- UPDATE: April 10th: Geary's SONRISA NET Weather website now working fine
- May 2016: see our post comparing C-MAP and Navionics charts for Mexico
- March 2016: see also post concerning CM93 electronic charts.
- UPDATE: see also our October 2015 post on sailing down the west coast of Baja and making GPS-accurate Google Earth "charts"
- UPDATE: A post concerning official Mexican (SEMAR) nautical charts and C-MAP charts was posted on May 28, 2015
When we left Vancouver in August 2013, we had (what we thought) was a reasonable inkling of the various guidebooks, communications options and weather sources for Mexico. After a season of cruising Mexico from Ensenada to La Paz, the southern Sea of Cortez, and Mazatlan, we now have a more critical (and detailed) view of options. It seems appropriate to share this with those cruisers planning to sail to Mexico this Fall (2014).
Note that these represent our experience and opinion – your mileage may vary.
- Paper charts (most common seemed to be chartbooks based on NMA charts)
- Electronic charting for onboard chartplotter (C-Map; Navionics; Garmin)
- Electronic charting for computer for use with freely available (e.g., OpenCPN) or for-purchase (e.g., Fugawi; Nobeltec; Navsim) software using raster or vector charts. These charts may be the same as the C-Map, Navionics, etc chips, or may be the older vector CM93 charts that many cruisers trade with each other.
- Tablet-based charts for IPad or Android (available for relatively low cost from Jeppesen/C-MAP or Navionics)
[We also had older CM93 electronic charts (used in OpenCPN) and the DMA-based chartbook – neither showed acceptable detail or accuracy for coastal cruising/gunkholing. NOTE: make sure you have the latest version of CM93 charts -- approx 2010/2011 seems the latest date for Ver 2 CM93 (Ver 3 does not work in OpenCPN). There are major improvements between pre-2007 and later.]
Both C-MAP and Navionics have major areas lacking accuracy/detail. Some cruisers suggest one is better than the other – this may be the case for some specific areas, but for Mazatlan and the Southern/Central Sea of Cortez, we did not see significant differences. (Still, at little extra cost, having the “alternate” data set on the Android tablet was comforting.) Unfortunately, none of the above charts had acceptable accuracy for the Pacific Coast of Baja. [Update: C-MAP 2014/2015 has reasonably good coverage for Ensenada and Turtle Bay.]
UPDATE: The detailed charts in the Blue Latitude Press guides are available as GPS-accurate charts for PC, Android, IPad and Mac. The charts are the same price for all platforms; however, software required to view these charts is expensive for PC and Mac, but quite reasonably priced for Android ("PathAway") and IPad ("INavX") tablets. See Blue Latitude Press and Fugawi X-Traverse websites.
UPDATE 2015: C-Map updates show good detail for Altata, San Blas, and Loreto. Navionics charts do not show these updates [see this post]
When we came down the Pacific coast of Baja (November, 2013), we felt uncomfortably limited in our weather sources for Mexico. Used to "official" frequent, detailed and accurate forecasts for Canada and the USA, we could not find similar official forecasts in Mexico. (Occasionally, we would hear a Mexican Port Captain, such as in San Carlos near Mag Bay, read off a forecast – in Spanish, of course – but they were few and far between and hard to understand.)
We learned to rely on amateur forecasters, especially Geary of the Sonrisa Net, who provide daily forecasts via HAM (or any single-side band receiver) radio as well as via the web. These forecasts are easily available via Saildocs if one has a Pactor modem and either HAM or Marine-SSB Sailmail (see below). Also, many morning VHF nets (e.g., La Paz) provide forecasts, although I was never sure of their sources.
[UPDATE 2015: they were scheduled to become official at the end of 2014, but this has now been delayed -- apparently indefinitely.]
|NOAA Eastern Pacific Zones|
- Sonrisa Net (3968 kHz LSB HAM; 7:30am Mountain time; weather at 7:45am)
- Amigo Net ( 6212 / 6217 kHz USB Marine-SSB; 1400Z Daily; weather at 1415Z)
- Southbound Net (8122 kHz at USB Marine-SSB; 0000Z Daily). [UPDATE JAN 2016: according to https://southboundnet.wordpress.com/ , the Southbound Net, which has been out-of-action for awhile, has started again. Now as an evening net.]
Single-side band radio (weather fax): less useful
Weatherfaxes do not provide detailed information for small areas of the Mexican coast, but they are excellent for seeing the big picture (and they DO involve a human forecaster). We did not use them often while in the Sea of Cortez. They would be useful for forecasting hurricanes (if internet access not available).
April 10th 2016 update: After not being updated for a while, the SONRISA NET Weather website is now fully functional,
Updated November 2014: Saildocs and Airmail now make it easier to obtain Sonrisa and Solmate weather forecasts. Both sets are now available in the Airmail "Text-Weather" window.
!! Airmail has an easy method to have text (i.e., small size) forecasts sent by Saildocs:
- Send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, with line(s) in body of message requesting forecasts [no subject]. “Send” sends one time; “Sub” subscribes. For example: Send Sonrisa.Sea [this sends Geary’s daily summary plus additional forecast info for the Sea of Cortez]
- Sonrisa forecasts: see http://sonrisanet.org/Saildoc_info.html (Geary provides how to "subscribe" to his forecast using Saildocs and the full web URL. One can receive a one-time sending of a forecast by using "send" instead of "sub".
- NOAA (experimental): http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/experimental/epoffshores/data/WRKOFFPZ7. Via Saildocs: "send http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/experimental/epoffshores/data/WRKOFFPZ7"
- Solmatesantiago (Stan, Amigo Net):Fore info see: http://www.weather.solmatesantiago.com/fcstemail.html [we found these forecasts less accurate for the Sea of Cortez]
- Other pages: In general, one can request Saildocs to send a text version of any page on the web. However, Saildocs will strip all images etc, and one might have to rename the text file received to xxxxx.htm and read the file into a web browser such as Firefox or Chrome
For a warning about GRIB fioles, send an email to: GribWarning@saildocs.com
- Cell phone: we obtained a TelCel SIM card in Ensenada. (Ask for an area code for somewhere south, where you expect to spend more time – we chose a La Paz area code). Amigo Plan: If you purchase 200 MXN each and every 30 days, there are no long distance charges within Mexico, per-minute rates are the lowest, and long distance to the USA & Canada is very reasonable. However, one has to be sure to do this every 30 days. We found we did not use up 200 MXN each month, so ended up with somewhat more expensive rates. Note: no charge for incoming calls or texts.
- Cell data: we initially purchased a “Banda Acha” data stick and SIM card, so that we could access the internet while cruising. We subsequently found that our Android phone with TelCel SIM card provided at least as good connection as a “hotspot” (allowing computer and tablets to connect via the Android wifi; IPhones do this too). So the banda acha stick is no longer needed. After a little research, we found it was easy to top up the data plan by web.
[UPDATE: Cell coverage in front of Villa del Palmar Beach Resort at Bahia Candelario/Ensenada Blanca, just south of Puerto Escondido is good]
- WiFi: We found the WiFi at marinas more-often-than not to work poorly while on the boat. Purchase of a WiFi amplifier antenna helps substantially.
- !! Single-Side Band (voice and email): We especially found the combination of Single-side band radio, pactor modem and Sailmail made communication (by email) very easy, and possible almost anywhere. We would not want to be without it. (We found Sailmail to be much faster and easier to connect to than HAM Winmail.) We are not big “talkers” on the net, but we do enjoy hearing boat reports on the regular nets.
[We will update and revise the above, as necessary.]