La Paz lies behind an inlet and a large sandbank. Boats anchored in the bay are protected from swell unless it travels exactly the direction of the channel. The channel also funnels the tides and current, which makes the boats swing at anchor and not, how it usually is, the wind. La Paz is the only place where, while at anchor, the wind comes sidewise into the cockpit kind of like in marinas. The boats move with the current at their own pace dependent on the shape and resistance of their keel. I spent an hour sitting on the bow hatch watching the boats move around us and trying to make sense of it. It’s called ‘The La Paz Walz’ and every boat dances to it’s own music. We made sure to anchor far away from any boat with a 360° swing radius and checked the anchor every two days or so.
Somebody on the morning cruisers net had announced that there was a storm coming in and that the harbor would close. That meant that we would be stuck on the boat until the storm passed and we wanted to hang out in La Paz, so we went into a marina for the next week.
On our budget, marina visits are costly and double our daily allowance, which means we stuff boat maintenance and projects and laundry in, and visit to the town. That is always a big rush and very different from the more leisurely life at anchor. Cities have a different pace, but La Paz is very laid back by any standards, a quiet desert oasis on a beautiful bay.
Our first stop out of the bay was 4 hours away Bahía Bonanza on Isla Espirito Santo. We thought to rest up a bit before the following overnight passage to Altata. Good thing we did, because when we arrived in the early morning hours at Altata’s shores we noticed 4 meter (12′) waves traveling along the shore instead of breaking on the beach they carried foam crowns. We couldn’t find the entrance to the lagoon, the light house must have been behind the waves somewhere. The waves were large enough to topple our boat and the depth under us was getting progressively shallower. That was not good at all! We tried getting the port captain and the marina via VHF, but nobody answered, so we decided to turn around, get to a safe depth and plan from there our next move. We hailed again, no answer and called the marina at no avail.
After a short deliberation we decided to continue to our next stop: Mazatlán. That was another over-nighter and when we arrived there the following morning we were greeted at dawn by thick fog. Only large ships like container ships, ferries and cruise ships were allowed to enter the busy harbor, it was closed for small pleasure crafts like ours. We drifted around for 4 hours, made water under engine, when the fog lifted and we were finally allowed to enter.
Mazatlán is situated in a basin ringed by low mountains inland and a string of rocky come shaped island. Two of those were made into peninsulas to construct the ‘Old Harbor’. The town was founded in 1531 and as it grew, the harbor was enlarged over time by dredging further inland into an estuary system.
Mazatlán is a Nahuatl word meaning ‘place of deer’ and after various colonial influences from the Spanish, Germans (introduced beer and the tuba), Filipino and French, the old town center looks decidedly French, laid out in a quarré of cobblestone streets with one story city mansions with large interior courtyards.
We anchored in the old harbor from where we had a good view of all the coming and goings in the harbors announced by tug boats waiting at the entrance. A short dinghy ride to Club Nautico, where Mexicans store their fishing boats, and a short bus ride later we were in the center of this half a million strong, bustling city. We felt, we had finally arrived in Mexico proper from a series of outpost town along the Sea of Cortez.
Mazatlán has a beaches of tourist resorts and a large cruise ship terminal, which took over as the major source of income for the city, but it’s long history grounds it deeply. A large central farmers market, stores with artifacts from artist collaboratives, good restaurants are equally frequented by locals and tourists, many ‘snowbird’ US and Canadians live here over the winter, the city slows after their departure in June when humidity and heat take over.
We enjoyed Mazatlán, strolled the streets, sat in court yard cafes among tropical plants, went to visit museums and the local theatre and stopped often to Central Market and we fixed a couple of things aboard.
Only few cruisers anchor in the harbor, most stay in the resort like marina district a long bus ride north of town. Next to us were anchored a couple from Seattle rebuilding their engine on their boat SV Ardea on their way to live and work in Panama and Roger on SV Tropic Tramp, at 76 years old still dividing his time between sailing in the Sea and working in the US. We stayed longer than planned and did an interview with Roger before heading out the Ísla Isabel (watch Roger’s interview here).
A complete antidote to city life, Ísla Isabel lies sixteen nautical miles (about twenty miles) off shore and is a paradise for birds and large iguanas, who live here without predators.
We arrived again in the morning hours and could hear through light fog thousands of birds circling above the island and nesting below. Once the sun had burned away the fog, we could see that we had anchored in a partly sunken crater lake, one side was under water forming deep reefs, the other side rose up high into the cliffs of Ísla Isabel.
The anchorage had only rocks on the bottom, which didn’t hold the anchor well, so Radu let out first 60′ of chain after dropping the anchor and then let out the rest of our chain into a pile (two hundred feet). That held well, we checked overnight, and went ashore the next morning. There was a small fishing village along the beach, a former research building serving now as overnight shelter for volunteers, students and birders and then birds! So many and totally unafraid! We stayed again longer in this paradise, bought fish from and filleted by a fisherman and just hung out watching the birds, pangas bringing and leaving with volunteers, fishermen in pangas. A very different bustling life!
We sailed next to Bahia Banderas overnight and arrived midday at the anchorage outside of the harbor of La Cruz. We had heard a lot of this quaint town with cobblestone streets and it’s large and new marina. The anchorage was so rolly that we gave up aftee one night snd got a slip in the marina. Originally we wanted to meet my mom here over christmas, but we had to cancel due to complications to a recent stroke. It would have been a wonderful place to meet. Long beaches, palm trees, balmy breeze, the karge Banderas Bay north and south of Puerto Vallarta is a wonderful place to visit. If you come with your boat, you most likely will stay in marinas, because their aren’t any protected anchorages. We took buses all over, again some minor repairs and met up with many cruisers we had met in the Sea of Cortez. It seemed that everyone was in La Cruz for that week snd we went like a starburst in all directions shortly after: some went south, others went north and many prepared to cross the Pacific. Puerto Vallarta was an hour bus ride away, very touristy it still offers many artisan shops, artsy cafes and great street food, which we was a nice treat after the remoteness of the prior week.
We said our goodbyes snd ‘meet you in the seas’, but most likely we will only see a few of our friends again. Luckily most we can follow on their blogs… Our weather window for Yelapa promised low winds as the bay is not protected at all to the ocean swell. I had vacationed in Yelapa in a palapa with my mother fifteen years ago and it was my dream to go back.
At the entrance to Yelapa’s bay we witnessed an incredible show of
wales breaching as our welcome. Seas were big, as the bay basically funnels the waves, but we were soon approached by a panga offering is a mooring ball for the night, which we gladly accepted. Later we noticed that the area shallow enough for anchoring is small and near large rocks, it didn’t feel safe. We stayed aboard for the night to check our mooring and went ashore the next morning. We had breakfast on the beach, walked the village’s narrow streets and watched village life. Yelapa is special. The land was given back to the native people of the area in the fifteen hundreds and is still to this day owned by the community. The town doesn’t have cars nor a road connection and goods are brought in by boat. Discovered by Americans and especially Los Angelenos in the seventies, a song ‘Better a palapa in Yelapa than a condo in Redondo’ made Yelapa famous.
After the sunset we were ready to get back to the boat. We had beached the dinghy and needed to get out again through breaking waves. We tried to count out large waves and we pushed the dinghy past but the next waves brought us back and toppled the dinghy with us in it! There was no getting past the waves. The outboard after being drenched with salt water wouldn’t start. Luckily somebody was still out in the bay in his panga, pulled our dinghy out and brought us to our boat. Why hadn’t we gone to the community docks and tied up there? Or why hadn’t we left the motor on the boat and rowed, in case of an overturn that would have been way easier to drain the dinghy. Well we learned. We rowed ashore at our next anchorage, and had the outboard electronics repaired later in Mazatlán.
But this overturn stopped us in our tracks. It made us rethink the long journey of two thousand miles to Panama we were about to embark on. Already a little late with the hurricane season starting in June, we would have to travel twenty nautical miles a day for the next two months. We would skip many places and would be moving all the time, weather permitting.
But there was also the possibility that we would need to visit our mothers, who have not been feeling well lately and fly at short notice to Europe. Where would we be when the phone call would reach us and where would we leave the ‘Imagine’?
With all of this we decided the day in Yelapa and overturning the dinghy was a wake up call and we should stay in the Sea of Cortez. We know the harbors, marinas and boat yards to leave the boat and airports are close by. So this is what we’ll do: enjoy Mexico a bit longer and go with what is happening right now in our lives.