And Finally - Mexico


 Home Up USA - Heading North

 

 
 
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 Captain.
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 to Florida.

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 restaurants.

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 do know 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.

On 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! 

 

 

 Home Up USA - Heading North

 

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