Throwback Thursday: Racing Almost Skebenga

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

For most of our time in Cay Caulker Belize, the weather was not agreeing with us.  Lots of overcast skies and rain which meant no reason to go to shore, and worse, no solar to power our electronic toys on the boat.  I actually had to take to reading Chapman’s for fun.  Those were some dark days.  Literally.

We did brave a few passing showers to make it off the boat and to one of the many restaurants on shore to celebrate our 9 year wedding anniversary.  Some local food was eaten, and even though we should have been paying attention to each other on this special day, we head our heads buried in our computers as it was our first opportunity to charge them and/or get internet in a long time. A few days later we were back on land for one last internet and weather check before departing and unfortunately received some bad news from back home that one of our grandparents had passed away.  It was not sudden, but it was still sad and made us even happier with our decision that we had gone home that summer to see all our family once again.

Then, it was time to leave Belize. After sitting in Guatemala at a marina for five months and then mostly traveling inside the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, this was our first real open water passage in a long time.  It started out a little rough, and there may have been a few jokes about trading in the boat for a RV, but we eventually made it up to Mexico all in one piece.  Minus working navigation lights at our bow and me fit to play a zombie in a movie, but all in one piece nonetheless.

You can find the original post here.

Friday December 20, 2013

beans, Cay Caulker, Belize

This photo has nothing to do with anything, I’m just running out of photos.

 

Yesterday finally gave us the opportunity to leave Cay Caulker and make our move to Mexico. Conditions out the window still looked slightly rough, but I was tired of sitting in one spot. It had finally gotten to the point that I would have taken an uncomfortable passage (read: not dangerous, just uncomfortable), over sitting still any longer. Plus we had finally gotten an email communication from Skebenga that they were leaving that day as well to head up to Cozumel. There was a little bit of security in knowing that we’d have a buddy boat out there with us. Now our only task was getting Serendipity out of the San Pedro cut at Ambergris Cay, a tricky little thing that we’d heard cautionary tales of from people who’d entered it coming down from Mexico. It has low lying reefs on both sides, a fun little turn in the middle, and apparently is a bitch to try and navigate in anything but calm seas.

Coming up on San Pedro I scanned the anchorage with my binoculars, searching for any sign of Skebenga. I didn’t see their steel hulled boat sitting with all the others, but I did see a few other boats traveling out on the water. One looked like it was headed toward the cut we were about to enter, so once more, I whipped out the binoculars in that direction. From what I could see, this boat had a white hull, dark blue sail covers, and double headsails, just like Skebenga. Handing over the binoculars to Matt, he took a look as well, but didn’t think it was them. We let the debate continue for the next 30 minutes as we watched this other boat, Almost Skebenga, we finally decided on, as they traversed the cut. All morning we had been debating if we should try it ourselves or not, how the weather would affect it, possibly make it harder. Once it was clear that Almost Skebenga was going for it, we watched with desperate intent.

Passing through the boundary of relatively calm water behind the reef, we stared on as they bobbed up and down like a teeter totter through the rough waves coming in, me becoming more panicked each minute. Should we save this for another day? Possibly when the waters were dead calm? But who knew when that day would be. Even though it was a bumpy ride, Almost Skebenga had made it out. If they could do it, so could we. Gathering our wits and triple checking the waypoints we plugged in to the chart plotter, we were ready to attempt this hair raising cut. It was decided that I should be put at the bow to try and guide us through any coral that we might accidentally get acquainted with, so strapping on a harness I clipped on the lifelines and made my way up front.

Before I had gotten up there, when we were back in the cockpit deciding on which person should take what role, I asked Matt, “So, say we should crash…who’s fault would it be? The helmsman or the bowman?” I was trying to save my skin of any burden placed on my shoulders. I did not get the answer I was hoping for. “If any accident happens, it’s the captain’s fault”. “I know maritime law, but I’m saying, in this boat, who would be to blame, you or me?” “The captain.” “So you’re trying to tell me that no matter what, if we crash this boat today, whether I’m at the helm or the bow, it’s going to be all my fault?” “Yup”. And with those words of encouragement I moved myself up front, satisfied by the fact that at least I wouldn’t have the guilt of miscalculating any turns should our hull puncture something hard that day.

It turns out my position at the bow was hardly doing anything for us, the water was choppy enough that I couldn’t clearly see through it, plus anything more than five feet out from the boat was basically just one large mirror, reflecting the clouds on it’s surface. I hoped the waypoints we picked up online were trustworthy. Matt seemed to be doing a good job navigating with them though, and soon we were in line with a large yellow buoy that marks the turn out of the cut. By this point we were also starting to turn into a teeter totter, our protection from the reef gone, and 5-6 foot waves rolling in at us. Normally I’d think this kind of thing would scare the crap out of me, but being right up where the action was turned out to be like a thrilling amusement park ride. Remember these waves from Stocking Island? Picture me standing at the bow going through them. We would shoot up into the air, and then the floor would come out from under us and we’d come crashing back down, a spray of warm sea water crashing over the deck.

As I held on to the head sail with both hands, I had to contain myself from whooping with joy at the sheer exhilaration of it, for fear of scaring Matt into thinking something was wrong. It was a short lived adventure though as, even without screams of delight, he thought I was a risk to myself being up there in those conditions. “JESSICA!!”, I heard a scream from the cockpit, “Get back here now!!!”. Prying myself away and crouching down to lower my center of gravity, I made my way back to the cockpit, my ride getting cut short before it was even finished.

Cay Caulker, Belize

restaurant, Cay Caulker, Belize

 We’d made it safely through the cut, and before we knew it, depths were dropping back into the hundreds of feet before our sounder couldn’t even read them anymore. Sails were raised and the engine was cut, ready to start our 200 miles to Isla Mujeres. If we averaged 4-5 knots, we’d be there just about 48 hours. Our start wasn’t great though, the winds coming directly out of the NE direction we needed to head. Tacking to the SE just to get some distance from shore, we kept an eye on Almost Skebenga, whom was headed the same direction, just a few miles ahead of us. Just like racing nameless boat on Lago Izabal, we followed all the same tacks until we realized one really long tack to the SE was needed to put us on a decent course to keeping us from having to do any tacks in the dark if we could help it. Almost Skebenga shot north and out of our sight as we made our way further out to sea.

I wouldn’t call conditions rough, but they were definitely uncomfortable enough that for the first time, both of us were feeling sick. I had put on a scopalmine patch before leaving, and was even attempting the ‘ear plug in one ear’ trick that was supposed to stave off seasickness, but the only thing it did was make me deaf to the sounds Matt was constantly trying to point out. We had a late lunch of cheesy onion bread and a dinner of Pop Tarts. It was enough effort just for one of us to make it down the companionway to grab something edible from the cupboards, and I was thankful I took 20 minutes that morning to stockpile snacks and canned foods in an easy access area. As the sun was setting we caught sight of Almost Skebenga again in the distance, and it looked like they were going to have to make another tack, while us now on a comfortable course, would totally catch them and kick their ass if they had to take time and run away from the shore.

Even though we were working with a double reefed main plus the headsail, and winds were steady around 20-25 knots, we must have had a pretty hefty current on our side since we were keeping a steady pace of 6.5-7 knots. When darkness grew, Matt decided to catch up on sleep with a short nap, and I kept watch, where an unexpected moon rise made me think that we were about to have a run in with a tanker, a sudden orange light on our port side that hadn’t been there moments before. I also watched us catch up to and pass Almost Skebenga as, just as predicted, they had to tack further away from shore.  When it was my turn to go down I had a surprisingly calm slumber, falling asleep almost immediately and staying that way.  This usually doesn’t happen until my second sleep shift where I pass out from sheer exhaustion.  Matt had somehow found a way to keep the boat from rocking violently back and forth as she normally does, and I was able to nestle into the crook of the boat.  Until I felt water dribbling down my back, but I was too tired to care at that point.

Today was met with the same kind of attitude from both of us as yesterday.  Neither of us was feeling great, and we wanted this passage to be over as quick as possible.  We tried to distract ourselves with talk about how a previous cruising couple just traded in their boat for a RV, and how that seemed to be the right way to go.  The two of us are constantly talking about the countries we’d like to visit and all the things we’d like to see inland, but how limiting it is trying to get there.  Putting the boat in a marina, finding transportation, getting lodging.  Yes, a RV is not a bad idea at all.  But we made a commitment to Serendipity, so we will stick with her.  Plus, you have to sometimes disregard the things you say about your contempt for your boat while on passage.  You’re not thinking clearly.

As the afternoon wore on and we were very sick of traveling and could think of nothing better than a anchorage to stop in, get a good night’s sleep, and regroup ourselves, we talked about our previous plans to go to Cozumel.  Yes, this would mean getting there in the dark, sometime between 7 and 9, but just like Great Inagua and Grand Cayman, there are no channels leading into a harbor.  Just a certain spot on the west side of the island used as a designated anchorage.  All we had to do was sail or motor up and drop anchor.  We also rationalized that 1.  As a cruise ship port, it would probably be much easier to check into the country there since usually they keep all the officials in one place.  As was the case in Nassau and Grand Cayman.  2.  Did we really only want to have one stop in Mexico?  Why not see at least two places, even if one of them might be extremely touristy.

Changing our course to come up on the west side of Cozumel instead of passing by it’s eastern side, moods instantly lifted.  Sure, if we just sucked it up we’d have been in Isla first thing in the morning, but again, this never sounds as intriguing when you’re on passage.  Sailing into the lee of the island just after 7, we lost all wind and our speed diminished to barely 5 knots.  Normally something we’d be quite happy to take, but after keeping a steady 7-8 knots all day (yup, that current just kept getting stronger), it felt like we were crawling along.  It was just past 9 when we made it into the anchorage, the bright lights from shore blinding our virgin eyes.  There were a few tense minutes while coming in where Matt was picking up three images on radar, but we couldn’t see them in the water.  It turns out they were boats at anchor, it’s just that none of them decided to have any kind of anchor light on.  Even though we were only a few hundred feet from a brightly lit shore, we couldn’t make them out until we were right upon them.  I know it’s not illegal to keep themselves from being lit in a marked anchorage, but this is seriously one of my biggest pet peeves.  It just seems like you’d want to make sure that you can be seen by any traveling vessels out there.

I was too tired to be any more upset than a scoff at them though, and we hurriedly put the boat back together so we could rest.  I forced myself awake long enough to make sandwiches for dinner before passing out in a wet bet with wet sheets.  Apparently we have a few leaks that this last passage has now brought to our attention, and everything on the port side of the boat is soaked.  Including our bed and every bit of clean laundry.  That doesn’t happen on RVs, right?  Can anyone tell me where I can sign up for one of those?

sunset in Mexico

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Monday December 23, 2012

Cozumel port

Our plan for sleep before departure failed miserably.  I don’t even know why we tried.  I should have just said eff it and stuck with the Pepsi Jolt I bought at the grocery store since at least that way I would have had a few more hours to play around on my computer while we had internet, and a sugary treat to boot.  Since we both happened to be up when the alarm would have gone off at 11:00, we decided not to postpone until midnight before leaving, originally giving us time to fully wake up and become alert, which we unfortunately still were at this point.  I was a little worried that if we left too early we might get to Isla before the sun rose, but as far as we knew, we’d have to be traveling at average speeds of almost eight knots to make that happen.  Not very likely.

Since we were still in the lee of the island for a few miles before rounding the north tip of Cozumel, we started with a double reefed main and decided to wait to see what conditions were really like before unfurling the headsail.  As we motored out to the depths separating the island from the mainland and dodging any late night ferries, there was an obvious and sudden change in the air temperature.  Rain was definitely on it’s way.  We brought the radar up to see what was in store for us, only to see massive pink blobs headed our way.  They were coming at us fast, but it also meant that they’d be passing by fast as well.  This time I heeded Matt’s advice and took shelter under the dodger through the storms so I didn’t soak, but probably only because I was going to bed shortly and didn’t want to sleep in wet underwear.  If it was daylight out though, I’m sure I would have kept my spot behind the wheel, eyes glued to the chart plotter, which rotates, getting soaked and telling myself “This is my place”.  What’s wrong with me?

Once we had finally ditched our shelter of the island, the winds picked up from 10 to 25, although we had been expecting this.  Turning off the engine we still cruised along at a swift 6.5 knots, and when I realized Matt was fine on his own up there, I retreated to get a few hours of sleep, my eyelids finally drooping.  While going below to strip out of my harness, sweats, and foul weather coat, a realization occurred to me.  I didn’t feel sick at all.  Normally this routine has to be done with the utmost precision to make it as quick as possible and keep me from running to the sink to get sick.  I usually throw myself on the bunk just before sickness hits, eventually sleeping it off until it’s time to wake for my next shift.  This time, we rocked back and forth and I slowly stripped off my gear, used the head, and calmly walked toward my inviting bed.  During my sleep I could hear Matt unfurl the headsail, which was nice because it felt like we had slowed down to about 3-4 knots.  I was confused when I heard it rolled back in a short while later, but since I know what he’s doing up there I never question anything unless I hear a loud bang.

Since Matt had gotten no sleep in the night and I didn’t go down until 1 am, he was only able to keep his eyes open until 3 before coming to wake me for a shift.  I asked him about the headsail and why he rolled it in, it felt like we were moving so slow.  Then he pointed to the chart plotter, which only under a double reefed main, showed us currently going 7 knots.  He said that with the headsail out we were doing over 9, and while it was quite comfortable, we would have arrived in Isla way too early.  Everything was looking great on the course we were on, all I had to do was fall off the wind a little once we got to a certain point and then bring in the main sheet to compensate.  He went down below, and I sunk into my sport-a-seat, my normal immobile position after just having gotten queasy again from now putting on my gear.  Except, I felt fine.  Maybe a little tired, sure, but not sick.  I didn’t get it, I hadn’t used any patch, taken a pill, used a pressure band, or put in an ear plug.  I didn’t know why I was feeling so fine, but decided to just enjoy the ride.

Throughout my shift I snacked on Cheetos that we picked up in Cozumel, sipped on Pepsi, and just generally enjoyed being on passage without feeling the least bit sick for once.  When the turn came I subtracted the ten degrees and took a spin on the winch to get the main in.  There was only one issue during my shift, where one of the Disney cruise ship seemed to make it their business to want to run me down.  I didn’t get it, we were basically hugging the shore, yet the AIS was saying they were going to come within less than a mile of me. Of the five cruise ships headed down to Cozumel, they were the only ones that didn’t have a distance of at least five miles from us.  I’d subtract a few more degrees, gain some distance, and then lose it because they changed course as well.  I should have just called them up on VHF to see who on board had gone off their meds, but I finally got us more than a mile apart and took the red light of my headlamp to illuminate our sail in the dark.  It seemed to do the trick of finally keeping them away, but the light shinning through our deadlights woke Matt up a little bit earlier than I was going to let him sleep.

Since he was regrettably awake now I tried to sneak down the stairs to sleep again, but was quickly called back up.  We were getting close enough to Isla now that he wanted a second constant pair of eyes deciphering the million white buoys that lay out before us.  We couldn’t match them all up with what was showing on our chart plotter, and only two whites were showing on our paper charts.  Eventually we got ourselves sorted out, and with the sun starting to now rise, we could make out the island with it’s jagged cliffs to the south end, and the visual markers on our paper charts.  As we crossed the space of water between Isla Mujeres and Cancun, Matt fell back into a slumber out in the cockpit while I made sure to keep all red buoys on our starboard side.  Startling him awake as I turned on the engine to enter the harbor, we passed by the beaches and the few people on them who were either very early risers, or very late partiers.

Back when we were still in Guatemala and our friends on Skebenga had already made it up to Isla to pick up family members before bringing them down to Belize, we’d received an email from Elmari, detailing a good anchorage in the lagoon here, as well as the passwords to a marina’s wifi network in there.  The two of us were ready to head directly into the lagoon this morning, instead of sitting with the fifteen or so other boats in the main harbor.  Just as we were debating which spot between the two we should settle in, we saw a familiar dingy racing our way.  It was Luki and Elmari!  They were just on their way back to Skebenga after an early morning run and gave us a quick low down on the place.  They were currently in the harbor, and told us we should anchor just behind them.  While they shuttled off to their boat we quickly put our anchor down where they told us, and put Serendipity back in her regular at-anchor state.

Even though we were each running on two hours of sleep at this point, we couldn’t let the opportunity go by to do some proper catching up with our friends.  Getting the dinghy in the water, we ferried over the short distance to see what they had been up to the past few weeks since leaving us behind at Tortugal.  Climbing on board in a sleepless stupor, we gave big hugs and rehashed our last few weeks, glad to finally be among friends again.

dinghy landing in Cozumel

bay in Cozumel

anchorage in Cozumel

*All photos above are of Cozumel

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Sunday December 22, 2013

Cozumel, Mexico

With only a good day and a half on our hands in Cozumel before shoving off for Isla Mujeres, we had a lot to do. Not only in the sense that there was now only 32 hours including sleep standing between us and our departure time (11:00 pm tonight) to see everything we want to see on the island , but now there was a multitude of boat projects that needed to be done as well. Those leaks that we found on our way from San Pedro to here? They weren’t going to fix themselves. And since (I’m not joking here) every piece of Matt’s clean clothing plus 60% of mine were now damp in salt water because of those leaks, they all had to be laid out to dry as best as possible until we can find a laundromat. The clothing was quickly strewn on to the lifelines as soon as we got back to the boat yesterday, but we figured the leaks could wait until the next morning. Even with the terrible swells rolling through this anchorage, I don’t think they’ll be enough to do any more damage while we sit here.

Taking the opportunity for a little shore leave yesterday, we packed as much in as we can. Most of it involved strolling the main boardwalk and hunting down a McDonalds. All cruise ship ports have them right? Or at least a Burger King? While we couldn’t find these highly popular US fast food chains, we did find a couple of their more upscale compatriots such as Hooters and Senor Frogs. Some hot wings were sounding damn good at the time, but for the cost of $12.50 for 8 wings, I think I wait until we’re back in Florida to find some. Just like my McDonalds…sigh. Since we couldn’t find our greasy McDoubles or flame grill Whoppers, we settled on the next best thing. Tacos. Which, unbeknownst to me through our travels now, are actually climbing up and replacing my love for fast food. Since there was a cruise ship in harbor and all the shops were trying to pull in as many people as possible, we were able to enjoy a delicious meal of three pork tacos and a beer for $5. Which also gave me the opportunity to add a new beer to Jessica’s World Beer Tour (coming on the website soon).

There wasn’t much reason for us to check out many of the shops that lined the boulevard, they were mostly selling kitschy items like oversized sombreros and screen printed t-shirts that read “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila…floor”. Then there were of course the upscale botiques selling duty fee jewelry, perfumes, and makeup. None of these were things we wanted to waste our precious time looking at, so we found something that could have kept us busy for hours. An actual mega supermarket. No little tiendas or Dispensa Familiars. We found a place that had e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. The first time we went in, we just happened upon it and didn’t have much space in our one backpack which was still storing all our papers, so we bought a few very essential items, enough to make dinner that night, while also making a mental list of everything else we needed. Scouring all the aisles we were just a tad disappointed that we couldn’t find a few of the items we’d been craving for so long, such as Skitles or shredded cheddar, but the overall variety was more than enough to make up for it. Later that night after we had gotten back to the boat and made a meal that I was actually able to stay awake for at eat this time, we hit the streets of Cozumel one more time with two empty backpacks in tow, ready to do some provisioning.

It’s also official to say that our well eating cruising friends have begun to rub off on us. Instead of searching for meals that are basically pre-made and only need to be heated, we’ve started shopping for ingredients to make meals from scratch. Wha..??!! I know, I’m just as surprised as you are. Stocking up the backpacks on fresh produce and some sweet treats from the bakery, we carried our overstuffed bags to the main square in Cozumel where a Christmas concert was being put on by some of the local children in the school band. Hundreds of folding chairs were placed in rows under the clear night sky, and we listened to tunes of some not so familiar carols while kicking back on the cement curb. We stayed for about five songs, until our refrigerated good really needed to make their way back to a refrigerator. The rest of the night was spent desperately trying to connect to a wifi signal with our long range device, and making sure that our weather window was still holding open for the next night.

Matt walking Cozumel

Christmas tree at Cozumel

Christmas banners in Cozumel

Today it was back to boat chores, trying to find where that despicable leak had sprouted and making sure we could seal it before our 45 mile jaunt to Isla tonight. Matt traced it back to a few chain plates on the port side that didn’t look like they were bedded tightly enough. I thought this might be an all day project, but all it took was 30 minutes with me holding a screwdriver on the topside of the deck while Matt worked with a power drill below, and it was deemed good enough to get us to Isla. We’re not expecting the island itself to hold a lot of marine supplies for us, but it’s only a 4 mile ferry ride to Cancun where we should be able to find everything we need. Sticking in a little extra butile tape, the job was done and we were free to roam the town once more.

Getting ourselves officially and 100% checked in, we visited the Port Captain’s office once more to show all the stamps we collected yesterday and received our cruising permit in return. Most of our day was spent doing the same things as yesterday. Wandering the boardwalk and hitting up the grocery store one more time. Although since we’re finally in a place again where the water is crystal clear, we took a dive off the back of the boat to see if we could find anything interesting in the anchorage. Again, no coral where we were sitting, which is really making me miss our spot in Grand Cayman (minus the swell). We dove on the anchor just for fun, and I worked on my pressurizing, which, I’m still terrible at.

Since we’re leaving at midnight-ish tonight so we’ll arrive at Isla Mujeres in first daylight, I tried to implement an early dinner with a mandatory nap to follow. I spent 2.5 hours laying in bed, tossing and turning, so it looks like I’ll just try and catch a few zzz’s right when we’re off anchor so I can relieve Matt before he gets too tired. I don’t think his nap went to well either, judging by the glow of his computer screen.

motorbikes line up in Cozumel

pedestrian walkway in Cozumel

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Saturday December 21, 2013

Cozumel, Mexico

We woke up with one major goal this morning. To get checked in to Mexico. We had unfortunately timed our arrival on a Saturday, which we’ve found in many countries, goes hand in hand with overtime fees. If that’s what we thought would be the worst of our troubles when we set out this morning, that would have been fine. Instead we were manically searching the internet for any information on the check in process here. From the first hand accounts of everyone we’ve heard that’s checked in on the Caribbean side of Mexico it is A. Very expensive; and B. A huge headache if you try and do it on your own, taking up to 4-5 days for all the proper officials to meet with you and go through all the necessary paperwork. Even though hiring an agent for a fee of approx $100 on top of the $300 or so you were already going to pay to check in, it was said to be worth every penny. The only problem was, we didn’t know how to get in touch with one.

Luckily I’m married to someone with OCD who has mastered the art of internet searches and key words, and by 8:30 in the morning, had procured a step by step account from a previous cruiser on how to check in here at Cozumel. I was to go to the Port Captain which we were convienently anchored across from, get a particular piece of paper, and then take that slip to the airport where I’d find Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture all in one handy dandy spot. I was in the process of getting ready, making myself all pretty and professional for all the officials, when we heard some yelling from outside the boat. Throwing off my towel I quickly put on a sundress and ran out of the companionway to see what the commotion was.

Remember how we came in well after dark last night and had to rely on our radar to find a decent spot to anchor? Well it turns out we were too close to a mooring ball that had been empty the previous night, but now held one of those catamarans that takes hoards of cruise ship passengers out for daily snorkels and dives. They weren’t speaking English, but it was obvious they wanted us to move. I started the boat and Matt went to the bow to retrieve the anchor so we could place it down again a few hundred feet away from them. They had a diver in the water who appeared to be looking at our anchor, which the more chain we pulled in, seemed to be in pretty much exactly the same area they were now moored on. (And when I say a mooring ball, it’s not like the big honking thing we had back in Michigan, this was barely visible even in daylight.)

The closer we inched toward them, the more my heart started to rise up in my throat. It didn’t help that the wind was also pushing us in their direction. As soon as I heard the anchor up, it looked to me that I didn’t have enough space to keep the boat in forward and get past them without hitting, we were going to have to get out of there in reverse, and fairly quickly. Now trust me, I know how reverse works, you turn the wheel the opposite direction of where you want the bow to point, but somehow I can never seem to put it into practice. No matter what direction I had the wheel pointed, we kept drifting closer, and even more so to the diver in the water. I almost began to come apart, thinking I was going to run him over. Reverse wasn’t working out for me, so forward it would have to be. Quickly changing gears again, I put as much power behind the engine as I could and cranked the wheel hard. It seemed to do the trick, we were finally putting space between the two boats in the water. Just as I thought I was kind of bad ass for not actually hitting them, nevermind I should have just been thankful, a strong gust of wind came up and threw the hem of the dress up in my face as we were making our exit. Of course it would. So much for looking cool.

Resetting the anchor as far as I could get away from them without dying of embarrassment, we finished getting ready, and I grabbed all the paperwork necessary to check us in. Normally this is something I do on my own while Matt stays on the boat does some cleaning up while he waits for me to get back, although this time I had to bring him with me because even though our agent in Guatemala knew I was the captain, they put Matt’s name on the zarpe.  I didn’t know if that would cause any issues while checking in, or if I’d waste half a day running back to the boat to grab him. We both climbed in the dink and landed it on the beach, and while I walked into the Port Captain’s office he waited outside. Being the smart little cookie that I am, I had written down all the steps and the papers I needed to ask for, so that when I went inside I could pretty much smile and point at it.

Good thing I did this too, because the woman working behind the counter had no English, and my Spanish was not coming across very well. “I have a boat in the bay.” That’s about all I could understandably get out. She called in a man from another room who spoke a little English, and after showing him the name of the document I was told to request, he took my papers and went over a breakdown of what I would need to do to check in. Most of it followed along the lines of what we had read this morning, now I was just waiting to hear how much it would cost me. First he let me know that because I was here on a Saturday, their office closed at 1:00 and I would need to be back with my stamps from all the other officials before that time. Then, he said that, also because it was a Saturday, my fees would be double.  I sucked in my breath and waited for this figure. How much, $500? $600? He wrote something on a sheet of paper and passed it to me. $596. I let out a little yelp. Then he explained that this was in pesos, and it would be best if I could exchange my US money to this before paying the fees. 596..pesos? But that’s only about $50. I tried to contain my excitement and accept his sympathy that I was paying such a high weekend rate, and grabbed the necessary document before skipping out the door.

Instead of accepting a cab ride to the airport, all we had on us were large US bills anyway, we walked the mile there through the late morning heat, and walked through the sliding doors into the blessed air conditioning where we watched throngs of pasty white citizens filing through with their luggage, glad to be free from the snow that plagued them back home.  Finding that all three offices I needed to visit were right next to each other, there were some waits to get the attention of anyone at the windows since it was such a busy day at the airport with flights coming in, but otherwise things went very smoothly.  I did have to run to a window to exchange money for a very poor rate to pay another $30 US to Customs, but they were all very friendly and helpful.  It wasn’t even until I was finished with the first two officials that I realized 90% of the conversation had happened in Spanish, and I’d been able to follow along and give very basic replies, which they understood in return.  I guess learning another language is one of those things that you can’t over think.  Once you stop actually  thinking about it, it just comes naturally.

All was looking great for us to get the last stamp from Agriculture by 12:30 and back to the Port Captain’s by 1:00, completing the check in procedure and probably setting a record among most cruisers….until they saw Georgie’s paperwork.  ”You have a cat?, There’s a cat on your boat?”.  ”Yes.”  ”Is the cat going to be leaving the boat to go to shore?”  ”No, she stays on the boat all the time.”  ”Ok, as long as she doesn’t leave the boat”, the young woman smiled at me, while taking my papers to her boss to get stamped.  I guess he was a stickler for the rules though, and any pet on board had to be examined by someone in his office.  The girl hesitantly came back and informed me that someone would have to come out to our boat to make sure she looked healthy, and then we could come back and get our stamp.  Now our chances of getting this fully completed today were shot to hell.  A young man from the department came around to meet us, ushering us into their company pickup truck where he brought it down to the harbor and we loaded him in the dinghy for the ride out to Serendipity.

On the boat he took one quick glance at Georgie after I scooped her up and placed her in his arms, and he deemed that she was quite fit to be let into Mexico, and also a total cutie to boot.  Tell me something I don’t know.  ;)    He then went on to ask if we had any meats that we had brought into the country.  Defeated, I mentioned that we did have some ground beef in our freezer from Guatemala, which he confiscated with many apologies, but did happily accept a glass of Pepsi before leaving to bring us back to the airport.  Receiving the last stamp and being set free to go back to the Port Captain, it was now 1:30.  Our one day check in was not going to happen.  But at least the two of us were legal in the country, which means we were free to wander around.  There’s a norther coming in on Tuesday so we need to make sure we’re in the protection of Isla Mujeres before then, meaning, we have exactly today and tomorrow to explore this island.  Let’s see what it has to offer!

boats in harbor, Cozumel, Mexico

statue on boardwalk, Cozumel, Mexico

shoreline of Cozumel, Mexico

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Racing Almost Skebenga

Friday December 20, 2013

beans, Cay Caulker, Belize

This photo has nothing to do with anything, I’m just running out of photos.

 

Yesterday finally gave us the opportunity to leave Cay Caulker and make our move to Mexico. Conditions out the window still looked slightly rough, but I was tired of sitting in one spot. It had finally gotten to the point that I would have taken an uncomfortable passage (read: not dangerous, just uncomfortable), over sitting still any longer. Plus we had finally gotten an email communication from Skebenga that they were leaving that day as well to head up to Cozumel. There was a little bit of security in knowing that we’d have a buddy boat out there with us. Now our only task was getting Serendipity out of the San Pedro cut at Ambergris Cay, a tricky little thing that we’d heard cautionary tales of from people who’d entered it coming down from Mexico. It has low lying reefs on both sides, a fun little turn in the middle, and apparently is a bitch to try and navigate in anything but calm seas.

Coming up on San Pedro I scanned the anchorage with my binoculars, searching for any sign of Skebenga. I didn’t see their steel hulled boat sitting with all the others, but I did see a few other boats traveling out on the water. One looked like it was headed toward the cut we were about to enter, so once more, I whipped out the binoculars in that direction. From what I could see, this boat had a white hull, dark blue sail covers, and double headsails, just like Skebenga. Handing over the binoculars to Matt, he took a look as well, but didn’t think it was them. We let the debate continue for the next 30 minutes as we watched this other boat, Almost Skebenga, we finally decided on, as they traversed the cut. All morning we had been debating if we should try it ourselves or not, how the weather would affect it, possibly make it harder. Once it was clear that Almost Skebenga was going for it, we watched with desperate intent.

Passing through the boundary of relatively calm water behind the reef, we stared on as they bobbed up and down like a teeter totter through the rough waves coming in, me becoming more panicked each minute. Should we save this for another day? Possibly when the waters were dead calm? But who knew when that day would be. Even though it was a bumpy ride, Almost Skebenga had made it out. If they could do it, so could we. Gathering our wits and triple checking the waypoints we plugged in to the chart plotter, we were ready to attempt this hair raising cut. It was decided that I should be put at the bow to try and guide us through any coral that we might accidentally get acquainted with, so strapping on a harness I clipped on the lifelines and made my way up front.

Before I had gotten up there, when we were back in the cockpit deciding on which person should take what role, I asked Matt, “So, say we should crash…who’s fault would it be? The helmsman or the bowman?” I was trying to save my skin of any burden placed on my shoulders. I did not get the answer I was hoping for. “If any accident happens, it’s the captain’s fault”. “I know maritime law, but I’m saying, in this boat, who would be to blame, you or me?” “The captain.” “So you’re trying to tell me that no matter what, if we crash this boat today, whether I’m at the helm or the bow, it’s going to be all my fault?” “Yup”. And with those words of encouragement I moved myself up front, satisfied by the fact that at least I wouldn’t have the guilt of miscalculating any turns should our hull puncture something hard that day.

It turns out my position at the bow was hardly doing anything for us, the water was choppy enough that I couldn’t clearly see through it, plus anything more than five feet out from the boat was basically just one large mirror, reflecting the clouds on it’s surface. I hoped the waypoints we picked up online were trustworthy. Matt seemed to be doing a good job navigating with them though, and soon we were in line with a large yellow buoy that marks the turn out of the cut. By this point we were also starting to turn into a teeter totter, our protection from the reef gone, and 5-6 foot waves rolling in at us. Normally I’d think this kind of thing would scare the crap out of me, but being right up where the action was turned out to be like a thrilling amusement park ride. Remember these waves from Stocking Island? Picture me standing at the bow going through them. We would shoot up into the air, and then the floor would come out from under us and we’d come crashing back down, a spray of warm sea water crashing over the deck.

As I held on to the head sail with both hands, I had to contain myself from whooping with joy at the sheer exhilaration of it, for fear of scaring Matt into thinking something was wrong. It was a short lived adventure though as, even without screams of delight, he thought I was a risk to myself being up there in those conditions. “JESSICA!!”, I heard a scream from the cockpit, “Get back here now!!!”. Prying myself away and crouching down to lower my center of gravity, I made my way back to the cockpit, my ride getting cut short before it was even finished.

Cay Caulker, Belize

restaurant, Cay Caulker, Belize

 We’d made it safely through the cut, and before we knew it, depths were dropping back into the hundreds of feet before our sounder couldn’t even read them anymore. Sails were raised and the engine was cut, ready to start our 200 miles to Isla Mujeres. If we averaged 4-5 knots, we’d be there just about 48 hours. Our start wasn’t great though, the winds coming directly out of the NE direction we needed to head. Tacking to the SE just to get some distance from shore, we kept an eye on Almost Skebenga, whom was headed the same direction, just a few miles ahead of us. Just like racing nameless boat on Lago Izabal, we followed all the same tacks until we realized one really long tack to the SE was needed to put us on a decent course to keeping us from having to do any tacks in the dark if we could help it. Almost Skebenga shot north and out of our sight as we made our way further out to sea.

I wouldn’t call conditions rough, but they were definitely uncomfortable enough that for the first time, both of us were feeling sick. I had put on a scopalmine patch before leaving, and was even attempting the ‘ear plug in one ear’ trick that was supposed to stave off seasickness, but the only thing it did was make me deaf to the sounds Matt was constantly trying to point out. We had a late lunch of cheesy onion bread and a dinner of Pop Tarts. It was enough effort just for one of us to make it down the companionway to grab something edible from the cupboards, and I was thankful I took 20 minutes that morning to stockpile snacks and canned foods in an easy access area. As the sun was setting we caught sight of Almost Skebenga again in the distance, and it looked like they were going to have to make another tack, while us now on a comfortable course, would totally catch them and kick their ass if they had to take time and run away from the shore.

Even though we were working with a double reefed main plus the headsail, and winds were steady around 20-25 knots, we must have had a pretty hefty current on our side since we were keeping a steady pace of 6.5-7 knots. When darkness grew, Matt decided to catch up on sleep with a short nap, and I kept watch, where an unexpected moon rise made me think that we were about to have a run in with a tanker, a sudden orange light on our port side that hadn’t been there moments before. I also watched us catch up to and pass Almost Skebenga as, just as predicted, they had to tack further away from shore.  When it was my turn to go down I had a surprisingly calm slumber, falling asleep almost immediately and staying that way.  This usually doesn’t happen until my second sleep shift where I pass out from sheer exhaustion.  Matt had somehow found a way to keep the boat from rocking violently back and forth as she normally does, and I was able to nestle into the crook of the boat.  Until I felt water dribbling down my back, but I was too tired to care at that point.

Today was met with the same kind of attitude from both of us as yesterday.  Neither of us was feeling great, and we wanted this passage to be over as quick as possible.  We tried to distract ourselves with talk about how a previous cruising couple just traded in their boat for a RV, and how that seemed to be the right way to go.  The two of us are constantly talking about the countries we’d like to visit and all the things we’d like to see inland, but how limiting it is trying to get there.  Putting the boat in a marina, finding transportation, getting lodging.  Yes, a RV is not a bad idea at all.  But we made a commitment to Serendipity, so we will stick with her.  Plus, you have to sometimes disregard the things you say about your contempt for your boat while on passage.  You’re not thinking clearly.

As the afternoon wore on and we were very sick of traveling and could think of nothing better than a anchorage to stop in, get a good night’s sleep, and regroup ourselves, we talked about our previous plans to go to Cozumel.  Yes, this would mean getting there in the dark, sometime between 7 and 9, but just like Great Inagua and Grand Cayman, there are no channels leading into a harbor.  Just a certain spot on the west side of the island used as a designated anchorage.  All we had to do was sail or motor up and drop anchor.  We also rationalized that 1.  As a cruise ship port, it would probably be much easier to check into the country there since usually they keep all the officials in one place.  As was the case in Nassau and Grand Cayman.  2.  Did we really only want to have one stop in Mexico?  Why not see at least two places, even if one of them might be extremely touristy.

Changing our course to come up on the west side of Cozumel instead of passing by it’s eastern side, moods instantly lifted.  Sure, if we just sucked it up we’d have been in Isla first thing in the morning, but again, this never sounds as intriguing when you’re on passage.  Sailing into the lee of the island just after 7, we lost all wind and our speed diminished to barely 5 knots.  Normally something we’d be quite happy to take, but after keeping a steady 7-8 knots all day (yup, that current just kept getting stronger), it felt like we were crawling along.  It was just past 9 when we made it into the anchorage, the bright lights from shore blinding our virgin eyes.  There were a few tense minutes while coming in where Matt was picking up three images on radar, but we couldn’t see them in the water.  It turns out they were boats at anchor, it’s just that none of them decided to have any kind of anchor light on.  Even though we were only a few hundred feet from a brightly lit shore, we couldn’t make them out until we were right upon them.  I know it’s not illegal to keep themselves from being lit in a marked anchorage, but this is seriously one of my biggest pet peeves.  It just seems like you’d want to make sure that you can be seen by any traveling vessels out there.

I was too tired to be any more upset than a scoff at them though, and we hurriedly put the boat back together so we could rest.  I forced myself awake long enough to make sandwiches for dinner before passing out in a wet bet with wet sheets.  Apparently we have a few leaks that this last passage has now brought to our attention, and everything on the port side of the boat is soaked.  Including our bed and every bit of clean laundry.  That doesn’t happen on RVs, right?  Can anyone tell me where I can sign up for one of those?

sunset in Mexico

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