WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2006

Jacaranda Passage Notes #11: Happy New Year!!!

The last Passage Note left off with us in Mazatlan heading to NY and Philly via Puerto Vallarta for Thanksgiving. Since we were ticketed out of PV we caught a car ride with our friends on At Last departing 4am to PV. We stayed with friends Laurie and Jay (Strange Bird) for a few nights in their beautiful condo close to the marina in PV where we had kept Jacaranda for the summer. Thanksgiving with Lindas 40+ family members at The Farm was the usual fantastic time with the added bonus this year of a surprise birthday party for Aunt Aileen and a first-rate fireworks show! Afterwards we enjoyed an impromptu accapella concert by son Joe, cousin David W., and sister Louise.

We returned to Mazatlan from PV via a 7 hour bus ride. Long-range Mexican buses are top notch  they are inexpensive, clean and very comfortable with cushy reclining seats, lots of leg-room, a TV system with movies, and a bathroom in the rear. We had been warned how refrigerated they are so we had our sweatshirts ready. A few days after getting Jacaranda ready to go, we left early in the morning before the channel dredge started up in the entrance and began motoring south to PV. Motoring seems to be a way of life in Mexico.we never seem to be able to sail as much as wed like. The wind is usually very light and we sail until the boat speed drops below 2 knots or the swell causes the sails to slat.

We sailed directly to Matanchen Bay where we had stopped in Nov. while coming up the coast. This time the water was cooler at 87 degrees (down from 91). The next morning we backtracked northwest 2 miles and traveled up the river estuary to the village of San Blas. Today San Blas is a quaint Mexican fishing village with a small shrimp harbor  its sleepy character belies its major historical importance. Back in the day, (16th-19th centuries) San Blas was the most important pacific port from which Spain launched her fleet of naos (trading galleons with China). These were the golden days of pirates and John Clipperton was captured and hanged next door in Matanchen Bay. While in San Blas we met local expats Norm and Jan Goldie who have been befriending cruisers for 35 years. Originally from New York, they came to San Blas for their honeymoon to fish, fell in love with the place, and relocated here. Norm is in his 70s, gruff and over bearing at times but with a heart of gold. Jan is a fantastic water color artist whose works could be sold world wide but she is content to sell them out of her home. A bit of trivia  Longfellows last poem The Bells of San Blas was written about the settlements original church, now in ruins on the high bluff next to the fort.

San Blas is known for its lush tropical jungle and abundant birdlife. One morning, we rented a panga for a 5 hour bird watching trip up the San Cristobal Estuary and departed at 6:30 a.m. with friends on Southwind. It was well worth the 15 dollars each and we saw more birds and crocodiles than in all our previous 12 months in Mexico. The highlight came at the end of trip at the Bird Sanctuary where we entered a huge lagoon with islands that were breeding grounds for Roseate Spoonbills. Hundreds of shocking-pink birds sat sunning themselves in the vegetation or took to the skies in large flocks. We were able to get close enough to see fluffy white chicks in their nests. From the front these beautiful birds look almost comical with their elongated spoon shaped beaks that are almost too large for their small heads.

That evening, we went into town and hung out with the crowds of locals in the zocalo or town square. Things were lively with celebrations for the Virgin of Guadalupe, twelve days of parades and dancing culminating on Dec. 12, the birthday of Mexicos patron saint. During this fiesta, every night a different neighborhood marches through the streets in procession from their homes to the cathedral to be blessed by the priest. They each follow a float they have decorated around the focal point, a young neighborhood girl dressed like the Virgin of Guadalupe. They carry flowers, food baskets, offerings, lighted candles, and their children, singing traditional chants and often accompanied by musicians. The babies are dressed like Mexican Indians in indigenous costumes with small sombreros, carrying baskets or bamboo cages on their backs representing rural life. Many had their faces painted with mustaches and beards. After the blessings, everyone gathered in the main square to watch the dancing by a troupe in traditional costumes, stomping out rhythms in their wooden sandals much like clogging. Three teenage boys dressed as devils chased the large gang of screaming, taunting children around the square, pretending to capture them and bring them back to the center of the dancers. Fireworks punctuated the sounds of community camaraderie and laughter. It was truly a memorable experience.

Many cruisers unfortunately skip San Blas because of its reputation  deservedly so  as a place infested with jejenes or no-see-ums, small, almost invisible sand flies with voracious appetites for humans. These pesky tiny biting gnats were terrible at dusk and would fly right through the screens. We were able to deal with them by spraying the screens each afternoon with Off and then spreading a repellent called Autan all over our exposed skin. But they were persistent  even the next day when we moved back out to adjacent Matanchen Bay they hunted us down  and we were anchored ½ mile out from the jungly shore! Both of us were scratching those damn bites til it looked like we had fleas!

We left Matanchen Bay at 05:00 for Puerto Vallarta and I took the first watch. Even in the dark it was a beautiful morning, warm with the slight offshore breeze beginning to build. Seven brightly lit shrimp boats were clearly visible 5-6 miles off ; the radar screen tracked seven blips. We were making good time heading SE towards Bandaras Bay. About 15 minutes before it started to get light I checked the radar and stood up to peer forward from the cockpit. Suddenly a light came on dead ahead of us. It took me maybe thirty seconds to process the image and realize the light was not 5 miles off and one of the shrimpers but a local fisherman in his panga - only 3-4 boat lengths ahead of us. I threw the autopilot into dodge mode to port and passed this poor fellow by a mere 10-15 feet. As we sped by, I could see the whites of his eyes as big as large saucers staring at me. As I turned around to stare at him and tell my thumping heart to be still, he turned off his light. Later Linda asked me who I called out Buenas Dias to in the middle of nowhere while she was in her sea berth below. A close call with a too-common Mexican hazard of local pangueros fishing in the dark without lights.

A few hours later we saw our first group of humpback whales. We switched off the autopilot and chose to hand steer around them. These beautiful creatures are headed to Banderas Bay to either give birth or mate. Even though we passed them under sail by a few boat lengths they knew we were there and lazily dove just as we got close. Four hours later we encountered another 4 humpback whales directly ahead and we again switched off the autopilot so we could be sure to pass behind them.

It was almost noon when we hooked a nice three-foot Mahi Mahi, our favorite fish to eat! By the time we brought it aboard, cleaned, bagged the steaks and washed the deck off, the wind went very light and we resorted to using the engine again. Nice to have fresh fish for dinner!!! Fishing was good this trip as we caught a smaller Mahi Mahi and a Mexican Bonita between Mazatlan and Matanchen Bay!

We anchored later that day at Punta de Mita in Banderas Bay and a few days later pulled into Nuevo Vallarta Marina. The Marina was totally full and the only available space was the pile moorings so we are now tied up between two concrete pillars where docks once existed. No electricity or water and a 20 yard dingy ride to the marina docks means we were in the cheap seats.. $8 a day versus $40+ a day at Paradise Marina just across the harbor!

We spent a few days in isolation recovering from a flu bug and waited til we were no longer contagious to reenter the frenetic social scene that exists here especially around the holidays. Linda went downtown to watch some of PuertoVallartas festivities for the Virgen de Guadalupe  some of the most extravagant anywhere, with processions day and night and masses of people in elaborate costumes walking behind large motorized floats and full bands of musicians. At midnight on the evening of Dec. 11, hordes of people filled the beautiful cathedral and surrounding streets for blocks while the bells rang and rang to herald the virgins birthday. Quite spectacular! For us, the ensuing weeks were filled with cruiser gatherings, potlucks, parties, a musical pre-Christmas program at Federicos Estudio Café, and a huge Christmas dinner at Philos Bar in La Cruz. In addition, Linda has a show of her necklaces at a very prestigious jewelry store in downtown Puerto Vallarta called Viva where her price tags are $3500-$4000 (and one just sold after the second day)!!!

Although many of our friends have headed south already, the majority of our friends are leaving now that the holidays are over to begin this years cruising season. Well be joining most of them soon. But first Linda is going to join Joe in Boston for New Years and then fly down to Florida to meet up with her sister to celebrate her dads 80th birthday. I'll hang here in PV getting the boat ready to head south as soon as she returns.