Kids, Don't Try This At Home!

Hi, and welcome to the adventures of "Triton", a 45' Robertson & Caine Leopard catamaran we purchased in July of 2007, in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We sailed her back to Emeryville, California, located in the lovely San Francisco East Bay area, worked a few more years, then set off cruising in the fall of 2014. This journal is the story of our ongoing adventure, the folks we've met along the way, and the hardships and joys of that journey. Please read along and let us know what you think!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Mazatlan: A nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to check out there.


Hola Amigos!

There should actually be one of those upside down exclamation marks in front of the greeting, but my damn gringo keyboard doesn't have one. That's okay, 'cause anyone who heard me uttering this phrase would know instantly that I've just used up about thirty percent of my entire Spanish vocabulary, and I either have a severe speech impediment or I'm retarded. Most folks correctly guess it's the latter.

So, we left Marina Puerto Vallarta (the only absolute proof that the universe will end in entropy) and headed north for Mazatlan. The ride up was just more of the same: dolphins off the bowsprit, whales spouting off in the distance, consenting turtles attempting to drown each other, startling sunrises, breathtaking sunsets, beautiful moon-lit nights, cool gentle breezes during the day, and spectacular scenery whenever we get close to shore. It's enough to make you retch. Fortunately, there has been a break in all this paradisaical monotony. It's getting cold.

Nights have been down in the fifties. I've had to start wearing some clothes while above decks sailing, and wrapping myself in blankets when in the cockpit. Yesterday I needed a jacket and socks. SOCKS! The cruiser's worst nightmare. Actual socks! Next it will be pants. God only knows how long before we'll need shoes. It seems the horror is only getting worse. This trip is turning out to be far rougher than I ever imagined it could get. Maybe we should go to Cartagena?

Now, you might wonder why we aren't heading due west for Cabo San Lucas right now. Well, that's because the wind, ever vigilant adversary to cruisers everywhere, is now blowing directly from the West. Two days ago, it was from the North East, exactly what we needed for a beam reach to CSL. It was also predicted to stay that way for at least a few days. That was before we were ready to go. Once the weather noticed we were set to go, it changed direction.

So, the plan was to sail for about twenty four hours due north along the mainland coastline, stop off at Mazatlan only long enough to drop Robert off (he needs to get back to Nicaragua and...for reasons that defy, change the crew list, and then head South Westerly for Cabo. That would put us on back on a beam reach even with Westerly winds, much better for catamarans, and give us a fast ride across the Sea of Cortez. The only fly in that ointment was the demonic forces that had possessed the Mazatlan Port Captain and Immigrations office. More on that in a moment.

We made it into Mazatlan harbor without incident. The winds weren't too bad, the waves weren't too rough, and we approached the breakwater entrance as the sun was rising. There is a really pretty little lighthouse on a rock just outside the harbor. Short of an actual mermaid sitting on the rocks around it, it was exactly what any oil painter could ask for in a background.

We hadn't planned on being this far north, and really weren't prepared. We had no sailing guides for the area, and the charts weren't that informative, so we weren't sure where exactly to go, but there was a pretty little cove just inside the breakwater. We motored in and drove around, noticed there were a few other big cats at anchor, and thought it might be a good place to drop the hook. We asked another sailor for advice, and he suggested we stay here, as the various offices were close by. There were marinas a few miles further up the coast, but it wasn't clear if they would have room for a catamaran, and it was kind of pricey. So we dropped the hook.

Well, actually, we didn't. It didn't work. The windlass control had been acting up for a while. I had repaired it earlier, but the micro switches inside it were pretty rotted, and while it would happily raise anchor, it wouldn't lower it. I had taken to shorting the terminals with a screw driver to get the hook down, but even that wasn't working. No one on board really relished the idea of manhandling the other anchors out of the locker, we were all tired, hungry and sleep deprived. So we said, as Pat Boone likes to say, "Boone It!" and decided we just go find a marina, tie up for a night and fix yet another broken part.

We turned tail and began to head out of the harbor. As we did the guy from the cat jumped in his dingy and motored over to see what was up. We explained the situation and he said "Oh, well, why not just raft up with us?". I was amazed. It was such a kind gesture, among a myriad of wonderful acts of kindness we'd received throughout our adventure, and it made our lives just that much easier. And from a total stranger. Sometimes cruising really fucks with my well-honed cynicism about humanity. We sidled up next to his boat, tied along side, and made friends with Henry and J.J. on "Rapscullion", yet another cruising couple from the states.

They had been out cruising on their catamaran for a while, and seemed to be loving every minute of it. Both of them had a great attitude about sailing, and were definitely enjoying themselves. We thanked them profusely for their generous help, loaded up the dinghy and headed into town for the Port Captain's office. Robert had made flight plans for tomorrow, and was beginning to worry about missing his flight. This is apparently one of the things he stresses a lot about, and he had on his "not happy" face. We teased him about it. He didn't think it was funny...we did.

The harbor was small, with maybe fifty boats in it. There was a blue building called "Club Nautico", which provided cruisers with showers, a dinghy dock and ice. The woman who worked there, Wendy, was very, very nice, and showed us around. We paid three dollars for use of their facilities, and headed off into town to find the Port Captain's office.

We wandered around a bit looking for the building, but by around one o'clock (plenty of time to get this done) we eventually found it. It was quite new, clean and had several people working inside. It appeared very efficient. We approached the window and explained what we needed to do. The woman behind the counter said we needed to speak with the Port Captain himself, and to please take a seat and wait one moment. What she meant was, please sit on those plastic chairs designed by the Marque De Sade himself, and molder into old age while we watched numerous clerks chatting and exchanging Christmas gifts from the otherwise vacant waiting area. After about an hour of watching this, we got fed up and asked again.

Editor's Note: There aren't any photos of the government officials involved in the remainder of the following episode, mostly because the author's comrades feared his having anything metallic, heavy or edged (even a camera) in his hand while dealing with government officials and had taken it away from him, for his own good. Instead, because my mother always said "if you can't say anything nice, compliment her shoes", I've included some snapshots of the various bronze statues that we've encountered throughout the Mexican coastline. Fortunately, they were too heavy to carry over to the government offices. By the way, none of the port officials had nice footwear.

The Port Captain was called over (this time it only took about five minutes) then he studied our new crew list, our old crew list, the boat documentation, our visas, our passports and then explained that he couldn't sign Robert off the crew list unless we first got the crew list stamped by Immigrations. "Okay, No Problemo!" we said. That's Spanish for "Okay, it's now my problem". They gave us directions to the immigrations office. "Oh, but you need to hurry, it's 2:00, the office is about ten blocks from here, and we close at 2:30". So, we rushed out of the office and immediately started arguing about the directions we'd been given.

Naturally, any directions proffered by any government official in any foreign country are, by law, required to be wrong. It was part of the Geneva convention and one of the few clauses that all participating countries still enforce. That, and the clause that limits a hotel's responsibility to anything stolen from your room, to only fifty dollars, even though they gave your room key to the local junkie. We were hoofing it along and not finding the place, so we flagged down a taxi. Now, when I say taxi, what you're thinking is a big, yellow Ford Impala, no hubcaps, plastic seats. What I'm describing is an open sided, propane powered golf cart with roll bars made from drain pipes. The one pictured here is from later on in our adventure, much newer (it even had seat belts, although they didn't work) and in much better shape. That particular driver was an amazingly nice, friendly, helpful gentleman who was the exception to the rule. There's always one.

We jumped in, explained that we needed to go to Immigration as quickly as possible. There is no actual literal translation for "quickly" in Spanish, the closest you can get is something to the effect of "before the change of seasons", and the driver slowly drove us to the Customs building. "No, not the Customs building, the Immigration building!" we explained. "Oh, senior, I'm not sure I know where this is." he replied in Spanish. Now Mazatlan is not big. There are about seven government buildings all in an area smaller than a college campus, and this guy grew up there, in a port city where cruisers regularly get rides to these buildings, yet he wasn't sure if he knew where they were. This is equivalent to growing up in a kitchen and not being sure about the location of the silverware drawer. God may have created man, but taxi drivers are definitely the work of the devil. But, I'm not bitter.

So, we rushed over to Immigration...eventually, after first driving through several blocks of town, every known road bump in Mazatlan, and backtracking twice. We pulled up to the offices and asked the cabbie if he would wait--we would only be a minute. They were standing in front of the doors looking as if they might close them at any moment. So we ran up, pushed past the guard at the door, and delivered our paper work to the guy at the front desk. He had cultivated the kind of posture that communicates completely just how annoying your presence is to him, and that if only you would go away he could get on with chatting-up the clerk. He droned, "Oh...okay...please sit over there, on those chairs with the other five moldering Americans and we will let you know when we can process your paperwork." We sat down on chairs that were probably discarded by the Port Captain's Office as being too comfy, and waited. And waited. And waited.

Picture an old Spanish building that has been converted into a government office. Imagine twenty five Mexican government workers, all milling about it. There are several back offices, they all have very comfortable chairs in them. Whenever a door opens you can see several other workers all sitting in them, drinking coffee and chatting amiably. There is exactly one desktop computer in the entire building. There is a pile of paperwork along the right side it. A clerk sits in front of it, typing with two fingers, for about three minutes, then picks up a folder from the pile and moves it to another, much smaller pile on the left. She has that look about her that suggests perhaps she was given this job more for her assets than qualifications. Her assets are cresting out of her uniform.

She then gets up, fixes her makeup, adjusts her navy blue polyester stretch pants which are one size too small and teeters off on three inch high heels-- no doubt these are also part of the Immigrations uniform. She comes back a few minutes later and chats with several other "workers" (I use this term because, technically, they are being paid for this), all of whom are standing around chatting with all the intensity of purpose you see in any union run GM manufacturing plant. In the meantime, the front desk person places folders on the ever growing pile on the right.

Eventually the clerk returns, sits back to the computer and repeats her data entry process. The pile on the right continues to grow. The pile on the left can be seen to increase only by archaeological standards. Paint dries faster. Plus, you suddenly realize that since the front desk person is placing the folders on the top (not bottom) of the right pile, the only way your paperwork will be processed is if you can prevent anyone else from submitting a request. We tried standing in the parking lot and warning newcomers about the problem they are having here with contagious plague, but others must have already tried this before us because everyone just assumed we were talking about the city water supply.

After about twenty minutes, we begin to realize that they aren't going to actually do anything. We approach the front desk guy and ask what is going on. This seems to generate some interest. They explain that it will take another hour, and that we should come back after lunch. "Won't you be closed?" we ask. They assure us that they won't. We jump back in the cab and ask him to take us to a restaurant. He drives us over to the seaside board walk area, we find a restaurant to have lunch. We ask how much...he says five hundred pesos. We laugh a lot. A typical taxi ride is six pesos. Fortunately, he had parked illegally, and a truck and bus have both pulled up behind him and begun honking their horns. Robinson negotiates with him, we agree on something not completely absurd, pay him and walk away in disgust. Fucking taxi cab drivers. When I'm elected emperor, you best not be wearing a peaked cap.

So we ate lunch at a really great restaurant, great service, and the chef, an American, came over to make sure we were enjoying the meal, discovered we needed to know if the Port Captain would be open tomorrow and even called some friends to find out for us. Sadly, I cannot, for the life of me, remember the restaurant, but if you're in Mazatlan, and standing in front of a bronze mermaid, it's just behind you.

We then went back to the Immigrations office. They were closing the doors as we arrived. We again pushed our way past the guard, who didn't want to let us in, found the front desk guy and asked what was going on. "Oh, why did you leave?" he asked. "Because you told us to." we explained. "Oh, no, no. We are closed." he answered. We started arguing with him about it, with it becoming clear that they weren't interested in doing anything this late in the day (hell, it was almost 3:15) and that we weren't going to be able to get Robert on his flight. At that point Robert became very agitated and tried to explain the necessity of getting this done today, as his flight left tomorrow afternoon. "Senior, my bicycle is tomorrow!" he said in his best pleading Spanish. Everyone stopped speaking. Robinson turned and looked at him as if he had he'd just sprouted twigs. Even the front desk guy didn't know how to respond. There was an uncomfortable silence while both Robinson and the front desk guy both stared at him like the dog on the RCA Victor label.

Eventually Robinson regained the momentum, explained the situation, and somehow convinced them to complete our paperwork right now. Mostly because I think they realized we were already back inside, and prepared to sit in their office until sunrise if need be, and because they felt bad for us having a retarded child with us. Of course, that wasn't going to stop them from fucking with us. "Oh, well, we cannot process your paperwork without copies of your passports." he said. "Oh, no problemo, Senior, I have them here." I replied, pulling out several copies of each of our passports. "Oh, no, mi amigo [technically, that's Spanish for "my friend", but it doesn't mean he's my friend], you must have three copies of every single page, even the blank ones."

Now, at this point I realized that some parts of the Mexican bureaucracy hadn't got the latest memo, and that Mazatlan was still back in 70's. "Where can we get copies made?" I asked, vowing to bring my copier with me next time I have to come to any government office. "Oh, just down the street." they explained. We sent Robinson, while Robert and I remained in the building, afraid that if we left they would close. He returned about a half hour later with the copies. We gave them to the front desk guy, he brought them back to some other official, then came back with our paperwork, but not our visas. This is bad because you can't leave the country without them.

"We need a signature from the Port Captain saying that your boat is in the harbor before we can give you the visas." he explained. The fact that more government officials aren't strangled with their own red tape amazes me. I have, however, noticed a very high correlation between countries that insist on strict gun control but permit Byzantine bureaucracy. They obviously know that a well-armed populace would not put up with this shit. We left Robert at the Immigration office again, and went back to the Port Captain's office, but it was closed. We came back. The front desk guy was gone, but the guard was still there. He insisted the Port Captain's office was open. We explained that we were just there, and it wasn't.

There were several phone calls made to the now off work front desk guy's cell phone. The guard then explained that we could also have the harbor master at Club Nautico write it. Robinson and I jumped back in another cab. As we rode back to the harbor, we decided that it would have been significantly less paperwork if we'd just thrown Robert overboard and declared him missing at sea. We asked the taxi to wait while Wendy signed off on our documentation. She quickly wrote us a cover letter, and we shot back to Immigrations. We showed them the letter, they stamped it, stamped our new crew list, and finally gave us back our visas.

Robert was safely off the list, so he could leave. Now, all we had to do was get the Port Captain to sign off on our new crew list tomorrow and we could leave. In the meantime, we had to spend yet another day in town. As we went back to the boat we noticed the wildest sunset I've ever seen in my life. This was unlike anything else I've ever witnessed. The clouds had an almost velvety sheen to them, and there appeared to be a monstrous face staring down at us. Double click on the picture and look at it in full size, it was really very spooky looking. No doubt we'd angered the Gods Of Bureaucracy. Mother Nature doesn't have a thing on the Red Tape Demon hovering over us today!

We were exhausted, and went back to the boat, then wandered over to Henry and JJ's for drinks. We had a great time hanging out on their cat, it was spacious and quite comfortable. They had an "owner's version" where the entire starboard hull is basically a single living space. Their shower had a glass wall, very elegant and stylish. Definitely a boat worth cruising in!

The next morning we got up, saw Robert off to the airport (it was the first time he's smiled since the day before), and headed in to get our new crew list signed off. The Port Captain's office was open, but he wasn't there. The office worker told us to leave the documents and come back at 11am. We really weren't sure if that was such a good idea, but we were hungry and didn't have any better options. We left, had lunch, came back, and found the Port Captain. He still hadn't signed our document. We started to worry. He asked us when we were leaving. "Oh, right now!" we both chorused back. "Oh, okay." he said, and signed our paperwork.

We sighed our relief, left immediately, and headed into town. We had no intention of leaving until after I'd found the parts I needed to make another windlass control switch. In fact, he had no real authority to tell us when to leave. We were check into the country, and had a valid crew list. We could come and go as we pleased. So we walked around Mazatlan looking for an electronics shop. Now, in most places in the states, specialty electronics shops are not all found six on a street. In Mazatlan, they are.

You need Tupperware, you go to the Tupperware section of town. Bath salts? That's over on the East side, where in a two block radius you'll find thirty stores that specialize in them. You want a pinata, you need to find the pinata district, where there will be fifty stores within four blocks, all selling the exact same merchandise. We couldn't find the electronics area. We found someone who repaired radios. He sold us a toggle switch, then he directed us to another shop several blocks away. They didn't have the parts we needed either, but told us about another store several more blocks to the north. That store didn't have anything either. We kept walking. We eventually found an intersection with an electronics stores on every corner, and three more within a hundred yards. I bought a plastic box and some switches.

We went back to the boat and within a few minutes I'd fabricated a new windlass controller switch box. It wasn't waterproof, but it worked just fine, at least good enough for our purposes, and we were able to untie from our neighbors and anchor directly. That night we went into the town center for a decent meal before we headed out the next day. The town "centro" is very pretty, with many upscale open air restaurants and night clubs surrounding it. We bumped into Henry and J.J., along with several other cruiser friends of theirs.

We enjoyed a few drinks, had dinner, then found a small night club that had a local band. They were called Addiction, and they rocked. Sort of hard to describe their sound, almost heavy metal but with less ragged edge and a lot of traditional Mexican flavor rounding out their sound. The lead singer is also their bassist, which always impresses me. I got to chat with Richie their lead guitarist, the newest member of the band. He said they had been around for a while and that they had a bit of a following, but were mostly a local area band. I was really disappointed to learn that they hadn't produced any CD's yet, but if anyone comes across one in the future, please send me a copy!

They played many original tunes, did a number of cover tunes, including a fantastic version of "Sweet Child Of Mine", and a few traditional Mexican songs but with clearly their own spin on them. The crowds loved them. If you are ever in Mazatlan, check them out! Their first set is great, but the second set was jumping.

Oh, and the bar had the best bathroom signs I've ever come across. The men's room and lady's room signs defy description, but I will give it my best try. First, the men's room sign is a picture of a man peeing while standing in that knees slightly bent, arched back position every guy who has had too many beers knows as "The Pause That Refreshes." Including a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I love this country!!

The woman's room sign goes from the sublime to the absurd. There is a picture of what I can only assume is a bulimic woman wearing high heels in the act of inducing herself to vomit while fanning away what appears to be a very powerful fart. Or perhaps she is applying lipstick. It isn't clear. But the reverse image of herself in the mirror is a nice touch and the large red M probably means something in Spanish, but I couldn't figure out exactly what. There is also a wedding cake with a drain attached. Perhaps this is why she is retching? Either way, it stopped me in my tracks for several minutes while I simply stared at it, causing some consternation among the various female patrons as I stood transfixed in front of the women's rest room. They eyed me suspiciously, but assumed from my dress and lack of social manners that I must be a gringo or dismissed me as simply retarded. Eventually the owner asked why I was photographing their wall, but I was unable to express complex ideas like "ennui" and "horror" in Spanish, so instead I smiled and said "Dondeh estan ill banjo", which is Spanish for "please ignore me, I am an idiot".

The night dragged on, we stayed out too late, eventually wandered back to the boat, and woke up the next morning and headed out across the Sea of Cortez, for Cabo San Lucas. And, if we can overcome our burning desire to turn around and head for Cartegena, we should have good winds and relatively calms seas on our trip. We wish you all as much.

Talk to you next when we reach Cabo San Lucas.

Cheers for now.



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