Bigger is not Always Better . . . (when it comes to marinas)

Hola de Bahia de Banderas!  (“Hi from Banderas Bay”)  This third sailing saga is coming to you from Banderas Bay which is the location of Puerto Vallarta as well as the lesser-known towns of Nuevo Vallarta and La Cruz.  Oh, by the way, please go easy on me if I happen to somewhat butcher the Spanish language.  Trust me, the attempts are with good intent to try to give you a little flavor of “south of the border.”

In the second saga, Our Hero (aka “The Captain”) plus intrepid crew member Nathalie, managed to safely cross the Sea of Cortez from Puerto Los Cabos Marina (San Jose del Cabo) to Mazatlan.  It wasn’t without its challenges as the 30+ hour crossing turned out to be an endurance test with HIGH winds and seas due to a wintertime-common “Norther.”

Hmm, the weather forecast didn’t say it would be THAT bad.  Needless to say, Mother Nature kicked our butts most of the way across; however, we did the whole thing under sail!  As you know, The Captain’s lament during this cruise so far has been that too much motoring has been required.  So, in its own perverted way, the Norther was bad news and good news.

This saga chapter will introduce you to the softer side of cruising with time in port as well as better sailing and motoring conditions more in keeping with what one might expect along the coast of mainland Mexico when heading south.  So, get comfy, put on some sunscreen and sunglasses, and keep your walking shoes handy.

Our Hero considered other subtitles for this saga chapter, but couldn’t decide on which one to use:  “Cruising Kitty – No Litterbox Required” or “Six Weeks in Mazatlan Seems Like a Year.”  Here’s why either would have worked.

Cruisers refer to their cruising funds as the “Cruising Kitty.”  This kitty obviously doesn’t need a litterbox.  The subtitle would be appropriate since the six weeks waiting in Mazatlan for crew member schedules (greatly affected by the holiday season) was more cost-effective (i.e., lower marina slip rental rate) than spending the same six weeks in Puerto Vallarta.

The other subtitle would be just as good since there is only so much one can do in and around Mazatlan without doing significant harm to the cruising kitty.  Six weeks seemed like a VERY long time.

That’s enough blathering and folderol.  Onward.

Nathalie flew back to the “real world(?)” on 3 Dec and thus began The Captain’s “year” in Mazatlan.

There are four marinas in the Marina Mazatlan estuary and all lie along the narrow channel from the sea. No Moss was docked at Isla Marina located on a small island in the estuary and connected to the mainland by a short bridge.

Picture1The marina is inexpensive compared to the other three (Fonatur, Marina Mazatlan, and Marina El Cid).  Not surprisingly, there are ragged edges to the resort and the term “resort” in Mexico is used rather capriciously.  The picture tells part of the story.  In all fairness, out of frame to the right are some rental condos that are nicely (but not lavishly) appointed and rented very regularly by Mexicans during the holidays.

Also located on the gated resort are a café, swimming pool, and a game room.  Not being a party animal by nature, Our Hero was not to be found at the café during the weekly Monday night karaoke or the Wednesday night live rock ’n roll, oldies-but-goodies sessions.  Attendance in person wasn’t necessary.  Both events were loud enough to be heard exceptionally well from the cockpit of No Moss.

Over the course of the six weeks, The Captain became very adept at tuning-out the atonal wanderings of the karaoke crowd and selectively listening to favorite songs played by the live band.  However, no amount of such exposure could even begin to defy the New Year’s Eve tidal wave of sound emanating from a “club” about 500 yards away and lasting until 5 a.m.

On the brighter side of the cruising life, while tethered to Mazatlan, there is convenient access to a laundry, numerous restaurants, two convenience shops, a Walmart, and a mall that would feel like home to any “mall rat.”  These last two are only a mile walk (one-way) from the marina.  Coming back with lots of groceries is easy and relatively inexpensive; cab fare round-trip is $5.36.

Picture2One of the hidden gems just across the bridge from Isla Marina is the “Veggie Man.”  Every MWF, Gume  (goo-may) and his son Jesus (hay-soose) show up at 6:30 a.m. with a pick-up truck loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables, loaves of bread, and even frozen, smoked marlin fillets.  It’s all good quality and priced about half of what you might pay in Lucky’s or Safeway.  It was worth the early morning get-up to be the first one at the truck and get the best pick of what is available.Picture3

Every other Saturday, the cruisers hold a swap meet at the head of the docks in Marina Mazatlan.  I know, you’re thinking there are lots of cruisers there and it should be a rather busy swap meet.  Well, let me burst that bubble before delusions of grandeur go to your head.  The only thing that I found worth the effort of attending was the selection of home-made and frozen individual dinners sold by the lady with the cooler.  Her mango butter chicken is excellent.

The Captain finally off-loaded the dinghy from the foredeck, unbagged it, then blew it up (with air, not explosives).  Once the outboard motor was mounted on the transom, I had the water-borne equivalent of “wheels” and exploring the waterways of the estuary was the order of the day.

One of my few forays into the nether-worlds of the estuary took me along a high rock wall that bordered a golf course on one of the nearby resorts.  Roberto had told me that the rock wall was a favorite hang-out for iguanas.  They apparently live in the crevices of the wall or in the trees adjacent and love to soak up the sun’s heat during the day.

Picture4No, the golf course wasn’t called “Jurassic Park,” but based on the size and number of these iguanas it might well have been.  This one was the biggest that I saw and I think he was at least 5-6 feet from nose to tail.

Time marches on (thankfully) and the date for departure for Puerto Vallarta was finally nearing.  Among the many checklist items is storing the dinghy on deck.  Why you ask?  Well, there are two reasons.  First, towing a dinghy behind the “mothership” when at sea is not a good idea since weather and sea conditions can change quickly and trying to get the dinghy aboard is a real hassle when not tied to a dock.  Second, Our Hero is basically lazy.  I’d rather put the dinghy on deck when doing so is the easiest.

Nathalie volunteered to crew for this leg of the cruise and arrived a day before our planned departure.  She has never cruised Mexico and wanted the chance to sail and see more.

The Captain and brave crew member Nathalie departed the Marina Mazatlan breakwater (16 Jan) well before the channel was blocked by dredging operations.  Off like a herd of turtles with no wind and waves from the NNW.  Yes, you guessed it.  It was another rolling ride until early afternoon when the wind finally came up enough to fill the sails.

Picture5We planned this leg to be an overnight run from Mazatlan to Matanchen Bay (San Blas).  Nathalie is smiling because this was during one of the few hours of (engine-off) sailing on the first day.

That night was less-than-boring due to encountering many big, northbound fishing boats.  These encounters required numerous jibes on our part to avoid them; jibing involved changing course and swinging the mainsail from one side to the other with the wind from behind the boat.  Trust me.  Jibing is a pain in the butt (especially when one is on-watch in the dark).

Following Mexican maritime protocol, Our Hero turned on the VHF radio and called the “Capitania de Puerto San Blas” to check-in and get permission to anchor in the bay.  Permission granted and the anchor was down and set by early afternoon.

Picture9The next day (18 Jan) was almost an instant replay (but worse) without enough wind to sail – thus motored for the entire five-hour run to Chacala. Arriving in mid-afternoon, we discovered there was only one other sailboat anchored off the idyllic beach.  This was most surprising to me since on my last cruise there were numerous boats at anchor.

By the way, the Port Captain’s home(?)/office is located in the large white structure in the picture.  However, in keeping with the vagaries of Mexican maritime administration (i.e., lots of room for interpretation by Port Captains, I guess), no check-in was required as confirmed by the folks on the other sailboat.

That evening, The Captain became the BBQ-meister.  With a light breeze coming in from the sea, No Moss tugged lightly at the anchor and faced into the low swells to create a very relaxing motion. That was the good news.  The bad news was the wind shifted later and made the night one of rolling-interrupted slumber.

Picture6The sailing plan was to spend a full day (19 Jan) anchored in Chacala to enjoy the ambiance of this quaint little town that is best described as a “Riviera destination” for the Mexican middle-class.  It has a very nice beach lined with palapa restaurants where one can have desayuno/almuerzo/cena (breakfast/lunch/dinner) while sitting at a table on the beach under a grass roof and wiggle one’s toes in the sand.  No Moss and the other sailboat provided some visual interest while dining on the beach.

So, not being ones to break with “tradition,” The Captain and Nathalie supported the local economy by having a fresh seafood lunch followed by wandering along the beach and then the one main street (cobblestones and potholes).  Our Hero marked the occasion by purchasing a “Chacala”-emblazoned mug for the boat.  It was the replacement for one that jumped off the shelf and crashed to bits on the cabin sole during the Sea of Cortez crossing.

The laid-back mindset that accompanies anchoring in a setting such as Chacala was irreverently broken by the realization that the next leg to Punta de Mita (and then La Cruz) was going to take longer than planned and thus keep Nathalie from a full day of sightseeing in Puerto Vallarta.  “Oh no, what do we do now?” perplexed The Captain and crew; but only briefly.  “Aha!  We’ll leave at dusk and sail all night to arrive in La Cruz.”

Early evening and still daylight saw the anchor come up and No Moss slowly motor out of Chacala.  No wind.  That’s okay.  No rush.  We had to motor slowly through the night to arrive at the marina in La Cruz at sun-up.  Remember, one never enters a strange harbor in the dark.

The night was uneventful (always a welcome experience) and arrival just after sunrise was made even better by having our dock lines handled by Steve and Lynne (s/v Bella Luna) whom we last saw in Puerto Los Cabos marina before crossing the Sea of Cortez.  Now we were back on schedule (by skipping anchoring at Punta de Mita) and had saved Nathalie’s day in Puerto Vallarta.

Picture7The marina at La Cruz did not exist when Our Hero stopped here ten years ago.  One had to anchor outside a breakwater and time one’s dinghy arrival to avoid being dumped by a breaking wave – getting back to the boat was no less exciting.  Things have changed big time!  The marina has numerous slips and offers a wide range of services for cruisers:  very nice restrooms with showers, two restaurants, a deli, and a short walk to the quaint town of La Cruz.

The next morning (21 Jan), The Captain and Nathalie motored out of the breakwater and headed for the entrance to Nuevo Vallarta with its two marinas:  Paradise Village (resort) Marina and Nuevo Vallarta Marina.  Little did we know the slip reserved for No Moss at Paradise Village Marina would prove to be an ambush of sorts.

Slip E-50 was all the way at the “back of the bus.”  One could not get a slip that was much farther from the main part of the resort/marina.  That was not good.  However, getting into the slip proved to be a major problem.  The outgoing tidal current was flowing strongly and created a 90-degree cross-current.  Plus the slip was shared with another boat and left little room (width) for No Moss.  With a large full-keel below the waterline, No Moss was pushed quickly left before even getting the tip of the bow into the slip.  Almost full power in reverse was needed to avoid hitting the dock or the other boat.

Okay.  Let’s try it again.  More angle.  More speed.  YIKES!  The bow is in but the current has pushed the boat against the corner of the dock with a most-unsettling and loud CRUNCH.  Dockhands frantically try to push the 12-ton boat and move fenders between it and the dock, but with little success.  The Captain has no choice now but motor forward and scrape the dock to get all the way into the slip.

Later, a closer inspection revealed that no structural damage was done.  Our Hero carefully removed the dock residue from the hull with a razor blade and then proceeded to wax and buff the affected areas.  The gel coat was fine and the damage essentially repaired well enough that it is not visible without a very close inspection.  Big sigh of relief!

That evening, The Captain and Nathalie took advantage of the resort’s outdoor (by the beach) buffet and decided that Nathalie’s one-day excursion into Puerto Vallarta was still a “go.”  In the meantime, Our Hero would seek a better slip in Paradise Village Marina or go to “Plan B” which was a move to the smaller Marina Nuevo Vallarta.

Picture8And, that’s exactly what transpired.  Nathalie did her day in PV.  The Captain arranged to get a slip in Marina Nuevo Vallarta for the following day.  After Nathalie took a cab to the airport, The Captain waited for slack tide at 4:30 p.m. and gracefully (without hitting anything) backed the boat out of the slip and motored over to Marina Nuevo Vallarta.

This is a good place to end this saga chapter.  Nathalie flew safely back to Oregon.  Our Hero and No Moss are comfortably ensconced in a slower-paced environment (i.e., no resort hub-bub or tidal current).

There are more adventures!  Stay tuned for Paula’s arrival, forays into La Cruz, Punta de Mita, and Puerto Vallarta on the local buses, and more.  Will Our Hero single-handedly sail back to Mazatlan without trials and tribulations?  Who knows . . .

The Captain

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