Early February, 2013 – We woke up on our first morning in Zihuatanejo, after sailing up from Huatulco, to find the sun glinting off a neighboring ketch while a fisherman cast his net from a canoe next to us. It was a beautiful, serene sight.
Zihuatanejo is a busy bay once all the tourists wake up and get going. It is lined with beaches, villas, restaurants and resorts, but our little corner by boat-in-only Playa Las Gatas got only those visitors who came by in by watercraft. Lots of people rent catamarans to sail in the bay, and one catamaran owner was even using his as a launch boat to deliver people to the beach on the opposite shore. What a fun way to get across the bay!
One very enterprising fellow, Daniel, paddled his way around the bay in a canoe, visiting every cruising boat he could find to offer his services cleaning barnacles and seaweed off the bottoms of their boat and offering to wax the hulls too. He was disappointed to find that we had just cleaned Groovy’s bottom ourselves.
What a crazy cleaning that had been. We had done our usual routine with the paint scrapers and Scotch Brite pads, scraping off the thick grass skirt that Groovy had begun to wear. We had no idea that hidden in the fluffy green seaweed were hundreds of baby crabs, about the size of mosquitos, until we got out of the water and discovered we were both covered with them.
We jumped back in, screaming, and frantically swiped each other’s backs and arms and legs to get them off. But when I took my shower a few minutes later, I found a pile of them scampering around my feet. Yuck!! Crazier still, when we told Daniel about this, he topped our story completely: one had gotten into his ear and he was still waiting for it to crawl out.
Life on a boat in the tropics can be idyllic, but you live awfully close to nature!!
Another visitor to our boat was one we had looked forward to for a long time. Local vendors Hilda and Ismael sell water taxi tickets at a kiosk in town and they also supply the palapa bars on boat-in only Las Gatas beach with all their inventory. So they are perfectly set up to deliver anything and everything a cruiser could possibly want, right to the boat.
We put in our order for cases of coke and beer (much easier than hauling all those heavy cans via taxi, a walk to the beach, and a long dinghy ride out to the boat, so we stocked up!). We also gave Hilda our dirty laundry and empty propane tank. The full propane tank and clean laundry were delivered to us the next day. What a great service!!
Arriving on shore at Zihuatanejo’s main beach, Playa Principal, we strolled the pretty, tree-lined, waterfront walking paths with a strong sense of nostalgia. This was our third season of visiting Z-town, and it was still as inviting, fun and funky as ever.
The walking path along the shore is lined with boutique shops on one side and a large open air fish market under palm trees on the beach on the other side. Fish at this market is about as fresh as it comes. The fishing pangas land right on the beach, and the catch immediately goes on sale on tarps in the sand.
One day while strolling past the fish market we saw a very happy fisherman showing off the marlin he had caught. Now that’s a fish!!
Zihuatanejo is a walking town, and the first few streets along the waterfront have been designated as pedestrian only. This makes for a very casual and comfortable feeling, as you don’t have to dodge the traffic and you can stop and chat with vendors and tourists at leisure, and check out all the shops along the way.
Of course, there are those among us who are little princesses, and they demand a sweet ride in a cool car regardless of which roads are pedestrian-only!!
Walking in from the waterfront about half a mile, there is a large “mercado,” or public market, where fresh veggies, fish and meat are sold alongside kitchenware, brooms, baskets and hats. It is a crazy jumble of little stalls housed inside a building that fills a whole city block. If one guy doesn’t have what you’re looking for, he’ll direct you to the next guy that might. In short order we had all the provisions we needed for the boat, including new Scotch Brite pads for the next boat bottom cleaning!
Back on Groovy we were treated to a nightly dance of color off our bow. A huge ball of fire would sink into the waves, turning the sky brilliant orange. Even though our photos from one night to the next had a striking similarity, it was still a thrill to sit on the bow and watch the sun disappear.
Every so often, when the earth’s atmosphere is just right, the sun bursts with a flare of green just before it vanishes. We’ve met sailors who have been around the world who swear there is no such thing as the “green flash,” but we have seen it several times. We never know when it will happen — most of the time the sun slips away without any fuss — but when the green flash comes, we are always elated.
One night, while sitting on the bow and lining up those same old sunset shots, we were both completely startled when it happened. “That was it!!” I cried. Amazingly, Mark managed to catch it on camera at almost the perfect moment. It’s a little like a blurry UFO shot, but it’s there — the green flash!
Cruisers flock to Zihuatanejo in early February to take part in the Zihuatanejo Sail Fest, a five day fund raising event celebrating both sailing and Mexican culture that provides educational support for the children of the area. The most colorful aspects of this event on the water are the pursuit sailing race and the boat parade.
The boats filled their rigging with colorful flags (the nautical alphabet), and took off around the bay in a wonderful show.
The leader of the sailing event this year was our friend Pamela Bendall, the incredible single-hander from Canada who has sailed her 46′ steel boat, Precious Metal, as far as Peru.
Her boat was the “committee boat” for the pursuit race, and when she was suddenly encircled with racing catamarans, her boat looked like a mother swan surrounded by little rainbow colored goslings.
Another priceless moment came when three double masted boats all sailed together for a few seconds. There was a schooner (Patricia Belle), a ketch (Liebling) and a unique double masted catamaran that is wish-bone rigged like a wind surfer and that miraculously folds up (Cat-2-Fold).
Pamela proudly reported that Sail Fest raised $67,000 (USD) for the children of Zihuatanejo this year.
It is rare to see large boats out sailing in this bay, as most cruisers arrive or depart under engine power with their sails furled.
But on this special day the boats had all their sails up, making for some inspiring nautical images. The schooner, in particular, was very cool to watch, sailing with four sails raised.
We stopped by the schooner to learn more about it, and discovered she has a wonderful and unusual story. Patricia Belle is 65′ long (82′ on deck, including the very long bowsprit), and owners Pat and Jeann have lived and cruised aboard her for fifteen years.
Pat was a sea captain and shipwright for his entire adult life and had built seven boats, some as big as 30′, before designing and building this one.
Patricia Belle was a special project, designed and built by Pat to match the lines of an old steel fishing vessel he admired. When he says he built this boat, he truly means that his hands did all the labor.
And what a labor of love she is. There is surely a tale behind every joint and piece of rigging, and we were lucky enough to hear a few.
There was a crowd on board when we stopped by, so adding two more was not a problem.
We leaped up on deck and were enchanted by what we saw: tall rigging with rope ladders to get up the mast, and a solid bowsprit bearing two furled jibs.
Built of wood between 1994 and 1997, Patricia Belle was launched in California in 1998 and promptly sailed to Nicaragua.
She weighs 100,000 lbs., which turns out to be the same weight as the old Ford dump truck whose steering mechanism Pat borrowed to install in his beloved schooner.
The keel is 21′ long, and it is 9′ deep for the entire length, making the boat track like it’s on rails. The rudder is also very over-sized, which makes her able to turn quite easily.
Down below, the crew’s bunks are stacked two high in one stateroom, and the crew get in and out by a wooden ladder. Some of Pat’s and Jeann’s friends had been cruising with them on Patricia Belle for a month or more, and some still had another month or so of cruising to go. What a fun way to spend the winter!
Pat and Jeann used to host guests for charters aboard Patricia Belle, but now they are enjoying pure retirement. All their cruising these days is just for their own pleasure.
One morning when we woke up they were gone — south to Acapulco. But they will be returning north towards Puerto Vallarta later in the season. Hopefully we will see the pretty lines of this beautiful schooner out on the ocean once again.
We still had plenty of things on our agenda for our stay in Zihuatanejo, however. We had friends to meet up with on shore and a boat project or two to take care of.
But most exciting of all was our upcoming trip inland to visit the beautiful colonial city of Morelia.