Bienvenidos a México!

We were scheduled to haul Cool Change out onto “the hard” on November 6, and we weren’t allowed to stay on the boat in the boatyard, so starting when we arrived in Mexico on November 2, we rented a condo facing the marina for a month. It took every bit of those 4 days to move as much stuff off of Cool Change as we could, to make room for the workers on the boat and to minimize damage to our things. The first condo we rented had two bedrooms, and the second bedroom was stuffed to the gills with boat things – cushions, new equipment, an air conditioner and a dehumidifier we intended on selling, life slings and ring buoys, a sewing machine, fabric, galley contents, and of course, all our sails and running rigging.

From the deck of our Mazatlan marina condo

Once our sweet Cool Change was in the yard, Rick’s sleepless nights began. The guys at the boatyard were hard working, proud, and somewhat skilled, but they really needed guidance. For example, Rick asked one worker to drill a hole from the aft section of the inside of the boat through to a lazarette so Rick could run some cables, and the next thing you knew, Rick caught him just seconds before he drilled a hole through the transom instead!

The boatyard replaced the steering cable and chain, dropped the rudder and replaced the packing gland around the rudder post where it enters the hull, installed a cockpit shower, helped us remove and replace the fuel tank to fix a fresh water leak under it, painted the fuel tank, and painted the bottom of the boat. It took just over two weeks.

Some of the Active Marine employees who worked so hard on Cool Change

But once Cool Change was “splashed” back into the water, there were more things to do before we could move back onto her. The biggest job was contracting with a stainless steel guy to build AN ARCH/goal post” to mount our wind generator and three more solar panels, and to build a “margarita seat” off the stern as a better place to sit while at watch. But Rick also had to install the solar panels and wind generator, and run cable for the new solar panels, the wind generator, and an antenna for the IRIDIUM GO sat phone, plus install all the controllers. A fellow cruiser and local businessman found us a spare piece of Starboard for our margarita seat, and a shipwright friend of ours cut it for us. I had to buy foam for a cushion for the margarita seat, sew it’s canvas cover, and make a bunch of sewing modifications to our storm curtains. Once the cabin was finally clear of wire and dirt, I had to refurbish all our interior teak.

Rick and David putting the solar panels up on our new goal post

During this time, we were able to squeeze in some social events, the biggest of which was Thanksgiving. We figured we needed to take advantage of having a real kitchen to host some cruiser friends for Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey and stuffing and even cranberry sauce that one of our guests had saved from the States. We also managed to get down to Emerald Bay a few times for a fabulous breakfast at Surf’s Up Cafe, and a long hike down the beach and up around the jungle-like point to another beach. And of course, we couldn’t miss several trips down to our favorite Mazatlan neighborhood, the Historic District, which has recently had a face lift and looks gorgeous. We can always find an elegant meal there, especially at Water’s Edge, Topolo’s, or our new favorite, Hector’s Bistro.

The cruisers who joined us at our condo for Thanksgiving

Freshly roasted tomatoes being combined with other ingredients to make salsa before our eyes at Topolo’s

As the month’s condo rental was coming to a close, we had almost finished most of the work that had prevented us from moving aboard, but we hadn’t yet begun to move everything back to the boat. Besides, the condo living was really spoiling us! The owners and staff at Puesta del Sol were very warm and friendly. The owners are mostly Canadian, but they didn’t seem to mind that we were from the US, and they included us in their condo potluck. Rick decided we should teach the group how to salsa dance that night, which was a big hit. Every time we ran into anyone who lives there after that, they would start making salsa moves and ask when the next salsa lesson was.

We were unable to continue renting the same unit because it was spoken for, but we were able to find an even better, three bedroom unit down the hall for the next two weeks. I had a sewing room all to myself, where I made custom sheets for our settees, amongst other projects. We had a huge table that sat eight (too bad we couldn’t have had that for Thanksgiving), and Rick liked the enclosed deck a lot better. The bed and furniture were a lot more comfortable and useful also. Please note, this was during high season and the monthly cost was less than $750 US for the two bedroom and less than $1,000 US for the three bedroom. It was a bit of a splurge, but we indulged ourselves!

It was nice to have those last two weeks to move onto the boat without rushing.  A friend transported a new alto recorder for me from California, and I began practicing with it.  It is bigger than the soprano recorder I started on, so it takes more breath to play and the fingering is a little more challenging, but I like the sound better.  I have never played a wind instrument before and it takes a bit of getting used to – the notes are not played in order like a piano, so half the challenge is just memorizing the finger configuration to play all 32 notes available. But I am hoping playing the recorder will be a fun diversion during the crossing.  Meanwhile, Rick is getting his fingers nimble again on his new, boat-sized guitar.

Moving back onto the boat was hard on me; I guess I had become pretty “soft” after six months off the boat. In the first day, I managed to create a blood blister on my finger by trying to pinch a hog ring with a regular pliers. The second day, I dropped two things into the drink and scraped my knee trying to rescue one, unsuccessfully. By the third day, I had the beginnings of a serious respiratory flu. Nevertheless, I thought I could tough it out overnight at sea, so we cast off the dock lines from the marina Cool Change had been in since June, and headed out to sea on December 18. Interestingly, that is the same date we left Marina Mazatlan last year.

Underway overnight on our way to San Blas

Except for feeling like my head was going to explode, the overnight sail South from Mazatlan to San Blas was everything we could have hoped for. We had wind all day long and all night, sailing wing-on-wing. We had stew for dinner that I had pre-made, along with our small shot of rum to say goodbye to the sun and to welcome in the night sky. Only the next morning as we headed into San Blas marina, did we need to power up the engine.

We have never before had difficulty getting a slip at San Blas, but this was Christmas time, and everyone was either passing through or splashing from their boatyard at this time, so we ended up tying off on the fuel dock the first night. They snuck us into a slip the second night by postponing a splash from the yard. Timing was critical as the new moon tides made the move impassable except at high tide.

Hanging in the zocalo of San Blas: Rick can’t resist the opportunity to feed a stray dog

Back in Mazatlan, we had headed for Surf’s Up Cafe with two other boats in the same “red truck,” (a form of public transportation with benches in the back of a pick up truck) and ended up eating with them, establishing the beginning of many gatherings. The other boats are named Kachina and Kathleen. We ran into Kachina walking around the town of San Blas, while Kathleen was out in the anchorage because their draft was too great to enter the marina. San Blas is a favorite stop of ours, maybe because it was the first “real Mexico” small town port we experienced after our arrival by boat in Mexico. I guess the owner of our favorite little jaunt, The San Blas Social Club, is entitled to close down the place to go to a birthday party, but we were a little disappointed to find we couldn’t get in.

Robert and Shannon from Kachina, pictured with Cindy

The next stop for all of us was Chacala, the idyllic little tourist beach town with a half-moon flat beach that everyone dreams about. Well, maybe except during Christmas week. It was very crowded! But what can you expect, traveling along the coast when everyone else in Mexico is on vacation from school, work, etc. and everyone wants to get away from the winter highlands and come down to the beach.

The beach at Chacala

By this time, we had decided that there was really no reason to rush off the Banderas Bay for Christmas, so we started looking for a special place to be served a meal as part of the holiday celebration. The big Christmas meal in Mexico is served on Noche Buena, Christmas Eve.

One of many termite nests we saw as we walked through the jungle

When walking back from a jungle hike with Kachina in search of the top of a volcano, we stumbled upon a hidden gem of a hotel/restaurant/spa called Majahua on the edge of the jungle at the south end of the beach. It was quiet, and rustic but elegant at the same time. They had a special Noche Buena menu with vegetarian options, which was important to Kachina, and the setting seemed so perfect, so we booked it. We had to send in our orders ahead of time because the place was so small that they needed advance notice. As we approached up the path from the beach, we were seated below for our pre-dinner cocktail, and then we were escorted up to the open air restaurant for dinner. They let us take over the dining area as our own private party of eight (the six of us from a Mazatlan plus another boat named Malo that we met along the way), saving other seatings for after we had finished. It felt like we were being entertained in someone’s private balcony.

Our Noche Buena cocktail setting before dinner on the balcony above

The next day, Kachina, with the biggest salon, invited the other six of us over for a pot luck on Christmas Day, complete with door prizes and a piñata. So, a Christmas season filled with family and longtime friends it was not, but eight newly acquainted cruisers made the best of it, in a setting that couldn’t be beat.

Christmas Day on Kachina

After six lovely days in Chacala, we moved South to Jaltemba Bay, whose beaches were as filled with people as Coney Island on the Fourth of July. Rick actually got claustrophobic in the open air with all the noise and all the bodies. Family groups of 30 or more people huddled in collapsible chairs under umbrellas playing picture card games, drinking beer, eating BBQ’d shrimp and fish or popsicles or pineapple on a stick or coconuts sold by beach vendors, while watching their kids build sand castles or bury their sisters in the sand. Meanwhile, the popsicle pushcarts played recorded ice cream music, the shoreline restaurants played pop hits, and the teenage boys played regatón on their boom boxes. Out in the water, little girls screamed as a wave touched their toes, and riders of a banana boat cheered as the driver dumped the entire boat full of youngsters in one sharp turn in the shallow water in front of the beach. Jet skis and pangas filled with people created wakes in every direction, and a double deck ferry transported crowds to and from the nearby island. It was chaos. And a ball to watch. Nevertheless, we were so thankful to row back to the peace and quiet of Cool Change.

We next sailed South once again and anchored just inside Banderas Bay at Punta de Mita, the luxury hotel area dominated by the Four Seasons. The anchorage is fairly peaceful except for some pangas passing by. We are not so in touch with the luxury on shore, except for the elephant in the room of a five deck, 326 foot yacht Attessa IV, anchored nearby, owned by self made multi-billionaire Dennis Washington.  As evening fell, we watched its helicopter land on its deck and take off several times, presumably to transport its guests to dinner on shore. They are flying in a helicopter one mile to dinner, and we can’t even go by water to shore because our 6 HP dinghy motor isn’t working! Haha! But that’s okay. A powerboat surrounded by soft purple lighting put on a professional fireworks show in the anchorage last night, presumably commissioned by Attessa IV. Having exceedingly rich neighbors has its benefits.

The luxury yacht with its own helicopter, anchored near us in Punta de Mita

That’s the thing about Banderas Bay: it is one of the premier boating destinations on the West coast of the Americas. As a result, mega yachts from all over the world can be found here. The downtown marina is full of them. Puerto Vallarta caters to them, as well as to all of the other international tourists with highly developed tastes for dining and accommodations. It is a fun place to visit, and a safe location for visitors, but you begin to feel a little distant from reality after too long here, like the real world of real people is out there, somewhere else.

And so it is with excitement but some trepidation that we anticipate our countdown to the Marquesas, with our check-in to Paradise Marina in Nuevo Vallarta on January 2. Between issues we identified in this shake-down sail from Mazatlan, follow up on some jobs that weren’t quite completed properly in Mazatlan, and a list of items we saved for completion at Paradise Marina, we will have our hands full with boat projects over the next two months. Plus, the Yacht Club offers biweekly seminars on topics relevant to the Pacific Crossing, and we have to study for and pass two separate HAM radio exams. We hope to become certified in Scuba, and I have more canvas sewing projects to complete. My French study is not-so-patiently awaiting the end of my excuses for further delays. On top of it, we are entertaining nine family members the last week of January, and we both need to leave here for several days at the end of February (Rick by bus to Mazatlan for a dental implant, and me to San Francisco to finalize our French Long Term Stay visas).

In these final days before we resume high gear, we plan on staying on anchor and enjoying the privacy and peacefulness of the waves gently rocking us to sleep at night and the beauty of the surrounding sun, moon and sea.

Happy New Year.

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