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Captain Doug Danielson
Remembering that May is when many cruisers start to leave Puerto Vallarta, cross the Sea of Cortez, and begin the bash north, got me to thinking. Where can a vessel readily obtain fuel on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula? And, where can you get diesel in an emergency? Let's take the easy one first. We'll start at Cabo San Lucas and move north (actually northwest).
Cabo San Lucas:
In the past, diesel fuel was available only at the tall dilapidated cannery pier or by making arrangements with ships agent Victor Barreda to have it trucked to another dock. A third option has been to hire a taxi and jerry-jug fuel from the Pemex station on Highway One, the road leaving town. This was the only option if you needed gasoline. Usually a time-consuming operation.
Now, everything has changed. The long-awaited Pemex dock, located on the port side, past the cannery pier as you enter the harbor, is open. Be sure to go past the shoal area, at the channel end of the docks, before you turn toward it. A second, competing, Pemex franchise, has opened across the water in Marina Cabo San Lucas, in front of Plaza Las Glorias. In both cases, you can pull right up to a floating concrete dock, just like in Puerto Vallarta. Both docks dispense diesel and gasoline. Check prices if you are on a budget.
If you only need to fill your jerry-jugs, travel the easy eight nautical miles to Man of War Cove and let Port Captain Delegate, Gregorio Vidal Sanchez, run them up to San Carlos in his panga. The cost for diesel, in February 2001, was approximately $2.00 US per gallon, including transportation.
The other, more time consuming alternative is to navigate an additional ten nautical miles, up the narrow zigzag channel, to the fixed concrete wharf at Puerto San Carlos. If you need a large quantity of diesel, you can use an agent to arrange for fuel to be delivered to the dock. In the past, I have used Agencia Naviera. Be sure to leave someone on your vessel to adjust lines and fenders. The tide can change as much as eight feet between high and low water! Your other choice is to anchor, dinghy ashore and hire a taxi to take you, and your jerry-jugs, to the Pemex station on the outskirts of town. This may be your only option if you need gasoline.
If you anchor, be careful of debris on the bottom and always leave someone on board. Sometimes the current, ripping through the anchorage, can be as much as three knots! Regardless of your decision, this is a Port of Entry and you must clear with Port Captain and Immigration.
Bahia Asuncion: (Emergency only)
Anchor south of the pipeline pier and dinghy ashore. Asuncion is a sizable community (4000 plus) and diesel or gasoline is usually available, for a price. On several occasions, I have been able to purchase small quantities of fuel from the cannery at the end of the small pipeline pier. Ask when you get to shore. Mexicans are, for the most part, helpful and accommodating people. Since the fuel has usually been stored in 55-gallon drums, be sure to filter it before you put it in your tank.
Gordos' fuel concession on the old cannery pier is, for most, the preferred major refueling stop, mid-way up the Baja. Adan Gerardo 'Gordo' passed away several years ago and his family now runs the business. Maria his daughter speaks fairly good English. If the battery to her hand-held VHF radio is charged, she can be reached on Channel 16. Diesel is stored in two large yellow tanks, located on land in front of the cannery, and pumped out to the end of the pier.
The procedure is to set a bow anchor on the northeast side of the pier and back stern-to. Be aware that there may be only six feet of water at low tide and the surface of the pier is fifteen to twenty feet above the water. Fuel is dispensed through a hose with a shut off. It is lowered to your vessel via a heaving line. Money is exchanged using the simple, but effective, coffee can attached to a string. In spite of occasional rumors to the contrary, I have never gotten bad fuel here and I have never had to filter it. In November 2000, Maria was charging approximately $1.85 US per gallon.
The preferred alternative for most sailboats is to send your jerry-jugs in with Ernesto (also part of Gordos family) to have them filled. Ernesto runs a water taxi service and can be very helpful. Listen carefully because he speaks a rapid-fire mixture of English and Spanish called 'Spanglish'. Everything is negotiable with Ernesto.
In the past, I have had him bring diesel, oil, water and ice to my anchored vessel. He will also take your trash ashore. For this service I usually pay him $10.00 to $20.00 US, depending on the length of my stay and what I have him do. Sometimes I have to 'lend' him gasoline because he is almost out or help him repair his ancient outboard so he can make it back to the fuel pier.
Bahia San Quintin: (Emergency only)
The closest Pemex station is reportedly located approximately 2.5 miles inland from the Celito Lindo Trailer park, at Old Highway One. In fair weather, anchor approximately three miles west-northwest of Punta Entrada, opposite the hotel and trailer park; taking care to stay outside of the breakers at Playa Santa Maria. Dinghy through the surf to the trailer park and hitch a ride to the gas station. Do not attempt to anchor here in rough or unsettled weather.
Your safer option may to anchor at Punta Entrada, staying clear of breaking bars at the entrance to the lagoon. Flag down a fishing panga and pay them to take your jerry-jugs, and a crewmember, into Colonia Lazaro Cardenas or San Quintin to obtain fuel. A difficult, time consuming process, but I know of several boaters who have done it!
Like Cabo San Lucas, things are changing here to make things easier for boaters. In the past you would jerry-jug fuel from the Pemex station, at the corner of Route 1 and Blvd. Lazaro Cardenas, to your vessel docked at Bandito's or Juanito's; approximately four long city blocks. Or, you would position your vessel in the hoist way at Baja Naval and have diesel delivered by truck.
Now, there is a new alternative. You can pull up to a floating concrete fuel dock at Marina Coral. The large rock in the middle of the dock limits the size of vessel they can accommodate and may challenge your docking skills, but hey, after all this is Mexico. Both gasoline and diesel are available.
Your vessel's fuel consumption should be monitored on the basis of time, not miles. For example, if the average 40 foot sail-auxiliary, turning 2400 rpm, burns approximately one gallon per hour. In flat seas, with no current, she might do six knots. In ten hours she will have traveled 60 nautical miles and used 10 gallons.
In rough seas, with a counter current, she might average two knots over the ground, and travel only 20 nautical miles in ten hours. The math is simple: under the adverse circumstances described above, it will take three times as much fuel to travel the same distance or 30 gallons! Not a happy thought if you calculated your fuel needs assuming favorable winds or flat seas.
When conditions turn bad and you are motor-sailing, because the place you have to go for fuel is directly to weather, you better have enough diesel to get you there. Heading north along the Baja Peninsula, where your next reasonable fuel stop can be as much as 290 miles directly into the wind, illustrates the importance of this fact. Some extra jerry-jugs, secured properly on deck, may not be a bad idea!
Fair winds and following seas, until next time.