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February 26, 2008

Jacaranda Passage Notes #19: Mexican Chickens & Popcorn Manta Rays

We headed south 80 miles from Nuevo Vallarta sailing around Cabo Corrientes(Cape of Currents) directly to Chamela Bay. Corrientes can be a lumpy drafty point if the wind is up but for us it was light air and a motor boat ride for most of the way. We arrived before dawn, made a radar approach and hung just outside the anchorage of Perula for 30 minutes waiting for first light before anchoring. ENCORE (Mo & Buzz) arrived mid morning and anchored close by.

Ahhhhh Chamela! -- one of our favorite places on mainland Mexico where we like to stay for an extended time. Most people just stop for the night and then rush down the coast. There are numerous small islands to anchor off of, a beautiful long walking beach, and the tiny village of Perula has a remarkable variety of food for provisioning and lovely palapa restuarants. So we hung out in Chamela Bay for a week with Mo & Buzz, caught up with lots of sailing friends we had not seen for awhile (always the case at the beginning of the cruising season) and swam every day.

One day we went with friends from DOLCE VITA on board SPIRIT QUEST to explore. We anchored at nearby Isla Passavera where we snorkeled all morning - fun even though the visibility was not so good. Then we motored over to the far islands in the south part of the bay and anchored in front of the fishing village of Chamela (behind Isla Pedro) to eat lunch and spend the afternoon before heading back to the anchorage where our boats were located. We had not been over here before and it was fun to see this side of the Bay with its long stretch of pristine beach - especially since we understand that a massive resort development is slated for this area in the near future.

A week went quickly and it was time to move on. On Saturday, we went into town with Mo and Buzz to do our provisioning and load up with fresh vegetables, milk, bread, and other necessities from several small abarottes (grocery stores). There was a very nice pescaderia (fish store) selling shrimp, scallops, Dorado, and other fish as well as a carniceria (meat store)that had a long line of customers waiting to buy Sunday dinner and the chicharones that were being fried in the large open kettle out front. But Linda was on the hunt for chicken. "Walk down past the zocalo (main square) turn left then make a right on to a dusty road that looks like it leads to nowhere, pass the trailer park, and eventually you will come to a small white house that has a sign that says "Se vende pollo" (chicken for sale) on the gate" we were advised by a local Canadian transplant with the nod of the onlooking Mexican woman who tended the grocery store where we had just stocked up on some avocados and tortillas. Off we went and after a healthy walk we found the house. A short plump Mexican woman waved us into the yard and onto the covered patio on the side of her house. Her husband brought out 4 chairs and set them up audience style facing an outdoor stovetop with a large pot of boiling water and cleaning platform for plucking. Beyond that was a pen of clucking white chickens. Sparing the details, we left about 40 minutes later with the freshest chicken we ever had for our larders.

We left the islands of Chamela with the intention of finding a small cove we had heard about in the south bay called "La Virgen" but that was not in the guidebooks. It was a breezy day with a solid NW swell running so we decided to pass up the tight anchorage when we found it. Downwind a few miles was the lovely cove of Rancho Paraiso, home to a large private estate nestled in a coconut plantation on a long white beach. The name "Lobo" was spelled out in white rocks on the lawn below the pool. Our cruising guidebook says there are armed guards and landing on the main beach is prohibited. We pulled into the turquoise water of the small bay and anchored. Although we had some protection from the swell by an offshore island, we spent a very rolly night. The next morning we swam to a small side beach and snorkeled before leaving for the next anchorage of Careyes. Careyes is a gorgeous spot surrounded by multi million dollar homes hanging on the cliffs, brightly painted condos, and posh resorts in two of the three lobes of the bay. We anchored in front of the now deserted Club Med with barely room to swing at anchor between the rocky islands on both sides and mooring buoys behind us on the beach side.

Above us was a bright blue mansion on a high sheer cliff with a rope swing bridge linking it to the small island sheltering us from the sea, and a funicular negotiating the 100' rock wall from the house to the beach below. At the base of the cliff we noticed 200-300 chairs sitting on the rocky beach and we watched from the cockpit as a bundle of 4-5 folding tables were being lowered down the cliff by rope. Some of the tables dropped a little too quickly, crashing and bouncing off the cliff making them hard to catch by the host of workers waiting for them below. Then we heard a loud KAAABOOMM!! The explosion turned out to be workmen dynamiting a walkway thru the cliff so people could take the funicular down and arrive at the stone beach without having to wade across the slippery rocks! The sound of insistent jack hammering was followed by a short silence, workmen scurrying out of a cave at the base of the cliff, and then another KAAABOOOOM! We speculated that there must be a wedding planned for Saturday - it was now Wed. and the "Patrone" must want the work completed in time!! It would be close but the crew of 40 men worked industriously like ants from 8 a.m. until 11 at night. We decided we had enough entertainment of the sort and left after breakfast the next morning. Linda did some snorkeling the previous afternoon and said even though the water was not super clear there were great fish and live coral.

The next day we sailed down to Tenacatita and met up with Mo & Buzz who had left a few days earlier. This wonderful anchorage is well known to the cruising community and a number of boats spend all winter anchored here. We were thrilled to see a couple of whales as we sailed into the bay and they stayed around in the anchorage for a few days. We took the dingy up the river and did the "jungle trip", joined the dingy raft up for the Mayor's night out and did some swimming.... (similar to last season's activities covered in previous passage notes).

After almost a week JACARANDA and ENCORE left for the town of Barra de Navidad to pick up my niece Kerry and her husband Marc for a week's visit onboard. We followed the waypoints on our chart plotters and both successfully entered the tricky lagoon at Barra de Navidad, keeping off the mud bars and sand spits. As the saying goes, "It's better to be at the bar in Barra than to be on the bar at Barra." The lagoon was very crowded with 45+ boats and

After almost a week JACARANDA and ENCORE left for the town of Barra de Navidad to pick up my niece Kerry and her husband Marc for a week's visit onboard. We followed the waypoints on our chart plotters and both successfully entered the tricky lagoon at Barra de Navidad, keeping off the mud bars and sand spits. As the saying goes, "It's better to be at the bar in Barra than to be on the bar at Barra." The lagoon was very crowded with 45+ boats and can get to be a bit of a circus. The very narrow entrance channel to the lagoon is not marked and the water is murky so running aground on the way in or way out is an everyday occurrence; one has to also be cognizant of the tides. When the call goes out on the VHF radio that a boat is "stuck", everyone available jumps in their dinghy to help by forming a flotilla to push the boat off the bottom. Mostly they are successful and very few boats get so stuck that they have to wait heeled over for hours for the next high tide to float them off. In addition, when the typical brisk afternoon winds come up, calls would come out on the VHF radio that a boat was dragging its anchor - often sliding back toward a neighboring boat. Despite the lagoon being a very shallow 8', it is a very slippery bottom and is not the best holding, therefore requiring extra anchor scope.....instead of the typical 5x the depth rule (which would be 40' of anchor chain), most boats put out 120-150' of chain here! When the radio call to attention comes for a boat dragging, the dinghy round-up reassembles to commandeer the wayward vessel back to a safe place to be reanchored, hopefully by its skipper. Often, however, the owner is ashore and other cruisers have to jump on the boat and try to reanchor it temporarily. Fortunately, we have never seen any instances where damage has occurred. Cruisers helping each other is one of the best traits of this lifestyle out here on the water!

Kerry and Marc flew into Manzanillo from San Diego on schedule and took a taxi to Barra de Navidad, 10 miles away. The expanded Houlihan clan of 6 spent a day or so exploring Barra, watching the sunset from a great hotel bar, eating at fun restaurants, and doing some shopping in the neighboring town of Melaque (a 20 minute bus ride to the other end of the bay). We happened upon some fisherman unloading their catch in a small fish store. The back of their pick-up truck was piled high with more than 150 large mahi mahi!! (Now I know why the fishing has been so poor for us!) After waiting to buy almond croissants from "Zee French Baker" who delivers them to your boat in a panga every morning, we traveled back to Tenacatita where we introduced Kerry and Marc to the regular activities and socialized with many friends. We were entertained by the two whales that still hung around nearby and large schools of small Manta rays that leapt out of the water like popcorn in an aerial ballet! The time flew by and before we knew it the week was up and we were headed back to the lagoon to the delivery of fresh baguettes and croissants!!

So now Kerry and Marc are back at work as lifeguards in San Diego where it's cool and rainy. We said good bye to Mo & Buzz as they go southbound to start their trip down to Costa Rica (we heard them check-in on the evening radio net a few nights ago from Zihuatenajo). We are turning northbound again, heading slowly toward Puerto Vallarta...that is, once we get our outboard engine working properly again (dirty fuel in the carburetor). I stripped it down twice with no success so I drove the dinghy to the local Mexican Yamaha shop on the beach. I imitated the sounds the engine made so the guys understood the problemo - like a marine version of NPR's "Car Talk"! - and they got the outboard running again. It ran fine until a little while ago - so I'll take it back in for a readjustment.

By the way we have put our flannel sheets back on and dug out our sleeping bag as it has been unseasonably very cold. Ok Ok low 60's to us is cold. But someone said they should rename this area the Mexican Cold Coast this year instead of the Gold Coast as it's known. The water temp dropped from 79-80 degrees at Tenacatita to 68 degrees in 10 days!! In addition we have had numerous days of southerly winds winter on the gold coast?..hmmmmmmm very unusual. And thick fog banks move in once in a while. Even the Mexican fishermen are talking about the unusual weather this year and we are seeing many of the locals bundled up at night/early morning with ski hats and heavy coats.

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