- September 2013
This photo is taken from the Tee dock at Marina Lima. Marina Lima or Enrique Lima's Club de Yates lies in the center of waterfront activity on the Island of Isla Mujeres, QR, Mexico. I included this picture, because the people there have become family in my professional life. The marinas on the Caribbean side of Mexico differ considerably from the marinas on the Pacific side.
The Marinas on the Caribbean coast are often privately owned mom and pop operations. I believe this scene is changing. The marinas on the Pacific coast are often large and either Fonatura owned or owned by groups of investors. There is a new Fonatura marina on Cozumel. I suspect there will soon be more.
The Fonatura marinas are always modern often with floating docks and other facilities common to modern marinas. While the docks are usually finished prior to opening for business, the rest of the facilities often are not completed. There might be retail shops, bars, restaurants, and other establishments built, but they are often either unfinished or have no occupants. Sometimes there are unfinished buildings with occupants. Sidewalks around a fine marina are often dirt paths with landscaping lining them for identification. It's like they planned a marina without planing for the cost of completion. This is actually typical of many government projects in Mexico. They build without finishing and they don't seem to have a perfect plan for maintenance.
One thing the Fonatura and Government affiliated marinas all have in common is security. I'm going to call it a little too much security. How can there be too much security? Well, if the security does not function productively, it may as well not be there at all. Most of the security staff are unequipped to handle security situations. At the same time, they will question every one setting foot on the dock. They are friendly and helpful, but I do not believe they could prevent adverse security situations as is evident from my conversations around the marinas. The incidents are minor in scale. I hear no reports of significant violence for example. They usually will not report thefts although it does occur. The security staff may or may not address loud disruptive music. But, they will certainly politely ask you to identify yourself as you walk to your boat.
The mom and pop marinas often have some type of security, but these are smaller operations and the security staff are able to use common sense. They usually greet you as you walk to your boat rather than interrogate you. Obviously, they recognise you.
Most all of the Pacific coast marinas require your documents for a single night's berth. You must present the vessel documentation, temporary importation, insurance, Zarpe, and contract or letter of authorization if you are operating a vessel for the owner. They often copy your passport and captain's license. They want to know your last and next port. Keep in mind this is all well after you and your vessel have been cleared into the country. This just seems like a little too much information and red tape just to dock in a marina.
The marina staff tell me the U.S. government is the driving force behind the bureaucracy. They say the U.S. wants every vessel checked so that illegal vessels are not served and can not advance to U.S. waters. The same documentation is often required for refueling as well. The Mexican navy does not have the resources to adequately patrol their waters, and they have no coast guard as we know it.
Once I was in an anchorage and the Mexican Navy wanted to board me to check my papers. The navy gentlemen, and I do mean gentlemen, had to ask a local fisherman to bring them out to the yacht. When they arrived, I had to ask who they were and what they wanted. They were in partial uniform due to the heat, and therefore had no identifying marks on their clothing. They were extremely polite and almost apologetic for bothering me as they asked for my documents. Speaking and understanding spanish helps. Their Navy personnel do not speak English anymore than most of our Navy personnel speaks other languages. Keep this in mind before sailing to remote areas in any foreign country.
I guess I prefer the mom and pop operations. I enjoy the personal touch and attention. The marina mentioned at the beginning of this post is one of my favorites. I visit so often that they know me by name and think I'm coming home when I'm there. The customs, port captain, immigrations, and other officials carry on more conversation about family and my travels than official business. They simply stamp my documents and greet me with a "Welcome Back." It's difficult to compare this service with that of the highly bureaucratic marinas of Mexico's Pacific Coast. The staff often changes in many of the Pacific Coast marinas and therefore never have the chance to get to know those who operate professionally in their waters.
With this said, I would like to point out than I enjoy sailing most all of Mexico's waters. I thoroughly enjoy visiting their quaint towns and amiable people. Be advised that you should be prepared before making landfall in Mexico. They will welcome you, but it is advised that you play by their rules which is only appropriate. Know the proper documentation prior to arrival. Apply for your Temporary Importation online before entering Mexico. This online courtesy service is currently only offered to U.S and Canadian flagged vessels. Take advantage of the service. It's consistent where as applying in person may not be. The online process is more simple than acquiring the permit in person. It's a strict process and you must be in compliance. Comply and you will fly.
For further advise and information about making ports of call in Mexico, Central and South America, and other foreign countries, you are welcome to call or email me. I'll be happy to share anything I know and keep any speculation to myself.
Sail on, and remember; Paradise is only a sail away.