SAN DIEGO – A second home is not just about single-family dwellings.

According to your friendly United States Internal Revenue Service, a second home can be a boat or recreational vehicle as long as it has sleeping, cooking and bathroom facilities. You can also deduct the mortgage interest on a boat or RV as long as they are used as security for the loan.

While boats and RVs have been extremely popular for decades, the boat and yacht component is really on the upswing south of the border, down Mexico way. That’s because the country believes it has found a way to further promote tourism (Mexico is now ranked 10th worldwide) and make a buck at the same time by appealing to visiting watercraft enthusiasts.

Originally, the marine plan was called the Nautical Ladder (Escalera Nautica), a series of 27 marinas constructed on both sides of Baja California and on the mainland of Mexico. The chain, seeking to lure the 1.6 million boaters in the U.S. southwest plus others, was scheduled to start at Punta Colonet, a small cove about 120 miles south of here on the northern coast of Baja California, then extend down to and around the cape at the tip of Cabo San Lucas, up the Sea of Cortes (Gulf of California) then down the Pacific Coast to Huatulco.

It was the biggest tourism project of Mexico President Vicente Fox’s administration and its road has not been smooth and comfortable. Not unlike the old Baja Highway, the Nautical Ladder project has endured huge chuckholes and detours, shortcuts and blowouts. Heading into President Fox’s final year in office, the effort was trimmed considerably and renamed the Sea of Cortes Project, or Mar de Cortes. The entry port now appears to be the existing marina at Ensenada plus key rungs of the remodeled ladder at Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Peñasco and Nuevo Vallarta.

The most interesting piece of the Sea of Cortes Project puzzle is a “land bridge” across the Baja peninsula, from Santa Rosalillita on the Pacific to the northern end of Bahía de los Ángeles on the Sea of Cortes. This would allow skippers to trail their boats across the peninsula rather than sailing all the way around it to reach the Sea of Cortes.

The original Nautical Ladder was hit by rising fuel costs, environmental concerns and initial investor skepticism. President Fox, who ended a 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) with his victory as a Democrat in 2000, clearly wanted a marine project completed before his one-term, six-year run was up in 2006. The Sea of Cortes Project appeared to be that attempted compromise. In addition, Fox wanted to push through the idea of making Punta Colonet a major commercial port rivaling Los Angeles and Long Beach. The plan is to have Punta Colonet serve container ships by 2012, offering an alternative to Asian traders.

At the time the Nautical Ladder was first announced, environmental groups – especially those focused on the land and waters of the Sea of Cortes – questioned the scope and goals. John McCarthy, director general of FONATUR, the Federal Tourism Promotion Fund and the organization assigned the task of luring not only vacationers but also huge dollars from international investors seeking to develop a variety of real estate possibilities, said at the time that environmental measures would be in place.

The plan, part of improving tourist infrastructure, is going forward because of the intriguing possibility of norteamericano dollars at every rung of the ladder. FONATUR plans to franchise the marinas with early investment forecasts reaching a total of $2 billion in five Mexican states. The marinas will include everything that you would find in a master-planned community, including major single-family homes and condominium projects, restaurants, shops, moorage and fuel. The plan is to space the marinas approximately 100 miles apart so boaters can have a safe harbor on each day of a trip.

FONATUR’s goal is “to be a leading institution in the promotion and development of diversified tourist projects according to global trends, with a business structure that promotes the involvement in projects based on sustainable regional growth, guaranteeing their economic and social benefits.”

Sounds ideal. Head south for the winter and step off your boat into sunshine, warm water and great Mexican food. Now all I need is time and a boat…

Tom Kelly is the co-author of “How a Second Home Can Be Your Best Investment” (McGraw-Hill), now available and local libraries and bookstores. Tom can be reached at news@tomkelly.com.

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