6-30-2013 – Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico

Puerto Penasco has turned out to be one of those “sticky” towns for us, where one stays longer than originally expected.  We planned to paint our boat and be gone in about a month, but it’s turned into a stay roughly twice that long.  Fortunately now we can clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel (please, no replies referencing railroad trains!)


We had the boat sandblasted, which saved us loads of time on sanding the old paint off the hull, but then we had to put a protective layer back on before painting.  We planned to spread on a smooth layer of epoxy by hand, give it a quick sanding and proceed from there.  Roughly a week’s work, right?  But then this guy walked by the boat and started talking with us about the paint-job.  He and his wife run a painting business in Phoenix, and have a house in Puerto Penasco that they visit almost every weekend.  He said it would be “fun” to spray the boat for us (his words!) with his professional airless sprayer.  Wow!  We decided that if we were going to have a “fancy” paint-job (our words) then we ought to fair the boat smooth, because a smooth and shiny paint would show all of the bumps and ripples in our hand-built boat.  So we purchased a super-high-tech paint, courtesy of Craig’s wholesale discount, and our one layer of epoxy turned into two, then three, and the sanding of each layer became more and more thorough.  Unfortunately somewhere in there a terrible mishap occurred: Craig’s lower back threw out not one but two disks.  Ouch!  So we’re alternating between cursing him and blessing him for starting us down this path of fairing Lungta’s hull smoother than we ever expected.  Even so, it’s probably a good thing that we’re rolling the paint on, because we’re really not body-work professionals and what’s smooth to us is not going to be mirror-flat.  The gentler ripples of a rolled-on finish will help to accent the big curves of the hull while downplaying the many smaller ones (we hope!).


Puerto Penasco is near the northern end of the Sea of Cortez, and only 60 miles from the U.S. border.  It is known for having one of the highest tides in the world – up to 23 feet changes at times!  (See above for what difference a 17-foot swing can make.) During the second week we were here, we borrowed a truck from the boatyard and drove up to Phoenix for a whirlwind two-day trip.  We enjoyed being on the road for a while and appreciated all the shops with familiar products and hard-to-find items, including specialty foods and boating needs.  This seems to be an annual trek so far, but we don’t expect it to continue once we’re beyond Mexico.  We were told by several people that Arizona has more boats per capita than any other state, but we did not find as many marine services as we expected.  (For example, we need a gasket set to rebuild the carburetor for our Suzuki outboard motor, but couldn’t find a Suzuki marine dealer in the entire Phoenix area.) However we’ve also learned of a business that has a wonderful shipping service for Americans in Puerto Penasco.  The guy runs a gas station in a town called Lukeville, that’s just 200 feet across the border.  He accepts shipments of packages for folks who can drive up to the border to pick them up, and charges just $10. 


While we’ve been here, Dan did some internet research and finally tracked down a replacement starter motor for our 1964 Rolls-Royce locomotive engine – not an easy find!  Attentive readers of this blog may remember that we’ve had several rounds of trouble and corresponding searching for someone who could repair our starter, and although it works about 80% of the time (and we’ve learned what to do to get it to work in 80% of the times when it doesn’t) that’s not a confidence-inspiring hit-rate!  So after asking lots of questions about obscure measurements of the current starter, they found a new one that should be able to replace it.  When we first began looking, Dan estimated that a replacement would cost about $2000, so we were prepared to wince and move on, but SW Diesel were our heroes of the month, finding us a new starter for less than $600 (even with the $10 receiving charge at the border 🙂 )! Surprisingly, it’s a lot smaller than the original, 27 pounds as compared to 65.  Two of the three mounting bolts (including the one Kathy has dubbed the “impossible bolt”) are now much more accessible than before – although we don’t really care about that if we never have to remove it again. 🙂  It’s a generic modular model which can be mounted in three different positions.  Unfortunately its lumps and bumps are arranged differently than the original, and none of the three is a straight drop-in.  We had to replace a rigid hose for the engine’s coolant system, using a flexible hose.  Since we’re out of the water right now, and the engine can’t get any seawater, we can’t fully test the starter yet, but we’re excited and hopeful that our starter woes are over!

Puerto Penasco is a small town with a big tourist industry and a small harbor supporting a shrimping fleet.  The harbor has a large resident population of mullet.  How do we know they’re mullet?  As one long-time resident fisherman told us “mullet jump”! You can’t look out into the harbor for more than 5 seconds without seeing one.  It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with time of day or tide or any other pattern we can discern.  They just jump – it’s actually somewhat mesmerizing, the randomness of the jumping all over the water’s surface.

The boatyard we are in is owned by a family that runs a small shrimping fleet, but also services most of the boats in the town’s fleet.  The shrimping season begins in September, and virtually every boat gets hauled out some time between June and August for painting and whatever repairs are needed from the previous season.  Many of them get sand-blasted before repainting, spewing huge clouds of dust on everything within a quarter mile downwind!  We live with a perpetual layer of dust on all surfaces.  With the high summer temps we have to keep the windows open to survive so the dust covers the interior of the boat as well.


They’ve got an ingenious system for the lettering of the boat’s name: they have cut-out letters which get welded to the steel hull, causing the letters to be raised from the surface.  Then when it’s time to paint the boat, the raised letters are easy to paint from a roller on a long pole from the ground.  All of the shrimping boats here are made of steel, and we saw one feature of steel that’s really efficient – if the engine (or any other major piece of equipment) needs servicing, they can cut a big hole in the side of the boat, weld a couple of hinges to it, and use it as a door to remove the equipment needing to be replaced.  Then when they’re through, they simply weld the door shut and the boat is sea-worthy again.  I’m pretty sure we couldn’t do that on our cement boat!


Both father and son of the Cabrales family, who own the boatyard, are named Salvador.  This was initially a little confusing for us to distinguish who we were referring to, but it’s a common practice in Mexico.  Both men are genuine and thoughtful people, and have made our stay here pleasant and productive.  They are accomodating with whatever unusual requests we may have, generous with their facilities (remember the truck that we borrowed early on to visit Phoenix), and offer advice or help when needed, but are very comfortable with allowing us to do most of the work ourselves.  Many boatyards that service primarily cruisers are hungry for the additional revenue that comes from doing the work for the clients, and frequently prohibit owners from doing the work.  A visit to a boatyard can be a very expensive proposition, but our visit to the Cabrales boatyard was quite reasonable.  By the way, the name of the boatyard is Astilleros Cabrales, where the word “astillero” is derived from “splinter”, because the traditional boatyard dealt with wooden boats.  The family is enthusiastic about bicycling, and does long rides together several times a week, sometimes with a small crowd of friends.  we’ve noticed that bicycling is fairly common in Puerto Penasco, more so than any other Mexican town we’ve visited so far.  We’ve been enjoying using our bikes to get around town as well, and have begun to feel like we know our way around pretty well.


Well, June is turning into July, and summer is passing us by.  We’re working long days, and going to bed exhausted. It’s a good feeling, but we’re about ready to move on – we can count the days until we will be heading back into the water (11 🙂 ).  And now, it’s time to get a bowl of gazpacho and call it a day.

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