What does it take to get a boat ready to haul out in a hot, dry climate? Tin foil and clothes line. We started by removing the lines we weren’t using and rinsing them out in fresh water. Living in a salt water environment means that everything gets saturated in salt. Off came preventers, jacklines, spinnaker sheets, soft shackles and into a bucket they all went. They dried in the sun and got labeled so we’d know what they were when we get back to Gypsy after this is all over.
Meanwhile, San Evaristo closed to cruisers. The navy was hailing boats in Los Muertos to try to prevent recreational sailing and gathering. Ports were officially closing to recreational traffic. We headed into the marina and got enough internet to book plane tickets home. Alaska Airlines wasn’t flying out of Loreto so Bill booked us tickets on Calafia to Tijuana. They were flying out three flights a week. Since we weren’t driving, we had to figure out some luggage beyond our day packs to pack stuff into to get it home. The laundry bag, the only decent sized bag we had on board, wasn’t going to work. A suitcase was needed and Puerto Escondido has no stores beyond the marina tienda. We rented a car and headed into Loreto, a town about 30 miles up the road. The drive into Loreto has spectacular, mountains on one side, the Sea of Cortez on the other. The town itself is picturesque. Grocery stores were still open, but restaurants were mostly closed. Nothing touristy was open, including the beaches. Coppel, the department store in town, was open only for online order pick up, so buying a suitcase there wasn’t going to work. For some reason, one of the grocery stores had a display of picnic gear, including coolers. Our new Samsonite would be a bright blue Coleman. Sometimes you just have to be creative. Our trip to town was timely. The next day, Loreto was closed to outsiders.
We filled the fuel tank, washed the boat, waiting to get hauled out. Puerto Escondido closed to recreational traffic. If you came in, you were here to stay, unless you were in transit to a haul out destination or provisioning. The navy made a daily circuit of the mooring field with a stay at home message. It was in English, so all the gringos would finally understand.
Being a cruiser in a foreign country during a pandemic is a very strange experience. On one hand, you can argue that we social distance no matter where we are. On the other, while all those incredible anchorages, beaches and parks are closed to the local population, there are all of us rich gringos in our boats, playing with our water toys in places that locals can’t go, enjoying ourselves in ways no longer allowed the locals. As things shut down, it looks like we’re still out having fun, even if we are staying on our boats, trying to respect the local restrictions. Many of the communities are pretty isolated, and were beginning to feel the need to make sure the needs of their communities were met as supplies became more difficult to obtain. Tense moments were relayed on the net. Understandably, cruisers were asked to leave some locations.
We got everything cleaned out, the cooler packed, and the taxi arrived to take us to the airport. We shared a cab with Mike, whose flight out the previous week on Volaris had been cancelled. We got to the Loreto airport in plenty of time, as there was a total of maybe a dozen people in the whole airport. The flight was maybe a third full. Crossed the border in Tijuana and discovered our CBX didn’t cover the shuttle to the San Diego airport. Just as well, since our flight to Portland was the next day. Cabs were desperate for business so we ended up with an extremely discounted fare to our motel. The desk staff at the motel recommended a nearby Mexican restaurant for takeout, a recommendation that was seconded by a scooter club that pulled in right after we got there. Dinner was Thai.
Five days or so into the virus, the police in La Cruz closed all the restaurants. Mexico had seemed pretty normal until then. This was the day we left to head north. Our first stop was Punta de Mita, about ten miles away and the northernmost anchorage in Banderas Bay. Here we checked out our new anchor marking. While we were in at the marina at La Cruz we end for ended the anchor chain and rode and marked it all of in 25′ intervals, the chain with paint and the rope part with thread. Bill went to a pinteria and they specially mixed a cup full of paint for him. We baked it well for a couple of days in the sun and then stowed it in the anchor locker. At Punta de Mita we dropped the anchor and watched the new anchor paint start to flake off as the anchor chain hit the water. The next day we set off for Ensenada de Matanchén. Weather and waves were good so we kept on going to Mazatlán, skipping Isla Isabel as well.
At Mazatlán we anchored off Isla Cardones to catch up on sleep. Our passage from Punta de Mita to Mazatlán took us from 0700 Weds to 1015 Thursday, 27 hours. We saw dolphins and sea turtles on the way, but caught no fish. During the 0300-0600 watch Nina got a phosphorescent show that wasn’t just our wake lighting up, but many flashes off the side of the boat that were coconut sized to a couple of feet long that went on for quite a while. They’d light up and disappear. It was an amazing diversion until the moon rose.
At Isla Cardones we inventoried our food. Not being sure of how things would shut down between here and Puerto Peñasco, some 750+ miles away, we thought we’d see how much we actually had on board. Tiendas in smaller towns usually have fresh limes, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and a few other fresh fruits and vegetables, but they’re stocked for the locals, not for cruisiers coming in and stocking up. We could make it through mid April with what we had on board. But we were still going to head for El Cid Marina in Mazatlán, and see if we could get into town and hit a big grocery store for some fresh fruits and vegetables.
Meanwhile, the news on the morning radio net was that many of the South Pacific islands had closed their borders. Mazatlán was starting to shut down, but the restaurant at El Cid was still open. More importantly, there was a laundromat at the marina! No bucket laundry! We caught a bus into town. Unlike the first time we were in Mazatlán, when the streets were jostling with people, the city was pretty empty. We stopped for an afternoon glass of wine at a restaurant in the old town and were the only people out in the plaza other than restaurant staff, and the people setting up their booths for the evening. Beaches were empty. The port was closed in the morning, but it turned out to be for wind, not the virus. There is a tricky bar/channel to get into the marina. Tricky enough that there was a trimaran on the rocks when we came in, and when we left, it was half submerged in the tide.
We made it out safely. Since things weren’t totally shut down yet, and they are sort of on the way to Puerto Peñasco, we still wanted to see the islands north of La Paz. Once we were up past Bahía de los Angeles, then we’d head back over to the mainland side. Our first Baja stop was Ensenada de los Muertos, a big bay on the way to La Paz. We’d skipped Muertos when we first headed up to La Paz back in November because we hadn’t officially checked into the country yet. It’s a big bay, white sand beaches, a couple of small resorts and a restaurant on one end and another restaurant on the other end. We were also one of a dozen or so boats anchored in the bay, enough of us that a morning net was begun. Morning nets let you know who else is there, where folks are coming from or going to and if anyone needs help or can offer it. They also can be a source of news. The news was that Mazatlán was still open to cruise ships and La Paz was still open. The next morning, March 30, it was announced that all ports were closing for commercial pleasure craft. No more party boats, fishing or whale watching trips. Ports were still open to cruisers, though.
After almost a week at Muertos, the wind was right and we left as part of a fleet. We were the sixth boat to leave to head for La Paz. On the way out of the bay, we saw a group of about a dozen mantas leaping out of the water and splashing down. Eleven hours later we dropped anchor in El Magote, in La Paz. Social distancing was in effect. The beach was closed. Only one person could be out and about. Wear a mask. We improvised the masks. La Paz was empty. We got groceries and caught a combi back, and were the only people on it. The malecón was shut down, to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic. That night it was all lit up and looked like a ghost town. Police and navy have both been patrolling the road and harbor, blasting messages in Spanish. The gist seemed to be stay at home. Hotels, timeshares, and airbnbs are being closed. All visitors needed to be gone by April 5. Semana Santa was coming up, when Mexicans traditionally flock to the beaches, and the government was doing everything it could to keep people from congregating. All beaches, everywhere, were closed.
We got an appointment at the fuel dock in La Paz and topped up. We were there with a couple of boats we had met during the HaHa or while cruising in Mexico. One was pulling out in La Paz, and trying to figure out if it was safe to drive back to California. The other boat was a Puddle Jump boat that would be staying in the Sea instead of going to the South Pacific.
After El Mezteño, our next stop was Isla San Francisco, where we were one of twenty-two boats anchored there. Luckily, social distancing is pretty easy on a sailboat at anchor. We are all at least 100 feet apart. We left the next morning as part of a mini fleet. Gypsy was heading for San Evaristo. When we dropped anchor, there were a couple of boats there, by the end of the day another three boats arrived. There is a small village with a tienda. Bill headed ashore wearing a mask. Most folks heading ashore weren’t wearing masks and were going ashore in groups. A couple of days after we left for Agua Verde, pangas went out and asked cruisers to please leave San Evaristo.
Agua Verde is another small cove with a good anchorage. There are goats and they sell goat cheese at the small tienda. We had to get some. But, please, no more that three people in the store at a time, wear a mask. We spent the night there and in the morning motored on to Puerto Escondido. The scenery on the way up is gorgeous, mountains meet the sea.
We picked up a mooring ball in Puerto Escondido. Surrounded by hills, we were not picking up any Telcel signal so we headed to the marina for wifi and cell bars. We follow the Facebook page for Cabrelles Yard in Puerto Peñasco so we can stay abreast of the news. Peñasco is where we had planned to store Gypsy for the summer. The news was the governor of Sonora might close the port in the next couple of weeks. The yard was closed for Semana Santa (Holy Week), and they weren’t sure if they would have all the workers back at the end of that two week period. If you do get hauled there, you need to leave the country within 24 hours, with a police escort. With smaller towns closing to cruisers, we felt that was a lot of uncertainty to go for a 350 mile trip with no marinas or larger towns in that stretch. Our decision was to haul out in Puerto Escondido. They have room on the hard. It doesn’t get at hot here as Peñasco does in the summer. We booked a haul out date. The reality had hit us, things were not normal. We had been making time heading north as it became apparent to us that ports and towns would stop being open to cruisers. We also wanted to be responsible and not do more wandering around than necessary. The decision to change our plans was not easy, but it has proved itself over time.
Time to start heading north, back to La Cruz. First stop, Isla Cocinas in Bahía Chamela where we anchored not far from Sirena, a boat we met in Tenacatita. We headed over to say hi, and they invited us to a beach fire picnic that evening. The next morning, we heard on the radio net that a number of Tenacatita boats are beginning to head north. We, too, pulled up anchor and headed north into Bahía Chamela, a short motor away. When we were there three weeks or so earlier on the way down, they had been working on the breakwater in the estuary and had made progress in building the wall and dredging the channel. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures.
Next leg, up to La Cruz. We left Chamela about 0800 and dropped anchor in the La Cruz anchorage just after midnight.
Back in La Cruz we reconnected with friends, worked on our Spanish lessons and attended more cruising seminars. We went sailing in Bahía de Banderas and saw whales. We ate shrimp, and vegan ice cream (but not together).
Meanwhile, daily boat life goes on.
And back in PV:
And then we heard news of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. All of us began to wonder how it would change plans. Banderas Bay is a hub for cruisers heading to the South Pacific as well as a gathering place for those of us staying local in the Sea of Cortez. All kinds of questions were asked and often answers changed from morning to afternoon. As we left La Cruz for Mazatlan, we heard that many of the South Pacific Islands were closed to cruisers. A number of boats had crew cancel. On the morning HF radio net, we heard from boats who have turned around and returned to Mexico. What to do? For many people we know down here, their boat is their only home. Bashing back up the coast isn’t really feasible until May or June. The Hawaii/Pacific Northwest route has Hawaii forbidding travel between islands, and the season for sailing back to the west coast doesn’t begin until June/July. If you leave your boat in Mexico, you have to get to where the marina or boat yard is and spend about a week getting the boat ready to store. We were planning to store the boat for the summer in Puerto Peñasco, on the northern end of the sea, over 400 miles away. Do we head straight there or carry on with heading to La Paz and up the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez to see the islands we missed at the beginning of our trip?
Bahía Tenacatita is about twenty-five miles past Chamela, a motor sail easily done in one day. It’s a bigger, very well protected bay that had about 30 boats anchored in it when we arrived. The north end, where most of the boats anchor, has a palapa (palm roofed) restaurant by the estuary mouth and a hotel/resort a short walk to the east along a beautiful sandy beach. The nearest town is La Manzanilla on the south end of the bay. At Tenacatita there is an active morning radio net, afternoon activities including some very competitive bocce ball on the beach or walking on the beach. Occasionally a couple of games of Mexican Train would get played. After the activities, everyone would meet up at the palapa and then head back to their boats. Friday evenings featured the mayor’s raft up for happy hour.
There are boats that spend months at Tenacatita. The water is warm and clear, great swimming and snorkeling can be had, and a trip up the estuary is fun, either for a dinghy trip to see the mangroves or to head out to the raicilla distillery at the point. The bay is also perfect for a day sail and we saw a mother and baby whale while we were out one afternoon.
After about a week in Tenacatita, Bill realized the batteries weren’t fully charging. We have three 80 watt solar panels, and even with running the engine for an hour a day, the charge wouldn’t get above 90 percent. Time for some equalizing. This meant we needed to find a marina and plug into shore power. Equalizing charges at a higher voltage than normal to try to convert the lead sulfate back into lead. The nearest marina is Barra de Navidad, another day sail south.
After a couple of days in the marina, we headed out to the Barra anchorage. Caught a panga into Barra and a combi, a local bus, to Melaque to find an ATM and some groceries. All local transactions are cash, so topping up the funds when you can is important, as not all towns have an ATM. Melaque is larger than Barra and has some decent abarrotes, or small mini markets, and a big grocery store. Most mini markets have a small selection of fresh food, but it’s nice to branch out occasionally from roma tomatoes, poblano peppers, cucumbers, and onions.
Back we went to Tenacatita. Some of the same boats were there, but new boats as well, coming and going from Barra or Zihuatanejo, farther south.
Since there are basically no services near the anchorage, a trip into town is necessary. We walked up to the hotel with Marshall from Tenacity to catch a taxi, about a 45 minute ride. The beach landing at La Manzanilla can be wild so we opted for the calmer, longer road trip version and saw a couple of coatis while heading up the cobble stone road from the hotel. The paved road portion of the trip is under construction. In town, the farmer’s market was on and we recognized many of the same vendors as the market in Barra. Bought a couple of small, colorful tablecloths for the boat, and some groceries.
We all wanted to see the crocodile refuge so off we went.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.