It is 3am and I’m about to relieve Bill on deck for my night watch. We are on the Pacific Ocean of Mexico between Manzanillo and Zihuatenejo. As I begin coming back to life after my first 2-hour nap of the day, Bill makes sure I have everything I need, and then retreats into the cabin to get some rest. I settle in and begin the process of being aware of all my surroundings. The very first thing I notice is the air temperature. I am wearing a tank top and jean shorts, and the air blowing through my hair is warm, sweet and pleasant, it feels close to 80 degrees. I close my eyes. My memory flashes back to our trip on the way down off the Washington and Oregon coast. Memories of layers and layers of Smart Wool under foul weather bib overalls and a Gill waterproof jacket, 2 pairs of wool socks, 2 hats, a scarf and a wool blanket, and STILL being wet and cold. I lean back with my eyes still closed and appreciate the memory, and especially appreciate the 80 degree breeze.
My senses can tell that we are getting further and further south. Half way through this shift an overwhelming, familiar aroma reminds me of my summers in Yakima with my cousins. The smell of hot, wet pavement that rarely happens in the Pacific Northwest. I only hear the sound of waves lapping around me. I thoroughly soak up these sensations and fall into the realization that I am out here alone for a few more hours. The stars are out in full force. I quickly recognize Orion’s belt and the Big and Little dippers. I determine where the north star is and then quickly look 180 degrees to the south for the infamous Southern Cross constellation that I’ve heard so much about.
At 35 degrees south latitude and all latitudes farther south, you can see the constellation Crux- otherwise known as the Southern Cross at any hour of the night all year around. In the northern hemisphere, including most of the United States, the Southern Cross never rises above the horizon. Out here, the stars give you great comfort. Many of our night crossings on the ocean in the dark there are no points of reference, it is easy to steer off course unless you constantly stare at the compass. This gets very tedious to do for a four-hour shift, so usually I place a constellation between the shrouds on the boat and steer to keep it in place.
I think I find the Southern Cross. It looks like 4 bright stars that are somewhat forming a cross formation, but I’m not sure. I push on forging south cruising about 6 knots, hoping to impress Bill when he wakes up how far we have travelled. I look at the radar and notice a huge red impression heading in our direction. I know we are travelling between Manzanillo and Ixtapa where there is a busy tanker route. I look on AIS and determine the tanker is heading right for us, and he Is not very far away. I change our course and turn 90 degrees out to sea. I double check his heading on AIS, and am rest assured that I am changing our course enough to get safely out of his way.
I see the huge tanker safely pass mid ship on our starboard side. I get us back on course and look up in the sky again for the Southern Cross. I can’t believe my eyes. There it is, glowing in its beauty. This time I know it is the Crux constellation. Not only does it out line a perfectly angled cross, it also appears to have the lines drawn in. Even though I am not a part of any organized religion, I find myself frequently having religious experiences out here. With all the beauty of earth, sky and sea it is difficult not to. I spend the rest of my shift gazing at the Cross, and can’t wait for Bill to see it.
In the distance, I begin to see the lights of Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo appear. I get excited thinking about being there for their annual Guitar Fest. The thought of a new city I’ve never been to, the furthest south in Mexico I’ve ever been, and having just experienced the Southern Cross, I forget that I’m running off of 2 hours sleep until I see Bill climb up the stairs. It’s the same sensation as when you have to pee, you forget about having to go until you get close to the toilet, then all of sudden your brain unleashes and reminds you quickly.
I share my Southern Cross experience with Bill, and quickly tumble down the companion way to fall into my berth for a quick nap before I have to wake up to help anchor us in the Bahia de Zihuatenejo. When I wake up the sun is shining in all its glory. It is hot already. I look into the water and see multiple little white jellyfish swimming around, and then a snake slither by. I know for sure that we are in uncharted, southern territory for us.
Once we arrive in Zihua, the snake slithering by in the bay remains on my mind. We are very hot and want to jump in the water. We choose not to chance it and find a resort that will let us crash their pool. After a 3 mile hike straight up the jungle hill, we found the perfect place for just that, The resort La Escollera. Guitar Fest continues until March 9th. We are thoroughly enjoying ourselves here, and will keep you posted on new developments. Hasta luego!