Barra de Navidad

Barra de Navidad is a large bay just 12 NM south of Tenacatita.  The town of Melaque in on the north side of the bay and town of Barra de Navidad is on the south side, where the bay enters a large lagoon.  The Grand Isla Resort and Marina Puerto de Navidad, where we stayed, is on the South side of the entrance to the lagoon.  The wide entrance channel between rock jetties is well marked and has adequate depth, but it shoals up very quickly outside the marked channel.  Barra is mainly a tourist town with sport fishing, and reportedly at this time of year the population is 85% Canadian.

Welcoming visitors to town on the main road.

We had no difficulty coming in and finding our slip in the marina, where we soon met Pancho, the nearly famous “Boat Guy” of Barra.  Everyone we spoke with had nothing but the highest praise for him.  We had Pancho and his crew do a complete wash and wax, bottom cleaning and interior cleaning, and soon understood why he is so highly regarded.  The boat looked great, inside and out, and the price was right at a fraction of what it would have cost back home. 

Looking back at the entrance to the marina and lagoon area.

The marina is attached to the Grand Isla Navidad resort, which has a laundry service, basic showers, a small fitness center, and most importantly, a pool to escape the afternoon heat and humidity.  We utilized their showers to preserve our water supply, as the water is not potable there (we don’t have an ultrasonic purifier), and making water in the marina is not wise. We follow the rule of – if the locals don’t drink the water, we don’t either.

There is a regular water taxi service from the resort and marina across to the town of Barra, where there are plenty of restaurants and a regular Thursday market for produce and other provisions.

The water taxi dock.

The resort is not very occupied most of the time, so at times it was a bit eerie until a group of cruisers showed up from Tenacatita. We walked the property and found an entire additional section that appears completely abandoned, although with a small pool still filled and cleaned, and a security guard often on site. We walked very nice brick roads up steep hills to dead ends where further parts of the resort were never developed. As you enter the marina, there is a large structure that was built expecting it would be a casino, but when that was denied (we are not sure by whom), it was abandoned as is. This type of abandoned structure is a common site in the resort areas of Mexico.

One of our regular water taxi drivers.

A true luxury of the area is the French baker. He comes to the marina in his little boat with fresh croissants and other treats 5 mornings a week. We splurged and also bought a supply of frozen croissants with his careful instructions for preparation and some almond paste to make some even more delicious!

Passing the relic for the casino at sunset.

Since we were in Barra for about 3 weeks arranging for parts to diagnose and fix our fuel delivery issues, we took some trips, one to a coffee cooperative in the mountains and several days to Guadalajara. More on those soon. We really enjoyed getting away from the heat, and to some degree, the gringo orientation of the coastal/boating communities.

While in Barra we spent time with several cruisers that we met along the way.  There is a pretty well defined circuit down here along the mainland coast, with the main stops being Chamela, Tenacatita, Barra, and for some, Manzanillo, and for fewer, Zihuatanejo.  You basically run into the same people wherever you go.  We had some nice dinners in town and enjoyed a concert on the Malecon for the annual Sail Fest, which was happening while we were there.  The weather was pretty consistent, mostly sunny every day, becoming pretty hot and humid in the afternoon.  We fell into a bit of a routine of taking care of tasks in morning, perhaps going into town, then coming back to cool off by the pool and nap in the afternoon, and then maybe back into town for dinner.  Honestly, it was not a bad way to pass the time waiting for parts and waiting for the arrival of our friends Park and Carol, who would join us for the last week in February.

Looking into the Pacific from the edge of the resort.

A stressful "puzzler"…

I remember the NPR radio show “Car Talk”, and how each week Tom and Ray would have a segment called “the puzzler” in which they tried to diagnose some weird car problem.  Well, I have a boat version of the puzzler. As I mentioned in a previous post, when preparing to depart from Tenacatita the engine suddenly shut down after idling along for a few minutes.  This was not good.  At all.  Diesel engines are simple and reliable… and almost all issues are related to fuel delivery.  We have been battling fuel delivery demons on and off since departing in October, and believe me, you do not want to have a fuel delivery issue when traveling offshore.

My immediate suspect was the Racor 900 duplex filter assembly.  This fancy setup has two fuel filters connected by a selector valve.  You can run the fuel through one filter or the other, or both.  The value of this setup is redundancy.  If, for some reason, your fuel filter gets clogged (say by some bad fuel), you can simply select the other filter, keep the engine running, and then change the clogged filter.  Sounds good right?  Yes, if it actually works.

You may recall that we actually bought a brand new filter assembly back in Sidney before we started on the journey down the coast.  This was part of solving the air bubbles in fuel line problem that was causing very disturbing RPM variation (post).  We determined that the old filter assembly was leaking air, and as a matter of expediency, we simply had Philbrooks install a new one.  We were dismayed to observe that the new filter assembly also leaked, so the guys tightened up the bolts on the fuel selector valve, and all (seemed) good.  In retrospect I believe that was a mistake.  Anyway, we took off, ran 2700 NM down the Pacific Coast of North America, and had no problems…. Until I changed the fuel filter.  I did what I always do in this situation – I turned the selector to the unused filter and replaced the used filter.  The next time we started the boat, the engine died.  It was clear that there was something wrong with the selector valve, at least in the position of the forward, or looking at the assembly, the left filter.  I also noted that the selector lever was extremely tight, and it was very difficult to feel the “detent” indicating the selection of that filter.  Long story short(er), we had the selector valve rebuilt, did a sea trial, tested all positions, seemingly successfully, and thought we were good to go. 

We left from La Cruz down to Bahia Chamela, and later to Bahia Tenacatita, a total of about 130 NM underway.  All good.  Until the morning in Tenacatita.  When the engine shut down, I checked the filter assembly.  The level of fuel in the active filter was quite low.  I refilled the filter with fresh fuel and then went through the process of priming the fuel system and bleeding the injectors.  It seemed obvious when working the manual priming pump that there was air getting into the fuel line regardless which filter was selected.  My experience has been that when you are working the manual pump, it becomes stiffer as the air is replaced with fuel when bleeding at the secondary, or engine, filter.  This was not happening.  I could not get the engine primed with fuel.  Also, I noticed that the selector valve was very tight, like before, even after it was rebuilt.

The Racor dual filter assembly drained of fuel and ready to be disassembled. The troublesome selector valve has a yellow handle. Below the fuel filter assembly is the fuel supply manifold, to it’s right is the return manifold. This allows me to select which tank to draw fuel from (we have four).

Because I was very suspicious of the selector valve, I decided to disassemble the manifold and plumb together a single filter module.  I got it done and went through the priming routine again, and this felt a bit better – the pump was offering some resistance.  But, bleeding the injectors was not successful.  I managed to get engine started, but it shut down again, and again, it seemed clear that there was air coming in somehow.  And again, the fuel level in the filter module was low, even though I refilled it completely when I reassembled it.  Listening carefully, I could actually hear the sound of some air leaks around the body of the filter module.  The supply line from the tank via the manifold had some old black electrical tape at the joint between the hose and fitting.  I wondered if it had been suspected as a leak previously, so I replaced the electrical tape with a good wrap of rescue tape.  That wasn’t it.  There was a black plastic nut beside the fuel input port, and I was able to tighten that a little bit.  Also, it seemed that there may have been a leak between the upper and lower parts of the filter assembly, so I tried tightening the four retaining bolts and was able to get a bit of a turn on three of them.  Repeating the priming process again, still no start. 

In desperation I made another call to my man Lance at Diesel Premier (he had been taking my calls and offering advice all day – even though it was Super Bowl Sunday).  His suspicion was the supply from the tank.  We had been drawing and returning to the starboard tank, but have regularly alternated between port and starboard.  It didn’t make much sense to me… but it was an easy thing to try.  I though there must be something else, so I put a wrench on all of the fittings on the Racor filter and on the engine side.  I was able to get a bit of a turn on each of them, including those to and from the fuel pump assembly on the engine.  After one last round of priming and injector bleeding, I was finally able to get the engine started and running.  We ran it up to 1700 RPM for a few minutes and left it to idle for at least 30 minutes.  No problems.  I put an old filter top vacuum gauge on and it was recording good, low, but non-zero vacuum.  After running, I checked the fuel level in the housing, and disturbingly, it was low.  I estimated that I needed to add about 24 oz of diesel to bring it back up to the top.  I did see a little bit of fuel between the bowl and housing when I checked the level, but it is hard to tell whether that is a real leak or the result of small drips when topping off with diesel.  I suspect a leak in the filter housing itself. 

I refilled it and we decided to take the chance the next day on the 12 NM run to Barra de Navidad where we could be at a marina to make repairs. We made it with the wing engine idling the whole time, just in case.  We were nervous the whole time, not confident that my single filter jury-rig was reliable. There weren’t any detectable RPM variations the whole time.

The simplified setup with a single Racor fuel filter. This seems to be working…

So, here we are in Barra trying to figure this thing out.  I have some clear hose and fittings on the way so that I should be able to see any obvious air bubbles or leaks in the system.  There have been many suggestions for potential causes including a bad fitting, a bad piece of hose, tiny holes in the tube that draws fuel out of the tank, etc.  In the meantime, I replaced the Racor filter housing that I suspected of leaking with the other one, that seems not to leak.  We actually ran the boat for a couple of hours on this setup without any problems.  While I will systematically address all the possible sources of leaks, I remain very suspicious of the filter and assembly.  I have spare parts on order to completely rebuild that.

So that’s our puzzler for this week.

Bahía Tenacatita

After 4 nights at Chamela, the weather looked good for our 30 NM run down to Bahía Tenacatita.  It was another nice, easy passage.  We talked to our friends from CUBAR on Mahalo, who were headed North from Tenacatita to Puerto Vallarta to watch the Super Bowl.  Apparently, there was a mass exodus from the anchorage to places with TVs to watch the big game.  Being Seahawks fans, we had no such need. 

Saw another turtle on the way. Love these guys!

Tenacatita is a much larger bay than Chamela, and has better protection from the Northwest swell.  The head of the bay is a long sand beach that extends to a resort in the NE corner and over to an estuary entrance at the NW corner. Of course, over the days that we were here, the swell was more from the SW.  This time we went deep into the anchorage, almost closest to the beach.  It was much less rolly than Chamela, but we still wound up putting out the second flopper stopper after the first night at anchor.   

We learned that there is a free-for all on this coast of Mexico as far as developers go. Apparently in the last 10 years, this stretch of beach on either side of Tenacatita has been hotly contested in a land dispute that seems to have been resolved, but did result in the razing of all the palapas that were on the beach below about 10 years ago. Only one has returned.

The other side of Tenacatita. Bigger swell.
Picking our way in the mini-tender through the mangroves.

One of the highlights of Tenacatita is a tour of the estuary, through mangroves that close into a bit of a natural tunnel in places, just wide enough for a dinghy to make it through.  It is also quite shallow in places, meaning that we needed to use the small dinghy again.  It was challenging to pick our way through the narrow estuary, but after about 2.5 NM, we eventually emerged into a lagoon that was behind the beach at the next bay to the west of the main anchorage. 

Here a group of us had arranged for a tour of a Racilla distillery just up the road from the beach.  We were picked up in a van, and had a very nice tasting and lunch, learning quite a bit about how this local, indigenous cooperative produces Mezcal.  Their showcase offering is a 17 year old “Anejo” Racilla, which is the smoothest liquor of this type that I have tasted to date.  It was outstanding.  

The entry to the Cooperative that supports the indigenous makers of raicilla.
Our wonderful host – he spoke such clear Spanish at an even pace that we could understand nearly everything he told us.

Across the bay from the anchorage is the little town of La Manzanilla. On one of our days we headed into the beach and to town via a long and windy taxi ride to hit the weekly farmers market for some fresh produce. We stopped for lunch at one of the local lunch places that our cruiser compatriots liked. Great food, but Gwen had the disturbing experience of finding a huge 2 inch dead beetle in the bottom of her limonada glass after all the ice had melted. Definitely put a damper on her warm and fuzzy feelings for the place. The manager did the right thing and our lunch was free, so not naming the place.

Surf landings and dinghy wheels

Most of the anchorages in this part of Mexico are bays with at least some exposure to the Pacific Ocean and thus the beautiful sandy beaches have some amount of surf.  That is why we bought the small dinghy, but up until now we had not actually attempted a surf landing. When we went into La Manzanilla we did our first surf landing, under the tutelage of some experienced cruisers that we were going into town with.  The idea is to wait for a lull in the waves and then gun it at the beach before the next wave catches you, gracefully jumping out of the dinghy, keeping it from getting sideways, turning off the engine, and dragging it up onto the beach.  That is the theory anyway.  I’ll say that our first landing was not completely dry, but we didn’t tip the dinghy over… as we saw many others do.  And on the way back we learned that the “surf takeoff” is the hard part.  You drag the dinghy down to the water’s edge, push it into the surf deep enough so that it floats and the outboard can be tilted down into place, keep it straight, keep the waves from tipping it over, start the engine, and take off.  Easy as that.  Sometimes. 

Gwen soaking wet after taking a big wave from the bow of the dingy. She often looks like this after micro dingy adventures. We also stopped wearing our inflatable life vests since they were bound to keep exploding.

We quickly realized that we needed to install the fold up wheels that we had purchased to make surf landings and takeoffs a safer and drier affair.  The wheels make it much easier both on landing and takeoff.  Coming in to the beach with the wheels folded down keeps the outboard prop from digging into the sand, and when the wheels make contact, it’s time to hop out.  They make it easy to guide the dinghy into the surf and start the motor before boarding.  We didn’t have room to install them on the boat, so we packed up the necessary equipment and headed over to the beach to do the installation.  Gwen got drenched and rolled in the sand again on arrival.

Thank goodness for portable power tools.

Installing the wheels was really easy to do, just a matter of mounting a couple of brackets on the transom.  We took some measurements so the wheels would not interfere with the outboard or inflatable tubes, drilled four holes through the transom, slathered the brackets with silicone sealant and bolted them on.  The wheels are on steel legs that attach to the brackets with removable pins, and they simply flip up or down and lock into place. It was one of those satisfying boat jobs that only took about twice as long as it should have.  After letting the silicone dry for a bit, we had a stress-free surf takeoff!

Wheels up.
Wheels down.

After being in Tenacatita for several days, we decided to head further South to explore Manzanillo before heading back to Barra de Navidad, where we are meeting friends at the end of the month.  As we started our departure preparations, we started the engine, as usual, only to have it stall out after running for a few minutes.  This was not good… not good at all.  I immediately suspected our fuel filter system which has given us trouble off and on for the entire journey, most recently in Puerto Vallarta.  Anyway, we wound up spending the day making repairs, which will be the subject of another blog post.

The next morning I woke up early and saw the anchor alarm had gone off. A squall had come through in the night and it was still fairly windy, but we were so exhausted from dealing with the fuel system issue we slept right through it. Also, unlike the northwest where you hear every minor movement of the anchor against the bottom, there is no sound of an anchor dragging on sand.   It was well before daylight, so I checked our position against other nearby boats.  Sure enough, we were closer, but still a safe distance away.  As soon as the sun came up we prepared to raise the anchor.  All went smoothly, and this time the engine kept running (thank goodness).  We started up the wing engine just in case.  As we raised the anchor, we saw that it was completely wrapped up in it’s own chain… no wonder we dragged! 

We carefully moved away from all the other boats in the anchorage and tried to figure out how we would get the anchor loose.  At 137 lbs, we were not just going to pick it up and unwrap the chain.  Eventually we managed to get a line through the bar across the back end of the anchor to take some strain off the chain.  We then got another line through the chain near the shank of the anchor and were eventually able to get it all free.  Thanks to Hugo from another Nordhavn for providing moral and physical support from his dingy!

Halfway through the detangling. At first there were 3 wraps of chain around the whole anchor.

What a couple of days!  We had decided to head to Barra de Navidad and a marina 12 miles away to further evaluate the fuel delivery problem. We made it without difficulty, but not without anxiety.

Authored by Larry with editing and colorful additions from Gwen.

Bahía Chamela

At 5:30 AM on January 25th we finally left Marina La Cruz for the 96 NM run around Cabo Corrientes and down the coast to Bahía Chamela.  Weather was pretty mild, but we had some rain going around Cabo Corrientes.  It felt great to be underway again, and all systems were back to working well.  

Just swimming….
Checking out the floating fish attractor.

On the way we saw a half dozen sea turtles at various points, bobbing along sometimes lifting their heads to look at us.  As we were arriving at Chamela a pod of humpback whales was nearby, but I could only get a few pictures because we had to focus on avoiding the fishing nets that were placed in about 400 feet of water a mile or so offshore.  We had spent most of the trip about 5 miles offshore and avoided any nets,  but coming in closer was a different story.  Fortunately, they were well-marked and we were able to work around them towards the shore and shallower water.

One of the pod close to shore.
Tending their fishing lines.

There were about 22 boats anchored in Chamela, so we wound up dropping the anchor a bit further out than we’d prefer.  It was moderately rolly, enough so that we put out both flopper stoppers.  We read in the guidebooks that a beach landing on the dinghy was required to get ashore here, but it turns out that they had recently built a pair of jetties and an entrance channel into the estuary.  So, no beach landing necessary, but we needed the small dinghy anyway, as the estuary mouth got too shallow on the ebb tide for our larger dinghy.

View of the anchorage coming in.
Dingy and panga landing, crane and floats that seem intended to make a more substantial landing.

The guidebooks also said that there were anchorages and snorkeling spots near the large islands across the bay from the anchorage.  After making a choppy crossing on the big dinghy, it seemed pretty clear that these anchorages were not very well protected.  There were a couple of small sailboats in one of them, and both were bouncing around quite a bit.  We then went around to a cove with a beach and reportedly good snorkeling, but it was incredibly crowded with pangas and groups from the local area.  We decided to wait for another day, hoping for the crowds to thin out.

The snorkeling beach – the pangas use a moored buoy to hold their boats in place.
Interesting topography with cacti mixed with deciduous foliage.



The next afternoon, we went back.  This time there were only 2-3 pangas and groups, but it was evident when we went into the cove that there was no way that we would be able to land the big dinghy on the beach.  In fact, there was so much swell we couldn’t anchor the dinghy, and we actually lost our stern mushroom anchor.  We went back to a beach near the anchorage in the lee of the other island and were able to anchor the dinghy and snorkel around a bit.  However, with all the swell the visibility wasn’t good, and there wasn’t much to see.  We had a very choppy ride back across the bay to the main anchorage.

Obviously a bit challenging for snorkeling, but beautiful!

One day we walked into the town of Punta Perula on the one dusty main paved road.  Small town with a few restaurants and some small hotels, but not a big tourist focus, yet.  Another day we did a long beach walk, and on both days finished up with a palapa lunch and beer before making our way back. 

Downtown, the town square.

A great 4 day stay at anchor. Next stop, Tenacatita anchorage. 

Feeding the pelicans at sunrise.