Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thursday ~ Success

Started early on the generator project and J lent a hand lifting it back into the hole.  There was some struggling and swearing but it went back in the hole. While putting it back in, I reinforced the shelf it sits on so it shouldn't have any issues in 12+ ft seas.  That was just the first part of the job.  Everything had to be reconnected, checked, cleaned up but it couldn't be tested until the motor was fixed as they share a common battery. 

Several hours later, everything was reconnected and proclaimed ready to test.  I took a break and then got started on the motor.  After logically attempting to figure out how the new part was to be put in, I pulled out the manual.  To change the starter solenoid you have to remove about 1/3 of the motor including the flywheel.
Again hours later, it was time to test things.  Beth switched the battery on and one of the fans on the generator came on but nothing on the motor smoked.  I had wired one of the fans to the bilge pump circuit so a quick wire change and that was fixed.  I was so confident in my repairs on the motor I put the cover back on and lowered the motor into the water.  Beth again switched the battery on, ready to switch it back off if necessary.
I started the generator and it purred.  I switched the boat power from shore to generator and everything kept working.  I double checked the fans and bilge pump and everything was correct.  I turned off the generator and turned the key on the motor.  It started quickly, quietly and was running smooth.  The major projects are complete, the next project is cleaning up after the mess of scattering tools and supplies all over the boat but that is a job for tomorrow.
We grilled the steaks I purchased the other day and enjoyed a nice quiet evening.

This was not a one man project(s) and everyone pitched in, Jer being able to get into the hole and loosen and tighten the bolts, J for his help in lifting the generator both in and out as well as his ongoing moral support and of course Beth for bringing tools, supplies and most importantly Diet Coke and not taking things personally when I was mad at the boat and not her.  Its great that everyone helped and it was a successful project.  I sincerely hope none of us have any major projects in the near future.  Tomorrow we plan to start getting ready to leave Isla Mujeres and head to Puerto Morales and be at the El Cid Marina for a week, maybe a month.

Wednesday - Tropical Storm Don

I got up early to get started on the project of the day but was met with very grey skies and light rain.  After checking the weather, the tropical wave was sitting just off the coast and had gone up to an 80% chance of becoming a full tropical storm.  I was able to get the reinforcement done in between rain showers but over all little got accomplished in the way of repairs.  Beth and I watched True Blood, Season 4, Episodes 1 ~ 3. There were tons of bait fish hanging around under the dock so J, I, Julio, Francisco, David, and a couple of other guys stood on the dock, in the rain, attempting to catch fish.  J landed two of some hybrid mackerel, I landed a barracuda and David landed a nice king mackerel.

Catie attacking a bait fish

The tropical storm developed fully about 4 pm but was already a bit north of us so we were spared any real wind but it rained all day and into the night.  Hopefully what we sailed through north of Cuba and this one will be the closest we come to a tropical storm / hurricane.

About 6pm, Julio cooked up the fish and we had a very nice meal.  Julio can really cook fish, very moist, flaky and tasty.

Beth is feeling better and after resting today and a good nights sleep, she will be back at 100%.
At the moment, all is well.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday ~ Progress is made

Point of clarification regarding J & J.  J is actually J Bright, aka Wolf Bright and the captain of Mahalo Nui.  The other J, which will be referred to as Jer from now on, is his partner on this adventure and is Jerralyn Gomila.

I was up early and got started on the step/arch repair.  Because of the close quarters and working area, its pretty much a one man job.  While everyone offers support, this is a job that must pretty much be done alone. Jer is invaluable for this job however, with Beth sick, she stepped in and is small enough to fit in the locker to tighten the bolts. She came over early and got the initial bolt tightened.   It got hot quickly but I persevered.  Several layers of fiberglass and hours later, it was ready for the finish coat.  In between layers, I hit the local store for things that they don't have but did grab some really nice ribs from the corner restaurant.  About 3 pm I totally ran out of gas and crashed in the boat and in the AC.  Beth wasn't feeling much better so she stayed in all day resting.  I started back about 7:30 and Jer was needed to help. She came over and tightened the bolts that hold the arch down.  It took about 45 minutes and a gallon of sweat from both of us, but the arch is again fastened to the step.  The next steps are to add additional reinforcement and begin the re-installation of the generator.

There is weather south of us and it may prevent our new friend, John, from departing for Guatemala and may delay our departure as well.  Hopefully it will dissipate and not be an issue but we may be staying in Isla a bit longer than planned.  We are fair weather sailors from now on, hopefully only day sails and won't be leaving port without current and accurate weather reports. We have all learned that our boats can take a whipping as can the crew but just because we can take 12+ seas doesn't mean we want to.


J, J and I worked on loosening the arch so I could work on the reinforcement and then J and I went into Cancun to look for parts and a few wanted items for Beth.  The shore water fitting is a common fitting and should be available at most marine stores.  Well after several hours in Cancun and 4 marine supply stores, it isn't common in Mexico.  However, luck was with us as the solenoid for the motor was found.  The exact part number, the actual part I wanted and had been told on the phone that the part did not exist in Mexico.  Not only was there one, but two.  While the price was higher, It is now on the boat and will be installed soon.  The rest of the engine parts are shipping to Ellijay and will get shipped to us somewhere on one of our next stops.
We went to Chedraui grocery store and I hit the imported section.  Nice american type brands for that taste of home.  J and I made it back to the UltraMar ferry just as it was bording and made it back.
Our plans to head south are complicated by the dogs and apparently the cost of getting into Belize. We will continue to research this and advise on our travel plans.

Update on the SPOT tracking device.  It will be replaced under warranty but they can't ship to Mexico so that, with the remainder of engine parts will ship to Ellijay to be forwarded.  Sorry, but no tracking for awhile.

Saturday & Sunday

Saturday was a really hot day, absolutely miserable to be outside in the sun.  I came to the decision, whist sitting inside the boat in the air conditioning, that I would proceed with the repairs that I could, basically fixing the starboard aft step, rudder and generator and once that was done, call upon my skills ( derived from Rube  Goldberg and MacGyver) to make good but temporary repairs to the engine and plan our departure.  I will get the necessary parts shipped to Georgia, and along with a few other goodies, have them shipped to me somewhere along our route.  Beth didn't feel good today and says she feels like she is coming down with the flu.  She stayed inside most of the day and rested.
I started the generator removal process about 7 pm and quit when it got dark.

Sunday I started on the generator project early and got everything disconnected and J came over and helped me actually remove the generator.  It currently is sitting in the cockpit.  While I have it out, I will replace the rudder line, reinforce the step, fix the shore water leak I discovered, and repair the broken wire on the bilge pump.

This series of projects are all relatively simple but complicated by the heat.  The rudder line was repaired but the leak was the shore water inlet which I broke attempting to fix so some of tomorrow will be attempting to source a new one.   Beth feels worse and is pretty sure she has the flu.
J, J, and I made a trip to the grocery to restock.  I basically got chicken soup and eggs for Beth.  She is eating which is a good sign, hopefully it will pass quickly.  After shopping J, J, and I played on the dock fishing. I hooked but did not land a barracuda.  It was just way too hot to do much so we all retired to the shade and ac of the boats.  Beth and I watched a few chic flicks.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Friday - 7/22 Catie's Birthday

Today started out great.  The plan was an early departure on Mahalo Nui to the whale shark area and swim with the whale sharks.  We finalized the party details for Caties birthday party with Jamie and we loaded our snorkel gear aboard, a few drinks and the dogs.  We motored out of the marina and once clear of the island, J hoisted the sails and we were headed north east.  I got to be crew for a change as J was captain so I started trolling two lines behind the boat.  I had put a new artificial lure on J's rod because we had not had a lot of luck with our previous lures.  It wasn't long before J had a fish on.  He handed the rod to me and I reeled in a Bonito. It wasn't a huge fish but it was "eating size".  Catie went absolutely nuts for the fish and nibbled its fins.

Then it went into the cooler.  We continued sailing northeast but with storms threatening and J plotted a course more north and skirting the storms.  We continued trolling as we motor sailed and we caught another Bonito about the same size.  The storms were getting closer and we could see the rain line.  It wasn't much longer before we were in the rain.  J and Beth ducked into the cabin taking things with them and I wasn't far behind grabbing Sally.  Captain J was getting soaked and J took him a foul weather jacket and I rejoined him in the cockpit.  The rain was shortlived but J decided to head back to Isla as there were numerous storms in the area and being the tallest thing around with a metal mast sticking up with lightning around isn't the most comfortable feeling.  So we never made it to the whale shark area but will try another day. We continued trolling and had a really big hit, it was taking line and almost spooled the reel.  As quickly as it took line, I was getting it back and it quit fighting.  Once we got it to the boat, we understood why.

Apparently, something ( possibly a shark ) liked the idea of lunch and took 1/2 the fish for himself.  There were some impressive tooth marks on what was left of the fish.  Shortly after that, we landed another bonito about the same size and added it to the cooler.  We were sure they guys at the dock would add our catch to the feast they had planned for us.
Catie watching over her catch
We had one more hit which took the lure with it and we reeled in an empty line.  We spotted a sailboat heading for Isla and hailed them on the radio.  They were arriving from the Dry Tortugas.  We advised them on the marina situation and they followed us.  Unfortunately their beam prohibited them from joining us as El Milagro but they settled in next door at Paraiso and we invited them to Catie's birthday party.

While getting ready, I checked email and found out that the engine parts order I had placed and was awaiting delivery for had been cancelled.  I called the company and they never processed the order nor did they notify me there was an issue.  After seriously chewing them out, I was still without the parts and they were unsure when they could deliver to Mexico.  I called the local Honda shop and since I don't speak spanish well enough to hold a conversation, Jamie took the call.  They don't have the parts in stock, don't know when they can get them but were nice enough to give us the number of a big Honda dealer in Merida, Mexico.  They were already closed but are open on Saturday so we will give them a call and see if they have and/or can get the parts. We were all disappointed with this development but J suggested if they have the parts, we rent a car and take the 4 hour drive to get them.  A nice interior Mexico road trip.  The only decision at the moment is to stay put, take care of the remaining chores and enjoy our time here until we can get the parts, make the repairs and go.

Getting ready for the party:

No birthday party would be complete without a cake

The birthday girl getting ready to blow out the candle ( with some help from the wind )

The staff of El Milagro Marina and friends from other boats.
J and Sally
The fiesta was arranged by the staff and they got us a 5 kg red snapper, added our Bonito and cooked us a feast.  This was by far the best meal any of us have had since arriving in Mexico.  We had fish, pork, potatoes, mexican rice, tortillas, and more.  We meant to take a picture of the table before we started devouring everything but that didn't happen.

After the fiesta, we all retired to our respective boats and called it a night.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thurday 7/21

Thursday: John and J got up early and helped pump the water out of a dinghy on a neighboring boat. The owner hasn't been around but between the rain and wakes, it was almost sinking. J had a big submersible pump and it got it floating in under an hour. The guys on the dock invited us to breakfast / brunch. They prepared a nice pork burrito plate with coca cola. The SPOT has been confirmed as dead and now we are waiting for engine parts as well as the replacement SPOT. For those looking, we are located here.
Catie's birthday is tomorrow so J and I went shopping for party supplies while John did stuff on the boat. John suggested burgers, cake and the usual party stuff but enough for the dock. But we are ging to get Jamie (pronounced Hy-me) to get some local fish and food for the party. That adds about 4 people to the current 4 so not that big a deal and I think the staff will appreciate it.
Although I expect about 12 in all.
I got back from shopping and John had fixed the water system and generally cleaned up the tools and stuff. It is so hot during the day here, I don't know how anyone gets anything done.
After a couple hours rest and letting it cool down a bit, We all took a cab into town to check out the cemetary. The cemetary here is quite an attraction. The grave sites are all extravagantly decorated although the over all cemetary was unkempt. We did locate the grave with the skull and crossbones on it which is the plot of a pirate that settled here. After the cemetery tour, we walked around the beach area trying to decide what to have for dinner.


We finally settled on an Italian restaurant down the street and ate a light dinner.At dinner we met Nick from Chicago, a friend of J&J's that they had met on the island. We planned a whale shark watching / swimming trip at dinner. We will take Mahalo Nui out to where the commercial whale shark tours go and jump in the water with them. After a cab ride back to the boat, we all settled in as we plan to depart by 9.


Wedneday - 7/20

Slept in till about 7 and got started on the outdoor projects before the heat index reached triple digits.  I got the spotlight moved and resealed as well as resealed the rub rail and deck penetrations.  That took until about lunch.
Beth worked on putting the equipment back into the sail locker as well as drying the port aft locker.  After 3, I climbed in the dinghy and started on the shady side of the boat resealing the underside of the rub rail.  What a pain working upside down.
The heat index reached triple digits and by the time I got to the sunny side of the boat, I was feeling the heat.
The second I finished, I jumped in the shower while Beth prepared her BBQ chicken.  Between working in the heat all day, the exposure to mineral spirits, I was exhausted.

J & J went to Chichen Itza today so they were missed. They returned about 9:30 pm and brought us a jaguar call.  They seemed pretty tired so we will get details tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I got up unusually early as I couldn't sleep so I updated the blog for the past week.  J and I again attempted to catch some bait using the cast net but neither of our techniques is very good.  J caught most of them for fishing later.  Beth got up around 11 and started cleaning and organizing the boat and J and I took the dinghy across the bay to do some fishing.  We were told red snapper and grouper were possibilities but all we caught were 2 barracuda and a needle fish.  The current was pretty strong and kept trying to push us onto land, the reef or shallow water.  We may get better details on where the good fishing is before we try again.
Beth was in the process of cleaning out the forward sail locker when we got back so I helped with that which included rinsing everything with fresh water.  We raised the spinnaker to let it dry. I really hope we get to actually use it sailing soon as it is beautiful.  J has promised pictures once we get that opportunity.

J wasn't feeling good all day so she stayed on the boat.  Beth, J, and I went into town where J purchased some medicine to hopefully make J feel better and he returned to the marina while Beth and I wandered the town looking for dinner.  We decided to treat ourselves to steak, actual beef.  You have to make sure its beef because alot of the meat here is donkey or goat.  Our steaks were pretty good, different but pretty good.  We made sure to save some for the dogs.  Some guys came up the street while we were eating and performed.

We wandered around a bit after dinner looking at the tourist shops and general life on Isla then grabbed a cab back to the marina.  The dogs are adjusting very well to staying on the boat without us.  Catie has quit climbing the TV and flipping the breakers but they are both very excited when we return.  They enjoyed the leftovers from dinner.

A little TV and an early night.

Monday - Back to Cancun 7/18/2011

I got up early as usual and straightened out the tool room and Beth got up early too, it must have been 10am.
We packed up and headed toward the ferry arriving in Cancun about 2pm.  Our first stop, via bus, was Pizza Hut.  We were both craving some traditional food but Mexican Pizza Hut wasn't quite the same as USA Pizza Hut.  It was good and we devoured a large stuffed crust pizza.  From there it was a cab ride to the marine supply store where we picked up the final things needed for Second Chance and a few items for J&J.  From there a quick stop at Home Depot, vastly different from the USA Home Depot's, and then back to Las Plazas de Americas for some quick grocery shopping.  After leaving the Plaza, we inquired which bus to take back to Puerto Juarez and were told that we would have to take a bus to the terminal and transfer.  No Problem, we were getting quite good at navigating the local system.  Apparently the bus we took wasn't a bus tourists generally take as one of the other passengers inquired where we were going and why we were on this particular bus.  We explained as best we could in broken spanish and the gentleman in the next row was much better speaking english than we were in spanish and translated for us.  We were on the right bus and would get there.  After about a kilometer, the guy told us we should have gotten off 1 bus stop ago so we thanked him and scurried off the bus.  It was about rush hour, 5 pm, and the streets were crowded.  We were the only tourists in sight and everyone was checking us out.  We walked back and caught the correct bus to the port.  This bus however was a van and generally only locals used it.  We were welcomed aboard and made it back to port without issue.  Beth was craving a McDonalds ice cream and enjoyed it while waiting on the ferry.
We were treated to a lovely sunset while on the ferry back to Isla.  A quick cab ride and we were back at the marina, safe and sound.
What should have been an hour or so shopping trip, took about 6 hours including travel.  Things don't happen fast in Mexico.  We relaxed aboard, watching TV and headed to bed early.

I also checked out the SPOT and it appears to be deceased again.  I have contacted the company and will await word on getting it replaced.

Saturday & Sunday

We decided to move the boats early to El Milagro Marina. J and I were up early and I departed the dock first to head to the fuel dock.  We docked and filled up the gas tanks as well as the diesel tank for the generator.  J & J were at the dock about 5 minutes after we got there.  Fuel prices were very reasonable.  When we started to leave the dock, the motor wouldn't start.  After checking the batteries and attempting to start it again, I heard a strange noise out of the motor and saw smoke coming from the housing.  As everyone knows, things don't work once you let the smoke out.  We quickly turned the battery off and I removed the housing.  Apparently the wire to the magnetic starter switch was fried and while attempting to fix that, I noticed the actual switch burned.  The motor wasn't going to start and the hope of finding this part on the island was minimal.  J & J towed us back to the original dock at Marina Paraiso.  They left us there and headed to the new marina, about 100 yards north.
While they were docking, I hand started the motor and joined them.
We docked without incident.  The staff at Milagro came out to help us into the slip and get us connected to water and power.  Once secured, I started working on the engine and got online to find the parts.  Hopefully its just the switch and not the starter.  Parts were ordered and should be here in about a week.
The rest of the day was dedicated to relaxing so my knee might feel better.  Well, that didn't happen.  I worked on the interior of the boat and got 99% of that finished.  Maybe I could rest on Sunday.

We went into downtown Isla for dinner, via cab, and ate at a nice Italian place after browsing through a few of the shops.  There were new signs up around town proclaiming "Whale Shark season had begun" and it was a full moon.  During dinner, a parade came by with a huge inflatable Whale Shark leading the way.

After dinner we followed the parade route and came into a festival all about Whale Sharks.  We all decided we needed to take the boat out and go swim with them sometime this week.
Whale Shark Parade
We checked out a few of the booths, gathering information on where to find Whale Sharks and about them then walked to the beach for a beautiful ocean view of the full moon.  We then headed back to the boats for a good night sleep.


I was up early and started working on the blog from Key West to Mexico.  That took most of the day so in theory it was relaxing.  Beth worked on putting clothes away and straightening up the boat.  That is an ongoing project.  Monday we are planning to go to Cancun for the last of the boat parts and a Pizza Hut lunch.

Cancun - Wednesday ~ Friday

While we were up early and eager to head to Cancun, a few things needed to be done before we left.  We had told J&J we would be ready at 11 am.  They didn't realize that we were now on Central time and were ready to go at 10.  I also pointed out that Beth was coming and a 1/2 hour later than the agreed time was the standard.

We left for the ferry about 11:30 with luggage and the dogs.  Cabs around the island are usually readily available and reasonable.  Depending on the driver a ride from the marina into town is anywhere from 15 to 40 pesos.  Just about everything in Mexico is negotiable so I think we average 25 pesos for a one way ride.  The ferry is a very nice ferry, quick, clean, air conditioned and is 150 pesos per person round trip. 

We arrived in Cancun at Puerto Juarez.  The customs office is about 400 yards north to which we had to pay a visit to finalize our import paperwork, another $ 50 and we would be done with entering the country.  With that done, we hailed a cab and headed toward the Westin which is located on the south side of the hotel zone.

J and Beth checked us in and the room was beach front and very nice.  We all relaxed a little, took showers in a fantastic dual head shower and got ready for dinner.  Beth and I had told J & J about Hacienda Sisal which has a buffet, open bar and Caribbean show on Wednesdays so we were all looking forward to it.  We headed out about 6 to wander around town and be at Hacienda Sisal at 7:30 for the show.  We took the local bus from the hotel up the hotel zone and stopped at one of the markets.  We all "window" shopped and looked at everything like typical tourists then boarded the bus back to Hacienda Sisal.  We were seated promptly but things have changed since Beth and I were here in Feb.  Apparently the open bar only lasted until 9, call brands were extra and it wasn't crowded.  This is the off season here and I guess everyone is making budget cuts.  The food was pretty good and the show excellent.  Here are some pics of the show.

Sorry for the quality of the pictures but Beth had the camera and after a few drinks, she isn't exactly steady.

After dinner we headed back to the Westin for a good nights sleep via the local bus.

I got up early and headed out to downtown Cancun to secure parts needed for the boat.  I left the hotel about 8:30.  I caught the local bus downtown, hit Home Depot, a couple of big stores, Nauticos, a marine supply store and an electronics store.  Sounds simple but in Cancun, when its hard to get directions in English, this trip took about 6 hours, 5+ miles of walking, several buses and a few cabs.  I got almost everything on my list but would have to return to one of the stores the following day.  All of this was in 95 degree heat.  Needless to say by the time I returned to the hotel, I was exhausted.  I jumped in the very nice shower afterwards Beth and I took the dogs for a walk on the beach.  During my absence, apparently Beth, J & J were concerned that I was gone so long and had no way to reach me.  While I did try to call them about noon, the call wasn't answered.

One of the waiters took the picture and cut off a couple of heads.
After a bit of relaxing, we all got ready to go out for dinner and to see the Cancun nightlife.  We went back to Tacos Caminero.  The guys at the restaurant remembered us and were great to us.  This place is HIGHLY recommended !!  After dinner we went to the club area and J&J signed up for a Chitineza tour on Wednesday. There was a guy walking around with a monkey, several people dressed up as movie characters and one guy had a big snake.
We went to one of the bars advertising 2 for 1 drinks across from Coco Bongo.  It was loud but good music and dancing.  We had our two drinks and J & J headed back to the hotel and that is when Beth got up on stage and started dancing.  She danced until her legs were rubber and then we headed back to the hotel. ( Sorry, no pictures of the dancing but it was a spectacular show )

I believe I am the weak link in this armada.  My knee has been getting worse mainly because I don't have the opportunity to rest.  Between the rough crossings, the long walkabouts and the general climbing around on the boat, the knee is as bad as it has ever been.  Beth, J & J, know this and walk slowly for me and we take transportation when we can but part of life on a boat is walking, jumping and being quite active.  I am currently researching a stem cell therapy that "regrows" the cartilage in the knee.  It is a much less invasive procedure than actual knee replacement surgery and shows tremendous promise.  I feel that something is going to have to be done soon.  Beth and I have discussed pausing our adventure here until it is fixed.  At this point its just discussions.  If anyone knows anything about the stem cell therapy, let me know.

Friday:  We all slept in a little, enjoyed the great shower for the last time and headed back into Cancun.  We wanted to do some shopping before we took the ferry back to Isla.  We went to Las Plazas de Americas which is very close to a standard mall about 1/2 the size of the Mall of Georgia.  They have a huge grocery store and J & J stocked up while Beth just bought a few necessities.  I went to the electronics store and completed my purchase.  We packed up everything into a cab and headed to Puerto Juarez to catch the ferry.

We were all glad to see our boats again and looking forward to spending a quiet evening at "home".

Isla Mujeres - Mexico Sunday ~ Tuesday

Sunday: After a good nights sleep we accessed the damage to the boat and it wasn't too bad.  There were a few things that needed repair but nothing major, at least major to me.  We needed a few boat parts and inquired where to get them and made a plan.  We all headed to the ferry to visit Cancun, especially the WalMart to reprovision.   While visiting Cancun we went to a touristy market area to look around and we found Caminero Tacos Cancun,  The people were so friendly and eager to help.  We just had drinks and promised to come back again for dinner. Walmart was pretty disappointing considering the prices are the same as Georgia and the selection pretty lame.   From there we headed back to the ferry and our boats with the provisions from WalMart.

Monday : Beth worked on laundry most of the day because everything had gotten wet.  I worked on putting the boat back in order and formulating a plan to get everything fixed while dealing with all the people and paperwork involved with bringing the boat, people and dogs into the country.  The dock master "Chepo" was very helpful in organizing getting everyone together and to the boat.  Customs and immigration were the easiest while we had to take a trip downtown to the hospital for the health (Sanitary) inspection.  The dogs had to be seen by a local vet but wasn't a real problem, just more money.  Apparently all officials expect to be tipped and Chepo had advised us of how much and to whom although he took care of most of it for us.  All up, it cost us about $2500 pesos ( figure 10 pesos to 1 usd ) to get cleared into the country for 180 days.

Apparently the SPOT locator died somewhere north of Cuba.  It requires lithium batteries and I didn't have any spares onboard.  I tried alkaline but never got a signal that it was working.  We will try to get some while hear, as well as a few spares, and get that working again.

We explored Isla a little as we needed provisions and checked out the amenities of the marina.  The website made the marina sound like its name, Paradise.  In reality the marina was lacking.  They had a dock but I can not remember ever being on a dock in such bad shape.  They had power and it worked. The water pressure wasn't much better that a good rain.  The apartments, pool and grounds are all under construction and might be finished this year but I wouldn't count on it.  The cable tv on the dock, non existent.  The supposed golf cart availability also didn't exist and the 24 hour security was a joke.  Frank, the owner, had purchased the place in Feb and was fixing everything, apparently the website was a forecast, not fact.  I am sure that in a year or so it will be a nice marina, but for now it was nothing more than a port in the storm.

Beth met Geff and Rose from the marina next door whilst working on the laundry.  They are an older couple cruising full time and invited us over for their departure party and to swap stories.  J, J, Beth and I went over about 8pm and the party was pretty much over.  We told tales of our crossing and they shared their experiences.  Geff gave me a tour of his 41' Hunter and realized we have very similar tastes in equipment.  They were headed south for hurricane season in the morning but we exchanged boat cards, promising to keep in touch.  The marina, El Milagro Marina, was a much nicer marina and after talking with Geff and the marina manager,everyone agreed we needed to move.

Tuesday:  Beth and J headed out early while I worked on the boat.  Their mission was groceries and sightseeing.  Beth wasn't sure of some of the food available in the store but got a few known items.  She got a variety pack of cookies which are not bad, just different.  J had checked into getting accommodations in Cancun for a few days to give us all a break and got a fantastic deal at the Westin Cancun.  They accepted dogs so the evening was spent securing the boat and getting ready to head to Cancun in the morning.

Pictures from around Isla Mujeres

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 6 ~ 9- Onward to Mexico

We were told that the customs office opened at 6 am and given that we had 250 miles to go, we wanted an early start. One of the dock security guards was nice enough to give us a wake up call at 5:30 and I got J & J up.  Duke appreciated the gift of a NYPD baseball cap for watching our boats.  They have an interesting work schedule.  12 hours on, 12 off for two days, then two days off, then repeat.  Apparently Cuba is quite divided in classes.  You have the elite rich, the government workers, and everyone else.  The government workers seem quite satisfied with their position, the everyone else does what they can to make ends meet. It is the latter that you hear about coming ashore in Miami.  Things are changing in Cuba and private capitalism is on the rise and the government is slowly giving more rights to the people.  I estimate that within 5 years, Cuba will be a world class tourist destination and the US will stop the embargo that is doing nothing but hurting the people, not the government.

Unfortunately, the officer was late and showed up around 6:45.  The clearing out process was much easier than getting in as we had all our documents ready and after a quick look around the boat by the officer, we were clear to go.
Sunrise behind Second Chance at Havana Customs

A rainbow to the south
Departing Marina Hemingway
Various Shots of the Cuban coast as we headed westward.

There were storms to the south but not headed our way.  We stayed close to the coast to take advantage of any counter gulf stream current we could.  As dusk approached, there was trouble on the horizon.  The onboard Sirrus weather system was clear, which was obviously wrong.  Also, this is about where the SPOT unit died due to the batteries.  It takes lithium batteries and all we had aboard were alkaline which apparently don't work, or the unit itself has died again.  Something to work on in Mexico.

We sailed in shifts through the night and the stars were great.  We had wind and smooth seas as we crossed the northern edge of Cuba.  At about 5 am the stars disappeared and we were hit with a 35 knot wind, the seas increased and it starting pelting rain.  Sails were dropped and furled and we were getting tossed about violently in what built to 8 to 12 ft seas and winds from 20 to 40 knots.  We were taking a beating much like being in a washing machine and the boat was getting tossed.  We motored on the best tack we could to get to the smoothest wave action but it didn't matter, we were getting pounded, and all in pitch black.  I was exhausted and Beth guided us through the storm while the dogs and I tried to sleep.  Sleep was impossible with the way the boat was pounding so the dogs did well as long as they were comforted.  I was feeling ill between lack of sleep and feeling my internal organs being beaten around.
This storm wasn't on the Sirrus weather at all and all we could do was keep going.  We found out later that this was a tropical system which had hurricane potential but broke up later the next day.  We persevered westward.  We went about 5 hours in this gut wrenching, boat pounding storm, looking at every opportunity for safe harbor or a protected anchorage and as dawn broke, the storm lessened.  Rain continued but the seas calmed to 5 ft and 15 knots of wind.  We proceeded to Cabo San Antonio and anchored.  It was around noon and we had covered about 150 miles.  We were all exhausted, beaten and wet.  Most things inside the boat were wet and the Honda was acting up.  The storm had almost ripped off the front windshield cover and the force of the waves had caused the arch to punch a hole in the aft starboard step.  Everything in the boat was in disarray and we were tired so we secured the boat, anchored a few hundred yards off the Cuban coast and went to sleep.

Friday Morning:
We checked out the boat to see what actual damage we had done and what we needed to do to proceed.
The weight of the dinghy on the arch being thrown about in 12ft+ waves for hours had pushed through the fiberglass on the step but it was well above the waterline.  It also couldn't take another beating without causing serious damage.  J came over to help and we removed the motor from the dinghy and placed it on the aft deck, the dinghy was removed from the arch and placed on the forward deck and secured.  I used Gorilla tape around the arch and step and reinforced the arch with straps.  We would be fine unless we started getting hit with huge following seas and even then, it shouldn't be too bad.  I checked the Honda and the same safety switch that had malfunctioned in Indiantown had done it again.  I made temporary repairs to the motor, checked the fuel levels which were low considering we had another 110 miles to go. Motoring through the storm had used alot more fuel than usual.  I also used Gorilla tape on the front windshield and the port aft window which developed leaks.  The biggest problem was how much water had gotten in the boat.  It was almost like there was an open hole.  I finally determined that the waves we were punching through, with waves washing over the boat had forced water between the seam of the hull and the deck.  This was a much better conclusion than an actual hole in the deck.  It could wait until Mexico to get resealed properly.  The seas were much calmer, we were all feeling lucky to be alive and proud of our boats for the beating they had taken so about 10am, we started out again.  This time, headed to the Cuban Port of San Francisco for fuel, which was about 3 kilometers away. 

We approached the port and told them our intentions which was to get fuel and proceed, stating our last port was Marina Hemingway.  We were welcomed and told to proceed.  We docked without issue and a customs agent boarded the boat.  When we left Hemmingway, we were cleared out of Cuba, not within Cuba and we were making another stop.  I explained our situation and they were very nice and we were allowed to purchase fuel, a few drinks and proceed without having to do all the paperwork as if we were staying.  We waited until the weather report was on TV at the port at 1:30.  It showed the remnants of the crap we had just come through and nothing else major along the way so, Captains decision, We proceed to Mexico.

We calculated we had 103 miles to go to the tip of Isla Mujeres, Mexico.  If we had good conditions that should take 18 to 20 hours, leaving at 2 pm, that should put us in port around noonish Saturday.  We sailed out and took the recommended heading of 250 to allow for the 3 knot northward gulf stream.  We motor sailed most of the way and doing very well until we hit the actual gulf stream.  Staying on our heading was giving the boat a pounding and I didn't want to stress it anymore than necessary so we went more with the seas to smooth out the ride.  Mahalo Nui, with its deeper draft was being effected more by the gulf stream than we were so they chose a different course but staying close.  
We passed lots of commercial vessels and the AIS was again useful because it gives us information on other ships speed and heading allowing us to calculate if there is any collision issue. 

We were treated to a beautiful sunset as we approached the gulf stream.
Crossing the gulf stream in the dark wasn't a big issue, we were crossing deep water, over 6000 ft with a 3 knot northward current, the seas were still 8 to 10 ft but were following seas.  About 5 am the propane tank that we had filled in Ft. Myers had finally given out.  So, with Beth on deck, I climbed over the lifelines and attempted to change a propane tank, in the dark, with waves coming up to the 2nd rear step.  While a challenge and only one instance of almost being washed overboard the change was successful.  Morning came and we were making lousy time, with the wind and current we were making at best 3 knots.  At this rate, it was going to be a really long trip.  About noon, the waves picked up a little more and we could see storms off in the distance, and they were heading our way.  About 30 miles from Isla the storm hit and Beth took the helm and I laid down with Catie and Cocoa attempting to reassure them that it was ok and we really would see land again.  We picked the best route to not beat the boat to death and allow Mahalo Nui to stay with us.
They were having problems on that course and were doing better on a southern course.  For the first time, we split.  Second Chance took a northern route with the seas and Mahalo Nui took a southern route. Once we turned more north, we could make 7 knots with following seas.  We course corrected every 15 minutes toward Isla but attempting to get to shallower water where the gulf stream wouldn't be an issue.  We lost radio contact with Mahalo Nui after about an hour and we were concerned. About 4pm, we saw land.  Unfortunately it was Isla Contoy, the island north of Isla Mujeres but land either way.  We kept course correcting and it wasn't until we were in about 200 ft of water that the gulf stream quit effecting us.  We steered toward Isla attempting to contact Mahalo Nui without success.
Isla Mujeres finally in sight
We made our way around Punta Norte and toward the marina in the rain.  We attempted to call listed marinas on the radio but being Saturday evening, got no response.  We docked at the resort dock to ask what the rates were and inquired about other dockage and customs.  The person at the desk called customs and let me speak to them.  I told them our situation and they said it was too late today and not to worry about it.  Enjoy the island, go out to eat and it would be handled on Monday.  While docked, I popped on the internet to check out the other marinas in the area.  Attempting to act quickly, I chose Marina Paraiso.  Still in the rain and soaking wet from walking the dogs, we left the dock and headed for the Marina.  Still attempting to contact Mahalo Nui without success.  We docked by ourselves as there was no one around.  We were just happy to be tied to land for the moment.  We hooked up to power and again started moving wet clothes around.  I went ashore and found the owner and manager but not the dockmaster.  The owner, Frank, and manager, Kevin, were quite happy to see us and glad that we stopped.  I explained that we were traveling with another boat and had not heard from them.  That was about the time I heard Mahalo Nui on the radio.
I responded and was glad to hear them.  They had heard us attempting to contact the marina's but we had not heard them.  J told me that they were 12 miles north east of the island and running on fumes.  I worked with Frank and Kevin to get some fuel to J.  Beth was on the radio with J while Frank, Kevin and I took off in their small power boat to go find Mahalo Nui.  The power boat did about 10 knots in the seas and it was getting dark.  After about 30 minutes we spotted them and radioed that we spotted them and were on the way.  About 20 minutes later, we couldn't see them anywhere.  We radioed J to fire a flare and saw it behind us.  We turned to them and boarded.  J poured the fuel into Mahalo Nui and we tied the power boat to it as it didn't have enough fuel to make it back.  With the 5 of us onboard and local knowledge, J powered us to the marina in about 1 1/2 hours. That rescue / fuel run cost me a very nice bottle of Scotch which I was happy to give to have our friends safe and with us again. We docked without issue, had several minutes of " Wow, we were worried about you" and " lets not do that again" .  Marina Paraiso has "apartments" available for $45 a night and Beth and I took advantage of that because we needed a dry bed, a good shower, and a bed that didn't move. 
J & J stayed on their boat.  We were all starving and being so late, we were not sure if we could get any food.
I stayed in the room with the dogs and took a shower while Beth, J & J headed to town to find food.  They returned with pizza and then we all got a good nights sleep.