Archive for December, 2008

Adios Mexico, Hello Belize

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Ralph and Tiffany and their daughter Max are some very good friends we made while in Isla Mujeres. They sail a custom built 38 footer named Daydream. They left Isla Mujeres shortly after we did and we decided to wait for them to catch up to us in Xcalac. We got to Xcalac on Friday, December 19 and they arrived on the following Sunday. We both cleared out of Mexico with the Port Captain Monday morning, but decided to wait until Tuesday morning to set sail for Belize.

After clearing out with the Port Captain, we went to the little grocery store to spend all our remaining pesos. The truck that sells fresh produce was there and we were able to stock up on some really nice tomatoes, potatoes, tangerines, avocados, cantaloupes, carrots, and various other fresh items, then bought a bunch of canned and dry goods from the store.

Ralph and I went snorkeling for dinner Monday afternoon. The snorkeling was fun, but the hunting was disappointing. We were out for more than 3 hours and only found 3 lobsters and a smallish flounder. Tiffany took our meager catch and made a really good seafood pasta with some kind of cream sauce.

Tuesday morning we woke up and got underway by 07:00. We had a very nice sail to San Pedro, Belize and made the 25 mile trip in just about 5 hours. The entrance through the reef into San Pedro harbor is a little tight, but wasn’t really difficult. The difficulty came after entering and trying to anchor. Daydream went in first and ran aground looking for a good spot to drop their anchor. With Daydream sitting there showing us where not to go, we tried anchoring a little closer to shore, just behind a couple of other boats already at anchor. The anchor didn’t seem to set very well and after letting out plenty of chain, we were bouncing on the bottom with every swell that went by. By this time Daydream had gotten unstuck and found a spot to try anchoring. Ralph dropped his anchor and set it, then put on his snorkel gear to see how it looked. By this time we had picked up our anchor and were moving to another spot, hoping for better holding and at least a foot deeper water. Ralph reported that there was only about 4 inches of sand on top of solid rock where he had dropped his anchor, but that he had found a patch of deeper sand and stayed in the water to direct us there so we could re-anchor. We got a much better set on the anchor and we have almost a foot of water under the keel, so we aren’t bouncing on the bottom anymore. I then put on my snorkel gear to give Ralph a hand. We found a likely spot and I stayed in the water while Ralph drove Daydream up and dropped the hook. It bit and seemed to hold, but would only dig down about 8 inches, so I just picked it up manually and hauled it manually across the bottom to another spot that looked better. This time the anchor dug down and buried the flukes and the shank, so after almost 2 hours of work we were both anchored. It is a good thing we got the anchors set well, because that night a pretty fierce squall roared through with winds of 30 knots and gusting a little higher, but both boats rode it out without dragging.

After getting anchored, we rushed ashore to clear in with Customs and Immigration, only to find the Customs agent out of the office. The Immigration agent said she would definitely be back the next morning at 08:00 and that we had to proceed directly from Immigration to Customs, so he wouldn’t check us in until the Customs agent was there, also. We went back to our boats for a windy and rolly night. in addition to a little swell that makes it over the reef, there are ferries and several dozen dive boats that run through the anchorage at full speed from all directions, so it sometimes feels like you are anchored inside a washing machine.

The next morning, Wednesday, we go ashore once again to clear into Belize. The Customs agent is there, but the Immigration agent hasn’t arrived yet. The Customs agent won’t clear us through Customs until after the Immigration agent has cleared us. After a while, the Customs agent says she is leaving and will be back in just a little while. Not long after she leaves, the Immigration agent shows up, but now the Customs agent is gone, so we’re still unable to clear in. Finally the Customs agent returns, the Immigration agent is still there, and we are at last officially cleared into Belize.

On the way back to the boat, Nancy and I stop for lunch and we can’t get over how noisy and full of traffic San Pedro is. There was a steady parade of cars, trucks, tractors and golf carts along the street in front of the restaurant. After eating, we went in search of rum and any other provisions we might need. We found a well-stocked grocery store, but they wanted the equivalent of $40 for a half-liter bottle of Bacardi Añejo. We paid $9 for the same bottle in Isla Mujeres. Needless to say, we did not buy the Bacardi, but instead bought a local rum that was only about $10 a bottle.

Given all the hassle anchoring, all the ferries and dive boats zooming through the anchorage, the crowds and traffic ashore, we have decided to cut our visit to San Pedro short and head for Cay Caulker tomorrow morning, which also happens to be Christmas Day (Merry Christmas from Belize, everyone). We’ve heard that Cay Caulker is very laid-back and relaxed, and there shouldn’t be as much high-speed traffic in the anchorage there.

South From Isla Mujeres

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

We pulled into Xcalac (pronounced Ishkalak) Mexico at about 13:00 on Friday, December 19. This is our last stop in Mexico. Our next stop will be San Pedro, Belize. We have been in Mexico for 7 months and had no idea when we arrived here that we would be staying so long. That is one of the nice things about this mode of travel, there aren’t any deadlines or timetables. We have visited various cities and towns, explored ancient Mayan ruins, swam in underground caverns, acquired rudimentary Spanish language skills, learned to SCUBA dive, met many interesting people and made some very good friends in the time we’ve spent here. I have posted details of most of our time in Mexico on the website but thought I’d provide a few details of our trip from Isla Mujeres to Xcalac.

We left Isla Mujeres on Thursday, November 20th and sailed to Puerto Morelos, just a short day-trip south from Isla Mujeres. We picked up a mooring ball at Marina El Cid and spent 5 days there. A mooring ball is just like being anchored, except you are using someone’s permanent mooring instead of your anchor. Marina El Cid is a 45 minute walk from the town of Puerto Morelos, so we got lots of exercise walking to town and back while we were there. We really liked Puerto Morelos. It is a very sleepy little town that is quite authentic, but has just enough tourist traffic to have nice amenities. The main amenity is a used bookstore that has tons of English-language books. We bought about 20 pounds of books while we were there.

From Puerto Morelos, we went to Bahia de La Ascensión (Ascension Bay), which is a pretty large bay with a fishing village named Punta Allen. We spent 8 days here waiting for cold fronts to blow through. Ascension Bay is fairly popular for bonefish, permit, and various other kinds of fly fishing. Nearly all of the locals make their living either from fishing or as fishing guides for tourists. We became friends with a local named Alberto. He doesn’t speak any English and as I have said, my Spanish is still very rudimentary, but we managed to communicate fairly well. He took us to a little restaurant where the locals go. I guess you would call it a restaurant, since they have two tables and you can buy prepared meals there. It is essentially an open-air palapa (thatch hut) that is the front room of a family house. The mother cooks and the two small daughters carry the food to the tables. We had breakfast both times we went there and it was incredibly good and incredibly substantial. The first time we had a breakfast dish called chilequiles and the other time we had huevos motuleños. They are both traditional breakfast dishes that I think are unique to the Yucatan area.

Our next stop was Bahia de La Espiritu Santo, where we spent 10 days, mainly waiting for more cold fronts to pass. Espiritu Santo is very much like Ascension Bay, but slightly smaller. The weather was a very frigid 70 degrees much of the time we were here, so we didn’t get off the boat very much. I have heard about the weather you are having in the States right now, so I guess you are probably smirking about my “very frigid 70 degrees” assertion, but when you are acclimated to the tropics, 70 does indeed seem pretty chilly. There were a couple of days nice enough for us to go snorkeling on the reef and I managed to catch a lobster, which Nancy cooked up for dinner. Lobsters apparently don’t like being caught and cooked, and do everything they can to avoid it, including scuttling under rocks and coral. What made it such a challenge for me is that I was snorkeling and didn’t have on my SCUBA gear, so I could only stay underwater for about a minute at most. Lobsters are very obstinate and it seems to require just a little over a minute to convince them to jump on the end of a spear and stay there while I carry them back to the boat and Nancy’s cooking pot. Anyway, all is well that ends in melted butter.

Next we sailed to Chinchorro Bank, which is a coral atoll several miles off the coast of Mexico. According to several books I’ve read, there are only 4 coral atolls in the Northern hemisphere, and Chinchorro is one of them (the other 3 are in Belize, where we are going next). Chinchorro is basically an underwater plateau, 26 miles long and about 9 miles wide, rimmed with coral. The ocean floor around Chinchorro is up to 1000 feet deep, but suddenly rises to just a few feet from the surface at Chinchorro. We only spent 3 days there but found it to be very fascinating and plan to spend more time at the atolls in Belize. We saw tons of starfish and queen conch crawling around the bottom when we snorkeled around the boat.

Other than the things I’ve mentioned, we have been busy with general housekeeping-type of chores like cooking and cleaning, various boat maintenance chores, and of course lots of sunset-watching and general relaxing. I have also been practicing celestial navigation and am getting moderately good with my sextant.