Thursday, March 31, 2011

Punta de Mita to Isla Isabel

We were up well before dawn on Saturday, March 26th, the day the Honcho made its final departure from Punta de Mita. We got underway just in time to see one last spectacular sunrise over the bay, before we headed north to another storied bay, Bahia Mantanchen. Sailing conditions were excellent and we made good time, getting the anchor down in Mantanchen Bay in mid afternoon. This bay is famous for it's great surf and its Jejenes, otherwise known as noseeums, nono's,  or sand fleas. All of those appellations are often preceded by a rather forceful adjective because of their ability to inflict an itching, bleeding, scratching kind of misery on everyone they come in contact with. We were well prepared, with fine mesh bug screens on the hatches, DEET laced sunscreen and bug repellent, and a take-no-prisoners attitude. We passed a peaceful and bug free night and got the anchor up early to head for our next destination, Isla Isabel.

Punta de Mita Sunrise
Isla Isabel has been described as the Galapagos of Mexico because of its remoteness and isolation. Consequently it is the nesting and breeding ground for vast numbers of sea birds, particularly blue-footed boobies and the magnificent frigate birds. The island is a Mexican National Park and a World Heritage Site, so its unique flora and fauna are well protected. It was truly a spectacular place to visit.

We anchored on the east side of the island, just south of Isleo Mona Menor, about a hundred yards off the beach. Eager to explore the place, we pumped up the inflatable kayak and paddled ashore. There we were confronted by a couple of Mexican naturalists who informed us that it was illegal to land there and advised us to go around to the south side of the island and land at the fish camp that was located there. It was too far for our flimsy kayak so we went back to the boat and launched the dinghy and motored around to the spot we were supposed to land. Our entire experience there was fascinating, but instead of trying to put it all in words, I'll let the photos do most of the talking.
The Honcho at Anchor, Isleo Mona Menor in the background

Fish camp on the south side of the island, our dinghy is at left. Notice the hundreds of birds above the hill.

Booby chick on the beach. There were thousands of these babies on the beaches of Isla Isabel. Below, an adult blue footed booby

These birds will grow up to be incredible flyers and fishermen. The boobies appeared to nest mostly on the beaches and rocks, while the frigates built their nests in the trees or grassy areas inland.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Leaving La Cruz

We finally let go the dock lines and sailed from La Cruz. We’ve had such a wonderful time there, but the time is flying by and we’ve got places to go. We cleared the harbor entrance at 1800 and sailed about nine miles to Punta de Mita where we have anchored for the night. The reason for this short hop is that we can leave early in the morning and make it to our next destination of Mantanchen Bay before nightfall tomorrow. I always prefer to go into a strange anchorage in daylight. Departing from Punta de Mita, we’ll sail on a northeasterly course past Sayulita, Bahia de Jaltemba and Chacala,  and drop anchor well offshore in the shallow Ensenada Mantanchen. It is a world famous surfing area and we hope to get some good waves while there.
Here are some photos of  La Cruz. I am certain we’ll be back sometime in the not-to-distant future. The place is beautiful, the marina excellent, and the local people most friendly. On top of that, the people we’ve met there who are also fulfilling their dreams of living the sailing life have been great companions, drinking buddies, Mexican trainheads, compadres, and just plain friends. So it will always be with a good deal of fondness that we look back on our time there. 
Frigate Bird on a Lamppost

Ya Ya's Restaurant
Good Food, Great Lattes

One of Several Hot Sportfishermen that call La Cruz Home

More Sportfishing Talent
'Calou' is ready to head for the Marquesas
Marina La Cruz. Many of the boats shown have since left, some headed to the South Pacific, some to Central America and some to the Sea of Cortez
Local fishermen sell an astonishing variety of fish at this Mercado del Mar, next to the Marina La Cruz
View from upstairs at the La Cruz Yacht Club. It's a splendid place to have a cool drink and watch those spectacular Banderas Bay Sunsets

Saturday, March 19, 2011


We have wanted to see more of the interior of Mexico and decided to take a road trip with our friends, Tom and Mary Ellen. We picked up a rental car in Puerto Vallarta and drove upcountry to San Sebastian del Oeste, arriving around eleven. Founded in 1605, San Sebastian was the center of mining for many years and in its heyday boasted a population of over 20,000 people, with 30 or so working silver and gold mines in the vicinity. It was the need for salt, which was used to extract silver from the ore that led to the founding of Las Penas, which later became Puerto Vallarta. The good times lasted until the early 1900’s when the city entered a steep decline. By then the mines were giving out and then the Mexican Revolution in 1910 finished the job. For the next 90 years the town slumbered and its population dwindled to only about 600 souls, with farming and cattle ranching as their primary means of sustenance. Today the town  is reawakening, with tourism as its economic engine. It's a beautiful place with an interesting history. Some of the buildings in town are over 200 years old. The church next to the town square dates from 1870 and is a splendid example of the architecture of that period, with its stone buttresses and magnificent bell tower.

Church in San Sebastian del Oest

We wandered around the square, checked out the church and soaked up the warm, dry air, which was a nice change from the humidity of La Cruz. San Sebastian sits in a small valley in the Sierra Madre at an elevation of about 4,500 feet above sea level.  The problem with San Sebastian is that it’s been discovered by tourists and, while there were only a few in town while we were there, there were busloads on the outskirts of town, and they filled the only good restaurant that we could find.

We left San Sebastian in the afternoon, driving up the winding road to the highway which took us south through the farming town of Mascota and on to Talpa de Allende, where we spent the night. Mascota is not a tourist destination, but it is a wonderful example of a working agricultural and ranching town. It was fascinating to see the local campesinos in their pickups and caballeros astride their fairly small horses riding around town. It reminded me of scenes in the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. You could almost visualize the soldados opening fire as Butch and Sundance sat at an outdoor café eating their huevos rancheros.

Mascota Rooster
We didn’t stop in Mascota because we wanted to get to Talpa before sunset. About a mile out of Talpa we came to a roadblock manned by Policia Federales carrying M-16’s and sidearms directing us to turn right onto a dirt road. We bumped along for another couple of miles on dirt and cobblestones, taking a circuitous route into downtown Talpa.

There were thousands of Mexicans on foot converging on Calle Independencia, the main street leading into town and to the Catholic Church. Another squad of armed policias blocked the road at the entrance to the town, so I turned left and we found ourselves on a  narrow cobblestone street not much wider than a cow path, with not enough room to turn around so we continued on. The road got narrower, rougher and steeper, until we were driving uphill between two stone walls.  Luckily there was no oncoming traffic.  We drove around for half an hour and finally found a place to park and set out on foot to find a place to stay. There are plenty of hotels along Calle Independencia and it didn’t take long to find one with clean rooms and hot showers just a few blocks from the main attraction in town, the basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa, which houses the Shrine of the Virgin Rosario of Talpa. The Virgin is believed to have healing powers and is the object of the Peregrinos (pilgrims) who come from all over Mexico to seek solace from her.
Church in Talpa
We happened to arrive in town a week before St. Joseph’s day, which is the culmination of the pilgrimage, but already there were thousands of peregrinos in town. It was quite a spectacle as an endless stream of worshipers, some carrying banners, bouquets and other gifts for the Virgin marched past our hotel. Many carried walking sticks which are a symbol of the pilgrimage.  Some came individually and some as families. Still others came in organized groups wearing identical shirts and carrying banners announcing their home towns. Interspersed among them all were numerous mariachi bands. This procession started before dawn and lasted long into the night. To me, the town was bursting at the seams with people, but some locals told us this was nothing compared to the crowds that would be in town on St. Josephs day. Talpa was fascinating but it was difficult to see much of the city because of the crowds everywhere. As far as we could tell, we were the only gringos in town.
Peregrinos marching past our hotel

The next day we got back on the road toward our next destination. It too houses a shrine of sorts, and many people around the world have been known to make sacrifices of all kinds before its best known icon, Jose Cuervo. Our route took us through miles of farm and ranch country and all along the highway we saw people walking toward Talpa. Fifty miles away we could still see people walking along the road toward the shrine. Apparently it's a sign of devotion to walk all the way to the shrine from home, no matter where that is. Some of the people walk the last mile or so barefoot and some even do the last few yards on their knees.

We arrived in the city of Tequila in the afternoon and found a hotel next to the central plaza and within walking distance of the Jose Cuervo distillery, where we took a tour and learned all about tequila. For me the situation was curiously reversed. I had expected peace and tranquility in the sleepy little town of Talpa and crowds at the other shrine, the Cuervo factory. But the town of Tequila was as quiet and peaceful as Talpa was crowded and boisterous. We were met by a young guide who showed us around the factory and explained the process of converting the thorny agave plant into tequila. We learned the different types of tequila and how to tell them apart. At the end of the tour she gave us a tasting, which was much like a wine tasting. It was a most interesting tour.
Sculpture Garden at the Cuervo Distillery
After a restful night in the elegant Plaza Jardin hotel, we got on the road back to Puerto Vallarta and made our own pilgrimage… to Costco.  For some reason Costco has many American goods that just can’t be found in other stores in Mexico, such as solid white albacore packed in water. In my opinion Mexican canned tuna is roughly equivalent to cat food. We loaded up on supplies and headed back to La Cruz where we found our boats safe and sound. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Banderas Bay Regatta

We joined the crew of Tivoli for the XIX Regata Internacional (Banderas Bay Regatta). Tivoli is a Beneteau 42s7 that embarked from San Francisco Bay late last year on an extended cruise that will take it south to the Panama Canal, across the Caribbean and eventually to Denmark. Loaded down with cruising gear, the boat was quite a bit heavier than its sistership, Cirque, which won class A for the third time running in this event.
The course for race 1, sailed on Thursday, March 10th, started a mile or so off Nuevo Vallarta, and included a 2.5 mile beat to a weather mark, then a long port tack leg out to Punta de Mita followed by a long run back to the finish. There were few opportunities to pass on this race and it was basically all about boatspeed and waterline length. The wind was light and Tivoli was heavy so we never had a chance to make any moves, and Cirque walked away the win. At the end of the day we were 7th out of 9 in class A. It was a good learning experience though and we used the lessons learned to revise our sail trim, move more weight out of the stern and prepare for a better result in race 2.

Unfortunately race 2 was canceled due to the earthquake in Japan and resulting tsunami, which reached Bahia Banderas about 1330 on Friday. Veterans of the tsunami that hit us last year in Long Beach, we decided to ride this one out in deep water. When the first surge arrived we were safely five miles out where the bay is over 250 feet deep. The water level in the bay rose and fell as much as four feet a dozen times or so during the afternoon, knocking out a couple of docks in La Cruz and causing the local authorities to close all the ports in the bay. Throughout this time the Honcho, along with at least 200 other boats rode these surges in perfect safety, never really feeling anything out of the ordinary.

Around 1800 the local port captain in La Cruz declared that the channel entrance was being reopened and boats were free to enter the harbor. By this time the Honcho was anchored outside, prepared to spend the night there, but when the channel was reopened we decided to head into our old slip on gangway 11. Eager to see what was going on in the harbor, we got the anchor up and headed for the entrance only to have another surge roll through, causing the port captain to close the channel once again. So back we went to the anchorage where we spent the night at anchor in the company of at least a hundred other boats. Throughout the night we were turned around now and then by stronger than normal currents as the tides continued to surge.

The next morning the current in the harbor entrance was still running strong, but we were able to get the Honcho secured back in her slip and head back to Nuevo Vallarta and the regatta. Our gangway was without water or power, and as I mentioned, a couple of the docks at the end of the gangway had broken loose and were floating upside down, lashed to the gangway to prevent them from drifting away. But other than that, the harbor survived the tsunami in good shape.

Race two consisted of three laps around windward-leeward buoys, with a wing mark thrown in after the first weather mark. With the wind up to about 15 knots we had reasonably good boatspeed and were able to hang with the bigger boats in our class. Though we were rated the second slowest boat in our class, we sailed a very good race. Expecting the wind to shift right as the day wore on, we got a good start at the committee boat end of the line and were looking to protect our position on the right side of the course. But it didn't take long for the faster boats to start passing us and we had to take a couple of tacks to stay in clear air and found ourselves bounced to the left more than I wanted to be. Fortunately the right shift never appeared and we rounded the weather mark in 5th place and set a spinnaker for the reach to the wing mark. At the wing mark we executed a flawless jibe and passed another boat that didn't. Throughout the race our crew work and boat handling were excellent, and we made up time at every mark.

The wind remained a steady 14-16 knots. We had done well on the left side on the first beat so I took a chance on the left side again and we continued to make up time on the  boats ahead of us. The third leg was a repeat of the second and when the results were tallied, Tivoli came in second, beating all but Cirque. With the regatta shortened to just two races, Cirque won the event and we ended up fourth in class. I was especially pleased because our crew had never sailed together before, and none except the owners had ever raced a 42s7 before. It was a great example of a crew coming together, learning the new boat quickly and recovering well from a tough first day. I'm confident that if we had been able to do a third race, we would have had a spot at the trophy table. Anyway, we had a great time and are looking forward to getting together again for Antigua Race Week next year.
For complete results go to:
For photos of all the action:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Boat vs Whale

A couple of days ago a sailboat named "Luffin It" entered the harbor under tow. It was a Pearson 367, a 36 foot cruising cutter that is slightly larger than the Honcho. I have downloaded a couple of photos of a sistership, which I got from to give you a sense of the size and shape of this boat. Or you can visit this web site for a lot more information on it:
Pearson 367
Sistership to Luffin It
Luffin It was leaving Bahia Tenacatita a few days ago when it came into contact with a whale. The result was a severely damaged boat and what I can only speculate was an unhappy whale. Fortunately, aside from a few bumps and minor bruises, there were no injuries to the couple onboard, and no visible injuries to the whale.
The whale's tale was apparently caught between the keel and rudder. The bronze strut is about 1/2" thick and was bent nearly 90 degrees

I spoke to the owners about their experience and looked at the boat after it was hauled out at the La Cruz Shipyard. They were under sail around 1530, moving at a slow 3-4 knots on a course taking them out of the anchorage at Tenacatita, headed toward Chamela when the whale apparently attempted to surface, unaware that there was a boat above it. They felt the boat heave upward and thought at first that they had run aground, but then immediately saw the whale close alongside with its tail apparently still under the boat and caught between the keel and rudder. In its effort to free itself it flapped its tail several times before swimming away. It left the boat with a bent propeller shaft and strut, a chunk missing from the rudder, and structural cracks in the hull. This is what was visible from the outside. The owner told me that the internal damage was extensive. Many of the internal bulkheads and floor timbers were displaced as the hull flexed, knocking the head loose, jamming doors and drawers, and other damage. They immediately broadcast a mayday on their VHF radio and within minutes other cruisers in Tenacatita came to their aid. They got the leaks under control and eventually made it to La Cruz, partly under their own power and partly under tow.  You can read their firsthand account of the incident on their blog:

We don't usually wear lifejackets when we're sailing in light air and flat seas, and the crew of Luffin It weren't either. Fortunately neither of them went overboard, but it's a reminder that you never know when a life threatening emergency will occur, and it's good policy to wear your PFD all the time. I don't plan to do that but we'll keep them at the ready in the cockpit in the future.

Whale sightings are very common in these parts this time of year. I can't count how many times we've been sailing along on a perfectly peaceful sea when suddenly a whale comes rocketing out of the water like a submarine launched cruise missile within a couple hundred yards of the boat. There is no warning, just an explosion of white water and a whale's head 20 or 30 feet out of the water. Such displays inspire lots of respect from us. I did some searching on the Internet regarding how much power resides in a whale's flukes and could not find an answer but it is clearly an enormously powerful animal, as the encounter between Luffin It and the whale shows.

How can sailboats safely travel upon seas that are also home to these magnificent animals? Aboard the Honcho we take a few precautions, but I don't think there is any reasonable way to prevent all accidental contacts with whales. During the nighttime hours we frequently run the diesel engine whether or not we have sails up. The hours of darkness are a good time to charge batteries, run the watermaker, etc. and I think the engine noise might help to let the whales know we're in the neighborhood. Some people play music instead of running the engine. At any rate, I'm fairly confident that sailboat/whale collisions are very rare, and most likely accidental. Still, it's something to think about as we share the ocean with them.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Life in La Cruz

The Honcho has been berthed at the Marina Riviera Nayarit for the last week, where we have done some routine maintenance and given the boat a thorough washing. We've also taken time out to socialize with fellow yatistas and enjoy the local culture here in La Cruz. In this town, the local culture is a very pleasant mix of Mexican food, art, music and society on one hand, and the whole expat sailing community on the other.  The sailing community consists of people who are following the dream of traveling by boat to foreign destinations. Most are Yanks or Canadians, a few Europeans, and the occasional Aussie or Kiwi. I'm fortunate to be fairly fluent in Spanish and have enjoyed becoming acquainted with some of the locals who live and work here in town. Both groups seem to be happy with their lives and are very friendly. One of the most pleasant surprises for me is meeting young Mexicans who are university students. I love hearing their ideas and opinions regarding their lives. Overall, they seem to be quite optimistic about their futures as well as the future of Mexico. I think their optimism bodes well for this country, in spite of the widespread poverty and the ongoing drug wars in some areas.

The Honcho has sailed almost exactly 2,000 miles since leaving Long Beach and I am happy to report that the boat has performed very well throughout the voyage and has done everything we've asked of her without complaint. Once a fuel filter became clogged and the engine wouldn't start.  Another time, we took a wave over the bow with the window over the galley open. Sea water ran into the stove burners and clogged them up. Aside from that, the boat just keeps on keeping on. I brought a 'Baja Filter' from Long Beach, but didn't use it at first because it appeared that all the fuel we bought was clean. I was wrong about that, so now I use the filter whenever we fuel up. It slows down the process of fueling, but I think it's well worth the extra hassle to be assured of clean fuel. If you're getting ready to head south, pick up a Baja Filter at your local West Marine store. It's cheap insurance.  Overall I'm very happy with the boat and all of its systems. Of course we're only about halfway through this voyage, and only the little half at that. As we travel north into the Sea of Cortez, we'll be visiting more deserted anchorages, and more primitive places, so reliable equipment and self sufficiency will be necessary.

Part of the reason we're hanging out in La Cruz is the upcoming XIX Regata Internacional, otherwise known as the Banderas Bay Regatta March 10-12. I'll be sailing aboard a Beneteau 42s7 called 'Tivoli' in that event. It should be a lot of fun and I'll post a report on all the festivities after the regatta.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Return to La Cruz

Leaving Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo behind, our northbound course took us once again past the busy port of Lazaro Cardenas. Our approach this time was about 10 miles offshore, giving us plenty of time to spot and avoid the ship traffic around the harbor entrance. The wind was very light and we motored throughout the night, arriving at a rough little anchorage called Caleta de Campos around 0800. There is a small bay here called Bahia Bufadero.  It is wide open to the southwesterly swell and we anchored a hundred yards or so outside the surf line and slept for a few hours with the boat rocking in the large swells and the surf booming nearby. Around 1400 the Honcho sailed from Caleta de Campos with a good westerly breeze, bound for Bahia Manzanillo, 114 miles distant.

By nightfall the wind, as it usually does, fell light so the Honcho motored the rest of the way to Bahia Manzanillo. We anchored once again off Las Hadas and spent a couple of days relaxing around the pool and touring the city. Bahia Manzanillo is separated from Bahia de Santiago by the Peninsula de Santiago. Both bays are ringed with broad, beautiful sand beaches and luxury hotels, but we were more intrigued by the old city of Manzanillo and spent our time wandering around the old waterfront town, enjoying the sights around this picturesque area.

Rested and well provisioned, we left Las Hadas, bound for Bahia de Tenacatita, about 40 miles up the coast. We arrived there in the late afternoon and had time to drop the anchor and enjoy a fiery sunset from the cockpit of the Honcho. We did not go ashore here, just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery of the place. This bay is home to a pod of dolphins that seem to enjoy rubbing against the chains of the anchored boats. While the water wasn't clear enough to see them, we could feel the vibrations and see it moving around as they played with our chain. Strange sensation.

The following day we made the short hop from Tenacatita to Bahia de Chamela, anchoring in the northwest corner of the bay just off the little town of Perula. Chamela is about 70 miles down the coast from Cabo Corrientes, the southern border to Banderas Bay.  Cabo Corrientes is known for its frequently rough conditions and cruisers usually wait for predictions of light winds in the area before making the dash around that corner and into the relative safety of Banderas Bay. The winds had been strong the last few days, but with a forecast of light winds in the offing we departed from Bahia Chamela around 1800 so we could pass the cape early the following morning, when conditions were predicted to be fairly calm.

Clearing Punta Rivas, the outermost point of land that protects Bahia Chamela, we ran into a 15 knot headwind and 6 foot seas. These stayed with us all night, making for a bumpy ride up the coast. Tacking in close to shore, the Honcho made the best of it as we slowly worked our way along the rugged coastline, arriving at the cape around 0700 the following morning. Here the sea was still rougher than we had hoped, but as we rounded the cape and entered the southern reaches of Banderas Bay, conditions steadily improved. By 1000 it was calm and we were motoring across the bay with the Islas Tres Marietas and Punta de Mita on our port beam. We felt like we were returning to our friendly home waters with our arrival at La Cruz. But the bay also serves up a breeze now and then, and by the time we reached the anchorage outside the harbor the wind was over 20 knots. With our oversize ground tackle, anchoring in a stiff breeze is a cinch and within a few minutes we were snugly anchored and had time to ponder the large number of boats anchored and bobbing around in the wind before the sun set. When we left here about a month ago there weren't many boats anchored here. Now I count nearly 50.

In the evening the wind died down, but the swell rolled us uncomfortably all night long and all the next day. We had planned to spend a few days in the marina anyway, so the following day we upped the anchored and took a berth in the marina, where we'll stay until mid-March, when weather conditions should be better for heading north into the Sea of Cortez.