Why Cruisers Love La Cruz

Kathy Taylor – PVNN

Thousands upon thousands of tropical species surround the reef, but the big attraction is the opportunity to spot huge Pacific manta rays.

Puerto Vallarta – Few images hold more promise of freedom and adventure than the sight of a sailboat on the horizon, its sails full – the possibilities seem endless. And few images suggest tranquility and peace more than a sailboat at anchor in a beautiful bay – the sun setting on another day in Paradise.

Banderas Bay plays host to both these images, with some of the best sailings in Mexico, and a wonderful geography that provides cruising yachts with a variety of experiences within a few hours sail from anywhere in the Bay.

Marina Vallarta and Paradise Marina provide moorage for visiting yachts, but for those who like to leave the docks, the anchorage at La Cruz is a popular choice. It is free, the town welcomes the cruisers with open arms, and it is close to the airport and other amenities.

There is an old saying that cruising is just fixing your boat in an exotic location. All you need is an exotic location with an airport (for having parts shipped in) and a few of the comforts of home, and you have yourself a great place to hang out with friends.

Open mike at Philo’s: Russ, Philo, Peggy, Hock, and Oscar.

La Cruz offers all of that – and more! The anchorage itself is one of the best. The bottom provides good holding, and the swell is usually minimal. Over the years I have heard La Cruz’s virtues as an ideal cruisers hangout extolled; so I joined some friends in the cruising fleet recently to find out first-hand just why cruisers love La Cruz.

Located north of Puerto Vallarta, between Bucerias and Punta de Mita, its real name on the highway sign is La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, but it is universally referred to as La Cruz. A 14 peso, half-hour bus ride takes you to this little village that straddles the highway – but the real heart of La Cruz is on the waterfront, where the fishing fleet berths.

Russell and Lori – great ribs and to-die-for coleslaw.

I was told to head towards the water, turn left at Anna Bananas and go up the hill past the sewage treatment plant and find Senor Fox’s at the corner of Tiburon and Dorado. Fox is a transplanted Canadian who opened a morning coffee joint since everyone kept stopping by his place for coffee anyway.

Sr. Fox’s, open from 7 am ’til noon, features a bottomless cup of coffee and a fresh cinnamon bun or toasted bagel for $25 pesos. The bagels and cinnamon buns are made to order to Fox’s specs – and they’re great! The radio crackled with the local net on 22, Fox fired up the internet, and the cruisers started arriving.

The band had them up on the floor!

A number of my cruising friends are currently in the Puerto Vallarta area, and by chance, four of them are anchored in La Cruz. They are all from the Pacific Northwest and members of Bluewater Cruising Association, some destined for points further south, others poised to make the big leap to the Marquesas in the spring.

From Fox’s, I called Irv and Marie on Freezing Rain, and Irv came in by dinghy to get me and have a fresh cinnamon bun before we headed back to the boat. The shoreline of La Cruz used to be punctuated only by the masts of the sailboats anchored in the bay. Now there is a crane and the derrick of a floating dredge competing with the masts as the construction of the new 350 berth marina has begun. It is making for some temporary inconveniences for cruisers today, but within 2 years it is hoped that the benefits will be worth the crummy dinghy docking options.

Fortuitous heads for the Marietas

On the way back to the boat, we picked up crew from two other boats, and another cruising buddy boat picked up their anchor and started toward the Marietas, about an hour and a half of motoring away. Gear was stowed, sunscreen slathered on and we were off as well.

It was a postcard of a day. The sun shone high in the sky, the sea rippled lightly and the wind hinted that it would be a perfect sail back later in the day. The postcard wouldn’t be complete without porpoises in the bow wake, and not so far away, humpback whales breaching and blowing without being crowded by whale watching boats.

Banderas Bay is well known for its large whale population and it is unusual to go a day in the winter without seeing them. They begin arriving in la Bahia de Banderas in November, but the Mexican government has closed whale watching here until December 15th. This allows the whales time to acclimatize to the area before the whale watching boats begin coming around them.

Allan, Mac, and Kim aboard Freezing Rain.

The Marietas Islands loomed closer on the horizon. A local dive guide has this to say about them: “The islands are the perfect home for snorkelers looking for shallow, coral reef bottoms, and tropical life. Jacques Yves Cousteau closely chronicled the islands because of the vast underwater life. Thousands upon thousands of tropical species surround the reef, but the big attraction is the opportunity to spot huge Pacific manta rays. The mantas range in size from 5-25 feet in length, and frequent the islands because of the abundance of plankton, its natural food source.”

The islands are surrounded by shelves and reefs, with a number of anchoring options. Friends had suggested co-ordinates that put us in 30 feet of water, in a sandy bottom just off the southeast tip of the middle island. We suited up and jumped into the water and Irv towed the rest of us closer to the island with the zodiac.

Looking aft.

We let go of the dinghy and dropped down immediately into a school of angelfish with their stripes of brown and orange and white, swimming lazily above a very healthy-looking coral reef. Some of the brightest hued coral I have ever seen in Mexico, one species a very vivid green.

Small fleets of clownfish darted by, and deep blue parrotfish swam in and out of caves. The Marietas are known for their large manta ray population, but the only ones we saw were half-buried in the sand on the east side of the middle island.

Everything was calm and serene in the underwater world, but up above the surface a bit of minor drama occurred when a fatigued elderly couple were separated from their group and couldn’t get back to their charter boat. Irv in the dinghy to the rescue!

A few quick cervezas and some lunch and up went the sails on a perfect beam reach back to La Cruz. Of course in this world, there are tweakers and those happy as long as the sails are full. I don’t get enough sailing, so I tweak, and Allan from Effie, who was known as the “monster” in the San Francisco racing circle, comes by it naturally. (He also plays guitar with Fox at various locations around La Cruz). Irv put up with us.

Spoon player Hock.

A few hours and a cocktail or two later and we were off to Philo’s, the legendary cruiser’s hangout. Due to the construction, the landing is not as convenient as it used to be – it used to be behind Anna Banana’s who provides a hose for dirty feet. Now the landing is at the edge of the construction zone, so we used the hose in front of the laundry. (The La Cruz laundry is apparently the BEST in the entire Bay area.)

A huge fresh vegetable market was set up on the street, with pyramids of lettuce and tomatoes, multi-colored peppers and sacks of limes. When we came back a few hours later, all that was left was a few leaves of wilted lettuce on the street.

Everyone had told me, “Wait till you taste Russell’s ribs,” and there they were, Lori and Russell, with their chicken and rib wagon. As well as doing private catering (CasaLori Catering – good looking menu), they set up at various venues in the area on different nights. On Sundays, they are at Anna Bananas in La Cruz, on Mondays at Larry’s Bar next to Roots in Bucerias, and on Thursdays, Philo’s.

Kathy and Philo.

Philo’s is one of the main attractions in La Cruz – and indeed all of Banderas Bay. In 2000, Philo Hayward sailed down the coast from California and fell in love with La Cruz. He bought some property and opened up a bar, restaurant, music center, recording studio, community center, internet cafe and what have you.

This night Philo’s was a busy place with English lessons, musicians tuning up, and cruisers munching ribs. Lessons wound up and Philo and the band took to the stage. Philo hosts an open mike on Thursday nights, featuring a host of local and visiting musicians.

A local favorite is Leon, a one-man-band kind of guy, who joined Philo and Russ on guitar, Hock on spoons, Peggy on bass, Oscar on sax, Don on harmonica, and Doug on drums. A wild and wicked singer from Seattle, Deborah, did a set that had everyone on the floor dancing. Great music, great ribs, to-die-for coleslaw, and great company! What better way to cap a day like this?

Play that thang, Leon!

Both Venus and Mars were bright in the sky. The heavily laden dinghy plowed back to the boat through the water, making a wake of the most brilliant phosphorescence that any of us had ever seen. We rode in a trough of bright sea foam waves that folded back to the dark water where tiny quick fish zig-zagged by in silvery green flashes. It was completely beautiful, a wonderful end to a wonderful day.

Now I know why cruisers love La Cruz.

In La Cruz:

Senor Fox’s: corner of Tiburon and Dorado, Open 7 – 12.
CasaLori Catering: Delfin #13, rlcresto@yahoo.com Phone: 329-295-5206
Philo’s : Philo’s Music Studio, Restaurant and Bar, Delfin 15, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle; 329-295-5068.