Adventures of the Mule in Isla Mujeres

You know it didn’t quite occur to me until after my Dad had come and gone on his visit with us that we were using him rather like a drug mule. You see we had lots of little trinkets to send back to the USA and didn’t really like the idea of stuffing them in a package and mailing them home. But Dad, who had decided to come visit was the perfect plan. Sorry Dad, we used you to slip our packages home.

It didn’t quite start out that way. Nefarious. We had arrived in Isla Mujeres Mexico and settled in. We did some thinking on our Cuban experiences and started decorating our boat with memories.
Painting of man and rooster

We were really having a good time. We wanted to share it with people we love. So I checked the prices to fly to Cancun online and they seemed rather reasonable. We called Dad and sure enough he said he’d like to come visit us. Our first visitor!

Dad came a week or so later and after getting up at 3am and flying to Cancun, we met him at the airport a little past noon. Then we promptly stuck him on a “second class” bus for another four hours. We’re not exactly the most hospitable hosts. But it was for good reason!
Second Class Bus
Inside of Seoncd class bus

TECHNICAL: From Isla Mujeres we took the “UltraMar” ferry to Cancun (75 pesos/person for one way trip). We took a cab to the bus terminal. (40peso/total). Then a bus to the airport. We met Dad there and took the same bus back to the terminal and then boarded the “second class” bus bound for Piste for about (150peso/person). The Piste bus crosses paths with Chichen Itza.

The bus ride was a bit of a riot. As you cruise along through Cancun on your way different locals seem to board the bus and ride until the next stop. They included a pair of clowns (literally) that hocked a show later on and asked for donations. Women selling different foods and beverages. An old blind man that begged along the bus. I think Dad was getting the feeling he wasn’t in Kansas anymore. We crossed numerous street signs and finally about 4 hours later we approached our destination.

Now having never ridden on these buses before, we didn’t quite understand the protocol to get off the bus where you wanted. We wanted to stop at KM marker 122. When we got to about KM128, Dani (our best espanol speaker), went to the bus driver to ask if he could stop there. He spoke to her but it seemed in the negative. In the end we determined that he thought we had luggage in the luggage compartment which could only be opened at official stops. I guess he was looking at us like, “What are these crazy Gringos thinking!? (We were some of the only “white” people on the whole trip). Right as we passed our destination though, we hustled up to the door and demanded exit and the man stopped and let us out. It was only a short overshot so we made it back to Delores Alba hotel for our check in.
Tate and his dad in front of hotel

I’d found this hotel online. It was a ways from the ruins of Chichen Itza but the rate was very reasonable and it claimed to have food and drinks onsite. The photos of the pools there were wonderful. It didn’t disappoint. The place was extremely low key and just what the doctor ordered for Dad to wind down after an extremely long day of travel.
Hotel Breakfast fruit
Hotel Dining Room with Parrots
Hotels hammocks with Tate and Logan
Hotel Pool Dani and Tate
Hotel Pool rules, especially #3
Hotel Pool Trees and landscaping beautiful

While sitting outside the next morning and preparing ourselves for the visit to Chichen Itza, a bird came and landed right next to us. I believe it was some sort of bird of paradise. Dad called it the “Tick Tock bird” because of its distinctive tail which it cocked back and forth looking like the pendulum of a clock.
Bird of Paradise - tick tock tail

The hotel provided us a free ride to the ruins and we bought our way in and hired a guide to take us through the ruins. (Entry to the park was roughly 260peso/person and the guide costs between 40-60 dollars).

Our guide was quite a character. He came equipped with many photos to show us things as he spoke to us bout the ruins. Some of these, such as the dinosaur one, Dani found comical. But the guide was rather good if only a little hard to understand.
Crazy Dinosaur sinkhole thing
Chichen Itza Market Pillars

The temple of Chichen Itza was as impressive as I’d heard and seen in photos. We were lucky to be there very early and avoided the main crowds of tourists that show up after 10am. We got some shots of a relatively uncrowded temple.
Chichen Itza Temple with Logan and Dani
Chichen Itza snake head
Chichen Itza temple excavation

And here the guide Pedro, showed us where they sacrificed people. I had wanted to put Dani on the alter but unfortunately they no longer allow people into the actual ruins.
Chichen warriors temple sacrifice
Chichen Itza Temple with Tate and his Dad
Chichen Itza Warriors Sacrifice area
Chichen Itza temple side angle
Chichen Itza Temple top close up
Chichen Itza Temple Carvings
Chichen Itza Skull Heads

Pedro told us all about the Mayan ball players. Apparently these people lived some sort of hellish life, complete with illustrations. The Mayans wanted you to have a perfectly round head, so they just crushed your head when you were a kid.
Chichen Itza Heads Squish

And you know, if crushing your head weren’t enough, they then made you play some sort of ball game using your belly to move a ball around. And coated you with cancerous war paint for the games. Then if you lost you had to kill yourself. Tough huh?

But the reward if you stayed alive through five games was a place of honor at the parade grounds, you know, while you nursed your cancer.
Chichen Itza Parade Grounds Diagram
Chichen Itza Ball Player Paintings
Chichen Itza Parade Grounds
Chichen Itza Ball Game
Chichen Itza Ball Court

Some scenes from the older parts of the ruins.
Chichen Itza Older Ruins
Chichen Itza Old ruins drawing with paint
Chichen Itza Old ruins Aerial photo
Chichen Itza Aerial other shot
Chichen Itza old ruins look inside

Dad and Dani present…
Chichen Itza Mr. Logan
Chichen Itza Old ruins Dani
Chichen Itza Arch Old Ruins

We left the ruins and tried to find a cab back to the hotel. Unfortunately we left from the wrong entrance where there were no cabs so we had to ask the security guard to get us one. The cabbie brought us back though he didn’t seem happy about it. I got the feeling we were doing something wrong going out the in door. But that is Mexico for you. You just ask around until you get what you need.

Back at the hotel Dani and I had noticed that there was a Cenote across the street. Now I had been telling Dani I wanted to go to one. We’d seen stuff online about tours to these places at crazy prices. Like 100 bucks a person prices. Dani never seemed too enthused about this and got a funny look when I told her how much I was willing to pay just to see one. You see, you can’t quite explain to a person what a Cenote is.

But here was one right across the road! The hotel sold discounted tickets to enter at 64pesos/person. So we rested up, had a drink and then crossed the street.
Cenote IKKIL Red Bull cliff diving

I’ll just let some of the following photos explain what a Cenote is:
Cenote IKKIL inside
Cenote IKKIL gopro picture
Cenote IKKIL gopro picture
Cenote IKKIL gopro picture
Cenote IKKIL gopro picture

Now that you have a visual… The Cenote is actually a hole in the limestone that has a pool at the bottom of it. Usually they connect to a very large underground river system. Ik-Kil was 150ft deep! The drop from the top of the hole to the water was about 100ft. There were plenty of natural water falls flowing into it and man… The roots that hang down in that circle. It was spectacular.

The roots of all the plants around it seemed to do well as evidenced by this massive bougainvillea, one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.
Cenote IKKIL Huge Flower tree

I don’t really have words that do justice to the whole site and especially the Cenote. It was a natural wonder that I think you should experience. It was surreal. That night back at the hotel while we all lounged in the pool we went over the day in our minds. It was really like two days but smashed into one. The wonders of an ancient civilization mixed with one of nature’s true wonders.

But we weren’t done dragging Dad through Mexico yet. The next day we got up and took the bus back to Cancun which involved us standing on the side of the road for an hour and then flagging down the second class bus as it approached and hoping beyond hope that it would stop. The hotel is on a desolate little patch of road and you never quite know. But it stopped and we got back to the bus, back to the ferry, and finally were on our way home to Sundowner.
Ferry top of the water

We made it back just in time. ;)
Tate and Logan for a sunset

The next few days we spent bumming around Isla Mujeres and showing my Dad island life.
Dinghy Ride with Mr. Logan
Isla Mujeres Food in town
Menu painted with birds
Logan with Skeleton Woman
El Patio Band
El Patio Dinner with Mr. Logan
Street Food on Isla Mujeres
Fried grouper on the beach

Dad is a land lubber. And when he first agreed to come visit he wanted to know about accommodations. He isn’t used to boat life. Well I shot my mouth off and said to him, “If it doesn’t suit you, we’ll find a hotel on the island, no big deal.” Unfortunately for me and my big mouth, I didn’t realize that Spring Break had just gone into full effect and hotels were filling up quickly.

But luck smiled on me. One of the bars we enjoy in Isla Mujeres is Bahai Tortuga which is also a hotel. We asked Danny, the owner, if he could fix Dad up and he sure did. So Dad stuck it out in swank accommodations for most of his visit at a supremely reasonable rate! Plus they have a band every night.
Bahia Tortuga Band

Dad also got to go snorkeling with us. Here is a photo of us walking around a sand bar getting ready to swim out to the big rock near the light house.
Tate and Mr. Logan Snorkeling

And of course what vacation is complete without a lot of bumming around and relaxing?
Bahia Tortuga Bar
Bahia Tortuga Group Photo
Bahia Tortuga Porch Logan
Iguana Male

Dad was our first boat visitor and we couldn’t have asked for a better guest! I’ll miss you Dad, come visit again and thanks for the memories.
Bahia Tortuga Logan

Oh and thanks for serving as the mule. ;)

¡Me gustan las fotos! Isla Mujeres, Mexico

I was talking to my sister Frances and brother-in-law Jason yesterday over the internet phone yesterday and I lamented the fact that I just don’t know what to write about here lately. We have been here OVER two weeks…the time is simply flying by. We do lots of things everyday but the thought of writing them here, in all of their glorious detail, is excruciating. We have a new and exciting life now that is so very different from the one we lived back home. With all of the new people we meet and excursions/adventures we go on how do I choose what to write about? Sure it might be exciting, in pieces but in total it’s just everyday life now and typically someone writing the details of day to day life can be quite boring to write and to read.

Tate at Bahia Tortuga
Tate at Bahia Tortuga practicing Spanish with the waiter, Florida, “Flow-Ree-Da”.

So then what to do? Jason suggested I write about what I would like to read instead of what others would like to read. I think that’s a great idea and since I like pictures more than words here is our time thus far in Isla Mujeres, Mexico via pictures told by one liners.

Checking into Mexico, Louisiana boys and Elmilagro Marina

Elmilagro Area After paying $50 “Julio” got all 5 departments to check us into Mexico while we sat and drank beer at Elmilagro Marina close to the boat, SO worth $50.

Andy drinking 40's of Dos EquisWhile we waited we met Captain Andy (left), Matt and Nate who were from New Iberia/Lafayette, Louisiana and were finishing sailing for 18 months down to Panama and back in a 50ft concrete boat, “Fisherman’s hornpipe”, also Dos Equis 40’s…

Tate and Andy cooking a RouxTate and Andy having a Roux competition for the gumbo and fish court-bouillon.

Tate and Andy's gumboWe ate very good while we were here.

Tate Cooking a gumboThe only sausage to be found here was the very vinegary “Chorizo”.

Tate and Dani in the KitchenThis is the biggest kitchen we’ve cooked in, um ever.

Iguana Tile at ElmilagroHere there be Iguanas!.

La Terreza barThey brought us to a cool place called La Terraza where the top floor is open to the outside with a live band.

Tequila shots at La TerrezaThe clock was set back about 10 years while we all partook of cheap tequila shots and funny sombreros.

Tate in a hammockWe hung out with these guys for days until 4 of them sailed back to New Iberia, they may still be at sea now.

Mexico Temporary Import LicenseWe took a ferry to Cancun and got our Temporary Import Permit which is good for 10 years…is the Sea of Cortez in our future?

Around the anchorage and beach

Tate Snorkeling by the boatAbout every two days we jump in the water for a swim or snorkeling trip.

Isla Mujeres SunsetWhat can one say about sunsets, they are beautiful and happen everyday.

Aboard Jingle with Eric and SandrineIn the previous picture are boats “Sanibel” with Jimi(left) and the Cat “Jingle” from France with Sandrine and Eric(right) who had us over for dinner.

Drinks on the beach with the groupJimi also arranged a trip into town with the “anchoring folks”(from left: Eric, Roland(Germany), Jimi, Ivan(Slovenia), Sandrine and me).

Fishing boats on the beachThis area is NOT for sailboats.

Dinghy dock where we keep SundownerOur parking spot is always changing but at least it’s free!

Isla Mujeres, the town

Motorbikes lined up on the street for rentLots of scooters and golf carts in this town, only makes sense.

Lots of colorful housesThere are more colors in this place than you could shake a stick at.

Lobster painting on wallThere must be a lot of good artists in this town.

Painted Manta RaySeriously my drawing would be a Stickray…

Don Chepos painted on the wallOk, not only are they talented they also have the patience of 1,000 men…Just look at all those straight bricks, on stucco.

Isla Mujeres Casa BarcoB is for “Barco” (boat), V is for “Velero” (sailboat).

Isla Mujeres HouseLike music for my eyes

Colorful RestaurantsLots of fun places to eat, LOTS

Pepper the crazy painted restaurantNo really, it takes all kinds

Busy street in downtown Isla MujeresTypical view of “The Street” (the ONE with all the stuff on it).

Markets to buy thingsTrinket shoppers beware…there be trinkets and trinkets and more trinkets here!

Dani at Don Chepos3 Fish tacos and 2 beers at Don Chepos, $6.68…have I said I love you yet today?

Mexican BandSomebody went all out for the full band!

The Patio restaurantWe got our own band at “El Patio” with the “anchoring folks”, Bob Marley cover songs with a sax.

Volleyball in Town centerA typical Saturday night in the Square…CHEAP street food and volleyball (honey these men are serious!).

And there you have it, my photo explosion to sum up our time here so far. In other news TATE’S DAD IS COMING TO VISIT NEXT WEEK! We are so excited to have our first real guest aboard and are planning to take a “secret” trip inland to visit other areas.

¡Hasta Luego!

Cuba ~ Closing Thoughts and a Video

It’s now been just over week since we arrived to Mexico and I can finally say I’m back to my old self. Humm, I suppose that’s not quite right… I’ve gotten into a groove that is a new self, a self that wears bikinis in the sun working on my office tan followed by snorkeling trips to the various spots nearby the boat where I’ve befriended many species of colorful fish, coral and vegetation. Our days are spent waking up at leisure, drinking coffee while reading or browsing the internet then perhaps making lunch or going to shore to eat somewhere cheap. Our anchorage is free, the wifi is free and we found a free water source close by. We are also surrounded by cruisers who love to get together and chat or go out for a beer. Instant friends…One can never be lonely out here. Sounds dreamy doesn’t it?
Dani drinking margaritas in Isla Mujeres

This is the life…the life we have been planning for, finally it is here and we are enjoying every minute of it. How easily a week slips by. This sort of bliss is such a contrast from our Gulf Stream crossing on the way here. So many emotions and shifts in just 3 1/2 days and then just like that it was over and we were anchored in a calm spot with clear water and a steady breeze, always on the bow. More on the joys of Isla Mujeres later. What I really wanted to impart here are my closing thoughts on Cuba. All this relaxation has given me a long time to think about just what to say, because Something needs to be said about a place as unique and charming as Cuba.

Many people have asked us why we didn’t we sail the south coast of Cuba as planned and instead made a b-line to Mexico? I guess the simplest reasons are money and time, in that order. Cuba is an expensive place to visit by boat.

All of the following are in CUC: exchange rate $1USD=$0.87CUC.

We had to pay $16CUC a day for the boat slip ($500CUC/month) and were supposed to pay health insurance $2CUC/day/pp ($124CUC/month but somehow we slipped through the cracks on this one). Plus about $105CUC in other entrance and exit fees and on top of that is another roughly $25-$50CUC in tipping. So just slip and others fees amounted to $779CUC=$847USD. That is more than HALF of our monthly budget of $1,500USD.

But with $5 rum and $1 meals in town couldn’t you just live forever like that? I mean yeah we could…but we aren’t cruising to just sit around the boat and drink rum while eating the same food everyday (seriously it’s pretty much the same food all over the country). We want to explore and adventure which we did when we went to Havana and Vinales, but these trips weren’t cheap either. I suppose relatively they are but to our budget they are pricey. The Vinales trip alone costed $350 so you could see how venturing out away from our pricey marina can break the budget fairly easily.

(An aside: I’ve been tracking our monthly spending closely with categories and plan to disclose the first 6 months of cruising costs when we get to that point.)

So the other big reason was time. During our 3 weeks in Cuba we spoke to many people who had traveled all around the island (usually by car but some by boat) and we didn’t hear of a place that grabbed ours hearts enough to motivate us to sail the HUNDREDS and hundreds of miles along the coast line to get to them. Many of them were described with the same communist feel as all the other places we had been. Little or no stores for food, private kitchens offering the same meal plans as allowed by the government (rice, beans, cabbage, fruit, eggs, chicken thigh or pork, some root like a potato and helado (similar to sorbert) and worn facilities albeit with extremely happy and accommodating people and beautiful undeveloped beaches.

To travel around the coast of Cuba also meant we had to tell the Port Captain where we intended to go and then sail to another marina (with similar fees), meet the next Port Captain and also the long line of people wanting to check our paper work as well as ask for “presents”.

Since our plans had firmly shifted to go to Central America spending all the time and money to cruise the rest of Cuba just didn’t make sense anymore. After all we had seen the Jewel, Vinales and the old city of Havana…If we are to actually make it around the world we have to be discerning about where we stop and how we spend our money. It would be impossible to see every cool place all over the earth.

So then right to it.

The Highlights of Cuba (for me):

  1. The people. 99% of everyone we met was welcoming and nice. Many had a stern exterior (so do I actually, I think this is called “resting bitch face”) but lit up like a Christmas tree when you said Hola or showed some other kindness. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been in a place with so many jolly folks. The country’s political atmosphere might not be the best but the residents seem by and large happy and also in shape. There is such a gumbo pot of races here yet everyone acts the same. There is African, Dutch, German, English, Russian, Norwegian, Spanish and many other descents here so you have brown and black people alongside white haired and paled skinned Sweden folks. It’s very interesting but everyone gets along and as far as we could tell treats each other as equal. We also felt very safe here.
  2. The sights. Obviously Havana and Pinar del Rio are like nowhere else on earth. These as well as other sites around the country are worth a visit. We met more than 4 couples/families from Europe who all rented a car and were traveling around the country and staying at Casa de Particulars. This would be a GREAT place to travel by car if you had a week or two. On land things are mostly inexpensive and you can drive around the whole island in days.
  3. The weather. Just perfect temperatures in the mid 80’s most of the year with a nice breeze and very little in the way of bugs (that we could find).
  4. The language. If you want to learn or practice Spanish Cuba seemed like a good place to check out. Sure the dialect is pretty different and people tended to have a lazy speech but most people outside the touristy areas speak NO English so you are forced to speak in Spanish but they seemed LIMITLESS in their effort to help you learn it. I have learned so much just from being here and I’ve really enjoyed it.

What you can bring to Cuba for gifts if you travel here:

There were a few things that seemed in high demand and would be extremely appreciated if brought in as gifts for the Cuban locals. Some of these are easy to bring, others not so much but I wanted to include them all as I saw everything on this list being brought to the country.

  1. Rigging Knives or pocket tools- incredibly appreciated by fishermen and mariners
  2. Bic or torch lighters- they are better quality then the ones sold there
  3. Thumb drives- any capacity usb thumb drives to use with computers
  4. Old cellphones- any brand really but it would help if you had the charger as well. We saw Iphones and old flip phones.
  5. DVDs and music- American movies of any kind and CD’s, tapes or MP3s on thumbdrives
  6. Smell good anything- Colognes and perfumes are all regulated and minimal here, even in hair and body products. The Cubans really like things that have a good scent so if you want to make friends with a local Cuban bring him something that smells good for his wife, sister or mother. This is in really high demand.
  7. Stuffed Animals and toys for kids- Stuffed animals are nearly non-existent here and toys like dolls and action figures would be great for kids.
  8. Coffee- The coffee grown in Cuba is too expensive for the locals to buy so we’ve heard of cruisers brining in coffee to give or trade with the locals. This is super awesome for them.
  9. English for Spanish speaking people language books- The country is just shifting to teach English instead of Russian as a second language but these books are virtually NON-existent here. Pocket sized ones would be great to give out.
  10. Bicycles- Many times people will break down and ship in luggage a bike from the States or Canada, ride it while they are here and then give it to a local. This is a really great gift.
  11. Rock Climbing gear- For areas like Pinar Del Rio where many foreigners come to climb steep limestone rocks. There is no gear like this to buy in the country so in “climbing circles” it is often encouraged to bring your gear and when done give it to the locals so they can also enjoy climbing in their home country.

I look back now and I miss Cuba. There’s not another place like it on earth and slowly it’s going to change into something more like the rest of the world. I’m happy we saw it when we did and to forever remember this visit of a lifetime Tate has put together a nice video of different clips he took during our time there and he used the live music from Whico and Javier that we spoke about before (with their permission). It’s a bit longer than our typical videos but throughout there are many highlights so I hope you give it a view in your spare time. I can only hope what lies ahead will be just as enriching.

(Click on the picture below for the video)

Tate, Dani and the Great Flush

After our decision to head to central America instead of the lesser antilles, Dani and I had a sort of nagging excitement to get there. I know that is a very uncruiser like emotion to have but it was there none the less. It was exacerbated by the fact that we had no cruising guides, no special notes, no real advice on where to go or how to get there. The only thing we knew was that we wanted to drop the hammer and get there.

A second gulf stream crossing loomed like a cloud in my mind. You know, like a big grey thunder boomer over on the edge of the horizon that you really don’t pay much attention to while you’re basking in your sunbeam.

The closest port I knew of in Mexico was Isla Mujeres and so we went with it. We’ll just go there. Right. Without much access to Internet in Cuba we didn’t even do much research on the place. We just lumped all our hopes on making landfall there like laundry in a basket and thought no more of it.

A weather window emerged… Some gentle easterly winds followed by south winds. South winds in the north flowing gulf stream should make for calm(er) seas than if the wind was northerly and so I was okay with it. I thought, oh well, we’ll just burn some diesel on this one but its time to get out of Cuba. We paid the marina bill and decided we’d ship out on Monday morning. Our plan was something like this:
Total track with GS
Well, actually our plan was to duck south after we cleared the tip of Cuba and make some southing before heading further west but things didn’t quite work out that way in the end. But about clearing out of Cuba…

I’m sitting there at the desk of the harbor master who presents the bill and I pay it dutifully using the VERY last of our CUC pesos (the last of our “Cuban” money) we’d set aside for this. We get a stamp and a receipt and all that good stuff then the harbor master gets this terrible look on his face. Like he’d been sucking on a lemon. He stares real hard at the bill and apologizes, “Oh no, I’ve charged the wrong number of days…” He had shorted the marina one night, the last night we’d be staying. I looked at him and said, “Well do I need to get some more pesos?” He got that screwed up lemon face pucker again and there was a crushing silence. I wondered if he’d committed some sort of sin in the communist bureaucratic system that was simply unsolvable. The clock on the wall clunked its second hand along sounding like a rock tumbler. Finally the dock master gets a sly smile and says, “Can you leave early?” I ask how early. He says, “Tomorrow before the other dock master arrives, perhaps 6:30am.” I nod. He goes on, “I will be in hot water if he notices. Make sure if he notices you tell him you had some sort of…” And I cut him off mentioning that my rudder had some real problems that needed looking into before we left. He flashed me a sly smile, I slid him a tip.

We also made out like bandits on one other count exiting the marina and I’m not sure how we did it and no one reading this should assume it will be the same for them, but I’ll relate our renegade exploits. This blog is sort of a warts and all affair anyway right? When clearing into Cuba they tell you that as American’s, you must buy Cuban health insurance EVEN IF YOU HAVE YOUR OWN. We agreed. All the other boats in the marina seemed to have some guy come around after a couple of days and fill out the insurance paper work and they are charged for it at a rate of 2 or 3 CUC/day/person. This roaming boat insurance seller simply never materialized at our boat and we never said anything about it and no one else did either. This saved us a lot of money. Dumb luck I guess.

Being mindful of the dockmaster’s good reputation, we got up at 5:30am and made ready to head out in the dwindling morning darkness. We had said goodbye to all of our Cuban buddies. The interesting mix of people, black white, and brown but all of the same behavior and language. So different than back home where racial differences preceded behavioral ones. We would miss the way they sat in a sort of malaise until you said “Hola!” and then they’d show a great big smile almost without fail. We said goodbye, slipped our lines, and went to clear out with Immigration and Customs who gave our boat a quick once over and then repeatedly asked us if it were correct that we were really going to head straight to Mexico. “Of course” we confirmed. So finally the man gave us a Zarpe (an official document saying you’re cleared out and must leave) saying in broken English, “Give to Mexico.” We motored out of the marina, hoisted our sails and set a course to the west-southwest.

Those predicted east winds filled in and we hoisted our spinnaker. We had fine sailing and beautiful weather during those first few hours. It was glorious. Until it wasn’t…
Mondays Wind map with route

That first day included our first major mishap during a sail. We came into the lee of one of the mountains of Cuba that blot the western coast and the wind dropped so much that the vane couldn’t hold a good course so we started hand steering. So enchanting was the landscape (or so we told ourselves this was the reason) that we let ourselves drift just far enough off course that the spinnaker flogged and went forward around the forstay and wrapped itself up into a hideous mess confounded by tangling with the jib sheet which was also wrapped around that stay. As if that weren’t bad enough… We drifted out of the lee of that mountain and the wind kicked up and we sighted lighter colored water straight ahead. What a mess!

Water color is more important than you might think. It isn’t just about matching your evening attire to it so the photos come out right, and it isn’t just about picking your favorite colors or ooohing and ahhhing over the beauty of it all. No. When the sun is high and the sky clear, the water color reveals depth. The more blue, the deeper. Then green. Then a sort of sandy color finally, which means something shallow. This was literally the first time Dani and I had seen such water color depth guessing conditions and seeing what seemed like a color SOOO much lighter than the bluer-than-blue we were in just a quarter mile ahead in the middle of a kerfluffle was daunting. We got the motor started and Dani steered while I tried to unwrap the tornado of a spinnaker which is not easy in a bit of breeze. I kept trying to see which way to unwrap it but I couldn’t and it kept getting worse. Flustered, steaming and quite unhappy I retired to the cockpit and considered getting a martini to you know, calm things down, but instead I took the helm and Dani trompted up to the front of the boat and somehow (God bless her little hands) unwrapped the spinnaker as I motored us around the “shallow” patch.

Dani asked, “Couldn’t you just see which way to untwist it?” Of course I couldn’t, maybe my eyes are getting worse I had responded. “Yeah, we def need to get you some prescription lenses,” she went on. She kept talking about it as she is apt to do when plotting a solution for something while I took off my shades and looked at them as though they’d betrayed me. Then I noticed it. Sunscreen smears. I washed them and put them back on and suddenly I was all Eagle-Eye again. Let this be a lesson to all. On a boat, so I’ve read, a disaster is almost always a series of events that converge in a terrible event. If even one of those events is stopped or alleviated you can disconnect the disaster chain. Wipe those shades!

As it turned out, the shallow water wasn’t so shallow either. We were just being over cautious and had never navigated by sighting depths like that. We later crossed over more and more lightly colored parts of the water very slowly testing the depths. We have a lot to learn about colors of water. Nothing we went over that looked shallow registered very deep on the depth sounder. Better safe than sorry though, we do know that Cuba has many reefs and some aren’t charted, its a real “keep your eyes open” sort of joint.

So with the spinnaker up again, we made good way. And discussed the impending sunset while making a mutual decision that such a spinnaker tangle at night would be unacceptable and that we’d take it down and put the jib up at night. Which we did. Which slowed us down terribly. So terribly. And the wind shifted so we got pushed north and had to gybe to head back on course. But we didn’t tangle up!

Tuesday morning we put the spinnaker back up and made good our south west course. Nothing so wild or hairy occurred. Only a great many sail changes as the winds were unsettled. They spun around the clock and changed from light to heavy and back again as though taunting us. In this one day, we changed sails more times than we had in our previous two passages combined.

Motoring through flat seas

And finally that evening at some point when I came on watch, I looked out at the glass flat sea and said, “Time to burn some diesel.” Dani protested because we figured we had only between 20-25 gallons on board from looking at the sight glass, but I wasn’t okay just drifting around in the lee of Pinar Del Rio for a second night. This motoring enabled us to make good the 84 miles of progress on the second day through a totally flat and calm sea that looked like a black blanket of velvet laid out all around in the moonless sky.

Tuesdays wind map with route

When we came out of the wind hole by passing beyond the western tip of Cuba, Sundowner made a great groaning sound and leaned over as the wind hit her. Strong south winds. Our plan had been to beat south at this point but with south seas running 4 feet and wind in our face it was just not happening. We decided to take a hike west as fast as possible and hope to get past the gulf stream. Sailing into a port to wait for better weather would mean “clearing in again” and we weren’t doing it. So we again changed sails and took off.

The next twenty four hours were some of the most frustrating sailing and motoring I’ve seen in my short sailing career. Wind from the south ranging from 20kts to light and variable. Constant direction shifts from southeast all the way to south west. Waves mainly from the south west (where we were supposed to be going!). The waves varied from a swell all the way to 1.5m choppy little short ones that would slap Sundowner in the face and all but halt her forward progress. And as if the slap across the bow wasn’t insult enough this would of course send spray into the air and slosh water down the decks wetting everything with salty spray. And then there was the killer. The flush.

When we crossed the Florida Straits, it wasn’t so bad. The gulf stream didn’t seem all that big of a deal. We made very little easting because of it. But out here between Cuba and the Yucatan was a different story. It was like fighting a raging river. I started getting OCD on the chart. Calculating things. I figured at some point in the night, the current was pushing us north at about 3kts. And based on this estimated we’d be 30 miles off course if we could get across it! We fired up the motor and motored, but this didn’t help. Wind, waves, and current all against us, all we could do was head 230 degrees by the compass which barely put us going due west on the GPS. Hours ticked by. Dani came on watch and looked at the chart, “We’re going to be flushed into the gulf!” And there it was… I felt like a wad being flushed down a commode at great velocity and little control of my final destination.

Then the fear of the motor running all those hours set in. Would we have fuel to motor into port at the end of it, would we even have enough to make it to the coast?! Dani checked the sight gauges again. She popped her head up out of the engine room, “Something is wrong!” What is it I had asked. She told me, “One of the tanks sight gauges hasn’t moved at all.” Oh shit. I figured out why instantly, one of the gate valves to the tank was still closed, which in turn destroyed our estimate of our diesel reserves. Luckily, it was in our favor. We had started with an almost full forty gallons in the port tank but had assumed it was only 15. This gave us the required gas to get across the nasty little jump. We had cleared the toilet bowl and sailed right out of the strongest part of the gulf stream by morning. And as it happens so often with sailing, the beautiful sunrise brought calmer seas, calmer emotions, and a sense of well being as our little BetaMarine chugged along.

Wednesday's wind map with route

The last part of the night when the seas and current had backed off a little we could “point” closer to our true course and made up some of the 30 some odd miles we’d lost. And the next morning we just motored straight south luxuriating in the sound of diesel turning into horsepower. We made it into Isle Mujeres and dropped anchor in ten feet of water, tired, but happy.

Thursdays wind map with route

The crossing wasn’t just treacherous for us. Along the way, somewhere in the second day, we picked up a passenger who was obviously not in the right place a the right time.

Dove's first attempt in GS

Dove's second attempt in gulf stream

He stuck with us a whole day until a bigger ship passed by and made his escape sensing that we were just too slow. Or maybe he thought Dani smelled funny. Who can account for bird brain tastes?

Cruise ship after GS

Isle Mujeres turned out to be beautiful. The water, the temperature, the swimming, everything we wanted.

Isla Mujeres approach beautiful water

On the second day we dinked over to El Milagro to find Julio who handled our clearance procedure for 50 dollars plus the official fees. This was straight forward and we felt “worth it”. All the officials came to us, stamped everything, and no one felt it was worthwhile to come inspect our boat. So we cleared in just like that…
Mexican flag

We still have to go to Cancun to get a Temporary Import License, but beyond that, we’re all settled in. Sundowner rides happily in the free and well protected waters. Despite warnings of “Bad holding” she has been stuck to the bottom since we arrived.

Sundowner Finally anchored

You can see our anchor at the end of this video. Oh who am I kidding, this video is way more about Dani swimming around like a mermaid than anchors.

We’re happy here in warm Mexico. We have a lot to report as soon as we can catch up on the blog. We love ya’ll. Until next time… Enjoy a Sundowner for us!