Magic Log #5: La Ventana to La Cruz

When we were originally planning our cruising for the winter, we wanted to cross the sea from La Ventana to Mazatlan. From there we would head south along the coast until we got to Puerto Vallarta or Manzanillo. With all the time we spent in La Ventana, though, we only had six days before we needed to be in the Puerto Vallarta area, so we decided to cross straight to Sayulita, an hour long drive north of Puerto Vallarta. On our return to La Paz later in the season we would see the spots further north on the mainland side.

Instead of the 200 mile crossing to Mazatlan, we had about 320 miles to go now. The forecast was for light winds and we expected a mellow passage which would take about three days. We left La Ventana in the morning, and the wind started to come up a few hours later as we motored past Punta Arena de La Ventana. We had enough wind to sail, but never more than 12 knots or so, and had a delightful time sailing at five or six knots through the small waves. This continued through the night, then the wind came down to seven or eight knots the second day. We put up the spinnakers, first the symmetrical and then the asymmetrical. This took some experimentation — I’d never used a spinnaker before, whether on Magic or Grand Illusion — but after playing around with lines and blocks and poles we had the sails behaving well.

I noticed a fish swimming along under the boat. I stuck a GoPro in the water and was able to identify it as a Bonito, a smaller relative of the tuna. For nearly an hour the fish was always under one hull or the other. In my bloodlust I wanted to catch it, and tried a couple lures on a fishing pole before just firing the speargun into the water at it. This didn’t work, predictably, and after that the Bonito was gone.

In the afternoon on the second day the wind died. We were about half way to Sayulita, and started up one of the engines. Relaxed motoring through flat seas the rest of the day and night. Midday on the third day I was looking around and saw what looked like breaking waves in a wind chop about half a mile away. This was surprising since there wasn’t any wind at all where we were, so I looked through binoculars and saw dolphins jumping into the air over and over again. We changed course to head closer to them, a pod of several hundred spinner dolphins. Here is a video from when we first approached the pod:

Dozens of dolphins broke off from the pod to follow along with our boat. Standing at the bow we were surrounded by dolphins swimming through the calm water and jumping into the air constantly. It was magical. After fifteen or twenty minutes or so I started to get the urge to jump in the water with them. With all my diving and snorkeling experience I had still never seen a dolphin from the water. I put the engine in neutral and waited until we slowed down, then tethered myself to the boat and went off the swim step. A couple minutes later Lisa joined me. We saw dozens of dolphins, though they stayed near the edge of visibility. They were comfortable being much closer to Magic itself, when we weren’t in the water. After another ten minutes a couple small sharks accompanying the pod came upon us. One of them bluff charged me (seen at the end of the video above), then we both got back on Magic pretty quickly. We stayed with the pod for some time longer, but eventually they lost interest and went on their way. We turned the boat back towards Sayulita.

We motored through the third night, sailed for a couple hours around dawn, then started motoring again. We arrived in Sayulita in mid-morning, right about three days after we left La Ventana. Despite both being relatively small Mexican beach towns, they couldn’t have been more different. La Ventana was spread out over several miles, surrounded by desert, and laid back. Sayulita was concentrated over less than a mile, surrounded by jungle, and packed with tourists. Not long after arriving I paddled to shore to check out the landing and had a bit of a shock walking among all the people milling about on the beach. This surprised me, as I had the impression that Sayulita was off the beaten tourist track, but we weren’t that put off (and weren’t expecting things to be any better closer to Puerto Vallarta.)

The water here was wonderfully warm, and we did some swimming around the boat. Then we kayaked to shore and walked the beach as it ran east of town. The crowds thinned and we found ourselves on a beach with wonderful soft white sand, the surf pounding nearby. We started to see why so many people were coming here.

While the beach east of town is a steep shore break, in front of Sayulita itself is a really nice surfing break. During most of the day it was pretty crowded. I wanted to get back into surfing, but I hadn’t done it since 2012 and didn’t want to deal with too many people. Before dawn the next morning I paddled in to shore to join the five or six people already there.

I had a great time. I got several rides, and the feeling of being on a wave again was exhilarating. After an hour and a half I was beat, and went back to Magic. Pretty much every day we were in Sayulita afterwards I went in early to repeat this, and always had fun.

Later that afternoon I went into shore with Lisa, and we went boogie boarding. In the past Lisa had never spent much time playing in ocean surf, but here she had a blast. I really like how gradual the learning curve is with surfing when compared to kiteboarding. Surfing well is, I feel, a lot more difficult than kiteboarding well, but it’s always easy to go and have some fun in the waves.

We decided to meet up with our incoming visitor, Brad, in Sayulita, so had a couple more days to spend before then. One day Lisa went snorkeling by the boat and saw a huge school of fish. I jumped in with a speargun and found them, a bunch of golden trevally, so densely packed and fearless that they casually swam around right in front of my spear. The easiest spearfishing I’ve ever done, and in a few minutes I caught two (and badly wounded one that got away, sadly), which were delicious.

The trevally were gone the next day but I went spearfishing again at a nearby point, still able to catch fish. I also went in to shore with Lisa so we could explore more of our surroundings. Earlier we’d seen trails leading into the jungle from the beach, and after doing some internet research went and checked these out. A system of ATV and foot trails headed east, which we followed to the next beach over. The hiking was great, with lots of insect life and lizards to be spotted.

Brad flew in to Puerto Vallarta on February 24, and took a taxi to Sayulita, arriving in the early evening. The next day we all went to the beach for surfing and boogie boarding, having a lot of fun. In the evening, waves from the northwest started to build — there was a late season norther in the Sea of Cortez — and made things uncomfortable. In the morning we left Sayulita and headed south, looking to enter Banderas Bay and get some protection from the chop. This was a great little run of about 13 miles, which we sailed almost all of. Dolphins and a turtle showed up along the way, and near Punta Mita we hooked a fish, the first one we’ve caught by hook and line. I hauled aboard a Bonito. It was bigger than any fish I’ve caught by spear, and we weren’t sure what to do with it at first. Into a bucket it went, then I went to the bathroom and heard Lisa screech as the fish got out and started flopping around on the floor of the cockpit. I took the fish and broke its gills (so it would bleed out quickly) and blood spurted all over my hands, the cockpit floor, some of the canvas. Jeez.

Soon afterwards we arrived at our anchorage in the lee of Punta Mita. It was much calmer here than it had been in Sayulita, and we were able to relax. I cleaned the fish, beautiful ruby red meat, and went surfing in the evening, getting some nice rides at El Faro. Afterwards we ate most of the Bonito. Starting the next day, we all got sick: me first, then Brad, then Lisa. I suspect food poisoning from the fish; it was seared, like Sashimi, and in retrospect I think it needed to be frozen at some point before cooking to ensure the various pathogens were killed. At least we were all better within a day or so.

After the first evening the swell came down too much to do more surfing. I kayaked with Lisa, and we went in to town to find some fortress-like resorts, lots of touts, and some nicer, quieter areas away from the tourist traffic. There wasn’t much to interest us afterwards, though, and after two nights at Punta Mita we left in the morning for the Marietas islands, four miles away.

These are very pretty islands with lots of caves and tunnels along the shore. We anchored on the south side of one and I put on a tank and dove to check the anchor. Soon afterwards, several large boats packed with tourists picked up nearby mooring balls and started making a din, which would continue through much of the day. We kayaked away from the boats and went snorkeling, though, and had a lot of fun. After the boats left in the afternoon things got calm and quiet, and relaxing in the evening was wonderful.

The next morning I went diving with Lisa under the boat. This was the first full dive we had done since November, and it was great to be back in the water. There were a fair number of fish and we saw some critters we’d never seen in the Sea of Cortez, like a flounder and a zebra moray.

After surfacing some guy came by and insisted we raise our anchor, anchoring being against the park rules I guess. We picked up a mooring ball and repeated much the same routine as the first day. After spending a second night I got up early to kayak around the island, then yet another boat came by and insisted we leave the area. I guess staying overnight is also against the park rules (several other sailboats had done so while we were there) and we needed some bracelets or something which can only be obtained in Puerto Vallarta.

This was very different from our dealings with park officials at the islands around La Paz, where folks patrol regularly but are friendly and accommodating. At the Marietas the officials seemed to prefer that sailboats not visit at all; one boat that was just arriving at the islands turned around after talking to the same people that we did. While our time here was nice, I would rather leave the place to the booze cruises and doubt we will return.

After leaving the Marietas we motored 10 miles to a spot west of La Cruz, the next town along the north shore of Banderas Bay. We anchored near some pretty beaches, but there was a lot of boat traffic and the water was turbid, with terrible snorkeling. Some wind came up and I tried to go kiteboarding. I’d never launched off the boat in such light winds before (10-12 knots) and had trouble getting the kite in the right position. At one point I was up on deck with the harness and launched the kite without thinking things through, and was pulled right over the railing and into the water. I was fine, though this was stupid and Lisa was upset. We talked about ways to make sure I wouldn’t be at risk while launching off the boat, then I went kiting for a bit before the wind died and Lisa and Brad came in the dinghy to rescue me.

Soon afterwards we moved the boat to a large anchorage just east of La Cruz, with several dozen boats around. The main feature in La Cruz is a pretty fancy marina, and the rest of the town is pretty quiet and interesting to walk around in. We spent a couple days unwinding, then Brad flew back to the US.

We stayed in the La Cruz anchorage for another week and a half or so. We had provisioning to do and went on several trips to Puerto Vallarta, 30 minutes south, to go to the Costco and other stores and to see the waterfront (packed with tourists and kind of boring). Closer to La Cruz was another city, Bucerias, that we also visited repeatedly. A store here,, stocks standup paddle boards, and we had wanted to get SUPs since trying them in La Ventana. The people at the store were great and we were able to try several boards before buying two and bringing them back to Magic. We also went looking for kite instruction in Bucerias — the city has a long sandy beach and starts getting consistent winds in March. The kiting community is a lot smaller here than La Ventana, though, and we weren’t able to find any instructors who Lisa was comfortable taking lessons from. I went kiting several times from the boat while we were in the anchorage, but without much else to do we got restless and left town to start making our way back north.

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