Feb 14, 1997-Mexican Gold Coast
7:30 AM, February 14, Ipala, Jalisco
We weighed at first light, had the sails up before sunrise, and took our departure from Ipala heading 180, south, with a SE wind of 12-13 knots. We drank some coffee and watched the sun come up. It was an easy sail, close hauled on the number 4 jib and the wind vane steering. Judy fixed some fruit and cereal for breakfast and I got some weather off the fax: A big high north of us and a cold front south. That explained the easterly component to the breeze.
Later in a patch of sunlight astern I saw the mainsail of REFUGE, hull down, who'd departed Ipala some time after we did. I wondered if we'd see them again this evening in Chamela, 40 miles away down the coast. We dragged a fishing line, but no luck.
At 10:00 the wind shifted toward the south and we sailed into the knock for a half an hour then tacked. We were now laying the mark. I watched REFUGE inshore of us and wondered if we'd make out on her by being farther out when the wind shifted, at least we were well to weather of her. I took a bearing: 307 degrees. They never gained any and we had a great sail, moving well all day and after hooking a bunch of darn Black Skipjacks, which we threw back, we caught a nice Sierra Mackerel. Then at 3:00, about 5 miles from Chamela we got into some rain and the wind went right around to the north and kicked up a bit. We couldn't go into Chamela because we couldn't see a damn thing, and the wind was 22-24 knots, so we hove to for a half hour until the whole thing blew over, leaving just a lumpy sea and a spitty little wind. While we waited REFUGE motored up and beat us to the anchorage. Finally got the hook down at 5:00 PM, hung out our wet clothes, and had some rum. Another fine day in Mexico.
16:30 PM, February 16 TenacatitA
Tenacatita, Jalisco. It's been a year, nearly, since we've been in Tenacatita. Today we dropped the hook here again, probably for the last time. It's gorgeous here. The light today is crystal clear. On the beach at the hotel you can see the day glow orange of the women's swimsuits and the white t-shirts of the men even when they are so far off you can't even clearly delineate their bodies with binoculars. The long Pacific swells roll in to Tenacatita and when they hit the shore you can hear them for half a mile. The spray goes up into the air and blows inland like a grey cloud. Then, after a delay, the sound. Thrrr-ump! We set the hook, folded the sails, and opened a bottle of rum.
I put on some Beatles and sat on deck with the long eyes and looked around the harbor: Nineteen boats including us. They all looked sharp in the clear air and bright sunlight following the cold front which came through yesterday and they all rose and fell in the swells, like some kind of quiet ballet. Nineteen fellow cruisers, all enjoying Tenacatita, and it's unbelievable beauty... and I realized again that life is good.
Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, MexicoSoccer
Feb 10, 1997-Pangas
I don't know why but as I just watched a Panga come into the bay, driver standing motionless in the stern, looking like I was seeing it through a telephoto lens as it came in cutting the chop and with spray flying but not seeming to get any closer, I felt inspired to write to you about the Panga boats of Mexico.
If there is any thing ubiquitous in Mexico it is the Pangas. They are everywhere, the universal Mexican work boat. Picture them: A twenty foot long, low, narrow, hard chined open fiberglass boat, universally painted white. They are flat sided and flat-bottomed, with a high, flared, pointed bow and a square transom. They are universally driven by a big a outboard motor manually started and steered by a tiller. These boats seem so well suited to their use that it is hard to imagine any other craft which could serve so well.
Pangas usually have a Spanish name crudely painted on the bow, like Chivato, or Irena, and usually blue painted inside. Pangas have no cabin or interior, just a long, lean, open boat with two or three seat thwarts across them and a distinct lack of decoration or frills. The gunnel is just fiberglass curled down over the side, and the bow always rides high and proud, above the waves.
With their flat bottoms, these boats can only achieve a reasonable ride in rough water by their length and by the fact that the driver and passengers ride at the far rear. While the bow may bounce up with the waves, the rear remains implacable, the pivot point for the bow's motion, and the back of the boat is the platform for people.
We've seen these pangas everywhere.
We've ridden in them as ferry boats.
We've bought fish from their drivers at the side of WINGS, and we saw them run up the beach out of the breakers at Yelapa, motors tilted and propellers racing in the air.
We saw the Mexican Navy patrolling in them and saw them hanging from the sides of the most modern Mexican Navy ships as tenders. They are in every little town and fish camp, just pulled up on the beach or hanging off of a anchor right off the shore. We saw a pair of them heading south down the middle of the Sea of Cortez, late in a sunny afternoon, 100 miles from the nearest town, driving into a steep chop with the bows rising and falling, throwing spray thirty yards with a pounding you could hear half a mile away, but never wavering from their courses, seemingly on an eternal journey.
In every Panga there is the Mexican driver, standing at the back just ahead of the motor, his left hand on the motor handle, facing forward, towards the sea ahead, immobile, going onward.
Often there is just one person, but just as often there are two or three people, frequently they are all standing, like statues, in the back of the pangas. I wonder where they are going. Who are these men? They remind me of the afterguard on a racing sailboat, they just stand there in command, riding the vessel as it goes on it's way, patiently waiting for Godot or something.
They have big plastic jugs, which look like milk bottles or something, for gasoline, with a simple hose out the top to feed the fuel to the motors, and often the owner has stretched a T-shirt over the motor to protect it from the sun. For anchors they have a big rusty hook welded out of re-bar and the only lines I've seen them use are yellow polyethylene.
I have the highest regard for the Mexican Panga drivers. They live in these boats and they are out in all conditions, facing all that the sea can deliver, with an almost fatalistic acceptance of it all, no, it is more like a studied disregard; the conditions just have to be dealt with, not to be made a big deal out of.
The panga drivers are masters of maneuvering too. I heard that they would pile into our side and scratch our paint, and I worried about that, but never, never, have they even come close to bumping into us, even when the driver is trying to stay along side trying to sell us fish or lobsters in a running sea, or making change after I bought some, and he is still keeping a running chatter in mixed Spanish and English and managing to keep his 85hp merc's speed exactly adjusted to WINGS' speed.
They are master boatmen plus they have been universally friendly. They always wave as they pass, and they are polite when you talk to them, and they are absolutely honest, in our experience.
For each of them there is a family back ashore. In Aqua Verde we watched as the Pangas returned. The kids on the beach watched each panga as it pulled in, and looked at each fisherman's catch, but when their father or brother came around the point they cavorted joyously and then were absolutely focused as that boat drew nearer and finally came in. They caught lines, waded into the water to steady the sides and took ashore the catch, and did what ever they could to be part of the scene, obviously adoring the returning fisherman.
It was really the Mexico we came to see, and we love them all.
So when you come to Mexico and you see a sunburned Mexican zoom up alongside in his Panga to offer you taxi service, treat him with respect and remember, these are the seamen of Mexico; they truly represent the best of the Mexican people and the tradition of the sea.
Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, Mexico
Labels: Mexico, Pangas
Rafael Ambroce and his crew
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Febuary 1, 1997 Four Mexicans I Met.
I have met some Mexicans, and there are four of them, sailors, who particularly stick in my mind. There is Ambroce, the attorney, and boat owner, Franco, his son, the young sailor, Felipe, crewmember, the struggling entrepreneur, and Noe the working class teenager.
Rafael Ambroce is a fit, wealthy, intelligent, arrogant 45 year old attorney from Mexico city, and the owner of the boat I sailed with in MEXORC. He keeps his boat in Acapulco and he flies in from Mexico City to race. I think he also flies the crew in. He told me he is a litigator and has his own firm and I heard he does work for Senior Chata who I met and who is purported to own Mexicana Airlines. Ambroce is also separated from his wife, but that I can understand; Senior Ambroce would be one helluva hard guy to live with. For one thing this guy is a Type A of a Type A. He is either on his cell phone in intense conversation with God knows who or he is going 900 mph on whatever activity he is doing at the moment. Sailboat racing, OK, he does it the same way. He sits on the foredeck with his phone inside the 10 minute gun then takes the wheel for the start and luffs up the whole fleet, yelling “Up! Up! Up!” On the course he is giving orders a mile a minute except when someone fucks up then he is swearing just as hard at them. After the race, motoring back to the marina, he drinks rum in one hand, drives his boat with the other hand behind his back, chews a cigar, and chases the other competitors all over the bay as he careens directly at them under full power so that he can taunt about the day’s racing. He brings a beautiful eighteen year old girl to the awards dinner as his date and he entertains the whole table with his cigar waving stories. Ambroce lives hard.
Franco is Ambroce’s son. He is about 18 and he lives in the shadow of his dad. Franco is a different kind of a sailor. His father is macho and fearless and totally self confident but Franco is more knowledgeable. When they get in a tight spot, like when a boat lee bows them in a race, Ambroce wants to know from the crew what to do but Franco knows. Only since he isn’t steering he can’t do it, and his dad won’t listen to him. Poor kid. But he is intelligent and gentle, and yet he is not afraid to yell at his dad for endless pinching or for a poor job driving through a jibe. And Franco hangs on every word from the mouth of the hot shots from the “Norte”, even when they are really retired bankers masquerading as hot shots. And when that retired banker told Franco that he’d love to have him as crew on his boat it seemed to make Franco’s day.
Felipe is a recruit. I don’t know Ambroce’s connection to Felipe but somehow Felipe got roped into sailing with him for this regatta. Talk about punishment. Felipe knew the least on the boat and got yelled at constantly. Beyond yelling, it turned into insults, but Felipe’s good humor kept the situation from getting tense. Felipe ran the pole on the down wind legs and I was constantly coaching him on when to let the pole foreward and when to pull it back. But Felipe always pulled it back when I said “pole forward”. I wondered aloud if I should learn the Spanish commands but Ambroce said I might as well stick to English since Felipe couldn’t understand Spanish either. Felipe’s other life was selling “Paddle Tennis” courts, which I never heard of. He sells them, sets them up, and promotes “paddle tennis” tournaments. He also is setting up a web page to sell Tequila. In a few months you should look for the “Tequila Page”. He wants to sell the rare brands and deliver through overnight delivery services like DHL. The biggest problem so far he said was overcoming the rules and regulations from 50 different states. For a young Mexican from Mexico City to even be able to find out all the applicable rules and regulations related to Tequila sales via the Internet I thought was pretty impressive, even if he probably hasn’t scratched the surface yet.
Finally there is Noe. (pronounced “No-Way”), is the one guy in this piece who didn’t sail with Ambroce. But he is a sailor. He sailed with us on WINGS one day and I can tell you, even though it was his first time on a sailboat, he can do just fine, thank you. He is bright and amazingly observant. He sees every thing and he can put it all together. On the boat he had only to be shown or told once. We put him on the helm and showed him the tell tails and from then on he steered upwind perfectly. He seemed to sense when the boat was pinching or too high and corrected without looking at the tell tails. He works in the Canvas Connection and does boat tops mostly but he is also repairing sails there. He asked to go sailing because he wanted to see what the sails he works on do for a living. I was happy to take him and suggested Sunday which was perfect at first but then he remembered that he has agreed to take his girl friend to her Grandmother’s house on Sunday. I could see him struggling with how to get out of that and I quickly switched to Saturday after work. Noe reminds me of my son Ken. Both of them are bright and observant. Both of them understood the sailboat almost instinctively. And Noe even dresses kind of like a USA teenager with those funny sunglasses and baggy pants and even a gang-banger bandanna on his head almost all of the time. But Noe is a responsible and mature young man, and I was impressed with him both on the boat and at work in the loft. And Noe shared with us his dream for old age. He wants a “Ranchita”, a small ranch, up in the hills behind Vallarta with enough land and animals to feed himself and his wife, and that’s all. Away from the tourists; where it is quiet. He said the kids, they can get out of there and go to work, he’s just going to work enough for himself and his wife, and eat some frijitos, some carnitas, and drink some Tequila.
Of course there were other Mexicans I met and liked, like Emigdio, Noe’s father who is wise and humorous, and knows when to joke and when to keep his mouth shut, and who gave Noe his value system. Also Jesus, the marketing manager for the big Disco near the marina who always has a beautiful young woman with him, hardly ever the same one twice or another Felipe who waxed our boat one day for $25 after starting the bargaining at $100, or Alexandro who works full time for Lupe keeping her stable of boats clean and well maintained, and who it seems, is willing to try to fix anything, even if it is exotic sailboat hardware which he’s never seen before, or Lorena, the dark beauty who married a Canadian cruiser and who runs a office supplies store in La Cruz. Other than Lorena, it’s been mostly men that I’ve met; it is a male dominated society.
The Mexican women I met were wonderful too, either the centerposts of their households, hardworking and accepting of what seemed to me like tough lives, young working class girls on the busses who I never met but watched with admiration, or the fiercely proud upper-class women who always dressed immaculately, spoke with excellent English, and treated me with the utmost kindness and graciousness, but seemed to be teeming with ambition and drive that the men lacked.
Fred Roswold, SV WINGS, Mexico
Labels: crew, Mexico, Puerto Vallarta