Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Town of Guaymas Sonora and Marina Seca

Our last evening in the yard. 


Having served our time here in Guaymas Sonora Mexico we have come to know the lay of the land.  We’ve learned a thing or two.  When we pass this way again the memory cannot help but be diminished so I thought I’d jot down a few notes for future reference.  Too, this will benefit any reader who stumbled by this blog entry while searching on information about hauling out and getting boat work done in Guaymas or San Carlos. 

As a place to haul out and get work done this is a good option… IF you are somewhat of a do-it-yourselfer you will really enjoy being able to do your own work in the yard.  If you like standing back and letting someone else do the work then that’s available too.  

My opinion:  Even if you are not used to doing your own repairs you will benefit by diving into the details along with the mechanic or painter or rigger.  We might be talking about a learning curve, but that’s a good thing.  The best education is by observing and doing. Spend the time to understand what’s happening and what the options might be.  Expect some blind alleys where you and the mechanic think you are doing the right thing but it finally becomes apparent that you need to stop, turn around, and try something else.   If you are not actively participating in the process then you won’t know when to call the halt.  After all, it is your money, and thus, your decision in the end.  You are driving the bus.

There is some bit of pride in everyone, ain’t that the truth?  Especially here in Mexico you’ll find the tradespersons to be sensitive about the quality of their work.  Use your people skills to honor their work and yet guide them in the direction you want to go.   Take the time to shoot the breeze with them.  Joke around a little.  Ask about the family.  Then get down to business. Doing so makes everything go much smoother.  If they like you and think you are an honorable person they will do their best for you.  If they see you as critical, haughty, or judgmental then the quality of work might suffer and the price could go up.

But I digress in my preaching about how to conduct yourself in a foreign country. Let me shut up about that and get back to talking about the lay of the land in Guaymas.  We chose to get boat work done in the Guaymas/San Carlos area for many reasons.  Located in the south of the state of Sonora, this area is in the “No Hassle Zone” and as such you can bring down your US car without a temporary import permit.  Being only four hours from the border, you can make quick runs to Nogales, Tucson, or Phoenix for parts.  If you know someone in one of those cities you can have your parts shipped there. Our friends ordered a part and had it shipped to the Nogales Motel 6 where they agreed to accept the shipment as long as they prepaid their room reservation.   The trip north is pleasant with good roads and few tolls and it’s a short enough trip that you don’t need to drive at night.   We don’t drive in Mexico at night.  If you don’t have a car, Tufesa and TAP busses run multiple times per day.  We brought a new transmission down with us on the bus and nobody blinked an eye.

Gabriel Larios runs Marina Seca Guaymas

If you are presently cruising Mexico then you probably have Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer’s Sea of Cortez guidebook.  Consult this for places of interest and street maps for both Guaymas and San Carlos.
There are four haul out facilities in this area.  In San Carlos you have Marina Real and Marina San Carlos, both with travel lifts and work yards.  Marina San Carlos is the more reasonably priced of the two and has the lion’s share of the business.  You haul out at the marina and the 60 ton Hydraulic trailer travels the half mile inland to the dry (seca) yard.  The seca is divided into two sections, one for storage and one for work.  You can’t work on your boat or stay overnight in the storage yard.  Because the work yard is more expensive you want to get your work done quickly and get her moved into storage as soon as possible.  To us, this situation was a little too restrictive.

Andrew drives the lift at Marina Seca Guaymas
In downtown Guaymas there is a Fonatur Marina with slips for about ten good size boats depending on their draft.  The boat yard and lift at Fonatur are nice but expensive.  Most people haul out at the south end of the bay at Marina Seca and when the work is done they launch and head over to Fonatur for a few days to provision the boat, check out the systems, and wash all the yard dirt off the deck.  Another option is to head around the corner to the Almost Free Marina, named such because sometimes you pay to tie up there and sometimes not.  It's a small collection of five finger docks that were built to compensate the panqueros (panga fishermen) for when the Fonatur developers took away their landing in downtown Guaymas.  A problem with the Almost Free Marina is that your outboard motor or bicycles might disappear in the night. Be careful. Oh, and there is no water or power. 

Marina Seca is a mile or so south across the bay from downtown.  There are no docks there, just a haul out facility and two large dirt yards.  The whole bay area is fairly shallow so if you draw more than six feet, pick a high tide to enter the ways then pick another high tide when you’re ready to splash.  Full moon and new moon times have the highest highs.  As you head toward the south end of the bay it will get shallower and shallower.  Just off the ways is a white buoy.  Anchor just off that buoy to wait for your haul out appointment.   
Traveler stayed overnight in the ways and left on the morning high tide.  The dredged channel heads straight out.

We usually arrive in the afternoon, anchor in 9 feet then haul out in the morning when the tide is full.  From the white buoy, head directly east, watching the ways with your binoculars.  When you can see right down the middle of the two runways make your right turn and head straight in.  You’ll be talking to Arnulfo or Andrew on the VHF and they can wave you one way or the other if you get off track.  The channel is dredged but narrow.  Go slow so if you do run aground you can get off easily.  The crew will take your lines and they might turn your boat around if it fits better going in the lift backwards.  We go in forward but remove the forestay and the staysail stay so the lift can get the weight centered properly.  Have your tools ready to do some demolition and don’t worry about taking up too much time.  The haulout crew is very patient.

“If you're happy, I'm happy”says Arnulfo the yard manager
The wonderful thing about the Guaymas Seca yard is that there are few restrictions on what work you can do.  As the boat owner, you can paint, grind, weld, fiberglass, bang on things, curse, and drink beer in your folding chair in the shade of the hull.  You can park your vehicle right next to your boat and come and go as you wish, day or night.  The yard is full of people from many nations all working on their boat projects so if you have a challenging project you can walk around and find multiple old salts who have resolved your very problem.  Of course, you’ll get many different solutions, all of them the best.  The only problem I’ve found with the scene at the Guaymas Seca is that sometimes you get too much advice.  I just nod and smile.

Gabriel Larios runs the operation and has an office on the south side of the old yard.  Call him on the phone.  He is fluent in English and Spanish and who knows what other languages and can schedule your haul out. 

Arnulfo is the yard boss and has years of experience.  He’s a good resource for a second opinion on marine engineering problems.  His little office is perched up high in the new yard.  Andrew runs the lift and Roberto assists. That’s it for permanent crew there outside of the guards which they have three, one at each yard gate and one who sits down by the water watching for poachers approaching by small boat.  The old yard has the ways for hauling out and room for big catamarans and trimarans.  If your boat is too big for the 30 ton travelift then Gabriel can arrange for the shipyard next door to haul you out and carry your boat to his yard.  Old customers who have been coming here for years have their favorite spots in the old yard and it seems like Gabriel lets them keep coming back to the same spot each summer. 
 
Roberto ties the slings
The new yard is across the dirt road to the east and has lots of room for boats and car storage.  It seems like new customers with monohulls less than 50 feet long all go into the new yard.  Both yards are protected with fencing, razor wire, and guards.  Your first time in you sign the clipboard.  After that the guards will recognize you and let you come and go. Eventually you will get to know them by name.  The main yard has a set of restrooms with showers in the middle of the yard.  A new, very nice, set of restrooms and showers are outside the yards between the Seca and the main road.  These are locked at 5:00 PM each night so get your shower in early if you want to use the nice facilities.  When there is a 4:00 stampede watch out, you might get the last (and cold) shower.  Of course, in the summer the hot water is hot and the cold water is hot.  Everything is hot.
Arnulfo's office at the intersection of the two yards

In the yard you have electricity and water.  For some reason the water is turned off at 5:00 PM.   There is one rate for the boat and one rate for living aboard and using power and water, so while you are gone you get a nice cheap rate, and when you are there living and working in the yard you pay an extra $5 a day… still very reasonable.  We save our vegetable food scraps to feed the sheep that Gabriel keeps in a pen next to the new yard.  There is a constant new supply of lambs being born… very cute.

Mechanics, painters and other tradespersons come to the yard and do work but they must clear it with Gabriel. Francisco paints and does fiberglass work.  Omar does mechanical work.  Carlos does rigging. These are just the ones I know.  There are other people you can hire to get all kinds of work done.  They are allowed in the yard from 8 AM to 5 PM M-F, 8 AM to Noon on Saturday, and on Sunday they are in church.  A couple of different water venders come into the yard, driving around in old pickup trucks full of garafons of water, beeping their horns, the whole family aboard.  He’ll carry the big 20 liter jugs up the ladder so you can pour them into the tank.  13 pesos a pop, plus a little propina (tip) .

Read another blog entry about the boatyard by Ann and Doug on Galivant: What's to like about living in the shipyard

Marina Seca is a little bit outside of Guaymas proper and so requires a bus ride to get into town.  Catch the Paraje Fatima bus for 5.5 pesos and ride all the way downtown to hardware stores and the markets.  Across the street from the Seca is a hardware store and a beer store but other than that there is not much close by the yard.  Most of the hardware stores have a small storefront but large storage areas so be prepared to show them what you need or spell it out in Spanish. Chances are, they can find it in the back.  If not, they will tell you where to go to find it, even if it is at a competitor’s ferreteria. 
 
The new yard is clean and flat.  A little dusty when the wind gets up.
Stainless steel nuts and bolts can be had in a little specialty shop named La Cora on 17th and Garcia Lopez.  Luebberts on the Malecon has some hardware and paint items that relate to marine applications.  You can get bottom paint and two part epoxy paint at the International paint store on Adolfo de La Huerta (from Serdan go three blocks north on 20th and turn left) but the bottom paint is in 5 gallon cans.  Find someone in the yard who is also painting their hull and split a can with them to save money.  You can get single gallons of bottom paint at the local Comex on Calle Diez.  For West Systems fiberglass supplies you have to make a trip to San Carlos.  Take the bus downtown then at the Mercado wait for a bus with the words “San Carlos” on the windshield.  Star Marine in San Carlos is the only US style marine store in the area and has the monopoly on marine specialty items.  Have your credit card ready to spend big bucks.

On Wednesday there is a street market downtown where you can buy wonderful fresh produce and all sorts of used tools.   On Saturday the street market is nearer to the Marina Seca at the Beisbol soccer field complex one mile west.  With a car you can go to the evil Walmart or Sam’s club for big provisioning and you can hit Home Depot to not find what you are looking for and pay twice as much for it.

On Wednesday go to Pollo Feliz and get one and a half grilled chickens for the price of one chicken.  We eat on this for three days of lunches and one pot of soup from the bones.  Treat yourself with a trip to The Dougout for fried oysters, shrimp, or fish at cheap prices and live music on the veranda.  It’s not far from the city center on Garcia Lopez.  If you are coming in or leaving by a long distance bus take the Paraje Fatima bus downtown then connect to any bus heading out towards Walmart, or vice versa.  If it is evening, just hail a taxi, it is much safer.

Speaking of safety, watch out for yourself here.  Like any other city there are folks here who will do most anything for money.  The honest and helpful people are very kind.  They are clean and well dressed, proud.  You can tell those who are living close to the edge because they look unkempt. They’ll try to think of a way to get some money or a favor out of you.  We’ve had them offer to sell us drugs, then turn around and ask to buy drugs.  Go figure.  Trouble makers, bless their hearts, every town has them.

Guaymas is not a tourist town, which is refreshing because what you see is what is real life.  The locals might wonder what you are doing here but they take it in stride and don’t usually treat you any differently. This is especially nice when the price you pay for your taco is the same as everyone else.  We do our best to fit in and so be seen as “normal”.
  
When we go to town I wear long pants and Connie covers her shoulders and legs.  Still, she gets lots of long looks.  The young single men look her up then down then watch her walk away.  Maybe this is because she has long white hair and she’s tall.  But they watch all women like this.  That’s just the way it is. I keep my money in a safe place and don’t flash it around.  For cash, I visit one of the downtown banks at the teller machine then go inside and change the big bills into smaller ones. To change USD into Pesos I go to a bank and bring a copy of my passport with me so they can take it for their records.  When you enter a bank, remove your hat and sunglasses and queue up in line with everyone else.   

M/V Piloto goes out day and night taking a pilot to incoming and outgoing ships.  This is the Fonatur marina.



























Out and about, I try to have change available because often times when I buy something at a sidewalk stand or small store they will not be able to make change.  Street side stands are great places to eat.  I had two tacos yesterday for ten pesos, about 70 cents.  If you get on a bus with a 50 peso bill, give it to the driver then wait.  Once he has accumulated more coins he will give you your change.  When you want the bus to stop, say “Baja!” which means “down.”  To flag down a bus, raise your hand up in the air.

After being in Guaymas for three months we are getting a little weary of it, but I must say, it is a good town and a real Mexican town, not a tourist destination.  Where in other coastal towns we are constantly approached and offered timeshares and trinkets, here we are pretty much left alone.
 
As a place to leave the boat for the summer and then get her outfitted for the next cruising season, Guaymas and San Carlos are very good choices.  Since we didn’t stay in San Carlos we can’t really review that area but from what we’ve seen, it’s pretty laid back and they have everything you might need.  It’s just that there are so many northerners there.  Feels kinda like San Diego. But then again, San Diego is nice too.  It’s all good.  Todo bien!
 
Omar Garza
Last but not least I want to thank our good friend Omar who kept at it tirelessly until it all came together.  He is a great mechanic, has an amazing attitude, and is soon to be a famous ukelele musician.

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