Thursday, March 24, 2011

Life at Marina La Cruz

We arrived back at Banderas Bay and checked into Marina La Cruz on March 12. We’ve been here ever since. To say that the time has flown would be an obscene understatement. This marina, and the surrounding anchorage, is a heat sink for yachts and we have spent a great deal of time catching up with adventures and wishing friends well on their continuing voyages. Socializing, in other words!

Aerial view of Marina La Cruz

Marina Plan - we are on the second long dock by the breakwater

Ka'sala at Marina La Cruz - breakwater in the background

But it’s not all play. Doug has been working his way through the list of boatwork that needs to be done before we can do our Pacific passages. He worked with fellow Canadian, Rob, from Keetya 1, to replace the seals on the Yanmar engine. This involved lifting the engine and moving it back in order to access the areas that needed working on. The whole boat was in upheaval as the engine is accessed under the companionway and beside the galley. Tools needed to be found and spread out. It was dirty, messy work so I high-tailed it out of there and spent the day working on the blog, curled up at a cafĂ©.

My favourite cafe, just opened and run by a very friendly young family.

At the end of the day, when I returned, I could see the operation was a success by the grease smeared smile of contentment on Doug’s face.

Our electrical concerns continued and Doug, through trial and error and the process of elimination, decided our batteries were kaput. We spent a day researching batteries and their availability, finally settled on 2 LTH deep cycle truck batteries to replace our AGM Lifelines (which were about 7 years old). We had been worried we would have to pick up and install these extremely heavy batteries (170 lbs), but were delighted to find the LTH people would not only deliver the new batteries to the boat, they would also take away the old ones for recycling – all for a reasonable price. On the day they arrived, Doug dismantled the dodger and rigged the boom as a hoist and, with the help of Cory and Neil, a couple sailors on the dock, was able to lift out the old ones and lower in the new ones. We are now testing the new batteries to make sure they are up to speed and Doug is, once again, delighted with the results.

The electrical puzzle also included fixing the secondary alternator and starter motor. Once again, we tramped through the villages looking for a mechanic who could do this work.

Crossing the highway at Bucerias - reminiscent of Berkley with a few less cars!

 I grumbled with the 40 pound weight of the starter motor in my backpack in the 35 degree heat – Doug seemed impervious to this as he was carrying the 50 pound alternator. Nevertheless, we were successful and found our mechanic, Antonio (Tuque), in Bucerias, who deftly fixed them both.

Toque's garage

Work bench!

We took advantage of the fact we were in Bucerias to check out some of our old haunts.  We had celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary there three years ago during Christmas vacation and had loved it.  We found Bucerias even more beautiful than before, though more "gringo" and expensive.  We certainly looked at it through a different lense after our experiences over the last few months.

Lunch on the beach in Bucerias - La Cruz in the far background

Beautiful, gentle Bucerias beach - La Cruz in the far distance

Looking toward Puerto Vallarta

Yesterday Doug was outside in the blazing heat going through all the rigging and fittings. He cleaned them up and checked them out and found no damage. With strong rigging and our new Carol Hasse sails we should do very well on these upcoming off shore passages.

As part of our preparation, we have been checking into the Pacific Seafarer’s Net to follow the progress of boats at sea and figure out the routines of the controllers. It is a pretty spectacular net with relays all around the Pacific. Net Control is centrally located in Hawaii. We will be checking in to this Net each day on both our Pacific passages. Doug has also been following Passage weather and continues to listen to the local Nets. We have been interested to hear what the Puddle Jumpers have experienced as they leave Banderas Bay heading to the South Pacific. We have come to realize that if there is a good wind coming out of the Sea of Cortez (which is your enemy when you are trying to head north), you can ride it out into the ocean far enough to pick up the trade winds which will push you all the way to Hawaii. We are also following the progress of our friends Steve and Meredith, on Silas Crosby, as they make their way from the Galapagos to Easter Island. They are also in the trades, but in the southern hemisphere. (check out for their continuing, gripping adventures) It seems the trades are blowing 15 to 25 knots at this time – which is an excellent way to get to your destination in the minimum amount of time.

We don't have copies, but we've been able to borrow and peruse two other cruising manuals.  Earl Hinz's Landfalls of Paradise and Carolyn and Bob Mahaffy's Cruising Guide to the Hawaiin Islands.  Oh! Would we love to have our own copies of these books.  We can get the latter on Doug's Kindle, but I find it difficult to use reference books that way.

I’m now reading the Dashew’s OffShore Cruising Encyclopedia and The Passage-Maker’s Cookbook, by Dyan Dunsmoor-Farley as I try to work out the offshore provisioning puzzle.

I think I pretty well know now what fruit and vegetables last, which ones don’t. I know where I am going to get my tinned and dried goods. (Costco, Walmart, Mega)  I’ve worked out potential meals for a month and will make sure we have enough for at least 45 days at sea if worse comes to worst. But there are still a few unanswered questions such as: “Will I be able to cook? – and the subset to that would be: “Will it be too rough to cook?” “Will I be too uncomfortable or seasick to cook?”, “What will we want to eat?”. It’s not as if there is a tienda close by to pick up the bits you forgot, or a restaurant where you can choose what you like!

My favourite tienda - the brothers who run this little store have agreed to help me with my provisioning and will deliver to Ka'sala when we are ready to go.

My second dilemma is where to put the provisions. After all, we have a 34’ sailboat. I think I can find spaces and places for the dried and tinned provisions, but the fruit and veggies have me a bit stumped. Many cruisers use nets hanging from the coach roofs to store these things. Others use ventilated plastic boxes on shelves. Lynn Pardey suggests turning the forward berth into produce storage and keeping it secure with lee cloths. I’m wondering how I will keep 10 dozen eggs from breaking! Doug says I’m being too fussy and this annoys me greatly. I retort: “Okay then, I will buy 5 cases of chili and forget about the rest!” which doesn’t help matters for either of us.

We’ll have plenty of fresh water. We hold about 120 gallons and we have noticed that if we do nothing other than use it as we please, we can last about four weeks. I realize that when we are at sea, if we were to continue with thoughtless consumption, we would not have enough to last the passages. Therefore, we have been monitoring our usage and trying to figure out how to save. We’ve read that a gallon a day per person is a good measuring stick – ½ a gallon for drinking/cooking and ½ a gallon for cleaning/washing. If this were the case, our 120 gallons could last us 60 days. We use fresh water to drink, bathe, cook, clean and wash dishes. If we were to wash dishes in salt water, and keep our boat cleaning and bathing to a minimum, we are likely to arrive in Hawaii, and later, B.C., with water to spare. We store our water in two separate stainless steel tanks, but I also keep several gallons of purified water in the bilge for emergencies. Additionally, we have two jerry cans of fresh water, stored on the rail, which we have used to fill our solar shower. 

One of these jerry cans gives us about 10 showers - which includes washing my long hair. We've found using 2 in 1 shampoo very helpful in conserving the water. You can go a long time without food, but water is a different story!  Imagine how much fresh water would be in the world if we all approached our consumption this way!

Regular boat living chores continue ashore. Cleaning Ka’sala inside and out, laundry, meals, having a shower, provisioning….all take way more time than they do back home. But it’s fun, and different. I know I will look back at this time, when I am sitting behind my desk again, and wonder why I ever complained!

We continue to enjoy the fantastic Sunday market at La Cruz. Art, organic food, crafts, baked goods, and many more delicacies are sold by upwards of 100 merchants. It’s fun to stroll around and look at the many colourful things that are for sale, as well as running in to friends. I love to buy fresh spinach and basil, baby lettuces with flowers, parsley and mint. Doug enjoys croissant and baguette and we both are crazy about the spinach and feta stuffed gorditas – probably the most perfect fusion treat I have encountered to date! But there is also a fellow who sells smoked products so we have purchased sausages, plum smoked mozzarella and he has even promised a full sized smoked ham closer to Easter. (which I think would be the perfect thing to bring on our cruise). Doug has been looking for the perfect piece of art for Ka’sala and had narrowed it down to something from the Huichol Indians.

Huichol arts and crafts - the artist is holding our unfinished piece

There are several vendors at the Sunday market, and eventually we found Vigilio, a Huichol who speaks excellent English. 

Vigilio explains the symbolic significance of the piece

He was able to explain the significance of the pieces we found attractive. We eventually commissioned an eclipse to be made and were thrilled with the final product.

With the artist

Aboard Ka'sala - this particular Eclipse highlights the significance of deer to the Huichol people, but also has symbols for corn and peyote, the other two items of their sacred trinity.  The eclipse, itself, is symbolic of male/female, similar to the Chinese Yin/Yang

One day we took the bus into Puerto Vallarta and met up with Susan and Gary again. They are former cruisers, living in a condo near the cruise ship docks. They are also friends of Meredith’s, whose mother arranged to have my new Panasonic camera delivered to them. Susan’s parents had brought it down, along with 8 packages of the Swiss Ricola eucalyptus mints I have been addicted to for years.

We had a very nice brunch together and promised Susan and Gary we would take them sailing before we left.
Susan Fox (who is a gifted artist) and Doug

Foggy September Morning small (2).jpg
An example of Susan's work

There are always lots of activities going on around here. Thursday nights is movie night and the marina has a little amphitheatre on the breakwater where they project the films onto a giant screen. Tonight, for example, they are showing “Avatar”. Each week there seems to be barbeques at the beach palapa and regular activities such as free yoga every morning, cooking classes, a kid’s club and information sessions on various aspects of boating and the cruising lifestyle.

Marina La Cruz Clubhouse

Beach at Marina La Cruz

Great sailing program for kids at La Cruz - tiny Optomists in the windy bay.

The local establishments often have live music at night and we have enjoyed jazz, folk, rock and country.

A favourite musical haunt
The evenings are balmy and it is lovely to walk around the darkened, cobblestoned streets of La Cruz and be part of the life of the Mexicans who live here. Oh, and find a delicious street taco or tamale along the way! Several places offer excellent internet access so, during the day, you can sit in comfort, nursing a great cup of coffee or a cold beer, while you do your business. It is going to be very hard to leave this place!

Ka'sala at the end of 9 dock - La Cruz - breakwater entrance in background

Of course, it's the people you meet and spend time with who really make this cruising lifestyle worthwhile.  We have been blessed to meet so many interesting people from all over.  One night we were invited over to dinner aboard Ladybug II, Ka'sala's sistership, with Chris and Rani.  Rani cooked up two delicious vegetarian curries and we enjoyed catching up with news and comparing boat notes.  Their blog was inspirational for us before we left BC and we were thrilled to be able to spend some time with them on their whirlwind visit to La Cruz.  (

Ladybug II, a Coast 34, Chris & Rani bought in San Carlos



We met Neil, aboard his Islander Freeport 36 in the slip beside us.  He commutes down from the San Francisco area to enjoy some Mexican sun in the winter and we enjoyed many philosophical, political and intellectual conversations with him during his brief stay. 

Neil aboard Isis

Neil and Doug

We also met up again with Cory.  He is a great surf enthusiast we had met in Mazatlan.  His stories of surfing at Punta Mita, travelling to Hawaii, and various other adventures and exploits kept us entertained.

Cory LOVES life!

Another couple we have spent some time with is Fran and Jean-Guy aboard Gosling.  We first met them in Barra, then spent some time again with them in Tenacatita.  J-G is retired Canadian navy graduating from Royal Military College just as Doug began.  Fran is from Kingston, Ontario - where I was born.  They have a great blog at:

Fran and Jean-Guy

Tomorrow we are taking the bus to spend the weekend in Guadalajara, home of Mariachi bands and the Mexican hat dance. We will stay in a Spanish-style hotel right in the middle of the Centro Historico district and we’re looking forward to another cultural experience when we explore the museums and cathedrals. Should make a pretty good future blog entry!

                          Mariachi Bands

Mexican hat dance
                                                         San Francisco Plaza Hotel

Wonderful architecture and museums 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Barra de Navidad to Tenacatita–March 6 to March 11

We left the lagoon at Barra after breakfast on Sunday. We were so tempted by the French baker, but our waistlines had finally rebelled. We snuck out before he could entice us, yet again! Unfortunately, in our hurry to get away, we shaved the sandbar corner a little too closely and after a gentle “thud” we realized we had gone aground. Luckily we just barely touched and Doug was able to easily back us out and get us back in the channel. We passed through the entrance into the bay without any further delays. We were sorry to say goodbye to this fun little town.

Serendipity, with Hugh and Anne aboard came out of the lagoon behind us, heading for the “secret” anchorage of Cuastecomate, which isn’t quite so secret anymore. They wanted us to join them, and we would have liked to have spent some time with them, but we thought it might have too many boats in the small southern-exposed anchorage.

The lovely Serendipity off Barra de Navidad - a Gossard 37

Cuastecomate Bay

We motorsailed against a slight swell with less than 10 knots of wind the three hours to Tenacatita, keeping a close look out for whales. We did see some, but they kept their distance, and by one o’clock we were anchored in 20 feet with 30 meters of chain. There were a handful of boats there including Canadians, Fran and Jean-Guy, aboard Gosling. However, over the five days we stayed there many boats came and went.

Ka'sala, centre, at anchor in Tenacatita - Gosling on the right

Tenacatita is a cruiser’s dream. The anchorage is tucked deep into a recess and to the side of a long sandy beach. At the far end is an all inclusive resort.

Resort at Tenacatita

 Further along, around the bay, is the tiny village of La Manzanilla sprawled along a hill side. The craggy landscape makes for a great backdrop at sunrise and sunset.

Sunset at Tenacatita - looking toward La Manzanilla

By the anchorage is the entrance to an estuary where pangas and dinghies can penetrate the mangroves to view the birdlife and the dreaded crocodiles. Right on the beach is a little palapa which makes its money from a campsite nearby, as well as from cruisers stout enough to brave the surf, and all-inclusive escapees seeking a quiet cerveza.

Beach Palapa at Tenacatita

We found the swells reasonable and, although we rolled a bit during the night, we were very comfortable during our stay.  The crashing of the swells on the surf in the darkness, however, kept us vigilant.

As soon as we arrived at the anchorage, Jean-Guy and Fran were over in their dinghy, inviting us to the beach to play bocce. We decided to stay close to the boat that day, but joined them, and other cruisers, several times over the next couple days, to toast our feet on the sand.

Fran concentrates on her shot

Those of us not playing bocce, could try their hand at Mexican train dominoes, or a rudely named card game (Presidents and ***holes) under the shade of the palapa cafe.

Relaxing under the palapa

Some of us enjoyed just sitting around, swapping stories and living the laidback lifestyle of the Mexican cruiser. The guacamole was great and the BBQ fish was wonderful, all served up by attentive (and patient) staff.

The real challenge was the surf.

I know, doesn't look like much from this perspective, but imagine a 9 foot RIB

We eyeballed it from Ka’sala and recognized immediately that our little 2.5 Yamaha, on the back of the dinghy, was just not going to cut it. We opted for the oars. We scanned the beach to see where the break might be the smallest, thinking we might be able to get around the little reef guarding the estuary entrance. (Nope, too many rocks).

I didn't fancy a face plant here

Finally, we realized that, if we wanted to go to the beach, we were just going to have to tough it out. So we packed dry clothes and gear in our dry bag, attached everything to the dinghy and headed out. All in all, we landed and took off about 10 times. I wish I could say we improved, but that was not the case. Each time we came and went we tried a different strategy. Each time we got wet.

Sorting out our kit after a moderately successful landing

We would sit just before the break on the way in, counting the swells, waiting for the gentle one. Doug would say: “When I say go – you jump out to starboard and I’ll jump out to port.” Made sense. Trouble was, when he yelled “Jump!”, I leaped out, only to discover the water was up to my shoulders, when I had one leg still in the dinghy! Oops, before I could disentangle myself we were caught in the surf. I emerged soaking wet with a couple colourful bruises on my legs. Later, I learned that my friends from the Baja were also prevalent on this beach!


On another time, we were returning to the boat at the end of a long, hard day playing games and socializing. We had the dinghy in the shallow water. Doug said: “This time, I will get in the dinghy, you steady the transom and when I say “get in”, jump over the transom and I will row like mad to get over the swell before it breaks”. Me, ever the optimist, thought that sounded good. Have you ever tried to “steady” a rigid inflatable dinghy in breaking surf? Okay, I tried my best, got soaking wet again and when Doug yelled “get in!”, I launched myself over the transom, only to have my teeth meet his fists as he leaned forward into the oars to get a good lift over the wave. We made it and, other than a small split lip, my teeth all remained in my head.


I have to say, I found the whole dinghy surf landings hilarious. I laughed so hard I couldn’t concentrate on what I was supposed to be doing half the time and it had nothing to do with the margueritas I consumed before returning to Ka’sala. The whole thing was an exhilarating experience. Unfortunately, it didn’t always work out that way for others. One dinghy, with a 9 hp engine, returning home, went straight up into the surf and flipped. Luckily no one was hurt and we were there to help. The palapa sent out some fresh water to douse the engine so all was okay in the end. We heard later that the surf isn’t always this way at Tenacatita . I think I would miss the drama!

Pizza is one of our favourite passage meals.  I baked this delicious vegetarian version which Doug insisted I photograph for posterity. Yum!

For most of the time we were there a red tide stained the water making it very unpleasant to swim off the boat. Although the surface seems blue, when you look into it, it appears like the blood of many slaughtered whales. However, as the days went by, it started to clear and by our last day we were able to enjoy a dip. Apparently this phenomenon is very unusual. Locals attributed it to the heavy rains they had experienced over the last summer which had flushed more nutrient rich soil into the ocean. Tenacatita is known for its “clear, turquoise waters”. Unfortunately, we never saw it.

                                                                      Beautiful Tenacatita

We were sorry to leave after 5 days, but thought we should make our way up to the other anchorages before returning to Puerto Vallarta to begin preparations for our Hawaii trip. We weighed anchor for what we expected would be a 5 hour sail to Chacala. Unfortunately, that was March 11, the day of the tsunami, and we had to give it a pass – thinking it better to remain at sea than to chance a tsunami at anchor.

Sunset at sea - March 11