ON THE DOG WATCH
May 2005It’s that time of year again, when folks down in Mexico start thinking about how to get their boat back home before hurricane season sets in. Sometimes, when to move a vessel may be influenced by personal circumstances, or even cruising limits written into your insurance policy. Whatever the reason, what goes down always has to come back up, at some point. With that in mind, I wrote the following feature article for SANTANA Magazine. Here’s hoping it will be helpful for some of you as you consider the options for getting your vessel home.
BRINGING THE BOAT BACK FROM MEXICO
Whether you decide to endure the Baja Bash yourself, hire a delivery captain or put your boat on a commercial yacht transport, here are some things to consider:
Capt. Doug Danielson
In September, 2004, I delivered a 48ft Tayana from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico, to meet up with a Dockwise Yacht Transport carrier vessel. The owner had come down in the BAJA-HA-HA, done several seasons cruising Mexico and was shipping his vessel to the Caribbean, looking for new experiences.
Lazaro Cardenas is a large commercial shipping port on the mainland coast of Mexico with no facilities for recreational boaters. Located where the Rio Balsas empties into Bahia Petacalco, most of the traffic is comprised of large freighters which off-load cargo to be shipped by rail to the interior. Surrounded by security fencing, warehouses and storage yards on the land, and with high concrete wharfs lining the channels, the no-nonsense working portions of the port can be somewhat intimidating for a small yacht. Although few cruisers stop there (Marina Xtapa is only 35 miles further south) it is reported to be an excellent harbor of refuge during tropical storms.
Recording our arrival in the ship’s log early in the morning, I had been listening to the port pilot talking on the VHF radio to a freighter, his English was almost better than mine. When their traffic was clear, I called Lazaro Cardenas Port Control and requested permission to enter the main channel. The traffic controller also spoke English and was very polite. When I told him we were a 48ft sailboat and our purpose was to meet Dockwise Yacht Transport, he directed us to anchor approximately one mile up the Rio Balsas, across from the Naval Base. This would place us out of the way of any commercial traffic and we were to stay there until directed by our agent to move. After we anchored, I contacted the ship’s agent who had been assigned to us by Dockwise and was told the transport carrier was scheduled to arrive the following morning. Our timing could not have been better.
Anchored up river in Lazaro Cardenas, waiting for DockWise
Several hours later we were boarded by the Mexican Navy and a drug sniffing dog was walked through the boat. The officer in charge of the boarding party also spoke English and was very friendly as he checked to see if our papers were in order. At the conclusion, he had us sign a form in Spanish stating that he and his men had acted properly and no money was offered or accepted. We then lowered the dinghy so I could go ashore to meet with our agent and give him our ship’s documents, so he could check us in. The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning the boat and preparing it for transit.
Dockwise arrived around 0500 hrs the next morning. Our agent contacted us around 0700 hrs and directed us to move to the wharf behind the transport vessel and tie off. He would meet us there and return our papers. Meanwhile, the Dockwise vessel had been flooding since their arrival and by 1300hrs seven boats were floated off. We floated on around 1400hrs, presented our paperwork and keys to the Dockwise representative and were on a bus pack to Puerto Vallarta by 1800 hrs. It was as simple as that—all very efficient and safe—but it got me to thinking.
Loading with divers in the water
WHAT IF SOMEONE WANTS TO GET HIS VESSEL BACK TO CALIFORNIA FROM MEXICO?The options would seem to be simple enough: sail it back on its own bottom, or ship it over land or water, or some combination thereof. But nothing is simple when it comes to doing anything related to boating, and the options should be carefully considered and researched for the following reasons:
- Doing it yourself takes time. You and your crew, and your vessel, will have to endure 15 knots of true wind on the nose, with seas to match, for most of the trip north. From Puerto Vallarta to San Diego, you should allow up to 15 days in a sailboat to make the 1,045 mile voyage.
- Hiring a professional crew is not necessarily the least expensive option when you consider the wear and tear on the boat. Some skippers charge by the day, which allows them the flexibility to stop and not be penalized when the weather gets really bad. Others charge by the mile, which may provide an incentive to push the boat a little harder when things get rough.
- If shipping by land or water is your preference, where are the ports located where the vessel will be loaded and does the shipper’s schedule coincide with your cruising or racing plans?
- The lowest price is not necessarily the best choice.
- Using a broker or agent may be necessary, especially if you are considering an unusual shipping or trucking situation, and this will add cost.
- Special insurance may be required to cover captain and crew when you hire a delivery skipper, and your company may want to see their resumes. Or, the shipping company you select may have special insurance requirements not included in your present policy. For any kind of boat transport you should understand what your insurance covers, what the shipper’s insurance covers, and arrange for any additional insurance that may be required.
- Deciding to utilize a professional delivery captain, commercial ocean freight company, or overland transport trucking company, requires a lot of research. Be sure to conduct telephone interviews with the shipper or skipper, and current clients, before you make your decision. Here is what my research turned up. The companies discussed below are examples and may not be your only options.
SHIPPING BY WATER:Clearly the least stressful way to move a vessel is shipping by water; either “float on/float off” or “lift on/lift off.” In the case of a sailboat the mast can be left in place and there is no special preparation required other than properly securing items above deck and below. When the vessel arrives at its destination the boat is ready to sail away.
Off loading from Dockwise in Ensenada
When it comes to “float on/float off”, Dockwise, a Dutch company, clearly has the market if you want to go from the west coast of Mexico to the east coast of the United States or some other exotic place in the world. The carrier partially submerges, and you motor your vessel on as you would into a dry dock. Once all the vessels are loaded, the water is drained out after divers have positioned supports—a procedure illustrated at the beginning of this article, and not very complicated. However, I was surprised to find out if you want to get your vessel back to California from Mexico, Dockwise can not do it. Mexico has cabotage laws similar to the Jones Act in the US; a foreign flagged vessel cannot trade between two Mexican ports. Also, because Dockwise picks up in Florida, it does not enter any US port on the west coast, only Ensenada or Vancouver, B.C. The Mexican ports of La Paz and Lazaro Cardenas are used to deliver or pick up yachts to/from outside of Mexico. According to Adam Tarleton, their west coast representative, the volume of business may increase in the future to warrant devoting a vessel only to the Pacific coast, and this may solve the problem.
Web site: http://www.yacht-transport.com
Tel.: + 1 (619) 855-9004
Fax: + 1 (619) 374-2555
Contact: Adam Tarleton
The next option is “lift on/lift off”, recently introduced to the west coast of Mexico by Yacht Path International. In this case the vessel is lifted on and off the transport carrier by a large crane. A more complicated operation than Dockwise, it requires a port where the water is placid and a knowledgeable load master. The vessel is placed in a crib or cradle which is welded on deck.
Yacht Path International at sea
Yacht Path International loading in Manzanillo
Again, since your vessel will be traveling as deck cargo, no special preparation is required and the mast can remain stepped. YPI’s literature shows powerboats being transported, but I know of one instance recently where they picked up a large sailboat in Manzanillo and delivered it to Florida. Yacht Path International was not able to give me a west coast schedule, but assured me they regularly use Mexican flagged carriers to transport vessels between Mexican ports. If this is the case, you could have your vessel loaded in Manzanillo and off-loaded in Ensenada, a trip that takes approximately four days. Cost to ship sailing yachts and power yachts is normally the same: approximately $225.00 USD per foot. Kevin Cummings, their operations manager, also told me YPI is planning to offer service in two legs next year. The existing service between Ensenada and Manzanillo will be coupled with a brand new dedicated service between San Diego and Victoria British Columbia (Vancouver).
Web site: http://www.yachtpath.com
Tel: +1 (631) 269-4400
Toll Free: +1 (866) SHIP-YPI (744-7974)
Fax: +1 (631) 269-8154
Contact: Kevin Cummings
OVERLAND TRANSPORT:Anything is possible in Mexico, and in 2003 I was involved in a situation where a powerboat was loaded on a trailer from the back lagoon in Xtapa, and transported over residential streets to a crane where it was then loaded onto a cradle on a flatbed truck. I’m sure there was no insurance and two men had to position themselves on board the boat to lift power lines and shrubbery out of the way as the truck negotiated the Mexican highways.
Loading a power boat on trailer in Xtapa lagoon
This may be illustrating an extreme situation, but trucks transport boats all the time in Mexico and arrangements can be made through a local shipyard. Be aware that the trucking company most likely does not have insurance and you will be assuming all the risk. If it were me, I’d want to ride along.
Leaving San Carlos, Mexico
Loading a boat at San Carlos, Mexico
One company that really seems to have their act together when it comes to trucking boats out of Mexico is Marina San Carlos. There may be others, but these folks have it down to a reliable system. Marina Seca Transport has been in business since 1995, and they can arrange for transport for sailboats and powerboats from San Carlos or Mazatlan to anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. They move boats up to 50ft in length from Mexico to a yard in Tucson, Arizona, where they use a crane to transfer your boat to a U.S. carrier. They can arrange the entire transportation or just the Mexican portion.
Web site: http://www.marinasancarlos.com
Office: 011 52 (622) 22-61061 / 62
Fax: 011 52 (622) 22-61046
In the U.S. the legal height limit for road transport is 13 feet 6 inches (measured from the ground); special permits are required, and there will be a surcharge to transport taller loads. This means the mast will have to be un-stepped and some very special preparation will have to be done. Once the boat is loaded on a trailer, it will be traveling at highway speeds, so you must also do all you can to avoid wind damage. Secure all rigging, remove antennas and canvas covers (including sails and biminis), and tape over hatches. All tanks and the bilge should be drained. Securely stow all loose gear inside the boat. If the mast is carried on the trailer, you should provide padding at tie-down points and cover it in plastic to avoid road grime. Don’t overlook checking for anything that might come loose due to wind pressure or vibration. Boat preparation can be done by the shipyard or you can do it yourself. And remember, you will have to re-assemble the boat at the destination end.
In selecting a U.S. trucking company, be sure to find out if the cargo is insured and the hauler has the proper licenses. Also, ask if the quote includes loading and unloading charges, all permits and escort costs, taxes and insurance.
DELIVERY ON ITS OWN BOTTOM:Having a professional crew deliver your boat is always an option. If you decide to go this way, selecting the right skipper can sometimes be your most crucial decision when it comes to insuring the safety of your boat. You will want someone with experience on other vessels like yours, and who will make good decisions to protect your investment when the weather gets bad or there is a mechanical breakdown. There are many ways to find good skippers: getting names from your boat’s manufacturer or broker, fellow cruisers, crew agencies and insurance companies. Always ask for and check references. Once you select a captain, be sure to enter into a written contract that spells out the responsibilities of both the owner and the delivery skipper: fees, expenses, schedule, liability insurance, and procedure in the event of a weather delay or breakdown. You will usually pay 50 percent of the delivery fee up front and provide the skipper with enough additional money to cover the anticipated running expenses of the voyage. At the end of the trip, the skipper should provide you with an accounting of moneys spent (fuel, food, agents, crew travel, and maintenance en-route). Any unused money is then credited against the remaining delivery fee. The total cost of a professional delivery crew taking a 40 foot sailboat from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego averages between $6,000 and $7,000, including delivery fee and expenses.
Of course you can do it yourself and save money if you have the time and energy. After all what came down the Baja Peninsula must go back up, and isn’t that just another part of the Mexican sailing experience? Some owners enjoy the challenge of slugging into the seas and weather, preferring to get home as quickly as possible and not delegate the responsibility to someone else. Others take their time, sometimes a month, making long passages when the weather is good and gunk holing and hiding when the weather gets bad. And, many others have told me the Baja Bash is one part of the trip they would rather avoid.
Refueling at Acapulco YC
©2005 Doug Danielson
This feature article first appeared in the February 2005 issue of SANTANA Magazine
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- March - Rediscovering The Once Forgotten Middle
- May - Bringing The Boat Back From Mexico
- July - New Regulations for Private Vessels Moving From Port To Port in Mexico
- August - Six Yacht Deliveries
- October - 26 October to 3 November 2005, M/Y HERCULES, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Ventura, California
- September - October - Sailing and Writing
- August - 29 July to 5 August 2008, M/Y ORIANA, Mazatlan, Mexico, to San Diego, California
- January - April - three very different yacht deliveries.
- October - Climbing the Hill: “Rounding the Cape.” and Climbing the Hill: “Up to Mag Bay, then on to San Diego.”
- September - SEFERINA: “Astoria, OR, to Port McNeill, BC.”
- December - BELLALOU: “Tortola to Florida.”
- May - ENSENADA, THE EASIEST PLACE TO CHECK INTO MEXICO
- May-June - WHAT A LIFE: “Newport Beach, CA, to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.”