When the average cruiser goes to Zihua, they anchor comfortably, spend countless hours exploring the town and nearby beaches, sample the many restaurants, and maybe go on an excursion or two. And when they go this time of year—during Guitar Fest—they will probably take in some live concerts as well. The average cruiser is also inevitably fixing something at one time or another. It’s just part of the gig. I’m beginning to think that the difference between us and the average cruiser is that not only are we always fixing something, we’re fixing a lot of somethings all at once, and one of those somethings is such a major something that it brings the whole journey to a screeching halt. We’ve been out to sea for almost three years now and I would wager we’ve only been “cruising” maybe six weeks of that.
We don’t anchor comfortably—we come in hot without any gears and just hope we can throw down enough chain to keep us from swinging into next year. “Exploring” is wandering through the barrio, trying to locate a welder. And the most recent excursion we’ve been on was to the local AutoZone trying to track down oil filters and temperature gauges. We do like to hit the restaurants however. It’s a great opportunity to get off the boat, clear your head, and drink copious amounts of alcohol to steel yourself for whatever has gone wrong on the boat while you were eating. Editor’s Note: In the evenings, while hanging out on the aft deck, we did get to enjoy some of Guitar Fest as well—at least what we could hear over the sound of the generator. We would have turned it off, but it was so nice to know that SOMETHING was still working.
I guess what I’m leading up to is that this is getting old. In fact, I’m pretty sure it died somewhere along the way and we’ve just been flogging its reanimated corpse.
After limping back into Zihua, the days flew by in a blur of mechanics, welders, and more shit going wrong. The mechanic came out and worked on the transmission. The next day, the new stanchion was picked up and installed. The day after that, the new brackets for the dinghy wheels were completed, picked up, and installed. The mechanic came back the next day and replaced the oil cooler with a new one we had on board. That same day, we lost water pressure and what did come out was dark brown and kind of chunky. The Captain replaced the filter on the water pump, switched tanks, and re-primed the system. The next morning, we had 20 10-gallon water bottles delivered; fuel was delivered in jerry cans that afternoon. That night our anchor light quit working. Later that night, I had a bout of stomach flu and spent all night in the head blowing it out both ends, delaying our intended departure the following day. While I recouped, the anchor light was replaced, yet the anchor light still refused to work. The steaming lights are being used until we figure out what’s wrong. But finally—FINALLY—it was departure day! It was calm seas and light winds and the anchorage at Bahia Papanoa—a mere 39 miles away—was beckoning. So we raised up the anchor, made our way out of the bay, set a course south, and one hour in—one FREAKIN hour in—and the transmission temperature shot up past 220 degrees. So we throttled way back and turned around. There was no wind, so sails were useless. All we could do was hope that the transmission had enough oil and oomph to get us back to Zihua. Needless to say, it was a very quiet trip back. But make it back we did, and with just enough gears to anchor. And then the navy hailed us over the VHF. Earlier, we had called Memo asking if he could line up a panga in case we needed a tow. Said panga had tried to hail us over the VHF, but for whatever reason, they could not hear us. So the navy apparently took that as a bad sign and hailed us believing we were in trouble. We tried to tell them we were okay, that we were safely anchored in the harbor, but they insisted on our coordinates which we duly gave them. Five minutes later, and they came blazing out in their spiffy go-fast boat and did the usual navy routine of circling us two or three times while a crew member video recorded all the action. I could sense that they were a little disappointed that it wasn’t a bona fide search and rescue, but at the same time really jazzed to be out in the go-fast boat. They took our information and gave us their direct phone number to call in case we ever found ourselves in need of searching and rescuing and as quickly as they arrived, they were gone.
We suspect they zoomed around the bay at top speed doing some “searching” before having to go back and finish their paperwork.
The next week was another blur of mechanics and welders. Why the welders again? Because we discovered that the wooden block on the rail—the one we attach our outboard motor to while underway—had developed a huge crack and was all ready to give way, probably with the outboard still attached. And with our luck, it would give way overboard rather than onto the deck. So the Captain and ABS Brian engineered a metal bracket to go over it and contracted with the welder to fabricate it, thus earning them “Repeat Customer of the Month” status having most likely paid his rent for the rest of the year. In the meantime, our mechanic repaired the transmission and out we went for a sea trial only to have the damn thing overheat and blow its back seals again at around the 20-minute mark. Once again it was a slow and quiet trip back to the anchorage. We were all thinking of contingency plans because long-term anchoring will make major engine repairs rather difficult. We were wondering how do we get to a marina of any kind without gears; can we get into the Ixtapa marina even though it’s shallow and full of crocodiles; how do we convince the Mexican navy that we need some search and rescuing all the way back to the boatyard in La Cruz? And our poor mechanic has that look on his face that we’ve seen plenty of times before. Specifically, he has started to take this personally. If you’ve been following the blog, you know that we’ve left a lot of highly capable mechanics adrift in our wake—all taken to task by our transmission. But this was something new. This was—for all intents and purposes—a new transmission. It had been carefully stored in the dark recesses under the v-berth since it was last rebuilt in San Diego. Why would it blow the same seals as the previous tranny? It didn’t make sense. It had to be something else. Something in the cooling we suspected. So our mechanic took the offending parts away along with the new oil cooler we had him install. Two days later and he thinks he’s found the problem—a bad oil pump and some incorrectly placed seals in the tranny. He reinstalled everything and we went out for a sea trial. The temperature held. The pressure held. We increased the RPMs. The temperature went up slightly, but not exceedingly so—just what was to be expected. We decreased the RPMs and the temperature decreased as well—something it has never done. Before, when it was hot; it stayed hot.
Could this be the answer we’ve been waiting for? Could this be the last of our transmission problems? Do we owe our transmission(s) an apology? Should we have been burning an effigy of the oil pump all these years as well? Only time will tell, and sooner rather than later as we plan to leave tomorrow (even if we have crippling hangovers from the victory dinner we’re planning tonight.)
And not a minute too soon. Zihua is a nice place, but I wouldn’t want to spend more than a few days here. And we’re going on three weeks. I mean, it’s a nice place. And beyond the cleaned-up touristy part, it starts turning into a proper Mexican town complete with a very large public market with vendors of everything from carne, bread, and fruit to purveyors of household goods, tools, personal items, and clothes. It was a lot like what we found in Barra only much bigger and all crammed under one roof. You can pretty much find anything. Apart from paper towels. In my best Spanglish, I would ask for “toallas de papel” and they kept handing me toilet paper at which point I resorted to pointing at my rear and saying, “No para bano. Para limpiar.” And after they quit laughing, would send me away empty-handed. In hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t stomach flu after all. Maybe I was hexed by an old woman who didn’t appreciate my NSFW pantomime.
Aside from the market, we hit a few of the restaurants. None exactly stood out, and I’m beginning to suspect many of them used raicilla (a Mexican moonshine that’s used in lieu of tequila) in their margaritas and perhaps that accounted for my ills (because it couldn’t possibly be quantity, it must be quality, right?) We did have one opportunity to take a taxi through the hillside communities bordering the bay and they’re as swank as much as most of Zihua is poor. But that’s kind of the dichotomy we see in Mexico—a lot of hardscrabble neighborhoods bordering areas of large, gated homes and upmarket condos. Few people say it aloud, but the consensus seems to be there are gringo/cartel/politician parts of town and then there’s everyone else. But I digress.
I think what kind of killed Zihua for me was our mooring situation. This is the longest we’ve ever been at anchor. And whereas it does have its charms, it does get a little old when you have to dinghy to shore every time you want/need off the boat. And we used the dinghy a lot. The dogs went to shore twice a day. The mechanics had to be dinghied to and from, sometimes more than once if a part is needed. Memo had to be dinghied in so he could dive the bottom and clear us of barnacles. The welder was dinghied in at least once to look at our stanchion set up. Dinner in town? Get in the dinghy. Market? Get in the dinghy. Trip to AutoZone? Get in the dinghy. Trip to Sam’s Club to procure a new AC unit when ours died? Get in the dinghy, but then bribe one of the beach pangas to bring us back with the thing because we didn’t think it would appreciate a dinghy ride. After a while, you don’t even want to go shore again (at least I didn’t.) Although I must say that here in Zihua they have a nice set-up. There’s a group of guys who hang out at the beach (they may even live there—we’re not sure) and when they’re not playing cards and getting stoned, they help guide you up on the beach, watch your dinghy while you’re gone, and then help you get back out. It’s stellar service for a 10-20-peso tip and makes the frequent shore trips much more bearable. Editor’s Note: Yes, we did get the Deck Boss back in the dinghy and I’m happy to report that there have been no further mishaps. On a related note, ABS Brian did fall out of the dinghy and into the water while trying to secure it to the ladder. So once again, Edgrrr is the only member of the crew not to have fallen into the drink.
I would be remiss to mention that we did go on one true excursion. ABS Brian loves the Shawshank Redemption. If you’re familiar with the movie, you may recall the Zihua connection. If you’re not familiar with the movie, here’s your spoiler alert: Tim Robbins escapes from the aforementioned prison and makes his way to Zihua where he’s last seen restoring an old fishing boat. And if you do see the movie and you’ve never been to Zihua, here’s another spoiler alert: the beach scene in the movie was shot in the Virgin Islands. I don’t think they planned that, I’m sure the boat just broke down in transit to Mexico and they went with it. At any rate, to capitalize on the movie, there is a Shawshank Redemption Restaurant, so we set out to find it and procure a t-shirt. Spoiler Alert: We did find it, and it’s not worth the t-shirt. It’s a small place facing the street in a modern-ish building in a quiet part of town. So there’s no beach (Virgin or otherwise), no real ambiance, and nothing particularly “Mexican, “Maine”, or even “Hollywood” about it. They have a couple of blown-up stills from the movie—neither one extremely poignant (unless a picture of Guard #2 is particularly noteworthy)—and bars in lieu of a front wall along with one of those mugshot signs you can hold up in front of you for a picture so all your friends know you were booked on suspicion of being cheesy. Editor’s Note: Such was the underwhelming nature of the place that when it was suggested that we take a picture with the mugshot sign, the overwhelming answer was, “No. That’s okay.” I’ve got to say, that even in a country where copyrights are merely suggestions, this one is a huge missed opportunity. Zihua has no shortage of dingy brick buildings with bars (real bars) in lieu of front walls that most likely did house criminals at one point in their history. You could easily take one of those, furnish it in early Attica, throw up some Rita Hayworth posters, and serve chipped beef and frijoles on tin plates. Dessert would be flan with a rock hammer in it. You wouldn’t even have to update the bathroom—just advertise it as a real-life “sewer escape” experience. I guarantee, the line to get in would be around the block. But until then, I guess this one will have to do.
Then there's this work on art. The only part of the restaurant that really says, “criminal”.