Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hello from La Cruz

We have been back in La Cruz for a few days but leave tomorrow for Mazatlan, so not much time for a good blog post!

We left Manzanillo, stopping in Santiago and then El Carrizal to do some snorkeling with Ernie on Morgana and Jo and Rob on Blue Moon. Our next stop was just north of Barra at Melaque. We had a good sail there with light head winds, arriving near Blue Moon just as darkness fell. The next day we celebrated St Patrick´s day a day early with fireworks, bands, and a fun fair. This was the ninth day of celebrations for this feast day (Santa Patricio) and the partying went on until 6am when the last fireworks were let off. Not sure how the locals and visitors keep this up for 10 days!

The sail north was pleasant on the whole but with a lot of beating to get around Cabo Corrientes into Banderas Bay. By a crazy coincidence we met a friend from Canada (Chad) who happened to be surfing nearby for a week and dropped by the marina to use the washrooms after getting lost. We visited Puerto Vallarta with Chad and then took him sailing for my birthday (yesterday) out to the Marieta islands where we snorkeled and drank and ate to excess - a great birthday!

More on the Melaque celebrations and some pics in another post.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Manzanillo – Sailfish, Tsunamis, and Sushi

Note there is actually no sushi in this post - it just sounded good in the title...

It is hard to believe we have been in Manzanillo for over two weeks, anchored for the most part off Las Hadas resort where the movie, Ten, with Dudley Moore and Bo Derek was filmed. The anchorage here has been quite lively with up to 25 boats closely packed behind the resort's breakwater.

Las Hadas anchorage

Las Hadas resort from the anchorage
We sailed down from Tenacatita to Carrizal anchorage at the entrance to Manzanillo Bay with very light winds, passing Bara de Navidad in the early afternoon and the Manzanillo airport around supper. The wind died completely as the sun set and we motored the last two hours intoCarrizal, anchoring in the dark near the sailing boat, Lovely Rita, the only other occupant of this remote anchorage.

City of Manzanillo from mirador

Rani & Chris in front of sailfish - Manzanillo claims to be the sailfish capitol of the world
The next day, a big southerly swell made the anchorage too rocky to linger, so we sailed to Las Hadas, where our friends Marv and Ardy were anchored along with another 20 or so boats. We spent the next day in downtown Manzanillo, taking the inexpensive (6 peso) bus and visiting the famous sailfish statue, and a surprising veggie cafe for lunch. Much of the town climbs up hills overlooking the port on one side and a massive coal fired power plant on another. We climbed up through the winding stairs to a viewpoint and down the other side to a volcanic sand beach before retracing our steps and returning to the anchorage. That night we walked out to the main street (a strenuous journey over winding cobble stoned streets) to watch the Carnival parade.

Someone appears to live in this tiny makeshift beach shelter.

Chinese float in Carnival parade

Carnival dancer

Another nicely decorated dancer

The parade reminded us of the one we had seen in Guaymas a year earlier. The recipe for success in this one was to find the largest flatbed truck possible, fit it out with a sound system appropriate for a Rolling Stones concert, decorate it with something colourful, and persuade at least a half dozen very scantily clad young women to dance provocatively amongst the decorations. Some floats had themes beyond this, including a Gold's Gym float with well built scantily clad men, a couple of transvestite floats, and a Chinese one.
Gold's gym float.

By coincidence we bumped into the only person I know in Manzanillo at the parade. Dave Wilkinson is a neighbor from Esquimalt who has a winter home in Santiago, just outside Manzanillo. We had planned to hook up via email, but for some odd reason we ended up in the same location on the crowded 3 mile long parade route that night. Over the next couple of weeks we visited Dave and later his family (Katie and daughters Mariah and Rebecca who flew in a few days later) at their beach front home. in addition to entertaining us, they were kind enough to let us use their shower and do laundry – luxuries highly valued by water-starved cruisers.

Chris and Dave returning from a body surfing expedition.

Dave was in the process of building a home on an adjacent lot to use as a vacation rental property and the excavation for the foundations was just getting underway when we arrived. There were no clearances between the building lot, Dave's driveway, and the neighbor's house, so needless to say there were a few tense moments over the next few days as the hole grew deeper and Dave worked out ways to ensure that the neighbor's house and his own driveway did not end up in the pit. So far he has been successful with the house, but much of the driveway will need to be replaced. The foundation pour begins today.

Rebecca and Dave barbecuing vegetables & shrimp - yum.
During Dave's bachelor days, we sailed over one day and anchored off his surfy beach, kayaking in with a boat-cooked lunch. We nearly capsized in one wave, and then forgot a sauce pan and had to paddle back out through the surf, getting soaked in the process. After lunch Dave and I went for a swim and he showed me how to body surf. The waves here can get pretty big and we had a few good runs, although I got pretty badly dumped when a wave curled on top of me, twisting my body like a licorice twizzler and pile driving my head into the sand.

Chris, Rebecca, and Katie in their lovely beach front home in Santiago
Apart from visiting with Dave and Katie, we have been enjoying the facilities at Las Hadas, especially the great pool. This resort, which literally means 'The Fairies', is a beautifully built series of wings and towers overlooking the anchorage. There are private pools in many suites and charming lanes and alleys connect the various wings. Each tower is different and built in a fanciful style. There are sculptures of winged fairies and gargoyles, and mosaic walkways wind between the buildings. The place seemed quite empty however, perhaps reflecting a downturn in tourism, but more likely because the prices are a bit steep here (the nearby more family-oriented Karmina Palace appeared to be quite full). If I had heaps of money this would be a fun place to have a wedding.

The pools at Las Hadas

Enjoying the pool.

Jo and Rob enjoying the pool.
We also had a tsunami scare here shortly after arriving. All boats but one left the anchorage and motored out into deep water after a major earthquake struck Chile. We received two hours warning before the tsunami was expected to reach Manzanillo. It was a bit of an anti climax, with the water rising only a few inches, imperceptible to all but the most careful observer.
Blue Moon arrived a few days after we did and we have spent some pleasant evenings with Jo and Rob and with two new friends on the steel sailboat, Blue Bottle (named for a character in BBC radio's vintage Goon Show). Joe on Blue Bottle is an accomplished Ukelele, Banjo, and Guitar player and we all had great fun trying to play each other's music on our assortment of stringed and wind instruments. Adrienne, Joe's other half, joined in on vocals, and Rob and Rani rounded out the percussion section.

Jamming on Blue Moon with Rob and Jo.

The following video features sailors/musicians Joe Blake, Chris Bennett and Jo Woollacott playing banjo, ukelele and guitar aboard  sv Blue Moon. Vocals, percussion and monkey impressions gamely provided by Adrienne, Ernie, Rob and Rani. The Monkey Song or " When You Grow Old " is one of Rani's favourites and we thank Joe Blake for sharing it with us.

Ukelele maestro, Joe from Blue Bottle. Ernie Kruell from Morgana, whom we first met in Coos Bay on our way down to Mexico is in the background

Chris tunes up his uke with Adrienne from Blue Bottle ready to join in the next song.
Sadly all good things must end. Blue Bottle is off across the Pacific, while Blue Moon heads for El Salvador, and Ladybug returns to the Sea of Cortez for another season. We leave today to begin our trip north.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chamela to Tenacatita

The scene here is quite domestic. Rani is mending one of our back packs whose strap was parting from a recent grocery overload here in Manzanillo. She reminds me that we are well behind in our blog and that it is my turn, so here are so1me ramblings about our trip to and stay in Tenacatita.

From Chamela we sailed with light following winds toward Tenacatita. As the winds dropped I poled out the jib on the opposite side to the main to keep us ghosting along over smooth seas. Around noon we were joined by a pod of speckled dolphins and a few minutes later we drew level whith what looked like a huge metal collander – perhaps 80 feet across and 50 feet high. A ramp led up to the rim of this structure, which rested directly on the ground. It reminded Rani of an alien spaceship that had already disgorged its occupants but we still have no idea what it is. Other cruisers we asked later were equally puzzled. The wind built as the afternoon wore on and we were soon making a solid 5+ knots as we approached Bahia Tenacatita. The radio crackled to life on channel 22 and we heard boats hailing each other and announcements for a 'swim to shore', bacci ball, and beach volleyball. We both looked at each other, not sure whether we were keen on what sounded like a resort atmosphere after the peace and wildness of Chamela.

We dropped the pole and rounded into the bay with 10-15 knots behind us and then on our beam. At the entrance, surf was breaking on the offlying rocks and a long palapa-lined beach came into view just inside the point. This outer anchorage was empty and looked a bit rolly, so we continued past Punta Chubasco. We sailed into the crowded bay, tacking between boats, with Rani making nervous noises as we passed behind one boat and in front of another. We anchored in about 30 feet over a sand bottom off another beach.

View from the boat over the reef to the river mouth at Tenacatita.

After we dropped the hook, we noticed that our friends on Third Day and Blue Moon were already anchored in this busy anchorage. Blue Moon had left Banderas Bay well before us and had an uneventful passage but Third had passed us while we were in Chamela. There had been a huge rain squall with lightning and high winds while we were anchored in Chamela. The rain had been torrential and Rani said it reminded her of Monsoon rains in India. At sea, two boats nearby had been struck by lightning, one losing most of its electronics. Third Day had been caught with her sails up and the gusty winds tore out several seams in their main. Later we discovered that our friends on Castaway, whom we had last seen in Oregon in 2008, had also passed us going north while we were anchored in Chamela. They had also narrowly missed colliding with Third Day during the storm because the visibility was so poor.

Anchorage viewed from the river.

One of the highlights of our stay in Tenacatita was a trip up the river to the little town that lies along the outer beach (the so-called jungle cruise). The day after we arrived, we paddled up the river against a light outflowing current. The entrance to the river is blocked by a bar, but we were able to negotiate this by passing through a break in the offlying reef, carefully threading our way between lumps of volcanic rock. Near the mouth the river is wide with gentle sand banks and colourful trees blooming with pink and yellow blossoms. Pelicans, egrets, and herons sat in the trees and we saw some large fish in the murky waters. There are supposed to be crocodiles in the river but we saw none.

Ibis near the river mouth

Further up the river, the mangroves close in and form an arch over the water that blocks out much of the sky. The mangroves have been hacked back in these places so that pangas can negotiate the stream from the village at its headwaters. As we paddled along, our friends on Third Day motored past us returning from the other end and we had to pull to the side to make way for two pangas – one with tourists and one with fisherman bound upstream. In the roots of the mangroves, white and red crabs skuttled and occasionally we would hear the cry of some invisible bird deeper into the swamps that lie on each side of the river. We could also hear the surf on the outer beach long before we reached the headwaters because the river parallels this beach for over a miile.

Cruisers returning from the jungle cruise.

At the headwaters, the river widens into a small lake and we pulled our kayak up onto an embankment near a hotel. We walked into the town, stopping at one of the many palapas on the beach for ice cold cervezas and a complimentary plate of highly salted, chili and lime covered cucumber slices with orange slices on the side – delicious, but a definite inducement to more drinking! Slightly tipsy, we ambled along the lovely beach past Mexican children playing in the sand. At the end of the beach, we climbed carefully over the sharp volcanic rocks and scattered coral fragments rounding a headland to another beach. This one has a coral reef nicknamed 'the aquarium' and has good snorkeling. Trailers were parked on the hard packed sand above the beach and we saw several Canadian flags fying from what were clearly long term camp spots. Just past this beach and across the road, the ocean was pounding on an exposed outer beach. The wind was gusting to at least 20 knots and we were grateful for our protected anchorage at the river's mouth.

Mangroves closing in.

We walked back into town, pausing for a brief swim. On the main street, we bought some fresh vegetables and fruit at a well stocked and reasonably priced tienda – ripe delicious tomatoes for 30 cents a kilogram, tiny crisp cucumbers, and juicy, scented guavas. The paddle back down the river was also against a slight tidal current and we were ready for supper and a good sleep when we finally arrived back at Ladybug.

Panga landing at the headwaters.

Mangrove shrouded waters.

Beach at the entrance to Tenacatita Bay

We soon fell into the sociable and relaxed routines of Tenacatita, with its dailiy volleyball games, bacci ball, and beach walks. We met some new cruising families including several with young children. Rani enjoyed playing with the kids and I caught her more than once with a wistful look on her face. One evening we paddled over to 'Isis' with our ukelele and had a jam session with Jo and Rob and their friend, Birke, who sails the 35 foot Isis with his wife Casey and their four year old son Quinn. Birke is an accomplished mandolin player with a great blue grass voice and the combo of his mandolin, Jo's guitar, my uke, various noise makers and all our voices made for one of the best musical evenings I have ever experienced.

Many people stay in Tenacatita for weeks and we could now see why, but we felt restless and wanted to make some progress to Manzanillo where my friend Dave Wilkinson was expecting us, so a few days later we sailed out the anchor and pointed Ladybug's bow out through the fleet toward the open waters of the Pacific.

Friday, March 5, 2010

La Cruz to Chamala

In case anyone reading our blog thinks that all our days are full of sunshine and fun, here is a little account of one of our tougher passages...

I guess we should have paid more attention to the unsettled weather systems in the area before leaving La Cruz for parts south. The predominant wind direction at this time of year is from the north and we expected light winds from that direction when we set off for Cabo Corrientes. Corrientes is yet another 'Cape Horn', this time the Cape Horn of the Mexican Riviera. Hence we were advised by other cruisers and guide books to pass the cape late at night or early in the morning to avoid strong winds. Because the winds were light and we were impatient we left early in the morning, which should have put us off the cape around supper time or in the early evening.

Relaxing in the cockpit.

We ghosted across Banderas bay in a light 3-4 knot south east windcoming off the land. e had up our usual full main and jib. Remnants of a pineapple express (a tropical weather system) were still in the area, cloaking the mountains around the bay in moisture laden clouds. In the distance we soon saw whales spouting and gradually drew closer to what proved to be a pod of 5 humpback whales feeding near the surface. Whale watching boats were crowding the poor giants forcing them to dive deep more often than they would have liked. I was frustrated with the watcher's behaviour but envious of how close they were to these impressive creatures.

Whales and watchers

By lunchtime a nice westerly sea breeze had Ladybug moving briskly at 5 knots and for a while we had a pod of bottle nose dolphins playing alongside. Ten miles north east of the cape the wind dropped to a couple of knots and we slowed to a crawl, wallowing uneasily in the big ocean swells. We waited patiently for the 'cape effect' to give us a nice breeze, but the wind continued light and the current was running against us now. Finally Chris broke down and turned on the engine and we motored for a couple of hours before he reached is limit and tried to set sail again. The wind was too light to move us, so we struck all sail and lay bobbing in the swells off the cape around 9pm.

The captain told me to get some sleep while he stood watch. At 11:30 pm, I heard him moving about on deck and sure enough, he was trying to sail again in 3-4 knots of wind behind us from the east with a jib held out by our aluminum reaching pole – the guy never gives up!

By 1 am we were only 6 nautical miles past the cape. Both of us were on deck, searching the sky and wondering if the approaching dark clouds were friends or foes. Soon several squalls bringing rain but little wind passed over the boat. Chris took down the pole and put up the mainsail as the wind built to 15 knots. Behind us, we could see lightening in the hills above Banderas Bay. The seas began to build, reaching six foot swells with a two foot chop and I ducked below to take a Gravol.

By dawn we were exhausted from the sail changes and we discussed anchoring in Ipala, a cove that lies 13 miles south of Cabo Corrientes, but as we neared the anchorage, we could see it filled by surf and big swells with no sign of anchored boats. So we pressed on toward Chamela, resigning ourselves to another night at sea or a night time entry. At 8:15 we listened to the weather forecast on our shortwave radio, hearing that we were experiencing light winds from the north. The actual conditions were averaging 15 to 20 knots from the south east, right on the nose and all that day we beat into unpleasantly sharp seas, heeled over from between 15 to 25 degrees. We had another 50 miles to go and tacking would add at least 50 percent to that distance. Because of the rough seas and head winds, we could only make at best 4-5 knots. We reefed down the main and furled half of the jib. When the wind rose, the wind vane had trouble steering in the sloppy seas, so we took turns hand steering in order to make better progress.

Our 'inclinometer' - gimbaled stove with curry.

By midday the wind was gusting to 25 knots with the occasional squall. For the rest of daylight hours, the wind rose and fell, requiring us to make frequent changes to the sails, shaking out and putting in reefs in the main and furling and unfurling the jib. We tried to fly the stay sail – the small sail that a cutter has inside the jib, but found that on its own it was too small to give us much progress to windward.

We saw a few boats heading north, enjoying the boisterous following wind. Using our VHF, we made contact with Neil on SV Moondance, en route to La Cruz, who gave us some suggestions for anchoring in Chamela. We also encountered a number of trawlers – large rusty fishing boats that seemed to take a special delight in coming close enough to scare the pants of a gringo sailor! At one point near dusk, we tried to raise a trawler which was on a collision course with us using our VHF but were not able to make contact, so Chris got on deck with a flashlight to show him where we were.

By 2 am the next day we were both exhausted from the continuous pounding and sail changes, so we heaved Ladybug to under double reefed main. We left her jogging along at one or two knots about 60 degrees off the wind and we went below to get some sleep. Up around 4 am, we set all sail and made a little progress toward Chamela, but the wind died out at 5:30 and we gave in and fired up the engine. Three hours later we dropped our anchor in a little sandy cove off Isla Passavera near the village of Chamela and fell into a deep sleep.

Later we washed the sleep from our bodies in the warm clear waters off the island, following large schools of colourful fish as they swum along the rocky shores at the edges of the cove. The island reminded me of a tiny version of Isla Isabela, with nesting frigates, boobies circling above, and pelicans perched on guano covered treetops and cacti. Every inch was covered in bushes and vines of all shapes, sizes and shades of green.

We re-anchored that afternoon off Colorado Island when a southerly wind made our anchorage uncomfortable. The next day we inflated our kayak and paddled around Colorado island, landing on a lovely hidden sand beach on the southwest side. On the north side we paddled by another elephant shaped rock, bringing us fond memories of our visit up north in the Sea of Cortez to Catalina Island.

Our next destination would be Tenacatita, about 25 or 30 miles south.

Kayaking off the elephant rock.

Beach on Colorado.