Running with the gulf stream to Mexico

I suddenly wake up and open my eyes. My dreams were deep and sound, as always at sea, but a loud smacking noise brought me back to the real world. I just lie in my bunk for a few moments and listen. All seems as usual. The water rushes past the hull, the wind howls on deck, and our whole world is tilted to port as we sail north on a beam reach along the Caribbean coast of Mexico. A quick look through my small porthole above my bunk shows Max sitting in the cockpit in bright moonlight. I glance at my phone and happily close my eyes again knowing that I have two more hours of rest before my night watch begins. While being rocked half asleep by the constant movement of the boat, a steep wave slams against the starboard side and tilts the boat some more before it rightens itself again and continues on its course.

A few days before we dropped anchor off San Pedro at Ambergris Cay, our last stop in Belize. Many tourists spend their holidays in hotels lined up at the beachfront in this lively fishing village near the Mexican border, which is mostly known for its beautiful diving along the reef that stretches along the whole eastern side of the island. Even inside the reef we spotted large dolphins and rays dodging the many dive, charter and snorkeling boats making their way from the village docks to the reef and back.

On our walk along the beachfront we enjoyed the beautiful water colors and views, but quickly got tired of all the tourists riding their golf carts through the narrow streets filled with souvenir shops. With an eye on the weather, which was forecasted to bring strong northerly winds in a few days, we decided to quickly clear out with Customs and Immigration and spontaneously decided to sail all the way to the sheltered bay of Isla Mujeres instead of using Cozumel as port of entry to Mexico.

It turned out that we picked good weather for the sail up north. The wind blew on Porky’s beam with force 5 and we made really good speed due to the golf stream’s 2-3 knot current with us. Our speed overground, which is usually between 5-6 knots, peaked at 10 knots when we surfed down the waves.

Once the sun set, the moon shimmered on the crests of waves that steeply and chaotically moved toward the boat, lifting it up and down. We are not fully sure what caused the confused seas that sometimes broke right on the hull and splashed across the deck and cockpit. To avoid the worst of it we stayed slightly off coast to keep our distance to the shallow coastline. Luckily, Porky was fast and stable enough to ride the waves reasonably comfortably. Even when a bigger wave knocked the boat sideways, Tippin’ Tony, the wind vane reliably got us back on course.

We had originally planned 1.5 days for the 220 nautical miles, but we were so much faster than expected that we anchored in Cozumel for a few hours, just in time for dinner and a good night’s sleep. What a luxury we usually don’t have on offshore passages. Cozumel’s anchorage is only sheltered from easterly winds and not particularly safe from swell. Concrete walls along the coast and huge cruise ships at the dock took away any view we could have had of the island. We promised the port captain over the radio to sail on after a few hours of rest without going ashore. Even though thrilling drift dives on Cozumel’s reefs are high up on our bucket list, we decided to come back by ferry, without Porky. In the middle of the night we continued for the last part of the trip. 44 nautical miles later in the morning, exactly in time for the first light of the day, we entered the channel into the bay in Isla Mujeres.

We had heard in advance about the lengthy clearance process and prepared for a long wait. The three of us sat patiently in the small room with the required documents and copies, waiting for the different officials to process our arrival. The major problem of the whole clearance was to have the different officials at the right place at the right time. While we were done with immigration within 15 min, we had to wait more than 2 hours for the custom’s officials to show up to board our boat. We shared the small room with a bunch of sailors who were trying to clear in or out of the country, some in better spirits and more patient than others. As you can imagine a lot of stories, recommendations, and anecdotes were shared and after a whole day together in a small room we all got to know each other pretty well.

Once we were officially cleared into Mexico after 1.5 days, our friends, Lio and Philipp, visited us for a few days onboard. Together we sailed through perfectly teal-colored, shallow water in the Cancun Bay, anchored on the sandy beach of Playa Norte, which was overcrowded with sunburnt daytime tourists sipping on their margaritas. We were happy that we could simply jump back in our dinghy, drive back to our floating home and relax. We were also reminded of the strong golf stream when we jumped from the back of the boat and had to hold on to a rope or swim to not be drifted away. No wonder it is mandatory for the day tourists to wear life vests in the water when snorkeling.

One evening the forecasted northerly wind with gusts up to 30 knots arrived and lots of boats started dragging anchor. Hiding from the rain below deck, we took turns to sit in the cockpit and watch the lights of the other boats in hope nobody will drag into our direction. We have never seen so much drama happening anywhere. A few boats ran aground in the shallows after anchors entangled and boats bumped into each other. One boat drifted into marina docks and hit multiple other boats along the way. Our reliable and beefy Rocna anchor simply turned 180°and properly reset in the sand after just a few meters. Luckily we were spared any drama ourselves that night.

With Max on the boat to stand anchor watch, we set off on a land excursion the next day to the southern most point of Isla Mujeres, called Punta Sur, which happens to be the eastern most point of Mexico. On our last day with Lio and Philipp, we visited the old Mayan ruins, which unfortunately is only a pile of rocks, but took a beautiful scenic walk along the lime stone cliffs that drop into bright teal-colored waves. A few hundred meters off the coast the color of the water then changes to dark blue and creates beautiful contrasts against the light blue sky, well-defined horizon and dramatic cliffs.

Our good friends on Philos, who we previously met in the Grenadines, Carriacou and Bonaire only arrived a few days earlier. We went out for drinks with other sailors who coincidentally all plan to cross the Atlantic back to Europe this year. More ans more we start meeting sailors with similar routes to ours and we hope we will see some of them again, maybe in the Bahamas, the Azores or even back in Europe.

During the next few weeks we will explore more of Mexiko, visit the famous Cenotes, go diving in Cozumel and mostly enjoy delicious and inexpensive Mexican food.

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