Sunday, March 20, 2011

Surrounded by the Mexican navy (Betsy)

Midday surprise

We left Puerto Vallarta early this morning for an overnight passage to Mazatlan. We always want our passages to be uneventful but we don't always get our way.This afternoon a Mexican navy vessel came racing at us then swiftly veered off, but not before I snapped a quick photo. Strange, but this is Mexico. At dinner we commented on a boat that had been shadowing us for several hours, but no biggie, it's usually just some other cruising boat traveling about the same speed as Mystic.

Mexican navy in stealth mode
Later, alone on night watch I dimmed the lights and was enjoying an amazing full moon (the brightest in twenty years) when my moon suddenly morphed into a five million candlepower spotlight. I quickly eased back on the throttle—our signal that the off-watch person was needed topsides—which brought David running. We tried to identify the boat that was nearly on top of us: drug runners, navy, fisherman wanting a beer, we had no idea.

I repeatedly hailed the menacing boat and got the same response: a spotlight in my eyes from 50 feet away. I asked their intentions, same response. Fed up, David got out our spotlight and shined it back at them: it was the Mexican navy, again. That finally got them talking. After a few Spanglish questions about us and our boat they announced they were launching their rubber boat and would be boarding us for a "routine inspection" in ten minutes. Routine? At night? We waited as Mystic wallowed 25 miles offshore. David and I have a rubber boat too, and it takes us about two minutes to hoist it off the boat deck and pop it into the water.

It took the navy an hour-and-a-half to launch their rubber boat and send six men over to us. More specifically, it took the Mexican navy an hour-and-a-half to call in the three big boats that were now circling us.

Once on board the seamen took off their shoes but kept their guns. One guy asked the questions, another cradled a big radio that continuously transmitted everything we said, and a third just stood there, Uzi in hand, pointed downward, thankfully.

It was soon clear to them that we were just cruisers on an overnight passage and the conversation shifted to the beautiful sights in Mazatlan, the Mexico of years past, even tacos al pastor.

I followed the boss down below as he made his "routine inspection", and there, out of earshot of that transmitting radio, he told me why the navy had surrounded Mystic. They'd had a tip that a boat similar to ours was transiting the area with a shipment of bad stuff that they hoped to intercept. He acknowledged that the navy had been shadowing us, apologized for the inconvenience and advised that they were keeping the waters safe for everyone.

As I write this I can see the lights of the Mexican navy in the distance, one boat to port, another to starboard. And I'm kind of glad they're there.

(This was Mystic's second boarding in six weeks. All told, we were boarded 5 times by the Mexican navy this cruising season. Gone are the days when you could cruise Mexico without having all the necessary documents present and correct