Costalegre: Chamela Bay – Recovery after a Wild Crossing

Bougainvillea and coconut palms in Chamela Bay anchorage (Bahia de Chamela), Mexico

Bougainvillea and coconut palms in

Chamela Bay.

A panga on the beach in Chamela Bay (Bahia de Chamela), Mexico

A panga on the beach in Chamela Bay .

The teapot was our only casualty on

our rocky ride.

A flying fish met his demise in our cockpit.

A sea turtle passes by.

Strange insects remind us

we're nearing the tropics.

Chamela Bay (Bahia de Chamela) anchorage, Mexico

Chamela Bay is lined with beach villas tucked behind the palms.

Homes along the beach at Chamela Bay (Bahia de Chamela) Palapa restaurants in Bahia de Chamela (Chamela Bay).

Lots of palapa restaurants hug the north end of the bay.

Lots of pangas on the beach in Chamela Bay.

The beach was littered with pangas.

Beautiful long sweeping beach in Bahia de Chamela (Chamela Bay).

Chamela Bay offers a very long beach for strolling.

Chamela Bay anchorage, Mexico Panga in Chamela Bay.

Chamela Bay.

Punta Perula Trailer Park in Bahia de Chamela (Chamela Bay).

Punta Perula Trailer Park

Beachfront sites at Punta Perula Trailer Park in Chamela Bay.

Beachfront sites stand vacant.

Bahia de Chamela boondocker on the beach.

No one bothered this fellow boondocking next to the park.

Playing in the waves at Chamela Bay.

Romping in the waves.

Groovy in the Chamela Bay anchorage, Mexico

Groovy waits patiently for our return.

Chamela Bay anchorage, Mexico

A sand piper takes wing.

Las Guera restaurant in Chamela Bay.

Restaurant Las Gueras on the beach.

Beers on the beach - Bahia de Chamela. Beers under a beach umbrella at Bahia de Chamela. Fishermen unload their catch in Chamela Bay.

Fishermen unload their catch...

Towing a panga up on the beach at Bahia de Chamela

...then tow their panga high up on the beach.

Kids on a boat in Chamela Bay.

A boatload of kids calls out "Good Morning" to us visiting boaters.

Christmas in Chamela Bay, Mexico

A Christmas crèche is set up under a tree

in the town center.

Band stand in Perula (Bahia de Chamela)

The town's band stand.

Fresh produce (Chamela Bay / Perula)

Fresh produce was available at many small markets.

Perula (Bahia de Chamela) Mexico Perula (Chamela Bay) Mexico

A girl hitches a ride from Mom.

La Campesina in Perula, Chamela Bay, Mexico

We grab a bite at La

Campesina.

La Campesina in Perula, Chamela Bay anchorage, Mexico

Chamela Bay, Jalisco, Mexico

Late November, 2010 - We left Cabo San Lucas on a Sunday, knowing we wouldn't

get to our destination until at least Tuesday morning, sailing straight through two

nights and possibly a third.  Our destination was the Costa Alegre on mainland

Mexico, 330 miles away, across the bottom of the Sea of Cortez.  To date, the

furthest we had been from the coast at night was 50 miles.  On this passage would

be spending the middle 24 hours more than 100 miles from shore.

Ours was not the common route.  After traveling down the Baja peninsula, most

cruisers go around the corner to La Paz or cross the Sea of Cortez to the mainland in

a single overnight passage to Mazatlán before harbor hopping south along the

mainland.  We wanted to get to the warm, tropical climate right away, however, so we

decided to cut to the chase and sail directly there.  The forecast was for mild winds

and mild seas.

When Cabo was 30 miles

behind us, the radio crackled

with the voices of two boats

we knew deciding to turn

around because the winds

were so high as they sailed

towards Mazatlan.  We didn't have much wind, but the swell was

increasing dramatically.  I went below to triple-check the weather

forecasts I had downloaded on the computer.  At that moment a large

wave gave the boat a big shove, confusing the autopilot so much that

the boat did a spontaneous 360 degree turn.  Suddenly the radio came

to life again, this time with two boats discussing a weather forecast they

had heard on their single side-band radios.  "This is no time to be

crossing the Sea of Cortez."  One boat said.  "I did it once in conditions

like this but it was a nightmare."  "Yeah, the next good weather window

won't be until Friday."

Unnerved, we decided to forge ahead anyways.  Turning around would have put us in back in Cabo well after dark, and

nothing I had seen in the forecast seemed all that foreboding.  As it turned out, the wind never did pick up much over the next

55 hours, but the swell threw the boat all over the ocean.  It was as though the sea gods were playing volleyball, and a

thousand hands were reaching up and tossing us back and forth.  The boat lurched and heaved, rising up and falling over as

one wave after another rolled under it, each coming from a slightly different direction.  During the daytime it wasn't frightening,

but the two nights were very long and disturbing.  I have never been so grateful to see the moon.  It was like a great white

round friend in the sky, shining a bright path towards us throughout each entire night.

For all the pitching and rolling, the only casualty besides our own bruised bodies

and strained emotions was the stainless steel teapot.  I had just filled it and put it

on the stove to make some coffee when a particularly large wave lifted the boat

and hurled it several boat lengths to one side, sending the teapot into a swan dive.

It landed on the stairs, denting the side.

Two flying fish sustained worse injuries.  These little guys have fins that they use

like wings, and they jump out of the water and flap their fins like mad, flying 50

yards at a time just above the surface of the water.  In the dead of night two of

them did their flying stunt only to find themselves unexpectedly lying in our cockpit.

In the morning we found a little trail of blood droplets showing their sad path as

they ricocheted to their deaths at the base of the wheel.

But the heart-stopping

moments of the long

nights were soon forgotten as we finally approached the mainland.

Not having seen a single boat since leaving Cabo, our big "Land Ho!"

moment was obscured by a thick layer of fog.  We noticed the air was

much warmer and thicker as we sailed into the tropics.  We passed

quite a few sea turtles and noticed there were unfamiliar bugs landing

on the boat.

The Costa Alegre is a quiet 100 mile

stretch of the mainland coast that is

filled with pretty anchorages, bays and

palm fringed beaches.  We were aiming

for Manzanillo, the city at the

southernmost end of this region, but

our pace would have put us there in the

dark, so we stopped at Chamela at the

northern end instead.  Scanning the

horizon, we saw lots of little beach

bungalows peaking out from behind the

cover of coconut palm trees.

A few homes were lovely villas and estates, and at the north end of

the bay was a cluster of beachfront restaurants.

We quickly launched the kayak and took a walk along the

beach.  A large fleet of pangas sat high on the beach,

but no one was around.

The restaurants had tables and seating

for a huge crowd, but we saw only one

pair of Gringos and one Mexican couple

at any of them.  This gave the bay a

wonderfully remote air, but it was eerie to

see a party set up with no one attending.

We came across the Punta Perula Trailer Park, and wandered in, taking photos of

the fantastic vacant RV sites that overlook the ocean.  "Can I help you?" A woman

asked, coming out of a motorhome.  As we chatted we discovered that this was

her fourth winter at the park, and that it is always full by this time of year.

However, only two sites were taken.  She had been emailing all of her RVing

friends -- friends who had been coming to Mexico with her for the past ten winters

-- and they had all been scared off by the bad press about Mexico.  Apparently

Arizona was bursting at the seams with RVers who decided not to go south of the

border this year.

What a shame.  Smearing Mexico in the media may be helping

the US and Canadian economies by keeping tourist dollars at

home, but travelers are losing out on some really good times

and good deals further south.  This beachfront park, one of

several on this bay, is lovely and costs just $350 a month.

Of course, that is more than some RVers wish to pay, and

we had to admire a young fellow in a van boondocking on his

own private stretch of beach next to the park.  He said he

had never been bothered in all his boondocking travels along

the Baja peninsula and mainland Mexican coast.  But a

quarter mile further on we met couple in a beautiful Class A

motorhome who had gotten a knock on their door from the

police in the wee hours when they boondocked overlooking

this beach.  Fortunately, friends they had made in town had

room in their backyard for a motorhome where they could

stay.  Ulltimately, these friends installed full hookups, paid for

by the RVers, so they could stay all winter and return in the future.

Having been among sailors for the past ten months, I

was happily reminded what amazing travelers RVers

are.  While we were proud of sailing down the coast

to get to this beach, hearing the RVers compare

notes with each other about driving through Mazatlán

versus Guadalajara to get here, we realized how

much more of Mexico they have seen.  They all said

they felt safer this year than any year prior on their

drive south because of the increased police

presence.  We will seek out coastal RV parks in the

future to get the lay of the land, and to get a quick fix

sitting around in camp chairs.

Back on the beach, the little bars at the north end were

beckoning.  For the first time in months we could feel

ourselves beginning to unwind.  Boat preparations and

projects behind us, and the bulk of our big sail south

completed, we could return to being our natural selves,

exploring the world around us.

As we sat staring out at the water a group of

fishermen landed their panga.  They

unloaded the day's catch into a rusty old

truck without headlights.  Then they hooked

the boat up to the truck and towed it up to

higher ground.  After the boat dug into the

sand and refused to budge, they filled two

plastic liter bottles with water, put them

under the boat, and tow-rolled it the rest of

the way in.

We continued to relax, not ready to sail again

right away, letting the days tumble seamlessly

into each other.  One morning we sat in the

dinghy chatting with other boaters in the

anchorage when a boat loaded with children flew

past.  As they went by the kids suddenly all

called out in unison, "Good Morning!"  Their

smiles were infectious, and we waved back

enthusiastically, "Buenos Dias!"

Another day we wandered

into the little town of

Perula, following the

narrow paved road that

runs parallel to the beach.

Christmas preparations

were already underway,

and a nativity crêche was

set up under a tree in the

town center.

A bandstand looked ready

for an outdoor concert,

surrounded by attractive

plantings, green grass and park

benches.

We passed several small grocery stores with fresh produce for sale.

Other stores were selling all kinds of things, from tire repair to

hardware.  The pace was slow and nourishing.

We found ourselves at another outdoor eatery -- who can

resist dollar beers and quesadillas?  Even for Thanksgiving

dinner!  It was such a pleasant atmosphere in this bay, we

could have stayed longer.

But we eventually pried ourselves away, heading to the

southern end of the Costa Alegre and our planned

turnaround point, Manzanillo.  Once there, we could begin

our official "cruise," harbor hopping north for eight months

at a snail's pace.

Find Chamela on Mexico Maps

Visit Anchorages on the "Mexican Riviera" (northern Pacific coast) to see more cruising posts from this area!