Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Acapulco: Close Calls With Fishing Boats, Machismo Docking, and a Tired, Disillusioned Woman

Our Zihuatanejo to Acapulco went well, the night passage under a full moon.

We had to dodge fishing boats twice in the middle of the night, the first time a much closer call than I would have liked. Renee was on watch, tracking the boat visually and on radar. It was ahead of us and heading in our direction, but tracking to pass us a safe distance to starboard. As it closed to about 2 miles distant, it suddenly altered course to head directly for us on a collision course. Renee woke me up, as per our standing "skipper's instructions" and I groggily assessed the situation. I woke up quickly when I saw the red and green lights of the vessel coming at us at a combined relative speed of 20 knots!

Both Renee and I wondered why the vessel altered its course towards us, perhaps with evil intent, but we didn't have time to ponder that question. Also the boat was showing lights for a fishing vessel engaged in fishing and was fully lit up. A good disguise for a pirate ship perhaps, but hardly likely.

We were flying the Code 0, heading nearly dead downwind, so we didn't have much room or speed with which to maneuver. I fired up the diesels, opened up the throttles and turned deliberately to starboard, the official COLREGS collision avoidance maneuver for vessels meeting head on that all mariners should have committed to memory, hopefully including mariners on Mexican fishing vessels. As we turned, the Code 0 backwinded around the forestay and looked ugly as we motored quickly out of the fishing vessel's path, which passed us less than 300 yards off our port side, steaming at 12 knots with all its fishing gear streaming behind it. Collision was successfully averted and thanks to the light winds, the Code 0 unwrapped itself with no problem when we returned to our course. I returned to my bunk shortly afterwards and fell back asleep, glad that our "skippers instructions" served us well, thankful for our reliable diesels and satisfied with how we handled and responded to the situation in the middle of the night.

The dodging of the second fishing vessel occurred a couple of hours later when I came on watch. It wasn't anywhere near as dramatic, but I figured we must be in a fishing boat lane and decided it would be better to head a couple of miles further offshore and get out of their way.

We arrived at the Boca Chica (little mouth) entrance to Acapulco harbor at about 10 am in beautiful sunshine and a nice breeze. We hadn't made any arrangements for where Intermezzo would stay in the harbor, led to believe that there were lots of mooring balls available outside several marinas. We discovered that not to be the case and were not successful in contacting marinas by cellphone or VHF to find our what our options were. So we puttered around the outside of the Club de Yates and Marina Acapulco surveying the situation. Club de Yates has a good reputation, but I couldn't see a good temporary stopping place to leave Intermezzo while we made inquiries. The occupied mooring balls outside the club's marina were too close together for us to temporarily drop anchor and the fuel dock looked like a tricky Med moor situation against a gnarly fixed concrete dock. So we slowly motored over to Marina Acapulco, where we saw lots of room to side tie along a nice new concrete floating dock.

As we approached, we were noticed by marina staff and men working on the yachts in the marina and as I maneuvered Intermezzo alongside there were half a dozen guys waiting to take her lines.  This sort of hospitality and helpfulness is common in Mexican marinas and we appreciate it, but Renee and I have a well-practiced docking sequence and it less risky for Renee to handle the lines than to hand them to strangers not familiar with how we do things. In machismo Mexico, this is sometimes a bit of a struggle for Renee when she insists on handling the critical stern line that we use to spring Intermezzo onto the dock under mens' gazes of objection. This time, she tactfully let one of the guys handle the less critical bow line and then, when Intermezzo was stable on the dock, handed the stern line to another guy to do the grunt work of sweating us in closer against a decent off-dock breeze. Machismo preserved, Renee saved from grunting. Of course, I need to maintain my command position at the helm during all this line work, hydrating myself frequently with sips of cold beer. I can say with confidence that I do not suffer from machismo and am a strong proponent for women taking on anything and everything they want to...especially things I don't want to do when it's really hot out.

Within minutes after docking, we found we were welcome to stay overnight in our space for $42, a great rate in a big city. The marina is pretty nice and very secure, perfect for a short stay.

Acapulco is in a beautiful setting, but seems to be a tired city, aware and sad of its decline over the last two decades. From the 1950's to 1990's, Acapulco was a prime tourist destination. Poor urban planning, overbuilding, drug wars and gangs have taken their toll on the city since. There are lots of old empty hotels, unfinished new buildings and the streets I walked through worn and dirty, the people seem hunkered down and unhappy. It's as if the city went from being a beautiful romantic young modern woman descended from a good colonial family to a tired, disillusioned old one who has suffered through some really bad marriages. A sad story. It would take monumental political and social commitments and billions of dollars to bring beauty back to this city. It's not impossible, as I've witnessed the dark decline of New York City and its wonderful rebirth over the course of my lifetime. I hope Acapulco is as fortunate someday.

I had a nice dinner with three other yatistas at the Club de Yates last night, while Renee stayed on the boat recuperating from a mild case of overheating and dehydration. One of my dining partners is heading out to the South Pacific on Thursday, the other two are on the same general route as us, but sailing at a faster pace, aiming to be in Washington DC by the summer.

This afternoon we set sail for Puerto Angel, about 210 nm further down the coast. We should arrive sometime Friday morning.  It looks like a pretty easy sail with light winds most of the way. Towards the end, though, we should start feeling the Gulf of Tehuantepec winds, where a gale is building.

Sunset underway to Acapulco from Zihuatanejo
Coastal scenery at dusk off the Morro de Papanoa enroute to Acapulco

Acapulco harbor