What a Trip

This blog is coming to you from the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia where we are currently spending our mandatory 14-day self isolation. We made it back to BC but getting here was an adventure. Let me tell you the story.

When we left you at our last blog post we were hopeful that Puerto Penasco would open for the end of May. Rumor had it that although they were asking new arrivals to quarantine for 14 days, the boats were able to tie up at the marinas and most were serving a maximum of 8 days in quarantine before being allowed to come ashore.

Based on this information we and friends on the sailboat Milou decided to head for Penasco. Our timing would have us there the third week of May thinking that if we had to spend a week at the dock that would be OK and they would likely be opening up at the end of May so all should be good. Or so we thought.

After stops in Puerto Don Juan and Puerto Refugio we made the 20-hour overnight passage to Puerto Penasco arriving at 8 AM only to be told by the Port Captain that we must anchor outside the harbour and serve our mandatory 14-day quarantine. Puerto Penasco has a sheltered harbour but the anchorage outside the harbour is exposed to all the wind and waves that make their way up the Sea of Cortez. The Port Captain would only allow us to seek safe harbour at one of the marinas if the winds got bad, but he did not consider waves as a safety issue. There were another couple of nights we rocked and rolled out there.  We were very thankful to be on a catamaran as we watched the monohulls roll from side to side dipping their rails in the water occasionally. After the third night, we set a stern anchor to keep us pointed into the wind and waves, that helped a lot

 It turns out that some of the previous boats, once at the marinas, had been moving about far more than they were supposed to under the quarantine and the Port Captain decided he was going to make an example of us as a result. There was no way we were getting in without serving our full 14 days. We tried to decommission the boat as best we could while we were killing our time but there is only so much you can do while you are still on the water, living on the boat and not on the hard. We also rearranged our flight reservations and moved them out a few days as it became apparent we would be doing the full quarantine. Airlines do not make it easy to deal with them.

Its Thursday, day 12 for us, and high winds are forecast for tomorrow. By this time there are seven boats at anchor outside the harbour and the Port Captain is allowing us all to enter the harbour. Those that had not served their full quarantine would have to go back out and re anchor once the winds were over. He has radioed us with our marina locations and times to enter. He will be meeting us at the docks with our paperwork. The good news is that he has decided that if we clear our medical checks, he will call our quarantine complete (day 13 of 14 what a break) and allow us to haul out. The medical team was supposed to show up Thursday morning which would have allowed us to haul that day, but they did not arrive until 5:30, after passing our temp checks it was too late to haul. Interestingly the medical team consisted of two guys. The one taking our pulse and temperature was in a complete suit with face shield and mask. The second guy was in jeans a tee shirt and wearing a bandana.   

Friday’s haul out for Stray Cat and Milou is booked.  Timing the tides is essential for a haul out in Puerto Penasco with a 20 ft tide swing. We have our window between 11:30 am – 2 pm. Fortunately, we both got hauled before the big winds that hit late afternoon and lasted into the night. Friends on one of the boats at the marina recorded top wind speed of 52 knots. We recorded 36.8 in the boat yard. Thank goodness we were all secured in the harbour. I would not have wanted to be at anchor during that event.

Low tide at the lift
Ready to take boats now
On our way out
Next up Milou

Our friends on Milou are Americans and were going to be driving home. They offered to drive us to Phoenix where we would be flying out from.  While we were at anchor, we were messaging with a couple other Canadian boats that were already out of the water at the yard. They had some distressing news. It seems the border crossing at Lukeville (closest crossing to Penasco) was not allowing Canadians to cross and transit the US on their way home. We called the border and they confirmed this. I then called the CBP main number and was told it was up to the individual agent to determine what was deemed “essential travel”. We called the Nogales crossing and they said, “give it a try”.

Nogales would be a three-and-a-half-hour detour to Phoenix. We could not ask our friends to make that kind of detour on a give it a try so we made arrangements with a local driver to drive us to the border, wait and make sure we made it across (we were told it could be up to 5 hours) and if not drive us back to the boat. Oh yes one other hoop to jump through. On the roads leading from Penasco there are health checkpoints and non-residents would be allowed out but not back in again. It required a signed letter by a local doctor that stated we were heathy, going to the border and returning that same day if we were not allowed to cross in order to get back to the boat if we needed to. So, while I was cleaning the boat Barb and another Canadian from the yard left to get the necessary letters.

Monday morning, we are picked up a 6:45 AM for the drive to Nogales. After an uneventful 4-hour drive, we arrived at the border crossing. We walked through a long sidewalk that I imagine could be filled with people but today was empty. We walked right up to the agent. He asked us where we were going, we replied, back to Vancouver via Phoenix our flight is tomorrow morning. He said OK, and that was that. We crossed the border and walked to where we caught the shuttle bus to Phoenix. We sent our Mexican driver a text to let him know we were in the USA and he was on his way back home.

One night in a hotel close to the airport and at 6:30 the next morning we were in the airport. Now that was a strange sight. We are so used to airport busy with travelers hustling back and forth and line ups for everything. This morning it is a virtual ghost town. No line at the ticketing counter. No line up at the security screening, most of the gates are empty. Very eerie.

Our flights were all on time and we arrived in Vancouver as planned. Travellers arriving back in BC are required by law to “Self Isolate” for 14 days (here we go again). Fortunately, our families have summer places up on the Sunshine Coast. Our daughter and son in law went and got insurance for our car, fueled it up and checked the fluids and tires, our car had been sitting for 8 months. They filled it with groceries and stuff we would need for 14 days. One drove our car and the other drove theirs to the airport. When we came out from the airport, they basically tossed us the keys to our car and off we went to self isolate again.

Cabin for self isolation
Our View while self isolating

I’m writing this on day 10 of 14 of our self isolation / quarantine. We have had rain everyday for the first week here. Finally we have a couple of sunny days and temps finally reached into the low 20’s.  We are definitely not in Mexico anymore. By the time we are done with this we will have spent 28 of the last 32 days in some form of quarantine. I understand the need for and the reasons we must do this, but it is starting to wear on us. We have had several calls from the Canadian and BC Health Authorities checking up on us, making sure we’re ok and still here where we said we would be for our 14 days.  Yes, I know I’m whining. I really have nothing to complain about. We are very blessed that we were able to self isolate on a boat in Mexico and then at a lakefront cottage in BC. There are many that have it far worse than us. Just like on a boat, there is always a job list at the cabin so there is something to occupy our time.

New wood shed under construction

Our second season of cruising in Mexico is in the books. To say it was not what we were expecting would be an understatement, but it was an adventure and that’s what we are out here for. Season three will begin who knows when. Our normal plan would be to head back in October. We won’t head back until we know Mexico is a safe place to be.  Their Covid numbers are just spiking now so October does not look promising. As it has been a waiting game for most things this year it appears the beginning of season 3 will be more of the same. Stay Tuned. Stay safe everyone!

Changing World Changing Rules

Well its been about 3 weeks since our last update. As mentioned in our last post we are spending our time in the waters around Loreto. We have circumnavigated Isla Carmen and checked out several neat bays and anchorages and are back in Loreto re provisioning before we continue north.

We are fortunate in that our plan was to spend the season in the Sea of Cortez. We have met several boats that had plans for ports in the South Pacific, Central or South America that have had to radically alter their plans. One boat we know of had crew lined up for different legs of his voyage. No one can make it now, so he is single handing his boat for the season. There are many more in this predicament as well. We have heard of boats that were part way across the Pacific when the South Pacific Islands closed. They have been forced to turn back. Not an easy passage as you head back into the prevailing winds. Others chose to head to Hawaii or turn north and head to the Pacific North West. Several, that arrived right as the Islands were changing the rules, were forced to leave their boats in the Islands and fly home.

We have other friends, that like us, sold everything with the plan to head off into the proverbial sunset this year and are now stuck at the starting line, on the boat with no place to go. Others we know put their boats on a freighter and headed back to the Pacific North West. Others turned their boats north and are cruising back up the west coast towards their respective homes.

If cruisers were any more flexible, we’d all be Olympic gymnasts!

Everyone here is just kind of hanging out waiting to see what the various levels of government are going to do next and what that does to any plans we might have.

Since our last post even the rules for Loreto have changed. They have now shut the city down for anyone other than residents. They have blocked the road and closed the port. Mexicans are an enterprising lot though. A husband and wife team are now available through WhatsApp. Send them a message and your shopping list and they will do the shopping and bring it to the end of the pier in Loreto. You pull up in your dinghy exchange the groceries for payment (cost plus 20%) and you are on your way. Their kayak rental and tour company was shuttered so they came up with this to make a living. They cleared it with the Port Captain, so everybody wins. The convenience store in nearby Puerto Escondido will take an order and have it ready the following day as well.

We start every morning by listening to two radio nets to catch up on the latest news and weather. That determines if we head to a different anchorage or if we stay another day where we are. The rest of the day is spent either in transit to a new location or trying to find something to do to pass the time. Barb and I play a card game called 3 – 13 she currently leads 254 wins to my 233. (I’m serious we’ve played it that many times)

We still have lots of wildlife to watch, glorious sunsets and the occasional sunrise. I’d see more if they didn’t start so darn early.

Rumor has it, Puerto Penasco may open before the end of May. Bahia Conception is north of here. It has a number of anchorages and we can spend a week or so in there. Some of them have cell coverage so we can keep updated on the situation and it’s still close enough that turning back is still a viable option if things go sideways in Penasco. We’ll head that way and hope for the best.

There’s not much more to report so here are some pictures to look at.

Bahia Salinas Beach
Old Salt Mining Village at Salinas
Old water tower
Not so old home in San Juanico
A little fog this morning in San Juanico
Our view as fog moves up over the hill
Honeymoon Cove
Dolphins playing in the anchorage
Passing close to the boat
Just another sunset
Different day same sun
The moon wants equal billing
Zoomed in as much as I could.

Covid Plans A through Z

Well we made it out of Banderas Bay and north to Mazatlan. We did an overnighter and went straight through. Upon reaching Mazatlan we stayed at the El Cid Resort and Marina again. The plan was a 6-night stay while we wait for good weather to cross over to the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez.

Humpback whales swim through the anchorage in Punta de Mita

As is the norm right now, this started out as usual, but quickly became something else. Just two days into our stay they shut down the resort and moved the few remaining hotel guests to another El Cid property down the road. We were basically staying in a ghost town with a skeleton staff, no hotel guests, no bars, no restaurants, eventually even the pool side chairs and tables were removed. The pools were technically closed but the staff let us hang out there. There were only about a dozen people left on a handful of boats that remained in the marina.

Empty Resort at Paradise Village
Lots of space at the pool at El Cid

Outside the resort, Mazatlan was under a “suggested” shelter in place order. Most of the restaurants were closed. Most of the stores were closed. Walking down the main street you were unlikely to encounter anything resembling a crowd. A once busy city was very quiet.

We continue to get all kinds of information. The trick is trying to determine what is real, what is rumor and what is just plain false. We have had several reports of the Mexican government closing the ports. Apart from one report, all of these turn out to be false. The one report that was factual was amended within 12 hours to specifically exclude foreign pleasure craft (that’s us) or boats in transit. That first notice did, however, provide 12 hours of serious questions and discussions as to where you were going to be stuck and what you were going to do about it.

Even without the port closures we are constantly questioning our decisions. For example, if we stay in Mazatlan it’s a major center and therefore its more likely, we’ll have contact with the virus. Mazatlan has been hit by hurricanes in the past so we would have to prepare the boat for that.  On the flip side as a major center, provisions are easier to get, medical care, if needed, is easier to come by and the resort had a pool (if we were allowed to continue using it).

In the end we decided to carry on. We had an uneventful and nearly boring motor across the Sea of Cortez. Nearly flat calm seas, barely any wind and 190 miles of motoring in a straight line with only two course changes. How can it be that in the middle of the sea and the middle of the night, you could time it just right and end up on a collision course with two different freighters? Yeah, so we altered the course a bit and went around each of them.

Ocean Sunset

Our second stop on the Baja side was Puerto Balandra. A nice bay with beautiful beaches. Shortly after arriving the Mexican Navy came through the bay with loudspeakers blasting out a message in Spanish. They motioned to several people on the beach and sent them back to their boats. It turns out that the Government has now closed all beaches. We are permitted to remain in the bays but are “confined” to our boats. Just another new development. Some are speculating that these restrictions will free up after Semana Santa Easter weekend. The government is trying to tame down these celebrations in the hopes of flattening the curve as it seems Covid-19 is just starting to take off in Mexico. Time will tell. We all expect things to change almost daily now.

We continue to work our way up the east coast of the Baja Peninsula and the out lying islands and while the weather is nice, and the boating has been good it has been very strange. All the once busy anchorages are now virtually vacant. Boats at anchor rarely go to shore, beaches once loaded with people are now empty.

Alone in the bay
The fish show under the boat in Partida

We anchored in San Evaristo Bay on Friday afternoon to wait out some upcoming weather. There were eight other boats doing the same. Late in the afternoon we were all approached by nine men in a panga. They had told the first couple of boats that we all had to leave immediately. The third boat had someone on board that spoke Spanish and advised them that we were all waiting on weather that should be cleared up by Sunday. They gave us until Sunday morning at 7 to leave their bay. We also noted that the road into the village had been blocked by two vehicles. We spoke to another boat that was anchored just north of us in Nopolo, they were attacked by 3 men in a panga at 3:30 in the morning. The men threw several large rocks at the boat. A window was broken, and some damage was done to the decks. It appears in some places the villagers are taking matters into their own hands.

Social distancing? to tell us we had to move on

There are a few VHF and SSB (Ham) Radio Nets that have been our best sources of information. They are on at specific times every day. They are managed by a small group of dedicated volunteers. The nets run vessel check in’s, weather reports and announcements. It’s during the announcements that we can get firsthand experience and information from boaters currently in the areas we are headed to. 

Via one of these nets we have just discovered that our planned final destination for the season, Puerto Penasco, has just closed the port to all inbound and outbound traffic until May 30th. While our plan was not to be there until the first week of June, we now have some more decisions to make. Most notably how far north do we go before the end of May? Penasco, at the northern most end of the Sea of Cortez, is 345 miles from Loretto, our current location. Although not our preferred locations, there are two marina facilities within a hundred miles of Loretto we could haul out for the season at. So, it looks like we have about 6 weeks to spend in and around the Loretto area. If the port in Penasco does not open there is no sense in having gone the extra 250 miles only to turn around and come back to one of the other marinas. That’s assuming that there will be space available in those places if and when the time comes. It also assumes that we will be able to get back to Vancouver somehow from any of these locations. Hurry up and wait seems to be the game these days.

Rocky shore at Aqua Verde
Goats at Aqua Verde

The Loretto area is a good place to be. Lots of islands and bays to anchor in, good cell coverage and most services are available, however, Loretto has just implemented rules for boaters as well. As a boat in transit we are permitted to “short term” anchor off of the town and send one person in the dinghy into the Port Captain’s dock. The Port Captain will check your paperwork to ensure you are a boat in transit and not a local boat out for pleasure. Pleasure boating by residents has been restricted. They are not permitted to leave port. The person coming ashore must wear a mask and eye protection and will be allowed to shop for food, fuel and medicine, return to their boat and then leave the anchorage.

Dolphins in the bay at Candeleros

Everyday brings a new set of rules for the game, mysteries to solve and challenges to face. We have food, (if we had to rely on my fishing skills, we would have died months ago) and we can make our own water.  We are missing many of our friends that have gone home, the happy hours, restaurants and exploring the towns but we are still able to social distance from our dinghies, swim, kayak and enjoy the Sea of Cortez.  It’s really not a bad place to be stuck. Stay safe everyone.

Decisions, Questions and Second Guessing.

We stayed in Zihuatanejo for Guitarfest. It was a weeklong celebration of all that is possible with a guitar. Acts as diverse as classical guitar, Native Mexican guitar, blues, rock and even a Japanese artist with a 16-string guitar. All of it taking place in venues that ranged from small intimate clubs to beach side resorts and the main beach stage. Quite literally something for every musical taste. We volunteered with Guitarfest (working at the kids’ concert) and that gave us passes for all but the Gala events. We took full advantage of this and attended a different venue every day. Unfortunately we had to depart at the end of Guitarfest and did not have a chance to take in Carnival which started the following day.

16 string guitar
Lunch stop in Trancones before the show
Repurposed VW
and another version
Zihuatanejo dressed up for Carnival.
More decorations for Carnival
One more from Zihua

Barb’s sister and our brother in law (Sandy and Marc) came down to join us for the last few days of Guitarfest and the sail back to Nuevo Vallarta. We spent a couple of days working our way back up the coast. At one point we came across a group of what looked like 6 bleach bottles all tied together. We swung by for a closer inspection and discovered it was a sea turtle entangled in some discarded long line fishing equipment. Time to build the karma bank. We launched the dinghy and Marc and I went over and were able to cut the netting away. It was deeply inbedded in the right front flipper. I think he was so exhausted, he let us work away with the knife, cutting away all the wraps until it was free.  His buddy kept a close eye on the situation nearby.

Help is on the way
He’s completely tangled
He’s letting us cut him free
Removed from the turtle
After freeing the turtle we decided to take on the tackle box
Enjoying a paddle around La Cruz

While we are enjoying our time sailing back towards Puerto Vallarta the rest of the world is shutting down due to the Covid- 19 outbreak. We are listening to the different forms of radio we have for all the information we can gather and of course when cell service or Wi-Fi is available we are on the web trying to understand what options are available to us.

Sandy and Marc headed back home on one of the last flights out of Puerto Vallarta. (Yes, they will be self quarantining for 14 days upon their arrival) We have decided we will stay with the boat.

Being on the boat and working our way north in the Sea of Cortez, arriving in Puerto Penasco and hauling the boat out for hurricane season in June, was the original plan and the one we have decided to stick with. If we are not able to do that we will spend a hot summer in the Sea of Cortez. There have been several others we have considered but all had us in Canada or the US where, according to news reports, conditions seemed worse and reported instances of the virus remained higher.

We believe we are fairly self sufficient on the boat. We can make our own fresh water and electricity. We are currently busy provisioning and we should have enough food on board for a few months.  I’d like to say we could live on the fish we catch but based on our experience it’s best we purchase food before we go. Currently in Mexico the store shelves are still stocked. Hand sanitizer sometimes is a challenge to find though.

We have been speaking with many cruisers who’s plans have changed radically. Many were looking at heading to the South Pacific or points south of Mexico and have had to hold up or turn around. Some have had their extended medical insurance cancelled and had to head back home. Many chose to park their boats in a marina and fly home. Others have written off the season or plan to return when things get better. Some have even elected to sail back up to the Pacific North West.

All of us are trying to make long term decisions based on news that changes daily, is often from questionable sources and requires input from multiple jurisdictions. It’s impossible to know if you are making the right decision. We second guess and “what if” ourselves all day but in the end, we need some plan. So social distancing and self isolating on a boat it is.

It has always been customary that guests on a boat were offered alcohol. In the past it was in the form of a drink. Currently it is hand sanitizer.

Self isolating

We are very aware that our situation may be far better than what many may be facing. We wish everyone good health and safe passage in this crazy time.

Off to the Big City

We had some time to kill in Zihuatanejo before the start of GuitarFest so we figured we would take an inland trip to Mexico City. We had a couple of choices. One, we could hop on a bus and spend between 8 and 10 hours riding through the country at a cost of about $40 per person or we could catch a direct flight from Zihuatanejo to Mexico City, be there in 50 minutes and the cost was only $60. Yup we flew.

Flying in
Mexico City

Talk about culture shock. We have been alone on a boat or in small Mexican towns for months and an hour later we are in a city of 25 million people. What have we done! You know traffic sucks when Google Maps tells you your hotel is only 13 kms away but it’s a 32-minute drive. We have also discovered the shortest period of time known to mankind is the period between when the traffic light turns green and the car behind your cab honks their horn. At one point on our tour we were in 7 lanes of traffic all headed in the same direction and none of it was moving. That’s almost a good thing though, because it gives the vendors time to walk between the car with a captive audience.

Drive through shopping ????

We had 5 nights and 4 full days, and we pack a lot of tours and sight seeing in.

Day 1

  1. Tlatelolco – which is the largest archeological site within the city. It was discovered in the 1970’s when they were excavating for a condo complex.
  2. Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe – This the site of the second largest Catholic gathering place after the Vatican. The original structure was built in 1709. It has been settling ever since and has been closed for many years while they try and restore it. They have actually cut the building in two to save part of it from being pulled over by the part that is sinking. A new Basilica was opened in 1976. Both are incredible structures in their own right.
  3. Teotihuacan – this ancient city and site of several pyramids is located about 50 kms north east of Mexico City. It dates back 2100 years and is believed to have a population of 100,000 at its peak. We climbed both the pyramid of the sun and the pyramid of the moon. We are at an elevation of 7600 feet and there are a lot of steep stairs to the top of these. At the top all of the tourists engaged in synchronized wheezing and panting. You take a lot of pictures from the top of these pyramids, it’s a good way to cover up the need to catch your breath.
Ruins within the city
Old Basilica
New Basilica
Stained glass wall on the new one
Pipe organ in the new church
View from the pyramid of the moom
Pyramid of the sun
View from the top of the sun

Day 2

  1. Frida Kahlo Cassa Azul – Frida is an iconic Mexican artist. She was married to Diego Rivera and the two of them lived in this house. It has been converted to a museum and gallery of her works. While interesting I don’t think I’m destined to be a patron of the arts.
  2. Xochimilco – A suburb of Mexico City that contains canals, the remains of the lake that used to surround all of Mexico City. Transportation on the canals is provided by brightly painted Gondola type boats. Vendors also use these types of boats to sell their wares along the waterways.
  3. National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) – a quick visit to the campus of this university to view it library building. This 10-story building is completely covered in a mural created entirely out of mosaic pieces. The mural was created by Diego Rivera and tells the story of the creation of Mexico. It is an UNESCO world heritage site as the world’s largest mosaic. There are very few windows in the building as the inner walls are lined with books.
Mexican canal boats
Our tour group
Floating vendors
Who needs a radio ?
Library at the University
Circus class 101?

Day 3

  1. Chapultepec Park – A 1700-acre park in the middle of the city. Trails abound and there is a lake to sit beside or rent a rowboat on. Or visit the zoo. Or buy something from any of the hundreds of vendor stalls or food services.
  2. Chapultepec Castle. Built on the top of Chapultepec Hill in the heart of the park this magnificent building has been a military academy, imperial home, presidential residence (because Mexico has been both an empire and a democracy), an observatory and is now home to the National Museum of History. Amazing structure, opulence and views.
  3. Museum of Anthropology. Also located within the park, this museum houses an incredible number of artifacts from pre-Mayan and Aztec times to the Spanish conquest. We lucked out with our tours this day. There were supposed to be 6 people. Four did not show up so we basically had a private tour.
Chapultepec Castle
Stained glass windows in the castle
What’s a castle without a grand staircase
Mural depicting the history of Mexico
Just a couple of vase’s as gifts from Russia
Roof top garden
View from the castle to Downtown Mexico City
The Umbrella at the Museum of Anthropology
The Stone of the Sun. 141 inches across, 39 inches thick and weighs 54,000 pounds.

Day 4

  1. Walking tour of the historic district. We started at the Metropolitan Cathedral and spent 3 hours with a guide that walked us through the area where she pointed out the highlights. We walked and talked about history, architectural styles and social customs. A whole city block was dedicated to La Quinceañera. This is the traditional girls’ 15th birthday celebration, more elaborate than their wedding or graduation. Its similar to a debutante ball or a coming of age celebration.
Metropolitan Cathedral
Museum of Fine Art
Museum of Fine Art
Store specializing in dresses for Quinceañera
The Old Post Office
Frolicking kids in the fountain in Alameda Park

We stayed at a hotel in the Zona Rosa district. There was a large pedestrian mall just a block from the hotel and that provided plenty of restaurants, bars and opportunities to people watch as we relaxed after our tours.

Mexico continues to be a land of contrasts and we are thoroughly enjoying our time exploring this large and diverse country.

This is Zee Place

Zihuantanejo, Zihua, Z town or just Z and its sister city Ixtapa are popular vacation areas. Ixtapa tends to have the larger, chain, “all inclusive” style hotels. Zihua, although a bigger town, has more of the boutique hotels. During our Sailfest events we met many people that have been coming down here for many years, even decades, and its easy to see why.

Ixtapa beach front

We have been in Zihuantanejo for 3 weeks now. While we were busy for the first 10 days with Sailfest, we have now had a chance to spend some time checking the area out. There are tons of small restaurants and bars that provide a great selection of food, beverage and live music. There is a beach-side square with an outdoor basketball court that doubles as a stage area for other events. So far, we’ve seen bits of a local school band, a magic show, local dancers, a couple of bands and bits of several different basketball games. There is also a Malecon that connects two of the four local beaches. In the evenings there are always buskers offering their brand entertainment along the walk.

Mariachi Band
Icecream cart on the Malecon
Walkers on the Malecon

If you take the approximately 15-mile distance between Isla Ixtapa at the upper end of the area and the small town of Barra de Potosi at the south, there is about 7 miles of different sandy beaches to choose from. If you like beaches with lots happening and a beachside palapa bar to watch it from or one that provides a spot with hardly anyone else around, you’ll likely find the right spot here.

Busy Isla Grande beach
Not so busy Playa Blanca
Prefer to hangout in a hammock?
Buy lunch enjoy the pool and view from La Escollera

Zihua is very cruiser friendly. The beach by the Port Captain’s office is a safe place to land your dinghy.  There are 3 guys that work the beach, will help you land, watch your dinghy while you are away and then help you launch when you come back. All for tips (about 20 pesos each way). Ismael runs the panga shuttle service to Los Gatos Beach and he also offers a concierge service for the boaters. He will arrange to have just about anything brought out to your boat for you, water, diesel, ice, beer, even laundry pick up and drop off. Amazon packages can be sent to his address for pickup too. He monitors channel 65 on the VHF or you can drop by his place of business to place your order.

Water delivery

We are currently working through the Mexican import system and its challenges. We have ordered items on Amazon, had them shipped to Ismael and received them 2 days later.. We tried to order parts for our water maker and have them shipped by DHL direct to us at the local DHL office, didn’t work. We watched the tracking go from Trinidad, Panama, Costa Rica, Ohio and then Mexico City where Customs decided that since we did not have a permanent address here, they would not ship to us. So, the parts are being sent back to the water maker manufacture in Trinidad.  We have reordered the parts and this time will ship by FedEx to Ismail. After two weeks, 25 or so emails and a dozen phone calls let’s see if plan B works. While we have been struggling with our water maker, we have used Ismael’s service to bring out purified water for us. 15 or 20 of the 5-gallon jugs at a time so we can fill our tanks with clean water. There are also a couple of guys that will dive the boat and clean the bottom for a reasonable fee.

Daniel cleaning the bottom of the boat

Cleaning below the waterline of the boat is something new to anybody from the colder northern waters. In Vancouver we could go a full year without scraping the growth of the bottom of the boat. Here with 80-degree ocean water, stuff grows like crazy. At least once a month we need to scrape the bottom and almost weekly we need to scrub the seaweed off the waterline or mowing the lawn as we all refer to it as.

This area is just so easy to be in. The people here are friendly and helpful. While better Spanish on my part would be beneficial, we certainly have been able to get across what we are after or where we want to go. Google translate is a real cool app. I needed to have an electric winch motor rebuilt and we were able to find a place to do it and communicate what needed to be done. The next morning the unit was fixed and ready at 10 AM as promised. The cost was 490 pesos or about $35, that would probably have been a $200 bill at home. We have shopped for supplies at the local markets and in the Mega, Sam’s Club and AutoZone. We have walked, taken public transit, and taxied and felt safe doing all of it.

Vegetables at the market
Fresh veggies on display
Look at the size of these radishes!
Local florist
Never know what you’ll see hangin out at the market
Or over at the chicken place
Limes by the truck load
Beachfront fish market
Freshness guaranteed
Sunset over the harbour
Just another sunset in paradise

We are here till the end of Guitarfest in mid March. If we don’t get out of here then, we may never get out.

Zihuantanejo Sailfest

Sailfest started 19 years ago when a group of cruisers decided they should do something to raise money to build a classroom for local children. It has grown into one of the major cruiser events in Mexico. The monies raised through the event now go to building new schools and classrooms, maintaining existing schools, providing meals at the schools and a scholarship program.  More information on the charity and its works can be found here https://porlosninos.com/sailfest-2020/

We came here with the intent of “helping out” where we could. We ended up doing 9 nights of sunset and music cruises, the “rally around the rock” and the boat parade. Taking a total of 55 guests out with us and raising 23,000 pesos or about 1700 Canadian dollars. Way more than we were expecting, a big thank you to all those that came out with us. Especially the repeat guests. We were only one of 23 boats that participated in this year’s event. Some of the larger yachts took almost 200 guests out over the course of the event.

The sailing events are just part of what’s happening. On shore there were concerts, chili cook off, silent auction and a gala dinner. With the help of almost 200 shore based and boat crew volunteers the organization raised more than 3,000,000.00 pesos or over $200,000 this year.

While it is mandatory for children to attend school and there are no tuition fees, the students must still provide their uniforms and school supplies. These costs alone are often out of the reach of many families and as such become barriers to the children’s education. We were part of a tour of one of the schools (grades 1-6) that had been built with Sailfest funds.   What started as a one room school is now about a dozen classrooms and a kitchen for 300 students. The uniform requirements at this school are relaxed.  If the children don’t have the right shoes, a clean uniform shirt, they are still permitted to attend school. The organization tries to help out with the cost of supplies and uniforms for as many children as they can. What ever can be done to remove the roadblocks and educate the children becomes a priority.

Beach concert
Boats in the bay ready for Sailfest
Rally around the rock
72 foot Patricia Belle under full sail
Boat Parade
Seasoned cruisers, their 2nd trip aboard Stray Cat
Beautiful sunset on a sunset cruise
And another night
Boats rafted for the music
Musicians on the water
Perfect viewing spot (thanks Karen)
Guests indulge in a pre-concert swim off the boat
Thanks Brian from Epic for crewing
The school we visited
The reason we do this
Sailfest 2020

We are very happy to have been a part of this and while we’re not sure of our plans for next year, we may be back.

New Territory for Stray Cat

We left La Cruz under cloudy skies; a favourable wind forecast and made our way to Cabo Corrientes.  This is the southern point of Banderas Bay and it can be a bit tricky to transit with the wind, waves and currents all coming together.  We timed it right and had an easy 122 nautical mile overnight passage to Tenacatita.

Tenacatita resort

Tenacatita is one of those anchorages that some cruisers come to and stay for weeks, there were 33 boats in the bay when we arrived.  We only had two days, definitely not long enough, we will be back.  One of the fun things to do there is an estuary tour in your dinghy.  We joined in on a group of five dinghies with seventeen people between them.  The first hurdle is crossing the bar, where the mouth of the estuary meets the bay. Watching the wave pattern and timing the entrance can be a challenge.  A wrong move can result in a flipped dinghy and all its occupants dumped into the water.  Everyone made it across the bar safely and we meandered the 2 ½ miles through the mangroves. The mangroves are home to lots of different wildlife, we saw pelicans, egrets and herons.  We were on the lookout for crocodiles too, a couple of small ones were spotted. 

Up the river without a paddle
They went that way

When we reached the lagoon, we pulled all the dinghies up on the beach and Poncho meet us with his van to transport us to his Raicilla operation, our lunch stop.  Raicilla is the local version of tequila. Tequila can only be called as such if it is made with 100% Agave Azul (from the blue agave plant). If  made with any other Agave plant and it must be named something else.  We had a nice lunch and a few tastings and back to the dinghies for our return trip.  The tide was now lower, a couple dinghies momentarily touched bottom but were able to maneuver back into deeper water.  We all made it safely across the bar again and a fun day was had by all.  Back to the boat for a swim, the water temperature was 28 C or 86 F, beautiful!

Safe at the end of the river
The real reason for the trip
Instruction on what is and is not Tequila

Twenty miles away was our next stop, Barra de Navidad.  We filled up at the fuel dock and Vancouverites you can’t complain about your fuel prices because it was $1.856/ Litre Cdn here. Barra has a very nice marina, but we chose to anchor in the lagoon. Now getting into the main channel is well marked but entering the lagoon can be interesting, try to enter at high tide if possible. There are no channel markers and a number of unmarked shoals.  Boats regularly go aground but it’s a soft, muddy bottom so usually no damage is incurred.  The Navionics charts and waypoints in the Sean and Heather Cruising Mexico guidebook we all have are good.  We anchored in nine feet of water (we draw four) and there is a two-foot tide swing, I think that’s a Stray Cat record for shallowest depth.  They have a great 24-hour water taxi service in Barra.  You call them on Channel 23 or wave one down if they’re nearby, and a panga will come and pick you up.  You pay 40 pesos/person ($2.85) when you get off, they give you a ticket and that’s what you need for your return ride.  We explored the town with some old friends and some new friends and really enjoyed our time there.  We had the best wood fired pizza at a place called Loco Loco.

Resort and Marina in Barra
From a different angle
Barra surf beach

The French Baker will come to your boat with his fresh baked treats for sale.  You can place your order the night before and he will deliver in the morning.  We got a couple of treats for our departure.  The baguettes were amazing!

Fresh and delivered to the boat. What more could you ask for?

We departed at high tide, after our bakery items were delivered, bound for Manzanillo, 25 nautical miles away.  Just a quick night in the bay there as we left for Zihuatanejo at 5 am, dodging a few freighters that were coming into the harbour.  Thank goodness for AIS and radar. 

Manzanillo condos
Sunrise at sea

190 nautical miles to Zihuatanejo, another overnighter. 32 uneventful hours later we arrived in Zihua. We are in the area for about a month with plans to participate in Sailfest (a fundraising event for local schools and children). More on how that goes later.

A Busy Start to the New Year

After our time in Chacala it was on to the Banderas Bay area. First stop was La Cruz. We were here last year and like the cruiser’s scene vibe here very much.  There is a good anchorage, a nice marina, service facilities and funky bars and restaurants, many offering live music at night and the always popular Sunday farmers market. As well the marina offers sailing seminars, cruiser’s swap meet, and a movie night at the amphitheatre.  It is like summer camp for cruisers.

La Cruz is right next to Bucerias, another popular tourist destination. It’s a short cab ride away and has a popular flea market that is fun to walk around.

 Our daughter, son in law and 10-month-old grandson flew into Puerto Vallarta and met us in La Cruz to stay with us for ten days. We spent four days in La Cruz visiting the sites. Their favourite spot was Tacos on the Street, the best tacos around.

Captain in training
If the ocean is too scary try a smaller pool

After La Cruz we sailed over to Nuevo Vallarta and the Paradise Village Resort and Marina.  Hanging by the pool can become addictive if you are not careful. We did manage to get them out to the Puerto Vallarta Malecon and had a fun evening with the restaurants, shops and street vendors to check out. We also got to check out a baby turtle release on the beach.

Loving Paradise
12 hour old baby turtles about to be released
And they’re off
Fun on the beach

We then had two couples, friends from back home, come down and stay at the resort. It was awesome to see these folks and a great excuse to go back down to the Malecon again. They also convinced us we needed to join them in an off-road excursion on side by side ATV’s (Polaris RZR 1000’s for those that know these machines). So, we went booking through the mountains and along the highway to Sayulita for a half day adventure and obligatory tequila tasting. Its ok, the tequila is after we are done off roading.

Group dinner

“Blessing of the fishing fleet” was happening in Bucerias this week. This is a weeklong event that culminates with a parade of decorated pangas and a big party in the town square. Try and picture the town square (about a city block square) with 6 bands (varying in size from 5 to 15 guys) all playing different songs at the same time. Add to that street vendors with all kinds of foods and beverages, dancing horses, 1000’s of people and a firework display. It was a little crazy and a lot of fun.

Panga parade
Decorated at the dock
Dancing horses

Barb’s sister and our brother in law came down to surprise us as well. They received an invite to stay with friends at their condo in Nuevo Vallarta and it was dumping snow in Vancouver at the time, so they jumped at the chance for some sun and the opportunity to drop in and surprise us. We had a great dinner with them and hung out with their friends one evening.

All of that in the first 3 weeks of the new year. They have all headed back home now and its time for us to get headed to Zihuatanjo for SailFest which starts Feb 3. More on that next time.

Back in Vancouver for Christmas

We had a great time with our inland trip to Copper Canyon and now its time to get boating again. At least for a little while. We left Topolobampo and did a 128 nautical miles overnight sail along with Salish Dragon to Altata. Altata is located at the head of a 15-mile-long, shallow, inlet which requires a bar crossing. This does not mean you have to walk to the other side of the room to order your drink, but rather, you must time your entry into the channel with the tides so that the water flowing out is not pushing up against a tide rising and trying to get in. This results in steep and dangerous waves we would prefer to avoid.

Obligitory name sign

We anchored right off the public launching ramp and dock, it was a convenient spot to say the least. It is a cute town that is trying to attract more tourists but just hasn’t got there yet. Ton’s of restaurants and a nice Malecon but hardly anyone there. We spoke with Charlie at his restaurant, very good by the way, he is trying to get the word out to more cruisers to come to his town to check it out. Apparently, they don’t see very many of us up that way.

Altata is know for their unique shrimp fishing fleet. They use small boats, usually equipped with sails and set up throughout the bay. They basically let the wind drift them sideways through the bay dragging nets from poles extended off the bow and stern of the boat. Both, interesting to see and navigate through as there can be several hundred out at a time

Sail powered shrimp boat

After a couple of days, it was time for the 120 nautical mile overnighter to Mazatlan.  On December 15 we arrived in Mazatlan at the El Cid Resort and enjoyed 5 days of hanging around the pool, shopping trips to Sam’s Club, Walmart, Galleria Mall and exploring old town Mazatlan.  It was fun catching up with cruising friends we had not seen since last season and meeting some new ones.

December 20th, we flew back to Vancouver to spend Christmas with the family. We were only back for 10 days so we packed a ton of visiting in each day. It was a whirlwind trip but fun all the same.

Lights at Lafarge Lake

December 30 saw us flying back to Mazatlan. I have decided airlines are crazy. We could fly from Mazatlan to Vancouver direct but in order to get from Vancouver to Mazatlan at a reasonable price we had to fly from Vancouver to Seattle to LA then to Mazatlan. Starting with a 6am flight which meant being at the airport at 4am. Not what I call a fun day, but all luggage was accounted for so not too bad.

We rang in the New Year at the resort. They had a big party with a live band, dancing and full plated dinner so a group of a dozen of us cruisers booked tickets and had a fun night.  We managed to stay up past midnight to ring in the New Year and enjoy the fireworks.

Dancing show at New Years eve party

A couple of days later a group of us took a local tour to the quaint little town of El Quelite. It included stops along the way to a tequila factory, rooster farm (bred as fighting birds ☹) and a leather factory. We had lunch in a cool open restaurant with trees growing all through it, live roosters and dogs  walking about. Its fun to see something a little different that the usual tourist destinations.

Blue Agave plants before they are tequila
Cooking tortillas
Rooster in the restaurant but not on the menu
El Quelite church

Now we are on the move again. Currently we are anchored in Chacala. It’s a beach town stop on our way to Banderas Bay.  We almost had to skip coming into Chacala. Just at daybreak, 30 miles out from the bay, we encountered long line fishing lines. There were miles and miles of floats that were spaced out every 100 metres or so, difficult to see in the swell. The floats are connected to nets that are weighted down and the floats are also connected by a line between each one. I think we spent about three hours zig zagging trying to find an end. Twice we came across a panga with fishermen who actually cut the line and pulled in their nets so we could pass through.  We thanked them with a cold cerveza. Many boats get caught up in these types of nets and I’m sure its only a matter of time before we do too. They are impossible to see at night. All you can do is wait for daylight and get in the water with a knife to cut the net away.  Quite often the fishermen are nearby and will come and help get you free because they want minimal damage done to their nets as well.

Helpful fishermen
Chacala from the boat
Lava rocks at the far end of the beach
Stray Cat at anchor
Chacala street

We’ve got Megan, Martin and Lukas coming for a 10-day visit arriving on the weekend. We will split our time between La Cruz and Paradise Village.  Should be fun.

Stay tuned.