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.

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One thought on “Captain: Cayman to Mexico and down the coast to Belize

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