Friday, February 26, 2010

Tovara Springs

Today we rode a panga along a meandering channel through an enormous wetland, ending at a beautiful spring at the foot of the mountains. Mangroves lined the lower reaches, while towering figs shaded the upper stretches. The trees were filled with bromeliads and other epiphytes. Along the way, our guide Oscar pointed out the many interesting birds and other wildlife.

We saw wood storks, white ibises, nighthawks, anhingas, chachalacas, tropical kingbirds, and a number of "snail-eating eagles" (still haven't identified that species).

We couldn't get a good picture of the boat-billed herons, so thanks to Patrick Coin for sharing this photo via Wikimedia Commons.

There were also large turtles, iguanas, and crocodiles ranging from foot-long juveniles to a couple of 4-meter long beasts.

At Tovara Springs, Vicki and I both went swimming in the crystal-clear water. For some reason, none of the other tourists swam, perhaps fearing the crocs. We weren't worried - the tour operators had posted large "keep out" signs just below the springs, and told us the crocs were both literate and law-abiding.

Matanchen Bay

We spent almost a week waiting for a "weather window" to resume our northward passage toward the Sea of Cortez. Thursday morning saw a small fleet heading out of La Cruz, all bound for Mazatlan and the Sea. It took over 2 hours just to reach the outer edge of Banderas Bay, and we began to encounter a steep 3' swell as we approached Punta Mita. Once around the corner, we were fighting a 1.4 kt current for the first couple of hours, and had to dodge a "long-line" fishing net. Once we had drawn even with Guayabitos, conditions moderated and the wind filled in from the WNW, so we had a few hours of sailing. We reached Matanchen just before dusk, the last of the fleet to arrive. Today we'll do another "jungle cruise" to Tovara Springs.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


OK, we admit we have become a bit boat-weary, after more than 6 months' voyaging. So, to shake things up a bit, we decided to take a day trip to the nearby town of Sayulita. We were curious because we had read a book called Gringos In Paradise, and because Corvallis friends had spent a holiday there several years ago. So we boarded the bus for Bucerias, where we had to change for Sayulita. Buses in Mexico are cheap and plentiful, but they do inspire a somewhat fatalistic attitude! At the front of one bus it read "Lord, if this is my last trip, I will be with you in heaven." You want to say to the driver: "OK, nice sentiment, but personally I hope this is NOT your last trip! And hey, could you slow down for this curve!"

A short stroll along the streets of downtown Sayulita revealed a curious mix of an old sleepy village, and a yuppified boutique tourist town. Dogs slept in the street outside chi-chi cafes; high-end jewelry stores for the glitterati stood next to squeaky tortillerias and dusty ferreterias. Most ominous were the many "realty" signs and condo brochures on cafe tables.

We decided to have breakfast at Rollie's, immortalized in the book and locally famous for large portions. We split a breakfast burrito and an enormous smoothie, and asked where we could find Casa Gala, the building of which was the subject of the book.

It seemed to be at some distance from the restaurant, so we headed for the beach instead, where we immediately ran into the crew of Mulan, the boat tied up next to us back in La Cruz. They came here to surf, and had decided to spend a few days here. We thought, hmmm, not a bad idea, what's the rush? And before we knew it, we had booked a modest "bungalow" (just a room, actually), unpacked our meager belongings (swimsuits, rain jackets and umbrellas, due to the last several days of unstable weather), and decided what else we might need for an overnighter (toothbrush and soap will do).

Afterwards we headed off to find Casa Gala. It turned out to be only a block or so from our bungalow!

As we tried to peer in around the gate, an older gentleman waved at us from a nearby palapa. We soon found ourselves deep in conversation with "Eagle George," a 40-year resident and a principal supporting character in the book. He opened his shirt to show us how he got his name - there's an enormous eagle tattooed on his chest. He also invited us to look around the lovely home he built here. Obviously fame hasn't turned his head!

Meeting Eagle George was certainly the high point of our visit, but the beach soon beckoned. Surprisingly, while it's a nice surf break, it's not an easy beach for swimming. We met another local, Tom, who told us that he personally rescued several hundred tourists last year, and is trying to establish a lifeguard service. When we met him he was posting red flags along one section of beach with a particularly vicious undertow.

We met several other locals at the beach, including an ex-cruiser who lost his boat on the rocks in Hawaii, and the chef and owners of the restaurant that had been recommended to us for dinner. Sayulita is one of those places where long-term travelers seem to settle down and put out roots.

Dinner was a nice change of pace from the usual fare, but we could have had street tacos for a week for what we paid!

The rest of the evening was far easier on the wallet, however. Booths were being set up all the way around the soccer field, which was itself covered with carnival rides and booths. Attracted by the sound of loud thumps, breaking glass, and raucous laughter, I soon located my favorite booths, where you pay 20 pesos to heave rocks at shelves lined with empty bottles. If you manage to break a bottle, you get a beer. Something to inspire the inner hooligan in all of us!

After a good sleep (our first time off the boat in over 3 months) and another smashing breakfast, we boarded the bus back to La Cruz. So ended our vacation from our vacation! It feels good to be back home on the boat!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pineapple Express - La Cruz

The weird weather continues! We have had more overcast and rainy days than sunny days for the past 6 weeks. On the bright side, it keeps the boat clean, our water tanks full, and skin cancer at bay (we hope). On the down side, we are becoming more reluctant to anchor in any but the most bombproof anchorages, and shelling out $$ for marina slips more often. But, as you can see, we still manage to have fun with our cruising buds!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Homecoming week in Puerto Vallarta

We had planned on returning north more slowly, but favorable winds, and overcast weather (unfavorable for snorkeling), caused us to spend only one night at anchor, in Tenacatita, followed by an overnight passage around Cabo Corrientes and back into Banderas Bay. We sailed about 1/3 of the time, which was better than expected. Cabo Corrientes has somewhat of a reputation for rough conditions, so we were glad to "sneak" around it in greasy seas in the middle of the night!
We're now in a slip at the La Cruz marina, about 15 miles from Puerto Vallarta. We are surrounded by a mix of old acquaintances and new friends. We finally caught up with the crew of Albatross, whom we hadn't seen since Newport Beach; Stella Blue, last seen in Santa Barbara; Renova, last seen in Turtle Bay; Exit Strategy, last seen in Mazatlan; and Third Day, whom we hadn't seen since New Year's in San Blas.
After more than 6 months on the boat (not counting time ashore in Newport Beach), we are both feeling like this is a "vacation" from our vacation. A vacation, in other words, from the minor inconveniences of life aboard, like limited water and power, short showers, concern for weather, and rolly anchorages. While here, we'll enjoy other people's cooking (i.e. street tacos and restaurants), some short bus trips to nearby towns, and a first birthday party for our friend's daughter.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Carrizal again - SCUBA diving

Today we finally had our first cloudless day out of the past 5, so we decided to go SCUBA diving in Carrizal. The outer end of the cove has dramatic rock formations, including many vertical walls up to 40' high, so this was a very scenic dive. We saw a sea turtle, and a number of large (2-3' long) parrotfish and triggerfish.
Tonight we are anchored in Santiago, the bay between Manzanillo and Carrizal.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Las Hadas

For the last couple of days, we've been anchored in front of the Las Hadas resort. Looks a bit like something from the Greek islands, eh? Its an easy dinghy ride and nice walk to stores, and there are a lot of familiar boats sharing the anchorage. We're tucked in, awaiting the passage of an "unusual" weather trough that may bring winds up to 40kts, sometime within the next few days. This is the 3rd "unusual" weather event in as many weeks, thanks to El Nino.

Yesterday, we took a bus into downtown Manzanillo, just to walk around and see what we could see. Vicki bought some corn for making stovetop popcorn (stores sell only microwave popcorn).

Sunday, February 7, 2010


We have finally found a cove that matches all 5 characteristics of our "ideal" anchorage:
1. no other boats (although we do find ourselves missing the conversation and fun with other cruisers)
2. a totally natural landscape surrounding us - not even a palapa visible onshore, nor any city lights, and no disco beat at night
3. fantastic snorkeling - viz of 25' and more, great corals, lots of fish
4. no rocking and rolling due to waves and swells
5. perfect sand bottom to hold our anchor securely
Actually many of our anchorages have been excellent, but this IS the first one we have had to ourselves. What's amazing is that we are only a few miles from one of Mexico's largest Pacific ports, Manzanillo.
Unfortunately, like any fantasy, it can't last long. We've got to head to town for provisions and a more solid Internet connection (for my work) in a day or two. But today we spent 4 hours or more in the water, including the first SCUBA dive of the trip.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Back to normal?

Well, the skies have cleared and it is beautiful weather again, making it hard to leave Tenacatita. But we will try to uproot ourselves tomorrow and explore a few more coves near Manzanillo before we point the bow back to the north and head toward Baja. We have met many old acquaintances here the past few days, including boats we met in Refuge Cove, Portland, and Santa Barbara.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stormy weather

All of our research on cruising in Mexico, including numerous stories from veteran boaters, assured us that we could expect some of the most benign weather on the planet, at least during the non-hurricane season (winter and spring). Well, we didn't factor in the effect of a "moderate" El Nino.

So far we have had rain on at least 5 separate occasions (other cruisers have told us they never experienced a single day of rain all winter in previous years), large swells, and several freak windstorms.

Yesterday was Vicki's birthday. It rained all day, and we didn't leave the boat except for a swim and a walk on the beach.

Last night was the worst weather we have ever seen from our boat, and actually the worst weather I have ever experienced anywhere in the tropics (again, I'm talking outside of hurricane season). Luckily we had some advance warning, and were able to move to a relatively sheltered anchorage with good holding where we could lay out plenty of anchor chain.

Of course, the storm didn't really start until well after dark. Lightning strikes lit up the sky, at first at a distance, and then all around us. It was as bright as daylight at times, with multiple strikes in the same locations. Thunder added periodic reinforcement to the display. I've never seen so much lightning, ever. It went on for several hours.

After the worst of the lightning, the wind built to a steady 30 knots, with gusts to 40. Our anchor held us firmly in place, but our hearts were pounding nonetheless. After the wind peaked, the rain intensified. We could have easily filled our water tanks, but we weren't up to getting ourselves soaked in order to set up a water collecting system.

Once the wind died, it backed to a direction that held us beam-on to the wind chop. We were rolling from side to side, and it was very difficult to get any sleep for the rest of the night.

Once it was light this morning, we raised the anchor and came back across the bay to the inner anchorage at Tenacatita. Its calmer now, but still raining steadily, with a forecast for showers through tomorrow.

I know none of our friends back in Oregon are going to feel too sorry for us! :)

Here's a link to a Latitude 38 story about the storm.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bahia de Navidad

The last night before we left Tenacatita, we went to a dinghy raft-up happy hour, with 15 couples passing around hors d'oeuvres, singing a few songs, and even chanting "Ommmmm".
We're now anchored several miles down the coast from Tenacatita, in another large bay lined with a long, curvaceous beach. The town directly in front of us is called Melaque, and its well-stocked with everything a gringo boater could want: restaurants, mercado, ATM. We had walked into the town yesterday from our previous anchorage, just over the hill, along with Mike and Leilani from Lanikai. They've been our buds for the past week or so, sharing snorkeling trips, walks ashore, happy hours on each other's boats, and short sailing trips from anchorage to anchorage. Definitely enlivens our appreciation for this lifestyle to be able to share experiences with fellow travelers.

Across the bay from us is Barra de Navidad, a small harbor with a tricky entrance channel and a shallow lagoon anchorage.
Safe navigation into this anchorage is a topic for endless conversation. Besides exchanging books and old DVDs, cruisers also exchange "waypoints" (GPS markers to help us find our way in and out of places and to avoid danger spots. Barra has generated a long list of waypoints marking its numerous hazards and shallow spots, thus the following song, to the tune of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave your Lover." Its probably only humorous to cruisers, so bear with me.

"The problem is all inside your head," she said to me
Pour in some vinegar each time you take a pee.
But navigation is what's really puzzling me:
There must be 50 waypoints into Barra...
50 waypoints into Barra.

Keep an eye on the tide, Clyde.
Stay off of the reef, Chief.
Look out for the rock, Jock.
Just listen to me.
Once you find the lagoon, June,
You can anchor real soooooon.
Just put out enough scope, dope!
And you'll be home free.

Battery sulphation causes worries, don't you know?
And a big south swell, well it can really make you roll.
But my GPS's memory bank is getting full,
There must be 50 waypoints into Barra...
50 waypoints into Barra!


Latitude and longitude down to the "Nth" degree.
But it don't look like its that accurate to me.
You're better off with an old sketch map from Charlie*
There must be 50 waypoints into Barra...
50 waypoints into Barra!


Copyright 2010 by Mark Reed

with apologies to Raptor Dance, Legacy, and the other fine mariners who have assembled all the useful waypoints for the rest of us!

*Charlie's Charts is the original guidebook for the area, written before there were GPS waypoints