Sailing away from Key West in beautiful weather, locals out living the dream in their fishing boats. Town after bridge after tower pass by as we sail east, bearing ever north past Florida.
We head to deeper water, motoring in light airs & pick up the Gulf Stream current. Winds fill in and soon we are sailing very nicely right on track for the large deep water channel which splits the Bahamian plateau.
As night sets in the winds increase further and we rocket forward, doing over hull speed of 8.5 kts for over 12 hours despite being reefed in both sails.
One in the morning and I turn sharply to the east into the channel which runs for 100 miles until it reaches the pure Atlantic Ocean where we will begin the final leg of 750 miles on to Bermuda.
Never seen a wind shift like this one! We turn east and the wind shifts almost 180’, now on the nose and rough. There is a frontal boundary here between a large cold front pushing down from the north and the tropical southerly we have been in for the last few days. Weather forecast shows the southerly will prevail and return, maybe in a few miles or a few days. Wild winds for sure!
Departing Key West Thursday at three pm. Nice to fix the jib car, hatch seals etc.
And nice to depart the USA warjets & excess display of wealth via motor boats.
Sailing over the large offshore platform littered with fish pots in light breeze we make our way to the offshore depths and Gulf Stream.
Crew is happy, fed and watered. I am as well for them, to have done some important emails and communications and to have fixed some things which will make our journey safer and happier.
Winds die to nothing and we motor into the night. My watch begins at midnight and winds have set in to the south. Shut down the motors and begin a perfect night on the sea. Setting moon, star carpet sailing in 12 kts and minimal seas, rounding Florida and beginning to head to Bahamas with a ride on the gulf stream. Plan to cut through the Bahamas via a massive deep water channel banked by the Bahamian plateau.
Winds finally turned southward in approach, they were so easterly and we tacked to much to get here.
Arriving and dousing sails is a simple drill of turning to the wind, taking down mainsail & it turned horrible.
We prop wrapped a fish pot line in mid channel on not one but both props.
Anchor and I scuba to cut loose the lines. This is the worst prop wrap ever, jammed up tight and many times around. And seas are a real mess. I am bouncing and scholishing under the boat cutting away with a bread knife.
Finally I get it all cut loose and get back aboard. Am wrecked, really tired and I suppose traumatized. Take a break, shower, regain composure.
Put on fenders to go to the dock and guess what, one guy can’t tie a knot and a fender goes floating off to France. Another crew jumps in and swims it back. What a show, my show! We pull up the anchor and it brings up a royal mess of lines and a fish pot, this still in the entry channel to a major port. Go USA ! Dock, finally, a crewmember spots that the other prop also has a huge bundle of line around it, so back to scuba I go.
Tell you what!
Office job sounds pretty great! Nice here, this Florida place, stinks of money, but also a lot of funky boats and funky dudes and chicks. Diversity, the strength of the USA. Nobody wants to admit that someone not like them makes the nation stronger, but they are wrong.
Embracing the other makes all of us better, wider and more funnily fulfilled..and less bigoted and boring. First Guatemala then Mexicans and now Gringos.. Can Bermuda keep pace!?
Departure from isla Mujeres was crisp, well done by crew.
Watering the yacht and disassembled to folbot before the realized we were on the dock Huge waves on Mias reef put water up onto the cabin top and ran rivers down both decks. Setting sail in 15 kts of breeze we were soon joined by 20+ dolphins and hundreds of flying fish. Ray caught a bluefin tuna within 3 hours of departing and we were eating it within four!
Northern current was quite something, it swept us north at 5 kts adn we motored to make forward progress. As the day and night progressed the winds were persistently easterly causing us to bear more north than planned. If it does bear more to the south Monday it will work well and we will round Florida nicely, if not we tack or motor sail.
Night sail is starry and about perfect, not cold nor to breezy.
Now Monday the winds are light, 10 kts. We shake out the reef and are under full mainsail.
Beautiful out here, very little sea, moving at 6+ kmph. Late morning winds increase and we sail at 7.5 kts Ray catches a perfect barracuda with lines in the water for only 1/2 hour. Made 150 nm on first day, the is on rhum line, actual distance was 172 Hoping current will drive us faster still around Florida. Goal to exit Bahamas in less than three days. Rigging failure, worn shackle on main sheet snapped, preventer line keeps it from moving to much. Replaced and away in ten minutes. Use of preventer at all times is a good thing!
As nightfalls we are sailing very fast 10+ kts. Winds from east so we plan to tack at midnight to gain sea room to round the cayos of Florida. Sailing into the night is rough, confused currents. We are not able to make plentiful headway and decide to reduce sails and motor sail on main only to get more easterly. Early in the morning the winds shifts to the SE and seas become very large and confused, the beginnings of the Gulf Stream. Overnight we blow out our fishnet safety trampoline on starboard, have some leaking, then blow out one of the jib cars while adjusting it. All for big winds and sea conditions.
The day gets much better but winds are not favorable enough to sail by Florida on one tack, then they shift for the less favorable and we are tacking up the coast.
Ray suggest we pull into Key West to try and obtain a new jib car to either replace of bolster the suspect one. He has experience here and we decide to make a quick stop where there are every sort of marine supply store. We are on track for a nine day passage but now will be delayed for a good reason.
It has been nice to be back to Isla Mujeres. Quintana Roo has transformed from a backwater into the largest beach vacation areas in the new world on just 40 years. Back then Bermuda boasted double or more the quality tourist beds as here, now the ratio has shifted to something like 2,000 to 1 in Mexico’s favor.
Despite the influx we found the marine environment to be very nice. Dolphins joined us on every sailing, scuba dives were full of fish, locals still snorkel for lobsters. Seems that Mexican culture has really improved. Back when rude behavior was common, smoking, drinking and despair. Now these have mostly disappeared, at least here, and many Mexicans feel they have a better future than Americans do.
Ana Luna has been at anchor a bit much for her liking. We have sailed around Isla Mujeres several times along with sailing the large bay which separates it from Cancun.
Now in mid March after enjoying visits from family and great shopping for Mexican foods we have a good wind window to depart for Bermuda. Sailing route takes us down the Cuba straight, through or just north of Bahamas and then NE to Bermuda.
Over three dozen cruising yachts adorn the bay here at Isla Mujeres ( isle of women ), more than we have seen in the last year. Fat cats in motor yachts steam up and down, music blaring, selfies the thing..
Mexican tourism industrial is impressive and depressing at the same time, paradise lost and found differentiated only for by view of the viewer.
I first came to isla Mujeres in 1975 while in college here in Mexico. Isla was dinky, cheap, rustic, cute, undiscovered. Cancun was nothing, a sand flat. Quintana Roo, the state, had just been given statehood a few years previous, prior it was a territory, and fraught with native uprisings, crocs, swamps, baymen etc.
Ana Luna found a nice tucked up anchoring spot, very close is the dingy beach with constant traffic of Flintstone appearing vehicles; with winds predicted from the north of 30 knots we are behind a huge dock for two giant car ferry’s to the mainland, a very nice shelter..!
None of this was here back when, we arrived to a dock made of poles stuck into the mud bottom. This area of mexico must have 200,000 to 500,000 guest rooms and a population of 1,000,000. Inward invest in the hundreds of billions, for pesos multiple by 20! And the prices are competitive internationally but provide good profits at the same time, a successful business model…
After a bit it gives the seasoned mariner making a long voyage an overdose of social reality, despite conspicuous consumption marinaded in alcohol, documented with selfies..
As Debbie and I plot strategy’s to enjoy our family’s visit here, emphasis is placed on taking special time with Cameron (8 years) & Gemma (4), in sailing skills, anchoring & night at quiet nature filled places away from the maddening crowd. Just like my folks did with me years ago, before any of these tourist destinations even existed.
We have arrived in good fetter, excuse the wordiness below, our sailing has been a runon diatribe of Mexican style adventurism..
We departed via the stunning Rio Dulce River section of Guatemala which sends fresh water to the sea from most of the eastern drainage of the country.
The lake behind Rio has recovered from hurricanes Eta & Iota and is at its normal water level, after rising to new historic record, gaining 7’ and flooding most everything it could. Shops in town have mark’s on the walls, most about 4’ off the floor. These were the two largest hurricanes in recorded history of the Central American coast. They hit within a week of each other in November Eta just three days after my arrival back to Guatemala after a lovely summer in Colorado. Damages caused in Honduras and higher elevations of Guatemala were almost uncountable, many lives were lost and crop lands will be affected for years.
Our sail maker on an isolated bay did a great job on fixes and makeovers in his solar powered loft on stilts. We now have a fresh set of sails, stack pack, trampolines, watercatcher, cushions and surly more.
Checking out in Livingston was a very pleasant experience ( more to come on checking into Mexico..). With literally no exception other than covid, two massive hurricanes, road closures due to flooding; our time spent and overall experience in Guatemala was superb.
I want to thank, again, my team from Guatemala who did the vast majority of work on Ana Luna, and as well did some great improvements to our folding kayak/sailboat/tender; not to mention our home and gardens in Panajachel. They are the best! And we really feel their love!
The morning following our checkout was welcomed with an unusual western breeze which took us up about 1/3 up the ‘still closed to everything including us’ country of Belize.
Winds died and then turned light northerly which combined with the ‘unusual’ southern running current made for arduous motor sailing/nosail motoring all night to transit Belize and arrival in our ‘thought to be checkin port’ of Xcalak, in the very south, behind the reef.
Not so it was. Xcalak was an entry point but that all changed and we were instructed to call on the next port up of Majahaul. Motored all day in light northerly breeze, found it best to stay close to the reef line as further out is was quite oceanlike.. Majahaul arrival was right out of a Mexican twilight zone comedy. You had to know to remember to laugh!
We hail the port captain on vhf 16, he responds that we have not given him 24 hr of arrival so we cannot stop there. I come back that we were instructed by his fellow port captain in Xcalak to do so and that we were not allowed ashore there, so any notification would have to be done by the port authority on our behalf, also that there is no mention anywhere if this notification requirement. He accepts this and instructs us to anchor way up north by the cruise ship dock, then calls us back and asks that we come back to town and tie to the navy dock. This huge jibe in the space of 2 Mexican minutes!
We go there guided by a dive guide who jumped on from one of the many dive boats plying those waters.
Forget the dock though, we partially ground approaching it and anchor off in front. Guide and I launch the folbot and go looking for the port captain. He comes to the dock instead to inform that they can’t check us in either as immigration is no longer there due to covid and no cruise ship visits. He makes three new plans one after another involving immigration and others coming on the bus from Chetumal, all gets tossed when they remember that mañana is Sunday. Bunches of excuses are made, the best being their requirement that we have evidence of the boat being ‘deratted’ ( my comment was if they derat so will we!, he did think that was funny..), anyway nobody came and we did not check in.
So the next day, as fate would have it, was a fiesta to christen the new copula for the Virgen of Guadalupe, right there on the Navy dock. In Mexican fashion the port captain invites me to the party along with giving permission to come ashore and do as we please…, but if anyone asks the answer is that we never disembarked in his port. And so it was!
The party was great, Virgen came in its own boat, everyone ate tacos and beer, music was way to loud, I was the honored guest and chipped in to buy more beer to allow the party to continue until way after we were all in bed..my crew liked that.
Next, of course, the wind blew big time out of the north and we were pinned down in port for 5 days. Fun through, Majahaul is a nice place, abet purpose built of tourism; a far cry that when Debbie and our young girls visited 30 years ago. Then was paradise, now it is paradise lost. But hey, where isn’t?
Finally the wind moved to the east and we sailed to the huge inland lagoon of Espíritu Santo, where we anchored up and snorkeled in pristine waters behind the fringing reefs. Two days on we sail up to the next huge bay of Bahia de Asension where we anchored. In checking the weather forecasts it appeared that the next day was going to be ideal to sail to Cozumel…well it was, only the winds were 20-30 vs the forcast of 14-18.. So our 3 am departure to arrive by day ended up being a sailing at or above our hull speed and a noon arrival. Big northern current helped as well.
Ana Luna did great! Both sails nicely reefed and tuned, waves on deck all day and no leaks. How good it that!? Well, the crew lives mostly on land so this was a bit of an eye opener, but no vomit. This is a good thing! So then, next, we hail the port captain of Cozumel, he instructs to go to a marina and tie up to checkin.
We are greeted by the port captain (everyone we delt with wore protective masks) who nicely starts filling out forms, then is joined by our agent; required by them. Around we go with papers and they go away and instruct us to stay aboard until the authorities arrive.
Authorities are en mass. Leading the charge are 4 Mexican Marines with bulletproof vests, heavy firepower, side arms, combat helmets & sniffer dog. Side acts include 2 immigration, 2 customs, 4 sanitation, 2 who knowswho, 2 agents. Counts up to 16 officials!
They go on and on, a real out of the movies, keep smiling, starwarsbar kind of script! When it is all over we have experienced the confiscation of mexican bought fresh food for lack of stickers on each limón & banana, dry food for lack of a sticker, cheese not in its original bag, potato salad in leftover container.. etc
The fee for all this easily broke the record, $450.00 USD! Agent got the lion share.. Least expensive ever is USA @ $0, next Dominica @ $6, most around $20-40.. Bermuda had owned most expensive honors @$45 pp or $180 with our four pp…
In retrospect we messed up and did not get a photos of the catre when they arrived on the dock…!
Cozumel is a nice place, both the island and town. Diver visits, to experience the sheer wall dives in fast currents, are among to highest in the world at around 100,000 per year. It has grown from a pueblito of 500 to a thriving mecca of over 100,000 in 40 years. Thankfully, from our perspective, there are no cruise ships calling here now.
This makes it quite pleasant, one can walk the nicely presented streets and have the thousands of tourist schlock vendors all to yourself. Prosperity is evident and English is widely spoken, dollars fine to settle bills. Today, a few days after the checkin festivities, Matt, Debbie and I went scuba diving in Cozumel waters.
Diving here is famous for the huge drop off walls. We were sufficiently impressed, not so much with the walls which were more rounded and less adorned with sun searching corals as the walls we have dove in Utila, Honduras. Here the water had consistent visibility of over 100’ which is quite rare, huge sponges in all colors and shapes and lots of fish which are somewhat rare in Bermuda, ocean triggerfish, cowfish, filefish, peacock flounder, rays etc..
Across the Cozumel straights looms the real tourist strip of Cancun, Playa Carmen, etc. That area now boasts around one million residents along with countless tourists, huge foreign investment and more fun than a barrel of monkeys…!
From here we sail to Isla Mujares to meet and greet our daughter Mercedes, husband Brian and their little learners, Cameron and Gemma. Niece Jenny will be along as well with her daughter Lily.
Mid month we await weather window to take us to Cuba. This an interesting leg involving crossing the Yucatán straight and sailing the western 1/3 of country to get to one of three ports open to visiting yachts; Cienfuegos.
In theory Cuba will be largely vacant of tourists, covid in Europe and Trump hate policy’s have tourism numbers at a fraction. We greatly look forward to visiting a vastly different culture and social order. Interestly, Cuba boasts the most doctors per capita in the world along with one of the most educated populations, also an efficient army. Doctor services are traded for oil, military aid beat back South Africa in Angola.
Way cool being ‘out there/here’, always has been.. But in these days of covid, fake news, politics of hate it is refreshing to be largely tuned out, dump the daily news habit, no internet, feel the water and wind, eat really well, life large and simple at the same time…