Let the Sun Shine

Monday December 30, 2013

Playa del Norte, Isla Mujeres

Unfortunately, ever since we got into Mexico, even though we’ve pretty much been having nothing but gorgeous and sunny days, we could still not get our batteries up to a full charge. Our system is set up with four 6 volt wet batteries, and three solar panels totaling 475 watts to keep those batteries at a full charge. Normally this is not an issue whatsoever. Once we escaped the wrath of Florida’s first coast (which was surprisingly more overcast than I would have expected), we were back in full time sunshine and never had to worry about using power on the boat because there was an over abundance of it. Laptops were always plugged in, we had the t.v. Going from 6pm to 11pm, and my Bodum Electric Water Heater was getting used almost daily. Throw in some microwave use for heating up leftovers, so it’s suffice to say that we used all kinds of power without ever thinking twice about it.

We first noticed an issue with our battery levels dropping back in Guatemala, but we assumed it was because of our position in the marina. Even though we loved being placed right in front of this little thatched roof ranchito, basically an extra living space for us, part of the roof hung out far enough to create shadows on our back solar panel and kept us from getting our full amount of daily sun. We remedied that by using a battery charger that was plugged in to shore (we ditched our actual shore power system back in Michigan). We assumed that once we went back to anchor that everything would be fine and we could once more let the sun do it’s job of keeping us fully charged.

Here’s the funny thing though, as soon as we left the marina to be on the hook again, the sun disappeared. There was 2-3 days of cloud cover for every day of sun. We had to slip into super conservation mode just to keep everything necessary running, and still had to run the engine at times. This whole ‘no sun’ ordeal lasted us a good five weeks. Not fun for someone who’s used to spending their time diddling on their computer and watching a movie every night. Sure we had book and a few games, but it didn’t take long for those to get old, sooner because there was no vitamin D around for me to soak up and get into a go with the flow attitude. So once we got to Cozumel and now Isla Mujeres, we thought out battery troubles would be all over because for once we were getting nothing but sun.

Only, they would never fully charge. Normally if it’s a sunny and cloudless day, we’re pulling in anywhere from 16 to 22 amps. Let that happen all day for days on end, keeping our house battery at over 13 volts, and yeah, we’re good. For some reason, we still weren’t quite pulling in those numbers, and even when we started getting close to them, the house battery would be back down to 12.5 volts. So what gives? Why aren’t we pulling in and keeping a charge? We thought that maybe the batteries were dying on us, although that seemed strange and way too quick since we had just purchased them in July ’12. There had to be another reason for what was going on, and today we finally found it. After Matt shimmied himself into the lazarette to check the connections, he found out that our large 205 watt panel was actually not connected. We don’t know how or when, but at some point it came undone, so not only were we dealing with endless cloudy days for awhile, but then we were only taking in half the power we were used to.

Ahhhh, that explains a lot. A few minutes later, all connections were back and running, and our power intake went from 12 amps to 20 in just seconds. We’ll probably still have to wait a few days to see if the batteries do still take a full charge, or if being drained for so long, have now affected their performance. I’d really hate to get back to Florida and have to visit Sam’s Club to try and get them replaced, especially since we have no clue where that receipt went. Here’s to hoping everything’s alright.

In fun news, we finally got ourselves off the boat today to do a little exploring of the island, and visit La Playa del Norte, or, North Beach. Every guide book or person we’ve talked to has recommended this area as one you can’t miss while you’re on the island. Packing up a bag with a beach blanket, some snacks, and a couple of cold beers, we ventured toward this famous beach. We weren’t really sure what to expect, since honestly, we haven’t spent much time at beaches since we’ve begun cruising. Who needs to start at a beach when the water is already at your back door? As we crossed from the main road through an alley that led us into the sand, we were quite surprised of what we found there.

Granted, this is the holiday season and there are probably many people here actually on holiday, but this place was packed. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of people gorged onto one strip of sand. Where the road dropped us off was nothing but restaurants and lounge chairs in the sand, each one dotted with a large umbrella to keep away the hot Mexican sun. There wasn’t even a place to walk through the masses unless we were skimming the shore. While these seats did look very comfortable, we didn’t know if you had to rent one out for the day or if you were allowed to sit in one just for ordering a beer at the restaurant. Either way, we continued down the waterfront until the chairs ran out and there was only open sand left. I used that term loosely since all it really meant is that the chairs were replaced with people laying on blankets, or directly on the sand.

Weaving through the masses we finally found a small open spot in the shade of a palm tree. While I had been so tired due to a little bout of insomnia that I probably could have napped the afternoon away on the beach, the people watching was much more interesting. All the women frequenting this beach are very comfortable with their bodies, and their suits either ranged from bikinis, to thong bikinis, to topless. Regardless of age or size, they were confident with their looks and had no insecurities forcing them to cover up what society didn’t deem as perfect. It was actually pretty refreshing to see since so many Americans are usually shamed into hiding anything that wouldn’t make the cover of a magazine. For more people watching, the little kids also brought lots of entertainment. Ranging from toddlers to tweens, they were all enjoying their time out in the sun and sand without a care in the world.

We only stayed a total of about two hours since our shade started to disappeared as the sun moved further west in the sky. I did have time to get down a cold Bravah while people watching, one of my last beers from Guatemala, and we both took a dip in the refreshing and hypnotizing aqua waters. We also couldn’t stay too long since we had dinner plans with Luki and Elmari at 6:00. We all met up at Marina Paraiso for a quick beer before dinner. While there we found 3 other people that had been in the Rio Dulce at the same time as all of us, one of them that was in our marina, and one of them was one of the guys that watched Georgie while we were in South America. I know this is a typical route north for cruisers in that area, but it still felt like such a small world to see them again. After hellos and some chatting, the four of us were off to find good food. Based on a recommendation from the bartender at the marina, we hit up a little placed called Bobo’s, famous for it’s wings and burgers. The wings were only $6 a pound, and washing them down with an Amber Dos XX was just heaven. Turns out I didn’t have to wait to reach the states before getting my decently priced buffalo wings after all. Take that, Hooters of Cozumel.  

Playa Norte sign

crowds of chairs, Playa Norte

beach, Isla Mujeres

boy on beach, Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres shark sculpture

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