Cruising with Playpen
Leg 2 - San Diego, CA to

Installment 4  - Plus Captain's Notes

1/16/03 Matanchen Bay to Chacala 21 09.71N 105 13.68W 21nm 4 1/2hr

Yet another perfect day at sea. We slowed down to a snail’s (sailboat’s) pace to enjoy the ride, sighted a few whales and anchored in beautiful Chacala Bay with 7 other boats. We assembled and inflated the Zodiac and rowed to shore where we paid the port capitan $47.00 for the privilege of anchoring in his rolly harbor. The sun setting over the Pacific and the full moon rising over the palms was worth the price until…we swung broadside to the 5’seas! We then knew why all the other boats had stern anchors. We eagerly left at 1st light and motored down to Nuevo Vallarta for a tie-up. Enough anchoring for a while!

1/17/03 Chacala to Nuevo Vallarta 20 41.55N 105 17.60W 

After passing another amorous whale couple we arrived in NV and settled into a slip at Paradise Village. We were boxed in with mega yachts on each side; so we got no breeze, but they acted as breakwaters against the surge. Paradise Village is a huge resort with several restaurants, a shopping mall, many, many beach palapas, 2 huge swimming pools, a yacht club, a zoo, and several daily planned activities. We explored the grounds and watched the full moon rise behind the boat. Then we turned in for a long night’s sleep in a non-rocking, air-conditioned bed.

1/18/03 NV

We met our friends, Bob & Charlotte, whom we’d 1st met in British Columbia. They have a condo in NV and spend several months a year in the Mexican sunshine. They advised us on the rest of the route South since they had done it several times since 1979. we all went to the Yacht Club for dinner and conversation with yachties from all over—more local knowledge for our trip.

1/19/03 NV

Fred decided to investigate the reason our starboard engine runs hotter than the port. Since the thermostat was original (1978) he thought that might be the problem, but the heat exchanger was also suspect. He changed the thermostat and removed the heat exchanger (breaking 4 bolts in the process). The exchanger appeared pretty clogged. He called Teapot Tony, the Master Mechanic, on the VHF . Tony agreed to come tomorrow. We rode the crazy buses into Puerto Vallarta and met friends, Alba & Larry from La Paz. Alba had been sick and ended up on an IV and meds for a bacterial infection. It was good to know that there is a very good 24hr. medical center in town. We strolled around downtown and then went back to our marina for a welcome cocktail party, which was reminiscent of the welcome on a cruise ship—hokey!

1/20/03 We heard that Larry was in the hospital last night with the same malady as Alba had. They’d spent some time on Isla Isabella with the birds, but Larry thought it was food poisoning.

Teapot Tony picked up the heat exchanger for boiling, and we headed out with Bob & Charlotte for some errands. First on the list: a stern anchor. The ideal would be a 15# Fortress, but the odds were very slim. At Zaragosa’s, the local hardware/boat store, Fred & Bob disappeared for a very long time. They finally returned with exactly what we needed—a 15# Fortress. Then we went into Old Town for drug shopping, shoe shopping, and lunch on a crowded beautiful beach. After grocery shopping we headed home. Bob drove the Wrangler like a regular "local"-- only safer. In the past 2 weeks buses have killed 6 pedestrians—2 of them children that the bus backed over. The drivers’ union is so strong that it pays a fine ($10,000 for the 2 kids), and that’s the end of it. The driver is back driving immediately. The streets, sidewalks, docks are all accidents waiting to happen with irregular pavements, no railings or lights, and potholes. There is no liability in Mexico; hence no liability lawyers to speak of. If you get hurt you can’t sue. Under Roman Law you are considered guilty until proven innocent. We’re learning to be very careful. 

1/21/03 We worked on the boat and had Alba & Larry and Bob & Charlotte over for dinner. After dessert we felt the back deck quiver as though we were underway with a bent prop. Then the piling next to us started to shake, and there were flashes in the sky. We were experiencing an earthquake! The shaking lasted less than a minute, but the VHF exploded with questions and answers. The center was near Manzanillo; it registered 7.3-.6; and there was a tsunami warning issued. We doubled our lines as suggested, and our guests hurried home to take care of their condo and boat. We experienced a little more rolling, but no tidal wave—whew!

1/22/03 The VHF was full of earthquake talk, and there was an I Survived the Earthquake dock party tonight. We went to Wal-Mart(!) and then into PV for dinner at one of the restaurants around Marina Vallarta. Even though Paradise Village is further from town, we prefer the ambience here to the bustle in PV. 

1/23/03 We’re getting tired of marina life, but getting yet more done on the boat. We had canvas screen covers made for all the windows. It’s so hot, we want to do all we can to keep the sun out. It’s ironic that this is the coldest winter in MD in 100 years, and we’re complaining of heat. We are about 100 degrees hotter than home! We got wheels for the Zodiac and are having a 2hp Honda delivered Saturday so we can easily use it for beach landings. 

2/1/03 What a week! No 2hp Honda; seems it won’t be available for many mananas! We’ll make due with our 9hp and a davit set-up to deploy it.

After cracking the thermostat housing, Fred called Covington Diesel in NC to ship us a new one. The receiving agent here, "Moon & the Stars", gave us the wrong zipcode, and after much frustration we managed to get our housing to San Diego on 1/30. It was then to be taken to Tihuana where it would go thru customs, fly to PV, and be delivered to JR at Moon & the Stars. JR would then bring it to us. Uh-oh, JR was away for a long weekend, leaving before our package came, but telling us that his friends would pick it up and bring it to us if it came in. Being optimistic, we checked out of NV and the marina meaning we’d have to be gone by Sun. We hung around the boat, varnishing and polishing, waiting to hear from his friends. They finally called Sat. and said there would be no deliveries this weekend. We frantically located the delivery company, found a wonderfully friendly Mexican to call for us, and found a wonderfully friendly cruiser to drive Fred into town where the delivery company stayed open an extra ½ hr. to accommodate him. The Ship’s Engineer aka Captain/ Maintenance Man, is now in the engine room grunting and groaning with his new part.

Aside from "projects" and maintenance, I walked the beach, helped a baby sea turtle into the surf, attended seminars on cruising South, and we spent some time with friends, Bob & Charlotte. 

2/2/03 Groundhog saw his shadow. I think we’re in the right place this winter! We went sightseeing with Bob & Charlotte and got ourselves together for a dawn departure.

2/3/03 Nuevo Vallarta to Chamela 19 35.02N 105 07.74W 95.2nm 11 hr

Sunrise saw us exiting the inlet into beautiful calm seas. We passed sea turtles and a few porpoise on our 95 mi journey around Cape Corrientes to Chamela anchorage. It was a lolling rocking anchorage after another perfect day cruising.

2/4/03 Chamela to Tenacatita 19 17.98N 104 50.06W 35nm 5 ¾ hr

Another beautiful cruise past some truly awesome estates in the mountains on the beach. We anchored in Tenacatita with about 30 other boats. It was a beautiful anchorage with off-lying rocks, mountains, beaches and a jungle river do-it-yourself cruise for the morning. It feels so good to be back at sea!


INSURANCE! I feel as though our insurance company thinks we won’t make it. On the east coast and west coast we were insured by Boat US. The rate for the west coast was .8%; east coast 1.2%, Chesapeake .5%. The normal insurance companies would not insure us going through the canal. Apparently Lloyds has a number of brokers in London representing them. Two of the quotes would only insure Playpen fro $250,000. Jack Martin & Associates in Annapolis could get insurance up to $400,000 at a rate of 1.8%. I opted to self-insure a bit and insured for $350,000, or $6350—a sizable sum, I thought. When the Lloyds policy arrived I was disappointed in some of the policy language, but I’ll cover that after we are home. Besides being expensive I don’t feel the coverage is as broad as Boat US, and any litigation with Lloyds must be in London. 


Two years ago I re-routed the starboard exhaust to give better access to the outboard side of the engine. The engine started to run a little warmer. The further south we got the warmer it got. Upon looking at the heat exchanger core it was quite clogged including an accumulation of vanes from old impellers. In taking things apart I tapped the thermostat housing to break it loose. Wrong move! That little tap apparently cracked the housing. Leak time! Joe Conti at Covington Diesel is over-nighting it to San Diego where "Moon and the Stars" will forward it to Puerto Vallarta. The import and freight will be more than the part costs. The part: $160.00, the anticipated duty and freight the same. Plus 3 days air freight to P.V. The whole thing of clearance fees/duties is whole subject in itself. Port clearance is nothing but a tax. They don’t ask or care about what’s on your boat. No one has ever asked us if we carry a gun. We were told in San Diego by John Rains’ office that no guns were allowed. We have been told in P.V. by "Paperman" that it’s up to your 1st port of clearance. If the Port Captain is convinced the gun is only for self-protection he will give you permission to carry it through Mexico. We did a temporary Import of the vessel and possibly could avoid duty on parts by paying "Paperman" to file with the Port Capitan. Paperman’s charge is about equal to the duty in this case. Paperman would also have to certify that the old parts were returned or destroyed. 

Meanwhile at home in Maryland they are experiencing the coldest winter in a hundred years, and we are "stuck an extra week in Paradise—"Paradise Village". I’m not complaining, but I am concerned about the ice lifting my pier at home. Guess there’s always something to worry about!


A wrong zip code from the importer caused our part a 2-day delay in getting to San Diego. It arrived there yesterday; now we’ll see how long it takes to get here.

More CAPTAIN FRED’S THOUGHTS 2/10/03 Papanoa, Mexico, 35nm south of Zihuatanejo

We used Mason’s cord attached to a yellow gallon jug to mark the anchor. Line and jug are small enough not to bother the props if fowled. It didn’t fowl; the Mexican Navy, when they came out to board us, ran over the float. They spoke no English. We showed them all our papers and gave them cold Pepsis. Showing them the papers and passports seemed to make them happy, and I figured it gave them a purpose. Marking the anchor is a good idea—especially in tight anchorages. I had used ½ " polypropylene line and a fender last time. When the boat floated to the fender I realized the importance of smaller line and float.

The last couple of days have been about 95 degrees in the shade. I run mostly from the pilothouse because it is the most comfortable seat. Stretching my legs I wander from the sunny side of the deck to the shady side. Sitting on the port bow box was wonderful. My feet on the gunnels, my elbows on the handrail, the warm sun on my back, the cool breeze in my armpits, and the dolphin swimming in the bow wave. We passed a pair of turtles today. They are about the size of trashcan lids. They were similar to the pairs of whales. She was on her back, flippers waving. Real biology lessons. Two days ago I saw a huge whale. It was gray with white spots or visa versa. I can’t recall. A gray whale I suppose—1st one seen of that color. Cruising 3 to 4 miles offshore lets you enjoy the beautiful coast, miss the fish long lines, and be inside the shipping lanes.


I’ll tell you a little about Playpen’s main mechanical, safety, and navigation equipment. I guess a lot of my equipment is outdated, but it works well. The twin engines are Detroit 4-53, 112hp each. The gensets are 7.7 and 15kw Westerbekes, none of which have turbos or computers. To date we have traveled 3659 nautical miles from Anacortes to Papanoa. From Anacortes to San Diego we covered 1849nm, and from San Diego to Barra Navidad, 1549nm. Our fuel stops were: Bodega Bay, CA 866 gal. @$1.43

Newport Beach, CA 653 gal @ $1.32

Shelter Island, CA 68 gal @ $1.40

Bahia Navidad, Mex 1166 gal @ $2.02

That totals 2753 gallons so far; Anacortes to Barra Navidad= 3398nm/2753gal=1.23nm/gal

2753gal/482hours=5.7gph average including 267 hrs generator time.

Because of the time and distance I just pulled a distance out of the air of 7000nm for this odyssey. Now I’m guesstimating trip is ½ done.

Our Navigation and safety equipment:

48 mi Furuno radar in pilothouse

26 mile Raytheon radar on fly bridge

Magnavox MX100 GPS

Garmin III+ GPS

2 Motorola VHF

1 Standard Horizon handheld VHF

2 Data Marine International depth sounders

I-Com M-820 SSB

KVH Tracphone 50 Sat-phone

2 406 EPIRBs

8-man Zodiac offshore raft

Lots of flares, life jackets, strobes, whistles, throwables, water jugs and life sling

13’ Boston Whaler w/ Honda

11’ Zodiac w/ Honda

Gyro-Gayle air stabilizers

Lots of good handholds

Lots of spare parts

Electronic and paper charts the whole way

Lots of cruising guides

Wood Freeman Autopilot

Water maker

Engine room CO2 and 4 10lb CO2

Aside from charts, I’ve always felt the radar was the most valuable nav aid followed by the GPS, followed by the Sat phone. I value the sat phone above SSB and VHF because I can call anyone, anywhere from anywhere, and they can easily call me. I wouldn’t go ANYWHERE without a 406 EPIRB. If that fateful moment came I would launch everything that would float including all seat cushions and all life jackets. I know Bruce Kessler would say there wouldn’t be time, but we’d sure try. Although environmentally incorrect I’d take the fuel caps off so the slick may be seen and stage deployment of the EPIRBs. The EPIRBs are registered with NOAA and USCG giving boat description, boat phone numbers and 2 land contacts—each with alternate phone numbers. I personally believe any vessel that goes 10 miles from the dock should have a 406 EPIRB.

We have put on life jackets in daylight in Long Island Sound, and met others in theirs on a 60’ vessel when we arrived at Norwalk Cove Marina. We don’t go out the door after dark without the life jacket /strobe/whistle. My parents infected me with the disease called boating 50 years ago. That’s one Hell of a lot of fun experience with family, friends, and strangers on the waterways. My children wore "boat coats" (life jackets) from the parking lot, thru the cruise, and back to the parking lot until they were good swimmers. A couple of years ago at a July 4th celebration a child drowned near home while watching fireworks without a boat coat on. That would devastate a lifetime of good memories.

Lots of Pictures



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