Preparations Are Coming Along 3/30/08

Things are moving along quite well considering the
weather has not totally co-operating. The AIS from
Milltech Marine is installed and connected to the new
Standard Horizon chartplotter and the installation
went surprisingly well. We can pick up targets 20
miles away. The new side curtains for the cockpit are
up and look great. The painting has begun but the wind
has been blowing 15 to 20 almost every day. And today
it has been raining so this part will be a bit slow.
Susan is making pretty good progress with the teak
also. She is stripping the old finish off and redoing
everything with 3 coats of Cetol Natural Teak and
three coats of the clear gloss. It really looks great
and we have been very pleased with how the Cetol holds
up over the years. The new natural finish gives the
teak a much more natural look than the older style.

Upon unpacking the last parts for the masthead sensor
for the wind instruments we found a problem with the
anemometer cups. Simrad was great and sent out a
replacement part immediately with no questions ask. As
soon as the wind is down a bit I will be up the mast
to finish that part of the installation. We have also
been testing all of the electronics and doing some
tweaking on the SSB ground plane. So far all is well
and each time we tweak the SSB we seem to get out
better and receive better so we must be doing
something right.
We are counting down and plan to move the car and van
to our relatives in south Florida for storage in about
a week. That means departure should be in about two
weeks. We have learned a long time ago to be flexible
so we will wait and see just how that timetable works out.

Clearing Into Mexico

Clearing in and out of every port in Mexico and the high costs involved in what became known as the “paperwork cha cha” was the biggest complaint from any cruiser that traveled there either on the Pacific or Caribbean side. At each port where a Port Captain was present, it was necessary to visit Health, Customs, Immigrations and Port Captain and pay the appropriate fees to each office. There was a clearing out procedure that must be followed at each port. Then the whole was process was repeated over again including the fees at the next port. In addition, there were many forms to provide and fill out for some of those officials. At some point, the Port Captains in many areas refused to do individual check ins and required all pleasure craft to go through a ships agent to both clear in and out. Fees to these agents varied from as little as $40.00 to as much as $200.00 and the agents sometimes did most of the clearance work and sometimes did nothing more than take your money. Many cruisers refused to travel to Mexico as a result of this and the businesses that benefited from visits by pleasure craft soon began to realize the frustrations of all of this. Tere Grossman, who is the owner of Marina San Carlos in the Sea of Cortez and the head of the Mexico Marina owners Association, began a campaign a few years ago to change these procedures and streamline the entire process as well as reduce the costs involved in multiple check ins.
As with any changes in Latin America, the process was long, slow and complicated. But Tere’s group persisted and in the early months of 2005, President Vicente Fox signed the new regulations in to law. Simply stated, the new regulation, Reglamento 69, eliminates the need for a pleasure craft to check in and out of every port. The vessel checks in as it arrives at the first port of entry and checks out at the last port of entry when preparing to leave Mexican water. The only requirement for intermediate ports is to call the Port Captain on the VHF and let him know you are there and passing through. Also, the law makes it illegal for Port Captains to require a pleasure craft to hire an agent to clear in and out. The law was to go in to affect as soon as it was signed by the President. The Director of Port Captains in Mexico City called ALL Port Captains throughout the country to a meeting in the city to explain the new regulations, exactly what they meant and how they were to be implemented. This procedure is not common when such new regulations are passed in Mexico but it shows the governments’ resolve to improve the situation to generate more interest in travel by boat to Mexico. After the meeting, the changes were implemented immediately….in the Pacific. But the Caribbean side was a different situation. Our experiences seemed to be typical of what happened to many boaters entering and clearing in to Isla Mujeres and Puerto Morelos.
We arrived in Isla Mujeres in early May of 2005. We had heard of the changes in procedures but did not know the specifics at that time. On our first day, when we tried to check in, we were told that an agent was required. We mentioned the new regulations and were told that yes the new law had passed but it would be a couple of more months before it was implemented. Not knowing better, we hired an agent and paid his fee. Later we moved on down the western Caribbean to spend several months in the Rio Dulce waiting out the record hurricane season. Our original plan was to continue south to Panama, transit the canal, and head up the Pacific coast of Central America. Our long but pleasant delay in Guatemala forced us to change plans and head back to the United States by the same route which we had come south. This brought us back to Isla Mujeres. While in Guatemala we researched the new regulations for Mexico and had corresponded with Tere Grossman several times. We also had received a well known magazine detailing the changes and how well they were working throughout the Pacific side of Mexico. On top of that, we spoke to cruisers on the SSB/HAM radio who indicated that things were going quite smoothly on the West Coast. We expected to be pleasantly surprised at how easy the new procedures would be. We also had received word through the Northwestern Caribbean Net that perhaps the changes were not yet in place in Isla Mujeres and Puerto Morelos, even though it had now been several months since they had been signed in to law.
We do not recommend that vessels bypass proper procedures when entering foreign ports since doing so can be problematic and even costly. But we decided to do just that upon our arrival in Isla Mujeres. The requirements upon arrival are to call the Port Captain to announce you are there and to begin the check in procedure. But only days before, a vessel reported that the Port Captain was still requiring the use of an agent, in violation of the new law. So instead of calling the Captain on the radio, we instead went ashore to the health inspector’s office to begin the process. The health inspector chastised us for not calling the Port Captain first but processed our paperwork anyway. Next we went to Immigrations, our passports were stamped and we walked to the next block to pay the immigration fees at the bank. The last stop was the Port Captains office. We walked in, stood at the counter and asked that we be checked into the port. The gentleman behind the counter informed us that we must hire an agent to do this. We were ready for this and since Susan speaks Spanish fairly well, the communications issue was not a problem. Always with a smiling and friendly demeanor, we told the official that we were aware of the new regulations and even quoted the regulation number. In addition we had the magazine with us quoting the changes and their implementation in other ports. Susan also told the official she did not know what an agent could do for us since the majority of the clearing in procedure was already complete. Since the official was not the Port Captain he was a little dumbfounded and said the Port Captain was off the island and would not be back until the next day. He said it would be fine for us to move around and enjoy ourselves and would we come back the next morning to see the Captain and also bring a copy of the magazine article with us? He stated that they were not aware of the new regulations. We responded that we were surprised at that since all Port Captains were called to Mexico City to have the new regulations explained. He did not have anything to say to us but asked that we return the next morning.
We knew there was an Internet Café a block down the street so that became our first stop. We had brought Tere Grossman’s email address with us and immediately emailed her and gave her an update of what had transpired. We had corresponded with her previously to let her know we were on our way to Isla. Now it was time for a little relaxation and some shopping. Isla is one of our favorite stops and we love the atmosphere. The many shops and restaurants and the colorful streets are truly what you expect when coming to Mexico. We always wish we could spend more time here. Later in the day, we checked back at the Internet Café and found to our surprise that an email from Tere had come back very shortly after we had sent ours to her. She had contacted Ing. Leonardo Lazo, the director of Port Captains and he in turn called the Port Captains office in Isla Mujeres. They were reminded of the new law and instructed to clear in pleasure vessels without requiring an agent. We did feel a bit uncomfortable since we did not know how the Port Captain would react to us going over his head. We told them we were freelance writers for different boating publications and were writing an article on the changes regarding clearing in and out of Mexico. I believe that helped in getting them to co-operate.
The next morning, we arrived at the Port Captains office just as they opened with the copy of the magazine article they had asked for. It was apparent the phone call of the previous day had been received and understood. The reception was cordial but it was obvious it was not sincere. To our surprise, the Port Captain informed us he was doing this only for us and would not do it for others. We let it go and finished clearing in. Once we finished, we again emailed Tere Grossman and informed here of how things went and of the Port Captain’s comment. Surprisingly, the next boats that came in were told they could use and agent if they liked but it was not required. We wondered why that might be and hoped we had made a difference through our efforts and that now things would change for those that came after us. Well, that didn’t happen quite as we had hoped. Very soon the Port Captain took a new tack. He stopped accepting payment for the check in and required the boaters to take a ferry to the mainland and pay the fee at a bank in Cancun. This is a hassle, very time consuming and more expensive since you must pay for the ferry to the mainland and the return. The ploy was obvious since whenever someone objected they were told that they could hire an agent and avoid the hassle. And many did just that, but not all. As soon as we learned of this new approach by the Port Captain we notified Tere Grossman, even though by that time we were back in the US. She assured us that the information would be passed on and gave us the email address of another government official that would be interested and would help correct this new situation. We emailed Captain Raymundo Mata Contreras, Deputy Director of the Mexican Merchant Marine and here is the email we received back from him.
Here is a copy and paste of an email we received from Leonardo Lazom of the Mexican government and what they are doing to correct this problem. Boaters checking in and still finding a hassle should immediately email Capt. Contreras directly with their problems. They are very concerned about the financial impact on the economy with this kind of problem. The email address is at the end of the message. Chuck and Susan, S/V Sea Trek
Asunto: Atten: Leonardo Lazom, problems in Isla Mujeres
Copy to: Teresa Grossman-Asociación de Marinas Turísticas.
With reference to the message sent to Mr. Leonardo Lazo Margain regarding your concerns with the Maritime Services at Isla Mujeres; where you express your concern about the collusion between the Port Captain and the agents; that they are making it so difficult for the boaters that they will use the agents rather than go through the hassles the Port Captain has imposed.
For the Government of Mexico, the Secretary of Transport and Communications through the General Coordination on Ports and Merchant Marine our compromise as the Maritime Administration is primarily to observe national legislation, and the International Maritime Conventions related with the guarantee of the Safety of Life At Sea, Safety of Navigation and all related activities with Ports and Waterways in our jurisdiction; this is realized through a national policy for the development of the maritime and Port System, and also in every port under the supervision and authority of the Harbour Master.
The Maritime Administration complying with IMO Conventions, specially the FAL Convention to facilitate traffic bettwen ports worlwide. We need to recognize that during the past; the Navigation Law was restricting the traffic for boaters because it was a requirement to dispatch all boat at every port during their presence at mexican waters, nowadays with the reform made to the law is only required at the first arrival port of call to the country and at the departure to international voyage.
We started a complete program to update documentation, rules and obligations for the keyplayers in the industry and eveybody needs to observe regualtions stated in the Navigation Law and Port Law.
Since, the new changes in the law we have dealing since that with differents matters regarding the boaters, and in order to promote competitiveness in the Maritime and Port Industry it´s necessary to promote a new culture to meet the customer´s needs ensuring the continuos growth of the Port operations at the Mexican Ports.
Some of the requirements were requested to the Minister of Finance who is the federal Agenct that receive all fees related with the use of federal and public services and obviously those related with maritime industry.
During last week was approved to have a bank terminal at the island in order to attend the necesities and very soon boat and customers will be informed; so all process can be completed RIGHT THERE without going out of the island.
Let me inform you that is not compulsoty to use a shipping agent for the tramitance; but that´s the only decisión of the boat owners and the Harbor Master is impeded to promote the use of agents; otherwise they will be subjected to penalization as per stated in the Responsability Law for the Public Service.
As part of the objectives of this Administration and as a Part of the Government Agenda we are combating authoritarianism and corruption.
Let me say additionally that this is part of the changes of the Country México. We foreseen ahead and promisory future for the Maritime and Port Industry, and we know that Governments needs to give the Industry a certain with the Law and with a Public National Policy in all Maritime Issues.
With that in mind we request you to inform to all boaters; that concerns regarding with these maritime incidents must be attended directly by the Harbor Master or through my office.
On behalf of the General Coordinator on Ports and Merchant Marine Eng.Cesar Patricio Reyes Roel, receive our best regards.
Capt. Raymundo Mata Contreras, Deputy Director Merchant Marine.
Av. Nuevo León No. 210 7th Floor.
Col Hipodromo Condesa. Deleg. Cuauhtemoc.
México, D.F. 06100
Phones + 52 55 5265 3222 and + 52 55 5265 3235
So this is where things stand today. Any problems can be addressed directly to Captain Contreras and he will be more than happy to assist any and all vessels still being hassled in the Caribbean. So just what are the proper clearance procedures?
You need to first contact the Port Captain on Channel 16 and let him know you have arrived. They will first send the Health Department to your boat to make sure you and your crew are healthy. They may also want to inspect your fresh food stuffs. After you have cleared Sanitario, which is free, they will stamp all your papers and you are free to go to shore to Immigration. Immigration will have you fill out the visitor form and charge you 214 pesos per passport (about $21 per). This can be paid at the bank a few doors away. From there, you take the rest of your paperwork to the Capitania and they will complete it and charge you approximately 263 pesos for a 40 foot boat of 13 gross tons. The fee is based on the gross tonnage, anchoring fee and services of the Port Captain so will be a little more or less depending on the size of your boat. If you have not cleared into Mexico before, you will need to apply for the temporary importation (Importada) of your vessel into Mexico, which is good for 10 years. We had already done this when we came down in the Spring through the agent at Marina Paraiso. It is unclear who is doing this now and you may have to go to Cancun and do this paperwork yourself. The government is also trying to set up a web site so this can be done over the internet.
Now to the paperwork. You will need 5 copies of your crew list to present to Sanitario. He will stamp each one of them and keep one for himself. You will also need 5 copies of your zarpe or clearance from your last port. (US citizens coming from home won’t have this.) You only need to present your passport to immigration. When you get to the port captain, you will need the 4 remaining copies of your crew list and zarpe, a copy of your passports, documentation, boat insurance and Importada (if you already have it). They input some info into their computer, had us fill out a form, pay the fee and we were done.
This last vestige of the old guard will eventually change but only if the boaters continue to gently apply pressure on those that resist the change. How you approach this goes a long way in how it is eventually resolved. We always use the cordial, friendly approach no matter how absurd the situation becomes. We believe that approach has made a big difference in how we are perceived and received. Tere Grossman can be contacted at and is glad to hear from boaters. She has worked hard to bring about these changes and is dedicated to bringing about compliance throughout all Mexican Ports. Since we had our experiences the Port Captain in Isla has gotten creative and still tries to put up roadblocks so cruisers will give up and hire an agent. Be persistent but polite and insist the process be done according to Mexican Law. You will eventually prevail but contact Tere Grossman if problems continue.

Getting Ready...........Again

Once again we are preparing Sea Trek for our next cruise. Our plans at this point are a bit muddy but considerations are to visit friends along the eastern seaboard from Florida to South Carolina between April and November. Then when the hurricane season comes to a close, head back over to the Bahamas. It has been eight years since our last visit to the island chain so we look forward to seeing what changes have transpired since then. We always say our plans are written in the sand at low tide. During the next month and a half we will be doing some upgrades and maintenance that we have neglected since we have been here in Houston.

A few years ago we did some experimenting with a non skid paint for the decks. Over the years the finish has gotten pretty shabby and we have tried painting with a couple of different products. The best look was with AwlGrip and a flattening agent added to eliminate that shiny finish and loose all "non-skid" affects. It looked good but was still very slippery when wet. We came across a product called DuraBac that touted itself as a true non skid and reported it was used by commercial fisherman and the military as well as industry. The application process was fairly easy, the color selection was good and after we applied it to the deck the performance was very good even when the decks were awash. We chose the color Cream since it matched the original non skid color but sadly found after only a few months it started turning grey in splotches all over. Our first contact with the manufacturer found they did not include an additive that was supposed to be mixed in so they sent us a replacement. But the same thing happened after the second attempt. Further contact with the manufacturer was not of much help since they insisted we must have done something wrong or used the wrong cleaners. So at our expense we redid the decks again and guess what? The same results, so we decided that we really liked the non skid properties and we researched other like products and found one with good positive feedback called Tuff Coat. Concerned that we might have problems with it also turning gray we ordered new gray paint then we did a test section and left it for a few months. The finished stayed the same color and was easy to clean. The DuraBac was always difficult to clean from the very start. Again the non-skid properties are great. So now Sea Trek has a great looking new coat of gray non-skid.

We have also done some work on the interior. New blinds on our large ports, a new storage cabinet over the galley counter where the old TV/VHS combo used to live and new foam for some of the cushions. A new stereo system tied to the new HD LCD TV and DVD player/recorder improves the entertainment upgrades. I have added a new four stage battery charger and left our trusty 30 amp original charger in place but unplugged. If one fails we only need to unplug that one and plug in the other for a back up.

Several years ago we replaced the large fixed ports on the cabin sides with Lexan, surfaced mounted and with bronze outer frames. Over the years the Lexan has degraded and clouded over to the point that one could not see through them very well. Those were clear Lexan but we decided to replace them with a darker smoked finish. The bronze frames were always green so we decided to get them chromed. We found a shop in Houston that did a great job. The final finished look was outstanding and we have received many complements since we completed the project.

For many years we have run all of our navigation programs from the computer at the nav station. As a certified marine electronics technician I decided it was probably time to put a plotter at the helm. We went with the Standard Horizon CP300 since we did not need an integrated system and the Standard Horizon is very user friendly. In addition it uses the C-Map cartridges which I prefer and the cost is 1/3 or better than most of the other systems on the market. From personal experience and the first hand experience of others that use the Standard Horizon we have received nothing but positive feedback. Our 16 year old Signet Wind Instruments have been occasionally acting erratic so we decided now would be a good time to replace them. We installed a Simrad Wind machine to match our Simrad speed/depth/temp combo. Tweaking much of the rest of the equipment and electronics are on the todo list. We also replaced the aging side curtains for the cockpit.

Other items yet to be done include having the anchor and chain re galvanized since there is a place close by to get that done. Some of the paint on the hull is showing it's age since we last did the job 10 years ago so we will do some touching up. The teak is getting stripped and redone after eight years of just maintenance coats and several other small cosmetic projects. We like the boat to be looking good and feeling good when we leave for these cruises and it has paid off in the past. We have been able to enjoy the trip and the boat with only minor issues to deal with along the way. So we will post our progress for those interested and for those not so interested we hope you enjoy the other many articles we have posted here. We will continue to post as we move along our route and report back when internet access allows.