Editor’s note: Our recent Ocean Voyager 2013 issue had a story by Rich Ian-Frese detailing how he and his wife Catherine built an aluminum hard dodger for their Tayana 37, Anna. Part of that story involved the logistics of getting the materials to their location in Mexico. Here is that part of the building story.
When we first drew up some plans for the aluminum dodger we happened to be located on the southern end of the Baja Peninsula, in the Sea of Cortez — in the vicinity of La Paz. And it became clear, after some research, that we wouldn't be able to source the materials we wanted anywhere in Mexico; it simply wasn't available. We could obtain 4000-series or 6000-series aluminum alloy, but unfortunately, not the 5000-series. That left us with two options: A) import the materials and essentially double or triple the costs and time frame of the project (because of excessive Customs importation fees, unfathomable red tape, and hefty international freight charges), or B) sail Anna to the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez, more specifically, Guaymas, Sonora (about 300 nautical miles to the north and east of La Paz), and then rent a car there, drive across to the border town of Nogales, Ariz. (some 250 highway-miles north of Guaymas), pick up the materials that we would have shipped to a warehouse in Nogales, and then drive the freight back to the boat ourselves.
We opted for the latter, plan B. It wasn't a difficult decision. After all, we had previously experienced the absurdity of trying to send or receive small, international parcels between Mexico and the U.S. Customs will hang up anything going in or out of Mexico if it isn't simple, 1st-class, flat mail — it could take weeks, possibly longer, for a shipment to reach its destination. The best and least expensive way to move something across the Mexican/U.S. border, is simply to bring it over yourself, if at all possible. So that's what we would do. But like many things…it's often easier said than done.
We needed to tweak the logistical parameters. That is, reduce the size of the manufacturer's incredibly large aluminum plates and extra-long lengths of pipe and flat bar. The plates were sold in panels eight feet wide by 20 feet long. The pipe and flat bar were sold in 20-foot lengths. To fit into the cargo compartment of our rented Nissan Sentra, we would require the distributor to cut the panels down in size, so that the widest dimension on the aluminum plate was no more than 36 inches, and the lengths no more than 48 inches (we measured the width of the Sentra's cargo hold at 37 inches, the length to be more than 48 inches, and the depth of the cargo hold greater than seven inches).
This translated into the following order specifications:
• (2) pieces 5086 H116 aluminum plate, .25-inch x 48 inches x 144 inches; to be cut before shipping into (8) equal pieces at 36 inches x 48 inches
• (3) pieces 5086 H32 aluminum pipe, Schedule 40 .5-inch ID x 20 feet; to be cut before shipping into (12) equal pieces at 5 feet
• (1) piece 5086 H111 aluminum flat bar, .25-inch x 1.5-inch x 20 feet; to be cut before shipping into (4) equal pieces at 5 feet
This was packaged into a skid that was 5 feet x 5 feet x 7 inches, of Class 60 aluminum, weighing 445 pounds.
We had the aluminum distributor cut the large plates, long pipes, and flat bar to our specs (at no additional cost) and then package them onto a wooden skid. They arranged for the freight to be trucked from their facility, in Los Angeles, Calif., to a warehouse of our choice in Nogales, Ariz. (the closest border town, four hours and a straight-shot, rental-car drive away, from Guaymas harbor). The freight charges for the skid were $175 USD and the warehouse in Nogales charged us $8 USD to accept and store the skid until we drove up to get it. Cheap, considering the alternative.
We backed the compact Sentra into the enormous truck bay at the warehouse, unpacked the skid and slipped all the pieces into the cargo hold of the Sentra. They fit like a glove. The pre-cut 36-inch x 48-inch aluminum panels slipped into the cargo hold and on through the fold-down backseat. Nice, when something (for a change) works as planned.
Unless you have access to a flatbed truck and a shop with a forklift, the manufacturer's uncut aluminum plates will be too large — too unwieldy — and too heavy (167 pounds per sheet) to handle by yourself. So, we designed the dodger to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle — smaller, more manageable component pieces. This would require more welded seams, but with a MIG welder, welding the extra seams would go relatively quickly.