Barra de Navidad
14 January 2011
19° 11.325'N, 104° 40.305'
We arrived here in Barra de Navidad, or 'Barra' late in the afternoon on January 4th and anchored in the lagoon. The sail down here with 22 knots of wind from Tenacatita was fun, getting into this lagoon on a minus, but rising tide was, noteworthy!
We came into the outer channel, which is well marked and relatively straight forward without issue. That channel leads back to the entrance to the marina on the south side where it forks, one channel leads east back to the lagoon and the other bends south and east around to the fuel dock. There is clearly an outer channel that follows the bank around the outside past the fuel dock, but apparently does not go anywhere. According to our chart guide we wanted the center channel that takes a slight dog leg just past the entrance to the marina. The problem was at this extreme low tide there were sand bars extending out from the south side of the channel and along bar on our left. Keep in mind none of this is marked. The sight was reminiscent of running a ski boat on the Lower Colorado River.
Anyway, we started down the wrong channel, which was still OK, but trying to get back to where we were supposed to be was where the problems started. We draw about 6'3" and had 2 to 3 feet under our keel, which is not a lot of water. We proceeded very slowly, about 1-2 knots, just enough to make way with all the wind, when we grounded. The bottom conditions in this lagoon are sand over mud so this is what's called a "soft grounding." The boat just kind of heaves forward as the keel impacts and presses into the bottom until you're stops. With all the wind outside we had strong gusts in the lagoon that push the boat even with the sails down, so we were listing on our imbedded keel. I was able to back us off the bar fairly quickly and all was well. Still picking our way slowly we hit a second time and this time I couldn't back off. We were being pushed sideways by the wind and I thought we were going to be stuck until high tide at midnight. Several local fishermen were motioning towards the correct channel, but getting there was the hard part. The water in here is cloudy and visibility is limited to just a few feet so you can't see bottom. We got the bright idea to use our boat hook, extended to full length and probe off each side of the boat. We found that we had about 4' of depth to starboard, but plenty of water to port. With that I turned to port and powered through a few feet of sand/mud to clear water. OK, free again, but not for long. Getting back to the channel proved to be a challenge; we grounded several more times, but were able to free ourselves relatively easily in the same manner.
Once in the channel we were home free and we came through it all almost unscathed; Marisa took a fall on the deck on one of the groundings, which resulted in a couple of nice bruises, one visible, one not!
Mike and Bill from So Inclined had come out to help and later Bill said he was going to nickname me, "Bounce." OK, so in self defense several boats per day go aground in this entrance. When we left Barra for Cuastecomate (but that's another story) three boats in front of us all grounded at least temporarily, one so badly that it took assistance to get off. It ain't easy! Barra is an interesting little tourist town catering to Mexicans and us northerners alike with several up-scale restaurants and quite a few budget priced eateries. There are a few tourist oriented bars complete with live music in the evenings playing mostly US Oldies with a strong Mexican accent. There are several smaller and older hotels in town and a nice ocean front beach. Barra sits on a long sand bar connected to the mainland at the north. The large lagoon we anchored in with about 15 other boats is to the east and then across the narrow opening into the lagoon there is a very large and beautiful hotel complex on the hill, The Grand Bay Hotel, that is as nice as its name sounds, complete with marina and golf course, but we weren't staying there. Once in the lagoon we were safely anchored with get this, 6 inches under the keel! It was the low tide of the month so that was sufficient in this situation, just un-nerving. The lagoon is brown brackish water and no one swims in it and because it is rumored to have crocodiles, which is the down side, but it is a calm anchorage safe in any wind direction. There is an efficient water taxi service from Barra to both the hotel and to the boats anchored in the lagoon. You call them on VHF radio and a panga picks you up in just a few minutes and deposit you at their dock on the back bay in Barra. A guy there charges you for the round trip, $25 pesos each or $2 US and gives you a ticket for the return ride. After midnight no one attends their dock and the sign on the wall says to flash the lights off and on and one of the pangas will come for you. It sounds kind of odd, but we found out that it works! You can also take your own dinghy into town and dock it at the Sands Hotel. They allow us cruisers to tie our dinghies off on their sea wall and use their pool and bathrooms. All they ask is that we patronize their bar, and they'll give you a wifi code while you are there. How could we refuse and the beer is only $15 pesos or about a buck and a quarter! As a side note to the Sands being friendly, I ordered my first hamburger there since leaving the US in November and it was darn good! It's just a short walk from the Sands to a number of restaurants, abarrotes, a laundry service and you're right in town.
There is a local French Bakery, "El Horno Frances" operated by, a "real Frenchman" and his wife. The cool thing is that he delivers by boat to the marina and lagoon. It's fun and quite good. He announces his rounds on VHF Channel 22, the cruiser's net, "this is the French baker, I am beginning my rounds," or "I am entering the lagoon" and at the end he announces, "I have completed my tour" all with French accent. Anyway, his products are really good, pastries, breads, quiche, croissants and more, all on a daily basis delivered to your boat, and he will take special orders a day ahead. It's better than the Helms Bakery truck, can't beat it! Speaking of the Cruiser's Net; this net is operated on VHF channel 22 and has a typical maximum range of 25 miles. This net is operated six days a week by cruisers in and for the greater Barra area. As in other areas, Mazatlan, P.V. and so on, we disseminate local information keeping track of each other on who has arrived, who is departing, who needs assistance, local weather forecast and tides. It takes about half an hour and starts at 0900 hrs and is all volunteer. Each day someone takes the MC roll and follows a script then begs for someone to take it tomorrow! We also have HF radio system on Pacifico and listen to the Amigo net broadcast at 0800 out of La Paz. That net is a little more formal, but is essentially the same with a greater focus on weather. The HF radio bands are capable of reaching out hundreds to even thousands of miles, case in point the fellow who provides the daily weather is Don Anderson, a "retired cruiser" and weather expert who broadcasts out of Oxnard, Ca. We spent several days anchored in the Barra lagoon visiting with So Inclined and crew and partaking of the offerings of Barra. As I mentioned you don't want to swim in the lagoon and despite access to both the Sands pool and for the few days So Inclined was at the marina to the hotel pool there as well, but not being able to jump into the water on a warm day from the boat or use our kayak and paddle board made it less than desirable.
After Bill, Cindy and Josh left on Sunday we decided along with So Inclined to move to more hospitable waters. We will depart Barra and head north just a few miles to the small anchorage at Cuastecomate, also known as the "secret anchorage" to wait for Sirocco to catch up with us there. Barra was fun, but it was beginning to feel like moss was growing on our keel so it was time to get moving again. We will be off to another anchorage, but there will be more to come on Barra and some photos too.