La Cruz and Chamela

Pangas in La Cruz. The tents behind them are part of the Sunday Market.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is a small town at the north end of the Bahía de Banderas, or Banderas Bay. It has a good anchorage and a marina. We dropped anchor on December 18 and rowed in to check out the marina and town. The dinghy dock here is expensive – 80 pesos a day, but on occasion you can tie up without paying if the security guys are otherwise engaged. The town has a very nice fish market, a tortilleria where you can get warm fresh tortillas for 9 pesos per half kilo, and some small grocery stores where you can buy basics. A half kilo of medium large shrimp can be bought at the fish market for 100 pesos (figure about 18 pesos per dollar).

Every Friday night, there are dancing horses in front of the La Cruz Inn.

La Cruz has restaurants, condos to rent, whale watching excursions, an amazing Sunday market, and gringos everywhere. But there is no ATM or bank in La Cruz. For that you have to go to the next town, Bucerias, or into Puerto Vallarta on the south end of the bay. A combi ride to Bucerias is 12 pesos each and takes maybe 20 minutes. For 24 pesos each you can ride the bus into Puerto Vallarta and depending on where you go, that can take 45 minutes to over an hour. We did discover early on that all stops, or paradas, are not equal. You can’t assume that just because you got off at one place that the return stop would be just across the street.

One of our early adventures was the afternoon the dinghy decided to escape. It was not tied as securely as it should have been and Bill looked up to see it drifting out the bay. Luckily a panga was going nearby, so Nina frantically waved her arms, discovered she still has a decent taxi whistle and got their attention. Dinghy rescued! Hooray for the panga fishermen!

We have coined the phrase “wild google chase” – just because google says it’s there doesn’t mean it is. So far it’s been true for banks, bookstores, and outboard motor shops and we strongly suspect more. Bill researched the locations of about six places he thought we could look at outboard motors. It was time. We do like to row, but rowing half an hour in the heat to get in to a dock is a very different experience than rowing half an hour in the Pacific Northwest. It was time to track down a 2 horsepower engine, about as much as our dinghy could handle. We’d talked about an electric motor, but they are twice as expensive, they have to be charged, and no one down here sells them. Zaragosa, PV’s version of West Marine had a 3.3 Mercury, but nothing smaller. The Suziki dealer turned out to sell cars and pointed roughly in the direction of where the outboard store was but was not more specific. The marine store by Marina Vallarta sold outboard parts but not motors. We caught another combi and headed over to Las Glorias to the Yamaha dealer. It didn’t look like much – a small storefront filled with boxes of outboard oil, a foot high concrete sill to step over and a small customer window that was closed. It popped open. Enough English was spoken that, yes, they did sell outboards, and yes, they did have a 2 horse in stock, would we like to look at it? Should we buy it? We decided, yes, which turned out to be a good thing. It would take a couple of days for the transaction to clear and they would then deliver the motor to La Cruz. One last stop, Star Marine. No longer there, which was when we coined the phrase wild google chase. We now have an outboard, and we are quite enjoying it.

The transmission fluid dipstick. The cap broke and we needed to find something that would fit the metric threads. If Yanmar did sell a replacement part, we had no way of quickly getting it. From the local cruisers’ net, Bill found some likely sources for bolts in Bucerias. A helpful guy on the bus told him where to get off. At the second tornilleria (screw store) he went to, in Mezcales, the guy behind the counter improvised a solution.

Why La Cruz? There’s always something going on. The marina has a full calendar of activities from yoga to Spanish classes to weekly free movies, to guest speakers, to kids activities and so on. We have been happy to participate. The Christmas Eve potluck was fun and we got to meet some new folks. We’ve done a movie night, heard Jeanne Socrates speak about her circumnavigations twice (she holds the record for a solo, unassisted, non-stop circumavigation and she was 77 when she did it). We got to hear Jamie and Behan Gifford from Totem speak several times. They have spent the last ten years circumnavigating with their three children. As one fellow cruiser said, when you hear them at a boat show, most of the audience is wannabees, here we’ve all actually set off in one way or another. We are also a 30-45 minute bus ride from Puerto Vallarta, so there are lots of options.

Outside of PV is the Jardín Botánico de Vallarta. We were invited to go by Tom and Annie from Tappan Zee, who we had met in La Paz, and we were joined by Marshall from Tenacity. We caught an early bus into PV and had the ride of our lives. Bus drivers are paid by the passenger rather than an hourly rate, so the more runs per day the better. Apparently the driver decided that it was a competitive driving day. He managed to keep it just this side of a bus demolition derby. There were locals with their phones on video recording the very close calls with other buses. We were all grateful to arrive in one piece. Annie was studying her Spanish during the ride and missed most of the drama. It took us two more buses to get to the garden and thankfully both rides were both mellow. The garden – think Buchart Gardens gone tropical with orchids, hummingbirds (at least three kinds), a river to swim in, and all kinds of butterflies everywhere. It’s gorgeous. On the way back, Nina got to check off a travel bucket list item – riding on a chicken bus. The bus from the garden was a nice tour bus, but she kept hearing bird chirps somewhere in the bus. Maybe birds had flown into the bus and were roosting in the luggage rack. Finally, looking across the aisle, a row back she spotted a bag that was moving. It had several chicks in it peeping away. It was a pretty deluxe chicken bus, but a chicken bus nonetheless.

Sunday market. French Bakery. Vegan ice cream shop. Whales in the bay. New friends. Meeting friends of friends. And then we were off again. After nearly four weeks in La Cruz, we headed south to Bahía Chamela. We rounded Cabo Corrientes, the point where Mexico starts to swing east, during the night. The wind picked up more than the predicted but other than being rolly, it wasn’t a bad ride.

Chamela is a beautiful bay. We spent a couple of days in the bay just off the town of Pérula and then a couple of days in the islands. Bill got in some snorkeling and saw some colorful fish and sea stars. His other snorkeling was to begin scraping off the barnacles on the bottom of the boat. We’d had the bottom cleaned by a diver while we were in La Cruz but it was starting grow already. And things do grow quickly here. The first night off of Isla Pajarera we were treated to a fantastic lightning show over the mainland mountains that lasted two hours.

Next stop, Bahía Tenacatita.

San Blas to La Cruz

On to San Blas…

Several folks we talked to told us that when you are in San Blas, take the jungle tour. We anchored in Ensenada de Mantanchén, the bay near San Blas, rowed the dinghy in and headed in to town to find out about the tour and visit the port captain. Mantanchén was our first major encounter with little biting bugs. Jejenes are everywhere and they are about the size of a flea. They are nasty little critters. Not too many boats anchored here because of it. Bug spray or lotion is a must and we still came out looking like a new measles outbreak.

We did the jungle tour with Tom and Katie from Absolute, and had an amazing panga ride through the mangroves up to a crocodile refuge. Katie speaks Spanish and translated as we went along so that was really helpful. How else would we have found out that crocodiles have no tongues? Lots of birds, turtles, and crocodiles along the way.

The panga heading into the mangroves. There are two species of mangroves here and you go through each kind before leaving the mangroves behind.
Ornate slider turtle sunning itself.
Iguana in a tree.
A couple of boat-billed herons.
Orchids growing in a mangrove tree.
A small crocodile on the bank.
Inside of a croc’s mouth – no tongue. Crocs don’t use their teeth for chewing, just grabbing and tearing up their food. And they grow a new set of teeth every year. We were very happy to be on the other side of the fence as this toothsome friend was at least ten feet long.

After the crocs, Chacala was the next stop. It’s a resort/rental town with a beautiful long arc of a beach. Along the beach are palapas, or palm thatched restaurants. We had a nice lunch at one of them. We had a good view of the breaking surf on the crowded beach. The waves were good for swimming but not so good for dinghy landing. Luckily, there was a nice little cove near the Capitania de Puerto that was an easy landing. What was interesting about the Port Captain in Chacala was that he spoke English and completed our entry and exit form on his computer. We need to check in at every town we stop at and take in our boat papers. In Mazatlan, we had to check in and out separately, two trips to the office. The same form was used for both, and each had to be officially stamped. On the exit papers, Bill had finished filling it out when the staff person realized that the port captain was on vacation and we couldn’t use the form with his name at the bottom, so he got another form with the correct temporary name, and Bill redid the form. At each port we have to show our boat documentation, the form from the last port, sometimes our TIP (temporary import permit), proof of boat insurance, and passports. In San Blas, they asked for our boater cards, a first. It’s not a consistent set of documents, so Bill walks in with an accordion folder full of boat documentation so we can have what ever they need on hand. They make copies and hand everything back. Paper is alive and well in Mexico. When we go into marinas, the marina office takes care of the port captain’s duties, so we don’t have a potentially long walk to find the oficina.

We had a couple of minor sailing adventures while in Chacala. The guide book recommends a stern anchor as the anchorage is pretty rolly, which is how they get those nice waves on the beach. Our stern anchor came unset in the middle of the night, so the next morning we had to row it out in the dinghy and reset it. We had drifted close to a neighboring boat, but thankfully didn’t hit anyone as our primary anchor held. Our second adventure was when were were trying to hoist the dinghy to store it on deck. As we started to hoist, the pin holding the upper block to the snap shackle exploded and left the halyard up the mast. Luckily the dinghy was not too far out of the water so it didn’t drop more that a couple of inches. We got out the bosun’s chair and Nina went aloft to retrieve the rope. Tied everything together with a soft shackle and got everything hoisted and stowed. Off we headed for La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a big cruiser hangout.

Gone to the Birds

This is the post of a newbie birder. Lots of birds are involved, and hopefully all of them are correctly labeled.

We spent about four days in Mazatlán. Next stop, Isla Isabela, a tiny island considered the Galapagos of Mexico. The island is maybe half a mile by a mile and a half. It has an old research station that is now used by ecotours who come to the island for diving and snorkeling. Isabela is also the home to thousands of Magnificent Frigate Birds, boobies (Blue Footed and Brown), and Red-billed Tropicbirds, iguanas and a snake species that we didn’t see.

Isla Isabela. We were in the anchorage on the right, out past the dark hulled boats on the right. There was another anchorage on the other side of the hill in the background. It was a popular, but rolly, anchorage with a beautiful beach.
And another. Walking from the beach to the trail on the hill, we saw about a dozen iguanas.

Also flying among the magnificent frigate birds were four red-billed tropicbirds. They were smaller and louder than both the frigates and the boobies, and they were easy to pick out overhead because they were frantically flapping their wings most of the time they were in flight. They must have flown circles around the boat for a at least twenty minutes.

While Nina watched birds, Bill went snorkeling.

La Paz to Mazatlan

The Cathedral in La Paz. It was across the street from where the marina shuttle dropped us off. There was a wedding here later in the day.

La Paz is a lovely town with a large ex-pat community. It has an active cruiser net every morning that is the best source of who’s in town, who’s leaving, where to get services or who has stuff to trade. We spent our two weeks in La Paz at Marina Costa Baja which is on the very south end of town. It has good shuttle service to town, which was good as it’s too far to walk.

One of our goals in La Paz was to get a Mexican sim card for our phone so we could have a local number and cheaper internet than the phone plan we have from the States. We also needed to get more coconut fiber for the composting toilet. We ended up walking from the Cathedral to Home Depot, a much longer trip than we anticipated, only to find they didn’t have any coconut fiber. Peat moss would have to do. We found a Telcel nearby that sold us a phone chip, but they had no way of loading it with minutes, we’d have to find an Oxxo for that. Luckily they are all over. We bought our minutes but they didn’t seem to load. We found another Telcel store, but really they are a phone and accessory vendor, not a plan seller. And their English was as beginner as our Spanish. The younger salesman grabbed his phone and opened up google translate. The challenge then was to minimize key strokes and still communicate. Ultimately he was able to walk us through the general process, it worked pretty well, and reminded a couple of old folks of a useful tool. It was a good thing to learn while waiting for our minutes to load. We’ve used it a couple of times since then.

We saw these all over La Paz and at one point we saw a young man talking on one while looking at his flip phone.

Shopping in La Paz is fun. There are department stores where you can buy a motorcycle, a refrigerator or other major appliance, and clothes, all within feet of each other. Fabric stores are all over but don’t sell patterns. Cotton yarn is impossible to get (or any kind of wool). The Bravo Mercado is a big, traditional market but you want to get there early to get the best produce. There is a small farmer’s market twice a week that has fresh food and crafts.

Our original plan was to be in La Paz for about a week and then head up to Espirtu Santo, an island north of La Paz that is a national park. The weather didn’t cooperate so we ended up staying in La Paz and made it to the HaHa party. We headed up to the island just as the weather was about to go awful again so we anchored one night at El Mezteño and headed back to Costa Baja. It started to rain hard again. The wind picked up.

The view from the cockpit in El Mezteño, one of the bays on the west side of Espiritu Santo. There was a large catamaran in the bay with us, otherwise we had the small bay to ourselves.

Back at the marina, Bill changed filters on the watermaker only to find a leak after putting it back together. One of the filter O-rings got crunched and stretched when he was tightening it back up. Water everywhere. Checked out the La Paz cruisers resource webpage and Bill connected with the watermaker guy, who has been in La Paz for fourteen years, and got a new ring and a couple of spares.

We left La Paz on Dec 3 and headed for Playa Bonanza. It has a nice sandy beach that’s about a mile and a half long, with light surf for landing a dinghy. There’s supposed to be a trail to the other side, but with all the rain, it was underwater.

Sunset seen from Gypsy, Playa Bonanza.

Next stop, Mazatlan, a two night passage to the mainland. We had an uneventful ride other than a brown booby deciding that it wanted a ride on the top of our mast, and a pin popping out of a mainsheet block in the middle of the night. We fixed the block with a soft shackle and thwacked the halyards on the mast to scare the booby away. We anchored in Mazatlan in the harbor near Club Nautico. The Club and the harbor have seen better days, but the access to town was easy and we felt safe there. It is however, next to the town’s treatment plant, and the harbor had all kinds of trash floating in it. Needless to say, we did not go swimming in the harbor. The walk to the old town, however, is pleasant and we found good places to eat, bought some fused glass glasses, and a new traditional shirt for each of us.

Baja HaHa

Finally, HaHa launch. Bill went to the captain’s meeting while Nina hit the laundromat for a final load. Kick off party in the afternoon. Boat parade the next morning. The boat next to us had a bagpiper who played What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor as we motored out. Not much wind once we got out into the ocean, so we motorsailed.

Bagpiper sending us off.

Once we were out in the ocean, it was time to try some more fishing. Nina let out the hand line with a cedar plug. The first one got away but the second one we landed. It was a tuna of some kind. In describing it to others, we decided it was a skipjack. Not the tastiest of tuna, but we ate it anyway. One of the surprises was how messy cleaning a fish on the back of a bouncing sailboat can be, even after bleeding it (but probably not enough). Needless to say, we’ll save you that photo.

First sunset at sea. Calm.

By the finish of leg 1 to Turtle Bay, Gypsy was at the back of the fleet. We are one of the smaller boats and so we are slower than the boats with longer water lines. We made it in time for the baseball game. We also discovered that something on the boat is eating power and the batteries are not getting fully charged.

Dinghies on the beach at Turtle Bay. Ours is on the far end. We had some very helpful boys help us land and drag the dinghy up past the tide line.
Sunset, Turtle Bay.

Leg 2 to Bahia Santa Maria. We had enough wind to sail the whole way! Nina also caught a yellow fin. Flying along under spinnaker is probably not the best time to do that. Much better tasting than the skipjack. This one was caught on an All Eye black and red lure that Carl gave us. Bill tried running the engine to charge the batteries. Alternator is running really hot and not really charging. Good thing there’s wind. And the wind kept building. The fleet hit a squall in the middle of the night. Felt like sailing down the Oregon coast! We came through fine, but a couple of other boats had mishaps, one of which was Raven. Raven had both their spinnaker and their genoa in the water and wrapped around their prop. We arrived midday at Bahia Santa Maria, the fourth from the last boat to arrive. We swapped out the alternator for the old rebuilt one we had along as a spare. Headed over to Talion for a Portland potluck: Aarinaar, Raven, Gypsy, Dharma Girl. Good company and food.

Double rainbow after the squall. The inside bow was a complete arc.
Moon over Bahia Santa Maria.

Lent our 130 genoa to Raven as they have no foresail. It fit enough for them to use for a bit. Bucket laundry before the party on the bluff. Got back to Gypsy only to discover that a pair of jeans had blown away. Just before sunset, there was a single cloud with a sheet lightning storm flashing away for at least half an hour. In a separate cloud off to the side, the full moon was rising. Pretty amazing.

Baja coast from sea.

Next morning, the fleet set off for Man-o-War Cove, Bahia Magdalena. Weather report for Cabo San Lucas, the HaHa destination, is not sounding too good, depending on which weather model you follow. The European model has a tropical depression slamming into Cabo with 40 knot winds. The NOAA model has the storm blowing out to sea. Some boats bailed for Cabo to try to beat the storm. Some decided to stay in Mag Bay. We decided to wait until morning and set out at around 0400 (4 am). This way, we’d get to Cabo during daylight and we could assess things then. Winds were light, but we sailed most of the first day. This saved us fuel, but we had to motorsail the rest of the run to Cabo as the wind dropped to a calm. As we got closer, the weather reports were looking like Cabo would get hit. We hadn’t set up for a slip, or signed up with an agent there to check into Mexico, so we decided to keep going to La Paz. After our Richardson Bay experience, we didn’t want to be in an exposed anchorage in a major blow. Approaching Cabo, we were at the back of the fleet again, but as we continued to La Paz, we became the front, with three other boats following us in. Saturday, November 16 we tied up at the fuel dock in the Marina Costa Baja. We’d beat the storm and had a calm trip up. We later met a crew from another HaHa boat who had stopped at Cabo to drop off crew and their last 30 miles into La Paz was rough.

Frigate birds soaring over the boat as we neared Cabo San Lucas.

Sunday, the tropical storm Raymond hit La Paz as rain. For a place that may have years with less than an inch of rain, it was a mess. We’d ventured downtown and all the streets were awash. We were drenched, even with rain coats. It was a crazy day to try to get our bearings.

San Diego

Heading in to Shelter Island. We had reserved a slip at the Police Dock and were lucky to get a slip for the entire two weeks we were there. Other boats we met were constantly in motion between anchorages and slips, and even within the Police Dock, some boats had to move slips almost daily. If slips were vacant, there was competition for the space from the floating houseless community.

Upon arriving in San Diego, the first thing we needed to do on our project list was to head to Tijuana to get our TIP, the form that says we can have our boat in Mexico legally. The crews from Raven and Gypsy went together to Otay Mesa to hit the banjercito, the Mexican military bank that issues TIPs. We took Uber, a bus, a train and another bus to get there. A day pass for the transit system is $6 so it ended up being a great deal as each leg otherwise costs $2.50. We got a cab in Tijuana that charged us $8 for a six block trip. The driver did not get tipped! Walking back to the border, Kevin spied a taco shop. Great food and it introduced us to tamarind water, which was very refreshing in the heat.

Kevin and Bill at the border.

We stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way back to the marina and on the bus were a couple wearing Pellucidar polos. Their boat had been moored a row ahead of us in Avalon and was flying a HaHa flag. Turns out they were another PNW boat, from Seattle. They knew one of the boats across from us at the Police Dock. It’s a small world. We’d met another HaHa boat, Blue Sugar at Two Harbors on Catalina Island. We were starting to converge.

Next on the agenda was to get to Costco and get Nina a new pair of glasses. We were there via transit so we didn’t buy much and there’s a mile and a half walk from the marina to the bus stop. We stopped by the local library to use their internet. We went back to Costco via car the next day with Raven to provision.

Bill heading into the Mission Valley Library, just across the parking lot from Costco. We went there for wi-fi.

We decided to have a play day and go to the San Diego Zoo. Bill had been there when he was in college on a family trip. The animals were nice to look at but the landscaping is amazing.

One of the nice things about doing the HaHa is the chance to meet people. Gina, from Raven, put together a happy hour for the HaHa boats at Shelter Island and about ten boats got together and ate and chatted. Women Who Sail had a meet up at the Silver Gate Yacht club one evening, so six of us from the Police Dock HaHa group headed on over. We didn’t realize that we were supposed to RSVP, but they were gracious and let us stay. Beside the HaHa group, there were local cruisers, folks just back from the South Pacific, and racers. All levels of sailing experience. Nina met a few more women doing the HaHa, some who had been cruising the South Pacific (one had met Velic in Savu Savu), women new to sailing, and the woman whose boat had rolled off the Oregon Coast 150 miles short of completing their circumnavigation.

Back to Costco again – glasses are ready. We hit the library again to use the internet. We needed to print some things out and scan some documents. They don’t have guest passes! One of the staff offered to let us use her card as a work around but another mentioned that we could just get a card. Fortunately, we had signed up for a San Diego mail pick up, we could use that address to get a card, otherwise the cost would be $36. Nina now has a SDPL card and can check out two items until she brings in proof of address. Their checkout limit is 40 items, 3 weeks for books, 1 week for movies and they have no fines (unless you don’t return it and then they will bill you for it). Meanwhile, we got on their computers, Bill got our Mexican fishing licenses and got things scanned. He also called the bank to let them know the money we were spending was not fraudulent. We had to buy a print card for a not intuitive printing/scanning system. Everything got done in the end. We headed over to Costco for a cheap lunch and this guy in line says “didn’t I see you at Kaiser yesterday?” We’d gone in to get part 2 of our hepatitis shot and he’d been there. Nina asked if he was doing the HaHa as he’d been talking about boats to the woman with whom he’d been conversing. Turns out he is the Poobah of the HaHa. We had a nice chat and mentioned that we’d volunteered to help flip burgers for the big kick off party.

Back to the search for boat stuff. Next to Costco is a Lowes. Our search for coconut fiber for the composting toilet was unsuccessful. Back on the train and bus so it was just as well. Coconut fiber is bulky and there’s that walk back to the marina. Stopped on the way at West Marine to look at more fishing gear. Nina had tried fishing on the way down, but was unsuccessful. Pam and Carl sent us off with a lovely kit, but practice was not making better. In talking to other fishermen, it seems you can never have too many lures, so we added a cedar plug and a bird to our collection.

Our time in San Diego was coming to an end. We got the dinghy restowed. Raised the sails to try out the 3rd reef on the main; see how the staysail set. All the boats in the marina were in high project mode. Crews were starting to arrive. We finally got insurance for Mexican waters. Bill found a marina to stow the boat during the hot hurricane season in Mexico. Time to cast off!

Morro Bay to Avalon

Breakwater in Morro Bay. Tons of pelicans and you definitely wanted to be upwind.
Front landscaping in a Morro Bay yard. It’s a pumpkin and a palm! None of the front gardens had lawn, due to water limitations, but it didn’t seem to stop the creativity.
Nina on the path to the ranger station, Cuyler Bay, San Miguel Island.
Looking the other way, the trail to the ranger station, San Miguel. The station is about a mile and a half from the boxes in the middle of the picture. These are the info center. The guy in the red shirt coming down told us about the hike the next day.
The reason to stay on the trail.
On the left is Inga, our volunteer ranger, who led the hike. San Miguel is her passion and she has been coming to the island for over twenty years.
View from the point. For an arid island, there is a surprising variety of vegetation, some of which is found only here.
One of the small canyons on the hike.
Field of native grass with Santa Rosa in the background.
Pinnipeds on the beach below Cardwell Point. Elephant seals, sea lions and seals all piled on top of each other.
Cuyler Bay. Andy and Sue on the left to provide a sense of scale.
The west side of Santa Rosa. Nina thought the shapes on the mountain looked like leaping animals.
One of the three oil platforms on the way to Oxnard. From a distance it looked like an odd galleon. There was a flame shooting out of the arm on the right.
A pretty boat and a pretty amazing boat. Gypsy on the right, Maiden on the left. We didn’t get to meet the crew as they came in at night. They are on a tour to raise funds for girls’ education. We heard the documentary about them is good but haven’t seen it yet. The building in the background is the Del Rey Yacht Club, a very nice reciprocal.
Dinghy dock, Avalon, on a light day. We rowed by at one point and they were three deep. Our dinghy is the yellow one with oars and you can make out Gypsy behind the mooring ball near the center top of the photo.
The boat moored next to us left their gait well uncovered and this enterprising gull treated itself to a herring feast. It could hardly move when it was done. Surprisingly, it had no competition and did not have to share.
Wrigley Botanical Garden. Nice walk up from Avalon. Not your lush Pacific Northwest garden, it’s full of cacti and other arid plants from around the world.
Wrigley Memorial at the top of the garden. There was a high school class at the top working on an assignment.
Catalina tiles on the Memorial stairway.
Tile work in the Memorial.