Acapulco to Huatulco – A Disturbing Passage

Acapulco - kids chanting on a Corona boat in Puerto Marques

Happy vacationers break into a chant for us as they pass Groovy.

The Sea Sweepers, Barrido Marino, pick up used motor oil and household trash from boats.

The "Barrido Marino" sea sweepers take used

motor oil and household trash too!

Acapulco is Nahuatl for

Acapulco is Nahuatl for "Place of Reeds"

Sea horse on Groovy's anchor chain.

Sea horse on our anchor chain.

We leave Acapulco before sunrise.


The ominous sunrise at sea heralds the most disturbing day of our lives.

Eerie silhouette on the rising sun.

We check our position on the paper nautical charts.

Mark checks our position on the

paper charts.

Overnight sailing on Groovy between Acapulco and Huatulco

The sun sets into a moonless night at sea.

Leaping dolphins say hello

Dolphins greet us with great


Dolphins greet us outside Puerto Angel Dolphins welcome us to Puerto Angel Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico

Puerto Angel is cute but too crowded.

Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico

Puerto Angel lighthouse.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Our two boats in Jicaral Cove, Bahías

de Huatulco.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Jicaral Cove.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

We share Jicaral cove with Osprey and Turkey Vultures.

Jicaral Cove, Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

This place is teeming with coral.

Curving beach at San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Neighboring Playa de San Agustín

Clear water and palapas at San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Clear water and fun palapas at San


Snorkeling at San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Snorkelers at San Agustín

Exotic rock formations at San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Bahía de San Agustín has unusual rock


Emily & Mark at Playa San Agustin (Puerto Sacrificios), Bays of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Life's a Beach.

Cruise Ship Statandem at Huatulco harbor, Mexico

Cruise ship "Statendam" takes up most of Santa Cruz Harbor.

Palapa beach bar in Santa Cruz near the Cruise Ship dock in Huatulco

View of Santa Cruz from the water.

Views looking towards Huatulco.

Low buildings hug the shore against a mountainous backdrop.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

This resort goes for $1,000 USD per night.  Yikes!

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

Catamarans take advantage of the

afternoon breezes in Tangolunda.

Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico

We watch the "I Do's" of a young couple on shore.

Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Late January, 2012 - Our pretty little spot in Puerto

Marques on the outskirts of Acapulco Bay came to life

one evening when a boatload of young Mexicans

zoomed past in a boat labeled "Corona La #1".  We

waved, as usual, becoming one of the sights for their

tour, and suddenly they started waving and chanting

what sounded like a team cheer.

Languid sunny days made us lazy and we kept putting off our departure

for our next 215 mile jaunt to Huatulco.  Mark changed the oil in the

engine and transmission one day and at just the right moment the Sea

Sweeper boat ("Barrido Marino") showed up and asked if we had any

trash for them.  What luck!  They took the used oil off our hands along

with our trash, and then hit up the megayacht parked nearby to take

their trash too.  How cool is that: a beautiful free anchorage with free at-

your-boat trash service.  No wonder it was hard to leave.

The word Acapulco comes from the indigenous Nahuatl language and means "Place

of Reeds" or "Place where reeds were destroyed."  to this day, floating beds of

reeds drift throughout the bay and coastline for miles.  Judging by the pile on their

foredeck, the Sea Sweepers picked up more reeds than trash, it seemed.

One day when Mark hauled up the anchor before we went on a daysail he saw the

strangest thing on the chain.  It kept swaying and moving around and suddenly he

realized it was a sea horse.  "Look at this!" he yelled back to me.  I ran up with the

camera just as the little guy unhooked his tail and fell off.  But a few chain links

further on, up came another one.  He had his tail tightly wrapped around one link of

the chain and he kept moving his body around, looking us over, until he finally

unhitched and fell back into the depths.

One night we were woken by loud, mysterious sounds resounding on the

hull.  Going on deck we heard nothing.  Back down below we realized it

was the haunting tones of whales singing in the bay.  Mornings and

evenings we heard the creaking and scraping noises of equipment being

moved onshore or of a boat's engine or something.  Finally on our last

morning we discovered it was the noisy calls of wild green parrots in the

trees next to us.  They were flying and climbing all over the branches,

cackling at each other with grating noises.  We were amazed there was so

much nature this close to a major city.

When we were finally ready to

leave Acapulco, we left in the pitch

dark before dawn to ensure a daytime arrival in Huatulco some 30+ hours later.  The

sun rose as a pink ball in the lightening sky.  A few minutes later it became an intense

bright orange orb which made the camera pick up the surrounding sky as black.  Some

clouds obscured the ball of fire, and from a distance it looked a bit like a witch on a

broomstick flying across the sun.

This slightly ominous sunrise brought us a day that ultimately held one of the most

disturbing events of our lives.  Around two in the afternoon, while motoring along about

10 miles off the coast, some 60 miles south of Acapulco, we were enjoying being

pushed by a two knot current that pegged the speedometer at a thrilling high-8 to 9+

knots.  Suddenly Mark spotted something unusual in the water.  We stared hard through the binoculars to get a better look.

With gut wrenching knots in our stomachs, we realized we were looking at a dead body.

We turned the boat to approach the body, feeling totally alarmed and freaked out.  We were

both shaking as we neared the body.  It was a heavyset middle aged or older balding white

man, lying face down in the water.  He was wearing a mask and snorkel, fins and booties,

and a shorty type of wetsuit with swim trunks over it.  He had on diving gloves and had

clearly been in the water for at least a few days, and probably a week or more.  He looked

for all the world like he was peacefully snorkeling along in the middle of the ocean, except

his skin was decomposing and one arm lay limp and twisted at an odd angle by his side.

This is the last thing either of us ever expected to see while cruising.  We were edgy,

terrified, and flummoxed about what was the right thing to do.  The stench was significant.

We noted the GPS coordinates of the body and instantly began hailing the Mexican Navy.

We tried in English and we tried in Spanish, but there was no response.  This is a remote section of the coast and we realized

we hadn't seen a boat or heard a peep on the VHF radio in 8 hours since we first pulled away from Acapulco Bay.  There was

no safe anchorage that we could reach before nightfall; the next was 140 miles (21 hours) away.

We continued on our way, hailing the Mexican Navy periodically, to no avail.  The sun set into the moonless void of a new moon,

and we moved along in pitch darkness, unable to discern the horizon.  All was black in every direction.  The canopy of bright

stars overhead faded into a misty, funereal veil all around us.  For the first time it really hit us just how alone all cruisers are on

the ocean.  If you can't take care of yourself, help will be a long time coming.  I kept thinking about the man's family, his loved

ones who knew he was missing but had no idea exactly where he was or perhaps even how he had disappeared.  He might

have been on a snorkeling tour, or snorkeling on his own, or perhaps he was in a boat that was sinking and he donned his

snorkeling gear as it went down, knowing he would be spending time in the water once it sank.  It was impossible for us to know

those things, but the burden of knowing we were the only ones in the world who knew his whereabouts was enormous.

It was a long long overnight sail.  Every time I tried to sleep, images of this

unfortunate man facedown in the water filled my mind.  "Don't think about it," we

told each other.  But how can you not?  We talked about how unutterably tragic it

would be if either of us lost the other.  Of course, we have friends who have died

riding their bikes, friends stricken with terminal diseases, and friends who have

died in car wrecks.  But somehow being alone out on the ocean suddenly

seemed so much more fraught with peril than house-based everyday living.

We had heard a news report before leaving

Acapulco that the world was going to be

bombarded by extraneous solar radiation from a

large solar storm, and that it could potentially

affect GPS satellites.  That got us busy with the

paper charts, parallel rulers and dividers, making

sure we knew exactly where we were at all times

throughout the night, just in case the satellite

giving us our GPS position quit working.  Another

day dawned and we were very relieved to see the sky lighten around us.

Suddenly a pod of several hundred dolphins came leaping and bounding towards us.  They

were truly exuberant, thrilled to be alive, and seemed to be jumping for joy.  That was more like

it!!  We snapped a gazillion photos of them as they cavorted around Groovy.  They must have

come to cheer us up.

Near 11:00 in the morning we spotted a Mexican

Navy ship on the horizon.  We leapt back on the

radio and hailed them in English and Spanish again.

No sooner had we reported what we had seen, than

the ship was at our side.  Those Navy boats can

really move.

They tied alongside us and their young captain came

aboard Groovy.  Stepping between the boats was not

easy: both boats were pitching wildly in the swell and all hands on the Navy

ship were attending fenders and lines to keep the two boats from mashing

each other.  He had a look at our photos of the corpse, took down our coordinates for its position, and relayed the information

back to the Navy base in Acapulco.  The encounter was quick, efficient, polite, and the captain seemed very grateful for the

report.  He noted our names and our boat's name.  When he was back aboard his ship and described the photos to his crew,

they all winced and shuddered.  It was not a comfortable image for those tough young men either.

We pulled into Puerto Angel, the first good anchorage south of

Acapulco and found it pretty but overcrowded with moored pangas.

We anchored twice but couldn't find a spot where we had enough

swing room without being in the ocean swell, so we left and carried

on to the Bays of Huatulco 15 miles further south.  Here we were

rewarded with stunning natural beauty and peace.  Gradually the

disturbing emotions from our overnight sail began to fade away.

Last year while researching  Huatulco I had come across an

earlier cruiser's online description of a bay here that he fell

in love with and nicknamed "Osprey Cove" because he

couldn't find an official name for it on the nautical charts.

After a few emails back and forth with him, I realized it was

now known and charted as Jicaral Cove, and we spent our

first night there.

This tiny cove, just big enough for a single cruising boat or maybe two at a pinch, is one

of several bays that make up the National Park of Huatulco.  A line of buoys protects the

vibrant coral reef in the cove and small boats filled with tourists come in to snorkel the

reef every few hours.

The Bays of Huatulco sit

next to the infamous Golfo

de Tehuantepec, a vicious

200 mile stretch of water

whose mood swings make

the Sea of Cortez look

positively unflappable.

Every week or so in the

winter north winds from the

Gulf of Mexico between

Texas and Mexico

accelerate south across the

narrowest portion of the

Mexican mainland, and

race off into the ocean at

60+ mph, often creating 20' seas.  In between these multi-day temper

tantrums the Gulf of the Tehuantepec lies down to take a breather, during

which time all the coastal cruising boats make a run for it.

When the gales are blowing in the Tehuantepec, the Bays of Huatulco can

get a little frisky too.  But we arrived during a quiet spell and had several

glorious, peaceful days exploring Jicaral cove.

The ospreys for whom the

earlier cruisers named this

place "Osprey Cove" were still

here, along with a group of

turkey vultures.

Coral litters the sand all along the beach, a sight we

had seen only once before in Los Muertos on the

southeastern tip of the Baja peninsula.

We kayaked around the corner into Bahía de San

Agustín (also known as Puerto Sacrificios) and

discovered a long curving beach backed by unusual

boulders at one end and a cluster of lively beach

palapa bars and boutique shops at the other.

We wandered along the beach and

marveled at the calm beauty.  This is a

magical place.

Friends of ours were anchored in the main bay by the town of

Santa Cruz, so we sailed over to meet up with them.

We got so caught up in our breathtaking downwind sail in the

strong afternoon winds that we nearly missed the entrance to

Huatulco's main bay.  It was the sight of the enormous cruise

ship Statendam parked there that got us back on course.

Like all cruise ships this far south, they were on a several month

trip between the east and west coasts of the US with a Panama

Canal transit as the centerfold stop.

Continuing our Reader's Digest quickie tour of some of the

Huatulco bays, we stopped in at Tangolunda, a large bay with

several anchoring options.

Huatulco is an official tourist

development created in 1986

by Fonatur, Mexico's

government tourism agency

that brought the world Cancun

and Ixtapa in 1974 and Los Cabos in 1976 and more recently Loreto/Puerto Escondido in the

Sea of Cortez and Nayarit near Puerto Vallarta.

Learning from their prior beach tourism projects, Fonatur is developing Huatulco with an eye

towards maintaining the area's natural beauty.  In the bays where building development is

allowed, like Tangolunda, the buildings are low.  Other bays are set aside as part of a national

park with boat-in access only.

Bahía Tangolunda

hosts the requisite

tourist banana boats

and jet-skis, but

several catamarans

dominated the

breezy bay most


One afternoon we

watched a wedding

in progress just off

the end of our boat.

What a spot to get


This first week in

Huatulco was just

the briefest overview of some of the lovely bays.  This area is so

pretty, so relaxed, and so charming that we won't be running off

and leaving Huatulco any time soon, especially since the

intimidating Gulf of the Tehuantepec lies just around the corner.

Find Huatulco on Mexico Maps.

Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast

to see more cruising posts from this area!