sailing homepage : trip reports : 6: zihua to la paz : puerto vallarta

Feb 10-15: Passage from Bahia Tenacatita to Puerto Vallarta with stops at Bahia Careyes and Bahia Chamela, John and some heatstroke, another much harder overnight trip, and a wonderful recovery (and birthday) in fantastic Puerto Vallarta; John and Ann depart, Mari arrives

We left Tenacatita at 8AM on Saturday the 10th. We still had ~140nm between us and Marina Nuevo Vallarta, but Ann and John's flights weren't until the 15th, so there was lots of time. Our plan was to stop at both Bahia Careyes - to enjoy the El Careyes resort - and Bahia Chamela to break up the trip. From Chamela we could do a day-trip to Ipala then another day-trip to PV, or an overnight passage all the way into the marina.

Leaving our Ten Bay anchorage


Protective headlands

The weather was calm for the first half of the four-hour trip; a little wind picked up as we motorsailed closer to Careyes. For most of the trip a large powerboat had been a mile off our port beam, just a little further out to sea, matching our speed and heading.

As we got closer we noticed he was getting closer and also obviously heading for Careyes. We remember how tight the anchorage is and subtly sped up a little - not much, just to FULL SPEED AHEAD! Our trusty diesel roared and we shot forward.

He probably didn't notice we had gone from 6 to 7.5 knots for a half hour, but we slowly pulled away and were congratulating ourselves on our victory when he suddenly rose up on a plane. I guess he finally noticed. He ate up our lead and passed us in less than three minutes. We need a bigger motor for sure.

It turned out that he wasn't interested in our little anchorage, he probably just wanted to make sure we weren't going to steal his favourite spot in the other cove. It worked out, but for a while we were hatching plans to sabotage his boat later that evening.

John at the bow leaving Ten Bay


Sara at the bow entering Careyes

We anchored in exactly the same spot as we did before, set a stern anchor to keep us pointing into the swell, and launched a shore party to the El Caryes resort. Our afternoon plans revolved around lounging near their pool, reading, drinking cervesas, followed by dinner at their excellent (but very expensive) restaurant.

Well, we got to the beach, landed in style, and were promptly told that it was $40 per person to enjoy their facilities. Okay, that's fine, 40 pesos is US $4. Oh, that's US $40 each?! Wow. Okay, so we split and went next door to the not-so-exclusive beach, where we drank $4 beers and grumbled about El Careyes.

I guess we just got really lucky last time we were here and found the beach attendant who didn't know the rules - or maybe didn't care about the rules. Oh well, we still had a great time, had dinner on the boat, and saved the $200 we probably would have spent on cervesas, dinner, wine, and dessert. Haha, suckers, the joke is on you!

Our anchorage neighbour


Another neighbour at sunset

Everyone slept well except John, who had woken up cold and trembling, closed the hatches and put on another blanket, then gotten unbearably hot. He figured out he had a fever about an hour later, drank water all night, but didn't manage to get any sleep. He napped down below during the morning as we pushed on the 14nm to Bahia Chamela. Seas were calm and we ended up motoring the entire two-hour trip.

Sometime along the way I went below to check on John and get a drink and noticed that our solar cell charge controller remote panel wasn't displaying anything. Uhoh, that's not good! I quickly checked the batteries with the DC panel built-in voltmeter - everything was fine, the alternator was charging the batteries at a perfect 14.4V, it was either the remote or controller.

Our Chamela anchorage


Bird-infested cactus plants

When we arrived I unpacked our starboard lazarette, climbed in, and did a little diagnostics work to discover our Xantrex Trace C40 charge controller had kicked the bucket. It had been mounted in a poor location by some previous owner and been sprayed with just enough salt water to slowly corrode the unprotected PCB inside the metal case. Argh.

That's me in there


That's my grimace of pain

I tried to repair the PCB by scraping free most of the corrosion, spraying it with electrical contact cleaner, etc, but all to no avail. Okay, I guess we'll ask Mari to find, buy, and bring a new C40 controller down with her to PV. It's frustrating, but this is a big part of being a cruiser: endlessly fixing stuff in cool anchorages.

When I finally got out of the locker and replaced everything, the others clued me into the news that John was feeling worse. He was very hot and when we got out our thermometer it was reading 102.something - but he wasn't sweating! It sounded exactly like heatstroke.

We sprayed him with cold water, applied cold towels and frozen juice containers, and tried to keep him cool, but his temperature remained about 103. We put him in the V-berth, hauled the dinghy up on deck, and made the decision to push on to PV that evening. Bahia Chamela has no town or residents - a medical problem here could be serious.

To add to the dramatic tension, we got an unfavourable forecast relayed to us by another sailboat nearby. A storm was building north of Puerto Vallarta and would turn Cabo Corrientes - the cape on the south end of the Bay of Banderas, where PV is - into a nightmare in about 24 hours. We didn't know how long the storm would last, so getting past the cape before it got ugly was our best option.

John trying to get some sleep


Hauling up the dinghy and preparing to leave

The winds had been picking up all afternoon, and by the time we poked our nose out of the protected anchorage at 5PM there was a sizeable chop being driven straight down the coast. We didn't bother with the sails, the wind was directly on our nose, we just pushed through the waves under power.

The waves got bigger, the wind got stronger, and by 10PM it was no longer fun. The wind was still exactly in front of us and we were punishing ourselves by driving up the wave, shooting over the crest, and crashing down into the trough. We might have been more comfortable if we had cracked off 30-degrees and motor-sailed through the waves, but it would have seriously decreased our VMG towards Puerto Vallarta.

Without sails and a nice lean to moderate the motion, we were also rolling a fair amount. It was miserable down below, and Ann quickly became sick while tending to John in the V-berth. John was fine, just still very hot.

We made Ann stay up in the cockpit for a while and have a couple of seasickness pills, but on her very next trip downstairs she threw up again. We should have given her a transderm scopaline patch, but I didn't think about it until later.

Ann went to bed and seemed to be doing better. However, an hour later when I was delivering yet another round of frozen goods to John, it was clear that Ann had relapsed and was very very sick. Everywhere. John's temperature had dropped a bit but remained over 101. We needed to get to PV quickly.

It was really bad in the V-berth, and after exchanging frozen juice cartons for dethawed cartons, I had to run upstairs for the fresh air. I got a face full of spray as soon as I got behind the wheel and it was too much: braaaaap, right over the edge. Of course Sara turned and saw me right as I was hurling; I didn't live it down for a week.

Sara and I took one-hour shifts manning the helm, the off-watch person curling up and sleeping in the lap of the helmsman. It worked great, we let Ann and John fend for themselves downstairs and focused our efforts on getting us and them to PV as quickly as possible. The biggest waves we met were maybe 12ft, but I think they averaged 7-9ft, and we were still driving straight into them. As we rounded several points along the way the wind and waves shifted to stay directly in front of us.

Our timing was ideal for passing the infamous Cabo Corrientes (Cape Currents) in the supposedly-calmer morning at slack tide. When we finally passed Corrientes at 4AM it wasn't better or worse than anything else we had experienced, and I guess our plan was successful in that regard.

Ann tends to sick John


Tired happy couple in the morning

The sun rose as we passed Yelapa and we motorsailed all the way into Marina Nuevo Vallarta. Both Sara and I were exhausted, much more so than on a usual heavy-weather overnight. We were worried about my parents and it added a lot of stress! We've been acutely aware of how medical problems can be much more serious out on the isolated ocean - most other cruisers are retirement age and it's a top concern - but it's never affected us personally before.

John was feeling much better by the morning, but Ann was still very sick and hadn't slept a wink. We got everyone abovedecks to help us dock at Nuevo Vallarta; we arrived about 10AM.

The boat was an absolute mess. For some reason we hadn't fastened down the cabintop hatches when we left and we took enough water over the decks that the couches and beds were soaked. All of a sudden the money we spent on the waterproof sunbrella fabric for the new cushions we made was worthwhile! I love it when that happens. We stripped the beds, assembled five bags of laundry, hauled all the cushions outside, and dried everything out in the sun.

John and Ann were pretty shaken up and wanted to get off the boat, so they took the laundry and headed into PV to get a hotel room and catch some sleep. Sara and I stayed behind, scrubbed and cleaned the boat, and joined them later that night. We knew that we didn't want to come back to a wet boat smelling like the vomit-comit amusement park ride, but I have to say it took all of our willpower to clean when we could have curled up in the warm sun and slept.

We cabbed into town just in time to get a good picture of the stormy weather around Cabo Corrientes before sunset. We had no idea how bad it was out there - and we didn't care. Life on land is sweet and easy.

Doesn't look nice

John was feeling better and his temperature had gone down. Ann was feeling much better, colour had returned to her cheeks. We were tired but happy. We had a drink in the Los Arcos hotel bar, then wandered around the streets and found some dinner. We had grand plans of exploring old town, but everyone was just so wiped out we went back to the hotel and crashed.

Tired but happy


Everyone accounted for

The next day, Tuesday February 13th, we relaxed. The 13th is Ann's birthday, mine is on the 15th, and John celebrates on the 20th. Our plan was simple: do as little as possible. Sara and I slept in, showered for almost half an hour, I shaved, we got our laundry back and wore clean nice-smelling clothes to breakfast that someone else made for us. Yes, life on land is sweet and easy.

Ann relives the previous evening


Hotel Los Arcos

Ann likes Los Arcos


But Roger is better

We enjoyed the Hotel Los Arcos, but it was a bit pricey and Ann found the nicer Hotel Posada de Roger (or something like that) just around the corner. We moved hotels before spending the afternoon walking around the old and romantic districts hunting for art.

Downtown PV


Mariachi and some old dude singing

When Sara and I were married a month prior, several of our relatives gave us cash on the day of the event. We didn't want to spend it on diesel or groceries, so we decided to buy an original painting that would forever remind us of Mexico, Bucerias, and our wedding. We've had a hard time finding the perfect piece, but we got lucky at Galleria Puerta VallARTa.

We found an original oil on canvas by Dimitri Krustev, depicting a mexican family at an open-air market stand, but it was way out of our price range. Like, two or three times as much as our budget. We haggled, but couldn't come to any sort of agreement. Drats, back to searching.

Cats love art


Pidgeons have no reason to live

We spent the entire afternoon plodding around PV, we must have covered most streets twice by the time we returned to our hotel. Exhausted, we met up with my parents and decided that dinner was going to be extravagant: it was time to visit the Brazilian steak house, aka the churrascaria.

I'm a big fan of the churrascaria concept: no salad, no veggies, just all the meat you can eat, brought to your table on a sword. How cool is that? It's pretty cool. I did my best to bankrupt the place - I made it through two full rotations of the seven meat items (bacon-wrapped turkey, filet minion, ribeye, chicken parmesean, sausage, etc) and then hit up a few more for good luck.

We discussed our search for art and both Sara and I started to realize how much we liked the marketplace painting. It was way out of our budget, but maybe we could go back and haggle some more.

Bring me more meat


Happy Birthday!

One of PV's street urchins came to our table with some roses, and hey, if it's your mothers birthday and the day before valentine's day, you know you're buying a few roses. They were instant hits. After dinner we were all too full to do anything exciting, and I was starting to feel lightheaded from all the meat, so we returned to the hotel.

I tried to remove my pants before falling into bed, but I just couldn't. Sara said the next morning that I was out cold, totally exhausted, happily snoring before she closed the hotel room door. I'm usually a light sleeper, but not that night. I slept like a rock. Awesome what five or six pounds of grilled meat will do to someone operating on a sleep deficiency.

Ann eats some yummy gruel


Waffle, peanut butter, chocolate, and whipped cream for me

That was our last night on shore, so before checkout at noon (but after an excellent breakfast) we headed back to the gallery. Luckily, when we arrived, the owner was nowhere in sight and his mother was behind the counter. We told her that we had gotten married a month earlier, that this would be our first original piece of art, and that it would remind us of sunny Mexico when we would be in foggy San Francisco. We laid it on thick.

It was a long shot, and she bargained hard, but we could tell that her heart just wasn't in it. The painting was ours. An agreement was reached, and the painting was packed up just in time for the proprietor to return. We hastily beat a retreat and noticed him giving her a death glare for succumbing to our love story. Haha! Your mom is a sucker!

Mom with our painting


That's a lot of dineros!

We hopped a cab back to Marina Nuevo Vallarta and enjoyed one last night on the boat with my parents. All the cleaning had paid off and it was a simple pleasure to relax onboard Wanderlust again. We had dinner at the local dockside restaurant, and were invited to a Valentine's day dessert event with the local cruising community.

We arrived after most of the V-day events had transpired (thank god), but just in time to re-vow each other. I love a captive audience, and Sara's a good sport, so we quickly re-vowed our love for each other and everyone cheered for the newlyweds. My parents on the other hand, well, they're very British.

Home sweet home


Cruisers from Nuevo Vallarta

Will and Sara re-vow


Ann and John have a turn

They have stiff upper lips. It's just not like them to talk about their marriage in front of strangers, it's just not something that they feel comfortable sharing. So, for the second time in a week, they had to get up and spout off something about how much they love each other. It was great to see them so uncomfortable for such a lighthearted event. Hahaha, suckers!

We had another great night's sleep, and then there were two again. Ann and John left around noon; Sara and I celebrated my birthday with dinner and drinks at a nice place in PV.

The next day, the 16th, we took Wanderlust into Puerto Vallarta's main marina, refueled, and visited Opequemar to get our engine oil changed and the main belt replaced. I didn't know it at the time, but we later figured out someone stole my camera right off the boat while we were waiting at the fuel dock. Unbelievable. I guess the timing was okay - Mari was bringing us a nicer camera we had ordered through the internet!

Mari arrived the next day at noon-ish, and after some amazing Marlin taco roll things at the awesome stand across the street from the airport, we went straight to the grocery store to reprovision. We had the usual hassle at the entrance: let us check your bags, you can't take them in here, oh, okay, here's a little tag.

Mari and Sara enjoy a beer


Another monster shopping trip

The Sorianas manager actually found me an hour into our shopping trip and tried to convince me again that I couldn't keep the bags with me while shopping. Hey, I've seen the bag check area, there's no way we're handing Mari's luggage (and our new camera) over to someone paid $1/hr who is totally not responsible for lost or stolen articles! I argued, he pressed the issue, I said we would walk away from spending $400 on groceries, he relented.

We got back to the boat and unpacked everything just in time to celebrate my birthday again! Turning 30 means you get to have at least three different celebrations - right? Sara and Mari blindfolded me, whisked me into a waiting cab, and took me somewhere downtown.

I tried to figure out where we were by the sounds and smells, but I had no idea until they pulled the blindfold off at the cool trendy Jazz Cafe under the bridge in the heart of town. It's a very cool place that Sara and I had been talking about going to, but the high prices had scared us off. Well, birthdays are all about splurging, so we went anyway, enjoyed mohitos, excellent food, and live music.

Happy birthday to me!


Make a wish

After dinner we met up with Matt and April from Sonadora. These guys are cool, they're our age, and they're a lot of fun to hang out with. We had run into each other a few days prior and were horrified to hear that their boat had been rammed by a speeding panga early one morning. Someone in the panga was hurt, Sonadora was damaged, and Matt and April were ordered to not move their boat until the investigation was complete.

It's a real nightmare because the public official wasn't very supportive of their less-than-perfect Spanish. In fact, he even made fun of their translator who spoke fluently. The official was known as a bribe-taker, the documents weren't being shared with Matt and April, the panga driver was soon zooming around again in a repaired boat, and they were waiting the news of possible incarceration.

The story had ups and downs for almost three weeks, but in the end it turns out the panga driver was found to be at fault, Sonadora got parts delivered down from the US, and everything sorta worked out. Scary though, and amazingly inconvenient: they were trapped at anchor in La Cruz for more than two weeks!

Anyway, they really needed to unwind, and if we can help with anything, we can help with that. We had drinks at a cool roof-top bar just off the beach, then moved on to a very cool latin dance club. I'm not a dancer, but I was totally amazed at the regulars who were ripping up the dance floor. These guys and girls were amazing, maybe professionals. Needless to say, we didn't venture out there - we stayed upstairs and danced in the dark corners.

Birthday surprise


Trying not to look dumb

It was great to see Matt and April again and we had a fantastic time eating and drinking and dancing and laughing (at the pros and their cool moves, mostly). We left at a reasonable hour and got a good night's sleep. The next morning I ripped apart the lazarette again and installed the new charge controller. It took about two hours, but I did it right and it won't be a problem in the future. It feels good to get things working well again.

New charge controller


Leaving Nuevo Vallarta

Sara and Mari got the boat ready and we quickly pushed off about noon. We headed out of the marina and immediately had some good wind to play with. We leisurely sailed all afternoon to Punta Mita, at the north end of the Bay of Banderas, and dropped the hook in the rolly anchorage. It was a great afternoon, a real treat. The wind was perfect, we saw a few whale tails, and although Mari was a bit queasy she kept it together and didn't get sick.

Mari's birthday present: Entourage 2nd season!


Sara loving life

We took the opportunity at Punta Mita to change our headsail. We were using the bigger 150% genoa, but as we headed north both Sara and I noticed that the boat was a bit overpowered. The 100% jib is a much heavier sail (it takes up about the same space in the sailbag!) but will be better suited to the weather we have ahead of us.

Crazy birds flocking around the anchorage


Taking down the 150

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset with our new camera, a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT with a Tamron 28-300mm zoom lens. Sara and I decided to splurge and get something special for our trip back to SF.

Late afternoon


Beauty sunset

Our plan for the next few days was to head to San Blas, touch base and explore the city, then to Isla Isabela for the diving and birds, and finally on to Mazatlan.