Banderas Bay

Posted:  June 10, 2023
👁 3437   6

Our Own Slice of Paradise

Cleo and Maxson

We had been anchored in Banderas Bay for a month and had settled into a routine: wake up, go to shore, do chores, rendezvous with Lusty and Sitka for nightly shenanigans, stay up way too late and repeat. It was like summer camp, but one that seemingly never ended. We had the public transportation down, our spanish was improving and we had paid patronage to nearly every restaurant in town more than once. We were getting comfy, and soon realized this was the La Cruz vortex people warned us about.

To shake things up, we secured a slip to give Avocet a much needed washdown. Her decks were speckled salt and debris from Mexico; mainly ash from the nightly trash burning onshore. She may be a cruising boat, but we didn’t work our @ss’s off so her looks could degrade all within the first few months of cruising. Luckily the marina found us a spot next to our pals aboard SV Lusty, which made the following weeks shenanigans much easier on us.

While in their neighborhood we had the opportunity to host a pasta night aboard Avocet where we all partook in making pasta – a fun “new friend” tradition introduced to us by our pals Scott and Ashley from SV Azimuth. It was a fun night and a delicious dinner – Even Baby Carlos (the stray dock cat that has adopted the Lusty crew) jumped aboard and made herself at home inside Avocet. Cleo wasn’t bothered, and stuck to her bed in the quarter berth while peacefully watching the wild tabby roam the interior of her domain. After dinner we played games and stayed up entirely too late, but we were just pregaming for the following night. 

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Saint Patricks Day

Despite my heritage, I have never been one to celebrate Saint Patricks day which is why celebrating in Mexico was not necessarily part of my plans until our friends planned an entire day around the celebration.

Back in the mid 1800’s many Irish immigrants who had come to the United States to escape economic hardship, but instead found themselves fighting in the Mexican-American War against their adopted country. Though they were on the losing side of the war, their actions are still celebrated in Mexico today, where they are viewed as heroes. It is common to hear a bagpiper join in the regular mariachi music on March 17th, in honor of the San Patricios.

Kenna doing the final touches

Karen, Kenna and I were ready to party in our green ensambles after an early afternoon of playing dressup and doing our makeup on Lusty (Thanks for the bedazzled eyes Karen!) As a special treat, our good friends Jenny and Mac from SV Maya joined us. They had just arrived the night prior, and would only be in town for one day… the perfect day to party. Our crew of eight loaded up in a taxi and headed into the neighboring town of Bucerias, where the Sitka crew feels right at home being surrounded by so many Canadian expats.

We started the evening off pregaming at a bar next door where Kenna and I – the only two non-beer-drinkers – ordered Dirty Monkey’s that the rest of our friends were very jealous of. Afterwards we walked to Jax Bar & Grill where the party began. Karen was quick to get inside and claim the best tables for our large and ever-growing party of cruisers. According to their website, Jax Bar & Grill is your home for the best live music in Banderas Bay. With bands on the stage every day of the week, the party never stops at Jax – and we were willing to put that last statement to the test.

Chris, Me, Kenna (barely), Karen, Max, Jay, Mac, Jenny

With my social anxiety I am not usually one to subject myself to loud, crowded spaces full of strangers and new things – the overstimulation sends me into a dark place of dissociation where I shut down and go into autopilot to survive the situations. With that said I’m sure you can imagine the look on Chris’s face when I jumped without hesitation when the MC announced whoever could show him a family photo first would win a prize. I ran right up there in front of everyone with the latest Neely family photo from Chacala proudly displayed on my phone. “Who are you?” Chris asked when I returned to my seat, with my brand new green flask in hand. I shrugged, smiling ear to ear, feeling completely comfortable in the unusual, amongst our friends. Right after the music started playing and we buckled up for a long night of dancing, singing, and drinking – water, of course!

It was like we blinked and it was suddenly 1:00 am, our aching feet and growling stomachs reminding us we should start to make our trek back to La Cruz … after some phenomenal street tacos of course. We made it back to town just in time to catch Ben from SV Kiana at the Green Tomato celebrating his birthday with a handful of other cruisers. They were going to rendezvous with us at Jax, but time slipped away. Luckily we had the opportunity to continue the party a little longer before he and his partner Alie headed back to their boat in Paradise Village. We closed down the bar, and the last time I checked it was 2:30. We were exhausted, and so glad we didn’t have to dinghy back to the anchorage. It was the best Saint Patrick’s Day I’ve ever had.

Punting and Punta de Mita

As mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog post: We really had the routine down… until Jay and Kenna had to go and mess it all up. To be fair, they had a good reason to leave the country. No, they weren’t wanted for murder (well, now that I say it, Kenna might be. She can be scary) but they had to renew their visa’s, so they booked an impromptu trip to the neighboring country of Guatemala. Although I was close to jumping ship and tagging along, Chris reminded me there was an easier way to get a change of scenery, so we pulled the hook and sailed north to Punta de Mita… or at least we tried, anyway.

When we sailed to Mexico, our dear friend Kris (Big Sierra – give him a listen) sent me a message with a link to the instagram page belonging to the musician Goth Babe. “He lives on a boat in Mexico too!” he said, and after scrolling through Griff’s (Goth Babe’s) content we learned that he was pretty darn close to us. So, I reached out and introduced ourselves with the hope that we would share an anchorage soon – little did we know our hopes would turn into reality within the span of two weeks. Soon SV Lola was anchored next to us in La Cruz with Griff, his girlfriend Maddie and sweet dog Sadie aboard, and although our time together was short, we became buddies – which is why we decided to take them up on the offer of buddy boating up to Punta Mita, the tip of Banderas Bay.

Avocet setting the hook under sail. PC: Griff

Initially we thought our sail to the northern tip of Banderas Bay would be leisurely, so we stowed our belongings haphazardly – which is why we were shocked when our full canvas caught the 30 knot breeze before we could reef. The swell was starting to buck, and Lola was pulling away… I looked at Chris, and we both agreed to “punt” on the trip and sail downwind back to La Cruz. “Let’s try again in the morning before the thermals pick up” I said, once Chris returned to the cockpit. Dolphins jumped besides us, doing FLIPS in the air – something I had never seen before and was a major silver living of our failed mission. That evening Maddie sent us a video from the anchorage, proving it was more mellow than we had anticipated. With that reassurance, we were confident in our decision to sail up there the next day.

After a good night of sleep we caught the morning wind and had a wonderful sail north to Punta Mita. We sailed through the anchorage looking for a spot to lay our hook, getting close to our pals aboard Sonrisa II who were preparing to sail to French Polynesia the following day. Griff was in Lola’s cockpit and caught us sailing by, welcoming us to the neighborhood.

Punta Mita comes from the Aztec word “mictlan” meaning “gateway to paradise” and it lives up to its name. The peninsula boasts a lush, jungle setting with a hill overlooking the ocean and has idyllic sandy beaches and coves all along its three sides. Punta Mita is located on the north end of Banderas Bay in the Mexican state of Nayarit, about 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. It is well known for its surf spots and laid back vibe.

“You guys have to come over!” Maddie said as she pulled her dinghy alongside Avocet. Her friends aboard SV Elixir were hosting a spinnaker swing party, and extended the invitation to everyone in the surrounding area. Although it was blowing about 15 knots in the anchorage, we couldn’t pass it up so launched Winglet and made our way over where we were greeted by about 12 people on a 36 foot sailboat – it was nuts! Maddie had just splashed into the water off the spinnaker that was rigged in front of the boat like a parachute, catching the wind and pulling the rider into the sky until they decided to snuff it out or drop into the water below. After Chris did it he explained it was a lot like kite surfing; something he technically hasn’t done yet, but did have a couple training sessions with our good pal Reid in Morro Bay.

After Chris got his kicks in the swing (I do not do heights + water) we made our way to shore where we quickly realized Punta Mita is sort of a facade: it is a well established luxurious and exclusive resort town masquerading as a beach bum’s paradise. I completely get why people compare it to my hometown of Santa Cruz because the vibes are the same. After a quick walk around we retreated back to Avocet where we settled in for the night, inviting the crews of Sonrisa II, Lola and Kiana over for apps and cervezas.

A borrowed board and branded surf wax? Kiana Crew, you are too cool.

When the wind died that night the anchorage gave Santa Barbara’s roadstead anchorage a run for its money. We should have known it was going to be bumpy – after all, the reason why the Lola crew came to Punta Mita was to chase the incoming swell for surfing. The following morning I decided to “get with the program” and paddle out myself, thanks to the Kiana crew for letting me borrow one of their boards.

I used to surf all the time as a preteen and through my teenage years; before and after school, and basically whenever I wasn’t snowboarding. I was never “great” at it, but I sure did have fun. During college I moved to the mountains then got busy with life, got a job, and all the other excuses that often pull people away from the things they love doing. Although I ended up just paddling around the outside of the lineup and watching Griff and Maddie catch wave after wave, it sure felt good to float on a board again.

“So… we’re good here, right?” Chris said as I showered in the cockpit. My ribs ached from my poor paddling posture and lack of wetsuit between myself and the fiberglass. Having slept like garbage the night before, we decided to pull anchor and retreat back to La Cruz to catch up on some sleep and reunite with Max and Karen. It was the right call, because we soon had a new adventure to prepare for when our favorite Canadians flew back from Guatemala.

Shanghaied to Yelapa

In the height of the season we met many cruisers in La Cruz that shared tales of a magical place that lies on the south end of Banderas Bay, one that we “couldn’t miss” before sailing elsewhere. A town named Yelapa that is reminiscent of what life once was around the bay; a small fishing village tucked into the luscious green hillside with no roads for cars but plenty of room for burros. Since arriving, we decided we wanted to experience Yelapa amongst friends (since friends make everything more fun) and held off on visiting until Jay and Kenna returned from Guatemala. However, they tried to weasel their way out of the trip under the pretense that they wouldn’t have enough time to prepare Sitka for the sail across… but that’s the cool thing about friends with boats: there are plenty of options. After a little convincing (and some photos of Cleo to seal the deal) our pals were IN and would be ready for the adventure the day after they touched down in La Cruz. 

Our friends settled aboard Avocet, instantly. I suppose a benefit of having extremely similar vessels is that you kind of already have the flow down so know where your belongings should go so they won’t clutter the space. Chris and I were excited to set up the quarter berth for them; one of the first renovation projects we did when we bought the boat so she could comfortably sleep a couple. It seemed special, in a way, that our new best friends be the first to utilize the guest berth in Mexican waters, even if it was just for a weekend getaway. With everything stowed accordingly we sailed off the hook and set our course for Yelapa. 


The sun was high and breeze was fair making it a gorgeous sail across the bay. Jay and Kenna observed Avocets contrasts to Sitka, further cementing the idea that our boats are not true sisters but more like cousins. Whales breached in the distance, and music played in the cockpit. We filmed on our GoPros creating loads of redundant footage, but from our own perspectives  and finally, three and a half hours of blissful sailing later, we were at the mouth of the cove, ready for Edgar to lead us to our mooring ball.

A majority of the cove is very deep with steep sides, but a shelf can be found at the southern end near the sand beach for the daring. Due to the depths and tight anchoring quarters, the townspeople of Yelapa installed numerous moorings to entice boaters to visit, which sounds great in theory but we soon learned that the moorings were not necessarily standard across the board- but more on that in a minute. Thankfully, Mike at PV Sailing hooked us up with Edgar in Yelapa who set us up with a mooring. For Avocet, it was $35USD/night and the pangaros taxied us to and from the boat which was nice since the beach landing had an aggressive plunging shore break.

We jumped from the bow of the panga as Edgar began to pull away. Our toes sank into the grainy earth while we took in our new surroundings. The shoreline of the anchorage had a handful of palaces, each advertising their own quirks – drinks, AC and Wifi – but I was so hungry we stumbled into the first one we came across which was a huge mistake. It took an hour to be served two plates of “nachos” which were actually 4 tostadas broken in half (not even quarters) with a sad amount of meat and cheese across them. It was subpar for the price, but I was starving and scarfed it down immediately. The food wasn’t necessarily the issue with the experience though. Since arriving in Mexico we have had to shake our expectations of instant service and settle into the “mañana” mentality. It has been good, honestly, to remember that the instant service in the states is a result of the rat race and leads to burn out and other unhealthy factors BUT our lunch date at the palapa was more along the lines of blatant disrespect. Our waiter was MIA, even when it came time to pay. When we paid another waiter he rolled his eyes when we told him we couldn’t find “our” waiter, who was sitting in a lawn chair and drinking with his pals in the distance. Definitely not the best first experience in this highly regarded town, but luckily it was an isolated incident and we ignored the Palapas the rest of the trip.

Our first night was full of excitement that spilled over to the following night and we are still so thrilled we got to experience it all with our friends. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hold out on all the details, I’m just going to write another post dedicated to Yelapa alone because it really was that cool. Stick around for the next post, coming to your screen soon!

Fair winds,

Marissa (and Chris and Cleo)


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