Costalegre: Tenacatita – Not Heavenly for Cruisers Any More

Cuastecomate, the

Cuastecomate, the "Secret Anchorage."

A Mexican Navy ship approaches.

A tender of Mexican Navy men circles Groovy.

s/v Groovy gets boarded by the Mexican Navy in Tenacatita.

The Mexican Navy boards Groovy.

sv Groovy gets boarded by the Mexican Navy in Tenacatita.

It was a routine and courteous inspection.

Red tide in Tenacatita, Mexico

Red tide surrounds us as we motor into Tenacatita.

Red tide in Tenacatita, Mexico

Red tide fills the anchorage.

jellyfish in Tenacatita, Mexico

A carpet of jelly fish surrounds us.

The Blue Bay Resort is the only resort at this end of the bay.

Chippy the dolphin, Tenacatita, Mexico

Chippy the dolphin.

Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico

Beginning of the "Jungle Tour."

Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico

The mangroves quickly close in.

Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico

Thick jungle brush reflects in the

glassy water.

Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico

Our friends are the only other river tourists.

Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico

The old dinghy landing at the end of the jungle tour.

Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico Jungle dinghy tour, Tenacatita, Mexico

"Luffin It" is pushed into the anchorage

after a whale strike.

Provisioning at La Manzanilla, Mexico

La Manzanilla is a cute small town.

Provisioning at La Manzanilla, Mexico

Lots of little grocery stores have all the

provisions you need.

Provisioning at La Manzanilla, Mexico

Loaded down with


Ahh... so much easier to have a local panga run your errands for you.

Dinghy raft-up, Tenacatita, Mexico

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

cruising boat.

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

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