Barra de Navidad at Last!

We finally made it out of La Cruz! The weather window was not ideal but it was supposedly good enough. To facilitate leaving the marina zero dark-thirty, we first headed out to Playa Manzanilla to overnight, accompanied by a few whales and whale watching boats (nice touch, finally seeing the whales before we had to leave).

We got up at 0400 to head to Cabo Corrientes, hoping to find it in a  relatively benevolent mood.

Zero dark thirty.. ready to rock and roll! (Literally…)
Sunrise over Banderas Bay… beautiful way to start the day!

Crossing Banderas Bay was easy, but by the time we rounded the cape it was apparent we were in for a sleigh ride. All in all it was a pretty miserable trip, although for me having the rollers come from behind made it a bit less uncomfortable. There were times, though, that NRII rolled off a particularly large wave and pitched dramatically. But she’s a Nordhavn and as always our mantra is “the boat can take much much more than the crew”. Also “why can’t the weather apps get it right?!”

Not sure who’s having a rougher time… this Cat or us….I’m going to go with them..

Our first stop was Chemala, somewhere out of the wind and the swell where we could eat and sleep and get ready for more of the same. We arrived before sunset, to a bay full of like-minded individuals, but we managed to find a spot on the outside of the pack that was adequately protected from the rolling. I looked longingly at the long white beach and numerous palapas with colourful chairs and umbrellas but it was too late to contemplate a foray to shore and they looked closed and empty anyway. We grabbed our dinner and ate on the top deck, watching the sun go down.. the calm between the storms. 

The next morning we left before 1000, and headed back out. The good news is although the swells were larger than predicted, the period was about ten seconds, so although it was a following sea we weren’t being thrown around that much.

There are numerous beautiful anchorages along the way between Corrientes and Barra de Navidad, several of which I had been looking forward to visiting. Between the small towns, beach palapas and super snorkelling spots there was something for everyone. But it was not to be – we were like a horse to the barn, eager to get to Barra de Navidad and our friends and out of the swells.  Whether or not we actually had somewhere to tie up remained to be seen, as getting a confirmed reservation had been a frustrating and ultimately futile experience. But our buddy Rod told us there was an empty spot near him, and once you tie up it’s quite possible that possession is nine tenths of the law and it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission when it comes to the marina. So that’s what we did. 

After navigating the narrow channel (lots of sandbars) and being chased and passed by flying pangas and dinghies (are there no speed limits?!?) we made it into the marina and found the open spot.

We were never actually given permission to stay on the dock but neither were we ever kicked off, once we visited the office and paid. So finally! After years of trying, we were docked in Barra de Navidad, under the supremely elegant backdrop of the hotel. 

Not our boat but…. You get the picture!
Northern Ranger II…

The week we had chosen to visit happened to be Cruise in Week, capped off by a race the day after we arrived. This meant that the marina was full of sailboats! It also meant that the next day we had a mission – to find a good bar with our friends (not the sandy type but the margarita and beer type) so we could watch the race and place a few bets (all proceeds went to the local schools so it was a great cause!)

I was never sure who was winning or losing… and it’s all in slow motion so you have lots of time to think about it!

In order to get to the actual town of Barra, you have to cross the bay, and the approved method for accomplishing this is with a panga driver. Many pangas ply the waters, racing back and forth and out into the lagoon (lots of boats anchor there) and to the restaurants lining the lagoon….pick up-drop off points make it easy to catch the next panga, and radioing them to come right to your dock makes it even easier. Of course there’s no maximum number for people in a panga… bit like clowns in a Volkswagen…one evening we counted 22. Not much freeboard left as we raced the (luckily ) short distance from our dock to the Barra dock. 

Heading Out on the Town for an Evening with Rod and the gang!

I had asked our friends about grocery stores, and their answer was “why bother?” Barra is full of good restaurants, some expensive, some dirt cheap.. you never have to cook a meal if you don’t want to and why would you want to when there’s so much to see and do. Sooooo….that’s what we did. 

Between the pool (decent margaritas and warm water) and the numerous watering holes and taco places and lovely restaurants, we never had a bad meal. Some were better than others, and at times I was so taken in with the ambience of a place (perfect trifecta of pleasant attentive staff and owners, beautiful garden and decor, and fantastic music) I let the not so stellar meal go.

But sometimes it was just a magical evening, with music, food, wine, and wonderful wait staff, that made for a memorable evening… not to mention the good company. 

Pre-Valentines dinner out …
Our favourite place to watch the sunset….

So Barra enchanted us…especially at nine in the morning, every morning, when the sound of a little tinkly bell got the mouth watering  because it signalled the arrival of the French baker! And we were his first stop, so his panga would be full of pastries all artfully arrayed, and fresh coffee, and croque monsieurs and other delicious treats… as well as wine and tequila and even limoncello. Bit early in the morning for us but tempting!

So breakfast was taken care of, although I added my home-made yoghurt and fresh fruit to give it the appearance of a healthy meal. 

Resistance is futile…assimilate that croissant!

To offset the early morning calorie bomb, we took to walking around the grounds and exploring the surrounding hills. It looks as though there had been some method to the madness of the design around the resort, but it was never quite fully realized.

What is there is beautiful, and I felt as though I were somewhere in Europe, a mini Monaco perhaps…. The roads were well made, the signage was adorable, and the scope and imagination of what could have been is awesome. However, most of the lots are empty of homes, and there are a couple of deserted mansions standing in decaying magnificence, looking like sets for a Steven King Movie or a post apocalyptic series…

The golf course is a hike away, flanked by a number of beautiful homes. The stunning beach it sits on has a little palapa and the banyos are still there, along with a stone staircase up the side of the cliff to take you to the secret beach -but no cervesas or tacos were to be had.

Amazing trees on the fairway…
Not going to be swimming at this secret beach anytime soon!
Can’t complain about the service because there is none….

We spent two days wandering with our friends, both birders, so with binoculars around my neck and my Mexican bird leaflet firmly in hand I stuck close to them while Lawrence carried my backpack and tried to find shade. Poor patient man! But wow! I saw birds I didn’t know existed, which gave me an opportunity to add a lot of firsts to my list. Unfortunately my good camera has been malfunctioning, so I could not get any pictures of what I saw. Luckily everything was corroborated by the experts! 

All in all Barra left an indelible mark on us, as friends had told us it would. I celebrated my birthday there with our Costa Baja sailing friends, and we celebrated our anniversary two days later. We had amazing meals, delicious margaritas, and found beautiful beach-side palapas to ward off the heat of the day, after our bird-watching hikes, with sushi and cold beverages. Wow! 

We knew we had to leave Barra eventually, but when Lawrence started checking the weather for a travel window, what was available looked to be imminent and short. We needed to get up the sea by mid March and if we didn’t leave right away we may have been waiting for a week or two.. so we checked out of the marina sooner than expected… and prepared to head north.

However whoever said getting there is half the fun obviously travels when the weather gods are on their side. 

This year apparently the weather has a mind of its own and any attempt at prognostication should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Lawrence uses a number of different apps and models, and we always add 5 plus knots to the wind forecast…but we still get slammed.

Our motto has always been “never leave port for any reason if the weather is going to be obnoxious.” Almost nothing  is worth the discomfort, and we try not to set schedules that force our hand. So now it  seems the weather prediction is more like a “ vague suggestion”.. something like “well there will be some wind”. “The sun will rise and then it will go down and in between there will be some waves”.

If the ride down was annoying, then the trip back was pretty much something I’d like to forget—like childbirth, only longer.

We left Barra mid afternoon, planning to do an overnight passage back to La Cruz (missing all the beautiful anchorages yet again but… horse to the barn…) and within an hour I actually felt, for the first time in 45 years of cruising, sick. Not lie down and die or puke your guts out sick, but “is this ever going to end because there will be no food served anytime soon” sick. Thank heavens for granola bars and trail mix. 

Which was fine because Lawrence wasn’t in the mood for tortilla soup either.

The waves were big, the period was short, and we took it on the nose pretty much the whole way. Attempts to sleep downstairs were futile, so I lay down on  the settee to get some rest. The bulbous bow, normally a thing of pride on these Nordhavn 50’s, took on a more sinister and annoying role as it crashed into each wave like the hammer of Thor. Amazingly our ship’s bell only rang a few times (usually a signal that things are going to go south really quickly) and all the books in the stairway bookshelf stayed where they were. It wasn’t until we neared Corrientes that things flattened slightly and we were  actually able to get two solid hours downstairs each.

Buddy boating with Rod on Moana…

While we were underway we had our friend Rod on his sailboat shadowing us, and numerous sailboats appearing on AIS as they were travelling north from the Barra Cruise In. Radio conversations in the middle of the night were all about the weather and how far up it remained snotty… so at least we knew we weren’t the only ones suffering…and that there was no relief in sight.

But we made it to La Cruz, at around six in the morning. Thankfully a short trip, and even now as I write this I’m thinking nah, it couldn’t have been all that bad… (see, like childbirth…. Memory is mercifully short)

There was, predictably, no space at the La Cruz marina, and as it was still quite dark we dropped anchor way out in the bay… and promptly crashed and slept!

In the light of day we realized how far out we were, which wasn’t a bad thing (did not want to navigate in darkness through some 60 odd boats, trying to find a spot to anchor).

But our small inflatable dinghy is powered by a Torquedo electric motor….which meant that going to the marina was a long slow process (the faster you go the quicker you lose power). It’s even worse after an evening out, when the red glow of our outside lights mingle with the flashy lights of Bucerias and Puerto Vallarta and you lose sight of your boat.  However sometimes you get lucky and there are fireworks at one of the beach resorts as you motor past and that is pretty spectacular!

We begged the marina manager for a slip, citing our lack of power and imminent need for work to be done on the boat..but she couldn’t magic a spot for us out of thin air so we remained out in the anchorage. 

I also wanted to be in the marina as my twin brother Peter had agreed to come down and join Rod on his sailboat for his crossing from La Cruz, up the coast to Mazatland, and over to La Paz. He had flown in the night before and managed to get a taxi from the airport (totally rip-off price from the airport!) and find his way around the town – well enough to discover the best street tacos and a cold beer on his own! 

In the morning he walked down to the marina and we caught up to him on Rod’s boat. Rod had once again managed to dock first and ask permission later so was hanging out in a transient spot on the outermost dock beside the breakwater.

We spent a few nights with the gang, showing Peter some of the highlights (Miguel’s in Bucerias has  somehow managed to become our hangout) (and churros! We introduced him to churros!) before they were scheduled to  head north.  I had hoped to follow them and catch up but….boat problems)

Our favourite churros…

We had to leave our generator running while we were ashore, and that was a bit unnerving, but if we hadn’t we would have had no power to the boat by the time we got back in the evening. Batteries are definitely on their last legs! And the guy we were trying to get to source them for us was being remarkably quiet. Like… crickets. 

When Rod was ready to  sail north,  we asked the marina manager if we could slide into his slip—she was most charming and agreed!

The gang had planned to go for one last breakfast at our favourite Ring restaurant before heading out, but Lawrence quickly decided to go back to the boat so he could bring her in before some other desperate boater discovered the empty slip… I gave everyone a hug and went back to the dock to ensure no one took our spot. 

Someone did come in – a small sailboat with a small woman aboard… who turned out to be Jeanne Socrates, one of the most famous solo sailors and woman sailors around… so no way I was going to tell her she couldn’t take the spot! Besides there was plenty of room for both of us and I had heard she’d had a rough sail from the Baja side, so I definitely wasn’t going to make a fuss. 

Lawrence brought Northern Ranger II in, we were able to tie her up close to the pedestal so we could plug in to shore power and there was water too… everything taken care of! (We filter the heck out of the water and here in La Cruz we put it through a water softener too as it is off the charts hard…)

A trip to the Port captain and the marina office and we were legitimate! No job is complete until the paperwork is done and in Mexico that is doubly true! 

We booked someone to wash the boat the next day, as there was enough salt covering us bow to stern to rim the glasses of  a thousand margaritas… and settled into our new and decidedly different spot. 

I actually decided to cook dinner after my holiday from the galley, so prawns from the fish market and fresh mangoes and avocados were turned into BBQ prawn tacos! Not bad! 

We aren’t near the charter party boats…(blissfully quiet in the morning and afternoon!)  we have the malecon right beside us so we have a view of all the earnest early morning runners and walkers…and we aren’t beside the roads where clouds of dust and grit are thrown up and out and onto the boats there. Definitely a plus! 

I can hop in the kayak and go out for a paddle without having to dodge charter boats and dinghies  through the marina… 

we have our own little aquarium right next to us….

Guinea puffer fish…. Dark phase
Bird life too… much preferable to the frigates who are notorious for what they leave behind!

And if we want to, we will be able to watch the Thursday night movie from the comfort of our back deck! 

3 thoughts on “Barra de Navidad at Last!”

  1. So fun to read! Miss you guys. We have room on Daybreak if our schedules ever match up!!


      We are always happy to cruise with you guys!!!! Just not in Ju e!!how about later in august!!! LOL!❤️❤️❤️

  2. As usual Pen, a great blog. The trips sound awful, such a Mistress the sea. Good old Nordhavn keeping you safe. I do not look forward to a passage like that. My body is still getting used to it all over again. But Mexico continues to sound more and more interesting to me. I love your descriptions of the art and colours and the food and people. Explains why so many stay on. Here’s to more adventures. Xxxx

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