Lots to talk about here, not necessarily in the order in which they occurred, but Zihuatanejo, or Zihua as they say has continued to be a great destination. Marisa has been busily adding more photos to our Zihuatanejo folder, I won't bore you with all of the details and hope you enjoy the pictures.
Mike arrived by bus here on Tuesday morning, Lee and Cathy had to scrub their plans to join us because of her chronic back issues and not wanting to exacerbate them with an eleven hour bus ride. Kudos to Mike for making the trek! That said I think Mike had a great time here taking in the sights and sounds of Zihuatanejo and Sailfest, but I'll let him talk about it on his blog.
Thank you to those of you who attempted to make a donation on our behalf to the orphanage through the Sailfest site, it seems there was a missing link, sorry about that and thank you for trying. We did sail in the race with 17 other boats. We didn't get the modified handicap that some boats did, but it wouldn't have made much difference anyway. We were doing well almost to the windward mark, but I missed the wind shift and over stood the mark and we never caught up. That said, it was perhaps to our favor because we had the best whale show ever after the mark rounding, which was a large rock just off the entrance to the bay. Anyway, after that we had no chance to catch up, but we gave it our best effort. Thanks guys! With our crew, (Mike from So Inclined and Russ from Liberty) we had two passengers. Tammy and Jackie, who are visiting from the San Diego area here on vacation. We asked them to join us on the race. I know none of our photos actually caught the beasts in the act, but hopefully we will get one from one of the ladies that came along with us. It was spectacular watching two humpback whales breaching, turning and twisting before splashing back into the water. This went on for about 10-15 minutes and we actually had to sail off course to avoid their path; fascinating to watch, but scary too.
The Sailfest events have continued to be engaging and a lot of fun with good music, dinners, auctions, a chili cook off (sorry Mark, we didn't enter), a street fair and the race and sail parade events. Today we are actually taking a day off and staying onboard to get some things done (like catching up on the blog). Yesterday, Friday, we went with Russ and Kaersten aboard Liberty for the Sail Parade, and then moved out of the main anchorage that afternoon. We are now anchored off La Ropa Beach, still inside the bay but away from the main area. It was pretty congested over there and a rocky and rolly place. This has not turned out to be much better in that regard, but we are anchored bow and stern to keep us into the swell and the water is better, we can swim here! It has been warm, close to 90 during the day and we are using our white sunshade over our dark blue boat canvas to cut the heat retention, but that said we look like a circus with all the stuff we have up top, sun shades, wind scoops, solar panels and jerry jugs on deck!
I finally got a haircut! I found a local barber and for $50 pesos received a very good hair cut and he even shaved my neck and around the ears. It's been a long time since I have had that service at home. The man was an artist. No trip to town is complete without visiting the Centro Mercado. This is a good one, possibly the best one we've seen, not the fanciest, but the most thriving, energy filled place full of people mingling through the small isles and mounds of colorful good the merchants had to offer. We also paid a visit to the Commercial, a large US style grocery chain store. As it turned out we could have done without the Commercial; the walk was a long one and we lugged stuff back that we could have gotten at the Mercado. The Mercado had the best prices on fruits, vegetables meats and fish, its closer and is surrounded by an entire district of retail stores from ladies fashion to auto parts. What were we thinking?
The down town area or Centro is laid out with the tourist oriented shops and restaurants right next to it and it is all accessible just off the beach and pier or 'muelle' so it's close at hand to us boaters. The Port Captain's office is at the foot of the pier and he has a fellow named Alfonso there to assist the boaters with their dinghies. Alfonso meets us to assist with landing and launching through the surf for $10 pesos each way, and watches the dinghies while we are in town, and he's a character.
This city has a street fair on Sunday night were we found churros, corn on the cob slathered for you with mayonnaise, shredded cheese and a spicy red sauce (no we didn't eat one), tamales, BBQ, and what have you. They have entertainment almost nightly in the plaza, one night it was Aztec dancers in costume, another night a magic act, then music or just a local basketball game. The restaurants are plentiful and varied, top end to get this, 5 tacos de pastor for $20 pesos, that's about $.17 US each and they were great. We had the best tamales ever, prepared in plantain leaves at "Tamale Any's", and great wood fired pizza at Pizza Loco. Of course we took Mike to Fajita Queen for their tacos pastor and so that he could put his name on the wall too!
One afternoon, we went up to Las Brisas Hotel with the crews from Swift Current, Tivoli, Blue Rodeo, Panta Rhei and Cloudy Bay for a sunset cocktail. This is a locally owned boutique hotel (which seems to be the theme here), no large chain hotels or destination resorts here in Zihua. I believe those are all over in Ixtapa, which will be our next destination. We will head over to their marina on Monday to take a couple of days to clean-up, desalt the boat, do laundry and get ready to start the trek back north to catch up with Sirocco and So Inclined, before we head back up to Bandaras Bay.
01/31/2011, Bahia Zihuatanejo
Zihuatanejo Sailfest starts tomorrow, Tuesday Feb.1. Please look at their website: http://www.zihuasailfest.com/. Pacifico is here and we have entered the charity's cruiser race, which is on Wednesday, Feb. 2. Lee, Cathy and Mike are bussing down 12 hours from Barra to sail with us. Please make a donation of $5, 10 or one of their recommended amounts in the name of "Pacifico" as a sponsor asap if you can! They have a cool rating system that uses PHRF rules, but gives us additional time based on the amount of donations each boat can raise; kinda like OYC's Cruisers races. So, support YOUR local cruisers and make a small donation for us!
To make your donation please go to the Sailfest site and click on "Donations" at the bottom. It's easy and they accept major credit cards and Paypal too. Thanks for any support you can give us. This is a legitimate and worthwhile charity created and run by cruisers.
It's Thursday, January 27, 2011 and we are at anchor in about 16 feet of water off Playa Madera in Bahia de Zihuatanejo having bypassed Isla Grande. On our approach to Isla Grande yesterday morning we observed that it was pretty windswept and rolly and made the decision to keep going to this, our southern most destination of this voyage. The bay here is a little rolly and we have the 'flopper-stopper' out to minimize its affect. It is warm here, clear and sunny. Marisa says, "muy caliente." This portion of bay is fed by an estuary on the north side behind the pier and the water here is a bit murky, although people do swim in here, the swim beaches we will dinghy to are in the southern part of the bay off Playa de Ropa. This is a very pretty bay, large enough for the occasional cruise ship to stop in and tender their passengers to the cement pier but there is no marina or commercial service except for the pangas and sports fishing boats anchored near the pier. There are quaint, small to mid size hotels here, but no large ones, they are all up in Ixtapa.
We got some sleep yesterday then hooked up with the crews from Cloudy Bay and Blue Rodeo to walk a little of the town last evening and found a nice little restaurant for tacos; three for $58 pesos including a beer, not bad. They had a tray out front advertising their offerings; octopus, lobster and local fish on ice. At the conclusion of our meal we were invited to write our names on the wall inside, which is the photo posted with this blog. The owner said he opened up about four months ago, I wish them well. It seems busier here than some of the other little towns we have visited, but still slow. The immediate area at the pier is nice, but touristy with lots of shops selling the usual stuff and little cantinas. They have modernized their streets with interlocking brick paving, decent curbs and sidewalks and the architecture is by design and with a color scheme. We found the 'real town' adjacent to and inland a bit from this area and it's pretty nice too, actually from what we saw of it, it's a typical Mexican city, but cleaner and lots of stores and services. We will be spending several days to two weeks here and in this area with the Sail Fest activities running 2/1-6. We will meet with the event organizers today to see what's up and how to get involved, and we want to see more of this area, including Ixtapa. It all sounds like fun.
On our recent posts we had a couple of comments. Mike, Marisa's brother, answered my question on the AIS system. Thanks Mike. I also have a program downloaded that tracks commercial ships worldwide by GPS, but we don't use it. Is it any wonder the pirates' in the world can find their targets? (FYI our AIS is a receive only) Also, Ted asked about laundry. We have a hand washer device that we use in a 5 gallon bucket, but it's a lot of work and uses a lot of water so only when we are at a marina with dock water. The preferred method here on Pacifico is to take it to a local service were for about $100 pesos you can get a couple of weeks worth done. Here in Zihuatanejo Ismael and his wife Hilda offer a pick-up service. They were actually just here in a panga and took four bags from us, everything since the first trip to Barra, which they will return tomorrow, washed, dried, folded and in plastic bags. They charge by the weight, usually about S12-13 pesos a kilo ($.50 US a pound). They also deliver bottled water, beer, propane and about anything else that you'd want that comes in bulk; enterprising folks down here. This is a land of small business people since there is no government support or welfare, if you can't find a job, make one.
We will be going ashore today to check in with the Captaina del Puerto, whose office is at the foot of the pier and to register with Sail Fest. The Mexican Navy also has a post here and a cutter stationed at the north side of the pier. We were not intercepted by them on our way down, probably too small a fish to bother to catch? Anyway, it's not a problem. I was boarded once when doing a deliver north with Terry several years ago. All they wanted to do was check our papers, all was in order and they left.
A little on the history of this place: FYI this area was used by the Spanish to build their famous Manila Galleons for trade with the Far East in the 1500-1600s. The area was apparently heavily forested with oak, walnut and cedar. After that it was just a quite fishing village until the Mexican Government began to develop the tourist destination of Ixtapa just a few miles to the north in the 1970s. Zihuatanejo has a population of about 70,000 today, although you can't tell that from the bay and anchorage. It looks like a small sleepy little beach village with a few hotels and beaches with the majority of the community lies nestled in the valley inland from the coast.
That's it from Zihuatanejo for now. We will post more on this area as it happens, and I'm all caught up on my blogs! Yeah, there is free wifi here!!
Under way at 17° 59.832'N, 103° 06.623'W Course 097°M, speed 5.8 kts
We are underway, having rounded Pta. Tejupan we made the course change to take us more easterly in our voyage down Mexico's Pacific Coast. We left Las Hadas last night at 2230 hrs, dodged three freighters or oil tankers getting out of the bay and haven't seen another vessel since, although there are several identified on our chart plotter by our AIS system. AIS is a very cool thing. The big ships now all have to have a VHF transponder that constantly sends their course and position information. Our system receives it, coordinates it with our GPS and tells us who they are and where they are going. More importantly their speed, course and how close (CPA) they will come to us and how long until that occurs (TCPA). VHF radios are only supposed to be line of sight, maybe 25 miles, but we are picking up signals from vessels almost 50 nm away. If anyone can comment please do. Tonight around midnight we will pass by the port city of Lazaro Cardenas, a big and important port city, busier than Manzanillo. We can already see the ships traffic outside of us and at the port, literally dozens of them, looks like Long Beach on a busy day.
The Mexican Navy's reconnaissance aircraft made a fly by this morning, I waived and he dipped his wing tips. This was a single engine, prop driven performance type aircraft and at a low altitude and slower than a jet. I'm assuming we may be boarded by their navy along this coast before we get to Ixtapa. The word is that this is common place in this area and not a big deal, very professional and all they look for are your papers to be sure it's you, your boat and that you've checked into their country. Speaking of that, we just got buzzed again, it's 1730 hrs now. I guess they are keeping track of us.
We are motor sailing under a prevented main, dead down wind or DDW and making decent time. I don't want to hurry, our ETA to Isla Grande is 0700 hrs, tomorrow, half an hour before sunrise down here so we will have day light to get into the new and unfamiliar anchorage. The wind is light, 6-7 knots true so we could sail, but I've found that being out of marinas for a month now our batteries are not keeping up. We use the Honda generator to top off the batteries in addition to the solar, but I need a long slow charging cycle to get the batteries back up. Hopefully this will do it, we don't plan any marina stays soon. We have a long period following sea of 4-6 foot, so it's easy on the boat and an easy ride; the waves are like gentle hills and they just pass under us without too much rolling, not sure Marisa would agree with that?
We have been a safe distance off the coast to avoid fish nets and long lines and are now about 14 miles off. I can see that the coast here is pretty sparsely populated and that steep hills come up from the sea cliffs. This reminds me of the Big Sur area, green coastal mountains coming out of the sea and no one is there.
Our goal is to get to Isla Grande, also called Isla Ixtapa, which lies just off the coast from Ixtapa and about 10 nm above Zihuatanejo, our destination. There is a 'cruiser event' called Zihuatanejo Sail Fest 2011, if you care to Google it. It starts about the first of February and all proceeds benefit a local orphanage charity. We are going to see what's what and enjoy the festivities, maybe jump in; we'll see what's going on when we get there.
We made the arduous 5 nm trek across Bahia Santiago, around Punta Santiago and into Bahia de Manzanillo to anchor behind the point in the anchorage area adjacent to and sheltered by the Las Hadas Marina breakwater in about 25' of water on a sand bottom. The anchorage was pretty crowded, it's small to begin with and when you add a dozen boats swing room gets pretty tight. We put out 140' of anchor rode, because we were backed up to the beach area on the east side of this little hidie-hole with nothing between us and the swim beach, but the rope buoys that designate the Dolphin Hotel's swim area. On the other hand, it was convenient because the hotel management there was "cruiser friendly" and allowed us to row our dinghies into the swim area to use their beach and "Paradise Restaurant" for food and refreshments, and what a great view of the anchorage and bay from up there. One would think the cruisers would be favoring the fabled old Las Hadas resort because they have a marina and dinghy dock. Unfortunately not, the management there sees us as a revenue stream and is now charging $200 pesos a day to land your dinghy for the privilege of using their hotel pool and purchase beverages from their over-priced bar. I mean come on, $45 pesos a beer? This area is also fairly isolated in that it is out on a peninsula of some length and is quite hilly, which requires either a cab or one of the infrequent busses, the R-8, that services this area. Being the frugal soles that we are pretty soon we figured out the marina staff's schedule and found that we could land at their dock in the evenings and on Sundays without being dinged. Marisa, myself and Mike from So Inclined took advantage of the opportunity to walk some of the area, good views of this bay and back towards Santiago from atop the hills behind the hotel. Also, the Las Hadas Hotel was where the movie "10" with Bo Derik and Dudley Moore was filmed back in the 1970's. It still has a lot of charm, but was pretty empty. We did enjoy the pool on Sunday with some of the other cruisers from the bay. The marina is odd for this part of the world, more European with a single floating dock around the inner break water and quay perimeter and all boats are Med moored, that is tied stern to the dock and individually anchored bow out, there are no finger piers between boats.
We stayed one day longer than planned to allow us to go back into Manzanillo Centro with our group to visit the "Social Club" as it is called in the cruising guide. We caught the R-8 bus to get off the peninsula to the R-1 route into town. I'm starting to sound like a local! The Social Club is actually a bar dating back to 1950 when it was founded. The founder's son, "Mike" still runs the place and it maintained in the same style as when dad opened it and serves the same menu. They don't serve meals, but serve all you can eat free appetizer plates as long as you are there. We ate our fill of cevieche, refried bean dip, hickama and cucumber slices seasoned with paprika, chips, salsa, guacamole and a really good potato salad. They take your empty beverage bottles and place them on a ledge or chair rail to keep track of your tab. When you're done you just count up the empties and pay. Pretty simple system. We will be posting some photos from there and of the group; the crews from So Inclined, Sirocco, ourselves and Russ from Liberty out the San Francisco area. His girlfriend, Kaersten, opted to use the resort pool and skip the excursion.
At the conclusion of 'lunch' we made a second visit to the market area in Centro, then caught the R-1 bus back to the Mega for final provisioning and another whole rotisserie chicken. A trip to the mall would not be complete of course without stopping at Thrifty Ice Cream, "made in the USA" and one of Lee's favorite things to do! Then finally the R-8 back to Las Hadas to carry everything to our dinghies, load all our stuff up and get back to the boats before dark. Another fun filled cruiser day.
Marisa and I dined on fresh rotisserie chicken then got Pacifico ready to go and weighed anchor at 2230 for Zihuatanejo, some 200 nm south of Manzanillo. That will be an underway post to our blog and a short one!
A final observation: Bahias Santiago and Manzanillo were great places to visit. Las Hadas is limiting because of the isolation and transportation issues, yet you're in the middle of a vast upscale resort complex. I think we will hit Santiago on the way back up, time allowing and take the bus back into Centro. I enjoyed Centro much more this second trip. Gee, I wonder if that was because of the Social Club?
After leaving Ensenada Carrizal we slowly motored the few miles to Bahia Santiago on January 16, 2011, charging and making water before anchoring in the west end of the bay off of Playa de Boquita in about 20' of water. This is a large bay with anchorages at both ends of its beautiful three plus miles of white sand beach with the town of Santiago at the west end. Our anchorage was well sheltered from the north, west and east, but wide open to the south with clear open water we were able to continue making water in the anchorage to fill our tanks. This bay, like so many of the others we have visited, is alive with fish, all kinds of fish. It's like everywhere you look there's fish down there! It's no wonder the big game fishing down here is so good, they have plenty to eat!
On our first afternoon in the bay we went ashore with the crew from Blue Rodeo to explore afoot the east end of the bay. There is an estuary and its entrance at that end with a foot bridge leading across the outlet to a nice hotel or condo style development on the hillside above the lagoon. Interesting parking covers, check out the pictures. That end of the beach is also developed as a day use area for local Mexican families with palapa restaurants, umbrellas for rent and signs advertising the availability of "banos" for $4 or 5 pesos. There are also the remains of a 330' freighter that went aground and broke up during a hurricane in the 1960's. Some of the remains are above water, the rest below in about 20-25' and create a great dive and snorkeling area. There is a residential development off the central beach area on this end occupied by, yep, mostly Canadians as best as we could figure out, any way it's a nice area and afforded us a place to leave our dinghies and walk through the development to the highway to catch the bus to town or all the way into Manzanillo for $6 pesos or about $.50 US. We also found that they had a nice beach shower which we could use to not only shower after swimming, but to fill our deck jugs that we use to fill our solar shower bags with; that means less water making. You learn to appreciate the simple things in life, not to mention that there was a great little beach bar called the Oasis there that had a happy hour with $12 peso beers!
The water in the bay was not only clear and full of fish, but was so flat and calm in the bay that we were again getting about in our dingy by "oar" power and we left the motor on its ship board mount. Despite the calmness we managed to get wet the first couple of dinghy beach landings and take-offs. We decided that we should not use the dinghy wheels in the down position for landings or take-offs without the engine. We tended to get in trouble with them because they hold the transom of the dinghy up, which puts the bow down and susceptible to submersion, especially when one of us gets nervous and jumps in too soon! Once we got the hang of it and started taking our time to watch the wave sets we were home free. Knock on wood ..
Both Sirocco and So Inclined arrived in the anchorage the following morning and we all caught the bus into the outskirts of Manzanillo for some grocery shopping at the "big" stores, Mega, Wal-Mart and Soriana. We found the chicken rotisserie shop by the Mega we had been told about by Herb (Synchrony) and it smelled and looked so good we decided to give it a try. This is a takeout place and we had to take it into the shopping mall to find a spot to sit and eat it. There at the Mega store, we found a food court. There was a small restaurant here and we bought drinks and asked if we could sit in their seating area. Not only did they let us sit there, but brought us plates and utensils to eat the food that we had brought in with us, not something you would see at home. Anyway, it was a successful shopping trip and we lugged everything back that we had purchased in our tote bags and back packs on the bus then through the complex to the beach were we loaded it into our dinghies then rowed it out to our boats. Who said this cruising life is easy?
We made another bus run all the way into Manzanillo to see the old port and Centro area, and to do a little more shopping. Marisa found a great tortilla press to use in her new found skill of tortilla making. Manzanillo is an old port, discovered in 1522 by Cortez and soon there after becoming a port in Spain's Manila trade route. The port has been modernized and today is an important container cargo port with rail links across Mexico and into the US.
That was about it for us and this area except that we did get in some good off the boat walks on the beach and through the town of Santiago. We will make one last stop in the Manzanillo area at Las Hadas anchorage and marina just a few miles away before continuing south to Zihuatanejo.
On Monday January 17, 2011 we transited the approximately 18 miles down the coast from Barra to Ensenada Carrizal near Manzanillo. We departed the Barra Lagoon without touching bottom, which is a plus. Actually we left on a high tide so water under our keel was never an issue and also because now we have the channel imbedded in our brain and more importantly in our GPS! This was a water making and charging run so it was a motor sail even though we had enough wind we needed to power. So goes the saga, I'm beginning to think of Pacifico as more a sail assisted power boat then a power assisted sail boat. We got to Carrizal at about noon and anchored in 30 feet of clear water along with So Inclined, Sirocco and Blue Rodeo with just one other boat in the cove.
Ensenada Carrizal is a small and completely undeveloped area. Its quietness is contrary to the reality that it is close to both Santiago and Manzanillo. This little bay is surrounded mostly by steep hillsides and cliffs on three sides and is only open to the southeast so it's well protected. There was some swell rolling into the bay around the point washing the cliffs that enter at the water's edge creating some tidal pools and whirl pools along the sides, I'm not sure I'd want to be in here with a big swell rolling in.
This was a good spot to get the paddle board out and for snorkeling again. We enjoyed a nice coral reef and I rowed the dinghy in and around the steep sides of the cove enjoying the tidal surges and sights. It reminded me of some of the steep cliff faces that are found at Catalina Island entering the water vertically and continuing straight down. Rowing the dinghy is also good exercise and we've been doing that everywhere we can, just for fun and because getting the motor off its mount and onto the dinghy every time gets to be a pain in the butt! Also, once the motor is on the dinghy it either has to be taken up at night or the entire dinghy and motor hoisted up and out of the water. Petty theft of dinghy motors is a problem down here, they don't want the dinghies, just the motors, but replacing either one here would be difficult and expensive.
We all had a quite day enjoying the solitude of this little cove. That evening we were invited to dinner aboard Blue Rodeo since they have the largest salon to accommodate the group, Lee & Cathy, Marisa and myself and Mike and C Monkey. That was about it for Carrizal, the next day after another snorkeling adventure we were off to Bahia Santiago and civilization!
On Thursday, January 13, 2011 Pacifico returned to the Barra Lagoon, this time without incident. We anchored out in the lagoon along with So Inclined and Blue Rodeo along with about 15 other boats. Sirocco got a slip in the marina because of her deep keel and the shallow depths of the lagoon entrance. It is no wonder Barra is a cruiser's haven along this part of the coast. It has about everything that is needed to keep us going except for a large repair facility and has a great small town, friendly atmosphere. We were back at the Sands using wifi, and visiting with cruising friends, old and new. Mike and Julie on (Slacker), were here and it was great to get together with them in Mexico. They are repeat cruisers and know the lay of the land down here and were very helpful; much thanks Mike and Julie! We tried a great place to eat, "Gorditios" taqueria or comida Mexicana owned by Isaias and his wife, Rosita. The food was great and very reasonable. Like our favorite in la Cruz, "Tacos on the Street" this place offers a simple and limited menu and they do it well. We had a great dinner of tacos al pastor and "gorditas" small maiz tortillas with a little flour added to the mix, grilled and stuffed with various fillings. Yummy! We took some fun photos at this place including with Isaias and Rosita and their daughter, she's the one making tortillas on the grill! We had so much fun Isaias and Rosita invited the girls back the next morning for a tortilla making lesson, we purchased a tortilla press and we can now have fresh, home-made tortillas on Pacifico! Mike and Julie shared some of their local knowledge and took us to the Port Captains to check into Barra and to their favorite carniceria or meat market where we purchased some great looking rib eye steaks at about $4 US a pound and chicken. Of course no visit to Barra is complete without a visit or two to 'Piper Lover, Barra Cruiser's Lounge' bar for some night life. Mike from So Inclined brought C Monkey along since they were bacheloring it together and old C Monkey had quite a time of it, see Mike's blog for So Inclined, which is linked to ours under friends at the bottom of this page. Shamefull!
We had dinner with Mike, Lee & Cathy aboard Sirocco in the marina and were glad we were anchored in the lagoon. The mosquitoes in there were awful, but it was fun to get together and thanks for the great dinner Cathy!
On Sunday 1/16 we took a long hike by dinghy from the little community of Colimilla below the hotel through the golf course to the Pacific coastal community whose name escapes me. Great beach front homes, mostly American and Canadian upscale beach bungalows. On the way back we encountered a Mexican family out for a day at the beach with their pet raccoon! Too cute, the man digs holes to find sand crabs for the little guy who politely ate one for us and he was very photogenic. That was about it for this trip to Barra. We will depart Monday, 1/17 for Ensenada Carrizal near Manzanillo.
We made the approximately 5 NM run to Cuastecomate from Barra on Monday, January 10, 2011. Cuastecomate is also known as the "secret anchorage" among the cruising community because it was not published in the cruising guides and is not visible when transiting to or from the entrance to Barra Lagoon. I was told about it last year by Terry (Coastal Passage II) and we found it as described, beautiful, secluded and a great snorkeling spot. As a foot note, Cuastecomate has been discovered and was recently published in the new "Pacific Mexico" cruising guide by Breeding and Bansmeer. Oh well, so much for seclusion, but it is a small anchorage and will only accommodate five or six boats anyway. As much as we enjoyed Barra we were anxious to get out of the lagoon and into an anchorage that we could swim, kayak and standup paddle board in; this is the place! We dropped anchor in about 16 feet of clear water along with So Inclined and were among a group of five boats in the anchorage.
There is a small beachside community here with one hotel, half a dozen beach palapa restaurants and one abarrote. We found the community very small and currently much underutilized with only one or two of the beach restaurants open. The few northerners we encountered were mostly Canadians and the hotel looked to be open, but doing little if any business. This place is about 2-3 miles off Mexico Hwy 200 from the beachside town of Melaque, which kind of services the greater Barra area as the business community where you can get things done and do some shopping. After getting some snorkeling in along the south side of the cove among some pretty nice coral Marisa, Mike and I decided to walk to Melaque. We only got about 100 yards out of town when we were offered a ride by a local fellow in the back of his pick-up truck, that's kind of the way it is down here, friendly and helpful. After behind dropped off near Melaque we walked into town to locate a hardware store (a ferrerateria) and do some grocery shopping at "Super Hawaii" a great supersized abarrrote. There are several hotels along the beach and again we found most of the tourist cliental to be Canadians, most were down for the winter months, but then who can blame them? The weather here was great! After shopping in Melaque and finding a little off beach place that served a great "everything" pizza for about $8 US, we loaded our new found possessions into a taxi for a $50 peso ride back to the beach. Our dinghies were safe and we made a successful night time off the beach, through the surf run to the boats; that means we stayed dry! The next day was another snorkeling and paddle boarding day. This time we took the dinghies to the rock outcropping north of our anchorage location and what a find. Bill and Cindy eat your hearts out. This place was an aquarium. I personally have never seen so many reef fish or schooling fish in my life, it was great! It was fabulous! OK, enough said. As a sad, side note to the sea life we were alerted that there was a huge sea turtle in the anchorage one morning. Going topside to investigate we saw a huge old and dead sea turtle floating by So Inclined, then over to us. I actually had to use the boat hook to fend him off and took a picture of him as he went by. He was as big as our dinghy, 8'8" from head to end of his flippers. I can't say what killed him but would guess natural causes do to old age. He drifted onto the beach in front of the palapa restaurants. It didn't take long for one of the owners to send their kids out with a boogie board and a rope to tow the turtle to a more isolated corner of the bay where he was beached and nature took its course. I have been asked how we can sleep on the boat at night and not worry. Who says we don't worry? Anyway, we work at setting the anchor so we can sleep well. I learned to be patient in this skill from John & Gail (Rover) as well as Tim and Michelle (Shell-y-T) and have been pretty successful so far. We have a 33# Manson Supreme anchor, which for our boat is the largest anchor that would fit the bow roller with 100' of 5/16 chain and another 200' of 9/16 three strand rope rode. If I had room for more I'd like another 50' of chain, but we don't and so far so good. The other thing that we do is when I drop the anchor at the bow Marisa is at the helm and she hits the "mark" button on the GPS at the helm to set a waypoint. After we are all settled in I take that coordinate and put it into the GPS at the nav-station below and set an anchor alarm on the GPS. The anchor alarm will go off if we exceed the maximum distance set from the anchor waypoint. We leave the GPS below on all the time that we are anchored and can see our "track" as we swing on our anchor. We can see if we have drug and let out more rode, that is increase our scope as needed. Not flawless, but it sure helps, and yes, we have drug when anchored in windy conditions when anchored in really soft mud, but were able to reset and increase scope to accommodate the conditions. We were able to reach our friends on both Blue Rodeo and Sirocco by radio and both were able to join us at Cuastecomate for part of our stay there before we all moved back to Barra, and that's another story!
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.