Monthly Archives: January 2013

Bye-bye Mexico, hello Belize

With our hard-won exit papers from Xcalak we turned south for San Pedro, Belize. It was another nice little day sail of about 25-30 miles, inside the reef, under the sun and before the wind. We had a great day on the water and looked very forward to going through the reef for the last time.

The wind and the water were both fairly calm when we neared San Pedro. Being a different country we didn’t really know what to expect: if Belize was completely different from Mexico in All ways or some ways or what. All we knew was that Belize is predominately English speaking, somewhat more expensive than Mexico (2:1 exchange vs 12:1) and not as populated.

Going through the reef was a breeze in comparison, it was quite a wide opening and some sailor from back in the day anchored a large yellow buoy in the middle of it. Missing the buoy also meant missing the half-submerged reef behind it, so that was a nice bonus. Without the huge waves of Tulum and Xcalak we rode in nice and quiet, not surfing, and were able to gape in awe of the surf breaking over the reef on both sides. We turned at the buoy, followed the heading marked out and there was San Pedro right in front. The landmarks we were looking for were obvious, there were several other boats anchored in front of the town and we had no problem finding a good parking spot. The anchor grabbed on the first attempt which was a good omen. We had been warned that there was a lot of grass in the harbour but we found a nice large sandy spot and shut down.

San Pedro is a very easy spot to clear in to the country; Jean-Marie went ashore first to scout it out and we joined him in a short while. Basically, at the Customs office, you put a pen in your hand and start writing; they will feed you blank forms and you just keep writing until they stop, then you give them money. Going next door to Immigration you just keep writing and filling in their blank forms – most of them exactly the same as the office before. The Port Authority agent was in the office at the moment so we just changed desks and kept on writing. They took copies of whatever they needed, stamped everything all over the place and took more money. But within an hour or so, we were all done and good to stay for 30 days.

Whilst at Customs, they did notice that our crew list and passports were not stamped with exit permission from Xcalak, also we were given the photocopy not the original. We explained the difficulty we had in Xcalak in getting anything done at all and they asked if it was “Maria” that cleared us out. It seems they know Maria and not to expect proper paperwork or permissions from her. I hope they lodge another formal complaint about her with the Mexican consulate or something; I know we are going to do that when we get back to Canada.

But now we were free to roam around San Pedro and what a great little town to roam around in! It is more touristic than we were expecting for Belize but this is a port of entry so it figures. Belize, as we are coming to find out more and more, loves colourful buildings. Pink, orange, salmon, purple of all shades, green of all shades, blue – oh my, it was beautiful to wander around and see all the personality. And the names for the various businesses! So unique and revealing the personality of the owner, some are quite ingenious.

Sea-duced Tours, Ambergris Hope Centre (a pregnancy clinic, obstetrician, gynecologist), Warpaint Beauty (salon and store), etc. One billboard advertised a local bar, called a “centre” but I forget the name; the billboard called it a “Husband Daycare” asking if “your husband was driving you nuts”, “you want a day to yourself”, etc….just drop him off there and they would take care of him with entertainment, food and drink. The cost was free, just pay for what he drinks/eats. I laughed when I read that, I literally stopped on the sidewalk and laughed.

To me, seeing these business names and the colours of the buildings all told me a story of people with pride in themselves and what they are doing. Belize is a poor country, poorly populated, sparse in towns of any size, rife with corruption at the highest levels, a very defined two-tier society – the haves and the have-nots. For people trying to scratch a decent living in a place like this and to do it with such humour and cleanliness and colour, that says a lot to me of the attitude of the local people. And others wonder why we love mingling with the locals?!

It seems as if there is a hardware store on every corner and I think we found every one of them. We are still on the hunt for certain specific plumbing articles to fix our water bus; it leaks a bit even after the fix Jean-Marie did. Whenever we have the water pump turned on, it will cut in periodically even if the water is not running, which tells us there is still a bit of a leak. <sigh> We haven’t yet found anything to fix it properly and nothing small enough to make a new one – if we used normal PVC or even copper or brass fittings, it would be way too large for the compartment under the floor. Ah well, somewhere someday……

We did manage to score, however, on a fix for our ladder. The bottom rung had rotted away quite awhile ago and now the second one was cracked through. They look like they were originally made with a slat of wood covered/wrapped in plastic or fibreglas. We’ve been on the hunt for a new plastic step of the type found on pool ladders, with no luck. We did, however, come across a cabinetry shop albeit a kitchen type. We told the guy what we were looking for and why and he came up with a solution. We walked out with three teak slats of 1”x3”x18”, beautiful wood, and finished that evening with three new steps on our ladder. Big score! They were already cabinet-standard and cut to size and we plan on refinishing them with LOTS of varnish and just keeping wooden steps. $15 Belizean Dollars which = $7.50 US I have no idea how much that would be in Canada, if you could even find it, but it would be a whole helluva lot more than that!

You could pretty much dinghy up to wherever you wanted outside San Pedro, although your dinghy may not be there when you got back, but there was a pier just in front of us that seemed the most convenient. It happened to be outside a bar called Hurricane’s. We ate there the first night and had great burrito, nachos, etc and figured that we would probably adopt it as our home-base kinda thing. It was open air, no walls, on a pier, over the water, thatch roof, small and intimate – just our perfect kinda place. It also had wifi. <BIG grin> So Hurricane’s became our place to be in San Pedro, everyone could find us there if they were looking for us.

The bartenders there, Josh and James (00not7 as he said), were fantastic – friendly, talkative, made a show out of making drinks, made a home-away-from-home for everyone that stopped there. There was always music and talk and much laughter. –

It was there we met up with Steve and Sandy again, a couple we had met at El Paraiso in Isla Mujeres. They were on their way south too, to Roatan Honduras, and we kinda thought we’d catch up with them along the way. That’s the way with sailors, we meet and part and meet again. Most of the time, that’s a good thing when the people are nice like “Yonder”; sometimes, with people you don’t get along with, it could probably become a nightmare. Luckily, we’ve only met nice people along the way so far – yeah, they’re sailors.

We also met a super nice bunch: Cindy, Harold and Shawn (apologies if I spelled your names wrong). They had flown in for a holiday just prior and were looking forward to exploring the area. We made arrangements to go snorkeling the next day out at Hol Chan Reserve…otherwise known as Shark Ray Alley…just a couple miles away down the reef. There was sun the next day, which was promising, and little wind although the water became a little rough once we got past the end of Ambergris Cay. We anchored okay as close as we could get to the reef and lowered the dinghy. Jean-Marie stayed with the boat to keep an eye on us, and to pay the fee we were expecting to pay ($10) to use the reserve, and I went with the group in the dinghy. We moored on a ball and had just gotten the rope on when we were approached by an official looking boat with an official looking guy on it. He said we could not snorkel there because it was a reserve; we had to be a Belizean registered boat with a licensed tour guide on a legitimate tour. We asked where we could go otherwise and he pointed a bit south of where we were. We dinghied back to the boat and hauled anchor and moved a bit farther south and anchored again. This time Cindy and Shawn decided to stay on the boat so Harold and I went out. We didn’t bother with the dinghy this time, just left it tied to the boat and went off the side. There wasn’t much to see there and it was too far to the reef and we didn’t really feel like going through the hassle so we climbed back aboard and took off back to town. We ended up at Hurricane’s again and had some lunch and talked and laughed together for awhile. It felt like we had known them for longer than a few hours and could have been good friends in another life. They, very graciously, said that they were happy just going sailing with us for a day and considered the day a success. Such super people we meet on our travels!

San Pedro was a jumping off place for us in Belize. We now had 30 days to traverse the length of the Belize coast, exploring all the little cays and beaches along the way. We really figured on taking 6 weeks to make it to Guatemala, until the end of February or so, a trip almost totally behind the reef. This meant it would be calm waters, one foot ashore (so to speak), and lots of towns and people and beaches to get to know. Little did we know that Belize is so sparsely populated that we would run out of country way ahead of time.

With such a popular harbour and so many boats around, it was unsafe to do any swimming or snorkeling from the boat. All the tour boats and dive boats and water taxis and (it seemed) every boat in Belize roared back and forth at all hours of the day and night, usually at high speeds, and didn’t care at all about the boats at anchor. We rocked and rolled in their wakes constantly. At night most of them ran without any lights at all, which I thought was pretty dangerous; some of them came so close to the boat we were almost waiting for the clank/splash/curse that would signal them hitting the anchor chain.

There were no marinas at all in San Pedro, thus being on the hook, and nothing in town for cruisers – few laundries, no public showers, etc – plus we started hearing about a turn in the weather and so figured we should probably take off for Belize City while we could. One thing about Belize is that we didn’t have to check in and out of every port we visited, we just left. So we did.

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Xcalak – yeah, go ahead and pronounce that one! :)

Xcalak is a sweet, great little town of about 3 streets with alleyways back and forth all over the place. We ate at Toby’s that night and had the best snapper dinner ever! Since the next day was Sunday, he wasn’t going to be open but he gave us the password to his wifi and said to come on in and use the facilities anyway. Even all closed up, the tables and chairs and power and wifi were all still accessible – we frequented Toby’s during the time we were there to show our appreciation.

The whole town is less than a mile long and ½ mile wide with little shops and restaurants and “convenience” stores all over the place. About the only way to tell what they are is to look inside because there may or may not be a sign outside. There are never hours of operation posted because everyone just knows when and what everyone else is doing. To find anything at all is by guess and by gosh…or asking someone on the street. All the people we came across, just all of them, were smiling and friendly and helpful even (or especially) when they found we didn’t have a clue what they were saying half the time. We tried our minimal Spanish all the time anyway but then they answered us in Spanish and we were lost. lol Pointing and waving and gestures were the norm, usually with smiles and laughter.

It was a short dinghy ride to the pier to tie up and it was never touched while there (although we took the key anyway just to remove temptation). It was usually a wet dinghy ride, however, because the water was never quite calm; we got very used to carrying the computers and stuff inside garbage bags. At the bottom of the pier (the only one in town) we did finally see the second tower we were supposed to line up out on the reef: the “red and white structure” was more of a faded brownish-yellow and beige and only about 20 feet tall. Now that we knew where it was, though, it would be easy to find for the way out.

A trip down to the Port Authority building was fruitless (the first of many) as the gate was locked and there were no hours of operation posted (as usual). This would happen often as you will read later.

On our travels around town, we did find a store that carried beer and cigarettes and the laundromat – which we tried to take note of – so that was a bonus. We also saw a place that advertised breakfast, right off the pier, so figured we’d try there the next day. Being Sunday, we didn’t figure on anything being open but we were hopeful. As it turned out, our hope was misplaced – nothing was open at all so we had just a quiet day on the computer and then swimming around the boat a bit. The water was clear to the bottom (as we had found all along the coast of Mexico) and warm and clean and oh so refreshing. I took the opportunity during our stay in Xcalak to wash my hair, albeit in salt water, and felt like a human again.

Xcalak was a little place we could have stayed longer and explored the area but the time came to move on. We needed to get our zarpe (exit papers) from there before hitting Belize the next day so we started with another trip to Port Authority. Maria, the agent, did not speak English at all and made no attempt whatsoever to try. Between gestures and translations and holding out papers, we were able to express what we wanted and tried to tell her when we were leaving. She said at first that we could get our zarpe and then wait for the weather to be good before leaving, the next time we saw her she said something different. Finally the day before we wanted to leave we gave her our paperwork in the morning and said we would be back that afternoon between 2 and 3 pm to pick it up – figuring that would give her enough time to complete it. For paperwork that should only take 10 minutes, we knew that 5 hours may or may not be enough for her specifically.

We returned at 2 pm and the building was locked up so we went down the road to have a drink and wait a bit. Coming back at 3 pm we found the gate still locked and no one in sight. We walked around the town a bit more and returned at 4 pm – still nothing. Her dogs were there barking at everyone, her truck was in the carport, there were voices upstairs but no one answered when we called out. Asking the navy guys down the road about her office hours, we were told she was supposed to be open 9-5 every day but she probably went upstairs for a nap for the afternoon. We yelled and rattled the gate and called and totally made a nuisance for over ½ hour and there was no answer at all. “Ticked off” didn’t begin to describe how we felt. We wanted to leave at 6 the next morning because we had noticed the reef was perfectly quiet at that hour – no wind, no waves, total calm.

In addition, a storm moved in while we were in the street and we got blown and drenched before getting back to the boat.

The next morning, we were there before 9 am and lo-and-behold she was open. She hadn’t done a thing with the paperwork so we sat to wait. In the meantime locals dropped in for a chat and she stopped everything to talk with them. Hour and a half later we finally got our zarpe and could leave. We beelined for the boat and pulled anchor right away. It was a little rougher through the reef than it was earlier but still not bad at all. A short rollercoaster ride and we were gone from there.

Xcalak was a great little place and we would love to head back there but, if we have to go through all that again with Maria, the so-called Port Authority agent, we won’t be back. Shame that. She ruins the whole experience of that beautiful village.

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South from Tulum

Well, the reef at Tulum sort of taught us something – it is not a fun thing to do. The coral is barely a foot or two beneath the surface and the water breaking over top is just brutal. It sets up a roar that is heard in the background, like white noise, all the time. If the view of the reef doesn’t do it for you, the sound makes sure you know of Mother Nature’s power. Behind the reef in Tulum it was not very calm, not as calm as what you’d think; there were still waves all the time between the tide in and out and the current, usually going in different directions, plus all the wakes of the boats going back and forth all times of day and night. It did, however, break the worst of any weather that went on outside the reef.

In view of that, we were not really looking forward to yet another passage through the reef at Xcalak; the break was narrower and there was a nice ‘drying coral awash’ just inside which causes a hard turn north. At least we would be able to see the awash they were talking about but it didn’t help the nerves any to know it was coming. But that was for tomorrow.

Xcalak from Tulum is about 120 Nmiles, about 24 hours sail. We were expecting 10-15 knot wind from ENE, a 2-3 meter swell from SE, sunny skies and nice weather so an overnight sail was causing some excitement. We had only done short sails or motor sails of half a day or so since David and Melanie came aboard, they really didn’t get much of a taste of sailing yet, so we figured an overnighter would be good. The GPS gave us a route a little too close to shore for comfort, cutting points and markers waay too short, so we went out a little further into deeper water to be safe, approx 3 miles off. It was still only 100 feet or so, not quite as deep as we are comfortable with. Give me thousands and I’m happy, the waters are calmer and the swells longer, not so much chop. We didn’t really know how David and Melanie would react to being out of sight of shore, though, and we also wanted to make good time so we didn’t go out too too far.

They got their first sunset at sea, sort of, watching it go down over the coast of Mexico, and it ws beautiful. Once the stars started coming up, we pretty much all turned our faces skyward to watch the goings-on up there. There was a bit of movement around, not much, but with no moon, everything was bright and clear. Winds were light and seas good, we made about 6.5 knots average which was not bad at all.

After a couple hours, Jean-Marie decided to lay down and try to get some shut-eye for a couple hours so he took the starboard bench in the cockpit. David went below and crashed on the couch behind the table in the salon. Melanie stretched out on the port bench to watch the stars until she fell asleep. I took first watch and cuddled into the back port corner of the cockpit, looking at stars, watching for ships, feeling the night.

It was strange with no moon, almost like being blinded. We had had one trip before with no moon, between Jamaica and Grand Cayman, and it was spooky then too. The stars give a lot of light most of the time but if there are any clouds whatsoever, it gets real dark. It is very disconcerting not being able to see the water and where it’s coming from. But it was fairly calm and a decent night for the most part, it should be okay. I kept an eye on the GPS to ensure we were staying 1.5-2 Nmiles off the course set and that our speed was okay. The boat felt good though and the water was behaving.

After a while, the waves started to feel a little “off”, as if they were starting to come from different directions. Every once in awhile there was one that was larger than the others or was really different. There was a towel across the GPS to cut the light and I looked out to see what was happening but couldn’t really discern the water direction at all.

During one of these peek-arounds, I pushed the life jacket aside (it was right beside my head) to look out at the water and all I saw was a wall of white water right beside us. I couldn’t see the top of it and had only time to yell “Holy Shit! Wave!” and grab on to the bimini frame. The first one pulled us over to starboard before curling on top, going right through the cockpit. I slid down the bench, Melanie fell through the table to the floor, Jean-Marie was just sitting up and braced. The second wave hit immediately after and threw us back around again. By the time we were righted, Jean-Marie was at the helm and checking things out. He immediately turned us east and headed out away from land as fast as possible. If things were going to get rough, we wanted deep water to do it in. (Afterward, we estimated that the waves threw us several hundred yards toward shore. If we were on the GPS course that was set, we would have probably been in deep trouble. As it was, we were able to go deep and get out of it.)

Melanie, bruised and shaken took up a seat to starboard. I pulled up a little farther forward still on the port side and watching for anything else out there. David came up from the salon, dazed and stumbling a bit. He was thrown from the couch and hit the table a good one with his head. There was a little bump forming and a bruise but it didn’t cut the skin. He became a bit confused and had trouble forming words in either French or English but he was somewhat cognizant. His eyes were fine, his motor skills were fine although his left hand tingled a bit and he was getting a headache. I was wondering about a mild concussion and checked him out from that angle.

We didn’t worry about trying to pick up or clean up that night at all, just pushing things out of the way or at least clearing the floor so we didn’t trip over anything. Melanie took David downstairs and set him up on the couch and kept him awake for another hour or two, talking and making sure he was starting to get a clearer head. They finally were able to sleep after a couple hours, we felt David was going to be fine. (I did go and wake them up later just to be sure he was okay) Jean-Marie and I found some dry-ish clothes to put on and wrapped in large towels then huddled in the cockpit trying to keep warm; we may have dozed on and off but were way too uncomfortable (and watchful) to nod off. We spent a wet and cold night that night.

Morning dawned as if nothing had happened, calm seas and fair winds and a brilliant sunrise. We had hot coffee and tried to warm up in the sun. Looking at the damage, we found that everything that started on the port side was now on the starboard floor….printer, camera, phones, charts, tools. Of course, our nav station and electronics table are on the port side so everything went flying. (I wonder if the insurance company will believe a rogue wave??) Of course, the one thing that we wouldn’t have minded going flying and breaking was J-M’s computer (he needs a new one so badly) and of course, it stayed put and rode through just fine. Go figure!

So we spent a while cleaning up and putting things right when we heard voices on the radio. There had been a navy ship plowing the waters just off from us for the past half hour or so and it sounded like they were calling us. Jean-Marie answered them and they told us to shut down and prepare to be boarded. We had been in Mexico or Mexican waters since 27 Dec and they now decide to board us – 2 hours out of the last port of entry!

The battleship pulled up about ½ mile away and lowered their tender and crew which made its way over to us. There were about 5 or 6 guys visible on deck, all watching us as they drove up and around, and there were guns. The water, being a bit rough and choppy, made for an interesting spectacle as they waited for just the right bob up to hop over and they landed 5 onto our boat. Three of them seemed to be ordinary seamen with a different-looking uniform and the other two were outfitted much like a SWAT team with their vests and gloves and helmets and facemasks. The masks threw us for a moment until we realized it was because of retaliation in the country. If they make a drug stop or another type of raid, they don’t want to be recognized; the bad guys really like to exact their revenge on both the soldiers and their families. Understandable. So we relaxed a bit on that score.

Three stayed up top gathering paperwork, writing and signing and we wrote and signed and they took pictures of every document and more writing and signing. Sheesh! They must have stock in PaperMate pens or something..lol. The other two went below with Jean-Marie as guide to look into everything…and I mean everything! They spent 20 minutes just in the engine compartment, then poked and prodded and took pictures throughout the boat including all the storage cubbies, personal drawers and bags, in the bathroom, in the chart table – just everywhere. After over an hour of sweating in their heavy suits, they deemed us safe. With big smiles and handshakes they hopped over to their bobbing boat and took off. We raised sail and turned ourselves south again to try and make up the time.

Not even an hour later, we were hailed by another little navy boat that sorta looked like a McHale’s Navy corvette with all kinds of questions. We told them we had just been boarded by the battleship, gave our names and all that and, after a little while (during which I think they were checking on radio) they said thank you, see ya later. Whew! The last thing we needed was another 2 hour stopover – we needed the daylight and good seas to make it through the Xcalak reef.

Coming upon the reef opening at the proper coordinates a little later, we couldn’t quite see the two towers we were supposed to line up. We found the big one no problem but just “I think I see it but I’m not sure” was not good enough to get through that reef. We couldn’t really see the opening from the outside, it ALL looked like crap. So we got onto the radio and called Port Authority – which is supposed to be monitoring 24/7 – and finally got an answer from Maria and Pablo (not Port Authority). They came out in their inflatable and told us to line up on them to get through the reef. THEM we could see just fine. So surfing in on 6 foot waves with the bow swinging up and down and all over the place, we made it through. Inside was so calm in comparison and we found a good spot to anchor quickly – 2 drops and we were good.  🙂

To Tulum and beyond

It was a gorgeous day sailing to Tulum, fair weather and good seas. We motor sailed again because it was still fairly calm and we needed to make good time. Even with a good wind, the current is a strong 2 knots against us which drops our speed greatly. David is getting very good at putting and keeping the boat into the wind so we can get the sails up and down, a regular Sinbad in the making. It is nice to have the help aboard when it comes to dealing with the sails.

We knew it was going to be tricky to get into the reef, only about 50 feet or so wide and, with a 6-8 foot swell behind us, we would be surfing a great deal. It was definitely a sweet ride going in….people pay big bucks to ride something like that in an amusement park (called a roller coaster..lol)….but I wouldn’t want to have to do it every day. Nerve-wracking comes to mind.

With the coordinates set and a good bearing we made it through okay and turned sharp north into calm-ish waters that were only 10-12 feet deep. We could see the bottom, see the rocks to miss, see the sand ripples…and we could see when the anchor hit which is always a good thing. It took a good few tries to get solidly hooked with the current so strong but once it grabbed, it was a good hook. Later that day we all went for a snorkel around and took a look at the anchor and it was embedded deeply. 🙂 Finally, a decent night’s sleep ahead! We don’t sleep well at all when at anchor because of waiting and watching for dragging – dozing on and off uneasily. It has started taking its toll on us for sure. Jean-Marie and I sleep in the cockpit most of the time so we are able to see and hear and feel everything that goes on. Sweaters and long pants and socks and our sheet and half the time a towel on top to keep warm. But, in order to be safe, it must be done.

The first day there, 9 Jan (I think), David, Melanie and I went to the Tulum ruins then downtown for a few supplies. The ruins had been taken over by the Mexican National Parks people and so were being restored and taken care of very nicely. 57 pesos to get in and there was no gauntlet to run like at Chichen Itza. The artizans were around but were very circumspect – you can find them but you need to look.

There were no maps or explanatory information signs on the buildings which made it a bit difficult to understand what everything was. This is how they made their money, though, so it was okay. You could hire tour guides to explain everything but we found it a bit expensive, so we just wandered on our own, taking pictures everywhere, and snuck in behind various groups to listen in when the guide was talking about certain places. It worked just fine. The buildings and areas were all roped off, just like Chichen Itza, because of vandalism in years past which really sucked but we could understand it. There was one house that wasn’t roped off so Melanie and I climbed up into the ruin and sat for a bit just taking in the sun and the feeling. Ah, it was so peaceful there, even with all the people around, we could just feel and absorb the energy.

Just below the big building known as El Castillo there is a sweet little beach that turtles use to lay their eggs in. The ruins caretakers need to clean it just about every day because of all the refuse that washes up from the ocean but it looks to be a nice little haven for the endangered sea turtles. Over a little further is another little beach with access from above via a steep staircase built next to the cliffs. Standing on the lookout point just above it we were hit by spray coming up from the sea, as well as sand kicked up in the wind. It was so wild and beautiful to stand there imagining what it was like a couple thousand years ago, watching the canoes of the nearby trading villages paddle in with the reef storming away behind.

The big building was not, in fact, a castle but when the Spaniards came they named pretty much every big building they saw “El Castillo” whether it was a market or temple or home. There were many other evidences of their ignorance but it would take an entire history lesson to speak about them all. Suffice to say, their arrival was not the best period for the Mayan people.

Leaving the ruins, we found a taxi from there to town would be 70 pesos so we opted to walk the 15 minutes back to the Paraiso beach (in front of where we were moored) where a cab would be only 50 pesos.

The town of Tulum is not huge but is definitely colourful. One main street with little alleyways off it, the ratio seemed to be about 10 souvenir shops for one Oxxo, or pharmacy or mini-super. The people were fantastic, so warm and friendly and full of smiles and hellos. A lot of dealing and haggling went on on the sidewalk so we were deking in and out to get past usually smiling or laughing right along with the shopkeepers.

We stopped in for pizza, said to be the best in Mexico. It was certainly tasty with mushrooms and cheese and brie and proscutto but it was the real thin kind with crispy crust – wood-fired, I think it was called, or something like that. Me, I like the thick deep dish kind rather than the cardboard thin (and cardboard bland) kind. But the price was right: 8 slices, approx the 14” diameter size for 130 pesos (about $11).

So, loaded down with pizza leftover, beer and cigarettes we headed back to the boat. We knew coming in with the dinghy that it was going to be a tad wet getting out. Even behind the reef at Tulum, the water was never calm. There were nice breakers on the beach with the waves reaching 3 and 4 feet at times so coming in to the beach was mainly surfing with them until we hit. We dragged the dinghy up as far as we could but didn’t really worry about it floating off since the tide was only 6-7” and hours away. We anchored it, sort of, anyway to make ourselves feel better. Jean-Marie said that it garnered a lot of interest while we were away though so he peered throught he camera’s zoom lens to make the people on the beach know that someone was watching them. It wasn’t quite the normal secure feeling we usually have in Mexico – this place was too full of opportunists (and tourists) for our liking.

We loaded everything into the dinghy and got it past the first little bit, deep enough for David to climb in and at least get it started. Melanie and I pushed it out further until we were about chest deep: otherwise we never would have gotten it over the breakers. It was definitely a wet ride back, laughing like hyenas all the way. People on the beach stopped and watched as well, laughing right along with us at our antics.

The few days spent in Tulum were sunny and warm; we swam and snorkeled and otherwise enjoyed the warm, shallow waters. There finally came a day that the wind died just enough that we felt it was safe to go through the reef.

And we headed for Xcalak.

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Captain: Cayman to Mexico and down the coast to Belize

After getting the paper work in Georgetown on a Sunday; it cost $45.00 to get it done on a Sunday but it is well worth it, since the officials come from their homes just for you, and in about 30 minutes they are there, and all the work is done in just a few minutes.

We waited till the next morning to get going, then all it took was a call on channel 16 and off we went.

It took us about an hour to sail the channel between Barcadere Marina to the open waters. It is a bit tricky since the waters are very shallow, and you have to follow the channel that has maximum depth of about 7 ft, and only about 20 ft wide. There is a very specific course to follow and it is not straight, but with my new chart in the GPS plotter it is a snap. When we got in open waters, the seas were about 8 to 10 ft, not too bad; unfortunately, we hit a snag. While hoisting the main, one of the battens got caught under the main mast standing rigging, I did not notice and I winched it as hard as I could, and now it was stuck in there fairly tightly. I had to climb the mast in 10 ft seas, let me tell you, that is not a fun thing, but, no pain no gain. I grabbed a huge screwdriver that I used as a pry bar, and in a few second on the second try, it was all fixed with no rips or tears, thank God; otherwise I would have been hooped. I said it was easy on the second try, but before that I was up there trying to free it by hand for ½ an hour. Let me tell you, I used to jump out of airplanes for a living, and swinging up a 60 ft mast in 10 ft seas, is right up there with jumping out of airplanes.

The rest of the trip was almost a breeze, nice 4 to 6 ft seas, doing a steady 7 knots, sometimes 8 with an easterly wind. That lasted for 2 and ½ days., then we hit the Mexican plateau and the onset of a northy. The seas got very disorganized in a big hurry. The waves were not that high, only about 6 ft, but came from all over the place, we had to trim the sails because the sails where flapping so badly. 6 hours later we made it to Puerto Juarez. It was dark and we tried to contact the Hacienda Del Mar marina on channel 16, (as they advertised on the internet) no go. We were right in front them, could see activities on the dock and they could see us, anchored in front of them. So we decided to stay the night at anchor, not sure if the anchor would hold, and all the marine traffic going around, ferries, Mexican party boat, small boats etc….. Let me tell you it was not a well slept night. Watching to make sure I was not dragging, 25 to 30 knots wind and all. The next morning we got on the internet to try to get their phone number. At least the Hacienda Del Mar has a good signal. But guess what ? While trying to get their number since they still would not answer their VHF, I saw that there was a brand new Marina just 3 Nmiles away. The Amada Marina in Playa Mujeres. I call them on 16 and they answered on the first try, they had room for me, so guess where I went? Here is the bonus, their prices was cheaper than the Hacienda Marina, their marina was brand spanking new with concrete docks, the mega yachts were on one side but their services are equal no matter what size is your boat. Checking in is a breeze, they call an agent for you, the price is a bit higher because it was the holidays, but it is worth it. $250.00 US and he takes care of everything and they come to you instead of you running after them, but there was a snag. The agent asked me if I wanted a 10 years import permit, I told him that I was in Mexico only for about a month, and not sure if it was worth the extra $50.00 US. He said that it was not a requirement, so I opted out. BIG mistake. I’ll explain later. And other good thing is I had transmission problem, it was working but deteriorating as we motored. He called a guy, and said he could fix it. In the afternoon December 28th the mechanic and a friend came, look at it and said they could fix it, both our diagnostics were the same, and the price was more than fair. Unfortunately as they dug in, the problem looked worst. And they were right, the problem started small because of a leak in the cooling system, but the gears wore loose because of the seal, and the gears got chewed up. That was not a scam, I know a bit about mechanics. So either I get a new transmission from the States or rebuild this one. But can they do it ? YES they can. They take the gear box out, and the next day, they but a 100% rebuilt gear box in, gear, seal, bearings gaskets and all. Price for the whole thing $1,500.00 US in 2 days from the time they first came on board, till it is all finished. Now tell me you can get this kind of work at that price, and in that time frame in either Canada or in the States!

We stayed at the Amada Marina for 5 days, then scooted to Isla Mujeres, a short 3 hours motoring at less then a 1000 RPM. We anchored while we searched for a descent marina. Although there was good anchoring in many places, the darn Mexican party boats, (if you want to know how to put 40 people on a 45 ft catamaran, just ask a Mexican boat owner), big fishing charters going full tilt, etc…. we decided a marina was needed. Up and down in the dink, we located El Paraiso marina. Decent price, palapa bar, restaurant, pool, hot showers, and washrooms for $1.25 a day US, all inclusive with wi-fi. Great people Carlos in charge of the restaurant and bar, Kevin in charge of the marina, and all of the staff are super. And good food!

Now remember I said I would tell you about the 10 years import permit. Kevin tells me there is a problem with my papers. I do not have an import permit. And I need it. If you are going to sail Mexico for more than 3 to 4 days, and go from port to port, it is required. So now I have to get one. No big deal, $50.00 US and a quick trip to Puerto Juarez and it is done…… Guess again. I have all the same paper work I used to get all the forms I needed to get into Mexico, give them to the girl in Puerto Juarez. All are originals, except the one with the original hull # from 1986 when the boat was built. I have a photo copy of it, not good enough for her. I have to take the ferry back, get a letter for Kevin saying he has seen the hull number, and it is the real McCoy. Kevin obliges, the next day I am back. Guess what, not good enough for her. Now I am ready to pop a fuse. I dig out some paper from my stack, it is a color photo copy of the previous registered owner for the Netherlands, it is in Dutch, but it is in color. She cannot understand a single word of what it says, but she can read the number on it, and it has pretty colors. So it is good enough. But I have to get 3 copies. My printer is on the boat a ferry ride away, or get a cab and try to find a copy place. Eventually it is done, and I am on my way, with steam coming out of my ears. While I was there, 4 people were in the same situation. One she never questioned. He was the only one that spoke perfect Spanish, because he was born in Italy from Spanish parents. All the others she found something wrong with their paper work. Coincidences ????? You tell me.

We stayed in Isla Mujeres for 5 days, then decided to go to Puerto Morelos. It was an easy sail, great wind, east southeast, good seas, 8 knots most of the way. We found out they have an El Cid Marina. We visited another El Cid Marina in Mazatlan a few years back, great people, great marina, were able to use all of their facilities, bars restaurants, pools etc…. and a decent price. Not so in Puerto Morelos. The slips are expensive, and you do not have access to the hotels amenities, because it is an all-inclusive hotel. The marina has no bars no restaurants. I opted for the mooring buoy because there was no reason to pay full price and get nothing in return, I paid for 3 nights, but just stayed one.

It was time to move on, so off to San Miguel Cozumel. We decide to motor sail because of the wind direction and a time schedule. We did good time and got there before dark. We opted for anchoring, it was a good choice, good sand patches with some rocks makes for great holding if you start in the sand. There was 4 cruise ships in port at the time, so San Miguel was a zoo. San Miguel is a very nice place. A big tricky to beach the dink, because most of the beaches got hit by a hurricane a few years ago; now there is only hard rocks with a very shallow approach and some sandy landings that are not used by pangas. But it can be done, but since there is always a lot of waves, get ready to get wet either going in or out. But it is worth it. There is a lot there for boaters, groceries, laundry etc…. see the first mate report for more info, I stick to the sailing stuff.

We stayed here for 3 days here, we could have stayed a bit longer, but just needed to move; I am that way, just can’t stay in one place for too long. So off to Tulum we go. We hear a lot of good thing about it. It is not a bad place, but not really worth a stop unless you want to see the Inca ruins (they are worth it) or need a break from sailing. It is a day’s sail from Cozumel. The approach is fairly rough due to the waves (it is almost always windy there because of the location). But it is fairly safe if you follow the coordinates. (we will create a sailing bearings and coordinates page soon). It took us about 10 tries to get a good anchor grab. Just because it is a small layer of sand over limestone. But once it is under the limestone and it grabs, it is there for ever. The first mate went to the ruins, I stayed with Ete Infini, and went swimming. As with all of Mexico, the waters are nice and warm and very clean so swimming is a given most days. There was grocery shopping done in Tulum, but that was about it. There are nice beaches, snorkeling, kite surfing (remember it is always windy there :)) and such, but not My cup of tea.

So 3 days later off to Xcalak we go. That is a 24 hour sail, the winds are not bad, a bit high, but nothing to worry about. I set the GPS with the coordinates but it looks a bit too close to shore for my taste, so I stay about 1.5 Nmiles on the safe side to the west. And guess what. It was a very good choice, because at Punta Herrero we got hit by 2 rogue waves. Big ones at that. They both leveled the boat sideways, everything went flying in the cabin, it could have been a disaster. The waves probably drove us towards the reefs 1000 yards, and it is very shallow for about a knot before you hit the reefs. There was no damage to Ete Infini, but quite a few things got toasted inside, like the printer, one camera and quite a few small other things. So here is a warning. Do not follow the GPS course as a bible, it is just a suggestion most of the time, use your head. I should have stayed 5 knots off course, instead of 2 which was 2 more then the GPS suggested.

Anyhow, we make it to Xcalak, following the instruction we found in a book. The information’s so far have been fairly accurate to a certain extent when it comes to coordinates and headings. But when it comes to depictions of an area, it is ambiguous at best. When it says line up the house with the red roof, and you see 20 red roofs ??? or get a bearing on the wind mill and there is no wind mill in sight ???? The entry to Xcalak is very tricky at best. You have to line up a light house ( very easy to see ) to a secondary structure that is a bit lower supposed to be painted bright red, bright yellow and white. But it is so faded that it is hard to see. So I called the Capitania de Puerto. No answer. I am hooped as the waves are 10 ft going inshore with a narrow entrance and no clue where the entrance is, I need to clear out of Mexico, and it is the last port before Belize, so I have to stop there. But thank God, two good Samaritans are monitoring the VHF. Pablo and Maria come to our rescue, they pull up in their dink, motor to the entrance and show us the way. What a great couple, they saved our bacon. Aiming for their dink as a sure thing it is still a rough ride. The waves swing the bow of the boat all over the place, I have to steer like crazy not to lose sight of them in all of the turbulence, but once we are pass the reef, it is calm, a beautiful sight to see, blue green waters and one ft waves. Lots of good anchoring with a couple of mooring buoy, but I do not know if those are privately owned buoy or not, so I choose anchoring, first try and it is in good and stayed good for all the time we are there.

Xcalak is a small village not much about it but the people. Just the people are worth the stop, They are so nice, the real Mexican people, not the tourist area kinda people. Check the first mate for the whole story. The port captain on the other end is a total different story. Talk about incompetence! Inconsiderate and a total lack of professionalism. She never monitored channel 16 as required by law. She opens the office from 10 am till noon then goes to sleep upstairs for the rest of the day, when the office ours are supposed to be open from 9 until 5 with an hour for lunch. We found out the hard way. I go there in the morning to tell her we wanted to leave at 6 AM the next day because a northern storm was coming in soon and I wanted the tide on my side. Although I had all the paper work ready for my zarpe, she tells us to come back at 3 PM. I am there at 2, no answer and locked, 3 PM no answer and locked, 4 PM no answer and locked. We scream “ Maria” the dogs are barking, there is a racket, no Maria, she is sleeping. I am pissed, real pissed. But it is life. The next day I am there at ten. The door is open, I am the first one in. I am holding my rage in, I have a smile on my face but my fist clenched. I gave her all the passports, she has all the rest of the paperwork so it should not be long. Two locals comes, and she takes them before me. I am boiling mad, but keep a smile, if you knew e you would think the polarity of the earth has changed. An hour later I get My Zarpe. I do not wait, and pull anchor, and full throttle I am out of Xcalak. It is not fair to all of the Xcalak people that I am so pissed off at the place, because all the rest of the people are so beautiful in their attitude, and behavior. The whole place is my kind of town, but Maria from the Capitania de Puerto in Xcalak spoils it for every one else. I mention her name and her position so often that I hope it will show up on searches on the net, and that the Mexican government gets a glimpse of it and do something about it. She is a disgrace to her uniform, and to all the hard working Mexicans we had ever met. I once was told not to buy a figurine of a Mexican wearing a pointy sombrero wrapped in a poncho with a bottle of tequila between his legs, having a siesta, because it was demeaning. And I agree with that statement, it is not the way Mexican people are, but that is the perfect depiction of Maria the Port Captain of Xcalak.

So now I am putting it in high gear and heading to Belize.

We made it in 4 hours, like I said we did put it high gear, and actually we motor sailed.  I love Mexico, but Maria did set me in a bad mood. We had a good breeze but a bit on the weak side, only 5 to 10 knots, but it was a south-easterly, so it was very easy sailing, but a bit slow, thus why I put the engine on. The entrance to San Pedro although tricky in bad weather, today it was easy and straight forward, the sea was fairly calm, so no huge wave and no surfing the boat. We anchored at about 2:45 PM, went to Immigration first, then Customs, Health and finally the Port Captain. All of those offices are located in the same building and just one door apart. There is lots of paper, and I mean LOTS. But the whole process took less then an hour, all the officials were extremely nice, friendly and efficient. What a difference from Maria in Xcalak. Oh talking about her brings another tid bit. She forgot to stamp our crew list, and did not give us the original Zarpe, but a photo copy. In certain countries that would spell trouble, but the official here in San Pedro ask me who did the paper work in Xcalak, and when Maria’s name came up , one of the officer had a grin on his face, and said sarcastically, “oh Maria!  she never makes mistakes “. The grin revealed that they came across this problem before, and gave us a bit of leeway.

And on the way to Cozumel……:)

Yet another beautiful trip, motor sailing for about 5-6 hours down to Isla Cozumel.  Easy easy port to get into, large harbour at San Miguel, where we anchored right beside the pirate ship already there.  🙂  We found there was another pirate ship that was used as a sunset cruise/party  boat kinda thing, all lit up like a Christmas tree every evening as it travelled up and down past town, played music and partied.  Good music, too!  lol

San Miguel is a nice little town, approx 1 mile long and 1/2 mile wide full of all kinds of little back streets and cool things to see.  We never did find the 3 hardware stores that were advertised in our book, but we did find a neat little bakery where we got Mexican croissants (same dough, same taste, very different texture) and great coffee (no such thing as lousy coffee in Mexico!) and sat and fed the pigeons.  The Soriana grocery store, on Calle 8 and Avenida 30, was huge and we shopped enough to need a taxi back to the boat.  lol

David and Melanie rented a motorbike to tour the island, they ended up touring by foot and thumb though cuz the bike decided to pack it in at the far end.  I think they still had a pretty good day of it, though, touring around and seeing the sights.

There are ruins at the north end of the island in the midst of being restored, one having been sponsored by the National Park types and so is getting a good facelift.

Taking the dinghy back and forth to shore was very tricky as the entire length is faced by rocks/coral.  There is  no place really to tie up to anything so you kind of beach it and hope for the best.  It didn’t seem to be a very honest spot so make sure to take your valuables, key, etc with you.  In fact, the  boats that were there already, the little fishing types, all had their propellers removed as an easy security measure.  The easiest way we found was to either have one chauffeur back and forth, or to take the 2-way radios and call for a “taxi” ride.  Wet feet (and legs and bum) were the norm as it was so much easier to walk out past the rocks to climb in or hop out.

We didn’t do much shopping other than groceries, or eating in the restaurants there.  Senor Frog’s was hit mostly  because they had wifi.  Prices were okay there, food was  most excellent and the people/atmosphere was totally bizarre, crazy, upbeat, and fun.  Did I  mention the margaritas?  Came in a yard glass.  😀  And oh so goooood.

I think the worst part of being anchored there was the rocking.  It was constant, back and forth and back and forth.  It was difficult to sleep for fear of rolling off the bench and just got to be so monotonous and irritating at the same time.  It must have been the currents combined with the tides, not to mention all the boats going  back and forth and their wakes.  But if that was the worst of it, that’s pretty darn good!

8 Jan we headed out at first light for Tulum.  Approx 30-ish miles south, back on the mainland, but we knew there was a reef to get through and we wanted to hit there before dark.  One thing we found on that coast with it being behind a reef in the southern part was that there is no where to run when it gets dark or bad weather.  The reef had to be done in the daylight and in calm-ish waters or not done at all.  We’re getting pretty good at this dodging weather stuff.  🙂

1 First sight Cozumel 2 nice day 3  Oooh, Pirates! 4  Nice boat 5 One of the pirates 6  Typical grocery store display 7  sharing our coffee break 8  Nice little cafe 9  Downtown chapel 10  Festive 11  Some homes done up nicely, dolphins in the wall 12  Most homes have the family as well as the address 13  Always busy, even washing sidewalks 14  Across the street from the dolphin wall 15 Sunset at Cozumel 16 Town from the boat 17 Pretty little town at night...with orbs 18 BIG boat

Isla Mujeres to Puerto Moreles

A nice one-day sail from Isla Mujeres to Puerto Moreles, about 25 NMiles and we had beautiful weather for it, sunny, cloudless, 10-15 knot winds, fair seas….just beautiful.  We came in to Puerto Moreles mid afternoon and found the El Cid Marina no problem.  It’s a weird little marina with a breakwater all way around with a small opening SE.  Once inside, we hit a mooring buoy that gave us a  very protected little spot not far from the dink pier.  We toured around the El Cid resort that night and found it  very very different from the one we were used to in Mazatlan. This one was also all inclusive as a resort but, unlike the other one, we couldn’t use the restaurants or bars or anything if we wanted to pay for it.  There was one little restaurant at the marina that we could use but that was it.  It is  beautiful little resort and would be a great vacation spot if you flew in and just stayed there but, for sailors, it wasn’t that great.

It was $13 US per day for the mooring buoy but they wanted extra for hydro or water or even wifi – the wifi was $12 per day which is ridiculous!  That’s why we didn’t post anything from there.

We stayed one night and didn’t find it comfortable at all, just a weird feeling to the place besides not having the amenities we wanted.  So, the next day…. off to San Miguel, Cozumel……which is the next page.  🙂

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