July 1 – 7, 2022
After our six hundred mile passage, the anchorage at Potosi Petatlan offered a fair weather safe haven to rest but no safe access to land.
Sitting in the cockpit with morning coffee in hand, we watched with amazement as local captains displayed an impressive set of skills, timing, and balls repeatedly landing their power boats on beaches. We would not be attempting any dinghy landings here.
Zihuatanejo, ten miles away, offered the hope of a brief though fun land excursion into town; something we felt we had earned. We picked up anchor and headed there.
Sunsets underway can be surreal, but sunsets at anchor hold their own attraction. More latitude for true relaxation.
In our endeavor to maximize our progress up the Mexican coast and minimize our exposure to potential hurricanes, we had fed over fifty gallons of diesel to our Perkins engine.
For two reasons, we typically try to keep our two hundred gallon fuel tank as close to full as possible. One, it fits into our overall supply for the Apocalypse strategy. Two, with our aluminum tank, an emptier tank equals more condensation, resulting in potential fuel contamination from water and other bio growth (a lesson we learned from a crusty diesel mechanic in Cape Canaveral during a filter clogging / fuel polishing ordeal we experienced after first departing the Chesapeake aboard Exit).
Ninety-nine percent of the time, when fueling up is required, we opt for transport via dinghy with five gallon plastic jugs, fifteen gallons each trip. We rarely are tied to a dock. It increases the workload, but decreases the complication and stress involved in docking the mothership. How we get fuel to the dinghy is almost always an adventure unique to each location.
Our last fuel up had been while Exit was tied to the dock at Marina Chiapas. Ironically enough, we had still needed the dinghy there. Turned out, instead of trying to arrange a taxi that was willing to transport fuel containers and pay for multiple trips to and from the nearest vehicle gas station —- it was much easier taking our dinghy a short distance through the channel to access a set of cement steps making the exact same gas station fuel pumps only a fifty foot walk.
Though we really wanted to explore Zihuatanejo a bit, we ultimately knew our first priority now had to be sorting out what logistics would be involved in getting diesel here. We didn’t know the specifics yet; but experience had taught us it was rarely simple.
A bit of research revealed that, less than five miles away, Marina Ixtapa had a fuel dock that appeared to have pretty straightforward access. We cringed at the idea of a fuel dock ordeal every time; still, this really seemed to make the most sense.
It was less than an hour away, so we decided to suck it up.
When we arrived just outside the channel we immediately noticed a very industrial looking vessel occupying the channel, appearing both to effectively be blocking the channel as well as not moving at all.
We temporarily dropped anchor in fifty feet of water and hailed Marina Ixtapa on the VHF. They informed us that the channel was currently being dredged and access through was limited to before 7am, after 7pm, or between noon and 1pm. The fuel dock was open from 8am-5pm.
It was currently 12:25.
We had just over thirty minutes to lift anchor, navigate through the channel past the dredging boat to the marina fuel dock, tie up, fill up our tank with diesel, pay, cast off the dock, get turned around, and retrace our path back out of the channel past the dredging boat before it resumed work and blocked our escape.
The idea flickered that we could pull it off and then immediately dissolved with the reality of what a silly notion that actually was.
There was no way we would pull that off. We would either be trapped on the fuel dock until after dark, or infuriate the working people on the dredging boat with the delay we would inevitably cause, or initiate some other unforeseen drama in our haste.
The smart decision was to accept the situation, anchor at Isla Ixtapa four miles from where we were (which would allow us to check out that anchorage as well), and return the following day with a full hour to work with at noon.
We learned two important things swinging on the hook that night at Isla Ixtapa.
First was that viable protected anchorages along this section of the coast were going to be a big concern. Despite completely calm conditions, we experienced an excruciating amount of side to side rolling all night long from a relentless swell. In crappy weather, this whole coast would be smashed.
Second, was that another hurricane was hot on our heels. Our Windy forecast predicted it would be about two hundred miles offshore when it passed by Acapulco tomorrow, only fifty miles south of us.
We needed an alternative to anchoring in a bay that was, at best, questionable in the most mild conditions.
There was no way we could be sure of making Puerto Vallarta, which seemed like the best bet for protection ahead of the weather. It was over three hundred miles to the northeast.
First things first. One thing at a time.
In the morning, we returned to where we had anchored outside Marina Ixtapa the day before and waited. At 11:59am Exit was already approaching the channel entrance at three knots. The dredging boat was a bit off to the side, and we easily surfed atop a small roller past it and through the channel.
We tied off to the fuel dock without incident and quickly topped up our diesel. With thirty minutes still to spare before our deadline to be out of the channel, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief after speaking to the marina staff, having learned that there was a slip available for us to sit in during the next couple of days while the latest weather developed. Currently, the hurricane was threatening to pass within one hundred fifty miles of our location.
The available slip was tucked in a very back corner, of course. It was tight, but manageable. Fortunately, we had minimal wind and just a bit of current to cope with. Even more fortunately, Kris was at the helm.
The situation wasn’t perfect. We were back in a marina paying for a slip. But we were now in a much more protected and secure location. This was only going to be for a couple of days…
Sometimes the best choices aren’t the preferable ones. And sometimes imperfect choices come with unanticipated benefits.
Time to check out some of the incredible wall art in town.
Beers on the beach…
Given the alternative — sitting in some exposed anchorage, rolling back and forth in brutal swell, desperately hoping the hurricane eating its way up the Mexican coast isn’t going to land square on top of you — this was Heaven.
…there seemed to be something about everything going down that just reminded us of something….
…though we couldn’t quite put our fingers on it.
We only spent four days at Marina Ixtapa. It was even more quiet than Marina Chiapas had been. More pedestrian walk-by traffic than occupied boats. But it had served its purpose well.
There seemed to be challenge after challenge to getting out.
Explosive weather just outside the marina could prevent us from even wanting to consider departing.
Even if the weather outside decided to cooperate, merely possessing a desire to leave the marina, in and of itself, may not be enough.
The port captain could choose not to open the port due to current conditions in the channel. A red flag flying at the entrance indicates port is closed. No traffic going out. Not your call to make.
In addition, daily tides meant potential currents and waves at the mouth of the channel could limit times at which the channel was navigable…maybe not for a big sport fishing boat, but for our boat things could be very different.
And then there was the dredging schedule. Daily dredging meant the channel was closed to traffic for all but one hour between sunrise and sunset. We knew that before we came in.
Oh ya…and I almost forgot. Crocodiles! Patrolling up and down the alleyways of the marina. Big…and bold.
And then it dawned on us…as one of the whopper-sized crocs floated past Exit. That big, twelve foot long bastard wasn’t just passing by.
It was the night-man.
And it sure seemed…
…as he glanced over at us…
…we may have heard faintly on the breeze…
…“you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
If it required the relative stealth of a breakout, so be it.
The latest hurricane had passed and was headed offshore. The forecasts all predicted, at the most, light and variable winds for a few days. The tide was high and the channel separating us from the ocean was almost flat.
As the first light of day began to pull back the shroud of last night’s darkness, we untied from the dock and departed Marina Ixtapa, silently passing by the dredging boat in the channel. It was 6:58am.
Our final sprint for the Sea of Cortez had begun.
Exit…Stage Left. Fuck the Eagles.