Chacala is the quintessential anchorage most people dream about when setting sail for the warm, tropical anchorages of Pacific Mexico. Its clear blue waters lapping at a white sand beach, surrounded by lush vegetation and coconut palms make Chacala an easy favorite on most boaters lists. Aside from the picturesque anchorage, Chacala is a nice stop to break up the passage either north or south bound between San Blas and Banderas Bay.
Like other small towns along this stretch of coast, the tiny coastal fishing village of Chacala is changing fast as its reputation grows as a travelers’ destination. Located 96km north of Puerto Vallarta, it sits pretty along a beautiful little cove backed by verdant green slopes and edged by rugged black rock formations at either end. With just one main, sandy beach and a few cobbled side streets, it’s a great place to unwind.
This little town is a pretty special place, with surf to the north and a secluded beach to the south, and great hiking for those who want to find it, it easily became one of our favorite stops along mainland Mexico. It can get a little rolly out in the bay, but if you are one of the only boats you can tuck in a little closer to were the pangas tie up and it’s not so bad. On Agape, we are pretty roll sensitive but after putting out a stern anchor and deploying the flopper stopper, we hardly noticed the swell rolling in. The town is pretty small but along the beach you can find restaurants that serve great food, especially if you like seafood at cheap prices!
We enjoyed a few days exploring Chacala and the surrounding area, taking advantage of the secluded beach to the south for a fun day of hammocking and playing in the water. I only wish we could have spent more time here.
We finally pushed off the dock and have started making our way down the coast of Baja Mexico! In this video we check into Mexico, visit the children of The Gabriel House, do a lot of fishing and boat repairs at anchor. Let us know what you think, and what you want to see more of! We are currently putting together the videos from our last season cruising and we’d love to hear some feedback.
San Blas and its surrounding rivers and beaches were on our must see list for mainland Mexico. Just a short walk from the marina is the town’s central park with some great little restaurants. From here, you can see the old cathedral, catch a taxi down to the river for an estuary boat tour, walk up to the 16th century Spanish fort or just relax and enjoy a delicious meal and ice cold beer.
After checking into the marina and a quick boat clean up we were ready to head out and explore all that San Blas had to offer. Agape and her crew, as well as John and Becca from S/V Halcyon decided to hop on the early morning jungle river tour we had heard so much about. We saw tons of crocodiles, turtles and many different species of tropical birds that just happened to be passing through on their annual migration.
For the first time on our journey it finally felt like we were getting into the tropical Mexico we had been dreaming about. Our panga driver was great, he had eyes like a hawk and saw things that we would have otherwise missed on our own. Every few minutes he’d point out another hidden creature!
The only downside to the river tour was a stop at a small cocodrilario, or crocodile “zoo”. Theoretically the cocodrilario exists to help perpetuate the crocodile in Nayarit, whose habitat is rapidly shrinking due to agricultural and tourist development. We came to believe that they breed and release the crocodiles here, but there was a lack of information available and we left unsure of the complex’s official purpose. The cocodrilario gives more of an appearance of a small, substandard, commercial zoo than it does a wildlife refuge. The large crocodiles we found were kept in shallow concrete ponds, perhaps twice as long as the croc it contained. The toothy residents topping out at around 15 ft, some supposedly are old and unable to fend for themselves in the wild, while others have been deemed dangerous and removed from local areas. Whatever the reason, I can’t imagine it’s a great life for them. They also had two jaguars, a few deer and birds of prey, a coati and wild boars that are all native to the Nayarit region. All the animals seemed highly agitated and unstimulated in their tiny cages. A few animals were even starting to loose some of their fur. It was heart breaking to see and we left as soon as possible trying to make it clear we did not want to support the way the animals were being held.
In true Mexican fashion, our tour ended at a restaurant in La Tovara Springs, where though not forced to eat, you would sit for an hour during lunch time. It’s a ploy that gets most people to end up ordering something. At least the restaurant had a rope swing into the springs where you could swim and play while you waited, supposedly gated off underwater from the main estuary and protected from crocodiles.
We would end up walking into town most nights to grab dinner and do some people watching. As the temperatures rose and the price to eat out fell, it made sense to keep the boat cool and support the local businesses. Going out night after night gave us the feeling that we kinda knew the place, and one night around 11pm when we heard loud music playing nearby and guessed it was coming from the central plaza. We decided to finish our cocktails and hit the town! A block or two from the marina we found the source of the laughter, shouting, and live music. It was the 40th birthday of the town’s previous mayor and he was having a huge party in the middle of the street, complete with a live band and lots of dancing. We slowly made our way down the street not wanting to intrude on the party, curiously watching for a minute. While passing by, the guy manning the bar had spotted us and sent a kid over to us with a couple beers in hand. Moments later the older boys took turns pulling the ladies out on the dance floor. We were welcomed in with open arms and greeted with huge smiles. It was such a fun experience to be complete strangers, from another country, barely speaking their language and to have been brought into their celebration with out a single question. It’s one of the many reasons why we love Mexico so much, everyone here is so kind and welcoming. How often in the States do you think people would invite foreigners into their homes and parties without a single word or question? The people here are so proud of their country and culture, and always eager to share the beauty of their lives with us. Something they are teaching us to do more of!
The marina in San Blas is nice, but like a lot of places we have seen in Mexico, it has a ton of potential to be better. There is a roof top pool and jacuzzi, though they lack the propane system needed to heat it, which also meant they only had cold showers. Apparently they haven’t had hot water in quite some time, despite what the guide books and their website says.
Our favorite thing about the marina was the little restaurant on the corner that served a mean grilled mahi mahi, shrimp and pineapple burger!
From San Blas we made the short hop down to Mantenchen Bay. It was a short stay as the jejenes, or no-see-um bugs, and mosquitos were quite bad but it was a cute little beach town lined with palapas. Doing short stopovers like this after being in a marina help ease our bodies back into the rhythm of rocking and rolling on our sportier passages.
After three amazing days and three miserably rolly nights anchored off Isla Isabel, we were ready to continue our voyage south. We woke early to take advantage of the favorable winds and said goodbye to our 40,000 new bird friends to make the 40 mile sail south to San Blas.
We waited for the two other boats to leave first that day incase they needed help getting up their anchors. The rocky bottom in the southern anchorage is known to eat anchors, sometimes requiring a diver to untangle the chain from the rocks. After Elisabeth and Halcyon were up and out of the anchorage, we raised our anchor and were almost immediately able to set the asymmetrical spinnaker. We had 7-10 knots of wind which was perfect for a downwind spinnaker run all the way to San Blas.
Rachel and I consider ourselves still very new to sailing and are by no means racers, every time we get to fly the spinnaker it’s a little celebration! When the sail is hoisted and I lift the sock (thing that holds our sail closed) to expose the big blue sail to the wind, I am always a little nervous. But, as the canvas fills with wind and it balloons out I feel like a little kid at Christmas opening a present!
As we neared the marina we radioed Halcyon to discuss the bar crossing. We wanted to double-check the tides and swell before approaching the shallow entrance into the estuary. The San Blas marina is located in the estuary and the river mouth tends to fill with sediment from upstream, creating a sand bar. Halcyon edged their way in and we followed them at a distance incase they needed to back out if it got too shallow. After two or three failed attempts to find a deep enough passage over the bar, a large fishing boat came barreling by, obviously knowing his way in, we followed as close to his route as possible. It got very shallow, but once past the entrance jetties it opened back up and we had plenty of water bellow the keel.
A ponga from the marina came out to meet us once we had made it into the estuary to guide us through the narrow channel up to the marina’s docks. As we approached our slip, Rachel went forward to throw the guys our bow line. I usually come into the docks pretty slow, as my motto is “slow is pro”, but suddenly, just as Agape entered the slip she stopped moving.
Rachel turned back yelling, “We still have ten feet, keep going forward.”, thinking I had already put the boat into neutral.
“I am in forward!” I replied. Realizing we had stopped moving, I putting the boat into neutral and walked forward.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Keep going forward.” Rachel said with a look of bewilderment on her face, probably thinking, “Why is he leaving the helm while we are still ten feet from the dock!”.
I informed her and the staff that we were stuck in the mud and that we wouldn’t be able to get further into the slip. I had never run aground or been stuck in the mud before, and at that moment I was feeling slightly embarrassed and was a little worried for the boat. The marina staff said we could try a deeper slip near the end of the docks closer to the main channel.
Back at the helm, I throttledup in reverse to pull Agape out of the mud. Mr. Perkins did not disappoint and easily backed us out. As I backed out away from the slip to give myself room to turn, Rachel and the dock guys start yelling at me to stop because it was shallow. Momentarily I thought, “Ya no kidding, I just backed out of the mud!”, and just at that second as I was putting Agape into forward, I felt the rudder start to move. Unbeknownst to me there was another sandbar right behind me and as I was backing into it, rudder first. The mud was starting to press against the rudder, pushing it to the side. As soon as I felt the wheel turn, I knew what was happening. I throttled up in forward, momentarily asking Mr. Perkins for all he had to stop our backward motion and keep any damage from happening to the rudder. Once again the engine did not fail me and with a little puff of black smoke Agape was moving forward. Throttling down we pulled into the end slip with only 0.5 feet under the keel. I am by no means an expert helmsman, and not the best at docking to begin with, so I consider myself lucky to have not done any damage to rudder or our boat. Luckily the bottom was soft and silty mud!
It’s situations like these that I am thankful for having this style boat. Agape is a strong boat that we don’t have to worry about lightly touching muddy or sandy bottom. Yes, we absolutely try to avoid grounding at all costs. In fact this was our first time “running aground”, and I knew at the time we didn’t need to freak out because we could calmly and safely get her back off again without fear of our keel bolts failing or ripping out. Rudders can be a boat’s weak point, but with Agape’s massive skeg and beefy rudder supports and steering gear we have a little extra insurance in that area as well.
Now safely tied up to the dock we could relax and look forward to exploring San Blas!!!!!!