Life Under the Yellow Flag

“Open – Rain or Shine” the neon sign over the entrance to Skull’s Landing invites its guests. It is one of those signs that normally can be switched from “open” to “closed” just this one doesn’t have a “closed” option. A great marketing move. Skull’s Landing is the local cruisers’ hangout with Happy Hour from 17:00 to 19:00. 

Skull‘s Landing – The Local Cruisers‘ Hangout on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

There are two things in life that are certain: 1) At one point you will die. 2) Sailors cannot resist Happy Hours.

Happy Hour at Skull’s Landing means half price drinks and live music, a combination providing fertile yarning grounds. This is where heroes are born, sea monsters are fed and Neptune is worshipped.

Happy Hour Is Over

But now is Fasting Period, not only for religious Christians but also for us heathenish seafarers, because Neptune’s local temple remains closed, rain or shine. Corona is out in the worst possible double meaning of the term.

When I left Cuba exactly three weeks ago, I remember I couldn’t understand the immigration officer when she asked me the simplest questions. That could have been due to my poor Spanish or due to the mask she was wearing or both. Other than that in Cuba was still business as usual whereas the rest of the world already started to go nuts. 

When I arrived at Isla Mujeres in Mexico the clearance procedures were delayed as the officials were waiting for instructions from the top. However, I was able to clear in without any further problems. But let me give you a short idea of what „without any further problems“ means: (You can skip this, it’s pretty boring!)

Clearance Procedure

First I had to get a total of five physical copies of each of the following documents: the boat registration, the crew‘s passports, the Zarpe (clearance documents of the previous port) and the crew list, stamped by the previous ports authority. 

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

With these copies I first checked in at the Port Captain’s office that, in Mexico, is a department of the navy. He is responsible for all boat traffic in his jurisdiction, national as well as foreign. Then I had to wait for the immigration doctor. He is a nice guy with the body of a well fed sumo wrestler and arrived in an outfit that I believe he stole from the movie „Outbreak“. I don‘t blame him. If anyone is exposed to evil viruses it is him. After a short medical examination which basically consists of the measurement of my body temperature, a deep look into my eyes and a few medical questions I got my „Declaracion Maritime de Sanitad“. I know I better hold on to it tightly because I will need it further down in the process.

Next I was sent to immigration. The immigration office is a few blocks down the street and the girls there are welcoming and sweet. They gave me a few forms to fill and then sent me to the bank to pay the immigration fee. When I returned with my receipt (which easily can take an hour or longer) I was issued an immigration card that gives me (European, US, Canadian and many other citizens) a 180 day status. (Hold on to it tightly, too. Don‘t lose it. Also keep the receipt of the immigration fee. It is the ticket to the next ride.)

Back at the Port Captain‘s office I presented the rewards I earned in the previous steps of the quest and patiently waited for the customs and veterinarian officers to arrive. They came with more forms and more stamps. (Make sure that all five copies you made of all documents earlier will have those stamps or you will be screwed later.) After that I went back to the bank to pay the customs processing fee and returned to the Port Captain‘s office with the receipt.

After all this was done, I turned all this in to the Port Captain‘s officer to have him issue my „Autorizacion de Arribo“. But if you think I was done now (all this took an entire day) you are wrong. If you want to stay longer than five days you have to apply for a temporary import permit (TIP) for your boat. This is done by the customs department located in the Port Captain‘s office of Cancun on the mainland. You need to have an appointment, though, which I learned the hard way when I first showed up without one. 

There I needed 60 USD in cash, all the documents I received from the Port Captain with five (!) stamps on each and an official document, preferably the boat registration with the engine number of my boat. (If your boat registration does not show the engine number, you have to make a photo of the nameplate and write a letter in Spanish in which the owner confirms that this engine is on his boat.) Then I was issued the temporary import permit which is valid for ten years.

Anyway, after three days my boat was a paper load of documents heavier and now had the privilege of being legally cleared in to the United States of Mexico. 

At Anchorage At Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Still at this time there was business as usual on the island. The beaches were populated by Mexican and foreign tourists, the bars and restaurants were packed and the streets full of life. The island of the blissful, whereas the rest of the world was drowning in curfews and shutdowns and lockdowns.

But at one point it was clear that not even the Mexicans could dodge this development forever. Soon I have taken the decision to stay here until this whole chaos is over, delaying my plans to head South to Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica and out of the hurricane belt. My hope is that the big blast is over before the hurricanes are starting to make this part of the world uncomfortable. And if not, my plan B is to stay here until I see a hurricane coming over the Atlantic. It will only take me a week of sailing to get out of the hurricane belt. And if I have to I will anchor out, wherever that may be and continue my quarantine further South. So quietly I started to stock up my provisions to be prepared.

The Island of the Blissful

The first noticeable sign of increased strain was the suspension of alcohol sales. Bars and restaurants were still open and tourists were still coming and going. At this point also more tourists started going than coming and the island got noticeably emptier. About a week later all restaurants and bars were closed and only essential stores were allowed to open.

However, our freedom was not limited in any way, we could still go to the beach, go snorkeling and go shopping in the supermarkets. I started to go to the supermarket every day and bought just a little more each day than I would use to stock up my provisions. You never know after all. 

The tensions were high and the nerves were blank. I once met Capi, the immigration doctor on his heavily overloaded moped. He immediately recognized me and stopped. He was very upset, so I tried to calm him down but he was not very receptive of my jokes. He was looking for the crew of a French boat that arrived late the day before. The coast guard had visited their boat but nobody was on board. Now they were searching the whole island for them to put them back on board for their 14 days quarantine.

This was also the time when tourists who arrived by ferry from the mainland were turned back on the same ferry they arrived. Whereas a week earlier the streets were populated by lightly-dressed tourists they were now patrolled by heavily armed marines and police pick-up trucks making loudspeaker announcements. The national disaster response service (Proteccion Civil) would politely but firmly ask people to leave the beach and return to their homes. 

Empty Streets in Isla Mujeres

Today, as the new orders of the Port Captain arrive, I am stocked like for a nonstop circumnavigation. We are now only allowed to go to land using the dinghy dock of the Port Captain. Only one person per boat is allowed to go to land and only after prior approval by the Port Captain. At the dinghy dock this person needs to check in with the soldier on duty there and has a maximum of 1.5 hrs to go shopping in designated stores. New arrivals are ordered to keep a 14 days strict quarantine. 

Through our local cruisers‘ net we keep the communication channel to the Port Captain and he is very helpful and understanding for our needs. So he has arranged water bottle trucks to come to the pier and trash trucks picking up our trash, a spell of luxury in these days.

Any type of touristic activity is now prohibited. No surfing, no snorkeling, no kayaking… I think this is fair and helps to not turn the locals against us. If they all need to stay at home and cannot use the beach and see us foreigners having a blast, that wouldn‘t be good. Not at all. So yes, I hate it but I support it.

Whereas I hear of similar rules and restrictions throughout the Caribbean, generally, the moods are high and who, if not we bluewater sailors, is prepared for this? I have daily contact with friends throughout the Caribbean. Whatever there is on the news about poor sailors in need, stuck in the Caribbean, I cannot confirm. I can also not confirm that sailors in need are being sent back to sea without provisions and water. I can imagine there are a few singular cases of local personell over-reacting but in general, what I see is a strict but very understanding application of the necessary quarantine rules. An unpredicted change of plans is no emergency. We sailors tend to change plans more often than our underwear anyway.

I have no idea where all this is headed but I am sure at one point Skull‘s Landing will be able to put on their sign again „Open – Rain or Shine“.

If you want to read how I evacuated my son Tom from the USA in a covert night time naval landing operation, read on here: