Archive for March, 2010

Wild Ride to Key West

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

A couple of years ago, when we left Dry Tortugas bound for Mexico, we found ourselves in company with another boat, S/V Jupiter’s Smile, who had left Dry Tortugas about the same time we did.  We maintained radio contact on the trip, and once we arrived in Isla Mujeres, we met Jay and Barb, the owners of Jupiter’s Smile.  We met up with them once in Roatan about a year ago, but hadn’t seen or heard from them otherwise.  Monday morning, March 8th, we



heard Jupiter’s Smile on the VHF.  They had just arrived in Isla Mujeres.  We hailed them and made plans to visit later that day.  That afternoon, Nancy and I went to the Soggy Peso and got some ceviche and guacamole to go and took it out to Jupiter’s Smile.  It was very nice to see Jay and Barb again and it just so happened that they were on their way to Key West.  Since we had both arrived in Isla Mujeres together a couple of years ago, it seemed serendipity that we leave Isla Mujeres together.  We looked at the weather forecasts and it seemed that the best window in quite a while would be coming up on Wednesday, so we made plans to set sail for Key West on Wednesday.  Tuesday morning Nancy and I went to town to once again clear out of Mexico with Immigration and the Port Captain, then paid our marina fees and prepared to go out on anchor.  While we were doing all of this, Jay had gotten some updated weather that indicated we should leave Tuesday instead of waiting for Wednesday.  We left the dock and motored in circles around the anchorage, preparing the boat for sea.  At about 11:45 we got underway, along with Jupiter’s Smile.  Sea Biscuit, another boat headed for Key West with Michael and Robin aboard, joined our little flotilla shortly after we had gotten underway.

It started out a pleasant enough passage.  The seas were just a little high from the last Norther that had blown through and from the forecast, we expected maybe 8 hours of 20 knot wind from the Northeast, which would then drop to about 15 knots and start clocking around to the East, then Southeast, and eventually going on to the Northwest in advance of the next front, by which time we would be on our final approach to Key West.  We had it all planned out and the plan was perfect.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not follow the plan.  The wind remained pretty much Northeast for the whole trip and except for a few brief hours of respite, remained in the 25 knot range and higher for most of the time.  One night we recorded gusts as high as 40 knots with a steady 30 to 35 knots.  Oh, well, a bad day of sailing is still better than a good day at the office.

It took us about 65 hours to make the passage.  Unfortunately, it was bumpy enough of a ride that Nancy took another fall.  Not as bad as the one on the way from Honduras, but she hurt her foot.  When it is more than just a little rough, or when the boat is heeled over very much, it is very hard for her to move around the boat and we’ve found it best that she spend most of the time in the quarter berth.  She can usually relieve me for a couple of hours each day so that I can get some good sleep, and I take 15 minute catnaps once or twice in the dead of the night.  That works for a couple of days, but I’m pretty worn out by then.  Otherwise, it was a pretty good trip.  We had current with us most of the way and usually made 6 knots or better, and several times the GPS showed us making 9 knots over the ground for an hour or more at a time.

After the first several hours, the three of us, Jupiter’s Smile, Sea Biscuit, and Stolen Child, were no longer in visual contact as we each followed our own instincts for finding the most favorable current and playing the balancing act

Patrick with Jay and Barb

Patrick, Jay and Barb in Key West

between speed and comfort.  By the second day, we weren’t even in VHF radio range and we had to keep in contact with the SSB radio, which is longer range than the VHF.  Late in the evening on our second day at sea, we were about 50 nautical miles North Northwest of the coast of Cuba.  We were having our 10:00 p.m. check-in on the SSB when we heard a very faint mayday on the radio.  It was a woman’s voice and her signal was very weak.  It seems she and her husband were also on their way to Florida from Isla Mujeres, and had anchored in a remote bay on the coast of Cuba so they could let their dog take a walk ashore and do his doggie business.  The husband had taken the dog in the dinghy at 6:30 p.m. and shortly after he, the dog and the dinghy had disappeared in the mangroves, she had heard shots.  It was now after 10:00 and he still wasn’t back and she was stranded on the boat and was afraid that whoever had shot him would come for her next.  Of the three of us in our little flotilla, Stolen Child was closest to her position, and Sea Biscuit was the northern-most boat.  Sea Biscuit changed course directly for Dry Tortugas, hoping to get in VHF range of the U.S. Coast Guard station there, while Stolen Child and Jupiter’s Smile changed course directly for her position.  Once we had changed course, we no longer were going with the current, and our speed was about 5 knots, so we estimated it would take 10 hours to reach her.  In the meantime, Jay on Jupiter’s Smile began trying to get assistance on various emergency SSB channels and I remained in radio contact with the stranded woman.  We continued in this manner until 02:00 on the 11th, when the woman’s husband came on the SSB.  Apparently he had not been shot, as she had feared, merely lost.  The bay where they anchored was a mangrove inlet, with no beach to land the dinghy and walk the dog, so he had to motor the dinghy through the maze of channels through the mangroves, looking for a place to land.  In the process he got lost and in the process of trying to find a

Sunset at Key West

Sunset in the anchorage at Key West

way out, ran out of gas in the dinghy.  Fortunately, he found a small fish camp and one of the Cuban fishermen towed him back to his boat.  The shots she had heard were just somebody hunting birds.  All is well that ends well, and we all resumed our previous courses.  The diversion actually helped us out because otherwise we would have arrived at Key West around midnight on the 11th or very early a.m. on the 12th and the anchorage at Key West can be so crowded I wouldn’t want to try it in the dark.  As it was, we still had to slow the boat down in order to arrive after sunrise.

After this trip, Nancy and I have decided that we will limit our sailing to overnight trips and for any longer passages that we need to make, we’ll find somebody to help me crew the boat and Nancy will fly and meet us at the destination.  She has enjoyed our day sails and really loves living on the boat, but blue water sailing is really too rough for her in the best of conditions and single-handing for more than a day or two is not very pleasant for me.

We will stay here in Key West for a few weeks until the weather warms up further North, and then head back to Mississippi, where we will visit with friends and family, then we plan to take the boat to Mobile, Alabama, where we will have it hauled out and do some work on her while we plan our next adventure.

Rob’s Mexico Visit

Monday, March 8th, 2010

We finally convinced Rob to leave all that pretty snow in Kansas City and visit us in balmy Mexico.  A couple of days before he arrived, we picked up the anchor and pulled into Marina Paraiso.  Our dinghy is in very sad shape and we


Freddy at The Soggy Peso

didn’t want to try running 3 people back and forth to the beach in it, and we also planned to take Rob on a road trip to Merida for several days, so the marina seemed like the place to be.  It was good to see Tom, Elizabeth and Chepo again as well.

Rob arrived on Wednesday, February 17.  He was so accustomed to cold weather that he didn’t even need a jacket at night when the temperature would get down to 70 degrees.  In fact, he was so bold as to make disparaging remarks when Nancy and I would get all bundled up in jackets and long pants.  Our first stop after getting him settled aboard was, of course, the Soggy Peso and, as we were sure he would, he loved the place.  He declared their Margaritas excellent.  Freddy makes the Margaritas using freshly squeezed limes, tequila and Controy (more or less the same as triple sec) and that’s it.  No fancy Margarita mix or anything else.  On Thursday we toured downtown Isla Mujeres and ate lunch at one of the little loncherias next to the municipal mercado.  Thursday evening we walked around an area of Isla Mujeres called the Colonia that is away from the touristy downtown area.  This is where all the locals live.  We ate at my favorite restaurant on the island, called Kash Keken Chuc (it’s a Mayan name, so don’t try to pronounce it).  It is a tiny little


Yoyo (Joao) at The Soggy Peso

place on the corner with 3 tables inside and 2 tables on the sidewalk.  They have the best food and the cheapest prices of anywhere on the island.  You can get 2 empanadas, 2 panuchos, 2 flautas, a large piece of the best flan you’ve ever had, and 2 beers (they don’t sell beer, but you can walk across the street and get a few bottles at the tienda) and you’ll have spent about 6 bucks.  As they say in Mexico, “baratisimo.”

Friday we caught the ferry to Cancun, a taxi to the bus station, and a bus to Valladolid, a medium sized town half-way between Cancun and Merida.  Nancy and I had been through Valladolid on our way to Merida, but never stopped and it looked like a place worth exploring.  We got off the bus and walked several blocks to the municipal mercado to find some lunch.  Most towns in Mexico have what is called a mercado, which is usually a large, open building where various merchants set up stalls selling fresh vegetables, meats, and various and sundry other things.  The mercado is where the locals shop and the best places to eat are usually found in close

Cenote at Cuzama

One of the Cenotes at Cuzama

proximity to the mercado.  We found a suitable place and had an excellent lunch and then headed back to the bus station.  We had a little time to kill before the next bus to Merida, so we found a little cantina across the street from the bus station.  In the Yucatan, there is this concept of “botanas,” which means that if you are buying beer, they will give you food to go with it.  This cantina was selling 1.5 liter bottles of Montejo, a pretty good beer, for 35 pesos, which works out to about $2.70, and then they give you food to snack on while you drink it.  Now is that a deal or what?  So much beer and so little time.  We had a bus to catch and could only avail ourselves of 2 bottles between the 3 of us before we had to board the bus for Merida.  Two bottles is 3 liters, and that equates to about 8 and a half regular 12 ounce bottles of beer.  Not a bad way to kill an hour waiting for a bus.  We got to Merida and checked into our hotel, Las Arecas, which is really a colonial-style house that has been converted to have 4 or 5 rooms, each room having a sitting/dining area with a kitchenette, a bedroom and a bathroom.  There is also a large common kitchen and dining room which we were encouraged to make use of, and two central courtyards.  It was very nice and only $35/night.

Cuzama Express

The Cuzama Express Train

After checking in, we walked around El Centro, the central square, and ate at Pancho’s.  Pancho’s is a touristy restaurant and on the expensive side, but the food and atmosphere is very good and should be tried at least once.  Nancy and I had eaten there on two previous occasions and liked it, but this time we got the lousy waiter, so the service left something to be desired.

Saturday we rented a car and drove to the tiny village of Cuzama, where there is a nearby group of 3 cenotes, or underground pools.  These are the same cenotes Nancy and I visited on our second trip to Merida, and again when we returned with Susan and LA.  The cenotes lie along an old narrow-gauge railway that was put in over a hundred years ago when Cuzama was a hacienda.  Horse-drawn rail cars were used to move supplies around the hacienda and now they are used to carry tourists to the cenotes.  The cenotes are quite spectacular.  The Yucatan is basically a limestone shelf sitting in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is very flat and has no surface rivers or streams of any note.  All the water runs underground through tunnels and caves in the limestone.

Cenote at Cuzama

Climbing Down Into The Cenote

Sometimes the roof of one of the underground caves will collapse, allowing access to the water.  Water is such a precious commodity in the Yucatan, that from time imemorial, people settled near the cenotes to have a reliable source of water.  Most of the Mayan ruins have a nearby cenote.  The water that flows through them is incredibly clear, as it has filtered through the limestone.  There are cenotes all over the Yucatan peninsula, and of the ones we have visited, the ones at Cuzama are the most impressive.

After the cenotes, we returned to Merida and had dinner at La Blanca Merida, then walked to the Inicio Paseo de Montejo to watch some traditional Mexican folk dancing.  Saturday and Sunday evenings in Merida they close the streets around El Centro to traffic and the restaurants put tables out in the streets and musicians of various styles perform.  After watching the folk dancing we returned to El Centro and sat outside the La Blanca Merida, sipping xtabentun and beer and listening to a woman singing Cuban Salsa music.  Xtabentun (another Mayan name, don’t try pronouncing it) is a traditional Mayan liquor made from anise and honey and is quite tasty with a beer chaser.  The cuban lady was a very good singer and there were 3 local women sitting at a table near us who were incredible dancers.  The 3 women would get up and dance to almost every song and it was fascinating watching them.  There was a little girl about 9 years old at another table who was also an incredible dancer and we enjoyed watching her, as well.

Sunday we kept the rental car and visited some Mayan ruins along what is called the “Puuc Route” which is south of

Arch at Labnah

Rob and the Arch at Labnah

Merida.  We visited a total of 5 ruins.  Labna, Xlapak, Sayil, Kabah and Uxmal.  Uxmal is a very large ruin, comparable in size and granduer to Chichen Itza.  The other 4 are smaller in total area, but each is very significant architecturally.  I think Rob was very impressed with the scale and sophistication of the ruins.  Another nice thing about these particular ruins is that they are not as heavily visited as Chichen Itza, so you pretty much have them to yourself while you are there, and you don’t trip over all the vendors selling Mayan arts and crafts.  It was a very long day of sight-seeing and they actually had to run us out of Uxmal at closing time.

One of the museums in Merida was having a large exhibit of Salvador Dali paintings and we wanted to see it on Monday.  Unfortunately, the museum is closed on Mondays, so we walked along the Paseo de Montejo.  The Paseo is a wide boulevard lined with large and stately mansions.  The museum of archaeology and natural history is also on the Paseo de Montejo, but again, it was closed on Mondays.  Oh well, at least we got to visit the Wal-Mart, which is also on the Paseo de Montejo and was not closed on Mondays.  We wandered over to another section of Merida called Barrio Santiago and had a nice meal at a little sidewalk cafe.  For desert we had a real treat that I’d never tried before.  It is called a marquesita and is essentially a sweet, crispy crepe rolled up with cheese inside.  Wow, it was good.

Rob had enjoyed the ruins so much that we decided to stop at Chichen Itza on our way back to Isla Mujeres on Tuesday.  Chichen Itza is the most visited of any of the Mayan ruins and the tour buses were rolling in.  As many

Chichen Itza

Rob and El Castillo at Chichen Itza

tourists as there were at Chichen Itza, they were almost outnumbered by the vendors selling arts and crafts.  Chichen Itza is such an impressive sight, it is too bad that you can’t adequately enjoy it because you are constantly having to fend off people trying to sell you stuff “very cheap, almost free, just for you, only today.”  I do have to say that some of the stuff they are selling is very nice, some of it is actually hand-made by the locals themselves, and some of it is incredibly cheap, but you really only need so many hand-carved mayan masks and hand-woven mayan hammocks.

We made it back to Isla Mujeres pretty late and the next day began preparing to get underway.  Our plan was to sail up to an island named Holbox and anchor for a couple of days, then continue on to Key West.  There had been one or two northers blowing through every week for a couple of months, and I felt sure they would be coming to an end by the time we were ready to go.  Unfortunately, they just kept coming.  We waited for a week and then it was too late to stop in Holbox and still get Rob to Key West in time for his flight back to KC, so we now planned to sail directly from Isla


Rob and the Magician's Pyramid at Uxmal

Mujeres to Key West.  Finally, the forecast called for a longer break between northers once the current one blew out, so we cleared out with Mexican immigration and the Port Captain.  Unfortunately, the current norther stalled over Isla Mujeres for two days.  That was our last opportunity to sail to Key West in time for Rob’s flight, so we had to clear back into Mexico with immigration and the Port Captain, and Rob had to buy a plane ticket to Kansas City from Cancun.  Rob did some snorkeling and we continued to enjoy some great Mexican and Yucatecan food, not to mention the beers and margaritas at the Soggy Peso.  On Fridays and Saturdays they make tamales at Kash Keken Chuc and they are about the best tamales I’ve ever had, so that’s where we had dinner on Rob’s last two nights in Isla Mujeres.  He flew out on Sunday, the 7th of March.  Even though we didn’t do any sailing, I think he enjoyed his visit.  I know we enjoyed having him.