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Cruising the Baja versus Florida

We recently Skype’d with our parents from sunny La Paz,Mexico on the Baja of Mexico in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). While the kids played at the three story play park in the Burger King on the malecon (boardwalk) we used their WIFI to connect with family. Our iPod has the front and back camera and we can video call on Skype. We tried showing our family the beautiful malecon and waters of La Paz from inside the Burger King and admittedly to them it looked likeā€¦Florida.

That got us thinking about the differences between cruising the Sea of Cortez and the South Eastern Coast of the United States. We’ve cruised from Georgia all the way down to Key West and back when we lived in our 1979 CSY 33 Sloop on that side of the country. This is our third cruising season here in the Sea of Cortez but our first season down as far as La Paz from Guaymas on the mainland side of Mexico in our 1993 Performance Cruising Gemini 3400 Catamaran.

The first obvious difference, it’s different country. Don’t let the media fool you. The Sea of Cortez and Baja Mexico are as safe if not safer than many destination on the South East Coast of the U.S. I can safely say that La Paz, if not the entire eastern coast of the Baja, is safer that Jacksonville or Miami, Florida. Fox news hypes the violence of Mexico, but in contrast, we don’t see it. But that’s OK if you believe the media, we don’t want too many gringo’s coming down anyways and ruining the atmosphere!

The second noticeable difference, they speak a different language. Again, don’t worry. With a simple tourist spanish book and a willingness to mangle the spanish language, the locals will patiently and eagerly communicate with you as best they can in either commerce or curiosity. The mexicans are very family oriented and love children. Ironically, the only issues we have had in restaurants came from the old grumpy gringo’s, not the mexican owners or any other mexican patrons (to be fair, we’ve only run into ONE grumpy gringo who didn’t approve of our kids in the Captain’s Club in San Carlos and I think it was because the restaurant was packed and she wanted our table). We didn’t have that experience cruising the ditch (Intercoastal Waterway) south to the Keys. Most of the restaurants accessible by boat or dinghy on the InterCoastal seemed to be on the higher fallutin end of the bar bar/restaurant combination. At the time, our 14 old Emma was a rare sight. Here in Mexico, children are cherished. Our youngest, Charley, still has her blond baby hair. Wherever we go, locals come up to us and touch her head to feel her hair, “Oh, bonita!”. Charley is a pistol at age two and she thinks that’s normal, so she doesn’t mind.

The two next important categories would be food and money. Starting with food, I LOVE Mexican food. I just love everything about it. I love tortillas, refried beans, rice, hot sauces, peppers, fresh vegetables. Most food in Mexico doesn’t have preservatives compared to the States. Our fresh made flour tortillas might last a week in the fridge before going moldy, but they don’t last that long because you eat them with everything! The eggs are not refrigerated, so they last a couple of weeks and taste incredible. Totopos, or corn chips, are fresh made locally and differ in such a variety that it’s almost a challenge to try them all. Here in La Paz, we walk to the local fresh Mercado for fresh vegetables, meats, and pescado (fish). Wednesdays they have 2 x 1 meats at one of the vendors and we bought a media (half) kilo of roasted pork for 70 pesos (about $6) that lasted 5 days. Emma, now 4, have three helpings of the pork the first night.

It’s not uncommon to leave a super market in the States with two bags of groceries and the bill being close to $100. It racks up pretty quick. Meats are more common in the states, but not necessarily cheaper. Fish is of course, plentiful along the Sea of Cortez with shrimp running about $10 per kilogram. Sweets are in the pastry variety and are fresh made. Canned goods are marginally cheaper in Mexico but fairly abundant at any super market versus fresh market. Chain Fast Food restaurants only appear in the largest of towns. Otherwise the Mexican version of fast food is a roadside taco stand which, with caution (look for other gringos eating there or just lot’s of Mexicans), can be excellent with 10 peso emenadas, chile rellenos, tostadas, and burros.

If fresh food is pretty inexpensive, then beer is almost free. Cerveza is more common than water in Mexico (only slightly joking). If we go to a restaurant for a meal and we order a beer and a bottled water, there is a good chance the water cost more than the beer. It’s not uncommon for cerveza to cost as little as 10 pesos (about 80 cents) but more commonly 20-25 pesos at bars for Corona, Tecate, Dos XX, Indio, or Pacifico. To buy beer it runs about 66 pesos ($5.50) for 8 beers in cans. Ballenons (whale) 1.2 litre bottles are very common. You pay a 5 peso deposit when you buy your first bottle for 22 pesos (about $1.86) and then you can return to get your deposit back (or another ballenon). We have refrigeration so we prefer the bottles.

When in rome, as the saying goes. We like Tequila. Squeeze a lime, add an ice cube and some salt to the rim and you have a stripped down margarita. It’s not as fattening as the beer and it doesn’t take up all the space. We’ve found several brands we like that are very affordable. Our favorite is called,”El Compadre” which costs 55 ($4.50) pesos for a .75 litre bottle or 90 ($8.50) pesos for a 1.75 litre bottle. Others that we like are “100 Anos” (Reposado), and “El Jimador” (Reposado). The last being the most expensive at 90 pesos for a .75 litre bottle. By taste test, I would judge all these tequilas to be better than Cuervo Gold in the States. Your results may vary.

In Florida, a beer at a bar can run over $6. It seems one of the prime directives of cruisers when dropping anchor in a new port- look for the best happy hour! We’ve found some great places along the way down to Key West which can come close to comparing to Mexican prices-but not that many and not that often. If you dinghy to a marina on the ICW get ready to pay sport fisherman prices for a 6 pack of beer. Booze is generally in the $20 range for a bottle. Wine is the best value when you can get to a large market along the South East. The 5 litre boxes of wine (pick and choose to find one that is drinkable to you) stow easily, won’t break, and are a great value at around $13. Wine in Mexico is not as commonplace, it’s also not as good. Comparatively, with Beer and Tequila being so affordable, we don’t buy wine very often in Mexico.

The big difference is availability. From leaving San Carlos on the main land side of the Sea of Cortez and sailing the roughly 250 miles to La Paz. We could re-provision in Loreto, Escondido, and La Paz. Otherwise you’re talking about quiet desolate, white sandy beach anchorages with a few beach campers and one or two other boats in the bay. I’m talking NOTHNG in between.

Funny, but we had similar problems in Florida. Not because there weren’t any people. Quite the contrary. We couldn’t re-provision because we couldn’t touch land. Florida is largely bought and paid for along the coast line. Everytime we would try to land our dinghy, someone would be there with their hand out or telling us, “Private Property”. We ended up paying $10 per day to catch a mooring to have access to a dinghy dock. Mexico is still virginal land throughout the Sea of Cortez. Here the cruisers take better care of the beaches than the locals. We’ve been a part of a cruiser beach cleanup in San Carlos and watched a group of cruisers organize a trash burn in San Juanico to keep trash off the beaches.

Obviously this leads into the money topic. When cruising we can live on the boat for about $400 per month. While anchored in La Paz, you can double that because temptations abound for treats. If we were really frugal cruising Florida we could cruise for about $600 per month. That means always anchoring, almost never going to a restaurant of any sort, and largely eating beans and rice a lot. Tools and Parts are much more expensive in Mexico. Boating parts start at the West Marine list price and then add another 20%! We decided to replace our steering system in La Paz and it was easier and cheaper for me to order all the parts out of Florida and wait the month for my mother to fly them down to us than to order them locally. Marine Chandlery’s order parts from the states in bulk and then they have to pay the import tax. As a result, only the most common parts are available and cost at least 20% more than in the states. In Florida, access to parts is MUCH simpler.

Communication definitely more difficult in Mexico. Cell service can be found up to about 1 mile offshore along the Florida coastline. In Mexico, unless your near a fairly large town, cell service is nonexistent. We opted for a SPOT Connect Satellite device versus a Mexican cell phone to communicate with family. We can get plenty of WIFI service on land in places we can re-provision. There’s little point in getting a cell WIFI card for internet since cell service is useless when cruising. VHF is effective close to anchorages but SSB is important when cruising for at least receiving weather forecasts in the Sea of Cortez when out of range of one of the local VHF nets.

There is virtually no resource like BoatTow US in Mexico. Between other boaters and the local fisherman, you’re not alone in the Sea of Cortez, but you would want to take extra care before leaving the dock. Most marinas will have contact with boats that will come out and tow you back for a price per hour that can be a 1,000 pesos or more but you won’t be able to contact them out cruising or in the middle of the Sea of Cortez. Ironically, slip fees in Mexico can be comparable to those in Florida with prices ranging from $350 to $450 per month for a 40 foot boat. Haul out and Storage fees can be less. Prices range dramatically with the state run Fortuna marinas being the most expensive down to Guaymas Seca storage yard being the cheapest in all of the Sea of Cortez. It costs us $150 for the travel lift each way and $150 per month for dry storage per month. I can work on my boat, including bottom work, for an additional $4-5 per day. In the states, it’s rare to be able to work below the waterline due to EPA restrictions and fines to the yards. As a result, a simple two to three coats of bottom paint can cost a fortune.

An interesting twist. The swap meets here in Mexico can be excellent! We’ve found just about everything we’ve wanted over time by the cruiser’s net or the monthly swap meets. The Sea of Cortez in some ways seems to be a dead end for many boaters. The cruise down the West Coast, get bashed all to hell around Oregon, make it to the Sea of Cortez and say, “Screw it, I’m not taking the boat back up north”. Then they sell the boat or strip down the overloaded cruising boat and sell bits and pieces at the swap meet. If you put it out there in the cruising community that you need something, it may take a little time, but it will show up. We’ve found our port-a-bote, an 8hp outboard, a sit on top kayak, a 36 lb Delta anchor, 2 jerry cans for gas, 3 solar panels, an Aquamarine water maker, a PUR 40e water maker, and soon a windsurfing rig (I hope). We’ve also managed to swap or trade a bunch of items off our boat. Sometimes you get an incredible deal, and other times the prices are comparable to craigslist in the states.

The Sea of Cortez cruising community is largely gringos. We see Mexican fisherman, tour guides, shrimpers, commercial fisherman, sport fisherman, but rarely ever see a Mexican on a sailboat. The anchorages are abundant, the cost of living affordable, and access is just a drive south of the border. Sailing in the Sea of Cortez can be frustrating. The sea is so small it will develop short choppy waves, which can be uncomfortable. We inevitably end up sailing about half the time and motoring about the half the time when cruising to get toward a destination. When spending time in San Carlos, we will often day sail around the local bays. My wife, who grew up in Florida, says the Sea of Cortez reminds her what Florida USED to be like before hi-rise condo building blotted out the sun along all the beaches.

You know an ICE COLD draft beer in Mexico is a very affordable price of approximately $1.25! Click Here to Buy Us a Beer.

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