January 12, 2010

Mexico, finally

We’re in Ensenada, Mexico, which, considering its only about 75 miles from San Diego isn’t much of a feat. Some journeys aren’t measured in miles though—they’re measured in acquired stress. And by that measure we’ve come a really long way.

The Journey:

Seventy-five miles is one of those awkward distances. In a good wind we can do it in day time, but if the wind is light we need to make it an overnighter so we can arrive by daylight. So with light winds forecast we pulled out of San Diego, just as the sun was setting. By the time we hit the channel the night was black. The predicted swell of 7-9 ft was slow and rolling and the wind was too light to sail in. So we motored, me at the wheel, dodging small fishing boats who were tending traps and trying to make sense of channel markers. Then the engine began to vibrate.

Vibration is seldom good and after throttling back we decided to put on the autopilot to try and work out the problem. Then the auto pilot wouldn’t work. So out came the spare and we went back to trying to sort out the persistent vibration. Just as we were about to turn back to San Diego we decided to have a look at the propeller by flashlight—it was dark, and the propeller is well under water, but even through the murk we could see we had caught a very large ball of kelp.

  Evan using the boat hook to remove kelp from the prop - it's easier in daylight

We freed the propeller and rudders repeatedly through the night and were thankful when we finally pulled into Ensenada even happier to see our friends Mike and Hyo from IO waiting on the dock for us as we tied up.

Ensenada doesn’t allow boats to anchor out in the harbour and some of the marinas are ridiculously expensive, so we did our research and made reservations with Baja Naval. When we arrived we called on the radio—they responded they were readying a slip for us and to stand off. Moments later were we waved into a slip, in what later turned out to be a competing marina—Marina Ensenada. We were back in Mexico.

Our Arrival:

We met Mike and Hyo in Coos Bay, where, in the pouring rain, Mike helped Evan to stabilize our mast for the trip south. After that we stayed in touch by email and by blog and were happy when we found ourselves sharing a dock with them again in San Diego. They left a few hours ahead of us for Ensenada and after they told us the story of their overnight passage, which included a nasty holding tank disaster, we decided their night was worse than ours so I cooked us all breakfast and we toasted our arrival before we headed to check in.

I tend to wax poetic about arriving in harbour by boat. In the right moment I’ll tell you how you go through all these unchanging and ancient customs on arrival. How you visit the Port Captain and customs and immigration, how it’s lovely and ritualized and often fun.

Ensenada isn’t like that.

To streamline procedures they’ve centralized all the services into the same building--the same room actually. It’s just a large waiting area ringed with glass windows, each window an office for one or two people. We arrived at 11am and almost immediately it was clear we had problems. Our crew list was missing our middle names and we were told we needed a better document to prove we owned the boat—so Evan headed back to the boat to print new crew lists and find another document. Then Mike and Hyo had their turn. I lost track of what happened to them after Mike was chastised for not having his middle name on his passport and Hyo had to head out for more photocopies of something. By then Evan was back and things started to disintegrate.

In Canada you can have a federally registered vessel or a provincially licensed one. Ours is provincially licensed. Mexico wants the boat’s title document—and neither of these documents is a title document. We don’t have an actual title document in Canada, which we explained, just a variety of pieces of paper, none of which is very grand or official looking. This was a problem we were told, it didn’t matter how we do it in Canada, what matters is what they want in Mexico and what they want is a fancy piece of paper. No matter which piece of paper we offered it was found lacking. But it was only declined after making its slow rounds of the streamlined office, where each person, in turn, faxed it to another office for it to be rejected.

After three hours we were told we couldn’t be cleared into Mexico. When we asked what this meant we were told it meant we had to go home.

Back on the boat we sorted through every piece of paper we have—looking for one that looked formal and said we owned the boat. The next morning we headed back in, new paper in hand. We started at immigration and this time our fancy paper passed. We spoke to one woman who mentioned that in Mexico it’s about appearances—official looking outranks actual official.

From immigration were sent to the banker’s window to pay for our tourist visas, then headed back to immigration to show our receipt, from there we went to the port captain’s window to officially clear in and get more papers for the boat which we needed to take out for copying, then we took all those papers to the banker to pay--for something, then returned to immigration for a stamp on the papers which we then needed to get a copy of, then we headed to get a fishing licence, paid for it at the banker, returned with the payment receipt to get our licence, then we went to customs with all our papers, which he went through carefully, then we pushed the ‘spot inspection’ button and hoped we wouldn’t have to get the boat inspected because we’re sure they wouldn’t like our cat’s papers either.

Each time we moved to a new office window we had to line up, often passing the same people embroiled in the same process (most who were chastised for missing middle names). Eventually we were done—we got a green light so no inspection was needed.

 To celebrate we went for fish tacos.
We’re in Mexico.


Anonymous said...

Welcome to Mexico! Let the real adventure begin...

Debbie Abrams Kaplan said...

Whew - that sounds exhausting. I hope you had margaritas with those fish tacos.

Behan said...

Holy guacamole, what an ordeal! Oh, but those were some killer fish tacos, I bet... hopefully made it all feel worthwhile. Did you go to one of the stands behind the fish market? I'm drooling just thinking about it...although we did catch a nice dorado yesterday, and guess what became of *that*?!

Are you checking in on any of the SSB or ham nets? We'll listen for you! Ceilydh has a doppelganger (in name, anyway) at Ensenada de los Muertos, maybe you'll get to meet up.

Karen said...

Wow. I'm not looking forward to the Mexico checking-in craziness. Thanks for all the info. Hopefully we'll be joining you down there in another month or 2!!!

Diane, Evan, Maia and Charlie the cat said...

We're not checking in yet - we have SSB so will hunt down the nets.
Hang in there Karen!!

boatbaby said...

!Bienvenidos gringos!

Livia said...

We followed Hyo & Mike's link to this post. Crazy immigration story! We are a year or two behind you and taking notes.