It was a regular winter's day on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, with one exception: the offshore breeze was blowing and it was only early afternoon. Winds along Mexico's mountainous west coast tend to follow strict diurnal patterns. Hot sea air rises during the day as the sun warms the air over the water and at night the air cools and rolls back downhill producing an offshore breeze in the early hours. Passage planning in winter on a sailboat requires the frugal sailor take advantage of these breezes as one can save a few a few hours of motoring on a twenty four passage.
We were entering Tenacatita Bay a few miles north of our destination on this leg, which was the little beach town of Barra De Navidad, a bizarre name given it by the Spanish explorers who located the sandbar the city is built on, around Christmas time. So it is called Christmas Bar. Tenacatita Bay is an isolated pair of bays, an inner and an outer, with hills, palm trees and only a few buildings clustered mostly in the village of La Manzanilla. It is what California sailors look for during a winter away from the cold wet months Up North.
I unrolled the sails and our Gemini catamaran took off like a scalded cat...amaran. We turned hard on the wind and sailed for the beach. One tack away and we were in the mouth of the inner bay. With my wife working the sheets and flopping the foresail we turned about and headed back to the beach on the next tack. And so on, all with the backdrop of blue sky, brown mountains and green trees. We had no time to look down at the deep dark waters we were slicing through on this unexpected breeze.
"That was fun," my wife said as we took a final tack to the head of the bay where we were planning on anchoring. "Let's do it again," I said impulsively. She is nothing if not able to go with the flow so she threw off the jib sheet, the sail let loose and we headed downwind towards the outer bay. We turned around and did it again, tacking up the bay to the beach. It had been a short hop that morning from Chamela, a small indentation some 25 miles up the coast so we were full of energy and the dogs were in no hurry to get to the beach. Finally we dropped the anchor without even needing to turn on the engine. It felt satisfying, and an all too rare occurrence on the wind-free coast of Mexico.
As is the way a neighbor came over in her dinghy to say hello and she introduced herself, telling us her husband was hunkered down on their boat, a trim 32-foot ketch, a sailboat with two masts, anchored nearby. We talked for a while of the local attractions, the river through the mangroves, the French restaurant on the beach, the setting for an obscure-to-me movie called Hale's Navy, she said. She asked shyly what had we been doing hunting around tacking through the anchorage- twice! "Oh," I said, feeling foolish. "We were just having fun enjoying the unexpected breeze," like a child caught stealing cookies. She got a dreamy look in her eyes.We asked how their trip was going. Um, she said, okay, but she wasn't enthusiastic. I'm not the most politic person in the world so I asked for details.
Well," she began. "My husband is retreating into himself. Bob stays on the boat drinking our wine collection and smoking his cigars. But that's not the worst thing," she went on. "What would be your greatest fear anchoring here?" I looked blank. Fear? In Tenacatita? After you've got past the odd isolated rock near the entrance there isn't much to worry about..."Bob?" she interrupted my struggle to find something to fear. "Bob is worried about bandits," she said with finality. Bandits? what bandits?
There are lots of reasons not to go sailing and I've heard a million excuses. At home it seems reasonable not to leave because you lack money or skill, or you like your life, or you have grand children. But once you've made the commitment and you've cast off it gets harder to find a reason not to enjoy the life that so many aspire to. That fear of bandits in Tenacatita Bay in the Fall of 1998 was a new one to me. Bandits in Colombia were on everyone's lips who was out cruising. Nowadays Bob and Jane sail a motor home and volunteer at parks up and down the Western States. We live in a house in the Keys and the bandits of Tenacatita Bay are probably still there, lurking in the mangroves, ready to shoo home any unwary sailor who may feel he has bitten off more than he can chew.One day I was working my job as a boat captain in Key West harbor a few years after we had been in Tenacatita Bay, when I spotted a pretty little ketch similar in many respects to the one picture above. I recognized the name with a start and I went over to complete this chance encounter. I knew Jane and Bob had sold the boat but I was moved to meet this old friend in this unexpected place. The new owner was a dour Scotsman worried about something and totally uninterested in me and my story. He grunted me off and disappeared below. The next day when I came back to work the boat was gone.