It is ten AM on the first day of March and we have just dropped our anchor in Bahia de Zihuatanejo, three hundred miles south of Puerto Vallarta. We haven’t slept and we are tired. We have just traveled for twenty six hours straight with little or no wind. Without wind, we are forced to use our motor which means we have to steer the boat by hand at all times……it makes for a long shift, standing at the helm for four hours at a time. (One day we will smarten up and buy an auto pilot!) Even though we are exhausted, we are full of excitement. Zihua was our endgame goal when we departed La Paz. Neither of us have been here before and we are full of anticipation to explore the infamous little city. Tomorrow is the beginning of Guitar Fest, a well kept secret of a musical festival, which is held in cult like reverence by any who have attended. The bay is good sized, with room for many boats. We count forty three mast including our own. There are four distinct white sand beaches, each separated by rocky outcroppings. Even this early in the day, it is hot and humid; markedly more so than other places we have visited. Already this morning we have seen a sea snake slither past, and that there are crocodiles lurking in the mangroves is beyond doubt. Every sense we possess let’s us know that we are deep into the tropics now. We know that we should sleep, but we can’t wait to go ashore and see what the city has to offer.
It is more than a little surreal, how did we get here? To this “infamous little city, three hundred miles south of Puerto Vallarta”? To be honest, it is kind of hard to recall. My last journal entry was dated nearly two months and over five hundred miles ago. There are images in my head and memories of people and places. But I know that I am confusing some of them. We have been negligent in our journaling and I realize now that I have forgotten more than I remember. I will have to rely on our ships log for a reference; hopefully, I can fill in the blanks……..
January 17th From: Bahia Los Muertos To: Mazatlan
17:30 Hours. Dockside . Slip C2. El Cid Marina, Mazatlan
When we pulled into the slip at El Cid, Rejoice, who had beaten us in by an hour or more, and our old friends Ken and Cheryl from Sedna, were waiting on the dock to greet us and handle our mooring lines. El Cid is a combination marina and resort and the boaters get full use of the swimming pool and other facilities. We spent a lazy few days reading, swimming and playing pool volleyball. We would usually only buy one cocktail from the swim up bar and then refill it from a pitcher that we had hidden in our backpack. The NFL season was winding down while we were there and we watched the Championship games at an expat bar, disappointed by the outcomes of both. We walked the malacon, ate street tacos and shopped at the municipal market. A highlight of our time in Mazatlan was watching the wolf moon, lunar eclipse from the hot tub.
January 24th From: Mazatlan To: Isla Isabel
12:40 Hours. Off Dock. Pass through the channel and out to sea. 90 NM to Isabel.
13:45 Hours. Wind W10- 15. Course = 155. Following Swell at 4 feet. Wind waves on starboard beam. Bumpy. Three sails at 100%. Making 6.5 kts plus. Closing on Sedna. Two miles ahead.
17:50 Hours. Reeled in Sedna. 1/4 mile behind us to port. Amazing Sunset. 62.5 Miles to Isabel. Wind down to 5kts. Three sails at 100%.
2200 Hours. Wind increased. 15 to 20Kts. Stow Staysil. Reefed Main and Jib. Swells 5 feet plus. Rocky. Course = 200 . Speed = 6.5Kts.
January 25th From: Mazatlan To: Isla Isabel
02:40 Hours Jibed to east. Course = 110. Speed = 5.2Kts. 30 NM to Isabel.
12:50 Hours Anchored. Isla Isabel. 26 feet of water on rocky bottom.
We pulled out of the slip at Mazatlan about an hour after our friends on Sedna. We had intended to go and anchor off of town for the night, but the wind and weather were so good that we decided to continue south. We could see Sedna up ahead of us, but we would have little chance of making up any ground on the 42 foot Bavaria. No sooner than I made this observation, did the wind begin to fill in…..15 knots and gusting. The seas became confused and growing, with a good sized swell behind us and powerful wind waves on the beam. It was windy, rocky and uncomfortable conditions…….which is just what our little Epiphany likes best. For five glorious hours we steadily gained on and finally overtook the bigger sleeker boat! Epiphany in her glory; it was so much fun! But alas, as the sunset and the wind died things returned to their normal state. We watched helplessly as Sedna overtook us and disappeared over the horizon. We continued on, slowly and alone, throughout the night toward Isla Isabel.
Isla Isabel was a wonder. Many folks that we know chose to skip it; wary of the off lying fishing lines or of anchoring on the rocky bottom. We kept a diligent look out, but we never did encounter any of the treacherous long lines that the panga fisherman favor. We rigged a trip line on our anchor and set the hook down amidst the boulder strewn bottom. We were nervous about this of course; but the anchor set and held true.
Isabel is a designated World Heritage Site, and a National Park. It receives environmental protection both nationally and internationally. The island has been dubbed the “Galapagos of Mexico”. With no natural predators on the island, the tens of thousands of nesting birds are not particularly fearful and you can approach them quite closely. There are coral reefs and rock formations, Los Monas, towering thousands of feet in the air. Iguanas of all shapes and sizes scurry about. Large Frigate birds are innumerable and everywhere nested in the canopy or soaring overhead. Though elegant and graceful in the air, Frigates are homely birds on land. We come face to face with them as we hike the trails. They stare back at us as we pass.
The fan favorite though has to be the Blue Footed Boobies. Who, not so much “nest” as squat everywhere along the coastline. “Here is an open spot in a trail, looks great. Think I will squat here and lay an egg!” They are fun and funny and adorable!
There is also a fish camp on the island, and we meet Roberto Mata, who’s family has fished these waters for generations and still do. Roberto has an eco tourist business, “ECOMATA”, bringing tourist from Mexico City to the rustic camp for snorkeling and diving excursions. We happen on some local fisherman shucking oysters. The douse them with hot sauce and lime and pass them to us. They are salty and sublime. We spend two nights anchored at Isla Isabel and loved every minute of it.
January 27th From: Isla Isabel To: Chacala
06:40 Hours Anchor up. Chacala = 58NM. Course = 131. Speed = 4.5kts.
10Kts of Wind . Seas 2-3 feet. Sailing Main and Jib at 100%.
12:00 Hours Wind 12-15Kts. Moderate swell. Main and Jib at 100%. Making 6Kts +.
Chacala = 27NM.
16:00 Hours Start engine to make anchorage by sunset. Chacala = 6 NM.
17:20 Hours Anchored at Chacala. Bow and stern anchors. 5 other boats in anchorage.
Chacala is a great little beach town. It lies lazily in the hot sun on beautiful crescent beach. The gold sand stretches out for two miles our more, inside the protection of two outlying bluffs. Palapa restaurants line the northern side of the beach, adjacent to town. It is the kind of quiet little beach town that used to be ubiquitous along the west coast, still undisturbed by super tourism and too many gringo expats. It is an easy place to be lazy and languish…. and that is what we do. Each day we dinghy ashore and walk the beach. Drink pina coladas and margaritas at the beach front shacks. Lovely Rita, who we met in Mazatlan are here and we happy hour with them. There is a yoga centric resort at the far end of the beach and we sneak in and use the pool and hot tub. The days blur into one another. The 31st is Julianne’s birthday and all of the boats at anchor join us for dinner. We watch the sunset and the skipper on Bugler plays Taps, and What a Wonderful World on his trumpet.
On February 2nd we go out for a dinghy ride beyond the point and recognize a familiar Oceanis 45 sailing toward the bay. Our favorite cruising companions have caught us up. A couple of hours later Agatha pulls into the bay and anchors along side of us. We spend the afternoon visiting and that night we happy hour on the beach. It is our seventh night anchored here. Chacala is an easy place to be lazy.
February 3rd From: Chacala To: Punta Mita
08:40 Hours Anchors up. Motoring to recharge batteries. Course = 210. Speed = 6.2 Kts. Punta Mita = 36NM.
13:00 Hours Enter the Bay of Banderas. 15Kts of wind on the port beam. Decide to skip PM and head straight to La Cruz.
14:00 Hours Whales breaching!
16:15 Hours Anchored outside La Cruz.
February 4th AT: La Cruz anchorage
Anchor chain fouled on rocks. Dive anchor (Yann) to release.
February 6th AT: La Cruz anchorage
Anchor chain fouled on rocks AGAIN! Dive anchor (Scuba Ninja) to release.
10:40 Hours. Dock side La Cruz Marina. Slip A11.
Even though we were happy to be reunited with Agatha, we were ready to be moving. So we left them happily anchored in Chacala and headed at last for the Bay of Banderas; home to Puerto Vallarta. We intended to stop at Punta Mita, just inside the bay at the northwestern tip. But as we entered the bay, after a five hour motor boat ride, the afternoon wind filled in. We had 15 knots plus and a beam reach straight to La Cruz, plus, the Bay was putting on a show. Sun was shining and all manner of marine life: schools of fish, rays jumping, pods of dolphins on patrol and humpback whales breaching. It was an exhilarating afternoon of sailing! We anchored late afternoon in the massive anchorage off of La Cruz. Banderas Bay is the epicenter of activity for cruising Mexico. No matter which direction you are going, you will end up in the bay at some point and the number of boats in the anchorage were indicative of that fact. We quit counting at sixty.
La Cruz is an authentic little town located across the bay from Puerto Vallarta. It has a slow pace and little or none of the tourism that dominates the rest of the Bay. There is live music everyday and a party in the town square on Friday evenings. The Sunday market, which lines the malacon, is the best that we have ever seen. Hand crafted art pieces, clothing, spices, vegetables, aqua fresca, and prepared food of every sort. The fish market, in the middle of the boardwalk, is enormous, stall after stall filled with just off the boat seafood: grouper, snapper, marlin, mackerel, dorado and tuna, all piled high. La Cruz is closer to the deep water of the outer bay and beyond, and it is easier for the purveyors from the bigger cities to come here than it is for the panga’s to make their way into Vallarta or Nuevo Vallarta. The fish market thrives.
We have arrived in La Cruz on the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday. So we dinghy in to find some food and a cold beer and watch the game. There is a crowd at the Marina bar where they are featuring two for one pizzas and dollar beers……..it has been a long time since we have had pizza!
One day, we return to our boat in the dinghy and notice that we are out of position with the other boats. We have all swung around on our anchors, but Epiphany has not fallen back on her chain. We are much too close to the adjacent boat, Southernease. We try and lift the anchor but it wont budge, it has fouled itself on something below. We are in twenty two feet of water and it is cloudy, visibility is poor. We are going to have to dive the anchor and we are not excited by the prospect. As we sit contemplating diving the murky waters, our too close neighbor Brian and his new crew member, arrive on their dinghy. Assessing the situation neatly, Brian says “I think that your anchor is fouled”. “Yes”, we reply agreeably. “You’re going to need to dive on that anchor”. Sigh, “Yes we know” still agreeably but more dejected as the truth of this reality sets in. “I am a professional free diver, let me go have a look for you” interjects Brian’s new boat mate.
Brian’s new boatmate is named Yann. He is a handsome, muscly, thirty something Frenchman. And he is, in fact, a professional free diver! “Just let me go get prepared” he says in a thick French accent. Apparently part of the necessary preparation involves meditation, concentrated breathing and public nudity, because ten minutes later, after the aforementioned exercises are complete and I am gathering my snorkeling gear. I see the frenchman strip naked on the deck of Southernease. Sharing his bare French ass with all the world. Behind me, I hear the unmistakable sound of a beer opening. Looking back I see Julianne lounging in the cockpit watching the proceedings unfold……“Well this is a nice development “ she says dryly.
After fouling the anchor a second time a few days later, (assisted this time by the lovely folks on Scuba Ninja) we move into the marina de La Cruz. There are quite a few boats that we know: Lovely Rita, Bugler and Striker that we met in Chacala; Agave Azul, Sedna, Jaded, Peppermint Patty and our buddy Doug on Cat’s Paw were all on the Baja Ha Ha with us; and that same day, our best and most frequent cruising partners, Agatha pull in.
We spend the next week visiting with old friends and new, and exploring the area. We ride the bus into nearby Bucerias, a bustling, if off the beaten path, tourist town. Walk the beach the entire way back. Do boat chores and make ready to depart. We have been very sparing in declaring goals. When we left Seattle, the only thing that we committed to was to make La Paz on the Baja Peninsula. When we finally left La Paz our goal was Zihuatanejo and Guitar Fest which was rapidly approaching.
February 12th From: La Cruz To: Tenacatita
1300 Hours Depart Marina at La Cruz. Sailing SW with Jib and Main. 15 Kts of wind on starboard tack. Course = 240. Speed = 4 its. Swells at 2-3 feet.
2200 Hours Winds NW at 15Kts. Set sails and course to reach out and reach back in. Reefed Main and Jib. Course = 190. Speed = 6 Kts. Swells at 3-4 feet.
23:30 Hours Too fast. Speed = 7.8 Kts. Swells 4 feet at 6 seconds. Reduce Jib.
February 13th From: La Cruz To: Tenacatita
08:00 Hours Sailed through night. Rocky and loud down below. Winds NW at 11 Kts. Course = 080. Speed = 3.8 Kts. Swell is light.
14:30 Hours Anchored at Isla Cocinas in 12 feet of water.
February 14th From: La Cruz To: Tenacatita
13:00 Hours Motored from Isla Cocinas tp Pairaiso anchorage.
2200 Hours Anchor dragged twice. Beam to swell. Needed stern anchor. Very Rolly.
February 15th From: La CruzTo: Tenacatita
12:30 Hours Out of Pairaiso. Three sails at 100%. Wind NW at 7 Kts. Making 4.5 Kts on beam reach.
15:00 Launched spinnaker but wind died. Motoring.
17:20 Anchored Punta Chubasko, Bahia Tenacatita.
We headed out of La Cruz on February 12th determined to make Zihua by March 1st for the beginning of Guitarfest. And, for the third time since we left Seattle, we had crew. Southernease had developed some mechanical issues and was unable to sail. Yann, the traveling French free diver had become a friend. He needed to get south to rendezvous with his mother who was visiting from France. We agreed to take him as far south as we could in the next week.
The southern boundary of the Bay of Banderas is anchored by the foreboding Cabo Corientas. Like all major capes, a confluence of competing winds and swells. A formidable obstruction, and our first task would be to get around it safely. Luckily we had consistent winds and swell. We got a little more than we wished for in the middle of the night; surfing down good sized swell in 20 Kt gust. Still making nearly 8 Kts with three reefs in the main and a sliver of jib. But, aside from a little turbulence in the confused seas, and a bit of water down the rails, it was a great twenty four hours of sailing that brought us to our first layover at Bahia Chamela. We anchored in the early afternoon sun, off of a small island in the middle of the bay. We swam ashore with sandwiches and beer in our dry sack. We walked the beach, collecting shells, played with the hermit crabs and constructed a bon fire, which we vowed to return in the evening to light; though we never did.
The next day we motored five miles further south to Paraiso, a small cove which can comfortably hold only two or three boats. Also the holding ground is not good and your anchor can drag if not set fast. There is a small but beautiful white sand beach and a small hotel that was currently under renovation. There were no guest, only a couple of workers, cutting the grass and pressure washing the building. The infinity pool was clean and it seemed a shame to let it go to waste with no guest and all. So we decided to go for a swim.
When we got back to the boat, we could tell that we had dragged. The bottom was rock with only a thin layer of sand, it was hard to get the anchor to bite. We moved out to deeper water at the mouth of the cove hoping to find better purchase for our anchor, which we did. But I should have set a stern anchor. We were less protected out here and the breeze turned us perpendicular to the swell. It was a very rolly and uncomfortable night’s sleep with the swell right on our beam.
On the fourth day, we made it to our first resting spot, and arguably the crown jewel of significant cruising anchorages in all of Mexico, Bahia Tenacatita. The anchorage can easily accommodate fifty boats and the setting is idyllic. For many cruisers this IS the destination. They come here and drop their hook with the intention of staying the whole season. Their is an active cruising community, a morning radio net, afternoon beach games, and on Friday evenings, a potluck dinghy raft up. Jaded and Agave Azul are here, having left La Cruz a day before us. And so is an old friend, we haven’t seen Peter on Dawn Treader since Julianne’s daughter Lia jumped on his boat and headed across the Sea of Cortez back in early November.
We have arrived on a Friday, just in time for the raft up. We get the dinghy in the water, put on the outboard, make a pitcher of margaritas and head over to the group. There are roughly thirty five dinghy’s rafted up to one another in a giant circle. The circle is several layers deep to reach the center. Food is passed from hand to hand across the boats; casseroles, tacos, meat loaf roasted veggies, mac and cheese, even desserts and baked goods. People play music and tell their stories.
At the head of the anchorage, adjacent to the beach is a entrance to a small lagoon. There is a bar in the entrance where the waves break. You have to be careful with the swell, but you can motor your dinghy into the lagoon and follow a narrow canal for miles back into the mangroves. We follow the crews from Jaded and Dawn Treader across the bar. There are crocodiles here, but we see none. Eventually the canal opens up into another, larger lagoon and we park the dinghy at a panga dock and walk out to yet another amazing beach.
There is a single restaurant on the beach at the anchorage. Sometimes we order a beer and cool off in the shade of the palapa. One afternoon we are sitting there and realize that we know the folks at the next table. Ron and Anne Smith are from Anacortes and owned a business downtown. Talk about a small world!
On the 17th, Yann hitches a ride into La Manzanilla on the far side of the bay. He is bound for Mexico City to see family. As usual when crew departs, it is bitter sweet. We are always excited to get back to just the two of us.
February 18th From: Tenacatitia To: Barra de Navidad
10:30 Anchors up. Motor sailing out of bay.
11:15 Wind at 5 Kts and variable. Swells are big: 4-6 feet from NW. Motor sailing and surfing on the waves.
14:30 Anchored in the Lagoon at Barra. 9 feet of water. Murky. Soft mud bottom.
February 18th At: Barra de Navidad
10:00 Move into Marina. Slip F6
It is only 14 miles from Tenacatitia to Barra de Navidad and we make it there without incident.The lagoon offers very good shelter from wind and swell from all directions. But it is surrounded by mangroves and brackish. The water is extremely shallow, and murky with a mud bottom that thickens and becomes solid only after it is several inches deep. Boats regularly hit bottom here. We move into the Marina after only one night at anchor.
The town is located across the lagoon from both the anchorage and the marina. There is a water taxi service that shuttles people back and forth and around the lagoon. You could try and bypass them and use your own dinghy, but it seems ill advisable, and nobody tries it.
We have signed up for La Festival de Veleros. A fund raiser for the local schools.Tickets have been sold to tourist and well to do residents at 500 pesos a person to go sailing. We have agreed to take four passengers. On the designated day, all of the passengers are transported to their perspective boats for the festivities. Julianne and I are excited for the Spanish immersion that we imagine will take place as we communicate with our new passengers. As it turns out, our guest are French tourist. There will be no Spanish lessons today. We pull out and fall in line. Most of the boats have their flags flying and we all parade out of the channel and down the beach from Barra to Melaque, before turning out to sea and raising our sails. We have a nice little afternoon sail and even manage to treat our guest to a whale siting. We return them happy and safe to the marina dock and say farewell. We learn later that we got off quite lucky. Several other boats had passengers get sea sick and worst of all; one boat had a passenger clog and ultimately break their head! Yuk!
Another part of the festival benefiting the schools, is the painting of the elementary school. We show up with forty other volunteers from the sailing community and locals. The Mayor has sent a group from the police to assist. We have a blast painting the school as the children squeal and fail utterly to concentrate on their school work.
The small world I mentioned gets even smaller when Ron and Anne, who we ran into at the palapa in Tenacatita, organize a lunch that includes Marianne Mach, also from Anacortes. Marianne is an old friend and former business partner of Julianne’s. Julianne post pictures of this unlikely lunch gathering on Facebook. The pictures are viewed by Flip and Janet Elvrum, dear friends of ours, who are staying just five miles away in Melaque! It really is a small world! We have dinner with Flip and Janet and the next day, invite them to the marina to play pool volleyball at the resort. But time is running short.It is February 25th. Guitar Fest begins in just four days and we are still over two hundred miles north. Time to get a move on.
February 26th From: Barra de Navida To: Zihuatanejo
13:10 Off dock and motored out of channel. No wind, light swell. Motor sailing.
18:20 Anchored Los Habas, Bahia Manzanillo.
February 27th From: Barra de Navida To: Zihuatanejo
03:29 Anchor up Motoring out of bay. Tanker traffic.
11:00 Motor sailing light wind. Following swell at 2 feet.
12:30 Sailing. Three Sails 100%. Wilson steering.
19:45 Sailed for four hours, then motor sailed into anchorage at Maruata as darkness fell. 18 feet of water.
February 28th From: Barra de Navida To: Zihuatanejo
09:25 Anchor up. Motor sailing out. 107 NM to Zihua.
12:00 Wind and swell switched SW. 20+ Kt gust on the nose. Bashing into 4-5 foot swell. Waves over bow. Water in rails. Spray in cockpit. Making 2.8 Kts.
15:00 Around point. Wind died and seas calmed.
21:00 No wind. Glassy Seas. Motoring, 60 NM to Zihua.
March 1st From: Barra de Navida To: Zihuatanejo
10:00 AM anchored: Zihuatanejo.
We began the last leg of our journey, which actually began in La Paz, to Zihuatanejo on February 26th. We were not going far, just 25 miles south to Manzanillo. This would give us a running start for the next two days of passages. We spent a lazy afternoon taking turns at the helm as we motored south from Barra. It is always pleasant to get back out after an extended time in port. We had essentially been at the dock or at anchor since February 13th when we arrived at Isla Cocina in Chamela. We anchored that night in Bahia Manzanillo, off a sandy beach in front of Los Hadas resort. The resort looks like it belongs in the Adriatic or on some Greecian island. We anchored at sunset and enjoyed a late meal and a glass of wine. Just before bedtime, our friends on Salish Dragon pulled in heading north. We chatted briefly on the radio, but when they woke in the morning, we were gone. Two ships passing in the night.
We left the next morning at 3:30 AM. We needed the early start if we hoped to anchor again that night; Maruata was 80 miles away. We wanted to make it before sunset. This was the only portion of this leg where we actually got to do any sailing. It was slow going and the sun set an hour before we were into the harbor. We were tired and slept soundly in the picturesque little cove. We still had 110 NM to go, which should mean about 24 hours. If nothing changed we would have an uneventful, if boring, overnight trip motoring down to Zihua….. So naturally something changed.
As soon as we left the anchorage at Maruata, we noticed two things. First of all, there was wind and plenty of it! Second, it had switched direction and was blowing from the south…..and it was bringing the swell with it. Four five hours we bashed into the growing wind and swell. Water in the rails on both sides of the cockpit, ocean spray in the face as we rose up a crest only to crash down it’s backside and then begin the journey up again. The wind was sustained at 20+Kts and sharp on our nose. We covered maybe 20 miles in five hours with our engine at 2300 RPMs. We were going nowhere fast!
Finally we rounded a bit of a headland and the conditions tempered. By late afternoon we were making good time and as evening fell and the seas flattened out, we began to fly. Passing by Ixtapa and arriving off of Zihua as began ti lighten the night’s sky. Julianne had just fallen asleep, so I heaved to and curled up in a blanket in the cockpit. I would take a nap and wait on light to go in.
March 1st At: Zihuatanejo
It is ten AM on the first day of March and we have just dropped our anchor in Bahia de Zihuatanejo………………..