Happy vacationers break into a chant for us as they pass Groovy.
The "Barrido Marino" sea sweepers take used
motor oil and household trash too!
Acapulco is Nahuatl for "Place of Reeds"
Sea horse on our anchor chain.
Eerie silhouette on the rising sun.
Mark checks our position on the
The sun sets into a moonless night at sea.
Dolphins greet us with great
Puerto Angel is cute but too crowded.
Puerto Angel lighthouse.
Our two boats in Jicaral Cove, Bahías
We share Jicaral cove with Osprey and Turkey Vultures.
This place is teeming with coral.
Neighboring Playa de San Agustín
Clear water and fun palapas at San
Snorkelers at San Agustín
Bahía de San Agustín has unusual rock
Life's a Beach.
Cruise ship "Statendam" takes up most of Santa Cruz Harbor.
View of Santa Cruz from the water.
Low buildings hug the shore against a mountainous backdrop.
Tangolunda Bay in Huatulco.
Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco.
This resort goes for $1,000 USD per night. Yikes!
Catamarans take advantage of the
afternoon breezes in Tangolunda.
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
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
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
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
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.
hosts the requisite
tourist banana boats
and jet-skis, but
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.
to see more cruising posts from this area!
Orcas play near Groovy.
Shrimper or bird taxi?
Sunrise begins over our bow.
Acapulco's mountains in the distance.
Villas perch atop cliffs on Boca Chica Channel.
Sailboats race towards us.
Acapulco's main beach.
Downwind spinnaker run.
The "fake" lighthouse at La Marina.
The Yacht Club grounds.
Club de Yates de Acapulco.
Racing yachts waiting for the next race.
Waterfront near the yacht club.
Looking across Acapulco's inner harbor.
Puffer and angel fish at the docks.
I took these from above water.
Wonderful daysailing in Acapulco Bay.
A few of the many highrises on the beach.
Navy warships and a tall ship.
Acapulco has several picturesque
Vacation homes overlooking Puerto Marques.
A little mermaid near our
The lightly visited resort where we anchored in Puerto Marques.
"Barrido Marino" - the "Sea Sweepers"
These cheap little taxis are everywhere.
The rock cliffs of La Quebrada.
Cliff Diver Alejandro scales the rocks.
Alejandro (left) and Aurelio (right)
A peek inside...
The Zócalo has amazing trees.
Acapulco's town beach.
Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico
Mid-January, 2012 - We finally pulled ourselves away from Zihuatanejo/
Ixtapa and resumed our travels south. Papanoa is a 35-mile daysail
away, and as we motor-sailed we were very surprised to see some
Shamu-shaped fins ahead of us. It turned out to be several small orcas
playing in the water.
Papanoa is a small shrimping village, and we passed a few
shrimpers trolling the depths as we approached the harbor.
Countless birds were catching a ride on the booms of one boat.
The frigate birds took most of one boom and the seagulls
spread out on the others.
We arrived in mid-afternoon and watched the activities of this quiet port
town. Several shoreside cantinas had the music going, and a group of
kids were laughing loudly and burning up energy as only kids can, diving
off a pier and cannonballing each other out of a small dinghy that was
tied to a piling.
Acapulco is another 75 miles
south of Papanoa, which
required us to get a pre-
dawn start. We were now
traveling more east than
south and we watched the
sky lighten ahead of us until
the sun rose over our bow.
Acapulco has a mixed reputation these days,
and we weren't sure what to expect when we
arrived. Our first glimpse of this legendary port
had us grinning excitedly, however, and set the
tone for a fantastic stay. We decided to enter
Acapulco's expansive bay through its narrow
westerly channel "Boca Chica" ("Small Mouth")
rather than through the main entrance further
east called "Boca Grande." We slowed way
down as the rock walls rose to wonderful
heights on either side of us in the channel.
"This is just like Cabo!" we said to each other.
The towering cliffs were
covered with fancy homes,
hotels and highrises.
As we emerged on the other side of the channel, Acapulco's
vast beach suddenly came into view. Our eyes widened in
amazement. The beach was backed by an endless stretch
of highrise buildings, and the hillsides were littered with
homes and communities that rose in waves towards the
horizon. There was more humanity in front of us than we had seen in months. Forget Cabo. This was like Miami. Or like
sailing into Las Vegas. It was a huge, massive city built for tourism. We puttered around the bay taking way too many photos
that all looked the same -- highrises on the water -- and then backtracked to a lovely little anchorage in Boca Chica next to a
small beach on Isla de la Roqueta.
Gazing across the bay at the mammoth city in the distance, we were
anchored in our own small paradise next to a busy little beach where
the Sunday crowd was swimming, snorkeling and imbibing at the
beach bar. Suddenly on the horizon we saw some incredibly sleek
sailing yachts headed our way in a race. Within moments Groovy
was perched in a front row seat of a spectacular sailing race.
The streamlined boats flew towards us at top speed. Ladened with
both skilled crew at the helm and winches and "rail meat" crew that
sat on the high side facing out, feet dangling over the side, the boats
bore down on us until I was sure we'd be broadsided. Just at the
last second each boat would tack, within arm's reach of our cockpit.
All hell would break loose as ten people scurried over the deck,
furiously turning winch
handles and wrestling the boat into submission on its new tack. A few commands
would be yelled here and there, but the most prominent sound was the creaking of
lines and groaning of each boat as it was tensioned and tuned for max velocity on its
These guys are really good at this stuff
and they do it all the time, so when
one boat looked like it was about to T-
bone another and Mark said, "They're
gonna hit!" I said, "Nahhh…" Then we
both heard a loud CRUNCH and the
sound of very expensive boat parts
grating against each other. Seconds
later the lead boat dropped its sails
and turned around to head home. I'm
not sure if they were disqualified or
had sustained too much damage to
continue, but none of the other boats
paused for one second!
In no time the race began its downwind leg, and one yacht after
another breezed past Groovy in the opposite direction, their
colorful spinnakers flying. As each boat slowly vanished
into the horizon of skyscrapers our hearts gradually
stopped pounding. What excitement, and what a
By sunset our little anchorage had whittled down to just
us and the noisy birds in the trees. Like Isla Ixtapa and
Las Gatas Beach in Zihuatanejo, this place is heavily
visited by water taxis, banana boats, jet-skis and
snorkelers during the afternoons, but by dusk it is
deserted and is an ideal, remote tropical anchorage with
no swell. We slept like babies that night.
The heart of the Acapulco yachting scene is the "Club
de Yates de Acapulco," or the Acapulco Yacht Club.
This beautiful marina and yacht club would be ideal for visiting cruisers, but
it is so popular with local boaters that there is seldom room for anyone from
out of town. Next door "La Marina" is being renovated and will soon
accommodate visitors, but it isn't yet finished.
We wandered into the Club de Yates and found all
the beautiful racing boats we had watched sailing
the day before already lifted out of the water and
put up in dry storage to wait for the next race. We
found out that hauling our boat would cost nearly
$600 US. Imagine having to fork that over every
time you wanted to race your yacht?! But this is a
place where money is no object. The captain of a
megayacht parked at an end-tie told us his owner
likes to zip from place to place burning a cool 180
gallons per hour at top speed. He laughed out loud
when we told him we needed to top off our 66
gallon fuel tank sometime during our stay here.
Getting fuel is not as simple as you might think in Acapulco. The fuel dock
is fairly short and has little turnaround room, and many megayachts come
calling, so you have to sign up to get fuel a day or two in advance. This
requires a trip to the Harbor Master's office where, to our surprise, he made
a copy of our US Coast Guard documentation papers as part of our fuel
registration process. The up-side of this minor inconvenience was that he
also issued us a temporary Yacht Club card which would allow us to come
and go from the pretty marina at will and use the dinghy dock and
swimming pool too.
The Acapulco Yacht Club exudes that noble air that wafts over
exclusive yacht clubs worldwide, and the whole place is dripping
with wonderfully elegant nautical decor. Trophies fill the trophy
cases, portraits of past captains and commodores line the walls,
names of local champions and legendery yachts are engraved
on beautiful plaques, and ancient bronze binnacles and helms
stand like museum pieces in the corners.
The little chandlery has goodies for boats, but the prices for
ordinary items are truly extraordinary ($100 US for four plastic drinking glasses!), but
the souvenir shop sold high quality ball caps with the yacht club logo embroidered on
the front for less that $10 US.
Acapulco is not a clean city, and we had watched the Pacific ocean transform from a
rich inviting deep blue to a sickly grey-green as we had entered Acapulco Bay. But
here at the dock the water was so clear that I could see angel fish and puffer fish
swimming just below the surface.
When we travel from place to place we always hope
to sail but usually end up motoring most of the way
because the winds are so light along Mexico's
mainland coast. However, Acapulco Bay is a terrific
spot for day sailing, and after watching the races the
day before, we got inspired to go out for a joy ride
ourselves. There were no other boats on the three-mile-wide bay, and we had just enough
wind, 10-13 knots, to put Groovy over on her side for a little romp in the breeze.
Exploring the outer reaches of the bay we saw more highrises (they are endless), and a Navy
dock that had two modern warships and a lovely old tall ship.
Other cruisers had found pretty anchorages
along the outskirts of this big bay, and as the
days of our stay wore on we
noticed that they weren't in a
hurry to leave Acapulco either,
obviously enjoying their time
here as well.
We left the inner harbor for
Puerto Marques, a small outer
bay, where we spent five
delightful nights. Billed in the
cruising guide as being open to
ocean swell, we got lucky and
enjoyed peaceful quiet nights
ancchored alongside a row of
nearly empty resorts. There couldn't have been more than ten
occupied rooms in the four resort hotels we were facing, but
new construction inexplicably seemed to be continuing.
Every day the bartender would arrive at the cute
dockside bar and serve perhaps one or two guests.
Every night the restaurant tables would be set and the
kitchen staff would get busy, all to serve just three or
Acapulco has a reputation for being past its prime, but there are
clear signs that its citizens don't want to let that prime slip away
too fast. Besides all the new construction, there is a fleet of
bright yellow boats bearing the words "Barrido Marino" ("Sea
Sweep") in large letters on their sides. These boats scour
the entire bay every day with nets to retrieve floating trash
and debris. At the far end of Puerto Marques a huge
project is underway with barges and cranes to install what
looks like a new pier or perhaps a marina.
Over in La Quebrada the famous dare-devil cliff divers began
flying headfirst off the cliffs into the sea back in 1934, and within a
decade or two were the superstars of Acapulco tourism. Eager to
see these guys, we took one of the little blue-and-white VW bug taxis and
zipped off to the cove of jagged cliffs where the diving action takes place. Both
Mark and I remember watching these divers on TV as kids, and we couldn't
wait to see them in action.
The cove is a spectacular craggy
coast of rugged peaks and
crashing surf, and the entire area
has been built up to show off the
divers. Elvis Presley's 1963 movie
Fun in Acapulco was filmed here
Restaurants overlook the diving gorge and trinket shops offer free
coke or beer for shoppers. El Mirador Hotel stands above it all,
having played host to many of the world's celebrities over the
years. There's a ticket sales booth at the top of a long set of
winding stairs that go down towards the water. Viewers can choose
any level for watching the divers. Five or so divers take the plunge
once a day in daylight and they dive again three more times after
dark (with torches). We opted for a daytime show and were thrilled.
To our surprise the divers start the show by walking through the crowd,
hopping over the fence to the rock face below, and then hot-footing it
down a ways and jumping into the water. After a quick wave to the
crowd above, they then free
climb the enormous cliffs on
the far side all the way to the
top. One young diver,
Alejandro, impressed us immensely
with his catlike agility as he zipped up
the cliff like Spiderman.
Once at the top, the divers each
offered a quick prayer to the Virgin of
Guadalupe, touched the shrine, or
even kissed the statue inside, and then
turned and waved to the crowd. One
by one they then took a position
somewhere near the top of the cliff
and, when the waves were right 125
feet below, launched themselves into
Alejandro warmed up for quite some
time, stretching, doing mock flip turns, and obviously preparing for some fancy twists and somersaults in the air. When
he finally soared off the rocks he rolled and turned and swiveled in the air like a shimmering fish, and gracefully slipped
into the frothing water below.
Another pair of divers leapt off the cliff together, one launching himself into a back
layout somersault before twisting and piking his way to the water. The last diver
climbed to the highest peak and flew over the rocks in a glorious swan dive.
Afterwards the divers mingled
with the crowd, happily posing
for photos with fans.
We were on such a high after
this that we nearly skipped
down the hill towards the
cathedral in the old town
square, El Zócalo. Acapulco is a grungy, busy,
crowded city, but there was something in the
earthy smells, the crush of people and the
sweat dripping down our temples and backs
that made it all very exciting.
A group of nuns emerged from the 1930's era
cathedral just as we approached, and the doors
were thrown wide for a peek inside.
Opposite the cathedral was a large, darkly
shaded city park filled with enormous trees
that have odd twisted trunks and roots.
Crabby old ladies sitting next to flowers
they were selling waved us off with nasty
frowns when we took photos of their
flowers. People sat on park benches
eating snacks or reading the paper.
Tourists and shoppers mingled in between.
Vendors sold everything everywhere and music pumped so loudly
from some speakers on the ground that an old lady put her fingers
in her ears as she walked by. Official tourism hosts wearing blue
shirts and numbered badges darted out from the crowd to help
bewildered tourists, and more than one suddenly turned up at our
sides asking if we needed assistance. It is not a warm, friendly
place, nor is it a place I'd want to hang around for more than a
brief visit, but we were glad to have taken a walk through that part of town, and equally glad to emerge back on the waterfront
malecón, or boardwalk, where the fresh sea breeze hit our faces once again, and the beach and boats filled our view.
Such is the faded lady of Acapulco. A previous cruiser's blog last
year described gunmen firing shots in a building near the marina at
night, and as we dropped our anchor in the city anchorage at ten in
the morning we heard a series of gun shots near the supermarket
where we had bought provisions the day before. But I've heard
gunshots in every city I've called home, and I've even watched a
well armed SWAT team take positions outside a house in a tony
Scottsdale, Arizona neighborhood. The anchorages on the fringes
of Acapulco Bay are all lovely, and we are glad to have experienced
the sweeter side of town. After a little more relaxing at Puerto
Marques we headed down the coast to Huatulco.
Find Acapulco on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on Mexico's Southern Pacific Coast to see more cruising posts from this area!