A bit of background on my sailing trip around the world. The relevance will become clear soon enough.
If you are wondering what made me hit the oceans and leave a comfy life ashore, I have a philosophy that if you head one way when everyone else is going the other, you will end up in interesting places not often visited. In reality you often end up in dead ends, however I combine this with seemingly random reasons to visit places, and it has proved to be very pleasing.
My initial thoughts to sail around the world started as a kid when I heard about people called ‘Master Mariners’ and others who were known as ‘Yacht Masters’. I didn’t think I would ever get to university, but these titles seemed something to aspire to. I got my Yacht Master certificates a long time ago, Master Mariner is not something I’m interested in anymore and likely way beyond my skills . But my interest in circumnavigating the globe initially came from two sources, the famous ‘Sunday Times Golden Globe Race‘ race and Joshua Slocums trip in ‘Spray’.
Now for the almost random part, My uncle moved his family to ‘Malaya’, back when it was occupied by the British, and I was a kid. I was always intrigued if that country was as exotic as he described, so when Sister Midnight appeared for sale there, it seemed like a good enough reason to jump on a plane and visit. Next a book about ‘The Inside Passage’ in British Columbia was enough to inspire me to cross the North Pacific to sail around Vancouver Island. Finally a film I saw around the same time gave me a reason to head to Mexico, in particular the beach where the two main stars meet at the end, in Zihuatanejo. Despite the fact it wasn’t filmed here, and was fictional anyway, didn’t put me off as choosing it for a destination. I’m so glad we came here on such a flimsy whim, I really think this is turning out to be one of my favorite cruising destinations.
In case you didn’t see the film, it’s the Shawshank Redemption.
7th Feb – La Cruz / Banderas Bay/Bucerias/Puerto Vallarta
Arriving into Banderas bay we made straight for the first tenable anchorage at Punta De Mita, just at the top NW part of the bay. Here we could rest before heading to the main cruisers hangout at La Cruz. From the somewhat remote anchorages we had been in before, we now had access to several huge hypermarkets like La Comer, Soriano, Walmart etc. An inexpensive one hour bus ride would take us into the big city of Puerto Vallarta with more big box stores. We did think we would get a spot in the Marina in La Cruz, one of the few marinas in the area, however it looked a bit rough, wasn’t cheap and in reality offered little versus being at anchor. It was also full up with cruisers, many, like the 70 boats at anchor, were waiting for a weather window to sail off to the the South Pacific. This is one of the main departure points for boats arriving from the north, or heading up from the Atlantic, via the Panama canal.
There’s a very active sailboat community here and the small town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle was buzzing with activity. We made the most of the stores for provisioning, and enjoyed the vast Sunday ‘Farmers Market’ where Kathy took advantage of the many Vegan stalls.
18th Feb – Ipala
We spent about 10 days in La Cruz and really enjoyed it. To continue south, one has to get around Cabo Corrientes, this is a cape, or point of land sticking out into the Pacific that sort of separates the waters to the south from the Sea of Cortez to the north. This protrusion into the sea has been known to cause dangerous seas to build up in this area, opposing currents and weather systems can create dangerous conditions for small boats and it has to be taken seriously when planning your passage. However at this time of year, in relatively calm conditions, and combined with the fact that we tend to go 2 or more miles offshore I didn’t expect, or in fact encounter any problems. I did hear from another sailboat having a very difficult time going north around the cape the next day, which surprised me. Sister Midnight is quite a heavy old boat and we are quite used to a bit of a rough sea. Once around the cape, we pulled into a small indent in the coast at Ipala to break the journey up so as not to need to do an overnighter.
20th Feb – Chamela
An early start for the 10 hour passage to Chamela, Another lovely beach with palapa restaurants. We managed to find a few basic shops to get some bread and fruit & veg here. The town is called Punta Perula.
23rd Feb – Tenacatita
Tenacatita provided a lovely break, first we stopped near the entrance at the western end of the bay before moving to the very popular anchorage just behind an outcrop that provides some protection from the Pacific swell.
You can make out the route/track we took through the mangrove river that actually joins the two anchorages. We took the dinghy down this 5 mile round trip and it was quite stunning scenery, with baby crocs basking on tree trunks at the water’s edge and lots of birdsong all around. All was great until on the way back when a caterpillar dropped from above onto my shirt, let’s say this is not something that pleases Kathy and we had to get out of the mangroves ASAP.
26th Feb – Barra de Navidad – Lagoon
The next leg was less than 20 miles to the lagoon at Barra de Navidad.
A luxury resort/marina was built and can be seen in the pictures below. As often happens, resorts and marinas don’t mix. Different skill sets?. This marina was rather run down and couldn’t really decide if they liked cruisers or not. I remember in Malaysia, huge new waterfront property developments would often be advertised with a small marina attached, artists impressions, of beautiful people with new luxury yachts adorning the docks, the reality usually was that the entrance and slips silted up in record time, and the docks fell into disrepair and were removed by the next typhoon.
It’s hard to imagine but Barra was once, hundreds of years ago, a very busy Spanish navy port. The expedition to colonise the Philippines was launched from here, although we saw no mention of it when we were in the Philippines 😉
The lagoon is a very safe place and the entrance in is very shallow and very narrow. Also there is only a smallish area within the lagoon deep enough to anchor, it can handle a good few boats but one has to be careful to avoid the shallows as the boat below found out.
Barra is such a delightful town, very laid back, mostly based around tourism, and full of American and Canadian visitors and residents. Not many Brits.
There is a famous, at least in the cruising community, French baker, who loads up his panga with fresh croissants, baguettes, pain au chocolat etc and tours the lagoon visiting boats with his wares. He can be hailed on VHF ch22 and special orders placed.
For a small fee you are supposed to be able to leave your dinghy in the Marina and take advantage of the luxury resort facilities, I had promised Kathy a proper massage at the resort as part of her Christmas present, but on touring the place it seemed a bit sterile and soulless, so instead we went to a lady in town, who spoke no English but seemed to know her stuff and Kathy had a good experience I believe.
Another advantage of the lagoon is that there is a 24/7 water taxi service, £1 each way from the anchorage to the town. Very nice.
Another interesting aspect here is that three canals were channeled into the town and very pleasing homes built to look over them.
We could have stayed longer in Barra but after a few days we pushed on south towards Zihuatanejo.
9th March – Manzanillo (Carrizal, Santiago & Hadas)
There are three possible stops on the northern part of this large bay. The south east is home to a large commercial port and Navy base and although you can anchor there, it is more exposed to winter wind and swell.
We went straight to the first anchorage at Carrizal, a deep protected cove, which turned out to be a bit dull. The next day we went to Hadas, which has an odd Marina, again it’s part of a very impressive resort and the owners don’t seem to like boaters. There are no finger slips, where you tie up alongside, instead you med-moor, which entails dropping an anchor and reversing to the dock. I’m very comfortable with this from my time sailing in Greece, however it’s a hopeless solution for a boat like ours with a pointy bit at both ends, on Lady Stardust, we could jump off the bow platform onto the dock, not on SM, you would break a leg, the stern has so much crap on it, that’s not an option either. The solution would be to use the dinghy to get the few feet to the dock. Again we decided to stay at anchor and dinghy in, they don’t seem to like that either and charge $USD 14 for the privilege of tying up your dinghy, not bad if the resort pools and facilities were included, but they’re not. No matter, the resort looked lovely and we enjoyed some great food there, it was also a good place to walk to the local supermarkets and later we got a taxi to Manzanillo for a day out.
For a few days we moved to anchor off the beach at Santiago, just a few miles to the west. A huge expanse of perfect beach lined with restaurants.
When it came time to leave, we scooted over to the city and followed the southern coast out, this meant getting quite close to the docks, however this ship left the dock and made a beeline for us, I assumed he was heading the same way as us, yet he changed course to overtake us on our port side, instead of continuing his previous course to our starboard side, then just as soon as he cleared us, with no more than 100 ft between us, he turned back to starboard and crossed our bow. I have no idea why he did this, I’m going to assume he wants to brag to his fellow master mariners that he sailed past Sister Midnight, maybe he was bored, or maybe he just wanted to freak me out. It was safe at all times, but I can’t say I was relaxed about it.
16th Mar – Cabeza Negra (black head)
It’s 180 odd miles to Zihuat from Manzanillo and very few places to shelter, so rather than do it over two nights we decided to do a day trip to Cabeza negra, which can offer some respite from the swell, then an overnighter to Isla Ixtapa, then a last hop into Zihuat.
17/18th Mar – Isla Ixtapa
Now Ixtapa is interesting to me. Most people will have heard of Cancun, it’s a big resort in the Gulf of Mexico (Caribbean side) and was built as a major tourist project by the Mexican government starting in 1970. I had to change flights there once on my way home from Cuba, I hated the place. Well Ixtapa is the equivalent, but built on the Pacific side, a small unknown stretch of coast with a sleepy fishing village of Zihuatanejo, which was transformed into mile after mile of high rise hotels and apartments. Isla Ixtapa is an island, a 5 minute water taxi ride from the resorts and exists solely to provide holiday makers with an island beach/lunch experience. amazingly it’s actually ok.
Now back in 2000 I had to visit Mexico city representing the technical side of our business as part of a UK Government trade mission. I loved Mexico City and decided to extend my stay by a week and have a holiday. Locals advised me to get a cheap hotel in Ixtapa, at this point I had never seen the Pacific Ocean so I flew here and booked into a hotel for a very lazy week. Now I was going to sail past the hotel having arrived here by crossing the North Pacific and being in the same spot (give or take a mile) that I had visited 23 years ago via the North Atlantic. Not sure why, but I liked that. If I was a weirdo, I’d be thinking Ley Lines, and cosmic orders, thankfully I’m not.
We anchored here for a few days to get over the overnight passage. Dinner ashore one afternoon was very pleasant. My Spanish skills have reached the point now where I can order food and drink like a local, however they assume I can understand them like a local, so the conversation usually goes downhill very quickly. This was one of those moments, when I think they wanted to say, “Just talk in gringo language like everyone else here, it will be easier all round”
20th Mar – Zihuatanejo
We made the short 2 hour trip to Zihuatanejo passing the Marina at Ixtapa. The plan had been to go there for the week before Kathy flew home, easy to get ashore, facilities etc, but by now we had become so used to living at anchor we decided to see what Zi was like and skip the Marina. Also the Marina has gone downhill I hear, and the entrance is badly silted and need good timing with tides and surf to get in safely.
Zi has turned out to be a fantastic place, the bay is sheltered, an easy dinghy landing on the beach, with help from the locals. The town has a very safe laid back feel, but also very lively around the markets and high streets, lots of music and bars, a great food court that reminds us of SE Asia. We can walk to the big Soriano hypestore which even has Vegan food for Kathy, we found a great Vegan restaurant and also an Indian place too.
One problem we had was that we ran low on water, we last filled up in La Cruz and when I ran the tap, a very brown water came out. I later twigged that the tank level was low, but we had also just been bouncing around a lot in the sea and the sediment in the tank had been mixed up. Time to clean the tanks, not an easy task. There are three inspection hatches on the starboard tank each one big enough to get in and clean but the angles are difficult. Anyway once the boat had been still for a while we used the remaining water in the starboard tanks for washing and the like and then I ripped off the hatches and got to work. It wasn’t great inside, some yucky sludge along with the rust, but it cleaned up well. I had 20ltrs on deck from La Paz I keep for emergencies I could give the tanks a bit of a flush with, then we ordered 10 garrafones (20 ltr bottles) from a passing Panga and we were back in business, I will do the other tank when I reach a Marina.
It’s now just a week before Kathy flies home, then I have to get the boat to a safe place, I could sail north to Guaymas or San Carlos, many do that, but it’s a long way. Mazatlan might be better. I’m leaving the boat all alone for 3 months, encompassing the worst of the hurricane season, so I need to find a safe place, if such a thing exists in a direct cat 5 hit.
I will do one more post I think before I return with my final plans.
27th March 2023