Day Trippin’ Through Belize

January 28th, 2009

I have discovered a new delicacy. Like many great discoveries, it was pure serendipity. For Nancy’s birthday, I had baked a cake. I used yellow cake mix and a chocolate icing. The icing was the Betty Crocker kind that comes in a can. After applying what I deemed to be the perfect thickness of icing to the cake, there was still some icing left over and I felt it would be a shame for it to go to waste, so I put it on Ritz crackers with some peanut butter. WOW! What a taste sensation. Everyone knows I have quite a sweet tooth and like to have desert after every meal. For simplicity’s sake, I often put peanut butter on crackers and then add something sweet like jelly and that makes for a quick and easy desert. Nutella on crackers is also good. I actually prefer the Keebler’s Club Crackers, but you can’t find Keebler’s down here. I don’t know if perhaps they don’t have any hollow trees down here, or maybe elves just don’t like the tropical climate. Anyway, they do have Ritz crackers, which are almost as good. My favorite topping for the peanut butter and crackers is apple butter, but you can’t find that down here either, so I’ve been using various kinds of jelly and marmalade. But now I’ve discovered the palate-pleasing combination of peanut butter and cake icing. I’m now on a can of vanilla icing and it is just as good as chocolate. Give it a try sometime and tell me what you think.

Well, to continue with our travelogue, we arrived in Cay Caulker, Belize, on Christmas Day after a very short and only slightly eventful trip. The water inside the reef in northern Belize is very shallow, less than 6 feet in many places, which is how much depth Stolen Child needs. Leaving San Pedro, both Stolen Child and Daydream bounced on the bottom a few times and each of us got stuck at least once, but not very bad. Ralph was able to motor off when he got stuck and we tied a 5 gallon jerry can of water to the boom and ran the boom out over the beam causing the boat to heel over just enough to allow us to motor off. Once we were a couple of miles south of San Pedro the depth stayed above 8 feet. Cay Caulker has a very protected and placid anchorage on the west side of the cay and we really enjoyed being there after the rocking and rolling we had done at the last couple of anchorages we were in. The town of Cay Caulker is much more laid-back and quiet than San Pedro, but we still found it to be rather busy for our tastes. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stay there. Cay Caulker does not have any paved roads, the streets (both of them) are sand and dirt (or mud, depending on weather). There are no cars, but quite a few golf carts, and the beer is delivered to the various bars and restaurants by a tractor hauling the cases of beer on a wagon. We got a propane tank refilled and I found a local guy who gave me well water to replenish our water tanks. The locals don’t drink the well water, they drink rain water they catch in cisterns. We carry 200 gallons of water on board but it had been about a month since we had topped off our water tanks and were down to about 120 gallons, so I got about 80 gallons from him. I used 5-gallon jerry cans to haul the water to the boat. Ralph loaned me his two jerry cans and with my two I could carry 20 gallons on each trip. Each trip took about 30 minutes to dinghy to his dock, tie the dinghy up and carry the jerry cans to his water spigot, fill 4 cans, carry them back to the dinghy, run the dinghy back to the boat, and empty the cans into our water tanks. After repeating that process 4 times I figured we had enough water for a while. The guy I got the water from was really nice. While I will filling the cans on one of the trips, he cut the top off a green coconut and gave it to me so I could drink the coconut milk in it. It was very refreshing.

We left Cay Caulker and went to Cay Chapel on Wednesday, December 31. It was another very short run and this time completely uneventful. There isn’t much on Cay Chapel except a posh resort, a golf course and an airstrip. The day before, while still in Cay Caulker, some local fisherman had sold us some lobster and we’d put them in the fridge. After we got all anchored and settled in, Nancy and I swam over to Daydream and had a few Beers with Ralph and Tiffany, then went back to Stolen Child to get the lobsters, which Tiffany cooked in a pesto cream sauce with pasta. It was delicious. Ralph fixed up some coffee with Khalua and rum for an aperitif. I normally like my coffee completely unadulterated, but this was really good. Unfortunately, we drank all of his Khalua and at $40 a bottle in Belize we haven’t yet replaced it. Thursday I worked on scraping the hull for a couple of hours, but other than that it was pretty much a lazy day.

We left Cay Chapel on Friday the 2nd and went to St. George’s Cay. It was only a 3-hour trip including the time we spent stuck in the mud. Between Cay Chapel and St. George’s, there is a narrow channel named, quite appropriately, Porto Stuck. We must have been just a little too far over to one side of the channel because we grounded and Daydream, who also draws 6 feet, was a little to starboard of us and didn’t get stuck. We weren’t stuck long before one of the ferry boats zoomed by and their wake lifted us just enough to get off and continue on. After we got to St. George’s and settled in, Ralph, Tiffany and Max came over and Nancy cooked some lobster we had bought from some fishermen the day before, along with some saffron rice and black beans. Tiffany brought over some boat pie for desert. Boat pie is really good and really easy. You just crumble some cookies, crackers or whatever you have in the bottom of a pan, then mix lime juice and sweetened condensed milk and pour over the cookie crumbs and refrigerate it for a while. It looks and tastes almost like key lime pie. There isn’t much on St. George’s Cay except for private homes and a couple of resorts. We thought we’d go ashore and have dinner and a couple of drinks at the St. George’s Resort restaurant. When we got there, though, they politely informed us that they only serve guests of the resort and cruiser’s are not welcome in the bar or restaurant. Oh, well, back to the boat.

Sunday, January 4, we sailed to North Drowned Cay and anchored. North Drowned Cay is just under a mile from Belize City. We thought we might do a little provisioning in Belize City and perhaps see about spending a night at Cucumber Beach Marina, which is just south of Belize City, where we could top off our water and diesel and do some laundry. Monday we went into Belize City. We actually moved the boats and anchored just outside of Belize City, dinghied ashore, and then moved the boats back to North Drowned Cay. The anchorage at North Drowned Cay is not especially good, but it is much better than being anchored just off Belize City, where there is no protection from the north, east or south and very rolly. Anyway, we got plenty of groceries at the Bottom Dollar Grocery in Belize City, including grits, which we had not been able to find since we left the States and we’d long since run out.

We were able to get a couple of overnight slips at Cucumber Beach Marina on Tuesday, but in retrospect, I don’t think it was worth the effort. It is a very nice marina and we topped off our water tanks and diesel and got our laundry done, but we got stuck entering and leaving the marina. The marina has a long breakwater channel leading into it and the depth is 8 feet or better for most of it, but there is a short stretch just at the mouth of the breakwater where the depth is about 5 feet. Remember that Stolen Child and Daydream both draw 6 feet. The shallow spot is soft mud, but since we replaced our engine, our prop has been undersized (we have been on the lookout for a new prop and hope to get one in Honduras). Daydream went in first and got stuck but was able to eventually power on through at full throttle. We went in and get stuck, but couldn’t generate enough thrust with the prop to power of
f. Fortunately, a ferry boat was leaving about that time and kicked up enough wake as they passed that we were able to come free. One of the major disadvantages of marinas in general is bugs. Most of the time when you anchor, you are just far enough away from shore that you don’t have any mosquitos, flies, or no-see-ums. You get really spoiled. In a marina you usually get attacked by every kind of flying and biting insect known. Needless to say, we were glad to leave the next day. After we took on fuel, I calculated that Stolen Child is using about 0.44 gallons of diesel per hour, which is very good. That is actually a little less than the old engine used and the new engine has about 65% more horsepower. I expect our fuel consumption will increase after we get a bigger prop, but I’m very pleased with this new engine. We also changed the oil, oil filter, secondary fuel filter and cleaned the raw water strainer while at the marina. Leaving the marina we waited for high tide, but still got stuck once again. The tidal range through Belize is usually less than a foot. This time a local boat was on its way into the marina and they pulled us off.

From the marina, we went to Robinson’s Cay for an overnight anchorage, then sailed on to Bluefield Range on Thursday, January 9, and then continued on to Tobacco Range on Friday. Tobacco Range is a little group of islands, or cays, about a mile inside the reef that has a very well-protected anchorage in the middle of the islands. We had gotten up and underway early that morning, so we arrived a couple of hours ahead of Daydream. We were just poking around on the north side of the group of islands, checking depths and then started to proceed into the anchorage in the middle of the islands. The chart showed a channel that would allow 6 feet, but maybe we were not exactly in the channel, or perhaps it had shoaled up since the chart was printed. In any event, the depth came up to 6 feet almost as soon as we started into the anchorage, so we put the wheel over hard to starboard, thinking there was deeper water in that direction. Nope. We were almost turned around and heading back out when we went aground, and although we weren’t going very fast, we were very solidly aground. We tried hanging a 5-gallon jerry can of water from the boom to heel the boat over a little and then running the jib out, but no luck. I took a halyard (rope) from the top of the mast and tried pulling the boat over with the dinghy, but no luck. By this time, a couple of Belizean fishermen had come over to see if they could help. The Belizeans were named Jaime and Wilson. We loaded the anchor in the dinghy and Jaime (Spanish for Jamie and pronounced “high-may”) and Wilson carried the anchor out about 150 feet so we could winch the boat forward with the anchor windlass (this is called kedging). We were able to move the boat, but very slowly. Jaime and Wilson tried hanging off the boom, along with the water jug, but still we were stuck. We ran the anchor back out and started kedging some more when Daydream arrived. We tied a bunch of dock lines together and Jaime and Wilson took one end over to Daydream and Ralph set his anchor and tried using a combination of his windlass and engine to pull us off. We moved a little, but still we were stuck. Ralph repositioned Daydream closer to Stolen Child and we shortened our tow line, thinking perhaps there was too much stretch in the line, then Jaime and Wilson hung from the boom while Ralph and I gave our engines as much RPM as we were comfortable with. Slowly but surely we began moving inch by inch, then finally we came free. We were very grateful to Jaime and Wilson, as they had worked very hard for two or three hours to help us. Unfortunately, we were running low on both cash and beer, the two universal tokens of appreciation. I gave them all the cash we had, which was about $40 Belizean ($20 U.S.) and our last 6-pack of Sol (a very good brand of Mexican beer). They seemed very happy with that, but I would like to have done more for them.

Nancy and I have voted Ralph our personal hero. He’s come through for us many, many times. Once, while we were on a road trip in Mexico and had left Stolen Child at the marina in Isla Mujeres, a storm had come through and Ralph, knowing we were gone, checked our docklines and moved our cockpit cushions where they wouldn’t blow away. He’s always doing thoughtful things like that and is ever willing to lend a hand with whatever you need. Oh, while I’m on the subject of Ralph and Daydream, I have to make a correction. I said in an earlier post that Daydream is 38 feet long, but she is actually 39′ 10″ long (Ralph seems to be really sensitive about size, hmm…).

After getting free from our grounding, we just anchored on the north side of Tobacco Range instead of trying to find a deep enough channel into the middle. The next morning we moved from Tobacco Range to Tobacco Cay, which is right on the reef. We anchored in 16 feet of crystal-clear water. We thought we’d do some snorkeling and/or diving there. Tobacco Cay is a small island with a couple of resorts on it. These are not ritzy resorts, though, and they were more than willing to serve us beer at the bar. I decided to have a little fun, so I rigged up the whisker pole (a telescoping aluminum pole used to hold one end of your jib sail out when sailing downwind) with the end at full extension high over the port beam. I had a dockline tied to the end and I would stand on the cabintop holding the line, swing out over the water, let go and land with a big splash. The second day we were there, Ralph and I took the dinghy out to the reef south of Tobacco Cay and snorkeled around a bit. We saw dozens of large sting rays sitting on the bottom and several spotted eagle rays swimming around. The reef was quite interesting and good for snorkeling, but there was a very strong current flowing out through the cut and a large surf breaking on the outside of the reef, so we decided not to try diving on the outside. It would probably be pretty good diving under calmer conditions.

Monday afternoon, January 12, we moved on to South Water Cay. Shortly after anchoring, we were sitting in the cockpit when we saw a Belizean fishing canoe approaching. I told Nancy that the fisherman looked just like Jaime, one of the guys who had helped us when we were stuck at Tobacco Range. He got closer and, sure enough, it was Jaime. I should explain about the Belizean fishermen. In Belize City, there is a fleet of small sailboats used for fishing. Each sailboat will carry 8 or so fishermen, each with his own canoe. The sailboat will go to a particular area and all the fishermen will get in their canoes and paddle out to different fishing spots. Each fisherman has a mask and fins and they free-dive for their catch of lobster, conch and fish. At noon and at the end of the day, they paddle back to the sailboat and the boat captain puts their catch on ice. At night they rig a tarp over the deck and some of the guys sleep under the tarp, some sleep in the cockpit, and some sleep in a below deck area in the bow. There is sometimes a cook aboard, as well as the captain and 8 fishermen, so they can sleep 10 people on a 24-foot boat. They stay out for 8 days and then return to Belize City. Anyway, we invited Jaime aboard and fixed him a cup of coffee. He’d finished fishing for the day and was waiting for the sailboat to come up this way and pick him up. We chat for probably an hour or better before the sailboat gets close. While diving for fish, Jaime had found the shell of a lobster, which they shed when the outgrow it (they crawl out of it and grow a bigger one). I’ve seen bits and pieces of them before, but it is rare to find a whole one and the one Jaime had was in perfect condition. He said he already had a couple of them at home and gave it to us for a decoration for the boat. Just as he was getting ready to leave, he said he had a fish for us, and he jumped down in his canoe and began cleaning a really large jack, which he gave to u
s. I’m starting to feel bad because I can’t think of anything to give him in return. We’re out of beer and money, and all I can think of is a ball cap, which seems really inadequate, but I give it to him anyway. He paddles off to his boat and I call Ralph on the radio and ask if he and Tiffany want to help us eat this fish. We take the fish over to Daydream because Ralph’s grill is almost twice as large as ours and this is a large fish. Ralph grilled the fish and Tiffany cooked up a very tasty wild rice and mushroom side-dish to go with it. Ralph had a good supply of rum aboard and he suggested I take a bottle over to Jaime’s boat, which had anchored near us. When I got to Jaime’s boat with the rum, they invited me aboard to look it over. They make these boats by hand from Mahogany in Jaime’s hometown of Sarteneja, Belize. This boat was very strongly and beautifully made. It was purely functional, with no amenities to speak of. There was a below-deck hold amidships with a large built-in insulated cooler to keep the fish on ice and a small area for cooking on a single-burner camping stove. There was another below-deck hold in the bow where some of the crew would sleep. While I was aboard, about 5 of the crew were down there watching a Bruce Lee movie on a portable DVD player. It was very interesting to see the boat and how they live and work aboard it. Jaime said they have races among the boats every Easter in Sarteneja and invited us to visit him there sometime. All in all, I have to say that running aground in the Tobacco Range was one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve had.

We sailed to Placencia on Thursday, 1/15, and anchored at the edge of a very large fleet of cruising and charter boats. A pretty strong norther blew through about 3:00 a.m. Friday morning and Ralph and I chatted on the VHF while watching for boats to drag in the gusty wind. We went ashore a few times through the weekend but pretty much just took it easy. The weather was overcast and drizzly for the most part as one front after another moved through. Monday Ralph, Tiffany and Max were going ashore and their dinghy motor drifted under the dock and the shift lever got broken off. There is a guy in Placencia who works on outboards, but he didn’t have a shift lever for that particular outboard, so Ralph jury-rigged it to always be in forward gear. It is a 4 horsepower outboard, so it is pretty easy to start in gear. A large part of cruising is figuring out how to work around problems because it can be very difficult or impossible to get parts and supplies to actually fix them. Tuesday Ralph and I took our dinghy to Big Creek where there is a large industrial dock with a Customs office and a Port Captain. We cleared out of Belize with Customs and the Port Captain, then walked the two miles into the village of Independence to clear out with the Immigrations official. It was a beautiful day and the dinghy ride and walk were quite enjoyable. Wednesday morning we weighed anchor and went to the fuel dock to top off our water and diesel before heading out to Northeast Sapodilla Cay.

We got to Northeast Sapodilla Cay in the late afternoon on Wednesday. Thursday Ralph and I took the dinghy outside the reef to go for a dive. I had a handheld depth sounder, so we found the shelf where the bottom drops off from 30 feet deep to several hundred feet deep. We anchored the dinghy in 30 feet and then dove back out to the shelf. We dove down to 130 feet along the nearly vertical wall, then back up and onto the shelf. The patch reef along the shelf was pretty interesting and there were lots of brightly-colored fish swimming around. Ralph found a stainless steel propeller for a Volvo I/O drive. It was in excellent condition and had obviously not been down there more than a few days. It is worth a few hundred dollars, so hopefully he’ll be able to sell it.

Northeast Sapodilla is our last stop in Belize and from there it’s on to Honduras. We’ve spent almost a month cruising Belize and though we’ve enjoyed it, we’re ready to leave. Some friends of ours from the Kansas City area are coming to visit us in Roatan, Honduras, and we are anxious to get there and see them. Sabrina and Tom are arriving early in February and Rob is arriving late in February and we are really looking forward to their visits. We plan to stop in Laguna El Diamante on the mainland of Honduras and in the island of Utila before arriving in Roatan. I’ll probably post another log entry after we arrive in Roatan.

Adios Mexico, Hello Belize

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

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.

Preparing to Leave Isla Mujeres

November 19th, 2008

We had been at the dock so long we had forgotten how nice it is to be at anchor. It is much more peaceful and there is almost always a nice breeze blowing down the hatches and through the boat. With this El Norte blowing, we have actually had the hatches closed for a couple of days because it got too cool (74 degrees, brrr).

Jim and Deb on the trawler M/V More Fun are going to follow us down to Puerto Morelos and spend a day or two with us down there, then they will come back up here to Isla Mujeres and we will continue on south. Ralph and Tiffany of S/V Day Dream are going to be leaving Isla Mujeres about a week behind us and will probably catch up with us in Belize. We plan to meet up with them for part of the journey through Belize, as they are also heading to Roatan, Honduras.

A couple of people have asked what our daily schedule is like. That is a difficult question to answer because each day can be so different from the one previous. Given that caveat, here is a “typical” day for us. I usually get up an hour or two before Nancy, most of the time an hour or so before sunrise (I like to watch the sunrise). I’ll have a cup of coffee and make an entry in the ship’s log for the previous day and then sit in the cockpit as the sun rises. After Nancy is up, we will spend a little time considering breakfast, and assuming we decide to cook something, we will do so, eat a leisurely breakfast and then do the dishes. We’ll have another cup of coffee in the cockpit while considering what, if anything, we want to accomplish for the day. There are always various projects around the boat that need doing, but fortunately they are rarely urgent and so we can do them as the fancy strikes us. We will usually each tackle a job or two in the morning. Examples would be shining the stainless steel topside, waterproofing the bimini (the canvas top over the cockpit), planning out a route, cleaning the boat, installing a new gadget or repairing an old one, etc. Most days whatever we do is done by noon or early afternoon, and then we can go for a swim and consider what we want to do for the afternoon. Sometimes we go to town to get groceries or run other errands and have a late lunch/early dinner at a restaurant. Sometimes we go visiting other people and sometimes we just stay on the boat. If we stay on the boat we will usually fix an early dinner around 4:00 and be finished eating and doing the dishes in time to have a cup of coffee and watch the sunset. In the evenings we usually read, although I spend a lot of evenings studying up on things nautical or studying Spanish. Sometimes we watch a DVD movie on the laptop. That is what our days are like when we aren’t running around sight-seeing or dealing with problems of a more urgent nature.

We have at least two or three stops in Mexico on our way south before we get to Belize, and then several stops in Belize before we get to Roatan. I’ll try to make another log entry after we get to Belize, but it may not be until after we get to Roatan before I make another entry. I will, however, try to keep our position updated, so that you can see where we are using either http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/tracker.php?ident=KC0WTV or http://www.findu.com/cgi-bin/winlink.cgi?call=KC0WTV. I will be sending out email updates every few days while we are moving. If you would like to get our email updates, but are not currently getting them, send us an email and we will add you to the distribution list.

Fair Winds,
Patrick and Nancy

Road Trip to Palenque

August 17th, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, we left on a road trip to Palenque with LA and Susan, some friends of ours from S/V Genesis. The four of us ferried over to Cancun and rented a car, then drove to Campeche. The hotels in the historical downtown part of Campeche were full, so we wound up staying at one just outside of the historical district, but still within walking distance. In the very center of the city is a large square, dominated by a magnificent cathedral on the north side and flanked by colonial-era buildings. Campeche was founded by the Spanish in 1540 atop the already existing Mayan city of Ahk’iin Pech, of which little evidence remains (Ahk’iin Pech is reported to have had 3000 or more houses and various monuments before the arrival of the Spanish). We had a nice dinner at La Vieha de Los Arcos, overlooking the square. The following morning we had breakfast and toured around town taking pictures before heading on down the road to Villahermosa.

Campeche is on the Gulf, or western side of the Yucatan peninsula, so we took a road the followed the coast, passing through interesting towns and scenic waterfront along the way. One of the most memorable towns we passed through was Champoton. Once we passed through Ciudad Del Carmen the road left the coast and entered the state of Tabasco, of which Villahermosa is the capital. Villahermosa is a very large, modern and busy city. An interesting factiod is that Villahermosa was captured and occupied by U.S. forces after the Battle of Tabasco during the Mexican-American War. The main attraction for us at Villahermosa was the Parque La Venta, where there are many artifacts from the Olmec culture. The Olmec civilization is currently recognized as the oldest on the American continent, flourishing between 1400 and 400 B.C. Little is known about them, but there is evidence that they were using the magnetic compass prior to 1000 B.C. and there is evidence of a writing system dates to at least 900 B.C. Other evidence suggests the Olmec may have originated the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar and the concept of zero, and this was passed on to the Mayans, who are most often credited with their origination (this is still under a good bit of debate). The most well-known Olmec artifacts are the colossal stone heads, some of which are almost 11 feet tall and weigh more than 20 tons. Parque La Venta has several of these heads, as well as many other stone, jade and clay artifacts from the Olmec site called La Venta. The more delicate of the artifacts are displayed in the park’s museum, but all of the larger stone artifacts are situated within an outdoor jungle area of the park. This was a very interesting stop.

From Villahermosa we travelled to San Cristobal de Las Casas, which is in the state of Chiapas. The city is in the mountains and has an elevation of 6890 feet above sea level. The region around San Cristobal has been occupied by ancestors of the present-day Tzotzil and Tzeltal peoples for thousands of years and the Spanish founded a settlement here in 1528, which grew to become the present city of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Our drive from Villahermosa to San Cristobal was very interesting, as we ascended from near sea level into the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountains. The highest point in the Sierra Madre range is 13,845 feet, though I expect we never got much above 8000 feet on our route. This area of Mexico is basically alpine forest and closely resembles parts of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. San Cristobal is a very pretty city with a population of around 140,000. It is a major tourism destination for Europeans and Mexicans, but doesn’t seem to be too popular with Americans. LA and Susan weren’t quite up to speed our first day there due to the altitude, so we spent an extra night. This was the first time I’ve been cold since we got to the Bahamas in January. At this altitude the days are pleasantly warm, but the nights are rather cool.

From San Cristobal we drove to Palenque, one of the most spectacular Mayan archeological sites in Mexico. There is a town named Palenque which is a few miles from the archeological site and several rustic resorts along the road to the ruins. We stayed at a very charming resort named the Maya Bell. On the way from San Cristobal the road dropped from 7000 feet to around 2000 feet and the mountainsides changed from alpine forest to rain forest jungle. It was a very spectacular drive and we stopped at some beautiful waterfalls named Agua Azul (blue water).

The Mayan site of Palenque was abandoned by the Maya for several centuries prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Archaeologists estimate that only about 5% of the site has been uncovered, but the part that has been uncovered is quite vast. There is a very large central area that contains the palace and major temples and there are trails leading off through the jungle to other temples and buildings that have yet to be excavated and reconstructed. I found the ruins out in the jungle to be the most fascinating. After we toured the ruins, we drove to the water falls at Misol-Ha, which are about 90 feet high. While we were at the resort, we saw a camping trailer pull in. It was pulled by a Dodge pickup with Alabama plates, so we stopped by for a chat. His name is Robert and his wife’s name is Jeanie. He is originally from West Point, Mississippi and we spent quite a bit of time chatting. It was like a Mississippi ex-pat reunion since Nancy and I, as well as LA and Susan all hail from Mississippi.

We had originally planned to drive from Palenque across the southern part of the Yucatan to Chetumal, but Robert came to Palenque
that way and said we would have more than 100 miles of road construction. We opted for plan B which was to return to Campeche for a night and then back to Cancun via the same road we had traveled on the way out. When we arrived back in Campeche there was a large stage set up next to the cathedral on the central square and crowds of people were listening to big-band jazz. One of the shopkeepers told me it was some kind of televised special. We had dinner at the Iguana Azul (Blue Lizard) and listened to the music on our way back to the hotel.

All in all, it was a very wonderful trip. We traveled through the states of Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas. We really liked the diversity of scenery between the Caribbean coast, the Gulf coast, the alpine highlands and the rainforest lowlands. We have lots of pictures to put in the Picture Gallery page, so be sure to check them out. They should be posted within a couple of days from this log entry.

Claire, Ben and the Girls

July 16th, 2008



Thursday, July 3, Claire, Ben, Kara and Abbi arrived in Cancun. Nancy and I met them at the airport and then took a bus to the ferry terminal, ferry to Isla Mujeres, and two taxis (6 people plus luggage for 4 people) to the hotel Claire and Ben had reserved, the Hotel Cristalmar. We ate dinner at the hotel, then Nancy and I went back to the boat as it was getting late and the travelers were tired.

First thing in the morning, Nancy and I hopped in the dinghy and met Claire and crew at the Cristalmar for breakfast. After breakfast we put Kara and Abbi in the dinghy and took them back to the boat for some snorkeling. Claire and Ben came to the boat later in the day. This was the first time the girls had ever snorkeled, so I wanted them to get used to the mask and fins right around the boat and in the marina pool before I took them out to the reef. They both did pretty well for the first time.

I took them snorkeling right around the boat three or four times over about 3 days and they practiced with the mask and fins in the pool quite a few times. Finally I felt they were ready to venture out to the reef. There is reef all up and down the coast of Isla Mujeres and beyond, but there is a pretty good section right outside the cut into the harbor. There is a pretty strong current in most places, but this particular spot lies in an eddy and the current is much less. There is a mooring ball you can tie the dinghy to and if you get out there before 9:30 or so in the morning you beat the tour boats and have the mooring ball and the reef all to yourself. I had taken the boys to this spot with Tom in his panga and they had really enjoyed it. When we got out there in the dinghy, I could tell the girls were a little nervous, but they were still willing to give it a try. They were truly amazed at the number and variety of reef fish swimming all around them. I don’t know the names of all the different fish we saw, but there were some really large, brightly colored parrot fish, several different varieties of angel fish, groupers, hog fish, and tons of small brightly-colored fish of various descriptions.

There is a “dolphin discovery” in Isla Mujeres where you can swim with dolphins and Claire, Ben, Kara, Abbi and Nancy all went to it on Tuesday. I sat that one out and relaxed on the boat. Nancy took them to Tulum one day and the girls really enjoyed the ruins and the beach. Ben is an avid photographer and he had a good time shooting pictures of the ruins.

One logistical problem we had during their visit was that the Cristalmar is located south of the marina and on the other side of the lagoon. The marina is a pretty good hike from downtown Isla Mujeres so the Cristalmar is well out of hiking distance. The original plan was for Claire and Ben to rent a golf cart for the week. I was amazed when Ben found out that a golf cart rental is around $50 a day. You can rent a car in Cancun with unlimited mileage for $15 a day. Tom, the marina manager, graciously let Claire and Ben use his golf cart several times and that, along with a couple of judicious one-day rentals, worked out pretty well. In order to repay Tom for his kindness, Ben offered to fix a meal one evening at the marina, to which everyone at the marina readily agreed. Ben fixed jerk chicken with a really awesome grilled fruit sauce and grilled potatoes. I whipped up some guacamole. Susan (S/V Genesis) fixed some really good crab meat cheese balls. Tiffany (S/V Daydream) made some flan and a boat pie (I’ll explain boat pie in another post). It was a very good meal and a great time was had by all.

Tom, his fiance Elizabeth, her son Francisco, LA, Susan and I had all gone up to Isla Contoy the previous week in Tom’s panga and had a great time. Tom suggested we go again while Claire, Ben and the girls were here and so we did. The boat ride up to Contoy was uneventful and it only takes about an hour by panga. When we arrived at Contoy, Susan and Ben went off to take pictures, Tom and LA went off in the panga to do some fishing around Isla Blanca (a few miles from Contoy) and the rest of us hit the beach. Claire had never been snorkeling before, so she borrowed Nancy’s gear and I took her out from the beach to where there are some coral heads and interesting fish to see. We saw a rather large spotted eagle ray that was really neat and a large, bright orange star fish, along with various reef fish. After I took Claire back, the girls wanted to go, so I took first Kara and then Abbi out, figuring that one at a time would be easier to keep track of than both at once. When I got back from taking Abbi out, Nancy was ready to go, so I went out with her. Kara and Abbi had a great time playing on the beach with Francisco for the rest of the time we were there. The trip back was a little more eventful. An isolated thunderstorm had blown through south of Contoy so the water was a little more choppy, and since we were now heading into the chop, we caught a lot
of spray and everyone stayed pretty wet and salty on the trip back. We also caught the tail end of the rain associated with the thunderstorm, but it was hard to tell the difference between rain from above and spray from over the side. It will make for good, adventuresome story-telling back in Kansas for the girls, though.

The trip to Contoy was the last full day of their visit, so Nancy and I met them all at the ferry dock at 7:30 the next morning and saw them off on the journey back to Kansas. It was a good visit and I think a fine time was had by all. Now to get the boat cleaned up.

P.S. Susan has some good info and pictures of this trip on her website, www.wyattsailing.com. Look on the Travel Log page.

Cenotes and Ruins

July 16th, 2008

Kevin and Renee were supposed to come for a visit after Lori and the boys, but work got in the way and Nancy and I found ourselves with some free time. I’m sure we could have found plenty of work to do on the boat that would have occupied our time, but we are retired and have to be very careful not to work too much. We decided we would see a little more of the Yucatan. LA and Susan Wyatt are a couple on another boat here at the marina, who also happen to be from Mississippi. Their boat is a Shannon 38 named Genesis and their web site is www.wyattsailing.com (you can check out Susan’s version of this adventure on the Travel Log page). We had told them about the cenotes at Cuzama and they were interested in seeing them so Saturday, June 21, all four of us got on a bus to Merida. Naturally, we checked into the Luz en Yucatan hotel (we are now their favorite customers).

We kicked around town a little that night and the next morning after breakfast we began the trek to Cuzama. When Nancy and I had gone before, it was with the Spanish language school and one of the instructors drove us there in his van. This time we were on our own, so we had to find the correct bus station. There are several bus stations in Merida and where you are going and what kind of style you want to travel in determines which bus station you need. This particular bus station was not too hard to find, and we also found the open market on the way, which I had wanted to see. The open market is where the locals buy fresh produce, as well as many other things. Anyway, we made it to the bus station and got our tickets for the trip to Cuzama. We had a little time to kill, so we got some ice cream and watched a group of boy scouts and girl scouts play a game that looked kind of like a cross between basketball and soccer, except it is played with a flexible hoop about the size of a steering wheel. You can toss the hoop to your team members, but you can’t move your feet while the hoop is in your hands. The object is to toss the hoop to your “goalie” at one end of the field of play and if the goalie can catch it by putting his or her arm through the hoop, without moving their feet, your team scores a point.

The bus took us into Cuzama proper, not to the railhead for the carts to the cenotes. We had to hire bicycle taxis pedaled by young boys to pedal us the couple of miles to the railhead. If you remember from my post on our previous trip to the cenotes, you get to the cenotes by way of a horse-drawn cart that rides on a very narrow-gage railroad, left over from the hacienda days.

Even though I knew what to expect, this being my second time to the cenotes, I have to say that I was just as impressed as I was the first time we went. I think LA and Susan had a good time as well. Note to self: next time you go to the cenotes, take a cooler of beer to drink on the buggy ride.

We had originally planned to leave the next day for whatever our next destination turned out to be, and Susan and LA were going to go back to Isla Mujeres. We were having such a good time in Merida, though, we all decided to stay another day. LA and I wanted to visit a cigar bar we had heard of and Nancy and Susan wanted to shop for some shirts. LA and I hailed a cab and found our way to Mercer Cigars (www.mercercigars.com). Drew, the owner, led us into the walk-in humidor and he and LA began discussing the finer points of cigars. I like the occasional good cigar, but am not knowledgeable enough to join in a discussion that goes beyond “what does it cost?” My ears perked up though, when I heard Drew mention something about taking a couple of cigars to the bar and having some “imported beers.” I asked if “imported beers” would include Guinness Stout and he assured me that it did. I was quite excited by now and told LA “we might be here a while.” Not only did they have Guinness, they also had a nice selection of single-malt scotches, and yes, Glenlivet was among the selection, as well as Balvenie (my two favorites). Three cigars, six Guinness, and two single-malts later (much later) we decided to call it a day and try to scrounge up some food. Somewhere about the third Guinness and the second cigar, we had the wisdom to call the ladies up and ask them to join us. They were finished shopping and though Nancy doesn’t care for cigars, she likes Guinness as much as I do.

Drew suggested we go to a restaurant called Casa Catherwood (Frederick Catherwood was an English artist whose drawings of ancient Mayan ruins in the 1840’s introduced the western world to the Mayan civilization). When we arrived at the restaurant we were met at the door by Luca, the chef and owner, who is from Italy. We had not had good Italian food for months, so this was quite a treat. To say that it was good is a dismal understatement, it was fantastic. Check out the menu at http://www.casa-catherwood.com/bistro.html. I had the Lasagna alla Bolognese and it was the best I’ve ever tasted. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

The next day, Susan and LA went back to Isla Mujeres and Nancy and alt="" border="0" />I boarded a bus to check out more Mayan ruins. There are a string of ruins south of Merida on what is called the Puuc Route. “Puuc” is a word derived from the Mayan word for “hills” and is applied to an area of the Yucatan which is rather hilly, in contrast to most of the Yucatan which is quite flat. Anyway, you can catch a bus that travels the Puuc Route and stops in Xlapak (pronounced ish-la-pak), Labna, Sayil, Kabah and Uxmal (pronounced oosh-mal), and then returns to Merida. It is kind of a whirlwind tour of the ruins, but a very easy and cheap way to see lots of ruins. All of the ruins are quite impressive and except for Uxmal they can be briefly toured in about 30 minutes. The ruins at Uxmal are more extensive and spread over a larger area and you need at least a couple of hours to see them. The bus stops for 30 minutes at each of the sites except for Uxmal, where it stops for 3 hours, so there was just barely enough time to see most everything. The countryside along this route is very pretty as well.

The next day Nancy and I decided to go to Campeche, which is a coastal city on the Gulf side of the Yucatan peninsula, in the state of Campeche. The city of Campeche was founded in 1540 by the Spanish and was built on top of an existing Mayan city (as were many of the cities founded by the Spaniards). Campeche is a very beautiful city and has quite an interesting history. It was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the beauty and quality of its architecture. It seems the city was under frequent attack from pirates, including Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Jean Lafitte, Henry Morgan, and various others. In 1686 the government decided to fortify the city by building a wall around the city with eight defensive bastions on the corners. Most of the wall is gone now, as the city expanded beyond its limits, but some sections remain and most of the bastions are still standing and now house museums. The hotel we stayed at cost $23 per night. It was not swanky, but it was clean, the rooms were well-lit and it was in the middle of downtown.

After a day touring Campeche, Nancy and I were kind of tired of sight-seeing, so the next day we caught a bus back to Cancun and returned to the boat to rest up before Claire, Ben and the girls’ visit.

Lori and the Boys

July 16th, 2008


Lori, Tre and Will arrived on June 7 for a visit. I think it was quite an experience for the boys. Tre is 9 and Will is 6 and it was their first trip out of the U.S. Everything they saw was a thrill for them. They saw their first coconuts growing from a palm tree, their first iguanas, first land crabs, first time snorkeling in the ocean. The weather was threatening thunderstorms for a few of the days they were here, so we spent several days hanging around the boat, but there was plenty to occupy them here. We still have the boat in Marina Paraiso and there is a pool they could swim in. Tom, who runs the marina, has a fiance named Elizabeth who has a 5 year old son named Francisco and Tre and Will had fun playing with Francisco. Even though Francisco only speaks Spanish they managed to communicate pretty well. There is a second-floor deck at one end of the pool and Tre and Will were jumping from it into the pool and having a blast.

There is reef all up and down the coast of Isla Mujeres and beyond, but there is a pretty good section right outside the cut into the harbor. There is a pretty strong current in most places, but this particular spot lies in an eddy and the current is much less. There is a mooring ball you can tie the dinghy to and if you get out there before 9:30 or so in the morning you beat the tour boats and have the mooring ball and the reef all to yourself. Tom took us out to the reef in his panga (a motor boat). They were truly amazed at the number and variety of reef fish swimming all around them. I don’t know the names of all the different fish we saw, but there were some really large, brightly colored parrot fish, several different varieties of angel fish, groupers, hog fish, and tons of small brightly-colored fish of various descriptions.

We wanted the boys to see some Mayan ruins and a cenote, so one day we took them to Tulum, which is south of Cancun. The ruins at Tulum are right on the ocean and there is a beach at the ruins where you can swim in the ocean, so the boys had a good time touring the ruins and swimming on the beach. There are several cenotes around Tulum and I had heard the ones called “Dos Ojos” (two eyes in Spanish) were pretty good, so after touring the ruins we had lunch and caught a bus to the cenotes. The boys were so tired after the ruins and swimming on the beach that they really didn’t want to go to the cenotes. Nancy and I knew, though, that once they saw the cenote, they would completely forget how tired they were. The bus let us off at the entrance to the dirt road leading to the cenotes. It is about a mile from this point to the actual cenotes and instead of walking, we hired a Mayan man and his son to drive us to the cenotes on their 4-wheelers. We bounced along this dirt path, 4 people on one 4-wheeler and 3 on the other, trying our best not to bounce off. Once we got to the first of the two cenotes and walked down the path to the entrance of the cavern, sure enough, the boys forgot about being tired. We spent about 15 minutes swimming in each of the two cenotes and by that time Nancy, Lori and I were worn out.

We really enjoyed Lori and the boys’ visit and think they enjoyed it as well. We missed seeing Tim, but hopefully he’ll be able to come for a visit next year.

Learning Spanish

July 16th, 2008


I am long overdue for an update to the Ship’s Log. We have been very busy having fun, and when we weren’t busy having fun, we were busy being lazy. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I’m going to try to get the log up to date in about 3 entries and will try to get them all posted this week. I have Internet access right now, so I will also try to embed pictures in the log entries and also upload some slide shows in the picture galleries page.

After Heddy and Jamie flew back to KC, Nancy and I returned to Merida for a week-long Spanish language class the week of May 26 through 30. There is a school in Merida that I learned of on the Internet named Central Idiomas Sureste, CIS for short, that offers immersion-style lessons in Spanish. You sign up for one or more weeks of 5-hour daily classes, and they will also put you up with a local Mexican family, where you can practice your Spanish outside of class. They put us up with a very nice Mexican lady named Senora Quintal. She lives just off the central square of the Santiago district of Merida, which put us about 10 blocks from the school and made for a nice walk to and from school each day. We needed the walk, because Senora Quintal is an excellent cook and kept us very well-fed while we were in her care.

The school itself was very interesting and very beneficial, but it was incredibly exhausting. By the end of the week Nancy and I were both worn out mentally. There was a group of college kids attending at the same time who were from Millsaps College in Mississippi. Nancy and I wound up in two different classes because I had been studying a little Spanish and Nancy was starting at the very beginning. There was one other person in Nancy’s class and 4 other people in my class. We would meet for 3 hours in the morning for language instruction, break for 30 minutes for lunch, and then meet for 2 hours in the afternoon for cultural instruction, which was basically a discussion group (in Spanish of course) on subjects of local significance. I cannot recommend this school highly enough, but I would recommend against taking it for only a week if you are beginners as we were. After one week, you have more new knowledge than can be assimilated. I think an additional week or two would have been much better, but we didn’t have the time to spare with more company on the way.

We enjoyed staying with Senora Quintal as much as we enjoyed the school. She is retired and has three grown children, so there was plenty of room in her house for us. She put us in a bedroom at the back of the house that has windows on 3 walls, so there is always a cross-breeze, which was very much appreciated since she doesn’t have air conditioning. We also slept in hammocks, which are much cooler than regular beds. Nancy and I both became quite fond of sleeping in hammocks. These are traditional Mayan-style hammocks made of string and look very much like a large net. For breakfast she would serve us a heaping plate of fresh fruit and a breakfast sandwich, usually a croissant with ham and cheese inside. The fruit plate would have pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, mango, mamey, papaya, and whatever else she had fresh. She would fix us a box lunch to take to school, and then a rather large dinner of traditional Yucatan dishes in the early evening.

On Thursday the school took a group of four of us on a field trip to the cenotes at Cuzama. The Yucatan peninsula is basically a limestone shelf and is relatively flat with no major rivers or streams above ground. There is, however, an extensive system of underground rivers flowing through the limestone. There are places where the ceiling of a cavern through which the underground river flows has collapsed and this underground pool is known as a cenote (pronounced say-no-tay, with accent on the second syllable). There are cenotes scattered all around the Yucatan and they were the main source of fresh water for the ancient Mayans. Because the water filters through all the limestone, it is incredibly clean and clear. The cenotes at Cuzama are very beautiful and very remote. In the old days before Mexican independence, wealthy landowners built huge haciendas in this area, and they installed a very light-gage rail system for moving workers, materials and produce around the hacienda. The rail system uses horse-drawn carts that ride on the rails. The Mayans provided all the slave labor to build the haciendas and the rail system, but now the landowners are gone and the local Mayans are left with the land and the rail system, which they use to haul tourists to and from the cenotes. After a two or three-mile ride on the rail buggy, you arrive at one of the cenotes and find a hole in the ground with a ladder sticking out of it. You climb down the ladder into an underground cave. After your eyes adjust to the dark, you see a pool of the clearest water you can imagine. The water is anywhere from 8 to 20 feet deep in the cenotes at Cuzama, but even in the dim light you can see the bottom in incredible detail. These cenotes are so spectacular they almost literally took my breath away when I first saw them.

We were so exhausted after class on Friday that we checked into a room at the Luz en Yucatan hotel for the weekend to rest up before returning to the boat.

Jamie and Heddy’s Excellent Adventure

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.