Archive for May, 2008

Hola de Mexico

Friday, May 9th, 2008

We finally made it! Much later than we anticipated, but we're here at last. To catch you up, we left the Marquesas Keys and sailed to Dry Tortugas. We stayed at Dry Tortugas a day and toured Fort Jefferson, which was quite interesting. Did you know that the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth after he shot President Lincoln was imprisoned there for several years because he aided the assassin, even though he didn't know Booth was an assassin? The fort is quite large and the Park Service has
a lot of interesting information available, so we spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon there. When we got back to the boat, I spent the rest of the afternoon scrubbing the hull and Nancy polished some of the stainless steel on deck. The hull was very bad. It was clean when we left Key Largo, so there must be something in the water at Key West that promotes extraordinary growth. I scrubbed until I was worn out and I didn't get all the way to the bottom of the keel. It is hard
work scrubbing the hull with just snorkel gear. Not only do you have to keep swimming toward the boat, because as you scrub against it you push yourself away, but you also have to keep swimming against your own buoyancy since you don't have weights on to keep you submerged. I managed to get probably 70 percent of it clean from the waterline down before I ran out of steam.

We got underway for Isla Mujeres about 07:30 on Monday, May 5 and arrived in Isla Mujeres Harbor last night (Wednesday, May 7) about 21:30. While we were en route, I spoke with a tanker on the VHF radio to make sure he saw us and wouldn't run us over. Another sailboat heard us talking and guessed that we were going to Isla Mujeres, so they called us on the radio and we buddied up for the rest of the trip. We would check in with each other on either the VHF or the SSB radio twice each day and exchange
position and weather info. The other boat is an Island Packet named Jupiter's Smile and is crewed by Jay and Barb from Colorado Springs. They had left Dry Tortugas the same morning we did. We were never in visual sight of each other, but never more than about 40 miles distant. We were trying like hell to make it here before dark, but the wind was just too light for much of the trip, and the Gulf Stream slowed us down too much when we hit it. I don't like to make night approaches to unfamiliar
harbors (or even familiar ones for that matter), but neither of us wanted to sail around in circles all night long and the approach looked pretty easy on the charts. It turned out that it was a pretty easy approach and was made even easier because Jay and another cruiser named Jack, on the trawler Bodacious, got on the radio as soon as they could see us and helped talk us in. Jupiter's Smile had arrived about an hour before we did and he and Jack were watching for us to arrive. The harbor here
is very nice and well protected and the holding seems to be very good. The water is incredibly clear. We anchored in about 17 feet of water and it was pitch black (no moon last night when we anchored) so I had an LED headlamp on to see what I was doing while anchoring and I could see the anchor almost all the way to the bottom just with the light from my headlamp.

This morning Jack and Jo invited us and Jay and Barb over to Bodacious for coffee and to give us tips on clearing into Mexico. Jo had also made some delicious banana apple nut bread. After coffee, we headed ashore with Jay and Barb to officially clear into Mexico. I had heard stories about how difficult the process can be, but it went pretty smoothly for us. The guy at the immigration office recommended a restaurant, La Lomita, for lunch, so after finishing clearing in, we went there and had
lunch. The food was excellent and our tab was about $15. That is so much better than the Bahamas where lunch for two costs about $30. Next we went to a bar for happy hour and drank a couple of $1 beers. Man, I like this place.

We'll spend the next few days learning our way around and getting ready for Jamie and Heddy's visit. They arrive next Wednesday and we're really looking forward to seeing them. I'll probably post another update just before they arrive.

Footnote To Last Entry

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

After I posted the last entry, I reduced and plotted the sights I took last night. I took sights of Sirius, Capella and Mars. I tried reducing one of them last night after I took them, but got tired and went to bed before I finished. This morning I reduced all of them and plotted them and by the time I was done, I could reduce and plot a sight in about 30 minutes. That should improve further with practice. What I'm really excited about, though, is the position fix I obtained. This being my
first time, I didn't expect very good results. I figured if my plotted position was in the correct ocean, I would be happy. I was surprised to find that my plotted position was within 3 nautical miles of our GPS position. Three miles may sound like it is pretty far off, but I am pleased enough with it I thought I'd post a footnote to my earlier entry just to brag a little. Anyway, I thought it worth mention.

Update From Marquesas Keys

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Today is our third day anchored off the west side of the Marquesas Keys. We were only going to spend the night here before continuing on to Dry Tortugas, but the wind has been blowing like crazy. It's been a pretty steady 18 to 20 knots from the east with gusts as high as 30 knots. That's actually pretty good wind for sailing, but I'm thinking I don't want to be anchored in Dry Tortugas in that much wind. Rob has mentioned that Dry Tortugas isn't a good anchorage in rough conditions. We looked
at the chart and there doesn't seem to be much protection from the east, so we have been waiting for the wind to abate a few knots before leaving here. This anchorage is still a little choppy with this much wind, but we have good holding and the Marquesas, which are small mangrove islands on a coral atoll, are directly east of us, so the waves don't have much room to build between the shore and our position.

We had a very nice sail from Key West to here. The wind was mostly around 15 knots from the north, becoming northeast as the day progressed. It was so nice to leave Key West. We both like Key West, but only for brief visits. While Nancy was in Nebraska visiting her mother, I stripped and varnished the cockpit coaming (the coaming is the built-up periphery of the cockpit, you could think of it as the backrest if you were sitting in the cockpit, ours is capped with teak). It was quite a bit of
work, but it looks so much better. The previous owner had used a type of varnish that was really muddy-looking and pretty much hid the grain of the teak. The stuff I used is much clearer and the wood grain shows up beautifully now. I still have a lot more topside teak to strip and varnish, but I'll do it in stages.

I started studying celestial navigation yesterday and I am duly impressed with the navigators of yore. First I had to adjust my sextant and I think I did a reasonably good job of it. There are two mirrors that have to be perfectly aligned with each other and the frame of the sextant. The book I'm using says when it is properly adjusted, the index error should be 2 minutes of arc or less. I think I got it within 1 minute of arc. I pre computed the position of a few bright stars and planets so
I could take some sights right after sunset. Shooting the stars was not too challenging, but I don't think my sights were very accurate, but I'm sure they'll improve over time with practice. What was the most challenging was reducing the sights and plotting the lines of position. I probably spent 30 or 40 minutes pre computing the positions, 15 or 20 minutes taking the sights, and about 4 hours trying to reduce and plot just one of the sights. After I have done a few, I should be able to get
that 4 hours down to about 15 minutes or less (I hope). Anyway, I only got one of the sights I took reduced last night, so I'm going to do the rest of them today.

We brought a lot of games aboard to keep us occupied when we aren't working on the boat, sailing, snorkeling, or sight-seeing. The last few evenings we have been playing Mah Jong, or I should say we have been figuring out how to play Mah Jong. We've really enjoyed it. We are hoping we'll meet some other cruisers who know how to play and can teach us the more subtle aspects of the game.

Our plan is to stay here at Marquesas at least through today and head to Dry Tortugas when the wind dies down to the 15 knot range, which we are hoping will be tomorrow. We plan to stay in Dry Tortugas for at least one day to visit the fort and maybe do a little snorkeling, and then head to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. It will take 2 or 3 days to get to Isla Mujeres, so we are hoping to be there by May 9th at the latest. Heddy and Jamie are going to visit us there and they arrive on the 14th. We want
to be there at least several days ahead of them.