Who says you can’t successfully cruise the Sea of Cortez in the summer? But "successfully" is much different than "comfortably," as Wayne and Elly Smith of the Vancouver, BC-based Stan Huntingford 47 Zeppelin tell us. "As I write this, it’s the beginning of October and we are enjoying much-needed cooler temps here in San Carlos. ‘Cooler’ means not having to sleep on towels to absorb the sweat! We can now say that we’ve lived through — endured, really — the past three months in the Sea with temps ranging from the mild mid-80s to a raging 115 while trying to provision in town. We can’t say we weren’t warned but we’re happy the temps are back in the low 90s."
Wayne and Elly spent the summer exploring the Sea, enjoying the show put on by countless dolphin and whales, diving in remote spots, and doing yoga on the bow of their boat. "One morning, I (Elly) was sitting in final meditation when Wayne whispered that there was a family of coyotes on the beach. A mom and her two pups went into the water up to their chests and pounced. What were they catching? We finally saw their prey: rays! They bite and hold the head, making the ray go limp so it can’t sting them. Very clever!"
Diving is one of Wayne and Elly’s favorite pastimes so when friends on Savannah told them they might find dinner while diving in Puerto Refugio, they took along a bag. "This was our first time getting scallops on a dive. Wayne worked his magic on the BBQ, and we shared them with our friends."
After crossing the Sea to Bahia San Carlos, the Smiths took a mooring to ride out Tropical Storm Georgette — "Wow, did it rain!" — but were surprised to be awakened four nights later by quickly rising wind at Bahia Algondones. "The wind scoop started going bonkers and, by the time Wayne got up to the deck, the wind was over 20 knots. I followed a few minutes later and it was over 30 knots. Waves were rolling across the anchorage and we were over 40 knots." They rode out their first chubasco by raising anchor and motoring to a more protected spot. "The lightning was lighting up the sky around us and was followed by huge thunder. I’d never seen a storm like this before!"
Once settled at Marina San Carlos, the Smiths took a side trip to Phoenix. "But the day before we left, our fridge called it quits. One cruising couple let us use their extra freezer to store our frozen stuff till we get back, and another boat is storing our fridge stuff for us. That’s one of the best things about cruising — people you’ve just met are like lifelong friends, and everyone pitches in to help each other out."
The start of the Velux 5 Oceans is only four days away for the six skippers competing in Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s ’round the worlder. Representing six different nations, this year’s line-up includes some new faces to the singlehanded racing scene — Pole Zbigniew "Gutek" Gutkowski, Australian Garry Golding, Belgian Christophe Bullens and Briton Chris Stanmore-Major — as well as some experienced and successful previous campaigners such as Canadian Derek Hatfield and American Brad Van Liew, who won the race wire-to-wire in Class 2 in ’02. Despite not having a title sponsor — you can donate at the link above — Van Liew is definitely a favorite, with a boat that’s among the lighest in the fleet of the "new" Eco 60 class: Open 60s built prior to ’03 and instituted as a class by the Velux 5 Oceans management in response to the skyrocketing costs and ever-thinning margins of safety in the Imoca 60 fleet.
The course will take the fleet on the longest leg of the race from La Rochelle to Cape Town, South Africa, before dipping into the Southern Ocean and heading for Wellington, New Zealand. From there, the sailors will round Cape Horn before stopping in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, and Charleston, South Carolina. The return leg from Charleston to La Rochelle will be the shortest of the five. You can follow all the action at the links above.
We don’t know what it is about the approach of the Baja Ha-Ha each year that causes some people who aren’t even part of the Ha-Ha to get their knickers so bunched up, but they do. One of this year’s versions seems to be a fellow who, we’re told, is going around the Police Dock in San Diego, where some Ha-Ha boats have gathered, telling people who haven’t been to Mexico that the drug cartels are having cruisers kidnapped and/or killed, that they are hiring people to steal from cruisers, and that we at Latitude 38 are hiding the truth from Ha-Ha participants. We’re told he’s even claiming that Latitude has refused to publish his letters to this effect, and he plans to crash the Ha-Ha Skipper’s Meeting to let everyone know about it.
There is no need to crash anything, as the Grand Poobah has neither the need nor the desire to hide anything from anyone. If this person will appear at the Skipper’s Meeting with a copy of the emails he allegedly sent to Latitude, and is coherent — one cruiser at the Police Dock asked if he was on crack — we’ll happily give him a few minutes to state his case. Fair enough?
SAFETY IN MEXICO
But let’s talk about safety in Mexico for a moment. When you hear veteran cruisers say they feel safer in Mexico than they do in the United States, you shouldn’t roll your eyes. Despite the fear-mongering, fact-ignoring stories by the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and CNN, there is good reason for cruisers to feel the way they do. Despite the highly-publicized narco violence in certain well-known areas of Mexico, the rate of death by firearms is actually higher — often much higher — in the United States.
For Mexico as a whole, the death-by-firearms rate for the first half of ‘10 was 5.36 per 100,000. For the United States as a whole, it was 10.2 per 100,000 — or nearly twice as high! Not exactly common knowledge, is it? If the U.S. media truly wants to warn American travelers about going to dangerous places, where are their warnings about the U.S. Virgin Islands, ‘America’s Caribbean Paradise’? In ‘07, the U.S. Virgin Islands’ death-by-firearm rate was 37.6 per 100,000 — more than six times as great as the rate in Mexico.
Now let’s not kid ourselves, as there are some very dangerous places in Mexico, too. The northern state of Chihuahua, where notoriously violent Ciudad Juarez is located, is the worst of them all. But even Chihuahua has a lower rate of death by firearms than does the U.S. Virgins.
Going to cruise to Puerto Vallarta this winter? You have reason to feel safe. So far this year, Jalisco, the Mexican state in which P.V. is located, has had a death-by-firearm rate of just 2.92 per 100,000. That just 40% of the rate in California, about 30% of the rate in the Southwest United States, and about 8% of the rate in the U.S. Virgins. Yes, you’re 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a gun in California than you are in Puerto Vallarta. Would anyone like to offer any theories on why the U.S. press so greatly exaggerates the violent death stories in Mexico, and so under-reports it in the United States?
No matter if you’re in the States or in Mexico, the key to safety is staying away from the well-known dangerous areas, not looking for drugs, and not flashing wealth. In other words, don’t be an idiot. To the best of our knowledge, the only narco violence along the Pacific Coast of Mexico has been in the megalopolis of Acapulco, where there has been some terrible narco-on-narco violence. Nonetheless, we wouldn’t avoid Acapulco any more than we’d avoid San Francisco or Oakland because of their drug violence. We’d be particularly careful where we went in those cities, to be sure, but we wouldn’t avoid them. So as we’re about to cast off for another season in Mexico, from the bottom of our hearts we believe that we’re going to a safer place than the United States. And the facts support our belief. If that changes in any way, we’ll be the first to let you know.
And no, no cruisers have been killed or kidnapped, and no cruiser boats have been stolen. If you think this is some Latitude and Ha-Ha cover-up conspiracy, call up Captain Pat Rains, who is the south of the border reporter for The Log, and ask her opinion. But be prepared for her laughter in response to your question.
WINES IN MEXICO
Please, no whining about the wines in Mexico — that’s the word from Pete and Susan Wolcott of the Kauai-based M&M 52 cat Kiapa. “If you want really good wine in Mexico, you’ll want to bring a whole supply from California. But we found lots of very acceptable wines from the Baja region, and even a handful of exquisite wines, and at great values. Our two favorite labels are Santo Tomas and L.A. Cetto. We found barbera, nebbiolo, (dry) rose, and chardonnay that were muy, muy sabrosa. Ensenada is a great place to sample and load up. Once you’ve identified your favorites, you can find them at the bigger retail outlets in Cabo, La Paz, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.”
CANNED TUNA IN MEXICO
"Several folks panned Mexican tuna in a recent ‘Lectronic as being ‘pet food’," note Bruce and Alean Balan of the California-based Cross 45 trimaran Migration. "They are doing folks a disservice. Haven’t they ever tried chipotle tuna? It’s delicious!"
"One of the myths about Mexico that needs dispelling is that Delo 400 motor oil has to be expensive," writes Dick Dueck of Blue. "Total Yacht Works in Mazatlan sells it for $16 U.S. a gallon, plus IVA of 16%. That’s about $5 more expensive than at Costco in the States, but I’m happy to pay the extra money so I don’t have to lug it around and so I can help keep Total’s owner, Canadian Robert Buchanan, in business. He’s truly one of the really great engine guys in Mexico, and he won’t rip you off, do shoddy work, or use substandard parts."
Latitude readers have paid up to $28 a gallon for Delo 400 in other places in Mexico, so heads up. The folks on Migration tell us Delo 400 is even more expensive in New Zealand.
WHERE ARE THE WHOLE CANNED TOMATOES?
David Hume, not the famous philosopher but the guy who dressed up in a jellyfish costume for last year’s Ha-Ha and is looking for a crew position again this year, advises, "You can get tomato paste and sauce in Mexico, but you can’t find cans of whole tomatoes. If you cook with them, take a couple of flats."
CAN’T GET ENOUGH HA-HA PREP INFO?
In that case, we’ll share the advice of Karen ‘Toast’ Conger, who did the Ha-Ha two years ago with husband Dean and three daughters aboard their Seattle-based Lagoon 380 Don Quixote. After two seasons in Mexico, the family put their cat up for sale in La Paz and flew to New Zealand on a big jet. Now, only six months later, they have realized the error in their ways. Come February, they’ll be back on their boat getting ready to Puddle Jump next spring. "I sooooo can’t wait to get back on our boat," says Toast. Anyway, here are her recommendations:
Do NOT pack large amounts of rice, beans, and canned goods. Mexicans eat well, and food prices are on the whole considerably cheaper. The produce is often outstanding, and meat and poultry are healthier, albeit considerably leaner.
DO fill the lockers with your favorite sauces, spices, and exotica. Mexican supermercados are well stocked, but you often can’t find specific brands or particular condiments you love. This is true of New Zealand as well. Your favorite curry mix or salad dressing may only be available in your homeland.
Do NOT buy out the West Marine so you’ll have very possible part, nautical trinket, boat jewelry, and electronic gadget. You don’t need everything.
DO buy out the West Marine. What the hell. It’s the last time you’ll see any of this stuff, your last time to indulge in American-style consumerism. From now on, it’ll take a trip to 15 separate ferreterias to accomplish anything. Actually, buy out the Home Depot while you are at it. (Editor’s note: Since Toast sailed to Mexico two years ago, both Costco and Home Depot have invaded the big cities of Mexico.)
DO buy Sunbrella if you plan to have said covers made in Mexico. The stuff costs twice as much in Mexico, assuming you can find it.
Do NOT pack fancy clothes, cutlery, or make-up. You will not actually go out to a fancy dinner. Anywhere. For years.
DO pick up some wine glasses, if available, embossed with the Ha-Ha logo. Ours helped solve the theft of nearly all our stuff when we moved into a house in Auckland.
Do NOT spend oodles purchasing every chart and cruising guide you can find on Mexico. Charts south of the border are notoriously inaccurate.
Do NOT take the Ha-Ha lightly. It is not a downwind pleasure cruise comparable to taking a daysail in San Francisco Bay. It’s a long distance in a short amount of time. And you never can tell about the weather on the open ocean.
DO be prepared. I love the West Coast of the United States as a way of easing into the cruising life. First, you can learn the intricacies of intercoastal travel and anchoring. Then you can dip your toe in short-hop ocean cruising. The trip from San Diego to Cabo is your next big welcome-to-the-next-level moment where the smart bet is to take the boat completely offshore. You’ll be doing round-the-clock watches for two to four days, sailing at night, and playing footsie with commercial cruise boats out on the rhumb line. Heed Latitude 38‘s warning that the Ha-Ha is not a trip for beginner sailors. Beginner cruisers maybe, but not beginner sailors. It is definitely not a trip for those with unprepared boats.
Do NOT overload your boat with stuff. Mexico is not a Third World country. It is a wonderful place with plenty of shopping opportunities. You can find pretty much anything you need — clothes, household goods, food stuffs, tools, and most parts — in the big cities.
DO contact Club Cruceros and see if anyone needs something brought south. It will usually be small, and either hard-to-find boat parts or gifts from family. In fact, if you’re willing to pick up a wind generator for me in San Diego . . . .
Do NOT be afraid. You are considerably more likely to get hit by lightning than you are to be attacked by Mexican drug runners during your trip south.
DO leave American news media-induced fear, uncertainty and dread (FUD) behind. You are stepping into a whole new world now, and I don’t mean Mexico. You are launching your career as a cruising sailor. This new life will be slower, quieter, and full of small wonderous moments. You may work harder physically than you have since high school sports, but the work is rewarding, satisyfing in ways that our daily works lives often are not.
And do look out for Don Quixote as you pass through La Paz. She’s hard to miss as she’s on an inner dock, right in front of the restaurant. She’s dirty, lonely, and neglected. We’ve treated her badly. Give her a pat for me, and let her know we’re coming home. We miss you, our cruising family, all so much! See you in February.