Dry Tortugas to Isla Mujeres: Attacked by the Pots & Pans….

In creating commuterCRUISER it occurs to me that some of my original e-mails to friends and family highlighting our first year cruising may be interesting reading if you’re getting ready to make the same crossing.  I’ll add information in italics as appropriate to update these older posts.   Enjoy!

Hi all!  Winterlude is safely in Isla Mujeres, Mexico after crossing-we left the Dry Tortugas Friday at 8 AM & the anchor was down in Isla Mujeres Monday morning at 2 AM!

After waiting for 2 weeks for a weather window, the forecast was for a good window lasting from early Friday, 11/19 through Monday and maybe Tuesday before the next low pressure system, called a “norther” comes through.   Altho’ blowing stronger than we would have preferred — 14-17 knots forecast-we decided to go for it since there wasn’t another window in sight & the weather service we were using said this window was about as good as it gets for this time of year.

FirstQuarantineFlagThe GOOD NEWS is that we got to literally SAIL the entire way, albeit 90% of the time we had a double reef in the main!  We motored out the channel, at the Dry Tortugas, put up the sails & didn’t turn the diesel on again until we were 42 miles from Isla.   It was a very challenging passage, but Bo, our Monitor windvane steered the entire time.  We sailed with a buddy boat that we met in the Dry Tortugas, a Tayana 37, named Hand Basket (yes, as in the expression, going to hell in a hand basket) with Jim, Dan & Grant aboard.

Jan’s Update Note:  The BAD NEWS is that with some experience we’ve learned that we really made this first crossing much harder than it needed to be.  Handbasket and Winterlude had different strategies. We had no clue that the gulf stream literally can produce it’s own weather systems.  Having experienced gulf stream crossings many times, Jim’s strategy when the thunderstorms started in the gulf stream, was to cut directly across at a 90 degree angle until he got out of the training pattern of the storms.  Winterlude’s strategy, being newbies, was to follow our plan to the waypoints that the weather service had provided come hell or high water!  As a result, Handbasket spent a few hours in the thunderstorms, but emerged on the other side, enjoyed a good night’s sleep and dawn had the boys on Handbasket reveling in the dolphins playing in their bow wake.  Winterlude on the other hand was tortured all night long — the thunderstorms kept popping up, it literally felt as if they were deliberately following us to make our lives miserable.  With more experience we’ve learned that flexibility is a good thing and that we don’t absolutely have to hit the waypoint in our passage plan if some other alternative would make the weather (and our passage) better!

Handbasked was undecided about leaving, thought the forecast might not be good enough, but when they saw us go, they decided that “if that GIRL can do it, we can do it!”  🙂  What they didn’t know was that we had literally NO experience!  It was nice seeing their masthead light all through overnight watches!

Jim on Hand Basket has alot of cruising experience, he’s been from NYC all the way to Trinidad.  His longest passage so far was 13 days from Puerto Rico direct to NYC.  He told us after the fact that this was his most challenging passage. HandBasket
Winterlude’s Buddy Boat — Hand Basket from NYC with Capt Jim

More experienced cruisers than Winterlude, HandBasket had a different perspective on the crossing!    If you’d like to read  an entertaining version of the same crossing from Jim’s perspective, follow the links below!   🙂

Ships were a problem through the Yucatan shipping lanes, we saw 7 in just one night! From the time you spot them on the horizon until they’re on top of you is 15 minutes or so.  One appeared to be on a collision course during my night watch (of course!). I called them on the radio & got no answer.  Then I woke David, we shined the spotlight on the sail to make the boat a bit more visible.  Immediately after, we got a call from the ship who said he would pass us to starboard & alter course to port in front of us.  He was within .67 miles, the closest any ship got & let me tell you it’s WAY too close!!!BigShip

We had squall lines Friday night with winds consistently in the mid to upper 20 knot range.  The boat was close reaching in the middle of the gulf stream in confused seas.  Because of the NOISE everything makes, neither of us got any sleep.

At one point during the night, the oven door flew open and I was attacked by pots and pans that normally live in the oven as I stood at the Nav Desk plotting our position.  I heard a noise, turned to see the oven door bounce open and the pots and pans flying.  When have you EVER been attached by pots and pans as you stand in the kitchen???   We plot our position religiously every hour on the hour – in the log by jotting down pertinent info such as lat/long, boat speed, wind speed and direction, wave height and distance apart, weather, barometer, who’s at the helm (Bo, the monitor windvane, Boris the autopilot, David or Jan).

Jan’s Note:  on the early passages, we also plotted the position manually on the paper chart every hour.  We could see where we were in the vast blue sea by glancing at the paper chart.  The chart covers the entire area from Florida to Mexico and it got discouraging to see how little distance we were covering each hour, but we did it anyway because we were convinced we needed to.    These days we have 2 GPS’s with charts running — Nobeltec Passport Charts on the laptop below and Garmin GPSMap small GPS screen at the helm.  We don’t always plot our paperchart position every hour – in fact on the return passage from Isla to Charlotte Harbor, FL May 2010, we didn’t plot anything on the paper chart – although we had it out and ready and we had the lat/long and other info noted above written in the passage log every hour.

Saturday was nice & we enjoyed a nice day’s sail. We even got to put the pole up and sail wing on wing. We have a rule that before dark on an overnight passage, we put one more reef in the main than we’ve been sailing with.  That rule also means the pole had to come down before sunset.  Good thing too since the thunderstorms started again about 4 AM!   Luckily most of that evening was relatively calm (boat was only sailing 5 knots or so).    We both got plenty of sleep (well, as much as you can get with night watches).  The squalls started again about 4 AM & continued literally all day Sunday-no rain, but gusty winds & even BIGGER, more confused seas than Friday night-we were crossing the Yucatan Straits & the gulf stream current is as strong as 4 knots.

Imagine if you can, your HOUSE rolling from gutter to gutter consistently every other minute.  It’s very noisy, everything in every cabinet, despite your best efforts to make sure NOTHING moves, is clanking around-you’re trying to sleep when the cans in the food locker are clanking.  You wearily get up & redo them so they SHUT UP & lay back down.  You’re almost asleep when the pots & pans decide to begin clanking.  Aaaarrrgggg!!!  And we have the boat pretty well clank-proofed, but in those seas, it didn’t matter.

Then, the big igloo cooler decides to LAUNCH itself across the cabin.

Luckily we were both in the cockpit at the time.  BUT the cooler was full of icewater, all the ice having long since melted.  ALL THE ICEWATER is now soaking both carpets.  And you can’t clean it up because the boat is launching itself from one caprail to the next.  Everytime we had to go below, we walked through icewater.  We called it the swamp & were glad it was fresh water & not salt water (as in sinking).
All in all it was a successful first crossing – the worst part was not getting enough sleep. We celebrated last night with Jim & Dan from Hand Basket over one of the best grouper dinners I’ve ever had at a little restaurant “downtown” Isla (dinners were $7 US apiece, with 2 margaritas each, an appetizer & the tip the total bill was $40 — and this was one of the more expensive restaurants here!!!).  David & I were illegal immigrants because we hadn’t gotten checked in yet-they were supposed to come to the boat at 3 PM yesterday, but it’s Mexico, land of “manana”!

Today we did the Mexican Two Step, to get checked in.  First we went to Migration (immigration), then to the Port Capitan who informed us that we had to get an agent to clear in.  We found the agent at the island’s only gas station & he took care of our boat import visa, our zarpe & other necessary paperwork (note to Dangerous Love & Nash On-be sure to make up your crew list ahead of time & make zillions of copies, they want 6 copies at each port & if you don’t have them, you have to walk someplace else to get copies made before you can do the Mexican Two Step!! — also make copies of your boat documentation papers & bill of sale).  We paid $124 US for all that stuff & then had to go to the bank for pay for our personal tourist cards-we asked for & got 180 days before we have to leave, we won’t stay that long, but just in case, we won’t have to redo the immigration part again until after 180 days.  The bank cost another $40 US, so with everything it was $164 US.  It took us all morning & we didn’t get back to the boat until 2 PM!

Jan’s Note:  Mexican immigration and customs rules are continually changing so this information is not current.  We’ve heard that Mexican authorities are now requiring a “zarpe” when a boat comes in from the USA – traditionally we’ve never had any checkout papers when leaving the US.  Be sure to check for the latest regulations from the Mexican side before you make this passage!    In April 2010, when we cleared in and out, we were required to use an agent which makes the process easier, but also I think more expensive although they claim not.  But customs, immigration, the health people, everyone that needed something with us, came directly to the marina, it was easy and painless.  It helped that we already had the 10 year Importation papers from visiting Mexico in 2004/2005, so we didn’t have to do that cha-cha again.

So for now, we’re in Marina Paraiso in Isla-we were planning a day or two here, but it’s $17/day (US marinas are usually at least $50-$70/night) and the other two boats, Hand Basket & No News are staying through the week, so we are too.  No News’ crew is taking the ferry to Cancun tomorrow, we may go with them since David’s never been & wants to see it.  Then we’ll probably sail up to Isla Contoy, a national park & bird refuge & supposedly one of the prettiest little islands along the Yucatan coast.  After that, we’ll fly home for Christmas.  We’re looking forward to Dangerous Love & Nash On (Tony & Vicky and Jack & Linda Nash) making it down here so we can all explore paradise together!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL!!!  (Jan’s Note:  Thanksgiving 2004)
Jan & David, s/v Winterlude



  1. […] had solar and wind energy. But sitting in Marathon, FL Keys, waiting on a weather window to sail to Isla Mujeres and the Western Caribbean, the weather turned gray.  And raining.  And windy enough that it […]

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