One week at the marina(s) in friendly Mazatlan

After our crazy day in Deer Island, we had decided to go for our monthly marina pit stop, or more exactly the goose-neck and its worriesome sound had decided for us. That being said, there was no reason to postpone refilling our water tanks, giving Tirb a big clean up and provisioning was a must, although it can also be made from anchor. Jeff from Isla San Francisco had notified his Mazatlan-based friends Neill and Jeanette and they had strongly recommended their home marina, Isla Marina. They had the cheapest rate we had ever been able to get so we were in! Big coincidence: we ran into Neilz and Janet’s trimaran Shazam in Deer Island and had ended up anchored next to them (small world!). We knew they were in one of the city anchorages but what were the odds that we would find them right away? We made contact on the VHF and decided to meet more substantially in person when we’d make it to Isla Marina.

Night in Deer Island: after the party, fishermen come to fish at night

To give you some context, Mazatlan has two protected harbors: one on the North that shelters the recreational marinas and an industrial, so called deep-water habor in the South, where the ferry from Baja arrives, among other commercial and cruising ships. We had originally planned on spending our time in the commercial harbor. First, I (Marie) personally love industrial ships and their infrastructures, that I find almost poetic – that scares Yalçın out! – and, second, there was a free sheltered anchorage by the Club Nautico, which, we read, in addition to providing a dinghy dock, could arrange most of the things we needed. But anyway, we had upcoming repairs and we decided to go with the recommendations of the locals (which were an unusual luxury for us to have!).

That’s how on Monday, we started hailing and calling Isla Marina both on the VHF and on the phone. We ended up getting a hold of them on WhatsApp, which is pretty popular way to communicate in Mexico (likely because most phone provider have it included unlimited in their plans): their office was close today and they couldn’t tell us which slip was available, we would have to wait for the next day. The typical “mañana” of the laid back Mexican attitude we would learn later on. No problem! We had a backup, there were 3 other marinas in the harbor, we just went to the next cheapest on, the public FONATUR marina. No answer either… The next on our list was interesting: Marina El Cid. More expensive than our first two ones, it was part of a resort and we would have access to all the stuff in the resort, like fancy pools and on-site services. They also had one of the two fuel docks and advertised drinking water on the dock tap, a great convenience compared to buying and filling the tanks with the 19L/5Ga jugs (the only option in most marinas). The staff ended up recommending that we don’t use the water for drinking despite their advertisement, but we didn’t know when I hailed my third marina on VHF channel 16. I got a response right away, which made me suspect that they heard me hail the two other marina before them… Slightly embarrassing but oh well! They gave us the direction and confirmed the rate: we were set!

As expected, the entrance of the recreational habor was a little impressive. It can even be inaccessible under certain swell conditions. That day, the swell wasn’t big but we could imagine it’d make the narrow entrance even harder to negotiate! The sandbar to starboard and the dredging barge to port didn’t make it any easier, but soon, we were in! We spotted the El Cid fuel dock easily but a strong current forced us to dock bow first, which wouldn’t make fuelling easier but we’d figured it out once we’d check-in and deal with the paperwork. Meanwhile, some local fishermen had arrived and talked us into buying a red snapper with the marina staff as interpreter. Our aspiring fisherman decided to go for it and looked attentively when one of the fishermen fileted the fish. After fuelling, we were offered two slips: a nice one with two fingers to ourselves which would be appreciable in such current and since we wanted to get some work done, and a backup slip at the end of the dock in case we didn’t want to deal with the manoeuvre of the narrow two finger slip. We opted for trying the hard one, and indeed it wasn’t going to be easy given the amount of current. Before we were able to change our minds, some other boat has pulled in the back up spot, there was no way back. It took our best pilot 3 trials and a couple of dock hands to pull in. A Canadian couple had tried to dissuade us from taking this slip on the second trial, ensuring they had refused the slip when it had been assigned to them. On the third trial, Yalçın had “gathered enough audience to succeed” as he said jokingly and he managed to perfectly align our bow in front of the opening, in between the fingers. A marina dockhand to starboard and a future neighbor to port took our bowlines and gave us the necessary pull to move in despite the current that would instead push us sideways. Quite an adventure already! We had well deserved our lunch and our dive in at the pool, as well as a lazy/laundry afternoon (which is not that good of a combination in the end).

Fresh fish upon arrival at El Cid marina
Iguanas at El Cid marina

The next day, we decided to stay for one more night since settling in was such a hassle. In addition, we had met some of our neighbors and we liked this friendly cruiser community feeling. The Canadians from Phoenix who had been helpful during our arrival, were leaving for La Paz in a couple of days, and our dock hand had been living in the resort for a while with his wife. After resting and using the pool some more, we finally came to dismantle the boom to check out the state of the goose-neck and hopefully repair it. We also took the mainsail off in the process as we had been wanted to restitch some damaged seams for a while now. While we were working on deck, our closest neighbor came for a chat. His boat Bouby was a recent Dufour registered in German-speaking Basel, Switzerland, but his solid French accent betrayed he was from Lausanne instead as he confessed. He had single-handed his former charter boat all the way from the Lavandou in the Mediterranean and had decided to go North as COVID had altered his plans. He was also bound to cross the Sea of Cortez during the same weather window as Phoenix, but he was aiming for Los Cabos and not La Paz. He was the first blue water cruiser we’d met, who had gone through the Canal! We had many questions and he was visibly excited to share his experience, impressions and opinions, especially since Yalçın said he understood some French. We gave our share of advices about the Sea of Cortez too and finished taking the boom off. We contemplated the idea of staying longer in this marina, but since two nights here would give us three in Isla Mazatlan and since we had told Neill and Jeanette we’d meet them in the marina, we planned to cast off the next morning. An hour or so before we left, a beautiful green double-ender from Sausalito in the San Francisco Bay pulled in the end spot. The boat was manned by an Irish woman and French man who had been in the US for a while and they were bound for La Paz too! He tried to discourage us from changing marinas but our mind was set – would it be that bad and loud to justify the extra bucks as he had told us? People definitely seemed opinionated about where to stay in Mazatlan!

Comme un hommage à ma maman
The land entrance of Isla Marina is well-guarded

And we understood why as we pulled in our slip on Isla Marina: it had way more of a Berkeley marina vibe, as opposed to the more uptight Sausalito or El Cid. For us, it felt more like ‘home’, wasn’t louder than El Cid and we wouldn’t be distracted by the pool. Neilz and Janet welcomed us by taking our lines at the dock, something we aren’t used to and usually complicate our docking plan execution, but we appreciated the friendly gesture, and again planned for catching up at some point. It happened two evenings from then when we invited them in our cockpit for a drink and to share our sparkling wine, offered by my former colleagues and thoroughly saved for after our first crossing!

Our Mazatlecos friends, Jeanette and Neill by the beautiful Shazam

The evening was lovely as we shared both our stories. Ours was only beginning and still immature in comparison. Janet had built their current boat out plywood and epoxy decades ago, the same way Yalçın had built his first boat Zatarra, but scaled up and times three! We were stunned! They both had a lifelong of sailing adventures, as cruisers, captains, boat workers. They had had their lots of life hardships too and yet, they were here, inspiringly joyful and loving their lifestyle. Such a good hope and inspiration for growing older! We hanged out with them another night by the Shazam (which we got the honor to visit) with another dock neighbor, a welcome break from the work. In the meantime, we had tapped a new attachment for the boom to the goose neck, taken out the Sailrite sewing machine to sew everything that we had been postponed for a while (main sail, solar panel attachment, bimini, a beautiful bag for the stern anchor chain…), cleaned the inside and the outside of the boat and dealt with administrative internet-requiring stuff. Our ventures into town had been motivating mostly by buying screws and groceries, but we got a glimpse at the Zona Dorada, the Golden Zone with all the resorts and another Malecon and into the Old Town, that had a feeling of colorful Europe that we both missed.

The goose-neck looking unhappy
And the crew, happy to tap new screw holes!
… and to sew a badass stern anchor chain bag
Main sail love time
The perfect cab during Covid
Screw shopping
The colorful streets of Old Town Mazatlan

On our last day, we finalized our water refill mission that had started the day before in order not to deplete the marina limited stock of jugs. Marina employees who helped us move the jugs to the boat were super friendly and joked a lot, as we had found Mazatlecos. Manual Mesa, aka “Many Tables” to amuse gringos, jokingly tried to convince us to take him with us to Panama and then Stone island, called Yalçın Tarzan after he helped carried a jug of water on his shoulder since the one-by-one transport seemed very inefficient and was happily surprised when we told him our home countries – his favorite telenovela was a Turkish show translated in Spanish! We will also remember Luis, one of our cab drivers, who warmed up to us after we tried to chat with our broken Spanish. It was from Mexico City and gave us his perspective on Mazatlan as he could actually speak some English! Generally speaking, from marina staff to restaurant waiters, people seemed way more inclined for a chat. Perhaps our Spanish was getting better or it was just a large city vibe where people are from many places, but people seemed less offended to speak in English compared to Baja (it’s not our native language either damn!), and people would more commonly ask us where we are from, usually followed by a surprised “it’s very far!”. Once our tank were full, Jeanettet gave us a ride to her favorite “fruiteria” to stock up on produce. We came back with three bags full of fruits and veggies, for a super competitive price and with the hope that these unrefrigerated goods would preserve for a longer time than those found in the supermarket.

After more than a week at the dock, our project list had become reasonable again and we were ready to pursue our voyage South; moreover, we had to in order to honor our appointment in Costa Rica with our dear friends from Berkeley. Our next destination was Stone island, 10 nm South, right outside of the industrial harbor (apparently nicer and only a short panga ride away from the other location in the industrial harbor) where we were planning to spent two nights before jumping to Isla Isabel, aka the Galapagos of Mexico.

In Mazatlan marinas from Monday, April 26th to Tuesday, May 4th

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