Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dealing with Mexican Politics

So, we need a few things from the states that you simply cannot get here in any fashion.  Now I have heard rumor about a mexican law corresponding to the ability to import goods into mexico under our temporary import permit without having to pay duty and tax on it since, well, like the boat it is only temporarily in mexico and will leave when we do.  Now to a normal law following American this seemed to make sense, why pay duty when the goods are not to be used in mexico?  Infact we imported a boat valued in the six figure range with probably many tens of thousands of dollars worth of parts, equipment and personal effects on board and no one really batted an eye.  It was quite easy to be honest, we went online filled out a form and for a grand total of about $75 we were allowed to temporarily import the entire vessel, our belongings and everything else on board along with supplies, repair parts and the many dozens of things we dont even remember we have on board.  We then headed to Mexico where we legally checked into the country without even a search of the vessel, we've been "inspected" by the mexican navy and have have handed our documentation to a dozen marinas and port captains with no one having much to say about any of it. 

Now here we are six months later and we would like to import a few replacements for things that have broken, something we are legally allowed to do according to law 4.2.5 which specifically states that this is allowed so long as it is documented bla bla bla.  So we started on our journey to try to do this the right way.   Now in the US this would be basically the equivalent of going down to the DMV, filling out some paperwork and walking away with a stampled piece of paper.  So we did just that, went along our way with a copy of the law in hand and the form to the local Banjercito office which is basically a bank, apparently in Mexico banks do all the imporant stuff because no one else can be trusted to do it.  At first pass the girl rejected the whole thing despite being presented with the law and the correct form, telling us that it was basically not possible.  So we went back home.

Baffled I returned the next day with a friend who spoke a bit more spanish than me, he managed to convince her that it was possible by explaining the law in spanish which seemed silly because she had already read the law the day before in spanish.  But apparently she got the idea this time and at this point she asked us for the invoices for everything we were bringing in so we had to return the next day with the invoices.  But she was still not quite sure and wanted us to go to the airport to talk to the customs official there (do we not have phones??) to make sure it was ok with him.  So we did, he didn't seem to really care much so we called our girl at Banjercito and told her he was fine with it.  More stupidity, of course, because what did that matter to her?  And for that matter we could have never gone to see the guy since we just called her to tell her it was "ok with him".

Day 3 at Banjercito:  I arrived with the invoices, or what I thought were invoices.  Now before I say anything more I thought I would pull up the thesaurus entry for invoice, just incase you were wondering.  The word invoice has 86 synonyms some of them include words like docket, ledger, roll, schedule, list, order, receipt, fee, price, toll, charge.   I would also like to define this word for you: "a record of goods sold, or services performed, together with the costs due".  Now in common usage an invoice is typically more of a bill than a receipt which is why they typically stamp them with the word paid and instantly you have a receipt...  We're all in agreement here, correct?

Well she rejected half of our "invoices" because they had the word "Sales Order" or more specifically the word "Order" on top and not invoice.  Now I tried to explain to her that these all meant the same thing in english but she would no thave it!  To her these were all purchase orders and she believed we had not paid for anything yet.  She kept insisting that we needed the "factura", necessito factura, necessito factua, factura, factura, factura, factura, this word still resonates in my head.  Now to save you the trouble of going to google translate the word "factura" translates to "bill" in english.  So wait a minute, she's not ok with a purchase order or a sales order, or an order that has half my credit card number plastered on the bottom because it might not be paid for (yet??) but she is ok with a bill???  I mean a factura?  Wow now you got me there.  This seems to defy logic.  An order is not ok, but an invoice is, but a order receipt is not, but a bill is?  After several hours of persistence she decided she would scan the whole stack of "orders" and send them to her superior.  We went back to the boat baffled. In retrospect this is where things went downhill I think.  

Day 4 at banjercito:  We apparently were told we made a break through, her supervisors figured it all out and we just had to go down there with our import permit and passport and we were good to go.  Out of excitement I almost didn't need the dinghy to get to shore and could have nearly jumped the distance from the boat to the beach.  So 20 minutes later we arrive at banjercito.  Our girl takes our TIP permit and then tells me to sit down.  She is back going over the invoices and back on the phone again.  An hour and a half later she tells me that her superiors do not wish to do anything anymore because they want to make sure we have destroyed or otherwise exported the old items that these new ones replace.  Now the law does not require this and infact specifically allows us to keep the old parts so long as they leave with us or are destroyed before our import permit expires.  But apparently not in Mexico and not today.  Another dead end... and how exactly we can go from everything is ok to everything is not ok in 20 minutes defies me.  Infact how so many people need to be involved in such a simple thing is beyond me all together.  Let's be honest we are talking a few thousand dollars worth of stuff here.  Remember the part where we imported something like a quarter of a million dollars worth of boat that no one even saw a receipt, invoice or manifest for and which no one ever inspected?  Or the part where we could have stuff said boat full of wonderful goodies to sell to the mexican locals and completely bypassed their customs and no one cares?    That was fine, but try to bring a few replacement parts and apparently you get a half a dozen officials involved and the run around three times over?

Seriously I will never complain about America again, atleast when you have a written law and you shove it in some mindless clerks face they usually fold pretty quick and do what the law says not question you with random made up garbage.

To the girls credit, she was very nice and only trying to do her job..  BUT i'm not sure I could do her job.  I mean she has to call her boss for everything!  She is not empowered to do ANYTHING.  Infact I couldn't be her boss either because she would annoy me.  While I sat in the office and watched her work with other people she called her boss, or whoever it was on the other side of the phone, for everything she did!

So what now?  I'm still going to get my stuff and am still going to bring it back.  We have a few ideas as to what to do but will share those in a later post after we have succesfully not imported the items to Mexico.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Isla Isabela

Tucked in at the anchorage at Isla Isabella
Isla Isabella is quite a treat and a must see for anyone traveling by.  It is a beautiful island about 50 or so miles out from any major strech of land or anything significant.  We anchored out in the south anchorage in about 30 feet of water.  We had tried anchoring on the east side anchorage but there were already a few boats there and while it is probably a better anchorage the space to safely anchor is quite small even though the area appears quite large as it is surrounded by steep underwater rock formations.
We were perfectly happy at the less than desirable anchorage, our charts warned us of some shoaling rocks around the edges and the possibility of abandoned ground tackle fouling the anchor.  We proceeded with caution and anchored as close to the middle of the anchorage as possible in about 30 feet of water.  Later on we did some snorkeling around and found that the rumors of dangerous shoaling rocks all around and abandoned ground tackle were highly exaggerated.  The picture to the right is where the only real dangerous shoaling rocks are, this is at the south east entrance, coming from the right of this just underwater are four very large rocks that sit in about 4-5 ft of water they extend from the point and are found on both sides of the point, most importantly is one that is on the inside of the bay maybe 200 feet out from the rock visible in the picture.  On a calm day you will see it as a dark spot on the water and with a distinctly different wave pattern, on a not calm day the waves almost crash over it.  Stay clear and you should be fine.  The rest of the anchorage is safe from shoaling rocks almost all the way up to where the waves break and stays between 20 and 30 feet of water.   The bottom is littered with boulder sized rocks which can make anchoring difficult, there is however a large sandy spot about in the middle of the anchorage, we missed it and landed our anchor against some rocks but we held fine for the five days we were there.  There was no abandoned ground tackle that we found on the bottom, it was pristine and spotless.  The downside to this spot really is the rocks, our chain kept dragging over rocks on the bottom as we moved around and made horribly disturbing noises.  But other than the noise we had no problem with it, if you have rope rode for your anchor you might worry about chafe.
To the left is a rock at the north east corner of the island and is one of the markers for the east anchorage.  Supposedly this looks like a turtle, can you find the turtle?

Near this anchorage is a small beach, it is coral sand type so it is very corse there is also a lot of rocks close in that are very shallow, at low tide the dinghy would not clear them and we had to look for a passage through.  This beach is also home of a few different types of birds, there are boobies right there on the beach and if you venture further along the beach you can find some other birds hiding in bushes.  There were a lot of nests with eggs so you have to be a little careful not to step on any or to get too close to the nesting birds as most of them will try to defend their nests, though we did come across a few who were more than eager to flee the nest long before we got there.  I guess parenting practices vary widely even amongst birds.
The island has a hiking trail that goes completely around and through, it is well cleared and well marked with signs as well as markers which hang from the trees.  Towards the center of the island there is a crater lake which was a bit of a disappointment, it is muddy brackish water with nothing apparently living in it nor near it.  But hiking inland will also bring you to the nests of the frigates, you will need to look up to find the nests, you will also need to look up to watch for falling bird droppings as the frigates are densely packed so much so that you occasionally walk through sections of trees which are covered white.  There are also spectacular clearings where you will encounter a backdrop of trees overshadowed with hundreds, possibly thousands, of flocking birds.

Bird hiding its nest in the tall grass

Frigates resting in a clearing
Hiking Trail
Strange looking spider we found

Boobie with eggs
Grace exploring some caves along the beach

The south side of the island where we were anchored is also home to the fish camps where the local fishermen reside, it is also home to the park ranger and another small seasonal camp which is used by photography groups and other educational endeavours.  While we were there there happened to be a photography group of about 20 people that only come twice a year, they stay in tents on the island for three days.  This side, of course, has a small protected beach where the fish camp is to land the dinghy there is also some tourist info and a map here.  We also encountered our first iguanas here, grace found them to be quite exciting though as hard as we tried we were unable to catch one for her to touch as they were quite skiddish.  Overall this is a wonderful island to explore and to experience nature in a rarely seen untouched, unaltered form.  We highly, highly, recommend visiting if you are nearby.  We had planned on only staying one day but ended up staying for five we liked it so much.

Grace checking out a bird

Monday, March 9, 2015

2000 Nautical Miles

2386 nautical miles to be exact, for the land lubbers that is 2646 regular miles.  It is approximately the distance to Hawaii, or the Marquesas, the distance across the Atlantic, roughly the shortest path from one side of the United States to the other.  And for us it is the number of miles we have covered since pushing off in Channel Islands Harbor.  And in reality it is just a random number, and a relatively small number for most cruisers, but we felt like it gave us a reason to stop and reflect on where we've been and how things are going.
The boat is treating us well, given we did completely refit her over the last year, we are very pleased with how everything works and how she performs.  Our only major breakdown is the watermaker which has turned out to be a dud, we are rectifying that but will take a few weeks and another trip back home.  Fortunately the end result will be significantly better than what we had so we are excited about that.  Our sugar scoop has been wonderful!  The last month has been such a change in daily life being able to easily get on and off and Grace absolutely loves putting her feet in the water, she has spent hours just sitting on the edge of the last step.
Our Spinnaker NOT tied in a knot
Our new sails are working out wondefully for us though we need to fabricate a better attachment point for the tack on the spinnaker as we keep having various different kinds of trouble with our current attachment point which has led to three or four broken blocks.  It also led to near disaster one night when somehow our spinnaker managed to self jibe between the roller furler and the mast and then immediately self jib itself back but on the outside of the furler.  This not only tied the spinnaker in a knot but also wrapped the tack line so tightly around the furler that we were unable to relieve tension on the spinnaker and pull the sock down to douse it; how exactly two or three inches of tack line coming out of the block on the bow managed to clear a 30 inch high pulput and wrap itself twice around a furler is beyond us but it happened.  We ended up having to put the main sail up to douse the spinnaker so we could safely lower it down on deck using the halyard, of course half the spinnaker ended up in the water in the process but we were happy to not have broken or torn anything and to have the spinnaker down.  Did I mention all the while we were still managing over six knots of boat speed with no spinnker, no genoa and a poorly raised, not trimmed and off the wind main sail?  Yeah exciting times when the spinnaker hits the water at six knots.  We were happy when we flew the spinnaker the next day and while a little damp still was in perfect shape.  Now to fix that attachment for the tack...

As for life aboard and the general cruising life, we are enjoying it!  Though it has been quite a change, it really takes some adaptation to go from living in a 2000sqft house to living in what I will generously say is about 700sqft of boat.  It is even more so a change when you have a toddler on board as for some reason even though this 3ft little person has more than 1/3 of the boat entirely to herself she insists that the cockpit is the best place for her doll house and that the legos work best on the galley floor.  That doesn't leave a while lot of room for the rest of us.

But really the whole point here is to get off the boat really, no one actually goes cruising for the purpose of spending their life couped up inside a boat, even a very large boat can get small if you stick to that kind of plan.  We take plenty of time to get on shore.  A lot of time is spent on secluded beaches in places that mostly only other sail boats visit, the rest of the time gets spent provisioning, finding parts, or just hanging out with friends we meet.  Whatever it is for the day we all have a great time.  Of course with Grace the favorite is the beach or the occasional pool when we find one.  She is also a big fan of driving the dinghy.

And then there are the water activities; kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, diving, or sometimes just exploring the with the dinghy. Grace loves the kayak and can even sort of paddle on her own and we've taken to towing grace in the kayak while we snorkel around, seems to work great as she is content to just hang out there for hours.
And of course when all else fails and we are either under way, or maybe just don't feel like doing anything we have games to play on board which is also a favorite of Grace's even though she doesn't know how to play.