South-of-the-border first-timers don't have to make the same mistakes rookies before them have made.
Whether you’re a novice boater or just new to boating in Mexican waters, you don’t have to believe every piece of the “established wisdom” that’s floating around on the docks in stateside marinas. True, many of the old sea stories have a grain of truth at their heart. But every time they’ve been retold over the years, they’ve been embellished until the wisdomrubs a bit thin.
What follows are three mistakes well-intentioned novices often make — and how to avoid making them too.
I must get the boat home by June 1 to escape hurricane season.
Well the month of May is fast approaching. If you’re heading back to the U.S. solely to avoid summer cyclonic storms, maybe you don’t absolutely have to get north of the border before June 1. Ask your insurance provider about getting the boat as far north as one of Ensenada’s full-service marinas or dry storage yards. Ensenada is north of 13 degrees 42 minutes north, or Maneadero, BCN, Highway 1, which is considered safely north of hurricane dangers. Many insurers allow their covered vessels to reside at Ensenada over the summer.
And May 31 might not be the absolute deadline. It depends heavily on a boat’s ability to make 10 knots of headway even in moderate to heavy seas and the owner’s ability to gather daily or hourly weather reports.
Sailboats and slower power boats probably don’t qualify, because they can’t outrun a hurricane moving north at 10 to 15 knots. Nor do go-fast boats that lack sufficient fuel tankage to get them quickly from Cabo San Lucas north to Mag Bay and then to Turtle Bay. But many long-legged sportfishers, motoryachts and trawler cruisers do provide the speed, fuel tankage and seakeeping ability to get north during late May or June, before tropical storms begin roaming north from Mexico’s Costa del Sur and Gold Coast.
Bring enough watch-standers to head up Baja in two or three nonstop legs: Cabo to Mag, Mag to Turtle, Turtle to Ensenada or San Diego. After Turtle Bay, the hurricane threat is low, especially early in the season. July often sees prevailing northwesterlies lying down along Pacific Baja.
If you have a well-installed single sideband (SSB) radio and know how to use it to receive HF emails, you can constantly monitor the most accurate weather reports along Pacific Mexico. If not, consider hiring a professional weather-routing service that’s experienced with hurricane season in Mexico and the Eastern Pacific. Familiarize them with your boat’s capabilities, with your intended route or potential stops coming up Baja, and with your watch-standing capabilities and number of crew.
Depending on the state of the tropics, sign up for weekly updates during May, and for daily updates by June or July.
Southbound boaters must provision with a year of filters and food for 90 days.
Don’t submerge the boat’s waterline by overstocking on food and standard spares. Mexico has lots of modern big-box grocery stores and well-stocked chandlers, especially in ports that have marinas.
I recall 20 years ago in Mexico when boaters could not find a single turkey for a Thanksgiving meal; the locals didn’t eat it. But last year in La Paz,grocers advertised frozen turkeys, fresh cranberries and pumpkin pies two weeks in advance — even gingerbread-man cookies for Christmas.
Diesel fuel has been clean at fuel docks at Ensenada, Turtle Bay, Puerto San Carlos and Los Cabos in 2018. Baja fuel filters are required only if you plan to pump fuel from recycled oil drums at very remote villages or islands, which is not recommended.
However, if your boat requires unusual filters for fuel, oil or the water-maker, stock up on enough to get you through the next oil change; also note where in the U.S. you can order more and have them shipped down to Mexico. Membranes for off-brand water-makers are not well stocked in some ports, so carry an extra.
If your breakfast smoothies require fresh organic blueberries, check out Flora Farms at San Jose del Cabo. Or try substituting frozen blueberries or a jar of preserves. Also, try the ultra-pasteurized milk in cartons that can be stored without refrigeration.
If a panga approaches my boat at anchor, it must be pirates, so I better get my flare gun ready to defend myself.
Mexico’s most delightful cruising grounds consist of dozens of remote little anchorages, often near humble fishing villages. Ninety percent of the villagers subsist on fishing in 18- to 22-foot pangas, so they must go fish every day.
If a panguero swings by your anchored boat in the early morning, he might drift by at chatting distance, slowly enough to ask if you need a fish for lunch. No, he doesn’t need to tie up or climb aboard.
If you indicate interest (posiblemente), and if he catches enough to have extra, he’ll swing by on his way back. In some places, their fish catch belongs to the cooperative, so don’t blab on the VHF radio and get the guy in trouble.
I’d pay at least $15 per kilo (2.2 pounds) for a dorado or pinto grouper. Have dollars or pesos ready, and gallon-size plastic zip bags. It’s customary to give a tip if he also cleans the fish. Don’t try to trade booze or magazines; these guys have wives and children waiting for them.
Please learn enough Spanish to talk fish over the swim step — “What kind of fish are biting?” “Que pesca estan mordiendo?” — or at least to say “No, gracias.” If you’re still fearful of encountering Mexican fishermen, better stick to the marinas.