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Notes For Mexico Vets Planning a Puddle Jump

Some Things I Would Have Liked to Have Known

So you’ve spent a season or two or three doing the Mexico Yo-Yo up and down from San Carlos to Zihua, or just been hanging around Mazatlan, La Paz, or Good Ole Banderas Bay, and you get this yen to venture west and see the fabled Isles of the South Pacific.  Good on ya, mate, it’s better out here than you could ever imagine, but you should know you’re in for some changes.  You start by reading everything you can get your hands on and preparing your boat, dreaming about warm tradewinds and downwind sailing.  No doubt you’ll get lots of advice from every direction, but here are just a few things I wish I’d paid more attention to, for what it’s worth!

  1. Plan on sailing a lot, make sure your sails are new or as good as, but make sure your engine is in the best possible shape also.  You may think you’ve done a lot of sailing in your time, but ~23 days and nights uninterrupted probably hasn’t happened to you yet.  You’ll want to really know and practice your stuff as far as reefing in all kinds of situations, using that whisker or spinnaker pole to wing out your headsail, having lots of practice flying the cruising chute and getting the sock back on without snagging, trimming and tweaking for speed, etc -all the while watching for chafe!  The sun will brutalize an older sail, and it will start ripping here, there, and everywhere, especially if it rubs on something even slightly.  The engine will be needed more than you think, also, and must be in tip-top shape with spare everythings on board.  The obvious extra fluids, filters, belts, impellers and hoses will be important of course, but anything you haven’t just replaced will need a spare as well, like water pumps, alternators, starters, injectors, solenoids, you name it, you’ll probably need it.  Getting things sent from home is very expensive and time consuming.  Several boats had following seas intrude into their engines and cause major headaches or need for re-powering, so you’ll want to make sure the vented loop on your exhaust line is working, and/or install a rubber flap if your exhaust exits on your stern.  In our case, our exhaust riser broke in the Tuamotus, cutting our visit short there and requiring sailing into Papeete.  Later people told us we should have checked/replaced it every 5 years…who knew?  Oh yeah, this all assumes you have learned your engine and have the tools and skills necessary to work on a lot of it…do you?  But the bottom line is, you will be doing a lot of sailing, and it will be a good thing if you are proficient at hand-steering because…
  2. The Autopilot will not be available.  I can’t tell you exactly, but I’d guess almost half the folks we talked to had autopilot failure, and about as many had no luck with their wind-vane steering also.  Of course the autopilot uses lots of amps, so that is a limitation in itself unless you have lots of solar panels or other means of making up the electrical deficit, but the following seas put such a strain on your rudder that the unit will just get tired after awhile, even if you have a linear drive unit.  For the same reason, wind-steering units have a tough time.  No matter how well you get the boat balanced, a wave will knock your stern around and you’ll be off course.  (Monitor owners were the happiest, by the way, and Hydrovane owners like us the least happy).  So by the time you get to the Marquesas, you’ll likely be really good at hand-steering.
  3. Anchoring out here is a pain.  Almost as many as have autopilot failures have windlass failures as well.  This included us because the old windlass suddenly had to deal with an all-chain rode and repeatedly coral-bound stuck anchors.  In the Marquesas it wasn’t too bad, but the Tuamotus are full of mushroom-shaped coral heads that just love to snag anchors but good.  The upside is that you won’t worry about dragging, but lots of folks had to dive (or hire a diver) to get free.  Often your choice is between setting at the edge of a reef where you may be in trouble if the wind shifts, or setting in very deep water, like 50 feet or more.  Assuming it works, your gear is going to be hanging really heavy on the windlass while you pick it up.  Have a good windlass.
  4. Shelepping Jerry Jugs is a way of life.  Both for water and fuel, since there just aren’t many marinas out here, or fuel docks for that matter.  A block and tackle will make it easier to get them aboard from the dinghy, and a collapsible hand-truck to roll them around on shore also makes life easier.  You may think you can use your water maker, but some anchorages just aren’t clean enough to make water.
  5. Passage planning is important to arrive in daylight.  Enough said.
  6. Get ready for lots of rain.  If you’re used to dry Mexico weather it will surprise you how much it rains out here.  The nice thing is that it’s warm rain and a swimsuit is just as good (or better) than foulies, but if your boat has a few deck leaks like ours, it will be drippy down below.  A cockpit cover or bimini with gutters and a drain hose can help catch water for showers later, though, and some even put the rainwater right into their tanks, so that can be an upside.
  7. Don’t let little sores get infected.  You’ve probably heard all the health warnings, but you really won’t want to get nasty skin infections.  Also along those lines, you’ll want to bring lots of bug repellent from home.  It’s hard to find and local brands are not real effective here.
  8. They don’t use 110V power anywhere out here, it’s all 240V.  I had heard this, and brought a little step-down converter, but it wasn’t robust enough and a good one cost us dearly in Tahiti.  Of course if you never go into a marina no problem, but there are a couple out here, and it is a real luxury to tie up and plug in for a bit.  Plus the plugs are all different- round ones in French Polynesia and angled flat ones in other places.  Buy the adaptors at home where they’re cheap.  One good thing is the computer charger was good for either 110 or 220, so no worries taking the laptop ashore and plugging in anywhere- just need that plug adaptor.
  9. Bring Big Bags of Cash!  Not really cash, understand, because almost everywhere you go they’ll have ATMs that dispense local currency, but the point is, this ain’t cheap out here.  If you don’t smoke, drink, or buy much of anything from the grocery store, you’ll still spend a lot for fuel and basic necessities.  If you do have any vices or like to eat something besides fish and rice/beans, you’ll be amazed at the cost of everything.   It all has to come from somewhere else far away, and especially in the case of booze, taxed heavily by the local governments.  The days of $1 beers in Mexico will be a fond memory as you pay $3-$5 each out here.  As a matter of fact, whatever your monthly budget was in Mexico, plan on at least double out here.

Nothing here is intended to dissuade you from sailing into the sunset as we have done, it’s all just meant to prepare you for the reality of it.  I wouldn’t have changed my mind if someone had told me they still practice cannibalism out here, but in reality it’s been at least 100 years since they’ve quit that on most islands…just kidding…not.  See ya out here!

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