17 February 2011 | Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, MX
Barbara/light SW wind, high 70's
Craig’s cousin Gail just said farewell, after a delightful week’s visit. We took her back to some places that we visited before, and we tried some new things, all in the Barra de Navidad/Tenacatita Bay area.
First, for those who have asked about such things, the water heater is fixed. Gail brought the necessary parts, which had been sent her by vendors back in the States at our request. The morning after she arrived, Craig sent us ashore on the water taxi, and when we came back, voila – hot water! I’m sure it was much more complicated than that, and for sure involved ripping apart Gail’s cabin, to get at the tank underneath. But what the heck – that’s why we have an engineer aboard, right? (Actually, no, there are way more reasons we have this particular engineer aboard!)
Thank heavens, the Barra lagoon was not experiencing its wind-tunnel effect when Gail arrived. She found her way from the Manzanilla airport to Barra with no difficulties, and found one of the water taxis to bring her out to the boat. Sadly it wasn’t the water taxi service we’ve been using, so they had no idea where our boat was, among the 50 or so boats anchored out here. The panguero (skipper) got on his radio and started asking for “See-koo-a.” Amazingly, and I suppose because we were expecting Gail, we actually recognized the call, and answered him. Gail came on the radio, and we were finally able to spot them, on the far side of the lagoon and we started wildly waving. After that it was a piece of cake. It might not have been a piece of cake, though, if the wind tunnel had been blowing. Those pangas are big heavy boats, and although the pangueros are quite skilled, it’s difficult for them to avoid bashing our boat in high winds, not the least because the two boats will be bobbing up and down at different rates. What an arrival that would have been for Gail!
The day after the hot water repair, we decided to up anchor and head north to the next cove, Cuastacomate. I was apprehensive about that whole process, because, as you’ll recall, we’d had to deploy the monster storm anchor, the Fortress FX-85, just to get hooked during one of the Barra wind tunnel afternoons. I was afraid it was never going to come up. But as it turns out, it was no problem. We decided to leave in the early morning, when there has never (so far, knock on wood) been much wind at all. So with a great deal of forethought, and with Gail’s help, the anchor came up, Craig cleaned it and disassembled it, and got it stowed in the bilge, all during the world’s slowest-ever exit from an anchorage. The chain (100 feet, deployed in a six foot depth!) was covered with mud, and every link had to be washed clean before moving to the next one.
Cuastacomate was somewhat of a disappointment. One of the reasons for going there was to do some snorkeling, but the water was brownish, sometimes covered with foam, and not very warm. Not appetizing enough for any of us to want to get in. We spent the night there, but it was quite rolly. Onshore there were some tourist facilities, but to all appearances, no tourists. We were amazed when someone later told us that one cruising boat spent 59 days anchored there in a past season.
Departing the next morning, we experienced the highlight of Cuastacomate: humpback whales breaching, coming most of the way out of the water. We were probably a mile away, taking up the anchor, and we didn’t make it anywhere close before they finished their fun. We continued on to Tenacatita Bay, where we had been a couple of weeks before, and had enjoyed it quite a lot. Gail learned about the excitement of landing a dinghy through the surf, onto the beach. Not a dry experience. I once again got knocked down by the dinghy, after jumping out to assist in the landing. Obviously there’s something I’m not doing quite right! Fortunately, I’m expecting it, and my clothes are quick-dry, nothing in my pockets, sunglasses secured by croakies, and everything valuable folded into a kayaker’s dry-bag. (Thank you, Deb, for giving us that last year, it’s been invaluable!)
We had been up the river/lagoon at Tenacatita once before, and knew that Gail would enjoy it. It starts with a beach landing, then wheeling the dinghy down the beach, past the lagoon’s very shallow and rocky bar, then relaunching once deeper water is reached. There’s a little dock a few hundred feet up the river, where we can stop and deposit our accumulated boat garbage. The river deepens and the mangroves close in. Lots of birds, although most are heard but not seen. We did manage to see a baby crocodile this time. He was perhaps 2 feet long, sunning himself on a rock. Motionless. Could have been a plastic model, although the yellow eyes appeared to be real.
The next day we saw the big ones. The village of La Manzanilla, which we visited (another exciting dinghy landing) has a fenced in area in their lagoon, where they protect and contain some really big crocodiles. They don’t do much; many of them could be plastic as well, although we did see a bit of movement out of a few of them. But for sure they were between 8 and 15 feet long and we were glad to have a fence between us and them!
La Manzanilla seems to be a much more interesting village than Barra. Although its existence is greatly modified, like Barra’s, by the presence of tourists, it seems to be a more Mexican town. The hill rises steeply behind it, and there are many interesting sights. The plaza had a number of booths featuring Huichol Indian artists, most in costume. An old man in the band pavilion had a sign out, offering curing services in a shaman ceremony. (Body parts, marriages, whatever…) Sticks, decorated with feathers to resemble animal heads, stood on either side of a smoldering fire.
One important reason for visiting La Manzanilla was to connect with a friend of a friend, who lives in the village during the winter, and returns to Portland for the summer. We had met Kate at one of our house concerts last summer; she gave us her card and encouraged us to contact her when we were at Tenacatita Bay. Kate has a beautiful house, upstairs from several rental apartments which she manages. I must say, she is certainly an advertisement for the ex-pat lifestyle in Mexico. Her house is gorgeous, friendly and comfortable. She served us a simple lunch on her balcony, and we watched the palm trees sway in the breeze off the water. I could move in there, with no changes at all! If anyone would like a week or more in Mexico, at a comfortable, small beach resort, call Kate! (Although she’s 100% booked through the end of this season). www.alegremar.com
One of the evenings in Tenacatita Bay, we participated in a dinghy circle. The “mayor” of Tenacatita Bay was out traveling, and he had designated a “mayorette” in his absence. She put down a dinghy anchor at the inshore end of the anchorage, and the idea is that everyone ties onto the mayorette’s dinghy, until all the dinghies are in a circle. Then we share hors d’oevres , pass around books and DVDs for trade, introduce ourselves, and maybe share some music. We had done this once before, and everyone was asked to say who they were and why they were cruising. It got rather extended and tedious, and Craig later referred to the whole process as a circle jerk, a term I had to have explained. But this gathering was much shorter and sweeter –tell your names and where you met. As it came to us, Craig introduced “cousin Gail.” Two boats further were “Fred and Penney” and Gail suddenly called out, “Cousin Fred!” What an amazing thing that Gail travels to Mexico to be with us, and meets as well her cousin (on the other side of her family).
The whole flotilla of dinghies began to drift – obviously the dinghy anchor wasn’t up to the windage of 10 or 15 dinghies. As we slowly moved through the anchorage, the couple from Katie Hill serenaded us with guitar and banjo music, and then we adjourned to our own boats.
We didn’t get any swimming (other than those wet dinghy landings and launchings) because there was an algae bloom, accompanied by plenty of dead jellyfish. Not very appetizing!
We returned to Barra de Navidad because Gail’s stay was drawing to a close. She arranged to share a taxi with cousin Fred’s guests, and we took the water taxi over to Fred’s boat, Tapatai, which was tied up in the Grand Bay marina. We had a lovely lunch, while listening to VHF channel 22 (the cruisers’ hailing frequency). As it happens, this was close to the lowest tide of the month, and there was a stiff breeze blowing, from an unusual direction. There started to be announcements of boats dragging anchor, although in the end it turned out to be only one boat. (It made us nervous being away from our boat, when other boats were dragging!) After we said goodbye to Gail, as we headed back towards our boat, there were at least two boats that were obviously aground. One sailboat was canted over at a 30 degree angle, and one power boat had about a foot of boat above its waterline dry. Many dinghies were around the boats, helping, offering sympathy, carrying anchors out on either side. One thing you must say about the cruising community: we are a small village, and there will always be someone to help with emergencies.
Hope all is well with friends and family reading this message. Write if you get a chance, and let us know what’s happening in your part of the world.
Best wishes to all!
Craig & Barbara Johnston