Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Barra de Navidad to Las Hadas

Our careful preparation paid off and we succeeded in entering the large, but shallow, lagoon at Barra de Navidad without touching the shallow bottom. The list of channel way points that we'd obtained from other cruisers was quite helpful we used our instrument flying skills to guide "Blue Rodeo" along the narrow, safe path to the anchorage. We were happy to be back in the beautiful area surrounded by dense mangroves, a charming little town and a spectacular golf resort and hotel complex. Convenient panga (small open boats) water taxi service is available to and from the town's docks and we took frequent advantage of it over the next several days. Having stayed in the hotel there three years ago while visiting cruising friends aboard their boats, we quickly reacquainted ourselves with the town. We dropped off a large bag of dirty clothes at a small laundry to be picked up the same afternoon. Like most small Mexican towns, several industrious women their use just a few machines to do laundry for locals and visitors and charge a fee based on the weight of the clothes. While we can make fresh water from sea water while aboard, and hand wash clothes as needed, it is far more efficient to pay for the service when we are near civilization.

While at Barra, we connected with many of our new cruising friends and shared what we had learned about the local eateries and attractions. Several nights were spent in their company sharing meals. libations and listening to live music. One day, hungry for an afternoon snack, we spotted a small, open-air restaurant featuring gorditas and tacos al pastor. We sat down for a quick bite and were quickly befriended by the owner Isaac. He had lived and worked for years in California and, with the help of his wife, was now operating his own restaurant. The food was absolutely delicious and while savoring the last few morsels, we vowed to return before heading to our next destination. In fact, we returned for dinner later than night with friends Torben and Judy and all had a great, inexpensive meal while seated at a table on the cobble stone covered street in front of the restaurant. Anne returned the next day with two friends and took lessons from the restaurant chef (Issac's wife) on making perfect corn tortillas. She came back to the boat with a wooden tortilla press with which to practice her new skills.

While we could easily have stayed for several weeks in the Barra area, our desire to explore points south and get to Zihuatenajo so see friends Henry and Janice before they continued toward Panama motivated us to raise anchor and depart after a few days. Our plan had been to stop by the marina's fuel dock on the way out of the lagoon to fill "Blue Rodeo's" tanks but as we approached, an attendant waved us off. We soon noticed that a large section of the floating dock and diesel pump were gone, presumably sunk. We would later learn that a large boat rammed it while attempting to dock, sending it to the bottom. With just a short distance to go to Manzanillo, our next port of call, we were able to deal with the lack of available fuel. We would later learn that the fuel in the Las Hadas marina in Manzanillo was of poor quality and we would have to either take our 4, 5 gallon jerry cans by taxi to a gas station in town or conserve our remaining fuel until reaching the Ixtapa/Zihuatenajo area. Such is one of the challenges of cruising in Mexico.

Our stay in the Manzanillo area included a couple of nights at the pristine Carrazul anchorage and beautiful Santiago Bay where we were able to take a bus into the city for supplies. Another order of business was a trip to the Telcel (cellular) store to hopefully sort out issues with a 3G modem card that we'd purchased in Puerto Vallarta to allow our onboard computers to connect to the internet via the cell phone network. Two frustrating visits to the main store in Puerto Vallarta which included long, long, waits in lines failed to make the devive work properly. Fortunately, after more waiting in line and about an hour and a half of our time, we left the service center with a working card and better ability to make us of the Internet for communications.

From Santiago, we rounded a point of land and anchored off the dramatic architecture of the famous Las Hadas resort hotel, film site for the movie "10". While beginning to show it's age, it remains an amazing place with white stuccoed structures built into the steep hillside. Despite coaxing on Mark's part, Anne was unwilling to have her hair braided into "corn rows" and jog in slow motion down the beach wearing a revealing bathing suit. Mark blames her conservative English upbringing. As the anchorage at Las Hadas began to fill, we were pleased to see many familiar boats and a group dinner ashore at a restaurant overlooking the bay proved a perfect venue for another reunion sharing, laughter and good times with our many new friends. How fortunate were are to be living this dream!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chamela to Barra de Navidad

The bay at Chamela was another lovely and interesting spot and we shared the anchorage with several other cruising boats. The nearly perfect weather that we’ve been experiencing gave in to a short spell of fog and overcast skies. Temperatures though remained pleasant, perfect for taking our dinghy to the beach and exploring the small town. After lunch at a seaside, palapa restaurant, we took a walk along the sand dunes that separated the ocean from a small mangrove surrounded lagoon. As we approached the lagoon we spotted a warning sign with the word crocodilio and a painted picture of one of the fearsome animals. Nearing the sign Anne remarked, “do you see the crocodile?” figuring that she meant the painted picture on the sign Mark responded “yes” and proceeded to walk even closer to the water’s edge. Anne then remarked with a greater sense of urgency “no, the real crocodile behind the sign”. We stood in amazement at our close proximity to the animal while laughing at the miscommunication between us. We took a number of pictures while keeping a close eye on the lazy crocodile, thinking that we certainly would not be seeing this in the United States where personal injury lawsuits and worries of liability have succeeded in limiting our ability to get up close and personal with most wild critters.

After another night at the Chamela anchorage, we were eager to continue to another cruiser favorite, Tenacatita. The bay there is very picturesque and a hangout for a number of curious dolphins, including one regular known as either Chippy or Notch due to a missing section of his dorsal fin. During our 3 day stay in Tenacatita, Chippy paid us several visits and, at one point, entertained us for nearly an hour as he swam around our boat and scratched himself on our anchor chain. While Mark snapped pictures, Anne quickly dawned her bathing suit and swim goggles and entered the water in hopes of swimming with the friendly mammal. Alas, Chippy stayed just beyond her range of sight. One morning we took our dinghy through the small surf and into a river estuary that empties into the bay. The meandering river through the dense vegetation can be followed for several miles and has become a classic cruiser experience known as” The Jungle Tour”. We carefully guided our inflatable boat through the narrow waterway as it zigzagged through the mangroves. For most of the tour, tree branches completely covered the sky above our heads and tree limbs nearly blocked our path. We kept a sharp eye out for the various animal inhabitants and were rewarded with close encounters with beautiful birds, bright orange colored crabs, and a raccoon that hung in the trees as we passed underneath. Others have sighted crocodiles and iguana's along the way but on our tour, they were too wary to be seen. We paddled our SUP surfboards several times while visiting neighboring boats and the nearby beach. One morning we made a quick two mile run across the bay to the town of La Manzanilla where we explored the local shops and markets. Like many of the beautiful little seaside towns that we have visited, La Manzanilla is frequented by many Canadians who escape the long and cold winter up north. Overall, tourism in Mexico appears rather quiet, due no doubt to the poor state of the U.S. economy and the media sensationalized reports of drug related violence. We have spoken with many Canadians and a few Americans that winter in Mexico on a regular basis, some who have driven all the way down from British Columbia. The many small coastal towns that we have found so charming are increasingly dependent on income from tourism and we feel badly for the many restaurants and shop owners whose businesses appear nearly empty at what is the height of the tourist season. While we benefit from the lack of crowds, we wonder how long many of them can stay in business if the situation does not soon improve.

Our next stop along the coast was a small rocky bay with a beautiful sandy beach and numerous underwater reefs called Cuastecomate. While we had only planned one night there, we happily changed plans to stay longer after rendezvousing with several other cruising friends and swimming and snorkeling in the clear water. When we arrived, Dave and Marissa of “Pacifico” and Mike from “So Inclined” were already anchored. Later that afternoon, their good friends from Oceanside, Lee and Cathy, arrived aboard their beautiful J-130 “Sirocco”. After sharing drinks at a beach front palapa restaurant that afternoon, plans were made to gather aboard “Sirocco” for a group dinner. Marissa came to our boat ahead of time to give Anne a quick lesson in making authentic Margaritas and delicious “Pico de Gallo” salsa. While sipping margaritas, the chefs chopped and combined the salsa ingredients. As they finished, Mark readied our dinghy for the short row over to “Sirocco”. While attempting to board the dinghy, it was clear that the margaritas had already had a profound effect on Anne’s balance. While Mark struggled to steady the dinghy and hold it close to Blue Rodeo’s swim step, Anne leapt, in a somewhat less than graceful manner, into the boat with such gusto that Mark could not hold on and did a forward somersault into the water. Marissa stood on the swim step watching in disbelief at the clutsy, comical mishap. At least the water was warm though and Mark was quickly showering off the salt water and changing into dry clothes. Dinner aboard “Sirocco” was a treat for all with Dave providing a delicious chicken and sun dried tomato pasta main course. Chocolate pudding and home made cookies courtesy of Marissa and Mike rounded out the meal. After several enjoyable hours and another margarita for Anne we climbed aboard our dinghy and rowed back to “Blue Rodeo”. While climbing aboard, the potent margaritas took their toll one more time as Anne lost her balance while washing her feet. In a split second, she found herself sliding down “Blue Rodeo’s” sloped transom as if it were a hotel pool water slide and splashing into the water. With a shocked and unhappy look on her face, much like a cat thrown into a bathtub, she scrambled back aboard and took her second fresh water shower for the day. Though we would laugh about it later, we were both very aware of how serious a simple accident like that can be aboard a boat.

While at Cuastecomate, Mark spent the better part of an hour beneath “Blue Rodeo” cleaning the propeller and shaft and replacing zinc anodes. The last time he did it was 4 months prior at Catalina Island and while wearing a short wetsuit, he nearly became hypothermic. This time, he accomplished the task without a wetsuit although he did get a bit chilled.

Our next destination was the town of Barre de Navidad only 5 miles away and we were eager to return after visiting cruising friends there 3 years ago. The entrance to the anchorage lagoon at Barre de Navidad is narrow with numerous shallow sand bars and boats frequently go aground there. While the average cruising sailboat draws 5-6 feet of water from the surface to the bottom of its keel, “Blue Rodeo’s” draft is closer to 7.5 feet. Once in the anchorage, we would be limited by the water depth and might have just 6 inches below our keel at low tide. So, before the short trip, we carefully studied Google Earth photos of the area, paper charts and diagrams in various guide books. We also entered a route in our navigation display with GPS defined waypoints that was obtained from other cruisers who had done their own survey of the area. Even with all of the information to help, we were sure that the entrance would rather tricky and stressful.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Banderas Bay to Chamela

After a pleasant stay in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (Banderas Bay) for the holidays, we untied our dock lines and motor-sailed northwest to Punta de Mita where we had anchored two weeks prior. We learned from the morning weather briefings available on our single side band radio that a southwest swell was expected and we hoped to get a chance to do some surfing there. It felt wonderful to be back on the water and out away from the marina. What should have been a fun and relaxing day began the next morning with a 2 hour plumbing repair after discovering that our waste holding tank pump was not working properly. Toilet/holding tank problems aboard boats are enough to bring grown men to tears, or at least evoke a stream of obscenities. This time was no exception. Mark, clad in his worst work clothes and rubber gloves, climbed in and out of "Blue Rodeo's" aft lazarette countless times working on the problem. Anne furnished moral support and brought plastic bags and wet paper towels to help contain the inevitable leaked fluid as the plumbing connections were disassembled and cleaned. With the electric pump-out pump rebuilt the project was deemed a success and we both breathed a sigh of relief.

Mark's reward was a afternoon surf session on his stand-up-paddle surf board. He paddled from the anchorage to a beach where, with binoculars, we'd seen a few surfers in action. After catching a few good waves he returned to our boat happy that he'd gotten another opportunity to improve his skills with the new board. Later that night after a relaxing dinner aboard, we made plans for a 4am departure to head south around Cabo Corrientes (Cape Currents). Our hopes of getting to bed early vanished though when while washing a thick-walled drinking glass, Mark dropped it on the divider of our double sink shattering it into a million pieces. He spent the next half hour carefully picking up shards of glass. Unfortunately, when the electric pump used to drain the sinks was engaged, if quickly failed due to a piece of glass that made it past the sink strainer and lodged inside the pump's impeller. So, at 9pm, Mark began his second major plumbing repair of the day. The clogged pump was removed, but servicing it was difficult due to a broken screw in the pump housing, so our replacement spare was pressed into service. Before reconnecting the hoses, we ran a fair amount of water through the drains to flush out any more glass. When the electrical and plumbing connections were made, the new pump worked perfectly...for about 2 seconds until it jammed...with another &#%$@! piece of glass. Mark had no choice but to tackle the overhaul a second time. This time, more water and pressure from a plunger were used to purge the drain lines. Success was finally achieved at 11pm.

Sleep was difficult that night due to the ocean swells that rolled through the anchorage so, at about 1:30am, we decided to get going and head south. We raised anchor and sails at 2am and headed out into the darkness. With nearly no moon, the stars overhead shone brightly and "Blue Rodeo" left a comet-like, phosphorescent trail as she sliced through the dark waters. With this area inhabited by hundreds of whales this time of year, we hoped they'd give us a wide berth as we'd have no chance to see and avoid them.

Our 14 hr trip put us in beautiful Bahia Chamela where we would explore the small town, have lunch at a thatched-roof covered, beach front restaurant and get "up close and personal" with a 10 foot crocodile. Mark insists that he'd rather face one of the fearsome reptiles than another plumbing least for a while

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tres Mariettas Islands Dive Trip

Chacala to Bandaras Bay

A short sail from Chacala to Punta de Mita put us in the northern corner of the enormous Banderas Bay. The “Bay of Flags” is a deep, 23 mile wide indentation into mainland Mexico’s “Gold Coast” and is the site of the towns of Punta de MIta, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Bucerias and Puerto Vallarta. It is a vacation destination for travelers from the world over. Much of the area is developed with modern resorts, golf courses and high-rise hotels. Fortunately, the charm and flavor or authentic Mexico can still be found in many areas.

After two days anchored off Punta de MIta, hoping to find some of the ridable surf that it is noted for, we sailed another nine miles further into Bandaras Bay and anchored off the new marina at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. We’ve been hearing reports from other cruisers that this area ranked among their favorites and it was easy to see why. The area features a brand new, modern marina adjacent a charming, small town that is the home for many American and Canadian expatriates. The town square, eclectic architecture and cobble stone covered streets add to the visual appeal. Dozens of
eateries, from simple to sophisticated, many with live music, are found within a short distance of the marina.

Having been invited to participate in a large Christmas dinner with a number of other cruisers, we secured a marina slip for “Blue Rodeo” on December 21st and quickly reconnected with folks that we have been bumping into on our trip down the coast. New boats arrived over the next few days and soon the docks were jumping with energy as people attended to boat chores and prepared for the holidays.

Before we knew it, it was Christmas day and our group of 60 converged on the marina’s Sky Bar patio. We shared a great feast and finished the evening with a “secret Santa” gift exchange. We thought warmly of our family and friends back home while sharing the company of our many new friends.

While in the La Cruz marina, we hired some hard working, local men to polish and wax “Blue Rodeo’s” hull and a local canvas worker to sew dinghy chaps (covers to protect the hypalon fabric tubes of our inflatable boat). We also made several trips into down town Puerto Vallarta to sight see and purchase provisions. The city offers most of the shopping opportunities found in the large cities north of the boarder including a Costco and Home Depot. We used local busses primarily for transportation and the rides often felt like a Disneyland “E-ticket” ride. The shock absorbers were long-gone on many of the busses and passengers were sent bouncing into the air as the drivers careened through the traffic hitting pot holes and speed bumps.

Our time in La Cruz was most enjoyable with a full social schedule and daily trips into town. We ushered-in the new year with a dozen others at a hillside restaurant overlooking the bay. While the food and service were a bit disappointing, we all enjoyed the company and fireworks clearly visible at many areas around to bay.

With our dinghy chaps finally completed, we will give “Blue Rodeo” a much deserved fresh water bath today and sail back up to Punta de Mita in search of a few waves before we continue down the coast to Zihuatenajo

Matanchen Bay to Chacala

After several lovely days in Matenchen Bay, aside from the pesky, biting “no-seeums” that found us at the beach-side restaurants in the late afternoon, we had a delightful 23 mile sail down the coast to the village of Chacala. We anchored with 3 other boats in the small bay shaped by jungle-covered hillsides and a beautiful sandy beach. The simple community was cute as can be and is a popular beach destination for people from several larger inland towns and a number of American and Canadian citizens who own vacation homes there. The next day, we took a short bus ride to the town of Las Varas, about 6 miles away, where we were told we’d find a bank with an ATM to replenish our supply of Pesos. The trip proved interesting and gave us the opportunity to see some of the beautiful, hilly countryside and the town that seems off the tourist, beaten path. After our bank business, we explored the town and had a delicious lunch at a local eatery. Back at the beach, we joined Howard and Lynn from the boat “Swift Current” and Dave and Marissa from “Pacifico” for a drink at one of the palapa restaurants. On a previous outing with them, Howard and Lynn mentioned that they’d never seen the corny but classic move “Captain Ron”. Before long we were all aboard “Swift Current” sharing appetizers and drinks while howling with laughter at the movie.

Our last day at Chacala was full of activity with Mark hauling Anne to the top of “Blue Rodeo’s” mast twice to re-reeve a new halyard and remove and replace our wind speed and direction sensors. At some point in the last two weeks, a bird had landed on the fragile device and broken a portion of it. With the unit down on deck, Mark fabricated a new plastic replacement for the damaged section and Anne reinstalled it on her second trip up the mast. Two trips were also made to shore to drop off and pick up laundry and purchase a few supplies. In between, we circled the bay on our stand-up-paddle surfboards and stopped by “Swift Current” to give Howard, Lynn, Dave and Marissa a chance to try them. The day concluded with a pot luck dinner for the six of us aboard our boat. We all agree that meeting new friends and sharing our adventures is probably the best thing about the cruising experience. So far, the daytime temperatures have been perfect and the evenings have cooled-off pleasantly. We slept well again that night gently rocked by our planet’s largest ocean.