We had a videographer along on the CUBAR Rally this year, and he put together three really nice videos covering the cruise. His name is Justin Edelman and he is a great photographer, videographer, video editor, and all-around great guy. It’s his photo of Miss Miranda at anchor that graces the banner of our blog.
During CUBAR, we (OK, I) gave him the Mexican name of “El Hombre de Augua” after a very exciting water landing of his drone. We were on the dinghy expedition to the mangrove estuary at Man O’ War Cove, and Justin was in the tour leader’s panga taking shots of all the dinghys going back and forth. It was pretty crazy fun. Justin decided to launch the drone off the back of the panga, and almost instantly, it took a nose dive into the water in the panga’s wake. Immediately, Justin dove into the water… with who knows how many dinghys bearing down on him… and after a short time, emerges, with drone in hand! Of course the drone was dead. Hence the name.
This is top of our list for destinations in Mexico so far. We spent three nights and two days exploring this little town in early December and absolutely loved it.
There are two options for parking your boat here – a small marina a mile or so up the river or a very nice anchorage off the beach in Mantanchen Bay just a few miles South. We decided to try the little marina. Marina Fonatur was a nice facility, but very difficult to get in touch with. We wound up calling the Mazatlan Fonatur to get their phone number. The staff were very nice and helpful, and it is necessary to know some Spanish to manage here!
The big challenge is that the marina is well up the estuary and the last section has lots of shoals right around the entrance. We were advised to stay close to the fuel dock on the starboard side on the way in, but there was a trimaran tied up to it, so couldn’t get very close and saw less than 6 feet going by. Buoys about a boat length behind the docks marked shallow water, and after we arrived a boat neighbor told us that they almost dry at low tide. We had no problem getting in or out, just slow and careful. There were only about 20 slips in the marina and it was packed full with sailboats. We were the only cruising powerboat in there, and were by far the largest boat in the marina. The 50 foot slip we were in was actually 40 feet in length. Moorage was very cheap, and they had free wifi, with pretty good speed. The water was not potable, but they had 30 and 50 amp power on the docks.
On our first day of exploring we made the short but hot and dusty walk into town during the height of the afternoon sun. It was quite quiet, and we walked around the square and found the road out to the edge of town and the historic fort.
The fort itself is set high up on the hill – it was formally established on my birthday (February 22) in 1768 and soon became the most important shipyard on the Pacific Coast. Ships left here to explore California and Alaska. In the early 1800s the move for independence from the Spanish also started from here. Its importance receded over time and now it is a sleepy town known for bird migrations and some music festivals.
We walked back to town, now quite thirsty and sweaty, and headed for the square to see what we could find. It was still early at 5pm although the sun was about to set, so we settled into a sidewalk table at the only open bar and restaurant on the square. As we relaxed and cooled off the town came to life – lots of people zooming by on motorbikes and bicycles, kids with backpacks who seemed like they were just getting out of school, and noisy birds that I’ve been told are grackles came home to roost in the trees around the square by the thousands and made quite the ruckus. An hour or so after sunset, a parade went round the square to the church – it was one of the first nights of the 12 nights of the Feast of Our Virgin of Guadalupe.
The next day we got up a bit early and called a taxi to take us to the up La Tovara estuary tour. It was outstanding – we had a panga and guide to ourselves. He did a great job of pointing out birds and other wildlife and helped with English and Spanish terms. The animals were fascinating and posed well in the early morning cool air for me.
One of the reputations that San Blas has is bugs – particularly tiny “Jejenes” – no see-ums that make very itchy bites. So we were prepared with our screens and lots of bug spray. We lucked out though – a few locals told us that they hatch on a cycle with the full moon and we were there mid moon cycle so we completely missed them! Very lucky for us. The other secret we were told is to brush them off your skin and not scratch when they do get you, and the bites won’t be as bad (have no idea if this is really true but worth a try!)
After the tour we walked further down the road to Matachen Bay beach. We hung out in a beachside palapa restaurant, eating, drinking and enjoying the warm waters of the bay. We had an excellent and very inexpensive meal of spiny lobster prepared with lots and lots of garlic, discovered the Pacifico “Ballena”, or very large beer, there. The palapa had a huge barrel filled with rain water and some dipping vessels so we were able to rinse off the salt water at the end of the day.
On the way home we stopped at one of the roadside shops near the bay to buy the local specialty of pan de platano (banana bread) and other loaf like breads.
We left Marina Fonatur at high tide the next day, and had no problems getting past the shoal spots. Staying near the red buoys in the channel gave us 12-15 ft depths, but the entrance/exit bar was really shallow. It is quite wide, there are no channel markers past the breakwater, and the charts are not at all accurate for depths in this area. We saw as little as 3 feet under the transducer at one point, and under 10 feet for at least a quarter of a mile. It was a relief to get into deeper water. All things considered, we would definitely choose to anchor in the bay next time.
We are in La Cruz, in the state of Nayarit, on the north end of Banderas Bay celebrating Christmas in a low key town. Our tree, packed all the way from Anacortes, is decorated with ornaments and decorations all acquired here in Mexico.
Today we will cook a traditional holiday dinner, with a small chicken substituting for turkey in our tiny oven. Miranda requested traditional stuffing which we will do our best to recreate – she brought the stuffing mix down in her suitcase to ensure we didn’t back out!
Will have to turn on the air conditioning for all the cooking – it’s 82 in the salon already before the afternoon sun hits and the oven gets fired up.
It was a lot of fun to explore markets and artisan shops to acquire our ornaments. Here are some examples of Mexican craftsmanship.
We wish all of you a wonderful holiday and hope you are spending it with family and friends, enjoying good food and good fortune of the season. Don’t worry, we are catching up on blog posts and will have more about where we have visited coming in the next few days!
I understand that cruising boats are complex. And I know that with so many systems it is natural that there will be a significant amount of maintenance and repairs. I do. Really.
What is irritating me a bit today is the failure of a component that was newly replaced, according to the manufacturers recommended maintenance schedule. Before leaving we tried to be proactive with maintenance and part replacement, and much of the work we had done at Philbrooks was around maintenance of the boat’s critical systems.
We have just experienced one of those failures. We were re-assigned to a better slip here in Paradise Village and were getting ready to move the boat at high tide, since the slip we were in was in a relatively shallow part of the estuary. Following our normal routine, I started the engine and then the stabilizer system (to make sure that the stabilizers are locked in the center position while we maneuver the boat). There was an immediate alarm from the system indicating “dangerously low oil level”. This was quite surprising, as we have just been sitting here for the last week or so and we had no issues on the way in to the marina. I went down to check, and sure enough, the stabilizer hydraulic reservoir was empty, meaning that some 4+ gallons of hydraulic fluid have leaked into the bilge. So, move aborted, I started looking around for the source of the leak. on opening the access panel to the starboard fin assembly, the leak was obvious – the bilge area below the stabilizer was very wet. None of the hydraulic fittings were wet or leaking, which left the actuator cylinder (the part of the system that actually moves the stabilizer) as the likely suspect. A call to ABT TRAC get me in touch with the authorized service center in Mexico, and, with a stroke of luck, they were able to send over a crew within an hour. After brief inspection, it was obvious that there was a massive leak in the seal around the piston – manually activating the stabilizer produced a noticeable amount of fluid right at the seal.
Fortunately, I had spare, rebuilt cylinders on board. Why? Because we had just replaced the cylinders (which were working just fine) based on the TRAC maintenance interval, which is six years (the system is 19 years old). So, a brand new part that has a service life of 6 years failed after about six months of use. Now, I can’t say anything bad at all about TRAC’s service and warranty. They will replace the part and will ship it wherever it is needed. But that is little consolation and doesn’t take into account the expense incurred in replacing the part.
I think there is a lesson lurking in all of this for me. I think it was a mistake to replace the existing actuator cylinders just because they had exceeded the recommended service interval. They were working fine and showed no signs of leakage. I realize that in retrospect, I should have bought the replacement cylinders and put them into my spare parts inventory in case of a future failure. I ignored the old maxim of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I think from now on, we are going to follow this rule.
I’m also getting a little tired of writing about stuff that breaks… and suspect that you are getting tired of reading about it. Next post will be on “stuff that works”.
The city of Mazatlan had a much bigger city feel than any of our previous stops. Very interesting contrast between rapid growth and decay. In recent years they have worked on restoring the old city in the center of town and we enjoyed exploring there in between rain storms and significant heat.
We loved our setup at Marina El Cid with the “quiet” pool only steps away from our dock. We also had access to the beach club across the channel via the water taxi, but we never went over to check it out. The pool was too inviting.
On the day before the deluge and foot of water, we spent the day in town. We lounged at a square-side cafe where I tried Aguachile – a very spicy shrimp regional dish. The waiter questioned whether I really wanted to have that, but I was determined to try it. I sweated my way through it and downed a ton of water and some beer. It was delicious, although my mouth was on fire for long afterward. I have a recipe for it, which will allow me to dial down the spice level.
We were looking for high-quality crafts and lucked into a wonderful shop where we conversed quite a bit with the owner all in Spanish – he was very patient and had such a clear accent he was easy to understand. After we made some purchases (all beautiful and extremely well-priced and all from Mexican or Central American artisans), he brought out some agave tequila to share.
An excellent stop was the Museum of Anthropology and History. Small but very interesting exhibits from pre-hispanic times – very well-preserved beautiful pottery, and informative texts in both Spanish and English. We were the only visitors that day from the guestbook.
We walked the Malecon, slowly because it was SO hot, and happened to pass some young guys who were cliff-diving. Not in the usual place which is at the other end of the Malecon and much more open, and I was horrified by this tight rocky location. But the kid came up in one piece.
On Thanksgiving, the day of the huge deluge, we were able to go a couple of miles from the marina and meet up with our friend Patrick from Seattle (who we coincidentally discovered was in town) and have a turkey dinner at a local spot. It was fun to see him and Diana, as well as the Mexican families who were out, and get to sing happy birthday in Spanish to a young girl having a family dinner. The family then sent cake around to everyone.
One impact of obvious boom and bust cycles in Mazatlan are the number of abandoned hulks of hotel buildings. In the back of our marina resort, a huge resort relic lined both the street and the beach, while across the street there is new construction. Definitely weird.
On another day we food shopped in the huge covered market. The public market in old town was an almost overwhelming experience. From street food taco stands (excellent) to meat vendors with pig heads inside, it seemed that you could find anything you needed in that place if you looked hard enough.
The shrimp we got from the “shrimp ladies” down the road were yummy. It was interesting that there were many shrimp ladies but it appears the prices are set – it must be a collective of some sort.
On another stormy day we did a dinghy cruise around the rest of the marina area and estuary, which has been developed with many nice houses on canals. Lots of high end homes lined the banks of the canals, much like Florida. There is money here. Not sure if it is expats or Mexican nationals.
On our last night we went into town for dinner and afterward walked the square, which was hopping with locals. We were fortunate to see an impressive performance from the dance troupe that we had seen practicing a few days earlier at the Arts facility. The kids were extremely talented and put on a very tight and exciting performance.
We left Chacala this morning to make the 45 NM run to Banderas Bay and Paradise Village Marina, our home for the next month. We wanted to have a look at the next bay South, Bahia Jaltemba, which is supposed to have a nice anchorage. We also wanted to have a look at the Gringo haven surf town Sayulita along the way, so we plotted a relatively near coastal route instead of heading well offshore.
It was a beautiful morning and we had some very large Bottle Nose dolphin riding along with us…. the biggest I’ve seen yet. There were a fair number of pangas out, and we suddenly noticed that we were approaching some net floats (which are often just empty translucent soda bottles, not fancy obvious floats like we see in the US) along our port side. We saw a flag marking the end a ways off, so we adusted course to go around the net. Well, we got to the flag, and found that it was connected to floats on both sides. So, we altered course some more to head seaward. Now, however, we started seeing net floats on both sides, and when we got to the next flag, we could see that we were well and truly hemmed in. As you can see in the voyager recording from our chart plotter below, we turned around to backtrack… a long way, and we eventually saw pangas near one of the flags. We sounded the horn many times and were studiously ignored. We drove right up to the pangas, and were still studiously ignored. We asked for help/directions in Spanish and got a vague arm wave seaward. So we turned seaward again, only to find that we were hemmed in again.
By this time we didn’t know what to do. If I was confident in my line cutters, I would have just driven through, but the thought of fouling the stabilizers as well as the prop shaft had me really concerned. Finally, we realized that the net fisherman must avoid the shrimpers working close to shore in 80 to 100 feet of water. We backtracked some more to the end of yet another net and came around the inshore side, and aimed directly at the next shrimper we saw. That turned out to do the trick. As you can see, we backtracked for more than 4 miles and spent a nerve wracking hour trying to escape from the maze.
The rest of the voyage passed without incident, and we arrived here at Paradise Village this afternoon. This time, we earned our arrival beer.
As we have been taking Spanish lessons and trying to communicate effectively with our Mexican hosts, we have realized that our names present something of a challenge for Spanish speakers. So, for instance, instead of using Larry, I use my full name, Lawrence, but change it to the more spanish-sounding Lorenzo. I try to always introduce myself to whomever we meet – taxi drivers, shopkeepers, etc, and “Soy Lorenzo” seems to work well. In Mazatlan, I met a father and son team of Marine Service guys, named, aptly, Ruiz and Ruiz. When I introduced myself as Lorenzo, Ruiz the younger immediately said “Lencho”, the shortened name for Lorenzo. I kind of liked it… though Gwen was not entirely pleased. She insists that it must be some kind of inside joke.
Gwen has a very difficult name for Spanish speakers. In fact, people everywhere seem to creatively mangle her name. Even in the US, we regularly show up at restaurants looking for a reservation under her name, and wind up seeing “Glen”, “Owen”, or other odd takes. So, having my own Spanish name, I thought Gwen would be well served by having one of her own. She refused the standard contractions of her name, e.g., “Wendy”, and we eventually settled on Gabriela. However, when we next met some people and introduced ourselves, I boldly said “Lencho” and Gwen…. choked. She said “Gwen”. She just couldn’t pull off the Gabriela thing. The other morning when we were on the La Tovara Estuary tour, we introduced ourselves to our guide, who spoke some English. When he heard Gwen, he immediately said “Cuando”, which is, of course, Spanish for “When”. We had a good chuckle about that, but then I thought that this might be a good Spanish name for her. We used it a couple of times the other day, and Spanish speakers who know a bit of English do get a kick out of it. Gwen, not so much.
Perhaps our faithful readers can help Gwen… what should her Spanish name be?