First Passage … Dry Tortugas to Isla Mujeres, Mexico

While we’re en route to the Keys and hopefully the Bahamas if the wind and weather blow us to the Exumas, we like to remember our first passage — leaving from Burnt Store Marina where we are now, we sailed to Marathon, overnight to the Dry Tortugas … then we were off to Isla Mujeres, Mexico.   Here’s is my original account .. and tomorrow we’ll post our buddy boat’s account of the same passage – interesting the differences between us as first times and Handbasket as the experienced sailor….


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.

Wing on Wing off the Coast of Cuba, Ready to Cross the Gulf Stream in the Yucatan Channel

Wing on Wing off the Coast of Cuba, Ready to Cross the Gulf Stream in the Yucatan Channel

The 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. They were 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.

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.   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!!!

Ships Crossing in the Yucatan Channel

Ships Crossing in the Yucatan Channel

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.  Saturday was nice & we enjoyed a nice day’s sail-luckily that evening was relatively calm (boat was only sailing 5 knots or so) and we both got plenty of sleep (well, as much as you can get with night watches) until 4 AM.  Then the squalls started again & 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.
Weather in the Yucatan Channel

Weather in the Yucatan Channel

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 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”!
Winterlude in the Anchorage at Isla Mujeres - Dark Hull to the Left

Winterlude in the Anchorage at Isla Mujeres - Dark Hull to the Left

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 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!

So for now, we’re in Marina Paraiso in Isla-we were planning a day or two here, but it’s $17/day (2004) (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.   And then return to explore paradise, down to Belize and beyond! 


  1. I missed where the boat is and where are you heading?

  2. Hi Sue! The boat is on the hard at Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage, just north of Ft Myers, or south of Sarasota, FL. We’re not sure where we’re headed this winter … wherever the wind blows us … but first we have to get the boat back in the water! 🙂

  3. P.S. This post has nothing to do with what we’re doing this year, it’s just nostalgia … while we’re babysitting for our grandsons tonight and en route back to the boat. Tomorrow morning’s post is the same passage but from our buddy boat’s perspective — interesting to contrast an experienced cruiser’s perspective with our very first extended passage.

  4. I did realize that, I just wondering where you were heading this year. Hope the boat projects go smoothly. We head back to put our boat back in the water in early February and are heading to El Salvador.

  5. El Salvador! Friends Carolyn & Dave spent some time there on sv Que Tal. I’m jealous!!!

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