Hola, La Cruz
The warm smell of fire and jungle wafted through the cabin as the rising sun painted our interior golden. Our family had left the day prior, leaving just Chris and I in Chacala. With no more schedules, we fully sacrifice our plans to the wind and tides opening the door for new opportunities and adventures. Although we had intended on sailing up into the Sea of Cortez, we had planned to meet up with our internet friends from SV Sitka in La Cruz, to help them pull their prop and save them a trip to the boatyard. What was supposed to be a week-long stay soon turned into a month, then months, but all for good reason.
It was a gorgeous downwind sail from Chacala to Banderas Bay with gray whales breaching off our beam. As we neared the Bay’s entrance Chris got very tense, knowing there was a bunch of uncharted rocks, part of Roco Corheteña, coming up. Naturally, our depth finder decided to go dark, right when we needed it most.
Roco Corheteña lies 18 miles west of Punta de Mita and although the guano covered rock has a navigation light affixed to it, the many surrounding rocks do not, which pose a hazard to mariners. Rocky reefs extend from Punta de Mida as well as a mystery rock that no one, including the authors of our up-to-date-guide books have been able to get a precise location for. Study your charts well before sailing through this area and be mindful of the strong, variable currents near the rocks.
Luckily, after a stressful round of “jiggling” some wires the power was restored and we saw there was still a good amount of water between us and the rocky reef below. Crisis averted… for the time being anyways. Right as we entered the bay the wind picked up, allowing us to change our point of sail to dead downwind, making a hullspeed of 5 knots.
“She’s around here somewhere” Chris said as we motored through the large open anchorage that lied in front of the town and marina. We made it to the outskirts of the 75 vessels we counted, then saw her: SV Sitka, a beautiful blue hulled Cheoy Lee 41’ with an unmistakable bright yellow dodger. We had followed Sitka’s owner, Jason, online since we bought Avocet back in 2018, chatting about all things Cheoy Lee for years so to finally be here together felt like the stars aligned. We dropped our hook on Sitka’s starboard side, with our bow facing towards the sea. Although we were eager to get a closer look at Avocet’s sister/cousin Sitka, we wouldn’t meet Jason (Jay) and his girlfriend Makenna (Kenna) until the following day when they returned from a trip to Guantajunto with our soon to be friends Max, Karen, Ethan and Cynthia.
We dropped our hook in 25’ of water with 4:1 scope, anchor coordinates: 20°44.798’N 105°22.018’W
Although the anchorage provides protection from the wintertime north winds, it still experiences wrap around swell which earns the anchorage the rightful reputation as “rolly” – at some points it reminded us of Santa Barbara’s roadstead anchorage, nicknamed “Fools Anchorage,” all for good reason. Fortunately our Flop Stopper took some motion out of the ocean as it advertised and helped us settle in for a solid night of sleep.
When Digital Turns Reality
Good morning to La Cruz Anchorage… a friendly voice came over our radio. Afterwards, a cascade of boat names began to “check in”. It was 8:30 in the morning and Chris and I were thrilled to be participating in our very first cruisers net. A “net” refers to any marine radio “program” that has a predetermined time and channel where anyone within range can tune in. It’s like a radio show, but in addition to simply listening you can actively participate by making announcements, asking questions, offering goods and services, or introducing yourself and sailing plans.
While there are “nets” that connect boats while underway crossing oceans most, like the Banderas Bay net, are all held in port at anchorages and harbors. They are all over the world and can range in size from large (with a hundred or more participants) or small. They can last anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour and cover a litany of topics. Usually, your cruising guide will tip you off to a local net if it’s a large one, but if not – you can always ask a fellow cruiser if a “net” exists and what days/time it does so. Overall, the Net is A great way to meet people, find boat parts, relay the news and learn more about the community you just sailed into. We were stoked to finally be able to participate and when we found a natural lull in the vessels checking in, Chris broadcasted Avocet over the radio. We had made it!
The Banderas Bay Net is on channel 22 and broadcasts daily (except Sunday) at 8:30 am. It is structured, so wait your turn and as always be polite.
Now, let me tell you a little bit about our new digs: La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (La Cruz, for short) was once a small fishing village, similar to Chacala, but after the marina was built in 2008 it has become an attractive stop for cruisers during the winter and spring seasons. La Cruz is well known for its live music scene and number of incredible eateries, keeping visitors entertained and well fed for the duration of their stay. Many of the restaurant owners remember the names of the annual visitors, and always welcome them back with open arms – we would learn that this (the community) is one of the many reasons why La Cruz is so incredibly special. Oh, and the name? Well there are a few legends, but my favorite is that the towns name came to be from the burial of a woman beneath a giant, shady Huanacaxtle tree. A cross was carved into the trunk and as time went by the tree became a central gathering place known by all as “La Cruz de Huanacaxtle” and thus the name was born.
It was clear we had traveled deeper into the tropics as the sun became increasingly hot. Our cockpit was unbearable to sit in since we had no shade between the dodger and “bimini,” inspiring Chris to pull out our sewing machine and get crafty with a solution. Unfortunately, on the first stitch in, an obscure piece within the machine broke. After researching online we found out it was nearly impossible to replace since our machine is a Thompson Sailrite – yeah, the OG Sailrite that is long out of date. Luckily, we knew just where to go for a hail mary fix.
“Yeah no problem, looks like we have that machine here and can part it out” Mike said. Mike Danielson is a successful sailboat racer and North Sails representative that turned La Cruz into his homebase and business headquarters. His business, PV Sailing, is much more than a sails loft though; it is a hub for all cruisers that come through Banderas Bay. Mike and his partner, Kat, live at the sail loft and have turned their outdoor living space into a refuge for sailors called Cruisers Comfort, complete with comfortable seating, wifi, power and an overall chill vibe if you need to get off the boat for a bit. It is there they host numerous FREE meetings full of valuable information to ensure sailors have the opportunity to learn all they can before stepping off into their adventures around big blue. I was impressed with the PV Sailing crew’s kindness and willingness to make resources available to sailors, from free gatherings to helping us find a replacement piece for our very old Sailrite… which they did, and $700 pesos later we were back in business with a new sunshade to prove it.
“Sitka’s on their way” I said, looking forward to meeting our digital friends in real life. Almost as soon as they sent us a message they appeared by dinghy off our beam just as the sun set. With them, were their friends Max and Karen (SV Lusty) who had organized the trip inland to Karen’s hometown of Guanajuato in the heart of Mexico. They waved and exchanged pleasantries on their way to drop the Sitka crew off on their boat, then buzzed off back to the marina. “I don’t think they like us,” Chris said, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Although the foursome was not the most outgoing that evening, we would soon learn they were just exhausted (and slightly sick) from their inland adventures. At the time we had no idea those four sleepy coconuts in a dinghy would become our family.
Social media has many downsides, but I absolutely love how it brings people together. Just like Sitka, we had been following our friend Dakota (@dakotalebaron) for a while, and vice versa. When he saw we were in his neck of the sea he was quick to invite us to dinner in town with Leila where they could give us a lay of the land. Over tacos at Fonda Coqui we learned that he had been living in Mexico for five years and could answer all of our questions about the surrounding area, and for the answers he couldn’t give he had the resources to point us in the right direction. Our first round of tacos were on the pricier side, but I justified the purchase by being able to draw our logo on the restaurant’s wall alongside other cruisers – something I have always wanted to do. Once the chalk was off my hands we wandered over to La Katrina for more tacos then to the Crepe place that would become our regular haunt (I got very good at saying “yo quiro una crepe con fresas, nutella, cajeta, y plátanos porfa”)
We promised to get together with Dakota and Liela again soon, and our next adventure together did not disappoint… in fact it is still a highlight of our entire cruising season! But more on that later.
“Woah… now that’s some stainless” I said as we motored up to Lusty. She was already a dominant dock queen as her new topside paint glistened in the morning sun. She was different than other Colombia’s – truly unique – as her crew spent a lot of time making her their own, like installing 316 stainless toe rail that instantly caught our attention. Max and Karen were not aboard but had been letting Sitka use their slip as a “parking lot” and extended the offer to us as well. With our dinghies safely tied off we made our way up to the bus stop, and made sure not to leave too much drool on the dock as we walked away from the lovely Lusty.
The public transportation system in La Cruz couldn’t be easier, and we got it down by the end of our stay so our tips are tried and true (as of May 2023, anyways) The ATM (Autostransportes Medina) bus line runs along the Nuevo Vallarta to Punta de Mita road and fares depend on the area you are going to.
- Nuevo Vallarta – $13 pesos
- Bucerías – $18 pesos
- Destiladeras Beach – $20 pesos
- Punta Mita (El Anclote Beach) – $23 pesos.
The Compostela-Pacifico bus line (White & Green buses) has service to Sayulita, San Francisco (San Pancho) and Rincón de Guayabitos.
- Rates from $30 – $35 pesos
TIP: You might need to flag a bus down for them to stop and it’s best to bring exact change if possible. If you can get on one of the smaller white vans instead of buses you will be stoked – those have AC!
Less than 15 minutes later we were in Bucerias, a small Mexican beach resort town between La Cruz and Nuevo Vallarta. Once a quaint fishing village like La Cruz, Bucerías has become a tourist town when primarily Canadian residents began coming for extended stays with RVs and fifth wheels in the 1980’s; Canadians remain a very large part of the seasonal population however, Americans are moving to the city in increasing numbers with the addition of several condominium projects . The boom of all-inclusive hotels to the south in Nuevo Vallarta—a development extending from the north end of Puerto Vallarta—has driven building in Bucerías as well, although in a more muted way. Buildings rarely exceed seven floors, and the units are a condominium, rather than hotel style. Canadian flags are in no shortage as the iconic Maple Leaf waves in the breeze amongst the rainbow of Mexican papel picado.
“This is the place” Jay said as he and Kenna confidently sat down at a plastic table with four chairs. The smell of birria filled the air as a waiter welcomed us with menus. If you have never had birria, you are missing out. In Ventura we used to frequent our friend Diego’s food truck Mom & Pop Tacos where his Mom and Pop would make the most delicious tacos, burritos and occasionally birria. When we were asked by the Sitka crew if we would like to join them it was an automatic yes!
Birria is a Mexican dish from the state of Jalisco. The dish is a meat stew or soup traditionally made from goat meat, but occasionally made from beef, lamb, mutton or chicken. The meat is marinated in an adobo made of vinegar, dried chiles, garlic, and herbs and spices before being cooked in a broth.
We had just finished our first round (yes, we had multiple rounds of birria) when Max and Karen made a surprise visit. They had just gotten their car back from the shop and thought they would join us for tacos and a walk on the beach – but I think they were there to sus out us newbies. They were still tired from their big trip and frustrated about their car (but thats another story) so I thought I would test the waters with a few sarcastic jokes. Max laughed at whatever it was I said and played right into it – it was then and there we knew that they were our people. We didn’t know it then, but it was our first family meal together.
Full from birria we walked the beach and sat down for some cold beer. I don’t actually like beer, but since we were with new friends I didn’t want to be that person ordering a super girly drink while everyone else drank beers so I swallowed my pride and asked for a Pacifico with lime… just for Kenna to order a pina colada afterwards. “I don’t like beer” she said, and that was just one of the many reasons we would become best buddies.
We watched horses trot along the beach while families played in the sand; vendors approached us asking to buy trinkets that we would never use, but one little boy in particular stood out. Chris was showing Kenna a photo that Mama Neely sent him of the Neely house buried under 6+ feet of snow when a little boy (no more than 7 years old) came between Kenna and I and shook his head “no bueno!” he said, giggling before he ran off to another table with his basket of wooden lizards. He looked up every once in a while with a big grin, shaking his head before running off to the next table. The vendors may be obnoxious, but that kid is going places.
The sun was getting lower and the ice in the beer buckets was melting away. Kenna had just finished her last sip of pina colada and I had forced myself to drink the last of my beer. It was a wonderful afternoon getting to know our new friends, but the party doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Back in La Cruz we gathered aboard Lusty where we fell even more in love with the work Max and Karen had done. “We’re selling her” they said. It was shocking to hear considering they had just finished their refit, but they explained they love to entertain and want more space to do so. After getting to know them, I completely condone their decision to buy a catamaran in the Mediterranean…. and not just because I want to visit! After a few more drinks and chit chat, we walked over to the local watering hole called The Green Tomato (or the Rotten Tomato, to some) where we were basically hazed.
It was the first time we have ever been somewhere that was completely inundated with young cruisers – and cruisers that we knew, to boot! It was amazing to finally meet Kayleen (SV Footloose), Ben and Alie (SV Kiana), Saxon and Holly (Sonrisa II) and catch up with Amy and Matt (SV Double Deuce) who we had briefly met in Chacala the week prior. The Lusty and Sitka crew was also there, and Dakota made an appearance while Chris ran off to pick up our dear friends Charles and Nora (SV Ayala) who we had met the year prior in Ventura. Like I said, a lot of young cruisers.
Somewhere between the dancing and the drinking, we had the pleasure of adding our sticker to the post at the back of the bar alongside our new pals. La Cruz had been incredibly welcoming thus far, and we were excited to soak it all in. But for the time being, we danced, and danced and danced (with some lessons from Nora). Before we knew it, the clock struck midnight and it was time for us to return to our boats for bed… if only we maintained that healthy habit the rest of our time in La Cruz.
It was wild to think about how much life we had lived since we saw Charles and Nora last. It was Spring of 2021, I had one foot out of the door at my marina office job, but when I saw their guest reservation came across my desk I made sure to put them as close to our pals Mitch and Quincey as possible. Their hailing port was from the Bay area, so I knew our other Berkeley buds would hit it off and after a few rounds of volleyball, games and shared dinners we became fast friends.
On a day where our only mission was to acquire some bolts we ended up hopping aboard a bus on a whim and heading down to Puerto Vallarta. “I’ve always wanted to see the Zona Romántica” Nora said as we both tried not to sweat all over each other. The bus windows were inefficient at providing airflow, and the heat radiated off the influx of fellow travelers that sat and stood near us. Chris and Charles sat behind us, at the very back of the bus in seats that weren’t even attached, so with every bump it became a sport to stay grounded and not go into orbit. After a 40 minute drive we made it across state lines into Jalisco and were excited to explore the touristy port town.
The last time Chris and I were in Puerto Vallarta (PV) was in 2018 on our honeymoon, but we had only scratched the surface of what PV had to offer doing all of the “touristy” things but in the most touristy way possible. This time, we had a little bit of an edge (and 5 years of “maturity”) to experience this well-trafficked place with a new perspective. Puerto Vallarta is known for its beaches, water sports and nightlife scene. Its cobblestone center is home to the ornate Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe church, boutique shops and a range of restaurants and bars. El Malecón is a beachside promenade with contemporary sculptures, as well as bars, lounges and nightclubs. The Malecon was just as beautiful as remembered; it’s 12-block, mile-long esplanade connected PV’s Centro and Zona Romántica. The waterfront crosses the Cuale River via Puente Río Cual and sculptures peppered the entire walkway.
As we made our way to the Zona Romántica, we searched high and low for post cards to send our family and patreon supporters but, alas, it seems that Mexico has done away with them entirely. We did find one little tienda that had a dusty rack of postcards that had all clearly been sun bleached. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring myself to buy the only postcards with a scantily clad busty woman on them to send to my family, even though i’m sure it would have gotten some good laughs. Despite Nora’s encouragement to buy the cards I put them back on the shelf and wiped the dust off on my shorts before we continued on our walk.
In the Zona Romántica, we made it a priority to check out the Lazaro Cardenas Park which has been an ongoing art installation project that Nora had been reading about. Since 2017, artist Natasha Moraga and volunteers have transformed the once-concrete plaza into a dazzling mosaic, with a mission to cover every inch of concrete with colorful designs that reflect the tropical sunlight. Bringing new life to the romantic zone or Old Town Puerto Vallarta, the mosaic artwork is one of the most popular and accessible cultural attractions in PV – and we can see why! While admiring each thoughtful mosaic, we rounded the gazebo to see that there in dazzling tiles was “Santa Barbara and Puerto Vallarta, Sister Cities” flooding my heart with a sense of “home”.
The sun was beginning to set and we had an important decision to make: get the last bus, or stay longer and get a DiDi (Mexican Uber) back to La Cruz – it was a quick decision. We walked the beach and found a nice spot to sit and watch the Muelle de Playa Los Muertos come to life. The pier has gone through three versions as part of the Puerto Vallarta renovation process, but it’smost recent art installation in the shape of a sail has been around since 2013. Architect José de Jesús Torres Vega was the one who carried out the new work with the intention of giving a new, attractive, innovative and modern image. During the night the pier is illuminated by colored lights, which makes it a great show to witness.
After drinks we wandered into town for some tacos then made our way back to La Cruz – it was a long day, but one full of learning and memories made with friends.
Having Charles and Nora with us in Mexico was was like having a bit of home visiting. We shared stories, had combo curry night (a weekly Curry dinner we coined with the Esprit crew) and had the opportunity to play a game that we had been holding onto for ages. When Jon and Shannon were home during the summer, they tried playing an escape room game with our best friend Clarke but no one was successful in cracking the case and they passed it on to us since they knew we would be rendezvousing with Nora sooner than later – if anyone could figure it out, it was her. I am happy to report that we each had a hand in solving the case, and it was a very fun time! Be sure to follow Charles and Nora’s blog
La Cruz Sunday Market
I love a good farmers market, and the Sunday Market in La Cruz did not disappoint! Starting as a humble idea in 2010, the market now it hosts around 200 vendors each Sunday from November to April. It is one of the most amazing open-air markets you will ever visit and offers everything from clothes to ceramics to freshly baked breads and fresh greens.
The Farmer’s Market mission is to promote community development in La Cruz through educational, cultural, and recreational activities. With the growth of the market, their social projects have grown as well. The size of the market is impressive in contrast to the population of La Cruz, but since it has gained so much notoriety from locals and visitors like ourselves it has become a destination excursion for surrounding towns like Bucerias and even Puerto Vallarta which is reflective in the price of things (being on the higher end). After strolling the Malecon and getting ourselves savory crepes at the end, we wandered into the town square where even more vendors set up shop. However, in the square is where we found more crafts and soft goods.
The Sunday market became a weekly tradition, and a good way to know what day it was. When the white topped tents started to line the malecon and sounds of music and smells of food carried into the anchorage, it could only mean one thing: another week had come and gone and we were still happy as clams in La Cruz.
I bought myself a new linen outfit from a cute boutique after the women urged me to try the set on – she was one hell of a sales woman because she helped me pick the right color and had everyone else in the booth comment on how good I looked. Sold.
Sailors Helping Sailors
One of the reasons we decided to sail south to La Cruz from Chacala instead of head north into the sea was because a fellow Cheoy Lee owner needed assistance. A month or so prior, Jay and Kenna had posted that they would have to haul out to replace their bent prop but we told them if they could hang tight for a while longer we could come help them pull the prop in the water and replace it since we have a prop puller aboard Avocet.
On a day the red tide wasn’t present, Chris and I dinghied over to Avocet’s sister/cousin Sitka that was so similar yet so drastically different. If you recall, Avocet get’s mistaken as a Cheoy Lee Offshore 41 (which Sitka is) but is actually a frankenstines monster between the Pedrick and Offshore designs and is simply a “CL41”. Despite the differences, the bones are more or less the same, and to step aboard a boat so similar was bizarre – it was Avocet, but not… like we had stepped into a parallel universe. Do other boat owners experience this when stepping aboard a vessel like their own?
The boys were quick to suit up and jump in to assess the damage. Sitka’s prop had been severely deformed with serious electrolysis. It took about a half hour for them to pop the prop off and start to install the new one. While the boys were at work under the waterline, Kenna and I chatted about our love for tea cups, cats and discovered we are very similar… despite our stark height difference (Kenna, when you read this, I hope you laugh xo). One of my favorite conversations though was the one about her tattoo. On her left arm she has a beautifully intricate tea cup with a crashing wave and sailboat tattooed with fine lines and impeccable detail; the story is just as impeccable.
When Jay and Kenna set sail from Canada, Kenna had only spent a few weeks sailing around the protected waters of Vancouver Island and experienced sea sicknesss each time, so the fact she agreed to embark on this major offshore adventure was a testament to her willpower in itself. A few days into their sail, their wooden spreader broke, falling to Sitka’s deck in splinters. They pulled into Eureka, CA to rebuild then continued on their way to San Diego where they checked out of the USA. During transit, Kenna experienced even more discomfort, truly being thrown into the deep end by (wo)manning the helm in rough conditions and tying a bucket around her neck to vomit into while still steering – that was all I needed to hear to conclude that this girl was a badass and we would be fast friends. During the chaos Kenna remembers hearing her beloved teacups clanking around in the cabinets, but despite the circumstances they remained unscathed… as did she. She was baptized by the sea, and reborn a little more salty with a new tattoo to prove it.
Somewhere during our discussion of harrowing night passages, Kayleen from SV Footloose dinghied over to say hello. She was hustling around the anchorage doing bottom cleanings and was covered from head to toe in krill. “Are they in your ears?” I asked, genuinely concerned. “Uhm, yah probably but it’s okay I’ll wash them out” she calmly said. Kayleen is hands down one of the coolest people I have ever met, initially catching my attention on instagram when she posted a photo of snowboards on the foredeck of her sailboat. Sounds like my kind of adventure! Getting to know her in real life was really cool, and i’m stoked on her journey and all the exciting things to come… but that’s for her to tell you 😉 (follow Kayleen here: @fromsnowtosail) After a quick convo I could tell the sea bugs were getting to her, so she bid us farewell and headed back to her boat for a well deserved fresh water rinse.
Unfortunately, the new prop was just a few millimeters too big and wouldn’t work fo Sitka’s aperture. Luckily, Jay quickly found a machinist who could modify the prop to work… It just took a little while to finish. Luckily that meant our new friends would be “stuck” with us for a bit longer, and we would have the opportunity to have many more nights like the one we had that evening aboard Lusty.
It was just the six of us, our newfound family, sitting around Lusty’s spacious cockpit table with an incredible amount of food beautifully plated in front of us. Max and Karen really do go all out when it comes to hosting, and if you have the pleasure of joining them one evening I am sure you will gladly confirm my findings. They are the most hospitable, funny and generous people we have come to know! We laughed, ate, played farkle and talked about future sailing plans – but this isn’t where my La Cruz writings end. On the contrary, this is just the beginning of a much bigger story, so study the names mentioned above because you will be hearing much more about them soon. I am still in awe of the adventures we shared with friends, and how immersed in the culture we became, especially with our Temazcal experience, but I’ll save the details of our ascension for the next blog post.
Thank you, dear readers, for keeping up with our journey and supporting my writing. I look forward to sharing more stories very soon.
Marissa (and Chris and Cleo)
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