Mazatlan – A Little Strange

Rock formation at Isla Isabel.

Sunset at sea after leaving Isla Isabel.

A scum line of foam stretches

between Groovy and our neighbor.

Dinks line up on the beach as the owners stop for

shrimp & garlic pizza.

A perfect beach for toddlers and dinghy landings.

A water taxi arrives to take us to

downtown Mazatlan.

Mazatlan's malecon.

Unusual monuments along the


Exotic modern architecture.

Stately antique architecture.

Mazatlan's town square has an odd excess of

shoe shiners.

Renovated buildings brighten some spots.

Elaborate antique wrought iron gates remind us that

Mazatlan has battled crime for eons.

Renovations on one side of the street distract your

gaze away from...

...unrenovated buildings across the street.

Groovy's window dips face down into the

turquoise Sea of Cortez.

The kayak begs to go for a ride...

...and what a great ride it is.

Bleached coral twigs lie in the sand.

Mansions sprout along this quiet and remote bay.

We've arrived.

Matazatlan, Mexico

Early April, 2011 - It is a 90 mile run from Isla Isabel to Mazatlan, but with the wind

directly on our nose the whole way, we knew we could easily cover as much as 140

miles tacking back and forth by the time we got there.  So we left shortly after dawn,

anticipating 24 hours in transit.  Sure enough, we sailed all but the last ten miles,

witnessing both a stunning sunset and a pretty sunrise before we arrived at the Stone

Island anchorage just outside of the entrance to Mazatlan harbor.

We had been warned about

fishing long-line nets ages

ago, but in our 2,200 miles of

sailing along the Mexican

coast for the past four

months we hadn't seen any

until we had approached Isla

Isabel a few days earlier.

They are poorly marked, usually with a small black buoy flying a black

triangular pennant a foot or two off the water.  Generally, about 100

feet from the pennant buoy there will be a soda pop bottle or other

small buoy that marks the end of the long-line net.  Somewhere out in

the distance, 1/4 mile or more away, there will be another pennant

buoy.  If there is a plastic bottle bobbing near that one, then that

marks the other end of the long-line, and you need to go around the whole thing or get caught in the net.  Sometimes the long-

lines can extend for several miles, with small black buoys placed every 200 feet or so along the entire length of the net.

As we approached Mazatlan we found ourselves in totally flat calm water in mid-

morning.  Rather drowsy from sailing all night, we were shocked awake when a

pennant buoy slipped right by the boat.  We barely missed the end of the long-line net.

Suddenly wide awake, we were astonished to find one long-line net after another

blocking our way for the entire 10 mile approach to the harbor.  We had been tacking

all night long as we sailed, and now we found ourselves zig-zagging all over the sea

while under power to avoid these crazy nets.

We settled into the scenic Stone Island anchorage just outside the mouth of Mazatlan

harbor but were discouraged to find ourselves in a scum line that connected Groovy to

the next boat in the anchorage with a ragged film of foam.  To keep our spirits up, we

reminded ourselves that the Huichol people believe all animal life springs from this

foam, as the foam is the Sun God's very fertile saliva.

There is a small beach

around the corner from the

anchorage where we

discovered the most delicious

shrimp and garlic pizza in a

casual beach palapa.  This

pretty beach has the

sweetest and gentlest waves and is ideal for toddlers and dinghy

landings.  Our kayak took its place on the shore alongside the other

dinghies from our neighboring cruisers.

The beach was serene and peaceful most days, seeming a

world apart from the very busy city that lay just beyond.

From Stone Island we

took a water taxi across

Mazatlan Harbor to the

edge of Old Town.  This

made getting to and from

the city of Mazatlan a kayak-walk-water taxi affair, but it also placed us in a pretty

setting far from the urban challenges that make up Mazatlan.

A walk along the city's

malecon, or boardwalk,

revealed a waterfront that

could be very attractive.

There is a long beach,

some unusual homes

perched on impossible

cliffs, and some unique statues

and monuments.

However, Mazatlan is not a

friendly place.  For the first

time in Mexico a bus driver

tried to cheat us when he made change,

giving us 25 pesos in change rather than the

40 he owed us.  It took three refusals of his

token offers of small coins to get the total we

were due, and he offered no apology.

Similarly, where other Mexicans in other

places happily smile and wave when they

pass, here we found downcast eyes and

solemn expressions.  It is not a happy city.

We had heard mixed reviews of Mazatlan

before we arrived, with most people saying

they hadn't liked it.  However a few were very

enthusiastic about the Old Town architecture.

The cathedral was impressive.

More impressive to us, however, was that the

town square was filled with shoe-shiners.  On

each of the four sidewalks surrounding

the square we found two or three shoe-

shine people, for a total of 10 or 12

around the square.  They laughed when

we pointed at our Keene sandals -- no

sales there -- but we had never seen

such a high density of people shining

shoes for a living.

At one time Mazatlan was prosperous,

and quite a few ornate buildings have

been renovated.  There is a tiny half-

block sized park that is surrounded by

brightly painted renovated buildings.  A

few three- and four-table restaurants

catering to gringo tourists spill out onto

the sidewalk.  Another

cobbled street sports a brief row of antique buildings whose imposing

wrought iron gates over the doors and windows are reminders that

even in wealthier times this city was gripped by crime.  Unfortunately,

renovation is only skin deep.  Across the street from one architectural

make-over was another building begging for repair.

We heard rumors that an American tourist in Mazatlan had

recently been caught in the cross-fire of drug-related gang

violence and killed, leading the cruise ships to reroute their

cruises away from this city.

The many busted up buildings, the endless graffiti all over town and the

truckload of soldiers patrolling the supermarket parking lot where we

went shopping all seemed to support the sad story that there is a very

dark side to this city.

It didn't help when a taxi driver told us to be sure never to walk through

the neighborhood next to where he dropped us off, as it was the worst of

the drug and gang infested neighborhoods.

Waking up to dense pea soup fog three days in a row did nothing to

lighten our mood, and on the fourth morning we left well before dawn to

make our trek across the Sea of Cortez to the southeastern tip of the

Baja peninsua.

Mazatlan to Bahia Los Muertos is a 190 mile journey, and for us it was

largely upwind.  We motored along overnight.  Just like four months

earlier, we listened to the nutty fishermen calling each other all night long on the VHF radio.  Paying no attention to the

international regulations regarding the strict use of Channel 16 as a hailing channel only, these guys held long conversations

with each other, broadcast favorite songs, whistled at each other, yelled, and teased each other all night long.  It makes for a

strange moonless night at sea when invisible waves noisily lick the hull while crazy Mexican fishermen cat-call each other on

the radio at the top of their lungs between playing snippets of Tina Turner and Mexican mariachi music.

All night long we impatiently watched the wind gauge, waiting for the wind to slide off our nose just enough so we could sail.

The moment finally came on our second morning as the sun was rising, and we got in 7 hours of sprightly sailing.

What a joy it was, as the boat heeled over in the brilliant sparkling

morning seas, suddenly to see bright turquoise water.  Due to all

the red tide and estuary run-off this year, the ocean along the

Mexican Pacific coast had ranged from grey-green to brown to

burgundy.  I was so thrilled by the color of the water streaming by

our hull as we approached the Los Muertos anchorage that I

quickly got some photos of our cabin window submerged in the

beautiful water, even though having the window face down in the

water meant it was well past the time to reef the sails and stop

heeling so much!

Not only was the water at Los Muertos a spectacular color, but the

anchorage was calm.  We jumped in the kayak as soon as the

anchor was down.  Calm, clear, pretty water surrounded us, and

we were like two happy kids paddling around.

There were lots of dark patches in the water, and we soon

discovered these were coral heads.  What a surprise.  On the

beach there were lots of little branches of bleached coral resting in

the sand.

Los Muertos is a large bay with little development, but the waterfront

mansions are on their way.  A growing development at one end has

beautiful condos and a few fantastic homes.  The guidebook's

mention of an RV park is long outdated, as not one of the people we

met on shore had ever known of RVs coming this way.

A little more research on our part and we discovered that at

one time this area was a boondocker's paradise.  RVs would

line up right along the shore where the golf course now


Times change, but after leaving Mazatlan and making our

second Sea of Cortez crossing, Mark had no doubt about

where we were standing: Paradise.

After a few days of resting in this relaxing bay, we sailed

around the corner of the Baja peninsula into the bustling

town of La Paz.

Find Mazatlan and Los Muertos on Mexico Maps