5-mos Cruising Pacific Mexico Q&A

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Mar 21, 2019
United States
Vessel Name
Vessel Make
1970 Willard 36 Trawler
We left Ensenada MX (80 nautical miles – nms – south of San Diego) on October 30th 2023. Our boat is a 1970 Willard 36-foot displacement trawler designed by Bill Garden. She is powered by a Perkins 4.236 75 hp diesel with a top speed of around 7.5 knots, and a cruising speed of 6.3 knots where she burns a bit over 1 gph. Very similar to many sailboats in the 40-45 foot range.

We are about to store Weebles on the hard in Chiapas, a few miles from Guatemala, for the summer months. We will return in the fall and continue southward through the Panama Canal, then up to Florida. I thought I would offer some notes in a Q&A format – many of which are agnostic (sail and power).These are our experiences – everyone’s experience will vary. Mind you, we’re retired with a middle-income retirement income stream (approx. $5k/mo in cruising expenses, not including boat payment). For those on very tight budgets, the following will not apply.
  • [*] Was diesel expensive for a powerboat? Since departing San Diego on October 30th 2023, we’ve covered about 2400 nms and burned around 500 gals diesel. On average, diesel has been expensive in Mexico – around $5.50 USD per gallon. Roughly, cost has been around $1 per mile.
    [*] With a single diesel, do you worry about failure? Yes and no. Our ancient Perkins 4-cylinder diesel has been one of the most reliable components on the boat. That said, we view our trip as a lazy delivery to our new home in Florida. If we were cruising full time, I suspect we’d prefer either a get-home engine or a twin engine just in case.
    [*] How may overnight runs? In the 2400 nms, we spent about 7 nights at sea. My wife does not like overnight runs but we have adapted. I carry a bit more of the watch schedule than she does at night.
    [*] What’s the worst weather you hit? We use PredictWind with a $250/yr subscription. We rarely saw spray over the bow, though would have been different had we been running north. Having time to wait out weather systems is key. We are retired.
    [*] Is 36 feet large enough? This as a ‘lazy delivery’ from California to Florida – 4500 nms over two seasons. If we were to cruise full time, we would get a larger boat if for no other reason than a 50-footer bridges the ubiquitous 3-foot chop better. So we are extra careful with the weather. Most of the sailboats in the 40-foot range are also pretty careful.
    [*] Do you need a watermaker? Mexico is difficult to get potable water. If I were to go again, I would definitely include a watermaker. That said, I would avoid difficult to service watermakers such as Spectra.
    [*] Do you need LiFePO4 batteries? Well, this is a tip-of-the-iceberg question. LFP batteries usually man hi-output alternator(s) plus a robust monitoring system such as the Victron GX Cerbo system. Plus a way-cool inverter. This stuff works really well until it doesn’t. When it fails, its impossible to service in Mexico. We have a LFP system and it’s worked well, but we’ve met a lot of people with charging system problems. There is a piece of me that thinks AGMs, while less power-assisting, are a good way to go. They are easily replaced anywhere in Central America. Bottom line – if you can install yourself, go for it. If you require outside assistance, chances are you will have troubles down the line and be tremendously frustrated. Judgement call.
    [*] Do you need a generator? So far, we have about 400 engine hours and under 20-hours on our Northern Lights 6kw generator. But its an important back-up power supply. Plus, now that were in Central America, AC has become important.
    [*] Do you need Air Conditioning? It really depends on a number of factors. Our primary sleeping quarters is in the v-berth and we have an overhead hatch and six opening ports. We get a decent amount of breeze. If our cabin were in the aft, would be a problem and we’d have a lot more generator hours.
    [*] How much rough weather have you hit? We are retired and have plenty of time so we just wait. The woman of the our couple hates bad weather so decisions are made to make her happy. Heading southbound has made that much easier. As the guy in the crew, I can say that having her happy has proven to be a godsend. She’s now talking about Rio Dulce on the other side and all sorts of expanded cruising destinations. I would definitely recommend making innocent passages for a while.
    [*] How has your compost toilet worked out? We are a one-head boat. I converted to compost (Natures Head) before heading out because I had issues with the holding tank. We’ve had flies once (RAID helped); and we both had the flu which meant wet #2s so more maintenance. It’s not all-that as the faithful proclaim it to be, but overall, generally happy. Would be nice to have a direct discharge head but Id definitely do a Compost Head again and avoid the issues with a traditional wet-head.
    [*] How much time in marinas? We thought we’d anchor out more than we have. I’d say 2/3rds of our time has been in marinas because we have traveled inland. Plus its where we’ve met other cruisers. We are not overly social, but have really enjoyed meeting other people.
    [*] How much money have we spent? We don’t get track that closely, but overall, around $4k for everything excluding purchase cost of boat (we bought her over 25-years ago so do not have a mortgage). We eat out whenever we want – average cost has been around $35/couple in Mexico. We traveled inland to Oaxaca and went to some of their best restaurants and splurged – around $80 - $100 per person. But that was a rarity. And we could have spent less. A nice hotel in Oaxaca was around $100 USD/night.
    [*] Any tips that have worked well? We sewed awnings over the foredeck and side decks. Absolute golden additions. Once you get south of Mazatlán, the sun beats relentlessly. Keeping the boat cool and ventilated is extremely important.
    [*] What kind of dinghy do you carry? We bought a new AB Aluminum 310 RIB with 20hp Tohatsu. It’s heavy and difficult; plus is a theft target. For our next leg, we will buy a small easily blown-up dinghy to mate with a 3.5hp Mercury we’ve had for years. Should be perfect for anchorage-to-shore which is a large percentage of our usage. Wheels would be great too, but some beaches are really steep. Plus there is worrying about theft.
    [*] What would you do differently? If possible, I’d go more simple on the boat. As mentioned above, batteries AGM vs lithium. Keep the energy budget as low as possible. Watermaker as simple as possible – I’d consider a very small watermaker such as a Katadyne survivor and run it all the time. As great as the Spectras are, you could not give me one. Would go with a smaller dinghy.
The one question I intentionally left off is "Is it safe?" I can tell you we feel safe and find the people in Mexico incredibly welcoming and friendly. But many Americans worry about safety in Mexico so I intentionally avoid the subject. If you are worred about safety in Mexico, don't come. You're wrong, but life is too short to spend liesure time in a place you don't feel comfortable.

In closing, the less adept you are at mechanical systems, the more simple you need to go. Once in Mexico, you simply cannot pay someone to fix stuff unless it’s something that was stock equipment on a 1975 Ford. Refrigeration, rigging, autopilots, Balmar alternators – none of that can be serviced south of the border. We’ve met a lot of people who have dramatically altered course/plans due to inability to fix stuff which is frustrating and expensive.

We're having a great time and look forward to coming back in the fall and continuing southward.

Thanks for a great report and your insight. Both ring true to our experiences 50 to 60 years ago. The east coast was remote with little (to my memories) "civilization" which was just what we preferred. We only made it to Venezuela, then hopped along the coast before crossing over to Cuba (southern coast)

Your wise decision to conscientiously make the journey pleasant cannot be overstated. Too many are destination oriented rather than realizing that the trip counts too. Passages can make or break a cruise.

It's beautiful over here. All the best to you both...
It's interesting that the cost for diesel in Mx is so high, even higher than SoCal, and that's saying something. There used to be a time when we would head south of the border to get diesel and some were running bigger auxiliary tanks in the bed of their trucks to hold an additional 40 gallons. Those days are gone, I suppose the Mex government got tired of subsidizing the cost of fuel at some time.
Can you elaborate on “traveled inland “? We’re on the East Coast and have the ICW. What is the inland route on the West Coast?
Can you elaborate on “traveled inland “? We’re on the East Coast and have the ICW. What is the inland route on the West Coast?

I believe he is referring to travel via car, Bus, ect to destinations away from the boat. There is no ICW per se in Mex.
I believe he is referring to travel via car, Bus, ect to destinations away from the boat. There is no ICW per se in Mex.

That's correct - I should have used better words. For example, from Huatulco, we shared a car rental with another cruiser couple and traveled to Oaxaca for 8-days. Had a wonderful time and will definitely return. We also made trips from Barra de Navidad, La Cruz, and Mazatlan.


We need to frequent the same fuel docks as you do…$7.59/gallon for diesel in Puerto Escondido now. Was around $7.25 in San Jose in January and somewhere north of $6 in Ensenada in December.

Safe Travels!
We need to frequent the same fuel docks as you do…$7.59/gallon for diesel in Puerto Escondido now. Was around $7.25 in San Jose in January and somewhere north of $6 in Ensenada in December.

Safe Travels!

For Perspective, I paid $4.20 + tax in Long Beach, about 200 miles north of Ensenada last week! That's a big difference! But it was not too long ago that we were in the high $6's here and will happen again after Nov 5! Just sayin....
We paid $4.97 in Ensenada in October of 2023. (400 gallons)
Mazatlan was $4.40 in January (623 gallons)
Chiapas, MX was $4.97 (200 gallons)
Vista Mar Marina, Panama, about 40nm West of Panama City, $3.97) (400 gallons)
Flamenco Marina, Panama City, $4.87 in March, we didn't need any
Shelter Bay, (Colon) Panama, $5.05 in March, we didn't need any

For us, at no time have we NEEDED to put fuel in, we just put it in when it was convenient. We haven't had full tanks the entire trip, even leaving the PNW, we only had 3/4 full. We didn't see the need to haul around fuel when it was available, however it is nice to have large tanks when we want to have the range.

We've traveled 5165 nm since leaving Port Orchard, WA on Sep 2, 2023. We've burned roughly 2,150 gallons for an average nmpg of 2.4. That's pretty good for a boat that weighs about 86,000 lbs with half fuel!

We still have about 1,100 gallons, and will have roughly 450 remaining when we reach our new home in Florida, so a reserve of about 1,080 nm.
Awesome write up and thank you for taking the time to write it. Any chance you could post pictures of the awnings on the foredeck and aft? Or maybe link to where you have already posted pics. Thanks.
Here are a couple pictures of the awnings I sewed in Mazatlan. If you look carefully at the edge of the hard-top, there is an awning that rolls down. Its hard to imagine how hot and bright the sun is in low latitudes. These awnings really help keep the cabin comfortable, though once we hit Costa Rica, AC has become nearly a full-time requirement.



Thanks so much for all of this info. My wife and I just got our first trawler and are not located far from your original location of Port Orchard, WA. She would love to go out and around down the coast to Mexico and didn't really know whether or not to dream about it realistically or keep it as just a fantasy, but this report is very encouraging. For now we will simply sharpen our skills on the Salish Sea, but one day we would like to do the inside passage to Alaska as well as make a trip around to Ilwaco, WA to enter the Columbia river and go upriver there! Can't wait to hear more about your second half.
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