Nineteen teams from seven countries are competing this week at the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds, hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club on the Berkeley Circle.
Wednesday, the first day of racing, started with a brief postponement while the wind direction settled. Plenty’s New York-based Alex Roepers and crew (some of whom are Barking Mad alumni) won every race. Plenty has been building on their successes, having placed second at Cabrillo Beach in March and first in the North Americans in May, the Cal Cup in June and the Rolex Big Boat Series in September. "Everything is coming together this year," said Roepers.
Thursday began with a 1.5-hour postponement, but the excitement built as the day wore on, and several near-collisions and four protests ensued. "We are seeing more action in Race 4 than we’ve seen all year on this circuit!" enthused the class’s Twitter feed. A torn main ended Groovederci’s last race of the day, but they were granted redress. Boat of the day honors went to Wolfgang Schaefer’s German-flagged Struntje Light.
Skippers and crews appear to be having a great time. While waiting out the long postponement shoreside yesterday, competitors were talking in groups while drinking their cappuccinos. Racing continues through Saturday, with three races scheduled per day and post-race festivities hosted back at StFYC, except Saturday’s awards ceremony, which will be held across Marina Blvd. at the Palace of Fine Arts.
Looking for something unusual to do on the water this weekend? Why not take part in the annual Petaluma River Festival, today through Sunday. Because the event is primarily a celebration of the river’s history, both the authentic scow schooner Alma and the Chinese junk replica Grace Quan will be featured ‘guests’ of the celebration. (Thanks to event partner S.F. Maritime Park.)
As most Bay Area sailors know, during the 1800s scows like Alma were the ‘freighters’ that brought North Bay farm products to the bustling San Francisco waterfront long before there were bridges and highways. During the same era, junks such as the Grace Quan worked Bay Area fishing grounds. Both vessels will be available for dockside tours tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the downtown Petaluma turning basin. Plus, there’ll be a barbecue, live music and all sorts of family activities.
On Sunday you can take a sail on the river aboard the Alma from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $20. The Friends of the Petaluma River have also organized a Family Nature Day for Sunday.
The 16-mile-long river is technically a tidal slough, and its surrounding wetlands comprise the largest remaining tidal marsh in California. For more info see the Friends site or call (707) 763-7756.
Jim Milski of the Lake City, Colorado-based Schionning 49 Sea Level has sailed around the world. He’s doing another Baja Ha-Ha this year with his wife Kent, and wanted to do all the paperwork by the book.
His first step was getting visas online for his crew, as recommended by Mexican officials and Tourism’s glossy new Visiting Mexico by Private Boat brochure. When filling out the form, there was no mention of the price, which is supposed to be under $25 per person. But when he got the credit card receipt from Chase United Visa, he discovered that he’d been charged $91 per person! Plus a $2.50 transaction fee.
When he called the credit card company and admitted he’d received the visas, they said there was nothing that could be done. But in the end, they agreed that it was a fraudulent charge and reduced it to about $20 per person.
Jim’s second step was to apply for fishing licenses online, as is also recommended in the Visiting Mexico by Private Boat brochure. When the site rejected Milski’s card, which he knew was good, and asked for another one, he backed off. He then went to Mexico’s Fishery Department in the Little Italy section of San Diego. He was able to get licenses for his crew at $46 each — even though the Department of Fisheries rep at the meeting in Huntington Beach last week told us they should be $35 a month.
Then the man Milski spoke with said they had been getting complaints from people saying they had paid for fishing licenses online — but didn’t get them.
The only good news for Milski is that he was able to get his Crew List done online.
In the last couple of days we’ve been talking to a number boat owners with lots of experience in Mexico. Their reaction to the current paperwork chaos? They aren’t going to do any paperwork until they get to Mexico. Granted, most of them already have TIPs, but several said they aren’t going to worry about getting Tourist Visas and get their Crew List approved online, but rather will do it when they get to Cabo "like we’ve always done." While it’s unlikely anybody is going to get into trouble for doing it the old way, there is a drawback. Longtime ship’s agent Victor Berrera in Cabo explains:
"After the last Ha-Ha, a law was passed that requires every boat to electronically file a Crew List 24 hours before arriving at the first Mexican Port of Entry. The law has never been enforced, but the reason for it is so they can check everybody coming into the country. If you arrive by plane, they can scan your passport at Immigration. But if you’ll be arriving by boat, they don’t have your passport to scan."
So if you do it "like we’ve always done," where you get the Tourist Visas and file the Crew List in Cabo, particularly with a large group of other Ha-Ha folks, you may end up having to wait quite a while for the Immigration folks go in the back room and create a Crew List for you. "The Immigration people would probably have to work all through the night," says Berrera. If you send Berrera all the necessary information well in advance, he can do your Crew List for you and check your boat into Mexico for approximately $70, the same as he charged last year, even though it’s more work this year.
The thing that makes paperwork a little more tricky for Baja Ha-Ha participants (and for some fishermen) than for most cruisers is that we don’t use Ensenada as our Port of Entry. There are two simple reasons: 1) If we stopped in Ensenada, we couldn’t fit the event into a two-week time frame, which wouldn’t work out for most crews. 2) Even if we made Ensenada the first stop, their small staff would be overwhelmed, and couldn’t complete the paperwork for days. There’s a darker third reason we’ll tell you about later.
Mexico’s solution for the Ha-Ha (and fishermen) has been to come up with online solutions for getting Temporary Import Permits (TIPs), getting Temporary Nautical Tourist Visas to be traded for regular 180-day tourist visas in Cabo, getting fishing licenses, and submitting Crew Lists. If the Mexican Government explained that you needed all these things, and if all forms, sites, and credit card procedures worked as they are supposed to, there wouldn’t be any problems. Alas, they are sloppy works in progress.
Some people believe that getting the paperwork done in Ensenada is the best solution. We like Ensenada well enough, and it might be the case. But it might not be. For example, last year a number of cruisers who got their tourist visas in Ensenada had to pay about $25 each for new ones when trying to fly out of Manzanillo, because Immigration at Ensenada hadn’t stamped their passports or Tourist Visas. It might have been an honest mistake, but maybe not. Here is one story we were told:
"I chose to do my entry in Ensenada since they have a one-stop shop where you go for Immigration, Customs, Port Captain and the bank, all in one big room with the various departments arranged behind bank teller-type windows. It’s very convenient, and we were in and out in 30 minutes. But we did have a problem with the documentation for the boat at Immigration. The Immigration official asked for all of our passports and boat documents, which we provided. She reviewed them all, and then asked for our zarpe from when we left the States. (She also made the same request from another couple who were there doing the same thing.)
"We replied that the U.S. does not require nor offer a zarpe for when we leave the U.S. on the boat. My understanding is that I need a zarpe if I am arriving at Mexico from the south but not from the U.S. The other couple had never heard of such a thing either. Neither did our driver/handler from a local marina. The woman was quite insistent that we provide a zarpe and actually stopped the paperwork process when we couldn’t. The more senior Immigration officer behind her kept whispering instructions for what to say to us. I then spotted a pile of documents for boats that had been cleared earlier in the day and asked her to show me the zarpes for those boats. She refused. Then I asked her to show me an example of a U.S. zarpe so I’d know what to look for or request next time I left the U.S. She couldn’t show me one of those either, probably because she didn’t have any. Finally, she said that she would allow us in this time, but to have it all correct next time. We got our documents back and proceeded to the next window. We were later told that it was a shakedown for a bribe. When we didn’t offer one, the official got revenge by not stamping our passports and visas, knowing we would have to pay before leaving Mexico."
Two things: First, technically every boat arriving in Mexico has to have a zarpe from whatever country they’ve come from, including the United States. Most U.S. officials don’t know anything about issuing them, and in the more than 25 times we’ve sailed to Mexico, we’ve never had one. Second, rumors claim that an official at the Immigration window at Ensenada was notorious for shaking down boat owners needing to get their paperwork done there. Many vowed never to stop in Ensenada because of him. That official passed away couple of years ago, but who knows, maybe his tradition lives on. To be fair, we haven’t heard of such a complaint from anyone else recently. Also to be fair, Ensenada Immigration is the only Immigration Office we’ve heard of that put the bite on people.
And now, for some much-needed encouraging news, and more background, from Tere Grossman, President of the Mexican Marina Owners Association:
"I am enclosing a letter from Rosario Graham from Sectur [Mexican Department of Tourism] to Immigration in Mexico City, asking them to assist the participants of the Baja Ha-Ha, and the letter sent by Immigration in Mexico City to Immigration in Baja and Baja Sur to also assist. I just want you to see that Rosario is doing what she can to help. I think printed copies of the letter should be given to all Ha-Ha participants so they can have them when they arrive in Cabo to show local Immigration officials that we are in contact with their bosses in Mexico City. This should make them more willing to assist Ha-Ha participants.
"I read the Grand Poobah’s last article about all the paperwork, and he’s right, it’s confusing. But please, don’t drink too much tequila.
"With regard to the TIPs, I wouldn’t worry too much about the differences in them. As long as somebody has either kind of TIP, I don’t think there will be a problem. After the fiasco last year that hurt Mexico’s reputation so badly, I’m 99% sure they won’t be doing any similar inspections.
"Neil Shroyer of Marina de La Paz gives you the information that we get from the government. He puts a lot of effort into reading all the rules and laws, and he is very knowledgeable. Unfortunately, we also get different guidelines and interpretations from different officials, which is why I try to always get things in writing. Many times my clients have problems entering Mexico in Nogales, and I have to send them copies of the law to show the officials what the law is. That clears problems up.
"But Neil is correct; at the moment they have made some changes, and the Temporary Import Permits (TIPs) they are issuing in Ensenada and places with Banjercitos are different from the ones available online. When we go to Mexico City, we will keep insisting that the government correct its mistakes. As I’ve said before, we will not fail until we stop trying.
"With regard to fishing licenses, I think only boats with fishing gear need them. I will try to get something in writing from the Mexican government with the rules, and people can have it with them in their boats. If you have anything in writing that says that you don’t need a license if you are not fishing, it’s a good idea to keep that in the boat to show any official who says otherwise. I hate to say it, but many times the local officials don’t know the law.
"I get as frustrated as you, but I am sure this will get better."
We know this, like all the previous paperwork articles, has probably way too much information for people who are just looking to have a good time and spend money in Mexico, so we’re going to cut to the chase:
1) We cannot suggest that you do the Ha-Ha without getting some kind of TIP — online or from Ensenada — before sailing into Mexican waters. That said, we think there is less than one chance in 100 that you’d have a problem if you don’t get a TIP until you get to La Paz, Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta, as long as you get one as soon as you get to any of those places. You can’t get one in Cabo because it doesn’t have a Banjercito.
2) We cannot suggest that you do the Ha-Ha without getting tourist visas and filing a Crew List — online or in Ensenada — but if you wait until you get to Cabo we think there is less than one chance in 100 you’ll have a problem. Particularly if you ‘forget’ that you stopped at Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria. However, because Immigration or ship’s agent Berrera will have to do the paperwork manually if you wait until you get to Cabo, it may take some time. For the record, Rudolfo Figueroa Pacheco, who is the head of Immigration for Baja Norte, told us personally he is aware of all the paperwork problems, and that "all problems will be worked out." The Immigration guys in Cabo aren’t going to care if you get your tourist visas there, because it’s more money for their territory.
3) There has been conflicting information about how many fishing licenses are needed if you have fishing gear on your boat. In addition to a copy of the letter from Tourism to Immigration, we will provide everyone with a copy of the Visiting Mexico by Private Boat brochure that says you do not need a license for every crew member. That said, if you’re going to do a lot of fishing, we think the morally correct thing to do is get one for each crewmember. Because of problems with getting a fishing license online, we recommend that you get your fishing license at H&M Landing near Shelter Island in San Diego. They sell annual fishing licenses for $60. This is $14 more than the Mexico Fisheries people in the Little Italy district of San Diego, but H&M’s are good for 365 days instead of until just the end of the calendar year, H&M will take credit cards, H&M doesn’t close at 2 p.m., and they are open on weekends.
We can’t tell you how much we apologize for the paperwork nightmare. It’s never, ever been remotely this bad. Mexico is having a horrible time working through the kinks. Do your best to show good intent, and we’re confident that you’ll be fine.