Friday, May 2, 2014

Passage to Isla Mujeres, Mexico

We had a couple of reasons to leave Belize and head to Mexico.  One, we needed to get out of Belize by the 18th because our permit from Customs expired then.  That was just 5 days away.  The other reason was that we had a buyer wanting to see the boat in the Cancun area.  The buyer and brokers had a survey, scheduled for April the 22nd and with Easter Week, we needed to travel to Mexico and get checked in to be able to make the date.  I felt some anxiety as we needed to do our first overnight sail and our longest passage of about 240 NM.  I was really happy that Kathi had decided to stay with us, as an extra hand was going to make things easier! 

After Mike left, I had a list of boat chores that I needed to do before we headed north.  We also filled the water tanks and topped off our diesel tanks too.  With all of our preparations, you would have thought we were heading across the Atlantic or something.  I guess we over prepared for a few day passage, but it was our first, and I wanted it to be great!

 Kathi helping me fill the water tanks and extra bottles of drinking water

Once we filled our tanks and checked out of the marina, we headed out the channel to the Belize City Harbor.  We had our sights set on Cay Caulker, as Kathi hasn’t been there before, and we can stock up on cokes.  When we cleared the marina, we were hit with 20 knot wind directly on the nose.  The waves were huge, as the water was very shallow, allowing the waves to build, before crashing on the shore.  Soon the 20 knots became 25 and then some gusts over 30!  This was crazy!!!  What happened to our nice sail to Cay Caulker?  To complicate matters, there were two huge cruise ships and a freighter directly in our path.  There was also a small island with reefs and shallow water on our port side.  We tried to sail to gain some stability, but unless we tacked directly south, the small island and Belize City blocked our northerly tack.  We took down the sails and motored with both engines directly into the waves and wind.  It was probably the most uncomfortable that I have been on the boat.  Kathi looked at me and asked if the whole passage would be like this?  I told her that I hoped not, as we crashed into wave after wave! 

One of the cruise ships that we were trying to dodge

Once we were clear of the cruise ships, we were able to slide between the freighter and the small island.  We then raised the sails into a 25 knot beam reach, shooting us north at 7 to 8 knots!  This was more like it!!!  

 A tugboat hauling four barges heading south in high winds

We flew through the Drowned Cay pass and through Porta Stuck, and arrived in Cay Caulker around 3:00 pm.  Kathi and I had time to stock up on cokes, and the three of us headed into town for dinner at the Barrier Reef Bar and Grill.  We also saw Drew on s/v Hellion, who seems to have gotten anchorites there at Cay Caulker.  Every time that we come into the harbor, he is still there!  He must enjoy Cay Caulker!!!
We wanted to spend more time at Cay Caulker, but we needed to get to San Pedro to check out of Belize on Tuesday!  We have a weather window to Mexico on Wednesday, and wanted to make sure that we were checked out and ready to go!

The next morning, we had a nice sail up to San Pedro.  Kathi was amazed at the clear shallow water, as we silently sailed north in 8 feet of water.  We anchored just off of the TMM dock in a white sandy patch, pulling our anchor into the grass.  Kathi and I headed into the Immigration and Custom’s Office to check out.  We also stopped at TMM and talked to Simon about our future plans for MokaKat.  TMM is one of our options to put MokaKat into charter, if she doesn't sell.  He helped us with a spare belt for one of our engines, as we had gone through a couple in the last couple weeks. 

s/v Impromptu, a catamaran that we have run into many times in Belize

Kathi and I headed over to the Immigration office first!  The guy was super nice and checked us out with no ‘extra’ charges.  Last time that we checked out of Belize, we were charged an extra $90 B for something…probably the guys lunch for a couple of weeks!  We then headed over to Customs, where I was a bit nervous, as it was the Custom’s office in Big Creek that made such an uproar about our extension in Belize.  Surprisingly, the lady was super nice and made sure that we enjoyed Belize and that we would come back!  We told her that she was the most pleasant official that we have had since coming to Belize last year!  She also said that we didn't have to check in with the Port Captain, as we were paid up on our fees!  I questioned her about this, and she set me straight, that she knew and we didn’t have to go!  Once I got back to the boat, I called the local Port Captain, just to make sure!  He said that we were good to go!  Sometime you never know, so I felt better after talking to him.  So, we were checked out of Belize and just waiting on our weather window to head to Mexico!!! 

We then went back to the boat to pick up mom and headed over to our favorite restaurant, the Blue Water Grill.  Kathi and Mom then went over to the Greenhouse to buy some fruit and veggies, while I headed over the fishing store for a few blue water lures!  We met back at the TMM dock and headed back to MokaKat!  
While I was running back and forth with the dinghy, I stopped and talked to a couple on a mono hull sailboat.  Their boat name was s/v XAVITA IV, and Birgitta and Johan, from Sweden, were heading to Mexico the next day too!  We exchanged information and hoped that we all had a good sail to Mexico. 

s/v XAVITA IV, and Birgitta and Johan, from Sweden

We were now ready to head to Mexico, we just had to wait until morning, and hope that we had calm enough seas to get out of the pass.
The rest of the day we were all anxious and nervous about the passage.  Kathi probably was the most calm, as she didn’t really understand some of the potential risks to the open sea.  I of course, was thinking about every possible scenario and what I would do for each!  As night fell, we had another full moon, as we missed the blood moon the night before.   I finally fell asleep, praying for a calm seas to make it out of the pass.  If we couldn’t go out the pass, we were either have to wait, or go back about 20 miles to a larger pass. 
The next morning, the seas were calm, and quickly we readied the boat to go!  We had anchor up at 6:30, and we headed out toward the pass.  s/v XAVITA had a 6 foot draft, and was going to wait until high tide at 10:00 to go, so we went first.

Going through the pass was very easy, as the seas were calm.  We had to angle southward until you got to the yellow buoy and then head straight east.  We motored out and then set the sail, heading north to Mexico!!!  We put all of the sail up and were running 6 to 7 knots! 

Good bye San Pedro!
 Beautiful morning to start our passage!
 The San Pedro pass looks calm this morning (yellow buoy is the center of the pass)
Outside of the reef!!!

Our plan was to either go all of the way to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, about 240 NM, or stop half way at Bahia de la Ascencion, a safe harbor to spend the night.  Since this was our first overnight passage, we had a contingency plan in case we were too tired to keep going. 

 Dale and Kathi putting up the main sail
Taking down the Belize courtesy flag!  Ready for Mexico!

We were able to get s/v XAVITA on the radio, but because we were sailing so fast, we quickly got out of radio range after a few hours of sailing.  We hoped that they would be safe on their trip.

Beautiful morning for a passage - open ocean!
 Passing cruise ship
 Mom relaxing in her favorite spot!
 Dale with a little emergency repair.  Nothing like being on the hardtop trying to fix a line in large waves!
 Checking hatches!!
Kathi enjoying her time at the helm

The day went very well, as we continued to sail out of Belize waters into Mexican!  We had put out our fishing pole in hopes of some Mai Mai.  Just after lunch, the reel started singing and line was stripping off at high rates!  Fish on!!!  I put the boat into a hold to, and turned over the helm to Kathi.  I set the hook and tried to slow the fish down, who was now heading toward Guatemala at a high rate of speed.  Finally, I slowed him down and made some progress to pull it back to the boat.  At that time, the boat fell back into the wind, and we started sailing again!  I didn't do a very good job instructing Kathi on how to hold the boat into a hold to, my bad!  Once we finally slowed down the boat again, I went back to the fight.  It turned out to be a large barracuda, not a Mai Mai.  We decided that we had enough fish in the freezer and let him go.  Actually, we were so focused on getting to Mexico, that we decided that we didn't want to fish anymore, and took in the pole.  It was fun while it lasted, but it was more important to keep sailing toward Mexico, and stopping to reel in a fish impacted our time! 

Nice barracuda!!

As night was coming, we decided how we were going to split up the shifts.  Mom and Kathi were going to split the 8:00 pm to 12:00 pm slots, I would take 12:00 to 2:00, Kathi 2:00 to 4:00, and I would finish off the night with the 4:00 to 6:00.

 Kathi, ready for her shift!
 The last sunlight before we arrive in Mexico!

As the sun set in the west, and the moon hadn't come up yet, I stated to get a little queasy.  I couldn't see past the lights on the panel.  This continued, until the full moon came out an hour later!  I usually don’t get queasy, but the nervousness and lack of light impacted me.  We had a beautiful night with 15 knots of wind and a full moon! 

I decided not to put a reef in the main, as the wind was around 15 knots and the night looked clear.  I turned over the helm to Kathi and Mom and headed below to sleep.  Around 12:00, I woke up and looked out the window to see the seas flying by!  Wow, we were flying!!  I ran up to the helm to check on Kathi!  She was sitting at the helm having a great time!  We were flying along at 9 knots with all of our sails up!  The wind had picked up to 17 to 20 knots and we started to feel the advantage of the north current of 2 to 3 knots!  We decided to put a reef in the main, and slow down the boat a little.  I was uncomfortable with the speed that we were traveling, especially at night.  Kathi watched me, as I went forward to put in the reef.  Once the reef was put in, I felt better about the speed.  We slowed down in the 8 knot range.  I grabbed a snickers bar and a coke, and got ready for my shift.  Kathi sat with me for a while, before she headed below to sleep.

With some caffeine and some sugar, I was set.  It was beautiful sailing at night with a full moon.  I had turned down the illumination on the instruments to a soft glow, and with the full moon, you could see everything!  I had time to reflect on the past year and living on the boat.  This passage was a fitting way to cap off a great year.  We have had many moments where we were totally out of our comfort zone, but we had met those challenges.  This passage was just another one of many events that challenged our experience and knowledge.  I felt very proud of our accomplishments and the fact that my mom of 75 years of age was with me this year.  I also realized that my sister, who we haven’t been around each other much in the past 20 years or so, was very similar in her lust for adventure.  She picked up sailing very quickly, and even though she didn't have formal training and the terminology, she was a natural at picking it up! 

Kathi came up around 2:00 to take her shift.  We sat at the helm for a while, enjoying the great night and the fact that we were sharing it.  We had enjoyed catching up on each other’s life and also reminisced about our childhood in Baytown Texas and Kansas City.  We brought up some old names that I haven’t thought of in many years!  She had done a better job keeping up with some of our old friends that I had!  Through these talks, I was able to find some of my old fiends on Facebook! 

I headed down to sleep for a couple of hours, while Kathi manned the helm.  During the night I kept hearing singing, and when I looked up at the helm, Kathi was singing and having a great time!  I guess she is a natural at sailing!  I finally woke up and checked on Kathi around 5:00, an hour past my shift!  Kathi was so proud, as she set the boat speed record at 9.5 knots!  That was even with a reef in the main and jib.  I took over as the sun was rising to a beautiful day, and Kathi went below to sleep a little!  We were just coming up on Cozumel, so we flew right by Bahia de la Ascencion in the middle of the night!  We were heading to Isla Mujeres, Plan A!

It is good to see the sun rising!!!

I am assuming that we were in the middle of the northerly current, as the boat kept gaining speed.  The wind was still under 20 knots, but I was hitting over 10 knots at times!  A couple of time we hit 10.5 knots our new boat record!  The sails did not seem over powered, so I kept the sails the same.  Wow, this is sailing!!!  Later that morning, Kathi came up to check on me!  She asked if we set any new speed records, and she couldn't believe that we hit 10.5 knots!  She had the record at 9.5 knots last night! 

We hit 10.5 knots, but this photo shows 10.2 in 17 knots of wind!

We spotted the resorts that are south of Cancun and our excitement started growing!  I was really tired, but wanted to see the trip finished!  It seemed to take forever to get up to Cancun, as our boat speed slowed down to 7 to 8 knots.  The wind was coming from the northeast, and with the current flowing north, the water became confused.  This was  not as comfortable sailing, but not too rough to worry.  As we got closer to Cancun, there were many offshore fishing boats trolling the edge of the current. 

 Resorts in Cancun in the distance

As we rounded Cancun, we needed to cut between these boats and head more northwest toward Isla Mujeres, our final destination.  The fishing boats were spaced about a ¼ mile between, so I had to hurry between a couple boats to finally get on the bearing toward Isla Mujeres.  Once I exited the current, the roughness settled down, but so did our speed.  After the roller coaster ride in the current, it felt like we were limping into Isla Mujeres at 5 knots.  I was so tired but we were so close, that I stayed on the helm to finish the trip! 

 Isla Mujeres!!!
 Lighthouse and snorkel spot at entrance to the harbor at Isla Mujeres
 Busy snorkel spot outside Isla Mujeres, Mexico
 Kathi on the bow watching for fast moving ferries as we approach Isla Mujeres
 Busy Isla Mujeres harbor!!!

 Party catamarans!!!!
 Isla Mujeres Anchorage

Isla Mujeres was a complete culture shock for us, as large ferries zipped back and forth between Cancun and Isla Mujeres.  Also, little pangas, loaded with tourist were everywhere, taking tourist to snorkel or sightseeing.  We managed to not get run over by any of the fast ferries, and finally we arrived at the harbor.  We ended up anchoring at the back of the pack, and spent a little time cleaning up.  It was nice to be anchored in a protected harbor, after the past 31 hours of open ocean.   We had traveled around 240 NM in 31.5 hours, with an average speed of over 7 knots!  That was a great first passage!!!  We were all happy to be in Mexico!  I crashed for a couple of hours, after cleaning up the sails and halyards.  There was no hurry to check in, as this was Holy Week in Mexico.  We were just happy to be in Mexico, so checking in will have to wait until tomorrow!

 Dale, dropping the main sail after 31 hours of sailing!
Our first Isla Mujeres Mexico sunset!  Beautiful!!!!

Wow, what a first passage!!!  Sailing under the full moon has to be an experience everyone needs to do, especially at 9 to 10 knots!

Happy Sailing on MokaKat!!!

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