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.

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