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!
Barra de Navidad has a narrow and shallow entrance channel.
Fishermen cast nets in the lagoon.
The serenity in Barra's lagoon is a big contrast to most Pacific coast anchorages.
The French Baker makes his rounds.
Emeric delivers croissants, quiches and
baguettes right to your boat!
The Grand Bay Resort overlooks the lagoon.
"Las Sirenas" ("The Mermaids").
View across the water taxi piers.
Barra is loaded with cute little eateries.
Unlike other Mexican towns we've visited, almost all
tourists here during our stay were gringos.
How about a meal looking through the branches of an
enomous piñata decorated tree?
A 1921 sloop in the lagoon.
A restaurant's mascot macaw
blushes as I snap his photo.
Mark finds the Beatles in Mexico once again.
Many of Barra's front
doors are very ornate.
The lagoon has many
species of long legged
One of many boat-in palapa restaurants on the lagoon.
Water taxis ferry visitors all over the lagoon.
Happy Valentine's Day.
The Grand Bay Resort proudly overlooks the gritty,
quirky town of Barra.
Approaching the Grand Bay you suddenly feel a little out
of place in a bathing suit and flip flops.
Hammocks by the lagoon shore.
Overlooking the marina to the cruising boats in the
lagoon anchorage beyond.
A yacht traverses the narrow channel.
A McGregor 26 (without its mast) slides past us at a fast clip.
Dinghies scramble to save a sailboat from an unattended Offshore
48' power yacht that's suddenly on the loose.
A frustrated couple spends the day off-kilter on a
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
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
and there are
of places to
on the radio are
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
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
But living there in
the lagoon on a
boat can bring
reality back to you
in a heartbeat.
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
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!
Las Hadas Resort.
"The Fairies" ("Las Hadas").
Las Hadas Resort and the marina basin.
Manzanillo's main port is on the horizon.
Barceló Resort and Playa Salahua.
Las Hadas Resort.
Playa La Audiencia.
Las Hadas Anchorage.
Groovy hangs out by the 18th hole.
Iguana sunning on the rocks.
Monkeys at the back of a restaurant.
Whimsically pruned bushes line the waterfront.
A tribute to a bygone era of
Corn tortilla "factory."
Pineapples are tossed and loaded onto a handcart.
A wheelbarrow load of body parts goes to market.
Xilonen V, a 162' megayacht fills the marina.
The megayacht dwarfs the boats
on either side.
Fellow Hobie riders.
Ready for the brochure.
Hobies lined up on Playa La Escondida ("Hidden Beach")
A slot canyon in the ocean.
Las Hadas Anchorage, Manzanillo, Colima Mexico
Early February, 2011 - Las Hadas Resort at the northwest end of Manzanillo Bay is so
picture perfect that anyone with even the simplest camera in hand will find it easy to
take perfect pictures. We enjoyed this spot so much we couldn't stay away. For
several weeks we alternated between this breathtaking cove, embraced by the
enchanting Las Hadas resort, and the soaring openness of the expansive anchorage
over at Playa La Boquita a few miles away in Bahía Santiago. Motoring from one
anchorage to the other, we would take advantage of having the engine running both to
make fresh water and to heat the water in our hot water tank. On a few occasions we
had a blistering sail when the afternoon winds kicked up. Groovy heeled nicely while
the knot meter park itself in the mid-8's.
Las Hadas begs to be explored on foot,
and with each foray onto the cobbled
paths that climb the steep hillsides, we
found more discoveries. "Las Hadas"
means "The Fairies" (the origins of the
resort's name are explained here), and
we found two rather stern looking fairies
just beyond an underpass leading to the
resort's front door. I'm not sure if these
two gals were knighting
some obedient resort
workers or granting
three wishes to
Hiking further up the hill, the views grow ever larger, until you can
see clear across the resort, it's anchorage and the marina to the
smoke stacks of Manzanillo far across the bay. The road twists
and turns in exhilarating switchbacks that leave walkers panting
and some bus riders wishing they had worn seasickness bracelets.
Next door to Las Hadas is the Barceló Karmina Palace resort. It is
much more modern and swank, offering visitors a truly high end lap
of luxury. But its mammoth marble and glass-filled foyers and grand
open spaces lack the otherworldly prettiness, coziness and charm of
Las Hadas. As we trudged higher and higher over the hilly peaks we
paused to catch our breath and marvel at the beauty spread out
The Las Hadas
anchorage is rimmed with restaurants overlooking the
cove. One has a huge sign offering discounts to
boaters (along with their wifi password), and we
treated ourselves to an afternoon of gazing out at the
anchorage and Manzanillo's busy port across the bay.
Banana boats, water skiers and jet skis zig-zagged
among the boats, throwing white wake patterns
We discovered the source of all this action on the water was
Mexico's Constitution Day weekend. It seemed that half of the
huge inland city of Guadalajara had come to vacation on this bay.
This national holiday celebrates the signing and approval of
Mexico's constitution on February 5th, 1917 and, like the Fourth
of July, is clearly fully worthy of an afternoon of being towed at full
speed across the water followed by a raucous evening of happy
partying to loud music.
While walking the beach we
came across an iguana
sunning himself on the rocks.
Just a few weeks later we
discovered these guys can
swim, and we watched one
make its way across a
stretch of calm water, its
head bobbing up every so
often to get some air and
This is an easy climate for keeping
an exotic pet caged outdoors, and
we have seen loads of parrots,
parakeets, canaries and doves
caged outside all kinds of stores from flower shops to small groceries
to beachwear boutiques. The squawk of a macaw drew us to the back
of a restaurant we were passing, and to our surprise, in addition to the
huge colorful birds, we found three large cages filled with monkeys.
They nimbly and silently climbed up and down the cage bars and
nibbled on fruits while staring us down.
The resorts and villas around Las
Hadas and Sanitago are the most
scenic parts of Manzanillo, but we took
the bus into the more gritty downtown area for a change of pace. Manzanillo is a bustling port
with an urban heart, however whimsy and history can still be found. The road leading into
town is lined with creatively pruned bushes, and we passed bushes shaped as hearts and
anchors and dogs. A ficus tree pruned to look like a small boat caught my eye, as did the
bronze sculpture of a seaman at the helm of ship from another era. Four hundred years ago
the Spanish used ports along this southern Pacific coast of Mexico as a link for trading goods
with the orient via Manila in the Phillipines.
I have gradually come to realize that
Mexico is a true blend of indigenous
Indian and foreign Spanish heritage,
beautifully expressed by the rich dark
complexions and lively Spanish
language of the people we encounter.
At one street corner in Manzanillo I said
something to a street vendor-beggar in
my passable American accented
Spanish, and she shook her head at me with that blank look of "No hablo
español" that is so familiar on gringo faces here. There are pockets of
people throughout Mexico, especially in the southern areas, who speak
only their indigenous language, not Spanish.
Music is a universal language, however, and we found street musicians playing
wonderful tunes and rhythms on xylophone and drums.
Growing up and living in
the sanitized world of
that have been delivered
by tractor trailers on the
interstates, it is always
surprising to encounter
other methods of food
distribution. Here on the
streets of Manzanillo we
watched three people
unload a pickup truck full
of pineapples into crates on
a handcart to roll into the central
market. They tossed the
pineapples to each other with
ease. Does our food really get
thrown around like that? A little
further on, another wheelbarrow
full of what appeared to be
lambs' heads, shanks and
backbones was ready to be
rolled into the market as well.
At the far opposite end of the reality scale, a megayacht pulled into the
Las Hadas marina, dwarfing all the boats around it. Xilonen V is 162 feet
long, and when it was med-moored to its spot (tied to the docks at the
stern with a bow anchor thrown into the middle of the marina basin), the
bow of the ship was plunk in the center of the marina.
We had seen a couple float by the back of our boat on matching yellow
inflatable Hobie kayaks, just like ours, and we joined them to get a closer
look at this megayacht. Xilonen V is staffed by a captain and crew of
11 people, and three of them were busy polishing the decks when we
floated by. Of course all we could really see up close from our vantage
point was the waterline!
Lots of cruisers carry a hard-shell kayak or two on their
deck, but we haven't seen any other inflatable Hobies.
These new friends of ours have a condo in the area, and
when they bought their Hobies their neighbors all
thought they were so cool that they bought Hobies too. Now the
building's kayak rack is filled with seven bright yellow inflatable
Hobie kayaks. It looks like the final inspection and shipping
department at the Hobie factory.
We landed the kayaks on a private little beach, Playa La Escondida
("Hidden Beach") around the corner from the resort and took some
photos we thought worthy of a Hobie ad.
At one end of the little beach there is a kind of slot canyon that fills with
swishing waves as the tide rises and falls. When the water swept back to
reveal the soft sand bottom, I walked in a little ways. Suddenly a wave
roared in behind me and rushed around my legs and out the other side,
nearly knocking me off my feet.
It was finally time to venture to some new grounds, so at long last we left
Manzanillo Bay and putted 25 miles north to Barra de Navidad. More and
more cruisers had started reaching this part of the coast during their winter's
cruising in Mexico, and on that brief trip we saw five other sailboats, a record.
Find Manzanillo on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on the "Mexican Riviera" (northern Pacific coast) to see more cruising posts from this area!
Beach villas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago.
Beach palapas on Playa La Boquita, Santiago.
Casa Los Pelicanos.
Gold and black sand swirl together.
View from the Oasis.
Humback whale breaching.
Las Hadas Resort comes into view.
Cobbled waterfront paths, Las Hadas.
Soccer stars from Chivas.
Polka-dotted puffer fish.
Evening on the Las Hadas marina docks.
Agutsín and son León of Frida's
León dressed for work.
Inside Auto Zone.
Ready for Christmas.
Mark & Chebio check out the
Ismael translates for us all.
New copper stator and old burnt one.
Mark watches Chebio's quick, skilled hands.
Chebio has the worst looking but best
running car in town.
Mark and our helper/guide Ismael.
Manzanillo Bay - Santiago & Las Hadas
Mid-December, 2011 - We finally tore ourselves away from the beautiful gringo-filled
vacationland of Paradise Village in Puerto Vallarta and sailed and motored for 27 hours
around Cabo Corrientes to Manzanillo Bay on the famed Gold Coast or Costalegre. We
pulled into Santiago Bay at dawn and were greeted with the familiar thick, moisture-filled air.
Hurricane Jova had
hit this coast very
hard two months
before our arrival and
it seemed that many of the umbrellas along the beach
were new with vibrant colors.
It was a neat feeling to return to a familiar place, and memories of
our time spent here last year came flooding back over the next few
days. The tuba player that strolls this beach was still here, and my
favorite beach villa, Casa Pelicanos, was still decked out with
The sand still had its lovely gold and back swirl patterns, and the Oasis
restaurant overlooking the beach where we celebrated my birthday last
February was still pumping out the tunes and burgers like something out of
a beach vacation magazine.
The only huge difference was that we were the only boat in
the entire bay. Last year we were one of two dozen boats.
This year we could drop the hook anywhere we wanted.
We left Santiago for the quick jaunt across the bay to Las Hadas resort.
It was a quiet morning and we were puttering along under power making
water and kind of half day-dreaming when an enormous splash jolted us
both to our feet. "Did you see that?" We said in unison, wide-eyed. We
both grabbed binoculars and scanned the sea when a humpback whale
suddenly burst out of the water and fell back with a crash.
He was right between us
and the shore, and he was
having a whale of a time,
shooting up in the air like a
rocket and then falling onto
After a series of breaches he started doing
headstands, waving his tail and slapping it on the
water ferociously. These guys are huge
creatures, and that tail has some power. We
wondered if he was just having a little fun playing
in the morning hours or if he was communicating
something to a buddy or perhaps to us.
I have no idea, but after a
while he disappeared and the
gorgeous Las Hadas Resort came into view around the corner. Again
the memories from last year came flooding back and we anchored and
took the kayak ashore feeling like we were coming home.
You can't go home again, though, and both the port captain
Adrien and the fuel dock operator Polo that we had
befriended last year had moved on to other jobs. Las Hadas
Resort is in transition, searching for new management, and it
was very quiet. Just six boats were in the beautiful little
anchorage, and two of those were unoccupied.
Wandering the brick paths up and down
and around Las Hadas is a joy, and we
spent a few hours strolling around the
grounds and enjoying the lovely pool.
We were treated to the presence of two major soccer teams in
residence during our stay. The boys from the Guadalajara based
Atlas and Chivas teams jogged the paths, did exercises on the
beach, and performed soccer drills on a field at the edge of the
golf course. Best of all was when they ambled around shirtless
after their workouts. Fox Sports was hanging around too, setting
up their portable cameras to catch glimpses of these celebrities
during their pre-season training.
We never saw the boys swimming, but down by the dinghy dock
the water was so clear that we watched a polka-dotted puffer fish
swimming around. It was amazing to get a clear photo of him
from above the water without even needing an underwater
The dock along the Las Hadas marina has several pretty outdoor eateries, ranging from a
simple table and chairs outside a convenience store where the locals enjoy a cheap beer
after work to the more elaborate fine dining offered by a high end Italian restaurant. At
either end of the spectrum, this is a gorgeous place to while away the late afternoon and
early evening hours.
One of the highlights for us here
last year was meeting the new
owner of Frida's Restaurant whose
family makes the best hot sauce
we have ever tasted. Frida Kahlo
was a surrealist Mexican artist of
German descent whose self-
imposted solitude spawned
endless self-portraits. This
restaurant was named for her
before new owner Agustín took
over last year. One of her famous
quotes is on the wall: "I intended
to drown my sorrows but the
bastards learned to swim."
On lucky days patrons of Frida's are treated to the unmatched
service offered by Agustín's six-year-old son León. This little boy
takes his work extremely seriously. Although dad Agustín prefers
more casual attire, son León likes to come to work in a freshly
pressed white shirt, a jacket and tie. Much to his dad's surprise,
he even sports a little cologne. School was out for the holidays, so we were
fortunate to see this unique youngster once again.
Little León is extremely professional and takes his patrons' orders and delivers their
food with pride and care. Last year one of the waiters started chatting with us in a
very familiar way while we were eating, and little León wasn't happy with this casual
closeness and even said so to his dad. In his mind guests are guests and servers
are servers. We all got a huge (muffled) laugh about this. León is a rare, sweet
and special boy.
Agustín's aunt and uncle make La Tía hot sauce, a delicious hot sauce that is made
without vinegar, giving it a special flare. It can be found at the mercado in neighboring
Santiago, but Agustín was kind enough to bring a few extra bottles with him one night so
we could buy them.
We spent a few more days at Las Hadas, soaking up its unusual and creative air. Finally
we were ready to leave, and at 5:00 a.m. one morning we pulled out in the dark to head to Zihuatanejo Bay 185
miles to the southeast. Four miles out the low battery light came on and we smelled a horrific smell of
something burning in the engine compartment. We stopped dead in our tracks and began troubleshooting.
Flashlights, ammeter and noses on full alert, we realized this was a bigger problem than could be solved while
bobbing out in the bay between the freighters, and we turned around.
We have never had a boat problem that crippled our ability to travel, and we didn't dare think
about how this crisis would unfold. Mark quickly removed the alternator and we took off with it in
the kayak to the dinghy dock and grabbed a cab to the nearest Auto Zone to have it tested.
Unfortunately the computers at Auto Zone were down and it took a long time for the store
manager to rifle through all the alternators on the shelf to find one with the same connections as
ours so he could enter the right codes on the testing machine to test it.
While we were waiting a fellow in line at the register introduced himself as Ismael and said he
knew an alternator guru in Cihuatlán, about an hour away by car. Ismael told us he knew of this
guy because he owned a bus line with Mercedes diesel buses and he always had this guy fix his
alternators and work on his bus engines. Once our alternator test was finally completed and the
screen showed large red letters saying "Falló" ("Failed") we hopped in Ismael's truck and drove
off to Cihuatlán with him.
On our way there we drove along a
five mile section of highway that had
been underwater when the rivers flooded during
Hurricane Jova. Ismael had gone fishing the day
after the storm and the ocean was filled with cattle
and farm animals that had been swept away out of
the grazing fields. Over 1,000 cattle were lost. The
locals are working hard to recover. The banana
trees were trimmed back right after the storm and
now were in full leaf and very healthy. The vast
stands of palm trees were also fine. But there were
marks on the buildings in downtown Cihuatlán of
where the water had risen to about 7'.
Now, however, Cihuatlán was getting ready for
Christmas, and the decorations gave it a festive air.
At last we arrived at the master's shop. Chebio has been rebuilding alternators
and working on car electrical systems for his entire life, initially under the
tutelage of his very skilled father who opened the shop over fifty years ago.
The shop is largely outdoors and strewn with dusty parts like a junk yard. Along
with the busy hum of machinery and hard working mechanics, a rooster
punctuated the air with his cock-a-doodle-doos from the roof
of a car and in a nearby tree.
As soon as we met Chebio we knew were in the presence of a
highly skilled mechanic. He moved with the confidence and
ease of a master, despite near constant interruptions from
customers and mechanics looking for his expertise.
Throughout all this seeming chaos
his elderly father sat back and
watched the scene, collecting
money from clients and enjoying
the hubbub of his very successful
shop. The young mechanics called
Chebio "Maestro" meaning
"Master" or "Teacher."
I did my best to explain our
problems to Chebio in Spanish, but
our guide Ismael jumped in to act
as official translator to make sure nothing was lost in the translation.
Chebio explained to us that he needed to take the alternator apart
and then see if he had or could acquire the replacement parts to
make it work. "Give me 30 minutes," he said, so we took off for lunch
at nearby "Tacos Johny," a wonderful little restaurant. Between bites of awesome 8 peso ($0.60)
carne asada tacos, we listened to the crooning of a young boy standing on a chair and then heard
our guide Ismael's amazing life story.
He became the man of his family at age 3 when his
father left. Determined to make a better life, he
ventured to Nogales at age 14, knowing no English,
and worked in a restaurant without pay until the
owners saw what a great job he did and put him on
the payroll. Continuing this method of making
himself invaluable before trying to reap any
rewards, he ultimately became the owner of a very
profitable framing company, opened three
successful Mexican restaurants and owned homes
in Montana and Colorado Springs. A century ago
his tale would have been hailed as the ultimate
American immigrant success story, and he would
have been revered as a mentor by younger
Instead, after over 20 years in the US, rather than try to jump the high hurdles
blocking his path to remain there--where in all likelihood he would have continued
building companies and creating American jobs--he returned to Mexico with a fortune in cash with which he
bought a slew of rental properties in the towns around his family homestead and built a local bus line from
His story was inspiring and sad at the same time. Somewhere along the line America has decided it doesn't
need the immigrants that have always made up the very foundation, heart and soul of its society. From north
of the border it is too easy to assume all Mexicans want to flee Mexico, but as we sat in this classic Mexican
semi-outdoor eatery that exudes the most wonderful homeyness, friendliness and familiarity, I asked him if he
had ever been homesick while living in the US. "All my life," he said quietly. Caught between two countries,
he still owns houses in the US, and his American wife, who was afraid of life in Mexico, lives in Montana.
We returned to Chebio's shop to find that by some miracle he had the stator we needed in stock. It was a
perfect fit and was his only one. However, the alternator needed a new regulator too, and that required a trip elsewhere.
Chebio took off in his trusty car that appears to be falling apart but has the best running engine in town. He returned half an
hour later with the necessary regulator. Another hour or two of work, during which time he had to explain to quite a few
customers that their projects would be delayed because of ours, and he got the alternator back together again and fully tested.
It was a great scene. The rooster crowed, Chebio's dad sat back with a
satisfied smile watching his son at work, and a cluster of younger men gathered
around to soak up whatever bits of wisdom they could from the master. The
outdoor shop and tools were rudimentary at best, but the job was very well
done. Chebio used a kitchen knife and a light bulb, among other things, to
complete his alternator tests.
When all was said and done, he charged us 750
pesos ($53) for the project, of which 550 pesos
($42) was for parts. We were stunned. This
meant he valued four hours of his time on a Saturday at just $11 total. We paid him a lot more
than he asked, and he was as thrilled with our payment as we were with his work. It took two
cab rides and a bus ride to get back to Las Hadas. Topping off our colorful day, the bus stalled
on a hill and, to cheers from its occupants, the driver finally got it started again by popping the
clutch while sliding backwards downhill. Mark installed the alternator in no time, and it worked
perfectly. Next morning at 5:00 a.m. we were off on our 27 hour motorboat ride to Zihuatanejo.
Often in this strange life of cruising and
full-time travel we place ourselves in the
hands of fate without any idea how
things will turn out. We had woken up
this morning prepared for an overnight
sail to Z-town and instead were rewarded with one of the most amazing
experiences we have had to date. The seeming disaster of a dead
alternator put us shoulder to shoulder with two of the finest and most
generous men we have met: our guide Ismael and guru-mechanic
Chebio of Cihuatlán.
A sea turtle drifts by.
Mom enjoys a brilliant sail.
Villas on Playa La Boquita in Santiago Bay.
Playa La Boquita.
Black and brown patterned sand yields gold in bright sunlight.
Looking out at the anchorage.
A tuba player could be heard
every afternoon throughout
Umbrellas line the shores of the estuary.
A footbridge crossed to Las Palmas resort.
Manicured lawns bring a special kind of serenity.
Canoes wait for passengers.
A panga in the mangroves.
81 is the new 18.
Mark talks "bike shop" with the locals.
The Santiago Flea Market offers tourist souvenirs.
Horseback riding on the beach.
A frigate bird takes a close
look at us.
The Oasis gave me a perfect birthday moment.
La Boquita Anchorage in Santiago, Colima, Mexico
Late January, 2011 - We left Zihuatanejo and took our time returning north to Manzanillo.
This 200 mile stretch of coastline is very remote, and for four days of motoring and three
nights at anchor we saw only a handful of boats: tankers on the horizon by day and fellow
cruisers tucked in beside us by night. As the guidebooks warn, the three anchorages along
here are very rolly, as they are open to the full brunt of the Pacific Ocean's waves coming to
shore from thousands of miles out. Despite our best efforts to keep the bow of the boat into
the waves by setting a stern anchor in addition to our bow anchor, we found that the
crosswinds on the beam of the boat were so powerful overnight that our anchoring gear
strained and groaned in too much discomfort to make it worthwhile.
Heaving a big sigh, we let the boat swing freely each
night and, as expected, it chose to angle itself
beam-to against the swell, setting up a terrific side-
to-side roll that kept us rolling in our bunk all night.
One by one we found the various round and
cylindrical items throughout the boat that rolled back
and forth with a thud or clank on each side. A
canister in a locker here, a beer can in the fridge
there, a broom handle over there. Quieting
these relentless noises made for a lot of
detective work in the wee hours of the night.
The up-side of all this sleeplessness,
however, was that we were awake before
dawn each day, and we saw some stunning
Mexico's wind gods like to play with cruising
sailors, and they offer little but whispering
zephyrs each day along this coast. At night
they howl ferociously, however. Hour after hour
they shake the rigging like prisoners rattling their cell bars. But at the first hint of sunlight
everything stops. Just like that. Acting like guilty children, as if nothing happened, they offer
the merest exhales once again, laughing silently as we curse yet another day of motoring.
Preferring to travel in daylight, we motored pretty much the entire way. We were frustrated to
be cruising in a built-to-sail motorboat. Again, however, there was a silver lining. This coast
is loaded with turtles, and the calm seas gave us a chance to get a really good look at a few
as they drifted past our hull.
Ever the adventurer, my mom had been eagerly awaiting a chance escape the steady
procession of New England blizzards to try the cruising lifestyle on her daughter's boat. We
swept her up in Manzanillo and took a sail to neighboring Santiago bay. To our amazement,
the capricious winds blew perfectly that afternoon, and we had a glorious romp across the
wide bay. Manzanillo's expansive bay is perfect for daysailing, and we took full advantage.
Once the anchor was down around the corner off Playa La Boquita in
Santiago Bay, we took the dinghy ashore to check out the beach. The
beach is almost four miles long, and is quite wide, fairly flat and stroked
endlessly by large, fluffy waves. About a third of the beach is lined by
beautiful villas that belong to the huge gated community Club Santiago.
Each home is more lovely than the last, and the cruisers gaze at
the large flower filled balconies and picture windows with as
much admiration (and possibly envy) as the vacationers do
looking out at the yachts swinging in the bay.
The beach is filled with a
mixture of brown and black
sand that makes fantastic
patterns as the waves wash
in and out. From certain
angles the sand glittered
brilliant gold too, making it
seem as though a little bit of
panning might help out the
cruising kitty. Our eyes
were cast down at the
patterns at our feet as
much as they scanned the
colorful views around us.
From the boat we had
heard the oom-pah of a
tuba, and once ashore
we had to go find the
source. It didn't take
long. A tuba player and
his little band were
walking up and down
the line of umbrellas at
the public access end of
the beach, offering
songs to anyone willing to part with
a few pesos.
At the furthest west end of the
beach we discovered a little estuary,
and we followed it slightly inland. A
small bridge took us
over the water, where
a beautiful resort, Las
Palmas, was waiting
on the other side.
lawns and shrubbery
offered a feeling of
utter peace and
tranquility. We could
coming here to escape
the responsibilities of a
stressed life. The only
sounds were birds
chirping in the trees;
the rustle of the palm
leaves were like a
chorus of librarians whispering "shhh."
Even the pound of the surf and
excitement of the rugged sandy beach
just over the little footbridge seemed a
Canoes were ready for guests by the
shore, and a panga that could host a
guided tour was hidden in the
Spirits sky high, we returned to the boat
where we found, to our utter shock, the
water was crystal clear. Our
guidebooks have lauded the crystalline waters of many anchorages throughout our stay on
the Pacific coast of Mexico, but this year those waters have eluded us. Wave after wave of
burgundy, yellow and forest green colored "red tide" has filled every bay, cove and even
the open ocean, making it impossible to see more than a few feet into the water. Suddenly
being able to see clearly 20 feet below the boat had us all jumping into our swimsuits in
one motion. Mark was over the side with a woosh, and mom was right behind. What a role
model she is, announcing "81 is the new 18" and taking to the water like a 10-
year-old. The aqua-cize classes have paid off in spades, and she demonstrated
her moves, making light of the very strong current that threatened to whisk us all
away from the boat if we weren't careful.
On another day we wandered into Santiago itself where a large enclosed public
market offers everything from fresh produce to sweet smelling straw baskets to
freshly filleted fish. The streets around the market are filled with little shops, and
Mark found friends at the local bike shop, trying in his best Spanish to explain that
he used to have a bike shop in his garage too.
Every Saturday the town hosts a large flea market. This turned out
to be more of a tourist-oriented enterprise than we expected, but it
was fun to wander among all the brightly painted ceramics and
beautifully carved wood pieces. Pale sunburned gringos lined up on
one side of the flea market to find souvenirs for loved ones at home
while a few locals roamed on the other side, sifting through the
bargain clothing offerings to find more practical fare.
Taking the dinghy along La
Boquita beach, we saw groups
of horseback riders along the
water's edge. Following their
tracks in the sand later it
seemed they paralleled the
weaving water line perfectly,
never getting their hooves wet.
At one end of the anchorage lies San Luciano a 300'
long steel cargo ship that sank in a 1959 hurricane.
What remains is just a skeleton, but the birds love the
remnants of the masts that stick up above the waves.
We have watched frigate birds soaring high over our
boat, masters of the sky, and at times of the smaller
birds nearby. Now we had a chance to see the face of
one up close.
Back on the beach on my birthday, we asked both fellow
cruisers and land dwellers where a good spot would be to
celebrate turning 51. Everyone pointed to The Oasis, and
we spent a lovely afternoon perched on their balcony looking
out over the pounding surf.
To one side of the view, the boats in the anchorage stood
out in brilliant white relief against the towering dark mountain
behind them. On the other side we could see the little white
villas on the backside of Las Hadas resort. It was a perfect
birthday moment, and I couldn't help myself as I said to
Mark, "It's like we're living in the pages of some glossy
magazine called Perfect Vacation Hideaways." With that in
mind, we decided we would stay in the Manzanillo area a
Find Santiago (Manzanillo) on Mexico Maps
Visit Anchorages on the "Mexican Riviera" (northern Pacific coast) to see more cruising posts from this area!
Beach chairs lined up at Las Hadas Resort.
Overlooking the anchorage from Las Hadas.
The anchorage forms a backdrop for the pool.
The beach where Bo Derek
memorably ran in slow motion.
Groovy with beach and palms.
Moorish architecture with gargoyles.
The arch at the main entrance.
A rock wall of arches.
Hibiscus flowers in a stairwell.
The laundromat were a single
load of washing and 28 minute
dry cycle will set you back
The stunning royal blue pool.
The anchorage at dawn.
A tiny travel trailer tucked between the boat trailers.
Another view of Groovy.
El Velero (sailboat) sculpture.
Downtown Manzanillo harbor.
Sailfish sculpture, locally
nicknamed "the shrimp."
Festive pinatas are strung between
buildings for Christmas.
Our propane bottle will be filled at last.
Beach and anchorage at Las Hadas.
Villas next to Las Hadas.
Obtaining diesel requires a little effort.
Las Hadas Resort, Manzanillo, Mexico (2)
Early December, 2010 - We were so enchanted by our beautiful
surroundings at Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo that we barely
noticed the days drifting into each other. Ten days disappeared in
the blink of an eye.
The resort is a photographer's paradise, and I couldn't stop
the camera from clicking each time we took a walk around the
grounds. "Don't you have a picture of that already?" Mark
would ask me. "Yes, but it's so beautiful I can't help it!"
For one thing, proud boat owners
that we are, Groovy kept
sneaking into a lot of the shots.
There are arches
of all kinds
some of the turrets
are decorated with
up the sides.
The resort is built
on many levels,
and it is easy to
get happily lost.
One day we
came across a rock wall
of arches with a rock
stairway going down to
the footpath below.
Las Hadas Resort is
Fresh hibiscus flowers
decorated many nooks
It is a relaxing and
charming fantasy land
where the workaday
world quickly vanishes.
We had certain chores to attend to, however, which
kept us tethered to reality in between lazy afternoons
spent in the pool. Day by day we ticked our items off
the list. The first and most critical chore was to tidy
up the boat. A month of passage making had buried
certain key living spaces in the cabin. How nice it
was, after a few hours of digging and stowing, to get
our v-berth back.
Next was to do the mountain of laundry that had
piled up. Long pants, long sleeved shirts,
sweatshirts, and fleece jackets were all begging to be
stored away in some deep locker somewhere.
All those clothes filled three large laundry bags to overflowing. Doing laundry on a boat at
anchor is not always so easy, however. I had done some smaller items by hand, but leaving
them out on the clothesline until they dried resulted in clothes that smelled like salt air. That
would never work for the long term storage of all our winter clothing.
The resort has a "lavenderia" (laundromat) on the premises, with (cold water only)
washers and dryers that looked like they could do the job. However, a single wash load
cost 60 pesos (about $5.25), as did a single load in the dryer. Not letting ourselves get
discouraged, we tossed the three huge bags of clothes as well as our detergent and
softener into the dinghy and motored ashore. Heaving them onto the dock and lugging
them up to the laundromat, we were grateful it wasn't too long a walk.
It was only when we stuffed the machines to the gills
that we realized we really had about five loads of
laundry. Re-stuffing them into three loads, we
returned to the little store several times to buy yet
more 60 peso tokens for the machines, as we soon
discovered the dryers ran for just 28 minutes. Some
420 pesos later (about $37), our clothes were
marginally clean and ready to be stored away.
Later we learned that there is a Lavenderia just two
miles from the resort where for half that cost we could
have had our laundry washed and folded for us.
However, it is still not so simple, as the cab ride is a
few dollars, and you would need to make two trips,
one to drop off the clothes and another to pick them
up. The bus might have been an option, but those
were really big bags... Bottom line: "sail naked"
started to sound like a really good idea.
It was while cooling off in the pool and pondering
how many beachside beers that laundry could have
gotten us (about 37), that I got talking with another
tourist who was enjoying the pool with his family.
We compared notes on how we ended up in the
same pool, having both come here from San Diego.
It turned out he had traveled here on a cruise ship
that was currently parked across the bay in
downtown Manzanillo. When the
ship arrived in port for the day, he
got off with his family and hailed a
cab, asking to be taken to a
beautiful resort with a pool and a
beach for the kids. For $40 the
resort gave them access to all the
amenities, letting them put the
entrance fee money
towards drinks and
food as well.
He was amazed that
we had sailed to this
resort on our own little
boat, but I was
that he managed to
ferret out this idyllic
location on his own
when Carnival Cruise
Lines anchored for
just a few hours.
"You're living the life,"
he said with a big smile. "Yes, but there's another side to cruising..." I
said, telling him our laundry story. He nodded and laughed, but then
dropped a beautiful pearl of wisdom: "That's just the price you paid to be
able to enjoy this pool this afternoon."
He is so right. The scary overnight sailing, the challenges of
taking care of basic necessities while living at anchor, the
discomforts of living in a small home that bounces around on
the waves, those are the price of limitless idyllic days living
anchored next to an exquisite resort.
We had more of those
small prices to pay as
we marched down our
"to do" list. Getting one
of our propane tanks
filled was on the
agenda, but as we
asked around the resort and marina, it seemed like a task that would have to wait for
another port. Propane is not easy to find in Manzanillo.
We had noticed a tiny travel trailer parked among the boat trailers at the marina, but
weren't sure whether it was occupied or simply in storage. When a couple came up to
our boat in an inflatable dinghy and said they weren't from a boat but were from a
trailer, we got our answer. He was Cuban and she was Mexican, and they had
traveled all over Mexico and the US for months at a time in their 13' travel trailer.
He knew something of boats,
having rowed a raft for four
days from Cuba to Key West in
the 1970's. He and four friends had trained for six months to be
physically ready for the trip, running, swimming and conditioning their
bodies to survive in the harsh tropical marine environment without
drinking water. They rowed their raft, made largely of truck inner
tubes, for four sleepless days and nights, keeping a bearing of 5
degrees until they reached Florida.
Tragically, they lost a good friend to the sea when a storm
struck, and that sad memory has never faded. The survivors
thrived, however, and our new friend lived the American dream
to the fullest, building up a construction business to a size
where he could sell it and retire at age 42. His RV for winter
travel in Mexico is perfect for rough, small roads and for tucking
inconspicuously out of the way overnight. Speaking perfect
Spanish, even with a Cuban accent which gets him labeled as a
Gringo, makes his travels here so much easier.
They needed propane for their trailer too, so we were soon off on an adventure
to fill our tanks. It turned out that the only place to get propane in Manzanillo
was beyond the downtown port in an industrial area, an hour's drive through city
traffic from Las Hadas. It became an all day project, but gave us a chance to
see another side of Manzanillo.
The city is proud of its maritime roots, and we passed a sculpture called
"El Velero" ("Sailboat").
The heart of the waterfront
downtown is a large harbor
filled with pangas and
sport fishing boats. There
is a big park and malecón
(boardwalk) lined with
white painted wrought iron
benches. At the center stood a huge
blue sculpture of a sailfish. The Port
Captain later told us that the locals have
nicknamed the sculpture "The Shrimp"
because they think it resembles a
shrimp more than a sailfish.
Christmas decorations and festivities had
already started, and as we drove through the
tiny streets of the neighborhoods in the "old
town" area, we saw rows of piñata strung up
between the homes.
Finally we arrived at Global Gas, where for about 38
pesos ($3.30) we got our 2.5 gallon tank filled. Thank
goodness for our friends being willing to drive us there,
as the cab fare would have been 250 pesos ($22)
Getting 30 gallons of diesel was the final big project on our "to do" list,
and is something you'd think would be easy at a marina with a fuel
dock. Not so. The fuel dock is just 60' long, requiring big boats to
back into the dock and drop an anchor off the bow to keep the boat
perpendicular to it. Large rocks clearly visible under the water around
the dock add a white knuckle element to the process. We thought
long and hard about this maneuver and decided in the end to borrow a
boating friend's jerry jugs and make three dinghy trips back and forth to the fuel dock
Pouring diesel from a 50 lb. can into a 1-inch hole under the jump seat while the boat
pitches and rolls in the wake of crazy water skiers is a delicate process. Fortunately,
our friend had a very cool siphoning device for use with the jerry jugs that slurped the
diesel out of the can and into the tanks. In no time the project was done, and Groovy
was ready to take us to new places.
Christmas. We had planned to make Manzanillo our
southernmost turnaround point. However, the wonderful
tales of fun and frolics in Zihuatanejo that we heard
from all the experienced Mexican cruisers around us
eventually persuaded us to make the trek another 180
miles south to "Z-town" before venturing north.
On our way, we stopped at gorgeous Ixtapa Island ("Isla Ixtapa").
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A paceline of birds commutes home.
Three little musketeers alight on our lifelines.
Las Hadas Resort.
A picture perfect anchorage.
Moorish style whitewashed buildings give the area a
Beach chairs lined up at the resort.
The resort's pools are all royal blue.
Mark plays Dudley Moore...
...and Brian Keith.
A newspaper article featuring nude
shots of Bo Derek is discreetly placed
behind a wide column.
Bo's room --
should we knock?
The resort is a castle worthy of
There was a band playing in this thatch roofed,
open air dance hall 24/7.
Groovy sits among flowers.
Cobblestone streets and paths run all
through the resort.
The anchorage off Las Hadas Resort.
The resort features a world class golf course.
A banyan tree spreads its roots wide.
Live Christmas trees for sale at the
supermarket bring memories of the north.
The Chivas team car.
This soccer star has
the cutest smile, but
he got dead serious
as soon as the
camera came out.
A snowy egret with impossibly
bright yellow feet.
Las Hadas Resort, Manzanillo, Mexico (1)
Early December, 2010 - We left Bahía Chamela for an
easy daysail south. There was no wind, so we motored
all 55 miles. As we took our final turn towards our
anchorage in Manzanillo, throngs of birds flew past in
small lines, like cyclists in pacelines, evenly spaced as
they coasted on the wind currents. They seemed to be
commuting home to a large outlying rock island after a
day of foraging on the mainland.
Once we dropped our anchor, another trio of little birds landed
on our lifelines to greet us and check us in.
Our charming hosts were the perfect introduction to the
delights in store for us in Manzanillo. We were anchored in a
small cove next to the stunning Las Hadas Resort.
Plying these same waters in the 1500's, Spanish sailors thought
they saw fairies dancing in the flat calm water by the light of the
harvest full moon in autumn. Four hundred years later, the
Bolivian billionaire tin baron Don Antenor Patiño was searching
the world for the perfect locale for his personal hideaway, and he
found just the right spot overlooking a cove at the northern end
of the industrial port of Manzanillo.
He hired the famous Spanish architect José Luis Ezquerra to design
a unique, fairytale castle-like resort, complete with turrets and
towers worthy of Rapunzel. What emerged from the drawing board
onto the hills surrounding this small cove is a fanciful collection of
Moorish style buildings that cascade in a tumble of whitewashed
spires, arches and balconies down to the water's edge.
Patiño named the resort "Las Hadas" or "The Fairies." Under
construction for ten years, in March 1974, he finally flung the
doors open wide to the wealthiest of the world, throwing a huge
party for 300 jet-setting guests.
Since the days of the Spanish explorers, scientists have thought It's
possible that the optical illusion of fairies dancing on the water by
moonlight was actually the bright blue sparkles of bioluminescence.
These miniscule firefly-like creatures of the sea emit light when
disturbed, for instance by an oar or by waves slapping the hull. We
have found that they are so bright here they linger near our boat
until well after dawn, looking very much like quarter-inch sized royal blue glitter.
As we took in the picturesque views around us with eager eyes, we
found ourselves shedding the last of our layers. Finally we were
going to start living in bathing suits, which is what we had intended
when we first bought Groovy eleven months ago. "THIS is why we
went cruising," we said to each other happily.
The movie "10" was filmed at this resort in 1979. The area hadn't
been known to many besides Mexican vacationers until that point,
but Bo Derek and her beaded hair quickly put this place on the
international map. Now Las Hadas and other resorts on the bay
attract visitors from all over the world.
Cruisers anchored off the resort are allowed to enjoy all the resort's
amenities. We launched the kayak as fast as we could, our fingers
fumbling the lines in our excitement to get going. The royal blue
swimming pools beckoned, and it wasn't long before we dove in.
Our first night in the anchorage we found "10" in our DVD collection
and watched it once again. What a hoot to see shots filmed in
places we had just been that day. A very drunken Dudley Moore
struggles to get across the rope bridge that spans the pool, and the
next day Mark goofed around swinging from side to side on it, doing
Dudley Moore impressions.
"Another double, Don," Dudley slurs to Brian Keith, the bartender,
joking that it will be hard to say that phrase later in the evening.
Mark snuck behind the bar (which is not quite the same as it was in
the movie) to offer up double brandies.
Bo Derek was the big star, of
course, rating an "11" from Dudley's character when he was asked what he thought of
her on a scale of one to ten. Mark hunted all over the resort to find her. Apparently she
had visited a few years back during the 30th anniversary of the film, and she was still
very lovely, even at 50-something. We found a local newspaper article about her in a
one-room museum about the resort's history. Who knew that she posed nude? Of
course, the framed clipping is hung behind a large column, so it is tricky to get an up-
close look at it -- or perhaps it is concealed behind the column so you can take your
time to read the whole article (in Spanish) without anyone noticing just how long you've
been standing there.
The concierge told us the suite where Bo and Dudley
tried to make sparks fly (to the strains of Ravel's Bolero,
restarted several times so she could get her timing just
right), was #420. We hunted up and down the steep
cobbled pathways and finally found her door.
The movie is just a tiny hat-trick in this resort's
sweeping aura of magic, however. Perched at crazy
angles and on many levels up the sharp sides of a hill,
each room, doorway, patio and turret enjoys
spectacular views of the beach and bay below.
We took a bus into town and returned on
foot, traversing the crazy vertical streets
through this resort and others twice. The
whole area is a photographer's dream,
and as we walked back I stopped
repeatedly to take photos while Mark
The cobblestone streets crawl straight up and plunge straight
down, twisting around impossible corners. Bouncing along in
a half-length schoolbus, we felt like we were in the Caribbean
again. The windows brushed the thick tree growth on the
sides of the roads and the vast blue views of the bay teased
us between tree limbs and cobblestone walls.
Once on foot and looking down at the road, we
noticed the streets have smooth stones spaced for
car tires and rougher stones in between, giving
them a striped appearance.
Las Hadas Resort has been rated one of the top 100 golf courses
in the world, and as you descend the backside of the hill towards
town, the vivid green, palm tree studded course comes into view.
We don't play, but if we did this looks like it would be a
Manzanillo is at a latitude similar to Hawaii's (a little south,
actually) and enjoys tropical vegetation. How strange to see
30 foot rubber trees, ficus trees and other houseplants that
we have struggled at times to grow in pots. What a surprise
to find what looked like a banyan tree, with exposed roots
sprawled twenty feet wide and hanging straight down from the tree limbs.
In town we discovered trees of another sort. Christmas just isn't
complete without a live spruce tree, I guess, whether you live in a
snowbound climate or not. And sure enough, the supermarket
had a large display of live Christmas trees for sale. We buried our
noses in them for a moment, letting their scent take us two
thousand miles north.
As the days passed, we discovered we were sharing the resort
with the members of a professional sports team. At a distance,
we had seen groups of young men jogging, walking and relaxing
in matching red sports shirts. Then we came across the team car.
The words "cycling team" on the side got us all excited, but when we cornered a team member we
discovered that the team owners have teams in many sports, not just cycling. The team in residence
at the resort was Guadalajara's Chivas Soccer Team. They were staying for a month of pre-season
training. In subsequent days we got a big kick out of watching them doing sit-ups on the beach,
running the steep roads around the resort, and filling a long line of lounge chairs at the pool.
There were others in residence in the bay as well. An egret hung
out every day on the rocks, walking along the shore with sure-
footed bright yellow feet.
More dramatic was the school of rays that came in for a while. We
had seen these rays from a long way off between Bahia Santa
Maria and Magdalena Bay as we sailed down the south end of the
Baja coast. We had been mesmerized by their repeated leaps out
of the water in seeming frenzied ebullience.
This school came in pretty close to the Las Hadas anchorage day after day, swimming
freely between the boats. First a patch of churning water would appear, with a hundred
pointed fins stirring the surface from below. Then all of a sudden the water would erupt
with jumping rays. They would fling themselves into the air, executing front flips, back flips
and belly smacks. Apparently not all that much is known about why the rays do this,
however we sure had fun watching their antics.
Their almost daily show, the tranquil,
picturesque anchorage, and the beautiful resort
just a quick dinghy ride away kept us in
Manzanillo for well over a week.
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Bougainvillea and coconut palms in
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 is lined with beach villas tucked behind the palms.
Lots of palapa restaurants hug the north end of the bay.
The beach was littered with pangas.
Chamela Bay offers a very long beach for strolling.
Punta Perula Trailer Park
Beachfront sites stand vacant.
No one bothered this fellow boondocking next to the park.
Romping in the waves.
Groovy waits patiently for our return.
A sand piper takes wing.
Restaurant Las Gueras on the beach.
Fishermen unload their catch...
...then tow their panga high up on the beach.
A boatload of kids calls out "Good Morning" to us visiting boaters.
A Christmas crèche is set up under a tree
in the town center.
The town's band stand.
Fresh produce was available at many small markets.
A girl hitches a ride from Mom.
We grab a bite at La
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 we
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.
were already underway,
and a nativity crêche was
set up under a tree in the
A bandstand looked ready
for an outdoor concert,
surrounded by attractive
plantings, green grass and park
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.
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