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 then caused mayhem in New Orleans as a major hurricane and continued inland as a tropical depression causing massive flooding in New York City which resulted in more deaths than in New Orleans.
I want to fly back to the UK for my youngest son’s 30th birthday in December and I need to choose where I fly from very carefully because of the UK’s travel restrictions under the Red, Amber & Green system…Mexico is on the dreaded red list which would force me to quarantine for 11 days in a government designated hotel at a cost of £2300! Guatemala is not on the red list so I could sail out of Mexico and leave my boat on the Rio Dulce to fly back to the UK. But just to add a further complication, all visitors arriving from South Africa, Brazil and the UK must stop in another country for 10 days before entering Guatemala! This is not a huge issue for me as I would take the opportunity to visit El Salvador and/or Nicaragua on my way back to Guatemala. But the UK reviews which countries are on the red list every three weeks, so I will hang around Mexico until the boat repairs are complete and I’m reasonably certain which countries will be on the red list in November and December….anyway, I still haven’t received my boat parts which have been in Cancun for 10 days and UPS are not being very helpful.
Mexico has been taken off the UK red list and so I will remain in Mexican waters until January 2022. I’m now planning to spend a week in Mexico City for the Day of the Dead celebrations and the Mexico F1 Grand Prix, and then I will fly back to the UK for my youngest son’s 30th birthday in December. In the meantime I’m still waiting for my boat spares to be released from Mexican customs, which is quite the most ridiculous situation I have dealt with on my travels.
The spare parts were released from Customs and arrived at the marina with US$200 duty to be paid. However, on opening the package the replacement Top Fitting (the part which originally failed) was wrong! Just imagine my happiness!
But the next day I was flying to Mexico City with sailing friend, Maryke for the Day of the Dead celebrations, and the spare parts saga would have to wait for a week. We dumped our bags in the Airbnb apartment and took an Uber down to Passeo de la Reforma just in time to see the end of the parade….the parade first took place in 2016 taking inspiration from the 2015 James Bond movie, Spectre. The following day was the official Day of the Dead Children, and we went to Xochimilco, “Venice of the New World” to visit the Island of the Dead Dolls, and its spooky story. That evening we strolled the Centro Historico, “City of Palaces” and especially the Plaza de la Constitucion which had a fabulous atmosphere ready for Day of the Dead the very next day. Our single target for Day of the Dead was to get our faces painted, and we found a guy who did a fabulous job and to visit Mexcaleria El Clandestino in the evening for our first ever Mexcal. In the midst of our three days of celebrations we went to Cafebreria El Pendulo bookstore in La Condesa for coffee and brunch, and to Panaderia Rosetta for Pan de Muertos….Dead Bread in English, and eaten during the celebrations. Maryke then had to fly back to Isla Mujeres to get back to work while I changed Airbnb and stayed for another five days. I visited Bosque de Chapultepec, Coyoacan, the Palacio Postale, the Torre Latinoamericana and went on the metro which is always interesting in big cities. The CDMX metro is so cheap and I stopped at the station Tacubaya, which has huge murals telling a pictorial story of Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztec empire…..and now Mexico City. But I was also taking the metro to Puebla, the metro station next to Autodromo Hermanez Rodriguez, home of the Mexico Formula One Grand Prix. I had been trying to get a race day ticket and was finally offered one by a ticket tout for US $1000! I didn’t buy one, mainly because I couldn’t be certain whether it was fake, or not. So I found a sports bar that was showing the race….which Lewis Hamilton didn’t win. I do like capital cities, and Mexico City has so much to see and do. It’s been a fabulous eight days, and now time to fly back to Isla Mujeres.
Now back on the boat I have a couple of priorities…..to confirm the correct part for the forestay and to decide whether to fly back to the UK. I really want to go back for my youngest son, Elliot’s 30th birthday but I now realise just how onerous are the UK covid travel restrictions!
Decision made!…..I have booked a single flight to Leeds Bradford airport via Paris and booked a series of PCR tests that satisfy the UK requirements and may allow me to clear quarantine early. I then completed my UK Passenger Locator Form and included my pre-flight negative PCR test result. However, Kiwi.com and Air France conspired to make life difficult….although I had paid for baggage in the hold through to Leeds Bradford and had the proof of receipt, Air France would not let me book onto the Paris flight unless I paid £87 (on top of the £95 I had paid to kiwi.com) for the baggage in the hold. At the top of the kiwi.com receipt it stated “Do Not Pay This Again” but an aggressive Air France clerk was also adamant….so I paid the extra £87 and kept my Air France and credit card receipts. The flight to Paris was fine and the total Jet2 experience to Leeds Bradford was perfect…including putting my baggage in the hold at the pre-paid kiwi.com price. I have since applied for my refund with kiwi.com which may take THREE months to arrive in my account.
Business squabbles should not be conducted at the customers expense!
I’m now in near freezing conditions in Bingley, near Leeds, quarantining with Elliot & Amy in my private bedroom and en-suite bathroom. I have self tested and passed the mandatory Day 2 test and today taken my Day 5 test to release, which I expect the result at the same time as having to take the mandatory Day 8 test…..phew!
I received a couple of text messages about NHS Test & Trace stating that I had been in contact with someone who had tested positive and wanting me to contact a website. I had read about scam NHS messages and right away believed these to be scams. I received a couple of calls from the NHS which seemed to be fine and they confirmed that all was well. At last I tested negative on the Day 8 Test and I was free to go as from Day 10.
Using my new found freedom I took a train across to Brough to an Airbnb in Elloughton which gave me good access to Hessle and Hull where I had some business to do. The weather was still cold and the news was slowly becoming more pessimistic about a new covid variant, Omicron and so I decided to cut my visit short as soon after the birthday weekend as I could plan. I was able to do everything I wanted during the week in Hull including booking a flight with Turkish Airlines back to Cancun via Istanbul and Mexico City to arrive in the warm sunshine of Isla Mujeres on 15 December.
But first, at the end of the week I returned to Bingley to yet another Airbnb for the birthday weekend, and Alec & Paul joined me.
The birthday celebrations began in the Brown Cow pub in Bingley continued at the Baildon Rugby Club and finished in the early hours of Sunday morning at Maverick’s 80’s Lounge in Bingley where I was frisked on entry! But celebrations turned sour later on Sunday when a diabolical decision by the Race Director at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix concluded in Max Verstappen being handed the World Championship!
On the Monday I headed down to Gatwick Airport in London promising myself I would not visit the UK again in the winter months and I would not visit the UK again whilever covid travel restrictions dominated peoples lives.
It is now Sunday 19 December and I have just about recovered from the effects of jet lag. I now have all the parts to repair the forestay so I can now organise Christmas Day festivities, boat repairs and a passage plan to Belize in January. The photograph is sunset watchers on Playa Norte.
El Milagro marina & villas organised Christmas Day turkey dinner for 49 guests and a great time was had by all. I had Christmas presents from both boys to open, and I will begin the New Year being well scrubbed and well read! The two photographs alongside are the Christmas Day dinner at El Milagro and the end of Christmas Day sunset taken from El Milagro. I have spent some time looking to 2022….my Mexico visa expires in January leaving me two legal options. I have chosen to pay a small daily fee at the point of leaving Mexico, and will consider the option to take a bus to Belize for a few days to renew the visa on re-entry to Mexico if necessary. Then I looked at entry restrictions for western Caribbean countries, and have decided to sail Belize and onwards to Panama with a possible stop at Roatan (Honduras) along the way. I remain unvaccinated due to circumstances during 2021 (more of that in a later post) which narrows my options, and some test requirements prior to arrival are an impossibility for cruising yachts. El Milagro are hosting a New Years Eve BBQ for guests and I have been invited to join friends in Snappers Bar on New Years Day…2022!