The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 8: War Stories
Tuesday, 14 December. 1999
Leaving La Fe it was a nice simple cruise to the next stop at Cayo La Lena where the cruising guide tells us the fishermen are so delighted to see you they will give you lobster just out of kindness. Well, something had changed and it may have been due to the politics of the little boy caught between nations. At the government fish dock, we were so coolly received that it was clear we should not even get out of our dinghies. We didn't.
The anchorage was pleasant though and we took care of those boat things that needed doing before getting into potentially rough water. Next morning, December 11, we cruised around the westernmost tip of Cuba at Cabo San Antonio, no problems. Then a southern point, Cabo Cajon, and it began to get a little rough. Finally rounding another point Cabo Perpetua (named for perpetually rough water), it got kind of nasty. Between that point and Maria La Gorda lies Bahia de Corrientes (named for confused waters). Let me tell you, These were confused, rough waters. The seas came from all directions and although not particularly large waves, they were steep, ragged and everywhere. We beat and slammed all day crossing that area. Later, at Maria la Gorda, we met our first cruising sailboat since Sundancer. They were Canadians en route to the Cayman Islands. For them, crossing the 25 miles of the Corrientes was an ordeal in the extreme. They were only able to make about 1 knot while crossing.
Nevertheless, we were happy to be at Maria la Gorda. The waters are gin clear, with the drop off to 1000 feet within about a quarter mile from shore. Anchoring was a problem as there was only rock bottom with an occasional wisp of sand, so we picked up a mooring as recommended. M la G is a diving resort and many of the people there spoke English. Of course, we checked in with the Guarda and they were nice. The area looks like pictures of the south seas with angled palms at the edge of the water, We got weather on SSB and also from the locals. Everything sounded pretty good for a next day departure to Mexico around noon. Groan, we still had to cross back over the Corrientes.
Sunday, December 12. The officials from immigration and customs had to drive about 70 kilometers to get to M la G to check us out of Cuba. They arrived about 11 AM and required us to take the boats to the concrete dock. There was about a 1 foot surge at the time, no cleats on the dock, a couple of nasty tires for fenders, and although the dive boats work from there, no one seemed to know how to tie up a boat. We put out all of our fenders (barely enough to keep us from getting bashed), tied up somehow, and over the course of the next two hours, Francesca and Heide were stamped, spindled, and approved to leave Cuba. With some relief, we were on our way. Cuba was nice and we were glad to have visited it, but we are glad that the eventual return trip from Mexico will be direct to Key West with the Gulf Stream currents to help carry us home.
The plan was that it would take about 20 to 22 hours to cross the Straits of Yucatan. The entire crossing would be about 130 miles, but with an expected northward flowing Gulf Stream current of up to 4 or 5 knots, there would be a significant southern offset to our course line, thus extending the time required. The first hour was just fine, then the Corrientes started and were in 10 to 12 foot confused seas. Bam, slap, pop, creak and groan. This went on all afternoon and all night. The alternative of going back to M la G was not high on our list as we would have to go through the whole bureaucratic rigamarole again. Bam, slap, pop, creak and groan just continued on.
Unless it is foggy, we always run the boat from the enclosed fly bridge. So while it was light, we could chance going down to the cabin for food, coffee, etc. , but after dark, with the boat wildly careening, it was a far too dangerous trip.
We were crossing heavily trafficked shipping lanes so Marv gave quarter hour updates on the radio regarding RADAR contact of ship traffic and weather. Francesca's RADAR is down in the main cabin. On a few occasions both Heide and Francesca had waves break under them. This is a thrill not desired or pleasantly experienced. You don't know where the boat is going and it drops with great gusto. Maggie took the whole thing in stride, poor girl had to go for about 20 hours without bladder relief. Marge hid her head under a towel much of the way, not wanting to see what was going on.
Francesca's auto pilot couldn't handle the large seas, so Joan and I had to stand at the wheel most of the night. Once in a while, we could guardedly let the auto pilot take it for brief rests. Our boats are a lot tougher than we are and Francesca and Heide came through the night without a blemish arriving just at daybreak at Mexico's Isla Mujeres (pronounced Eesla Muharas), a resort island just a bit north of Cancun, the whole trip took only 17 hours. For most of the journey, the current was favorable or none at all.
During the crossing, we had winds SE and S of 20 to 25 knots. While this sounds a bit much, it is likely that it is as good as it gets in those waters. If it had been out of the north even a little, because of currents the seas would have been much greater and, for us, not navigable.
The anchor was dropped in the calm waters of the inner harbor. We were arm and leg weary and mentally exhausted: to hell with checking in. It was time to take a rest. Later, the check in process, while laborious, (had to go to different buildings for immigrations, customs, medico, and port captain) was not too difficult.
From now on and until we return to the US, we will often be in protected waters with only occasional need to go “outside” for day trips around some reef areas. Also, we are in the trade winds region of the tropics where the weather is much more predictable and generally settled. The evenings are cool in the low to mid 70s, the days are in the mid to upper 80s and there is always a breeze. I'm in heaven.
Cruising south will be simpler, having less officialdom. There are other cruisers here also. Yesterday, we met some English folks who just returned from 3 months in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala (our eventual destination). They loved it there, but cautioned that the cruising guide we are using (the only one there is) can be worse than useless if we try to navigate by it. There are too many errors in the book to trust its' charts. Oh well, Admiral Nelson cruised these waters with a hell of a lot less. He also blasted just about everything that moved. In these waters you use your eyes to spot the reefs and coral heads and get as much local knowledge as possible.
Note: After completing the cruise everyone agreed that the Rauscher Cruising Guide was excellently written and we noticed only minor errors. The volume of information in the Rauscher guide is huge and they are to be congratulated on producing such a fine guidebook.
I particularly enjoyed having written part 8 as it means that the most difficult leg of the journey is behind us and from here on, there will be lots of diving, fishing, and fun in clear, warm waters. We are looking forward to Andrea's (our daughter) visit in about 10 days at Cancun, just a few miles from here.
Joan, Ben, Marge, Marv & Maggie