Costalegre: Barra de Navidad – Upstairs / Downstairs

Barra de Navidad Jalisco Mexico channel entrance.

Barra de Navidad has a narrow and shallow entrance channel.

Fishermen in Barra de Navidad Jalisco Mexico

Fishermen cast nets in the lagoon.

Barra de Navidad anchorage in Jalisco Mexico

The serenity in Barra's lagoon is a big contrast to most Pacific coast anchorages.

The French Baker in the Barra de Navidad lagoon anchorage, Jalisco, Mexico

The French Baker makes his rounds.

The French Baker in the Barra de Navidad lagoon anchorage, Jalisco, Mexico

Emeric delivers croissants, quiches and

baguettes right to your boat!

Barra de Navidad entrance channel pier, Jalisco, Mexico

Barra's pier.

Barra de Navidad entrance channel pier, Jalisco, Mexico with Grand Bay Resort behind.

The Grand Bay Resort overlooks the lagoon.

Sculpture of Las Sirenas in Barra de Navidad

"Las Sirenas" ("The Mermaids").

Water taxi pier, Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

View across the water taxi piers.

Outdoor eateries, Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Barra is loaded with cute little eateries.

Outdoor eateries, Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Unlike other Mexican towns we've visited, almost all

tourists here during our stay were gringos.

Outdoor eateries, Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

How about a meal looking through the branches of an

enomous piñata decorated tree?

Barra de Navidad lagoon anchorage Jalisco, Mexico

A 1921 sloop in the lagoon.

Macaw in Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

A restaurant's mascot macaw

blushes as I snap his photo.

Beatles grafitti in Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Mark finds the Beatles in Mexico once again.

Fancy wooden doorway, Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Many of Barra's front

doors are very ornate.

Fancy wooden doorway, Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico Barra de Navidad lagoon anchorage Jalisco, Mexico Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico Lagoon birds in Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

The lagoon has many

species of long legged

fishing birds.

Lagoon birds, Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico Lagoon birds, Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico Boat-in restaurants Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

One of many boat-in palapa restaurants on the lagoon.

Boat-in restaurants Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico Water taxi Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Water taxis ferry visitors all over the lagoon.

Fortina's Restaurant Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Happy Valentine's Day.

Grand Bay Resort Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

The Grand Bay Resort proudly overlooks the gritty,

quirky town of Barra.

Grand Bay Resort Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Approaching the Grand Bay you suddenly feel a little out

of place in a bathing suit and flip flops.

Hammocks in Grand Bay Resort Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Hammocks by the lagoon shore.

Deserted lagoon island in Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico Puerto de Navidad marina and lagoon anchorage, Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Overlooking the marina to the cruising boats in the

lagoon anchorage beyond.

Barra de Navidad lagoon channel Jalisco, Mexico

A yacht traverses the narrow channel.

Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

A McGregor 26 (without its mast) slides past us at a fast clip.

Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

Dinghies scramble to save a sailboat from an unattended Offshore

48' power yacht that's suddenly on the loose.

Barra de Navidad Jalisco, Mexico

A frustrated couple spends the day off-kilter on a

beached sailboat.

Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, Mexico

Mid-February, 2011 - After the gentility of the Las Hadas

Resort in Manzanillo and the sweeping waves and beach

scene of Playa La Boquita in Santiago Bay, we were

surprised to find yet another totally contrasting lifestyle just

25 miles up the coast in the eclectic hideaway of Barra de

Navidad.  Pulling into the anchorage, we felt like we were

landing on another planet.  For starters, the anchorage is

an almost fully enclosed lagoon, and to enter it requires

motoring down a very narrow and very shallow channel.

Fortunately the GPS waypoints given in the guidebook are

accurate, as the channel is marked with buoys for only half its

length, and the chartplotter is off by about a mile.  In these waters,

being off by 100 feet will put you hard aground.

But the real surprise lay inside the anchorage: 50 cruising boats

were crammed into the lagoon.  Until now, every anchorage we

had been in had hosted fewer than twenty boats.  What a crazy

zoo scene this was!  To top that off, being low tide, everywhere we looked for a spot to drop the anchor we had just inches of

water under the keel.  The lagoon's water is extremely silty, and you can barely see your toes when your legs are in water up

to your knees, so there was no way to tell the depth other than trust the boat's depth sounder.  In such a shallow and tightly

packed anchorage it made sense to let out just 50' or so of anchor chain.  A neighbor quickly set us straight however,

informing us that boats drag regularly through the soft mud and that everyone around us had 100' of chain out, despite being

in less than 10' of water.

Once the anchor was down, the sun began to drop low in the sky.  We kicked back in the cockpit and watched flocks of long

legged birds commuting home to roost while fishermen cast their nets behind the boat.  A chorus of lagoon bird songs filled

the air as they settled into the surrounding mangroves.

The next morning I poked my head out of the companionway to see a picture that for

all the world looked like one of the many beautiful anchorages in Maine where I grew

up cruising years ago.  Most Pacific coast anchorages are defined by mountains and

waves, making for dramatic scenery and often dramatic rolly nights.  In contrast, this

anchorage was as flat calm as could be and was rimmed by low lying trees.  The boats

were all well behaved, lined up with military precision, facing the gently rising tide with

dignity.  This is nothing like most Pacific coast anchorages where the boats tend to

pitch and roll, swinging in different directions, often quite wildly, challenging each other

to see which one can be the buckingest bronco of them all.

Suddenly the radio came alive with chatter; it was Barra's morning VHF cruiser's net.

For a full twenty minutes cruisers ran through the roll call of all the boats arriving,

departing or staying put in one of several anchorages in the area.  As soon as the net

ended, all fifty boats in Barra began hailing each other at once, making plans for

daytrips ashore, plans to meet in future harbors or plans for cocktails and dinners

together later in the day.  In the midst of all this conversation a heavily accented voice broke into the fray, announcing, "This is

ze French Baker and I am entering ze lagoon now."  A child's voice called out,

"French Baker, French Baker, we would like two chocolate pies."  The accented

voice answered, "I have only one."  "We'll take it!" came the happy reply.

Emeric Fiegen, a Frenchman who now hails from Canada, came to Barra years

ago and in 2003 created a unique niche for himself in this ex-pat community.

Opening "El Horno Frances" (The French Bakery), he sells French baked goods

out of a shop onshore and also out of a panga that he personally drives around

the lagoon each morning.  Offering quiches, croissants, baguettes and other

delicacies, he does a brisk business and is always sold out by the time he gets

to the far side of the anchorage.  This, unfortunately, was where we were

located, so we quickly learned we needed to email him our order the night

before.  After months of tacos, burritos and hot sauces it sure was a treat to sink

our teeth into chocolate croissants and miniature bacon and cheese quiches.

Barra de Navidad is a unique gringo hangout.  The town

hovers along one side of the lagoon, its small streets teeming

with cute tourist shops, charming outdoor restaurants, cheap

hotels and North American retirees escaping the cold winters

back home.  The mood is laid back and slightly gritty, with flip

flops and beachwear being the accepted attire.

A pretty pier extends along

one side of the lagoon's

entrance channel, leading

strollers out to views of the

bay and beach on the

ocean side of town.  On the

opposite side of the lagoon's channel the imposing Grand Bay Resort rises out of the

mangroves, offering high class and high dollar vacations to the younger still-employed (and

well-employed) set.

Cruisers stay in Barra for weeks

and even months each winter,

charmed by the convenient and

pleasing town, the picturesque

anchorage, and calm nights.  Some

sneak swims at the Grand Bay

Resort's beautiful pool (after a fine luncheon), and everyone winds up

at the Sands Hotel's pool or pool bar at some time, as that

establishment openly welcomes cruisers.

The social scene

in the lagoon is

intense.  It is an

easy dinghy ride

to visit your

neighbor for

happy hour,

and there are

a seemingly

infinite number

of places to

explore with

friends ashore.

All conversations

on the radio are

public, so

everyone's business is quickly well known.  The kids on two boats were the cutest to

listen to.  As they made plans to visit each other, the parents were consulted in the

background:  which boat, at what time, and with whose dinghy would they would get

together to play?

Sometimes this public forum

can get a little awkward.

Two women discussed the

dishes each would bring to a

dinner party and wondered

aloud whether or not to invite a third

boat that neither one was convinced

had arrived in Barra yet: "I think I

saw them in the lagoon but they

aren't due for another week..."  "I

have enough salad for all of us..."

"Okay, but I'm sure they would have

called us by now if they were here..."

Two men troubleshot a plumbing problem in detail: "You gotta turn that pipe 180 degrees."

"Yeah, but that sucker won't turn..."  They had forgotten to take their conversation to a

separate channel, away from the channel where boats hail each other, so they were soon

interrupted by a voice saying:  "Attention Fleet:  Which restaurant has the best burger in

town?"  "La Oficina" came the reply.  "La Casina?"  "No, La Oficina..."

Three boats were awaiting a mutual friend arriving from the airport.  A

comedy of errors ensued as the guest arrived with a hand-held VHF radio,

but because he was standing in the Grand Bay's lobby behind the massive

concrete structures of the resort, he was unable to hear any of the boats

responding to his calls from the lagoon.  For twenty minutes he hailed

three boats in the lagoon and they hailed back, to no avail.  Finally one

boat took a dinghy ashore and met the poor fellow in person in the lobby.

We took the kayak out on Valentine's Day for a quiet morning ride but found

so much to see that we didn't get back to the boat until almost dark.  First the

various long legged birds of the lagoon caught our eye.  The mangroves are

thick and the water is loaded with fish, making it an ideal location for birds to

quietly stalk their prey.

Along one edge of the lagoon there are a series of boat-in eateries

you can get to either by water taxi or with your own dinghy.  Several

restaurants seemed immensely popular and patrons filled every waterfront


Being our anniversary as well as Valentine's Day, we wanted to find

a quieter more romantic spot.  Fortina's fit the bill perfectly.  We

pulled the kayak onto their little beach and followed the sand right

to a table overlooking the water.  What an ideal spot to while away

the afternoon and reflect on the happy years we have spent in each

other's company.

On another day we took the kayak over to the dinghy dock at the

Grand Bay Resort and wandered through the beautiful grounds.

Manicured landscaping, even the jungle kind on the edges of the

golf course, define the fringes of this resort.  A row of hammocks

on a beach fronting the lagoon look out on a private island, and

everything about the resort oozes elegance.

We found a balcony overlooking the marina and the lagoon anchorage

in the distance beyond, and we watched a megayacht navigate the

skinny lagoon entrance channel past one of the resort's pretty outdoor

restaurants.  From simple beer and tacos on plastic chairs along the

lagoon's edge to haute cuisine in a stunning setting at the Grand Bay,

Barra de Navidad has everything a gringo escaping reality in Mexico

might want.

But living there in

the lagoon on a

boat can bring

reality back to you

in a heartbeat.

One morning,

while sampling

almond croissants

from the French Baker and pondering the unusual wind shift we were

seeing, panicky voices on the radio abruptly brought us to our senses.

"Attention Fleet: a McGregor 26 is dragging through the anchorage on the

north side of the lagoon."  We turned our heads and there it was, moving

at a fast clip right past us.

In an instant five dinghies rushed over to the wayward boat.

No one was on board, but the fast acting men in the dinks

quickly brought the boat to heel, deploying a second anchor

they found stored in one of the boat's lockers.  We hadn't yet

assembled our dink and put it in the water, so we watched all

the action feeling rather useless.

No sooner had the McGregor 26 settled down than another

call went out on the radio.  "Attention Barra Fleet:  I've gone

aground."  The wind shift had caught one sailor by surprise

and moved his boat onto a sandbar that had been a safe 50

feet away from him for the past few days.

Unfortunately, being a full moon, the tide was going to be the lowest of

the month that afternoon, and for six hours the boat laid further and

further over on its side while the owners crawled around on the high side

making the best of a bad situation.  Luckily, the soft mud bottom insured

that no damage was done to the boat.  At the tide's lowest point we

dropped a line over the side of our boat and measured 6' 8" of water --

and we draw 6' 6".

A friend stopped by in his dinghy, and we began discussing the morning's

crazy events when we noticed the 48' Offshore motor yacht anchored

behind us was suddenly much further away than it had been for the past

few days.  It was dragging too, with no one on board!  A large sailboat

was directly in its path, and the sailboat's crew were all on deck, madly

putting fenders out to save their boat from the impending collision.

Again the radio burst to life and dinghies zoomed to the scene from all corners of the lagoon.  In 15 quick minutes the dinghies

pushed the boat to a safe spot and redeployed the anchor.  There was a lesson in that escapade for everyone in the lagoon,

as the wheelhouse on the boat was locked, so there was no way to start the engine and move the boat under its own power.

Fortunately, the dinghies had strong enough outboards to keep the boat from crashing into the sailboat and to push it to a new

location despite the high wind.  A call soon went out to the fleet reminding us all to leave the keys in the ignition when we went

ashore so that others trying to save our boats could do so easily.  This, of course, was quite a contrast to the instructions we

had also all received to raise our dinghies and lock our

outboards each night since several outboard motors had

been stolen in this anchorage over the past two seasons.

Hmmm... lock the car but leave the house key in the front

door of your home...  Such are the funny contrasts of this

quirky town.

We could have easily stayed in Barra de Navidad for a

month, along with many other boats in the fleet who kept

delaying their departure day after day, but we felt an urge

to see some new things.  So after a week we made our

way a few miles north towards Tenacatita.

Find Barra de Navidad on Mexico Maps

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