Nuevo Vallarta to Mazatlan – Pangas, Bees, and Pelicans

Welcome back to the “Black Hole” (aka Mazatlan).  Much like its astral counterpart, this Black Hole sucks in things (in this case cruisers and their boats), but (unlike its space cousin) escape is possible with sufficient mental and physical effort.  You “gotta wanna” leave really badly to make it happen.  Our Hero has a severe case of the “wannas” and is just waiting for a “weather window” (i.e., the right wind speed and direction) to make crossing the Sea of Cortez something less than an ordeal.

In the fourth saga, Our Hero (aka “The Captain”) plus “The Admiral” (Paula) completed numerous “recon missions” that involved La Cruz, Punta de Mita, Bucerias, and Puerto Vallarta.  Of course, recon mission is a euphemism for shopping, sightseeing, and eating in local restaurants.  Needless to say, there wasn’t much sailing involved in all that.  No Moss served as a floating respite and transportation from Nuevo Vallarta to La Cruz and then back again.

This saga chapter will fill you in on The Captain’s adventures on the “high seas” as he backtracks from Nuevo Vallarta to Mazatlan.  Why you might ask is he returning to Mazatlan?  Well, as it turns out that’s the only way to get to the Sea of Cortez.  So, fasten your seat belt as we go charging up the coast at a breakneck speed of 4-5 knots (about 5-6 mph for you non-nautical people).

“Dodge’m Boats.”  It’s not an amusement park ride like “Dodge’m Cars.”  It’s the real deal and what The Captain had to do to get out of the harbor and exit the breakwater on a Saturday (27 Feb).  Lots of boats (sportfishers, private yachts of all sizes, tour boats, and local pangas, to name a few) come and go and criss-cross the small harbor; some enter and exit through the narrow breakwater channel.

Our Hero’s careful navigation, patience, and good fortune saved the day.  Once out of the breakwater and clear of most of the boat traffic, The Captain wiped his sweaty brow in relief and settled into the routine of passage-making.

This leg of the cruise from Nuevo Vallarta to the anchorage at Punta de Mita was short (13nm, 3.5 hrs) and not without its frustration of some wind then no wind.  Essentially, it was another motor-sail with the motor providing the drive and the jib occasionally helping with an additional half-knot of boat speed.  With about six miles left to go, the wind veered to the right on the bow and the jib was furled. So much for the highly-touted sailing on Banderas Bay . . .

Only two things of real note occurred.  First, since the engine was running it was a good time to run the watermaker. After three hours, the water tanks were full with the addition of 23 gallons of reverse osmosis (fresh) water (i.e., seawater passed through a membrane under pressure to remove salt and other “contaminants”).

Picture51Second, the GPS map that appears on the chartplotter screen was wrong!  The icon (red/green triangle at the lower center of photo) that represents No Moss appeared (at anchor) to be .18 nm inland – not out on the water in the anchorage as was the case in the “real world.”  The Captain confirmed this using the radar.  The radar position (reality) of No Moss was .3 nm offshore.  Now you know why a careful and skilled navigator always consults more than one “aid to navigation.”

Just as you read in the prior saga chapter that Punta de Mita ashore was nothing to get excited about, so too was the anchorage – maybe even more disappointing.  When Our Hero uses “rock-and-roll” to describe the anchorage, he is NOT talking about music.  True, other anchorages have been more rolly, but that comparison didn’t make the experience any more enjoyable.

Hold on.  There was one other thing that detracted from the visual and aural serenity of the anchorage:  pangas zooming around.  In case you don’t remember (or maybe I forgot to mention it before this), pangas have only two speeds:  fast and stop.

Picture52The panga “harbor” at Punta de Mita is home to a multitude of pangas that are used for fishing and taking tourists out to the islands.  Consequently, during daylight hours they come and go with irregularity and no great concern for how close and fast they pass by the cruising boats in the anchorage.  Here’s a classic example.  This may not look that close, but the picture suffers from the same problem as your car’s side view mirrors – “objects are closer than they appear.”

Sunday morning (28 Feb) The Captain made an early departure from the anchorage to do the eight-hour run to the next anchorage (Chacala).  I know this is getting boring – it’s not my fault, blame Mother Nature – but there was virtually no wind.  Only during the last two hours before getting to Chacala was there enough wind to make it worth unfurling the jib and actually getting some drive from it.

Picture53The passage was uneventful, so in the throes of boredom, one seeks something of interest to contemplate.  Ah-ha!  There is something worth noting and it’s the water temperature.  For a northern California sailor who is used to seeing water temperatures in the 50s and 60s, this was quite impressive.  Check out the reading on the instrument on the right in the picture.  It’s no wonder that the air temperature was always comfortable – although a bit humid – with a water temperature of 82 degrees F.

Picture54As I told you before when Nathalie and I stopped in Chacala on our way south in January, this is the “Riviera” for the Mexican middle-class in this part of Mexico.  It wasn’t a bright sunny day, but it was a Sunday, and the beach-goers were there in good number.  I know the crowd doesn’t rival those of the other rivieras around the world, but it was pretty impressive for here.  This was the view from the cockpit of No Moss when at anchor after arriving.  By the way, the guy with the boat has one of those inflated “banana boats” that he tows around the anchorage with paying passengers (kids) aboard.

One night in rolly Chacala – actually it was less so than before because the swells were smaller – was enough.  There was no reason to stay longer.  The anchor came up at 8:23 a.m. on Monday (29 Feb) and it was off “like a herd of turtles” for the five-hour leg to San Blas (Matanchen Bay).  No wind.  Our Hero droned along with the motor spinning at 1500 rpm and averaging 4.5 knots.  I might as well get some additional work out of the fuel consumption, so the watermaker ran for about 3.5 hours (28 gallons) to fill the tank.

There was a “welcoming committee” in the bay; there were six other boats at anchor.  This is the most I have seen in this anchorage in all of my prior visits/cruises.  I’m not sure why.  I stayed an extra day here and only one boat left on my lay-day. When I left the following morning, one other boat left too and was headed north as was I.

Matanchen Bay is not without its representatives from the natural world.  Some were benign, others weren’t. I’ll start with the “bad guys.”  The bees arrived in what I would call a small swarm about 11:30 a.m. on my lay-day.  They seemed attracted to the stainless steel arch at the back of the boat and fortunately stayed mostly in that area.  As soon as I saw them, I closed up the boat so they wouldn’t get inside.

After watching them from inside the boat for about ten minutes, I decided to try to persuade them to go somewhere else.  I dressed in light-colored clothing, grabbed a white dish towel, and ventured into the cockpit.  I first tried to spray them with water from the cockpit shower hose and that seemed to have little effect.

About this same time the breeze came up and the wind turbine blades started spinning.  This would save the day in the battle with the bees.  The spinning blades were hacking up the flying bees; bee body parts were strewn all over the aft end of the cockpit.

The turbine blades plus my water-spraying and flapping towel seemed to reduce their numbers gradually.  By 12:15 p.m. they were gone.  I saw maybe one or two late-comers/stragglers after that, but the attack was over.  All I can say is it’s a good thing they apparently weren’t the Africanized (aggressive) bees; I wasn’t stung or even approached with any regularity while in the cockpit.

Now on the lighter side of things, I noticed quite a few small fish swimming around and under the boat.  I couldn’t identify them and they weren’t big enough to consider catching and eating.  Also swimming about and not easily noticed were small jellyfish.  They ranged in size from the diameter of a ping-pong ball to that of a baseball.  Not exciting really, but a novelty none-the-less.

Picture55Lastly, pelicanos (Espanol for “pelicans”) were flying around and diving for fish in the anchorage.  They were probably eating small ones like those hiding under No Moss.  Two of them mistakenly landed next to the boat and sat there thinking I was going to give them a hand-out.  I guess they weren’t the brightest tools in the shed and couldn’t tell a sailboat from a fishing boat.  They were impressive for their size and prehistoric-like appearance.  The beak and head always remind me of pictures of pterodactyls.

Picture56It was time to pull up the anchor and make the final push to Mazatlan.  That ol’ Black Hole was starting to exert its pull on No Moss and The Captain.  The anchor came up before eight on Wednesday morning (2 Mar) and thus started another long leg (130 nm) with an overnight “sail” (motor).  The morning was windless and afforded a good view of a very solitary rock (Piedra Blanca del Mar) that sits way offshore with no connection to the land.  It’s a very unusual sight that prompts the question, “What is that doing there all by itself?”

A gentle breeze started to fill in, but not from a good direction.  In other words, here it comes again right on the bow.  Before it got too strong, Our Hero spied the infamous “long-fishing-line-between-two-hard-to-see buoys” that the Mexican fishermen managed to place right on my course.  One should always try to avoid them for two reasons:  courtesy to the fishermen so you don’t run over the line and snag or cut it; and to avoid the hassle of wrapping the line around your prop thus requiring stopping, going in the water, and cutting it free.

Picture5aThey aren’t always easy to spot and the distance between the two buoys varies greatly.  The black flags show up well against a light sky, but not very well against dark water, and not at all at night. See what I mean?

The wind now built quickly to 16 knots with occasional higher gusts – more frustrating than threatening.  No Moss would punch into the wind-generated waves (about 2 ft in height, sometimes more and sometimes less) and immediately slow from 4 knots down to 2-3 kts.  Not good at all.  So, The Captain elected to partially unfurl the jib and then reluctantly tack back-and-forth across the desired course to make any kind of headway.  This was a very irritating situation with so many miles left to go and not knowing how long these poor conditions would last.

Mother Nature must have taken pity on Our Hero because after four hours the wind gradually backed to the west.  This meant The Captain could hold the desired northwesterly course and make progress without tacking.  The waves were gradually dying down as the wind lessened, so the ride was still lumpy but smacking into the smaller waves didn’t slow the boat nearly as much.

As the sun went down, so did the wind.  The jib eventually was furled and during the nighttime hours the waves eased up.  By sunrise, the wind had died and the waves had become ripples.  This was all good news, but it meant the engine would have to run for the rest of the time to Mazatlan.  This leg turned out to be another marathon engine run of 30+ hours.  That’s a lot of diesel fuel (approximately 15 gallons or so), but there was no choice.

The now drag-ass tired Captain had one more challenge.  The dredge for the channel into Marina Mazatlan was operating its usual hours.  It blocks the channel so no boats can get in or out.  Dredge operations take a break from 2-3 p.m.  Can No Moss make it to the channel entrance during the break in dredge operations?  It was going to be really close.

Our Hero decided to take a shortcut between two islands.  Doing this reduced the distance to the breakwater by a mile and might make the difference.  So, frequent cross-checks of the GPS and the depth coupled with visual sightings of the islands and their shorelines worked well.  It looked like it was going to be really close on the timing, but the shortcut paid off.  No Moss entered the breakwater and passed the dredge at 2:36 p.m.

Whew!  That was a relief.  The last thing Our Hero wanted to do was make the ordeal longer by having to motor in circles for two hours before the dredge knocked off for the day.  No Moss was finally tied up to the Isla Marina dock at 2:55 p.m.

Picture5bOur Hero has given you a tour of the Marina Mazatlan area in a previous saga chapter. However, there are two things to add for your edification.  First, the street entrance to Isla Marina and its resort is rather unique.  In keeping with a nautical theme, they made the guard/gate house resemble a fishing boat.  Here you see one of the security guys, Alfredo, standing beside the structure.  You can’t see it, but he’s grinning from ear-to-ear – I don’t think anyone has asked to take his picture before this.

Picture59Second, I’ve made reference to the “hombre de frutas y verduras” (the fruits and veggies man) who shows up M/W/F mornings to sell fresh produce, some bread, and occasionally some smoked marlin.  I finally got around to taking his picture.  No doubt I’ve mentioned before that he has excellent stuff at VERY reasonable prices.

Lastly, Isla Marina and environs occasionally dishes up something different.  A couple of days ago the weather became very interesting and produced something I have never experienced in all my time here on this cruise or prior ones.  A squall tore through the marina.

Picture510The sky gradually darkened in the afternoon and the temperature noticeably dropped rather quickly. A breeze came up and a quick look from the cockpit presented this view.  In less than ten minutes, the wind hit 25 kts with gusts to 30 as a squall passed through the marina.  The strong winds were accompanied immediately by heavy rain.  The whole event subsided to an occasional shower after 25-30 minutes.  You just never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at you . . .

Stay tuned for the second crossing of the Sea of Cortez (Mazatlan to Bahia de los Muertos).  Will Our Hero single-handedly sail across the Sea with benign conditions or will Mother Nature and King Neptune conspire to humble The Captain with contrary winds and seas?  Will the 186 nautical miles of non-stop offshore sailing kick his butt?  Who knows . . .


Signing off for now

Ed: Neal Doten is a member of The Club at Westpoint and an active boater. In addition to these delightful travelogs, Neal provides advice and guidance to boaters undertaking coastal cruising especially those looking for adventure on the Mexican and Central American shorelines. Read about his educational program here. You can contact Neal by completing the contact form below.

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