Something that I don’t remember reading a single word about back when I was reading lots of cruising blogs, books, and magazine articles before we set out, but which is now an almost daily subject of conversation is the procuring of “stuff” from the US. Oh, I’d occasionally read about someone who couldn’t find peanut butter or their favorite kind of granola, but that stuff didn’t worry me as we planned to eat whatever we could find in the local stores. The stuff I’m talking about is boat stuff.
There are boats in Mexico. Mexican boats. Lots of them. But they mostly tend to be either fiberglass fishing pangas, large commercial shrimp boats or very nice, usually very large sportfishing boats. Not many Mexican sailboats and not many middle-class Mexican boats at all. But still, there are boats. So, you’d figure you should be able to find boat stuff, right? Well, sort of…
One of the things I dearly love and miss about the USA is the ease of getting almost anything I can think of that’s legal. Need a left-hand thread 3/4″ titanium carriage bolt? Just Google it, peruse a few websites to find the best deal, and order it. Depending on the amount you want to pay for shipping, it could be here tomorrow but certainly no more than 7 business days will pass before the little treasure is delivered right to your door. So, since Mexico is still part of Earth, and therefore accessible by UPS, DHL, etc, the options should be the same, right? Well, yeah, sort of…
The first problem arises because most cruisers don’t have a local ship-to address in Mexico. Pretty hard to when we cruise from place to place. But, this is not an insurmountable problem as many marinas and/or yacht brokers will allow us to use their physical addresses to receive mail and packages. OK, so we’ll mark this problem off to “maybe difficult, but certainly not insurmountable”. However, they usually give the disclaimer that, just because the box arrives doesn’t mean there’ll be anything in the box. Stories abound about thievery in Guadalajara where, apparently, all parcels bound for point in mainland Mexico must go through. I have no idea if these stories are true but it does give one pause. Also, I’ve heard of big delays in getting packages through the terminal at Guadalajara. Again, I don’t know the veracity of these stories but you hear then often enough that you kind of hate to take the chance.
The next problem arises with the company doing the shipping. Many have no problem shipping to Mexico but some companies are small enough and inexperienced enough that they balk, thinking it’s going to be difficult. I’ve never shipped anything to Mexico, so I don’t know how difficult it is but I suspect the main difficulty (besides finding a web checkout that accepts international addresses) is convincing the customer that you’re not trying to screw them when you present them with the shipping costs. So what are the shipping costs? I frankly don’t know. I did have an engine part shipped to La Paz the first year we were down here but I don’t remember what it cost. Something like $25.00 sticks in my head. Depending on the size/cost of the item, this doesn’t seem all that out of line, so now what’s the problem?
Well, there’s the boogie man we call “duty”. In spite of NAFTA, we still have to pay duty on many items imported in to Mexico. The duty is something like 17% of the value of the item. If we bring it in by car, we’re allowed a certain dollar amount amount w/o paying duty. Some say this is $40/person, some say $75/person. some say $500/person. No one seems to know for sure. Then there’s also the question of is this exemption real? Again, no one seems to know for sure. But, the point is, if you bring parts in yourself, you’ll only have to pay whatever the Customs folks who are working on that particular day, at that particular hour say. That titanium bolt may not even raise an eyebrow and you’ll slide right through. Also, if you press the button and get the green light at Customs, you’ll likely slide right through w/o even being checked. However, if you have the bolt shipped down directly to you, you WILL pay duty on it. At least that was my experience with the engine part. There are procedures one can go through to bypass paying duty on things like boat repair parts but they are pretty time-consuming and don’t guarantee anything. Such are the rules in Mexico.
So, there’s a legitimate issue: onerous duty charges.
And another one: will I actually get what I ordered and already paid for?
What else? Well, I guess that’s really about it, shipping and duty, charges that seem high and we’d like to avoid if possible. That, and the possibility of your merchandise ending up somewhere other than your hot little hands. So, couldn’t those things be avoided easily just by buying locally? Certainly and we’d all LOVE to do just that. The problem is availability. Some things like anti-fouling bottom paint can be bought readily at any Comex paint store and their bottom paint enjoys a pretty good reputation. But other things like bronze bolts don’t seem to be available anywhere. If they are, the language barrier makes it nearly impossible to find them. Many things that we, at first, think are unavailable, actually are available once you figure out where to look. There are a few Home Depots down here but there are also a lot of tiny little store fronts that sell only one or two things, like fasteners (screws and bolts) for instance. They usually have a great inventory but it takes some local knowledge to find them.
So, three problems: possibility of theft, availability and onerous shipping/duty costs.
What does this have to do with the blog title, “The Crazy Things We Do”? Well, those would be the things we do to try to avoid paying the crazy cost on the things we finally manage to find. And to make sure the money we spend actually results in us getting the item(s) we ordered. Take this last weekend for example.
One of our engine’s motor mounts that needed replacing got back-ordered while we were still in Oregon and didn’t finally get shipped until we were back in Mexico. I also was trying to get some new bushings/bearings for our rudder, a replacement part for one of our new winches that the USPS broke, and some bronze nuts and bolts to replace the ones I removed from the rudder. None of this stuff was directly available in San Carlos or Guaymas. So, I had everything shipped to our friends in Phoenix, Bill & Elli. They had previously graciously allowed us to send a whole pile of stuff to their address. I figured I’d have to make a bus trip up to Phoenix to get the stuff once it was all at Bill & Elli’s. But, as it turned out, they were planning a trip to their condo in Puerto Peñasco so I only needed a bus ticket that far. So, to save the duty, assuming they got the green light, and shipping, I paid something like $35.00 US to spend 18 hours (9 hours each way) on a bus going from Guaymas to Puerto Peñasco and back. Seems kind of silly but what are ya gonna do?
We are constantly on the lookout for people who are going to or from the States to take mail up or bring packages down. It’s crazy. It’s not like we’re in the wilds of Malaysia or SE Asia. We’re in a country that shares a border with the U.S. Why does this have to be so hard? San Carlos is a great place to be for this because there are lots of people coming and going all the time. Recently the Tucson Sailing Club held one of their annual regattas here and you can bet I took advantage of that by taking one of their members up on his offer to use his address and to bring some stuff down.
But God help you if you need something big or hard to get. We recently decided to buy a Walker Bay 8′ rowing dinghy. It didn’t have to be a Walker Bay but it did need to be fairly lightweight and no more than 8′ long. We looked high and low in San Carlos but found nothing. Would have liked to look high and low in Guaymas but they mostly can’t hear our morning net and how else are you supposed to get the word out to them? I did advertise on two San Carlos discussion boards but found nothing suitable. I knew I could buy a new Walker Bay 8 from West Marine in the States (there’s one in Phoenix and one in Tempe), but how the hell was I supposed to get it down here without a car or truck? Obviously, look for someone with an empty truck who’s driving back down from Arizona. Yeah, not as easy as it sounds. Who’s going to want to bring a dinghy down with a receipt showing that it belongs to someone else (me) and probably catching the attention of the Aduana (Customs) folk and having to pay duty. On something that isn’t even theirs? Yeah, right.
But, I decided to try advertising on the San Carlos forums (What’s Up San Carlos? and Viva San Carlos) anyway. I offered to pay gas both ways as well as a little extra. And I’ll be damned if someone didn’t come through. Two someones actually. I’d love to give them personal kudos but I’m not sure that they care to have their deeds made public. But suffice it to say that a woman stepped up and said she’d be making a run to Nogales, AZ on November 5th and I was welcome to tie the dinghy on top of her SUV if it would fit. She met me a few days later and we measured the SUV and it will fit. Now all I have to do is get it ordered in time to get it to Nogales by the 5th. About then, another forum member stepped up and said that he could get me a discount on a new Walker Bay due to his past work associations. Too cool! So, we got it ordered, hopefully in time to be in Nogales tomorrow. As of Saturday morning it was in Tucson so it shouldn’t be too hard to make it to Nogales by tomorrow. I hope. So, tomorrow I’ll get up at 3 AM to meet my ride at 3:45. We’ll drive up to Nogales, take care of business and turn around a drive back the same day. The crazy things we do.
So, it cost me a little over $200 in freight from Sausalito to Nogales. Gas, tolls, and incidentals will probably run another $50 or $60. If I have to pay duty, it’ll cost somewhere around $100. Discounted dinghy, freight, gas, and duty come to roughly $1050. For an $850 (retail) dinghy. Not cheap but not terrible. When I wasn’t sure how this whole thing would go, I checked with the local marine supply store. They can order from West Marine but then they add the 11% VAT, duty, and freight. They wanted over $1500 to get the dink delivered to their store here in San Carlos. And it would take about 3 weeks. THAT’S why we don’t buy a lot of stuff locally if we can find another option. I even considered renting a car and driving up to get the dinghy in Phoenix. I would have saved the shipping costs because West Marine will ship to their own stores for free. But I would not have gotten the discount which makes that kind of a wash and car rentals here in Guaymas are quite expensive. If that dinghy gets here and it says “Hecho en Mexico”, which is not all that unlikely, you may be able to hear me holler all the way to wherever you happen to be.
So, this is just a warning and a bit of advice to all you future Mexico cruisers. Think hard about what kinds of things you might need down here and then e-mail me or the writers of any of the other blogs you may follow to find out what we know about availability. You may decide to bring a little extra down with you. And don’t be surprised if whoever you ask hits you up to bring some stuff down for them as well.
Also, there’s currently a discussion going on at the Southbound Yahoo group about “knowing what you know now, what would you have brought more of and what would you have left behind?” It’s called “Stocking Up/Paring Down and starts at message 8462.