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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Las Hadas, Manzanillo

We're living the high life at the formerly isolated resort made (in)famous by Bo Derek's debut in the 1979 movie, "10." It's now surrounded by condos, luxury homes, and more hotels but it's still very beautiful, even if it's not as posh as I imagined it. We joined friends for dinner at an Italian restaurant overlooking the Las Hadas marina and I felt overdressed in a very simple frock and sandals. Maybe the hotel guests are ordering room service and the restaurant was filled with people who had driven in from other, more casual, resorts.

The Tuesday after Christmas we pried ourselves out of the Barra lagoon mud to motorsail to the Manzanillo bay area. Our first stop was a small bay called El Carazol just inside the northern point where you turn in to enter the larger bay. Although it's not very well protected from the ocean swell this has always been a favorite spot of ours. There is nothing onshore making it secluded and quiet - no crashing surf (or at least not the rumbles of thunder we could hear outside the Barra lagoon), no barking dogs, no roosters crowing, and no yells from panga fishermen netting bait fish at dawn. There are one or two pangas which quietly set nets on the reef at sunset and pull them in at first light. And there are snorkeling pangas and day trippers in small boats who come in to snorkel the same reef which is being fished overnight. But it's mostly peaceful and we had a nice, if greenish, snorkel ourselves one afternoon.

On Thursday we motored a few miles across the bay for our first ever visit to Las Hadas. We've been put off by the exorbitant dinghy dock fees in the past, but we decided to pay the price for the convenience of staying dry and having easier access for provisioning. Currently the daily fee is 200 pesos (something less than $20) or 800 pesos for a week. This includes access to the hotel pools, beach, gym, and discounts for several of the restaurants and bars. The best part is that you tell the dock master the number of people you want on the "pool pass" which she issues to you. So we said we wanted ours to be good for a total of six people and now we can invite our local friends to visit us here. We're not normally pool rats but we'll take advantage of swimming in clear water, lounging on chaises with nice big hotel towels, and ordering drinks from the pool bar now and then.

We're looking forward to having a good view of fireworks around the bay from the anchorage tonight. It'll be a miserable night for Ziggy but I'm sure he'll find a deep dark place in which to hide until it's over. It will probably be well past midnight until the music and fire crackers taper off so we plan on having a quiet New Year's day!


{GMST}19|06.110|N|104|20.708|W|Las Hadas|Las Hadas{GEND}

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Barra de Navidad

The number of anchored boats here in the Barra lagoon has doubled from the dozen that were here when we arrived two weeks ago. Over the past few days they've been scooting in the narrow channel and picking their way carefully through shallow water (literally 8-12' - or less, if a boat strays out of bounds) to attend the annual Christmas cruiser's potluck dinner at the Sands Hotel. For a per person cost of 50 pesos we will have deep-fried turkeys served up in a tropical outdoor seating area accompanied by delicious treats pulled from the depths of hard to reach lockers, or searched for high and low in Mexican stores. Yes, you can find canned pumpkin, yams, and cranberry sauce - if you look hard enough.

With Ziggy and Nakia once again under the watchful eyes of Barb and Gary on S/V Hoorah, we took an hour bus ride to spend a long weekend in Bahia Santiago for a Posada party at SolCasa. It was a sleep deprived "lost" weekend full of good things like homemade lasagna, my first "Cubano" torta (a grilled sandwich chock full of just about everything - including hot dogs - which threatened to fall apart in my hands), and reunions with the wonderful people we met at the 4-day PATA spay/neuter clinic last March. The Posada is an annual Christmas party and get-together for all the volunteers who work tirelessly to provide free spay/neuter clinics for dogs and cats throughout neighborhoods in the greater Manzanillo area (http://www.patamanzanillo.com - a donation would make a great gift for that animal lover in your life!). Stan and MJ provide the venue and drinks and everyone else brings food for about 35 people. An interesting cultural divide is when the American and Canadian ex-pats arrive at 7 PM bearing desserts and appetizers, and the Mexican locals arrive at 9:30 with the main courses. Then all of the former have left by midnight and the last of the latter have to be told, "It's 4:30 AM; party's over!" before they'll call it a night.

Oh, and pinatas (sorry, I can't type the cedilla that should go under that "n"). One of the locals donated five pinatas and John and I offered to fill them as our contribution to the party. MJ and I grabbed our backpacks and walked to the nearest dulceria (candy and party supply shop). Assuming there would be few if any kids at the party, I figured that the pinatas were mostly just for show and a little adult hilarity, and that there would be tons of candy left over that we would be forced to polish off. So I chose mostly fruit and caramel flavored hard candies, deliberately avoiding all of the "enchilada" (spicy) flavored ones. John and I inadvertently tried some of the those our first year in Mexico (think mango enchilada) and have never acquired a taste for them. MJ tried to tell me that the locals would sweep up all the candy and would really prefer the enchilada variety but I didn't her take her seriously (are you kidding?). John insisted that small toys should go in the pinatas so we bought a few of those as well. Well, someone should just hand the locals the money and let them choose the candy because those pinatas were all for them and we heard later that no one ever puts toys or so many fruit candies in them! They were doing full body sprawls on the floor to get as much candy as they could sweep up (for their nieces and nephews...). It was all in fun and everyone was grateful to Stan and MJ for holding the party under the thatched palapa roof of the beautiful new addition to SolCasa.

Other than our brief road trip we've been enjoying the peace and tranquility of life in the lagoon. Sunrises here are some of my favorite in all of Mexico because they are filled with birds! Huge flocks of white Great Egrets fly out of their nighttime roosts somewhere in among the western mangroves, and then over the lagoon - and the anchored boats - to perch in the northern mangroves, warming up in the rising sun before feeding on the muddy flats surrounding the lagoon at low tide. They are joined by smaller flocks of Snowy Egrets, both White and White-Faced Ibis (the former all white with black wing tips and the latter a solid dark brownish color), and the usual Great Blue Heron, Cormorant, Tern, Magnificent Frigatebird, Pelican, and (later in the day) Black Vulture. There are Black Skimmers, Osprey, a few American Oystercatchers, and we even had a Kingfisher land on our wind indicator. There are Roseate Spoonbills whose bright color I can just make out through the binoculars on the far reaches of the lagoon. The only thing we haven't seen yet this year is the Mexican Eagle which was usually also looking for fish on the sand flats of the canals. Unfortunately Ziggy has managed to catch two swallows which made the mistake of landing on Nakia. I've put red Christmas garland on the bow pulpit and forward lifelines in an attempt to discourage them from their favorite roosting area (as well as to help Nakia look festive over the holidays!).

The small beach resort town of Barra is full of souvenir shops and restaurants, as well as Canadian and U.S. license plates. It and the larger neighboring town of Melaque are favorites of the snowbirds, and many beautiful second homes abound here. There was some damage to ocean view restaurants on the narrow bay-front peninsula from hurricane Jova, but we're told that much of it was from large ocean swells rolling in and washing away the spit before then. We appreciate conveniences here such as water delivery by panga from Maria's tienda, and the Taxi Aquatico panga service which, for 25 pesos per person round trip, saves us from having to use our dinghy when the NW winds blast through the lagoon in the afternoons. Yesterday was our first big blow since we arrived (a high of 20 knots was recorded by a boat in the very protected marina, so we imagine it was even higher out here in the lagoon) and by some miracle none of the newly arrived boats dragged anchor. Going aground and/or dragging anchor are time honored traditions of the Barra lagoon although, knock on wood, Nakia has yet to experience either.

We wish everyone Feliz Navidad and Prospero Nuevo Ano, and thank those of you who have emailed us holiday updates of your own!

Linda (and John and Ziggy too)

{GMST}19|11.514|N|104|40.468|W|Barra de Navidad|Barra de Navidad{GEND}

Friday, December 09, 2011

Punta Perula, Bahia Chamela

Along with Punta Mita, Punta Perula is now one of our favorite anchorages. It too is a small beach resort (even smaller than Mita) at the end of a road far from the main highway. There are a few hotels including the Playa Dorada at the eastern end of the beach. Anchored out in front of the hotel their internet reaches Nakia for a very reasonable 50 pesos/day or 75 pesos/week. Normally we would be tucked into the western edge of the beach for protection form the swell but conditions were calm enough to stay the night here last night.

We actually arrived at Isla Passavera on Sunday after an overnight sail from Mita, and we came the two miles to Perula on Monday to do some shopping. We looked like rookies when we blew a surf landing and ended up with wet butts and a dinghy full of saltwater. It was simply impatience and bad timing, but we were experienced enough to have all our belongings in a dry bag. We drained the dinghy and walked into town to see what was new since our last visit. We noticed a few houses, RV parks, and the Playa Dorada which we didn't remember from the '07/'08 season. There's a tsunami warning siren in the town square. Our favorite tiendas were open but a number of shops had their doors closed. There's a nice new cafe and dive shop on the corner of what we always referred to as the "nursing home." A Frenchman and his Mexican wife are running the business, both speak excellent English, and they offer Wi-Fi at the cafe.

M/V Lazy Days told us about road access to town from a protected cove with a small sand beach if we wanted to avoid doing another surf landing. We had made it off the beach just fine with our shopping and John had even done a solo round trip without incident on Wednesday. But yesterday we decided to check out the road for hiking opportunities. The cove is a bit rocky but we found a narrow clear approach into the beach and pulled the dinghy high up off the sand. We set off past a ramshackle abandoned house to a single track, dirt lane leading to a large warehouse type structure from which came sounds of sawing, hammering, and a loud radio. We walked away from the warehouse towards town and I finally got a closer look at the RV palapa visible from the anchorage. I've admired this for years as it's a pretty little clearing halfway up the hillside with a nice view of the beach. On it sits a full sized RV under a thatched "car port" surrounded by close-cropped green grass, shrubs and flowers, and a barbed-wire fence. We've never seen lights on at night or people there, but it's obviously well tended.

From there we followed a fork in the road that ended up taking us all the way out to the open palapa visible by boat as you round the point to enter the bay from the north. This was very intriguing because the workmanship was lovely with rounded edges and river rock detailing on the concrete foundation, and a built-in concrete double bed under the round thatched roof. It's completely open-air and the "yard" surrounding it has been cleared. There's nice rock wall along one side of the "driveway" with newly planted bougainvillea and (already dying) trees. It has gorgeous views of the ocean with beach access to a lovely cove from the rough road leading to the point. The major drawbacks are the distance from a paved road, no water, no electricity, no sewage, etc. - but it is breathtaking!

We were thrilled to be able to walk the entire length of this road without the usual "Propiedad Privada" or "Prohibido" signs preventing us from going farther. Things are still very green with flowers and butterflies to entertain us along the way. We never found the cows that left their pies for us to step around, but we did catch a glimpse of two coatimundis scurrying off into the dense underbrush. Their tracks were everywhere on the dusty road, but even so we were surprised to have actually seen any.

One of the crews we met on the Blast arrived late Wednesday and left before we got back from our hike, but we should see them again in Barra. Mazatlan shrimpers have been anchoring for the day and leaving before sunset. A small Navy boat appears to be taking a break here. John suggested I bake a cake for them so we took that over yesterday morning and thanked them for their service. We were very aware of the fact that we were two foreigners coming alongside a military vessel, unannounced, in a small boat, bearing foil wrapped objects as we approached. Never would have happened in the U.S.

Except for the green ocean water full of organic stringy stuff (not conducive to swimming) we are loving Mexico again!


{GMST}19|35.152|N|105|07.608|W|Punta Perula|Bahia Chamela{GEND}

Monday, December 05, 2011

Banderas Bay Blast (11/30-12/2, 2011)

We were starting to have thoughts about lunch last Wednesday when we noticed a 65' catamaran moving through the anchorage at Punta de Mita. As long time fans of the San Francisco sailing rag, Latitude 38, we immediately recognized it as "Profligate" belonging to Richard Spindler, the magazine's founder and Grand Poobah. Richard drove the big cat up next to Nakia and asked us if we were interested in sailing with them to La Cruz for the first of three days of the Banderas Bay Blast. (The Blast is a charity event benefiting local area children who might not otherwise be able to attend school.) We said "Sure!" and scrambled to get ourselves ready while he waited for his partner, Donna, and the rest of the paying guests to be delivered by panga. Fifteen minutes later we got in our dinghy which was trailing behind Nakia. Richard backed the now enormous looking cat (with something like a 25' beam) towards us until we could hop onto the steps of one of the hulls. And so began three days of sailing on Banderas Bay.

Being so spontaneous, the first day held the most excitement for us. We met the rest of the volunteer crew for that day, most of whom turned out to be non-sailors out for an adventure. We also had our first introduction to the boat and how to help sail it. Richard was in charge of the helm and called out directions for whatever sail trim was needed, even as he shot photos of other boats for the magazine. Donna patiently showed us where things were and what to do for each maneuver. As the more experienced crew for that particular day we stayed on our toes for the downwind sail to La Cruz marina. John mostly raised sails and trimmed spinnaker, while I assisted with the main sheet and traveler, and generally went to wherever I was needed.

Richard had reminded us to bring bus fare for the trip back to Mita after the finish. We also had in the back of our minds the question of how we would get from shore to Nakia. I told John that's what made it an adventure and he reminded me that an adventure is nothing but poor planning. We knew that the last resort was a swim out to Nakia but we hoped for a ride from a fishing panga going out for the night. It was after dark by the time we arrived at the fishermen's harbor where we found a panga off-loading charter guests. The driver agreed to take us out to our boat. This is where we made the classic mistake of not negotiating a price before stepping into the vehicle. And maybe we shouldn't even have asked at all, but just jumped off onto Nakia and waved our thanks, because the guy wanted 200 pesos (about 15 USD). Considering Nakia was anchored right outside the harbor entrance this was outrageous. We gave him 100 and told him that was all we had as we stepped off the panga. He then moved a couple of boat lengths forward of Nakia, cut his engines, and proceeded to clean the day's catch. Even 100 pesos seemed steep for a trip he would have made without us aboard!

After we had made the recommended donation to the charity event on our first day, we were free to join the boat for the next two days of racing. Those days were a blur of new names and faces amid light air sailing tactics. We never got to see Profligate's full potential as our speed remained well below 10 knots. But John loves sailing on boats bigger and faster than Nakia and, even though the "racing" was all in fun, he enjoys the challenge and tactics of out-maneuvering another boat. On the legs from La Cruz back to Punta Mita and then Mita to Nuevo Vallarta we exchanged email addresses with new friends, some of whom we might be seeing again in anchorages farther south.

We'd like to thank Richard for inviting us aboard and especially Donna for making us feel so useful. I commented that it must get tiresome to have to go over everything with each new batch of crew, but she graciously replied that we had been lots of help and had made her job easier. It was great fun and we appreciated the opportunity to sail with them.

For pictures and more detailed reports about the Blast on 'Lectronic Latitude, start at this link and work forwards or backwards by date from there:



Thursday, December 01, 2011

Day Sail out of Punta Mita

Tuesday morning we prepared the boat for an overnight trip south to Chamela. When the breeze came up at 1 PM we scrambled to get underway and were soon sailing along on a gentle swell and a barely riffled ocean surface. It was perfect whale watching weather and we sighted five unique animals, two of which made repeated and relatively close-up appearances. I also particularly enjoy slow sailing on flat water because I can see very small things like jelly fish in the 2-3 feet of the water's surface. Yesterday's jellies were 4-inch strings of small beads which we call "string of pearls" even though we don't know for sure if they are the stinging variety.

The breeze felt a little cool standing in the shade of the main sail. We've had a variety of weather conditions over the past few days (or at least, what we call "weather" in Mexico where there is no weather to speak of during the winter!). One night we had a heavy dew fall and I was able to do a poor man's boat wash, wiping the boat down with a rag and wringing out dirt and saltwater with the fresh water provided by Nature. The next day was so cloudy and windy that I got cold sitting in the cockpit listening to John play his ukulele at sunset. The day after that was clear and sunny with no breeze at all, and noticeably warmer water when we jumped in for our late afternoon "swim" (aka bath). Tuesday's hourly recorded water temps in the log out on the bay ranged from 78.4 to 80.1 degrees.

As the wind slowly died John made popcorn for a late afternoon snack. By the time we finished eating Nakia was barely making 2.5 knots and there was no wind in sight. John got on the phone to Hoorah and learned that they had motored the entire way to Chamela the night before. Then he called Stan for a forecast, who confirmed windless conditions for that stretch of coastline for the next few days. We fired up the engine and, deciding that 2.5 hours of motoring back to Mita would cost less than the 20 hours it would take to continue motoring south, we turned Nakia around to head back across the bay.

All in all we felt it had been a pleasurable outing and we had no regrets about "wasting" a day going nowhere. So when we started passing small groups of dolphins I was over the moon with excitement because the day just kept getting better and better. The first few were busy feeding and didn't stick around to bow ride for long. But they were beautiful spotted dolphins, covered in white freckles and small in size. While we were watching for more dolphins a butterfly passed us and this time I could clearly see that it was a Monarch. Every evening before sunset we watch butterflies of all colors and sizes fly through the anchorage headed to shore. But until we were actually motoring at 5 knots alongside one I hadn't been able to confirm John's feeling that the bigger ones were Monarchs. I couldn't believe that something so small (as John said, "with a 2-inch waterline") was so easily passing us.

Another dolphin was headed for our bow and we raced up to see if it would stay longer than the others had. This was a big bottlenose which was joined by two more swimming right up against Nakia's bow just below the surface. As we watched them watching us and barrel rolling in our bow wave, we were fascinated to see that two of the dolphins had remoras attached to them. The interesting thing was how the remora would appear to lose hold but was actually sliding around the dolphin's body as it rolled through the water. We were surprised that the remoras managed to keep a hold of the fast swimming dolphins. One by one our visitors eventually peeled off until the last one surfaced to take a big breath (splashing my leg a little in the process), and then disappeared with the others.

The sun was setting, we had one more good look at a big, black, glistening humpback's dorsal fin and then its tail fluke, and panga fishermen were out with flashing lights in the water. It wasn't long after dark before we were threading our way through the anchor lights of other sailboats to tuck into one of our favorite anchorages again.


{GMST}20|46.026|N|105|30.980|W|Punta Mita|Punta Mita{GEND}