The rookies take the game!!
Dinghy group lands on the beach in La Manzanilla.
A steaming cauldron keeps a
Concrete is mixed by hand.
Post-red tide scum creates patterns on the water.
Pelicans dive for supper.
Mark gets a good look at his catch.
Thick fog greets us in the morning.
A river of water isolates a favorite cruiser restaurant.
Chamela's three little islands are a great hideaway.
There's nothing like an uninhabited tropical island.
Hermit crabs dashed urgently
all over the sand.
Lots of cactus lined the shore.
Craggy rocks and tidepools grabbed our attention.
The water seems clear enough to
clean the bottom of the hull.
See you down under!
Chamela Bay & Islands, Jalisco, Mexico
Mid-March, 2011 - Despite the drawbacks of red tide, jelly fish blooms and land disputes,
the anchorage at Tenacatita held us in its grasp for ten happy days. Old time cruisers
who had been coming to Tenacatita for years initiated games of Bocce ball on the beach,
they encouraged cruisers to gather for beers at the beachfront palapa restaurant La
Vena, and they organized group dinghy provisioning
trips across the bay to the village of La Manzanilla.
Beginners luck prevailed for us in Bocce ball, and we
nailed a few throws to win the first game.
Dinghy landings in this bay are quite a challenge,
because of the pounding waves and surf on the beach.
We hitched rides with friends several times to learn the
technique for landing the dink and launching it again
later without getting too wet. We learned that waves
come in sets, often 6 or 7 at a time, and the trick is to
wait until a set has passed to make your move. You get a total of about 15 seconds to ride
behind the last wave to shore or to jump in the dink and start the outboard during a launch
off the beach. One false move by a passenger, or an unexpectedly stalled engine, or a
miscalculation of when the last wave has actually passed can spell the difference between
being wet up to your shorts or flipping the dinghy entirely and getting drenched head to toe.
We watched in amazement from the beach as one
seasoned pro accidentally flipped his dinghy during a
launch when his inexperienced passenger took too long to
climb into the boat. The dinghy hit a huge oncoming wave
and flew straight up in the air like a rocket, landing upside
down in the surf. Workers from the restaurant dashed
down to the beach carrying a five gallon jug of fresh water
to flush the outboard engine while cruisers searched the
waves for lost cargo. Fortunately the outboard responded
to the treatment, most items were found, and the dinghy
was soon re-launched without mishap.
La Manzanilla on the far side of the bay is a small
seaside village, and we enjoyed watching the locals
going about their daily activities. Two men stirred a
cauldron filled with ham hocks (hooves included),
while a dog waited patiently.
There was plenty of construction going on, all done
by hand. We watched one worker shovel gravel into
a bucket on the street and then hoist it to the roof of
a building using a rope and pulley system. Water
was then hoisted in another bucket, and the worker
on the roof mixed and poured the concrete by hand.
In another area we watched a worker mix his
concrete in a little pile of gravel right on the street.
This may not produce the highest grade concrete,
but there is a quiet calm and pride in the way these
men go about their work.
Out in the bay the red tide began to go through its lifecycle phases.
First the water turned from beet red to murky brown to grey green.
Then a huge blanket of foam formed in the middle of the bay.
Several hundred feet across, the foam began as a solid sheet of tiny
white bubbles and then began to dissipate into elaborate patterns as
the current ebbed and flowed beneath it.
The pelicans had no qualms about
the water quality, and they dove for
fish each afternoon. They looked like
flying knives being hurled into the
water. I tried in desperation to get a
picture of one just at the moment of
impact when their wings are pressed
tightly against their bodies, but I
never quite caught it.
One morning we awoke to a pan-pan call on the
radio. This is an emergency alert for anyone within
earshot, and as I laid in bed with my eyes closed
debating how we'd spend our day I heard, "Japan has had a massive earthquake
and a tsunami is headed this way. It will arrive here in two hours." That got me out
of bed in a hurry! Pre-coffee and still half-dressed in pj's, we hauled the anchor and
dashed out of the anchorage. A fishing panga was nearby and we waved them over
to pass on the warning. I hated the thought that they might fish by the rocks all
morning and never know what hit them.
Out on the open water we were able to connect to the internet, sort of. If I stood in
the cockpit holding the laptop over my head with the USB antenna pointed towards
shore, I could download a page in about 3 to 5 minutes. This was just enough to get some Google News reports detailing the
unfolding disaster. Meanwhile the radio was abuzz with cruiser chatter. People were sharing information they were receiving
from single side band radio broadcasts, from cell phone calls to friends and family on the west coast and from the internet.
We soon realized the predicted time for the arrival of the wave was 1:45 pm, not 10:45 a.m. as we were first told, and the
effects could last up to nine hours after the intial wave hit.
This meant a long day of sailing. We had planned to stay in Tenacatita for a few more days, but once we were out in the
ocean it made more sense to travel up the coast a bit to Chamela Bay.
Almost the entire cruising fleet joined us in the open water, and a huge game of musical chairs ensued. Just about everyone
changed anchorages and moved north or south to the next spot on their itinerary along the coast.
Out on the water the regular ocean swell was running about five
feet, so the five foot tsunami waves were undetectable. Our
biggest challenge was trying to determine whether the waves
had arrived on shore or not, and whether or not it was safe to go
in to anchor. Once the initial waves had hit California and then
Cabo San Lucas, all new internet reporting ceased. The
Mexican news stories were only about warnings, not about
actual wave arrivals in the various ports nor about damage, so
we had no idea what the status was along our coast.
However, the air was warm and the breeze too light to sail
much, so Mark lazily dropped a handline over the side of the
boat as we motored along. Within an hour the line suddenly
went taut and then limp. He brought it in to find that a huge fish
had struck and broken the clasp holding the leader line to the
handline. Somewhere out there a fish was swimming around
with a six inch blue feather lure hanging out of its mouth while
fifty feet of nylon leader trailed behind him. Darn!
He quickly found another lure with a stronger clasp and thicker leader line, and threw it over the side. Wham! Another fish
was on the hook. Holy cow. Mark has trailed handlines up and down this entire coast with only one catch so far. And now
within minutes he had two, with the one that got away being (undoubtedly) one of the biggest fish in the ocean. Was the
tsunami herding the fish somehow? Whatever the cause, he hauled the fish in and we had a good look at it. It was beautiful:
big and silver with bright yellow fins and tail. Unfortunately, it was the inedible Jack Crevalle, or "toro" in Spanish, a fish that
has meat so red and bloody that it is considered inedible. Toros have big puppy dog eyes, though, and this guy was staring
up at Mark in stark terror. He quickly unhooked the lure from its mouth and we could feel his utter relief as he swam off into
We pulled into Chamela Bay around 5:00 p.m., thinking the worst of the waves must have passed. As we lowered the anchor
over the flat sand bottom, I watched the depth gauge read a steady 22 to 23 feet and then suddenly dip to 14 feet and then
rise again to 22 feet. Within seconds I heard an enormous crash of a mammoth wave pounding the shore, and I turned to see
its foaming mass sweep well past the highest tide mark on the beach.
Our radio instantly crackled to life as a friend of ours used her hand-held radio to describe the utter pandemonium she was
seeing on the beach. Mark had to calm me down a bit, as I started to rant, but no waves quite that big rolled through after
that. However, all was not right in the water. Every boat in the anchorage did steady 360 degree turns around its anchor,
completing a full turn every minute or two. After a few clockwise turns the boats would all begin to turn counterclockwise as
their hulls followed the pull of the ocean surge washing in and out of the bay.
The next morning we woke to thick fog, the first we had
seen since we were in Chamela Bay four months earlier.
The scene around us had an eerie glow.
We walked along the shore later in the day. The ghost town
feeling that Chamela Bay had had in November still
persisted, especially now that the fleet of fishing pangas had
been dragged high onto the beach out of reach of the
A little restaurant at one end of the beach was stranded
by the tsunami. Usually a path through soft sand leads
to this building, but the tsunami swell was continuing to
disturb the peace a day or two after the first waves
arrived. A steady river of water washed to and fro in an
estuary, making access to the restaurant a dicey affair
that included wading in water up to your shorts.
Elsewhere around Chamela Bay little had changed. More flowers
seemed to be in bloom, but the pretty little waterfront RV park was
totally empty now.
We decided to take Groovy out into the bay for a few days where three
small uninhabited islands huddle together. There are several
anchoring spots out there, and we found it to be a cozy, hidden
As we dropped the hook we heard the loud and rather
urgent cries of hundreds of pelicans roosting in the trees
on the shore. These islands are an ecological preserve
zone, and pelicans rule.
We took the dinghy ashore and stood in awe watching two different
species of pelicans engaging in what can only be described as a
springtime orgy. Throaty groans, flapping wings, and awkward
physical postures gave the rugged shore an emotional vibe that
made us feel we were intruding on the most intimate of erotic
Averting our eyes from these
impassioned birds, we found
a host of hermit crabs
scurrying across the sand.
They crawled over each
other and tapped on each
other's shells. These little
guys were inhabiting a huge
variety of shells, and one or
two were running around
naked looking for a new home.
The water was a
gorgeous shade of
blue, a welcome
change from the post-
red tide grey-green
that filled Chamela's
Around the beach there were cactus and palm trees, and stubby little deciduous trees
too. But it was the tide pools that really got our attention. The waves sloshed in and out
with a vengeance, but a few were out of reach of the surf, and life in those pools was
calm and serene.
Back on the boat it
seemed we were in the
perfect place to have a look at the underside of our
hull. We had been cleaning it every week or so
down in Zihuatanejo where the water was warm
and the barnacles grew quickly. Since we had
been up north of Manzanillo, however, we hadn't
had a chance to give it a good look or a good scrub
because of the murky water.
Mark tackled the lowest parts of the hull and keel
with his scuba gear while I held my breath with a
snorkel and popped the offending barnacles off the
higher parts of the hull. The water wasn't exactly
clear, and while we were in it a new wave of post-
red tide scum floated by. Suddenly the water was
full of white puffy stringy stuff, and we quickly
wrapped up our work. Unfortunately, the waves
were surging so vigorously that at one point each
of us accidentally gulped a huge mouthful of water.
Over the following days we both
went through a series of weird symptoms, starting with sore shoulders
followed by swollen glands in our necks and nasty head aches. Mine
ended with a round of vomiting, while Mark was nauseous for two days.
After a week the symptoms passed. My advice to anyone following in
our path: don't drink water tainted by red tide.
Chamela Bay is the last good anchorage along the coast heading north
before the much feared Cabo Corrientes where high winds and
conflicting swell can make for a miserable passage. The bright lights of
Puerto Vallarta lie beyond that point, but it is a 100 mile trip to get there,
so boats gather in Chamela Bay and watch the weather forecasts like
hawks, waiting for the best 24 hours to make the trip. Before long we
got our chance, and we dashed out of the bay towards the Puerto
Vallarta suburb of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.
Find Chamela on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on the "Mexican Riviera" (northern Pacific coast) to see more cruising posts from this area!