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December 20, 2013

Is Mexico Committing Nautical Tourism Suicide?

We sure hope not, although thanks to the actions of a new sub-agency of Hacienda (the Mexican IRS) called AGACE, it appears the country is on the verge of doing just that — and even worse, perhaps setting the stage for possible problems with the United States government.

In the last month AGACE, which was created by the new Peña Nieto administration to be auditors for foreign commerce, has been checking the paperwork of foreign boats in 12 marinas in Mexico. To be legal in Mexico without having to pay duty, foreign boat owners are required to possess their boat documentation, proof of clearing into Mexico, and a Temporary Import Permit, and have all these documents on file in the office of whatever marina the boat is in. This is perfectly reasonable.

According to a harbormaster who attended a big meeting in Mexico City yesterday with AGACE, Tourism, and other officials, 338 foreign boats were found to be out of compliance with these rules in just the 12 marinas that were checked. That’s a huge number, so let us give you a hint why.

We at Latitude 38, who have undoubtedly been the biggest promoters of nautical tourism to Mexico for the last 30 years, have had our catamaran Profligate put in what’s called ‘embargo precautorio‘, or precautionary embargo. It’s not that we didn’t have our boat documents; we did. It’s not that we don’t have a Temporary Import Permit; we have the same 20-year permit we’ve had for 17 years. It’s not that we can’t prove that we checked into Mexico because we have that document, too.

No, our ‘crime’ is that we weren’t on our boat when AGACE officials, backed by armed Marines, came through the marina checking paperwork. Much of Mexican law is based on Napoleonic Law, where you are considered guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Since we weren’t around to show our paperwork, AGACE assumed Profligate was not in compliance with Mexican law (guilty), and thus is now under ‘precautionary embargo’.

It gets even more ridiculous. When AGACE officials came around a week later, Doña de Mallorca was aboard, and showed them the documents. Nonetheless, Profligate is still on the embargo list.

Other boats were found to be out of compliance because of misspellings on documents made by officials in the United States or Mexico, because hull identification (HIN) numbers were painted over after many years, because AGACE officials who know nothing about boats didn’t know where to look for various identification numbers, and so forth.

Boats under ‘precautionary seizure’ are not allowed to leave the dock, as they are considered to be like foreign merchandise on which duty hasn’t been paid. 

There’s just one problem with this. Most of the vessels in question are U.S. documented vessels, and it’s our understanding that it’s illegal to impede the transit of such vessels unless a crime was committed. We can’t imagine the U.S. government is going to stand by with hands in pockets if 338 U.S. boats, worth tens millions of dollars, are illegally held for any period of time.

Surely, one would think, these minor problems could quickly be cleared up. Not so. At the meeting in Mexico City yesterday, AGACE gave no timetable for embargoed boats to be "liberated." But we’ve learned today that AGACE has up to four months, under their rules of operation, to assess the status of boats that have been seized. Consequently, there are cruisers who can’t move their boats, and there are foreign boat owners who won’t be able to take visiting family and friends sailing over the holidays. The damage to Mexico’s reputation will be growing by the day, and right at the height of tourist season.

To say boat owners are pissed off would be an understatement. Both Canadians and Americans are already starting to call their government representatives to protest. If you think marina owners, Mexico Tourism, and other business interests, such as those involved with real estate, like this, you couldn’t be more wrong. After all, it perpetuates the image of Mexico being a scary place, where tourists and retirees can’t feel safe or believe their assets are secure. We hope this matter is resolved very quickly, as we don’t think it accurately reflects on Mexico or even the Mexican government as a whole. But the damage will build with each passing day.

Please stay tuned.

Year-end Racing Preview

There are still a few opportunities to get some racing in before Christmas if you’ve gotten all of your holiday shopping done (see the next story if you haven’t). And what better way to start the new year than with a schooner race?

You can still catch a few races in the Bay Area before the end of the holiday season.

©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

This coming Saturday, December 21, two races take place at opposite ends of the greater Bay Area. Down south a bit, Santa Cruz YC is hosting the second race of their midwinter series. And for those of you in the North Bay, you can check out Santa Rosa SC’s Winter Series #2 on Spring Lake.

Sunday, December 22 might be your last chance to race this year, unless you happen to be sailing in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. Berkeley YC’s Chowder Races offer informal competition for fun PHRF racing. Sign up at the last minute if you want, but don’t get too serious because rain could cancel it. 

Corinthian YC is offering discounts until December 25 to racers who sign up early for their Midwinters in January and February.

On Tuesday, January 1, the Master Mariner’s Benevolent Society hosts the Classic Run for the Chili Pot Race. Point San Pablo YC starts the race at 11:30 a.m. so don’t be late, and also be sure to bring your bilge treasures for the Tacky Trophy Exchange as well.


On Boxing Day (December 26), the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race competitors set off on the 628-mile regatta. Weather forecasts point to what will likely be one of the most exciting match-ups in its 68-year history. The 100-footers, in particular Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal are certain to try to best each other for line honors and a record-breaking time. Local weather guru Stan Honey will be on board Perpetual Loyal and our very own Ronnie Simpson will be sailing on One for the Road. Look for his updates in ‘Lectronic.

Last Minute Literary Gifts

Crissy Fields loaded up on a huge stack of new books for all her sailor buddies.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Holy cow, there’s only five days left till Christmas! How did that happen? If you’re freaking out about your holiday shopping list, fret not, sweet sailor. While it might be too late to order Latitude 38 swag in time for the big day, there’s still plenty of time to order books and other goodies. We even have a few suggestions, thanks to the many books that are sent to us throughout the year. Here are a handful that might be interesting for someone on your list:

Of course if all else fails, you could always email your favorite sailor an Amazon gift card featuring a photo of his boat. He’ll love it (and love spending it)!

©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC
One of the more dramatic moments on Esprit’s recent Atlantic crossing. Esprit
©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC Because Latitude is based on the West Coast, we usually feature sailing photographs from California, Mexico or the South Pacific.
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We’ve got an update of a product we previously reported on, and a new product that may be of interest to many cruisers.
Is Bill Gates getting tired of the Seattle gloom? Who knows, but Cascade Investment, which he and Saudi businessman Alwaleed bin Talal own 95% of, just told the securities and exchange commission they are paying $200 million in cash for the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Mita, plus an adjacent 48-acre parcel of development land.