Huatulco to Zihuatanejo – Nature and solitude on a peaceful coastal passage

Underway sailing from Huatulco to Zihuatanejo Sail blog

Once underway we got excited about the thrills that lay ahead.

Late January, 2013 – It was hard for us to leave Huatulco, but once we got underway we began thinking about the adventures that lay ahead of us. Suddenly we were excited to be on our way to the funky town of Zihuatanejo.

Life on a long passage has a different pace than life at anchor or on land, and it always takes us a while to settle in. We had a lovely sunny day to start our passage, but not quite enough wind to sail without having the engine running at the same time.  We hung out in the cockpit and watched the world inch by.

Whale tale puerto escondido cruising blog

Mark saw the breach… all I caught was the tail end.

We had 55 hours or so at sea ahead of us before we reached Zihuatanejo 350 miles away, so what was the rush to do anything? Then Mark suddenly jumped up, “Did you see THAT??!!” I followed where he was pointing and saw an enormous splash and spray of water about 100 yards from the boat.

A whale had breached and fallen back into the water. We scrambled for the cameras and got all set up for the next breach, but it never came. There were four whales traveling north, and they lobbed alongside us for a few minutes. Then, one by one, they dove deep into the water.

puerto escondido coastline sailing blog

Sailing closer to shore makes a more interesting voyage.

People often ask us how far out we travel, and usually we follow the coastline about two miles offshore. But on this passage we decided to stay within one mile so we could see the shoreline better. The little communities that dot this part of this coast slowly came and went, sometimes giving us internet access for a little while, and always offering us something to look at through the binoculars. Traveling at 6-8 mph, we would laugh now and then and say, “Are we there yet?”  We could jog faster!!

sunset at sea on groovy sailing blog

Sunset at sea…

The sun finally began to set and we watched it slip into the sea. We hadn’t seen any other boats all day, and we were still alone on the ocean. We had only each other to share this precious moment. There is something both primal and eerie about watching the sun fall out of the sky at sea. The brilliant colors of its last wave goodbye are comforting, but night steals over the sky all too fast.

We put on our harnesses, clipped ourselves onto the line that traverses the cockpit, and waited for darkness to fill our world. We hadn’t run our jacklines, those safety lines that go around the perimeter of the boat and make it possible to walk the full length of the deck on a moveable leash.  Huatulco had made us lazy! However, in 20 nights or so at sea we had never had to leave the cockpit of the boat, so the jacklines had been unnecessary to date. What were the chances we’d need to go out on deck to fix something on this very calm night?

underway night sailing passage cruising blog

We keep the cabin dimly lit at night to retain our night vision as much as possible.

We also spend most of our nights at sea down in the cabin, poking our heads into the cockpit every 15 minutes to look around, check the radar and check our progress. Groovy barrels along in the pitch dark under the guidance of the autopilot, and we just hope there’s nothing in our path.

 full on groovy sail blog

The full moon’s light plays on our ensign.

The moon rose like an old friend behind us and we played around trying to capture its essence with the cameras for a while.

The boat was gently riding up and down over the waves, so the combination of a moving platform and dim lighting conspired to make blurry photos. But I loved the effect Mark got with our flag and the moon.

The small waves in the early evening became large rollers by midnight, rushing towards us with lots of speed and enthusiasm. Groovy was doing a flying crash-dance, riding up a wave until half airborne and then falling into the trough behind it.

It was a magic carpet ride, especially on the innerspring mattress in the v-berth. The springs and the boat’s motion levitated me into the air on a spongy ride. Occasionally I bounced like I was on a trampoline. Lying there on my back, I was traveling feet first, and it seemed very much like being on a luge. The waves noisily slapped the hull on either side of me and the boat rolled and pitched while the mattress bounced and flexed. Sleep? Are you kidding?? Mark wisely took a spot on a settee in the middle of the boat (where the motion is less bouncy) when he was off-watch, and he got some really good shut-eye.

Dawn, after a night at sea, has a slightly raw feeling to it, and this morning was no different. A hot shower and some coffee and tea helped us shake the night away, and we puttered around looking for things to keep us occupied. The wind was still too light for sailing without the engine. Mark threw a hand-line off the transom to try and catch something. Suddenly it went taught with a fish jerking the other end.

skip jack tuna sailing blog

Is this one good eating??

He reeled in the silver beauty, hoping for a dorado (mahi-mahi), while I hoped it would be something inedible we could throw back. These things don’t come with signs on them saying, “I make a really great fillet – just toss me in the frying pan with butter and some veggies…” Instead, we studied the fish and studied the fish book. It appeared to be a Pacific Bonito, not the best tasting. So back he went, vanishing as soon as his fins hit the water.

Soon we had another fish on the line, and it was the same type of fish. Back it went, again to my relief, as butchering a large fish in the cockpit is quite bloody and rather barbaric. Yet the thrill of getting a fish on the hook is undeniable.  Ironically, studying the fish book and our photos a few hours later, we realized these fish were Mexican Bonito, which is said to be quite tasty. Oops!!

blue water of acapulco sailing blog

The ocean near Acapulco is the bluest we’ve seen in Mexico.

The water outside of Acapulco is about the bluest we’ve seen anywhere, and for miles we admired the beautiful shades that played between the waves.

acapulco shoreline sailing blog

Even outer Acapulco’s skyline has lots of highrises.

As we approached Acapulco in the late afternoon after 34 hours or so at sea, the shoreline began to fill in with high-rise buildings.

Many have an industrial sameness about them, but one was curved, making us wonder at first if something was up with the binocular lenses!!

We had been planning to do another night at sea, arriving in ZIhuatanejo the following afternoon. But we suddenly realized Acapulco would make a great stopover. Staying here we could reach Zihuatanejo in two day-sails rather than do another overnight at sea. Yay!

hillside resorts puerto marques sail blog

Pretty villas perch on the cliffs in Puerto Marques.

Rounding the bend into Puerto Marques, a pretty bay south of Acapulco’s main bay, the buildings became picturesque villas that clung to the edges of the cliffs on stilts and undoubtedly made for very swank living.

puerto marques sailing blog

Our private little corner in Puerto Marques on the outskirts of Acapulco’s main bay.

What a great little spot to spend a few days, get some quality sleep, and break up the trip! We dropped the hook to the sounds of parrots in the trees and watched the lights in the resort next to us come on one by one.

The next day vacationers circled us in small tour boats, and a luxury charter megayacht joined us in the anchorage. A little sailboat glinted in the sun and made orange reflections in the water as it went past.

 puerto marques sunfish sail blog

A little sailboat’s sail reflects orange in the water of Puerto Marques.

There is always something that needs a little TLC on a boat, and this time it was the engine’s packing gland, a sleeve that wraps around the drive shaft and seals out the salt water. It can be adjusted so just the right amount of salt water drips into the bilge, around one drip ten or fifteen seconds. Ours had been dribbling a little faster than that.

puerto marques sunfish sail blog

Riding a late afternoon breeze.








packing gland wrench cruising blog

Mark is ready to tackle the packing gland.

The small wrench in Mark’s right hand here is a specialty “packing gland wrench.” But the big wrench in his left hand is what he had to use the first time he cracked the frozen locking nut on our new-to-us boat after the specialty wrench broke. Now he uses both together (West Marine warrantied the broken one) and it spins freely. Where do we store an enormous wrench like that? Under the mattress, of course!!

sunrise over acapulco hills sail blog

The sun rises over Acapulco’s hills in our wake.

After a few days we got up one morning before dawn and sailed out of Puerto Marques.  Looking back over our transom, we watched the sun rise in rich shades of red and orange over the hills of Acapulco in our wake.

cruising passage making sailing blog

Gliding up the coast at 7 mph.

cruising passagemaking sailing blog

Passage-making is hard work (smile!).

Passagemaking is a pretty tranquil thing to do on hot sunny days. Between naps, Mark kept an eye on all the boat’s systems.


He monitored the new alternator’s performance and was happy to see it cranking out nearly 80 amps.  The new Smart Charger that had overheated on our last long tropical passage stayed nice and cool in its new home outside the engine compartment.

clamp-on volt meter alternator sail blog

The clamp-on volt meter shows the new alternator is working.

At the end of the day, we pulled into Papanoa, a little fishing village with a small breakwater to protect us from the ocean for the night. There isn’t much there other than seabirds, fishermen and a palapa bar that hosted happy local patrons until the wee hours of the morning.

Papanoa anchorage palapas cruising blog

The palapa bar at Papanoa, a small fishing harbor.

Papanoa anchorage pelicans sail blog

Papanoa anchorage weighing anchor cruising blog

Weighing anchor in Papanoa’s tiny harbor.

Papanoa anchorage lighthouse sailing blog

Morning light on Papanoa’s lighthouse and breakwater.









We weighed anchor in beautiful and peaceful morning light, and we puttered out of the harbor shortly after the fishermen had gone out to sea for the day’s catch.

What a delight it was a little while later when a school of leaping manta rays started hurling themselves out of the flat calm water nearby.

These alien looking creatures seem to love leaping into the sky and doing somersaults.

Manta rays leaping Mexico sail blog

Leaping manta rays.

Manta rays leaping Mexico sailing blog

One going up and one going down.

manta rays leaping sailing blog

Sheer joy at being alive!

Perhaps scientists know of a survivalist reason they do this, but to us it looks like they are so happy to be alive they just want to jump for joy.  We should all feel that way!!

Before long the lighthouse that marks the entrance to Zihuatanejo came into view.
We rounded the bend and were greeted with the familiar and colorful sight of Zihuatanejo Bay.

zihuatanejo lighthouse sailing blog

A welcome sight – Zihuatanejo’s lighthouse.

zihuatanejo bay entrance cruising blog

Coming into the bay in Zihuatanejo.

The memories of our many past days in this anchorage came flooding over us, and we found a quiet spot in the corner off of Las Gatas Beach to set up housekeeping for a few weeks. It had been an enjoyable passage, full of natural wonders and solitude. Now it was time to meet up with some other cruisers and enjoy the sights of Z-town.

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