It's Sunday afternoon at the Yacht Club. We’re holding down a table in the corner, reliving the days racing action while awaiting the awards ceremony. The patio is awash in cacophonous activity as a horde of sunburned, preteen Opti sailors devours a warming tray of pasta. This could be Newport — east or west coast — but it’s not. The happy chatter is in Spanish, and the late model Range Rovers and German sports sedans out in the parking lot aren’t carrying California or Rhode Island plates, but instead hail from Nayarit, Jalisco and Estado de Mexico.
The Vallarta Yacht Club is located in Nuevo Vallarta, a region of upscale development that’s just a few miles from the bustling cruise ship terminals of Puerto Vallarta — but a world apart. Cross the Ameca River into the state of Nayarit and the T-shirt emporiums and tourist bars give way to manicured golf courses, a boutique mall stocked with luxury goods and gated condominium complexes. It’s been called “Little America” in reference to the numerous wealthy Norte Americanos who vacation or maintain second homes in this upscale enclave. But in truth, Nuevo Vallarta is also a favorite seaside destination for Mexico’s well to do, and the yachts moored at the Paradise Village Marina fly flags from a dozen nations.
Situated on the central coast of the expansive Bay of Banderas, Nuevo Vallarta is also a favorite waypoint for cruisers headed north or south along Mexico’s Pacific Coast. In addition to upscale amenities, it offers easy access to the urban infrastructure of nearby Puerto Vallarta, which includes everything from a major international airport to a Wal-Mart and Home Depot — this on a coastline that offers minimal marine infrastructure for several hundred miles to north or south.
For years, Nuevo Vallarta provided the area’s only full-service alternative to Puerto’s downtown docks. But in the beginning of 2010, the Bay of Banderas claimed a new port of call — one that isn’t even on the charts as of yet, but has already become a favorite with both local yachtsmen and long-range cruisers. This was the real reason for my visit.
The seaside village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle sits on the sheltered northeastern corner of Banderas Bay, some 10 miles to the north of Nuevo Vallarta. For years, the sailboat crowds have dropped their hooks along the town’s lee-shore roadstead, and beached their tenders inside the small breakwater that housed the local panga fishing fleet. Ashore, they savored a slice of coastal Mexico held over from an earlier era, where fishermen sold their morning’s catch along the palm-shaded strand, somnambulant dogs slept undisturbed in the town square, and housewives passed taco dinners to street side customers through open kitchen windows.
But while La Cruz remained on siesta time, the surrounding regions eagerly embraced an upscale future. The nearby fishing village of Punta del Mita was transformed into a collection of gated four- and five-star properties, while adjacent villages to the south such as Bucerias experienced triple digit property appreciation.
It was inevitable that change would come to La Cruz. Happily, it came not in the form of gantry cranes and bulldozers, but instead consisted of a small flotilla of dredges and a squadron of paintbrushes and brooms. The Marina Riviera Nayarit was the work of a trio of local investors, who recognized the need for a world-class marina on the Bay of Banderas. By the fall of 2009, dredging and filling was well underway on the La Cruz waterfront, and the small breakwater was transformed into an expansive basin with 340 slips capable of accommodating boats of up to 400 feet.
The marina welcomed its first visitors in early 2010, though final touch up work was still underway on the outer breakwater when I arrived in early March to attend the grand opening ceremonies. To mark the completion of the facility, the developers partnered with local businesses and the State of Nayarit’s tourism bureau to stage an ambitious nautical festival. For two weeks the marina was the epicenter for a series of offshore and one-design races, along with windsurfing and kiteboarding competitions, and Laser and Optimist contests for the youngsters. In conjunction with these events, the organizers also staged the first Latin American Boat Show, and received a visit from Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa.
When I arrived in early March of this year, the town had been spiffed up and never looked better. The marina was lush with fresh-planted palms and flowerbeds. Clean concrete docks were filled with a familiar collection of sturdy trawlers and bluewater sailing vessels, while the far end of the marina held a gleaming fleet of factory-fresh pleasure craft assembled for the boat show.
On B dock, I ran into Anna and Eric Bloomquist, who were readying their 64 Nordhavn Oso Blanco for a voyage to the South Pacific. In the short time since the marina opened for business, it has already become a favorite with “puddle jumpers” — sail and power cruisers getting ready to depart the Americas and head into the western ocean. In support of this trend, the marina offers a reduced 30-day Puddle Jumper rate, and the shore now sports a number of marine service businesses, including the largest Travelift in the region.
The same amenities that are drawing the long-distance crews will certainly appeal to the snowbird fleet as well. Any skipper capable of making the transit south to Cabo San Lucas should have no issues with the crossing to the Bay of Banderas. If Nuevo Vallarta is their chosen destination, they will be within golf cart range of world-class dining, golf and resort amenities. Those headed for La Cruz will find an active cruising community at the docks, and one of the most charming coastal towns in the region.