Chacala and Puerto Vallarta

While in the San Blas Marina, we met a retired Canadian pizza restaurant owner, a single-handler named Bob, who had just taken his boat out of dry storage there. We set off at the same time with him towards Chacala, after spending two nights in the San Blas Marina. Not long after we left the estuary, Bob started having water spew out of the fresh water cooling system cap. He tried a variety of remedies but none seemed to work. We stuck around and circled back to him until he decided he would avoid the problem by turning off the motor and sailing quite slowly in the minimal wind. Furthermore, his sails weren’t fully rigged yet to deploy the mainsail, so he couldn’t go very fast with his jib alone. At his urging, we went on without him. He eventually arrived in Chacala.

Rick and Bob on Chacala beach

Rick and Bob on Chacala beach

Chacala is an adorable little crescent shaped beach with a shallow area that extends off the beach for quite a ways, making it very inviting to swim in, and a half dozen palapa-roofed restaurants serving fresh fish and other treats. On our past visits, it has been almost deserted, but this was Christmas week so it was packed, almost entirely with Mexican tourists and lots and lots of children.

Bob picked us up in his rowed-dinghy and took us to shore where we had a snack and some beers. Bob had begun an ongoing conversation with Rick about his engine problems, checking in with Rick as he made adjustments. In his own quiet, humble way, Rick was advising Bob on possible causes and remedies. By this time, however, Rick had thought it through and decided the most logical explanation was that Bob’s heat exchanger was shot. Salt water was getting into the fresh water cooling system and causing it to have too much pressure so the cap was spewing. Bob thought that was a reasonable explanation, and Rick confirmed when he looked it up in his engine maintenance reference material that such spewing was an indicator of a bad heat exchanger. (Rick says they call that spewing, “making water.” That is the third definition for that term I have now heard. Do you know what the other two are?) It wasn’t until after Bob had made it to Puerto Vallarta and had a mechanic first deny it was the heat exchanger and charge Bob for a bunch of other unnecessary work, that the mechanic did further tests and confessed that indeed it was the heat exchanger after all. So poor Bob is now destined to stay in Marina Vallarta until his heat exchanger is fixed.

The view from the palapa restaurant in Chacala where we had a few beers

The view from the palapa restaurant in Chacala where we had a few beers

After a quiet, calm night on the hook in Chacala, we set off the next day for a day sail to Punta de Mita, Bob close behind. If we had more time to stay there, we probably would have deployed our dinghy, but since we were leaving the next day, we just stayed on the boat, made a nice dinner, watched a show and went to bed. Punta de Mita is right around the corner heading south into Banderas Bay. Many of the rich and famous stay in luxury accommodations at Punta de Mita – it is the Banderas Bay millionaires’ destination. There is a nice public beach with some good restaurants accessible by dinghy, although the really fancy places all exclude everyone but their own guests.

The sunset from Cool Change at Punta de Mita

The sunset from Cool Change at Punta de Mita

Just as a side note, for periods like this where we will be on the hook, near only small villages, or sailing overnight without access to groceries for several days, we usually stock up the fridge and food storage areas with plenty of goodies, and prepare at least one meal ahead of time. We provisioned in Mazatlan for several days’ eating. I made a hearty beef stew in advance that lasted at least three meals. Underway I cooked chicken and made a Chinese chicken salad that gets better as it sits, so that served as lunch and snacks for several days. (The sugar in the dressing makes it almost addictive). In the marina at San Blas, Rick made his Thai curry with pork and green beans. We also had plenty of fruit on hand for breakfasts and snacks, including whole papaya, grapefruit, bananas, tangerines and grapes – whatever is in season. We have a bucket I fill with treats like nuts and cookies and sometimes some chocolate so we have a snack in the middle of those long night watches. We always seem to have more food than we need, but at least we won’t starve! It is an odd phenomenon, knowing you cannot just go to the store when you run out of food – it tends to make you want to buy more than you need, “just in case.” But while we don’t usually lose weight underway, we eat pretty healthy meals overall, and by the time we are settled down in the next port and ready to go shopping again, there is very little waste.

Out typical fruit basket prior to an extended period away from a grocery store.

Out typical fruit basket prior to an extended period away from a grocery store.

Another fun thing we have been refining is our watching shows/movies while not using A/C power; in other words, when we are not plugged into electricity. We don’t have a generator and we are unable to use any A/C power without being plugged into it, so that means, none of our A/C power outlets work while underway. If it can’t be plugged into a 12-volt outlet or a USB port, we can’t use it. Well, at least that has been mostly true, until now. We had some very small inverters that plugged into a 12 volt outlet and had an A/C plug on the other end, but they didn’t work very well. Then, on this last trip back to the States, we bought a high quality “pure sine inverter” that Rick has since installed. Although only 200 watts, there is no interference whatsoever when we use it, so we can watch movies without worrying about our projector flaking out due to lack of sufficient power.

Our new inverter

Our new inverter

Our mini-projector

Our mini-projector

So here is how it works. First, friends give us movies and tv shows on flash drives. That’s just part of what cruisers do for each other. Don’t ask me how they get them – I don’t want to know. Suffice it to say that so few shows are authorized for viewing in Mexico that even with our Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriptions, we can’t get most shows we would like to watch unless we disguise our VPN as one coming out of the US. So, we get stuff however we can. Our current obsession is a Stars series called Outlander.

Now, I realize this sounds a lot more complicated than just sitting down and clicking on the remote, but we think it is still pretty cool and efficient, given our circumstances. We turn on a computer and into it we plug our flash drive containing our shows, our excellent portable speaker (it is like a Bose but less delicate), and our projector, which is mounted on the compression post on the centerline, midships of the boat. Then we plug in the projector and our computer into the new inverter Rick installed, and plug the inverter into the 12 volt outlet he also just installed right next to it. Then we unroll the projection screen and hang it from either side of the v-berth. We turn off all lights in the boat except the red ones. Then we turn it all on, and voila! We have a movie screen of about 42 inches, clear as a bell, about 6 feet from us! We each sit on our own couch, legs outstretched with a table between us, and watch our show! When we are done, the projection screen gets rolled up and stored in a tube in our “garage,” the projector gets moved up to the top of the compression post out of the way, and the computer and speaker also get put away. We think it is all pretty slick, especially considering we really have NOWHERE to mount a TV or monitor of that size otherwise. It has become an evening activity we both look forward to.

Anyway, back to our travels. After a night at Punta de Mita, we headed over the next day to Marina Vallarta. There are four marinas in the exquisite sailing venue of Banderas Bay: the cruiser community center in the quaint little town of La Cruz, the resort-like setting of Paradise Village, and the budget-minded Nuevo Vallarta Marina, all of which are a long distance from downtown Puerto Vallarta. And then there is Marina Vallarta. We had never stayed there before so we thought we should try it. It is Mega-Yacht city. The finest marinas in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean have nothing over Marina Vallarta. The huge, multi-million dollar power boats are everywhere, so much so that little Cool Change and other sailboats are dwarfed in comparison. The marina is a short bus or cab ride to a large shopping center and to the historic district of Puerto Vallarta. This is where the big boys play. The cruise ships land here, and the marina entrance is full of boats going every which way. The docks have been replaced and are in great shape, but the bathroom and shower facilities are almost non existent, probably because everyone on the mega yachts have much better facilities on board! There are dozens of restuarants bordering the perimeter, along with a handful of bars, reputable massage parlors, beauty parlors, quick-stop grocery stores, and gift shops, all with a background of long-standing condominiums overlooking the marina. We visited several restuarants during our 10 day stay but barely scratched the surface.

A view of part of Marina Vallarta from the bar at the top of the decorative lighthouse building in the middle of the marina.

A view of part of Marina Vallarta from the bar at the top of the decorative lighthouse building in the middle of the marina.

Our deadline to arrive in Puerto Vallarta was mostly triggered by an invitation to have Christmas dinner with our friends Greg and Martha at her house. Her brother was there too. What a lovely gift, to have a home cooked meal in a home! Greg was the chef, and he made a traditional North American meal of ham, but with a touch of southern cooking in some delicious sweet potatoes.

Our Christmas Eve meal with Greg and Martha at her house

Our Christmas Eve meal with Greg and Martha at her house

Just in case any of you are still under the delusion that Mexico is entirely made up of quaint little villages filled with “happy poor people,” the nearby shopping mall was as North American Christmasy as you can get, and just as crowded:

Christmas in one of the PV malls. Note the Starbucks and Haagen-Dazs in the background. Indigenous market, this is not!

Christmas in one of the PV malls. Note the Starbucks and Haagen-Dazs in the background. Indigenous market, this is not!

While in PV, we also made it down to walk the Malecon, have a beer in the historic district, and visit our favorite Cuban restaurant, La Bodeguita del Medio, for their famous mojitos and some Cuban food.

Mocitos at La Bodeguita del Medio

Mocitos at La Bodeguita del Medio

We were invited on Christmas Day to join the PV Yacht club for a sail over to the south shore of Banderas Bay. That area is much more like a jungle than the north shore. We sailed over to a little cove called Las Animas (the spirits) and enjoyed a day just lying on lounge chairs eating fish tacos and reading.

Those are Rick's toes in the foreground, and Cool Change on a mooring ball in the background

Those are Rick’s toes in the foreground, and Cool Change on a mooring ball in the background

We returned to the south shore a couple more times. On New Year’s Eve, we booked a touristy boat ride, complete with free alcohol, over to a remote little private beach where Vallarta Adventures has set up all kinds of fun things to do during the day. At night, the cove is transformed into a jungle setting, lit only by torches and candlelight, on a path that meanders up the mountain to an amphitheater built into the rock where they hold a Cirque-du-Soliel-like performance of music and dancing depicting ancient deer hunting rituals and the like in exotic costumes. Grown men slithered up palm trees as though they were monkeys, and fine, featherweight ballerinas performed in fairy-like grace. A man-sized bird flew above the audience and two women dressed in skin tight wild cougar costumes performed acrobatic contortions on the stage as though they weren’t even human. After the show, we walked down to the beach area and were seated at a romantic, isolated table at candlelight to a surprisingly good meal, followed by a boat ride home that took in the PV New Year fireworks. All in all, it was really a spectacular evening, the kind you always wish your New Years would be and hardly ever is.

One of the cougar acrobats greeting us as we came up the path

One of the cougar acrobats greeting us as we came up the path

The show moderator, who reminded me a lot of Johnny Depp; he was funny and had a very deep, announcer-like speaking voice

The show moderator, who reminded me a lot of Johnny Depp; he was funny and had a very deep, announcer-like speaking voice


We were also greeted by a mermaid who made me think of our daughter Sarah!

We were also greeted by a mermaid who made me think of our daughter Sarah!

Fireworks as seen from the cruise boat that took us home from the show

Fireworks as seen from the cruise boat that took us home from the show

And here is a picture I snapped just for the fun of it:

One stop shopping: have your candy downstairs and then immediately go upstairs to have your dental work done!

One stop shopping: have your candy downstairs and then immediately go upstairs to have your dental work done!

We are off today for Punta de Mita to anchor again for the night before heading south around Cabo Corrientes for an overnight at sea. We expect to arrive in Chamela’s anchorage sometime Saturday, but won’t be sure of Internet again for a week or two, depending on how long we hang out at remote anchorages. So this is bye for now. Smooth sailing, everyone!

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One Response to Chacala and Puerto Vallarta

  1. Jim Cowherd says:

    Congratulations on the return of Cool Change cruising Mexico. Good health and good times to you and your family in 2017.
    Thank you for sharing your adventure.

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