Friday, February 24, 2012

Viva Mexico!

Fair weather sea scape
Relaxing in the cockpit

Rear view
Looking through the dodger window as the sun sets
Pool view at the Marina Pariso de Yates, Isla Mujeres

We hoisted sail and headed southwest Monday 2/20 at 11:30AM. We had a mechanic in on Saturday at Pablo's Marina, Marathon, to look at the mechanical fuel pump (and hopefully replace it). He wasn't able to before the following week so Scott more permanently installed the electric pump he temporarily put in to get us to Marathon from Ft. Lauderdale. He finished up that very morning and we were off for a long cruise off shore.
The weather report was excellent, at least in my view. "Boring" was our weather forecaster Chris Parker's sum up. "I love boring!", was my reply. And in summary, it was. The nice kind - sunny, light winds (in the right direction mostly) and choppy, but short seas. We arrived 60 hours later at 9:30PM on Wednesday night in the pitch black, crossed over the shallow bar (3 feet under the keel) north of Isla Mujeres and anchored soon after in the lee of the island.
Our route took us across the Gulf Stream from Marathon to just off Havana, Cuba. We arrived in the early morning and turned more west, following the Cuban coast until the western end, when we again crossed the Gulf Stream to Mexico. We saw many freighters and cruise ships during the trip, but no pleasure craft or fishing vessels. In fact we didn't see a single boat arrive or depart from Cuban shores in our twenty four hours close off their coast. It was eerie. After leaving the Havana area we saw few lights on shore as well.
We have an A.I.S. system on board which displays all commercial vessels and many cruising boats such as ours on our chart plotter (a good size visual screen right in the cockpit). It gives information such as the vessel's name, speed, course direction and closest point of approach to us. Occasionally we saw a light at night and had no corresponding AIS info. In that case we can track the vessel on our radar. But having the AIS really has made us much more secure. In almost all cases the other ship sees us way in advance and makes any course changes necessary. Once a freighter evidently thought a half mile was far enough away to pass us in the dark and I took a right hand turn away to make it a mile.
We had made a number of calculations trying to determine the shortest and longest possible trip length. The upshot was, we went even faster overall than expected. So we approached Isla Mujeres on the third night, with no moon. The safest thing is to just sail up and down the coast for another 8 hours but in this case we felt it was safe to get behind the island and anchor in it's lee (but not of course attempt to enter the harbor). We had two sets of electronic charts and a guide book all agreeing on the course. Still it's nerve wracking to cross the shallow bar in the pitch black. Once anchored though, it was a huge relief and a good night's sleep.
We had a three hour watch schedule. With Russ aboard that means six hours off at night. What a difference. And of course, we had the pleasure of his company. Add to this, wonderful food at every meal and all in all, it was a fantastic trip.
And Isla Mujeres is beautiful. The next day we entered the harbor and after briefly anchoring and checking out the Marina by dinghy, decided to tie up at Marina Paraiso de Yates and coordinate our extensive check in process with Chepo, the Manager. It was a lucky decision. Mexico has recently insisted on Zarpes (Documentation from the departing country) and we didn't have one. Scott even called the Coast Guard to ask about regulations but they didn't know. With Chepo's help, they accepted our Marina receipts from Marathon.
More about our adventures in the next entry.

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