[040118, 0234 UTC, Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico; 23º16.2'N/106º27.3' W]

Dear Friends;

We arrived in Mazatlan Monday morning January 12th and have now been here five full days.  Our last day crossing the 165 miles of the Sea of Cortez was marked by very light winds with the notable exception of a violent squall we encountered at approximately 0600 local time about eight miles west of Mazatlan.  Over the two nights at sea we’d watched brilliant lightning to the east and south of us but weren’t expecting - based upon the expectation that the unsettled weather had passed – to deal with a direct blow.  We were never in any sort of danger as there was no lightning in the immediate area, but the wind gusts, short choppy seas and driving rain made it impossible to keep our course.  Our only real worry was a deep draft vessel to the south of us that disappeared into the clutter on our radar screen once the deluge began.

Our passage was actually quite pleasant.  Our first day involved – as you know – lovely sailing conditions that unfortunately quit about sunset plus numerous whale and dolphin sightings.  All night that first night we were struggling to keep moving forward with the swells and the light winds.  We finally gave up and began motoring at sunrise the following day.  We also knew at this point that we could not comfortably make Mazatlan that day before dark – where the entrance to the harbor is shallow and narrow - so we began to slow down and begin planning for another night at sea.  About mid-afternoon, we had a couple of hours of lovely 8-10 knot breezes that allowed us to turn off the (bloody smelly diesel) engine and silently drive through the gentle swell – at least for awhile.

Just after the squall Monday morning, and as Philip began to make cocoa and toast, we received a hail on our VHF (short range) radio from friends on “The Great Escape” who were already here in Mazatlan.  They (Jim and Judy) expressed concern about the squall and offered information that might assist us in coming into the port.  Meeting us that morning were the crews of five boats who we’d met in San Diego, Turtle Bay and Cabo San Lucas.  Still standing in boat shoes oozing with water from the squall, we received a gift of half a watermelon just purchased from the fruit and veggie truck!  Now that’s a warm greeting!

Mazatlan has a large, main and “old” harbor where shrimp boats and cruise ships are based.  North of town there’s a shallow lagoon that’s been developed for small boats - this is where we are.  Being a lagoon, it’s not a natural harbor and the narrow, exposed entrance is dredged continuously.  Boats can only pass in and out during brief time windows during the day and not at all if a significant swell is running from the south.  Fortunately for us, the dredge was not yet running when we passed through the channel at approx. 0800 local time. 

We are now moored at Marina Mazatlan, an unfinished, but well-protected marina with a wonderful and helpful staff of Sylvia and Geraldo.  We are right on the bus line that runs from here through the “Gold Zone” of beach-front hotels, shops, etc., and to the historic downtown.  We haven’t made it as far as the historic section yet, but will next week so that we can visit the Cathedral, Central Market, etc.  Busses and rates are two-tiered.  New busses are 7.80 pesos and are slick and clean.  Old busses are run by dedicated bus drivers who decorate these tank-like utilitarian vehicles with (universally red) border fringe, fringed leather chaps for the shift handles, etched mirrors, religious icons and pictures of family.  These busses are half the price (3.90 pesos or 35 cents) and twice the learning experience.  We did take a bus beyond the Gold (gringo) Zone into an area of the city where the locals live, shop and do business.  We walked through a ground-floor “mall” of vegetable, butcher and fish stands selling all manner of foods: grinning pig’s heads on ice, seemingly amused that all four of their feet were arranged behind one of their ears; whole octopus; whole un-gutted chickens with heads and large yellow feet still attached; packages of chicken feet (what kind of recipe calls for “take one kilo of chicken feet...”?

We haven’t taken any taxis while here, but Mazatlan is known for its pulmonias (meaning pneumonia) which are open air taxis that are appropriately described as a cross between a Volkswagen and a golf-cart.  The other ubiquitous taxi is an early 90s vintage 4 door Nissan Sentra exactly like the one we sold just before leaving Kingston.  There seem to be thousands of these things buzzing about!

The cruising fleet here in Mazatlan is the most active we’ve encountered so far.  Each morning at 0800 local time, there’s a cruiser’s net on the VHF radio.  Arriving and departing vessels are noted, local announcements, assistance needed or offered, equipment trades (it is illegal to sell things in Mexico if you are not a native so many cruisers trade for “coconuts”, i.e., US dollars ;-)), activities, etc.  We’ve already been to a potluck happy hour, lecture on cruising Central America (wow, did we get excited!) and are planning to attend a BBQ and a benefit for the local Amigos de la Animales which is the only operating animal shelter in Mazatlan, funded solely by donations.  There is a palapa restaurant near the marina where the food and cerveza is inexpensive and where many cruisers gather to listen to local musicians and chat with one another.

Mazatlan is in the state of Sinaloa, where we still have to understand the subtleties of the cuisine.  Shrimp (camarón) are big here as the fishery is still active in this part of the Sea, but also grilled meat with pepper sauce seems popular.  This is the first place in Mexico where we’ve found decent, chewy bread that can be eaten fresh but also toasted.  A veggie tienda and a water delivery arrive three days a week at Marina Mazatlan but the cerveza (beer) truck and the fish truck have been less reliable.  Being a big city, Mazatlan has a wide selection of big stores including a Gigante (“higg ahn tay”), a SAM’s Club, WalMart, etc.  Monday we’re venturing out to find the Honda dealer to look at an outboard engine. 

Today is the first day we’ve had reliably fine weather.  For the last week, the Baja and mainland north coast of Mexico has been haunted by a rare January cyclonic disturbance or mini hurricane.  What it brought us – instead of lovely 80 degree dry weather as is normal – were clouds, rain and an almost nightly torrential thunderstorm at 2-4 a.m. where Carina would rock back and forth in her slip.  Five days after arriving here the system seems to have finally dissipated and the outlook is for conditions returning to normal.  The good news though is the boat is now completely free of encrusted, corrosive salt water and we’ve found and sealed some niggling leaks.

We plan to be in Mazatlan for at least two more weeks - possibly longer - depending on how our projects progress.  We probably won’t wait until Carnaval (note corrected spelling) as we are already longing for a quiet, isolated anchorage…

Buenos noches,

Philip & Leslie with gato gordo (fat cat) Jake