Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mazatlán to La Cruz de Haunacaxtle Including Visits to “Mexico’s Galapagos Island” and Ensenada Chacala – January 25 – 31

This 175+/- mile journey was our third between Mazatlán and La Cruz de Haunacaxtle.  We first sailed south-eastbound on our own in December 2011, and returned north-westbound with crewmate Bob Romano in March 2012.  On this passage we were joined by Toronto sailor Jim Thompson.  Jim also acted as "guest photographer".  [Note: You may recall Jim as our guest crew and photographer during our week tour of the islands off of La Paz in April 2012.]

But as anyone who has looked out of the car or train window on a commute home from work and thought “I don’t remember that . . .” knows – every journey is unique.  This is particularly true for sailors, as each passage has different winds, swells, weather, anchoring conditions and, sometimes, new harbors. 

Southeast From Mazatlán

The El Cid Hotel Marina in Mazatlán is such a convivial place that we spent most of the morning of the 25th saying good-bye to people and promising to see them “down south”.  Crew from Dolphin Tales and Tarry-A-Bit tossed lines to us as we departed. 

We had a first whale sighting as we motor sailed out beyond the islands at the north end of Bahia de Puerto Viejo.  Old Mazatlán was hidden in the haze.  Mazatlán may be a bit down-in-the-heel as tourist destinations go, but it is still a wonderful place to visit and we will miss the city and all it has to offer. 

We were able to sail around 13.00 and in the evening the winds came up and we began to roll in swells that were in the 2 meter (6 foot) range.  Around 03.00 we had to crank on the motor because the winds dropped below 5 knots.  We have learned that below 6 knots of wind is pretty much Abracadabra’s  “no go zone”. 

Jim Says: I Came to Mexico to Sail in the Sun, Not Motor In the Cold!

Parque Nacional Isla Isabel (“Mexico’s Galapagos Island”)

Isla Isabel is an island with both national park (Parque Nacional Isla Isabel) and world heritage site status located about 18 miles off the mainland coast and some 93 miles southeast of Mazatlán.  It is the home to rookeries for blue-footed boobies and frigate birds, a handful of fishermen and, from time-to-time, some research scientists and students. 

The island also has two rock-strewn anchorages, both well-known as places where it is easy to lose an anchor.  Because of this reputation, conventional wisdom has it that the island should be visited only in calm conditions.  On prior trips we hadn’t had optimum island visiting conditions, but this time as we approached the island we had very calm conditions – as in “not-enough-wind-to-sail” conditions.  We decided that this, plus the fact that we had the luxury of a third crew member, meant we should take the opportunity to stop at Isla Isabel.  

We approached the island at dawn, and soon saw that we were not the only sailors that thought this was the right time to visit.  The larger anchorage to the east of the island had at least seven boats in it, and we were unable to find anchoring room in water that was less than 40 feet deep.  The smaller, shallower, but more rock-strewn anchorage to the south of the island was empty.  Hmmm.  We all agreed that if we anchored in this anchorage we were not likely to sleep soundly.  We concluded that we would make the island a day stop and sail to our next destination overnight (which is where the luxury of having an extra person to stand night watches comes in handy!). 

Land Ho!  Isla Isabel at Dawn.
Abracadabra at Anchor - Isla Isabel.

We anchored at about 09.30 and rowed ashore to visit the island birds.  We had heard about the island and its bird population from many sailors and from guide books – but we still were not prepared for the amazing number of birds that we were able to see up close.  The hardest part of our visit was keeping an eye out for nests so that we wouldn’t inadvertently disturb a family-in-progress.

We saw frigate birds - including males in full mating display and new chicks:

The Handsomest Frigate Bird On The Island.

So What Are YOU Looking At? She Said.
Proof That Not ALL (Frigate) Babies Are Cute.
Frigate Bird In Flight (courtesy Jim Thompson).

. . . blue-footed boobies doing their mating walk and sitting on eggs:

You Can Tell By The Way That I Walk That I'm A Woman's Man . . . 

Blue Feet Protecting The Next Generatioin.
A Study in Blue.
. . . other critters:


And Tourists.

. . . and the fishing fleet’s camp and shrine:

Fish Camp - Isla Isabel.
Fish Camp Scene.

Fishermen's Shrine.

After our tour of the rookeries, we ate and set sail again at dusk. 

Ensenada Chacala: 

Our 55-mile trip to the bay (bahia) or cove (ensenada) at Chacala took us about 15 hours during which we had winds varying from 12 knots from the northwest to 2 knots from the south-southwest, and a sea state varying from rolling to not at all.  It was smorgasbord night along the Pacific coast of Mexico.  We arrived in Bahia Chacala as the boat that was in the “queen’s spot” (right in front of the village) was departing.  We waited patiently for the crew to raise their stern and bow anchors and motor off.  We moved in and dropped anchor around 10.00.  Because Bahia Chacala gets a wraparound swell, most crews put out a stern anchor to keep the boat’s bow into the swells.  Explanation: riding up and down is better than rolling side-to-side.  

Abracadabra At Anchor in Bahia Chacala.
Bryce and Jim set the stern anchor (a process that involves rowing a dinghy with an anchor in it to the stern of the boat, dropping it, setting it and rowing the anchor rode back to be attached to Abracadabra’s stern).  Yes another good thing about having a third crew member – Molly was able to stay behind and make lunch and dig beer out of the fridge!    

Bahia Chacala has a beautiful white sand beach that is about half a mile long.  Along the beach are a number of “palapa restaurants” (outdoor restaurants with thatched roofs) and a couple of small hotels.  At the south end of the beach is a tiny luxury hotel that operates yoga and meditation retreats.  In town are rustic bungalows for rent to the budget-minded traveler, and some luxury homes for the traveler with a larger budget mind.  Among our favorite stops in Chacala is the coffee shop that sells home-made ice cream and the tapas bar on the beach – that now has more than an outside grill and a cooler used to chill the wine! 

Tapas Bar - Chacala.
We spent four days at Bahia Chacala rigidly adhering to the same rigorous daily schedule: breakfast on deck under the sun shade listening to the village roosters, a dinghy row to shore, a walk either along the beach or through the village, a lunch of fish and/or shrimp or tapas, a walk through some other part of the village or the beach (perhaps to purchase a coffee, or ice cream or fruit), a row back to Abracadabra, a swim, a cool shower and a drink, a dinner of grilled whatever-came-out-of-the-refrigerator, a free music show from one of the palapa restaurants, and finally sleep periodically interrupted by the barking of the village dogs (which became less charming as our stay neared its end). 

Colorful Chacala Native.
Worn out by this hectic life, we departed Bahia Chacala for Bahia Banderas, home to the famous resort town of Puerto Vallarta and, to the north of PV, one of our favorite places – the village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.     

Whale Watching Tour into La Cruz:

The 43 miles from Bahia Chacala to La Cruz was not much of a sail (at 3 knots of wind Abracadabra just bobs around) but was a terrific whale watching tour.  We had sightings every twenty minutes or so from 08.00 to 10.30.  Around 11.30, Jim was at the wheel and called out, “Uh, guys, I think I need to turn us – now.”  There was a whale less than 20 feet in front of the bow!  Jim put some 30 degrees on, and between the whale’s disinclination to be near our motoring boat and this turn, no one was injured.  This was officially our closest encounter with a whale!  

Whales were not our only visitors.  At around 10.00 we were visited by a hitchhiking teenaged blue-footed boobie! 

Hitchhiking Teenager.
We were afraid the bird was too young to travel so close to the big city of PV where he might fall into evil city ways and that it would be better for him to leave Abracadabra nearer to his home.  He was not impressed when we flapped our arms and said things like “shoo” and “go home”, so Jim took up the boat hook and approached him menacingly.  “Goooooo hoooome.”  The brave boobie stood his ground for a long time, but finally began to back slowly, slowly, until he toppled over the starboard rail.  He took flight before he hit the water, and off he went – we hope – to his home. We’re sorry we missed pictures of Jim jousting with the little fella.  

As we turned into Banderas Bay we got another wonderful welcome – wind!  We sailed the last two hours of the day, and docked at Muelle 9 (a queen dock compared to the one we were on last year) in time for a shower and a huge rib dinner and too many beers at Philo’s Bar and Grill.

More about our time in La Cruz in our next installment.

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing adventure you guys are having! Fabulous photos of the birds. What fun to have the teenage Blue-footed Booby aboard! Buen viaje!