Baba BarAnn Around the Pacific


Chapter 8 - Mazatlan


Shortly after entering the anchorage, Roberto Castro motored out to greet us. He is the enterprising young Mexican who provides "yacht services" for the cruisers. We'd heard about him from Chuck on Carina.

Mazatlan Diver
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The next day he drove us around Mazatlan to complete our paper work, took us to the bank, and then to a few "marine stores." The stores were hopelessly low on stock, but otherwise the day was a success. We topped it off by buying a huge lobster, perhaps three pounds, from a local fisherman for only 10,000 pesos ($3.75). We had fabulous lobster salad that night.

The weather was great in Mazatlan. There was a free dinghy dock, and anchoring was also free, just below the El Faro Lighthouse. We could get around the large (400,000 residents) city in their efficient but dirty bus system. Only 30 pesos, just 11 cents, and you could ride from one end to the other. Although the stores weren't close, everything was right on the bus lines.

Mazatlan Buses

What an experience riding the bus here. Often people would get on board, without paying, play the guitar and sing a song, and then pass the hat, before getting off a few stops later. Amazingly, at least half the riders would usually give him something . . . a couple hundred pesos, although we never did. Sometimes they were blind and just played the maracas by beating them against their head! But always, they got something from the other poor Mexicans. Only once did we hear a political message (I think it was Yanquis get out of El Salvador). But the best was yet to come. A man in his early twenties got on the bus, pulled out an ice pick, and rapped it a few times loudly on the metal hand rail. He was just two feet away from us, as he started talking rather agitatedly, while holding the ice pick to either his stomach or pointed to his nose. We didn't know what was going on, but were both extremely nervous. None of the others in the bus seemed too worried, and all eyes were glued on the ice pick. After more ranting and raving, he took the ice pick and shoved it right up his nostril, a full four inches. Tilting his head back, the square wooden handle on the pick stopped its penetration. Gross! What a show! He got money from almost everyone. I almost barfed in his hand. Luckily our stop just came up as we staggered, thoroughly shocked, out the door.

The buses are filthy, and each one is elaborately personalized by its driver. Baby shoes dangle; windows are festooned with stickers. As incongruous as it seems to us, it was typical to see, on the same window, a silhouette of a buxom nude, tweety bird, and pictures of Jesus Christ. One hood was "adorned" with three silver horses, about 4-5 inches high, and two pictures of Capt'n Crunch. We even saw the bus driver spit on the floor. Once I saw the driver pour a can of oil into the crankcase, and then throw the empty can in the middle of the street . . . not even to the side of the road!

Mariachi music blares, while passengers' tobacco smoke intermingles with exhaust smoke that pours through the holes in the wooden floor. This sensory delight is enhanced with cheap perfume and the fish heads bought at the public market by your neighbor. The peaceful beauty of the waterfront, sparkling in the afternoon sun, is counterpoised with the near mayhem on the streets as the bus weaves in and out of everything, including a man blowing six feet of flames out of his mouth. A little six year old girl (no front teeth) stands in front of us, proudly petting a white shrimp. "Plastico?" I inquire. "No, viviente!", as she hands it over to me to pet. "Gracias!" What else could I say? It won't be alive tomorrow. What a show, and all for just eleven cents.

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One of Candace's best friends, Alayne Cartales, and her husband Al came down to Mazatlan to visit us for a few days. Except for one night in a hotel (so they could really run the water for a shower), they stayed on Baba BarAnn. The weather wasn't so great . . . it even rained one day. One day we went to the beach so they could get rid of some of their Seattle pallor. On Sunday, we went to the bull fights. I'm glad I went once, and I might again sometime later, but it's not something I could take as a steady diet. Alayne had a miserable time since she always rooted for the bull.
Flag.jpg (5780 bytes) Ticket.jpg (22004 bytes) Flag2.jpg (5789 bytes)

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GPS and Customs

While we are quite comfortable with celestial navigation, clouds can often hide the celestial bodies. We wanted an additional navigational aid that used satellites, but never could make up our minds. The older, SatNav system is being phased out in the next few years, and doesn't provide continuous coverage, but can be purchased for about $1,000. The newer, global positioning satellite, GPS, system will have 24 hour a day, continuous coverage later this year, but costs much more. The pricier systems cost almost $10,000. After much foot dragging, I decided on a Magellan GPS system that cost about $3,400, including the remote antenna. Shortly before Alayne and Al visited us, I had a mail order firm send the Magellan directly to them. Then they could bring it to us when they flew down. When they got off the plane in Mazatlan, a Mexican customs agent asked Alayne what was in the box. She didn't know, except that it was something for our boat. The customs agent confiscated the Magellan, and indicated that she should have declared it before boarding the plane.

The next morning, along with Roberto as my translator, I went to customs to retrieve my GPS. We were unsuccessful. AT 3 PM they closed for the weekend, so it was a long weekend. On Monday morning, back we went, to see more officials, and more customs brokers. Some said it was possible that I might have to pay a 40% import duty. I was concerned. Finally, a little after noon, I got to see the right person. Because we had obtained an import permit when we were in La Paz, we didn't have to pay anything. Phew! So Roberto and I went back to get the GPS. About 45 minutes later, we were still waiting. Finally another official said that he wanted 50,000 pesos (almost $20) to facilitate the return of my GPS! What to do? Pay the bribe, or go back over his head to complain . . . thereby risking the return of my GPS? I chose the latter course of action . . . and won. The boss came storming out, wanting to know who was looking for the 50,000 pesos. Within 10 minutes we were walking out of the customs house with the GPS in my hands. What an experience.

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Semi-Final Preparations

Mazatlan has a gigantic supermarket that was perfect to complete final provisioning for the South Pacific. For three successive days we loaded up everything we could possibly carry to the bus, and then to the dinghy. Except for certain U.S. specialty items, prices were very reasonable. Could you load two shopping carts to the brim at Safeway, and get out the door for only $91? Now Baba BarAnn is loaded to the brim. We also topped off the diesel tank. That's not as easy as it might seem. With our two 5 gallon jugs, plus three borrowed from Roberto, we drove to the one gas station in town that sells diesel. It was only 70 cents per gallon. Then the jugs had to be dinghied out to the boat, and the diesel carefully poured through the special "Baja fuel filter" to eliminate dirt and water. I also purchased several liters of lube oil for the engine.

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Isla Isabela

With only 15 gallons of water on board, we were almost scraping the bottom of the barrel. We had to get out of the oily harbor to make fresh water out of salt water, in order to have our tanks reasonably full for the long journey west. We decided to take a side trip to Isla Isabela. That way we could try out the new GPS and maybe see some blue footed boobies, and also "make water" in the clean anchorage there.

Isla Isabela
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The Magellan GPS worked flawlessly, as we homed in on Isla Isabela, 85 miles southeast of Mazatlan, and about 15 miles off the coast. This little island, about 2 miles long, is a bird sanctuary. It's also inhabited by a dozen families of fishermen. On the way, we saw a few whales, and several of our favorites . . . manta rays. The rays we see are about 3 to 4 feet across, and just love to jump two feet out of the water and then splash down. It's really fun to see them flying and splashing. Why do they jump? One rumor has them slapping the water to shake off parasites. I think they do it for fun.

Anchored in a nice cove on the south end, we could see fish swimming in the clear waters below us. Birds were everywhere. We primarily saw magnificent frigate birds, red-billed tropicbirds, brown (yellow footed) boobies, brown pelicans, and Herrmann's gulls. One blue heron was all by himself and seemed to be lost. We went ashore and tried to talk to some fishermen, but our Spanish was pretty weak. The water maker droned on, 12 hours everyday, as we steadily filled the water tanks. We used this period to finish some last minute projects on the boat. Candace made some great screens. One for the vee berth, one for the double hatch in the main salon, and one for the companionway entry door. Velcro keeps them up and snug from the inside.

The foot pump in the head started acting up, so I replaced it with a new Whale Gusher model. Of course, nothing is a "plug to plug" replacement on a boat, so that took several hours. Now we have a better pump than the original equipment.

Brown Boobies
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One day we rowed ashore, and hiked about three miles through the jungle, from the south end of the island to the north end, in quest of the blue footed booby. We've been talking about the blue footed boobies for many months, and haven't seen our first yet. Unfortunately, we only saw more of the yellow footed ones. On the way back we saw three iguanas and lots of big crabs on the sea shore, as well as thousands of birds. In the fishing shanty town, we gave handfuls of candy to the four young kids on the island. Boy did their eyes light up. It was really neat. Then we rowed back to the boat, and jumped overboard, under the noon day sun. Not just to swim, but to finish cleaning barnacles off the propeller and clean the boat's bottom. I also installed a new zinc in order to prevent electrolysis. That took 1.5 hours, but the water was great.

At lunch we noticed a new sound from our water maker. Sure enough it wasn't working properly. This required a complete disassembly, only to find the problem, and clean out some small shavings that were sloppily left in when it was made, and just now had worked their way to the outlet check valve. Now it works perfectly. With so many systems on board, it's no wonder that there always seems to be some project. Believe it or not, I've really enjoyed learning about all this "stuff," and I have a great deal of satisfaction when I'm successful at fixing something. However, I wouldn't mind if things stopped needing attention.

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Final Preparations

We beat back to Mazatlan for final preparations. Somehow, Candace found room on board to squeeze $200 more of food, primarily fresh produce. Our list of provisions, [detailed list of 1510 items] kept on a LOTUS 123 spreadsheet, runs nine full pages now! We hope to have enough to last for six months. For example, some of the larger quantities include: 11 boxes of breakfast cereal; 9 pounds of coffee, plus 3 jars of instant; 18 cans of corned beef; 41 cans of fruit, various flavors; 63 liters of boxed juices; 66 quarts of dehydrated milk; 20 pounds of rice; 24 pounds of flour; 21 bags of nuts; 36 bottles of soda and 36 bottles of tonic water; 17 pounds of sugar; 22 cans of turkey; 18 cans of tuna; and 73 cans of tomato paste/ puree/ sauce/ or whole. There are a total of 1,510 items in storage. That doesn't include stuff that's been taken out of storage and into the galley. Changing the oil in the diesel engine turned out to be a bigger problem than anticipated. The old, dirty oil has to be sucked out. It can't be drained out the bottom like in most engines. Expressly for this job, I'd purchased a little pump that attaches to the electric hand drill. Well, it didn't really do the job. From the bilge storage, I retrieved the partially broken foot pump that I'd replaced a few days earlier. With some duct tape and a few hoses, we were able to suck the rest of the dirty oil out in a reasonable amount of time. So we changed the oil, and also topped off the diesel tank with ten more gallons.

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Goodbye Mexico

On the next to last day, we had to complete final paperwork for departing Mexico. First we went to Immigration. When we entered the building, they motioned that we should go upstairs. That seemed odd since we used the downstairs office when checking in. The people upstairs told us that we had to go downstairs. Instead of checking out to another Mexican port, we were checking out of the country. Consequently, the immigration agent said we had to surrender our tourist visas. Then we went to the Port Captain. After much discussion, they said we had to recover our tourist visas and take them to customs for their clearance before final clearance with the Port Captain. Besides, the Port Captain said the weather was so bad (it was really blowing) that he wasn't giving clearance to anyone until tomorrow. We didn't think the Immigration agent would return our visas, even if they could be found.

There's only so much of this Mickey Mouse crap that anyone can take. We tried to do it right. We made an executive decision . . . we're sailing tomorrow! We didn't even try to go back to immigration, or speak to our "friends" at customs (remember the GPS). Thursday morning, March 15, was a beautiful day, and thankfully the wind had died down. We were both tired of super markets, provisioning, and Mexican inefficiency. More than anything, we were tired of the dirt and filth of Mexico. I exchanged all our pesos for US dollars. Then the dinghy was stowed, under the boom. We weighed anchor just before 1 PM and headed out of the harbor. The Magellan GPS said, "MAZTLN TO HIVAOA, 231 degrees magnetic, 2749.05 nautical miles" via the great circle route. Needless to say, we both were a bit nervous. What lies ahead?

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