Ambassadors for all we America was. Apologists for all America is.


Disaster Tourism

The local fishing and tourism businesses in Barra de Navidad are, if nothing else, incredibly flexible about making the most of opportunity.

We recently had a chance to see, up-close, the shipwreck from Hurricane Patricia.  The pangas now ferry tourists out to see it and take pictures. When you only have lemons, make lemonade.  Take the potential disaster and make a living from it.  Interesting business model.

Disaster Tourism 1

The actual wreck is quite impressive.  Well worth the 500 pesos for the boat rental.  Six of us, who live in the marina, shared the ride.  The two lawyers who own S/V Karpesa paid and asked us all to come along.

Disaster Tourism 3

Of course, if you are a cruiser, you don’t actually have to pay anyone to go see the wreck.  You can always get around the local economy and see it yourself on the cheap in your very own dingy.

Disaster Tourism 2

Thanks to the aftermath of Hurricane Patricia, we now have a new attraction.  We have two heavy seagoing tugs, a very large barge just off the entrance to the marina, a helicopter making 5-8 flights a day from a landing pad next to the marina, and innumerable panga tours.

How long can the good times last?

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



Category Five Hurricane Patricia comes ashore near Barra de Navidad

Cat Five Qualified!

Well, we have internet again.  Power was restored to the docks today and should have water tomorrow.  Our boat, Spiritus, has sustained no damage.  This in spite of heeling to about 18 degrees at the dock under winds, estimated at 165 mph a mile from the marina.

The Marina at Isla Navidad did superbly.  No boats lost.

After Patricia First Morning

Four boats in the marina sustained damage.  Two had furlers open.  Both lost sails on the opened furlers.

Staysail Furler Damage

One of the two lost its mast (to be honest this boat (pictured below) had marginal maintenance and was essentially a derelict at the docks.)



Two other boats broke loose from their cleats at the docks.  One was the result of a failed cleat and the other looks like a line parted on the boat itself.

Boats Breaking FreeNeither suffered more than cosmetic damage as dock hands and boat workers re-secured them during the passage of the eye wall.

One sailboat, in the mangroves on a small island in the lagoon, had its furler open and drove itself aground after several tacks  alternating between turns, anchor holding, drags, and finally a hard grounding near Maria’s restaurant in  Colimilla, which is the small community adjacent to the Grand Isla Navidad resort properties.  Most boaters in Barra know Colimilla for its restaurants.

Most of the boat owners, who were present during the hurricane, spent Friday night in the hotel.  We all got to watch our boats get battered from the relative safety of a room in a five-star resort.

Storm Watch

This sounds like the easy life, until you watch a friend’s boat next to yours break free  and begin the process of destroying the dock between itself and your boat. You care because you know the boat that is in trouble.  You care because the owners of that boat are dear friends.  You care because you know your boat is next. All you can do is stand by and watch. Your heart is torn because you are praying your boat is still there in the morning.  Then you think maybe you should be praying everyone’s boat is there in the morning.  The other thing to note is that when you’re in a hurricane of this intensity, you have to remind yourself that between you and the full fury of the elements is a pane of glass.

As evening and dark set upon us, the last thing we saw were the docks being lifted by the storm surge and high tide for the day.  There was only about four feet of pylon left and the water was climbing.  When we went to bed we did not know if we we’d see Spiritus in the morning when the sun came up.

Maybe it is fairer to say, we didn’t know what we would see when the sun came up.   Then the lights went out and the hotel fell into darkness.  All that remained was the wind, the blinding rain, and the worries of a boater and their boat.

The hotel is built like a Spanish Fort on a point of land overlooking the entrance to the lagoon.  The emphasis is on the word fort.  The walls are two feet thick and would probably stop a cannonball.  Everything is concrete, stone, and marble.  Substantial is the word that leaps to mind.  More importantly, nothing flexes in the wind.  It is a rock.

Barra deNavidad Harbor Entrance

Winds in the picture (above) were in excess of 100 mph.  The waves were approximately 23 feet and breaking at the harbor entrance.

Many boaters think of Barra de Navidad as a hurricane hole.  We came here with that in mind.  I think it is safe to say that any marina that endures a category-five hurricane landfall, with no boats damaged and no docks damaged beyond power and water loss, is probably okay to call itself a “hurricane hole.”

The lagoon is another question altogether.   It is open to the wind and a setting for disaster in high winds.  It has low-holding power on anchors, because it has a combined river silt and sand bottom.  Read this as the ‘slide pool’.  At the start of the hurricane, the only boat there was saved because its owner flew down from the US to Guadalajara and hired a taxi to drive him to the resort.  He got into the marina about an hour before the hurricane hit.  He had 30 knot winds in his face in the marina entrance, but almost none once he entered the marina itself.  By the time he had the boat secured with help from the marina staff and workers, the winds were above 60 knots and climbing.  His boat survived undamaged in the marina.

The fuel docks for Barra de Navidad are located in the lagoon.  During the high winds, they were torn apart and relocated.

Relocation of Fuel Docks



The staff and management of the hotel were exemplar.   Accommodations were made for all the boat owners on boats in the marina.  A special rate was even offered, because we were residents of the marina.

Boats that had pets were allowed to bring them in for the storm.   No one was turned away.

Staff worked round-the-clock, sleeping and staying at the hotel during the storm.  It provided food and beds for all staff who stayed.  The hotel has its own generators, so power was maintained for most of the storm.

Its kitchens made food available to those sheltering in the hotel.  We actually had TV during the storm, as well as internet for a portion of it.

Hotel damage was mostly limited to the edges of the tile roofs as the wind caught the tiles and lifted them up and blew them away.  The other casualty was some of the larger windows in the restaurants.  The pools are filled with debris, but being cleared even as I write this.


The local workers who care for foreign-owned boats stayed thru the thickest part of the storm and kept checking boats. Retying and moving them when necessary.  They saved at least two boats ,maybe three. with their selfless efforts.  I say this, because no one bills you for their help.  The marina staff and security also stayed during the storm.  Everyone turned in to help preserve the boats at the docks and the docks themselves.

We lost potable water, electricity, and a few dock cleats.

Almost full amenities are back at all docks, just five days after the storm.

I cannot tell you how much respect I have for the dock workers and staff of the marina at Marina Navidad;  they are the unsung heroes of this category-five hurricane here at the resort.  On Sunday, many finally took off to check on their families and homes.


This is a substory of the storm.  It is a remarkable substory of life in Mexico.  The town and the resort are separated by a half mile of water.  It is traversed daily and hourly by water taxis.  Many of the workers for the marina and hotel live across the harbor.  The taxis ran until they could not safely go out.  They ran until the batteries on their radios gave out.  They ran in breaking waves in the harbor.  When the dock they had just rebuilt blew down, they found another and continued to run.  Only during the worst of the storm did they stop for safety reasons.

Taxi Acquatico docksThe town lost power and parts of it are still without power today, five days later.  Life goes on.

This was/is Maria’s just down the street from the water taxi docks. What you are looking at was an indoor restaurant under a palapa roof a couple of days ago.  Parties and dinners were often held here.  This is the kitchen bar below it is the main restaurant area.

DSC_0059 DSC_0058

The church called San Antonio de Padua suffered minor damage.  This is the church with the Jesus on the Cross figure called the Cristo de Ciclón .

San Antonio de Padua

The church was standing room only for the services the second day after the storm.

Businesses are trying to clean up before this weekend, which is Dia de la Muertos (Oct 31-Nov. 2, a festival coinciding with the Catholic Church’s  Allhallowtide, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day).  Dia de Muertos is one of three most popular holidays along the coast (Christmas and Easter, being the other two).

Streets First Day

And the famous pizza place under the tree took a hit from the storm.  Most of the trees leaves are gone but it still stands.  You can see this tree from space in the Google earth Maps.   Glad it survived.

LocoLoco and the great tree


This is the large rock formation due west of the Marina on the other side of the headland.  Distance for the marina is a mile or so.  Currently,  the bulk carrier ship under Mexican Flag, the Los Llanitos,  is aground and probably will break up.

The video above is from 11/1/2015 and is the best example of what I am talking about.  Ship gets lots of visitors by helicopter but no visible environmental response.  The latest messages seem to suggest they are thinking of making it a reef.  I am not sure how that differs from doing nothing and hoping the fish like it.

The cargo seems to be grain so at least that is a relief, if true.

The video and pictures are of a 71,000 ton freighter that left Manzanillo just ahead of the storm.  It foundered and ran aground about a mile west of us on a rocky headland.  the winds were simply too strong.  Crew had to be evacuated after the storm by helicopter.  The Mexican Navy is not working to get her afloat now as she had broken her back and will never be sea worthy.

Bulk Carrier Breaking Up Along Mexico Coast After Running Aground in Hurricane Patricia – PHOTOS and VIDEO – gCaptain


I am adding this not as a criticism, but as a series of observations.  I have a background in Emergency Planning and Response in a previous life before cruising.  I have watched with rapt attention how the response system works in this part of rural Mexico.

Barra de Navidad is a small town of about 4,000 (according to the traffic sign at edge of town).  It has a two communications towers: one from Carlos Slim’s Telcel, which seems to have its own generator since it kept working when all power was out, and another that I do not know who installed but I suspect it is some kind of public works.

The warnings before the storm consisted of an emergency vehicle with lights and a siren hitting up the siren as it drove past the marina and announcing one hour before landfall that ‘a hurricane was coming.  Get to safety!  Stop all maritime activities!  Seek shelter immediately!’  I did not hear any warning by the Port Captain. He did close the port in an announcement.  The red ‘port is closed’ flag was flying at harbor entrance.  We were monitoring channel 16 for the captain, channel 22 for cruisers, and channel 23 for the water taxis.

No one knew wind speeds locally, and both local weather stations at the airport and in Manzanilla went off-line.  Internet was available until just after the storm ended; so, we got a lot of info from the sites we use to plan trips that I mention in another blog entry here called “Guessing the Weather along Mexico’s West Coast”.  This file is also available in the South_Bound user ground on Yahoo Groups.

No preparation at all.  No boarding of windows.  No pre-positioning of resources.

Storm hits.  No sirens, no response to emergencies, no presence of anything like response teams.  The local EMTs seem to have staffed their ambulance at the small clinic for Seguro Popular, the Mexican health program.  It is a very safe building at the edge of the commercial part of Barra.

After storm.

No police.  As of today, I have still seen no police in the town.  No military.  Well, except for a chopper that brought some meals and water.  No disaster teams.  No local use of generators (except at the Grand Isla Navidad Resort where we sheltered).  I have seen one small generator at a private home in five days of looking.  What is very interesting is NO LOOTING, no increase in crime, no breaking of windows.  No reports of any weird disaster-related social breakdown.  Small town, small town values: we take care of ourselves.

Stores stayed open if they were locally owned. Franchise stores like OXXO and Kiosko (these are like 7- Elevens) were closed for the duration (plus two days), because their internet based registers would not function.  Just closed.  No electricity = no register = Not Open.  Even in an emergency where supplies of food stuffs are immediately short.  Local tiendas (vendors)  just wrote things down in a small ledger for payment and for resupply.

Beer.  It was amazing to watch as the beer supplies got used up further and further from the town’s commercial district.  Each day to get beer, you had to walk further and further away from the town core.  Milk and anything refrigerated was gone or spoiled after the first day.  The ice plant kept running or had a store of bagged and block ice so that beer and sodas were kept on ice.  Everything in a cooler, powered by electricity, got hot.

Clean up.  No heavy equipment at all.  Shovels and Brooms.  Clean your own street of debris and sand.

Rebuilding.  Hammers and Machetes.  I’m not kidding.  Bolt cutters, stainless-steel hacksaws. hammers. small (very small) sledge hammers.  Wood and trees as big as five inches being worked and cut with machetes.   We saw a couple of power saws being used at the Grand Isla Navidad Resort.

Power.  The power companies were the only organized response I have seen.  There were half a dozen power trucks in town on the second day after the landfall.

No round-the-clock response.  Everyone seems to go home or shut down at night.

The ship wreck on Punta Graham (west of the marina).  The most response of all.  Half a dozen helicopter flights to and from the wreck site daily.  No spill-boom for fuel and oil containment.  No pumping of cargo off-boat.  Emergency response seems to be of an observational nature.  No interventions to prevent spill or mitigate damage.  Response by government seems to be ‘Just watch’.

News Response.  Oh, yeah.  Even though no one is talking much about the aftermath, lots of reporters on day three taking pictures.  Seem to be Mexico TV crews.


Boats in the Marina. Cruising boats have power, generators, solar, wind generators, fresh water-makers, water storage, refrigeration, food stocks, medical supplies, radio communications, phones, satellite communications, light, sewage, etc.  We fair well and are not a part of the problem.  But, we are also not part of the solution.  Not sure what to make of this.  Seems like a wasted resource to me.


As I have said elsewhere, the marina is located in a five-star resort which is by definition a gated community.  It remained so during the storm.  If there is cooperation between the resort and any local community as a shelter, it is not obvious to the casual observer.  What this means is that the only place for miles on the coast that could shelter in true disasters is essentially a business even during a disaster and not a community resource.  Seems like another wasted resource to me.

If the resort had a disaster plan, it was not obvious.  Windows (big ones) not boarded.  Last minute removal of furnishings from places likely to be opened to the elements.  No contact with guests.  An occasional “Are you guys OK?” would have been nice.

When the hotel’s dining room closed because of window damage, the hotel provided an emergency meal for workers and guests.

No apparent call in of off-duty staff.  Though, if you were staff here at the start of the storm you stayed.  Food and bedding was provided to workers, who did not leave for a couple of days.  Do not know if they got to contact family.  Most do have cell phones and the cell phone services never went down.  Bless you Carlos Sim and your self-powered cell towers.

I am adding a note here that the ad hoc response by staff on duty at the Resort was phenomenal.  They met each emergency need flexibly with what ever staff was not busy elsewhere.  It is clear that the staff is dedicated and very experienced but that is not an emergency plan that is experience.  It is safe to say that each year a hurricane is a distinct possibility at this resort.  It would make sense to organize a plan about how to handle one.

Marina.  No extra staff called in  during storm.  The few marina staff and security and the individuals who work on boats and any cruisers available handled emergencies in the marina.  Lost power.  Lost water.  Lots of damage to electrical system.  The big boats provided night-time illumination so we could see on the docks.

Marina management did stop by boats to check before the storm on what the owners’ plans were.  But no requirement that a boat prep for the storm.  No ‘take down your furlers’, no ‘remove all canvas’, no ‘add lines’.  One dock was mostly cleared of boats, and a few were moved to other locations in the marina.  I am guessing to reduce stress on certain docks.

Please note that the observations above are for information only.  They are entirely subjective in nature.  All I can attest to is what I have seen personally.  That being said, I am somewhat a keen observer of this kind of setting.  Just my two-cents worth.

It is very unlike a stateside response which tends to be heavy on governmental involvement.  There seems no help rebuilding support whatsoever.  Not sure if agencies here do disaster planning or just ‘respond’ in an observational posture.

Very interesting experience.

I actually had it in my head that cruisers would be much more use to communities in which we harbor.  This was based on an approximation of what we all carry on our boats.  I will have to rethink this assumption after this.


Lest you think these recollections are just the imaginings of a ‘cruiser’ in a foreign country, try to remember that for those of us who live on our boats, they are our homes.  We do not just fly to Mexico for the sailing season.  We live here with commitment.  That means that if the boat is sunk or heavily damaged, we are not simply unhappy while waiting  for a check from the insurance company.  We are homeless, just like anyone who loses all they have.

With that said, we try to never forget that all cruisers in Mexico, to some extent, live in secure gated communities called marinas.  We and they have security round the clock,  We don’t live where there is no backup generator.  We don’t live where there is no potable water.  We don’t live where the only help you have is your friends and neighbors.

A well-equipped cruising boat, after the storm passed, had electricity, potable water, food and medical supplies, internet, phones, television and DVDs, radios, and the ability to just sit out the period after the storm.  This was true even if the docks and marina had no power, water, or other amenities like sewage removal.

The bathrooms in the marina kept working.  You can’t imagine what that small thing means to cruisers.  We can’t imagine what it means to the town which had no such amenities after the storm.


There will be more added to this posting as info gets to me.  I just wanted to post it so, if you had an interest in Barra and the boaters here, you would have some info.

When you look into the abyss, sometimes, the abyss looks back!

In early April of this year, 2015,  we were headed back to La Cruz from Mazatlan by way of Chacala.  It was early morning or late at night–that time before dawn, as the light is just revealing the morning.

During the early evening and night we had been sailing, but the wind softened to the point of nothingness, so we reluctantly turned over the engine and proceeded at low rpm on towards the bay of Chacala.

The water was so smooth that at one point, as the light became stronger, I took off my glasses to see if they were the polarized lenses.  I’ve never seen water that smooth with small waves except in a computer simulation.  It looked like cold molten glass.  Unreal.

We were knocking off three to four knots at 800 rpm– not very loud by diesel standards.  Almost no wake, just ripples from the passage of a hull through the water.  Spiritus doesn’t leave much of a wake anyway … kind of like a ghost on the water.

Carolyn was below decks making some early morning coffee.

When, quietly, a not-so-small head emerged about 50 feet from the boat.  I’d been so busy looking at the surreal waters that I hadn’t noticed the approach of the small whale.

It was not more than 15 feet long.  Stuck its head straight up out of the water; and, I swear it held its breath as I held mine.  I whispered to Carolyn to “Get up here. . . fast!  No problems, but you have to see this.”  Her head popped up, too.  I pointed.

She saw it–it saw us–we saw it.  Wowzers!

Nearby a larger shape broke the surface.  Momma.  We cut engines.  Silence.

Everyone still holding their breaths.

“Do you want to get the camera?”  Always the question with whales.

“No, just stay and enjoy this.  I’ve never seen a baby this close, or seen one do this.”

Maybe thirty seconds passed at slooow time.  In slooow time, seconds seem like minutes.

Slowly . . . gracefully . . . the head slipped straight down disappearing below the surface with only a few ripples.  Cold molten glass again for water.


Makes you feel pretty insignificant.  And, a little grateful for life in all its forms.

You will notice, once again– as in all tales of whales–I do not have a photo.  But I can draw, so below I have sketched what it “felt” like.  The problem with whales and photos, and photos– in general– is that to take the picture, you have to leave the experience and fiddle with your instrumentality, the camera.  You only end up with a picture of the experience you missed.  (I think I said that right enough.)

Sometimes, I would just rather have the sensory memory than the photo.  It never captures the ‘muchness’ of the thing anyway.



Okay, is the quote from the movie, “The Abyss” or Friedrich Nietzsche?

Nietzsche wrote, “When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”  But, he was no doubt talking about metaphysics and not whales.

s/v Elsa

ship's log and journal of Elsa's journey