Reflections by Kirk
26 January 2015 | 19 18.051'N
(Photo - Las Hadas anchorage, Manzanillo, Mexico)
It is finally beginning to feel like the cruising that we have been used to. We left La Cruz in the Bay of Banderas over three weeks ago for Manzanillo, further south down the mainland coast. It seems that from the time we left Victoria, British Columbia at the end of March 2014, we have almost always been in a hurry. We covered thousands of miles and had many excellent experiences. Even the two months in San Diego were almost all work while making many improvements that we decided needed doing after over a year of cruising. Talk with any people has convinced us that we should make our way south on the mainland Mexico coast as soon as possible and then work our way back to the north to be up into the Sea of Cortez in the spring when it would begin to get a little warmer there.
So here we are, a bit over 100 miles south of Banderas Bay. We have started to go real slow, taking the time to savor a beautiful section of coastline referred to as Costalegre, the Happy Coast aka the Gold Coast. We are back to spending lots of time at anchor, interspersed with some dock time at plush resorts that have swim-up bars in the swimming pools. We really like being at anchor more than being tied to a dock. Life just feels better when we are "on the hook." The scenery is usually outstanding throughout 360 degrees. When we are away from city lights, the stars are amazing. Most of the time there is just enough motion to the boat to make it feel like being a baby in a cradle rocking to sleep. Sometimes the motion is a bit more than a gently rocking cradle, but so far that is just OK as well. Down here where we are still learning to adjust to the heat, there is almost always more breeze at anchor and we can just jump off of the back of the boat to go swimming whenever we like although I have not even attempted to swim after dark yet. Don't know what's swimming around down there with me. It's been decades now, but I am still haunted by that darn New England shark movie. We have just learned a new thing that people do when at anchor down here. One day a couple came over to our boat in their dingy. We chatted for a while and they asked us if we would be coming to the noodle party that afternoon. My first thoughts were of stringy wheat things and I was not sure how to answer the question. She went on to explain that people take their long foam swimming pool floats to some spot in the center of the boats and just hang around to have a little party. Someone ended up taking their paddleboard out as well and that basically ends up being a bar where we could all rest our beverages while floating on the noodles stuck between our legs. What a cool and refreshing way to have fun, just hanging out in the ocean sipping beverages, talking with eight or ten or twelve of your newest friends. Yes, being at anchor is good and it is difficult to be spending very much money while on the hook.
Being at anchor does mean that we have a big reliance on our dingy to travel between other boats in the anchorage and to go ashore. Using the dingy involves a little more than just starting the engine and going. Will we be traveling after dark? This means that we should have some kind of lights so other boats that may be traveling around can see us. If we are in a crowded anchorage, how do we distinguish our boat from the others when returning? "Oh shucks, where did we leave the boat?" Most of the boats have anchor lights, but they pretty much all look the same and don't really help all that much in figuring out which one is ours. We have recently purchased some solar powered lights and put three on each side of the boat in a pattern that we hope will help distinguish ours from the rest. Still testing.
Laundry and groceries can also present interesting challenges just due to the volume of stuff that we need to fit into the dingy along with ourselves. Our newest challenge is to make surf landings. The anchorages here on the mainland coast are much different than what we were used to back in the Northwest. In Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska, we never had any ocean swell that affected our anchorages. Even on the west side of Vancouver Island we could always find a cove far enough inland where ocean swell was not a factor. That is not the case here. There is always exposure to the open ocean from at least one direction. We always try to anchor in a place that has a point of land between us and the direction of the prevailing swell, but the swell has this unpleasant habit of bending around the points. We can almost always see or hear waves crashing on rocks or on the beach. We have actually made a few beach landings in conditions when the waves were at most one foot high. We know that our time is fast approaching when we will need to deal with much bigger waves. More on this at a later time.
We have been on 'The Happy Coast" for over three weeks now and loving it. The first stop was an anchorage adjacent to the Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo Bay. A photo of this resort is featured on the cover of our most used cruising guide and it is beautiful. The buildings are laid out on a steep hillside, all painted white with red tile roofs and very interesting architecture. There is a small marina attached to the resort and has the only viable place to land and lock up our dingy. We must pay a fee for this, but the fee also includes the right to use the resort swimming pool and showers. And this was good. As a crow flies, the distance to places to shop for provisions and use a bank are not far, but walking was basically out of the question. Very skinny roads with no hint of a sidewalk wind up and down the lush hillsides. It took the bus about 25 minutes to go what may have been two or three miles. The buses are relatively easy to use and inexpensive. One of our trips was to the Saturday "flea market" in nearby Santiago. This was pretty amazing to us. Hundreds of individual venders set up booths in a very orderly fashion and erected canopies of shade cloth over the booths. The result was about two square blocks of covered space. The variety of items for sale was huge - everything from fresh produce to prepared food to clothing, both handmade and factory made, to music and video discs (at surprisingly low prices) to tools to parts for blenders and propane stoves, you name it. All this work to erect the booths, run miles of extension cords, stock the booths and sun covers over the whole shebang for one day a week. Amazing. From our anchorage, we could see the entire three and one half mile shoreline of Manzanillo Bay. At night the shoreline was a solid ring of lights from Las Hadas to the city of Manzanillo on the other side of the Bay. There were at least four or five freighters, tankers or container ships anchored at all times as Manzanillo is a major port city. We saw multiple container ships that were over 1,000 feet long.
In the spirit of our new slow-down mode, we next made the three-mile trip to adjoining Santiago Bay. This bay was also largely ringed with development, but of mostly a residential or low-rise hotel nature. We dropped anchor around noon on a Sunday (the Seahawks defeated the Carolina Panthers the previous night) at an area of the bay that was obviously where the resident population spends their beach time. There were hundreds of people and a cacophony of many loudspeakers playing a variety of Mexican music that went into the wee hours. These people do like to have fun with the family at the beach. There was good snorkeling around a shipwreck and reef area with lots of colorful fish.
We made another big move, this time at least four miles to a wonderful small bay with no development at all on the shores. With no ambient light the stars were out in force. The water was clear and warm and the snorkeling was excellent. This is where we were introduced to noodle parties.
The next stop was in Barra de Navidad. This is where we watched what must be the greatest comeback in NFL football playoff history, when the Seattle Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers for their second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. That turned out to be a pretty fabulous football game, especially if you happen to be a Seahawks fan, but is not really the reason why we liked the place so much. We decided to stay in the marina as we had heard that the only viable anchorage in the nearby lagoon was very hot and things will begin to grow on the boat's bottom as soon as you set the anchor. If any type of breeze is to penetrate the lagoon, the very soft mud would not hold an anchor very well, so back to being tied to a dock. The marina is quite nice and is attached to the Grand Isle Resort. To my eye, this place is even better looking than Las Hadas and is most definitely better maintained. The grounds are spotless, the buildings are freshly painted, landscaping is beautiful and the service staff is awesome. Our moorage fee included the use of the pool and showers. This pool is special. There are three different levels to it connected by built-in water slides. Palm trees provide nice shade and the biggest pool has a swim up bar. The town of Barra de Navidad is possibly the one we have enjoyed the most yet, so we did not spend bunches of time at the pool, but enough to savor more than one Pina Colada. The marina is across some water from town and the dingy dock in town is a small stone quay that is not very accommodating, so we made use of the water taxi. This is cool. You hail these guys on the radio and they are normally at your boat to pick you up within minutes. Round-trip cost is just over two dollars. The ride is only a few minutes and there you are in a most charming small town. As are all of the roads we have seen so far except for highways, the streets are paved with concrete type pavers or cobblestones rather than asphalt. We suspect that since there is no chance of freeze/thaw conditions, construction of this type may be longer lasting than asphalt. The roads within these small towns do not get a lot of traffic and people regularly walk in the streets. Barra definitely caters to the tourist trade, but is not dominated by trinkets and typical tourist junk. Some shops deal in beach stuff: flip flops, inflatable creations, boogie boards and such. There are several small, but clean and well-stocked food stores, butcher shops, seafood shops, and lots of decent craft related places. There is also an abundance of places to get a meal and beverage. We really enjoyed our stay there and will return soon to watch the Super Bowl. By the way, it is a surprise to us how much enthusiasm exists here for this game. I suppose that is in part because there are a number of people from the Northwest United States and Western Canada. Lots of folks are sporting Seahawks jerseys and hats. Several establishments are preparing big promotions to get the fans into their doors.
We are currently in Bahia Tenacatita. This has been one of our especially targeted stops due to write-ups in the guidebooks and first-hand accounts from others who have been here. So far, it is living up to expectations and we plan on coming back after the Super Bowl. More on this place later.
So far moving into the slow-down mode has been very successful. In three weeks, we have gone maybe thirty miles or so. We are meeting some wonderful people who love to share their experiences with us. Most of the cruisers we meet have been in Mexico for multiple years. We are definitely in the minority being first-year cruisers to Mexico. There must be reasons why so many have spent multiple seasons here and we intend to find out why.