Power plant in Manzanillo.
Mark's 34" yellowfin tuna.
Sea turtles were everywhere.
Slow passage: a bird catches a
Purple and Red are accurate. Orange and blue are not. Radar contours of real land
are purple. Accurate GPS markers are red. Inaccurate "charted" land is orange.
Inaccurate ocean is blue. Our boat is the size of a city block accurately marked near
bottom. Two red circles indicate the approach. Red anchor symbol (on land) tucked
into radar hook is where we will anchor. Red triangle is dangerous offshore rocks.
Circled sailboat gives info when clicked. '+' symbols are "charted" rocks.
Fishermen in a panga.
Tennis ball sized tar balls engulf the boat.
A line of congealed tar balls blocked our way.
known also as "Isla de Ixtapa"...
...and also called "Isla Grande."
Deer live on the island.
The bunnies get fed.
The snorkeling cove on the south side of Isla de Ixtapa.
A great place to relax.
A water taxi takes a group of workers to the island.
Beach umbrellas line all three beaches on the island.
among the tourists.
There are boat rides of all kinds.
Cactus thrives here.
The hidden beach.
The evening before a lunar
Manzanillo to Isla Ixtapa (Isla Grande), Mexico
Mid-December, 2010 - Our days in Manzanillo made us feel like our
cruising lifestyle was truly underway. We basked in the warm weather,
pretty scenery, and exotic locale. The only downside was the
persistently thick, smokey air. Small fires burned every night. Either
people were burning their trash or one rumor was that farmers were
burning off the remains of last year's crops. The large power plant in
the downtown port area contributed its own steady plume of smoke too.
It made an eerily pretty sight in the morning sun as we sailed away.
We had planned to make
Manzanillo our southernmost
stop, but new friends talked us
into sailing another 180 miles
south to Zihuatanejo. Most boats
do this passage in a single 30 hour run, but we took
four days to get there, stopping at each of the three
anchorages along the way.
Mark had dragged a hand fishing line for many hours on several days of our travels, with no
luck. As we approached Cabeza Negra, our first night's anchorage, he pulled the hand line
in to stow it away and suddenly yelled, "I think I've got something!" Sure enough, he had a
34" long yellowfin tuna. It was a beautiful fish. Feeling a weird mixture of excitement over
catching it and terrible sadness at the prospect of killing it, I burst into tears. What a great
fishing companion I am!
Cabeza Negra is a tiny
anchorage cradled by a private,
gated, guarded community.
Listening to a band playing on
shore, Mark cleaned the fish.
We had a delicious fish dinner
that night, and our freezer was
quickly stuffed with a month's
worth of meals.
There was no wind along this coast, so we motored most of
everyday. The sea turtles were plentiful. Our next
anchorage, Maruata, has a turtle sanctuary, and their
efforts must be working, because we passed at least ten to
twenty turtles on each of our day's passages. One turtle
was even giving a bird a ride.
We had grown to love our chartplotter, as it makes navigating so easy,
but we soon learned to watch it with a weather eye. Mexico's survey
data is ancient, and the chartplotter reflects that. Coming into each
anchorage we used the radar and hand-entered accurate GPS
waypoints from our guidebooks to get the true lay of the land. In
Maruata's case, the chartplotter drawing was half a mile off. The
guidebook's GPS coordinates for dropping the anchor appeared to be
on land, and we sailed right through the chartplotter's inaccurately
drawn, rock-strewn coast on our way in.
Maruata's bay was slightly larger than our
previous night's anchorage at Cabeza
Negra. The village has just a few
buildings and an old air strip. We
watched some young men deftly
maneuver their panga in among the surf-
pounded rocks. In no time they had
caught something in the net they had
thrown off their bow.
On a nearby bluff the birds went crazy
squawking at each other as the sun set.
After the sophisticated air of Las Hadas
resort in Manzanillo, with its loud bands
playing all day and all night, this coastline
felt very remote and rugged. We saw
nothing but sea, sky and occasional
creatures as we sailed during the day,
and all we could hear at anchor was the
surf on the beach and the birds in the
Michoacán, the state we were sailing through, is known as
a top producer of pot, and the route we were taking has
been a common drug running route. However, other than
three enormous tankers we didn't see one other boat
during our entire four day jaunt, except for a small Navy
boat that might have been patrolling the area.
Underneath our boat, however, there was all kinds of activity. Our depth gauge would read proper
depths as we left each night's anchorage in the morning and again as we approached our new
anchoring spot in the afternoon. But all day in between it would read crazy shallow depths.
Sometimes it hovered around 10 feet, and sometimes around 25 feet or 50. Schools of fish seemed
to find our shadow a pleasant place to hang out. Our speed of 6.5 to 7.5 knots suited them just fine,
and they swam along beneath us. At one point, when we stopped the motor and slowed to 3 knots to
sail for a while, they all disappeared (those fish didn't have time for 3 knots!). Suddenly our depth
gauge showed three dashes, indicating it couldn't get a depth reading. The true depth was a
thousand feet, too deep for it to measure.
Caleta Campos was our last overnight spot on our way to
Zihuatanejo. We were using three guidebooks, cross referencing
them to find areas where the authors agreed and disagreed. One
book, Charlie's Charts, was originally written 30 years ago, and
despite annual updates it gives the flavor of a different Mexico and
an era of cruising that is long gone.
His book warned that Caleta
Campos could easily be confused
with another anchorage,
Pechilinquillo, 23 miles further down
the coast, because the mountains
and coastal features are similar.
Unless your chartplotter died or the
satellites stopped transmitting, you could never be 23 miles off in your navigation these days.
But even if you were that far off, nowadays you couldn't possibly confuse these two
anchorages. One has a huge radio tower and a giant white cross placed high on a hill along
with a sizeable town that lights up like a Christmas tree at night. Its pricey looking villas cling
to the rocky cliffs. The other anchorage has just a building or two on a deserted sand beach.
As with the two previous anchorages, we
debated getting off the boat to explore
ashore at Caleta Campos but opted not
to, as landing the kayak or dinghy on the
beach looked a little challenging. But it
was delightful to view from a
distance. Boatloads of
teenagers dashed about in
pangas, and the many beach
bars were jumping.
The next day we passed by
the huge industrial port of
Lázaro Cardenas. This port
supports an oil refinery, and
huge tankers carry
cargo in and out.
We were five miles offshore, but we could smell the port long
before we could see it. Suddenly we noticed tennis ball sized
balls of tar floating past us. Just a few at first, but soon we were
engulfed. Alarmed, we hung over the rail until we noticed we
were heading straight for a long line of congealed tar balls. We
aimed for a narrow spot in what looked like a barrier wall and
motored through unscathed. The jagged line of tar zig-zagged
as far as we could see in both directions.
A little later, just as we were remarking on the deep rich blue-green color of
the water (a welcome change after the murky grey-green we had been seeing
all along this coast), we spotted an enormous swath of mustard yellow water
ahead of us. It looked like a cruise ship had dumped its holding tanks, but it
didn't smell. We passed through it unharmed but unnerved, and wondered if it
had been an algae bloom. Half an hour later, just as we approached our
destination of Isla Ixtapa, we motored through a mammoth patch of deep red-
brown. This appeared to be a red tide, something we had heard about but
never seen. During the next 10 days we watched two more red tides sweep
through the anchorage at Isla Ixtapa.
Red tide aside, Isla
Ixtapa (also known as
Isla Grande) was a
total delight. Three
charming coves shape
the perimeter of the
island. Two are ideal for swimming, strolling and kayaking and are
daytime hosts to a fleet of banana boats and jet skis that come over
from the large resorts on the mainland just a mile away.
After landing the kayak on one of these two beaches we made a
beeline along a little footpath across the island's interior for the third
cove. We tromped through the thin woods, passing six foot tall
Christmas cactus that were in full bloom. The leaves crunched under
our feet, surprising a deer who lept away at the sound. Some time later, while
we lounged under the beach umbrellas, another deer bounded across the sand
at full speed, running along the water's edge the entire length of the beach until
he reached the protection of the woods at the far end.
Not only were there deer on the island, but
there were bunnies too. Fortunately for us, the
beachside restaurants left the outer leaves of
their lettuce heads in a huge pile for the
animals. Another day we watched four deer
standing amid the lettuce, munching away. It
seemed they were in heaven.
We were too. The third, southernmost cove is a great snorkeling area, filled with craggy
rocks and live, colorful coral. No sooner did I put my head in the water than I found myself
surrounded by large schools of fish. Tiny royal blue
fish with iridescent blue spots darted in and out of
the coral. Big schools of large silver fish with bright
yellow tails cruised just under the surface, turning
and changing direction as one body. Chubby grey
fish with long flowing fins hovered over the reef.
After the weird pollution and algae blooms it was a
thrill to see bright living coral and happy fish, despite
water visibility of just 8 feet.
This little island is a vacation paradise. Tourists come out from the
mainland resorts a mile away in small water taxis, six or eight to a boat.
The day is whiled away with swimming, snorkeling, boat rides and bathing
suited beachside dining. Then the water taxis take everyone back to
shore for the evening.
At night the island closes up and
all is quiet, as only a handful of
people live there.
Lots of kids and parents enjoyed
the island together. Most tourists
were Mexicans, and while watching
the families playing together I got
chatting with Santos, one of the
restaurant workers, about how
important family is in Mexican
Comparing notes about remarriages
and step-kids and extended families,
he told me there is a saying in Mexico that
every Mexican knows: "Si la vaca es tuya,
son tuyos los becerros," or "If the cow is
yours, the calves are yours."
No woman wants to be compared to
a cow, but this saying seemed to me
to be a very profound statement of
the level of commitment that is
expected and given. I can't think of
an English expression about family
relationships that carries quite the
There is a fourth beach on this
tiny island that is accessible
only by scrambling over some
rocks. We wandered that way
and put the day's first footsteps in
the sand there.
Over on the mainland there are
several large beaches backed by
beautiful resorts. We strolled the
beaches, peering into the resorts
to see how that half lived.
Mexican law keeps all beaches open for
public access, and down by the public
access area there is a fenced estuary that
is kept as a natural wildlife habitat. Wading birds walked along the
outside of the fence, casually searching for goodies in the water.
Behind them a sign read, "No dar de comer a los crocodilos,"
"Don't feed the crocodiles!"
And there they were: on the other side of the fence were at least
20 crocodiles. These guys are big! They lolled around, looking
ever so docile, several of them resting with their mouths wide open.
To complete this exotic picture, a
group of iguanas crawled awkwardly
about. Each one had a unique body
and face. They swayed slowly,
surveying the scene around them.
We enjoyed Isla Ixtapa so much that 10 days slipped
by in an instant. Rather waterlogged from days on end
of swimming and snorkeling, we finally pulled up the
anchor and moved the boat the last ten miles to
Find Isla Ixtapa on Mexico Maps