I have to say this: so far this year our timing has been, while accidental, impecable. But today, the pandemic groundswell of closures finally caught up with us and the fun/suck ratio is now tipped firmly over onto the side of ‘this sucks outright’. It’s time to leave Mexico behind. We already miss the Mexico that was. Here’s a long update.
There are times when the brain of the anxiety ridden individual works to advantage and those times are when there is actual danger afoot, whether from large seas or from microscopic viruses that make people behave like the end of the world is nigh (and also kills people). I like to have a good plan for the worst that can happen, even if that worst is unlikely. It helps me sleep well at night with my cockpit door open to the sea breeze.
While in La Paz, I began spinning stories in my head about how long we might need to survive on the boat without touching land. We plan to cross to Hawaii from La Cruz (Banderas Bay) and those plans were not going to change. But it was many weeks before we would be leaving because you have to go at the right time of year, and the handwriting was already on the wall in terms of pandemic induced shut downs coming in Mexico. La Paz was already recommending people stay home, all the hand sanitizer was sold out at the stores, and there was already confusion over the latest orders in terms of recreational boating.
In addition to the beach/business/town closures that were coming, while we personally have not experienced anything but kindness from the local people, I was reading in the news how in our own country people of Chinese descent are being targeted and blamed for bringing the end of the world as we know it upon us. I feared that in Mexico, the ‘gringos’ would be blamed for the virus just as the Chinese are in the U.S.
Another publication had recently published words to that effect and I had thought they were wrong to say so, but as events developed, it was proven that I was the one who was wrong. Based on recent information, it has proven to be true to some extent and, depending on how long the business closures go on, that could get worse. I hope it doesn’t and so far, incidents are isolated and unusual and not overly serious, but it understandably could get worse and I would rather see it coming than be surprised by it. People love to have an enemy to blame for misfortune and many people here are going to suffer to put food on the table during these shutdowns. Even without the pandemic we are outsiders, living strange lives on expensive yachts and with expensive toys. It’s easy to see why resentment would build. I believe that while it’s important to not focus overly much on this or become paranoid about it, it’s also important to acknowledge it and mitigate our risk. I am all about risk mitigation. Denial is not useful here.
In preparation for possibly having to be on the boat without access to provisions, I began shopping seriously in La Paz while the stores were still fully stocked and before any true emergency closures happened. If there is anything that makes me feel in control of my life, it’s shopping. Particularly grocery shopping. How long would we be off grid? Let’s see, at that point it would be at least 3 weeks until we got to La Cruz. Then once we left La Cruz, another 2 weeks of self isolation before making our escape to the sea, just to be double dog sure we aren’t sick with anything, much less a killer virus. Then maybe 3 weeks for the crossing to Hawaii. But what if we decide to do the clipper route and take a long tack out, then tack back north without landing in Hawaii? That’s maybe a 6 week trip? 7 weeks? Forever? Unlimited sea time? You see how the brain gets spun up a bit. Buy ALL THE SPAGHETTI and SAUCES! More granola and cheeses? YES, PLEASE! WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN ONLY BUY TWO PACKAGES OFF EGGS? DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY EGGS WE EAT IN A MONTH?
But seriously, there is great satisfaction in provisioning a boat, tucking food stuffs away in all the little nooks and crannies. In the moment, I felt like I was going possibly overboard a bit. Did we really need all this stuff? But yes, we would need this much, and possibly more, especially for now when we have a crew member aboard. Our final provisioning will be in La Cruz, if I can get a ride to the grocery store in Bucerias. People are allowed to go for groceries, although they ask that only one person per family go, and some items are limited in quantity. One person? No problema. That person is me. Hey, isn’t that just like at home in the states?
The other thing we did to prepare was to buy a water maker. It wasn’t our first choice of water maker because we wanted one we would install below deck. But it was available, and it was brand new-never-used and we got it for a reasonable price. We got a Rainman that puts out 19 gallons/hour and let me tell you this: it’s the best thing we’ve bought for the boat since that new mainsail and track system. The relief of having this unit on board is palpable and it was with great joy that I listened to it run as it filled up our water tank while we lay at anchor at remote Isla Isabel. We are now truly able to be off grid for as long as food holds out. When we get back to the states and have the boat hauled out, Michael will install the unit below deck and we plan to buy larger membranes for it that will allow a greater output.
We sat in La Paz until just before the port was closed, narrowly escaping the navy ship patrols that now question people about where they are going and why. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The Navy isn’t out to get people. That’s the last thing they want to do. (I mean, think of the paperwork alone!) You are allowed to move from port to port on your boat. But only for purposes of getting hauled out or stationing yourself in a marina, or your final port. So only in the sense that you might have to travel to reach your final destination. Not for recreation. This enabled us to get to Isla Isabel (or Isabella, or Isabela depending on your source) and actually have a wonderful time during Semana Santa week, a week during which the whole country celebrates by going to the beach, camping out, and having a brilliant time. They were denied this pleasure this year as all the beaches were closed.
We experienced the beach closures first hand at Los Frailles. We had anchored there on the east coast of the southern Baja peninsula to prepare to cross to the mainland and to snorkel. It has coral and I was especially keen to get in the water there. The needle on the fun/suck meter began to seriously move after I had been in the water for 1/2 an hour and Michael paddled up to me and said we had to get out.
A park ranger had spotted us in the water and panga’ed up to him and pretty much mentioned they would call the police if we didn’t stay on our boat. Wow. Way to go from zero to 180 right off the bat. I mean, we knew we couldn’t go ashore. But no swimming either? At first they said we were not even allowed to anchor there, but once Michael asked where we could go to anchor and they realized the problem, they said we could anchor, but not get off the boat. Huh. Well we get it, now that we think about it. I mean, already the locals would resent us for even being on our boats on the water when they are stuck in their houses during their most important holiday. If we are out there obvioulsy having fun and enjoying their ocean, too, well, yeah. We get it. We stayed on the boat.
The next day we sailed for Isla Isabel. Honestly, we felt like we had escaped the coming pressures, even if that was a fleeting feeling. The crossing was all downwind sailing all the time with the usual following seas until a few hours from the island the winds died to nothing and we were left with the sloppy left over swells. The Beta Marine fired up and a few hours later we were anchored sweetly right behind the Mona rocks in literally the only spot with decent holding, the only boat in the anchorage. Beautiful. This allowed us to forget, mostly, about viruses and beach closures and feeling like unwanted intruders as the only people on this fairly remote island were researchers and fishermen who all gave us friendly waves as they passed us by.
We did not go ashore there, not wanting to press our luck since we knew that technically the park was closed. But we snorkeled almost every day and the water was fabulous. It was 78 degrees and with my wetsuit, I could stay in the water literally for hours. We swam with Eagle Rays, big Trevally, Moorish Idols and several kinds of Butterfly and Surgeonfish, and I got up close and personal with a Sea Turtle. There is a lot of current around the Mona rocks and in the anchorage, so we got plenty of exercise snorkeling. On the last night there I shone my light into the water, something I like to do to see cool night creatures, and the beam picked up a Yellow Bellied Sea Snake. I was dead excited about that. So venemous, but so beautiful, I never thought I would see one. But there he was, right by the boat! And that, my friends, is why I do not swim at night.
Honestly, we could have stayed there for another week and been perfectly happy. But that sail to Hawaii isn’t going to happen on its own and we were hoping to meet a guy with a boat like ours in San Blas. We had been looking forward to seeing his boat, and him ours, all season. There are not a lot of Olympic 47’s around except in the Med. They were built in Greece, after all. He has taken out the pathetic deck drains these boats have for green water (Why these stupid deck drains? WHY IS THiS A THING Ted Brewer DID?) and put in proper scuppers that drain directly overboard. Plus he has made the companionway much easier to navigate, reducing the number of steps for getting below decks. I’m on the fence about doing that to our boat and really wanted to see this in person. So we sailed to Mantenchen Bay, just a few miles south of San Blas, with plans to meet up with him.
But the virus closures finally caught up with us for good and had other plans for us. That old fun/suck ratio needle just went even more firmly in the ‘suck’ direction. Many of the towns in Mexico have closed their borders and apparently that includes San Blas. He said he wouldn’t even be allowed to get into the town, much less come get us and take us to the boatyard.
The word ‘closed’ here means that the local people have blockaded the roads and will not allow people to enter if they don’t live there. There are also police and military checkpoints in place in some towns, disallowing travel between places except for necessity such as food and medical needs. Here we are not allowed to land on the beach at all. There is a police presence on the beach and they will nicely, but firmly, turn you back to your boat if you try to come ashore. They mean business here. We were hoping that these measures were going to lighten up after Semana Santa week, but apparently not since the police ATV can still be seen patroling the beach. (He goes really fast. I think maybe at least one person is having fun on the beach.) Maybe things will open tomorrow, but probably not. We don’t have the time or the will to hang around and wait to see.
We are feeling particularly worried for the boats who are planning to stay in the Sea of Cortez this summer. If these closures do not lighten up they are going to have a very hard time. In some places where boats traditionally anchor and get provisions, cruisers have been asked to leave. The Port of Peñasco is now closed as of this writing, and that’s a place where many people go to store their boats. I hope they will make exceptions for people treking all the way north to put their boats away. Probably they will, but these things change on the daily and it’s disconcerting and stressful. That would be a long way to go only to be turned away. Very experienced cruisers are going to have less trouble adjusting to the constant changes and redirects than the people who are fairly new to the sport. We keep all of these fellow cruisers in our thoughts daily as we listen to the radio nets and receive reports of conditions on the ground in other parts of Pacific Mexico and the Sea of Cortez.
So tomorrow we will leave Mantanchen Bay, where at least we have been able to say hello to other human beings on boats and have seen many little Pacific Golden Cownose Rays in the murky water. S/V Totem is here and we would love to have a personal visit with them before we leave, but everyone is sticking to the isolation orders so…We will hightail it to La Cruz. We know that several boats will be diverting to Hawaii to wait and either continue on to the Pacific Northwest or go to the South Pacific next year, if that area is ready to entertain boats again that soon. Maybe we can find some boats leaving at the time we are going.
A final word about Hawaii because many people have expressed concern that Hawaii won’t want boats or won’t let us land. Yes, we will check, again, once more, with Homeland Security and Coast Guard officials before we leave. Yes, we will have plan B (making that long tack as previously described). Yes, we are prepared for them to make us wait on our boat for two weeks to be extra sure we are not virus carriers. That’s another reason why we are carrying so many provisions. Yes, we are hiring a professional weather router for the trip. We are checking all the boxes we know to check. If you have helpful suggestions other than these, let us know. Otherwise, wish us well and bon voyage. We decided we cannot sit this out in Mexico. And this was already the year we planned to take the boat back home and unless something totally u. One way or another, Pacific Northwest winter, here we come.
So, by the way, for those of you who have ‘all you can eat’ internet and TV all the time: we were away from that daily news cycle for 12 days. You know what we missed? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. When we checked back in on the news yesterday, everything was just as it was on April 2. Ordinarily I spend too much time reading the news. (I refuse to watch news videos. I’m not going to waste my bandwidth on those things.) These times of isolation away from cell service remind me just how spun up all that stuff makes me. Please step away from your TV and internet news as much as possible. Please notice how upset it makes you, how it makes your brain on fire, how the price of entertainment can be anxiety. Find some peace and quiet in your day. It’s worth it to take media breaks, including Facebook and all the many fires it starts, regularly, all day long. Believe me, you won’t miss a thing.
We’re all safe here on board and going with the flow. Hope you are, too.
S/V Galapagos, standing by on Channel 16