Snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez is usually so great that there isn’t much motivation to scuba dive (other than to clean the hull of the boat!), but this past week, we did a great wreck dive that we’ve been wanting to do since we arrived in Mexico.
The Fang Ming is important to Mexico as it was the first intentionally sunken ship to create an artificial reef in all of Latin America. This ship has a happy ending, but a sad tale overall.
The Fang Ming was a 180′ Chinese fishing vessel that was seized by authorities after discovering that they were smuggling almost 100 Chinese migrant workers trying to reach the USA. There were 88 men and 7 women kept aboard this very confined space. Everyone was rescued, processed in the USA and eventually returned to China; it was sunk in November of 1999 and currently sits in 65′ of water.
We anchored just north around the corner at Ensenada de Gallina and took our dinghy to the dive site.
It’s marked with a yellow buoy, which isn’t attached to the ship, so it’s a bit confusing if you dive it alone. You have to follow the buoy line down and travel south on the bottom for another 40′ or so until you reach the hulking shadow of the ship.
Today, the ship is host to an abundance of wildlife, and there are cool swim throughs and dark corners to explore. It’s in remarkably good condition.
On the day we dove it, we were the only ones there, and we were going to anchor our dinghy near by, but the water was rough, and our dinghy anchor wasn’t holding in the sandy bottom (we likely need some chain rode for our dink anchor), so we just tied off to the buoy on the surface. We saw 8 large Loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles, parrot fish, box fish, puffer fish, wrasse, hog fish, trigger fish, grunts, angel fish, grouper, jacks and more!
Coming up was a bit of a challenge because the visibility was only about 25 feet, and we overshot our dinghy location, so we had to swim a ways back, but it was a fun afternoon adventure!
I’ve always said that intuition was born of wisdom, and this couldn’t be more true in these days. While most of our friends and family are in quarantine in the USA, navigating the frustrations and heartbreak of this new life, we also have unique challenges being in another country, out on the sea.
We deliberately left corporate jobs, sold companies, sold our house, downsized, started new digital nomad careers, and sailed away – relying on a retirement portfolio and new reduced income streams to fund our new way of life. We don’t have any regrets, but it’s created a new host of uncertainties we hadn’t expected. In truth, I was worried about the following things happening when we took off two years ago – two of which have already happened:
A rogue wave
Getting caught in a hurricane
Boat breaking down in the middle of the ocean (happened twice)
Hitting a whale (already happened)
We certainly didn’t have Zombie Apocalypse on our global Bingo card!
Like most natural and human made emergencies, nothing is a problem….until it is. Mexico was late coming to the emergency of COVID19 and still is pretty sleepy compared to many other parts of the USA and the world right now, but if you believe it’s coming, then you have to prepare. And, while we have it pretty good on a house that moves (our sailboat), there are still many restrictions that limit our mobility.
In the past 48 hours, Mexico has locked down whole cities and towns, making it impossible to go in and out unless you can prove residency. They have made it illegal to do any kind of recreational activity, and this means sailing. Mexico has also locked down national park islands and coves where we normally anchor, and some ports have now made it illegal to enter/exit unless you can prove you are transiting to another port or entering for fuel or provisions. Something that has never happened before. So, we are now locked down in a marina – sailing season is effectively over.
And, this brings me back to trusting your gut.
When you start to gain knowledge, stay calm and listen to your inner voice, it almost always tells you what to do. I’m not just talking about a Fight or Flight mechanism. I’m talking about what is right for you and when – even if no one else seems to be following your lead. Kirby and I have watched enough pandemic, apocalypse films and TV to know that you must keep moving forward – at all costs. If you stand still or freeze up, you have a greater chance of something worse happening. Yes, I know it’s TV, but I also believe it to be real life, and it’s served us well over the years – even during times of much less strife.
So, when we decided to leave Puerto Vallarta 2 months earlier than planned (after my trip to Turkey was canceled) to get back to La Paz, where we have our car and a safe marina slip reserved for our boat this summer, we decided to do it. Some people told us we were overreacting, we should wait for a better southern wind weather window, and that it would be fine. Now, just two weeks later, as anchorages and ports are closing, with the coast guard patrolling daily broadcasting warnings, we feel so much better to be snug as a bug in our boat in one of the safest marinas in the southern Baja. If things get a lot worse, we can always jump in our car and drive north or sail north…
Stop negative spiraling thoughts by refocusing your brain on what you see, hear, smell, or taste
Try to live your life and carry on as normally as possible
Empower yourself with knowledge
We are still happy to be on a sailboat looking out at the water, enjoying the sunshine, and watching the sunset, even if we cannot really leave our boat. As long as our internet holds out for us to continue to do work and communicate, we’ll be just fine. And, in the meantime, the wildlife here reminds us that the Earth is healing herself.
When “moving” to a new place for living aboard, it’s important to pick the right marina, the right anchorage or place to stay, particularly if you’ll be there for a period of time. In an anchorage, it’s fairly easy to pick up and move if you don’t like it, but in a busy marina, where you have to reserve a slip weeks in advance, it takes a bit more thought.
For us, our criteria is usually the same and fairly basic, but there is always the subjective “feel” of a place that is hard to capture, and let’s be honest, everyone has their own opinions on these things. Our first impressions of Puerto Vallarta are great. It’s been decades since we were here last (via land), but the city has grown up to be a lovely place with a vibrant arts and music scene. Banderas Bay is a beautiful bay to sail in, where the wind is usually perfect for sailing in the winter months.
In Mexico, you cannot believe what is written on a marina website as there tends to be misleading or untrue information listed; often times, if I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, they ASPIRE to the benefits posted, but just haven’t gotten around to making it all happen. In the USA, this would never happen. Someone would be sued, the site would be shut down, fines would be levied, etc. But, this is Mexico – Caveat emptor! The best way to understand a place is to go there yourself first, before sailing there, but that isn’t always feasible or practical.
So, now we are in Puerto Vallarta, in Marina Vallarta, which is the closest marina to downtown PV in Banderas Bay. Operated by Bay View Grand, their website is wildly misleading and or just flat out incorrect, so here goes my review, as of January, 2020:
WHAT WE LIKE HERE:
It’s minutes from the airport (we will be traveling a lot, so being close to the aiport is a plus), close to downtown with a multitude of restaurants, busses/great transportation options, and one of the best marine stores we have ever been to (Zaragoza Marine).
The docks are secure, with a friendly security guard at each gate; there is a cardkey pass (with a deposit of 500 pesos), the electricity and water seems consistent without surges or outages – there is an extra cost and all metered. The water is non-potable, so you’ll be hauling drinking water or making water with dock water if you have an RO system on board as we do.
It’s a dynamic location with a lot going on – including an energetic Thursday evening market with crafts and food.
There are crocodiles, which really are very cool (and hardly worth being concerned over, although you should watch that your small dog doesn’t wander along the water’s edge alone). In the mornings, the Kiskadees are your alarm clock (if the mariachi music doesn’t wake you first).
There is a great little bookstore/coffeeshop that is worth visiting, the Living Room Cafe & Bookstore, a nearby Starbucks with fast wifi, and many restaurants, bars and stores.
I’ve included a map (above), so you can see where the office, showers, bathrooms, laundry and ATM is, as we couldn’t find this information online anywhere. The website advertises “best in the region ” internet, pump out services, pool passes, laundry, showers and more! Most of these claims are not true and do not actually exist:
SOME CONS TO BEING IN THIS MARINA:
As we have heard from many sailors, this is NOT a cruiser’s marina. This is generally a marina for charter fishing boats or large power yachts. There is no service directory or map, the office staff – although friendly – doesn’t know much about boats (they do not understand simple terminology such as “we need a port/starboard tie”), no guidance on resources to clean your hull, change zincs or wash your boat. Some of these may be found on the Cruiser’s Net at 8:30am CT M-S on VHF Channel 22 and on the Banderas Bay Cruisers FB page or by just walking around and asking people. There are also several FB pages for PV that have invaluable information for the area.
There is no pump out service. The office staff told us to go north to La Cruz. I can guarantee you that no one is sailing their boats 2-3 hours north to complete a pump out….and in fact, one day, I saw some human waste float by (eeewwww!), so you know people are just pumping their waste into the marina (double eeewwwww!). Welcome to Mexico.
The internet and wifi is so bad it’s truly unusable. The office nearly refuses to give you a code because they say it won’t work anywhere. We have a wifi extender, and that is the only way we are getting online, but even then, it’s slow at best. We work at the nearby Starbucks if needed and use our 4G Telcel SIM cards otherwise.
There are no laundry facilities. There are laundry services for drop off (not affliated with the marina), but you have to pay by the kilo and cannot do it yourself (see map for 2 locations).
There is no pool pass. The office staff looks at you as if you’re making this stuff up when asked, even though it’s listed on their website.
The bathrooms are newer but not very clean. There is an A/C unit inside which helps keeps the humidity down, but only 1 shower and 1 sink works in the women’s bathroom, and there is less than 2 minutes of hot water available, generally.
It is “vibrant” – which means it can be boisterous. Loud music from the restaurants, construction noise from the workers who are on the charter boats everyday, and from tourists and holiday-makers. Surprisingly, with its proximity to the aiport, you don’t really hear airplane noise.
All that being said, we really like PV, we are here for a few months, making the best of it and enjoying the proximity to downtown. We will be checking out Nuevo Vallarta and La Cruz, where we will likely end up next and look forward to “finding our people” in another location…which may be back in La Paz!
Living an expat life, on a boat, in a developing country brings out all sorts of characters, crusaders and criminals.
The Characters, as you can imagine, are as varied and diverse as they are interesting. Salty sailors (mostly men) whose wives have left them or who refuse to live this life full time, the ultimate in bachelor pads. Wearing the same Hawaiian inspired print shirt day after day complete with some sort of shell necklace and a well-past-its-prime straw hat, these characters claim they are seeking solitude, but when you get them out for a beer, you cannot shut them up; they have more extroverted vs. hermit tendencies, who would give that Hawaiian shirt off their back to you if you needed it (along with well worn advice about weather, hurricanes, and Mexico culture).
The Crusaders see the Sea as something to be conquered or endured. They boast of their year-round living aboard in a heat index that averages 112 degrees in these summer months, and they often have a story of saving a whale, a boat or life during a storm. Theirs is a badge of honor to endure the conditions and often loneliness of sailing. Both the Characters & Crusaders are generous with their time and resources – bestowing fresh fish, engine parts or advice as needed.
Then, you have the Criminals. These are the people who couldn’t make it in the “real world” or who are escaping something sinister and nefarious. Like our neighbor here (about 100 yards away), who, immediately after meeting him, claimed theirs was a “Naked Boat”, and so it is….morning, noon and night, this guy and his younger “caregiver”, who is looking after his 80 year old mother with dementia, are naked as the day is long. We’ve since learned this guy has a sordid and ugly past, and his host of stories must be true because you cannot make up the things he says. Kirby tried helping him one day with his anchor, and the minute they got to his boat, he dropped his pants and climbed aboard his boat, leaving Kirby with a Junk-In-The-Face moment that I’m sure he won’t soon forget….
You’ve gotta be a little crazy to live this life. I’m leaving out the rest of the “normal” people here because in comparison, they/we are all just incredibly boring…
Recently, we had some friends visit us from Michigan, and their lovely photos from our trip together reminded us how beautiful the beaches are, how great the restaurants, and how wonderfully laid back the town. Here are a few of our favorites (all photos courtesy of Seth & Daniela)
Balandra Beach, which is north, nearly at the end of the peninsula from La Paz, is a picture-perfect place to spend the day, drink coconut water, kayak, swim and enjoy the crystal clear waters. We were there early during mid week, and we had the place almost entirely to ourselves.