The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard | home
Part 1: Spectacularly uneventful
After a summer of boat projects, including removal of the teak decking, Francesca was again ready for a major trip. We decided to return to Central America and revisit the countries of the Yucatan Peninsula, but extending the trip to include Roatan and the rest of Honduras' bay islands. At least that is the plan as of today. The boat is stocked for one year, but we have no itinerary.
Leaving Dock Holidays Marina at North Myrtle Beach, November 15, 2001, we had a terrific waterway trip to the Keys. The weather was perfect, the traffic considerate, Francesca was flawless, and so on.
After 9 waterways trips, we have learned a few things that may be helpful to someone. First, we have entered as GPS waypoints, all of the swing and bascule bridges. Thus, we can better schedule our arrivals to match the bridge schedules. It eliminates a lot of waiting about or hard running. Second, we use only the Danforth anchor in the soft mud anchorages from SC through north Florida, but switch to the Delta elsewhere. When anchoring, the GPS drag alarm is set the second the anchor hits the water, thus allowing us to set the GPS alarm tolerance to as little as 0.04 nm and assuring the earliest warning of a dragging event. I humbly admit that we have become experienced draggers. Now, however, with a larger Delta and a more experience, we hope those days are mostly over.
Another something that is clear, but that which I have never read about is a shallow water effect. In water depths of less than 6 or perhaps 7 feet, such as is the case in much of the bayside area of the Florida Keys, the hull pushes a higher hill of water ahead of the boat and the swim platform submerges. The boat slows significantly and regardless of throttle position, 7 knots is all Francesca can muster. So, throttling back to about 1400 rpm maintains 7 knots, but reduces fuel consumption.
We arrived at Marathon, FL, November 25. Francesca had averaged nearly 100 miles per day with the exception of a 1 day stopover at Waterways Marina in south Florida. Marathon's Boot Key Harbor is now festooned with moorings. Some are private, many have been provided by the City with thoughts of control and revenue. The fact is, however, that most the moorings are occupied with local boats ranging from dinghies to small sailboats, and junk. There is little room left for the cruisers and real revenue producers. From my perspective the City's desire to root out derelicts has achieved the opposite result. Normally crowded dinghy docks sit mostly fallow while marina business slumps. Someday maybe Marathon will get it right, but I'm not holding my breath.
Anyway, we had a pleasant week tied up at Dockside Marina. Mariam and Mark on s/v Delphys were there and we enjoyed their company greatly. We also met Peggy and Ed on Tiempo. They are very traveled ex-sailboaters who recently acquired their 49' DeFever trawler. Ed was very helpful in dissuading us from considering coastwise cruising Honduras and Nicaragua. If we should want to go south of Guatemala, it must be far offshore and preferably a different route. The Honduran Bay Islands, however, are safe and they encouraged us to spend a lot of time there. In the mid 90s, they stayed in the Bay Islands for about a year. The Bay Islands are about 30 miles off the north coast of Honduras. Everyone we have ever talked to has sung their praises.
Francesca and crew departed Marathon November 30. The weather window looked pretty good with forecast 5 to 6 foot seas and 10 to 15 knots from the NE. This time of year, I think that is about the best one can expect. The seas in the Gulf don't have broad swells, and waves are often separated by only a 2 to 3 seconds. Having it on the stern was clearly preferred. Our route took us a few miles off Key West, then a turn to the south brought Francesca to a course paralleling the NW Cuban Coast. The final 120 miles from Cuba's Cabo San Antonio to Isla Mujeres was more of the same relatively comfortable following sea. In all, it took 56.5 hours to go from Marathon to safe anchorage at Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I haven't added up the miles yet, but the fuel consumption for our twin Lehmans running at 1500-1550 rpm was 4.15 gallons per hour. For those interested, Francesca turns 24" x 18" props with 2:1 gear. These numbers are as good as they get considering the long, consistent burn time and no generator run time.
The anchorage here at Isla Mujeres is only sparsely populated and we are the only non-resident power boat. Yesterday, Francesca's fuel tanks were topped off with $2.00 per gallon diesel fuel. There are only about 4 marinas within 10 miles of the anchorage. Three of which want $750 to $1000 per month for dockage. The fourth, Marina Paraiso, is somewhat less, but the place has fallen into sad repair and hardly worth it. The Marinas are only sparsely occupied (surprise!). We remain happily at anchor with good breezes, no bugs and a regular generator schedule. To our knowledge, there are almost no complaints of petty crime directed at cruisers here.
Isla has great many great little restaurants and it is almost always a treat checking out new ones. To no ones surprise, prices are somewhat higher than two years ago. More consistent is the weather, with the daytime temperature of low to mid 80s and evenings dropping to the low 70s. (Pleasantville?) Upon checking in with the authorities, we were able to get a 90 day visa. Two years ago, only 30 day visas were available and it was a hat trick to coordinate travel plans and weather consistent with the timing.
At this time, our plans are to stay at Isla a while. There is no point in getting to Belize too early as the water temperature is a little cool for the intended long hours of snorkeling. Also, there are no stopovers between here and Belize that offer as much as Isla Mujeres.
Joan, Ben & Maggie