It is Sunday March 22. We are back in La Paz, where we intended to start exploring the Sea of Cortez. But life as we know it has shifted dramatically in the last few weeks because of COVID 19. We have had a lot of difficult discussions here on Miss Miranda as we worked to a mutual decision on what to do.
The bottom line is that we have decided the best course of action for us is to shut up the boat for the season here in La Paz on the Baha Peninsula and return home. This was our original plan, it’s just being put into action earlier than we hoped and planned. We plan to return next season to fully explore the Sea of Cortez.
We made a whirlwind trip to San Diego in the last few days prior to making this decision. Fuel system parts had been shipped to us there to replace the Racor dual filter system, and we had time sensitive bureaucratic details to address. The night we arrived, California was placed under a stay at home order. We were lucky that mail seems to be an essential service, so we were able to take care of our business while trying to stay 6 feet away from other people. We flew back to Cabo San Lucas airport on an Alaskan flight that had one passenger other than us. Flight attendants reported that flights are about half full at the moment with people returning to the US.
You may be saying to yourself – “why would you go back to a hotbed of the virus?”.
1. Our 20 year old college sophomore daughter is there, currently alone without any family support. I cannot imagine isolating ourselves here in Mexico for potentially months and not be able to reach her. She already went through the mess in France and we had to fly her out on a moment’s notice when Trump declared travel from Europe was closing (which had to be clarified later, after many people, including us, had panicked). Flights do continue to and from Mexico for now, and we understand that Alaska Airlines is unlikely to completely shut down flights. But, we have observed Canadians having a difficult time getting flights home and they’ve told us there are no flights in April from our region to Canada. Who knows what is going to happen.
2. Mexico is a wonderful country, currently with a low number of cases. This will change. No country is exempt from this virus. The healthcare system here will have even more challenges than we are already seeing with the US healthcare system. I am immunosuppressed because of medication I take for rheumatoid arthritis, therefore at higher risk of getting severely ill if I do get sick. I prefer to have access to the system I am familiar with, even though it is far from the best in the world.
3. I am a doctor, currently on a year sabbatical. I can’t stand by and not do anything to help.
We have talked to many boaters here, both from the US and from Canada and heard many second hand reports of more, all of whom have struggled with the same decision. My observation is that the majority are taking the government advice/demand (for Canadians) that they return home. This has been particularly hard for those who planned to take longer voyages, such as to the South Pacific. Many countries are now closed to all foreigners including boaters, and many are also not allowing boats to check out of the country if they are already there. There have been reports here of boaters not being allowed to check out of Mexico on their boat. The situation is very dynamic and difficult to predict where things will be in the coming weeks and months.
Some are making the choice to hunker down in this beautiful place with 2-3 months of food and supplies and stay away from people. I trust they are going to have a wonderful solitary time in nature. There is no right or wrong answer, everyone has to do what fits with their situation. Only time will tell how things will turn out for all of us.
I hope you all are staying home and practicing excellent hand hygiene. If you have masks or other personal protective equipment at home, please donate them to your local hospital. I have many colleagues working without adequate masks to protect them and the US is in dire need of these supplies.
We look forward to virtual happy hours and phone conversations with many of you when we return home.
I’d rather have a palapa in Yelapa than a condo in Redondo – quote from a Mexico boating guidebook.
After doing some work on our chronic fuel delivery problems we decided to run across Banderas Bay to the pueblo of Yelapa, located on the South side of the bay, a bit East of Cabo Corrientes. The only way to visit is by boat – there are no road connections from Puerto Vallarta. It is 15 NM across the Bay, so a couple of hours each way. A great way to spend a sunny day and a good check on the repairs we made on the fuel system.
We headed off around 9 AM and saw several different groups of whales along the way. We slowed and watched a couple, but after a while, we decided to keep going, wanting to get over to Yelapa before lunch. Approaching the entrance to the bay, we were greeted by Philipe in a panga from Fanny’s restaurant, a beachside palapa. He offered to guide us in to a mooring buoy, necessary here because the bay is very deep with only a small shelf suitable for anchoring. Yelapa is absolutely gorgeous, with steep cliffs covered in vegetation rising from the bay and sandy beach. It is, however, very rolly… open to the NW Pacific swell. Friends reported spending the night moored between two buoys, but also reported that their guests got seasick. If we stayed, we certainly would have had to deploy both flopper stoppers.
After tying up, Philipe took us over to the village dock, where we walked through the hillside town up a paved path to the waterfall. Along the way, we met Charlie the burrow and his owner, Manuel, a lifetime Yelapa resident. Here along the path, families set up open air shops featuring their handmade wares. We wound up buying two light blankets made by a son and daughter of Manuel.
The waterfall was beautiful and served as the fresh water supply for Yelapa. Returning to the town dock, we hailed Philipe again and went across to his family’s restaurant on the beach. There we had an outstanding lunch. I had the whole red snapper, grilled with garlic and butter, while Gwen had some gigantic, and tasty shrimp.
After a couple of pleasant hours enjoying the scene, we returned to Miss Miranda and started back to La Cruz. The highlight of our return trip was a breaching, dancing, playing whale that was right in front of us, seemingly unwilling to let us pass without putting on a show. Gwen got some outstanding pictures. We also saw a school of rays swimming just under the surface, but they swam off before we could get photos.
We got back to La Cruz without incident and with enough confidence in the fuel system to take on the next leg, 171 NM North to Mazatlan.
Our friends Park and Carol arrived in Barra for a week of cruising with us in late February. We would be celebrating Gwen’s birthday and Park and Carol’s wedding anniversary. We spent a couple of easy days and nights in Barra getting ready to go, including a wonderful dinner at a place called Galería de Arte, a fantastic restaurant run out of the home of a local family. The maitre’d /owner is a photographer, and his works are all around the place, which is arranged in a courtyard garden for open air dining. Robert is a very gracious host, his kids are the waitstaff, and his wife Ruby runs the kitchen. The menu is limited to two traditional Mexican main courses, and there is always a surprise appetizer. Also, Robert is a bit of a Tequila aficionado, so there is a huge list available for tasting. It was a wonderful meal, and without doubt the best restaurant in Barra.
The next day we headed north to Tenacatita. We spent a couple of nights at anchor in a relatively uncrowded bay (many of the sailors were down in Barra for the sail festival). We did some beach landings with the micro tender, getting good practice in very mild conditions, walked the beach, and swam off the back of the boat in 80 degree water. We celebrated Gwen’s birthday with fish tacos, and Carol delivered Gwen’s number one birthday wish…. Not doing any dishes!
The forecast was calling for higher winds associated with a frontal system, so we left early the next morning to head down to Manzanillo, about 35 miles south of Tenacatita. The forecast was wrong in the best possible way… a beautiful sunny day with light winds and nearly flat calm… maybe the mildest conditions we have encountered to date. Entering Manzanillo bay we passed between the off lying rocks of Los Frailes and large cargo ships in the anchorage. Our destination was the marina at Las Hadas, well protected by rock breakwaters all around and adjacent to the Brisas Las Hadas resort. This area gained notoriety way back when by the movie “10”, starring a nubile, hair beaded Bo Derek. I am not sure if Bo has aged gracefully, but Las Hadas has not.
We had to med moor in the marina, which requires dropping the anchor in front of the dock and then backing in, tying stern lines and getting on and off via the back of the boat. They had us in a spot between two other boats with an odd angle between them, and tied to bow mooring lines that made it difficult for us to maneuver. And of course, the afternoon wind was starting to come up and push us to one side. It took two attempts –on the first one I didn’t drop the anchor far enough out, so it did not set well enough to hold the bow. The second time I went right out to the middle of the basin and dropped the anchor with plenty of room to set. All was good, save for the substantial surge, which caused us to put out all of the ball fenders we had on the back of the boat, and actually flattened one of the smaller ones.
One surprising thing in the marina was the crystal clear water – clearest we have seen on this coast. The shoreside of the marina actually had a very healthy ecosystem with various anemones, sea cucumbers and lots of different tropical fish. After spending quite a bit of time watching them, you could clearly see there are neighborhoods in there – with fish staking out their little bits of space, patrolling it and pushing out other fish and generally looking like little busy bodies.
The marina had adequate power, non-potable water, and very few transient boats. There were a couple of long term yachts and some sportfishing/charter boats. It took a while to find the restroom/shower facilities… and we wished that we hadn’t. They were borderline disgusting. I could see in a pinch, using the toilets, but there was no way I was going to take a shower in there. Why am I even talking about this? Two reasons. When we are in a place with no potable water, and can’t/won’t run the watermaker (i.e. in a marina without pumpout facilities) we tend to shower ashore. Second, the macerator pump in our master head chose this moment to go belly up. Yes, you read correctly. This was the second macerator pump failure in two months… with two couples on the boat! More on this later.
Having settled in at the Marina, we made an expedition into the town of Manzanillo. We took the bus in from the resort after climbing straight up an incredibly steep hill to the road. The first bus was ancient, bouncing perilously over the cobbled roads hugging the steep hills between the beautiful Cliffside residences in the area. The second bus was driven by a young driver who thought he was qualifying for the grand prix, running the old heap as fast as it would go and scaring the cab drivers that dared to get near us. Relieved to be alive, we got off at the main square and made our way to the municipal market, which was filled with produce stands, carnicerias, etc. We were sorely disappointed that we were unable to find a fresh pig head to show our pesca/vegetarian friends… had to settle for a beef shank on the hoof.
After the market we found the Iguana refuge which provides shelter for Iguanas and an odd assortment of other animals (including raccoons). Inside, it was feeding time and dozens of Iguanas came around to eat various vegetable leaves. Then they would climb over the fence. When we left the refuge, we realized that they were climbing into trees on the refuge property over a small stream/drainage ditch. There were well over 100 sunning themselves in the trees. We had a big lunch in a small restaurant, did a little shopping and then took a cab back to the marina.
The next day we decided to pony up the stiff fees ($60 US p/p) for a day pass to the resort, which entitled us to towel service, the pool, the restaurants, and open bar. I will note that they must control alcohol consumption by making some of the worst margaritas I’ve ever had. The food was good and plentiful, however, and the pool was great. Given the situation with our head on the boat, access to bathrooms alone may well have been worth the price of admission. We really had a great day, and towards the end of the day Park and Carol told us that they had decided to book a room at the resort, in deference to our head problem. This was really very thoughtful of them, but as fellow owners of a Nordhavn 50, they really knew the score. We had a last wonderful dinner outside at the high end restaurant, which was nearly empty. Again, this was a story of faded glory… a huge place festooned with AAA four diamond awards from times past, with maybe 4-6 parties dining that evening. Nevertheless, the food was good and the company outstanding.
The following day Park and Carol departed for the airport and their return to Washington, and we set off to visit the port captain to change our crew list and then to do some shopping at La Comer, a big Mexican supermarket chain. We got to the Port Captain thanks to our taxi driver, as we never would have found on our own, it was so tucked away from the street. We were met by a helpful official asking what we needed. Gwen explained (her Spanish is getting really good) that we needed to check out and change the crew list. The officer listened and, realizing that we were a pleasure yacht over at Las Hadas, told us there was no need to check out… just call on the radio. Manzanillo is a huge commercial port, and clearly seems to have no interest in making pleasure boats submit to the normal paperwork that other port captains thrive on. So, off we went to La Comer. On the way, Gwen struck up a conversation with the cab driver, talking about family, etc. We learned that he was from Guadalajara, so we (she) talked a bit about that. He also talked a bit about how much tourism was down in the area, referring to fear of Narcos. It certainly did seem that occupancy at the resort was even lower than we had seen at Barra and other towns down here, though there appeared to be plenty of Gringos at the marina-side restaurants.
It was finally time to bid the Coastalegre good bye and make the trip back to La Cruz in Banderas Bay. We decided to do the entire 150+NM in one shot, and set a departure time for noon, in order to arrive in La Cruz after sunrise the next day. The forecast was for light winds, but 5-7 foot seas. However, things were predicted to freshen up in subsequent days, so this window was as good as we would get. The winds were light for the entire passage, and the seas didn’t really pick up until about 20 miles South of Cabo Corrientes, where we started bashing into the NW swell. We rounded the cape in the wee hours of the morning with no drama and found ourselves in La Cruz with 20 minutes to wait before it was light enough to enter the marina. We were very glad to be back on the move, headed North for the Sea of Cortez, and thankful that my jury rigged fuel filter system worked without the slightest hiccup. I spent some worried hours thinking about what it would be like running on the wing engine around Cabo Corrientes, and glad that it didn’t happen!
Finally, the same day we arrived, Lance’s crew showed up, replaced the head pump, and started helping me rebuild the fuel lines and filter system. More on this later.
The morning after our spur of the moment decision to book a trip to Guadalajara we loaded a duffle bag and our backpacks and trudged through town to the bus station by the big marlin. By the time we got there we were sweat soaked, so it was a wonderful surprise to discover the luxury of the ETN bus! It was a double decker with very comfortable reclining seats, foot rests and personal video screens in case you wanted to watch movies in Spanish. And it was air conditioned… almost too much. We were dressed for the hot Barra weather in lightweight shorts and short sleeved shirt, ready for 85 plus degrees… not 68. I got my hoody sweatshirt out of my duffel at a stop where I tipped the porter to dig it out for me. Larry didn’t think to prepare for cooler weather, so spent some time actually feeling chilly. The ride was about six hours over mostly toll roads, with stops in Manzanillo, Colima, and the airport before ending at the Guadalajara bus terminal. The roads were initially lined with short banana trees with bunches of bananas waiting to ripen and tall palm trees interspersed. As we continued we had some spectacular views of the 12,000+ foot Colima Volcano and went through an area of deep gorges where the road went across viaducts over the canyons below.
Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico with about 1.5 million people. It’s actually made up of three separate cities – Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara proper. It has recently become a tech hub and also a city for foodies. Lots of Mexico’s history happened here.
After arriving we made our way by taxi to Tlaquepaque, which is an artsy district in the old town area where a century ago very wealthy Guadalajarans had country homes. Kind of like the upper part of Manhattan was in the 1800s. Our bed and breakfast was a charming small old building with rooms off of a small narrow courtyard. The key to our room was the largest brass key I have ever seen – we had to leave it at the front desk as it was too big to carry, and probably irreplaceable!
On our first morning we walked most of the Tlaquepaque neighborhood, scoping out galleries and trying to get into the historical sites. We visited the Centro Cultural El Refugio, a former free public hospital funded by wealthy citizens in the 1800s until the last century – there are still people in the neighborhood who were born there. In recent past it has gone through cycles of disrepair, but now has been partially restored and turned into a cultural center and museum. Most of it was closed for refurbishment and repairs from a hail storm a year ago, but when we stayed to look at the small open area, the museum staff decided to give us a personal tour of some of the closed wings.
Unfortunately, another recommended historical site, the Casa Historia, was closed indefinitely after the collapse of the ceiling. It is clear that money for the arts and restoration can be a challenge in Mexico.
In the afternoon we headed to the new Acuario Michin (Aquarium) in the center of the city. It was very well done. Excellent exhibits with detailed signs in Spanish and English. They also had a small set of animals in the back – some of the happiest and healthiest looking goats and sheep with lots of babies that I have ever seen, along with crocodiles and otters. There were quite a good number of people there for a weekday, and they clearly have taken a lesson from American versions – I saw brochures advertising birthday sleepovers in the Aquarium.
That evening we had the good fortune to meet up with some boating friends from Washington, Jim and Sandy, who happened to be in Guadalajara for a few days as well! They are long time Mexico aficionados, so we met at a fantastic restaurant of their suggestion and had a wonderful meal and catch up.
The following day we took advantage of tour company to get a whirlwind tour and education about the downtown historical sites surrounding the Plaza de la Liberacion and Plaza de Armas and to visit the neighborhood of Tonala, where much of the furniture and crafts sold in local markets is actually made.
Our tour guide Ronny picked us up at our hotel in the morning, and gave us the wonderful news that we were fortunate to be the only people on the group tour for the day! This was fantastic, as he was a font of historical knowledge and we had a terrific time visiting beautiful plazas surrounded by a number of the cathedrals and historical government sites and getting an excellent history lesson on the Mexican war for independence and other skirmishes in Mexican history, many of which played out in Guadalajara. I wish I had taken some notes as I forgot a lot of it soon after.
After lots of touring, we returned to our neighborhood for a late afternoon lunch and mariachi concert at El Patio. Guadalajara is the home of mariachi. An excellent all female mariachi band performs at El Patio most days. This was simply not done in Mexico until the last 10 or 20 years. They were excellent. Ronny said he thinks they are better than any of the male mariachi bands.
We ended the day with visit to several art galleries and to the Museo Regional de la Cerámica, which had some beautiful ceramic displays in a former mansion that has become quite decrepit.
We really just touched the surface of Guadalajara. There is so much art, food, culture and history here. Definitely a city to return to!
We took a day trip from Barra up into the mountains to tour a local coffee cooperative. Larry is a bit of a coffee nut, roasting our own back home, but we’ve have never actually seen a coffee bush in person. This tour was to Cuzalapa up in the hills in Jalisco and the El Grupo de Mujeres Color de la Tierra cooperative, run by the women of the village. The day we went was their annual coffee festival. The tour was run by a company called Mex-ECO tours, which we highly recommend for their focus on culturally sensitive and environmentally sound tourism. Our excellent tour guide was a young woman named Eugenia, and she was amazed when I told her my mother has the same name! Apparently not common in Mexico either.
After an hour and a half drive in a comfortable Mercedes van, we arrived at the village, which was little more than the cooperative buildings and residences along the side of a single cobblestone and brick road.
We went to a morning meal of outstanding tamales and coffee at an open air restaurant. People were very welcoming and lovely!
The coffee cooperative was formed in 2001 by the village women to keep more of the value generated by their coffee plants that grow freely on their properties in the village. One of the women of the co-op spoke to us through an interpreter to tell us their history. Before the co-op was formed, they were paid a peso per kilo of coffee fruit from their coffee plants. They banded together to learn how to harvest, process, roast and sell the coffee for about 200 pesos per kilo. Most of the women in the village participate and it has been a good source of income for them, but they told us about having some challenges with machismo, and at least one woman in the village is still not able to be a part of the cooperative because of that.
Another cooperative member, Maria, led us around her property to see her coffee plants and some prehispanic petroglyphs on a large rock. An unplanned but happy occurrence was the presence of an anthropology professor from the University of Guadalajara who was there to discuss the importance of this petroglyph for an ancient indigenous game with some university students. We were lucky to listen, and that one of the students translated the lecture for us.
On our way back we made a brief stop in the town of Cuatitlán de García Barragán for ice cream and a walk around the square. Eugenia discussed the town namesake General García Barragán’s conflicted history. He was appreciated by the town for the investment he made in local schools while Governor of Jalisco, but he is also known for ordering the military to fire on the University students demonstrating in Mexico City in 1968 when he was Secretary of Defense. Of course, we have some similar history in the US.
Overall a great day trip, and when we got home we booked a bus the next day for Guadalajara!
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
A great 4 day stay at anchor. Next stop, Tenacatita anchorage.
In 2001, the Mexican Secretary of Tourism (SECTUR) created an initiative called “Pueblo Mágico/Magical Town.” This program seeks to highlight towns around the country that offer a unique and “magical experience – by reason of their natural beauty, cultural richness, traditions, folklore, historical relevance, cuisine, arts & crafts, and hospitality.”
This past weekend we had the good fortune to be invited, by Ron the radio expert on the Cruisers net in Banderas Bay, to visit the official magical mountain town of Mascota and his ranch up in the hills. It was good timing because we were itching to see more of Mexico and get some relief from some unusually hot weather here in the Bay.
We started out on Saturday morning on the bus from Puerto Vallarta up to Mascota. It is how the locals travel. $8 equivalent a person for a 3 hour trip. While the bus was definitely a 1960s or 70s vintage, it had plenty of legroom so it was comfortable, and the windows opened so there was a cool breeze once we got up into the mountains.
The bus was challenged by the mountain grades, often much steeper than anything that would be allowed in the US – as much as 15% Larry estimated. Lots of grinding of gears, very slow progress up hill and brakes burning on the way down. As we got higher we could see wide open vistas of hills, the valley with scattered corn fields, and small towns as we passed through them.
We checked into our bed and breakfast the Santa Lucia Inn and were greeted by the friendly owners as well as a menagerie of dogs and cats, and later, the resident pig. Our room was on the upper level, cool and airy overlooking a lovely courtyard.
In the afternoon we walked the town, luxuriating in the temperate air, and visited the Museo de Arqueológico for a fascinating and extremely well done exhibit on the prehispanic excavations done by Dr. Joseph Mountjoy and team early in the 2000s and supported by National Geographic. The ceramics have been dated to 3,000 years old and clearly there was a very organized society with cultural and detailed burial practices living here. There was an English translation booklet that guided us through the whole exhibit. The photographs of the archeologists actually doing the work really added to the experience – clearly I would never have had the patience!
We had a second educational experience with a stop at a Raicillería to taste raicilla, which is an agave based liquor similar to tequila. We sampled a number of styles. Very enjoyable, but in the end decided that we like the more mild taste of tequila. This of course led to the need for a siesta, which it appeared everyone else was doing too as the streets were quite empty when we walked back to the inn.
In the evening we enjoyed strolling around town and sitting in the town square watching families socialize and lots of little kids run around and laugh. The whole time we were in town we only saw one other gringo couple, and we studiously ignored each other, guessing we each wanted to remain in this immersive experience.
The next morning we were awakened first by roosters well before sunrise, then by church bells at 6am, and then the gradual sounds of town stirring around 7am. The sun rises late here, really close to 8am. At 9am we found a taxi to take us the 45 minute slow ride up the narrow road to Ron’s place up at 7,300 feet. Along the way we passed through charming towns, waited for a herd of cows and felt the air get even cooler.
Ron, a long time expat, and his wife Maly, from one of the southern Mexican states, hosted us to a wonderful day in the hills. We walked parts of their property which are a mix of almost pine barren type landscape with various types of cacti thrown in, hidden waterfalls, lemon and many other fruit trees. I got to take home a bunch of lemons.
They toured us around both on their 4 wheeler and in Maly’s old VW bug which she was expert at driving on steep grades. We visited two other tiny towns and were introduced to some of their friends. Navidad is a quiet town, and another Magical town, of not more than 250 people normally, but swells to many times that once a year for a week or so of festival.
There is so much more I could say about this experience, but I will stop here. We look forward to more like it, and can’t thank Ron and Maly enough for their hospitality!