Cuastecomate, the "Secret Anchorage."
A Mexican Navy ship approaches.
A tender of Mexican Navy men circles Groovy.
The Mexican Navy boards Groovy.
It was a routine and courteous inspection.
Red tide surrounds us as we motor into Tenacatita.
Red tide fills the anchorage.
A carpet of jelly fish surrounds us.
The Blue Bay Resort is the only resort at this end of the bay.
Chippy the dolphin.
Beginning of the "Jungle Tour."
The mangroves quickly close in.
Thick jungle brush reflects in the
Our friends are the only other river tourists.
The old dinghy landing at the end of the jungle tour.
"Luffin It" is pushed into the anchorage
after a whale strike.
La Manzanilla is a cute small town.
Lots of little grocery stores have all the
provisions you need.
Loaded down with
Ahh... so much easier to have a local panga run your errands for you.
A dinghy raft-up offers hints of Tenacatita's former glory.
Tenacatita Bay, Jalisco, Mexico
Early March, 2011 - After a week of laid back
decadence at Barra de Navidad, complete with
French baked goods, flat calm nights and civilized
water taxi rides to shore, we moved a few miles north
to Cuastecomate. This small anchorage lies between
the two large and very popular anchorages of Barra de
Navidad and Tenacatita, and in the past was
apparently neither well documented nor well-known, so
it was nicknamed the "Secret Anchorage." With the
publication this year of Pacific Mexico, a new cruising
guide for this area, the cat is out of the bag, as the
GPS coordinates for the anchorage are given along
with an enticing description..
There was just one other sailboat in the anchorage when we arrived, along with a
Mexican Navy ship sitting quietly in the middle of the bay. As we began to anchor we
noticed the Navy ship drawing closer. Once we got the anchor down and began to get
settled, the Navy ship launched five men in a tender that soon circled our boat. They
asked permission to board Groovy. Just a week earlier four Americans had been killed
on their sailboat off of Somalia. This was geographically very far from Mexico but, as
fellow cruisers, the event felt close enough in spirit to make me suddenly feel quite
vulnerable as a camouflage suited soldier climbed up our swimstep carrying a machine
He walked forward to our bow and stood watch, while two other Navy men in bullet-
proof vests climbed aboard and settled into our cockpit. Intimidating as it was for a few
moments, this visit was both friendly and routine.
With the taste of almond croissants still on our lips and the sun
sparkling on the water all around the boat, I thought we made an
odd assortment on board Groovy. Mark was dressed for another
day of vacation in running shorts, bare feet and no shirt, while the
Navy men were dressed for an armed conflict, complete with heavy
boots. The tender with the two remaining men moved away from
our boat and hovered nearby, one of the men resting his machine
gun across his lap.
They were extremely gracious, speaking to us in simple Spanish once I
revealed I was willing to practice my language skills with them. They
merely wanted to see our boat papers and passports and to verify that
we didn't have any drugs on board or any extra passengers who were
not documented on our crew list.
I asked them a little about their work and learned we were the second
boat they had boarded that day, the first being the other sailboat in this
little anchorage. The day before they had inspected four boats. They
regularly patrol the 150 miles between Puerto Vallarta and Barra de
Navidad, rotating shifts of days or weeks spent aboard the ship followed
by time at home with their families. "It's hard on family life and hard on
your marriage," we all agreed. In the ensuing days we found many
other boats had been similarly boarded this year, although in prior years
it was not a common occurrance in this area.
Their inspection was more thorough and detailed than
any of the many US border patrol checkpoints we have
driven through towing our fifth wheel on the US
interstates. There we have always been waved
through without even having to slow down below 10
mph, despite towing an enormous trailer.
We were given two forms to sign, one written in English
and one in Spanish. The English language form was a
waiver absolving the Mexican Navy of any responsibility
if we ever asked them for a tow and they damaged our
boat. Fair enough. To my utter surprise, the Spanish
language form was an evaluation of the boarding process. I looked at them with a lopsided grin: "This form evaluates your
performance today?!" They nodded, smiling. "It is for your boss?!" More nods and grins. Polite young men all of them, they
deserved the highest rating in every category.
Before leaving, the Mexican Navy men reassured us that if we ever had any trouble or needed them in any way, we should call
them on the radio on VHF Channel 16. What a contrast to the way I was so rudely dressed down by the San Diego Harbor
Police for screwing up the sign-in procedures at San Diego's transient cruiser's dock, or the way the US Coast Guard yelled at
us through a megaphone because we had not written "T/T Groovy" on the bow of our dinghy.
Cuastecomate is known for its beautiful snorkeling spots, but
remnants of a recent red tide removed any thoughts of swimming.
Two days later when we motored into Tenacatita Bay we saw the
most expansive red tide to date. The entire bay, several miles
across, was filled with tea colored water. The stunning shade was
toned down a bit from the ruby red wine color that fellow cruisers
reported seeing the day before.
How sad. Blue Bay -- Tenacatita's other name -- often has water
that is gin clear and bright turquoise. The snorkeling off of one
point is so stunning that the cove is nicknamed "The Aquarium." In
the past cruisers have moved in here for a month or more at a time
for a spell of life in Paradise, going so far as to have weekly
scheduled events and an elected "mayor" of the anchorage.
Not so this year. At no time during our stay did we have the least
desire to put even a toe in the water. After red tide algae dies off,
thick rivers of brown foam begin to form. Zig-zagging scum lines lie
along the boundaries between current flows, and in places the foam
gathers into potato sized balls that punctuate the scum lines with little
brown puffs. Leaving the bay for a daysail one day, we returned to
the anchorage through line after line of brown scum.
Not only was the red tide a
shock, but a jellyfish bloom
stunned us as well. We had
sailed through miles of baby
jellyfish a week or so earlier,
hanging over the rails in amazement as the boat parted waves that were thick with two
inch long baby jellies that lay in layers below the surface. All babies grow up, and one
morning in Tenacatita we awoke to find the boat sitting in a carpet of adult jellyfish.
They surrounded the boat so densely that it seemed you could walk across them.
After the hundred foot diameter carpet of jellies floated through the anchorage,
engulfing each boat in its path, it finally landed on the beach in front of the Blue Bay
Resort. Thousands of jelly fish blanketed the sand for an afternoon. As the tide went
out, the jellies were left high and dry, and they died.
Tenacatita was suffering this year in other ways
besides the red tide and the jellyfish. During a
land dispute along one of the bay's beaches last
August, 150 Jalisco State Police evicted 800
people who lived and worked there. All their
homes, restaurants and a hotel were bulldozed in preparation for the construction of a huge beachfront resort. During our
stay the construction had not yet begun, but the land was actively patrolled by armed security guards. Cruisers who had
arrived earlier in the season had been shooed off the beach and out of that anchorage.
One Tenacatita resident rose above all these depressing changes, however,
putting up with the strange water and turning a blind eye to the land dispute
around the corner. Famed resident Chippy the dolphin has been loved by
cruisers for years, and we found him lolling around the anchorage, showing his
notched dorsal fin every time he surfaced through the water. He happily
scratched his back on the boats' anchor chains as he always has.
Tenacatita features a "Jungle River Dinghy
Tour" that meanders up a lush estuary, and this
self-guided tour has actually benefitted from the
land dispute, as it is rarely traveled now. You
have to brave some crashing surf and shallows
to get the dink into the estuary, but once inside you are in
a world apart.
The estuary tour begins as a calm river between thick
mangrove sides that twists and turns as it takes you
upriver. Snowy egrets and other leggy fowl peer out at
you as you pass, and they don't flinch, even at the sound
of the dinghy's outboard.
In places the water
was so calm that
the foliage formed
a perfect reflection
in its depths.
Before the land dispute,
this estuary led to the
backside of the community
of homes, restaurants and
stores that has since been
bulldozed out of existence.
In those days it was heavily
traveled, and apparently
the animals were not quite
as easy to see.
We passed an iguana sunning himself on
the branches of a mangrove and we saw
several raccoon-like coatimundi
scampering overhead. One coatimundi
stopped and stared at us long enough to
get some photos, but darned if all the pics
of him didn't turn out completely blurry.
Only one other
boat shared the
estuary with us
that day, friends of
ours from another
The estuary narrows
dramatically, to the
point where you can
pull yourself along
by grabbing the branches overhead. In places the dink can barely
squeeze through, as the mangroves close in on either side and
you have to duck the overhead jungle canopy.
At the far end, the estuary opened to a very small and shallow
lagoon, and we found the dock where cruisers used to land their
dinghies. The silhouette of an armed guard in the distance kept
us from attempting to land, and we returned through the thick
mangroves to the bay.
This all added up to plenty of excitement for a few days' stay in Tenacatita, but a Mayday call
on the radio late one afternoon pumped our adrenaline up another notch. A whale had
attacked the 36' sailboat "Luffin' It" just outside the anchorage. Mark and four other cruisers
responded to the call, zipping out to the terrified couple in three dinghies. They had been sailing along quietly when a whale
appeared out of nowhere and bashed the port side of the boat, knocking it over 45 degrees. He repeated this bashing on the
starboard side and then got beneath the boat and began thrashing his tail, damaging the rudder and bending the propellor
shaft in the process. The boat began taking on water, which prompted their Mayday call.
The rescuers used the most powerful dinghy to push the boat into the
anchorage, as the sailboat's engine could barely run due to the bent
prop shaft. After saying a round of "thank yous" to the rescuers before
settling in for the night to a humming bilge pump, the couple shocked
us all when they motored out of the anchorage the next morning,
putting up the sails as they rounded the point en route to Puerto
Vallarta for repairs 130 miles away.
The main anchorage at Tenacatita is near
a small beach palapa restaurant, but there
are no stores nearby. All provisioning must
be done far across the bay in the town of
La Manzanilla. One morning a group of
cruisers took their dinghies to the town
across the bay, and we walked around the
cute village. Loading up on fruits and
veggies in several of the many small
markets, I soon looked like a pack mule.
How funny to return to the anchorage later in the day, covered with salt spray from the lively dinghy ride and happily worn out
from a day of shopping, to find the megayacht anchored behind us had called a panga to run their errands and bring them all
the provisions they needed. We watched the uniformed crew serving the two couples aboard and marveled at the many ways
you can live a life.
Our low brow boating life is a pretty good one, though, and one
afternoon the cruisers all gathered for a dinghy raft up.
Everyone brought an appetizer to share and the dishes
circulated from boat to boat. Our friend Bill was elected Mayor
of the Anchorage, and he gave a rousing speech in praise of
the folks who had helped with the rescue of the whale struck
boat a few days earlier. In the odd way of Tenacatita this year,
however, the anchorage that had harbored 22 boats for one
busy night was down to just 6 by the next afternoon, as there is
little to hold people here this season. However, because we
are rarely ones to move quickly, we stayed a full week before
venturing on to Bahía Chamela and its beautiful islands.
Find Tenacatita on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on Mexico's North Pacific Coast to see more posts from this area!