The Six Days of Mexico City

Skyscraper view down to Mexico City

On the first day in The City, 

my true love gave to me 

a ride in a double-decker bus.

So there we were, pinkish tourists in a bright pink bus, wired with earbuds so we could hear the commentary, camera in hand (mine.) The second-story roof was open, the weather was perfect and we were off for a magic carpet ride on our first day in Mexico City.

Crowds of people around Belles Artes
The Palacio de Belles Artes was always a hive of activity, a nexus of bus and subway transportation and a happening atmosphere.

Architectural Gems in the Centro historic district slid past. Beyond the Belles Artes, there was an extremely glamorous post office (remember when?), an equally beautiful museum, a church where lots of things happened.

Damaged historic church
A church of historic note in the historic district, it was damaged in the violent 1985 earthquake, and also is sinking into the earth.

Doug muttered “Get those plants out of the gutter”. Upon closer investigation, it was revealed that buildings sprouting greenery like this one were damaged in other ways: churches had leaning or missing steeples for example, other buildings either sunken, or surrounded by elevated roadways. And, not to mention buildings entirely absent, like missing teeth, in a built-up block.

Earthquake devastation 1985

Reason being: the massive earthquake in the early morning of September 20, 1985, which was felt most forcefully right here in Centro. Magnitude was a ‘violent’ 8.0, with two separate epicenters in and near the historic city center. An extra long duration, and an unfortunate congruence of seismic wave reverberations through the soft landfill that underlies much of the city meant major disaster in Mexico City.

There were 412 buildings totally destroyed, 3,142 seriously damaged, three to four billion USD in damages and effects that clearly linger to this day. Not to mention the 5,000 (bodies recovered) to as many as 45,000 souls who also perished. I am sure every city citizen above 35 knows where they were at that moment.

There is lots more of interest about this earthquake at a well-written entry:

But whoosh – we’re already enroute to the Minor Basilica (an official church term) of Nuestra Señora de Guadelupe. With such urban development all around, it is hard to imagine the scene in 1531 when a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to a young Mexican peasant in a field and requested that a shrine be built there.

Crowded street approaching basilica
Pilgrims progressed toward the shrine in a steady stream.

“Am I not here, I who am your mother?” Is the inscription over the main entrance, which perhaps explains the shrine’s appeal to many pilgrims. But, as in so many matters of faith, there are also disagreements about the facts of the vision, the significance, the reliability; none of which prevent this from being the most -visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

boy with Image Virgin Guadeloupe
I sometimes make up stories about people I see; I work hard to make a happy story for rhis young boy here.

Created with Photospector

Image Virgen of Guadelupe
Nearly every image of this Virgin is surrounded by the bright spiky frame that reminds me of a classic migraine aura. I wonder if Juan Diego was a sufferer.

We drove past the Plaza of the Revolution, and the Angel of Independence, past the Anthropology Museum and through the upscale Polanco neighborhood, which was appealing indeed, in  a Rodeo Drive kind of way.

We were struck by the fantastic number of trees in the city. It seems a real effort is being made clean the air and reduce the pollution alerts which I hear are a regular summer feature. The traffic lights are ‘smart’, there are pollution-free transit zones, extremely inexpensive subway fares, lots of clean buses and trolleys, at least where we went. But, there is still a LOT of traffic.

We were also struck by the number of policemen we saw – different branches, mostly in pairs and groups, everywhere along our touristic routes, except in the really nice neighborhoods where perhaps private security guards performed the same function.

Group of Mexico City policemen with clear plastic shields
The shields seemed a little over-the-top to me, but didn’t concern or surprise the passers-by. And it turns out you can store a water bottle, cell phone, even lunch, on the back side.
Monument Angel of Independence.
This monument, photo courtesy of, might be the quintessential symbol of Mexico, we were told. Nicely lit at night, but of course we don’t know much about that!
A public reminder that the fate of 43 missing murdered students has not yet Been acknowledged by the government.
A public reminder that the fate of 43 missing murdered students has not yet been acknowledged by the government.

On the second day of Mexico we finished up the tour. We walked out to that proud symbol La Angél to join our bus. While we were waiting, we got harangued in two languages  by earnest young female Jehovah’s Witnesses, and watched several photo shoots, small parades and demonstrations.

Banner help, photos taken
It seems de rigeur to have La Angél as a backdrop for your meaningful photos.

And we saw this young lady celebrating her 15th birthday in the time-honored Mexican quincinera tradition. Our neighbor on the park bench informed us that this photography parade would continue all weekend long, day and night. Is that a stretch Hummer? I can’t say.

Girl in ball gown with young male attendants, and a stretch Hummer limo.
Throughout Latin America a girl’s fifteenth birthday is celebrated and signifies among other things, her entrance into womanhood. But only when I googled to check the spelling did I learn that while North Americans have taken to calling the event a quincerañera, in many countries, this is what the girl herself is called.

Santa Fe

Glass tower reflected in glass tower
There is a lot of interesting architecture in Mexico City, old and new.

The loop of our second day of bus touring went to Santa Fe, which we had no idea where, what or why, but, hey, it’s nice on the bus-top. Turns out it’s the biggest shopping mall in all of Latin America, full of high-end names, marble and subdued glitz. So I bought a pair of pajamas, in case I need to sleep in a multi-bed dorm with strangers. At a Sears store, at the way-back end of the mall, as far from Tiffany’s as it could get.

Santa Fe has many tall new buildings, several with I think helipads (at least windsocks) on the roof, and famous names on the facades. It may be an economic powerhouse, but it was pretty dead on Saturday afternoon.

On our third day in the City, we hit the ground because it was a Sunday. Everybody was out, shopping for Christmas, snacking, strolling the park. The streets were packed. Actually, they were packed downtown most of the time. But people seemed to move at a more relaxed pace on Sunday.

Lots of people,out downtown Sunday
Christmas shopping and Sunday strolling make for busy downtown streets.
Iceskating in the main plaza Mexico
This big skating rink-there’s more of it on the other side, plus long slides for the non-skaters – ihas been a winter feature since I think 2009. Maybe it makes Mexicans love their government more?
Nice decorations and maybe millions of poinsettias all over town.
Nice decorations and maybe millions of poinsettias all over town.
We went to the rooftop cafe
We went to a rooftop cafe atop a hotel which overlooked the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor. The historic district of Mexico City is build upon ruins like this on what once was an island in a lake.


On the fourth day in town, we made a DIY tour on the public buses to los pyramides of Teotihuacan.  The how and why of these Aztec places is lost in the mists of time, replaced by theory and conjecture.

Their demise may have been a result of climate change (long-lasting drought) and mis-management of the masses by the elites, which could serve as a lesson to other civilizations, were they desirous of learning it.

View from atop pyramid Aztec archaeological site
If I ever find a time machine, I might set the dial for this place, 600 AD, just to see how it looked in full development and decoration.

Emboldened by our new command of the transit system, on day five, we took the public bus to Coyoacán to see the house where Frida Kahlo was born and later lived with Diego Rivera. Right around the corner, Leon Trotsky lived, and had been assassinated.

Frida Kahlo was born here, and dies here in 1954 at 47.
Frida Kahlo was born here, and died here, in 1954,  at 47.

Both of these are separate posts. It’s getting a little cluttered here.

We also spent time circulating around the main plaza of the Zocalo. This led to us being targeted by students needing to fulfill an English class assignment. Each time one student would record the interview on his or her cell phone while the other worked through a list of questions like What is your favorite Mexican food? or What is your father’s name? or worse, How old are you? Then they most politely thanked us for our time, wished us an enjoyable stay in Mexico and retreated giggling to review the recording. Sometimes we had to do it again due to technical difficulties. No problema!

Doug helps a srudent from the Politecnico with his homework. Students sought us out several times, and filmed each other on their phones asking us questions like What is your favorite Mexican food' and What is your father’s name. How do you suppose they recognized us as tourists?
Doug helps a student from the Politecnico with his homework assignment. How do you suppose they recognized us as tourists?

And then it was time to catch our plane to Santiago Chile. The transit system offers a special Metrobus at 30 pesos (when the regular bus is 5) with access to its own traffic lane, to whisk passengers from the Zocalo, and other points on the line, in record time, and we (and a transit policeman) were the only passengers at ten am. Airport security was present and effective but far less of an ordeal than the TSA version.

It would take more time than either of us (you the reader, or I) has to do justice to Mexico City. But I am looking forward to a return visit and expanded exploration.

Here are some more photos:

Now that I see them on a bigger screen, I see ‘failure to focus’. But, perfection is the enemy of ‘done’!

Outward Bound for Inland Travel- Chile Ahoy!

In our travelling rigs, we wait patiently (good internet available) for our flight to Mexico City..
In our travelling rigs, we wait patiently (good internet available) for our flight to Mexico City..

Doug and I are sitting in Cuidad Obregon’s very civilized (small, modern) airport waiting for Interjet to whish us away to the Big City of Mexico, aka Mexico, or the DF, Distrito Federal. We decided to do a little land travel this year while we still have the oomph to lift our backpacks.
We are aiming for Patagonia Chile and maybe Argentina too. I’d also like to see the geysers in the Atacama desert which is all the way at the other end of a really long -2670 miles- country. So we’re starting in the middle, Santiago, where all the planes fly.
We’ll stay in hostels, which we find good for meeting other travellers and getting useful information. We usually ride the buses (South American long-distance buses can make Greyhound look very long in the tooth) but as I said, here we are in an airport having balked at the prospect of a 25-hour ride through Mexico.
Given that the trip plan is to have no plan beyond movement and serendipity, the most befuddling part so far has been the packing. We started with carry-on sized convertible backpacks with a capacity of ~42 liters and put our hiking shoes (they are not even boots, but they weigh five pounds each pair). The bag is full.

Well, actually not. I got 20 more pounds of stuff in mine, and Doug in his, but it was packed, unpacked, repacked, reconfigured, substituted, sat upon and reshuffled so many times that I’m not sure what actually made the team. Less is better, it is said, but how many summer clothes make a layer of glacier-proof winter wear?

The entire pre-travel process actually makes me a little anxious. Nobody like to pay too much or make the wrong decisions, but I eventually reach a stage where I’ll push the next button that appears rather than parse the possibilities any longer. Then for weeks I worry that I’ve made a mistake on the booking, or have the connection on a different day than the origination, or mis-marked my calendar,  forgot to set the alarm clock or the day of the week. But none that happened this time despite the energy I wasted wondering if I had gone wrong.

So here we are, waiting to board. If you get this you’ll know none of what I feared came to pass (as usual). The trip is underway, and taking on a life of its own.

Guaymas: Newton’s Effects, and a Parade

Newton the Hurricane

While the crew of Galivant was in Maryland doing our summer job (home maintenance, as opposed to boat maintenance), the big event in Guaymas was Hurricane Newton on September 7. Newton lost some of its oomph crossing the Baja peninsula, but still packed significant punch as it made landfall near Guaymas in the dark of night.

There are roofs peeled off in town, trees remarkable for their absence, missing signs, etc. The crumbling dome on the classic old bank building downtown that we hoped someone would rescue ( – well, we don’t have to worry about that any more. It’s gone. Electric power went out but as happens in these cases the country pulls together to get the utilities running again, pronto, mostly. Everybody has a story but in short, Guaymas doesn’t look all that different from its usual self.

Map of storm force winds for Newton 2016

Most of the boating community weathered the storm well. We had heard from staff and from friends at Gabriel’s Marina Guaymas that Galivant was fine. When we arrived after a cross country drive two months later, we got details of what must have been a long and frightening night for Andrés, Roberto, Alejandro, Gabriel and the rest of the staff. It wasn’t so much rain as wind, they said, lots of it. The men circulated constantly, checking and tightening the boat stands, and in the end only a handful of boats got into trouble.

Up at the dry storage yard at Marina San Carlos, they weren’t so lucky. That yard hauls boats out on trailers rather than on a travelift; as a result they can be, and are, blocked up closer together. When one boat goes down, it’s more likely to take others with it.

Up in nearby San Carlos, Newton toppled a row of sailboats as if they were dominos. Photo courtesy Latitude 38.

In nearby San Carlos, Newton toppled a row of sailboats as if they were dominos. Photo courtesy Latitude 38.

The Fonatur Marina in Guaymas also took a hit. The docks were lightly built to begin with, and there were some large, and unattended, vessels,  beyond the ability of the folks on hand to deal with. In the end I believe seven boats in the water were sunk. Finger piers ripped off and the docks will need major attention.


The biggest surprise, in a ‘what’s wrong with this picture’ kind of way, was  the storage tanks in the shipyard across the lane from Galivant. They have formed the view from our cockpit while we’re out of the water – well, they blew over, all together. And it took me a hour to notice!

Hard to believe - Hurricane Newton blew these empty tanks over.
Hard to believe that Hurricane Newton could have blown these tanks over, even when empty.

A note about the dogs. It would be hard to tell if these are exactly the same dogs as in previous years – there are so many, and they have a lot of genetic material in common – but life for them appears to be poor, nasty, brutish and short (although not solitary). We’ve tried feeding the mother dog anonymously (by taking food to a location not near our boat) but she’s got my number and looks yearningly at me each time she sees me. I wish I could add some form of birth control to the tortillas and chicken bits I usually offer.


The third Monday of November is set aside to celebrate the start of the revolution in 1910 which  overthrew the aging dictator-like President Porfirio Diaz. Here’s a very abbreviated (I promise!) version of what happened next to bring this about.

There was much anger after Diaz promised an election, then rigged the results. After examining the forces arrayed against him, in 1911 Diaz accepted exile in Paris. The new president was Francisco Madero. Among Madero’s supporters were Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa in the north, and Emiliano Zapata in the south. “(Theirs) was a locally based revolt, intent on restoring village rights to lands, forests and waters, (favoring) a self-ruling, communitarian democracy, inspired by shared traditions. It was, in many ways, a conservative revolution.”*

It turned out that Madero was less interested in these social and agrarian improvements, and more interested in political changes. So Zapata rose up against Madero in 1913; then a General Victoriano Huerta turned against him too, with the upshot that Madero and his vice president were executed.

Huerta was overthrown in 1914 by Venustiano Carranza, but the Villistas, Zapatistas and Carrancistas were still divided. This is when the US, in support of Carranza, sent troops to Mexico to capture Pancho Villa, but failed. Zapata divvied up land for the campesinos in the south but was eventually forced to retreat to the mountains. (There’s lots more to both these stories; see

And Carranza in 1917 was able to form a new constitution and hold onto power until he was succeeded by Alvaro Obregón in 1920, at which point it seems the revolution was considered over. Emiliano Zapata was assassinated in 1919. Francisco Villa was pardoned in 1920, but was killed on his ranch in 1923.

As revolutions go, this one, according to Fidel Castro’s recent obituary in the New York Times, was the most transformative and longest lasting in its impact of any Latin American 20th century revolution, other than Cuba’s.

Still trying to find out who this is; none of my parade neighbors could name him
A leader of the revolution, but which one? I’m guessing Emiliano Zapata. My parade neighbors couldn’t tell me!
Throughout Mexico, school children dress in honor of revolutionaries for this holiday.
Throughout Mexico, school children dress in honor of revolutionaries for this holiday.
Dancers, twirlers, acrobats from various schools, all filed past.
Dancers, drummers, twirlers and acrobats from various schools, labor groups, government offices, volunteer organization, all filed past in a parade that lasted most of the morning.
The folks on the reviewing platform stood and saluted every time a flag went by. Wikipedia indicates that the horizontal arm salute is called a Zogist salute, after it was popularized by King Zog I of Albania in the late 1920s; and that it is popular with civilians in Latin America, especially in Mexico.
The folks on the reviewing platform stood and saluted every time a flag went by, which was often. Wikipedia indicates that their horizontal arm salute is called a Zogist salute, after it was popularized by King Zog I of Albania in the late 1920s; and that it is popular with civilians in Latin America, especially in Mexico.

I was impressed by what a gentle, respectful parade this was, no duelling sound trucks or carnival-raunchy behavior. And I was impressed too by the women who made it all the way down the parade route in these shoes!

It makes my feet ache just to contemplate wearing these shoes, much less marching in a parade.
It makes my feet ache just to contemplate wearing these shoes, much less marching in a parade. And lots of women paraders wore them.

And now for a few more photos.

*  This is from a long and educational review from the NY Times about a book called Revolutionary Mexico, by John Mason Hart. Sounds interesting, even if it was published in 1987 and reviewed in 1988.

A Holiday, and a Reminder of Why

Dressing ship in honor of Benito Juarez at the Navy Base at Guaymas
Dressing ship in honor of Benito Juárez at the Navy Base at Guaymas

Merging onto the Modern Highway

We arrived back in Guaymas on the weekend of the vernal equinox, taking advantage of a break in the winter’s persistent northwesterly winds to make a jump north. Now, instead of a peaceful life in the isolated anchorages of Baja California, we’re in the throes of the 21st century. Excited to use the internet, but not about some of the news it brings. Excited to see our car, at least in its role as bodega/storage shed, but we can’t get the doors open because the battery is dead. It makes me think back to a line from a book I’m reading about the 1930s adventures of a young couple who traveled from California to Panama in a kayak.

"Machineless men, dwelling outside the currents of time and change, the faces of the villagers of Punta Duro reflected the peace and contentment that came from being presented with no problems beyond their capacity to solve." From Enchanted Vagabonds, by Dana Lamb. 1938, Harper and Brothers

We were raring to go out and see if we had the capacity to solve our problems and thereby reacquire peace and contentment on Monday , but whoa! Slow down! It’s a holiday! Honoring Benito Juárez, on March 21, this year is a holiday that segues neatly into Semana Santa, the Holy Week bookended by Palm Sunday and Easter, probably the biggest vacation week of the year in Mexico.

Overheard on the radio: “The beaches are already filling up and they’ll be so packed by Thursday that you’ll think there’s no more space. Then everybody else will come.”

Back to Benito Juárez:

I’d venture to say that there is not a town in Mexico that does not have a street named after Benito Juárez. And there he is on the twenty-peso note. He was president during tumultuous times in the 1860s. But why else would he be called Mexico’s Abraham Lincoln?

The most used piece of currency in Mexico is the 20-peso note featuring Benito Juarez. It's plastic, not paper, with secret codes embedded.

The most used piece of currency in Mexico is the 20-peso note featuring Benito Juárez. It’s a durable kind of plastic, not paper, with secret codes embedded. Each bill in Mexico is a different color, and some are different sizes too, making them easy to tell apart.

So I read about him on Wikipedia. I’m trying to keep my summary short and sweet, but these were very confused times in Mexico and some hard-to-imagine things occurred. Kind of like current events.

Importantly, Benito Juárez was a indigenous Mexican, not Spanish, but Zapotec, born in 1806. His parents were peasants who died when he was young; he was a shepherd and farmer until he was 12, when he walked to the city of Oaxaca to go to school (and learn Spanish). An acquaintance who was impressed by his intelligence arranged for his education.

Eventually he became a lawyer, and in his 30s, a judge, and in his early 40s governor of Oaxaca and the husband of a 20-years-younger white woman, which was notable considering the prevailing racism and social stratification of the era.

Benito Juárez with his sister Nela (right) and his wife Margarita Maza (left), 1843. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, Benito Juárez entry

Meantime, the Mexican War with the Americans was taking place; Juarez was exiled for several years and worked in a cigar factory in New Orleans. But he returned as the Liberal party regained power. In this Reform Period, an effort was made “to create a modern civil society and capitalist economy based on the model of the United States. The Ley Juárez (Juárez Law) of 1855 declared all citizens equal before the law and severely restricted the privileges of the Catholic Church.” (Wikipedia)

Juarez, as interim president of the country, headed the liberal side in the  turbulent Mexican civil war known as the Reform Wars through the late 1850s.

He was eventually elected president in his own right in 1861 but the country’s infrastructure and economy had been badly damaged by the wars; Mexico defaulted on debts owed to England, Spain and France.

So France, with the support of the Conservatives from the Reform Wars, invaded, and Napoleon III installed the Hapsburg duke Maximillian as Emperor of Mexico. Juárez  ran a government in exile in Chihuahua until 1867 when the French were finally defeated and Maximillian executed.

Juárez won election twice after that, once ‘clean’ and later ‘widespread controversy and fraud’. He died of a heart attack at the age of 66 while reading the newspaper at his desk.

The period of his leadership is known in Mexican history as La Reforma del Norte (The Reform of the North), and constituted a liberal political and social revolution with major institutional consequences: the expropriation of church lands, the subordination of the army to civilian control, liquidation of peasant communal land holdings, the separation of church and state in public affairs, and also the almost-complete disenfranchisement of bishops, priests, nuns and lay brothers, codified in the “Juarez Law” or “Ley Juárez”. Wikipedia, Benito Juárez.

His life did overlap Lincoln’s, and parts of their life stories and political agendas have substantial similarity, and reforms worth fighting for, so I guess it’s a viable comparison. But in one way they were quite different, Lincoln being notably tall and lanky, and Juárez ‘peaking’ at only four feet, six inches tall.

UPDATE: I’ve found a way better write-up here:

The author commented that Lincoln in one sense was lucky to have been ‘martyred’ at the height of his success and thus spared the frustrations and disillusionment of Juárez’s last five years.

I can’t help but try to imagine how the wild and wooly events of Mexico in the 1860s would be described by today’s journalists and commentators. And wonder where the likes of today’s politicians and plutocrats would have found themselves in the 1860 landscape. There’s a bit more analysis of Juárez’s legacy from Wikipedia as a footnote.

While banks are closed today, I don’t think Diá Benito Juárez is a retail shopping extravaganza, at least not here in Guaymas and not at the battery store. I do hope that everyone is making the best of the day!

Sailboat sinks after hitting a whale

Because, on a more somber note, we are also thinking about a friend whose sailboat sank beneath him this week, after he hit a whale in the pre-dawn darkness. In twenty minutes, from his dinghy, he watched his very well-tended pride and joy sink in thousands of feet of water, thirty-odd miles short of Guaymas.

The good news is that the safety net we don’t want to count on but secretly do, consisting of an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and the person or institution it notifies (in this case Canadian authorities and through them the Mexican Navy) – that system worked exactly as it should.

Our friend was safe ashore very quickly. He did have insurance, and had prepared himself well for the voyage by having his ditch bags and liferaft ready in the cockpit. So although he needed to borrow shoes and clothes, he had his paperwork and electronics, etc. And his life. But his floating home is gone forever.

We had plenty of time to contemplate all the above as we came the same way the following night, scanning the darkness for debris, and for a concussed, angry, or dead whale, seeing nothing.

It’s a reminder just how fast a situation can change. With that in mind, let the Mexicans enjoy their holiday, and let us enjoy it too.

Footnote…a bit more about Mexican political history and Juárez’s legacy, from Wikipedia

“*La Reforma represented the triumph of Mexico’s liberal, federalist, anti-clerical, and pro-capitalist forces over the conservative, centralist, corporatist, and theocratic elements that sought to reconstitute a locally-run version of the old colonial system. It replaced a semi-feudal social system with a more market-driven one, but following Juárez’s death, the lack of adequate democratic and institutional stability soon led to a return to centralized autocracy and economic exploitation under the regime of Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato(Porfirist era), in turn, collapsed at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.”

So much, from more than a hundred years ago, sounds so familiar in this description.

Learning the surf landing, watching the swell

waves breaking anchored boats

Every so often there’s an adrenaline-rush day for the small craft operators in Bahia Tenacatita, as illustrated in this photo taken by Aimee aboard sv Terrapin. Is the “Featured Image” missing above? Visit this post on

West Coast accessories?

The first time we saw a dinghy with wheels, on a shiny new boat from California, we thought it was another example of what some of us from the little states in the eastern US think of as West Coast, over-the top, accessorizing.
Hauling the boat up the beach is easy with drop-down wheels bolted to the transom and the horsepower of the bocce players.
Hauling the boat up the beach is easy when the wheels  bolted to the transom are flipped down. Horsepower from the bocce players is useful too.
However we’re finding that a lot of the anchorages in the Pacific are open to the swell of half the Pacific ocean, and have marginal headlands to hide behind, or bays to enclose us. Our present dinghy is a ten-foot AB Alumina inflatable, more like an SUV than a kayak, as is appropriate for its duties as our one and only ‘do anything everywhere’ transportation interface. Doug has always wanted a strong dinghy,  but it also has its disadvantages.
At nearly 200 pounds when loaded with a 15 hp outboard and a full tank, it’s not easy to drag up the beach. Being inflatable, it’s not a good rowing boat. Despite its aluminum floor, we wouldn’t want to drag it over rocks, or even sand. And on some beaches you have to pull the boat up pronto, before the next wave, and pull it a long way. Once we understood what the wheels were for, we wanted some.
One basic theory is to put down your wheels and wait just beyond the line where the waves reveal themselves. When you see a potential big one, rev up and try to stay just on its back side. That way you get carried as far in as possible up. Then, hop out of the boat (you’re dressed for wetting, I hope) and haul it up before the next wave breaks. The steeper the beach, the more important this becomes. In some places, with careful timing, and a lot of luck, one might feasibly hop out in dry pants, maybe even dry shoes!
A second theory, which works pretty well on the flat beach of Tenacatita, is to not deploy the wheels. Sometimes the wheels hitting the ground can brake you before you’re clear of the surf break. But then you have the full weight of the dinghy to deal with; the trouble is getting it far enough up the beach to avoid it washing away on the incoming tide on a long day away.
 The local pangueros are expert at landing on the beach – that’s what their boats are designed for.  But they have 20′ high-bowed boats*,  bigger engines, and a transom deeper in the water, so the prop keeps a better bite. They often back in, with the propellor a bit lifted and the bow lifting nicely to the breakers. Sometimes someone (the junior crew member!) jumps in the water to keep everything lined up. Usually when a panga delivers you to a beach, you can step right off onto sand.
The panga is designed to be operated from a beach.

 Most important lesson so far

Don’t get in front of the breaking wave if at all possible, and especially, don’t get sideways to it. Also, the kill switch, which turns the engine off when the clip is pulled: you want its lanyard on your wrist and the switch in good working order. You could dump the dinghy, douse your outboard in salt water, lose whatever you were carrying, etc. Better not to chop up the remains while you’re at it. Who needs that kind of excitement?

This is the surf landing we're practicing up for.
This is the surf landing we’re practicing up for. This photo was borrowed from the blog, in a post called Pitchpoled in Tenacatita.

Two families with four young children between them, headed ashore in kayaks last year, and got in too far to turn back. They got dumped on the way in, and as conditions worsened with the tide, they decided to stay at the hotel down at the end of the beach, rather than take on the waves they photographed above.

It’s an interesting story, since the hotel isn’t set up for that kind of guest, and they weren’t set up to be there. But it reinforces one of our rules, which is: when you go ashore, no matter where you think you are going, always take shoes and always take money.

Feel the surge!

The other day we had some surge-y conditions, and I don’t think anyone went ashore. According to  surf sites like, there was a 2.3 meter swell train from the northwest, trending down some violent-looking weather systems battering northern California. And there was a 1.4 meter southwesterly swell, can’t say what is generating that without looking south of the equator. These were long period swells, up and down every 15 or 20 seconds. Listening, particularly in the wee hours, you can hear the boom of surf on the other side of the bay.

The swell, often 20 feet tall every 20 seconds, is getting them cranked in Hawail, but it, or similar swells, can affect coasts thousands of miles away.
This swell, often 20 feet tall every 20 seconds, is getting them cranked in Hawail. This, or similar swells, can affect coasts thousands of miles away. magic

We are well-anchored, but it is disconcerting to watch our neighbors zooming forward, as if they’re getting underway, and to know that we’re doing the same ourselves. We just can’t  feel the conveyor belt we’re riding.

Feel the Roll too

But we can certainly feel the side-to-side rolling that comes when the swell and the wind are perpendicular. There’s an accessory for that too. The flopper-stopper is rigged to hang from a pole stuck out the side of the boat. In the water is something that resists being lifted, but sinks readily, like a weighted platform, bucket, basket/check valve, or a big flat hinge. Even if it doesn’t stop the roll completely, it breaks the harmonic cycle.  That’s one accessory we haven’t yet acquired.

The 'traffic cone' flopper stopper slows down the boat's roll.
The ‘traffic cone’ flopper stopper slows down the boat’s roll.

And no one is going ashore today, at least not in their dinghies. Surfing in would be one problem, getting back out would be another kind, and maybe more difficult.

Landing on the beach lessons cancelled today.
Landing on the beach lessons cancelled today. Photo courtesy of

Launch techniques

We’re learning that the wheels aren’t always the answer to getting out either. The problem is that they leave the bow of the dinghy down, easy for the waves to break into while you’re trying to get into the dinghy, get the engine started, get the passenger aboard, stay steered straight out, etc.

They're just about to make their move, and did a great job of it, for an appreciative audience.
They’re just about to make their move, and did a great job of it, for an appreciative audience.

As for ourselves, well, we sometimes come home wet, and glad of a dry bag for storing things. It does help to decide early who is calling the shots, or you’ll both get doused in the space between go, go, go and wait, wait, wait!

Footnote about the panga

*from Wikipedia, I learned this about the ubiquitous panga.

  • The original panga design was developed by Yamaha as part of a World Bank project circa 1970.
  • Key features of the panga design are a high bow, narrow waterline beam, and a flotation bulge along the gunwale, or top edge of the hull. The high bow provides buoyancy for retrieving heavy nets, and minimizes spray coming over the bow. The narrow beam allows the hull to be propelled by a modest-sized outboard motor. The flotation bulge along the gunwale provides increased stability at high angles of roll.
  • The original Yamaha panga design had a length of 22 feet (6.7 m), and a waterline beam of approximately 5 feet 6 inches (1.7 m).
  • Pangas are usually between 19 and 28 feet (5.8 and 8.5 m) in length, with capacities ranging from 1 to 5 short tons (0.89 to 4.46 long tons; 0.91 to 4.54 t) and powered by outboard motors of between 45 and 200 hp (34 and 149 kW). Their planing hulls are capable of speeds in excess of 35 knots (40 mph; 65 km/h)