As we turned left out of Manzanillo, I suddenly said, “No more tracks!” Looking at the chart plotter we sometimes use our tracks from prior visits as a reference point to follow especially if entering a bay at night or passing through a shallow channel. This time though we head south into uncharted territory (for Tulum) with no more tracks to follow and it was an exciting feeling!
There are many ways to approach these longer coastal passages – a continuous underway period over a few days, multiple day hops, or a combination of the two. The choice to stop and sleep for the night in anchorages may sound appealing, but we’re quickly reminded that we’re not it the Sea of Cortez anymore with it’s protected anchorages. Many of these small anchorages are open to swell and whatever weather the Pacific can drum up, so sleep may be better underway. We headed out of Manzanillo with a small impromptu fleet following the weather south, all with different approaches based on personal preference and capabilities. In the end, we all made it safely to Zihuatanejo in plenty of time to enjoy the Christmas season. Your chosen method of getting there depends on a lot of factors. Here are the ones we considered in planning our route:
Weather and desire to sail vs willingness/ability to motor – Yes, we know we have these large white things on top of the boat, designed to catch the wind and propel us forward, but all too often it isn’t blowing in the right direction or strong enough to propel our stout home, so yes, we motorsail…a lot. The weather was favorable for sailing on the first day, but predicted to lighten up overnight or perhaps in the next few days. While we could make long sweeping zigzags (tacks) in order to optimize the wind angle, we preferred to take a more direct course and knew that meant less sailing. We have a strong engine that had just been serviced and didn’t mind motor sailing down the coast to maintain a certain speed. Unlike our crossing to mainland, the swell and currents seemed to afford a much more comfortable motorsail.
Knowing your boat – Sail changes for our main and mizzen sails happen outside the cockpit, so we prefer to limit these at night and instead, maintain a steady course if the wind remains relatively constant. We are also a heavy boat that needs a decent amount of wind in order to purely sail, so all too often the motor is running to help us reach our destination.
Time limitations – keeping to a schedule out here is dangerous. We know this, but we do try to keep to certain milestones. In the short run, we wanted to be to Zihuatanejo with enough time to enjoy the Christmas season. We had plenty of time to do so and had been putting on significant miles in the past month trying to play catch up after sitting on the dock all summer and fall. So for us, we didn’t mind slowing down and seeing some of the sights along the way. We furthermore knew we had several overnight passages to anticipate in the upcoming months, so in the end, there was no need to rush now.
Desire to see the sights – To quote Jimmy Buffett “Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see.” This was to be our last time passing through here (we hope) and while we read and heard stories of how rolly the anchorages were, we were still curious to experience them ourselves. If you are interested in good beach days and surfing – the day hops might be for you. Unfortunately, we’ve realized “good surf spot” also equals “rolly anchorage” and “sporty dinghy landing” so, we didn’t experience much more than the beautiful vistas, perhaps a cocktail at sunset, and some rolly nights in the anchorages. Maruata was the exception. I did paddle amongst the beautiful rocks and arches to see large mating sea turtles and once again, proved to myself that a paddle board does not make a good surfboard – it’s all fun and games until you’re eating sand.
Potential for hazards that might inhibit night time travel– This was a big one for us. Lazaro Cardenas is the busiest shipping port in Mexico and we’re pretty OK with not encountering large freighters in the middle of the night. Perhaps we should be more fearful of the pangas with limited (or absence of) lighting and a lack of radar and other technology that would detect our presence, but the size and speed of these big boys does still concern us. Another common occurrence on this coast are long lines. These are essentially as described – a very long line with baited hooks attached at intervals marked with anything from a tall but teeny black flag to a floating clear coke bottle. The good thing is that they are super easy to spot and never cause any delays in travel – JUST KIDDING! Every watch is spent diligently searching for anything out of the ordinary on the surface which may prove to be a long line marker, a turtle, a coconut, trash, or my favorite “just a bird”. From just a few miles off the coast to many miles out, it seems no one is immune to encountering them during certain passages. The danger is getting it caught on your rudder or propeller, inhibiting your ability to steer or motor. When we catch a line, we think it is usually on our sonar bulb on our keel – not as dangerous, but still needs to be addressed. There are sometimes fishermen in pangas monitoring these lines who will direct you over them or even help you get unraveled. For so many reasons we’d rather encounter these during the daytime and on this particular passage, we found the most just south of Manzanillo – early on in our journey, during daylight hours.
Is the crew ready for an overnight? We embarked on this passage agreeing that we may be up for an overnight or we might stop at the first anchorage (Cabeza Negra) about 50 miles away just before sunset depending on sea state and overall crew mentality. The night before, I barely slept and I wasn’t successful at napping during the first passage. Perhaps it was the excitement and anxiety of new territory, but the bottom line was – I wasn’t as well prepared for an overnight as I could’ve been and we knew it. We could rally and push through, but there was no reason to with a bailout anchorage where we could rest for the night. The girls also get a vote and in this case, they too wanted to drop the hook for the evening. Overnight passages are best with a crew that is mentally and physically prepared – we just didn’t see the benefit of pushing on in this case.
In the end…..
We got to know cruisers we had only waved to in Puerto Escondido over summer and met new ones headed in a similar direction. We were reunited with friends and alumni from the 2019 Baja Ha-Ha and were grateful for the information passed along to us from their experiences further on in the journey. We were able to spend nights in some beautiful remote anchorages and complete boat projects along the way. This passage reminded me of how important it is to captain your own boat. You know your crew and your boat best. You know their strengths, their capabilities and their limits as well. In this business, bring your confidence, but leave your pride at home. While we try to cruise with friends and enjoy the anchorages together, mutual plans and timelines don’t always lineup, however the reunions seem to happen down the line. We hope to enjoy cruising for as long as our health and happiness will afford. Every passage we equally run the risk of stirring up more wonder about the world around us or utter fear and stress about the vulnerability of subjecting our most precious assets to the power of Mother Ocean. We do our best to choose wisely and adjust course as needed. That’s the one thing that remains constant out here.
On this run we made the decision to check out smaller, less well known anchorages, arriving in Zihua a day or two behind other boats but richer for having slowed down to check out those anchorages. We spent a night each at Punta Cabeza Negra, Bahia de Maruata and Caleta de Campos. Punta Negra and Caleta Campos were rolly (as the Pacific Mexico guide points out) but Maruata was a hidden treasure. I’ll make sure to write about each separately when I get to them in my series on “places we’ve been”.
We spent Christmas in Zihua and loved it, but I was very disappointed to hear that soon after we left there was an assault on a cruiser who was out running. Click here to hear the story in their own words.
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