After our last package to Costa Rica arrived, we could move on. The package was originally supposed to be delivered to Papagayo Marina, but was sent to Quepos Marina. It turned out that the import service did not deliver to Marina Papagayo at all, although they said they served all the major marinas in Costa Rica. Well, maybe that’s only two. After several emails and WhatsApp conversations, we finally had a date when the package should arrive in Playas del Coco. We used Gunter Winter’s address again. It was scheduled to come in the morning. I informed them that we would not be there before 10 am. I could have saved me the trouble, because the parcel was delivered at 14:30 “in the morning”. During the waiting time we were well looked after by Gunter and Maria, there was even Roulade to eat (a german dish) – very tasty.
In the package was our new microwave, which at first looked different from the old one and also didn’t seem to fit into the cupboard. After unscrewing a panel with a “do not remove” sticker on it, the microwave looked more like the old one. Now only the feet were different, but we could change the brackets on the cabinet and it fitted. After Mathias had removed several wooden boards from the cabinet, he also sawed an additional ventilation opening in the the back of the cabinet, after all, the old microwave had died of overheating. This problem has now been solved. Another spare part was supposed to be a hinge for one of our toilet lids. But instead of a hinge, Neel had sent two new toilet seats. Why? These seats did not fit any of our three on-board toilets. Well, for the broken one it was just possible with a bit of good will to put the lid on, it protrudes a bit and is a bit too short at the front, but has no metal hinges anymore. We stowed the old one away in case you can buy a new hinge.
Now nothing could stop us and since Playas del Coco was the port to clear out, we set about this task on a Tuesday, because we wanted to leave on Wednesday. The Carry On had also arrived in the bay in the meantime. This is also a Neel 51 (YouTube Carry On Sailing) and we wanted to sail up to Mexico together to increase safety a bit.
The clearing out process consists of 3 parts: Immigration, customs and harbour master’s office. The immigration office is on site, but for the customs certificate you have to go to the next larger town (Liberia). There is an airport with a customs station. And you have to pay a fee at a bank. Fortunately, there is a direct bus connection to the airport and the bus was right in front of us. So we hopped in. At the airport everything went well, the customs officers came out to us in the hall, collected the papers, issued the certificate and brought it back out to us. On the way back, we caught the same bus we had come in on. In the meantime, it had made its rounds through the city. On we went to the bank and the immigration office, luckily I had already made plenty of copies of our passports and ship’s papers in Panama City, as well as several copies of a crew list in Spanish, otherwise we would have had to look for a copy shop as well. After a lot of stamping and patient waiting, we had done it. Now we had to leave within 24 hours, otherwise the procedure would start all over again. So there was still time for a last shopping trip in the great local supermarket before we went back to the SAN.
It took us just under 4 days and 3 nights to reach Mexico. However, there were quite a few engine hours. The wind was too light over long distances, or came too directly from the front. We did not want to go to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. Although pirate activity in these countries is said to be limited to the Caribbean side, we would have had to do a Covidtest each time and go through the complicated entry and exit procedures. El Salvador even has only one marina where you can check in and out and it is only accessible when the swell is not too high. There are some wild reports of yachts that have surfed into it. Not an adventure that enticed us.
Really fast sailing was only possible in one night on the route to Mexico. It started quite normally: Mathias wanted to lie down and briefed me on the course and the situation. Good, everything was agreed and understood. We had full sails out, i.e. main without reefing and the genoa. No sooner do I sit at the helm for a while and just get a feel for the ride than the wind changes. Instead of 10 knots, it’s now almost constantly 15 knots. Hm, at 16 knots we should start thinking about reefing and the boat is already cranking a bit ….. No use, Mathias has to be woken up again. He decided to leave the sails up and use the wind, but in the meantime there was a lot of lightning diagonally in front of us and next to us. Thunder was not to be heard, so the thunderstorms were further away, but it is still impressive when the night is lit up by lightning on the horizon and it was probably better that we were both awake to be able to react quickly if necessary. For a while, two tankers passed us that night. One of them had been radioed by Mathias while he was still on watch, but had not responded, not even to a DSC call (a kind of sms by radio). Together with James from Carry On, Mathias decided at that point to switch from engine to sail. This made both our boats slow down and prevent a collision course. The second one had seen us via AIS and changed its course accordingly, which made sailing a bit more relaxed during the strong wind. The next one was then a fishing boat, of course without AIS and also not visible on the radar, only by the lights we knew where it was and could avoid it.
With the Carry On we stayed together quite well. At first we were about 20 nm apart because James was cruising and fishing, but then we got back on the same page and sailed a small distance apart. They came right up to us in calm seas, passed starboard to starboard and threw a packet of fresh fish over to us. Ready filleted!! That’s service! We ate some of it right away. Freshly caught fish tastes really good.
The border station in the south of Mexico is Puerto Madero with Marina Chiapas. The marina is reached from the port through a small channel and is appropriately sheltered inland. This means it is sheltered from the wind (no cooling wind) and hot. The boats around us turned on their air-conditions and we sweated.
Now the formalities began in the other direction: clearing in. Harbour master and immigration – no problem. They came with a machine gun and a drug dog, but they were super nice, even the dog, a one-year-old German shepherd. We were able to keep all our fruit and meat in the freezer. So far so good, if it weren’t for customs. The next customs stations are at the border to Guatemala. The marina organises a taxi ride there, also good. But then the problems started. Our boat was bought through French Leasing, i.e. officially it belongs to a bank. If you buy a boat directly and take it out of the EU for more than 3 years, you have to pay VAT a second time when bringing it back to the EU. This law, which is difficult to understand, does not apply if the boat belongs to a bank based in the EU (= French Leasing, because this system was developed in France.) Mexican customs were bothered by the fact that we were not the owners and that the leasing contract had been running for longer than 3 months. Depending on which border officials were spoken to, further documents were necessary, which we requested by mail from the leasing bank. Our port neighbour had a similar problem, his boat belonged to a company, but the company in turn belonged to him, but that didn’t count. Mathias and our neighbour tried their luck for three days. In the end, only the marina boss helped and got the matter “sorted out”.
There is not much to see around the marina. The next town is called Tapachula and is not very pretty. We tried to visit a small Mayan ruin site. According to the sign, it would have been open, but the ruins were overgrown with grass and when we went onto the site, a woman with two dogs came out of a house and chased us away quite unfriendly.
So far we don’t really feel welcome in Mexico. The people are supposed to be friendlier further north……
This is true, as I will tell in the next report, but we are still struggling with the circumstances in Mexico. For example, this report was uploaded using free roaming of our Panama Sim Card. The Mexican sim card could not be topped up by credit card, you need a postal code. However, the prepaid deal of the Panamanian card is better anyway, there is just not the right network coverage everywhere.
Small excerpt of messages from the line chat group: