Zarpe from Mexico – Crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec…..

Dear F&F,
February 18, 2009
Zarpe from Mexico – Day #1 Gulf of Tehuantepec

Last night we both took sleep meds to make sure we got a full night\’s rest. The dock was very surgy & would have kept waking us up. Most people would not be able to stand up in the cockpit the way the boat was surging around! We woke up refreshed. While I made breakfast, Scott downloaded weather files. Still looks good to go so we were eager to get our exit documents & head out.

Enrique told us to meet him at his office at 9:00 am. We were there at 8:45 & he came shortly after. He looked at the weather info & confirmed that we have a 36 hour starting from right then. This window looks perfect, so we want to get going ASAP. He drove us the short ride to the Port Captain\’s office. We had to show them our last check out papers. Many places have been a bit sloppy about giving us the right paperwork. Enrique suggested we just show them the one from Mazatlan. Dockmaster Elvira did it properly. \”Don\’t confuse them\” by telling them everywhere we have been, was his message.

All was going well. There is a fee of about $20. Our credit cards won\’t work. We have been so frustrated with the overly vigilant fraud departments of Visa & Mastercard. We have no trouble with American Express, but many places will not take it. The office will not accept cash directly. We have to pay at the bank. We give Enrique enough pesos & he runs to the bank to do the fee payment for us. This is a common practice that you must pay with cash at the bank. It helps keep cash out of the office & thus diminishes employees pocketing the money.

Enrique was very fast returning with the receipt that the fee was paid to the bank. Then the signing & stamping began; four copies. Then we walk a short distance to the Immigration office. Everyone knows Enrique & he emphasizes to them that we are trying to leave to cross the Tehuantepec right away.

The Gulf of Tehuantepec is Mexico\’s version of Cape Horn. Everyone that knows of it has a healthy respect & concern for this challenging stretch of the ocean. Enrique had convinced the Port Captain to sign us off which is not the normal protocol. We were supposed to have returned to the Port Captain AFTER checking out with Immigration. The immigration officer raised his eyebrow at the Port Captain making an exception to protocol & decided we must be a special case, so he hurried his paperwork & rubberstamping process too. Even the officials here are very sensitive to boats crossing the Gulf as according to Enrique, \”two boats are lost every year out there\”.

Enrique called on his cell to Customs to please come NOW, that we were trying to leave NOW. We drove back to his office & the Customs Officer literally came running in shortly after we arrived. He whipped out his rubber stamp so fast & started signing all 4 copies furiously. We have never seen such a sense of urgency in Mexico. It was astonishing.

The Customs agent is now racing down the dock with Scott to go in our dinghy to where \”Beach House\” is docked for exit inspection. Enrique chases after them & says in Spanish (translating for us afterwards): You better let me drive you in my truck. If you all go in the dinghy it will flip over & you might have to swim! This is ridiculous of course, but he knows that many Mexicans cannot swim. He further tells the agent, with his assistant, that we are docked very far away & it was not very convenient. The Customs officer then says \”Have a good trip, adios!\” We are done. The onboard inspection was waived! We are truly amazed as it is only 10:20 am. All this took place in just over 1 hour. Normally a 3-5 hour process, minimum. Blessings to all who helped us, especially Enrique who has 500 boats pass through his marina every year. We were nothing special to him. Yet he knows the potential dangers of the crossing if you do not have the right weather. He knew we were wasting precious time with these formalities. He again sobered us with the fact that every year, 2 boats do not survive this crossing.

Zarpe in hand (international exit papers), we slip away from the dock in a serious mood. We are not just \”on watch\”. We are on \”high alert\”. I am happy to report that so far we are having a calm & comfortable trip. The wind is from the south (the good direction, it\’s the northers that can cause trouble), we have the main up & are motoring at about 7 knots. We decide at dark it is prudent to take in \”a reef\” (shorten sail). We had been going over 7 knots from 11 am to 5 pm. Then we just slowed down after we took in the reef. We backed down 3 separate times to see if something might have got caught on us below, slowing us down with drag. But we saw nothing float off & our speed did not improve. Then Scott noticed that our Speed was actually still 7 knots, but that our Speed Over the Ground (SOG) was only 5.8 to 6 knots. This is an indication of current against us. At least there is an explanation. We have plenty of fuel & can only go as fast as we can go given the conditions. It is so calm that we shake out the reef (put the full main sail back up).

Dinner was broccoli & pasta with meat sauce. I\’ve boiled eggs for tomorrow\’s lunch. There is no moon, but plenty of stars. No other ships of concern seen by eye or AIS gizmo. Which seems to be working just fine now, thank goodness. If you wonder how I can write when I am on watch, this is how: I have my wrist watch set on a 10 minute recurring timer. When it beeps I go outside scan the horizon for lights – see any other ships? Check our heading – still on course? Check the wind strength & direction – any changes? If so, I may need to trim the mainsail. Check our SOG – are we slowing down or speeding up? Check AIS gizmo to see if IT sees any ships that I cannot yet see with my eyes.

I am trying to keep myself in the present & not let the stories & subsequent fear creep in. We have been so lucky with good conditions everywhere so far. Knock wood. And for all the boats that make this passage every year, the vast majority have a fine experience. We are entering the crux of it tonight. By sun up tomorrow I believe the potentially treacherous part will be behind us. We need to get east (yes, we are heading due EAST) of the 94th meridian of longitude. Tomorrow\’s report I hope to write that we got through it easy & not too breezy. We will still have 2 full days & nights to go to our destination of Bahia del Sol, El Salvador. But as the gulf bends south we expect to have more guaranteed good wind direction & may actually get to sail.

Scott & Cindy
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