Futile Thoughts, Towing traumas and Exploding Toms

Futile Thoughts, Towing traumas and Exploding Toms is about our time in Mexico.

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“Is it a scam?” I had to ask. Checking in costs are expected, additional insurance is not.

It was not a scam. Specifically, Mexican Liability insurance is a prerequisite, or so we thought. Insurance can be purchased through an agent in San Diego or when checking in to Mexico. The cruiser’s jungle drums beat out a tune saying it was cheaper buying this prior to arrival. As heavily budgeted cruisers we actually considered bypassing Mexico altogether. But that was just one of the childish sulks we indulge in from time to time. Later we were irritated to find cruisers with standard insurance (not of Mexican origin) accepted.

We actually considered bypassing Mexico altogether!


Itching to leave the States, ditch the mobile phone and collect more great sensual experiences we turned our bows toward Mexico. Coasting south we viewed jagged rocks standing tall and proud, lining white sugar beaches that are randomly scattered between the parched earth.


First stop, Salinas, an over-nighter from San Diego, into a new marina. The entrance is narrow and has a distinct ‘east coast of Australia bar’ feel, creating a strong desire to make use of a rather large blindfold. The marina is reasonable at $30 US per night, but there is no running water directly to each slip. The key advantage is the assistance in the arduous process of checking in. A personal chauffeur ride to Ensenada (checking in port about 30 km south), helps smooth the historically renowned paperwork trail for Spanish speaking countries. The officials desired our company for the day, together with the entire contents of our bank account. We didn’t really understand what was happening; the officials wrongly assuming they were dealing with intelligent and capable listeners. We wrongly thought everything was squared away. We smiled a lot, mimicked nodding dogs, filled out blank boxes with personal details and gave everyone we met money. We purchased a fishing licence for all persons on board (a requirement – we thought). With these licenses and new fishing gear, our first (and only) fish so far has cost about $300!

We smiled a lot, mimicked nodding dogs, filled out blank boxes with personal details and gave everyone we met money.

Never venturing outside the marina complex at Salinas (aside from our Ensenada visit), we spent a gentle three days socialising over coffee with kindred spirits; delightful days that were stitched together with small, simple tasks onboard.


With hurricane season far on the horizon and decisions of a hidey-hole to be made, we cast off to make further miles south. A combination of sailing and motoring amid the gentle breath of the wind carried us toward Turtle Bay. This was a good time to experiment with our spinnaker poles. Resembling telegraph poles we were a bit anxious about the whole deal. Blending patience and prior experimentation on other vessels, the process became simple and speedy. The trick is to use plenty of lines, blocks and time. Two effortless days later we glided into Turtle Bay; its wide entrance opening before us, like a big welcoming grin. The forecast strong north westerly compelled us to the nearest NW protection; located half a mile from the other vessels (all local, only one transient). Facing a white beach and arid rocks stretching for the sky we sat, read, slept, read, ate and slept for three days. The local fuel touters did not venture out this far and we were left alone and had no compelling urge to rush ashore. Eventually, we upped anchor to move closer to town. Extending from the fixed jetty is a lengthy floating dock, safe for dinghies to tie up to. This rickety pontoon appears to be held together with fetid guano. The pong made my nostrils curl.

We sat, read, slept, read, ate and slept for three days

Dusty streets, yapping dogs and friendly smiles greeted us into the small settlement. Jumbled along the dehydrated streets small abodes crouch around an internet cafe and a miniature supermarket. Spectacular fresh produce, free of chemicals and any adverse tampering are readily available.

Longing to head south

The moon was growing in tune with our longing to head south. The forecast NE 15 knots spiralled into 35 knots. ‘Pyewacket II’ poled out and reefed to the full, stretched her fine legs and careened down the coast at eight knots. We were enroute to Bahai Magdelana, an enormous bay with several anchoring options; our choice-near the small fishing village of Magdelana. Watching ‘Bruce’ drop and grab in ten metres, as though falling through air, I delighted in the ache that was about to be soothed – clean water at last – we can swim here. The thought had me skipping along the deck, almost throwing my clothes off in wild abandon. The Humboldt current maintains a briny coolness, but with a brief burst of skin stretching chill, thereafter the swim is refreshingly remarkable. With just a few gasps of pain, then a frantic flurry circumnavigating the boat, sporting a zany grin I yelled to Noel “I feel so alive”  – this is the stuff that makes me happy.

The thought had me skipping along the deck, almost throwing my clothes off in wild abandon


The peace and quiet was tangible. On arrival to a new port, cruisers check in with the port captain. Twice we venture ashore to find the port office closed. No one seemed to care, even when we made ourselves at home in the closed bar. Providing cool shade and within a wifi hot spot, briefly we had the most stunning office in the world.

The moon was approaching her peak. With a light wind forecast we watch Mag Bay slope off the horizon, as we headed for the Sea of Cortez. Our dilemma was whether to spend a month in Mexico and then head for Panama or Ecuador before the hurricane season, or spend five to six months in the northern end of Sea of Cortez, out of the hurricane path, (so we thought). Keen for kindred company, our next destination offered a larger town and was a milestone. Tucked inside the Sea of Cortez lies La Paz; the place to make destination decisions.

The calm three-day passage south offered just a smattering of four-knot sailing. The land and sea breeze strangely absent, the sea wearing a velvet coat of calm. But even in calms there are things afoot. Tuning in to Pyewacket’s sailing sounds and motoring hum, we hear the alternator frying our full charged (and new) batteries. Fortunately, Noel dug out an old, spare regulator; an easy and temporary fix. However, this was a mere trifling affair to what lay ahead. Thirty-six hours of hell lay in wait after basking in the enchanting watery world.

Thirty-six hours of hell lay in wait

On each trip we’ve been accompanied by dolphins, passed by whales and watched the frigates do a better job at fishing. We both agree, we have not felt this content for quite some time.

As we turned north into the Sea of Cortez a light and unusual southerly breeze assisted the motoring. The hazy dawn parted to reveal a 16-metre sailboat we had met in San Diego, adrift with engine trouble. They were in no danger and favourable winds were predicted that day, so we declined to assist. Our VHF carried their forlorn story, they had been adrift for two days. Assuaged by guilt we threw together a tow rope, with a bridle; we would tow them until the wind picked up.

Our robust Chrysler hauled the combined mass of 50 tonnes diligently. A few hours from Lorenzo’s passage (with its renowned currents and funnelling winds), the wind grew to 12 knots and a broad reach sailing ensued. Envisaging a fun race with a similar size boat, we freed the constraints, hauled up all our canvas and Pyewacket shot away from the seemingly static Windsong. As they shrunk on the horizon, we reefed down to handkerchiefs. Upon Lorenzo’s narrow passage, we had to turn back to Windsong. As we entered Lorenzo’s passage, the wind and 30 of his mates began lifting the seas. Fighting to keep our feet beneath us, we hauled up part of the main to assist the task. Windsong could not do the same, their in-furler reefing was completely jammed. They were now totally disabled, no motor and no sails. I’m sure I heard Neptune snigger under the cover of the blackest night in history. At dawn, engulfed by fatigue, the line parted at a critical moment and my eyebrows started to seek sanctuary behind my hairline. The unforgiving currents picked up Windsong and guided them, beam on, to quintessence jagged rocks. Meanwhile, opposing winds lifted the flowing currents turning a placid passageway into an angry, frothing nightmare.

They were now totally disabled, no motor and no sails. I’m sure I heard Neptune snigger under the cover of the blackest night in history.

With no time for a textbook tow we swiftly tied a fender (to act as a float) to the end of a line and dragged it behind us; carefully keeping it clear of the prop. We watched the crew onboard Windsong valiantly try and fail to retrieve their life-line, their taut faces matching those of an athlete, poised for the starter’s gun.

Onboard Pyewacket, our concerns deepened for our safety; the engine straining against its mounts as we asked for the almost impossible. With desperation, the crew on Windsong started their engine. A broken engine mount (amongst many other problems) meant the shaft could snap at any time, if a fire didn’t break out first. Between white knuckle grips and a collective sucking of breath, we all waited for Windsong’s prop to bite into the tumultuous water.

Tinged with blue, we followed them into a safe anchorage. After a brief rest we hooked up once again and the entourage made for La Paz. With instant mollification, we cast them off into the safety of a marina. A meal out and $200 for fuel just about covered our losses; although there were plenty of gains, stress lines, gray hairs . . .

The Milestone

La Paz has a fascinating cruiser’s community and club. It also has concrete stairs haphazardly strewn intermittently along the pavements ready to break an unsuspecting ankle. The odd jagged pipe thoughtfully cut off with a blunt instrument, sticks up about six inches above the path, waiting to pierce soft body tissue. If these obstacles don’t get you, watch for the air conditioners that have been considerately placed at head height.

While traversing the streets becomes second nature, more relaxed times are to be had at Club Cruceros. The club is run by volunteers and brimming with assistance and affability. A daily VHF ‘net’ welcomes or farewells fellow travellers and assists in pointing you in the right direction for that doohdad you have to find. We timed our arrival perfectly with the commencement of a weekend full of seminars provided freely by cruisers with the know-how. Bread making, photography, painting, volleyball, jewellery making, knot tying, dinghy racing and safety were just some of the seminars on offer. With our new membership (not obligatory) we attended many professional talks. The hurricane seminar was at the top of our list.

Hurricane Seminar

It was the exploding tins of tomatoes that clinched the deal, coupled with terrifying pictures of a violent hurricane barrelling up the centre of the Sea of Cortez. During the hurricane seminar I whispered to Noel “Ecuador looks good”. Accompanied by a sickening feeling we knew we had to leave, for us the risk was too great. When the stories unravelled of all three marinas being wiped out in previous years, El Niño in full force assisting the water temperature prime for a humdoohey of a cyclone and experts predicting a “bad year” we struggled with the urge to shriek RUN! and immediately gallop back to the boat. While neighbouring cruisers, playing cyclone sweepstake, coolly took notes “remove tinned tomatoes”; Noel and I tried not to whimper out loud. (The hellish heat that the area generates causes the tins to explode if on the hard).

Time to go

With a weighty weariness we prepared for departure. Rob onboard Pachuca, a fellow Aussie, pointed out Isla del Cocos, as a potential stop. This small island, 300 nm south-west of Costa Rica, was directly in our path to Ecuador.

First, the arduous task of checking out; we either have less patience or it is more complex. Rumours of $120 US health check-out fee were confirmed. Discovering that fishing licences for all parties was not required (at La Paz) combined with unearthing errors in our check-in, the whole process somewhat stuck in our throat.

It was all too much to digest. Acapulco revealed itself as an industrious and potentially good destination to check out and replenish; heading for the ITCZ we expected to do a lot of motoring. Acapulco is a large industrial bay, lined with soaring hotels vying for prime position on the shoreline. Checking out was simple, good-humoured and courteous, even amid the problems. Immigration, during check-in, had issued the correct papers but failed to stamp the part confirming we had paid – we paid again. Immigration would not have issued this paperwork initially if we had not paid, but what could we do? Coupled with a small exit fee, we spent less than $60. When we finally spied the Zarpe (exit papers) the sweeping relief was immense. Replenished, we pointed south into the next throng of problems, the Pacific Vortex.


Breakout boxes for 2010


Most boats of around 10 -12 metres were paying about $190 US dollars for a year’s insurance. Our quote (for 16 metres) was $365! You could buy three months or one year’s worth. Three months cost more than the year! We had good wifi access onboard at this point, so I scoured insurance options and finally found a company willing to insure us for $145 plus $30 joining fee for their club which provides benefits and discounts for travellers in Mexico.


America is the only country we have come across that does not check vessels out of their country. Mexico is ready for this and do not ask for the usual Zarpe (clearance paper from the last port of call). They do ask for every other piece of paper available though.


The majority of cruisers are further south by this time of year (March/April). We are alone and miss cruiser companionship. During our five day stay, just one other sailboat turned up. At this stage, we were spending, on average, $16 US dollars per week on fresh foods only. Admittedly we had purchased a good stock of rice, lentils, pasta, flour and tinned food in the States. We had oodles of water and diesel. We are self-sufficient- on our private ‘island’. It is here we finally cajoled our SSB to work. Talking to other cruisers, picking up ‘nets’ and checking in, really helps cement that ‘we’re back’ feeling.

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