Cruising at Last

Marina El Milagro
Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo


Links of Interest:

Here’s a great interactive map of Quintana Roo, showing where we are and where we’re going through Mexico. And here’s a great little site with information about Isla Mujeres.

We are now officially cruising!

Alter waiting for a comma between cold fronts, we scooted across the Straits of Florida, hung a right 20 miles off the northern coast of Cuba, held our breath, and ran across the Yucatán Channel. Total travel time: about 50 hours. Casualties: one Rubbermaid bucket; one pair of Ole’s reading glasses, and a broken arm on Jan’s beloved Maui Jim sunglasses. Poseidon has rarely been satisfied with less.

Captain Trevor at the Wheel

Our first crew (Lise and Svein) were unavailable because of work commitments, so we opted to hire delivery captain and Ft. Lauderdale neighbor Trevor Davies, of Argonauts, to accompany us on our first multi-day run. That way, we had professional experience on the bridge in case the new transmissions needed the touch of the chief engineer. It was a good choice – Trevor is a great companion and knowledgeable sailor.

We left Safe Harbor Marina at 4:35 pm on Monday, February 19, in order to see (and dodge) the cursed crab pots thoughtlessly scattered in the navigation channel, get a good view of Florida in the rear view mirror, and arrive in Isla Mujeres in daylight. The voyage plan was based on an average speed of 6 knots throughout the 355 nautical miles. We stood 4-on, 8-off watches, with Jan on at 8-12; Ole on at 12-4; and Trevor on at 4-8.

As soon as we left the channel and entered the Florida Straits, we began experiencing the first expected Gulf Stream current, which, by the 8:00 a.m. watch on Tuesday, had slowed us to just over 4 knots and made for a relatively uncomfortable night in 5-7 foot seas. We figured that at that speed, we might arrive in Isla Mujeres some time in July. Trevor predicted during our west and southwesterly course along the coast of Cuba that as soon as we hit the 84th parallel we might get a counter current to help push us forward – and as predicted, we surfed along at over 9 knots with quartering seas for most of Wednesday morning, more than making up lost time, and pushing up our arrival in Isla Mujeres to midnight Thursday morning – way too early for the poorly marked channel entrance.  Because we were so early, we had to burn some donuts in the ocean for about 4 hours to make the entrance in daylight as planned.

The last 6 hours of the cruise were the most uncomfortable, with the prevailing current trying to push us north while we were trying to get west, making for some great rolls. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, let me try to describe what happens. A wave of 5 to 7 feet comes at you directly (or nearly so) from the side, lifts up the boat, and at the top of the wave, because our hull doesn’t “bite” into the wave – it slides off it sideways. Jan hogged the queen sized berth in the master cabin on her off watch, splayed out like a starfish hooking fingernails and toes into the edge of the bed to stay on. Trevor, salty dog that he is, tried to tough out the forward bunk, but got routinely tossed out, opting for the luxury of the sofa in the salon, wedged in with cushions. Ole, God bless him, fought for bunk space with Jan and the cats, and predictably maintained his good humor in spite of bad-to-no sleep.

Trevor assured us that these were the best conditions possible for crossing the Yucatan channel in the winter – we couldn’t have had better weather! Sheesh, one can only imagine what bad conditions might have brought.

And speaking of the cats…Barclay continues to impress in her role as ship’s cat. She was on watch with all of us in the pilothouse, demanding breakfast and dinner at the usual time, and strolling on the back deck whenever Jan went out for a smoke, in spite of the movement. Watching her time her steps and jumps with the boat’s motion was funny – all four legs were splayed out like Popeye the Sailor Man – and not a complaint was heard.

Make it STOP!!!

Maggie, on the other hand, was thoroughly miserable. In spite of veterinary advice to give her half a human dose of over-the-counter bonine 2 hours before departure, as soon as we left the marina, she emptied herself out from both ends, crawled downstairs, and for some reason parked herself in the top bunk in the forward cabin for a good 30 hours. We moved her twice to the master cabin (the center point of the boat), but she insisted on being where we could see how miserable she was (yes, Virginia, cats can be evil manipulators of human emotion). Jan and Ole both moved her to the master bunk and spent some skin-to-skin time with her, and for the last 20 hours, she found her usual place on the floor in the dead center of gravity. Odd, though, that the minute we tied up at the dock and cut the engines, she was face-down in the food bowl.

Clearing in formalities were accomplished in rapid fire (3 hours), with assistance from Armando at the fuel dock acting as agent. The Health Department official came onboard first, followed by the Immigration inspector, and both were friendly and pleasant. Armando also arranged for the folks at el Milagro to bring a skiff to us and escort us to a place at their marina, where we were helped by three dockhands to a stern-to hookup with power, water, and high-speed internet.

Potluck at Marina El Milagro

Within minutes, the residents of the dock had all been by to greet us and welcome us to a potluck dinner featuring grilled black grouper prepared by the dockhands in the common area of the marina. It seems to be the usual eclectic assortment of characters – some heading north, others south, but everyone willing to share information and experience over the beer. Exchanging boat cards will assure us there will be few strangers as the cruise continues south.

Because of our need to be in Belize by next weekend to get Ole out on a flight to Atlanta for a chief’s meeting, we won’t be able to stay long here, which is a pity — it’s a lovely little island, charming marina, and welcoming cruising community. Our plan is to head south to Cozumel on Saturday, February 24, and make day cruises to be in Belize City by Friday, March 2.

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