Archive for June, 2008

Jamie and Heddy’s Excellent Adventure

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Nancy and I got the boat kinda-sorta cleaned up for Heddy and Jamie’s visit. They arrived on 5/14. Nancy and I met them at the airport in Cancun, which is a very modern, very posh airport. After having lunch in Cancun, we took the ferry to Isla Mujeres and then the dinghy to the boat. Since there were 4 people plus luggage, we made the dinghy trip in two stages, first Nancy and the luggage, then I went back for Heddy and Jamie. I had warned Heddy and Jamie to wear clothes they wouldn’t mind getting wet, and sure enough, they got wet. We had drinks on the boat and chatted a bit, then went to the Marina Paraiso for $1 beers. After a couple of beers, we went into town for dinner. Nancy, Heddy and Jamie walked and I followed along in the dinghy. We had dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants and it was very good, as has almost every meal we’ve had in Mexico. After dinner, I demonstrated to Heddy and Jamie how to sink a dinghy. I didn’t really sink it, but that’s only because it has these inflatable tubes on the outside of it. What happened is that I decided to see if the dinghy would handle 4 people. Here is some advice for anyone in the market for a dinghy. Get the biggest, heaviest dinghy your davits will handle. I bought the Walker Bay dinghy because it is small, light and rows really well. Most of the time you are anchored too far from shore, and it is too windy, to make rowing ashore practical. The Walker Bay that we bought is almost too small for me to row with Nancy sitting in it without bashing her with the oars, too. In retrospect, we should have gotten a hard-bottom dinghy, about 10 feet long, with inflatable tube sides, or a heavier, longer hard dinghy. Anyway, the Walker Bay is supposed to have a maximum capacity of 3 people and about 4 horsepower for the outboard engine. We had an 8 horsepower engine and I didn’t want to shell out the bucks for a new engine, so I put the 8 hp on the Walker Bay. On this particular evening, I put 4 people in the dinghy. It was windy, so there was a fair bit of chop, as well. This was not a happy combination for the Walker Bay dinghy. Shortly after leaving the shore, we heard a loud crack. My first thought was that we had hit a piece of flotsam, with the propeller, but it still seemed to be working fine, so I figured there wasn’t any harm done. We are taking on a fair bit of water because it is choppy and the dinghy is riding low in the water with 4 people aboard. About half-way to the boat, though, I decided that there was much more water in the dinghy than could be accounted for by the waves and spray sloshing in over the gunwales. Some quick and surreptitious investigation revealed that the transom where the outboard motor clamps on had cracked and that was the loud noise we had heard. I could see that the crack extended below the waterline and that was where much of the water was coming from. We have lifejackets aboard the dinghy and by then we were three-quarters of the way to the boat, so I didn’t mention anything being amiss to the others. You don’t want panic and chaos to infect the crew as it can lead to mutiny. Besides, the dinghy has these inflatable tubes on the side of it and the seats are filled with foam. I figured that even if it were completely filled with water, it would only sink to a few inches below the surface. I was more worried about the outboard motor. If the crack kept growing, the whole motor could fall off, taking half the transom with it. Outboard motors work really well when the bottom half is submerged, but they don’t work at all when the entire motor is submerged. I made the rest of the trip at reduced throttle, one hand on the tiller and the other hand supporting the weight of the motor to keep the transom from cracking further. I also adopted a nonchalant demeanor that exuded an aura of “don’t worry folks, this is just your typical dinghy ride.” Nancy said later that she knew something was wrong because she had never seen water up to her knees in the dinghy before and it just didn’t seem right. We made it back to the boat safe and sound and soggy and so ends Jamie and Heddy’s first real adventure aboard Stolen Child.

Nancy and I had met and become friends with a couple on a boat named “Grumpy.” Juan and Judy are their names and they are locals who live in Merida, the largest city on the Yucatan peninsula, and they had given us some information on Merida. It sounded like a good place to visit and there is a big festival beginning every Saturday evening that runs on into Sunday. We told Heddy and Jamie about it and we all decided to travel to Merida for the weekend to see the festival. I didn’t want to leave the boat at anchor with us gone for more than a day, so Friday, May 16, we call up the Marina Pariso on the VHF radio and get a slip to tie the boat up to. With the boat secure, we travel by foot, ferry and bus to Merida. There are two options for the bus to Merida, first class and second class. The first class bus travels the highway between Cancun and Merida and doesn’t stop along the way. It takes about 4 hours for the trip. The second class bus travels the back roads, stopping at every little village and town along the way, and takes about 7 hours. We want to see the countryside, so we take the second class bus. At many of the stops along the way, Mayan food vendors will get on the bus and sell fruits, enchiladas, sweet-breads and other snacks to the passengers. Most of these snacks are less than $1 and all the ones I tried (and I tried just about all of them) are very tasty. The countryside in this part of the Yucatan is very dry, having no large rivers or above-ground estuary system. Thus the flora is short and dense, and much of it is quite prickly. There are many varieties of cactus and a species of agave called henequen. Many of the trees have brightly colored flowers and the landscape can be quite beautiful. Many of the villages we passed through are very small, having a population of no more than perhaps 200 people. I think that most of the people who live in the smaller villages in the Yucatan are Maya, the indigenous people of the Yucatan who were here before the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century. They are a short, stocky people with very attractive and expressive facial features. They are, as a group, among the nicest and most polite people I have met anywhere.

Juan and Judy also recommended to us a hotel named Luz en Yucutan (The Light in Yucatan) and upon our arrival in Merida we found the hotel and they had rooms available so we checked in. The hotel was originally the nunnery for the St. Lucia cathedral which is next door, and was built in 1575. Merida itself was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo on the site of a much more ancient Mayan city (called T’ho by the Maya) and is considered by many historians to be the oldest continually-occupied city in the Americas. It is home to nearly 1 million people and as with most large cities, it exhibits both grandeuer and grime in equal measure. There is also, however, an aura of ancient and yet still thriving culture in Merida that simply cannot be matched by very many cities in the Americas. Another lasting impression of Merida that I have is its tranquility. Yes, there is traffic and a lot of hustle and bustle, but even as they hustle and bustle, the people here seem quite relaxed and pleasant. One of the reasons I have always had an aversion to large cities is that a large portion of the people in cities seem to be sullen and angry. Try saying a simple “good morning” to ten people in most any city in the U.S. and you get an equal number of frowns or scowls in return as you do smiles, if you are even acknowledged at all. In Merida, though, at least in my experience so far, people are incredibly pleasant and friendly. Merida also has numerous parks and plazas and on any given day, you will probably find a festival being held in one of the plazas. The fascads of many of the buildings are quite grand, particularly those dating from the 18th century and earlier, but
most of the buildings have very plain, or even somewhat dingy exteriors, but most conceal a very elegant and open interior. Most of the buildings I have been in or seen into, whether they are museums, hotels, restaurants or homes, have a central patio open to the sky, usually with a tile floor and trees, plants, bushes and shrubs. The hotel we stayed at was incredible. As I mentioned, the structure dates from the late 1500’s. It has two central patios, one with a small pool, and there is a veranda above one of the patios with access to the second-floor rooms. There is bouganvilia, palms and various other plants and trees in the patio and except for high noon, it is always cool and shaded in the patio. The rooms themselves are more like small apartments with a small kitchen, a living room and a bedroom. Imagine my surprise when I found out the rooms were only about $50 to $60 per night. There are also two cold beers in the fridge when you arrive at your room, and there is a complementary bar for mixed drinks. Did I mention free coffee?

Once the festival begins on Saturday evening, several of the streets are closed to traffic and the restaurants set up tables in the street. Bandstands and vendor stalls are set up. There are groups playing traditional folk music as well as jazz, swing and modern pop. It is a great time and we really enjoyed ourselves. There are also roving vendors selling cuban cigars, Mayan hammocks and various other handcrafts. The Mayan women and girls wear very colorful and richly embroidered traditional dresses and the Mayan girls are sent around to sell colorful woven belts, bracelets and small purses. These little Mayan girls are so pretty, and they look so somber and serious, that you don’t mind paying a dollar for a bracelet, just to watch them smile. We now have quite a few Mayan bracelets so don’t be surprised if you get one for Christmas.

On the way back from Merida, we stopped in Chichen Itza. I won’t go into great detail about Chichen Itza, except to say that it is incredible. You can find tons of information about Chichen Itza on the internet. I will, however, put a photo gallery on the website just for pictures we took at Chichen Itza as soon as I get them organized. We spent a few hours touring Chichen Itza, had lunch at a nearby town called Piste, and then caught a bus for Cancun. It was late when we got to Cancun and we caught the ferry to Isla Mujeres and had dinner at a beachfront restaurant before returning to the boat.

Tuesday, 5/20, we got permits to visit Isla Contoy. Isla Contoy is an island just a little north of Isla Mujeres and has been designated a marine and bird sanctuary and park. You have to purchase permits to visit. After we got our permits, we went to a hotel/restaurant named Bucaneros in downtown Isla Mujeres for a late lunch. They have tables out on the sidewalk and their food is very good. We had lunch and margaritas, and then more margaritas, then the strolling musicians started coming by and we had more margaritas, then we got to discussing politics and philosophy and had more margaritas, etc. We wound up staying at Bucaneros until quite late in the evening and I got more plastered than I’ve been in a very long time. Wednesday we got the boat ready and got underway for Isla Contoy. We got off to a late start, due to the fact that none of us were moving very fast after the previous evening’s festivities, so we motor-sailed up to Contoy to make sure we would have plenty of daylight left to make it through the reef and get anchored. It was a pretty pleasant trip up and we were anchored off the northwest end of Contoy by the early evening. It was too late really to go ashore and we were tired, so we turned in early. The next morning we moved to an anchorage just outside the bay where the park ranger station is. They have mooring balls there for free and we tied up to one of them rather than anchor. We took the dinghy ashore and snorkeled and explored the island a little. There was a stingray up close to the beach, in water barely more than ankle-deep, and it would swim right up to you and brush your legs if you stood still. It was a pretty nice day and Heddy and Jamie got enough sun to turn a very interesting shade of pink.

Friday we headed back to Isla Mujeres and that was another adventure. I had heard the wind howling at better than 15 knots all night, so I figured it might be a little rough on the return trip. As I mentioned, Isla Contoy is north of Isla Mujeres. There is a reef that runs between Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres and you can take one of two routes between the two islands. We went up to Isla Contoy on the outside route, which is east of, or outside the reef, in open water. According to the cruising guide, if your boat draws 4 feet or less, you can take the inside route, which is inside, or west of the reef, between the reef and the mainland of the Yucatan peninsula. Our boat has a draft of 6 feet, so we went up on the outside of the reef and planned to return the same way. We weighed anchor and motored north past the north end of Isla Contoy and then headed into open water. The wind was still blowing about 15 knots, maybe a little more, but it was blowing from the south-southeast, which is exactly the direction we needed to sail once we cleared the northern end of Contoy and made it into open water. Once we had cleared the lee of the island, the waves became quite large and we had to head directly into them. Our speed dropped to between 1 and 2 knots. When you head directly into waves of any size, all your momentum is lost plowing through them. You climb up the face of one wave and pick up a little speed going down the back side of it, only to come to a near standstill when the bow crashes into the trough between waves. In order to use the sails, we would have had to sail almost directly east, or even a little north of east, and then tack back to the southwest. I did some quick calculations and determined that if we kept motoring into the wind and waves, it would be early a.m. before we got to Isla Mujeres, and if we tacked back and forth using the sails, it would be quite late at night before we got back. It would also be pretty rough the entire way. We had two other options. We could go back and anchor in the shelter of Isla Contoy and call for a shallow draft power boat to come up and get Heddy and Jamie so they could make their flight on Saturday, or we could try to find a channel with at least 6 feet of depth on the inside route. The ride would be much smoother with the reef knocking off most of the waves, so even without the sails, we would be able to make better speed. Even though the cruising guide said we shouldn’t attempt it, we decided to try the inside route. The charts I had gave the impression that the water was deep enough except for a few shifting sand bars. Jamie went up to the bow to watch for color changes in the water that would indicate sandbars and we began feeling our way back to Isla Mujeres. The ride inside the reef was much smoother than it was outside the reef, but it was still pretty choppy and the deepest water seemed to be closer to the reef, which made for several fairly tense hours at the helm. Jamie and Heddy got pretty good at spotting sandbars and we only touched bottom once, but with the waves we only bounced on and off, rather than digging in and getting stuck. We made it back with plenty of daylight to spare for our docking procedure and made a fairly smooth approach to the dock. We were all pretty worn out when we finished docking, but we had that warm glow of accomplishment from a challenge met and overcome. We enhanced that warm glow with some refreshing beverages over dinner in town and then returned to the boat and watched “Master and Commander” on DVD.

Saturday morning Heddy and Jamie got packed up for their return to KC. We all went to lunch in town and then they took the ferry to Cancun. Damn, just when they are getting good at handling lines and other sailorly stuff, they jump ship. Nancy and I enjoyed th
eir visit immensely and I think they had a pretty good time too. We had a couple of small adventures, but nothing that should require counseling, so I think it was a pretty good vacation for them.