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  55 mph to Windward - Truckin' Her Home  

October 4, 1998 was one of the greatest days in my life. I departed South Beach Harbor for San Diego and began the adventure of a lifetime, the start of the Baja Ha-Ha and a leave of absence from work.

The Baja Ha-Ha and the time Beki and I spent in Mexico exceeded all expectations. Not only were the boat, weather and cruising great, but the people we met were without a doubt the best part of the trip.

Now fast forward to June 1999. The party is over, my leave of absence is only a memory, and hurricane season is approaching. Sooner or later, all who go cruising must eventually face the end of their dream trip. For us, taking a month to sail the boat home was not a pleasant alternative. So, even though our Express 37, Mudshark, is a fast boat, a truck that goes 55 mph to weather made it an easy decision to transport the boat from San Carlos, Mexico, to SF Boat Works.

We hadn't come across much information on either the planning or execution of such a trip, so hopefully the following will be of some help to future cruisers.

We started by talking to other cruisers who had recently returned from Mexico. A common theme was that those who chose the 'Baja Bash' (sailing home) talked a lot about how it "wasn't all that bad, considering." Those who trucked their boats back really seemed to enjoy that extra month in Baja, not to mention the one-day trip home.

Once we made our decision to truck the boat, the next step was getting details about how to handle the Mexico haul-out, de-commissioning and transportation to SF. Looking at the Latitude 38 First Timer's Guide to Mexico at baja-haha.com, I got the phone and fax number for Marina San Carlos. A call to the marina brought the first piece of local knowledge - you need to speak to the dry storage yard (called Marina Seca), not the adjacent Marina San Carlos. (Marina Seca: 011-52-622-6-1062; fax 011-52-622-6-1046).

All of the folks there are very helpful, but eventually you will need to speak with Kiki or Jesus. They will take all the useful information (see checklist step #1) and fax a quote to you. Verify all the information and fax back to them confirmation of your acceptance. I used the services of Marina Seca to arrange for all aspects of transporting Mudshark home. The people there are very knowledgeable, helpful and experienced. At the time we hauled Mudshark home, they were shipping three boats a week back to the U.S.

Before departing La Paz, Beki and I called and faxed the dry storage yard to confirm our arrival and haul-out date. For us, the best part of the process was the time we spent in the Sea of Cortez. This was our first trip to Baja and we found it quite different from the mainland part of our trip from Mazatlan to Barra de Navidad. The water was warm, the diving was excellent, the scenery was spectacular, the fishing was superb and, as always, we met great people. Two high points for us were the morning a whale swam through the anchorage and our final sail, under a full moon, from San Juanico to San Carlos.

Upon arrival at San Carlos, we checked in and got directions to the dry storage yard. It's an easy walk of about 15 minutes and the office is air-conditioned. We checked in and went over the details of our haul-out and transport. It turned out the truck used for transportation had problems which altered our shipping schedule. This is a great operation, but things happen, and Jesus worked with us to set up a new haul-out date and ship date. During the wait, Beki returned home and our good friend Rodney Morgan flew down to lead the de-commisioning efforts.

The next step was to confirm our travel plans home. Originally, we were going to do the eight-hour ride in the truck (two people max) from San Carlos to Tucson. From Tucson we were going to fly back to SFO, as you cannot ride with the U.S. shipper. (The boat is transfered from one truck to another at Tucson.) As it turned out, though, our schedules didn't allow us to ride with the boat, so we flew from Guaymas to San Francisco via Phoenix.

It took Rodney and me three full days to complete our checklist (see below). Whenever cleaning or stowing seemed like a pain, we would listen to one of the cruisers' nets and hear about folks beating into 8-foot seas and 20-knot winds. Suddenly, we didn't mind sweating in San Carlos.

1) Advance Planning
a) Call or Fax Marina Seca (not Marina San Carlos) and talk to Kiki or Jesus. Make sure you have the boat's weight, length, width and draft (011-52-622-6-1062; fax 011-52-622-6-1046).
b) Settle on a date.
c) Get quotes.
d) 1-2 weeks before your scheduled date, call to confirm and check for delays.
e) Arrange for your own U.S. hauler if you are worried about stuff like proof of insurance, written agreements, etc. We did have a written agreement with Marina Seca. There is a website called Truck-a-Boat, were you can locate haulers or list your boat for the haulers to call you.
f) The Mexican haulers do not have insurance, so you will have to arrange that with a U.S. insurance company. We had to buy a separate policy for the drive to the border, which was muy caro. Anyone considering trucking their boat in Mexico should put this on their policy wish list; apparently if your carrier offers the coverage as a rider on your policy, it is relatively inexpensive.

2) Haul the boat.
a) Arrange for cleaning the bottom.
b) Pump out the holding tank and bilge.
c) Empty auxiliary fuel tanks. (It's good karma to give away leftover gasoline and diesel to your fellow cruisers.)
d) Get the boat to the ramp at the agreed time. (Tide does make a difference!)

3) Remove the mast.
a) Disconnect all electrical and hydraulic connections to the mast.
b) Remove and store all sails.
c) Remove radar and radar reflector.
d) Disconnect and stow the boom.
e) Call Jesus and have his crew pull the mast.

4) Get the mast ready for transport.
a) Label and replace halyards with messenger lines.
b) Label and remove standing rigging.
c) Remove spreaders.
d) Remove or cover anything breakable (like running lights).

5) Get the outside of the boat ready.
a) Remove anchors and tie them down below.
b) Remove lee cloths, bags, lifeslings, etc from the stanchions.
c) Remove dodger (this will ride on the trailer).
d) Tie up tiller, or lock wheel brake.
e) Remove wheel and stow on deck or below.
f) Make sure deck is clear or that anything on deck is well padded and securely tied down.

6) Get below decks ready .
a) Develop a storage strategy. Remember that customs will want to search your boat. Hint: Don't put goods in the head and then block the door to the head. We went so far as to remove anything that may look like it should be searched (like little bottles and cans of spices).
b) Tape down latches (use the blue 3M tape that can be removed after several days).
c) Use sails, etc. to cushion radar domes, booms, etc.
d) Lay things on the floor. (They will end up there anyway if you don't store them properly!)
e) Tie down heavy articles, like anchors, etc.
f) Close all hatches and vents.

7) Have Jesus inspect the boat to see if you missed anything.

8) Sign papers for getting the boat through Mexico and U.S. customs.

9) Celebrate:
a) Go to the Mai-Tai bar at the Marina and order a drink.
b) Listen to the Chubasco and Southbound nets to hear about all the people doing the Baja Bash.

10) Go Home:
a) You can ride in the truck to Tucson.
b) You can fly out of Guaymas.
c) Some people take a bus to Tijuana and go on to San Diego from there.

Options & tips: Use only 'blue' masking tape or similar tape that will come off after days of being on the boat - duct tape adhesive is almost impossible to remove. If you're nervous about the interior heating up, cover windows and ports with foil. Have the hull cleaned and waxed . Have the bottom paint re-done.

On haul-out day, the Marina called us on Ch. 16 at the scheduled time. We motored over to the ramp and watched the professionals maneuver and haul the boat.

The rig they use is quite different from the Travelifts used in the Bay Area. Your sailboat is "towed" out of the water much like a speedboat. A trailer is backed into the water and your boat is maneuvered over the trailer. Then the "lift-master" uses a remote control to position six hydraulic arms that hold your boat. When the lift master is satisfied your boat is exactly right, the trailer and boat are pulled up the ramp, down the road and into the dry storage yard! The advantage of this system is that your mast is totally supported, with no need to pop the backstay.

Once the boat arrived in the dry storage yard, we got the mast ready for pulling. The boat was maneuvered to a fixed tower and the mast was pulled. It's a painless system and the yard workers are very experienced at getting the stick out and ready for shipping.

Once the mast was out, we covered the mast slot in the deck, removed the wheel and stowed the boom and spinnaker pole below decks. After a final inspection by Jesus, the boat was ready. Then it was time to go to the office to pay bills and sign the papers for Mexican and U.S. Customs.

The next morning we stopped by the boat one last time before heading to the airport. It was there that we met Susan Lindsay from Peach. She was painting some eyes on a boat, the notion being that eyes will protect your boat from running aground. This seemed like a good idea to us, so Susan volunteered to paint on some eyes to help the boat find its way home. They obviously worked, as the boat had no problem finding it's way to SF Boat Works.

The boat was moved from Guaymas to the Bay Area without us. Mexican and U.S. Customs were both no problema. After the eight-hour drive from Guaymas to Tucson, stands were placed around the boat and then the Marina San Carlos truck drove away. (We take it that the Mexican haulers typically have hydraulic lifts.) When the American shipper arrived, a crane lifted the boat off the stands and onto the American truck. From there it went to the SF Boat Works. At the boat yard we replaced the mast and did our bottom job. The only bad experience was moving the boat from the Boat Works to South Beach Marina - it was cold and gray, which proved we were really back home.

- dave fullerton
san mateo

This story was reprinted from the February 2000 issue of Latitude 38. To order a copy (complete with photos in living black & white), use the subscription order form, and specify the 2/00 issue, or just drop us a note with a check for $7 to Latitude 38, Attn: Back Issues, 15 Locust Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941.

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