boat anchored in Isla Mujeres harbor

What a Drag

Saturday January 4, 2014

boat anchored in Isla Mujeres harbor

 You’re sitting pretty now, but little do you know, we’re going to come careening at you in a few hours.


The past few days on Serendipity have been quite boring. There’s a front blowing through the area, bringing clouds, rain, and lots of wind. We actually haven’t left the boat since we’ve returned from Cancun, not actually wanting to put ourselves out in that weather even for much needed groceries, and subsiding on a diet of sandwiches and lots of reading. The weather has brought our batteries back down as well, so of course, computer work is once again out. Yup, these have been quite boring days indeed. And if I was lucky, it would have stayed that way.

The winds yesterday were much more fierce than they have been today for the most part, only blowing in the high 20’s with gusts up in the 30’s, instead of yesterdays 30’s with gusts into the 40’s. During our after dinner relaxation time though, they began to kick up again. The wind would howl, rigging would clank, and we’d look up from the books we were reading, our eyes communicating to each other, ‘Wow, that was a big one’. At some point we began to step into the cockpit to glace around and make sure we were still in the same place, that our anchor wasn’t dragging at all. But with darkness, also comes confusion. It became much harder to tell exactly where we were because we were now surrounded by a sea of black with only twinkling lights from town and the occasional anchor light as a guide.

There were a few times that we’d pop our heads out, and I being the much better judge of measurements and distance, would mention to Matt, “I think these other boats look a little closer than they did before”. These other boats, meaning two that were anchored behind us. With the wind coming over the island from the east, we were at the front and center of the channel, with nary a boat in front of us, which is just the way we like it. We have a Rocna. It holds. We don’t have to worry about dragging, our biggest fear is of others dragging into us. So with these ‘slightly closer’ positioned boats, we weren’t sure if we’d actually moved or if our eyes were playing tricks on us in the dark. They tend to do that sometimes. Going back to our books we just said that we’d keep an eye on it, looking out again every so often to make sure these other anchor lights weren’t getting any brighter. Every 30 minutes after that we’d check again, and everything looked normal. I thought to myself ‘Even if we did somehow drag back a little bit, we seem to be still now’.

We were quite content with our situation and position while getting ready for bed around 10:30, when we heard our anchor alarm going off. Normally this doesn’t send us into a panic as it will sometimes go off even if we’re only rotating at anchor, but this time we knew to be suspicious. I stepped up on deck, and Matt was quickly behind, moving me out of the way because, as usual, I wasn’t moving fast enough. We looked behind us and though, ‘Ok, yeah, that boat does look a little closer’. Then we looked to our side and said, ‘Huh, we weren’t even with that boat before’. And then it dawned that we hand in fact dragged. And silly me, I somehow assumed that we’d caught again. We formulated a plan to move forward and re-anchor, and I went about finding a clip to pull my hair back so that it wouldn’t blow in my face, causing temporary blindness, and changed from my long yoga pants into shorts so that I wouldn’t trip on hem while out in the cockpit. Finally getting back out into the cockpit I realized that I should have been in much more of a hurry. The boat behind us was growing closer and closer….we were still dragging! And not very slowly either.

Since we had to deal with the new problem of having issues with our starter, and THANK GOD we figured that out earlier or we’d still be engine-less, just like we were when we went to charge the batteries this afternoon and found out it wouldn’t turn on; Matt jumped into the lazarette and manually started the engine as I was behind the wheel, quickly trying to unlock it. There had been no time for a discussion on exactly what was going to be done or any kind of planning for a course of action. This was a fly by the seat of your pants, get your ass moving before you hit the boat that you’re quickly coming up on, situation. I put the boat in gear, not sure of how much punch I should give it since I knew we still had to get the anchor chain up in the first place and I didn’t want to go roaring past it. So I kept us around 1300 RPMs. Until I looked behind me and saw that we were, I’m not kidding, about 40 feet from hitting the other boat. The wind was so strong that drowned out my cries of “Oh Shit!!” as I punched us up to over 2000 RPMs to get us moving. I kept at this pace until I saw the boat growing dimmer behind me, and finally, Matt waving his arms, trying to get my attention to slow down. So I basically brought us to a stop. Can you see where this is going?

Now my too slow speed was giving us no forward motion against the winds that were trying to hold us back, and the bow was turning to Port even though Matt was sternly pointing toward Starboard and I had the wheel fully cranked that direction. Scared, flustered, and frustrated, it didn’t dawn on me to give us enough gas to at least keep us moving forward until Matt had to run back and tell me. My heart sank a little more as I realized this is the only way we could communicate. There was no way we could hear each other over the HOWLING wind with him at the bow and me at the stern, and with it being so dark out, my beloved hand signals were now obsolete. I kept moving us forward at a slow and steady pace, unsure of where we where, or even where we were heading. The darkness made everything so disorienting and I couldn’t tell exactly how far away we now were from the other boats, or especially the channel.

Matt came back once more to tell me that it all started because our anchor had gotten caught on a BMX bike frame which came up along with it and the chain (wtf?!) and now to just keep an eye out,that we wanted to try and end up at the current position we were at that moment after the anchor was let down again and enough chain was let out, so to just get us a little further out. Which again, in the darkness, I had no idea how to judge when we’d gone another 100 feet or so. I just kept us slowly moving forward, hoping for some kind of signal from the bow, when I looked over to Port and thought, ‘Huh, that kind of looks like a mast’. Then I stuck my head out further around the dodger and realized, ‘Holy s%*t, that IS a mast!”. I guess in my rush to get us forward I had put us into the channel, and now we were coming up on another sailboat that was anchored on the other side. One which, instead of having a light atop their mast, had one glowing from the cockpit, perfectly matching the location of the lights on shore. I know a lot of people have these, so don’t take this personally, but I HATE anchor lights situated on the boom or in the cockpit. It does NOT light up your cockpit making you easier to see, it just makes an optical illusion that you’re much further away than you actually are. (Done ranting now)

Eyeing this new boat that we were now on top of, I quickly turned the wheel to Starboard and we began to follow the path of the channel. Becoming extremely aware of my surroundings now, I eyed the anchorage more closely and realized there were a number of boats that didn’t have any kind of light on. None. I could barely make them out through the blackness. Another pet peeve of mine. Yes, I know that legally it is not mandated that you have a navigational light on your boat at night if you are in a marked anchorage. But seriously people, do you not want to be seen?! I know people aren’t normally moving around anchorages at night, and if they are they should at least have radar on, but there are times (like this!) where emergencies happen, there isn’t time, and that’s not an option. (Whew, sorry about all this, if you can’t tell, I’m both a little stressed out and worked up right now).

Since I happened to instantaneously change direction, Matt came back to see what the heck was going on, where upon he got a full earful from me on all the things listed above. He was just as peeved too. Once we both took a few deep breaths and calmed down a little, we made a plan to keep our new course for just a minute, now putting ourselves in an area where no one was behind us, before slipping the boat into neutral and dropping the anchor once more. We settled into a spot that we’d hoped was just out of the channel, although I’m sure we’ll both be up with the sun tomorrow, ready to reposition. The winds now seem to be dying down, but my heart is still going a million miles a minute. I hope we don’t ever have to do that again. As I just mentioned on our Facebook page, THAT.WAS.SCARY.




Leaving our Provisioning List Full

Thursday January 2, 2014


One of the reasons Matt and I had been looking most forward to getting to Isla Mujeres, was the opportunity for a trip to Cancun.  It only sits four miles from Isla, and word was, they had such luxurious shopping centers as Walmart and Home Depot.  We were so excited about the shopping in this city, and so sure of what it would offer us, that this was supposed to be our big stockpiling location should we have been heading straight to the Bahamas.  Since, you know, you can barely find a variety of food there and it’s ridiculously expensive when you do.  In my head were visions of stocking up on boxed wine with flavors of actual Cabernet or Merlot instead of ‘vino tinto’, and other things like cheddar cheese and Skittles.  Matt was looking forward to getting some must have repair items for the boat like caulk and a drill based pump for our oil.  We were both quite excited for this trip.

Waiting for all the holiday hubbub to die down, we thought today would be the best day to do our wandering around the large and hopefully modern and Americanized city.  Assuming we would need the full day to do our shopping, we hopped on the 9:00 ferry for the 20 minute ride over.  I had research with what little internet I had in the anchorage where these two main stops of our were, and what buses we needed to take to get there.  Being the (normally) logical person that I am, I suggested that we hit up Home Depot first since I planned on fully stocking our two backpacks with every kind of goody from Walmart that I hadn’t set my eyes on for the past four months.  According to the vague information I was able to scribble down from my computer, we were to go to a place called Plaza de Americas, and Home Depot was only one block south from there.

We found the Plaza without issue, and with the compass on Matt’s watch, began wandering in a southern route from there.  We assumed that the bright orange sign would jump out at us, but no matter how many blocks we walked, there was nothing in site.After 30 minutes of finding nothing, and becoming quite sweaty in the process, I finally broke down and asked a gardener maintaining the hedges of one of the office buildings where the Home Depot was.  Surely he would know, it was probably one stop shopping for all his gardening needs.  Then I realized one more problem.  I knew enough to know how to ask for directions, but I wasn’t prepared to receive a decipherable answer.  A slew of words that I had not mastered yet were thrown at me, and when Matt turned to me, expectantly waiting for me to tell him where we should turn, I pointed in the same direction the gardener just pointed me in.  That much I could decipher.

Getting across the street there were once more no orange buildings in sight, and we were at a dead end.  Even though I was planning on following pointed fingers until I got there if that’s what it took, I had a happy surprise when I asked the next gentleman I ran across for directions.  He spoke perfect English.  Then came the bad news.  The Home Depot we were looking for had moved a few years back, it’s old location now being turned into a casino.  One that we had in fact circled twice.  The new location was about 4 miles way.  Continuing with his hospitality, this man flagged down a cap for us, gave the driver specific directions on where to take us, and talked him down to the local rate instead of the one they probably tried to squeeze out of tourist.  We were very thankful to find him.

Running in the door, ready to fill up our basket, everything looked just like the Home Depot that we became so familiar with in St. Augustine, ridding our bikes there almost every other day.  Pulling our our list, we got to work.  First up, 3M 4200.  Hmm, nope, they didn’t have it.  5200?  Didn’t carry that either.  Luckily they had Sikaflex 1A which would do the job Matt needed it for up in the anchor locker.  Ok, next item, a drill pump so we can change our oil.  Nope, nothing.  No kind of backup for that one either.  Master brand combination lock?  Nope.  In the end we left with only two things on our list, the Sikaflex and a small package of latex gloves, the rest having to wait until we make it to Florida and it’s much better stocked stores.  Running next door to an AutoZone, I talked Matt into getting a manual pump for our oil for $10.  I’m pretty sure that stuff has to be changed before we dare crossing the 350 miles to Key West.

Even though Home Depot was a little bit of a letdown, our next stop wasn’t.  How could it be?  We found McDonald’s, and no matter where you fine one in the world, you can always count on a Big Mac at your disposal.  The fries were just as good as I remembered them, but strangely enough, I couldn’t eat all of them.  Or my sandwich.  Or even finish my 16 oz drink.  What would have normally taken me less than 10 minutes to eat in my previous life was now taking me 30 minutes just to get a little more than half.  Finally conceding, I shoved the rest toward Matt, the garbage disposal that can finish any kind of extra food whether he’s hungry or not.

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Hopping on one more bus, we were dropped off in front of Walmart, only to come across the same problem we had at Home Depot.  The sign out front was the same as back home in the States.  The contents inside, were not.  Although it was a much larger store than we’re used to shopping at back in Isla, it pretty much contained the same items. Except with a lot more toys.  I kid you not, we ended up walking out with ten items.  Here are just a few of the things we were expecting to find but could not:  Cat litter (of any kind), upholstery cleaner, Corelle coffee mugs (we’re down two from the beginning of the trip, apparently they’re not completely shatter proof), Miracle Whip, boxed wine, and even pretzels.  Dejected, I grabbed a small bag of Skittles in the check out lane to satisfy at least one craving, and we taxied back to the ferry dock where we arrived about four hours earlier than expected and our backpacks limply hanging at our sides.  Looks like we’ve just added a few more things to our list of things to pick up in Florida.

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Jessica at Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Ringing in the New Year

Wednesday January 1, 2014

Paraiso, Isla Mujeres

Since we left the Rio so much later than we expected, by about a month, and then had an extra week added to our time in Belize due to bad weather, Mexico was not where we were expecting to ring in the New Year. In fact, I had grand plans in my mind of meeting up with Brian and Stephanie in George Town Bahamas so we could celebrate it all together. With their timely departure for Panama coming up, it looked to be the only place we might ever have to cross paths again. But life, especially a cruisers, never quite goes as planned. I have to admit though, if we couldn’t buddy up Serendipity and Rode Trip in the Bahamas, staying with our other buddy boat Skebenga in Mexico was a very close second. We even threw out one very nice weather window to Florida to stay here and celebrate.

Our plans were not to be grand, just heading out to Marina Paraiso after dinner and enjoying a few beers and cocktails, and seeing if we could make it to the New Year. Luki and Elmari had already mentioned they’d probably be back at their boat long before midnight ever came, but I was hopeful that we’d run into our friend Rum/Ron (seriously, does anyone know how to spell his name) from Rio Dulce, one of the guys that watched Georgie.

It was lucky for me that Matt had been up until 3 or 4 am going into NYE so that he required a nap in the afternoon before going out. Why is this good you might ask? Because I was able to sneak out my flat iron to style my hair. As much as I love the thing, it sucks up about 20 amps while in use, and we’re still not quite at a place yet where we can easily spare it. I haven’t had a fancy cocktail hour in months though, and to me it was worth skipping watching a movie for the next night. By the time 7:00 rolled around and I was all dolled up, getting myself slightly sweaty while trying to prepare a quick dinner though, we were ready to hit the town for the night.

Luki and Elmari were already sitting at the bar when we got there, and we saddled up next to them at a table and enjoyed a couple of cold Pacifico’s (or in Matt’s case, Coke). The bar wasn’t quite as crowded as we thought it would be for NYE, about 10-15 people sitting at the actual bar, and then us and one other couple sitting at the tables just outside of it. Conditions weren’t quite perfect to be outside though, even though the night was warm, there were strong winds whipping through the grounds. The thing we found most strange was that the winds were coming from the east, and that’s where we were sitting protected from. Still, just like the Windy City, they managed to wrap their way around the buildings and find us, taking my perfectly glossy hair and turning it into the beginnings of a rat’s nest.

It was after only two beers and lots of good conversation that most of our group began getting tired and were ready to retreat back to our boats. Since it was a night for celebration, we decided to stay for one more drink, each ordering a fancy cocktail instead of the beers or pops we currently had in hand. Once again in a tribute to Brian and Stephanie, I ordered a gin & tonic, while Matt went with his old classic of Vodka Sour. I had been hoping to finally break out that bottle of champagne we’ve been carrying around in the ‘Dip since we left Michigan, the one that was supposed to celebrate Jackie’s 30th birthday in the Bahamas that we never got to meet up for, but instead the four of us made plans to enjoy a NYE part II the following week, after Skebenga’s company that was coming in the next day, left. It was 10:30 when we all made it back to our boats, and I was quick in bed after stripping off my party dress. Matt tried to wake me at midnight when fireworks began going off in every direction, but unfortunately, three drinks was enough to make me catatonic, and I could only stumble around for a minute to glance at them before falling back in bed.

pool at Paraiso, Isla Mujeres

Matt & Jessica at Paraiso, Isla Mujeres

 The rat’s nest is starting to take shape.

Scuba at Paraiso, Isla Mujeres

Scuba, the resident diving instructor’s dog.

bar at Marina Paraiso, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Today we decided to take it easy, as if our life has been anything else lately, and make another trip up to Playa Norte. Once again we prepared ourselves with a blanket, drinks and snacks. We exchanged our our e-readers for paperbacks, the digital SLR for a point and shoot, and were ready to leave all belongings unattended should the desire for an afternoon stroll or a frolic in the water come up. Once we entered the sandy passageway, we found that once again the area was packed with tourist and locals from the mainland enjoying their time off work. It was quite unintentional since we couldn’t find an open spot leading up to it, but we ended up at the same exact place that we had just a few days earlier. Taking shade under that same palm tree, we spread out our towel and unwound to the sounds of popular artist playing through the speakers of a nearby bar.

It was looking to be the perfect afternoon…until we smelled the poo. Just as my eyes were drifting shut, as this time I actually was planning on taking a nap, my nose went on high alert as it sensed a smell I’ve unfortunately had to clean out of our litter box many times. The strange thing was, one second it was there, the next second it was gone. I asked Matt if it had wafted past his nose as well, but he could smell nothing unusual. I ignored it and continued to relax. Every few minutes it arose though, and then departed just as quickly. At this point Matt had finally caught on to the scent as well, and although it seemed to be more pungent around me, kept asking if I wanted to move to a different area. Since I couldn’t see anything in eyesight that was available and I didn’t want to pack up all our belongings to search for another open area down the beach, I just went with it.

There were a few checks of all of our belongings just to make sure it was not in fact poo from our cat that we had inadvertently dragged to the beach with us, but quick nose to fabric searches of all of our belongings came up with nothing. I began eyeing the Pomeranian a few towels down. It seemed to be smirking at me. Finally when I was literally about to throw in our towel to find another area of open sand or possibly even evacuate back to the boat, a New Years miracle happened to us. A family of four that had rented out as many chairs and an umbrella for the day, decided to pack it in. Probably through the sheer luck that we were the closest people to them that were stuck in the sand, they offered up their lounges and umbrella to us, ‘since it was already paid through the rest of the day’. I greedily snatched up all our belongs before the offer could be replaced to anyone else. Then, while settling in to my new accommodations next to the other couple next to us in the sand that had been offered the other two seats, I heard some of the sweetest words in the English language. “We’re not going to finish the rest of our beer, would you like it? It’s still cold.” 2014, if you keep treating us like this, I think we may do very well together.

laying out at Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres

lounge chairs on Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres

swimming at Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres

Jessica at Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, Mexico