Friday, March 18, 2005

On Our Way Back up the Riviera

As it turned out we did return to Zihuatenejo for a few days to sit out the strong northwesterly winds that arrived per forecast. Despite delaying our departure a few positives resulted.

We might not have stopped at Isla Grande if we had received a favorable forecast for sailing up the Riviera coast. Isla Grande proved to be a pleasant stop. With our friends Joan and Jason on the sailboat Mildred Kane, we hiked the island and went on two snorkeling expeditions. We observed several species of tropical fish that we had never seen, even in all of our South Pacific travels. One of the most striking was a Zebra Moray eel--quite beautiful actually.

We anchored back in Zihua very near our old spot. We had another opportunity to have shrimp tacos at one of our favorite restaurants, La Braserros. And as it turned out Kay was able to get her Academy Awards fix right on the boat. We heard from friends that the awards show was going to be broadcast on the local Mexican TV channel, whose signal was so strong we didnt even need to hook up the rabbit ears antenna. The only difficulty was hearing what the actors were saying beneath the simultaneous Spanish translation, which was of course, louder. But we pretty much got it all and enjoyed the humor of host Chris Rock.

After spending the weekend in Zihua we got an improving forecast for the next couple of days, so once again we headed out in company with Mildred Kane, a Valiant 32. Joan and Jason knew that we had stopped at Lazaro Cardenas on the way down and they thought it would be good to stop there on the way back up the coast to avoid having to do an overnighter to the next anchorage further north, Caleta de Campos.

Lazaro Cardenas is not a popular stop for cruisers, other than to spend the night in a calm anchorage, because it is totally devoted to large commercial ships which come to unload ore for the steel mill, or deliver grain and petroleum products. We knew that a few yachts had been coming in late and leaving early to avoid having to clear in and out with the Port Captain. It had worked for us on our way down. There is an undeveloped section of the cross-shaped harbor that is somewhat hidden from view of the rest of the harbor. We spent a wonderfully restful night there on our way down, leaving at sunrise the following morning. We were hoping for the same on the run back up.

About ten miles out from Lazaro, the wind started to pipe up, coming directly from the direction we were wanting to go. It continued to increase on our approach, reaching 20 knots apparent (the sum of boat and wind speed). We really did not want to bash into that all night so the flat calm of Lazaro Cardenas was especially appealing as we approached the harbor entrance.

Unlike our arrival here on the way down, when we saw no boats or ships going in or coming out, this time we had to race to get ahead of a large ship that was picking up its pilot just as we arrived at the harbor entrance. There were also two huge tugs waiting for the ship near the tips of the jetties. So, we were not unobserved this time.

Undeterred we continued on into the same anchorage area as before, also known as the Hurricane Anchorage. Both Mildred Kane and Kavenga had their anchors down well before sunset. After dinner, Steve rowed down to taxi Joan and Jason back to Kavenga for a movie. He had no more than got underway when we both noticed a gray panga (large, open fiberglass launch) alongside Mildred Kane. Steve correctly surmised that the two men on board were representatives of the Mexican Navy. This was not cause for concern because other boats that had stopped here reported being visited by the Navy and merely being subjected to a brief and friendly safety inspection and filling out a questionnaire. And that was exactly what was transpiring at Mildred Kane when Steve arrived. Steve asked the senior naval representative if they would mind transporting Joan and Jason to Kavenga when they came to inspect us. They happily agreed to his request.

Steve had no more than arrived back at Kavenga when Kay reported that another official-looking panga was headed our way. This one was cause for concern. Along the side of the panga was the familiar logo of the Capitania de Puertos de Mexico--representatives of the Port Captain. Joan and Jason arrived in the Navy Panga shortly after the arrival of the Port Captain panga at Kavenga. The senior representative told us that we could not anchor where we were, that we would have to move to the anchorage between the Port Captains office and the Navy base. Steve asked if it would be possible to stay where we were and leave very early the following morning. No. At Joans prompting he then asked if it would be possible to leave right then (although none of us really wanted to do that). It was immaterial because the immediate response was, no. In fact we were told we would need to come into the Port Captains office the next morning to have our papers, endorsed, which he had already taken from us.

By the time we finished with the Navy inspection it was well after sunset by now and getting dark and so Steve asked if the Port Captain representatives would guide us to the anchorage. They readily agreed and so both crews hoisted anchors and began following the panga in from one branch of the cross-shaped harbor and up another. The panga had a light on it but either it was non-functional or they didnt think to turn it on and several times we lost sight of them and they had to come back for us, waving for us to hurry up. The only charts we had showed water depths in this area of less than six feet, just about Kavengas draft, so you can understand why we were reluctant to charge ahead without our guide in sight. Apparently, this channel has been thoroughly dredged since our charts were printed and all of the depths we saw were over twenty feet.

Finally, at nearly 8PM, we arrived at the designated anchorage and dropped anchor again. The Naval base here is quite large with several destroyer-escort sized ships rafted to piers across the river from where we were, just off the compound of the Capitania de Puerto. Although a movie was now out of the question, we rowed over to Mildred Kane for a chat about our mutual predicament. We figured our best case scenario was that we would be required to clear in and out and pay the associated fees. The worst case was that we would also have to pay overtime fees (for the panga visit) and get a lecture about anchoring in a prohibited area (we were not aware that it was) and failing to clear in, although we had arrived after office hours.

Nevertheless, it was a very calm anchorage, except when the fishing pangas headed out at full speed in the morning rocking us with their wakes. Wanting to make a good impression, we all got dressed up and rowed ashore in time to be at the port captains office a little after it opened at 9AM.

We were shown into the office of an older, uniformed official we at first thought was the port captain, but was instead, Chief of Navigation. Through an interpreter we were asked a number of questions about our being in Lazaro Cardenas, the most important of which was, why we had stopped there. Rather than fib about engine problems or some other excuse, Steve said that we had encountered contrary winds and had simply come in to rest for the night. The interpreter said, so it was for your safety that you stopped? Steve said, right.

We were in the office for the better part of two hours, answering questions while some kind of documents were apparently being drawn up. Finally, we were asked to sign one of the documents that explained timing and purpose of our stop, and our clearance papers were endorsed. We were then told we would not have to pay any fees and were free to continue on our way.

By 11:45AM both vessels were headed out of Lazaro Cardenas. We all waited to breathe our sighs of relief until we had cleared the jetties and were on our way to the northwest.

With hindsight, the only negatives our visit to Lazaro Cardenas was the after-dark re-anchoring drill, and the four to five hour later departure than we had planned, which as it turned out had no negative consequences.

Assuming we will be headed south again next season, if we stop at Lazaro Cardenas, we know where to anchor and we will check in and probably stay a night or two to check out the town, which is not far from the Port Captains office.

We will not be attempting to anchor in the hurricane anchorage again--unless there is a hurricane!

PS: The apostrophe and quotes key is not working on this, the old IBM computer, so please forgive the missing punctuation.


At March 23, 2005 at 7:30 AM, Blogger Bruce said...

Steve & Kay,
Good to see your website, I will update the folks at 3 Sheets so they can follow your travels.
Bruce Kilen


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