We narrowly escaped jetski collisions as we made our way out of Las Hadas. It was a beautiful day and we were looking forward to the tranquility of Carrizal. We passed close by a few tankers and container ships on the way. Each of the little rectangles on a container ship is what you see on an 18 wheeler semi truck…huge – and this one we estimated had over 2,200 containers. That’s a lotta stuff.
When we got to Carrizal, there were 3 other boats and 1 powerboat. Still plenty of room for us to tuck up in there and have some space.
A couple of boats sailed in the second evening and as luck would have it, one was our old pals on Linger Longer! We knew they were making their way north after being down in Zihuatanejo for GuitarFest – we didn’t know they were stopping in Carrizal. It was a happy reunion and we enjoyed hanging out with them as usual. The next morning they headed off to Barra. We hung out one more day before getting up at 4:00am for the daylong sail destination of Cabeza Negra. We were heading into territory not all that well documented in our guide books and many people just make a long passage from this area all the way to Zihuatanejo (around 180 miles). There were 3 spots we were hoping to stop on the way down – being potential surf breaks that Jonny wanted to check out. Cabeza Negra is not even really listed as an anchorage in some books, it offers little protection and had the potential to be un-anchorable. When we were making our plans, I had said if it was too rolly to anchor there, I wanted to turn around and come back – because it would mean the next two spots would be just as rolly or worse. I was under the impression that was actually our plan.
We left in the moonlight and it was a beautiful sunrise as we sailed on past Manzanillo and an all around decent day. Aside from the huge swell. Even though we were around six miles off shore, we were able to clearly see the volcano in Colima, periodically spewing puffs of smoke. The Colima volcano is one of the most active, and most potentially dangerous in Central America. It was pretty cool to see – as I had no idea it was there at first and learned about it only after noticing it out there.
After a full day of sailing and motor sailing we approached Cabeza Negra. There was a huge swell on. We slowly made our way toward what would be the safest spot to anchor. I’ve never sailed so close to such huge swell, that was turning into breaking waves far too close for comfort. We did a few loops and tried to figure out if we dared stay. On the one hand we were exhausted and wanted to just stop, so we contemplated just spending a night and moving on. The swell was so gigantic and the crashing waves so huge, that surfing was absolutely not going to be an option. Neither of us thought it would be comfortable to anchor and due to the worry and the rolling we likely would get no sleep. Having just spent 11 hours getting there, the idea of backtracking 11+ more hours back (and in the night) was not all that appealing. Going on to the next anchorage was not an option, as it was even less protected and the huge swell would be rocking there, too. Jonny pitched the idea of just pushing on and going all the way to Zihuatanejo. We hadn’t actually discussed going all the way down there and I wasn’t really in the mindset to go that far south only to have to come all the way back north in a fairly short amount of time to make our way back up to the Sea for hurricane season. We did not have a lot of time to debate, the sun was sinking slowly in the west and if we were to push on for another 24 hours at least – twice as far as we’d just come – to arrive in Isla Ixtapa before dark the next night, we’d have to go NOW. We analyzed the situation as quickly as possible and decided to go for it. We had no food prepared for an overnight and, as usual, it was absolutely the worst timing for me girl-wise. I’m not sure why, but I was really feeling like I did not want to go to Zihuatanejo. After a brief cry, I adjusted my expectations and we sailed off as the sun set.
Amazingly enough I did not feel seasick at all on this passage. Even though it was pretty rolly, I was able to put together a simple pasta dinner with artichoke hearts, tomatoes and Parmesan and prepare some snacks for the long night. I had to crash on the early shift, but unfortunately there wasn’t really much sleep to be had. The swell was big and the seas were rough. Jonny handled it all like a champ – sailing triple reefed at 6-9 knots most of his watch. At one point between the swell and wind direction, Summer had a bit of a mini-broach, but luckily Jonny was able to get her back on track and that was the worst that happened.
On my watch there was another beautiful sunrise and we watched the water temp rise and the color deepen to a gorgeous blue-green. We saw a number of sea turtles, and had a fishing line out in hopes of something tasty. We were struggling to sail and motor sail and keep up an average speed so that we could arrive before dark. If we didn’t have the darkness deadline, we could’ve sailed along at a more leisurely pace. Since the wind wasn’t cooperating with our schedule, we had to fire up the ol’ iron genny far more than we had wanted – but it ran like a champ.
We were getting close and it was looking like we might just drop the hook before dark. And this is of course when something HUGE hit the fishing lure. We had no idea what it was, but at first hit it nearly spooled the reel. Jonny fought hard for over an hour. Reeling in when he could, getting it almost to the boat and it would spook and run again. I managed the wheel – turning us to keep the line from crossing behind the boat and to keep us from sailing too fast. We were flogging and going around 2-3 knots as the sun was eyeing the horizon. I was dying to see what it was on the hook, but then again, it was getting a little old and I was really dying for it to just be over already. Poor Jonny was sweating bullets and using one of our cockpit cushions to protect his leg from the pole end (he should’ve bought that fish fighting belt at the nautical flea market in CA). It was almost to the boat and at the last minute it swam across the stern to the other side. The line got caught over part of the windvane. I was able to pop it up and off in a slack moment and off ran the fish one more time. Once again, it was almost near the boat – opposite the side Jonny was on. I caught a glimpse of something dark and huge, it was so close! What WAS it!?! Once again, the line was caught over the windvane. I tried the same trick to pop it off, but it was too taut this time and PING. It snapped. Just like that. Over an hour’s worth of fighting and anticipation and then…Nothing. We never even got to see what it was AND we lost yet another lure and a whole lot of line got ruined in the process. It was very likely something we didn’t actually want to catch – like a marlin or some other kind of billfish that would just stab us and bleed all over the place if we even tried to bring it on board. Tell me again why fishing is so much fun?
We shook off our disappointment and I revved up the motor and got us back on course. We were really pushing it now to get into the anchorage. The sun was halfway down the horizon when we were finally able to make out the details of Isla Ixtapa. We made our way around to the east side of the island and got the hook down just as it became too dark to see. After putting the boat together, I had to jump in and wash off the last 39 hours of grime and sweat. It felt great and there was SO much phosphorescent algae in the water – it was magical. And it wasn’t quite as rolly as it could have been – the huge swell was not wrapping around to that side of the island and I could hardly wait to go to eat and sleep.
Isla Ixtapa is a small and quite beautiful island just a short ways off shore from the vacation-haven of Ixtapa. Ixtapa was one of the first resort towns that was designed by the Mexican tourism board (Fonatur) specifically to be a tourist town. The beaches are lined with towering resort hotels and the point houses a Club Med. The island is a major destination for every single person visiting Ixtapa. Starting around 9 in the morning, the water taxis begin ferrying over tourists in droves. Being as it was also the tail end of Semana Santa, the tourists were thick. We spent the entire next day just hanging out in the cockpit, watching the tourist, jet skis and banana boats zip frantically all around us. We were safe on our little fiberglass island of tranquility, sipping lemonade and watching the chaos. We contemplated swimming ashore to check it out. We contemplated that for a few days. We did finally get the dinghy in the water and took off to see if we could make it all the way over to Ixtapa Marina – and see the surf break that is supposedly near there.
We got out around the south side of Isla Ixtapa and headed around the point. We had been so protected behind the island, we didn’t realize the monumental swell was still pumping. It was some of the scariest dinghy-ing I’ve done – but luckily nothing broke over us. We realized it was just too far and too much swell to actually go all the way over there. We turned back and did a little tour along the shore – seeing the fancy homes and Club Med resort and hotels along the way. I convinced Jonny to land the dinghy on shore just past the main water taxi pier – just across from Isla Ixtapa. The beach was packed and we just wanted to do a little recon to see how Jonny might be able to get to surf breaks – buses? Taxis? We had no idea – but we realized taking the dinghy anywhere (with our puny motor) was not happening. We happened upon the crocodile sanctuary and got a whole lot of nature all at once.
There were huge crocodiles – and people feeding them bags of raw chicken – they clambered right up to the fences and chomped their giant jaws.
We also saw a huge number of Roseate spoonbill birds in breeding plumage – striking pink birds with comical bills – snapping at twigs and leaves and building nests.
And there were the usual snowy white egrets. The fun never ended! But Jonny was worried about leaving the dinghy on the busy beach so we didn’t stay long. We escaped the beach craziness and made it back to our little quiet home.
Realizing there wasn’t really anything productive we could do from that anchorage, we decided to just go the last 10 miles around to Zihuatanejo bay. At this point I was actually looking forward to it. We were coming up on the second weekend of Semana Santa (which really lasts 2 weeks) so it seemed like the island was just going to get crazier, and it was a good time to go. We’d heard all kinds of great stories from Kirk and Kris about Zihua and were looking forward to experiencing it ourselves. They said there was a panga that would bring you water, fuel and even take your laundry in for you. It was hard to believe that kind of service would be affordable, but we were willing to try. We were approaching 2 months of not having done laundry.
We made a quick trip ashore to the Isla before leaving – figured we at least had to see it – and it was so early we were the only tourists there as a few locals were preparing for the coming onslaught.
One section of the island – in a freshly raked restaurant – had about 5 different bunnies hopping around! I ascertained that they were wild rabbits. They were SO cute though! I chased them around for quite a while.
It was a lovely little trip around the point, past Ixtapa and up into Zihua. Jonny had a line in the water on the way to Zihua and said we would eat whatever he caught – as it’s been so long since we had fish. Unfortunately he caught a big skipjack – and we don’t like them. Very dark fish, almost like eating mushy meat. The only way I can stand it is buried in a curry! I was instantly enchanted with the anchorage at Playa La Ropa. Even though it was on the far side of the bay from the actual town center, it was much cleaner and prettier and quiet. So we had a bit of a long dinghy ride to go ashore, it was absolutely worth it. We didn’t go ashore the next day, taking in the magic of the views and the lights of the town sprawling up the hillsides at night.
We called the phone number of the people who provide the water/fuel/laundry services. Sure enough, Hilda was able to understand my Spanish and we made arrangements for them to come pick up our laundry and fuel jugs in the morning. Right on time, a panga showed up and took our 2 huge contractor trash bags full of laundry and our 2 jerry jugs for diesel, and promised to return same time next day with full fuel, clean laundry and 50 gallons of purified water for our tanks. It really seemed too good to be true. I thought for sure at least the message about using only the laundry detergent I provided would somehow get lost.
The next morning, right on time, our panga guys returned. The panga was loaded down with 10 water jugs, our clean laundry (every last bit of it made it back AND it smelled how I like it to) and our diesel. The cost was barely any more than if we’d gone to shore and slogged through all these errands ourselves. I was starting to think maybe Zihua was the best place EVER!
We explored a bit of the town and discussed the best way to get Jonny surfing. When we were hiding behind Isla Ixtapa, we missed out on all the great surf in Zihua (by a day!) caused by the huge swell. So we had to set sites on other breaks.
I was all for Jonny taking a solo trip and having some surfing fun while I got to hangout at anchor and in Zihua, but that just didn’t seem to be a possibility. We looked into taking buses up to Troncones – a good surf spot and small low key resorts on an unprotected bay. We looked into staying there but the costs, even for a hostel, were just too high. We decided maybe we’d rent a car for a week and just be able to drive places every day. Renting a car and driving up to other surf spots – even just 10 -20 miles away, would mean finding a place to park it on shore, getting up well before daylight and getting the boards and all gear loaded onto the dinghy, and going ashore and leaving the dinghy all day on the beach… yeah it was not sounding at all fun to me. The getting up BEFORE the crack of dawn every day for a week wasn’t sounding so great to Jonny either, and if I chose not to go it would mean being stuck on the boat with no dinghy motor (we were too far out for me to row Mini-P)….Ummmm. No. So we scrapped the car idea and just decided to sail up to Troncones and The Ranch (another 10 miles north of Troncones) and see if we could try to anchor safely.
We set off one afternoon back to Isla Ixtapa – just 10 miles, which is about a 2 hour trip for us, not including boat prep and anchoring and all that, so maybe 3-4 hours overall. We anchored and prepared to leave in the morning just before sunrise so that there would be time to get some early surf in. Troncones is just a beautiful little bay with not a lick of protection in any direction for a sailboat.
It was pretty rolly and we had our flopper stoppers out to kept us somewhat sane onboard. I guess the surf wasn’t all that and Jonny was hot to move on north to find some of these mysterious places described to us by a reliable source. We managed to locate “The Ranch” none too easily. It wasn’t even a bay of any sort, it was just wide open straight shore line. If you look up “open roadstead anchorage” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure you will see a picture of this place. It was quite shallow even very far off shore and incredibly rolly with a strong current. But… the surf…. Jonny came back after his first session just beaming. Not only was it a really fun wave, but out of the dozen or so people surfing there that morning, nine of them were women in “cheeky bottoms” bikinis. He was pretty sure he’d died and gone to heaven (except for when he returned to the boat and there I was). He surfed at least twice a day – 4-6 hours per day total. We spent 2 nights rolling around in this crazy non-anchorage and finally Jonny couldn’t handle the rolling anymore so we decided to go back to Troncones. I wasn’t a fan of the rolliness for sure, but I wasn’t about to rain on the surf parade. Troncones was rollier than ever and we only spent one more night there before heading back to Zihua bay.
I had been keeping in contact with our friends on Prism (https://svprism.com/) and they were due to arrive in Zihua any day. We were pretty excited to see them again; it had been over a year since we last hung out. They were kind of our first (and two of our favorite) cruising friends. We settled down in Playa La Ropa again to hang out and wait.