PASSAGE TO ISLA MUJERES, MEXICO
(also known as "S**t happens, and it did....")
May 17-25, 2008
We departed Maritime Marine boatyard in Slidell, Louisiana bound for Cat Island off the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Tuesday morning, May 13. Beautiful day, great weather! We arrived at Cat Island 7 1/2 hours later. The next morning, we began working on getting more things on the boat stowed away (stuff was still everywhere!). About 10:00 a.m., we turned on the chart plotter to begin working on our passage from Ship Island (off the Mississippi Gulf Coast) and discovered we had a corrupt computer chip in our plotter. OK, plan B.. we needed the chip to make our jump off from Ship Island to Tampa, FL across to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. (Lesson #1...do not sell paper charts for Gulf Coast/Florida until you have ACTUALLY DEPARTED from these waters!!....more (MANY more) lessons to follow!).
Since we were waiting on a weather window to depart anyway, we contacted the computer chip company, C-Map, and requested that another chip be Fed-Ex'd overnight to a West Marine Store in Pensacola, Florida. We traveled across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and spent the night anchored inside Horn Island, on the west side of the Pascagoula Ship Channel. The next day, we awoke early (yep, everyone, I WAS able to arise at 6:00 a.m. and leave by 6:30 a.m. Miracles do Happen!). Thunderstorms were forecast in the area for after lunch and we wanted to get across Mobile Bay and in the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) en route to Orange Beach, Alabama before the storm hit. Well, Mother Nature had other ideas..... As soon as we reached Mobile Bay, a hell of a storm blew in...50-55 knots of wind and rain, rain, and more rain. I felt like I was in the Perfect Storm movie! Lightning was flashing all around. Visibility was practically nil. We were worried about running into another boat or an oil rig. (Ok, now for Lesson #2... Not a good idea to wait to install radar close to time of departure on boat trip of a lifetime. Need to learn how to use equipment proficiently prior to departure. (yep, that's a key word here...proficiently) May have been able to use Radar during this harrowing experience to identify aforementioned other boats and/or oil rigs!) However, the boat handled perfectly, cutting through unbelievable waves and wind. Surprisingly to myself, I was not scared, but adrenaline was pounding as I stood up in the cockpit to see what was ahead of us. This went on for one and a half hours and right before we made it across the Bay, the storm subsided. It seems like every time we cross Mobile Bay, it is always rough as hell! Mobile Bay has now been renamed "Cape Horn of the South". We were so glad to get in the calm waters of the "Ditch", the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) from Mobile Bay to Alabama/Florida.
We motored through the ICW and arrived at Pirate's Cove Marina in Elberta, Alabama (north of Orange Beach area) at 4:00 p.m. We had previously spent time there on our first cruise back in 1997. We hailed them on the radio and called on the phone... no answer. We decided to travel on to Pensacola and spend the night in a marina. We stayed at Bahia Mar Marina in Pensacola in Bayou Chico. This is a small, but very nice marina located next door to the Pensacola Yacht Club. We met a nice guy from Birmingham (Bob) who owned a Catalina 47. He was kind enough to take us to West Marine the next day to pick up our computer chip and also to the grocery where I bought more groceries and loaded up on vodka. We spent all day Friday doing laundry, refueling the boat, checking email and generally drying out from the day before. Our wind instrument had been damaged during the Mobile Bay experience, so I went up the mast to make the repair. Next door was a local bar, so I provided entertainment for the local patrons as LA hoisted me aloft to make the repair.
On Saturday, May 17, we left the dock at 8 a.m. for "the Big Trip". We came out through the Pensacola Ship's Channel and began to sail in very light winds. The direction of the wind was "fluky"... (changed directions a lot, and light air) not a good situation for setting a good course. So generally, we flounced around a lot and tacked back and forth for several hours to try to get a course towards Tampa. Eventually, we were able to set a good course and we were on our way. The first night, I served LA great meal of veal and wine... he went to sleep around 9:30 p.m. So, I had my first night watch. I watched a 6 hour mini-series, "Scarlet" (the sequel to Gone with the Wind). I had a timer set to go off every 15 minutes so that I could go into the cockpit and have a look around. Was a very quiet night and did not have to make any sail adjustments. Since I am a night owl, we decided that we would do longer than usual watches. At 4:30 a.m., LA took over so I could get some sleep. We had logged our first 100 miles for the trip.
The next day, Sunday, the winds died and we had to motor for about 4 hours. At 2 p.m., got enough wind to put out the drifter, our light air sail, so we began to sail again. Easy, easy sailing. During the day, we had a nice shower, then alternately napped on and off. Had a nice steak and a bottle of wine for dinner. Again, LA to bed at 9:30 p.m. and Susan on watch for the night. This night, I decided to learn more about the radar and learned how to set "guard alarms" to alert me when ships were anywhere around us at 6 miles away and again at 3 miles away. I wore the timer around my neck and continued to go into the cockpit every 15 minutes and have a look around for ships. Light winds all night. Only had one ship get close enough to me to set off the radar alarm. I read most of the night. LA took over at 5:00 a.m. (Note: our watches are long... most sailors use a three hours on-three hours off system. I am very used to staying up late and night and working... so a 6 or 7 night watch in calm conditions was not a problem for me) (Note again... I said CALM conditions... more to come on that later!). We had logged 200 miles for the trip.
On Monday, dolphins welcomed LA to the morning. They put on quite a show for him! About 30 dolphins played off the bow for about a half hour. They were leaping out of the water and rubbing against the bow of the boat. I was sleeping so I missed this!
At 8:30 a.m., the wind died and LA began to motor. I slept until noon and awoke to a light rain. It didn't last long, and still no wind. Finally got a little wind that evening around 7 p.m. and began sailing again using the main sail and the drifter. Another good meal for the night, and LA to bed at 10 p.m. I read some and catnapped listened for alarms and went to the cockpit every 30 minutes for a look around. At midnight, I had my first ship come close to me to set off my radar guard alarm. (The alarm when off when he was 6 miles out, and again when he was 3 miles out... I'll have to say that when we set off my second alarm that it made me a little nervous.) The boat was located off to my port beam and coming my way. The ship crossed my bow about 15 minutes later about 2 miles in front of me and he never got too close for comfort. I never had to alter my course. (You never know whether these ships see you or not. Yes, they have radar, and yes, they should see you, but you cannot assume anything. You know the saying "drive defensively".... well, you gotta "sail defensively" also. Most of these ships get on a course and stay on it. You may have to change course to avoid a collision. Always better to be safe and assume they don't see you.).
Ships as they appear in Daylight...they are BIG!
What a radar image looks like--When I see them on my radar, they look like the dots in the lower right quadrant of the screen.
At 1:00 a.m., the wind started blowing a too much for our light air sail. The drifter is used for light winds up to about 10 knots. After that, it needs to come down and a different sail needs to be raised. We had agreed that if a sail needed to be changed during the night, I was to wake LA for assistance. (Lesson #3...Actually, the wind had been blowing too much a lot earlier.. I just didn't realize it. The wind instrument was showing 10-13 knots, which I later found out from LA that when the wind is behind you, the wind was actually blowing about 15-18 knots..). So, I woke LA and we pulled the drifter down, tied it down to the lifelines (listen up, kiddies... this little point about "tying down the drifter to the lifelines" will become important later in our little story) and LA hoisted the stays'l. LA stayed up and took over the watch. The wind was blowing pretty good, and the seas were starting to get rough. By 5:00 a.m., we had now logged 330 nautical miles. We were averaging about 100 miles a day at this point...right on schedule for us.
Sometimes you come up on things in the ocean and you wonder how they got there. This was an overturned ocean kayak located about 350 miles off shore. It was kinda creepy when we first saw it. We almost expected Billy Zane from "Dead Calm" to suddenly appear.
On Tuesday, we continued to sail using the main sail and the stays'l. Winds continued to blow throughout the day, seas were still rough, but boat was sailing fine with no problems. At 9 p.m., LA to bed and Susan on watch. Early in the watch, the wind was still blowing pretty good...around 18-20 knots. Around midnight, I came up to the cockpit to have a look around, and what do I see? The drifter (yep, the very one we tied down to the lifelines earlier in our story) had gotten loose and was billowing out all over the place and dragging in the water to boot. I think "oh shit", I am going to have to go out on deck for the first time by myself at midnight and get this drifter under control. Ok, no problem, I know what to do. LA and I have talked about this many times, now I just have to put my (little) knowledge into action. I put my foul weather jacket, put my safety harness on, hooked myself to the jack lines, and headed to the bow of the boat to tame the green beast. (Ok, you non-sailors... jack lines are made of nylon webbing (or rope lines), are attached to the front and back of the boat, and run along the deck. Safety harness tethers are attached using quick-release snap hooks. This setup physically connects you to the boat and keeps you from falling overboard....or, if you do fall overboard, you won't get separated from the boat....you might get beat to hell and back and/or die, but at least you won't be lost at sea!...comforting thought, huh?). Now, remember, it's at night and the wind is blowing 20 knots, so the sea is rough. The moon is full, so at least I can (somewhat) see what I am doing. I get to the front of the boat, and crawl my way over to the lifelines and start untying the sail ties and begin pulling the sail out of the water and wind (yes, that is water AND wind... part of the sail is dragging in the water and part is trying to fly off to the moon!). The drifter is made out of lightweight nylon and is very slippery to handle. So, every time I get a handful of the sail and try to tie it down, another part of the sail starts billowing out. Plus, the bow of the boat is bucking up and down and going under water about every third slam. Fun, huh? Well, I'm not going to let that SOB sail whip me! (Sorry, my young lads and lasses! Sometimes there is nothing like a cuss word to convey the message!) I redouble my efforts, continue to spray sea water out of my nose and throat and press on. Finally, the green monster has been subdued (for now...more on that later!). I make my way back to the cockpit, heave a sigh of relief and am pretty satisfied with my bad self! Hey, I'm surely a sailor now!
Winds dropped to 12 knots during the night, but the boat started slowing down. We usually travel at about 6 knots, we were now beginning to slow down to 3 knots during the night. We were getting into what is known as the "Gulf Loop Current". As the current passes out of the Yucatan Channel in Mexico into the Gulf of Mexico, the main current disperses to the north, northwest, north-northwest, west, and east-northeast. This clockwise flow of warm water from the Yucatan Straits around the Gulf of Mexico is known as the Gulf Loop Current. Maximum currents of 3 to 5 knots may be encountered in the northwest and north-northwest setting branches. The current may be tracked by notably warmer Caribbean water temperatures and the current is stronger in the Spring and Summer. These currents can work against you, and cause the boat to slow down significantly. At 4:30 a.m., LA took over the watch. We had now logged 430 nautical miles on our trip. I regaled him with my green drifter monster story and he said "you did what??!!". Please, please, tell me you DIDN'T go forward on this boat AT NIGHT, BY YOURSELF!! One little detail I never picked up on in our safety harness/jack line discussion was that this was something that should NOT BE DONE at night when you are by yourself under ANY conditions....especially not under the conditions from the previous night! Secretly, LA was AMAZED that I had accomplished this...although I was stupid for doing so, he pronounced me "brave" as well. I basked in his simultaneous compliment and criticism. However, we did agree that the next time something happened like that, I was to awaken him immediately.
Well, "something like that" happened sooner rather than later. On Wednesday morning, when I awoke a few hours later, LA informed me that the green beast was on the loose again and he was going to have to be put in his sail bag. Sounds simple, huh? Well, getting a sail in a sail bag on the bow of a boat is not the easiest task in the world in calm seas. In rough seas....next to impossible. We put on our foul weather jackets and our harnesses and hooked on to the jack lines. I was to be the one to get the sail bag ready. LA would be the one to untie the sail ties and feed the sail to me. Well, the "getting the sail bag ready" proved to be quite a task. The drifter is attached to a stay (wire that runs from the top of the mast to the bow of the boat). The stay is attached almost to the end of the bowsprit on our boat. Again, the bow was bucking up and down and going under water almost every time. LA had to hold me by the back of my harness to keep me stable while I stood on the bow and wedged myself against the stay while I leaned over from the waist and took the sail bag and got it under and around the sail and twisted several turnbuckles to get the sail in place. We were both getting drenched and bounced around violently. I finally managed to get the sail bag around the sail and then stuff the remaining sail in the bag. We literally crawled back to the cockpit. LA proclaimed me courageous and "much woman" and I felt like I earned another "sailing stripe" that day.
The wind slowed down later, but we weren't making much speed.. only 3.3 knots. However, by 2:00 p.m., we began to pick up speed. The wind was blowing 11 knots, but we were now traveling 7.8 knots, then 9 knots. We were flying! What fun! (Ok, for you sailing non-believers out there, I have photographic evidence! Our cruising sailboat did in fact travel 9 knots!!).
Unfortunately, this did not last long and by evening, we had slowed back down to 4.5 knots with 13 knots of wind. At 8:30 p.m., I took the night watch. I got sleepy at 11:30 p.m. and woke LA. He took the watch until 4:00 a.m. and I went to sleep. We had now traveled 520 nautical miles.
The seas were rough that day, my friend..... conditions change for the Wyatts.
On Thursday, at 8:00 a.m., the seas got rough... very rough! We were traveling at 6.7 knots with 20 knots of wind. Our autopilot would not hold the boat on course, and we needed to change to a different sail plan to try to stabilize the boat. We reefed down the main sail and reefed the genoa (our furling head sail). (For you non-sailors out there, "reefing down" means that you lower the sail down part of the way to reduce the size of the sail. When the wind is blowing at 20 knots, the boat will heel over more, and the boat will not sail as fast or as efficiently. If the boat heels over too much, greater than 20 degrees, it is uncomfortable as well. When the sail size is reduced, the boat will be easier to steer and will be more comfortable. Want to know more ? Click here.) By 10:00 a.m., the wind was still blowing 18-25 knots and we were only making 2.3 knots (that darn current again!). We finally pulled in the genoa and put up the stays'l, which made for a more controllable, efficient sail.
Waves, waves, and more waves..... Well, the waves were unbelievable! We had never seen waves like this in our Lake Pontchartrain and Cat Island sailing days. Ten to twelve foot WALLS of water would come toward us but the boat would rise right up and surf over them. It was pretty rough going, but, unbelievably to myself, I never got scared. When I saw how well the boat performed under these conditions, I stayed amazed but not scared. Now I finally understood the difference firsthand between a coastal sailboat (like a Catalina or Hunter) and a cruising boat like we have, a Shannon. I would always say to people "our Shannon is built for cruising the oceans" but I don't think I really had a true understanding of what that meant until this moment. It was a good, and empowering feeling.
This rough-going business did not lend itself to going down below to do ANYTHING. Remember my secret-weapon honey baked ham?? Well, it was called into service this day! There was no way to go down below and prepare any meals... I had ham, mustard, mayo and bread all together in the top of the refrigerator. I held on for dear life and somehow made it down the companionway steps down into the boat and grabbed my bag. We hunkered down in the cockpit and had the best ham sandwich in the world for lunch!
All day long, we endured this situation....the winds continued to blow. The waves were white-capping and there was lots of spray. We stayed under the dodger of the boat to try to stay dry, but sometimes we would have to change course. Invariably, when one of us was at the wheel a wave would blow over the cockpit and we would get drenched! It was too hot to wear our foul weather gear for any length of time, so we would get wet, get tired of being wet and change clothes, then get drenched again. I finally gave up and just stayed in wet clothes. I was convinced I was going to have diaper rash by the time I got to Isla Mujeres! By 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon, wind was still blowing like stink, but we were traveling very slowly due to the current. Then, at one point, our GPS showed a heading of 330 degrees, but the compass heading was 220. This made no sense to us. Tired, we tried to figure out what was going on. LA said we needed to follow the compass, I voted for the GPS. My first instinct, with my computer background, wanted to trust the satellite reading of the GPS. LA, being the lifelong outdoorsman and fisherman said "look at where the sun is, can't you figure this out??!! Well, of course, LA was right and I was WRONG. We had started traveling so slowly that the GPS would not read correct course over ground. The wind and the current were working against us! Our chart plotter did not show the correct direction of the boat because the GPS was not reading the correct course. At one point, the current was so strong, we were actually sailing backward! We relied on the boat's compass heading instead. (ANOTHER lesson for the Wyatts!).
Remember when I talked about watches and how I had been taking 6-7 hour watches during the first 4 days of our trip??? Well, that's out the window in these conditions. Watches were now reduced to 2 hours. Sometimes I slept in the cockpit while LA was on watch and sometimes I went below and barricaded myself in the bunk in the main salon to try to catch little sleep! Meals?? Non-existent, really. Just ham, ham, and more ham. A few crackers, maybe. No coffee in the morning... boat was rocking and rolling too much and we didn't even really want any either. When things get rough, you just kind of hunker down. No more calm nights with veal dinners and wine! You get down to basic needs only... you don't want a drink, you don't want a cigarette or a cigar, you don't feel like reading....you just want enough to endure what's going on and keep going. You know that eventually the situation will end.
But, WHEN will it end??? When DID it end?? Not so fast, my friend!
By Friday morning at 7 a.m., we had traveled 633 miles and the strong current had pushed us too far west. We just could NOT make any headway. We still were now sailing with a reefed down mail and the genoa. We plotted our course and we needed a compass heading of 193 degrees to make it the 125 nautical miles remaining to get to Isla Mujeres. But we could just not sail that course due to the wind and the current. We could not sail that close to the wind. If we tacked one way, we got too far west; if we tacked the other way, we got too far north! That damn Gulf Loop Current was driving us CRAZY!! We were so close but yet so far! I don't know why they call this thing the Gulf Coast Loop... I renamed it the Yucatan Triangle! You can check into this area..but you can never leave!! All day Friday, we plotted and re-plotted our course, constantly altering our course to try to get out of this damned current! By 9:30 p.m., we had traveled a total of 700 nautical miles. We had traveled 65 miles in 12 hours, but we weren't 65 miles closer to Isla Mujeres! Very frustrating!
AND another thing! With all of the boat rocking and rolling for two days, our fuel tank got a good workout and all of the sediment that previously stayed on the bottom of the tank was now free-floating in the fuel. Each day, we have to motor at least one hour to keep the refrigerator cold. (Non-sailors: Our refrigerator is engine-driven . It has two holding plates which get very cold when the engine is run, and that is how the food stays cold for the other 23 hours). Well, the sediment began to clog up our fuel filter and the engine started running rough. So, LA had to change the fuel filter on a boat that was pitching all over the place. (Now, changing the filter is not an easy task in the calmest seas.... once the filter is changed, the canister that holds the filter must be primed all the way to the top with diesel fuel). So, we started timing the waves to determine when there MIGHT be a moment in which the boat would be the most stable. I am in the cockpit timing the waves, so I cannot be down below to assist LA. ... Ready, set, go.... LA gets the job done, BUT...... when he sets down the container of diesel fuel to put the top on the fuel canister, diesel fuel spills on the counter. Doesn't sound like too big of a problem, huh? Just get a paper towel and wipe it up, right? Guess again! PROBLEM.... BIG PROBLEM....BIG, BIG PROBLEM. The counter where the fuel spills is none other than our TOP-LOADING refrigerator! Diesel seeps into the refrigerator and contaminates the refrigerator. Even few drops of diesel spreads like wildfire in the refrigerator! And, IT LEECHES INTO THE PLASTIC that meat, etc. is wrapped into!! Yes, this is a problem of a major variety.... But, like Scarlet O'Hara....we just can't think about that right now! We'll have to deal with it later!
AND THEN ANOTHER THING!............. With all the boat rocking and rolling, we have another little surprise waiting for us! I get ready to make some raspberry tea and I taste the water coming out of our filtration system and it tastes suspiciously like SALT WATER! Houston, we have a problem! BIG PROBLEM. You think diesel fuel in the refrigerator is a problem?? Well, that ain't nothing, my friend, compared to this. Way back on Tuesday morning, May 13, before we left, I asked LA if he thought that we ought to carry some additional stores of water in our collapsible water jugs. He said, "I don't think so... we have 120 gallons of water for 6 days, and we have the water-maker as well. We don't need to fool with it." Hello? Can the Wyatts re-think this one, please? (ANOTHER lesson learned by the Wyatts... we have NOW stopped counting the number of lessons learned on the trip!). Well, back to my story... yes, there is SALT WATER IN OUR WATER TANKS! And guess what?? We are running out of diet coke, have hot beer left in the ice chest in the cockpit... no bottled water in the refrigerator. But, we have plenty of TONIC WATER for the vodka on board (which, by the way, LA only had one vodka tonic so far on the trip... but I'm ready... I have LOTS of tonic water for those vodka tonics to come...) AND...GUESS AGAIN.... I can't stand the taste of tonic water! Yes, my friends, we are in deep do-do here.
You technically-minded folks out there are also probably wondering "How in the HELL did they get salt water in their water tanks??" Did it come in through the deck water fills? No. Is there a hole in the boat or the tanks somewhere? No. You non-technically-minded folks out there are probably wondering "Did a salt water fairy fly in during the night and sprinkle salt fairy dust in?" No. Ok, so I'll tell you this little story. Water tanks on boats are vented to allow air in the water tanks to escape when the tanks are filled with water so the tanks will fill up completely. The vent also lets the air in the water tank escape as the water in the tanks is used. The vent is also used to keep water from the ocean out, as the valve is a one-way check valve (supposedly...anyway, that's the theory). When we first bought our boat, the previous owner had blocked the vents with wooden shims. We noticed it, but we didn't do anything about it at the time because it really didn't seem to make any difference. A few months before we left on our cruise, LA was reviewing the water system on the boat and called Shannon (the yacht manufacturer) and asked about the venting system for the water tanks. They agreed that the vents needed to be replaced and LA did...making damn sure that the one-way valve was installed the correct way. Well, guess what! When the boat was heeled over for so those two rough days at sea, salt water managed to get into the tanks through the vents. I guess the previous owner was smarter than we thought. He obviously had experienced the same thing at one point, so he just blocked the vents altogether.
So, back to my story. By 7 a.m. Saturday morning (it's May 24 by now... I know, I know..this story has gone on for so long I have to remind you what MONTH and DAY it is), we cranked the engine to run our diesel-contaminated refrigerator. (SOME of the food is still good.) We had traveled 740 nautical miles, we had salt water in our tanks, and we were tired. Wait, could it be? ANOTHER thing is in store for the Wyatts! The engine is running rough again! It's time to change that darn fuel filter AGAIN. (Note: You don't want to wait until the filter gets clogged up completely and shuts the engine down. You'll have even bigger problems on your hand!) Well, Susan has a brilliant idea. We are tired, we are thirsty, we are hungry. We are only 13 nautical miles from an island, Isla Contoy (a little less than 3 hours away). Why don't we just go to the island, anchor, rest up a bit and polish our fuel? Just shut off the engine and polish our fuel for a while and clean up our diesel fuel since the fuel tank is all churned up from the trip. Change the filter....get everything "shipshape". My thinking is... hey, we probably won't have another opportunity anytime soon to polish the fuel and get all that junk out of our tank because we won't be in a situation where the boat has been rocking and rolling for so long. So, that's exactly what we do. We get to Isla Contoy about 9:45 a.m. It takes about one hour to polish the remaining fuel in the tank and change the fuel filter. It's time to start the engine to pull up the anchor and get going again. We are excited... we only have 3 hours further to go to get to Isla Mujeres.
No, it can't be... tell me it's not true! Yes, ANOTHER thing is in store for the Wyatts! Remember the tired part... yes, we are tired, very tired. (We have now been traveling for 8 days). When we finished polishing the fuel, we forgot to flip the switch in the engine from "polish" back to "run engine". The engine stops dead! Cranking the engine when the setting is on "polish" is bad, very bad. It sucks everything back from your filter and creates a tremendous airlock in your diesel system. The engine will not start! We bled the fuel injectors again and again. Still, the engine would not start. For the next four hours, LA did everything but stand on his head to get that engine to start, but to no avail. We tried to hail someone on the VHF radio for advice, someone answered, but we had already tried what they suggested. Still, the engine would not start. By 3:00 p.m., I told LA "Look, you're exhausted, I'm exhausted. Let's just give this up for now, get some sleep. We'll get up later and have a nice meal and sort this out in the morning. So, that's exactly what we did. We woke up about 8 p.m., had an Omaha steak that couldn't be beat, drank some wine, and listened to some jazz on XM satellite radio (yes, one good thing..our satellite radio was still in range!).
The next morning (Sunday morning), we wake up early. We try to start the engine again..to no avail. We go through the process...bleed injectors, jump through all the hoops for 3 hours. No engine. We decide that since we are going to have to sail to Isla Mujeres with no engine, it would be a good idea to take our dinghy off the deck and deploy it so that if we need a little help steering, maneuvering and docking the boat, LA can get into the dinghy and use the motor to push the boat where it needs to go.
At 10 a.m. we set about the task to attach the dinghy to a hoisting bridle to hoist the dinghy over the side of the boat and pump the dinghy tubes up with a foot pump. LA starts pumping...and pumping...and pumping... the dingy is SLOWLY inflating. Now, it's been quite a while since we've had to inflate our dingy. We can't remember exactly how long it took, but we don't remember it taking QUITE this long. It's hot... LA's still pumping...then I pump...he pumps... After an hour, he looks at me and says "something's not right...it shouldn't take this long". I said "keep pumping...it looks like the first tube is getting full...". LA gives me the stink eye, and pumps a while longer. It's hot, real hot. We inspect the dinghy... is there a hole somewhere? We don't see one. We finally get enough air in the dinghy to drop it in the water, but it's still not fully inflated. LA puts the engine on the boat and then finds another dinghy foot pump. Well, guess what? The first pump was defective! The second pump fully inflated the dinghy in about 5 minutes!
As you remember, we have no engine so we are going to have to pick up our anchor under sail (not necessarily a big deal, but we've never had to do it before, so it's new to us..one more lesson). We hoist the sails and start bringing the anchor up. LA notices that it's a strain to get the anchor up. Well, you are just not going to believe this one...
We have a little surprise waiting for us. LA says.. "you've got to come up here and see this!". Our anchor comes up with a big, twisted Gordian knot of barnacle-encrusted line. So, LA pulls out his trusty knife, cuts on the line, and our anchor is finally up and we are on our way. Unfortunately for us, there is very little wind, and what little wind we have is blowing the wrong way. To get to Isla Mujeres, we will have to go pretty far out from Isla Contoy (due to depths) and angle back in. We realize that we may have to tack back and forth a lot, and with the lack of wind and it's direction, it may take us hours and hours to get to Isla Mujeres. Not necessarily a problem, but our main concern at this point is our lack of potable water. (Yeah, remember that salt water in the water tanks thing??) We are getting critically low on fluids! It's really hot and the only thing we have left at this point is hot beer and cold tonic water. I add raspberry tea mix to the tonic water and begin rationing it out. I open the abandon ship bag and get out all of the emergency water packets. (I really don't want to use any at this point because I don't think this is something that will be easy to replace in Central America! I would really like to keep my abandon ship back intact!). We try to hail someone on the VHF for assistance...no answer. We are too far away from Isla Mujeres for anyone to hear. So, we decide to sail closer to Isla Contoy, anchor, and have LA take the dinghy and go to Isla Mujeres and try to get some assistance.
(Note to non-sailors...the dinghy travels far faster than our boat...the boat travels at 6 knots under power, the dingy can travel 2 or 3 times faster than that). Although not the greatest of situations, we determine that LA can probably make it to Isla Mujeres in about an hour.
So, we begin sailing over to Isla Contoy. As we began to sail, we saw something big and black come up near the boat. At first, we thought it might be some type of whale, because it didn't look like a dolphin. We got closer and it was a huge manta ray! We started looking around and started seeing manta rays everywhere. We have been scuba diving 20 years and we have never seen this many mantas. There was some sort of a plankton bloom around there...the water was red with plankton and the mantas were feeding like crazy. They would leap up in the air and fall back down on their backs. It was spectacular! Sometimes in the face of adversity, God will send you something to remind you of the wonderful world around you. We looked in awe at these beautiful creatures and forgot about all our troubles for a while. It was a sight we will never forget. It was special and we knew we may never see anything like that again.
We were able anchor close to Isla Contoy. It is a beautiful island that is a marine preserve. We started seeing lots of green sea turtles in the water right away. The plan is I am going to stay with the boat and LA is heading to Isla Mujeres. By this time, it is 3 p.m. We began to prepare LA for his dingy trip. I was packing the GPS, binoculars, emergency water, sun block, VHF radio, foul weather gear...everything I could think of that he might need. LA is reviewing the charts and plotting his route. We came into the cockpit and looked up just in time to see............no, no, no, it can't be...tell me it's not true.....is something ELSE going to happen to these Wyatts???
WELL, HELL YES! We came into the cockpit just in time to see our dinghy floating away behind the boat to parts unknown! Yep! We've had a dinghy for ten years, cruised on our boat for a year, took multiple vacations to Cat Island, and we never had a dinghy get loose! Well, just one more thing when you're tired. Tied the dinghy up loosely and it worked its' way loose and off it went! We looked at each other and sprang into action. I got at the helm, and LA started raising the sail so that we could bring the anchor up (again, with no engine). Yep, we were going to hunt that dinghy down and capture it! As LA was hoisting the sail, don't ask me why, but I decided I would try to start the engine again. If I EVER needed an engine to start, it was now..... I was looking back at the stern of the boat watching the dingy float off. It was a sinking feeling. I tried to start the engine, and I thought I heard a little "hiccup" of starting.. I tried to start it again and it was dead.....nothing....nada.. By this time, LA had the main sail up and already was at the bow of the boat bringing up the anchor and guess what? The third time was the charm! The "engine-starting fairy" appeared and the engine roared to life! LA turned around and looked at me...I looked at him...and we whooped with joy! We got that anchor up quickly, turned the boat around, and made it to our runaway dinghy lickety-split! We captured it with a boat hook, tied it off (securely, I might add!) and we were on our way!
All throughout our passage, we had in our mind's eye what it would be like to sail into the harbor of Isla Mujeres. Well, we spent the next 3 hours motoring (yes, MOTORING, my friend!) to Isla Mujeres. That motor had the sweetest sound we had ever heard!! We were both smiling from ear to ear! We turned up the music, showered and pranced around naked, mixed some drinks, smoked cigarettes and cigars, and celebrated all the way to the harbor!
Land-ho! We FINALLY arrive in Isla Mujeres!
As we came into the harbor, we hailed our marina, and jumped for joy when they answered us on the VHF. A few moments later, a nice guy, Chuck, appeared alongside our port in a dingy and escorted us to the dock where Tom Boylan, marina manager, and several people were waiting to help us dock the boat and welcome us with a cold beer and a smile to one of the nicest marinas in the Caribbean, Marina Parasio.
It was 6:45 p.m. on Sunday, May 24, 2008. We had traveled for eight days and nights, and learned a lot about our boat and ourselves. You remember that book I was going to write called "Thumb-Sucking My Way Across the Pacific"?? Well, I never sucked my thumb one time on this trip! So, now I'm going to write "How I Put on My Big-Girl Sailing Panties, Made it Across the Gulf of Mexico and Lived to Tell the Tale"!
Our First Sunset in Isla Mujeres
Let the cruising life begin!
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