Regional Topics, the San Felipe Economy and more.....
...by Tony Colleraine
Thursday July 21, 2011
The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (SCT) reports today that the road improvement works between km 50 and km 76 on the Mexicali highway will be completed in December. That is good news. Only another 5 months of chaos this year. The final job of completing the two-lane upgrade south across the Laguna Salada to the Ensenada Road junction will take place in 2012. The authorities claim that they are aware of the complaints by the tourists and residents and are taking these matters into consideration.
When the full highway is completed south of San Felipe to join the transpeninsular highway at Laguna Chapala, a major new transportation corridor will open up for heavy goods vehicles on their way to the US markets. I also expect that this new highway will open up a major drug trafficking route to Mexicali. These transportation corridors that connect to the US interstate system are critical to rapid movement and to getting overlooked in the volume of traffic flowing. Wherever a Mexican north-south highway funnels through a border city adjacent to an Interstate, turf battles have arisen. These very special crossing points are in high demand. You can see the result of highway construction and commerce in Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, and Nuevo Laredo. Mexicali has everything except a good north-south connecting highway. They might want to rethink the road construction connecting us to Mex 1. (Note: towns on the way north, like San Felipe or Santa Rosalia, are like pit-stops in the desert. The violence predominantly occurs at "choke points".)
The state public security system has come under withering criticism for the delays in acting on calls to the 066 telephone number. In some cases there are reports of 2-3 hour delays between when a call comes in and when it gets forwarded to the municipal police. The director of public security is to resolve this in discussions with the state public security secretariat. In the meantime, if you want prompt police action, it may be better to call the police office in San Felipe directly by dialling 577-1134.
Special promotions are now being arranged for up to 50% discounts on hotel rates for Mexicali (and other hot-zone) residents to come to San Felipe, Rosarito and Ensenada. The discounts are in effect Sunday-Thursday. This should bring a boost to our local economy.
...... eight more weeks of summer. I am going on a summer schedule. TC.
Sunday July 17, 2011
Another dreadful accident occurred yesterday afternoon when a panga pulling a banana boat hit and killed a swimmer close to Club de Pesca. The boat was very close to the shore and apparently did not notice the swimmer. The Police and the naval authorities are investigating and preparing to file a charge of manslaughter against the operator who apparently fled the scene. I have to admit that I have also had some close shaves with these banana boats when I have been swimming by my house. Possibly some additional regulation is going to be needed.
At the beginning of the month, a party boat started operating out of San Felipe with $20 cruises around the bay in the evening with beer, margaritas and botanas.
It looks like a really interesting tourist attraction and you can find pictures posted online here..>>. Their website presently appears to be down and whenever I call the phone listed on the posters in windows around town (686-233-5740), I just get a busy signal. This is just the thing that San Felipe needs for summer evening entertainment. Business should be good!
Friday July 15, 2011
The full magnitude of the sinking of the sports fishing boat Erik, and the presumed loss of life of seven U.S. anglers, is now becoming evident to the San Felipe community. Everyone I meet on the street is devastated by the accident and also concerned as to what this will mean for the future of the port as a sport fishing mecca. Now that the search for survivors has been called off by both the Mexican and U.S. governments, the one thing left to do to solve the question of what happened to the missing fishermen is to locate the wreck.
There appears to be no sign of the Erik at the position last identified by the survivors, so the likelihood is that the strong currents to the south that followed the sinking in the early morning hours of Sunday 3rd. July have shifted it a significant distance and possibly caused it to fall into one of the undersea canyons. This is going to take some detailed surveys to determine where it is lying. Oceanographic exploration boats, such as those at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, have gear such as side-scan sonar that gets towed in a pod behind the survey vessel to make a detailed contour map of the sea bottom. However, getting such a survey vessel to come to the Gulf on short notice is a major undertaking.
In the meantime, there are many unanswered questions about the licensing and insurance, if any, carried by the boat operators; on whether there was safety gear for every person aboard and whether the required training session and safety drill was held before sailing. Some of the survivors reports indicate that there was a deficiency in this area. The fact that survivors were in the water for some 16 hours before any alarm was raised also makes one wonder if any distress call was received from the Erik before it sank.
Down at the San Felipe harbor there is tension in the air. Inspections are apparently being made of every boat going out and I think that we can assume that all the rules, regulations and paperwork will be rigidly enforced from now on. If this boating disaster had occurred to a US vessel, it would result in multi-million dollar liability claims and wrongful death suits being filed, together with years of legal action against every official involved in inspection and sign-off on the permission to sail. How this will be handled in Mexico is now the question on everyone's mind. The outcome could well affect vessel design, modification and certification and may change the whole character of the "mothership plus panga" business model of sport fishing here.
There will also clearly be an immediate impact for the many anglers who have booked trips on the Erik for this summer. Will they get a refund of their money or be offered berths on other boats for the same dates? Will fishermen (or more likely their families) be so confident of an uneventful trip in the northern Gulf in the future?
Here is a letter I received from the daughter of one of the missing fishermen:
Obviously, the relatives of the missing fishermen are going through terrible pain and suffering during this time when the search by the two governments has been ended and there is no answer as to whether they were trapped in the hull as it sank. They want, and deserve, closure on this matter. All that they get are the official condolences but no plan of action on how, and when, their grief is to be resolved.
Wednesday July 13, 2011
As you can imagine, I have had a number of letters from people who are desperately concerned with the fate of the seven fishermen still missing in the wake of the Eric sinking on 3 July. I understand that the U.S. Coastguard has called off its aerial survey of the gulf waters which reached as far as the Sonoran coast. The Civil Protection Director of Baja California, Alfredo Escobedo Ortiz, has said that small boats of the Mexican Navy and local fishermen continue looking for bodies or survivors. None of these searches has turned up any evidence that any of the missing have made it to land or are still floating on flotsam in the gulf. This leaves the predominant belief that they must have been trapped in the ship as it sank.
What we do not know is whether the Eric has actually been located. Depths of the sea bottom are typically around 200-300 feet but there are also some big canyons in the gulf. The wreck could be at the bottom of one of these canyons which is over 1000 feet deep. We just do not know. What is clear is that the local naval units do not have the capability to dive to such depths or even to scan the canyons remotely. This is something that has to be done by one of these remotely operated submarines that oceanic research organizations use. Only finding the wreck will definitively answer the question of whether the missing fishermen went down with the ship.
Tuesday July 12, 2011
Relatives of the 7 missing fishermen from the sportsfishing boat Eric sinking on July 3rd. are said to be arriving in the San Felipe area and anxiously waiting for news of their loved ones. At least some of our "American" organizations like the Rotary and Lions Clubs can, hopefully, take these people under their wings and see that they have comfort and friendship in San Felipe.
We believe that the search using planes and boats is still continuing and has spread across the gulf to take in the Sonoran coast. The one definitive thing that has, apparently, still not been done is to send divers down to the wreck to see if bodies are still trapped in the Eric.
There have been many conflicting rumors that a US diver team specializing in deep water operations is coming, or has arrived, but nothing is actually confirmed. One would have thought that after a meeting of the Governor of the State with the U.S. Consul, a definitive plan of action would have been announced to the public and a daily press release issued of what has been accomplished. Instead, we have what appears to be a news embargo. Crew members are forbidden to talk about what happened - it is as though the legal aspects of who is going to be blamed is now more important than finding the missing fishermen.
This story is imoprtant for the relatives of the missing; but it is also important for us all to see how the Mexican authorities handle emergency situations involving the loss of life of tourists and residents. The Eric disaster continues to make national and international TV and newspaper headlines; it is a wakeup call that much better communication is needed and that safety and security of tourists is of immense importance from the time that they cross the border into Mexico to the time they return to their homes.
Friday July 8, 2011
The search for the missing fishermen from the Eric shipwreck continues, however optimism for a successful conclusion is officially dimmed. A crew of specialist U.S. divers will arrive from Hawaii tomorrow to do a thorough survey of the sunken vessel which is believed to be lying in 70-100 meters of water - too deep for local rescue services to do extensive exploration.
Mexicali and the Imperial Valley were hit by a major wind and rainstorm yesterday afternoon. We pray that the drivers on the Mexicali-San Felipe road are not having to cope with more mud.
SCORE president Sal Fish announced that the SCORE Primm race sceduled for August 26th in Nevada is being moved to San Felipe in part because of increased insurance demands. The race will be held here Saturday September 10th. In Nevada, last year it brought almost 6000 spectators and generated $1.9 million in nongaming revenue. Even at half that revenue, it will be an excellent positive for the San Felipe community. Mark your calendars for sold-out hotels and condos for the weekend!!
5 p.m. Update - still no news that any of the 7 missing fishermen have been located. Search is ongoing.
The U.S. Consulate has sent out the following message to all Americans that only emergency consular services will be available in Tijuana for the period 8-15 July as they are moving the office.
Sent: Friday, July 08, 2011 2:03 PM
Wednesday July 6, 2011
Gov. Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan and the U.S. Consul from Tijuana were in San Felipe on Tuesday to help coordinate the search and rescue mission for the missing American fishermen. This has been the worst such tragedy in the sportfishing industry in many years. The way in which this accident is resolved, and how the authorities react is likely to set the stage for how the sportfishing segment of our economy in San Felipe thrives or withers. An investigation into the cause of the disaster, the preparedness of the crew, the many hours that elapsed before the alarm was raised, and whether all safety precautions were taken will follow the rescue mission.
For a good set of news pictures and account of the Eric fishing disaster, see the Contra Costa Times..>>
Tuesday July 5, 2011
Noon: It is now 36 hours since the wreck of the Eric was reported. Seven or eight American fishermen are still not accounted for. There is a question on what the actual passenger count was. One American is known to be dead. All the crew of the Eric have survived. The wreck is in 60 meters of water off the Salvatierra island near Gonzaga. Underwater dives are to be made today to see if any bodies are entangled in the wreckage.
11p.m. Confirmed list of people on the Eric and the status of each one (AP)
Confirmed dead — Leslie Yee, 65, from Ceres, California.
Confirmed alive and rescued:
Monday July 4, 2011
A dreadful accident occurred during the night of Sunday 3 July as a result of the very high winds that whipped the San Felipe Area. The sportfishing boat "Eric", owned by Gustavo Veliz, capsized and sank south of Puertecitos, near Salvatierra - Isla San Luis, about 2 miles offshore at around 2:30 a.m. The boat was on a 7 day fishing trip and had left San Felipe on Saturday.
The Sportfishing boat Eric (file photo)
The crew of 17 and the 27 passengers, all reported to be American fishermen, donned life jackets and took to the pangas. An SOS was sent out. The Mexican navy, a military helicopter and a US coastguard helicopter are still taking part in search and rescue operations.
Reports received so far indicate that 21 of the shipwrecked have reached islands south of Puertecitos and are being transferred back to San Felipe. Others have been rescued by another fishing vessel and one or two are said to have reached the mainland. Reports in San Diego indicate that al least one American died in the disaster.
Thanks to all the people who have emailed in reports about this dreadful accident. I will update this message when definitive word comes in from the authorities.
Noon PDT update:
The Notimex news agency has just issued this bulletin (which Google translated to English):
Note that the Secretary of Tourism office number in San Felipe is (011-52) 686-577-1155, or 577-1865. They will have the most current information for anyone wishing to check on relatives that may have been onboard the ship Eric.
Saturday July 2, 2011
Sizzling heat is now with us and the heat index is now regularly over 100F even by the water. Make sure you have a beach umbrella in the car if you are crossing the deserts. You will need it if you have to change out a flat tire. It is also an important accessory at the beach if you are to avoid getting heat exhaustion.
Tonight is one of several good viewing nights to see the International Space Station pass over the San Felipe region. The plot below shows tonight's pass. The ISS will be easily visible to the naked eye by looking to the east over the Sonoran coast at 9:04 p.m. The satellite will disappear into the last glow of sunlight at 9:05:30 p.m. in the southeast.
There will be another pass on Sunday evening at 8:05 to 8:09 p.m. again to the east but closer to the horizon. On Monday 4th. July there will be a spectacular pass over the mountains to the west of San Felipe, very high in the sky between 8:43 to 8:47 p.m. All these satellite passes are traveling from the northwest to southeast.
Tuesday June 28, 2011
Over the past weekend, San Felipe hotels experienced a very good influx of tourists as a result of the Record 250 Offroad races. Hotel occupancy approached 100%. In addition, the State Tourism Agency is holding extensive promotional events in Tijuana and Mexicali to encourage local visitors to spend their summer holidays in San Felipe. With the increase in reservations being made, it looks as though the town will also be doing good business for the upcoming July 4th. weekend.
Parking meters are being brought into operation in Rosarito on 1st. July in spite of local protests from business leaders. I wonder when San Felipe will also install parking meters to control the traffic on the Malecon?
Yesterday, a Pemex gasoline truck overturned on the Mexicali-San Felipe highway at km20. The road was closed in both directions for 4 hours while cleanup of the mess took place.
The roadworks at km50 - 75 south of Mexicali continue to be a chaotic mess. Drive carefully.
The internet in my part of town was down for almost six hours yesterday. The people at Telmex don't care, they don't have to. They can sit in their offices, hundreds of miles away, and flick a switch here and there and take huge swaths of customers offline at will. There is never any notice that maintenance has to be done or any explanation of why service was disrupted for hours. As with virtually all public services, people who pay their bills are entitled to abysmal service. People who do not pay their bills are just cut-off. Everybody treats this lack of concern for the customer as "normal" in Mexico, but it is a prime reason to pause and think long and hard before investing or retiring here.
Wednesday June 22, 2011
Summer arrived yesterday and it arrived with a vengance in San Felipe. Temperatures along the beach soared above 100 degrees and the deserts are now caught in an inferno of heat as high pressure builds over the southwest USA. If you are driving between Mexicali and San Felipe, be sure to carry a couple of gallons of drinking water in case of a breakdown, or if you see a family stranded on the highway with an overheated engine. Also be aware that in these periods of intense heat, it is common for older cars in the Mexicali border crossing lines to stall and create a traffic nightmare as other vehicles try to shift lanes to get around the obstacle.
Summer is also a time when federal agencies and local authorities tend to come around neighborhoods and slap notices of fines and "embargos" on houses. The owners are probably away and the notices will sit there for weeks notifying potential burglars of an empty house. In many cases, these notices of delinquencies are unjustified - the agencies just do not bother to check their records. It is easier for them to issue a notice and then have the homeowner go through all of the paperwork and trouble of proving that they have already paid the necessary taxes and fines. It is not clear how to get this process under control but I would guess that every foreigner who has "invested" in San Felipe can tell of many experiences of where the authorities have lost paperwork and required them to prove again-and-again that they have paid their taxes and obeyed the law.
Recently a large billboard appeared just north of the Glorietta on Calzada Chetumal advertising that the local delegation was prepared to help people who were caught in the paperwork nightmare that has resulted from many developer land problems. Perhaps the delegation can also act to stop the rampant abuse of homeowners who are now getting the latest round of delinquency notices:
Try calling the Delegation at (686) 577-1905 or visit them at the headquarters on Av Mar Blanco and talk to our delegado, Roberto Ledon, who speaks excellent English.
Wednesday June 15, 2011
Doug Magee at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga reminded me about the photo that was the inspiration for the fisherman statue at the San Felipe harbor. I pulled it out of our archives for you to see:
I seem to recall that Tony Reyes told me that this was taken in the late 1950's and shows Tony, Papa Fernandez and his son Chichi pulling the totoaba out of the bay at the Landing. Notice the number of huge fish they had caught. Chichi was actually the figure picked from the photo for the sculpture:
You can see more about the history of the totoaba fishing industry in the northern Gulf at this page from our archives..>>
Sunday June 12, 2011
I have been surprised how many char·a·bancs arrive in town on the weekends, and this one has been no exception. Most of them come from the Tijuana area and bring holiday-makers in for a short vacation. Many of of the smaller hotels in town are full and doing very good business. It is particularly encouraging to see the newly reorganized Hotel Rivieracoral doing so well and able to offer 3rd. night free deals. The small restaurants along the Malecon are also very popular. With the state of the highways, it certainly makes sense to come on one of these package deals and leave the driving to someone else.
The beaches and the sea are absolutely ideal at present and the latest available health reports indicate that pollution problems this year are minimal. This is also the anniversary of the "Clean Beaches" campaign started by Martin Romo at Rice and Beans. He and his volunteers have done an outstanding job of collection of litter from the Malecon beach and this effort has expanded to both the north and the south of town. It is worth bearing in mind that San Felipe would be nothing without its beaches. The pristine sand and the Sea of Cortez are what everyone comes here for. Without the beaches, you might as well vacation in Yuma.
The monitoring of the beaches of Mexico is conducted by the federal government agency COFEPRIS (Comisión Federal para la Protección Contra Riesgos Sanitarios). For our region, monitoring is conducted at the following locations:
The most important observation is the maximum number of fecal enterococci colonies per 100 millilitres of water. The Mexico health standard is that water is safe for recreation if the concentration of these colonies is less than 200 per 100ml of water, which typically corresponds to about 5 people in every hundred getting a case of "gastrointestinal discomfort".
The samples for 2011year- to-date appear to be well below the official limit as is seen in the table below. Primarily, this is because of the much more effective beach cleaning activities, and the more visible and sturdy trash containers being provided to receive the waste before it ends up on the streets and blows around.
As you can see from the table of results, March tends to be the month when the readings rise because we get a huge influx of visitors for the Baja 250. In particular, there is a lot of vehicular traffic on the beaches that kicks up sand and exposes the naturally decaying organisms that have been buried by the tides. A similar spike in pollution levels is frequently seen in September after tropical storms go through; the gully washers from the mountains pour down the arroyos and carry a lot of organic matter into the sea.
These cycles of pollution of the waters occur in every seaside city that has infrequent "big events". For example, in San Diego there is very little annual precipitation so when we get a good rainfall the city storm drains carry the rainwater down to the beaches. Along with it goes the dog poop and motor oil from the road surface and these contaminate the water to make surfing dangerous for a period of several days till the ocean has mixed and diluted the pollutants to safe levels.
Thursday June 9, 2011
Town is quiet and very little is happening. It seems that all the important people are already on vacation for the summer. Our new sub-secretary of Tourism for the State is Linda Garcia and she has taken over from Rolando Ortiz Gomez de Silva who is now going to administer the San Felipe International Airport. How we wish we had some commercial flights coming in.
Over in Rosarito, a conference is apparently underway sponsored by the Baja Image Comittee. "Some 70 expatriate residents of Baja cities have been invited to the June 8 and 9 summit at the Rosarito Beach Hotel. The goal of the by-invitation session is to provide information to some leading expats that they can share with others, including methods to distribute accurate, positive information." I would have gone if they had invited me but I think this is a prime example of how dysfunctional the state and local organizations are in determining how to disseminate important information.
Out off the Pacific coast of Mexico a very powerful hurricane, Adrian, is raging. Present forecasts indicate that it will head out into the Pacific. However, it pays to keep a watch out as any move towards the North-east could bring it close to Baja. The predicted path for the next few days is shown below:
Saturday June 4, 2011
I could not help but marvel at the huge low-pressure system spiralling in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast today. If this were the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico we would be preparing for a major hurricane. However, over the cool Pacific waters nothing much will happen beyond providing some rain to northern California and Nevada. San Felipe will remain clear and tranquil.
The Pacific Hurricane season is, however, now underway and we must look to the south to see what is in store for us. There are no pronounced changes in La Niña or El Niño conditions in the tropical Pacific at this time and the forecasts for the season currently indicate that there is a 70% probability of below-normal activity. However, it only takes one good storm to travel up the Gulf of California to create a lot of damage from heavy rainfall. For San Felipe, the most probable time for rain is between mid-August and the end of September. Now is the time to put a couple of items on your "to do" list: check your roof for leaks and clear out the storm drain for your house.
This weekend, all the attention is on Ensenada and the running of the Baja 500. While the climate in San Felipe is truly ideal at this moment we appear to have a lower than expected quota of visitors, presumably because of the heightened activity on the west coast of the peninsular. What I notice is that Ensenada and Rosarito are making very big pushes to stay in the news with lots of events for the next several weeks. It is very clear that the state tourism promoters see this area as being the best way to bring visitors and money down from San Diego. An excellent toll road exisits right from the U.S. Border to Ensenada which is well-traveled and well-patrolled for safety and enables a car from San Diego to get to Ensenada in about 1 hour. By contrast, our road from Mexicali is a mess and is the biggest single deterrent to U.S. visitors who want to come to San Felipe.
Take a look at the number of Ensenada events for the month of June:
June 1-9 “Amigos del Riviera (Friends of the Riviera)” Collective Art Exposition
June 1-23 “Caracola de Sentires (Conch of Feelings)” Exposition
June 1-July 31 “Notóxico” International Printmaking & Graphic Arts Exhibit
June 3-5 43rd Tecate SCORE Baja 500
June 3-30 “VII Bienal Fotográfica” Photography Exposition
June 4 Club Compañeros de Baja Norte Steak Night
June 5 14th Annual Mushroom Festival
June 11 Folkloric Dance (Fourth Encounter)
June 11 Tribute to Hard Rock
June 11-July 9 “Love Affair with Riviera Maya” Art Exposition
June 12 4th Blues-Rock Fest Ensenada 2011
June 16 Guitar Concert
June 17 Dance Presentation
une 18 Club Compañeros de Baja Norte Father’s Day Hoedown
June 18 & 19 2nd Annual Surf Fishing Tournament
June 19 Mountain Bike Race (Sixth Stage)
June 19 International Surfing Day
June 21 World Environment Day Celebration
June 24-26 At: Ensenada & San Felipe RECORD Off-Road Series Ensenada-San Felipe 250 Off-road Race
June 24-August 18 Seth Hawkins Art Exposition
previous months news - - May2011 - May Day, the road construction project, employment at the gold mine, real estate conditions, tourism recovering? a great Memorial day.