We got off to a great start to our passage sailing down the Southwest Passage away from Key West and then with a course of around 250 degrees and Gloria helming diligently. Then I realised that we had a slight adverse Gulf Stream current which knocked a knot or more off our Speed Over Ground. This adverse current never disappeared…it just increased and decreased for the full passage. So we averaged about 80nm every 24 hours as opposed to 120-140nm for my normal long distance sailing. We had to use the motor when the current was stronger than our Speed Over Ground in the periods of light wind. As we closed in on the Mexican coast we witnessed a spectacular sunrise before sailing into the anchorage in the harbour on Isla Mujeres…four and a bit days after leaving Key West. Mexico is new to me…my 34th country on my sailing adventure and 75th country visited during all my foreign travel. Mexico is also the first country I have visited in Central America.
We stayed at anchor and remained on the boat for two nights over the weekend watching all the tourist activity from snorkelling to jet ski to motorboats to charter pleasure boats and ferries. We contacted the nearby Marina El Milagro and reserved a slip AND an agent to deal with the lengthy administrative process to clear the boat and crew into Mexico. In all I had four government personnel visiting me and the boat. The agent organised me and the whole process (including a delay when I thought I had lost the boat UK Registration document) and once the Port Captain was satisfied I was able to take down my yellow Q Flag which has to be flown prior to formal entry into a new country.
The serious travelling has now begun with a long and busy day trip to the Mayan ruins site, Chichén Itzá and included stops at the beautiful colonial city of Valladolid and a cenote…an underground cave in which the roof has collapsed leaving a deep fresh water pool. The Mayans believed these to be sacred places. We then visited the town and Mayan ruins of Tulum with American friends, Matt & Jess, and then for something different we went whale shark watching and took the opportunity to snorkel with this amazing wildlife. Whale sharks are neither whales nor sharks, but fish that can grow to thirty feet in length and feed on plankton. I used my new GoPro and can safely say that I do not expect a call from David Attenborough! I cycled down to Punta Sur on Isla Mujeres to visit the temple of the Mayan goddess Ixchel, the goddess of fertility, medicine and happiness. In 1517 the Spanish arrived and saw many images of women and named the island Isla Mujeres. The island is also nicknamed, El Amanacer de Mexico….The Sunshine of Mexico, because it is the easternmost point of Mexico and therefore the first place to see the sunrise.
In the midst of all this excitement I had some canvas repairs done which included replacing the soft plastic windows in the spray hood. The spray hood was fitted new just before I left the UK in 2014, and although the canvas was still good the windows were now brittle and hazy. It was a great job which has given the spray hood a new lease of life, and for a great Mexican price!
Many boats in the marina and at anchor in the harbour are heading to Guatemala for the hurricane season. Although Guatemala is inside the hurricane zone the Rio Dulce heads twenty miles inland and into a huge lake, Lago de Izabal which is considered hurricane safe so far inland. This was an option for me but I prefer to head south to Colombia which is outside the hurricane zone and a great place to start my 2022 adventures. I have made a reservation at Marina de Pescas in Cartagena which will be a 900+nm passage of about eight days which I will sail solo. I had thought about stopping off in Panama but I will visit Panama this time next year and I just wanted to get down to Colombia.
It is now July and I wasn’t planning on staying so long until I realized that the Euro2020 and Copa America football championships were being played through June and July. This coming weekend I will be cheering Brazil (my second home) against Argentina in the final of Copa America, and then cheering England against Italy in the final of Euro2020.
Oh well! The England mens football team continue to underwhelm me! But Lewis Hamilton drove an immaculate race to win the British Grand Prix, following a contentious accident with Max Verstappen! I was just planning when to leave Mexico when a friend from New York messaged me to say…”I hope you’re staying for a while because I’m flying down to Isla Mujeres for a vacation”! So it’s close to the end of July and I’m still in Mexico in the hurricane zone…but I’ll now be able to watch the Hungarian Grand Prix. Then I must leave!
Well, the Hungarian GP was a crazy race but a great way of ending the first part of the season, and it was a fabulous week with my New Yorker friend, Lucy and especially snorkelling the coral reefs and the underwater Museo. I seem to have made good progress in my yoga classes at Treehouse Yoga and special mention goes to Laura, Jessy and Michelle for persevering with me. I am now getting me and the boat ready to leave Mexico on Monday 9 August to sail down to Colombia.
I left the marina on Sunday to anchor in the harbour which enabled me to get the boat ready to just raise the anchor on Monday morning….which I did just as the sun was rising. There was a light wind, but not enough to allow me to sail against the north-going current which passes along the islands. On the second day I was able to take a direct course towards Colombia and sail with full canvas. It was beautiful sailing until late afternoon when a sudden and strong squall caught me and while reducing the genoa I realized that something was wrong. The roller furler was not turning and then I heard the backstays “clinking” against the steelwork of the bimini. I ran forward and looked up the mast to realize that the forestay had separated from the masthead with just the Genoa halyard holding up the forestay. The wind was still howling and the sea state was strong, so I decided to drop the forestay down to the deck. However, the forestay bent on its way down and the sail was now trailing in the sea. I put the motor on, dropped the mainsail and turned the boat around to follow the wind and the sea which gave the chance to drag the sail (and the bent forestay) out of the sea and used sail ties to secure it onto the guardrail. I also secured the masthead forward using the spinnaker halyard and spinnaker pole uphaul. This was hard work and I still have no idea how long this dramatic episode lasted. It would have been crazy to try to continue to Colombia as I certainly don’t carry sufficient diesel for such a long passage. Heading to Guatemala was a possibility, but it was closer and more sensible to take a course back to Isla Mujeres.
So I motored all night and all the next day arriving in Isla Mujeres just after midnight to anchor in the harbour. Nearing Cancun and Isla Mujeres I was rewarded with a fabulous sunset highlighting the storms that were hanging around the region. After a great nights sleep I contacted El Milagro marina and moored back in “my spot”. Everyone helped me to remove the forestay and sail. The sail had minor damage which could be repaired locally, but the forestay was bent and snapped in two, and would require new replacement parts and rigging expertise to get me back onto the high seas. I made contact with my old friends Kildale Marine and the forestay manufacturers, Facnor to assess the damage and which parts I needed when a possible hurricane was headed towards the Mexico coast! We had to leave the marina because its wooden dock would not sustain the weight of five yachts in hurricane force winds.
I went into the lagoon which is considered a “hurricane hole” along with most of the anchored yachts in the harbour and all the tourist party boats from Cancun and Isla Mujeres. It was an amazing atmosphere made special by the locals who do this every year. I anchored in the middle, and along with everyone else was happy to see that the eye of Hurricane Grace had tracked south to make landfall at Tulum. At about 4am my anchor dragged briefly so I came on deck, started the engine to take some pressure off the anchor and chain and sat at the helm until daylight. The anchor had dug itself back into the sand and mud, and as the winds reduced in strength I was able to turn off the engine and enjoy the passing of Hurricane Grace…my second hurricane after Isaias in the Bahamas last year.
I rested for that day and slept like a baby that night, and on Friday the “great escape” began at 7am on the Friday morning and I was the first boat to return to El Milagro marina. The only damage was a catamaran that had broken its mooring in the harbour and had run aground. There was much work to do to tidy the boat and for a couple of days tiredness took its toll, but I was soon able to resume my communications to order the spare parts I needed and get back to yoga and running and life was suddenly normal again…..until Hurricane Ida showed up uninvited! Thankfully for me, Ida tracked further east and hit Cuba rather than the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and at the time of writing is destined to cause mayhem in New Orleans as a major hurricane.