Reflecting on the past three months
19 January 2010 | San Blas, Nayarit, MX
We are anchored in rustic San Blas reflecting on the three months that have passed since we left our friends at Gate 11 in Marina Village behind and hustled to San Diego to join the Baja Ha-Ha. We find ourselves staying longer than planned everywhere we visit. For example, our first real stop after the rally was La Paz. We estimated we would be on our way within a week. Over three weeks later we dragged ourselves away from new friends and some dear ones we know from Alameda, like the Scotts aboard Moondance and the Hibdons on Jesse's Girl.
From La Paz, we headed for an enchanting anchorage on the less visited east side of Espiritu Santo called Bonanza Beach. Bonanza turned out to be a great decision as the boats anchored on the west side of the island had a very rolly uncomfortable night while we enjoyed a peaceful evening in the large anchorage with two other boats that were anchored over a quarter mile away. Early the next morning they departed and we woke up with the place to ourselves. We spent three days at Bonanza enjoying the solitude and a phenomenal hike across the island. The cacti and stark terrain features were fascinating.
Then it was on to Bahia de los Muertos, an anchorage we spent 12 hours in on our way from Cabo to La Paz. We discovered some excellent snorkeling spots on the reef, the best we have experienced during our time in Mexico. While walking the beach we were surprised to see a whale in the shallows, likely in only 6 or 7 feet of water. I was so transfixed by the sight I failed to take a photo.
We left Muertos shortly after sunset on the 13th of December. Initially we were broad reaching in 8-11 knots but as the skies darkened the wind increased with gusts to 20, providing perfect sailing conditions for our 30 year old Amel Maramu ketch. The sky and stars were amazing, velvety black sky with seemingly more stars than we could imagine existed. Sometime around 2100 I watched several meteors and made a log entry at 2222 noting seven of them spotted. Soon I would loose count. Unbeknownst to us it was the night of the Geminid meteor shower. The meteor shower grew in intensity with hundreds spotted before I went off watch sometime after 0300. The phosphorescence in the water accompanied the meteor shower to create a magical night and the best passage we've experienced so far. The breeze remained strong and slowly veered to put us on a beam reach. In the early morning hours of the 15th I dropped the mizzen and furled the genoa, leaving only a reefed main in an attempt to slow the boat down for a daylight arrival in Mazatlan. We were still doing over 4 knots over the ground. As we got closer to the mainland the wind died down providing a timely arrival for us.
We spent a couple of days in Marina Mazatlan to wash the boat and re-provision. Our dock neighbors were friendly and we found many socializing opportunities. In addition to friendly dock neighbors we found Elvira at the marina office to be friendly and very helpful.
After our brief stay at the marina we anchored for a half day at Isla Venados, or Deer Island. We took advantage of some wi-fi from one of the hotels on the malecon since our Tel-Cel sim card had expired. Deer Island is named on account of being used for deer hunting by pirates centuries ago. Now there isn't so much in the way of deer hunting, just a few palapas on the beach and some day charter boats visiting. We had to drop our hook a few times to find decent holding. It's sand over rock in a lot of places. The best place seemed to be on a shoal fairly close to the beach where the palapas are.
We left mid-afternoon for the anchorage in the old harbor. Our cruising guide instructed to us to contact Port Control on 16 prior to entering the channel. The reason is the entrance is simply not wide enough for a cruise ship or other large vessel to be there at the same time as a sailboat. Not everyone heeds this requirement and several times during our stay we could hear Port Control hailing sailboats that had entered the channel without calling Port Control.
The anchorage at the old harbor near the aging Club Nautico complex has a reputation for getting very smelly on account of the nearby sewage plant. Contrary to rumors the actual dumping of sewage happens well offshore. The smell is from the treatment plant just across the road from the harbor. We are told that there are some efforts underway to negate some of the odors. Typically the odor is noticeable in the afternoons; some days are worse than others.
That said, we enjoyed our time in the old harbor immensely, and having made friends with several other cruisers, we opted to stay and celebrate Christmas and New Year's with them. Again, our original planned stay of three or four days stretched to three weeks. Another benefit of the anchorage is that it was within easy walking distance to the historic downtown core and the Municipal Mercado. For visits to Home Depot and Sorianna, a nice grocery store, there were convenient buses. Mazatlan is a charming city with a variety of attractions.
From Mazatlan we left for Isla Isabela, an island made famous by National Geographic and Jacques Cousteau. After a passage marked by dodging fishing nets and a few whales, we arrived shortly before sunset. Isabela is a major nesting ground for boobies and frigate birds. The two commonly used anchorages are a large cove on the southeast corner and a somewhat more exposed on the east side highlighted by two large rock spires called Las Monas (The Mannequins). The southeast anchorage has a deserved reputation as an "anchor eater" and lacking scuba gear we chose the east anchorage. We anchored and went ashore for a walk on the beach and a look at the hundreds of boobies and frigate birds. We already had many encounters with boobys landing on the boat; however those were Eastern and Western Boobies. That evening we saw the blue footed variety for the first time. Our stay at Isabela was cut short when the wind backed to the ENE and waves built up in the anchorage. So it was on to San Blas for us.
When visiting San Blas you can choose between the estuary, known for being quite buggy at times, and Matanchen Bay. We chose Matanchen Bay initially, anchoring about a mile from the beach which kept us away from the no-seeums. The bay was a delightful anchorage where we stayed for three days until a southeaster blew in. While anchored in the bay we enjoyed the hospitality of Ishmael, who has been running his family restaurant on the beach for twenty or so years. The beach landing at Ishmael's is gentle and it is a safe place to leave your dinghy.
Within walking distance is the entrance to the "Jungle Tour," where a panga takes guests through the Tovara Lagoon, an area unreachable by dinghy. Our guide had a sharp eye and showed us an abundance of local wildlife including crocodiles. As part of the tour we visited a fenced crocodile preserve where breeding efforts aimed at preserving the population are ongoing.
A seven peso bus ride gets you in to the town of San Blas, about 3 miles away. Of course no bus ride is complete without a delicious snack, easily satisfied by any one of many bakeries in Matanchen. I highly recommend trying the pineapple, coconut and banana bread loafs that run 25 pesos (about $2 USD).
While in Matanchen Bay the most bizarre event of our cruise occurred. Jean and I had been scraping barnacles off the bottom and afterwards Jean experienced a scratchy sensation in her left ear, like something was wiggling inside it. About 10 or 15 minutes after drying off we were both surprised when a tiny crab crawled out of her ear and fell on her arm.
After the last rather raucous night in Matanchen, we moved to the estuary. One of our friends that we met in Mazatlan explained that dredging was in progress and that we should stay as far to the right side of the channel as possible. Heeding his advice yielded us 20 or more feet of water entering the breakwater and at least 15 or so feet while going down the channel on a +2.9 foot tide. Some cruisers who were not armed with the same advice reported bumping their keels on the way in, and in at least one case they turned around and retreated to the bay.
The highlight of our time in San Blas was visiting the historic cathedral that inspired Longfellow to write his last poem, "The Bells of San Blas." On top of the same hill with the cathedral is a fort, famous for being taken from the Spanish by a group of rebels led by General Jose Maria Mercado, who coincidentally was also a priest. The victory was short lived when early the following year the fort was retaken by Spanish loyalists. General Mercado reportedly leapt to his death rather than be captured. To this day he remains a hero of Mexican history.
So what's next? We are wrapping up a business related project and hope to be on our way to Chacala, Punta Mita, and La Cruz shortly. Then we'll work our way south as far as we can until it's time to head north for hurricane season. We were surprised to learn that Jean will have another grandchild late August so our plans are in flux. We're toying with the idea of leaving the boat in Nuevo Vallarta for the summer, allowing Dave to resume teaching sailing and doing some skippered charters in San Francisco. But with our track record it's hard to predict what will happen. The one thing we know is there are many adventures ahead and we love the lifestyle.