Mexico is shelling out millions to lure U.S. Yachts
Tuesday, August 20, 2002
By Ben Fox, Associated Press
SANTA ROSALILLITA, Mexico â€” This remote fishing village on a wind-swept point has no electricity,
no running water, and not a single paved road.
But it will have a marina for yachts courtesy of Mexican authorities who are shelling out hundreds of
millions of dollars to lure U.S. boat owners to the rugged coast of the Baja California peninsula.
Construction crews are hauling boulders to form stone jetties that jut out from shore at Santa Rosalillita like
giant parentheses shrouded in coastal fog. The new marina, 410 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border,
will be the first stage in Escalera Nautica, a proposed network of 22 new and upgraded ports on the
Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.
If all goes according to plan, the number of pleasure boaters who cruise these waters would grow nearly
tenfold to 76,400 by 2010 as the network of marinas, hotels, and other amenities make it easier to travel to
and from Mexico in a yacht, according to government projections. "This project will create enormous
amounts of development and obviously a lot of jobs," said Alejandro Moreno, tourism secretary of Baja
California Norte, one of the peninsula's two states. "It's a great opportunity."
Not everyone shares his enthusiasm. Environmental groups fear large-scale development will compromise
a unique desert and coastal ecosystem that is prized by surfers, sport fishers, kayakers, and others for its
rugged beauty. "This type of megaproject is totally inappropriate for this region," said Patricia Martinez,
director of Pro Esteros, a wetlands advocacy group in the port city of Ensenada. "There is no need for so
many marinas, especially in such environmentally sensitive areas."
Some of the most biting criticism comes from American yacht owners, the project's target market. "The
numbers are absolutely ridiculous, pure fantasy," said Richard Spindler, founder of an annual San Diego-to-
Cabo San Lucas sailing event and editor of sailing magazine Latitude 38. "They would have to empty every
marina in California to get 75,000 boats."
Sailors argue that Mexico would be better served by adding new berths to the marina on the Sea of Cortez
in the city of La Paz, which can get crowded in winter and early spring.
Still, many residents of remote Baja California villages like Santa Rosalillita welcome Escalera Nautica or
anything else that would bring basic services and ease their dependence on boom-and-bust fishing. "If it
brings, water, electricity, and jobs, it will be a good thing," 40-year-old fisher Armando Uribe said as he
loaded his truck after a night of trying to catch halibut and shark in the Pacific.
In some places, where fisheries have collapsed from overuse, the benefits of Escalera Nautica are
considered obvious. "The lobster is gone. The abalone is gone. All we have left is tourism," said Anita
Grosso de Espinosa, a 94-year-old restaurant owner in El Rosario, along Baja's main highway.
Mexico's federal tourism agency, which is responsible for such glitzy resorts as Cancun and Ixtapa, bills
Escalera Nautica as the country's largest tourism project in 20 years. Government agencies have budgeted
$360 million over the next six years â€” including $8 million for Santa Rosalillita â€” and hope to attract
more than twice as much in private investment for hotels, restaurants, and other amenities, officials said.
The principle behind Escalera Nautica, which translates as nautical staircase or ladder, is that better
infrastructure will induce more sailors to explore the peninsula, which runs 1,000 miles from the border
city of Tijuana to the resort of Cabo San Lucas, and to venture to mainland destinations such as Mazatlan
or Guaymas. Authorities plan to build ten new marinas and expand five more to complement the seven that
already exist in the region.
Of the new marinas, Santa Rosalillita is furthest along in construction. It has already caused significant
beach erosion and killed marine life by stirring up mud in the village's small bay, said Charles Moore,
founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, Calif. Moore, who was conducting
research on the project this month from his catamaran anchored off the beach at Santa Rosalillita,
questions whether many would visit the remote village. It has no hotel, one restaurant, and is only
accessible by a spine-jarring dirt road. "This is not a tourist resort. This is a windy promontory that's
almost always foggy and cold," Moore said as he stood on the shore beside the new jetty.
Government backers assert that hotels and other amenities, largely funded by private investors, will come
as the project progresses. They also said they will take steps to protect the environment. "This is going to
be a sensitive project," said Pedro Delgado, planning director for the tourism ministry for Baja California
Norte. "We are not trying to develop another Cancun or Cabo San Lucas."
Such assurances don't convince Mexican and U.S. environmentalists who hope to derail Escalera Nautica
or at least limit its scope. Opponents have succeeded in persuading Mexico to halt construction of a new
road in a nature preserve until further environmental studies are completed. The shiny blacktop,
surrounded by rare species of cactus, comes to an abrupt end in the desert east of Santa Rosalillita.
Environmental groups also persuaded Mexico to reduce the number of proposed berths to 100 from 1,800
in the tiny Sea of Cortez village of Bahia de Los Angeles, said Serge Dedina, director of Wildcoast, a U.S.
organization that seeks to track and protect the endangered sea turtles that feed in the waters off Baja
California. "We're not going to stop all of it, but we're definitely going to mitigate the most egregious
environmental impacts," Dedina said.
Copyright 2002, Associated Press
|Cabo San Lucas Looking Shoreward
ENVIORNMENTAL GROUPS SAY
DEMAND FOR MARINAS
By E. Eduardo Castillo â€”
MEXICO CITY (AP) â€” Environ-
mental groups asked the Mexican gov-
ernment on Jan. 16 to modify a
tourismproject that calls for building 22
newand upgraded ports along the Baja
Representatives of the international
environmental groups WILDCOAST
andGroup of 100 asked thegovernment
toinvest the money instead on
improvingand expanding existing
infrastructure in the resorts of
LosCabos, La Paz,Ensenada, and
Homero Aridjis, president of the
Group of 100, said the so-called
Escalera Nautica project would destroy
the region's fragile and unique ecosys-
WILDCOAST co-director Serge De-
dina said environmentalists hope
officials "avoid the construction of
megaprojects in isolated areas."
Mexico's federal tourism agency,
responsible for the resorts of Cancun
and Ixtapa, says the project is the
country's largest in 20 years.
The idea is that better infrastructure
in small, currently undeveloped towns
will encourage more people to explore
the peninsula, which runs 1,000 miles
from the border city of Tijuana to the
resort of Cabo San Lucas.
Government agencies have budget-
ed $360 million over the next six years
and hope to attract more than twice as
much in private investment for hotels,
restaurants, and other amenities.
Officials believe the ports will
attract more than 60,000 yachts and
boats from the United States by 2014.
But the private EDAW Inc. firm, hired
byWILDCOAST and Group of 100,
determined from a study last month
that nomore than 10,000 boats would
The Mexican government "is looking
for foreign investors for a project that
is not viable ... there isn't the necessary
demand," Dedina said.
"Large-scale marina development
will undermine the ruggedness and
stark natural beauty that draw tourists
from the United States and other parts
of the world," Dedina said. "And, if
actu-ally completed, the marinas will
likelysit mostly empty, providing no
economic benefit to local communities."
Aridjis said Baja California is a
wasteland of failed government prc
ects. "In Loreto, an abandoned
FONATUR marina bears witness to the
lack of demand for new marinas in the
region...We hope this market analysis
will convince them to re-examine the
existing development proposal
arrrangment instead focus on bringing
needed infrastructure like water and
electricity inthe region. Once these
marinas arebuilt, the damage is done
and cannotbe undone."
Alejandro Rodriguez, the project
director, said he would examine the
study and the groups' recommend
tions. But there are no plans to cancel
the project, he said.
The Log News Service contributed to
BIG DREAMS FOR BAJA
Plans for Mexican peninsular Include Hotels and Marinas; One
By Joel Millman and Jim Carleton
From an article taken from the WALL STREET JOURNAL
A new billboard erected by Mexico's state tourism agency here
touts the millions of pesos on their way to this spot on the Baja
Peninsular 400 miles south of the U.S.-Mexican border. The
money will promote resort development as part of a project,
the goverment promises, that will have "over 100,000
beneficiaries." A single spray painted word asks, "Quien?"
That cheeky grafito means "who?" in English-poses a $100
million question that could nag planners of Mexico's Escalera
Nautica for years to come. The "Nautical Route" --a chain of
22 goverment franchised ports and marinas to be built or
expanded along 2,000 miles of shoreline in northwestern
Mexico-- represents the country's most ambitious tourist
development since the spetacular success more than a
generation ago, of Cancun.
Now ranking amoung the Carribean's busiest destinations,
Cancun would be hard to duplicate anywhere, much less along
the craggy, desolate Baja Coast. Nevertheless, Mexican
officials say that Escalera Nautica will be successful as well as
ecologically safe. Best of all, they say, the estimated $1.9
billion cost to build it around the Sea of Cortez can be financed
by private developers. But can it? Luring the vacation dollars
of rich gringos from the U.S. Southwest has been the dream
of Mexican tourist officials for years, since the 1973
completion of a two lane highway running the length of Baja's
rugged spine. First by Car, then by recreational vehicle, and
now by yacht. Tourism projects have always been launched
under the same mantra: "Build it, and they will come".
Yet for 30 years, starting with a chain of government owned
motels, then a chain of recreation-vehicle courts, those
schemes have failed as developers have been unable to
overcome Baja's biggest obstacle of relative inacessibility.
Now a new report from a respected U.S. research firm throws
some cold water on the planning behind this latest Baja venture.
According to the study by the San Francisco based EDAW
Inc., which was commissioned by the philanthropic David and
Lucile Packard foundation on behalf of some enviornmental
and business groups in the region, demand for that kind of
nautical tourism envisioned by Escalera Nautica is overblown
For example, Mexican officials say the project will attract
more than 60,000 big boats annually from the U.S. by 2011,
although only around 3,000 such vessels travel there today;
the EDAW report concludes demand will only support about
10,000 annual boat visits to the Baja area over that time. The
reason, boating in the U.S. Southwest has largely stagnated.
With so many aging babyboomers having taken up the
pasttime, EDAW researchers foresee little reason for greater
numbers to attempt sailing to Baja--a voyage that entails rough
seas and treacherous currents and can last for weeks.
Mexican officals defend their projections, saying they take into
account other variables such as overflow from California's
filled-to-capacity marinas, anyway, the weather is better here:
"Maybe you could have six months in Mexico and six months
in the U.S". says Alexandro Rodriguez Mirelles, an official at
the agency Fonatur supervising the Escalera Nautica project.
Given that Baja's main attractions are the unspoiled and
unpopulated deserts and beaches, enviornmentalists hope they
can talk the government into pursuing a radically scaled-down
version of the project that would take advantage of these
assets without undermining them. They worry that
construction of marinas and other infrastructure would despoil
a largely prestine landscape and threaten rare creatures like sea
"We support development in this region, but if we build
infrastructure that is not needed, the damage will have been
done." says Lorenzo Rosenzweig, chief executive officer of
the Mexican Nature Conservation Fund, whicj has scheduled a
January 22 meeting in Mexico City to review findings of the
KDAW report with government officials.
Santa Roseillilita was chosen for the first step for Mexico's
ambitious plan. A windswept village midway down the
peninsula, its first street lights came just this past year--four
solar operated lamps erected between a public basketball court
and a row of outhouses.
Yet the spot was selected as the western terminus of one of
Escalera Nautica's most dubious presumtions, a so-called
Asphault Canal that would allow U.S. boatowners to save a
weeks sailing time around the tip of Baja by trucking their
vessels overland to the other coast.
The problem: Although Santa Roselillilta lies at Baja's thinnest
point, it has neither a hospitable harbor, nor adequate road
access linking it to the Cortez shore. The EDAW report
concluded the the "canal" makes little economic sense, given
that most boats would press on to Cabo San Lucas, at most
three days south.
"This project is a great powerpoint presentation, but to build a
marina here makes no sense either enviornmentally or
economically." says Serge Dedina of WildCoast international
conservation team in San Diego which monitors the health of
the Baja coastline.
Pointing to the power shovels dredging the silt from the
half-completed new marina, Mr Dedina says constant beach
erosion means the marina's operator will have to pay the
continual upkeep--this is a "port" that today lacks electricity
and telephone service, to say nothing of food, lodging or
medical facilities or fuel storage.
"Yachts" We see maybe one a month." says Sixto Alvarez of
the Rafael Ortega Cruz Fishing cooperative, sitting amid a
collection of rotting skiffs behind the cooperative's decrepit ice
house. The packing shed is abandoned he explains, because all
of the abalone here have been fished out.
Hard to reach by road, Santa Roselillilta is almost equally
inaccessable by sea. This part of the coast lies along a stretch
the yachsters call the Baja Bash, where high winds and
dangerous currents make sea travel north to San Diego
arduous, if not impossible. A transit marina, in other words,
would count mainly on traffic going in one direction and
would require the connessionaire running a transport service to
pass on to boat owners his cost of bring empty trucks back
after a trip.
"As a delivery skipper, I'm not the least worried about losing
business," says Craig Kimbal, a yacht hauler who charges up
to $2,000 to bring vessels around Cabo San Lucas and into the
Sea of Cortez from the West Coast. Operators using the
Asphault Canal might be able to charge an owner as little as
$1,000, Mr. Kimbal calculates, but the owner would still have
to get himself and his guests over to the other side with
additionl expenses for food and lodging. "The whole idea is to
have fun on the water--not to save time." Mr. Kimbal says.
Nevertheless, Fonatur officials say Mexico is committed to
spending up to $70 million for the transpeninsula highway and
$15 million apiece for new marinas on either coast--just for
this link for the Escalera Nautica project. Its the linchpin that
will lure other developers to the Sea of Cortez, starting at
Puerto Escondido, where Fonatur says it has committments
from golfer Greg Norman to design two golf courses for a
new developmen with Boston venture-capital group Advent
International, plans for the $200 million resort call for a 1,400
room hotel and state of the art marina.
"To say we are committed is premature," says Diego
Serebrisky, Advent's representative in Mexico City "We are
only at the study stage, We have promised to study this idea,
but so far that's it."
View of Cabo San Lucas from the outer harbor anchorage. "Cabo" as is commonly known to
cruisers is also known as "Newport Beach South". Most cruisers avoid the town due to the
"Huckster" reputation and expense, but many including the writer in this instance, spend a
few days in the anchorage, refuel and continue. The writer has known boats to refuel up in
the far reaches of Magdalena Bay, San Carlos, the continue to Mazatlan thus avoiding "Cabo"
in its entirety.