||2nd April 2014 - out of the Rio
Dulce at last and anchored behind Tres Puntos, but that is of
course just one small step. Tradition demands that the
next, slightly bigger step is to get 40 miles up to Placencia in
Belize. The first minor problem is that Placencia is NE
and that's just about where the wind is coming from - what a
surprise. We'd also heard back from friends that left the
day before that there's a big sea running, so it promises to be
a bear of a trip.
But what if we dispense with tradition?
What if we sail 12 miles NW to Punta Gorda. That would put
the wind and sea behind the beam. Much nicer! We could
clear in there and then work our way up to Placencia inside the
reef in flat water? It looks a great idea on paper, but we
don't know anyone who's actually done it, which normally means
there's a very good reason why not. We do know the Punt
Gorda anchorage is rolly and we've heard rumours that the
officials are corrupt, but if all goes to plan we'll only be
anchored there for an hour or so and it would be worth paying a
few extra dollars to avoid beating north in a washing machine,
so that's what we do.
With the wind behind us the trip over is
choppy, but fast. It would have
been a horrible sea to beat into. The anchorage at Punta Gorda is
as promised rolly. It's also very shallow, which means we
end up anchoring about a mile off the beach.
|Actually, in hind sight we
could have anchored closer but the cruising guide hasn't been updated
for a number of years and the yellow building used as a reference point
for the customs post,
is no longer yellow and the only yellow building now is a furniture
store and nowhere near customs. But I dinghied ashore and had a
chat with some slightly bemused people at a bus stop and everything
dropped into place. Another mile south in the dinghy and there it
was a new custom-made building, housing all the necessary officials, who
where all polite, efficient and not in the least corrupt. I
suspect that I was their only customer of the day, quite possibly of the
week. "Tell all your friends about us" was the request of the Port
|Thirty minutes later I'm back on Samarang, anchor up,
heading north inside the reef in flat, flat water and feeling very
pleased with ourselves. Until......... an hour later when the
depth alarm started squawking! Lindy grabbed the wheel and dropped
the revs. I knocked off the auto helm. The depth kept
reducing 1 meter, 0.7, 0.2, zero. This is depth under the keel,
For the avoidance of doubt - Zero is very, very bad!!
"Which way" asks Lindy, but I don't have a clue.
The chart says we have water in every direction, but clearly we don't.
Looking over the side reveals nothing, the water's like soup so I can't
see the bottom. We're almost stopped now, but not aground even
though the depth is still saying zero. We can't have more than an
inch or two. And the alarm is still pinging - beep, beep,
beep........... It's like the really tense moment in a WW2
submarine movie. And then, just like one of those movies we
suddenly see 0.1, 0.2,........... you can fill in the rest of the
numbers yourselves depending on your taste for drama! We were on
our way again, albeit a tad more slowly and with constant attention to
the depth, but that was the end of the day's excitement. Hmmm,
perhaps that's why we don't know anyone else who's come this way.
|Placencia is familiar territory, except
that they seem to have shuffled several restaurant locations whilst
we've been away. It's also a gathering place for old friends so
lots of drinks and dinners. Indian Summer is there, New Horizons,
Matador, too many to list. But we're not here to do Belize.
Not even for the Heinz baked beans or the breakfast sausages (though we
do top up on both). Our main objective is to find the elusive
window to get north to Mexico which we'd struggled so hard to find last
year. Then we met Homer on Homer's Odyssey and he gives us way points which would
get us into the reefs and up to Cay Caulker in the north of Belize which
we had always believed to be impossible. That would allow us to
Clear Out at San Pedro and leave Belize nearly a hundred miles further
north than Placencia. And that would change everything. Isla
Mujeres would become a 200 mile trip. Much easier to find a window
for that. The entrance through the reefs would be another shallow
water experience, but that would become a way of life for us when we got
In the event, it all was all pretty
easy peasy (if a little scary at times). We were ripped
off by the officials in San Pedro, but we were so glad to be
leaving we really didn't care that much and at first light on Thursday morning (24th April)
we picked our way out over the reef and set sail for Mexico.
With strong current and good wind lifting us north we dropped anchor in Isla Mujeres just after dark on Friday.
Hard to visualise why it had been so hard to achieve the previous year!
Isla Mujeres then. So much effort to get there and
what's it like. Well it's a tourist destination with a
good cruising community but has no real reason to exist
apart from that. Cancun, the nearest city on the
mainland was only created by the Mexican government in the
60s to take advantage of the pristine beaches and crystal
clear waters to drum up some extra foreign currency.
That doesn't make it a bad place, in fact for a couple of
weeks it's a great place to be, (bars, restaurants, a
wonderful supermarket - certainly compared to what we were
used to) but almost everyone is a tourist of one type or
another, so there's not really a place to get to know.
Anyway for us it was really another staging post on our way
north. Old friends from the San Blas, Carl & Debbie on
Diva, and Ken & Marilyn on Dream Ketch'r were also there
waiting, and new friends Clark & Barbara on Koa Kai who had
also travelled up from the Rio, showed us the good
On leaving Mexico, our plan had always been to spend a couple of months
in Cuba and then before heading to the US to visit the Bahamas, first for their own sake
but also to avoid arriving in the USA direct from Cuba. And yes we
it's perfectly legal for us to visit Cuba, but we'd also heard stories of US
immigration officials making life difficult if your last port of call
was Cuba. All of this planning was in fact moot. We were late in the season now, the
hurricane season was looming and we really didn't have time for Cuba or
the Bahamas, so now the new plan B was
to leave Mexico straight for Florida.
12th May we set sail for Florida, it was a slightly marginal window,
which involved us sailing north east in an easterly wind to ride
the Gulf Stream and reach a point where we could turn right and then
sail east, with a northerly wind from an approaching cold front, in the lee of the Florida Cays to
arrive just before the front itself really hit. Well as you can
probably guess, like most marginal windows it didn't work.
The "easterly" wind was NE. We couldn't sail NE, in
fact the best we could make was closer to NNW, so we didn't
pick up the Gulf Stream and the the following morning found
us way too far south. We could not reach the turning
point before the front hit us. OK, plan C -
which actually looked spookily like plan A. - we'd go to
Cuba after all. There was a harbour on the western tip
where we could clear in and find a place to sit out the cold
front, then hop round the coast to La Havana when it passed
and try to make our peace with the US officials later.
Good plan we thought and we altered course ESE for Cuba. Except, a few
hours later we found the elusive gulf stream. Unfortunately, it was now
lifting us north at over 2 knots when we wanted to go a tad south of
east. It would carry us away from our destination and along the
north coast of Cuba towards La Havana. That would be nice
except we'd arrive at La Havana at just about the same time as the cold
front would deliver it's strong northerly winds and make entry to the
port impossible. Bugger! is the appropriate nautical term. Only
sensible option we could think of at the time (The "at the time"
qualification is there in case you happen to be analysing nautical
charts with dividers in hand and are just about to point out that since
we were now in the Gulf Stream, we could in fact, have returned to our
original course and headed for Florida. You would have a point,
but remember, nobody likes a smart arse!) was to turn round and head
back to Isla Mujeres. And that's what we did. Burned loads
of diesel, paid to clear in again, received a hard time from Immigration
and yet another stamp in Lindy's virtually full passport.
Two weeks later we're off again with a much better window
and much better wind. Straight out into the Gulf Steam then a very
fast, very bumpy wet trip (10 knots over the ground at one point) with
added sparkle of thunder and lightning, but two and a half days later we
had arrived and were dropping the hook in Key West, along with Koa
Kai and Dream Ketch'r. Oh, and immigration were charming. God bless America!