Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico

marina town center mountains behind

From our sailboat-centric point of view, Guaymas has a lot going for it, despite a relative dearth of  ‘pretty’ or ‘colonial’ or ‘quaint’. The Snapshot Gallery at the end of this post  may tell you more about the Guaymas that we have come to appreciate and feel comfortable in.

view over Guaymas
View over central Guaymas towards the port

It’s a working city with plenty of parts and services, if you can make do with not-yacht stuff. And if you can’t, well,  shippers deliver to Arizona, only a few hours/250 miles away on the Tufesa bus. I would say it is also a city of entrepreneurs and small businesses, some rising and some waning. As befits a port city, there are numerous skilled mechanics and welders and machine shops lurking behind those unmarked doors. 

Probably you could have anything done, if you could find someone to tell you where to look. Can’t get the right sized zincs? The guy at the foundry down the road (really? there’s a foundry there?) will custom mold them for you this afternoon. It’s another advantage of being in a place with a fishing fleet, with people who both know how to do things, and how to improvise. You just have to be clear in your mind what you want.

A Thumbnail Sketch of Guaymas

aerial view of Guaymas looking to seaward
The downtown Fonatur Marina and the main port are just beyond the left end of the picture, and the shipyard Guayma Marina Seca, to the right,  but you get the idea, I hope. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia-Guaymas-Sonora.

One thing that makes Guaymas tick is its port, the main port of the state of Sonora. The port serves a fishing fleet; the fleet serves some canneries, and of course seafood is on the menu everywhere.  Ships move Pemex (the government oil company) products around, bring in coal for the power plant, trans-ship grain and other agricultural products, plus copper, gypsum and other extracted resources.

Googling around I find reference to potential port expansion, and hopes of closer commercial ties with Tucson and beyond using the existing rail line and more containers, plus a plan for Guaymas to take up the slack as California ports suffer from overcrowding. The harbor will need some dredging in spots but it has a fine natural location.

Guaymas is also touted as a city with a manufacturing tradition, and its backers are proud to mention an industrial park, Roca Fuerte, as a “better choice for offshoring than China”. They mention competitive pricing, that location again, and strong connections with the local community, leading to low rates of employee turnover and absenteeism.

On the outskirts, as the highway north goes through town, you’ll find what you find everywhere these days, the chain store sprawl zone, albeit in somewhat smaller boxes. Walmart, (and the Mexican supermarket chains, Soriana, and Ley),  Autozone, Home Depot, Burger King, McDonalds, they’re all in a  jumble out there. On my personal map of north Guaymas is the ice plant, just before the airport, and the turn off that will take you on the back road along the water, or the road via Miramar, if you want a more natural view.

A very short and possibly inaccurate history

This area was first explored in 1539 but it sounds like there were only occasional small settlements, for example, in 1821, “one house, occupied by a thief.” Then the pace picked up, to the point of battles with Americans in 1846 and French in 1865-66. Mexico’s history is complicated, and told by those, generally, who won, or at least lived to fight again. But three of Mexico’s presidents did come from this area, and are memorialized in a large, and largely empty, plaza near the waterfront, centro and marina.

Plaza with three obelisks and their statues of three of Mexico's presidents.
Three of Mexico’s presidents were from this area and are memorialized here. It’s a wonderful public space but seems for some reason underutilized.

In the late 1800s…

A monthly steamer visited from San Francisco, and “quality goods” came from Germany. [Don’t they still?] I’d like to know more about this German connection. The mayor of Guaymas has a German name. And the music all over the country sounds like Bavaria, full of accordions and tubas and a yodel-y, oompah, polka-ish sound.

Wikipedia tells me that there were a number of Catholic Germans in Texas who sided with Mexico during the Mexican-American war of 1848 and resettled in Mexico afterwards. The Emperor Maximilian I brought in some German settlers around 1865. Later President Porfirio Dias and the German Prince Otto von Bismarck conspired to bring more Germans, mainly to the south (coffee plantations we saw). A  wave of Mennonites came to some northern areas in the 1920s. [Wikipedia says that by their community rules, the men may speak Spanish, but the women must continue only in PlattDeutsch – I wonder if this is true?] And finally, there was a lot of German immigration during and after World War II.

So maybe that’s  why so much music around here sounds so German (and the beer is good!) Now, back to regular programming….

The Santa Rosalia Connection

The railway line construction began in 1880; in the night, across the bay, you can sometimes hear the whistle blow. Eighty miles across the Gulf of California in Santa Rosalia, copper production began in 1885; that copper was shipped to Guaymas and thence overseas.

old photo of downtown Guaymas
Guaymas in its early days of vigor, looking west up Avenida Serdan. This is still the heart of ‘centro‘. There’s more of everything now (horse power in a different form).

“In 1890, the population of Guaymas was 10,000. These people were proud to live in a city with modern services: electricity, telegraph, urban railroad and especially a communication with the principal ports of the world across big shipping companies. The economy of the port was of great importance.” (from


Av. Serdan centro looking west
Av. Serdan is still a main commercial center. This photo taken looking the same way as last century’s, a couple blocks further on.
Guaymas 1900s era bank building columns, cornices and dome, in disrepair.
We’d like to see an ‘architectural angel’ swoop in to rescue this building, and a couple others. Pronto! Good thing they don’t get much rain here or it would already be gone.

So Guaymas is a working city, with an economy whose  reasons for being have little to do with the visitors/tourists, except as they need support in the satellite town of San Carlos. We visitors are barely a blip among the (possibly) 150,000 metropolitan inhabitants. The fact that people hardly notice us  may be my most favorite thing of all about Guaymas. It’s a real relief not to be the lynchpin of the economy. And yet, look lost or ask a question, and you’ll almost invariably be met with a smile and real help. We’ve become quite comfortable here!

What about San Carlos?

San Carlos, a half hour bus ride to the north and west is much more a gringo zone. When we crossed the international border, San Carlos is where they assumed we were coming. There are two marinas with dry storage yards, and a nascent resort town with hotels, restaurants, curio shops and the other sundry accoutrements. There’s a big RV park; but I’ll bet most of the visitor population lives in the several housing developments (aka ranchitos ) you can see spreading back into the hinterland. To me they look kind of mono-cultural, but at least they’re not in Alberta!

sunlit mountains marina foreground
Looking over San Carlos Marina toward the scenic Tetakawi “Goat Tits” (literal translation) mountains. Photo courtesy of siesta

Of the San Carlos area, the Lonely Planet guide said something to the effect of  “beautiful desert-and-bay landscape presided over by the dramatic twin-peaked Cerro Tetakawi” and “full of norte-americanos from October to April.” Somewhere else I read that these winter people only spoke English and didn’t bother to exchange their dollars for pesos.

We are them, I guess. We went to Hammerhead’s, a sports bar in San Carlos, several times as U of Alabama moved towards the (US) national collegiate football championship; spent pesos alright, but spoke English. And fit right in. But Alabama didn’t.

bar crowd watching football
The national collegiate football semifinals drew a partisan crowd at Hammerhead’s sports bar in San Carlos. 

When I repeated the remark, I was tartly reminded that many norte-americanos also did their best to support the economy and numerous of them supported good works, in particular the local orphanages and animal shelters. Point taken.

A friend who likes to play basketball pointed out that he looked in vain for courts in San Carlos. Finally he realized that basketball courts are usually at the schools, and there are no schools in San Carlos because the locals mostly live in Guaymas and take the late bus home.

Enough of the lecture. Here are some random photos of Guaymas over the course of several months.



What’s to like about living in the shipyard

Living on the hard, which is to say, on the boat while it is out of the water, is like a cross between a refugee camp and a trailer park, according to Doug. I think of it as a peculiar gated community, or maybe a half-way house, twixt life ashore and life afloat.  Some of us get launched in a couple days, while others have been here for months, even years. We inmates can and do leave the premises from time to time but often remain quite near our cells, often at arm’s length.

Ten steps up, ten steps down
Ten steps up, ten steps down, but look at that shiny paint!

There are some issues related to our hovering home,  mostly to do with plumbing. The nicer bathroom is 500 steps away,  a five-minute walk, or a two-minute bike ride.  Plan ahead! There are showers, and the hot water heater is turned on, hallelujah. In June, 104 degrees, you’d like to have a water cooler instead. Whatever the season, water conservation is mandatory, and the taps in the yard are turned off overnight.

For drinking and cooking water, we’re hauling 20-liter garafons up the ladder. Hector Manuel,  the two-toot, blue cap water guy  (as opposed to the siren water guy whose garafons have yellow caps) honks past daily. We wash up with the marina’s non-potable water, which we dispense to ourselves via a garden sprayer. The main advantage to peeing into a milk jug (via a folding funnel for those of us lacking extension tubing)  is that there is no flushing required.

Watch, and you’ll see most everyone at some point in their day leaves the boat with a roll of toilet paper, a milk jug or a bucket. The genteel  among us put the jugs and paper in bags, but if not:  Don’t look at that jug. Especially don’t glance into the bucket. The lucky folks are the ones with the composting toilets aboard.

Damon Doug Shane
Doug’s purple glove is being passed from boat to boat, to be used for that last little dab of bottom paint under the keel where the blocks were.

There is a goodly amount of opinion-sharing, information-exchange, and just plain bull-shooting.  On the plus side, there is almost always  someone with the tool, the experience, the address or directions, the microballoons, the software, the great idea, a few ounces of sympathy or a shred of information. The Boat-Yard Mind is a powerful thing, and so is its toolbox.


Easing the furler towards the masthead.
Need a hand with something? Here you can get a dozen.

The social life is good

Pot luck dinners are the go-to event for every occasion. We’ve had birthday parties, pre-launch parties, Christmas and Thanksgiving of course, even a December 21 Solstice party.

We’re newbies to Mexico cruising, but one of the first things we’ve learned is that everybody  brings their own chair to a gathering. There are no fallen palm trees around here, no driftwood, and apparently, not too many willing to stand up, except for the food line.

Thanksgiving potluck dinner, and weren't we all thankful for something!
Thanksgiving potluck dinner, and weren’t we all thankful for something!

DSC08830 Desiree spoon

DSC08836 Connie and Mel make Xmas music

DSC08834 white elephant

The Christmas pot luck dinner featured plates of good food and and a white elephant “under-50-pesos or something off the boat” gift exchange. The rules were a little complicated, but someone could chose the gift you already had rather than unwrap something unknown from the stack. The bottles of tequila and wine all made the rounds several times. We also had music from our resident troubador.

Goofing Off? Who, Me?

Work alternates with goofing off
All work and no play..or is it the other way around?
Graeme and John admiring the machine shop's 2015 calendar.
Machine shops the world around use the same calendar.

Problems worse than ours

There's always someone with a bigger project or a worse set of problems than ours.

There’s always someone with a bigger project or a worse set of problems than ours.

It’s a reminder that Marina Guaymas is a shipyard, not a fancy marina. We’re here to get ourselves ready to leave, not to loll about on beach chairs! But it really helps that the marina staff is friendly and helpful. “If you’re happy, I’m happy” says Arnulfo the yard manager, and he means it.

Sheep Eat Our Garbage!

In their own gated communities around our perimeter are a couple dozen sheep whose diets we are encouraged to supplement if we’d like to. There are some loose sheep in the other part of the yard too. Watch out for ‘Pinto’ the butting male! He’s a bruiser.

Their tails are down, their ears are big, so these are definitely sheep, despite their long legs.

They don't like egg shells or garlic cloves, but it seems like everything else is in play, including squeezed out limon, and avocado skins.
They don’t like egg shells or garlic cloves, but it seems like everything else is edible, including squeezed out limón and grapefruit peels.

Every so often…

Someone escapes.

Every so often one of gets launched. Here it's a sister ship to Galivant, Salish Sea.
Here it’s a sister ship to Galivant, the Valiant 40 Salish Sea, making her stately procession to the travelift slip.

Best of all

We’ve made a lot of friends here. Maybe it’s due to adversity, or the common bonds of boatyard life, but really, it’s been a lot of fun.

One of the things we like best about cruising is that we get to spend time with people we wouldn’t have even met in our other life.

We Splashed!

We’re spending the first weekend of the New Year of 2015 in the water. The yard was fine, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be liking this floating stuff better. Un feliz, saludable y próspero año nuevo a todos.