Friday, April 29, 2016

The Three Hundred Mile Threshold

14 APR 2016

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

We are on the three hundred mile threshold of home trying to find a window in the weather to get across.  The situation is this: a strong north current off of Isla called the Yucatan current that will carry us north and then it bends east to become the Gulf Stream as it rips along north of Cuba and south of the Florida Keys.  And prevailing winds from the east.  So the current helps but the winds do not, in fact the easterly winds blow against the east-setting Gulf Stream and suck the waves into a really nasty state..  So we are waiting for unusual south winds to sail it or no winds to speak of and motor across.  We are stuck, therefore, in a vacationers' paradise trying to leave.

It has been a tough cruising season.  Lots of strong fronts got down to the Bay Islands of Honduras where we were for December and January.  Then a respite up the Rio Dulce.  Then a couple of weeks in Belize while we got Blair, our guest/crew, up to speed and waited for some parts to repair the water maker.  Those parts helped but the water maker is still not working well.  So we set of for Mexico relying on tank water to keep us going between ports. 

We had a good time in Belize, got out to the barrier reef, South Water Cay and Tobacco Cay, got up the Sittee River to see our friends the Wrights who live there, got to spend several nights in the Pelican Range and had the time to get to know Dustin and Kim who run the Hideaway Cay Resort (one room on AirBnB) and serve a mean rum punch.  But we needed to get back to the States: my dad was in very poor health and was admitted to hospice while were setting up to leave Belize. 

We set off with a solid south east wind driving north after a late cold front had blown out.  We had 2-3 knots of current pulling us north too.  We saw 10 knots over the ground reliably as we screamed north.  We were going so fast we had to slow down as we passed Cozumel so that we didn't arrive at Isla in the dark.  And my dad died while we were coming into the port on Good Friday.

We got into Isla Mujeres on Good Friday morning.  We refueled, took on more water, and set off again for the US the next morning with the advice from our weather router that the winds would be stronger but still from a good angle and would then go even more southerly so we could turn east and make it to the Keys.  It was a lot stronger.  It was blowing at least 10kts harder than when we arrived and the seas were now topping at 10 feet.  We had to aim the boat east to start gaining ground towards the Keys and that put the seas onto the back quarter of the boat, "aft the beam".  Extremely rough and difficult to control the boat.  Then the current started pulling to the west.  Hard.  So we had to turn even more to the east to try to fight it, setting the seas directly on our beam and made the conditions simply intolerable.  Imagine your house being thrown 6-10 feet in the air, both up and sideways, in a semirandom cycle every 15-20 seconds. 
(no pictures, it was just too much work)

Intolerable. We bailed out at the last point we could, turning west to hide behind the most northerly of the islands of the Yucatan, Isla Contoy.  We made it in, anchored in the lee, and enjoyed a lovely sunset while trying to figure out what to do.  Easter morning, remember this was now Easter, dawned with clouds of sea birds wheeling over the boat.  And the Guarda Parque alongside in a launch demanding that we leave!  "This is a preserve, you are not allowed here, it is the rules"  We pointed out the waves breaking 50 feet in the air on the far side of the island, asked where he thought we might go, and finally we claimed safe harbor.  Eventually he relented and allowed us to stay if we didn't leave the boat.  Of course!  So we spent Easter on the boat, watching the amazing bird flocks and relaxing. 

The next morning, the Guarda showed up at 06:30 with a girl who spoke English saying "It is time to say goodbye!".  We replied that we needed better light and then would be gone.  Which we were.  A very interesting route that took us 100 yds inside the 5 miles of reef running south from the island towards Isla Mujeres.  Blowing hard still but manageable.  We worked our way across the open water inside of Isla Mujeres, approached the harbor, and called our marina from last year for a slip.  We knew our favorite spot was open as of Good Friday, and the manager said, sure-come-on-in.  And we did. 

We got into Isla and got air tickets back home for a rushed trip to Salt Lake for my father's memorial via Cancun.

And here we are now, going to the beach while our youngest's college graduation in Florida is getting nearer, and watching the weather like hawks for a window to cross to get home.  Sometimes cruising isn't much fun.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Sweet life in the Rio Dulce

23 FEB 2016

Texan Bay, Guatemala
“And the goodbyes make the journey harder still. Will you carry the words of love with you?”
We are leaving the Rio today. It is a place full of like-minded ex-pat folk making their lives what they will in a third-world country. We are very fond of most of them, extremely fond of a few of them. We know many of the Guatemalans too and have found a deep respect for most of them. It is hard to say goodbye. The best part is knowing that we will be back, eventually, perhaps as early as next fall to get some major fiberglass work done by Arny, a local fiberglass wizard. Even his prices are at the top of our budget, can't imagine what it would cost to get it done in the States. So we leave looking back and thinking very fondly of this wonderful backwater place.

“ooh baby baby its a wild world.”
We got word a few days ago that a wonderful couple running an ecolodge in Roatan have been let-go by the owner. They had just renewed their Honduran residency the week before. They are the kind of folk who do the Right Thing because it's the right thing. They transformed the lodge from a mess to a joy, everything was really well repaired and well run, great food and wine, fun dive operation, and the dogs were more insteresting than most people we know. We don't know the back-story, and there's always a back-story, but it is a shame to know that they are Out. Their replacements, said to be much lower-paid than our friends, are not the kind of people we seek out, so it puts this ecolodge and the bay it is in into question for when we return. But we are glad to have known them and been able to experience the lodge in great conditions with great people and great fun.

“I will always remember you like a child, girl”
Life in the Rio is slow and long. One place we frequent, The Kangaroo Hotel, run by Gary and Graciela, is up a mangrove canal nearly to Lago Izabal. It is a three-generation family place with a new 2-year-old grandson already playing in the water and absorbing the way of running the inn. Graciela is Mexican and the source of their astoundingly good Mexican food. And the wizard behind their margaritas which are the best margaritas we have ever had, really, eeryone else says so too, and there's a story going around that a guy in Mnahattan is hot to get her recipe but she won't give it out. It is an example of the innocence of the Rio. We can feel the Outside World pressing on it, but the nature of the place is to just live life as you choose, with the people you care about around you. Many of those people get pulled away by the Outside World, but those who are right for the Rio seem to come back. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it might be better if they forged on out and made a bigger life. Yes, there's internet and cell phones and plastic stuff. But there's no sense here of the kind of the materialistic emptiness that is so pervasive in the First-World. People here aren't obviously trying to find meaning in their life, they just live. They certainly don't define their self-worth by how big their house is. But that's changing even here, and probably everywhere these kinds of economic-backwaters exist.

“Blackbird has spoken, like the first morning”
We are off to Belize and north towards the States. I am tempted to say “north towards home” but that isn't quite right. But it does feel like it's a new beginning again, another voyage driven by being called to go somewhere. The sun is rising in a totally clear sky. The birds are calling and clucking and zipping around. The mist is rising over the mangroves. It feels like time to go.