Caye Caulker, Belize to Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Normally I don’t write “log” style updates, but I wanted friends & family to be able to envision what a 2 night overnight is like, so this one from Caye Caulker, Belize to Isla Mujeres, Mexico illustrates a great passage before returning to SW Florida in 2010.  Unfortunately, not all passages are created equal!   🙂

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Belizean Fish Markers

Belizean Fish Markers

Buenos all! (that’s HI in Mexican) … After 155 days out at anchor, living on the hook, hiding from norther after norther, Winterlude rode out the last vicious norther safely attached to a dock at Marina Paraiso in Isla Mujeres Mexico! As the winds howled, gusting to 30 and six boat dragged anchor out in the anchorage, we Winterluders luxuriated standing under pouring hot water in one of the only “real” showers (as opposed to sun showers) we’ve had in months. We’ve been walking to town every day, it’s amazing how much you can miss walking when you’re living on a boat with no place to walk! It’s 12 steps from the galley to the head … and 12 steps back, believe me I know!

After agonizing over the weather for weeks, trying to pick a weather window that would allow us to make the 48 hour passage to Isla Mujeres in relative comfort … we are finally underway in a light northwest wind (forecast to be southeast, but what else is new). At 0630 David drives and I am on “stick watch” behind the reef while we motor 5 miles south to a safe cut in the reef. Belizean fishermen plant large sticks in random patterns marking a range for their fishing, but these sticks are almost as much a pain as crab pots are in the US … speaking of crab pots, we haven’t seen them in the six years since we left Florida, but I guess we’ll be dodging them again soon!

Sailing Along Belize, Mainland in the Distance

Sailing Along Belize, Mainland in the Distance

We e-mailed our Float Plan to Kristiana and e-mailed Marina Paraiso in Isla Mujeres to confirm our Sunday reservation. As a safety precaution, we’ll check in with the NW Caribbean Net twice a day underway on SSB 6209 at 8 AM and 0545 PM Belize time (currently two hours behind the US East Coast). We will also e-mail Doug & Rayene on Kristiana every 6 hours with a position report and conditions. If we miss 2 consecutive position reports, our Float Plan instructs Doug & Rayene to call the US Coast GUard and alert them to the possibility we might have a problem.

We just sailed over the clear aqua water strung with coral heads in only 10 feet of water, crossing the reef and almost instantly into off soundings thousands of feet deep water at 0800 … now we’re really on our way. 45 hours to go according to our Nobeltec Passport charts, electronic charting.

WOOHOO — it’s 1300 ( 1 PM) and Winterlude is crossing the latitude 18 NORTH. 18 NORTH is infamous in cruisers lives because the weather forecasts always specify “waves highest south of 18 NORTH! So now that we’ve crossed the barrier, why are our waves so much steeper and rocky rollier than earlier? AhHa! We discover we have a knot and a half of current pushing us northward — it’s all good, although the boat motion makes it difficult to accomplish anything down below … so we sit in the cockpit and watch the sparkling water rush by and just enjoy.

Lunch was chicken pasta salad with fresh yummy cinnamon bread for dessert.  Of course the bowls slid into the sink as I was attempting to spoon the pasta salad into them, but that’s life on passage! We always pre-prepare meals for underway to insure we eat reasonably well with a minimal time required below just in case it’s really rough.

1500 (3 PM) and we’re motorsailing, although the wind has clocked east (from North and on the nose). We have a knot and a half of northward
setting current. Waves are calmer except for the occasional three surfer waves in succession and Winterlude is FLYING along at over 6 knots. Hull speed is 6.2 knots and this heavy safe long keeled boat rarely maintains that kind of speed. 42 hours to Isla!

Sailing Belize, Looking Toward Mainland

Sailing Belize, Looking Toward Mainland

Dark … and despite the reef we always put in before sunset, we’re doing over 7 knots … we added a 2nd reef and we’re still doing over 7 knots.  The wind has finally shifted enough to the southeast that we can actually SAIL, so we turn off the diesel and now we’re sailing as opposed to motorsailing to hold our course as close to the rhumb line as possible.

Lightning lights the northwest sky making us uneasy … the forecast was NO squalls, NO convection, NO rain, NO clouds NO nothing for the next several days … of course, we should have known better. Courtesy of Sirius Satellite Radio, we listened to Michigan State beat Northern Iowa for a Final 8 NCAA spot and then I “went to bed” for 2 hours. No sooner had I climbed in the bunk than David yelled down for me to turn on the radar for a tanker ship a mile away. He passed us at half a mile out … YIKES, that gets the old heart pumping! After the excitement, I tried again to get an hour’s rest or so…. Up for my watch at 9 PM, luckily all is quiet and the lightning show has subsided, leaving a 3/4 full moon and a starry starry night. Bo, the Monitor Windvane is steering. Bo is definitely partial to David and doesn’t much care for me, so when I adjust our course to keep us far enough off the mainland reef at Bahia Espiritu Santu in southern Mexico, the steering line parts in my hand. Poor David, he’s just laid down to rest & he’s back up reconnecting the line. But after that fiasco, David actually got to lay in the bunk for a solid 3 hours — notice I didn’t say he got to SLEEP for 3 hours, just that he had the opportunity to lay in the bunk for 3 hours! I let David “sleep” until 4 AM, when he relieved me. Lucky him, now he almost gets run over by a cruise ship headed to Cozumel … wonder if that’s the same cruise ship that my Dad and Kay will take in a few weeks! Two hours later, I had to send the every 6 hour position report e-mail, so we made coffee. The Mr Coffee sits safely in the deep sink — I think it gets a bit confused by all the boat motion and often the coffee grounds don’t all get used during the cycle, but still the coffee tastes fabulous! We enjoy a day old cinnamon roll from the Caye Caulker bakery — they’re almost as good as Cinnabon!

We can see Cozumel on the horizon and occasionally the GPS indicates we can be anchored in Isla Mujeres before dark — we both are committed to the idea of pushing the boat as fast as possible so we don’t have do sail another overnight. We shake out the reefs and the boat responds by jumping to 8 knots and at one point on the northern end of Cozumel, our boatspeed was 9.4 knots!!!! NINE POINT FOUR KNOTS! It’s a brilliant sunny day with the waves shimmering across clear blue waters – suddenly we have an entire pod of dolphins dancing in our bow wake and crossing and crisscrossing under the stern. They stayed with us until the wind piped up to over 20 knots … on the nose again, of course … and we had to turn into the wind to put in a reef. It’s 36 miles to Isla Mujeres and we’re doing 9.4 knots — at this rate we’ll be there before dark! WOOHOO!!!

Unfortunately, sailing across in front of the hotel zone in Cancun, the current left us … and the time on our GPS was sinking with the sun, later
and later. It is never recommended to come in to a harbor at night… even with the red markers lit, as in Isla Mujeres. The flashing red lights
blend into the lights on the island and are almost impossible to see. Approaching the island, the sun had just set, the moon was rising and the
wind switched yet again from almost due south blowing 20… unfortuntately our plan to anchor outside Isla on the west side with the south wind and chop meant we’d have another night of no sleep & worrying about the anchor dragging. Both of us wanted to try to get inside, luckily right about the time we had to make a decision, a ferry came out of the channel showing us the channel. We doused the sails and poked our way slowly along the channel – which is not more than a few feet off the beach. Very scary to be that close to the beach, especially in the moonlight while searching the horizon for the next red flashing marker.

Marina Paraiso, Isla Mujeres

Marina Paraiso, Isla Mujeres

At 7:30 PM, only 36 hours after passing through the reef in Belize, our anchor was down and set and we were relaxing in the cockpit enjoying
dinner! Sunday morning we called Marina Paraiso and two dinghies came out to help us get into a slip — the slip they assigned us meant the 20 plus knot winds would blow us directly onto the dock and there are no finger piers – you have to get lines on two telephone posts off the dock to keep us from crashing through it! With the two dinghies helping, we had no problem and quickly were safely secure … except for having to climb over the bouncing bow to get on & off the boat! 🙂

In old news, before departing on our passage north, we spent a few days in Caye Caulker, Belize, and before that we hid from the last norther in the Drowned Cayes. Kayaking during a norther is always a popular way for us to get off the boat — we were kayaking, looking for dolphins and manatees when all of a sudden out of NOWHERE, a “Jesus” fish (we call them “Jesus” fish because they appear to walk on water, on their tails skimming across long distances) sprang out of the water and skimmed, launching off the bow of David’s kayak only a foot or so from impaling him with it’s slender pointy snout. With a loud THUD, it launched then cleared David’s kayak, splashing
back into the water and abandoning it’s tail skim. I’m sure the fish was as startled as we were! Needless to say, I laughed much harder than David!

Also, as a point of reference, since we left in 2004 to go cruising, I have been looking diligently to spot a seahorse in the wild. In all that time,
I have never seen one. While tying up our dinghy at the Iguana Reef Resort on Caye Caulker, people were peering intently over the southern side of the dock… I lean over, the water is only about three feet deep and I can clearly see the seaweed, turtlegrass mixed with a bit of trash, but nothing else. A closer look shows two different adults foraging for food and a bonus, a tiny baby seahorse!!! In my excitement, I almost fell off the dock leaning so far out to get a good angle to get a photo.

Now we are hanging out in Isla Mujeres, near Cancun, Mexico for awhile. Eventually we will sail back to Charlotte Harbor, Florida, but we’re not in a hurry and we are enjoying this island, the comfort of the dock and the delicious mexican food!

That’s it for now! Have a great day!

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