|31| MÉXICO por los Números

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Mexico

November 2018 – April 2022
Written by Bruce & Alene in French Polynesia — October & November 2022


Primero y lo más importante, queremos darle nuestro más sincero agradecimiento a la gente y al gobierno de México por su calorosa hospitalidad y amabilidad durante los años de Covid.

First and most importantly, we want to give our heartfelt thanks to the people and government of Mexico for their warm welcome and kindness during the years of Covid.


Mexico by the Numbers


Wow, what a ride. México was a fiesta and a siesta. Mexico was hot desert, cold mountains. Mexico was teeming cities, isolated islands. Empty resorts to busy hotels. Long-term guests to months alone. Boogie boarding on abandoned beaches, soaring with giant mantas. Mexico had so many faces during our 3 years there. But always we were met with friendliness and kindness… even during the worst months of Covid.  How to measure our time in Mexico? Well, the best way to measure anything is to start with the numbers:


4

months we planned to stay in Mexico

41

months we actually were in Mexico

17

nautical miles sailed toward French Polynesia in 2019 before we turned back

5

trips to the Islas Revillagigedo

31

days sailing to or from the Islas Revillagigedo

18

weeks diving with giant oceanic mantas at the Islas Revillagigedo

4

boatyard haulouts

8

months on the hard

6

months of boatyard work

9

months exploring the Sea of Cortez

4

months with Ruby aboard

4

one thousand-mile drives along the Baja peninsula       

3

French Polynesia visa applications submitted to the Mexico City French Embassy       

3

trips to Mexico City    

8

months away from Migration (including our longest time away: 6 months)

6,553

miles sailed

Heaps of friends made



4 months we planned to stay in Mexico
41 months we actually were in Mexico
17 nautical miles sailed toward French Polynesia in 2019 before we turned back

Migration at Islas San Benitos on the way to Mexico

We left California on 22 November 2018 expecting to spend 4 months in Mexico before heading to French Polynesia. How appropriate that it was Thanksgiving Day; we ended up having much to be thankful for during our time in Mexico. We say our lives are normally ruled by hurricane seasons and visas expirations. But 2019 to 2022 were not normal years. The reason is obvious for 2020 and 2021.

Why 2019?


We decided to let giant fish rule our lives. Here’s what we wrote to our families on the 5th of May 2019:


Hi Everyone,

We left the Mexican mainland 3 weeks ago and arrived at San Benedicto Island in the Revillagigedos 3 days later. Since then, we have had some of the most amazing diving experiences of our lives. The Revillagigedos are known for their resident population of giant manta rays who happen to be very social and seem to enjoy being around humans. And it’s true! Over a one-week period at San Benedicto Island, we dove once or twice a day… each time with one, two, or three mantas who glided by so close we could have reached out and touched them. These are big mantas – some are 18 feet from wingtip to wingtip. 

Besides mantas, we also found turtles, plenty of sharks, lots of fish, and… dolphins!  Very playful dolphins that seemed to enjoy showing off their hunting techniques and swimming around us. Often there were whales outside the anchorage. Though we didn’t scuba dive with them, at Socorro Island we were able to snorkel with a mother humpback and her calf. It was awesome.

But the seasons are changing and it was time to get going on our 2,500 nautical mile voyage to the Marquesas. We left today at around noon, both of us excited about the passage and feeling that Migration was in good shape and certainly very well-provisioned. We headed southwest in a nice breeze. It was fine sailing. As we finished our late lunch on deck, I (BB) mentioned that I was sad we were leaving the Revillagigedos as we probably would never dive here again. I said I could almost stay in Mexico another year so we could come back. I’d mentioned this several times yesterday but Alene didn’t think I was serious. But now, upon realizing that I had meant it, it opened up a possibility she hadn’t really considered.  We discussed it for over an hour as we continued on our course for the Marquesas. We talked about the pros and cons. Made a list. Rated each pro and con. Added up the totals. Flipped a coin. Talked some more. And finally, turned the wheel and headed back north!

So tonight we are back at Socorro Island. We’ll stay a few more days here before heading to the mainland, then work our way north into the Gulf of California where we will spend the summer (the same place we spent our first summer together in 2006).  Early in 2020 we will return to the Revillagigedos and then, sometime in April, start off again for the Marquesas.

That is, unless we change our plans again…

Love to all,
BB & ADR
5 May 2019

Dramatic Isla San Benedicto of the Revillagigedo archipelago

And thus, we spun the wheel and turned around. We told ourselves we’d go to the Marquesas in 2020. But the world, as you know, had other plans.


5 trips to the Islas Revillagigedo
31 days sailing to or from the Islas Revillagigedo
18 weeks diving with giant oceanic mantas at the Islas Revillagigedo

Our visit to the Islas Revillagigedo changed our lives.

It’s true. No other place we have visited has changed our plans, focus, and level of happiness more than the Revillas.  The islands captured us and forced us to change course — to become different people.

We spent the majority of our time at Isla San Benedicto. This island’s stark volcanic beauty – it erupted in 1953 and is still mostly covered in ash — sits in intense juxtaposition to what lies beneath the sea at its feet. Much larger Isla Socorro is covered with vegetation and offers painted cliffs and striking vistas when anchored beneath its 1,150 meter (3,770 ft) volcanic peak.

But it is our time underwater at the Revillas that affected us most profoundly. Snorkeling and diving with magnificent sea creatures: whales, sharks, turtles, dolphins – but most especially our interactions with giant oceanic manta rays with 6 meter (20’) wing spans – is the reason we aborted our 2019 voyage to French Polynesia so we could do it again, and again, and again.

The Parque Nacional Revillagigedo was created by the Mexican government in 2017. It is the largest marine protected area in North America covering over 150,000 square kilometers (57,000 square miles). The national park was created to protect the unique species of the area by stopping the Mexican fishermen and foreign poachers from decimating the fish populations as well as killing sharks and mantas. Though Mexico does not have the necessary resources to patrol the entire area, the park designation has helped. The Mexican Navy’s presence on Islas Socorro and Clarion, the development of a tourism industry for divers, and the occasional visit from cruising sailboats, help to keep the poachers away… at least from the waters near the islands.

As I write this, over three and half years after our first visit to the Revillas in April 2019, we are still in awe of what we experienced there. Imagine you are hiking in a forest, come across a clearing, and sit down on a log to rest. Suddenly, out of the trees walks a full-grown bull moose. It is a wild animal that weighs almost 3/4 of a ton. Instead of attacking (you are intruding in its territory), or running away, it ambles over, lowers its head and clearly wants you to scratch it under the chin. After 30 or 40 minutes of scratching & silent communion, it strolls back into the trees leaving you with your mouth agape and wondering if that really did happen.

Replace the forest with the clear blue waters of the Revillas, the moose with a manta ray that weighs twice as much as the moose (nearly 2 tons!), and maybe this communicates a small sense of the astonishment of diving in this extraordinary locale. Though there were plenty of dives when we spotted no mantas, we had dozens of dives with giant rays that clearly sought us out (they can hear our exhalation bubbles) and swam with us just to be near us. Their big black eyes stared right into ours as they glided by majestically with hardly a movement of their great wings, often circling around us and back again for more time together. They were truly awesome in their beauty, and we were honored and astounded by their choice to socially interact with us.

It wasn’t just mantas that we saw while diving and snorkeling; we regularly had six different species of sharks in the water with us (tiger, hammerhead, Galapagos, silky, white tip, & silver tip), plus dolphins, turtles and the thousands of beautiful fish who seem to get ignored because of the presence of the larger, more charismatic species. Though we saw many whales on the surface, only once did one pass by when we were scuba diving… that was a very memorable dive!

We are at a loss for words that can do justice to this remarkable part of the world. The best we can do is try to share a little of the experience with our photos and videos.

Sharks

Happy divers


23 April 2019

Another awesome morning dive at the Pinnacle. We opted to go in the water later (0800) for better light, but still a very nice dive with one dolphin, mantas, & sharks. We’re grateful that the dive boat told us the best time to dive that area. And I don’t mind getting up early if it means diving with dolphins!

As we swam away from the boat (on the surface), BB was navigating us to the pinnacle with the compass, so didn’t see the manta that was swimming along underneath, about 30’ down. I began going in the wrong direction, trying to get a photo of the manta, & he called me back on track. It’s easy to get distracted by these beautiful mantas! He navigated us right to the pinnacle, & we hung around it for a while, but there were no dolphins — until suddenly there was one. I was pleased I had brought the camera for this dive, & I had set my computer for a 48’ alarm so that I wouldn’t exceed the 50’ depth restriction of the camera. When there are dolphins, it isn’t a hardship to stay above 50’ though, as the dolphins zoom all over the place, usually between 10 – 50’.

When the dolphin swam out of sight, I busied myself looking for octopus or taking photos of the fishes that we rarely give a second glance because there’s too much other amazing stuff to see. I also took a bunch of pics of BB in the beautiful clear blue water. Then a manta came by a couple of times. Then there was a hammerhead shark. Then another shark came quite close to BB. That’s always exciting. So all in all, a very satisfying morning dive.

We had about 2000 psi left after yesterday’s dive which we used for the today’s morning dive, then used a full tank for the afternoon dive. We’ve been doing really well conserving air, & often have enough for 2 dives on a tank.

We used the portable depth sounder to find a place to anchor to dive the Canyon in the afternoon. There were 2 dive boats out there, & when we asked where we could find the Canyon, one guy led us to the spot. We dropped the dinghy anchor & it held.

We descended to about 70’ (BB went to 85’ to move the anchor from rock to sand) & then we swam around a nice rock formation for about 15 mins. before a really big manta appeared. He swam right above us, clearly trying to get our bubbles to hit his underside. The first time he didn’t linger, but he came back & back again, more than a dozen times, & each time, he hovered right above us for longer & longer, enjoying the sensation of the bubbles tickling his belly. A couple of times we purged our regs to make more bubbles, but Jake on Socorro Vortex said they don’t like that as much — it’s too many bubbles. 

At one point, the manta came so close to us that BB’s head was almost hitting the manta’s underside. It was like having a spaceship hover above us, with the strange silhouette of the furled cephalic fins (the horns) creating such an odd outline. It’s clear that these mantas, as we’ve heard, really do enjoy hanging out with divers. This one clearly heard our bubbles, & came to us.

Now here’s the totally amazing part (as if it wasn’t already…!) Disclaimer: Don’t read this while eating… 

On the third pass, just after going over us, the manta pooped! Oh, yes. There’s no doubt that’s what it was. A huge brown cloud of sandy detritus was suddenly expelled, then further bits followed. And I was close enough to see that the manta’s large intestine (colon, rectum?) actually came a couple of feet out of its body to expel the matter. I could see the anus at the end of the colon contract with each expulsion. I can’t believe I actually saw this — the dive master who filled our tanks after that dive, who has been diving here for years, has never seen it. Each time we ascend, we just keep saying “wow!”, wow!!, WOW!!!” & shouting with elation at the spectacularity of it all. (We later emailed a top manta researcher whose work we have been supporting for many years and asked about this. She told us it is called an “intestinal inversion”; a rarely seen behavior mantas perform to clear out parasites.)

We also saw a couple of small sharks on this dive, but, as is so often the case here, the highlight was the manta encounter.

It probably sounds like we’re spending every waking minute diving, but we’ve only done 2 dives a day at the most, & on Easter, we didn’t dive at all. Just relaxed & colored eggs.

But between dives, there is still plenty to see. There is usually a silky shark or two & some jacks hanging out under Migration, & each time we throw food overboard (peelings, etc.) the sharks & jacks come to investigate. And at night, if we shine our strong spotlight into the water, the fish & sharks come to see what’s going on, & we get a good show — sometimes as many as half a dozen sharks. The silkies swim like sharks in the movies: with their dorsal fin out of the water. We rarely see that except when reef sharks are in very shallow water. 

Also, we spend a lot of time outside (eating, studying French, sewing or other projects), & we always have binocs handy. We often see humpbacks, pilot whales, & schools of dolphins just outside the anchorage. The birds usually tell us where we’ll find the action: booby birds of all sorts, including nazca boobies (my personal favorite), frigates, & terns.

At night, the hunting begins. We constantly hear splashing & thumps on the hull from fish being chased. Last night I had to rescue a big needle fish that landed in Plover! We also hear the dolphins coming up to breathe every night around the boat.

And the cinder cone keeps us busy cleaning up ash. The wind blows the ash everywhere, & when we return from a dive, we make a mud bath of the deck. All flat surfaces are covered with grit, even just after I clean them. But it’s totally worth it for the spectacular view we get to enjoy.


3 April 2021

We all dove together at Cabo Pearce after carefully placing the anchors of our four dinghies on the rocky portion of the reef. We were in the water by 0830, but we’ll have to dive earlier tomorrow because the dolphins that were on the surface when we arrived were gone by the time we got our gear on & began our dive.

This dive is pretty advanced: current flows over a very tall, narrow reef creating considerable surge & current that swirls around & changes constantly, so we all needed to be very aware. We held onto our anchor lines while descending to ensure we didn’t get swept away, but once we were behind the reef wall, the current abated somewhat, so we were able to stay in place without too much effort. I hovered at about 70’ for a long time scanning for the mantas who ply that area, but the only pelagic sightings were sharks, both hammerheads & white tips. There were lots of pretty fish flitting about on the reef, & since we needed to stay close to the reef to keep out of the current, I spent a long time studying the reef at close range. 

BB found a nudibranch, which is always appropriate around Easter, since looking for them is like an Easter egg hunt, particularly since they are usually very colorful!

After about 40 minutes & no mantas, we began our ascent & hung above the reef at about 50’.

Wait, what’s that? A flash of white!

I couldn’t believe it, but yes, an octopus, right out in the open! She was stretched over a head of coral, & when she moved, the webbing between her tentacles flashed white, then returned to a brownish-purple. I approached slowly. She stayed in place, watching my approach with those alien-like horizontal pupils. I had motioned to BB, making the universal hand signal for octopus, & pointed her out, for once not needing to point into the abyss of some crack or hole where he cannot distinguish much.

She moved a bit further from us, wary. But she did not hide. She remained in the open, watching us carefully. I extended a hand. She moved away a bit, but again, stayed out in the open, on top of the rocks. I tried once more – this time she did not move away, but I did not force my hand; I only hoped she might meet me halfway. She was still wary & did not extend a tentacle, but she was clearly curious. After about ten minutes of communing she did find a crack & squeeze into it, disappearing from view. 

I scanned for mantas (as always, when I’m not focused on an octopus) as we ascended another 10′. I swam around looking for the octopus, not really thinking I’d see her…

But there she was, back out in the open! 

Conveniently for us, she had moved to a spot higher on the reef which corresponded with our ascent. So again, we watched each other warily, but with considerable curiosity on both sides. I was able to get much closer with my hand, but by this time all our friends were in their boats & we had been underwater over an hour. We  knew that our friends waiting topside might be getting concerned, so we said adieu to the octopus, taking careful note of her location for future dives.

Woo-hoo! That’s our best octopus encounter while scuba diving ever. Whenever we find an octopus while snorkeling, I get frustrated at having to surface for air, so this was a real privilege to be able to just hang out & observe her color changes, & the changes in the texture of her skin. Simply fascinating.

I hope we can find her again….

After our phenomenal octopus encounter during the morning dive, I invited all the girls for a snorkel in the afternoon. Sarah & Anna joined me for an excursion snorkeling on the wall & off the point. They haven’t done much snorkeling in surf zones, so it was fun sharing with them the joy of swimming through the bubbles (like the mantas do!) for the tickling sensation & the feeling of flying through upside-down clouds. Watching surf crash underwater when you can be safe from it is truly beautiful. There were lots of pretty fish, the water was clear, & it was a nice outing with just the girls.


26 April 2021

We had a mind-blowing dive at Cabo Pearce today. 

We tended the dinghy at the surface while Ashley and Paul dived. After we picked them up we got in the water. 

We swam out along the reef to where there is a shark counter float at about 70′. The reef was pretty, but there wasn’t much activity, so we swam back against the current toward the landward end of the reef. We were headed for the Temple of Tallness (our moniker), which, we now realize, does not reach the surface as we previously thought, but is a tall pinnacle. We had learned from the other trimaran that it is a cleaning station for mantas, & sure enough, there was one manta being cleaned there. We watched the manta for a while, but did not move close. Then another came. Then another. At one point, we had four mantas in view all at the same time!

Definitely a swivel-head dive.

It was awesome to watch the continuous action. Ten or fifteen of the Clarion angelfish (the cleaner fish here) would swim out to meet the manta and go to work cleaning. The manta would hover, or sometimes swim slowly, & occasionally stop and slip backwards and down while being cleaned. 

Some mantas were completely absorbed in their spa experience while others were clearly curious about us. If they were into the spa treatment, we left them alone until they chose to come visit us. One chevron manta did over a dozen tight circles right around both of us right at eye level. Looking, looking – eye to eye. 

Once, when a manta passed close by us with a lot of cleaner fish, some of the Clarions defected & came to clean us! They bit at the zippers on the sleeves & legs of my wetsuit — I suppose, to a cleaner fish, those are the areas that would harbor parasites….

Because the mantas tended to stay more in one place than usual, we tried an experiment this dive:  We swam like a manta, flapping our arms slowly & gracefully like their wings, rolling our bodies from side to side & making banking turns as they do, & positioning ourselves for a belly-to-belly greeting when they came near. This brought some of the mantas closer than ever before — we definitely had their attention.

At one point I was at 45′ & BB was at 35′. We were about 20 feet apart & I was just floating in the blue. One black manta swam in tight circles about 10′ above me for five straight minutes, getting cleaned by the Clarion angelfish on his back, & having his belly massaged by my bubbles, just as though he was getting a full-on spa treatment. This led to my naming the area Magic Manta Mountain Spa. The whole experience was so over-the-top — almost like an amusement park.

It was glorious, incredible, & wonderful. We kept putting our hands on our heads & shaking our heads in disbelief.

Then a hammerhead swam by. That was surprising. We still point out the hammerheads to each other since they are still rather rare; however, we usually don’t bother to acknowledge the small white tips because they are so numerous!

After the hammerhead sighting, more mantas arrived. Not just for cleaning but to hang out with us and glide right up and over us. We must’ve spent quality time with at least 4 different mantas, & saw at least six. It was hard to keep track!

Then I saw a tiger shark off in the distance, in the surging bubbles of the reef. I pointed it out, but it was just a silhouette, & BB didn’t see it.

The mantas were still all around us. All different sizes, both black & chevron, 8′ to 12′ wing spans.

Then the tiger shark re-appeared much closer to us. He did one slow circle, then disappeared into the blue.

BB was getting low on air so he signaled that he was beginning his ascent. We moved away from the reef and ascended to 20′ for our safety stop.

And there was the tiger shark again. It circled us a couple of times, then moved away.

We’ve had sharks pass by us before, but not circle.

A minute later it was back. Now we were a bit nervous.

We moved close together, trying to make ourselves appear as large as possible. We instinctively put our feet out in front of us, & reminded ourselves to remain calm while our hearts began beating faster (which they can sense). We did not take our eyes off the shark. He circled and then turned. While looking at us with those black eyes, he swam — slowly — directly toward us.

It was hard to tell how big he was because we were floating in the blue with nothing for comparison. But we later guessed he was probably 11-12’. However, with tigers, it’s not the length that is most noticeable; it’s the bulk. It’s a very stout shark.

We were both a bit frightened, but we knew it was partly because we’ve both just finished reading a book about sharks Paul had loaned us that was a compilation of accounts of horrific shark attacks with grisly photos. 

Also, at the beginning of that dive, BB’s knife holder was falling off of his BC, so we took it off & left it in the boat. My knife is much smaller, but we got it out anyway. However, the lanyard was so short that it would be of no use in this situation. Of all the times to not have the bigger knife….

The tiger shark veered off when it was about 15’ away from us.

Then a manta came! But we didn’t pay any attention as we were still completely focused on the shark. I signaled to cut our safety stop short & BB agreed. We surfaced, & while I kept a lookout below, BB inflated our safety signal. Luckily Paul was pretty close and zoomed over. We got in the boat quickly — our hearts beating fast.

We were so elated from our time with the mantas and the adrenaline of the shark, & our heads were so full of the entire dive experience that we could barely speak coherent sentences.

We know that we really had nothing to be scared of. Despite all the divers in the water, there has never been a shark attack out here. The tiger shark was just curious. But we’ve never been the object of a tiger’s curiosity before, & feeling so defenseless out in the blue without a reef at our back, well… it definitely made us nervous. 

Our heads are still buzzing from that dive & every so often, one of us will blurt out, “can you believe it??” or “how amazing was that???” or “that was such an awesome dive!!!”.

BB’s poem for today:

APOLOGY TO A TIGER SHARK

I am sorry I was frightened of you.
I know there was no need,
but the book I just read,
the photos...
movies…
Well, you know, it all just adds up.

But, of course, you don’t know.
You are just doing your thing.
You are curious.
We were the objects of your curiosity.

It was rude of us to be so nervous
when all you were doing
was having an afternoon swim 
through your neighborhood.

Perhaps it was profiling.
Stereotyping.
Whatever we are guilty of

Please forgive us.

And next time we are in the sea with you...

Please don’t eat us.

The news of the 2016 presidential election was easy to follow when we were in Japan. Except for our time in the Aleutians, the remoter parts of Alaska and British Columbia, and some of the spots in California’s Channel Islands, during the next 2 years we usually had a mobile signal… and therefore a connection to the all-powerful internet and the… no, not 24/7 news cycle, but the 86,400 seconds/day news cycle. Much of the world, and in particular, the United States, has become obsessed with news. And since news has become entertainment, news now means bad news. As Hans Rosling said in his book Factfulness, no one reports on the thousands of flights every day that don’t crash.

I was able to keep close track of the downward spiral of our country under the previous anti-environment, climate change-denying administration that turned lies into normal speak, and childish tweets into accepted behavior from the most prestigious office in our country.

It wasn’t until we sailed to the Revillagigedos in 2019, and I was without internet for an entire month, that I realized I had been sucked down the same hole the rest of the country had already set up camp in.

Very suddenly… I was happy again.

The realization bloomed out of my head like a pop-art scene from the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. The world was beautiful and there was no need to remind myself every single day of the unkindness and despicable behavior of the president and half of our country’s voting population. It was still there, of course, and I was aware of it, but not drowning in the mountain of bad news, and the despair of the realization that so many of my fellow citizens approved of this miserable state of affairs. Being away from it allowed me to re-recognize the beauty of the natural world and experience happiness.

At the end of that month, I made a promise that when we again had access to the internet, I would only look at the news twice a week. Alene can vouch for the fact that I have kept my promise as she is often well-aware when Tuesdays and Fridays roll around; she senses my discontent, or rage, or despair.

So here’s a suggestion:

You try it. Turn off the news feed on your phone, tablet and computer. Only look at the news for a brief period two times a week. And for God’s sake, PLEASE, look at multiple sources of news. One of the reasons our county is in the fix we’re in is that people get their news from places that only reinforce their beliefs, never challenge them to look at an issue from another point of view, and play to their fears, bigotry, and hatreds. Social media platforms – Facebook in particular – are some of the worst offenders as they feed you what their powerful algorithms determine will keep you glued to the screen. However, television news and forwarded emails can be just as bad in narrowing your view.

Limit your news intake. Diversify your news sources.

It will make you happier. And it will do the country good as well.

I promise.

BB

P.S. I usually visit several of these websites on news day: BBC, Newsweek, NPR, USA Today, Reuters, Associated Press, New York Times, Al Jazeera, sometimes the Washington Post or The Guardian and, occasionally, when I’m feeling strong, Fox News.

Here is a respected, unbiased rating of the many popular news sources — check out where your news sources fall and decide if you are reading news that is fact or opinion.

Sailors: For another take on the internet and cruising, check out my October 2022 Cruising World article.

Sunset at Isla San Benedicto

4 boatyard haulouts
8 months on the hard
6 months of boatyard work

In Japan in 2017 we hauled Migration and painted her bottom with Coppercoat; a more environmentally-friendly and longer-lasting antifouling coating than traditional bottom paints. It worked great until we got to the warmer waters of southern California and Mexico. And so began our arduous Coppercoat ordeal. One of the benefits of Coppercoat is that it is supposed to last for 10 years. We thought we would avoid hauling Migration for a long time because it’s often difficult to find a yard that will haul a boat so wide, but it was not to be. To be fair, we found several structural problems we needed to deal with, but each time we hauled, we continued our Coppercoat experiment. You can read more about it if you are interested.

Too much time in the boatyard. Too much time sanding. Too much time repairing. But, as we always say, better to find the problems now than out at sea. Thank goodness for the help of good friends with amazing boatbuilding skills: Russell Brown and Milton Sanders… we love you!

Astilleros Cabrales in Puerto Peñasco has received a lot of attention in recent years as they’ve pivoted toward servicing cruising boats and not just the local shrimp boat fleet.  However, though the yard is often represented as being a fantastic place, it may not be the paradise it is sometimes made out to be. I think it’s important to have all the information possible before choosing a location to haul your boat and this is my attempt to provide another perspective to help people make informed decisions.

Here are a few of the problems that existed at Cabrales when we hauled in 2019, some of which still exist today.

  1. STEEL vs. FIBERGLASS AND WOOD: Cabrales has decades of experience hauling 100 ft. shrimpers, but they didn’t seem to understand the difference between those tough steel ships and cruising sailboats. Several boats we know were damaged while being hauled, launched, or moved. When our trimaran was moved to the storage yard, the lift driver began to release the slings before there were any supports on the outer hulls. Luckily the ground crew saw what was happening and stopped him before the boat fell on her side. Along those same lines, we nearly sustained extensive damage when we were launched. The driver had not lined the lift correctly over the ways so he began to tilt the boat sideways to make her fit. If we hadn’t demanded the driver stop — by shouting as loud as possible over the roar of the ancient travel lift — things would have turned disastrous. Even so, we sustained stress fractures in many areas. That said, they’ve hauled hundreds of boats since 2019 and one would assume they are better now than they were then. Nonetheless, if your boat is “non-standard” (like our trimaran), I would give careful consideration to their level of experience.
  2. MISSING INFRASTRUCTURE: The infrastructure of the yard was not (and still is not) designed to support the number of boats and people who haul out there. One by one, the showers and toilets became inoperative. Power was often spotty. In later years there were burglaries, the yard was swamped with sewage, and simply finding a ladder to climb onto your boat was sometimes impossible. Even now (2022), over 3 years on, we just received an email from close friends saying “Resources like stairs, ladders and sawhorses are thin and the water/toilet situation is a problem at least once a week.” Given the hundreds of boats that have been through the yard over the last 4 years, it seems strange that so many of these problems still exist. Addressing them is clearly not a priority for the owners.
  3. EMPTY PROMISES AND UNSKILLED LABOR: Though we try to do most of our boatwork ourselves, we really appreciate the benefit of local labor for jobs like sanding the bottom. Promises of available yard labor were often just that. Additionally, I would not hire the yard to do any skilled work… they don’t have the expertise. However, when we did get yard labor for sanding, the prices were very reasonable. We wouldn’t recommend going there expecting to have the yard do a lot of work for you, regardless of what is promised.

So why don’t you read much about these problems? For boats that plan to return, the last thing they should do is criticize the yard publicly; it’s a sure way to have a bad experience when you haul out again. But why return?

There are a number of reasons.  The prices are reasonable, it’s extremely convenient to the USA (for travel and parts), and you can do your own work. Some people may fall into the “devil you know…” syndrome. Also, many new cruisers are advised to go there and have never been to another yard in Mexico so may not know better. And it’s north of the hurricane zone. Lastly, the community of cruisers is very strong. People get together to help each other and hang out after a hard day in the yard. Having others to complain about the problems to, and who understand the complaints firsthand, goes a long way toward making boatyard life bearable.

Sailors also have short memories for the miserable part of sailing life. If we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t go back to sea after a bad storm. We let the wonderful experiences take precedence over the misery. That’s a great thing.

No yard is perfect, that’s for sure. And you can find horror stories about nearly every yard if you look hard enough. If you are a hands-on, DIY, boatyard person who needs little outside assistance or labor, Cabrales might be the place for you. Or if you just want to store you boat for the summer. A lot depends on your expectations. In my opinion, Cabrales still has a way to go to deserve the hype it has been lucky enough to receive.

Wherever you haul out, here’s hoping you’re back on the water quickly.


9 months exploring the Sea of Cortez

When we originally thought our decision to stay in Mexico would be for only a year, we were excited that we could spend the summer in the Gulf of California – also known as the Sea of Cortez.

In 1983, when I (BB) was 24, I sailed to Mexico as crew on an old Piver Trimaran. The owner got sick and left me and my friends alone on the boat until he could return. It was here that I fell in love with cruising and knew it was the life I would someday lead. During those weeks, we met a cruising couple who had just finished a circumnavigation. They seemed ancient — but were probably the age I am now. They were so experienced, had been to so many places, sailed so many miles. We sat in their cabin one night listening to their stories; I was riveted. I will always remember them saying that the Sea of Cortez was one of their favorite places in all the world.

Though Alene & I have not circumnavigated, we have sailed a combined 122,000 or so nautical miles. And we definitely agree with them. The Sea is a magical place. The Baja is the 2nd longest peninsula in the world with towering mountain ranges and the sea is deep — over 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet); the dry desert is adjacent to the sea, the cold and warm currents, the blazing sunsets – these all combine to create a unique and powerful environment that one would have to work hard to not fall in love with. The Sea does not usually grab you and shake you and force you to pay attention…it slips in through your eyes, ears — into your soul — and invites you to pay attention to one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Hanging with a whale shark in Bahia de Los Angeles
From underwater, looking up through a school of fish at the red cliffs of Isla Carmen.
A “fever” of mobula rays


We see this everywhere. The Coca-Cola Company (& PepsiCo) are the scourge of our planet. Shame on them for what they have done to the environment and our health. Please don’t buy their products.

August 6, 2019

We headed for the very small bay at the top of Isla San Marcos today & were pleased to discover that it’s a place we visited together in 2006 when we were first sailing together. We both recognized the caves on the shore as we pulled in. It’s a spot we remember fondly — one of our favorites in the Sea of Cortez.

After setting the anchor, we got in the water & snorkeled thru the wonderful arches, tunnels, caves, caverns, & swim-thrus along the shoreline discovering little hidey-holes & secret pockets in the rocks because it’s very porous. There is a cavern with a hole in the ceiling, grottoes where the wave action makes thumps & burblings & musical sounds in the holes in the rocks, a spot where you can swim under a wall of rock in only about 2’ of water, a narrow swim-thru filled with lovely red sea fans, & many places where you can look through a hole in the rock to the green water on the other side, filled with fish. And there are so many fish! Mostly sergeant majors of all sizes (including tiny baby ones in the shallows), but also trigger fish, king & cortez angelfishes, mullet, & hawkfish (good eating).

Seeing those good eating fish had us getting our spear gun out, especially since we’ve caught nothing trolling, but we haven’t used the gun for so long that it needs some maintenance before use. But we still have a big bag of chocolata clams hanging off the stern, so we’re not short of seafood.

We love having an anchorage to ourselves. It’s so tranquil with no one else around. We put the cockpit cushions out on deck & watched a movie in the moonlight, then slept out under the stars. Delightful.

Because it’s so quiet, each night we hear the animals around us, both in the air & the water. Last night I heard a whale passing by; I could hear it breathe about every minute – surprisingly loud in the quiet of the night. And there were two pelicans fishing in the dark because they can see the fish in the bioluminescence, which has been very strong lately. The other night we heard a group of dolphins fishing under & around the boat – they sure make a lot of noise, splashing about & breathing every few seconds with that popping sound. We can also hear lots of fish activity; things coming up from the deeper water to eat whatever’s at the surface, making many snapping, gurgling & bubbling noises. And then, of course, there’s the popcorn sound of mobulas fwapping down onto the water after going for a flight. They fwop & fwap all night long, but no one is sure exactly why they jump…


The summers of 2019 and 2020 allowed us to spend 9 months in the beautiful Sea. It was especially wonderful during 2020 when we spent much of our time alone at uninhabited islands – self-isolation was not something we had to seek out.


4 months with Ruby aboard

When we were preparing to depart for the Revillagigedos and French Polynesia in 2019, we hosted a little going-away get-together aboard Migration for friends on s/v Little Wing who were heading out the next day for the Marquesas. They invited a woman crewing on a neighboring boat who was also headed in that direction. And thus we met Ruby.

We became fast friends and had a lot of fun until she, too, departed. She completed her passage and returned home to Portland, Oregon where she sold her house and set off on her own adventure to find a sailboat and cruise full-time. With a paying gig lined up to deliver a yacht from Samoa to the USA in April 2020, we suggested she first come to Mexico for a visit. She arrived for a 10-day stay aboard Migration on 18 March 2020.

You can guess the rest. The world shut down a few days later. Having sold her home and not yet found a boat of her own, we invited Ruby to stay with us. The three of us proceeded to have an entertaining, amusing, exuberant 4 months together. Before this, the longest stay by any guest aboard Migration was about 2 weeks; that tends to be our limit. But life with Ruby was such a blast and she was so incredibly respectful of our space, that it was easy for all of us. Not only that, she wanted to learn everything about owning a boat and was always willing to work on projects: be it helping change the engine oil or polishing stainless.

We had an amazing time together.

Footnote: Ruby finally found her boat, s/v Makani, and is now cruising. She’s singlehanded over 3,000 miles throughout Mexico! If you are a woman and are interested in the cruising life, you can book one of her sailing and empowerment courses at SeaNixie.com.


4 one thousand-mile drives along the Baja peninsula

In December 2019 we decided to drive back to the US to visit family and friends for the holidays. We’d done this drive (over a thousand miles each way) in 2006 and loved it. Again, we were taken by the stunning beauty of the peninsula. Heading north in 2019 was slightly bittersweet as it also brought back many memories of the 2006 trip when we drove north because my father was dying.

The return trip in January proved to be incredibly fortuitous in a way that only travel without a firm itinerary can be. On New Year’s Eve, we stopped at the half-way point to spend the night in Guerrero Negro which is adjacent to Laguna Ojo de Liebre where the California grey whales hang out with their young. It was early in the season and we had no reservation, but we thought maybe on New Year’s Day there wouldn’t be many people looking to go out to whale-watch.

We were very wrong. At the whale watching center we were told they were completely booked but we could wait around to see if someone didn’t show up. How lucky we were! Not only because there was a no-show and we did get to see the whales, but also because on that trip was Raul and his family. When Raul walked into the waiting room, he filled it with his welcoming heart… wishing happy new year and shaking the hands of every stranger there. It seemed we became friends almost immediately. We then found out he runs a school in a poor section of Mexico City. Since we were going to be there (to visit the French Embassy) in a couple of weeks, I offered to do an author visit. And that, to paraphrase Rick, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. More about that later.


Two years later, in 2021, during yet another haulout of the boat, we realized we needed many supplies to finish the work and decided to drive back to the US once more to get them.

The drive north was again spectacular with the cactus, boojum trees, boulders, and plains creating captivating changing vistas every dozen miles. This time we drove up the fairly new Hwy 5 on the NE side of the peninsula; it was odd to drive along that coast staring out at the remote islands where we had recently anchored all by ourselves.

It was the middle of the pandemic and having rarely been exposed to COVID, we didn’t relish dealing with the USA with all the insanity created by anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. (And to top it off, a few days after we arrived, we watched the news of the insurrection at the Capitol. Oh, how we should be ashamed of ourselves! That it happened. That we let it happen. And that so many of our citizens still believe it should have happened.)

We got our goods, said a few hellos and goodbyes and headed back down the coast on that beautiful drive, looking forward to the relative sanity of a Mexican boatyard – which, if you have spent time in a Mexican boatyard, isn’t a very complimentary comparison.


3 French Polynesia visa applications submitted to the Mexico City French Embassy
3 trips to Mexico City

We had been looking forward to returning to French Polynesia since 2012 and we knew we wanted to spend more time than allowed by the 3-month visa given to US citizens upon arrival. Thus, in January of 2019 we began the process of figuring out how to apply for a French Polynesia long stay visa (carte du long sejour) in Mexico; made more complicated if one is not a Mexican citizen. It was an interesting process and we ended up creating a document to help other sailors navigate the French bureaucracy.

We applied for, and received, three long stay visas:

2019: Didn’t use it because we ended up turning around (as you’ve already read)

2020: Couldn’t use it because of the pandemic

2021: Didn’t apply because of the pandemic

2022: We’re in French Polynesia!

Besides a lot of paperwork and fees, each application required a trip to the French Embassy in Mexico City. In 2019 we extended our trip a bit to do some touring around La Ciudad.

In 2020, the year we met Raul and his family, they invited us to their cabin in the Valle de Bravo south of the city to view the monarch butterflies. That was something we’d always wanted to do and we had so much fun together. I also spoke at Raul’s school named after Sir Edmund Hilary because Raul wanted to inspire his students with a remarkable and accomplished human being.

In 2021, we returned again, this time sharing an AirBnB with friends from s/v Ticket to Ride who were also applying for a visa. Because of the pandemic, we did not get to tour around or spend as much time as we’d hoped with Raul and family, but what time we had was precious.


Heaps of Friends

There seems to be something about cruising Mexico that allows sailors to make lots of friends very quickly. And not just passing friendships. We still have close ties with sailors we met there 15 years ago. And we made many more this time around. Add to that the friendliness of the Mexican people. The Spanish word amabilidad is perfectly appropriate for the country.

During the pandemic there was so much misinformation floating around social media. Even sailors were not immune and some popular cruising bloggers spread rumors about how difficult it was in parts of the country. As for us, we never had a single problem. Mexico allowed us to renew our tourist visas without leaving the country, and everyone was welcoming. We even took the opportunity to apply for, and receive, our Mexican permanent residency! Why, if we were leaving? Because we absolutely know we will return.

Muchas gracias por todo, México. Nosotros volveremos un dia…


Be good. Be safe. Have fun.
BB & ADR

(Last 3 photos courtesy of Sarah of s/v Perspective)



Do Good

SAVE MANTAS

Oceanic manta rays have the largest brain to body mass ratio of any fish, yet we know very little about them. We do know they are gentle, curious, social creatures that seem to be intelligent. Because of their size, the only threats to oceanic manta rays are large sharks, orcas and humans. As with so many of the ocean’s species, overfishing and bycatch are a dangerous threat as well as loss of critical habitat. Most threatening are the bogus claims of Chinese medicine practitioners that manta gill filter pads can cure dozens of ailments; though their use has never been documented in any traditional Chinese medicine text.

Manta rays have only one offspring every 2 to 4 years and thus their numbers have plummeted dangerously as they’ve become a targeted species. Global populations are estimated to have declined 50-79% over the last 90 years resulting in the giant manta ray being listed as an endangered species.

Please help protect these remarkable animals by supporting one of these organizations. Thank you.
The Manta Trust
Proyecto Manta Pacific México (@proyectomanta)
Marine Megafauna Foundation