The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 14: Northbound
Hurricane season will soon be upon us, and reluctantly, Francesca is underway and leaving the lower latitudes.
Our friends threw a birthday party for Ben and it was a blow out. Pictures say it all.
Monica and Peter's daughter Claudia and Rita and Tony's children
Florian and Stephanie. The party was held at the marina's palapa.
Mary (Camryka) made a foam rubber cake. Since it wouldn't cut, Theresa used it for the next best thing.
Everyone got into the act.
There were other dockside activities.
Left, Carl, Mary and Beverly and Dave (Soggy Paws) after a pot luck dinner.
Right, Florian and Claudia take Maggie for a ride.
While we stayed in the small river near La Cieba, Honduras, we weren't bothered by the winds which had been consistently blustery for nearly two months. But as the time of departure neared, it was of concern that the winds might not ease long enough for us to make a comfortable passage to the waters of Belize. Fortunately there was a small break and we left La Ceiba, Honduras on May 13 and cruised 25 miles north to the island of Utila. That small crossing was somewhat rough and the winds picked up significantly during the last hour or so.
A few hours after we anchored, the sailing vessel "Enkidu" put in, anchoring nearby. They called on the VHF and said that while towing their dinghy from Roatan, about 25 miles east of Utila, the dinghy was capsized and torn loose by a rouge wave. With the rough sea conditions they found that recovery was too dangerous and the dinghy had to be abandoned. Further conversation ensued and we agreed to help them through the grocery shopping and check out process with our dinghy. It is hard to imagine, but the next day, a fisherman on the east end of the island recovered their dinghy and returned it to them. Considering that the sea was running up to 12 feet, the rocky shores and coral of Utila should have cut it to pieces, but it was almost without damage.
Over cocktails that evening, we found that "Enkidu" had an itinerary similar to ours and that their vessel was compatible with our cruising speed. Bob and Barbara are retired Constitutional law professors. The next day was spent sorting out last minute provisional needs and weather checks. Then just before midnight on May 14, we followed our GPS cookie crumb trail out of the harbor and struck out for Glover's Reef in Belize.
It has taken a while to figure out how to cruise these waters with the least impediment from the local bureaucracies. What I describe is not intended to be copied by others without up to date cruisers information. When transiting Belize, if you enter the barrier reef, it is highly advisable to check into the country. Some recent cruisers delayed their check in by only one day and were fined $250. But when transiting the offshore atolls of Glover's, Turneffe and Lighthouse, it is common practice to stopover for a day or week without being checked into the country. It is always permissible to stop there for weather delays or breakdowns. So it isn't a big stretch even if the weather is OK. We know of no one who has been hassled about this. Similarly, the Mexican coast has few check in points, so most cruisers visit the relatively uninhabited bays and the Chinchorro atoll without checking in. The Mexican Navy often boards these vessels, but we have never heard of a problem. As I mentioned, things can change, so this is not a hard, fast rule.
So, with the plan of no check-ins/outs after leaving Honduras and until reaching Isla Mujeres, Mexico, we made for Glover's Reef. It turned out to be a sloppy, but OK passage even though the wind stayed up most of the night.
Glover's is a delightful place which I described in some detail two years ago. Bob wanted to make a tank dive and even though I hadn't worn a tank in about ten years, I was glad for the opportunity. We always carry a couple of fully charged tanks for emergency bottom or prop repairs. From our anchorage inside the reef, we dinghied over to the calm water just inside of the exposed reef, then carried our gear across the reef and put it on in the surf. The outside of Glover's is a maze of small canyons and rivulets that, over a distant of a couple hundred yards, descends to 70 feet, then abruptly and vertically drops to the abyss. Lots of divers experience wall diving, but I think most would agree that it's kind of spooky hanging over the edge looking into cobalt blue nothingness. Unfortunately, and not typical of our previous experience at Glover's, we saw few large fish, but it was a nice diversion from snorkeling the relatively shallow depths. Later that day, while snorkeling inside of the reef near Middle Cay, we saw many more fish and a fair number of large lobster.
The WeatherFax indicated some good weather for the next leg of the trip and we departed Glover's on May 18 headed for the north end of Turneffe Reef/Atoll. Much of that trip was in the lee of both reefs with only a couple of hours exposure to the open sea. The weather held and it was a good day. The north anchorage is very large, has excellent holding and well protected from easterlies, but there is little or no protection from the north. This area is seldom visited, but at this time of year I think it could be a very interesting place to hang out and explore without weather worries.
We stayed at Turneffe only for the night and at about 4:00 AM retraced our cookie crumb trail out through the break in the reef and headed for Mexico's Chinchorro Bank/Atoll. That day was nearly perfect in all respects. Great weather, calm seas, and we picked up two 25 lb bluefin tuna.
As usual, when trolling, if we catch one fish, we almost always and simultaneously catch a second. So, it was a zoo while Joan fought one fish and I another. Normally, I catch tuna somewhat reluctantly since the variety most often caught have very dense meat and are best used for fish stew. Bluefin, however, are another matter altogether. The two fish filleted out enough wonderful meat for about 25 dinners. Later that evening, after dropping the hook at Chinchorro, Barbara and Bob came over to Francesca and we had excellent sushimi and grilled fillets.
There were several other boats at anchor in the Banks, "Endangered Species", "Spec", "Summer Wind" and "Lady J". Those folks were all delightful. The couple on "Summer Wind" were from Israel and had been cruising for 17 years. During their world covering experiences they home taught their two children. Awesome! We are always amazed at the rich and varied lives of cruisers, some of whom have circumnavigated more than once. I am pleased to say that this year, more than before we have integrated into the fraternity and found a rich haven of friendship and community.
After a couple of days at Chinchorro, we wished to continue north, but the weather was not as advertised by the National Weather Service. The NWS does a good job of describing weather more than 50 miles offshore, but local land effect winds can be daunting and are seldom predicted. Robin and Rick on "Endangered Species" joined our small convoy and we departed Chinchorro with the intention of going 70 miles to Bahia Ascension, but the weather and seas would have none of it. So, after some hours of bashing about and slow progress, we sought refuge at Bahia Espiritu Santo, about 30 miles to the south of Ascension. After anchoring behind the reef, the surge was bad and no one got a good nights sleep. The next day, we resolved to continue to Ascension, good weather or bad.
The trip to Ascension was exciting if not comfortable. A squall passed through with 30 knot winds and driven rain. For a time we were in confused and sloppy seas. Refuge at Ascension was only a few hours in coming, but we all paid our dues getting there. Earlier in the year, "Queen Mary" sat at anchor in Ascension. Brenda and Gene said that during their 10 day stay they caught all the lobster they wanted. So, after a brief rest, and inspired by lobster lust, we set out for the spiny critters. During the next day or so, we caught and ate our fill, but alas, a local boat came by and advised us that bug season was closed. Oops. Time to move on.
Saturday, May 25, at 4:00 PM we made our way through the two mile wide reef opening at Ascension. The trip to Isla Mujeres was to be about 15 hours. Leaving the bay, the winds were down to about 10 knots with the seas running 5 to 6 feet. In an hour, the wind picked up again and we stayed in 8 ft seas all night. The expected north running 2 knot current didn't materialize until the last few hours of the trip. When we finally were in the strong currents, the seas were steep and we had to slow down to near idle speed to keep from falling off the waves. At that power setting steerage is poorly effective and the auto pilot couldn't handle it. Hand steering was really demanding and by the time Enkidu and Francesca arrived at Isla Mujeres, we were worn thin. Keep in mind, these are not war stories, just part of the deal and you take the bad with the good. War stories are quite another matter and visited only rarely.
Isla is always pleasant. Good anchorage, good folks and good food. We checked in and did some shopping. Last evening, we had a wonderful meal with Robin, Rick, Barbara and Bob at our favorite restaurant. Tableside musicians, good tequila, good food and great conversation made it a memorable night. How can we leave this?
The weather window for crossing the Gulf is looking to be the best conditions I have ever seen (for a power boat). The wind for at least the next three days over the entire Gulf is projected to be light and variable with sea conditions of 1 to 3 feet. So, this afternoon we will check out of Mexico and ready the boat for an early departure tomorrow for Key West.
It is hard to leave our special friends on Queen Mary, Sea Camp, Camryka, Awab, Soggy Paws, Enkidu and Endangered Species. But, many or most will be here next fall and winter and several of us hope to get together for the trip to Panama. It will be a joyous reunion to be sure. We hope that Bob and Barbara on Enkidu will be ready to leave tomorrow, but they are hoping for southerly breezes to be able to sail. They are also having some minor sail repair done which may not be ready in time. With such perfect weather, Francesca cannot chance missing it.