|Arriving into Mexico|
Our second visit to George Town – Grand Cayman Island – is over. We have re-provisioned, made new friends with other yachties, all of whom seem to be heading for the Rio Dulce, Guatemala for the hurricane season, had swims and given the hulls yet another clean as a red/brown slim is growing. We have now had our copper coat hull paint on for nine years with the odd touch up, so we really can’t complain, and lastly, downloaded another weather report. The 1st of June is officially the beginning of hurricane season in this part of the world, so we will now be monitoring the internet for them.
It is now Wednesday 31st May – we are all checked out with the authorities by 0900. Back on Shamal with everything stowed, we are off our mooring buoy by 0940. Sails up as we pass the last of the cruise ships which were anchored just behind us, and we set a course for Isla Mujeres, Mexico. This will be a two day two night sail. The days are warm and sunny with winds averaging 14kts. Seas are following with a half to one meter swell so it is a very comfortable run. The nights are clear with star studded skies. As we cross the Yucatan Channel – which runs between the Yucatan Peninsula and the western tip of Cuba – there is quite a bit of traffic about including cruise ships. They look like small cities all lit up at night. We hit the Gulf Stream current 50 miles out from the Yucatan Peninsula. Shamal was sailing along nicely at 7.5 kts before the 5 kt current hit. Shamal now crabbing 50 degrees into the current and speed reduction is back to 5 Kts.
We arrive at Isla Mujeres on the Friday. The Island sits four and a half miles northeast of Cancun on mainland Mexico. It is five miles long and about a quarter of a mile wide, and has become a VERY popular tourist destination with thousands arriving and departing each day from the mainland. We make the usual call to the Port Captain informing him of our arrival, but there is no reply, so decide we will check in the following morning. Other cruisers have told us this is one of the places where patience is required on check in. For some it has taken up to three days !!! Also you will need countless copies of all your paperwork. The next morning after we have double and tripled checked we have all the necessary paperwork, we tender in to the dock to start checking in. The first person to call on is the Port Captain. He is not in his office today – it is Saturday – and we are told to walk down the road to the Petrol Station and find the agent. We decide no thanks, so return to Shamal and relax on board till Monday morning when we try again.
Yes there was lots of walking between the different offices and the bank a couple of times to pay our dues, but everything was close together and we had completed the whole process in four hours. Well that was everything on the Island. We still had to cross to the mainland to get a ‘Temporary Import Licence’ – which is valid for 10 years – from another office. Don’t think we will be here that long, but the rules are if you are here more than about 10 days, you need one. We did that a few days later taking the fast ferry across, and again had all our paperwork in order so had completed that process within 20 minutes of arrival in the office. We then took a taxi into the city of Cancun and found the office to buy a sim card for the phone. The town is very ‘local’ unlike the tourist zone a few miles down the coast. Here there are over 20,000 hotel rooms with over 3 million visitors each year. 140 Resorts and Hotels. Some Americans call Cancun “ Las Vegas on the coast “ The Mexican Government developed this area to raise hard currency from the tourist trade. We only saw that from the sea a few days later as we sailed along the coastline.
The anchorage at Isla Mujeres was again one of those places where one meets a vast array of very interesting people from the yachting community. Some stay here for the hurricane season as the inner lagoon provides shelter. Some arrive and don’t leave though the intentions are there. Others run short of funds and stay with their vessel while trying to sell up. There is the usual adventuress solo sailor who has many a story to tell, and others who like us, are just passing through. We had a meal out one evening with other yachties catching up on the stories of their adventures. The anchorage does not have the best holding, but with the advice of an Australia couple on board their monohull, we put out 50 meters of anchor chain and found a good patch of sand which proved very good holding. We also made sure we were away from the main group. When the blows came through at around 30kts we sat tight. Three boats did drag, which means others were lifting their anchors and moving position to avoid being hit. We did have one case where a boat did drag into another completely entangling each other’s chains causing chaos for a time while they sorted it out.
We visited the town along with the thousands of tourists. Alec took me to snorkel on the reef which was fun. The waters were clean and clear, but not much coral though plenty of fish. Then it was time to move on again. Our next stop was the Island of Cozumel a lovely 45nm run south. It was on this leg we saw the tourist zone along the beach of Cancun. High rise hotel and apartment block line the beach. We did encounter the very strong currents here one is warned about, and at one stage were only moving along at just 3kts. We dropped anchor to find within minutes we were under the flight path of the local airport, so upped anchor again and moved further south. Cozumel is touristy but nice. Again the cruise ships have a port here. Maybe because the island is bigger one does not notice the hordes of people so much, or maybe we are just getting used to it. The island is 28 miles long and 9 miles wide. It is Mexico’s largest Caribbean Island. Here we found a Starbuck house and I was able to indulge in my favourite coffee each day.
After downloading yet another weather forecast we could see we were in for some unpleasant weather to pass through our area in a couple of days from the south which would mean strong winds on the nose, something we did not want to encounter, so decided we should check out of Mexico and keep moving. There were a couple of big bays to the south of us on mainland Mexico where we could shelter while it passed through. Along with a solo sailor Charlie off his catamaran we went in to check out. This turned into a rather difficult and frustrating process. It was Friday and the customs office closed at 1400. We missed that. Saturday morning we called into the Port Captains office to be sent out to the airport – without all the necessary paperwork as she held onto it, which meant a return trip to the airport to finish proceedings. Four hours later and three taxi fares we were cleared. Charlie decided to stay put, but we wanted to move on. Sails up and we moved Shamal to behind a reef at the southern end of the island for the night. Next morning we were on our way before 0600. The winds were light, the current was strong and against us, and this turned out to be one of our slowest legs yet. Our speedo is now not working properly but we think the current was running between 3-5kts. It took us 11hours to cover the 46nm !!!! but we eventually dropped anchor behind the reef at Punta Allen in Bahia de ls Ascension.
You are given the usual 24 hours to leave the country. Five days later and we are still in Mexican waters – in the middle of a jungle swamp infested with bugs waiting for a bloody wind shift so we could continue south. Still hold up at Punta Allen while the weather did its thing. Totally out of contact with the world apart from our son Murray on the “ iridium go”, and the jungle swamp bugs !!!! We anchored just over half a mile off shore in winds of 15-20kts – up wind of the shore, but still out they came in squadrons, to suck the life out of us. Actually Alec’s blood was more to their flavour than mine. We had to live inside the whole time with the doors closed. The temperature was well over 30 deg.c. We opened all the hatches and put in the screens, and put tape on any gaps, then happily sat down and read all the diseases these creatures give you – oh such fun !! We wanted to swim but the lagoon also contained creatures. A couple of unidentified fins swam by, so that along with the idea of crocs inhabiting the area also put a dampener on that idea. We had been told that they mostly inhabit the inland waterways – Yeah Right !! We were not about to check that one out. But we did have more gentler creatures about like turtles, pelicans, dolphins, stingrays, manatees, cormorants and gulls to keep us company.
|Alec & Friend, Cozumel|
Then the forecast came through that we had been waiting for. Winds moving from the south to the south east. Great, Alec decided enough is enough and we were out of here. I think lack of blood from those carnivorous Bugs really affected him. Winds at the anchorage were 20 – gusting 24kts with white caps pounding the hulls, so what was it going to be like outside ?!? Up anchor girl we are out of here. First on a tack to Jamaica as that south easterly had not yet kicked in. Finally we rolled in the jib, reefed in the main, turned on the engines and headed down the coastline. It was not until mid-afternoon once we had rounded the headland at Punta Herrero, that we got the easterly component in the winds we were looking for. As day progressed to night the winds shifted around more and at long last we were away under full sails. Doing 5-7kts in winds of 15-20kts. The seas dropped from 3 – 4mts to 1-2 mts. We had a lovely beam reach. The 130nm leg took 24 hours.
Then there was the reef entrance at San Pedro on Ambergris Cay to negotiate. This was our entry point into Belize. The cruising guide warns not to enter this pass in rough seas, and enter only in good light. It is just after 0900 as we approach the pass. The break in the reef is less than 100mts wide. To add to that there is another reef directly in front of the entrance with a yellow marker buoy in front of that reef. One heads directly for the yellow buoy – in our case with the breaking waves behind giving us a push in – on reaching the buoy one turns sharply north running on the inside of the outer reef and with the beach on our Port side. We are now in 2-3mts of crystal clear waters. It is a relief when we anchor just off the town.
I will finish this posting here and continue in Belize shortly.
Lots of love
The Admiral and The Commander