Good , Bad, Ugly on the Way to Mexico
15 January 2016 | Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Beth / wet, cold, miserable - but better now!
Well, I guess more than enough time has passed and I can bear to relive our trip to Isla Mujeres! Just kidding, just kidding. It was rough but it could have been far worse.
We got all checked out on Wednesday morning, secured everything on the boat for a passage and headed out the cut. The water was flat calm, the reef and the yellow buoy in the middle were easily visible and the exit was quick and easy.
Because there was very little wind, we had the motor on, the mainsail up and we played around with the yankee - out when we were off the wind enough, and in when what bit of wind there was, moved too much on the nose. We took advantage of the vigorous north setting current and blew along at 8, 9 even 10 knots, with the engine running at only 2000 RPM's. (We often run it at 2400, and even 2600 if we are in a hurry for a short distance, but it burns up fuel much faster when it works that hard.)
Dinner cooked in the oven as we travelled - chicken, potatoes, carrots, served with coleslaw and cranberry sauce - and we ate in the cockpit at dusk. Very civilized! We met a couple of cruise ships, and Jim called the Norwegian Star after we had been on a collision course with it for a couple of miles. The voice on the other end of the radio very kindly told us to hold our course and speed, and they would adjust theirs. Sure enough, about 4 miles off we saw the boat turn enough so that it would pass easily behind us, and we enjoyed an uneventful, starry evening. The wind increased to 8-10 kt; we hauled in the Yankee, left the Main up and prepared for a pleasant night with just an occasional squall to be wary of.
And then about 1:30 am, everything changed. The wind speed was way up, blowing 20-25 kts consistently from the NE, and while we couldn't see the exact height of the swells, they were big enough to pour water over our decks and spray into the cockpit.
This all came as a bit of a surprise, and we thought for the next few hours that it couldn't possibly last. Both Chris Parker (the weather forecaster beloved of all cruisers and who, more often than not, gets things right) and the GRIB files Jim downloaded from the internet had told us on Wednesday morning that we would have some NE or ENE wind under 10 knots on Wednesday, changing around to SE 10 -12 kts during the day Thursday as we moved up the coast, and SE and S 15-18 kts by nighttime. Friday would be S and SSW 15 dropping down to less than 10 in the Isla Mujeres area. Sea state would be 2-3 foot swells, building to 3-4 tomorrow. As long as we got into Isla Mujeres before Saturday, we would be between the cold fronts and home free.
But it just didn't turn out that way. The wind stayed from the North and blew harder, and the north setting current that meant we had wind against current, creating much higher waves, complicating the situation. When we started out, we thought we had lots of options - we decided not to go to Xclak at the bottom end of Mexico to save time, but we could go into Bahia de la Ascencion, or Hut Point or Puerto Morelos if we didn't want to go all the way to Isla Mujeres. Those opt out plans became impossible too, because all those cuts were impossible to get into because of the sea state.
So ... we suffered through the rest of the night, both huddled in the cockpit, waiting for morning and a new forecast and, we still thought, perhaps a change in what we were experiencing. Morning brought more of the same unfortunately, and it just got worse. We both stayed in the cockpit. I got sick and spent the whole day heaving over the side whenever I lifted my head up. Waves crashed on regular intervals right into the cockpit drenching us. We had rain gear on and hoods up but we still got soaked. The wind stayed from the North, blowing 20 -25 knots with gusts to 30. Waves were mostly 4 metres and higher with a short interval. We could rise and fall with some of them, but because of the opposing current, they came from every which way, and we crashed straight into some of them, the boat rising up and then shuddering and banging as we hit the trough again.
Jim was fantastic and stoic. He stayed on watch all day - although really there wasn't much to see except those miserable waves. On one foray down below for crackers and water, he fell on the steps and has a couple of nasty marks on his backside. Even in the cockpit he got literally thrown from one side to another as a wave blew in, the boat rocked sideways and he bounced from starboard to port. I curled into a corner alternating between sleeping and heaving.
On the good side ... just after dawn on Thursday, a whole school of little dolphin like creatures came surfing out of the waves and stayed around us for half an hour. I don't know what they were, but I viewed it as a good omen. They were much smaller than the usual dolphins, had stubby little tails, and stayed close together. Any ideas?
Thank goodness for good old boats. They built Bayfields well (Madcap is a 1988 Bayfield 36) and we kept telling ourselves that she could withstand this. And actually, once we decided that we had no alternative but to suffer through this, we drew a fair bit of comfort from watching our sturdy boat make its way through the nasty sea. Our speed dropped down to 2-3 knots for many hours but we managed to more or less maintain our course as we tried to find the best angle to waves and wind. I kept remembering the "old salt" we met in Georgetown Bahamas one year. He was flying a Nova Scotia flag and we stopped to say hello. He had just come in, and his boat looked a little the worse for wear. He laughed and laughed and said, "Oh I had a wonderful trip! I broke this and blew out that and tore this - it was a wonderful trip!"
We got salt water into every nook and cranny of the boat - no huge leaks but enough seepage to dampen most everything inside. Our lazy jacks (that guide the mainsail down onto the boom when we drop it - instead of all over the deck) snapped, the solar shower bag blew overboard, and our wind generator crapped out (more about that in a minute). But despite my fears of a forestay snapping or an anchor coming loose from the bowsprit, or the autopilot giving out, that was the extent of our damage. We were very fortunate!
As the day wore on, and the weather was still the same, we had to consider our options. If we headed for Puerto Morelos, we would arrive after dark. That meant we couldn't make the entrance into the anchorage by the town. There is a more southern entrance to El Cid Marina, but we couldn't make that without assistance.
If we headed for Isla Mujeres, we would arrive in the middle of the night - again, we didn't feel confident that we could get in then. So - we headed for the western side of Cozumel, thinking that if we could get in the lee of the island, we would at least have some relief from the wind and waves. Sure enough, as we rounded the corner about 5 pm, the wind dropped and the seas calmed. What a difference from a mile offshore. Although we had no recommended anchorages there, we just pulled in close to shore and dropped the anchor and all the chain we carry in 20 feet of water.
We peeled out of our wet clothes, found some dry ones and fell into an exhausted sleep on the salon settees. We woke up around midnight to discover the low battery warning light flashing. "What? How could that possibly be?" The engine had been on for the past 30 hours! Something was drawing 22 amps of power (it usually ranges between 3 and 5.) With a mix of adrenaline and left over grogginess, we proceeded to check all the systems and nothing showed up. Jim was very concerned that we wouldn't be able to start the engine in the morning if we didn't fix it. We had turned off the wind generator when the wind got so strong, and he figured it could have nothing to do with that, but when he checked it to be sure, the control panel was scorching hot. Aha! A few minutes later, he had disconnected the wires and the amp draw was down to 5. Relief!
I pulled the damp sheets off the bed, laid down some towels and clean sheets and we crawled in for the rest of the night. At daybreak, a steady stream of dive boats came zooming by, and as soon as we got the coffee made, we headed out. They must have been very surprised to see a sailboat anchored along the shore there. As we made our way up the coast, we saw 2 cruise ships in and 2 more on their way, and thought what a difference their cruise was from ours!
The wind picked up again once we were out of the lee of Cozumel but it had finally shifted to SE and was mostly behind us. The seas were still 6-8 feet but that felt like nothing! Soon, we could see the miles and miles of big hotels that line the beaches of Cancun and we turned into the southern entrance to Isla Mujeres.
We rounded the red buoys that sit practically on the beach, jockeying for position with the car ferry and the passenger ferry and a half dozen catamarans loaded with tourists, to anchor near the Port Captain's office.
Jim called to announce our arrival, and was told to go see Dorita at the Fuel dock. Apparently they like visiting boats to use agents here rather than see the officials directly. While he was off doing that, a navy boat pulled up to say we were anchored too close to the big warship on the dock and would have to move Now. I replied that as soon as my husband returned, we would do just that. I did start the engine and move around a little to show that I wasn't just ignoring them. Fortunately, Jim returned fairly soon and we moved to the main anchorage (where we would certainly go first next time!)
The passage was over. We were safe. The boat was fine. Ahhhhh. Relief.
(No pics of all the drama - never really thought about getting out the camera!)