Escape from Isla Mujeres

The anticipation is palpable. It seems like we’ve been stuck here forever. The chains of the curse of Isla Mujeres are 3/8″ galvanized BBB, strong, unrusted, and unyielding. But the time has finally come to break out the bolt cutters and get the hell out of here before we grow roots.

The final thread holding us to the island has finally been snipped. We were waiting for a package delivery from DHL and despite Mexican custom’s best efforts to thwart us, it has finally arrived. We’ll have a long and bitchy post one day about that experience. The short of it is, don’t import stuff to Mexico if you can help it.

Anyway. The fuel tanks are full and the boat is stocked up. Dani and I made run to the grocery store the other day. Priorities.
Provisioning on Isla

We’ll make one more trip tomorrow when we check out with the port captain and then load the dink aboard and make ready for sea. Ah the sea… It seems such a distant memory. We haven’t sailed for three months. But on Wed we intend to change that.

The forecasts for the next week or so seem alright. The wind is a little light for my tastes but it does take on a northern set which is good for us.
Wind heading to Providencia

The plan is to head out and make our way south. If we can make enough Easting to clear the edge of Honduras, we’ll just head straight on down to Providencia and thus get out of the hurricane box and also hopefully find a quiet place to settle in for a bit.

If we can’t make that Easting we’ll dive into Roatan and either wait for a weather window to clear Honduras (dubious at best) or eventually head back to the Rio Dulce and wait for the seasons to change so we can make it.

The third option is to head right into the Rio. That will be a fall back in case we just can’t make any Easting at all out there, which does happen sometimes when wind, current, and waves all conspire to upset your plans.
Possible Routes

We are well and truly slaves to the weather now. But should we be vigilant and should Neptune be kind, Providencia awaits!
Providencia crab key

*You can follow our sail via our Delorme by clicking here -> Where’s Sundowner <- or at the top left of website.

One way ticket to Mexico

I know a lot of you are wondering what is going on? Why haven’t Tate and Dani left yet? Where is the grand adventure? Why hasn’t their delorme tracker moved? In fact some people have mentioned the tracker because it looks like a starburst. It looks that way because when at anchor a boat moves in all directions as the wind changes and so the tracker ends up looking sort of like a 360 degree flower. Looks cool, the reality is not so cool though.

Well reader, I will tell you why. I assure you that it isn’t because we wish to bore you or that we’re content sitting on our haunches here in Isla Mujeres. No, someone in my family had a serious illness and had to have surgery. Rather than taking the weather window to hit Guatemala I went to Cancun and flew home to be with this person. I spent two weeks there trying to help and support my family as best I could. In the end, things have turned out as well as we could have expected and I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers sent our way. That said, it was a stressful time and I’m happy to be home.

Leaving the boat was stressful. If anyone in this world could go it alone for a few weeks it is Dani, but even so, I was worried about leaving her.

The day before I was to fly home I was sitting in the cockpit drinking coffee and I see this boat drifting down the fairway. “Dani, Dani, come look there is a boat dragging!” And as we’re sitting there watching it drag along and pondering getting the dink ready I notice trees sliding by… “Dani, Dani, We’re dragging!” It was our first drag. The anchor had undergone a 180 degree change, and dug into weeds which it pulled up in a giant mound. We started the motor and reset nice and tight. However, another 180 wind change was forecast to come with strong winds AFTER I’d be gone. Oh bother…

We considered moving the boat deeper into the lagoon, but holding there was questionable too. We considered bringing the boat into a marina, but we didn’t want the expense of that. In the end we had another first. I deployed a second anchor towards the direction of the forecast wind change and let out a huge amount of rode. The idea was that when the wind shifted if the main anchor didn’t catch the second anchor would.
Two anchors deployed

This worked out almost perfectly but when the wind shifted there wasn’t enough scope (barely!) on the second anchor to allow the main anchor to reset. It was good experience though and Dani reset the main on her own after a long conversation over IM by winching up the main anchor chain enough to force it to turn and reset. This involved her diving on the anchor about 5 times to check progress and also tying more anchor rode to the second anchor using bowline knots to increase the scope. I was so proud but for the two hours that it took for her to do it then give me an update, I was an absolute mess back in the states. I actually poured myself a drink to calm down.

Being back in the good ole US of A was a culture shock too, however some good came of it. I came home with lots of goodies in my luggage however but also some interesting problems.

Leaving Mexico by plane when you arrived by boat causes a stir in the airport. They made me pay Immigration a SECOND time despite having my documentation (minus the key immigration receipt). I’m not sure why. Then they took both visas and the new receipt when I boarded the plane. No amount of arguing would do, it just happened.

When I returned with my one way ticket to Mexico, the people in the US airport demanded proof that I could leave by boat. I had print outs of all of our boat docs (USCG Doc, TIP permit, Mexican clearance docs, etc). They eventually let me on. When I arrived in MX, immigration didn’t care about anything and let me through. I actually filled out a customs form to declare some stuff but the guy literally ignored it and told me to “press the button”. I pressed it and they let me through. If you press the button and it lights up you’re selected for a random search. So the clearance back in was painless.

Now I’m back on the boat, back with my wife, and the temperature here is going higher and higher with the boat getting up to 87 F during the day. I rigged a tarp over the main cabin and it is helping.
Sundowner with Tarp

Dani and I want to leave soon. Only one more little string holds us here, a special delivery that has made an absolute mess in Mexican customs, but more on that later.

So don’t despair, we’ll be on our way south soon.
Tate at Bahama Mama

Playa Norte
Beautiful North Beach

East side of Isla Mujeres
Beautiful Ocean Picture East side of Island
Cemetary picture Isla Muejers
Cemetary on Isla
Wall Mural In Isla Mujeres
Another Mural in Isla

Scrabble Tournament with Belinda from Free Spirit and Andy from Good Day 2.
Scrabble Group with Belinda from Free Spirit and Andy

Iguanas!
Dani and Belinda with Iguana

4 months unemployed…

Tate and I left New Orleans in the blistering cold back in January. It was just 4 days after I quit my job, making me unemployed for a bit over 4 months now. In the short run seeing money go out and not come back in isn’t too stressful but when I take into account the whole trip, possibly 5 years of not working, not making money and not building on my skills it makes me take pause. I wanted to write about these feelings of fear of the future, fear of the unknown and the instability that cruising while not retired brings. About the need for hobbies and self enrichment such as me learning a new language. I had wanted to that is until I met Aussies Belinda and Ken aboard the Catamaran Free Spirit.

This very interesting and inspiring couple hail from Sydney and anchored right next to us not long after my last blog post. We quickly met and went out for pizza. Belinda was a Doctor and her husband Ken was a Zoologist back near Melbourne on the south coast of Australia. Retiring 6 years ago they grew, well, tired of only living on land and so bought Free Spirit in Grenada and have since traveled the Caribbean and parts of the US for the last 2 years.
Free Spirit

If we had left on our original timeline we wouldn’t have met them and the fun that ensued wouldn’t have happened. I suppose life works out like that sometimes. The folks from the lands down under must keep tabs on each other because shortly after Free Spirit arrived to Isla Mujeres so did their friends aboard Our Rose from New Zealand. We were invited for dinner aboard their beautiful 42 foot Catamaran that Kiwis Jennifer and Richard had custom built in South Africa.

Being ever so kind and adventurous the next day they invited us out to snorkel and dive with them at MUSA ~ the Underwater Museum about 5 miles away from our anchorage off the coast of Isla Mujeres. We were SO excited to finally get to dive the underwater statues we had heard so much about but didn’t have the means to easily get out there.
Catamaran Snorkel

We jumped into the bright blue warm waters of Mexico and took a look around. Half the crew dove with scuba gear and other half were free diving.
Our Rose in the Water

MUSA is a Non-Profit Organization based in Cancun México that is devoted to the Art of Conservation. The museum has a total of 500 sculptures with three different galleries submerged roughly 30 ft. It was started in 2009 and completed at the end of 2013. There are various different sculptures like this land mine and those Christmas Ornaments.
Land mine in water
Ornaments under water

I didn’t know at the time we were snorkeling but these statues are close to 30ft underwater. Regardless of the depth I just had to get down there and check them out. Looking back I may have free dived down to 25ft. I will admit at the end of this trip I was feeling a bit lightheaded…but no pain no gain. It took everything I had to get down there and stay long enough to video and take pictures. I have heard stories about free divers going to 60 feet and after being down 25 it didn’t seem that impossible, with much bigger fins of course.
Dani swimming through the ring

The people statues were a variety of shapes sizes and expressions.
People under the water

I think this was Buddha waiting on a phone call.
Budda and telephone
Dani 25 feet deep in the water

A WaterBug!
Dani by the car

Check out a short video I made. Sorry for the shakiness, it’s hard to video and dive!

Jennifer from Our Rose took one for the team and manned the dinghy with dive flag. It’s a good thing too because just shortly after lunch time A TON OF PEOPLE AND BOATS SHOWED UP.
Jennifer in dinghy on Our Rose
Crowds snorkeling

With the situation getting dangerous out of the water will all of the traffic we got back aboard and headed back to the anchorage, for a BBQ no less!
Steaks on the Catamaran

This awful looking stuff is called “Chorizo” and is the only sausage we can find in Isla Mujeres. I have never worked with such a difficult and greasy sausage. You need at least a roll of paper towel just to soak up the grease. We don’t buy it for that reason (paper towels are expensive;) but Richard took the vinegary stuff by the dribbly horns and it turned out great.
Chorizo on the grill

Our fantastic group of new friends!
Our Rose group
That’s Eddie from SV Kaz and Belinda on Free Spirit.
Belinda and Ed from Kaz

The icing on the cake of the day however was, well the homemade icing on a carrot cake baked by Jennifer on Our Rose for my birthday! Yep all of this just happened to transpire on my birthday May 5th…I’m 32! I guess it’s worth mentioning that Jennifer is or rather was a professional baker back in New Zealand. Sorry to Richard for his face shot!
Jennifer with a carrot cake

They really are crazy giving me cake AND a giant knife. That’s Rebecca and Michael, guests aboard Our Rose who happen to split their time between Miami and NEW ORLEANS. Yep, they have a house in Uptown. She’s an artist and decorator and he retired from the New York Ballet! I’m telling you it’s incredible the people you meet out here.
Dani with a knife

Z Germans! Ya, this is Ron aboard Ramone, yet another Catamaran anchored next to us and his father who just flew in to visit the day before. Great timing Pops!
Germans on Ramone

After we all got cleaned up from the water adventure we headed into town to Bahia Tortuga and their Cinco de Mayo festivities. When we arrived I realized that word of my birthday got around and almost every cruiser on the island came out to party with us. Around 25 people who live on boats drank, laughed and danced their asses off to the live band.

The best thing of all is that everyone we just met is headed south, like we are. I hope our paths cross again soon.

It was just an absolutely incredible day that made me forget the more serious topic I had planned for this post. Experiences like these calm my fears about the unknown and actually ignite an excitement for the unknown. This is the kind of thing that fueled our dreams back on land. I am now a year older, happy, healthy and in love with my husband Tate and our life. I can’t wait to see where we end up next!
Dani Bikini 32nd birthday

*Thank you all for your kind words in the last post. We are still awaiting news.

The bigger picture.

After over 2 weeks of a south wind Sundowner’s bow is finally now facing North. The Northerly front that we were waiting on to head south to Guatemala has arrived but yet we remain securely anchored in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Why? Did we hit the tequila a little too hard on our would be last night here? I wish our delay was because of a terrible hangover but even more unfortunate than that is the recent news of a serious illness afflicting one of our immediate family members and along with it an unforeseen surgery that is to happen in the coming days. After going over a lot of hypothetical situations we made the decision to stay put and await the results of the surgery, which could be life altering.

We reasoned that of all the places we could be Isla Mujeres is the about the easiest and cheapest to fly home if need be. The further south we go the more the plane tickets cost (by a lot) and the harder it is to get back home. If we sailed to Guatemala now not only would we be out sailing near the reefs around Belize with potentially bad news coming through on our Delorme, once we arrived to the Rio it would take a few days to first get down the river to the marina zone, second find a marina and secure a slip and third take the over 6 hour bus ride to the airport in Guatemala City possibly necessitating an overnight stay somewhere to catch an actual flight home.

The logistics of leaving Sundowner on the Rio, a place we’ve never been, if we had to quickly fly home just doesn’t seem wise. This also puts us way back on the Rio for an undetermined amount of time if the illness proceeds to get worse. We are approaching hurricane season and we aren’t altogether sold on the idea of hiding out on the Rio for the whole season. There are lots of other places we want to see further south and the fight against the easterly trade winds to get around the “horn” of Honduras becomes less and less appealing the closer to summer we get.

This whole situation has really made us step back and look at the bigger picture here. As people say time and countless time again one of the best things about cruising is that there is no schedule and it is best to not have any pressure when making travel decisions. This couldn’t be more true for us in the here and now. As much as we want to show you awesome video footage and possibly dolphins and other underwater creatures we have to halt and let life take it’s course. The ultimate priority today is to be close to our family in this time of need and hope for the best.

So what is the bigger sailing picture then? Since we are going to be here at least another 2-3 weeks and depending on the outcome of this surgery we have talked loosely about skipping Guatemala and the Honduras Bay islands of Utila and Roatan and instead sailing east to Grand Cayman, where it is completely free to anchor/moor for 30 days, before heading directly south straight to Providencia off the coast of Nicaragua.

Some eye candy motivation for Providencia. Not my photo.
Providencia island

From Providencia we could then sail to Panama where the San Blas Islands and the Kuna Indians are. I hope to take many photos like this one.
San Blas Islands

Having our plans change has allowed us to put the big sailing picture in perspective. The REALLY BIG picture.

  1. #1 on our list is to be in Panama and gearing up to cross through the Canal in January 2016. We are planning to cross the Pacific in March 2016 and want enough time to properly prepare the boat and ourselves.
  2. #2 is the San Blas Islands roughly 80 miles to the east of Colon, Panama. This place is so perfectly picturesque with white sandy beaches and warm clear water with lots of fish. We’d like to spend a month or two here. Check out Nate’s blog Nomad Trip for a preview of what awaits us.

#3 is, well, up in the air. Really there are a bunch of options to get from here to Panama. Do we do the Grand Cayman route through Providencia the to San Blas or do we still head down to Guatemala and stay for a few months while hurricane season dies out and then try to escape around the horn of Honduras in October when the trades aren’t so strong?

map of Caribbean

There is no telling what the future holds, as this recent illness has shown us, but instead of focusing on the negatives we are going to focus on the positives and hold out faith and hope that this is just one stepping stone in the right direction in the much larger plan of life.