February 14, 2018
The first thing I do when I arrive at the Acapulco airport: start taking all my clothes off. Shoes, socks. Long pants. Hoody sweatshirt. T-shirt. I just flew in from Anchorage, Alaska, so there are a lot of layers to remove. Soon, I’m down to a sports bra, tank top, and shorts. Brand new flipflops. Big floppy canvas hat. Sunglasses, SPF 60 sunblock. For a girl who wore wool long underwear through the entire month of July last summer, the effect is liberating.
I joined my friends Heidi and Peter on their sailboat, Bertie, this week of February 13-18, 2018. We’re tied to a mooring at the west end of Bahia Acapulco, in a cove by the yacht club called Las Dos Piedras, “the two rocks.” This was our rendezvous point and passage prep stop, getting ready for our trip to the Galapagos Islands. Weather permitting, we should arrive in the islands around the second week of March. My end of the deal is to serve as “tripulante” (crew member): I’ll help get provisions for the trip, keep watch and sail the boat on our long passage, swab the decks, do dishes and any other chores necessary, and serve as the on-board naturalist and day trip planner once we get to the islands. It’s a sweet gig. I have to pay my own way for airfare home, and any on-shore activities; otherwise, my shipboard expenses, food, lodging, and administrative costs associated with the boat are all covered.
This is my first visit ever to Mexico – or, in fact, anywhere in Latin America or the tropics. The pulse of the city never stops: day and night, Costera buses, decorated inside and out with neon, cruise the edge of the water, blasting Latin music videos. Daytripper boats rock us with their wakes mid-day, on their way to scuba dive or snorkel. The Fiesta Yate Bonanza goes out every late-afternoon for a sunset cruise, returning to the dock nearby at seven PM, like clockwork. The party continues until 2:00 AM, thumping bass-lines and beats clearly audible from our mooring. The panga longliner guys take off at high speed after dark, zooming by without lights on their boats, heading off shore to fish. Other all-night fishermen in little homemade skiffs tie off to vacant mooring balls, shining lights down into the water to attract their prey. Before dawn, roosters and barking dogs on shore rise up singing.
We watch it all and listen to it all from our mooring out in the bay. It’s strangely private and peaceful, floating here on Bertie, in spite of all the activity around us. My favorite time of day is right after sunset, when the frigatebirds begin to circle through the gathering darkness, looking for a masthead perch on which to spend the night. Peter and I assign ourselves to “frigate patrol,” and shake the shrouds to knock ‘em loose. Even more fun, we unhook one of the backstays and play crack-the-whip with it, sending a bump of rope up the line to smack the birds on the butt. Neither of these actions hurt the birds, but definitely make our boat less appealing as a roost. Since I’m the person responsible for swabbing the decks, I’m invested in the process.
Peter hangs a solar-powered anchor light in the rigging as it gets darker. The stars appear, Orion directly overhead. Heidi produces an amazing dinner from Bertie‘s galley: one night, Mahi fish tacos with coleslaw, beans, and tortillas; another night, steak, potatoes, sautéed kale, and a green salad. We sit on deck and eat, sharing a bottle of wine, telling stories.
Later, after the dishes are done, I take a bucket bath on deck. Using saltwater to soak down and shampoo my hair, and then as a first rinse, I finish off by using a Sierra cup to dip fresh rinse water out of a bucket. It takes less than a gallon of fresh water per bath. The lights of the city, orange and white, blanket the hills. Music from Fiesta Yate Bonanza drifts over on the night breeze. There is no chill whatsoever in the air. It feels good on my bare skin. Air-dried, I descend to my cozy bunk in the fo’c’sle, and am rocked to sleep by Bertie, along with the sound of some Latin beats.