Wahoo, we have finally arrived in Barra de Navidad, the elusive town we’ve been trying to visit for the past four years! Barra de Navidad is only a three- to four-hour drive south of Puerto Vallarta, but it takes two- to three-days to sail here.
When we left Seattle our original plan was to spend Christmas 2015 in Barra de Navidad. Since Navidad means “Christmas”, this is supposed to be THE place to be for Christmas. But that year due to multiple storms and closed ports, we had only made it as far south as San Diego by Christmas. If you’ve been reading our blog for long, you undoubtedly know what seems to happen when we make “plans”, LOL!
The following years we were delayed by a hurricane, Kirk’s health issues, and then engine troubles. And as you may have read in past blog posts, after not sailing Due West for almost three years, there were many boat projects that needed to be completed before we could sail south this season.
So over the past eight months, “we” (read mostly Kirk!) knocked off more than 200 boat projects ranging from new Dyneema lifelines, installing a new-generation refrigerator compressor and controller, and fixing the engine…again, to installing a new cockpit shower, a new C0 monitor, and re-caulking some pesky deck leaks.
Friends Lybby & Shane come to work and sail…
We finally had Barra de Navidad and the spring sailing season in our sights. As we were prepping to leave Puerto Vallarta and sail south in mid- to late- February, we were thrilled to get a text from our friends Lybby & Shane in Jackson Hole. Shane and Heidi were schoolmates as kids, and they had visited us in PV a few years back during Kirk’s stroke recovery. Shane was a tremendous help on several boat projects at that time. And luckily Shane loves working on diesel engines!
Shane is a wildlife photographer and film-maker and he and Lybby have had several sailboats in Alaska, used for their film projects. So after spending a few winters in the Bering Sea and Jackson Hole they wanted to check out the cruising scene in Mexico to warm up a bit. We welcomed them to join us in PV and sail south with us. They are super laidback, fun people used to roughing it as only Jackson Hole natives know how to do. And they were both game to spend a few days finishing up last-minute boat projects with us and helping us leave the Banderas Bay Boomerang behind!
First stop, Costco! While Heidi and Lybby headed off to buy provisions for the next 10-days, the guys worked on re-installing the new autopilot motor, a trip to Home Depot for a jerry can, and installing new fuel boards to lash our jerry cans to the rails. The first night we took a break from work and went downtown PV for some excellent Mexican food and to check out the Friday Night Art Walk.
A whale-watching shake-down cruise
The following day we planned a whale-watching shakedown cruise with an overnight stay in the La Cruz anchorage (a 90-minute sail away) to check out our ground tackle (anchor and chain) and make sure all was in order there. Our friend Liz joined us for the day sail across the bay and the whales gave us a great show! In fact, they like hanging out near La Cruz and we got to see lots of cow and calf humpbacks. The next morning before we sailed back to PV we hit up the La Cruz Sunday Market and stocked up on more fresh foods, salsas, and delicious gluten-free bread.
Airing our dirty laundry
The shakedown cruise revealed two additional tasks to be done before we could sail south. The first shocking discovery came when we unfurled our 130% genoa to sail, and found it to be horribly dirty! It had been furled tightly on the forestay for three years and in hind-sight really should have been taken down and packed away until we needed it. While a dirty sail might only appear to be a cosmetic thing, like with clothing, the dirt can degrade the fibers. So Heidi and Lybby signed on for sail-washing duty back at the dock. Now we know why sailmakers charge SO MUCH to clean a sail.
The second thing we discovered was that our anchor chain (300′ of 5/16″) was badly twisted from only using the first half or so, in and out, over and over again for 18-months. Kirk and Shane had the task of removing the chain from the anchor locker, laying it out on the dock, untwisting it, and re-marking every 25′ with different colored zip-ties. When they were done with that, they joined the gals to finish washing the second side of the genoa… 367 sq. ft. on EACH side.
Tosh & Tikka weren’t sure what to make of the sailing around, and it took them a while to get their sea legs back.
And we’re off…
Chain re-stowed, sail clean, we were ready to sail south for Barra and the weather window looked good. The rule of thumb is to sail (or motor if no wind) around Cabo Corrientes (Cape Currents!) at least five miles offshore and around 1-2 AM for the nicest ride. This point can be as treacherous as Pt. Conception in California. We planned to leave Marina Vallarta early afternoon and sail for Punta Mita at the north end of Banderas Bay (to give us a better angle for rounding Cabo Corrientes), anchor there for a few hours, then head south about 8 PM so we’d round in the early hours of the morning. What did we say above about “plans”? Yeah, that…
Houston… we smell raw diesel
The bad news: due to lack of wind, we had to motor the three hours to Punta Mita. The good news: we saw a lot more whales. The good news: anchoring in Punta Mita went off without a hitch. The bad news: we went down below and discovered strong raw diesel fumes. Yikes!? Where was that coming from? We didn’t want to leave for points south with an unknown raw diesel leak. Plus the interior smelled awful. We opened up all hatches, turned on fans and aired the boat out. Then Kirk and Shane set to work troubleshooting the engine.
And we’re back again…
The guys were pretty sure they found the source of the leak, where the fuel return line comes out of one of the injectors. But since we’d had an engine mechanic in PV work on this part (over a year ago), Kirk wanted him to take a look and fix it. So we called the mechanic and he agreed to meet us back at the dock in PV the next morning. It was a very rolly night in Punta Mita and we should have put out our flopper-stopper and/or a stern anchor to keep us into the waves. But since we’d not planned to stay the night, the flopper stopper was stowed away and the stern anchor wasn’t rigged.
Back in PV the next morning the mechanic came to take a look, but what he was saying did not jive with what Kirk and Shane had discovered. Mechanic barking up the wrong tree (this is the same guy who told us we needed a brand new engine before, should have known better!) We sent him packing and Kirk and Shane proceeded to fix what they thought the issue was. They were right and the leak was stopped.
Third time’s a charm…
Not wanting to miss a weather window for rounding Cabo Corrientes, we headed out the next morning from PV, motor sailing because the wind vacillated from 0 kts to wind on the nose. (For you non-sailors you can’t sail when the wind is directly in front of you.) And Michael P. Engine performed flawlessly…not a single drip of oil or diesel!
With extra hands aboard, we used a cushy three-hour watch system. It was fantastic to see so many stars again, including the Southern Cross! And Heidi loved her sunrise shift. Shortly after sunrise, we encountered a sight that made us wonder if we’d entered a time-warp! The spec on the horizon at first appeared to be a Mexican Navy ship, or maybe a fishing trawler with its poles out… but as it got closer it morphed into a Spanish Galleon!
Our original plan was to stop in Bahia Chemela to snorkel, but as we were already a couple of days behind and Shane’s and Lybby’s time with us was coming to an end, we sailed on for Tenicatita by mid-afternoon. Tenicatita is another favorite among cruisers, and we’d heard about it for years so we were eager to check it out. There are two anchorages there, the main anchorage and the “Aquarium”, which is known for it’s snorkeling and can be rolly, but seemed calm for now. We dropped our hook at the Aquarium.
Tenicatita “Aquarium” Anchorage
We always follow best anchoring practices, especially if the wind is up. After our anchor is down and secure, we stay aboard for at least an hour, keeping an eye on the shore and surrounding boats, to be sure everything is set well before we leave the boat. This was a perfect time to eat lunch, and after lunch we deployed the dinghy, donned our snorkel gear and headed out for a snorkel around the nearby rocks. The “Aquarium” was teeming with fish life, but boy Howdy, was the water COLD! Tenicatita snorkeling, check.
We debated moving to the main anchorage after our snorkel so we’d be better set up to dinghy up the mangrove estuary in the morning. But things seemed calm and we were content to stay and eat a delicious coconut red-curry dinner. Of course in the middle of the night, the wind shifted and put us side-to the waves, and while it wasn’t as rolly as Punt Mita, note to self: it would have been more comfortable with the flopper-stopper and/or a stern anchor deployed. We’ve been in “marina-mode” for so long, we definitely need to get back into “anchoring mode” again!
The next morning we were up early to motor the 2.5 miles across the bay to the main Tenicatita anchorage to dinghy up the mangrove estuary. We had thought most of our cruising friends had already headed north, as we’re fairly late in the season to still be heading south. So we were pleasantly surprised to see friends Judy & Mike on s/v Honu anchored nearby. Hook down, we made banana pancakes while we waited for Due West to settle in. Then other friends Nicole & Keenan with their dog Jack came by and suddenly it felt like old-home week.
Tenicatita Estuary Tour
The 2.5 mile estuary tour can have a pretty hairy entrance depending on tide and waves. So we greatly appreciated that Mike from Honu had dinghied over to give us the lowdown on where to enter, and how to navigate the first few S-curves without running aground. He also gave us a heads up to watch for pangas (Mexican fishing boats) which zoomed through the narrow winding passage at top speed. We kept our eyes peeled and did dodge a couple.
The birdlife was fantastic! We saw a wood stork, pelicans, blue herons, green herons, night herons, an ibis, and white egrets, plus giant white Morpho butterflies as big as small birds. We plan to return again and kayak up the estuary, without the noise of the dinghy outboard we would no doubt have seen more. At the end of the estuary, it opens up into a bay with a dinghy landing. From there we took a short walk across the road and we were right back to the Aquarium Anchorage from the night before.
We had to time our passage back through the estuary carefully and be out by slack tide to not get swamped by the waves at the entrance. Luckily this was a calm day and all went well. But we’ve heard stories of people flipping their dinghy at the entrance and didn’t want to experience that! Tenicatita Estuary Tour, check. And it was time to sail on for Barra de Navidad!
Barra de Navidad here we come…
Barra is only about a 15-mile sail south, and we had a fantastic run in building winds. By the time we got to Barra it was hooting 24kts. The entrance into the marina and lagoon in Barra can be tricky, it’s very shallow and with narrow fairways (space between docks) and lots of wind, making things interesting! While many cruisers opt to anchor out in the lagoon (very shallow!), we decided to take advantage of the free WiFi at the marina, making it easier for Heidi to get her work done each day. Of course, the showers, swimming pools, laundry, and restaurants are a nice added bonus too.
Lybby works for the airlines so they fly standby, and had several options of locations, days, and times to fly out. We were sad to see Shane & Lybby go, we all had so much fun together. But the flight loads dictated that they needed to catch a 3-hour bus back north to Puerto Vallarta. The bus to PV leaves from Melaque which is just 2 miles away from Barra. So we all took the local bus to Melaque in the morning, had some breakfast there, and then found the bus terminal to send Lybby & Shane on their way to PV.
Lybby & Shane: THANKS SO MUCH for all your hard work, cribbage games, Mexican Train, and other FUN! And most especially for helping us to cut our dock lines and escape the Banderas Bay Boomerang! We really hope you’ll return again soon!
It’s always sad to see our friends go. Truly the only things we miss from home are family, friends, and Trader Joe’s! And we hope Lybby & Shane will be back again soon! For now we’re spending another week in Barra for Heidi to get some work and school studies done. We also plan to experience Melaque (a.k.a. San Patricio) again on St. Patricks Day. St. Patrick is their town’s patron saint, and apparently they do it up big! Stay tuned for another blog post soon.