Tuesday, March 15, 2011

From La Cruz to Barra de Navidad - February 25 to March 5

We left right after the weather. We were anchored in La Cruz and looking for a window to round Cabo Corrientes. Don Anderson, weather maestro, suggested that Friday, February 25 was the day to go. We upped anchor and were underway by 9:30. Banderas Bay was flat calm with only enough wind to hold our mainsail. We motored out and the diurnal winds kicked in around noon. We hoisted the yankee and approached the Cape under full sail in 10 knots of wind while trying to accommodate the swell rolling in from the northwest and the southeast all at the same time.

Off Cabo Corrientes

Humpback whales accompany us out of the Bay of Banderas

The outcome was that we bucked and rolled. We tried hoisting our drifter as the wind was on our quarter, but it shifted and the sails flapped in the slop. We persevered because we were making some headway, but it was slow going and not much fun. Eventually the cross seas calmed down and the wind picked up more. We sailed along wing on wing quite comfortably until there was a “pop” sound and the headsail started flapping. We had bent our whisker pole in half! Doug was able to strap it to the deck and we continued on, trying to keep the wind in the forward sail. Around 2am the wind died and we motored again in 6-8 foot swells coming from the northwest. As the day opened up, we found we were bucking a current.  In addition to slowing us down, we noticed the water temperature had increased to 75 degrees and had changed to an incredible torquoise colour.  If that wasn't beautiful enough, we started noticing turtles - flotillas of turtles - hovering on the surface of the water.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture as these shy creatures would submerge before I had the chance.  These are the types of turtles found here, though I am not sure which one(s) we saw.

Green Turtle

Hawksbill Turtle

Leatherback turtle

We arrived at the entrance to the Barra Lagoon about 4 pm after sailing the last three hours in light winds with Gypsy.
Gypsy sailing into Barra de Navidad

One happy sailor!

Entering the Barra Lagoon is not straightforward. We used the chartlet from the Pacific Mexico guidebook to work our way in on a rising tide.

Entrance to Barra de Navidad

We had to skirt around pangas and sand bars with no navigational aids beyond the marina.

Entrance to the lagoon

 Luckily we made it through unscathed and anchored in 3 meters of water, 20 meters of chain out. There were about 40 other boats in the lagoon. Amazing! To date I had not seen so many cruising yachts decked out with all the equipment necessary to live this lifestyle in comfort and safety.

Looking over the lagoon at Barra

Within minutes of dropping our anchor, Joel and Chris, from 40 Love called to invite us over for sundowners. We joined them after organizing Ka’sala and launching the dinghy. We had met Joel in Mazatlan as he prepared his boat for his annual pilgrimage down the Mexican coast. His wife, Chris, had since joined him and we were looking forward to meeting her.

The crew of Ka'sala with Joel and Chris from 40 Love (do you think they play tennis?)
After drinks we headed into Barra for dinner at an elegant restaurant called Sambuca where we enjoyed some fusion cuisine made even better with fresh herbs.

In the evening the lighting of this place makes it very inviting

It was strange to explore Barra for the first time in the dark, especially as their annual carnival was happening. There were throngs of people and festivities going on everywhere. The air was tropical and the sounds and sensations reminded me of my one night in Bangkok many years ago. On a whim, Doug had taken me there on one of his overnight flights from Hong Kong – we arrived after dark and left before first light – so my recollections of that Asian city are dreamlike and somewhat lurid. In a weird time-skew it seemed Barra was a little like that, but on a much smaller scale. The feeling was reinforced by the fact that we hadn’t slept much on our passage to get there the night before.

After dinner we stopped off at Piper Lovers, a famous cruisers haunt, for some live music. The place was crammed with gringos laughing and dancing and having a great time. The stand alone musician played one popular tune after another and the whole place just vibrated. We wedged our way to the back and I was astonished to hear the surf pounding right below this second floor establishment – adding to the surreal feelings.
I know - you shouldn't take pictures in a bar, late in the evening....what's with the blindfold?

Piper Lover's logo - just a few tatoos?

Daytime view from Piper Lovers

We spent a week in Barra de Navidad. During that time many yachts came and went. Several times we saw yachts go aground on their way in and out of the lagoon. Legions of dinghys would go and push the boats back into the channel. On two days the wind howled through the anchorage – up to 30 knots and the boats all strained at the anchors. Ours held beautifully the whole time, but many others dragged around. It kept us on our toes!

Sand bars in the entrance and lagoon at low tide - the village of Barra in the foreground, Malaque is at the end of the crescent bay

One day we heard on the radio that a boat had been struck by a whale on its way to nearby Tenacatita. Apparently it was under sail and somehow Luffing It, a Peterson 38, and the whale, became entangled. I don’t know what happened to the whale, but Luffing It got pounded and took a fair amount of damage below the water line to rudder, propeller and shaft, as well as moving an interior bulkhead a few inches. They were assisted by 40 Love and others who accompanied them to La Cruz where they were hauled out for repairs.  It echoed a previous incident that occured during the 2009 Baja Ha Ha when a sailboat collided with a whale and sunk off the Baja coast.  These incidents are reminders that, although our boats are comfortable and high tech, we are still exposed to, and at the mercy of, mother nature - should she choose to play her hand.

Barra de Navidad is at the end of a 2.5 mile beach. At the other end is the town of Melaque/San Patrico and one day we walked down the beach to check it out as well as an alternative anchorage.

Approach to Melaque by sea - anchorage is behind the pinnacle rocks

Anchorage at Melaque - fish holding nets in middle

The waves roll and pound on this steep stretch of sand and walking was difficult.

Beach walk to Melaque from Barra de Navidad

We were happy to find a more traditional Mexican village at the other end with a plaza, a church and Mercado.
Town Plaza in Malaque

A store called “Hawaii” was astonishing for its supply of gringo products. They even had Cheez Whiz!

If you're lucky, you can find the farmer selling his produce.  This fellow had his entire extended family stuffed into the van full of cantelope.

After loading up on a few items, we took an entertaining 5 peso bus back to Barra.

On the bus back to Barra, these two youngsters entertained us with their simian antics - the bus driver was not amused!

The village of Barra itself is primarily a low-key tourist town. There is an all inclusive resort across the entrance to the lagoon, but it doesn’t seem to have much influence on the place.

Grand Hotel, Barra de Navidad

Instead, Barra is filled with small kiosks selling Mexican goods, many low budget hotels, small tiendas, taco stands, bars, cafes and several fine restaurants.

Barra de Navidad street scene

A modern, open air church with gorgeous stained glass graces Barra

We had two particularly delicious Mexican dinners at Café Lindo.

At the back was a lovely, shaded and cool garden where you could have lunch

Mexicans and gringos alike come to the Barra area for their holidays – the whole place is very casual and has a backpacker’s air about it.

Yup, even the chickens enjoyed strolling in the streets

However, on the outskirts of town and along a canal area, there is evidence of development in the form of fine houses owned by foreigners.  There is a small malecon at the entrance to the inner harbour popular with families.  There are sculptures and a slab of rock commemorating Barra's history in the Phillipine galleon trade.

These kids were having a blast on the beach!

Some days the diurnal winds grew very strong - much to the delight of the kite surfers - if you look closely you can also see a wind surfer in the background - these guys must have pecs like steel rods!

For the yatista, the Sands Hotel is a God send. The laid back owners allow us to park our dinghies along their estuary wall (no dock or jetty) and use their pool and internet facilities for a nominal price.

Internet lounge at the Sands

A cute little monkey lived in his own private garden at the Sands

Pool at the Sands

They definitely appreciated it when we bought drinks and lunch, and many of us obliged. In addition, it turned out to be a great place to meet other cruisers as they came and went. We met Hugh and Anne from Port Ludlow, Washington, aboard Serendipity that way and enjoyed a fun evening together - first watching the sunset from fourth floor Berlin, then returning to Sambuca for another wonderful meal.

Sunset shot from Berlin

Although we drove our little dinghy back and forth the 3 km (or so) each time we went into town, there was also a water taxi service and we were able to take advantage of that the evenings for 25 pesos each.

Round trip ticket

Panga ferry dock

 It’s an exhilarating ride to speed over the sandbars in the dark and try to pick out your boat in the forest of masts and twinkling anchor lights. The moorage looks like a city in the distance.

Near the lagoon is a jetty that gives access to an amazing golf course community. It is a huge development that leads to an enormous beach which we could hear the pounding of the surf each night.

Golf course community

 The owners didn’t seem to mind us walking all around the beautiful, tree lined course, well manicured greens and up into the overlooking hills to get great views of the area.

Garden entrance to the golf course

Jetty leading to golf course - Colmilla in the distance

Pretty estuary beach

The little village of Colmilla lies very close by and a thirsty walker could buy an Estrella at a tienda for less than the price of a Coke.

Sleepy little Colmilla lies across the estuary from Barra and is in a different state.


While in Barra we met many boats we had never seen before. Many of them had come down from San Diego on the Baja Ha Ha and continued on from Cabo, chasing the warm weather. It became apparent to us that many of them were beginning their trek back north to the Sea of Cortez to either summer there, put their boats in storage for the hurricane season or get it ready to ship home. Unfortunately, we still didn’t meet anyone who was considering returning their yacht back to the Pacific Northwest via Hawaii.

The weather continued to be warm, but we couldn’t swim in the murky lagoon.

The murk didn't stop the pelicans who LOVED divebombing all around us

We have our shower bag in constant use, filling it from our water jugs we keep on deck and putting it in the sun during the day in order to have a warm shower in the late afternoon. Our drinking water is holding up well as we anchor off the dock, but we have discovered our electricity is not. We’ve figured out that our batteries are losing their charge way too quickly and not holding the current. Doug has been busy reading up, consulting and experimenting on the system to try to get it back in top form. The prospect of living without refrigeration, computers and radios is not very appetizing for either of us and we have the feeling we will be replacing some parts when we return to Puerto Vallarta.

With lagoons and estuaries come bugs, and Barra was no different. We had all our screens up and burned citronella in the cockpit when we were aboard in the evenings. We found it ironic that San Blas had been given such a bad rep for bugs, yet these were the worst yet. Perhaps it just wasn’t as warm when we were in the San Blas area.

Doug’s birthday was on March 2, so I took advantage of the French Baker by having him deliver a chocolate cake.

Happy Birthday Doug!

It was the only surprise I managed that day, though I think Doug was happy with the cotton shirt I bought him and the birthday seafood dinner at Isadora’s, on a pier overlooking the estuary. However, some cruisers at another table overheard us talking and, as they left the restaurant, surrounded us and sang him Happy Birthday at the top of their lungs!  I don't think he'll forget this birthday soon.

The birthday dinner awaits!
The next morning he was out in the dinghy sharing birthday cake with the boats nearby us – it was delicious, but very rich! We enjoyed the French Baker’s croissants and baguettes most days and I even bought some flour and yeast from him in anticipation of more bread baking on our long passages and the seeming unavailability of quality flour in this country.

In addition to our exploring and socializing we were able to catch up on some of our reading and continue planning for the long passage. I finished, for the second time, another Hal Roth book How to Cruise Around the World, which I found to be extremely helpful – especially when it came to discussing the technical aspects of boats, sailing and heavy weather.

I’m afraid his idea of life at sea is a little more spartan than mine, but his accessible writing style and matter-of-fact way of discussing the topic was interesting and I learned a lot. I found it to be a lot more valuable in the second reading after having sailed as far as I have, compared to the first time, from my comfortable armchair at home, when I could only speculate what life at sea might be like. I have a feeling that if I read it again after our Hawaii passages, I might find it even more enlightening.

I found another sailing to Hawaii blog, which we read in detail. Although it is the story of a couple who sailed their 31 foot catamaran, as opposed to a traditional sailboat, it is chock full of interesting pointers and observations. I still can’t get over the fact that they were able to play dominos to while away the hours at sea! If you are interested check out:  (http://www.time-for-a-catamaran-adventure.com/journal-2008-tohawaii.html)

Our time in Barra was over before we knew it and it was time to begin the first stage our long passage home to Canada. We began watching the weather closely and decided we would take a week to 10 days to travel back up to Puerto Vallarta – to give us time to pick our weather windows, and also to avoid being in the Banderas Bay area during the Regatta. The challenge on this route is the prevailing winds and swells continue to come from the north and west, yet there are strong southerly diurnal winds on most days, which can lead to some tricky situations. We learned that many experienced cruisers try to leave the anchorages at first light in order to avoid these conditions later in the day. Who were we to contradict?

Happy sailors!

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