Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sometimes It Doesn't Pay to Be Cheap

Can you tell that Jari and I are displeased about haul out prices in Banderas Bay?

There is a not-so-subtle irony that in our search for a cheap place to redo our bottom paint we wound up in the most expensive place in North America to haul out our boat. More expensive than San Francisco. More expensive than Key West. And more expensive than Seattle. In fact, I have yet to find a place in the United States where it costs more to haul out, put your boat on stands and splash it back in the water than Banderas Bay.

A little background. Bettie needs a bottom job. Bad. For those of you non boaters, every couple of years boats need new paint on the portion of the boat that is below the waterline. This ensures you don't wind up with a keel that looks like a marine sanctuary. At the moment, every time we scrape the bottom of the boat I'm afraid we are going to get fined by the EPA.

We needed new bottom paint when we left Texas but thought we could find a cheap yard somewhere in Central America where we could haul the boat out and do the work ourselves for a way better price. However, we made an unfortunate error. On the Caribbean coast of Panama, there was only one haul out facility, and that was Shelter Bay. They made the most of their monopoly, charging $12 a foot for a haul out, and the boat yards on the Pacific side of Panama weren't any better. Little did we know that would have been a steal compared with Banderas Bay.

So we moved on to Mexico where prices would surely be more reasonable. And they are. In San Blas, a tiny town 60 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, the cost is $8.49. In Mazatlan, it's $11.53. In La Paz, I got a quote for a little more than $800 for someone else to do the work for us. And in Guaymas, it's a flat rate of $300. In Banderas Bay?? $19.80 a foot at the La Cruz Shipyard. And $17.80 at Opequimar, the other shipyard in Puerto Vallarta. Funnily enough, Opequimar's lay days are more expensive, so the price is almost exactly the same.

Anyway, I wasn't too fazed by the astronomical prices because we had heard you could negotiate like our friends over at Brio did. They got a quote of $10.92 a foot at both Opequimar and La Cruz (read their excellent post about it here) and had a great haul out in La Cruz. Oh, the difference a year makes.

We went over to the shipyard to discuss pricing and spoke with Alejandro, the same guy Brio talked to last year. He said he could no longer negotiate but would give us last year's rate of $18.00 a foot. (They jacked their prices up 10% for both haul outs and lay days since last year. I'd be curious to see how much they went up in 2012.) He then said we could speak with the harbor master if we wanted to negotiate further.

So here begins my two conversations with the harbor master. During the first conversation, I asked for the survey rate, the same $14 rate they offered Brio last year without any negotiation. Instead, he offers me 5% off of the $18.00. Now the price was at $17.10.

And I got to thinking. You see, this price sounded really expensive to me, but I knew next to nothing about prices for haul outs. So I decided to do a bit of internet sleuthing. Surely the price would be more in, say, San Francisco where the cost of living is ten times that of La Cruz.

At the DIY yard (Berkeley Marine Center) in San Francisco, it's $11.00 a foot, a full $8.80 lower than in La Cruz! In San Diego, I couldn't find a DIY yard, but for $1,360 I can get the bottom job done at Driscoll Mission Bay Boat Yard and Marina. That's only $300 more than the price I was quoted here, and someone else does the work for me. In Seattle at the Canal Boatyard, I could get a haul out for $9.00 a foot, less than half of the rate in La Cruz. In Key West, an incredibly expensive place period, it's $8.00 a foot.

At first, I thought, what are the odds that we have found the most expensive haul out rates in the entire world! But I got on to Cruisers Forum and the Women Who Sail Facebook page and asked if anyone had heard of a higher price. And, indeed, higher prices exist. One guy was quoted $23.62 a foot in Kotka, Finland. A woman who had sailed extensively in Europe said that her haul out in Crete was less expensive at $16.98 a foot but that on the mainland it could get more expensive at $20 a foot or higher. The prices in Sydney, Australia are comparable to here at $17.10 a foot on the low end.

I still have emails out to see if prices are higher in Singapore or Tokyo, and there might be a higher price in Flamenco Marina in Panama City. But the fact is that all of these places (besides PC) have exceptionally high costs of living, much more so than Mexico. And with cost of living factored in, this might very well be the most expensive haul out rate in the world.

That's when I went back to the harbor master for our second discussion. I asked him what the rationale was behind his pricing structure when I could get the same service in one of the most expensive cities in the United States for close to half the price. His answer: the high cost of living and taxes! As if San Francisco doesn't have a higher cost of living and I'm betting way more of a tax burden, at least that's what I hear all the California cruisers complaining about.

He then went on to say that he had gotten tired of all the negotiating that cruisers were doing over the prices, including going back and forth between them and Opequimar to try to score a better deal. Which I will admit does sound annoying until you consider the fact that the prices they are asking for are so out of the realm of reason that it would be idiotic not to negotiate. Anyway, so he went to the guy at Opequimar, and they both agreed to keep their prices at a set rate and to no longer negotiate with cruisers. He then said that the price must be expensive for us, which may or may not have been a slight (just because my husband has the boat covered in tarps right now does not mean that we are destitute!), but $19.80 a foot is expensive. It's expensive in the United States. It's expensive in Mexico. Heck, it's even up there in Australia and in Europe.

You may wonder why I am writing this. Why don't I just quit complaining, get over the fact that boating costs money and head to one of the other, cheaper, spots in Mexico? And my answer is this: I am willing to get gouged. I have accepted the fact that as people who live on boats we are expected to pay more than the fair price. But there is a limit, and I for one think $19.80 is way over that line. If you are a boater who does his or her own work, then DO NOT come to Banderas Bay. Seriously, just get your work done in the United States. We wish we had.

** Update: after my second conversation with the harbor master, the shipyard has decided to run a 15% off special until the end of October. Unfortunately, even though this is still insanely overpriced, we have to take them up on it due to time constraints and the fact that the travel lift in San Blas has been down for "routine maintenance" for the past two months. So be it. And if you made it through all that, here are a couple of happy sailors for your time!






  1. So sorry they're being so crappy Attila! It's crazy they won't do any better than 15% for you guys, especially when this is only one year later!!! Will they at least let you stay on the boat while you're in the yard?

    1. Hey, Leah! Yeah, it's a total racket these days, but maybe if there's enough push back they'll drop their prices back within the stratosphere. And we are not staying in the yard because of the baby.

  2. That's kind of the same world as land yachts, aka buses or RVs, where the shop rates are typically in the $85-135 (or more!) per hour range. And, these prices usually involve all the time it sits in the service bay, not just the actual time it gets worked on! So you get to pay for the "technician's" aimless walk around time, waiting on parts time, potty breaks, 'consulting' on other repair jobs, etc. We feel your pain! Like you, we have tried to become as self sufficient as possible to avoid the gouge factors, but sometimes neither of us has a good alternative - especially if the repair is major and required to move on.

    BTW, that is the cutest little kid on the cruisers net right now.

  3. Oi, that is PRICEY! Lord. I think here in New Orleans at the cheap place it's $12 a foot to haul out. Your price is 60% higher. I'm not sure why they wouldn't settle on something like $15 a foot. Middle of the road ya know?

    So happy you and Vlad and little Jari are doing well, in spite of the gouging. You'll never be broke in your heart ;) am I right?

  4. Whoops I meant 40% higher..I was backwards.

  5. I am SO glad you posted this. I probably would have considered hauling out in Mexico under the assumption it would be less expensive. Interesting to note that it is much, much cheaper in the US. Thank you for teaching me an important lesson- do NOT haul out in Mexico, most especially Banderas Bay. Gracias!