A Month in Mexico,
Our first month back in
Mexico after a summer in San Francisco was quite a varied time,
including a luxury hotel stay, major boat work, travel and
tourism, brushes with hurricanes, and oysters.
We flew into Puerto Vallarta (PV) on Saturday, September
was too late to make the 3-4 hour bus trip to Barra de
Navidad, where Akka was in a marina. So we found a hotel room near the airport and bus
terminal, and taxied into town to stroll the famous malecon
(boardwalk). It was predictably tacky, lined with bars,
restaurants and Señor Frog souvenir shops. Rob
enjoyed some fresh oysters, and we enjoyed people-watching.
It was a nice blend of local Mexican families and tourists.
We had been checking the weather on the internet and knew
Hurrican Odile was headed our way, but the Pacific hurricanes
tend to veer west of the mainland coast of
Mexico, and it
looked like that was the case with Odile.
It was an
overcast Sunday morning in PV when we caught the bus for
Barra. As we headed south, the overcast lowered and
showers became more frequent. Fortunately, we were
between showers when we arrived and took a launch across the
bay to the marina and hotel.
We found Akka in great shape
– all dry and unmildewed below. The transition
back to the boat after an absence is
always difficult, what with travel fatigue, half-unpacked
bags all around, no air conditioning and projects demanding
immediate attention. Additionally, this homecoming was going
to be especially strange, because the first on-board task
was some major engine work. To get at the engine, we
have to remove the sink and counter top and the sides of the
engine compartment, stowing them vertically in the salon,
creating a less-than-ideal living space.
Fortunately, this time we had another option. Last
summer, when we watched the World Cup at the hotel bar, Rob
had won a free two-night hotel stay by predicting the
correct score of Germany’s win over Mexico.
(Not surprisingly, all of the Mexican fans
predicted a Mexican win; only we went against the
grain.) So, after we checked out the boat we packed an
overnight bag and checked into the hotel!
Our second floor room was all beige marble. (We’re
guessing that all 200 rooms are, as well.) The balcony
overlooked the Jacuzzi and second-level pool (of three).
There was a luxurious king-sized bed, a glass-top-table sitting
area and a couch-coffee-table area, as well as a mini-bar/coffee area.
We moved around from time to time,
just to experience it all. We brought a bottle of scotch
from the boat and ordered ice from room service – nothing
so crass a thing as an ice machine here!
The hotel sprawls along and climbs up a hillside, with varied facades and
architectural styles so that from a distance it resembles a
small Mediterranean town. There’s a huge amount of
waste space, with mini-lobbies and seating areas between wings.
Hallways are almost all open-air, like cloisters, with arched
views out over the bay, or inward to gardens. There are
innumerable courtyard gardens, most with fountains (and two
with small swimming pools!) Getting around is quite
complex, since not all floors connect, but getting lost is
We ate at the hotel during our stay and for a few days more,
while our on-board galley was a workshop. The main hotel
dining room is a huge circular room on the 6th
floor with balcony seating outdoors all around it, easily
accommodating 250 people. Generally, when we ate there,
there were one or two other tables occupied, but we sometimes
ate alone, with a waiter and maître d' hovering in the
background. We took to asking how many guests there were;
11 or 13, most days. The hotel doesn't seem to close off
wings, and the support staff is there full-time, including, in
addition to the afore-mentioned waiter and maître d',
reception staff and bartenders, tennis pro, pool cleaner, towel
girl, two spa ladies, and the laundry, gift shop and
convenience store clerks. Not to mention the army of
gardeners! It’s hard to see how the place keeps
But eventually our air-conditioned stay came to an end, and
it was back to the workshop. The original problem was
that an engine part called a “damper plate” which
links the engine’s drive shaft to the transmission and
dampens the engine vibrations, had disintegrated. From
that simple problem the mighty project grew.
First, John the mechanic removed the transmission.
Wait! The left rear engine mount is broken! That must be
what caused the damper plate to break. Better replace the
Wait! The bolts holding the motor to the feet are ¾”
diameter but the holes on the motor are 5/8”. Over
time (since they were installed 2 years ago by another mechanic
who failed to note this problem), the motor had moved enough to
cause a mis-alignment, breaking the mount. So, we needed new
mounts with 5/8” bolts. That turned out to be a special
order – a friend of John's knew a company in the US that
makes the mounts and was willing to make four for us.
But wait! When the damper plate broke apart, pieces of it
wound up inside the flywheel housing. We thought at first
that we had probably fished them all out, but then decided that
was foolish, so we took off the housing to look for more
Wait! The destruction of the damper plate had caused wear in
the gear teeth at the end of the transmission shaft. Not a lot,
but... What to do? We could have a machine shop grind
them, maybe even braze on more metal? That seemed like a
huge effort for the little wear. Then Oscar, John’s
Mexican assistant, noted that the depth of the teeth was much
longer than what was used, so if we made a plate to go on the
back of the flywheel, it would position the teeth at an unworn
place. Great idea!
But wait! This will require longer bolts, but since we had
to replace one anyway (see above), we could get all five.
So we had a machine shop make a ring to go onto the back of the
flywheel, and brought the bolts back from the US.
One of the 5 bolts connecting the damper plate to the
flywheel broke off. Now what? Drill out and replace
the bolt? Or would the remaining 4 be OK? Decision: drill
it out, buy new bolts in the US and bring them back, drill out
the bolt hole, etc…But now, with the flywheel cover removed it was a simple
thing to also remove the flywheel, and that made it
easy to extract the broken bolt. So, one issue solved.
But wait! Isn't that oil coming out of the main rear oil
seal? Not enough to worry about, but while we're at it …
When we went back to the States, we had not only picked
up a damper plate ($700 for two pieces of sheet metal and some
springs) but new oil seals and gaskets, new bolts, and new
The engine mounts are bolted through stringers running fore
and aft on either side of the engine. Access to the nuts
inside the stringers was very difficult, so John fabricated
“nut-plates” with handles on them to hold while he
screwed the mounting bolts into them.
Wait! The new mounts aren’t quite in the same place as
the old ones (probably due to the old ¾” bolts in
5/8” holes), so we had to drill new holes in the
stringer. Surprise! The stringer is reinforced with
a stainless steel plate, inside the layers of fiberglass.
Several drill bits later, we had new holes. Of course, we
could have simply tapped the stainless plates and skipped
John's nut-plates, but we already had the nut-plates so we used
We lifted the engine using a chain pulley slung from a
square iron bar over the top of the open engine compartment.
On the final day, the gear on the chain pulley failed.
How to lift the engine for final placement? Finally, a
solution we know – sailboats have lots of pulleys, and
the block and tackle we use for lifting our outboard motor
worked like a champ!
More about John and Oscar.
John is an ex-pat American, married to a woman from Barra de
Navidad. He used to work for John Deere and is a
perfectionist. Oscar is 26, from
Barra. John speaks to him in English and Oscar
answers mainly in Spanish with an occasional English word.
Sometimes John throws in a Spanish word too. It’s
fascinating to listen to. Oscar actually can and does
speak in entirely English sentences, but for the most part
it’s English from John and Spanish from Oscar.
They make a very good team, and Oscar is clearly also a very
good mechanic on his own. He’s also younger,
stronger and smaller than John, all of which qualities are
In a week, the engine was re-assembled, all lubricants
topped up, and we started the motor and put it in gear –
forward and reverse – and all was well. (We were
still in the slip, so we didn’t actually move very far!)
Back on with the sink! Away with the tools! A liveable boat
at last! Now we can enjoy life (and oysters) aboard, again.
Meanwhile, while we worked on the motor, Hurricane Odile
passed us, almost without notice, except by the surfers.
Unfortunately the Cabo area of Baja California took a direct
hit. Odile was followed by Tropical Storm Polo, which
actually passed closer to us and produced 30-35 knot winds, but
hardly any rain. Polo was followed in short order
Simon and Vance. They all took more or less
the same track past
Barra, about 400 NM offshore. Of the lot, only Vance really
affected our weather, with 30+ knot gusts and torrential rain.
But none was a real threat.
On September 16th,
Mexico celebrated Independence Day. It commemorates “El
Grito,” the cry for independence made by the priest
Miguel Hidalgo in 1810. He did this at 11:15 p.m on the
We went to the town square of Barra de Navidad that evening to
see the festivities. The entertainment consisted of a local
women’s dance troupe (think exercise routines) and a
singer. Pretty lame. But the square was full of
the town folk, so people-watching was fun. At 11 p.m.,
the PA guy introduced a bunch of dignitaries, who waved from
the town hall balcony. At 11:15, one of them recited
“El Grito,” which is interesting because it
was never written down, so no-one really knows what Hidalgo
said. But it ends with a rousing call and repeat
(three times) of “Vive Mexico!” which was echoed
sporadically by some in the crowd. Then they shot off
5, count ‘em 5, fireworks and everyone went home.
Now that the boat was all put together it was time for Rob
to fly to Marblehead MA for the Hinman. His flights were
from and to Guadalajara, so we both went a day early to do some
We took a luxury-class bus for
the 6 hour trip. These buses have far more legroom than any
airline, with reclining seats with footrests, individual TV
sets, and restrooms. Quite comfy, but a long trip,
We stayed at a small hotel-guesthouse owned by an ex-pat
American and retired master gardener named Robert. The
hotel was charming, as was Robert. Our "cupola room"
featured a bed under the cupola, a balcony overlooking the
gardens and pool, and an unneeded fireplace.
With just one day to "do" Guadalajara, we only
hit the highlights of the historic area, concentrating on
seeing works by the Guadalajara muralist Orozco.
Orozco is not as well-known as his contemporary Diego
Rivera, except perhaps by Dartmouth College students.
In the 1930's, the College commissioned Orozco to paint
murals in the basement reading room of the library.
He rendered the theme of The History of America in bold
bright colors, with images of indigenous myths, conquest,
revolution, slavery, communism and fascism. Both Rob and Lisa
spent many hours studying there, under the ferocious gaze of
Three sites in Guadalajara feature Orozco’s
masterworks: a beautifully restored 19th century orphanage that
has been converted into a museum and school for the arts; the
state capital building; and a Guadalajara University lecture
In the museum, the walls and ceiling of the former chapel
are almost entirely covered by Orozco murals, making a
startling contrast between the classical church architecture
and Orozco’s 20th century political art. Most of
the murals are in monochrome blacks and grays, but the cupola
is afire with color. Without a guide we couldn't decipher most
of it, but there were clear warnings against tyranny,
industrialization and militarism.
The most amazing Orozco mural is a few blocks down a walking
mall, at the Palacio de Gobierno (state government building).
The building dates from 1741 and is typically classic, with
offices and meeting rooms surrounding a central courtyard lined
with two stories of arches. As you approach the wide marble
stairwell leading to the second floor, it's all very classic
until the landing comes into view. Suddenly, you are confronted
with Orozco’s portrait of a rather ferocious Hidalgo
(remember him?) brandishing a torch. He's surrounded by
masses of peasants and indigenous people struggling against
various forms of tyranny. The picture is enormous, and
the contrast between the setting and the artwork is
Our Lonely Planet Guide, which had been of
little use in the museum, pointed out an image of Mussolini
(arm upraised, below right). Other signs of evil being
subjugated by Hidalgo included swastikas, hammers and sickles,
and dollar signs!
The same government building has another Orozco mural in the
legislative chamber. It is equally as monumental, but much less
inflammatory, depicting and paying tribute to many of Mexico’s
founders and heroes.
The university is about a half-mile outside of the historic
district, but we were on a tear, so off we went to find our
final Orozco. Once again, we found the startling contrast of
modern slashing colors and turbulence against the sedate
setting of a lecture hall. The university had made a helpful
video pointing out the various themes, which could be summed up
as “look at the progress in various fields, but be
careful not to lose your humanity.”
We wish we could have spent several more days enjoying
Guadalajara, but we were pleased with how much we’d seen
and done in just a short day. And what we hadn’t done –
Guadalajara is the home of mariachi music, but we heard not a
Early Thursday morning, Rob left for Boston but Andi
lingered a while, chatting with our host Robert then strolling
around the historic area before taking the long bus ride back
to Barra de Navidad and Akka. When Rob returned, we
finished a few minor projects, watched some baseball playoffs,
bought some provisions, and finally went sailing!
It wasn't a long sail, just to Manzanillo, 25 miles away. We
anchored off of Las Hadas, another luxury hotel and marina.
From there, we easily used public transit to get provisions and
boat parts. And we enjoyed the hospitality of the hotel,
its pools and its TV, where we watched the Giants win the NL
pennant and make it to the World Series!
We left Las Hadas and returned to the Barra marina for one
more boat project and the World Series (Congratulations,
Giants!) before working our way north (meaning northwest)
toward Puerto Vallarta, some 150 NM away.
Now, for one final dish of fresh oysters
from the Barra lagoon ...