Friday, March 23, 2012

Tehuantepec, T-Peckers, Tehuanapeckers

Current location: Puerto Madero (Chiapas), Mexico

Here we sit 14 miles from the Guatemalan border in Puerto Madero, having conquered the dreaded Tehuantepecs. To best explain the potential challenges of our most recent passage, let me quote our chart books that so boldly and explicitly explain:

“The next leg of the trip along this coast is a crucial passage that may be difficult. The formidable reputation of the Gulf of Tehauntepec is well deserved since the winds sweeping over the Isthmus maintain a yearly average of Force 6 on the Beuafort Scale and at times exceed Force 8 (especially from October to April). Added to the problems of heavy winds and seas felt over 100 miles offshore are strong currents which vary in direction and rate depending on the wind’s intensity. Northwest or northeast currents of over 2 knots on either shore of the Gulf…are a result of the wind being so strong at times that it actually lowers the water level at the head of the gulf.”

- From Charlie’s Charts

And just in case you didn’t get the point, here is an excerpt from “Cruising Ports” by Pat and John Rains:

Tehuantepec gales (known to pleasure boaters as ‘Tehuanapeckers’ or’ T-peckers’) have overwhelmed and blown ships as large as a 120’ coastal freighter 300 miles off shore. Each year, some sport fishers or cruising boats get caught too far out when a gale starts suddenly and are blown way off shore by overpowering wind (60 knots) into very big seas, sometimes breaking windows, hatches and rigging even capsizing and sinking. The lucky ones are rescued.”

You gotta love a guidebook that just puts it out there without any sugar coating and essentially saying, “Hey, man…watch yourself out there!”.

I went on to read the following with a big chuckle…

“The good news is that several hundred well founded yachts SAFELY transit the Gulf of Tehuantepec each year-gale or no.”

Phew! Well, isn’t that comforting? Doesn’t that just make you feel warm all over and want to hop in your little sailboat for a fun sail across the Gulf of Tehuantepec? Yeah.…me either! However, if we wanted to get south and explore faraway lands, we needed to cross the Gulf.

To be honest, we have traversed other dreaded sailing areas without drama or incident. These places have turned out to be the least challenging and scary and ironically it was other “benign” or “normal” areas that kicked our butt . This has made me a bit more relaxed when attempting a crossing like the Gulf of Tehuantepec.

Also, our captain is a quite calm, cool and relaxed about these types of sails with the philosophy of being patient and waiting for a good, open weather window. He was even gracious enough to extend his night watches so I could get a little more sleep. Apparently he is determined to avoid an exhausted, hysterical woman on board which can be far more dangerous than losing an extra hour of two of sleep.

Sometimes I envy JP and Mickey as they get snuggly in bed, sleep all night and awaken the next morning, excited to see we’ve made some good mileage and are closer to our destination. Little do they know, we’ve encountered rough weather, helped a disabled boat, have a leaky fuel tank or some other drama that can occur at night on the sea. Sometimes ignorance is truly bliss! (For proof see photos below).

Boats tend to stack up on one end of the Gulf, awaiting a good weather window and in our instance there were about nine of us crossing at the same time. We set up a pre-determined radio time and channel to check in with each other to share information and well, let’s be honest…..brag about the fish that were caught!

In the end, our 240 mile sail across was quite uneventful and we had to motor almost half the time due to lack of wind. The only drama occurred when we heard a call on the radio from a fellow cruiser, Espiritu asking for engine repair ideas. Floating dead in the water, attempting to fix the problem with the concern of a Tehuantepec wind kicking up is not a comforting place to be. In addition, it was an extremely dark night with no moon, very little wind (making it difficult to sail without a motor) and some far off lightening. On a positive note, we had all covered some ground and were only 40 miles from our destination, therefore, there were options.

Since we were the closest to Espiritu we approached them to see if we could offer any assistance. As we circled around their boat, Ben and Chris (of Espiritu) brainstormed ideas of what the problem could be and in the end Chris took apart the -blah, blah, blah- and replaced the -blah, blah, blah-, (you know what that is?....yeah, me either). A big sigh of relief and we were underway again.

As the sun came up we approached Puerto Madero, excited to pull into port and rest. Entering the breakwater, we watched huge waves crashing against the rocks and were amazed at the ferociousness and beauty of them. We were further astonished by the two men in a small canoe, fishing within 2 feet of the break. No paddles, no life jackets and a small hand line hanging over the boat. I looked back at Ben from the bow of the boat as he mouthed the word “loco”.

We maneuvered our way back into the lagoon, in an attempt to find the new Chiapas Marina that was recently built. There were no buoys or markers to assist us, but eventually (and in 9 feet of water) we found our way, happily pulling into a slip. Imagine our surprise to discover they had not officially opened and were not charging slip fees.

So here we sit with electricity, showers and internet access for the low, low price of FREE!! Upon discovering this Ben declared, “Say hello to our new home, boys! We’re never leaving.”

Here’s Mickey the morning after an overnight sail:

Here’s a pic of Ben the morning after an overnight sail.

Enough said?


BTW....We did not feel the Acapulco earthquake nor the aftershocks. All is well!


  1. The visuals say it all : ) But I love hearing your voice narrate Mol! Col

  2. Took apart the "blah blah blah" and replaced the "blah blah blah"????!!!! You're killing me. As I read I was eager to learn the details of the mechanical problem and how it was solved. I feel cheated like when I click on an article online and I've just gotten into it only to see the "To continue reading, click here to subscribe."
    Glad you guys had a smooth passage. When we crossed there in 1997, we picked a good window too, too good. John Rains' book said "if you can't hear the dogs barking, you are too far offshore." So despite the 15-knot onshore flow, we followed his advice, straining to hear dogs. We nearly wound up in the surf. About that time we saw the value in processing info more critically.
    Best wishes, Michael and crew

    1. Michael, Sorry about the missing mechanical details. What little I know.....Apparently it was the impellor which he replaced with his spare on board. Ben could tell you all the gory details! Hope all is well! Loved your last couple of blog entries!!

  3. So glad you had an easy passage! We've been thinking about you! Mike and Kathy