Panama Canal to Washington V (122)

This is part V of the Leopard 40 catamaran delivery. We are cruising from Panama to Washington. I say cruising because we are taking it slow, stopping into all the best bays and ports. With me are the owners – aka ‘the kids’, and Dena – my trusty first mate. As I left the story, we had just departed the wonderful port of Huatulco, my favorite stop in southern Mexico.

From Panama to Cabo you never seem to get much wind and when you do it’s on the nose. But every now and then … you get a break. We motored out on that sunny afternoon and picked up a friendly breeze. One of the advantages to cats is that they sail well in light beam winds. To add to our mellow afternoon we had whales, bunches of them. Though wonderful for crew entertainment, it was challenging at times to avoid the many pods and occasional chase panga. It was good to see so many whales.

In the evening, the light wind would die off or swing around to land and the sweet smell of burning sugar cane would carry out to us. We arrived at Acapulco, well before sunrise. I don’t usually stop in Acapulco but we had another guest flying in, the owners son Stephen. A night time arrival into Acapulco is something to behold. Pat Rains said it best when she described the high round bay at night as, “A bowl of diamonds”. My crew gathered on deck to enjoy our slow cruise into the harbor.

Looking for a slip to make connecting with Stephen easier, we ended up at the Acapulco Yacht Club. With an easy fuel dock, tidy slips, fountained swimming pool and comfortable bar/restaurant; they have great facilities for the visiting cruiser.

You wouldn’t appreciate the fun easy times without the occasional breakdown. We were still having problems with the twin Volvo diesels. This time, the port Saildrive was slipping, which was funny because it was the starboard one that was leaking. We had a couple “mechanics” from the club come out and do some Mexican repairs. In Mex they don’t always replace hard to find parts, they remanufacture. These guys took out the shifter and welded on more mass. It didn’t help much and they put it back together without a gasket, creating a new leak. I would later seal it up with silicone gasket maker.

It was time to head into town to visit the Capatania del puerto, code named ‘Lightning’. What he lacked in speed he made up for in thoroughness and genuine amiability. Dena and I checked out the Fuerto San Diego, and just for kicks, walked the coastal route through the ghetto fishing village. With the work done for the day we met up with the kids at the bar and had some apps and coldies – wonderful. Poolside, I finished up my next column and sent it out.

Stephen arrived the next day and we all headed over the hill for a great dinner on the beach. The next morning was beautiful as we headed out the pass and into a calm sea. By evening we had 15kts on the nose which also brought significant banging from the hull. We put a single reefed main up and cracked off the wind a bit. Late that night the bilge light came on and stayed on. We had some water ingress into the starboard bilge – the source a mystery. Also, the bilge pump had failed. I decided to change it out then, it’s one of those things that shouldn’t wait ’til morning.

By morning the wind had come around and we were doing a beautiful 7 kts in 12kts of wind. And soon we were approaching my favorite port in all of Mex, Barra Navidad. Barra has it all. You can anchor for free in the ‘lake’ or take a slip at the immaculate Spanish style hotel/marina Bahia Grande. Either way you can enjoy the wonderful village ashore. The kids chose the marina and we prepared to be lavished.

We were in the pool within minutes. It is actually three pools on different levels, connected by waterslides! There’s more; at the bottom there is a swim up bar, water volleyball and lounge areas where they’ll bring you drinks. All this in a setting of lush gardens and palm trees. Yes, it’s spendy. We parked Low Key here on our way to the S. Pacific and it was 4$ a foot – yikes – and worth it, for a night.

We all headed into town. The hotel has a small dock where panga shuttles whisk you across to the village. On a peninsula, the village has a restaurant lined beach. We found a second floor table and had coldies in hand for the spectacular sunset. All was right in the world. Next we hit the Harbor Hangout, Piper Lover’s. It’s the place that has a surf board over the entrance with Bob Bitchin and Latitudes & Attitudes written on it. We met some other travellers and enjoyed the live band and generally partied the night away.

Our new young backpacker friends, Canadian Greg and Columbian Diana had a car. In the morning they took Dena and I up the coast to Tenacatita to snorkel the “Best reef in Jalisco”. I know it was true because it said so on the sign. We had a great day of swimming and then siesta at a beach palapa eatery before heading back poolside at the Bahia Grande. We had just 27 hours at the BG and we made the most of it.

It took only a day to get to Puerto Vallarta where we pulled into Marina Vallarta, a home away from home for me. If you need parts or stuff done you can do pretty well there. While backing into a slip I lost reverse on the port side. Ever try to manuever a cat with one motor? Using crew members as fenders we drifted in without a scratch … to the boat.

After showers and then a coldy at the top of the lighthouse we enjoyed a nice dinner on the boardwalk, mariachis, the works. In the morning we got checked into the marina and I visited the port captain. I also stopped by the boatyard to see if they had anyone that claimed to be qualified on Volvos. No luck and the word was that Volvo parts were getting harder to find. That night we had dinner at Victor’s. It’s not to be missed. Like magic, free shots of their homemade tequila continue to reappear. The only way to slow the carnage is to leave your shot full on the table – a trying test for any sailor. A dinner at Victor’s is not complete without a visit from Victor himself – always gracious and always ready to join you … with a shot. And the food’s good.

The next day we said goodbye to Dena as she had to get back to her real life. I was walking back to the boat after putting her into a cab and spotted the first race of the America’s Cup, live, on TV in a bar. I stumbled in and enjoyed the match with chips, salsa and a coldy or two. Fascinating technology, that winged sail. When can I get one for my cruising boat?

Stephen was the next to leave as he had commitments at home. And then it was the boat’s turn. We departed for Cabo with our core crew, just the kids and I.

Next month a little change of pace as we head half way around the world to recount our recent adventures sailing and trekking around SE Asia. 
 -Quality, Balance and a Clean Wake-

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