Tehuantepecers, Trash and Pirates?
Marina Chiapas, lies within Puerto Madero, Mexico's southern most port, but to get there you'll have to brave the dreaded Tehantepecers. Tehuantepecers, or Tehuano winds, are strong mountain-gap winds traveling through Chivela Pass and are most common between October and February. The winds originate in eastern Mexico and the Bay of Campeche as a northerly wind, accelerated southward by cold air, which crosses the isthmus and blows through the gap between the Mexican and Guatemalan mountains. These winds can reach up to gale and hurricane force. They can even be observed on satellite images, as they create fetch which grows into swell, which can sometimes be observed as far as 1,000 miles away. These winds often come in cycles, blowing for a few days and then calming down to almost nothing, only to start right back up again.
There are two ways to cross. The first way is to motor like heck, straight across the 210 mile bay and hope that you don't get hit by the Tehuantepecers and stuck battling the high winds and huge waves that can build with them.
The second is to keep one foot on the shore, staying 1/4 to 1 mile offshore, making it a 260 mile trip. But, if it does start to blow you'll have less fetch and a shorter distance of heavy winds to battle, as the further offshore you get the wider the band of wind gets.
We chose the direct route. Leaving Huatulco on the 14th at about 2:30pm, just as one system was dying out. We hoped that this break in weather would give us the 72 hours we needed to safely cross the bay and enter into the marina before the next system started to blow.
We had a pretty uncomfortable start, as the chop had not completely died down from the last big blow, but after a couple of hours we were out of the washing machine like waters and the two knot counter current. The sea eventually laid flat and we enjoyed a long and hot motor across the bay. Of the 40 or so hours it took us to cross, we only sailed for two. We got lucky, having no wind and flat seas is about as good as it gets in the bay. Other boats we've met had very challenging crossings, breaking gear and ripping sails while batting the gale force winds and strong currents.
We did have one exciting moment though. As Rachel was finishing up a podcast on piracy, we noticed three pangas way off in the distance. At over 50 miles offshore we rarely see pangas, as this is normally the maximum or their range. Suddenly one panga turned and headed straight for us at a racing speed. Rachel nervously asked what I though we should do, to which I replied, "I'm not sure what they want, but you should go put some clothes on before they get here." I also asked her to grab the flare gun as well, just in case things got weird.
As the men approached, we waved and smiled, they smiled back as well and asked if we had water and food to spare. For these men, their livelihood comes from fishing and the longer they can stay out the more fish they can catch and money they can make for their families. It's a hard life on the sea, in a small boat with no sun or wind protection. Often 2-3 men will spend days offshore in these small boats. We were happy to give them water, food and some cold beer. They were so thankful that they gave us a small shark they had caught as a thank you. We told them we had plenty of food on board but they insisted we kept it. We waved goodbye and I went to work filleting dinner.
On the afternoon of the 16th we arrived in Marina Chiapas just in time as the raining season began threatening us with daily thunder and lightning storms passing so close they shook the boat. This would be Agape's new home for the next 6 months while we travelled inland throughout southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, sailed the Caribbean on a sister ship, and visited family and friends in Hawaii and the western United States.