way, I caught a tasty Bonito and was able to gaff him and get him up on deck without waking my sleeping beauty, with minimal fuss. THis was a first, since our previous fishing succcesses usually involved a lot of chaos, commotion, and splattering blood. Apparently we're learning a few things.

As night fell and we finally approached Chacala, we motored into the tiny bay and made a few passes then dropped the Delta. Our technique was a little rough around the edges, since all the other boats were using both bow and stern anchors and pointing out to the sea, whereas we were too tired to accomplish this 'intermediate' level of anchoring in the middle of the night, and dropped just a bow anchor, which had us bow-to-bow with all the other boats. Not bristol seamanlike form, but we did get up every couple hours to check for dragging. I fried up my Bonito on the bbq and hit the sack.

In the morning, we were amply rewarded for our perseverance...we awoke to find this idyllic little cove, a nice beach lined with palm trees, and a few restaurants and palapas. Chacala is truly a little sliver of 'topical paradise'and the type of spot that cruisers dream's the reason we're all out here, spending ridculous sums of money on diesel and boat stuff and braving wind, waves, whales, and sunburn. Finding such spots every so often satisfies the drive and justifies the unpleasantries.

The reason it's such an idyll is that apparently, some gringo hippies moved here in the '70's and worked quite successfully with the locals to prevent major (over) development. However, it is 'being discovered', and there are some fancy houses sprouting up, but for now it's mostly just fishermen and beach front restaurants that sell cold Coronas and awesome platters of shrimp for about $5.

We've been here 2 days, and will probably stay another, then make our way further south to rendezvous with Naomi's parents in Puerto Vallarta for a little civilization and updates on 'what the heck is happening in the rest of the world'. Until then...asta luego!

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