Sep 29, 2012

Bumper Boats, Bugs, Al Capone, and High Tidal Ranges

Don't count the days,
Make the days count.
Muhammad Ali

Before the trawlers head out for the season
Many sailors don’t come to Puerto Peñasco for many reasons: It’s far and out of the way, there is no ‘cruisers’ marina, there are no chandleries, tides have wide ranges, and the town itself doesn’t have much to offer in terms of interesting things to visit nearby.

Trawlers have gone - same pelican remains...
More than once we questioned whether we should come here or go where most boaters go, a little further south to Guaymas or San Carlos, but are very happy to have made it here.

Although not a ‘cruiser-friendly’ town, everyone here has been extremely welcoming, possibly the friendliest bunch we’ve seen in Mexico to date. Just because the infrastructure and the stores normally catering to cruisers are not here doesn’t mean one can’t make it work. With some legwork, we are managing and finding most everything we need and want. Also for us, since our house in Arizona is only 140 miles away, we can hop across the border to pick up what we’ve had shipped there.

Although the harbor water is not very clean, the Fonatur Marina facilities are spotless with lots of HOT water for showers and laundry. Other Fonatur facilities think they can save money by not offering clean restrooms over the weekend and no hot water… (For those who don’t know, Fonatur facilities are government run and there are several throughout Mexico. They usually are cookie cutters of each other; except for the one located here which is much smaller than its counterparts)… The staff even went as far as thinking outside the box which again, if you are familiar with Mexican ways and especially when it comes to government workers, they only do what they are told to do and don’t think for themselves much. In this case however we have seen a lot of initiative and it has been quite refreshing.

We’ve met someone who said we are probably the second sailboat he’s seen sailing here in nearly 5 years. Others have been here but solely for repair or to be transported to/from here. Although the port captain ‘claims’ many sailboats come here, we haven’t met other people who agree with his statement. Most Mexicans, when asked about something, often say that “Yes, they know about it (even though they don’t)” or that “Yes, that’s true (even if it’s not)”, etc… They like to make everything look and sound positive and good even when it isn’t, they also don’t like to be questioned so agreeing with us makes things simpler for them. We are used to that so in order to get a better feel for what is truly happening, you have to ask a lot a people many questions and dig a little deeper.

Pottery, metal work, landscaping items
Mariachi band made of scrap metals
Carved wood bench
Mosaic tile door and window frames
More mosaic and plaster work
It seems that in Mexico, Puerto Peñasco has been hit the hardest by the economical downturn. The decline started 4-5 years ago and is VERY prominent. The city is filled with too many abandoned condos, office complexes, hotels, homes, projects, with many people looking for work and bidding jobs down to the point where it doesn’t pay to work so everyone is suffering. We’ve witnessed several people fishing the harbor (with the water full of fuel) and eating what they catch. Some eat it raw and usually right away for they are quite hungry and have no facilities where to cook or clean. They must have cast iron guts to eat that stuff… Thankfully this year has been a little better than the last two or three so the economy is picking up a bit.

Shrimp season finally opened (9/19 this year) and most shrimp trawlers have left the harbor. Soon the harbor will be empty. The harbor holds 170 trawlers who are here for free (thank you Mexican government). The harbor has been absolutely filled with activity but what surprises us the most is the way they drive their boats, just like BUMPER cars… They just hit, knock, slide, bump, bang, wiggle, jam, ram in a reverse/forward, reverse/forward motion other similar heavy steel made boats like bumper cars do at carnivals. No wonder these vessels look so beaten-up even after a fresh paint job. Everyone does it though, so it seems to be the ‘normal’ way of leading these vessels in and out of the harbor…

Watching them makes us feel quite vulnerable: when will they do that to us next or what if they miss? We’ve been asked, when telling folks we are in Puerto Peñasco, if we’ve been hit by a trawler yet. We’ve seen anchors hitting other anchors or entering doorways on other boats, side rails hitting side rails, lines caught around posts on other boats, etc. They, however, all have brand new Mexican flags floating high above the water – they are proud of their heritage. Interesting to see boats named White Rose to Marylyn Nataly and Tranquility run into Viking, Rattlesnake, or Invincible. Finally, there seems to be a pecking order as to which boat goes where and after watching the action for over a week we still can’t figure it out.

The interesting part about these large rafted shrimp boats is that the first one is tied to a pier that, unlike a dock, doesn’t move up and down with the tide. With tides ranging upwards of 23 feet difference between high and low tides, someone has to keep readjusting the lines of these boats to the pier as the tides move up and down. Thankfully there are teams of 8-9 men on most of these boats so that seems to be taken care of on a fairly regular basis. Should you forget however it could mean broken lines or floating quite far away from the pier. Yesterday I watched as someone had waited just a little too long and his ‘dock line’ had become so taut that he had to truly struggle to untie and re-tie his boat.

Sometimes 3-4 boats move at once in this continual dance and it’s quite amazing there aren’t more accidents or close calls; that many boats cannot be easy to steer. Just think about bringing your grocery or laundry back to your boat and it just happens that it is the last of 9 boats tied together. You have to do a lot of juggling, climbing, and crisscrossing to get there. Don’t be too drunk for that adventure…

Near where we are docked there is a party boat that leaves every night at 6:30 pm and returns at 8:30 pm. For some reason, that doesn’t seem to sink into any of the shrimp captains’ consciousness for EVERY NIGHT shrimp boats have to be moved out of the way so the party boat can go on its cruise. EVERY NIGHT they have to juggle 2-5 boats out of the way so the show can go on. Truly amazing!

Now that the shrimpers are leaving I’m wondering where the pelicans and cormorants are going to roost at night? It seems they love spending each night on the “towing booms” (20-25’ long arms that are straight up in the air when not in used and horizontal over the water when towing shrimp nets).

We spoke to someone who worked on a shrimp boat for the experience and even though he’s a really tough hombre, he couldn’t do it for very long. For one, most Mexicans are very family oriented. Leaving for 30-60 days at a time is not something they favor. Second, shrimps produce an acid that destroy your skin, clothes, protective equipment, etc. Between that acid and all the cuts you already have on your hands, you can be in constant pain. The average boat can catch 35-40 tons of shrimps and the workers get paid $400/ton caught… Not a lot of money for all the prep-work before the shrimp season, the shrimp season itself, then the cleanup afterwards…

Those famous Trader Joe blue shrimp you purchase from the frozen section partly come from these fishermen… It’s a small world.

Now that the trawlers are gone, the boatyard has plenty of time/room to work on other boats. A father and son team here is well known for their work but it seems to focus mostly on steel boats so I don’t know that I would trust them with our little home on the water. This is where Rocio Del Mar, a famous 110 foot dive boat in the Sea of Cortez was built in 2009. This dive boat has been designed by a woman who loves diving so all the details are there to accommodate divers. She is so popular that they are nearly booked 2 years in advance.

Sitting on the dock looking up at pole and mast
Pole as high as spreaders (nearly 25 feet)
It can get pretty steep coming in/out at low tide
Takes a long hose to fuel-up
The tides vary so much that in the old days before the harbor was dredged out, one could walk across its entrance. At low tide, we cannot access the internet but we can at high tide. The tides vary so much that some tourists drive their cars on the beach at low tide, either forget how quickly the tide can come back in or they get stuck, only to have their cars taken away by the waves. Tides vary so much that at times the dock poles are nearly as high as the spreaders on our mast (about 25’ high), at others, less than 5 feet tall. Tides vary so much that at low tide we cannot hear the town and can sleep very well but when the tide is high we can hear trains, cars, music, roosters, etc… Amazing to experience the difference.

Entry to harbor at low tide
Entry to harbor at high tide
Our trip to/from Arizona went without any problems. We weren’t even asked for our passports or Nikki’s rabies certificate on the way back. On the way there, customs was just shaking their heads, they didn’t quite understand two gringos driving a car with Mexican plates. Other than that they just let us go our way…

The monsoon season has brought quite a bit of rain to the area along the border (Sonoyta) and we had to drive through over a foot of water (the previous day it would’ve been 2 to 3.5 feet so we fared well) before crossing the border. The next day all water was gone.

Our rented car was a little to be desired but we made it there and back with everything we ordered so again, we cannot complain.

We now have a new fridge, new BBQ, new fish/meat smoker, new sacrificial sun cover for the jib (that was fun to install for a first), new autopilot (not installed yet), new bimini, new cushion covers, and two new kayaks. Our goal/hope is to trade the dinghy and motor for coconuts (can’t sell in Mexico!) and be nearly gasoline free on this boat (except for back-up generator). We will use the kayaks instead and look at a way to possibly tie them together for trips to town that may require bringing back lots of groceries, etc. It’s all an experiment. Varnish and caulking have been updated outside with the inside to do at another time. It has been so hot in the sea this year that our 40 year old wood started oozing sap through the 6 year old varnish! Other small projects have been taken care of as well, Déjàlà feels and looks brand new…

To finish and to return to the title above, this area, as in many harbors, is full of cockroaches and crickets. We’ve had our share on the boat but are managing… Part of this travel business no matter how careful you are.  Al Capone is said to have been here many times.  A hotel and restaurant where he supposedly stayed/ate are named after him.

See you in three weeks! We’ll be off-line for a while again cruising south down the Sea of Cortez with no internet…

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