Heck of a Commute

Find out if commuter cruising is right for you.

shutterstock_216092191-1 copy A woman at the first informational meeting about the 2017 CUBAR powerboat rally to La Paz last month told me she and her husband dream about cruising the Sea of Cortez, but she didn’t think they could get away from their consulting business for more than three weeks at a time.

I told her to consider what’s become known as “commuter cruising,” an increasingly popular lifestyle that allows boaters to cruise to dream destinations, just on a part-time basis. The trick is that boaters can cruise for two or three weeks at a time, or maybe a month, then they fly back and resume their stateside lifestyle, which may require working, and fly back to the boat weeks later and cruise slowly to their next place in paradise.

Many boaters aren’t truly ready, financially or emotionally, to unplug completely from their daily lives — although they may threaten to. Most of them have responsibilities, jobs and family they aren’t ready to abandon. Many of them probably read the rigorous adventures of Sterling Heyden or Josh Slocum, but they’re not ready to leap into that abyss.

However, they might be able to slip away to the boat in Mexico on a part-time basis.

Retired people make up about 50 percent of the commuter cruisers I’ve met in Mexico. Most are couples who are both 100 percent retired, called jubilados in Spanish. Their itinerary voluntarily pivots around the grandchildren’s graduations or weddings back home. But some commuter- cruising couples are only half retired; for example, one partner still works part time, necessitating an occasional trip back to the U.S.

Once retirees crack open their nest egg, they can spread their funds a lot further by living aboard in Mexico, where food prices and medical expenses are a lot lower than in the U.S. La Paz and Mazatlan have the two largest communities in Mexico of U.S. and Canadian retirees living full or part time aboard their own boat. Unlike in the U.S., marinas in Mexico don’t set liveaboard limits; in fact, they expect guests to live aboard as long as they wish, up to 10 years. That’s thanks to the Temporary Import Permit. (More on the T.I.P. to follow.)

Cruisers have created shoreside clubs to serve their needs: daily VHF nets, weekly potlucks and social activities, and classes in yoga, Spanish, navigation, Skype, outboard motor repair and more. Cruisers may also teach classes to the locals, such as English as a second language.

The rest of the commuter cruisers are still gainfully employed — to pay a mortgage, fund IRAs, cover kids’ tuition — at least on a part-time basis. They may own a business they can temporarily leave in the hands of trusted partners, employees or family members. (Three weeks seems to be the magic number, and that’s long enough to join the CUBAR cruise to La Paz.)

Several commuter cruisers carry their whole business in their laptop. They keep grinding out a few dollars while they cruise the Sea of Cortez — thanks to the Internet, Skype, cellphones, satellite phones and HF email.

Reliable onboard communications are required for scheduling a commute. Right from the galley, commuters can reserve a slip in a marina that’s about three weeks away, then book roundtrip travel from the nearby bus depot or airport.

With HF email, they can constantly work with their team or coworkers. They might be anchored in a remote cove when they need to consult with a client. They might decide to change their own flight or that of friends coming to visit in Mexico.shutterstock_26165197 copy

Owners who leave to commute home should berth their boat in a marina or store it on shore (boatyard or dry-storage yard), not at anchor, to stay legal. If the boat needs repairs, leave it in a yard, so valuable cruising weeks aren’t wasted.

Hang two heavy-duty fenders on each side. Add chafe gear to all docklines, including fore and aft spring lines. Empty the refrigerator and freezer and unplug them. Unplug electronics (except bilge pumps) in case of a shorepower flux. Store handheld radios in the oven or microwave, to shield them from lightning. Shade all windows, but leave some ventilation belowdecks.

Commuters should give the marina dockmaster written instructions for taking care of the boat in their absence, plus any contact numbers. And get the dockmaster’s phone numbers and email addresses.

Owners with bigger boats may need to hire a “port skipper” to check bilges, batteries and shore power daily. Some of them might even pick the owners up at the airport on their return — with a cooler full of fresh foods.

Here’s where the copier earns its keep. The marina staff keeps on file a copy of every owner’s Proof of Liability Insurance card, the original of which should have been provided by the insurance provider. They’ll also need a copy of the T.I.P., which is valid for 10 years. Keep the original T.I.P. aboard the boat, give a copy to the marina, and take a copy home. If you need to import boat parts, the T.I.P. frees you from paying duty fees. If you added a new dinghy, motor or electronics, make an Addendum List with the equipment’s serial number and staple it to your T.I.P. Make copies.

If your T.I.P. is going to expire before you get back, take it (and any Addendum List) to the nearest Customs office and get a brand new T.I.P. that’s good for another 10 years. If you are leaving Mexico, you’re supposed to hand in your current 180-day Tourist Form (FMM) even though it may still be in date. Don’t worry, the FMM will be replaced with a new one, good for another 180-day period, upon your reentry into Mexico. Specify that you’re a tourist, not someone applying for residence in Mexico. For more info, visit inm.gob.mx/ fmme/publico/solicitud.html.

If the registered owners are leaving someone else in charge of moving their boat out of the marina, even a family member, that person needs a notarized Skipper’s Letter from the owners. This last bit of paperwork is only important for folks who expect their boat to be waiting for them in their next commuter-cruising destination.


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