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Archive for November, 2015

Fire-base Barra

We have spent the summer in Barra de Navidad in Jalisco, Mexico.

I shot this footage when I wrote the last entry about the wreck of the cargo ship from Hurricane Patricia.  It struck some memory from my youth so I thought I would explore it a little here.

Watch the video then read below.

How is Mexico Like Vietnam


The video was taken early in the morning as the helicopter approached the fuel dock area.  We now jokingly call that ‘fire-base Barra’.  It flew in over the lagoon with the sun and the anchored boats at its back.  I could hear the sound of its rotors from two or three miles away.

I realized as I took the footage that I have been in or near the Huey helicopter since I was 17 years old.  That is when I joined the Army as a volunteer and headed off to South East Asia. I am now 65 years old.  This is a remarkable fact.

I have spent 48 years of my life and the Huey keeps reappearing like some totem beyond.  I have seen them in combat settings in South East Asia in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

I have seen the news footage after I got home of them lifting the last people (except for the marine squad left behind) off the roof of the Saigon embassy.  I watched the evening news as navy and marine personnel pushed them off the end of an aircraft carrier into the ocean because there was no more room for them to land.

I worked in Emergency Medical Services in Southern Colorado where at times the Air National Guard would fly medivac missions to the San Luis Valley in weather that civilian flight services could not fly in.  We hot loaded then at night with the blades still running because of the altitude of a bit over a mile high at the local airport.

Seen them in movies like ‘Predator’, ‘We Were Soldiers’, ‘Apocalypse Now’,’Clear and Present Danger’, and ‘ The Matrix’.  I have played the Ia Drang Valley battle in a simulator called Armed Assault, with a group of hard-core game players called United Operations, reenacting the battle from the movie, ‘We were Soldiers’ based on the actual battle early in the Vietnam Conflict.

The helicopter is iconic.  It is now a part of a collective memory.  It brings visions, dreams, nightmares, sweats, racing hearts, and smell of aviation fuel and smoke and heat from its engine.

All that was missing was the sound of 50 cals firing out the doors.  Thankfully.

Makes me want to add the sound track from ‘Flight of the Valkyries.’



Cruiser Update on Hurricane Patricia Damage at Barra de Navidad (11/24/2015)

As we all watch Hurricane Sandra form in the waters southwest of us, I thought I would update everyone  to let them know where repairs and functionality are at in Barra de Navidad since many stop here or pass by.

The Lagoon

More or less back to normal.  Channel seems unchanged to enter the anchorage.  Keep in mind that the passage to the fuel docks and the passage to the anchorage are not identical.  There is a shallow finger between the two.  If you try to cross the finger at a low water mark … you will be aground.  There are currently three sailing vessels in the anchorage.  And, one waiting for the tide to lift it from the sand bar.

Tidal flow and water quality back to normal again.  Color of water normal again.

The Fuel Docks

The actual dock that had broken free has been returned to the other.  They are not tied together.  The pump for diesel has not been repaired/replaced.  This does not mean fuel is not available.  The actual station attached to the dock for fuel is still functional.  So, be prepared to haul fuel to your boat in Jerry jugs.  Or be prepared to have someone help you with that.  From the marina, it is only about 1000 feet to the still functional station across a field.

Diesel is available at Marina Isla Navidad as just described.

Internet at Docks (wireless network)

Intermittent in the extreme.  Down about a third of the time, now.  No reason or pattern of network failures.  What is more than a little frustrating is that the two available networks show up and allow you to connect at times.  Then you will get stuck at the identifying network stage FOREVER.  Problem seems to be with DNS server and the fact that the network supplies only two of the four necessary bits of information needed to connect .  But, even when all info is supplied and a connection is established and signal strength is excellent, you will get a ‘no internet’ notice.

This situation exists even if you have a good wi-fi extender as part of your system.  It will drive you insane.  You will be tempted to tinker with your computers and fondle slabs.  Resist the urge.  It is not your equipment.  It is the hotel network.

If it goes down on a Friday afternoon, it will be Monday morning 9 am before if comes back up.

If you walk up to the hotel lobby to connect to their network (separate but equal)  it will behave in the same way.

Have a good Banda Ancha or another means of accessing the internet if you wish to manage a blog, pay bills, or stay in touch with families and friends.

There are internet hot spots at restaurants and small internet centers in town across the bay.

Internet access at the hotel and marina is marginal.

Electrical at Docks

Available.  Most meter boxes were damaged but have been righted.  Not fully repaired, but functional.

Water at Docks

Water is available at the docks.  There have been several interruptions of a day or two for more repairs.  As always, potable water is not available at the dock faucets.

The water can be rendered potable with a simple two filter prefilter for your boat.  Readings at the faucet before filtering are in the 120-150 parts per million range.  Filters reduce that to  100 parts per million or so.  Taste is good after filtering.  Water is acceptable,as is, for everything but drinking.

If you prefer, you can order water in the blue five gallon water bottled delivered to your boat and slip.  They will come back for the empty bottles after you fill your tanks.

Marina Showers and Restrooms

Fully functional.  As always, not all showers have hot water but this is not a critical repair.  The ones near the Marina Office always seem to have hot and cold water.

Sewage Pump Outs at Slips

Don’t have pump outs of sewage.  Never have and apparently never will.  The disposal of sewage here is a mysterious and wonderfully misunderstood thing.

Short version.  Pump all sewage before you enter the marina, as you do at sea.  Some folks might tell you that everyone leaves the docks and goes to sea to pump out.  This is magical thinking.

The most ecological of us will simply not use on board for anything related to solid waste.  Urine is pumped into the waters of the marina at night when the tide is going out.

The Hotel Pools and Elevators

Yeah, I know, not hardcore sailor concerns.  However, believe me, you will appreciate the three pools of the Hotel Grand Isla Navidad.   All are clean and functional again.


Water taxi and its docks

Fully functional and operates on Channel 23.  24 hours a day.

Navigation Lights

Back to fully functional.

French Baker

Started deliveries to the Marina and anchorage two days ago.  I guess the season is here.  So, back to normal.


Small community next to the marina.  Just outside the security fences.  Well known for its fishermen and restaurants.  Restaurants fully functional. More than half a dozen houses still un-roofed as rebuilding continues.  They got hit hard.

Town of Barra de Navidad

Just celebrated a belated “Dia de Muertos” and a great Revolution Day (November 22) with parades of ” little revolutionaries”.




Below is a picture of the restaurant I showed you in the post on Hurricane Patricia.  Look what you can do with just a few hand tools in four or five days.  Nice restoration, huh?



San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church

Closed to weather.  Doors temporarily repaired.  Stained glass above entrance still damaged.  But, fully functional.  Mass at 8:00 am on Sundays.  Other times posted somewhere.

Boats in lagoon and Marina

Marina and all boats fine.  No losses.  Lagoon had a sail boat run aground when its furler opened in the storm and off it sailed.  It was unoccupied and tied to the mangroves of the small island off Collimilla.  It was floated and now sits with its sail flapping in the winds but at anchor again (tied in same location).

Freighter aground on Punta Graham

Salvage operations under way.  Support is now a heavy seagoing barge, a helicopter, two smaller tug-style boats.  Lots of activity.  spill boom is now in water around ship.  Some concern still for environment but there is an actual response now underway.



The currents generally on that point of land are southward.  So, maybe only the golf course would be affected and not the bay.  Cross fingers and hope for a north wind till it is over.  Makes it hard for those of us headed north.

The helicopter for this effort is based in the sandy lot next to the marina.  If a Vietnam-era Huey is your ‘thing’, it is a treat.  If the sound of those distinctive rotors makes you crawl under a table and scream ‘incoming’, you may want to seek help or another anchorage.


Bus Service to surrounding towns

For rides to Melaque for the bank and the Hawaii Store.  For rides to Cihuatlan  to the Bodegon Store.  For rides to Manzanillo for everything convenient (Home Depot, Mega, Sorriana’s, Burger King, Block Buster, and Wal-Mart, as well as Government stuff like immigration.

All routes back to normal.

Hope this update helps everyone thinking of stopping here.  Oh, and don’t forget ‘disaster tourism’.  You can see a really big ship aground as you enter the harbor if you just go to Point Graham and look before you head in.  Stay far enough away (which is pretty close) to stay out of salvage operation area.  It is very interesting to see.

We are headed to Tenacatita anchorage next week and will let you know if anything has changed.  But boats are going back and forth from there now.  Some restaurants in La Manzanilla have yet to reopen. This small community got hit hard as well. I do not know if all crocodiles are accounted for in the sanctuary.

If you swim or swim your dogs.  Just a thought.

The Wind, The Cross, and the Chachalaca

Barra de Navidad just survived Hurricane Patricia, the strongest recorded hurricane in history. There was a great deal of property damage, and a number of folks lost their entire homes; but, no one here died and that’s a miracle.

The news reports are saying we actually got 165 mph here; and I guarantee you that Friday, October 23, 2015, was one heck of a long day. But Saturday, we were all still here and so was Spiritus; and, as early as possible, we started moving back on-board. Between hurricane prep, Patricia’s fury and interminable waiting, it’d been a long 48 hour grind; but, we’d been blessed. Thank you, Lord.

On Sunday, we went across the bay (via the water taxi) to see our town, check on our friends, and attend services at San Antonio de Padua, a  Catholic Church. We’ve attended this small church ever since we started living in Barra de Navidad in the summers. The congregation has always welcomed us; we’ve got a copy of the Mass in Spanish; and, by now, we’re pretty comfortable joining in on some of the hymns.

The water taxi’s little dock had been hit hard and the roof had collapsed; so, they were using the dock next to them.

Barra’s streets were full of wreckage–tiles, glass, downed roofs, tree limbs; yet, what we saw walking toward the church was everybody working, cleaning, removing debris and rubble by-hand. People happy to be alive; congratulating each other, laughing, checking about families. No time for weeping or self-pity. Bunches of the guys had beers in their hands, while they were working. Why not, they’d all had little sleep, if any, and were exhausted; but, there was work to do and it was finally light again. Barra de Navidad still had no electricity.

As we walked to church, there were no buildings boarded up, no police, no soldiers, no looting. No violence whatsoever. The OXXO (Mexico’s version of a ‘7-Eleven’ convenience store) simply had a sign hanging in the window–‘Cerrado’ (closed).

Right across from the OXXO store stands San Antonio’s Church.

Anthony of Padua was a Portuguese friar of the Franciscan Order, a Doctor of the Church, and was canonized a saint in 1232. He is a patron saint of the poor, fishermen, mariners, shipwrecked people, and watermen (water taxi drivers and ferrymen). Probably a pretty good choice for a small fishing town like Barra de Navidad. This statue of Saint Antonio sets in an arched wall recess of the church.


The stained-glass over the doors at the front of church had blown out, but it’d been cleaned up; and, the church had lost the entrance door on the right.


Several pews were leaned up to fill the doorway to keep dogs and critters out.


Still there were lots of people waiting to get in, and Sunday Mass was Standing Room Only.

Barra’s church  is well-accustomed to its share of miracles.   It is known, throughout Mexico, as the ‘Church of the Christ of the Cyclone’.


Over the altar hangs a Christ figure, whose arms are no longer nailed to the cross.

The Christ figure’s arms hang next to his body.  It is very “non-traditional” for a reason.The explanation for this unusual configuration of the church’s crucifix lies with Hurricane Lily on September 1, 1971. Many of the people of Barra fled their homes and sought refuge in the church. While they were gathered and praying, the Christ’s arms suddenly fell down to his sides and the storm abated. San Antonio’s congregation chose to keep the arms in that position in a perpetual commemoration of Barra’s special miracle.


Superstition or miracle?????? I’m old enough to know that’s a question for theologians–not me. Personally, I don’t think it really matters what you call it, if such an event provides a source of hope and renews the human spirit in difficult times. On the other hand, I’m also an academic and tend to search for as much information as I can get on subjects. If you’re interested in a more rational explanation, I encourage you to read this charming and excellent web article:

Over to the side of the church is a smaller model of the altar Christ. It can be used on special religious feast days (such as Good Friday of Holy Week) for processionals around the town.

On Sunday following the hurricane, both of our guitarists were present– their wives and children singing and occasionally providing percussion accompaniment with tambourines. Both families love what they do, are gifted musically, and this mass was a real toe-tapper.

The priest’s sermon was short, sweet, and to the point. It began with a simple “Gracias a Dios.”  That is loosely translated as ‘Thanks to God’.

However, the  highlight of this particular mass had to be the fat, sassy, and fearless Chachalaca hen which wandered in during the Consecration and Communion.

Mortalis_poliocephala Chachalaca

The West Mexican Chachalaca (Ortalis poliocephala) A fine specimen of a hen, a veritable Grande Dame of Chachalacas.

That tough old bird had just endured a Category 5 hurricane just like the rest of us.  She was tired. She was hungry and she wanted something to eat. What caught her eye (she, being rather short and close to the ground) were women’s sandals, especially any Sunday-best sandals embellished with beads, baubles, or sparklies. Particularly tempting seemed to be those well-shod entrées garnished with beautifully pedicured toes, sporting fruit-colored icings of luscious red and delectable apricot.

¡Buen Provecho! Bon Appétit! Enjoy your meal !

During the Consecration the dowager calmly meandered through the crowd, like a seasoned socialite pretentiously checking out the quality of those dishes offered at a lavish buffet; then, as everyone stood up and proceeded to the altar for Communion, things got really interesting. Up the line came a successive series of jumps and wiggles! Yelps, grunts, and an occasional squeal!

Seems Madame Chachalaca was somewhat ‘peckish’.  Toes were on her menu.

It was a jollity, a holiday, and a delightful respite from the drama of the past 48 hours. Children laughing, adults smiling, and the line to the altar just kept moving. It was a grand moment; and I felt happy, grateful, and proud to be there. It was a wonderful way to start over, to begin again. It was about life and living.

When most of the folks were back in their places, one young man (with the help of one very young girl wearing no nail polish and plain sandals) quietly chased and caught the venerable matriarch.  She left our company in an outrage of squawking protest. Highly undignified, after her otherwise magnificent performance.

To his credit, the young priest never batted an eyelash–never lost focus–never cracked a smile. He managed the Mass with suitable gravitas and decorum.

Once more the waters of the bay lapped gently at the sands of Barra’s beaches, the wind kissed the swaying palms leaves of the coconut trees, and the tropical sun heated the cobbled streets under our sandals.

Thanking God for the day, the sunshine, and one fat and sassy Chachalaca.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

–Cecil  Frances Alexander’s Hymns for Little Children (1848)

Video Hurricane Patricia

Hurricane Patricia 2015