|HEART OF GOLD, a 31' Island Packet Sailboat||Currently in Key West, Florida|
Detailed information on provisioning, checking in, marinas/anchorages, etc. is available at our SaltySailors.com website.
Crossing the Gulf of Mexico to Isla Mujeres, then down the Mexican Coast
June 3 - 8, 2004: Crossing the Gulf of Mexico - Brandenton, FL to Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Thursday at 7:30 am and we have pulled up anchor and are on our way out of the Manatee River. On board with us is Thane's mother, Jean. We are motoring as there is no wind. With three of us on board, the watches are pretty easy. Jean does 9-12, I do 12-3, and Thane does 3-6. The full moon rose about 9:30 pm.
Friday: The water is a beautiful deep blue. We are still motoring as there is not a breath of wind. On night watch it is very dark as the clouds are covering the moon. We are fighting a 4 knot current.
Saturday: Same conditions. No wind at all. We are changing coarse to see if we can find a way out of this current that is against us. At this rate, we will not have enough fuel to make it to Isla. Yea! we found a course that is only 2 knots of current against us. We hope to pick up the current that pushes us toward Isla when we get down by Cuba. About 2:30 pm we have enough wind to sail at about 3 knots. The Gulf Stream is VERY rolly. It feels like we are in a washing machine.
Sunday: We had worried that we might have to try and make Cuba for fuel. (We haven't learned yet that we can just wait it out!). A storm came up quickly on the horizon and we double reefed just in time. It passed over quickly with only wind and dark clouds, no rain. The seas are rising to about 5'. As night falls, it gets not very rolly, but extremely rolly. When my watch started at midnight, we were no longer sailing as we had lost the wind yet again. I can smell exhaust very badly. I touch the side of the lazarette and it is extremely hot, Thane says "don't worry." The engine overheated at about 1:00 am. We turned off the engine and put up the sail and sometimes even went as fast as 2 knots down a wave. Thane got up at 3:30 a.m. and changed the alternator belt that had broken.
Monday: 6:00 pm we have arrived in Isla. My first real passage, Jean's first real passage, Thane's 3rd real passage. We all took a solar shower and looked forward to a good nights sleep. Sailing may be a lot like childbirth. After you arrive, you forget about the boredom and the fears of the trip fade away. There are about 20 other boats at anchor here in Isla. Can't wait until tomorrow when we pump up the dinghy and I get my first look at Isla. My log entry says, "Thank you God for our safe arrival."
June 9 - 18, 2004: Isla Mujeres, Mexico
There is just so much to say about Isla. This will ramble on so feel free to skip ahead! Being tourists for the first time, and with Jean here for the first time too, we rented a golf cart for the day and toured Isla like true tourists. It's worth the $45 at least one time to get to go where you want, when you want, as fast as you want.
There is a cruiser's net every morning at 7:30 am. It's a great asset. For instance, Jean did not have return trip arrangements. She loved sailing so much that she wanted to sail back rather than fly. We asked on the net if anyone needed crew that was going back to the US. Pipe Dream came on and said they were considering crew and we went over an met them. What nice people. Ferdy is from Arizona and Jutta is the most adorable, tiny little person from Germany. I hope that one day we cruise the same waters so we can get to know each other better. Jean sailed back to Florida with them.
We stayed in Isla and ate, and ate, and ate, and ate. Fabulous food here. We enjoy the restaurants, but also enjoy the street vendors. Launcharia Sammy has the best tortas and tacos and they are sooooo cheap. Thane wants to eat there every day, but I put my foot down. I have to eat at Lo Lomitas at least once a week so I can have a Chile Reano. But then we also have to eat at Minimo's which has a really good pescado frito (fried fish). In Mexico they take a whole fish, gut it, and then drop it into hot grease to fry....no batter needed. It is awesome. Why don't we do that in the US???? Enough about food, I've already gained 5 pounds. But if you go to the grocery store you can buy about 5 avocados for about $1 US. You can also buy steak for about $1.00 lb. Meat in Mexico is not aged so you have work around that (hey, that's a good topic for my galley page on SaltySailors.com!).
The vendors in Isla are so much fun. They are very aggressive and you have to learn to just say "No, gracias" and go on. We met, and really got to know, some of the time share salesmen. Thane was working hard at learning Spanish and they were more than willing to help him. We formed a good friendship with Roberto & Jorge that has lasted and very time we go thru Isla we look them up. They are both as cute as can be. Jorge was looking to go to the US to work during the off season and anyone that hired him would be lucky to have him.
Going to Cancun for our Importato: (Everything is kind of changing daily right now in Mexico as far as checking in goes.) We have been told that an Importato is important, so we hop on the ferry to Cancun. After the fast ferry you get on the #13 bus to the main bus terminal, then you get on the express bus to the airport where the customs office is to get your Importato. Then you wander around until you find the Customs office. We gave all our papers to the person at the front desk (I am wishing big time that I had made copies before giving everything I had to customs official). After about 30 minutes they come out and tell us they have to come and visit our boat. (Really, really wishing I'd made copies of those papers.) We make an appointment to pick them up at the ferry landing and take them out to our boat on Wednesday.
It's Wednesday and Thane has gone to pick up the Customs Official. It is obvious that he has never been in a dinghy before and he is afraid. He is about 25 years old and speaks NO English. He has Thane take him around the back of the boat so he can photograph the name of the boat, then he comes on board. After a lot of hand gestures and slow talking we figure out that he is asking if we have any guns or bombs on board. We say "no" and he says "okay" and signs our Importato. Much ado about nothing.
It's the 18th and we have checked out of Mexico. They are changing all the processes and now it seems that if you want to check out you have to go to Cancun to do so. Fortunately for us, their computer is down so they check us out in Isla. We met a lot of nice people in the Port Captain's office, most notably for us was Breeze & Debbie from Blue Sky.
You can also check out of Mexico at Xcalak, but since we plan to move down the Mexican coast fairly quickly, we decided to check out in Isla. Rauscher's Guide says only to attempt the reef entry at Xcalak in good weather so we did don't want to get stuck not being able to check out of Mexico because of weather.
The first timer's (Tami's) impressions of Isla:
June 19 - June 20, 2004: Isla Mujeres to Hut Point
Normal day of sailing for us...we motored the entire way to Hut Point. As we are motoring by Cancun I looked in the binoculars and told Thane how strange I thought it was that so many people were swimming way out here and that he better be careful and not run them over as it would probably ruin our trip. After awhile a police boat came flying up to us and scared bajezzus out of us. He told us to go around the swimmers (apparently this is an actual organized swim meet and we just happened to get in the middle of it).
We arrived at Hut Point and the reef was not to difficult to navigate if you have the Rauscher's guide. (Amazon link to : Captain Freya Rauscher's Cruising Guide to Belize and Mexico's Caribbean Coast including Guatemala's Rio Dulce. I don't think you can even get this guide new anymore, but it's well worth it if you can buy a used one...not getting rid of mine!) We had trouble getting the anchor to set. We tried 3 different places with our CQR and finally just put down a lot of chain.
We are not really swimmers/divers. We like to think we are, but if the water is not pristine, you will not find us in it. Here the water was very clear with a nice green cast to it. Thane dove the anchor and, of course, it wasn't set, but there was a lot of chain down there. We snorkeled around the boat and I saw my first live star fish.
Hut Point is mainly a resort area. They rent these fast little one/two person boats. All the boats have to follow the leader so a string of them run around the anchorage in a line. They love to circle unsuspecting sailboats at anchor. Gives them something to do besides follow the leader. Since we had deflated the dinghy, we didn't go ashore.
June 20-21, 2004: Hut Point to Cayo Norte (Banco Chinchorro):
We did an overnight from Hut Point to Cayo Norte. We chose not to stop in Cozumel or Playa del Carmen as at the time, rumor has it that there is a $300 check in at either of those places. Way too much for us.
We saw 4 sea turtles in the area of Playa del Carmen. It was a rough, rolly, dark night. We approached the reef at Banco Chinchorro around 10:00 am on Monday. We couldn't even see the reef, until we had passed thru it. Put the anchor down and Thane went down below to sleep. I was too keyed up so I sat in the cockpit and enjoyed the scenery. We were the only boat around.
Not much later, I looked up and noticed a Mexican ponga with 6 men circling our boat. I called Thane up as I knew we were about to be boarded. They looked like fishermen, wearing only shorts & knives strapped to their sides. They pulled alongside and asked if we were alone. They spoke only Spanish and our limited Spanish made communication difficult. Thane kept pushing the boat away and I went down below and grabbed our mace. I then stood behind Thane ready to spray them in the face if they tried to board. After a few more attempts to pull along side, Thane told them they were making us very nervous. I don't know if they understood, but they backed off and as they were leaving they told us they were the Mexican Navy. That was rather scary. I am glad, however, that we did not over react and spray the Mexican Navy in the face with mace!
About 6:00 pm, Blue Sky and Necessity came into the anchorage. The Mexican Navy boarded them in full regalia --- uniforms, guns and all. Just doing their job. They have a Navy base on Cayo Norte and I guess it is their job to make sure we are not carrying any Mexican nationals out of the country to Belize.
June 22 - 26, 2004: Cayo Norte (Banco Chinchorro):
We met Breeze & Debbie from s/v Blue Sky (Thane had met Breeze briefly in the Port Captain's office in Isla) and David from Necessity over the radio. We didn't have our a dinghy inflated (a must have on our list is dinghy davits) and they came over and got us and we all went to Blue Sky for dinner. We did this several times during our stay here. Debbie is an excellent cook ... her conch parmesan is out of this world.
These guys are all old hats at snorkeling. They took us over to the reef and Debbie tried her best to teach me, but I was very intimidated. There is a lot of current here and they were casually swimming thru huge pieces of coral. I didn't have gloves and was afraid I would bump into it. I stayed at the surface and watched from afar. It was fun though. Banco Chinchorro's sea life is protected so there is no fishing, hunting or gathering allowed. Unless you are the Mexican Navy.
The Mexican Navy turned out to be quite nice, they gave us a tour of the island and their base. They made fast friends with Breeze who can speak pretty good Spanish; they even shared some of their fish with him. Tons and tons of conch shells line the banks of Cayo Norte. I asked Jorge from the Mexican Navy if I could have one and while it's not the prettiest I've ever seen, it is my memento from Cayo Norte.
We finally broke down & pumped up our dinghy. We all took our dinghies over to a little shallow area in the middle of the atoll. We got out and sat in the water for awhile and watched the fish & manta rays while sipping on a couple of beers. This is the life.
The weather has been bad so we have all been waiting for a weather window to leave. We only have a 75 gallon water tank and are now beginning to be extremely frugal with our water. Hoping to leave Sunday. Blue Sky and Necessity have not checked out of Mexico and have to stop in Xcalak. As slow as we go, we cannot make San Pedro, Belize in one day so we have decided to go to Xcalak also.
June 27, 2004: Banco Chinchorro to Xcalak:
We lead the way to Xcalak. Actually had a nice sail for a change. When we came to the entrance, we had a hard time spotting the 2nd range marker. The swells were still big from all the weather we've had so I was all for just going on to Belize. (Remember, I'm a chicken & these reef entrances scare me.) We finally decided to just go for it ... talk about being terrified. We anchored near the entrance and waited so we could help lead Blue Sky and Necessity thru the reef. We later moved farther into the anchorage to avoid the swell coming thru the reef. I kept feeling the boat bumping something and Thane dove down and saw that we were hitting a brain coral on the down side of the swells. Moved again, 3rd times a charm.
Blue Sky picked us up and we went to town. We walked around town. It is very small with a dirt road and lots of abandoned buildings. There are several very nice places as some Americans/Europeans have come to the area. We met the Port Captain on the street. He said he would meet us at 8:00 am. Thane & I thought, we better get out of here first thing (we really didn't know how upset he would be about us being there after we had already checked out of Mexico).
We met Marina Mike (he's a great guy, if you go to Xcalak, look him up) and he gave us a tour of his home and then recommended a restaurant for dinner. We went to a local cantina for drinks and then walked to the restaurant. We had a full course meal of chips & salsa, bread, soup, salad, fish, potatoes, squash, mango salsa & carrot pie. All for $12 each. They even gave us a ride back to the dinghy.
June 28, 2004: Xcalak to San Pedro, Belize:
The winds are very high today. I don't think it is a good plan to try and make it thru the reef. However, the Port Captain knows we are here and we shouldn't be. We decide to go anyway (Lesson learned: wait for the right weather, no matter what). We pulled up the anchor, waved goodbye to our friends and headed out the cut in the reef. The swells in the break are huge...at least 10' or so right on the bow. I am steering and Thane goes up the bow to look for the reef. He is hanging on for dear life. He is dunked under the water about 15 times. The boat is being thrown around like crazy. I can hear stuff crashing to the floor down below. We did not close the two top hatches and water is pouring down below. Thane is yelling at me not to let the boat breech. I am doing everything I can to keep that from happening. We went for what seemed like hours, but in reality was probably only about 30 minutes before we were able to get out of the major swells and get the main sail up. I cry for hours after and want to go home. I have never been so scared in my life.
It's about 2:30 pm now and we are sailing. The wind has died down a lot and the swells are lessening. We finally arrive at the reef entry to San Pedro. I'm sick of reefs. We followed the Rauscher's waypoints in (there is no yellow buoy anymore). We tried to anchor 3 times and finally get it to bite. Someone came by and said we were right in the middle of the channel ... not marked in any way. So up goes the anchor and we tried the CQR 2 more times and couldn't get it to bite. Got out the delta plow and it stuck with no problem. A really big squall blew thru and it held like a charm. However, Thane hurt his back ... guess 5 times of pulling up the anchor was just too much for the old guy.
As a side note on Xcalak: Blue Sky reported that the Xcalak Port Captain told them to just check out in Isla next time. Can you believe that!