Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Puerto Aventuras to Isla Mujeres - May 28-30

Time to turn North.......we have gone as far south as we wanted to go on this trip.  Fighting the gulf stream was taking a little longer than we had anticipated, but it was worth it.  For our return, our plan is to head back to Isla Mujeres, via either the anchorage known as "The Hut" or via Puerto Morales again, then stay in Isla awaiting the arrival of another friend Patrick from Atlanta.  From Isla, we hope to head for Cuba. So stay posted, for updates as we don't anticipate much in the way of internet once we get there.

We sailed north with the benefit of the stream, but did have winds with a significant north component (i.e., on our nose).  Seas were somewhat rough with the wind counter to the current.  We tacked out towards Cozumel and sailed almost 2/3 of the way to Cozumel before taking back towards the Yucatan shore. Since the entrance through the reef to The Hut (anchorage) was not visibly obvious, we elected to continue on north to Peurto Morales - a previous port of call.  It does appear like there is a marina at the Hut now, but this was not mentioned in the guide.  We stayed in Morales again at Marina El Cid (see earlier post).  Another factor to this decision was that the NOAA forcast has been calling for higher winds at night due to the diurnal heating effect of the Yucatan land mass.  Although the reef at the Hut provides protection from waves, higher winds could make for an uncomfortable night.

We had a relatively quiet night in Morales with a home-cooked meal on board.  As previously described, the marina at Peurto Morales has an easy entrance, is very well maintained with floating docks and is well protected with a high rock sea-wall.

The next morning we headed out to Isla.  This was one of the best sails of the trip to date!  Although we were close-hauled, we found the "sweet spot" for both the boat and the ocean.  At depths of over 100 ft, the seas were a little confused, but we were making great speed.  At one point, we clocked 9.5kts SOG.  We moved a little closer to shore (100 ft depth) and the seas became calm, but still had some influence from the gulf stream.  We were making 7.5  kts, the boat was not stressed and was very balanced.  Perfecto!

All-in-all this was a wonderful sail back to Isla Mujeres.  So now we are chilling for a couple of days, trying to modify our USCG Permit to Enter Cuban Territorial Seas (to reflect adding a crew member), and waiting for Patrick's arrival.

Chilling on the sail North
We entered Isla Mujeres via Swift Current Pass - our first time through ........hmmm should I have taken note of the name first?  Actually it was not too bad.  We saw depths of 8.5 ft as the lowest, which corresponded pretty well with the chart (we were at about low tide).  Amazing as in other areas, the charts had been way off in areas where the depths were over 100 ft.
Arriving at Isla via "Swift Current Pass"
As a general note, we have been using Navionics electronic charts.  There are large areas where there is not much detail - for example, several areas south of Isla show as "blue" and the detail description states "depth area 0 to 65 ft".......not a lot of use!  Having said that we generally tried to follow the 60-65 ft. depth line and sometimes got as shallow as 40 ft.  This gave us no problem and generally kept us out of what we termed the "confused sea zone" which was typically at 65+ to about 150 ft. depth

Puerto Aventuras - May 26-28, 2016

I think I have the dates right!  To be honest, that's a great feeling when you loose track of the days and feel good that you may only be a day or so off!

Midnight Sun II docked on the sea wall at Peurto Aventuras.  Not the nice floating dock that we had at Puerto Morales, but its hard to complain at the price of just $19 per night including power and electricity!  We had heard stories of this marina being "expensive" and when we checked in the marina form said "$19/ft /night" and I was ready to leave until Gabby at the marina explained that it was just $19 per night...so 3 nights at less than $60!!  For that I can stand a sea wall!

The entrance to the marina was a bit tricky with reefs on both sides of the narrow approach, but the dockmaster was great - guiding us in on VHF with instructions to follow the range poles.  It was a bit turbulent under good conditions and I would not have enjoyed it in bad conditions.  But we made it in with no less that 12.5 ft of depth (note the tide appears to be negligible).

Unfortunately, the 64 ft Oyster, Marlene that we had been dock mates with in Isla Mujeres broke a steering quadrant on the way in the day before - but made it in somewhat white-knuckled!  They seem to be still undergoing repairs and apparently had a new part fabricated in Playa del Carmen.

Dolphin are in the marina at Puerto Aventuras

So, a little about Puerto Aventuras - it is a purpose-built development centered on a nice little marina - actually 2 marinas.  There is the public marina and private section for residents that has a separate entrance to the south.  We stayed in the public marina.  The staff were first class with Gerry and Gabby taking great care of us.

Gerry (Giraldo I think) was the dockmaster and Gabby ran the office.  Gabby arranged for a rental car for us and recommended a couple of good local restaurants.

The first night we ate at Latitude 20, and it turned out to be owned by an English ex-pat - Jim.  The food was decent and cheap, but Jim did give us some suggestions on a Cenote to visit and an off-the-beaten track beach restaurant.  Cenotes are everywhere in this area - basically sink-holes on underground rivers that you can enter and snorkel or dive in.  Amazing -  we visited two very different ones.

Tulum - Mayan Ruins
Tulum - Mayan Ruins
But our first stop in our rental car was to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, about a 30 minute drive to the south.  These coastal Mayan ruins date back to pre-2000 BC.  It was amazing to see the architecture and layout of the town and to read about the local history.  The ruins were spectacular - especially when thinking back to the date of origin,  My photos here really do not do them justice but I did take more video than still shots. I am looking forward to seeing how the video turned out.......but that will be several weeks until its produced, I am  sure!

From Tulum, we visited Solimon Bay - recommended by Jim.  This turned out to be a spectacular lunch spot that, named Chamicos - well really it took up the afternoon!  This really was just one of those "postcard beaches" with small tables under the shelter of dwarf palm trees.  The restaurant we found was nothing more than a shack or tent on the beach where the family running the place lived and cooked for their guests,

Whole fried Snapper - Solimon Bay

Food was a limited but excellent menu of appetizers, fish and .....well that was about it!   But the fish was just perfectly fried in an open Wok-type dish on an open wood fire.  I can't describe how moist and tasty is was, but believe me, this was probably the best fish I have had since arriving in Mexico.  Maybe it was the setting, maybe it was the primitive cooking - maybe it was both.........whatever it was, it made for a perfect afternoon of eating and hanging out on the beach!  It just doesn't get much better than this!

Solimon Bay
The beach was amazing and the boys spent an hour or so snorkeling in the bay.  I was happy just to hang out on the beach, drink a couple of beers and just chill out!

Artwork on an abandonned boat on the beach (Solimun Bay) 

Solimum Bay - Chimicos

The next day we visited and snorkeled Cenotes.  That was also a truly great experience.  We visited and swam in Casa Cenote and then Grand Cenote - both very different and beautiful in their own way.  Casa Cenote was on the coast near Tulum and was basically a fresh water lagoon where an underground river entered the ocean.  We enjoyed snorkeling in this lagoon type setting, seeing the rock formations and the fish.

Grand Cenote was farther inland and was a more spectacular setting.  This truly was a sink-hole with pristine water and much more prominent geological features, including stalactites and stalagmites and several chambers that could be entered easily. My photos and video are limited as my Go-pro gave up due to heat.....but seems to have recovered now.  Anyway, it will be on the video, when I get around to making it!

We also found another amazing lunch spot on the beach.  We stumbled on it after the place we were recommended was closed for a wedding.   It was located on the beach near Tulum.

Zulum - near Tulum

I think the name was "Zulum"  - but there were no end of small villas and restaurants like this! all in the beach zone near Tulum.

We had a great lunch and again took some time just chilling and enjoying the beach.  A few topless sightings added to the enthusiasm of the crew!

Did I mention the night life?  Well no, we have typically been in bed early.  But this time we met up with some friends that were introduced to us on Facebook by mutual friends,  Pete and Pepper were so gracious and took us out for dinner in Playa del Carmen. We ate at a restaurant that was built around a Cenote - great food and a wonderful atmosphere. Then we strolled the main street of Playa and just basically took in the sights, and did some people watching!  Believe me, there were plenty! What a great people watching spot this was, but a little touristy for me.....but still, lots of fun to visit for the nightlife!

Tanner, new friend Pepper and Brian - wait, no beard!
I think Pepper and Pete have the best idea - they live in the relatively quiet, quaint town/development of Aventura, but enjoy the night life of Playa - just a short drive to the north.
Street shopping in Playa del Carmen

We really appreciate them taking the time to go to dinner with us and for showing us the local sights - thanks guys!!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Puerto Morales - May 24-26, 2016

Leaning lighthouse - Peurto Morales
Greetings from foreign ports!  We headed south along the Yucatan peninsula from Isla Mujeres, fighting the strong current of the gulf stream to make our way the relatively short distance to Puerto Morales.

To make headway at a reasonable speed we ended up sailing on jib only (the wind was at about 150 degrees to the boat direction), and motoring at around 1800 RPM.  At this, we were making about 5 kts speed over ground.   Puerto Morales was the first real spot we saw after leaving Isla Mujers, other than the "compound resorts" of Cancun and the coastline south of there.  There is no real "safe harbor" until you reach Puerto Morales and its easy to see how tropical storms would be treacherous in this area.  As evidence, see the leaning lighthouse of Pueto Morales which was apparently pushed to this angle in a hurricane, but has since withstood other storms without falling over!

According to the plaque, the structure was pushed to this angle during hurricane Beulah in
1967 and has withstood other storms such as Wilma and Gilbert without further damage.   It is a little off-putting after stepping off a boat with "sea-legs".  Add a few margaritas and it could be vertical!

There is a long skinny reef that parallels the coastline, visible by a line of breakers.  We sailed generally along the 65 ft depth line for safe distance and to avoid the confused seas where the depth dropped quickly from 100 ft to several hundred feet.  The reef has several short gaps in it where it can be crossed with local knowledge - however, our charts did not have this detail (Navionics).  We do have the guide book by Captain Freya Rausher which I understand is about the best info available for this area.  Although we have the Third Edition, some of the info in it seems a bit dated.

Puerto Morales is a quaint little town - yes it still has the tourist gift  shops, but not quite so many as Isla Mujeres, and the prices are better after a little haggling.  It has a very "laid back" feeling about it and we enjoyed strolling the streets and a nice breakfast in a local restaurant. 

New Lighthouse

The marina here is very nice - Marina El Cid and is part of a resort (same name).  

The marina charge was reasonable at $1.19/ft which includes use of the marina facilities (pools, gym, hot tub etc.).  For drinks, you buy tickets from the dockmaster, and you can purchase meal tickets for use in the resort, or eat at one restaurant that allows cash payment.  The marina was in top notch condition, with floating docks and nice facilities.  Security guards were evident, particularly at night.  

The town is a good 30-40 minute walk from the marina and there is not too much en route.  Taxis - well I think someone has the monopoly on cabs - they seemed a bit pricey compared to other areas at a fixed charge of 120 pesos for the short ride.  But still - the driver we had on our return trip was really friendly and helpful.

We made use if the resort facilities but also had a nice dinner in the town.  We were able to spend some time with one of our dock neighbors - Patrick from a Lagoon 45 named Milpat.  Patrick had participated in several rallies and had sailed his boat from France.  He is currently awaiting crew before heading south for Hurricane season.

 In addition to gift shops, we had heard that the town has a really good vegetable market.  I am not sure if we were there on the wrong day or just too late.  We saw some evidence of vegetable stalls and one was still operating.  The produce was certainly good and looked much fresher than others we had seen on our travels in Mexico.  So on the right day - this probably is the spot to stock up on fresh veges if heading further south.

Brian and nephew Tanner (our crew) enjoying dinner at one of the local restaurants on the town square.  Our new friend Patrick joined us after inviting us for drinks on his beautiful cat.  He had rented a car, so we all piled in for the short drive to town for dinner.

We stayed a couple of night in Morales which was long enough to decompress a little more and long enough to reinforce that we could not do a complete vacation at a resort again!!  We met some real nice people that were vacationing here, but most had not ventured from the limits of the resort (aka compound) during their stay.

From here, we made plans to head south to Puerto Aventura, a short 30 miles or so south......uphill against the gulf stream again! [Was it Hemingway that said, "gentlemen don't sail uphill"  - I am not really sure, but someone famous said it!!:)].

We had tried to make reservations earlier in the week for Marina Aventura, but the marina was full due to a circuit of fishing tournaments currently making its rounds in the area.  Good thing we checked in advance!  Communication with the dockmaster "Gerry" via email seemed to work pretty well.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Relaxing in Isla Mujeres

It is Saturday, May 25 2016 and we are here in beautiful Isla Mujres.  I have received a couple of messages from folks regarding the last couple of posts, and really appreciate the kind words and encouragement - thank you!  Its great to hear from friends and from those that we have not met but like to keep up with our travels and adventures.

We are really enjoying our time here in Isla.  Like all destinations with tourists, there are areas of town that cater to the tourists from Cancun, but it is very easy to "get away from it all" and find a quiet spot with a local bar or restaurant.  The reason  we came to Isla was to support our friends in the Pensacola to Isla Regatta - Regatta al Sol.  We had originally planned to participate, but because of a previous family commitment, we had a conflict with leaving Pensacola with the regatta - so the solution was to  come a week ahead, return for our commitment (a graduation), then come back for the parties.  This turned  out to be the "best of both worlds".

TraSea and the Prestigious Boot
While we had a great ride down here, the racers unfortunately struggled with light winds.  Several turned back and others motored after spending a couple of days floundering in the Gulf.  For more details of the regatta, please visit http://www.regataalsol.org/  Anyway, the regatta was very well organized by both Pensacola Yacht Club and Southern Yacht Club.  Thank you Race Committee for a first class event! and locally to the Lima family for all of their efforts to make this a great success.

We were able to track our very special friends on S/V TraSea, and S/V Night Sky.  Both did great, with Night Sky sailing all of the way and picking up a hoard of trophies, and TraSea receiving the prestigious "boot" award.
Captain Julie and her Treasure Chest of Trophies 
Congratulations to all participants - it was a great event, tainted only by one particular unsporting comment made by the owner of S/V Decision, the overall winner  - but I think  he will be hearing from many participants on that one, and I hope his club asks for an apology to those that motored.

Many of the regatta boats have now left for the return trip to Pensacola or their home port on the Gulf coast.  We wish them fair winds and a safe trip home.  We did hear that one participant S/V Anemone Tickler was having some problems and taking on water.  We heard reports that they had received assistance from the Mexican Navy, but so far have not heard an update on that.  I will tress that these are reports that we have heard second hand, and so far we do not know the full story.  Of coarse, we are hoping for a good outcome for the boat and their crew and for a safe trip home.

Southern Point - Isla Mujeres
Back to Isla - the island is a short ferry ride from Cancun which can be seen across the bay to the west.  We are in a nice, reasonably priced marina called Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina and Resort.  The marina is clean, has nice docks and a great pool.  The "resort" is a small hotel with restaurant and the usual bar, massage spa etc.  It appears to be owned or operated by Wyndham.  We have been very satisfied with our stay here - nice facilities, friendly staff, good security and a fair price.  It is located a short cab or golf card ride from town and is very sheltered and protected.  I believe we are at the end of their high season.  We have a couple of other transient sailboats as neighbors  and several sport fishing boats from the US.  We  understand that this a great spot for Marlin and Sail fish and I think there are a couple of tournaments over the next several days.

Steel Artwork at the Southern Point
So far, we have explored a good portion of the island by golf cart.  As I mentioned previously, there are some great small off the beaten track restaurants, or if you prefer, there are the usual resorts with restaurants, bars, pool and full facilities.  We prefer to find those off-the-beaten-track locations if possible and we have found a few to date.  Mango's is high on the list for great breakfasts.  While we have had some very good dinners, we are still looking for the absolute gem. Our favorite bar so far is the Soggy Peso - it has to be good with a name like that right.  The Margaritas........well I think they are good.  After 2, I didn't remember where I ate dinner.  And i am sure the stories of me dancing are a little exaggerated!
Church on SE Side of Island
There is certainly no lack of activities on the island for those inclined.  With the regatta parties over and the fleet starting to head home, we are actually having a relaxing day, and doing some planning for our next destination.  I am not too sure what the rest of the day has in store for us..........but that's one of the reasons we are here, enjoying the cruising life while we can!

As of now we are planning to move a little south to Aventura and spend a few days in that general area.  We hope this will be a good spot to make a trip to Tulum and see some Mayan ruins and also make a trip to a Cenote.  I will try to update the blog in a few days - unless of course something notable happens or plans change.  Cheers!
Amazing View! Looking East
No real reason to add this photo - except it was a really friendly dog!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Are we there yet? - Yes - Isla Mujeres, Mexico!

Things came together surprisingly well last week - isn't it strange how sometimes things just seem to work that way?  First, and very important, two members of our crew arrived on Brian's boat.  They sailed up from Tampa, FL - see previous blog.

The week of May 1 was a key week for things to come together.  First, our crew needed to arrive  -and that happened; second, the new liferaft was on order and scheduled for delivery - it arrived on Monday; and third, the boat needed to be  ready....and it was almost ready!  A few more projects needed to be completed, including re-mounting the AIS antennas, adding an external antenna for the Iridium Go (new purchase for this trip).  Those projects seemed to come together on Monday and Tuesday.

Finally, the weather needed to look good.  we had been closely monitoring the weather for several days and it had been looking very optimistic.  A cold front was making its way down from the north, and we could see the effects on Monday and Tuesday from our home. On Monday and Tuesday, we saw some showers and brief thunderstorms which are characteristic of the leading edge of a cold front; but so far, the wind direction had not shifted and was predominantly from the south.

We made a decision on Tuesday that we were ready to go - was everything finished?...ha, no, its a boat! nothing is ever finished.  Were we close enough with all safety systems and equipment in place - yes and the  few known remaining items were either of low importance or were just simply on the "wish list".  We pushed off from Josephine, AL on Tuesday afternoon headed for Ft. McCree,, which is at the Pensacola Pass - our exit point to the Gulf of Mexico.  We made it there in a couple of ours with plenty of time to anchor and have dinner before settling down for an early night.  The winds were calm, and still had a southerly component.

Sunrise from Ft. McCree
The next morning, we awoke pretty early and started to get ready to leave.  We pulled the anchor and left the anchorage right at 7 am, motoring to get out of the pass.  The wind had clocked!  and although it was light, it was indeed out of the north - perfect for a near due south passage,  In fact it was almost a little too perfect being almost directly behind us.  Given the conditions, I elected to use Genoa only as the main tends to blanket the Genoa when its more than 120 degrees behind us.  This worked well, but we could have used a little more wind.  We were making progress, but it was a little under 5 kts.  During the night, the winds lightened up, so we motor-sailed until things picked up again.  Nonetheless, this was very pleasant and was a good way to make sure everything on the boat was working well.  As our good friend Patrick would say "It doesn't get any better than this!"

When the wind picked up we got our 20-25 kts and the genoa alone kept us at more than 6.5 kts, occasionally hitting 7.5.  For the next couple of days, the wind stayed from the north making it a wonderful sail.  At times we saw some lumpy seas - not particularly big, maybe 6 ft with occasional 8 ft. rollers, The problem was the very short period of about 4 seconds, making the boat roll a lot rather than riding the waves.
UPS Sail Flying

For the next couple of days, we alternated between the genoa and the UPS sail (asymmetrical spinnaker), although we only used the UPS during daylight hours - simply because we know that "bad things can happen at night" and this is not a sail to be wrestling with in the dark!  We have it mounted on a continuous loop roller furler, which helps handling, but it still really takes 2 or 3 people to handle it well and without getting into a tangle.
We soon realized that at the speed we were making we would have to slow down to avoid a night-time arrival.  Since none of us had been into Isla before, we decided that a morning arrival was much safer and preferable.  So on Sunday night, we avoided the temptation to motor and we continued sailing with the Genoa - slow (2-5 kts) and not in a direct line for our destination.  We sailed off the wind a little to keep the genoa full of wind.

We did a good job of slowing down - in fact a little too good.  We had hoped to arrive at first light, but actually got in around 10:45am  As always, once land was sighted, it always seems to take hours to actually arrive!
We spotted Contoy light during the night and knew we were approaching our destination.Once we passed Contoy, we had about 25 miles to go.  At this point, the winds started to clock around and we really felt a very strong current pushing us northwest.  Since we were nearing our destination, the time of day was good, and we had no desire to sail backwards, we motored the last leg of our journey.

We spotted Anvil Rock - our last waypoint for the turn into Isla Mujeres.and gingerly crossed the reef, marked at a minimum depth of 7 ft.  We actually didn't see less than 12 ft of water, which is always a relief.  We absolutely didn't want to ground on the reef so close to our destination!

Our arrival time  of 10:45 am, was closely monitored by Brian and Gale who had bets going as to whether we would be over or under 100 hours from our departure.  10:45 put us at 99 hours and 45 minutes, giving the prize to Gale, at Brian's expense!
The Crew - happy with our arrival in Isla Mujeres
Our Route - courtesy of DeLorme

Happy to be safely into Isla Mujeres, there was one last and very important task for the crew before starting the check-in process!.........see below!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

48 Hours and Counting.....

We are hoping to be leaving in the next 48 hours, casting off the lines to head for Isla Mujeres, Mexico.  So this may well be the last post on the blog before we make it to Mexico - and who knows what the internet situation will be there!
Midnight Sun II - almost ready for departure!

The only real uncertainty on the departure is the delivery of our liferaft - it should be here Monday, so fingers crossed.  A couple of small projects to finish up today - of course everything on the list is not done, but we are close and the essentials are done.  I plan to install the Iridium Satellite phone today and get that working.....well hopefully!
Replacing corroded wiring to Running Lights

Our crew list has changed a little - well actually, it has changed significantly and a few times.  Our great friends Chuck and Peg who started planning the trip with us months ago have unfortunately had to drop out due to Peg's injured foot.  We wish her well with a speedy recovery from her surgery, and will miss them both.  Long-time sailing friends from our Lake days, Brian Liddy has agreed to join us and just sailed his boat S/V Serendipity up from Tampa.  His girlfriend Raquel has very kindly agreed to house sit and dog sit while we are away, so Salty will not be sailing on this trip, but will have his buddy, Shiloh staying with him.   We would love to take him - he loves the adventure, but does not like long crossings as he insists on visiting "real grass" at least once a day.  So rather than put him through the misery of a long crossing, we have reluctantly decided that he would be better off at home - and Austin will be here soon!

Other crew - unfortunately Mike had to drop out due to a work commitment, but we have recruited Gale - one of Brian's crew members from his Tampa crossing.  So I am feeling good that we have a great crew for the trip.  It looks like we are going to have a core crew of 3 for the entire cruise, but we will loose Gale after Mexico.  We have a few friends that would like to join us on the way - and if you are interested, please drop me a note!
Brian and crew arrive from Tampa on S/V Serendipity
Rafted up along side Midnight Sun in the Canal
Rafted up along side us in the canal, Serendipity is almost the little sister to Midnight sun II - same manufacturer, Hunter, and a very similar interior.  Serendipity is a little shorter and rear cockpit, while Midnight Sun is a Passage 42 with center cockpit.

So what better way to prepare for a long crossing than to have a weekend of projects and parties!  Here we are at one of our favorite hangouts with the  "crew-to-be" and our other best friends Larry and Tracy (S/V TraSea) at the Pirates Ball - Pirates Cove.  Larry and Tracy will also be headed to Mexico a week behind us participating in the Pensacola to Isla race.

Tracking information - If you would like to track our progress, commencing around May 2, our tracker should be active.  Please visit our tracking link to see where we are: