After our difficult passage from Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas during Tropical Storm Raymond, we were looking forward to an easier trip to Banderas Bay. Banderas Bay is somewhat south of Cabo and the total trip to Punta Mita at the northwestern tip of Banderas Bay is just over 300 miles. From there it would be a short hop across the bay to Puerto Vallarta where we were to meet friends for Thanksgiving.
Banderas Bay means “Bay of Flags” from the tribal flags displayed by the natives when Cortés arrived in 1525. It’s got 65 miles of coastline and a maximum depth of about 3000 feet. On the southern edge of the bay the Sierras come very close to the coast, so from the top of the mountains to the bottom of the bay is a VERY steep incline of over 5000 feet. Quite dramatic. The opening of the bay is about 25 miles wide from Punta Mita in the north to Cabo Corrientes (Cape of Currents – well-named!) in the south and it’s about 25 miles wide. So a good-sized bay. The major marinas for cruisers are:
- Marina Riviera Nayarit (called La Cruz Marina) in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
- Marina Nuevo Vallarta in Nuevo Vallarta
- Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta
- Marina Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta
There are tons of little anchorages around the coast, and then a large anchorage just outside the La Cruz marina. La Cruz is a very popular cruiser location, boats often staying for months especially in the winter months when Baja can get a bit chilly. Banderas Bay is generally in the 80s November to May, and in the 90s in the summer.
Cabo to Puerto Vallarta
We left Cabo on a gorgeous Tuesday morning, well rested after Tropical Storm Raymond. The winds were light, but steady, eminently sail-able for the first day and a half. At night we saw huge lighting storms on the mainland horizon, but we never got squalls so I believe they were well inland, perhaps a few hundred miles away. But violent!! Quite scary to watch. Since it was a multi-day trip we stood our normal watches – Jon from midnight to five am, me from five am to noon, Jon from noon to 7pm and me from 7pm to midnight. Brizo kept us company in the cockpit on all the watches, as usual.
The nights were delightfully warm, the days a bit hot. We were glad of the “underway-awning” which I had made while still in San Francisco. It is a small flat trapezoidal awning that attaches to the two mizzen shrouds aft of the cockpit and to the dodger forward of the cockpit. It skims just under the main and avoids the traveler in front of the mizzen by having curved edges. These curved edges not only give the traveler room but also keep the awning flat and less likely to flutter.
We saw lots of dolphins but also the long back and small dorsal fin of a whale. We also saw a small orange butterfly darting a foot over the swells. Was he looking for flowers? He was 40 miles from shore. Later I saw a turtle just a few feet from the boat, kind of drifting along like a half-sunken bottle, one flipper waving vaguely in the air. One afternoon a sea lion crosses our path and looks surprised to see me. He watched us for a moment then inverted himself and waved his tail at us.
Those were the delightful examples of sea-life we saw. We also had a swarm of gannets descend on us the first night out and they overstayed their welcome for a day and a half. We had as many as seven and never fewer than three balancing on our mizzen, main, solid triatic, and, in one instance, briefly on our windex before it broke off and plummeted to the deck. The unrepentant gannet just found another place to perch. We would not have minded sharing our bit of real-estate with these travel-weary avians, but they are a cranky sphincter-less bunch. They are either shitting on us in the cockpit or snarling at each other or slashing at one another with those vicious beaks – not a happy family these feathered fiends. But they must have managed some sleep while noisily fighting because they did eventually fly off again having saved themselves 150 miles of flying or so.
More repair issues. We are definitely leaking water. Any hope I had that it was simply because of the storm is dashed, we are still leaking even in calm seas. But with the awkward help of BIG ED the pump that “will pass a pair of trousers” we remove the excess water in a few minutes several times a day. But BIG ED is about 80 pounds of manual pump with a 10-foot and a 20-foot length of 3-inch hose – not a small thing to navigate around down below, up the companionway stairs and through the cockpit. But since Jon is doing the pumping and the floor boards are still dry I will be thankful rather than cranky. Eventually.
And the second issue is our batteries which are down to 63%. After the wind drops we start the engine – but the batteries are not charging. Even the solar doesn’t seem to boost them. We are only running the radios occasionally, the navigation system and autopilot, and the LED lights. Not a huge load, but we are still dropping. We start the generator and are relieved to see them climb back up to full. So we don’t have an immediate power problem, but we clearly have a charging problem. The alternator is the obvious culprit, but we’ll have to wait for super sleuth Jon to sort it out once we get to shore.
We motor in choppy seas around Punta Mita point and into the harbor, dropping the anchor about 9:30 in the dark. This is a roadstead anchorage – just an indent in the coastline providing minimal protection but a very easy access – so we break our standard rule about not anchoring in the dark in an unknown place. We are tired and Puerto Vallarta is only 6 hours away, no sense in continuing on as that is clearly a port we won’t enter in the dark. The guidebooks had warned of a hidden rock about a mile off the point and we were a bit worried about avoiding this in the dark. But I did due diligence and plotted the location given by each of the guidebooks onto the navigation chart and superimposed the google maps satellite images of the coastline and was satisfied that they were all pretty much the same and that finally convinced Jon we had good information. I then motored in between the two quite safely. Dinner gazing at the dark shore, then bed.
Baja is dry. When we arrived in the evening at Punta Mita I could smell the difference – here was JUNGLE and humidity, at least in comparison to Baja. But not until the next morning could I see the difference. Verdant greenery – so beautiful. And on the other side of the bay behind us toward Puerto Vallarta I could just make out the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains, but we’d see those better once we crossed the bay.
It was just a few hours to Puerto Vallarta and not much wind, but a glorious day none-the-less. We had finally contacted the marina by WhatsApp, but I had been unable to reach them by VHF (we don’t have much range until we move our antenna to the masthead) or email or phone. They had room thank goodness and we pulled into M22 without an issue. I didn’t know yet that we would have a 15 minute hike to the bathrooms!
We arrived on a Friday, a full day before our friends were to fly in. However originally we were supposed to meet them for Thanksgiving in 2017 – but that was before we changed boats in San Francisco Bay! So we were either a day early or two years late, you choose.
Mexico requires that on arrival in a new town that you check in with the Port Captain. However the Port office was already closed so that would be a task for Monday. And as this was the last week of November it was also our last week to get our residence visas finalized or risk not having a valid visa! I certainly did not want to be in Mexico illegally. And Jon of course had parts to find and the charging issue and the leaking issue to fix – but all that could wait until Monday. For now our main job was to clean up the boat and start learning our way around town. And get acclimated to the heat and humidity which are fierce. And some clean laundry wouldn’t go amiss. And since we just had two weeks without alcohol … perhaps an icy margarita…
Note from Brizo, ship’s dog: They have the weirdest cats here. They walk slowly but run fast like cats but they don’t have fur. And cats never jump in the water but these slide right in as soon as I try to say hello. I think that’s rude, but dad says it’s because I scare them. I just want a good sniff so I can tell who they are.
Our next installment will cover December and January in Puerto Vallarta and La Cruz. Stay tuned!