Stories From Other Cruisers: Eye in the Sky

Tuesday December 31, 2013

Melody & Chris

 Melody & Chris of s/v Vacilando

 

It’s that time of the month again where we reach out to other cruisers to have them entertain us stories of their mishaps and generally entertaining lives.  This month’s segment comes from Mondo Vacilando, and was actually a story I requested to share here because I had read it awhile back and couldn’t get over how absurd and funny the whole situation was.  Read on as Chris talks about how taking your dog out for it’s daily duty can turn illegal if you’re dealing with the police force of Florida’s Space Coast. This story was written by Chris and pulled directly from his blog post.  *All photos have been taken from Mondo Vacilando.

 

Okay, I don’t even know where to begin or how to get this whole damn story in so I’ll just jump right in. Please do your best to follow along.  We have all been holed up in Titusville replacing some injector lines and waiting out a major front that blew through here over the last three days. Thirty plus knots of wind for days on end and it was maddening. We are, however, thankful that we were on a dock and not out on an anchor or mooring. That said, yesterday morning we woke up and the wind had dropped to 15-20 from the East. Now on most days that would make me rethink going anywhere but hell, 20 knots now is like a walk in the park compared to the bullshit we’ve had to deal with on this trip.  Anyway, we tossed off the half-dozen dock lines and hit it hard. Favorable wind and we pulled sail immediately. That is always good for a nice boost in the speed-over-ground department. Nine hours later we covered 65 miles and found ourselves at the sweet little anchorage by the Wabasso Bridge near Vero Beach. It’s a cool spot right off the dock of the Environmental Learning Center so it’s easy to take Jet ashore. And therein lies… the rub.

We dropped anchor around 5pm and immediately launched the dinghy…that’s our usual drill. I take Jet ashore and Mel finishes up her work for the day and then keeps an eye on the chartplotter to make sure we’re not dragging. Usually I’m hurried so I don’t grab my phone, ID or shoes for that matter. You see where this is going?  Anyway, we land on the dock and walk to a  little gate directly across the street from the Environmental Learning Center. It’s a nice place with a couple of small poles across the driveway with a pad lock and a sign that reads “CLOSED”.  I notice the beautifully manicured grounds that looked like a lovely spot to walk Jet as daylight slowly waned and promptly stepped over the knee-high impediment to exploration and walked in.  As I rounded the corner, Jet froze. His ears popped up and his gaze fixed. I was a second behind and then I saw it… crouched at the edge of the palm fronds and low in the brush was a freaking cougar! NO, not Courtney Cox… a real cougar. Eyes fixed on us and in the pounce position. HOLY SHIT… ran through my mind.  Jet didn’t move a muscle and neither did I.  Actually… neither did the damn cougar. It was a life-sized painted exhibit in the park!!! The freaking thing was so real it scared the crap out of me! But it did not scare the crap out of Jet. He would not poop. He just kept sniffing and was totally distracted. So we turned around and I thought better of walking farther into the park at dusk and headed back to the road across from where we were anchored.

cougar

This thing looked totally real at dusk!

Barefoot and donning my favorite black terrorist sweatshirt and black baseball cap, I walked Jet up this deserted road hoping he’d quit being distracted and get on with his “business”. I quickly lost patience after a good twenty minutes and did an about-face towards the dock and our dinghy.  Not to be the case.  As I about-faced, a cop car approaches and stops with a sheriff van immediately behind him. I think nothing of it because I’m a law abiding citizen and honestly, preoccupied with thoughts of a cold beer and a warm meal.  But no, they pull over in the middle of the street and open the doors and get out.  The sheriff says, “You the guy who just jumped the fence at the Environmental Learning Center?!”  I… with an amazing look of complete and utter stupidity say, “Jump the fence? What fence?  Oooooohhh, you mean the knee-high pole that keeps cars from driving through? Yeah, I guess technically speaking, I’m the guy who “jumped the fence.”  Just then,  a sheriff chopper… YES people an F’ing police helicopter circles over head of the cop car and the police van.  All for a shoeless man who “JUMPED THE FENCE” of the Environmental Learning Center.  Now… I have no ID. No cell phone and again… no shoes. The officer proceeds to read me the riot act, takes my name, address, phone number, social security number and goes to his car. The other dick-head, I mean officer, proceeds to “small-talk” me as if I’m an idiot. Which by now I’m beginning to believe I am.  The first officer gets out of the car and says, “I’m gonna need finger prints. I can’t find anything on you in Tennessee.”  To which I reply, “Of course you can’t FIND anything on me because there is NOTHING to find.”  No go.  He pulls out a digital device and I have to place my index finger and my middle finger (which I promptly displayed to him saying, “this one?”). Ten more minutes with Barney Fife numero dose… and officer one comes back with, “You’re cool. What’s your phone number again?”  I gave him my old fax number from Filmhouse. Sorry, Ron.  He says, “What are you doing here?” “Um, officer… I am traveling on my sailboat we are anchored just over there. Do you think the chopper is a bit much?” “Oh” he says, “They just buzz the scene whenever there’s a call.” Reeeeeaaallly.  Tax dollars at work.

Now… I’m going to bump up my usual cynicism here and say this.  When we travel, we use an incredible resource know as Active Captain. This site has the whole Intracoastal Waterway as a Google Earth format and you can see anchorages, bridges, docks, marinas… you name it. It’s how we found this little gem by the Environmental Learning Center aka: The Authority Nazi Dock.  Travelers can get on and post immediate reviews, warnings, notations or hazards and  all sorts of positives and negatives regarding all the stops along the way. It is a priceless resource and FREE! We use it all the time.  I tell you this because, on the way down, we stopped at a popular anchorage in the middle of a well-known military base (we won’t say the name so as not to draw attention to it).  The notes read something like, “Great anchorage. Tons of space. 10 foot depths and well protected from all directions. But it’s an active military base so don’t even THINK of taking your pets ashore.”  Well, there is no other place to take him ashore and since he has refused to go on the boat, I did.  I got in my dinghy with it’s loud and smoky outboard engine and Jet and landed that thing right on the sandy beach where they do their landing exercises. He peed on and sniffed every rock and shrub on the entire landing area while Melody chaffed my ass on the VHF to “Hurry up!!!”  Not once… did anyone ever ask me a question.  Not once did a single MP approach me and say, “Sir, this is a heavily guarded Military Base in the United States of America! You sir are OUT. OF. BOUNDS.  Now drop and give me twenty!” Not once.

But “JUMP THE FENCE” of the Environmental Learning Center in Vero Beach?  You get a cop, the Sheriff and choppers.  And THAT my friends is what is wrong with our great country. Common sense has crawled up a horse’s ass and died.

 

*If you would like to submit a story to be published in Stories From Other Cruisers, please email us at admin@mjsailing.com, or message us on Facebook at MJ Sailing, with the subject titles Stories From Other Cruisers. Please include your name, boat name, story, and a photo of your boat and/or the crew. Please do not send any lewd or profane stories as they will not be published.

 

 

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Let the Sun Shine

Monday December 30, 2013

Playa del Norte, Isla Mujeres

Unfortunately, ever since we got into Mexico, even though we’ve pretty much been having nothing but gorgeous and sunny days, we could still not get our batteries up to a full charge. Our system is set up with four 6 volt wet batteries, and three solar panels totaling 475 watts to keep those batteries at a full charge. Normally this is not an issue whatsoever. Once we escaped the wrath of Florida’s first coast (which was surprisingly more overcast than I would have expected), we were back in full time sunshine and never had to worry about using power on the boat because there was an over abundance of it. Laptops were always plugged in, we had the t.v. Going from 6pm to 11pm, and my Bodum Electric Water Heater was getting used almost daily. Throw in some microwave use for heating up leftovers, so it’s suffice to say that we used all kinds of power without ever thinking twice about it.

We first noticed an issue with our battery levels dropping back in Guatemala, but we assumed it was because of our position in the marina. Even though we loved being placed right in front of this little thatched roof ranchito, basically an extra living space for us, part of the roof hung out far enough to create shadows on our back solar panel and kept us from getting our full amount of daily sun. We remedied that by using a battery charger that was plugged in to shore (we ditched our actual shore power system back in Michigan). We assumed that once we went back to anchor that everything would be fine and we could once more let the sun do it’s job of keeping us fully charged.

Here’s the funny thing though, as soon as we left the marina to be on the hook again, the sun disappeared. There was 2-3 days of cloud cover for every day of sun. We had to slip into super conservation mode just to keep everything necessary running, and still had to run the engine at times. This whole ‘no sun’ ordeal lasted us a good five weeks. Not fun for someone who’s used to spending their time diddling on their computer and watching a movie every night. Sure we had book and a few games, but it didn’t take long for those to get old, sooner because there was no vitamin D around for me to soak up and get into a go with the flow attitude. So once we got to Cozumel and now Isla Mujeres, we thought out battery troubles would be all over because for once we were getting nothing but sun.

Only, they would never fully charge. Normally if it’s a sunny and cloudless day, we’re pulling in anywhere from 16 to 22 amps. Let that happen all day for days on end, keeping our house battery at over 13 volts, and yeah, we’re good. For some reason, we still weren’t quite pulling in those numbers, and even when we started getting close to them, the house battery would be back down to 12.5 volts. So what gives? Why aren’t we pulling in and keeping a charge? We thought that maybe the batteries were dying on us, although that seemed strange and way too quick since we had just purchased them in July ’12. There had to be another reason for what was going on, and today we finally found it. After Matt shimmied himself into the lazarette to check the connections, he found out that our large 205 watt panel was actually not connected. We don’t know how or when, but at some point it came undone, so not only were we dealing with endless cloudy days for awhile, but then we were only taking in half the power we were used to.

Ahhhh, that explains a lot. A few minutes later, all connections were back and running, and our power intake went from 12 amps to 20 in just seconds. We’ll probably still have to wait a few days to see if the batteries do still take a full charge, or if being drained for so long, have now affected their performance. I’d really hate to get back to Florida and have to visit Sam’s Club to try and get them replaced, especially since we have no clue where that receipt went. Here’s to hoping everything’s alright.

In fun news, we finally got ourselves off the boat today to do a little exploring of the island, and visit La Playa del Norte, or, North Beach. Every guide book or person we’ve talked to has recommended this area as one you can’t miss while you’re on the island. Packing up a bag with a beach blanket, some snacks, and a couple of cold beers, we ventured toward this famous beach. We weren’t really sure what to expect, since honestly, we haven’t spent much time at beaches since we’ve begun cruising. Who needs to start at a beach when the water is already at your back door? As we crossed from the main road through an alley that led us into the sand, we were quite surprised of what we found there.

Granted, this is the holiday season and there are probably many people here actually on holiday, but this place was packed. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of people gorged onto one strip of sand. Where the road dropped us off was nothing but restaurants and lounge chairs in the sand, each one dotted with a large umbrella to keep away the hot Mexican sun. There wasn’t even a place to walk through the masses unless we were skimming the shore. While these seats did look very comfortable, we didn’t know if you had to rent one out for the day or if you were allowed to sit in one just for ordering a beer at the restaurant. Either way, we continued down the waterfront until the chairs ran out and there was only open sand left. I used that term loosely since all it really meant is that the chairs were replaced with people laying on blankets, or directly on the sand.

Weaving through the masses we finally found a small open spot in the shade of a palm tree. While I had been so tired due to a little bout of insomnia that I probably could have napped the afternoon away on the beach, the people watching was much more interesting. All the women frequenting this beach are very comfortable with their bodies, and their suits either ranged from bikinis, to thong bikinis, to topless. Regardless of age or size, they were confident with their looks and had no insecurities forcing them to cover up what society didn’t deem as perfect. It was actually pretty refreshing to see since so many Americans are usually shamed into hiding anything that wouldn’t make the cover of a magazine. For more people watching, the little kids also brought lots of entertainment. Ranging from toddlers to tweens, they were all enjoying their time out in the sun and sand without a care in the world.

We only stayed a total of about two hours since our shade started to disappeared as the sun moved further west in the sky. I did have time to get down a cold Bravah while people watching, one of my last beers from Guatemala, and we both took a dip in the refreshing and hypnotizing aqua waters. We also couldn’t stay too long since we had dinner plans with Luki and Elmari at 6:00. We all met up at Marina Paraiso for a quick beer before dinner. While there we found 3 other people that had been in the Rio Dulce at the same time as all of us, one of them that was in our marina, and one of them was one of the guys that watched Georgie while we were in South America. I know this is a typical route north for cruisers in that area, but it still felt like such a small world to see them again. After hellos and some chatting, the four of us were off to find good food. Based on a recommendation from the bartender at the marina, we hit up a little placed called Bobo’s, famous for it’s wings and burgers. The wings were only $6 a pound, and washing them down with an Amber Dos XX was just heaven. Turns out I didn’t have to wait to reach the states before getting my decently priced buffalo wings after all. Take that, Hooters of Cozumel.  

Playa Norte sign

crowds of chairs, Playa Norte

beach, Isla Mujeres

boy on beach, Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres shark sculpture

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Feliz Navidad

Wednesday December 25, 2013

decorations on Skebenga

If we had a crappy Christmas last year (and we did; think sitting alone in a boat yard on the hard, watching Rambo), this year’s made up for it ten fold.

We woke up to some overcast skies, and I wasn’t sure how our day lounging around the pool would go.   Fixing up some special holiday flavored coffee, I fooled around on the computer for awhile while watching the clouds break up and the sun came shining through.  We had a 1:00 reservation for the six of us at one of the marinas for lunch.  A few good hours were spent here, first sitting at the bar enjoying a few beers, then moving to the pool to soak up some sun, and finally moving to one of the tables to order lunch.  Even though the menu was full of delicious looking items, I went with the fish tacos.  The food was amazing and even came with three different kinds of salsas and sauces for topping.  Add a margarita on the rocks, and it was the perfect Mexican meal.

Dos Equis

Elmari at Paraiso

pool at paraiso

fish tacos at paraiso

sunglasses

 Keeping with our Mexican theme for the day, each group went back to their respective boats after lunch for a little siesta.   After everyone was fully rested we met up once more for dinner on Skebenga.  As is tradition with our little group, we started out with a few cocktails before any of the food came out.  Luki made his world famous mojitos, which would have been enough incentive on it’s own to come over.  We were also pleasantly surprised when we had a visitor stop over for a few minutes, another cruiser that was in Jamaica with us.  Lance of s/v EZ was also in Isla, and popped over for one drink before heading back to his boat for the night.  He told us that there was a window for him to leave the next morning to get all the way to the Bahamas, so he didn’t want to be out too late.  Knowing what a bad influence our group can be (Just stay for one more drink), I couldn’t argue with him.

Shortly after he left, we started in on our Christmas feast.  As if our lunch out wasn’t good enough.  A little grill was pulled out into the cockpit where seasoned and spiced lobsters were placed on it.  Each person got their own tail, accompanied by dipping sauces.  This wasn’t even our dinner though, it was an appetizer.  While dinner was cooking down below in the galley, we enjoyed a great sunset in the cabin while enjoying our shellfish and mojitos.

The rest of our night included steak, wine, and great conversation.  When Jan found out that Matt and I were hoping to do some traveling through South Africa one of the winters that our boat was being held in a marina in the Med, he offered us to come stay at his wildlife preserve.  Matt was completely stoked to hear this since after seeing the pyramids in Egypt (who knows if that will ever happen), going on safari is a close second.  Now I’m almost getting excited to get to the Med as quick as possible so we can start our travels through South Africa.

This Christmas turned out so much better than either of us could have imagined, and we’re so thankful to Luki and Elmari for letting us be a part of it.  It’s hard when you don’t get to see your family this time of year, but being with our cruising family was the next best thing.

dodger on Skebenga

Lance and Matt

grilling lobster

Turkish lamp

Jan on Skebenga

 

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A Snorkeler’s Christmas Eve

Tuesday December 24, 2013

dinghying outside of Isla

I would like to say that we had gotten around to seeing all that Isla had to offer yesterday, but unfortunately we were still much too exhausted after our ride over from Cozumel to do much.  After a small visit with Luki and Elmari when we anchored, I tried to catch an hour of sleep before waking up once more so we could find out where the Port Captain’s office was.  Luki and Elmari were headed there anyway, they’re still trying to check in after having arrived on Saturday morning (and it turns out they were Almost Skebenga that we passed after exiting the San Pedro cut).  We were told from the office in Cozumel that we needed to check in here with the Port Captain upon our arrival, and Mexican Customs and Immigration was not something we wanted to mess with.  This makes me extremely thankful that we stopped in at Cozumel to check in though, it sounds like Skebenga is having a hell of a time at it.

So yesterday we got back to the boat after about two hours in town, with 2-3 hours of sleep under our belt from the past 30 hours, and enjoyed the sun that’s shinning up here, hoping it will finally start to raise our battery bank over 13 volts, since we haven’t been there since mid November.  I’m just happy that now we’re finally in a place again with sun-kissed weather, and we have good friends at our disposal.  It did not take us very long to take advantage of that part.

This morning we moved both boats over to the lagoon I mentioned earlier.  There’s supposed to be some high winds coming in tonight and we’ve heard that things can get a little rough in the main anchorage of the harbor.  I was just happy to be in a place where we had wifi at our fingertips.  I know, I know, I should focus on other things besides having a constant connection to the world wide web, but it’s hard to let go of after having it everyday at the marina for five months.  And then going three weeks without it (for the most part) until getting here.  I have an addiction, I can fully admit it.

Then it was time for snorkeling!!  Matt and I loaded ourselves up in our dinghy along with our gear and a cooler with a few bottles of water and a couple of beers.  Luki and Elmari did the same in their own dingy, adding two crew members I haven’t mentioned yet, Luki’s brother Jan and nephew Stephan (Stefan?).  Together the six of us tore out of a little cut that leads into the open waters between Isla and Cancun, resting at a little beach to relax and have a lunch of one of the best submarine sandwiches I’ve ever had, courtesy of Luki, prepared with prosciutto and fresh toppings.  And even though I brought my own beer, I had cold Dos Equis passed to me from their cooler.  I still can’t get over how nice and generous these two people are, how lucky we were to find them back in Jamaica, and even luckier that they still like hanging out with us after all these months.

While the four of us original cruisers hung out at the beach for a little longer after lunch, Jan and Stephan/Stefan took out t/t Skebenga to try and find some good snorkeling spots along the coast.  With their 15 hp outboard, they were definitely the better scouts than us.  They came back after 30 minutes saying they couldn’t find much along the coast without going to the very south tip, so we decided it would be better for us to check out the spot next to the little cut we had used to come from the harbor.  Just to the north side was a whole area sectioned off for divers, so we brought the dinghies to just outside of that area to swim over.

I had the job of tying the anchor to the dinghy while Matt outfitted himself in snorkel gear, and a few minutes later I was right behind him.  It was when I crossed under the barrier rope to the designated snorkeling area that I realized the two of us seem to be plagued by a bad snorkeling course.  He were are in some of the world’s finest reef and snorkeling areas, but we can not seem to stumble upon the good stuff.  Belize, Mexico..we’re just left with murky water and eel grass.  I’m sure we could pay to have a tour boat take us out to the really good stuff, and we might have to, because we’re not finding it on our own.  In the hour we spent in the water I think I saw maybe five fish.

We would have loved to hunt more down, but there seemed to be another crisis at hand.  Even though I swore I finally got my bowlines down, and I even waited two minutes before jumping into the water to make sure my knot was secure, t/t ‘Dip came undone from her anchor and began floating away.  Thankfully the good folks on t/t Skebenga noticed this and chased her down for us, towing her back to the spot we were snorkeling.  Now all that was left was finding the anchor, still sitting somewhere on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.  The hunt was on between Matt and I to find the anchor, and the rest of Skebenga was keeping t/t ‘Dip secure while simultaneously getting yelled at by the Guarda for having divers in the water in an unmarked swimming area, and also not having life vests on.  We think  It was all in Spanish.

Just as we were about to give up, Matt spotted something shiny on the sea bed (that should tell you about the water clarity in this area, we knew exactly where we dropped anchor), and was able to retrieve our anchor before bringing it back aboard.  Even though we didn’t find the amazing snorkeling we had set out for, we did still manage to find an amazing day with our friends.  I’m telling you, it can make all the difference in your happiness when you have friends with you to share your day with.  So it’s a good thing they’re not looking to get rid of us so easily, and have invited us to spend Christmas with them, enjoying lunch and lounging at one of the marinas for lunch before enjoying dinner aboard Skebenga.

Lagoon at Isla Mujeres

Leaving the boats behind in the lagoon.  Not as pretty as the harbor, but much more secure.

t/t Skebenga

The crew of Skebenga, showing off with their fifteen horses.

dinghy cut in Isla Mujeres

The little cut next to our snorkeling spot, and probably where our dinghy was floating after it came undone.

swim with dolphins Isla Mujeres

 Christmas Eve was a busy day to swim with the dolphins.

rain showers off Isla Mujeres

 Rain showers in the distance, but they didn’t come our way.

family on beach in Isla Mujeres

 There’s lot of private power yachts in this area, Mexico’s elite, living it up for the holidays.

spinnaker jumps

 Hoards of tourists piled on to catamarans for tours, some of them performing spinnaker jumps out in the water.

private beach in Isla Mujeres

 One of the power yacht families, setting up a posh spot on the beach to relax.

Isla

water jet pack, Isla Mujeres

 Water jet packs for those tourists that are feeling brave.

 

 

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Disney’s Gonna Run me Down

Monday December 23, 2012

Cozumel port

Our plan for sleep before departure failed miserably.  I don’t even know why we tried.  I should have just said eff it and stuck with the Pepsi Jolt I bought at the grocery store since at least that way I would have had a few more hours to play around on my computer while we had internet, and a sugary treat to boot.  Since we both happened to be up when the alarm would have gone off at 11:00, we decided not to postpone until midnight before leaving, originally giving us time to fully wake up and become alert, which we unfortunately still were at this point.  I was a little worried that if we left too early we might get to Isla before the sun rose, but as far as we knew, we’d have to be traveling at average speeds of almost eight knots to make that happen.  Not very likely.

Since we were still in the lee of the island for a few miles before rounding the north tip of Cozumel, we started with a double reefed main and decided to wait to see what conditions were really like before unfurling the headsail.  As we motored out to the depths separating the island from the mainland and dodging any late night ferries, there was an obvious and sudden change in the air temperature.  Rain was definitely on it’s way.  We brought the radar up to see what was in store for us, only to see massive pink blobs headed our way.  They were coming at us fast, but it also meant that they’d be passing by fast as well.  This time I heeded Matt’s advice and took shelter under the dodger through the storms so I didn’t soak, but probably only because I was going to bed shortly and didn’t want to sleep in wet underwear.  If it was daylight out though, I’m sure I would have kept my spot behind the wheel, eyes glued to the chart plotter, which rotates, getting soaked and telling myself “This is my place”.  What’s wrong with me?

Once we had finally ditched our shelter of the island, the winds picked up from 10 to 25, although we had been expecting this.  Turning off the engine we still cruised along at a swift 6.5 knots, and when I realized Matt was fine on his own up there, I retreated to get a few hours of sleep, my eyelids finally drooping.  While going below to strip out of my harness, sweats, and foul weather coat, a realization occurred to me.  I didn’t feel sick at all.  Normally this routine has to be done with the utmost precision to make it as quick as possible and keep me from running to the sink to get sick.  I usually throw myself on the bunk just before sickness hits, eventually sleeping it off until it’s time to wake for my next shift.  This time, we rocked back and forth and I slowly stripped off my gear, used the head, and calmly walked toward my inviting bed.  During my sleep I could hear Matt unfurl the headsail, which was nice because it felt like we had slowed down to about 3-4 knots.  I was confused when I heard it rolled back in a short while later, but since I know what he’s doing up there I never question anything unless I hear a loud bang.

Since Matt had gotten no sleep in the night and I didn’t go down until 1 am, he was only able to keep his eyes open until 3 before coming to wake me for a shift.  I asked him about the headsail and why he rolled it in, it felt like we were moving so slow.  Then he pointed to the chart plotter, which only under a double reefed main, showed us currently going 7 knots.  He said that with the headsail out we were doing over 9, and while it was quite comfortable, we would have arrived in Isla way too early.  Everything was looking great on the course we were on, all I had to do was fall off the wind a little once we got to a certain point and then bring in the main sheet to compensate.  He went down below, and I sunk into my sport-a-seat, my normal immobile position after just having gotten queasy again from now putting on my gear.  Except, I felt fine.  Maybe a little tired, sure, but not sick.  I didn’t get it, I hadn’t used any patch, taken a pill, used a pressure band, or put in an ear plug.  I didn’t know why I was feeling so fine, but decided to just enjoy the ride.

Throughout my shift I snacked on Cheetos that we picked up in Cozumel, sipped on Pepsi, and just generally enjoyed being on passage without feeling the least bit sick for once.  When the turn came I subtracted the ten degrees and took a spin on the winch to get the main in.  There was only one issue during my shift, where one of the Disney cruise ship seemed to make it their business to want to run me down.  I didn’t get it, we were basically hugging the shore, yet the AIS was saying they were going to come within less than a mile of me. Of the five cruise ships headed down to Cozumel, they were the only ones that didn’t have a distance of at least five miles from us.  I’d subtract a few more degrees, gain some distance, and then lose it because they changed course as well.  I should have just called them up on VHF to see who on board had gone off their meds, but I finally got us more than a mile apart and took the red light of my headlamp to illuminate our sail in the dark.  It seemed to do the trick of finally keeping them away, but the light shinning through our deadlights woke Matt up a little bit earlier than I was going to let him sleep.

Since he was regrettably awake now I tried to sneak down the stairs to sleep again, but was quickly called back up.  We were getting close enough to Isla now that he wanted a second constant pair of eyes deciphering the million white buoys that lay out before us.  We couldn’t match them all up with what was showing on our chart plotter, and only two whites were showing on our paper charts.  Eventually we got ourselves sorted out, and with the sun starting to now rise, we could make out the island with it’s jagged cliffs to the south end, and the visual markers on our paper charts.  As we crossed the space of water between Isla Mujeres and Cancun, Matt fell back into a slumber out in the cockpit while I made sure to keep all red buoys on our starboard side.  Startling him awake as I turned on the engine to enter the harbor, we passed by the beaches and the few people on them who were either very early risers, or very late partiers.

Back when we were still in Guatemala and our friends on Skebenga had already made it up to Isla to pick up family members before bringing them down to Belize, we’d received an email from Elmari, detailing a good anchorage in the lagoon here, as well as the passwords to a marina’s wifi network in there.  The two of us were ready to head directly into the lagoon this morning, instead of sitting with the fifteen or so other boats in the main harbor.  Just as we were debating which spot between the two we should settle in, we saw a familiar dingy racing our way.  It was Luki and Elmari!  They were just on their way back to Skebenga after an early morning run and gave us a quick low down on the place.  They were currently in the harbor, and told us we should anchor just behind them.  While they shuttled off to their boat we quickly put our anchor down where they told us, and put Serendipity back in her regular at-anchor state.

Even though we were each running on two hours of sleep at this point, we couldn’t let the opportunity go by to do some proper catching up with our friends.  Getting the dinghy in the water, we ferried over the short distance to see what they had been up to the past few weeks since leaving us behind at Tortugal.  Climbing on board in a sleepless stupor, we gave big hugs and rehashed our last few weeks, glad to finally be among friends again.

dinghy landing in Cozumel

bay in Cozumel

anchorage in Cozumel

*All photos above are of Cozumel

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie

 

Selfie:  A type of self portrait photograph, usually taken with a hand held digital camera or camera phone.

Weekly Photo Challenge selfie

 

This week’s challenge from the Daily Post is to take a selfie – or self portrait – with your camera or camera phone.  This photo was taken on the good ship Rode Trip, back in Grand Cayman when Brian and Stephanie invited us on their boat for a little trip up to the North Sound.  A supposed one day trip that became extended and turned into one of the best slumber parties a 30 year old could ask for.

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La Bella Isla de Cozumel

Sunday December 22, 2013

Cozumel, Mexico

With only a good day and a half on our hands in Cozumel before shoving off for Isla Mujeres, we had a lot to do. Not only in the sense that there was now only 32 hours including sleep standing between us and our departure time (11:00 pm tonight) to see everything we want to see on the island , but now there was a multitude of boat projects that needed to be done as well. Those leaks that we found on our way from San Pedro to here? They weren’t going to fix themselves. And since (I’m not joking here) every piece of Matt’s clean clothing plus 60% of mine were now damp in salt water because of those leaks, they all had to be laid out to dry as best as possible until we can find a laundromat. The clothing was quickly strewn on to the lifelines as soon as we got back to the boat yesterday, but we figured the leaks could wait until the next morning. Even with the terrible swells rolling through this anchorage, I don’t think they’ll be enough to do any more damage while we sit here.

Taking the opportunity for a little shore leave yesterday, we packed as much in as we can. Most of it involved strolling the main boardwalk and hunting down a McDonalds. All cruise ship ports have them right? Or at least a Burger King? While we couldn’t find these highly popular US fast food chains, we did find a couple of their more upscale compatriots such as Hooters and Senor Frogs. Some hot wings were sounding damn good at the time, but for the cost of $12.50 for 8 wings, I think I wait until we’re back in Florida to find some. Just like my McDonalds…sigh. Since we couldn’t find our greasy McDoubles or flame grill Whoppers, we settled on the next best thing. Tacos. Which, unbeknownst to me through our travels now, are actually climbing up and replacing my love for fast food. Since there was a cruise ship in harbor and all the shops were trying to pull in as many people as possible, we were able to enjoy a delicious meal of three pork tacos and a beer for $5. Which also gave me the opportunity to add a new beer to Jessica’s World Beer Tour (coming on the website soon).

There wasn’t much reason for us to check out many of the shops that lined the boulevard, they were mostly selling kitschy items like oversized sombreros and screen printed t-shirts that read “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila…floor”. Then there were of course the upscale botiques selling duty fee jewelry, perfumes, and makeup. None of these were things we wanted to waste our precious time looking at, so we found something that could have kept us busy for hours. An actual mega supermarket. No little tiendas or Dispensa Familiars. We found a place that had e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. The first time we went in, we just happened upon it and didn’t have much space in our one backpack which was still storing all our papers, so we bought a few very essential items, enough to make dinner that night, while also making a mental list of everything else we needed. Scouring all the aisles we were just a tad disappointed that we couldn’t find a few of the items we’d been craving for so long, such as Skitles or shredded cheddar, but the overall variety was more than enough to make up for it. Later that night after we had gotten back to the boat and made a meal that I was actually able to stay awake for at eat this time, we hit the streets of Cozumel one more time with two empty backpacks in tow, ready to do some provisioning.

It’s also official to say that our well eating cruising friends have begun to rub off on us. Instead of searching for meals that are basically pre-made and only need to be heated, we’ve started shopping for ingredients to make meals from scratch. Wha..??!! I know, I’m just as surprised as you are. Stocking up the backpacks on fresh produce and some sweet treats from the bakery, we carried our overstuffed bags to the main square in Cozumel where a Christmas concert was being put on by some of the local children in the school band. Hundreds of folding chairs were placed in rows under the clear night sky, and we listened to tunes of some not so familiar carols while kicking back on the cement curb. We stayed for about five songs, until our refrigerated good really needed to make their way back to a refrigerator. The rest of the night was spent desperately trying to connect to a wifi signal with our long range device, and making sure that our weather window was still holding open for the next night.

Matt walking Cozumel

Christmas tree at Cozumel

Christmas banners in Cozumel

Today it was back to boat chores, trying to find where that despicable leak had sprouted and making sure we could seal it before our 45 mile jaunt to Isla tonight. Matt traced it back to a few chain plates on the port side that didn’t look like they were bedded tightly enough. I thought this might be an all day project, but all it took was 30 minutes with me holding a screwdriver on the topside of the deck while Matt worked with a power drill below, and it was deemed good enough to get us to Isla. We’re not expecting the island itself to hold a lot of marine supplies for us, but it’s only a 4 mile ferry ride to Cancun where we should be able to find everything we need. Sticking in a little extra butile tape, the job was done and we were free to roam the town once more.

Getting ourselves officially and 100% checked in, we visited the Port Captain’s office once more to show all the stamps we collected yesterday and received our cruising permit in return. Most of our day was spent doing the same things as yesterday. Wandering the boardwalk and hitting up the grocery store one more time. Although since we’re finally in a place again where the water is crystal clear, we took a dive off the back of the boat to see if we could find anything interesting in the anchorage. Again, no coral where we were sitting, which is really making me miss our spot in Grand Cayman (minus the swell). We dove on the anchor just for fun, and I worked on my pressurizing, which, I’m still terrible at.

Since we’re leaving at midnight-ish tonight so we’ll arrive at Isla Mujeres in first daylight, I tried to implement an early dinner with a mandatory nap to follow. I spent 2.5 hours laying in bed, tossing and turning, so it looks like I’ll just try and catch a few zzz’s right when we’re off anchor so I can relieve Matt before he gets too tired. I don’t think his nap went to well either, judging by the glow of his computer screen.

motorbikes line up in Cozumel

pedestrian walkway in Cozumel

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Bienvenidos a Meh-he-co

Saturday December 21, 2013

Cozumel, Mexico

We woke up with one major goal this morning. To get checked in to Mexico. We had unfortunately timed our arrival on a Saturday, which we’ve found in many countries, goes hand in hand with overtime fees. If that’s what we thought would be the worst of our troubles when we set out this morning, that would have been fine. Instead we were manically searching the internet for any information on the check in process here. From the first hand accounts of everyone we’ve heard that’s checked in on the Caribbean side of Mexico it is A. Very expensive; and B. A huge headache if you try and do it on your own, taking up to 4-5 days for all the proper officials to meet with you and go through all the necessary paperwork. Even though hiring an agent for a fee of approx $100 on top of the $300 or so you were already going to pay to check in, it was said to be worth every penny. The only problem was, we didn’t know how to get in touch with one.

Luckily I’m married to someone with OCD who has mastered the art of internet searches and key words, and by 8:30 in the morning, had procured a step by step account from a previous cruiser on how to check in here at Cozumel. I was to go to the Port Captain which we were convienently anchored across from, get a particular piece of paper, and then take that slip to the airport where I’d find Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture all in one handy dandy spot. I was in the process of getting ready, making myself all pretty and professional for all the officials, when we heard some yelling from outside the boat. Throwing off my towel I quickly put on a sundress and ran out of the companionway to see what the commotion was.

Remember how we came in well after dark last night and had to rely on our radar to find a decent spot to anchor? Well it turns out we were too close to a mooring ball that had been empty the previous night, but now held one of those catamarans that takes hoards of cruise ship passengers out for daily snorkels and dives. They weren’t speaking English, but it was obvious they wanted us to move. I started the boat and Matt went to the bow to retrieve the anchor so we could place it down again a few hundred feet away from them. They had a diver in the water who appeared to be looking at our anchor, which the more chain we pulled in, seemed to be in pretty much exactly the same area they were now moored on. (And when I say a mooring ball, it’s not like the big honking thing we had back in Michigan, this was barely visible even in daylight.)

The closer we inched toward them, the more my heart started to rise up in my throat. It didn’t help that the wind was also pushing us in their direction. As soon as I heard the anchor up, it looked to me that I didn’t have enough space to keep the boat in forward and get past them without hitting, we were going to have to get out of there in reverse, and fairly quickly. Now trust me, I know how reverse works, you turn the wheel the opposite direction of where you want the bow to point, but somehow I can never seem to put it into practice. No matter what direction I had the wheel pointed, we kept drifting closer, and even more so to the diver in the water. I almost began to come apart, thinking I was going to run him over. Reverse wasn’t working out for me, so forward it would have to be. Quickly changing gears again, I put as much power behind the engine as I could and cranked the wheel hard. It seemed to do the trick, we were finally putting space between the two boats in the water. Just as I thought I was kind of bad ass for not actually hitting them, nevermind I should have just been thankful, a strong gust of wind came up and threw the hem of the dress up in my face as we were making our exit. Of course it would. So much for looking cool.

Resetting the anchor as far as I could get away from them without dying of embarrassment, we finished getting ready, and I grabbed all the paperwork necessary to check us in. Normally this is something I do on my own while Matt stays on the boat does some cleaning up while he waits for me to get back, although this time I had to bring him with me because even though our agent in Guatemala knew I was the captain, they put Matt’s name on the zarpe.  I didn’t know if that would cause any issues while checking in, or if I’d waste half a day running back to the boat to grab him. We both climbed in the dink and landed it on the beach, and while I walked into the Port Captain’s office he waited outside. Being the smart little cookie that I am, I had written down all the steps and the papers I needed to ask for, so that when I went inside I could pretty much smile and point at it.

Good thing I did this too, because the woman working behind the counter had no English, and my Spanish was not coming across very well. “I have a boat in the bay.” That’s about all I could understandably get out. She called in a man from another room who spoke a little English, and after showing him the name of the document I was told to request, he took my papers and went over a breakdown of what I would need to do to check in. Most of it followed along the lines of what we had read this morning, now I was just waiting to hear how much it would cost me. First he let me know that because I was here on a Saturday, their office closed at 1:00 and I would need to be back with my stamps from all the other officials before that time. Then, he said that, also because it was a Saturday, my fees would be double.  I sucked in my breath and waited for this figure. How much, $500? $600? He wrote something on a sheet of paper and passed it to me. $596. I let out a little yelp. Then he explained that this was in pesos, and it would be best if I could exchange my US money to this before paying the fees. 596..pesos? But that’s only about $50. I tried to contain my excitement and accept his sympathy that I was paying such a high weekend rate, and grabbed the necessary document before skipping out the door.

Instead of accepting a cab ride to the airport, all we had on us were large US bills anyway, we walked the mile there through the late morning heat, and walked through the sliding doors into the blessed air conditioning where we watched throngs of pasty white citizens filing through with their luggage, glad to be free from the snow that plagued them back home.  Finding that all three offices I needed to visit were right next to each other, there were some waits to get the attention of anyone at the windows since it was such a busy day at the airport with flights coming in, but otherwise things went very smoothly.  I did have to run to a window to exchange money for a very poor rate to pay another $30 US to Customs, but they were all very friendly and helpful.  It wasn’t even until I was finished with the first two officials that I realized 90% of the conversation had happened in Spanish, and I’d been able to follow along and give very basic replies, which they understood in return.  I guess learning another language is one of those things that you can’t over think.  Once you stop actually  thinking about it, it just comes naturally.

All was looking great for us to get the last stamp from Agriculture by 12:30 and back to the Port Captain’s by 1:00, completing the check in procedure and probably setting a record among most cruisers….until they saw Georgie’s paperwork.  “You have a cat?, There’s a cat on your boat?”.  “Yes.”  “Is the cat going to be leaving the boat to go to shore?”  “No, she stays on the boat all the time.”  “Ok, as long as she doesn’t leave the boat”, the young woman smiled at me, while taking my papers to her boss to get stamped.  I guess he was a stickler for the rules though, and any pet on board had to be examined by someone in his office.  The girl hesitantly came back and informed me that someone would have to come out to our boat to make sure she looked healthy, and then we could come back and get our stamp.  Now our chances of getting this fully completed today were shot to hell.  A young man from the department came around to meet us, ushering us into their company pickup truck where he brought it down to the harbor and we loaded him in the dinghy for the ride out to Serendipity.

On the boat he took one quick glance at Georgie after I scooped her up and placed her in his arms, and he deemed that she was quite fit to be let into Mexico, and also a total cutie to boot.  Tell me something I don’t know.  😉    He then went on to ask if we had any meats that we had brought into the country.  Defeated, I mentioned that we did have some ground beef in our freezer from Guatemala, which he confiscated with many apologies, but did happily accept a glass of Pepsi before leaving to bring us back to the airport.  Receiving the last stamp and being set free to go back to the Port Captain, it was now 1:30.  Our one day check in was not going to happen.  But at least the two of us were legal in the country, which means we were free to wander around.  There’s a norther coming in on Tuesday so we need to make sure we’re in the protection of Isla Mujeres before then, meaning, we have exactly today and tomorrow to explore this island.  Let’s see what it has to offer!

boats in harbor, Cozumel, Mexico

statue on boardwalk, Cozumel, Mexico

shoreline of Cozumel, Mexico

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Racing Almost Skebenga

Friday December 20, 2013

beans, Cay Caulker, Belize

This photo has nothing to do with anything, I’m just running out of photos.

 

Yesterday finally gave us the opportunity to leave Cay Caulker and make our move to Mexico. Conditions out the window still looked slightly rough, but I was tired of sitting in one spot. It had finally gotten to the point that I would have taken an uncomfortable passage (read: not dangerous, just uncomfortable), over sitting still any longer. Plus we had finally gotten an email communication from Skebenga that they were leaving that day as well to head up to Cozumel. There was a little bit of security in knowing that we’d have a buddy boat out there with us. Now our only task was getting Serendipity out of the San Pedro cut at Ambergris Cay, a tricky little thing that we’d heard cautionary tales of from people who’d entered it coming down from Mexico. It has low lying reefs on both sides, a fun little turn in the middle, and apparently is a bitch to try and navigate in anything but calm seas.

Coming up on San Pedro I scanned the anchorage with my binoculars, searching for any sign of Skebenga. I didn’t see their steel hulled boat sitting with all the others, but I did see a few other boats traveling out on the water. One looked like it was headed toward the cut we were about to enter, so once more, I whipped out the binoculars in that direction. From what I could see, this boat had a white hull, dark blue sail covers, and double headsails, just like Skebenga. Handing over the binoculars to Matt, he took a look as well, but didn’t think it was them. We let the debate continue for the next 30 minutes as we watched this other boat, Almost Skebenga, we finally decided on, as they traversed the cut. All morning we had been debating if we should try it ourselves or not, how the weather would affect it, possibly make it harder. Once it was clear that Almost Skebenga was going for it, we watched with desperate intent.

Passing through the boundary of relatively calm water behind the reef, we stared on as they bobbed up and down like a teeter totter through the rough waves coming in, me becoming more panicked each minute. Should we save this for another day? Possibly when the waters were dead calm? But who knew when that day would be. Even though it was a bumpy ride, Almost Skebenga had made it out. If they could do it, so could we. Gathering our wits and triple checking the waypoints we plugged in to the chart plotter, we were ready to attempt this hair raising cut. It was decided that I should be put at the bow to try and guide us through any coral that we might accidentally get acquainted with, so strapping on a harness I clipped on the lifelines and made my way up front.

Before I had gotten up there, when we were back in the cockpit deciding on which person should take what role, I asked Matt, “So, say we should crash…who’s fault would it be? The helmsman or the bowman?” I was trying to save my skin of any burden placed on my shoulders. I did not get the answer I was hoping for. “If any accident happens, it’s the captain’s fault”. “I know maritime law, but I’m saying, in this boat, who would be to blame, you or me?” “The captain.” “So you’re trying to tell me that no matter what, if we crash this boat today, whether I’m at the helm or the bow, it’s going to be all my fault?” “Yup”. And with those words of encouragement I moved myself up front, satisfied by the fact that at least I wouldn’t have the guilt of miscalculating any turns should our hull puncture something hard that day.

It turns out my position at the bow was hardly doing anything for us, the water was choppy enough that I couldn’t clearly see through it, plus anything more than five feet out from the boat was basically just one large mirror, reflecting the clouds on it’s surface. I hoped the waypoints we picked up online were trustworthy. Matt seemed to be doing a good job navigating with them though, and soon we were in line with a large yellow buoy that marks the turn out of the cut. By this point we were also starting to turn into a teeter totter, our protection from the reef gone, and 5-6 foot waves rolling in at us. Normally I’d think this kind of thing would scare the crap out of me, but being right up where the action was turned out to be like a thrilling amusement park ride. Remember these waves from Stocking Island? Picture me standing at the bow going through them. We would shoot up into the air, and then the floor would come out from under us and we’d come crashing back down, a spray of warm sea water crashing over the deck.

As I held on to the head sail with both hands, I had to contain myself from whooping with joy at the sheer exhilaration of it, for fear of scaring Matt into thinking something was wrong. It was a short lived adventure though as, even without screams of delight, he thought I was a risk to myself being up there in those conditions. “JESSICA!!”, I heard a scream from the cockpit, “Get back here now!!!”. Prying myself away and crouching down to lower my center of gravity, I made my way back to the cockpit, my ride getting cut short before it was even finished.

Cay Caulker, Belize

restaurant, Cay Caulker, Belize

 We’d made it safely through the cut, and before we knew it, depths were dropping back into the hundreds of feet before our sounder couldn’t even read them anymore. Sails were raised and the engine was cut, ready to start our 200 miles to Isla Mujeres. If we averaged 4-5 knots, we’d be there just about 48 hours. Our start wasn’t great though, the winds coming directly out of the NE direction we needed to head. Tacking to the SE just to get some distance from shore, we kept an eye on Almost Skebenga, whom was headed the same direction, just a few miles ahead of us. Just like racing nameless boat on Lago Izabal, we followed all the same tacks until we realized one really long tack to the SE was needed to put us on a decent course to keeping us from having to do any tacks in the dark if we could help it. Almost Skebenga shot north and out of our sight as we made our way further out to sea.

I wouldn’t call conditions rough, but they were definitely uncomfortable enough that for the first time, both of us were feeling sick. I had put on a scopalmine patch before leaving, and was even attempting the ‘ear plug in one ear’ trick that was supposed to stave off seasickness, but the only thing it did was make me deaf to the sounds Matt was constantly trying to point out. We had a late lunch of cheesy onion bread and a dinner of Pop Tarts. It was enough effort just for one of us to make it down the companionway to grab something edible from the cupboards, and I was thankful I took 20 minutes that morning to stockpile snacks and canned foods in an easy access area. As the sun was setting we caught sight of Almost Skebenga again in the distance, and it looked like they were going to have to make another tack, while us now on a comfortable course, would totally catch them and kick their ass if they had to take time and run away from the shore.

Even though we were working with a double reefed main plus the headsail, and winds were steady around 20-25 knots, we must have had a pretty hefty current on our side since we were keeping a steady pace of 6.5-7 knots. When darkness grew, Matt decided to catch up on sleep with a short nap, and I kept watch, where an unexpected moon rise made me think that we were about to have a run in with a tanker, a sudden orange light on our port side that hadn’t been there moments before. I also watched us catch up to and pass Almost Skebenga as, just as predicted, they had to tack further away from shore.  When it was my turn to go down I had a surprisingly calm slumber, falling asleep almost immediately and staying that way.  This usually doesn’t happen until my second sleep shift where I pass out from sheer exhaustion.  Matt had somehow found a way to keep the boat from rocking violently back and forth as she normally does, and I was able to nestle into the crook of the boat.  Until I felt water dribbling down my back, but I was too tired to care at that point.

Today was met with the same kind of attitude from both of us as yesterday.  Neither of us was feeling great, and we wanted this passage to be over as quick as possible.  We tried to distract ourselves with talk about how a previous cruising couple just traded in their boat for a RV, and how that seemed to be the right way to go.  The two of us are constantly talking about the countries we’d like to visit and all the things we’d like to see inland, but how limiting it is trying to get there.  Putting the boat in a marina, finding transportation, getting lodging.  Yes, a RV is not a bad idea at all.  But we made a commitment to Serendipity, so we will stick with her.  Plus, you have to sometimes disregard the things you say about your contempt for your boat while on passage.  You’re not thinking clearly.

As the afternoon wore on and we were very sick of traveling and could think of nothing better than a anchorage to stop in, get a good night’s sleep, and regroup ourselves, we talked about our previous plans to go to Cozumel.  Yes, this would mean getting there in the dark, sometime between 7 and 9, but just like Great Inagua and Grand Cayman, there are no channels leading into a harbor.  Just a certain spot on the west side of the island used as a designated anchorage.  All we had to do was sail or motor up and drop anchor.  We also rationalized that 1.  As a cruise ship port, it would probably be much easier to check into the country there since usually they keep all the officials in one place.  As was the case in Nassau and Grand Cayman.  2.  Did we really only want to have one stop in Mexico?  Why not see at least two places, even if one of them might be extremely touristy.

Changing our course to come up on the west side of Cozumel instead of passing by it’s eastern side, moods instantly lifted.  Sure, if we just sucked it up we’d have been in Isla first thing in the morning, but again, this never sounds as intriguing when you’re on passage.  Sailing into the lee of the island just after 7, we lost all wind and our speed diminished to barely 5 knots.  Normally something we’d be quite happy to take, but after keeping a steady 7-8 knots all day (yup, that current just kept getting stronger), it felt like we were crawling along.  It was just past 9 when we made it into the anchorage, the bright lights from shore blinding our virgin eyes.  There were a few tense minutes while coming in where Matt was picking up three images on radar, but we couldn’t see them in the water.  It turns out they were boats at anchor, it’s just that none of them decided to have any kind of anchor light on.  Even though we were only a few hundred feet from a brightly lit shore, we couldn’t make them out until we were right upon them.  I know it’s not illegal to keep themselves from being lit in a marked anchorage, but this is seriously one of my biggest pet peeves.  It just seems like you’d want to make sure that you can be seen by any traveling vessels out there.

I was too tired to be any more upset than a scoff at them though, and we hurriedly put the boat back together so we could rest.  I forced myself awake long enough to make sandwiches for dinner before passing out in a wet bet with wet sheets.  Apparently we have a few leaks that this last passage has now brought to our attention, and everything on the port side of the boat is soaked.  Including our bed and every bit of clean laundry.  That doesn’t happen on RVs, right?  Can anyone tell me where I can sign up for one of those?

sunset in Mexico

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Unfortunate E-mails

Wednesday December 18, 2013

sunset, Cay Caulker

It’s our last day here at Cay Caulker, we finally found a weather window to leave tomorrow for Mexico.  First we need to make a ten mile jaunt up to San Pedro at Ambergris Cay and out the cut there, and from then on it’s another 200 miles up to the well visited Mexican island of Isla Mujeres.  After spending an extra unplanned week here in Belize, we decided that we don’t have time for Cozumel, as originally planned.  Running behind schedule as much as we are we’d like to be in Isla for Christmas, maybe New Years, but after that we want to take the first window we can get to Florida.

A few last minute things had to be taken care of today, such as checking the weather one last time to make sure our window hadn’t changed since we last checked.  It hadn’t, which was our only good news for the day.  Each of us also received a disheartening e-mail from a family member, one much worse than the other.

The first one was from my mom, letting me know that the package of goodies she was having meet us in Isla Mujeres was actually sent back to her due to issues with customs.  You may be asking yourself what’s so bad about this?  Yeah, I wasn’t going to be rewarded with Skittles in a few days, and Matt’s going to have to wait a little longer now for some Snickers, but that’s not the bad part.  The reason it was returned to the States was the same reason we were so desperate to get it.  It contained a new debit card for us.

We had an issue with ours back in late September, just when we got back to Guatemala from South America.  Matt was in town taking out money at an ATM, using a different bank than we’re used to because that one was closed.  A few days later we found out the information had been cloned because all of a sudden, TONS of transactions began popping up in the Dominican Republic, removing $200 at a time, one after another, until $1,800 had been taken out in about 24 hours.  This did not make us happy campers.  Obviously.

Luckily we had two things working in our favor.  The first is that we never keep more than one months spending money in that account at a time, meaning that for whomever stole our information, they couldn’t drain us of all our money.  The most they could get out of us one months budget, which is a terrible thing to happen, but it wouldn’t break us.  The other thing is that we work with a wonderful company that has anti-theft protection and refunded all the money back to our account.  Matt tells me that any decent company will do this for you, but if you’re curious as to who we use, it’s Capital One 360.

Ok, back to the e-mail.  Our new debit card was turned away from Mexican customs since apparently you can not send any form of money to this country from the United States, including debit cards.  Apparently there was an issue with the toothpaste also included, but whatever, I’m going to focus on the card for now.  SO, now this means that we HAVE to make it to somewhere in the US to get our new debit card since there’s been so much difficulty getting it sent anywhere else.  We tried to have a new one sent to Guatemala as soon as the whole issue happened, and even though the company states it was signed for, it never made it into our hands.  For the past 10 weeks we’ve been living off our credit card, our cash reserve, and even one Western Union wire transfer.  It’s been a hassle and we’ll be so happy once we have an easy way to get our hands on cash again.

That was our first disheartening email of the day.  The second one came from Matt’s mom letting us know that Matt’s grandmother passed away the previous evening.  The same grandmother that we planned our visit back to the States this past August around, just to get in one more visit with her.  Hearing the news, we were both shocked and crushed.  We knew she hadn’t been doing well, but as Matt put it, she had always been the Energizer Bunny.  She just kept going, and going.  We’d hoped she’d still be going strong when we got back for good, but that had just been wishful thinking on our parts.

There are a few things we have to be happy about though.  One of her last goals was to make it to 90 years old, which she did back in October.  Through some tremendous planning on Matt’s mom’s part, she received over 100 cards in the mail for her birthday.  We sent a post card from Guatemala, which I don’t think ever made it, but we had my mom get one in signed from us while she was sending her own.  Another is that she passed without any pain.  In fact, just minutes before she went she was playing with her nearly two year old great-grandson, talking and laughing, a huge grin on her face.  For her, I can’t think of a better way to go.

I’m so glad we had the good sense to make it back to see her one last time this summer.  Life is full enough of regrets sometimes, we didn’t want missing time with her when it really counted, to be another one.

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