This is it: our last stop in the Western Caribbean before we sail to the Bahamas. We just realized that we are theoretically on our way back to Europe as we have already reached the southern (in Panama) and westernmost point (in Guatemala) of this journey. Thinking about it generates mixed emotions in me. Life traveling onboard is so simple and rewarding that it is difficult to imagine becoming a landlubber again. Many friends and family keep asking where we will go and what we want to do once we are back but we have difficulties finding a satisfactory reply for these questions. To be completely honest, at least for me personally, that‘s nothing I want to think about at the moment. To enjoy the trip to the fullest we try to not plan too far ahead. The general idea is to spend a month in the Bahamas before we sail back across the Atlantic towards the Azores before Hurricane season starts in June. But as we all know plans keep changing anyway…
But enough of hypothetical thoughts. Let‘s focus on the here and now. It has been almost three weeks since we arrived in Isla Mujeres, a small and narrow island located in the north-east of the Mexican Yucatan peninsula. It felt like we have seen pretty much everything on the island within a few days. The convenient and cheap Hop on/Hop Off bus made it easy to get to one place to another. Sometimes we hitchhiked on golf carts driven by friendly American expats or day tourists when no bus would show up for a while. If it was not too hot or we did not carry any heavy shopping bags, we also enjoyed walking along the 7km long (4.3 miles) rocky coast overlooking clear brilliant turquoise blue ocean.
As Isla Mujeres is a popular stop for sailors we met many other sailors who we have met before and enjoyed the large sailing community. Dinghys often knocked on our hull and we chatted a lot with other sailors over coffee, beers or margaritas. We organized beach BBQs and get-togethers on the small mangrove island near the anchored boats. As everywhere, there is always a few German-speaking boats and you naturally get in touch quickly. Believe it or not, there is always at least one Swiss boat in every larger harbour we sailed to so far!
With all the sailors and tourists there is always something going on on Isla and it never got boring. Busy traffic of launchas, charter boats, jetskis, inexperienced sailors and a mix of shoals, changing winds and poor holding led to occasional accidents and what we call “Hafenkino“ (harbour cinema in German). Especially when winds picked up boats began to drag anchor, others were rammed, or we witnessed the occasional clumsy docking maneuver. The radio channel for cruisers didn’t get boring either. We’ve never seen any place as busy as Isla before and we usually fled into the more sheltered lagoon when winds were forecasted to pick up above 25 knots to not end up at the end of the boat bowling alley.
We also used the time at hand to finish some work on the boat. After our inner forestay backing plate broke in Guatemala, we now had the necessary spare parts and help of a fellow sailor with the necessary tools who riveted the new backing plate to the mast. With the inner forestay in place, we can hoist the small staysail and storm jib again, if needed. The optional sail setup may come in handy for the planned offshore passages outside the comfortable tradewind zone that we have sailed in for so many months now.
Never before have we had so many visitors and meetups with friends before. Not only had we several friends fly in to spend some time on the boat with us but we also met with friends who happened to be in this part of the world at the same time. Some stayed for up to two weeks while others just stopped by for a day. All these social encounters enriched our stay in Isla Mujeres as there were not many other activities on the small island.
Apart from the delicious food, we came to Mexico specifically for the diving. As we had heard from several people that we should not miss out of the Cozumel drift dives and Cenotes cavern dives, we planned an inland trip to Playa del Carmen shortly after arriving. This also meant that we had to store Porky safely for a few days because the wind is known to suddenly shift to north and increase in strength during this time of the year. Therefore we decided to leave the boat secured at a dock inside the protected mangrove lagoon. Before entering the narrow channel we knew that the muddy lagoon gets shallow quickly, even for our shoal draft of only 1.6 meters (2m). The depth sounder quickly dropped to 1.8 meters when we slowly felt our way towards the dock. Suddenly a sailboat in front of us abruptly stopped when their keel got stuck in the muddy ground. We were surprised to see the captain go full throttle into forward to plow through the shallows to tie up at the dock we wanted to get to as well. Even in the murky water we could clearly see the muddy ground, a depth scouting with the dinghy paddle revealed that the water near the dock is only about 1.3 meters deep and soon we noticed that Porky also stopped moving forward. That was it: we ran aground for the first time ever! Even though it was controlled, slow and we anticipated it to happen, we did not feel comfortable to follow the other boat by dragging our wide keel through the thick mud. Instead we found another private dock in deeper water on the other side of the lagoon. After tying up to the wooden dock which is privately owned by a local family, we felt good about leaving Porky by herself for a few days. We jumped off the boat with our backpacks heaved over our shoulders and took the ferry to Cancun, then the bus to Play del Carmen.
With a big group of sailors including the crew of SV Philos and SV Zenos, we rented two apartments in the town’s center. It was a welcomed change to have fresh water showers and a large bed. In the evenings we had delicious barbecues on the rooftop terrace and enjoyed each other’s company. During the day we went diving in Cenotes, which are washed out entrances into large underwater cave systems in limestone revealing fascinating rock formations, ancient fossils, geological finds and stunning light reflections. It was incredible to be able to dive in the caverns which felt like time traveling into a different underwater world.
After our 3-day excursion Daniel, Daniel’s friend Manu and I came back to the boat while Max and Maria, a friend of his, traveled in the southwest of Mexico for another week before they also came back to our floating home.
During the week Manu, Daniel and I spent a lot of time in the water snorkeling along the reef and walking along the rocky shore. Despite the many day tourists thrown into the water in large groups in bright orange life jackets and drifting along the reef with the current, we were positively surprised by the variety and size of the fish we spotted near the snorkeling spot just a few hundred meters from Porky, happily swinging at anchor. Swimming against the current was often our daily workout while at the same time we could examine the colorful reef fish and corals with umpteen large barracudas surrounding us. If they only knew how helpless we humans would be if they started attacking us with their sharp teeth. Luckily they did not seem to mind us passing by slowly while always keeping a sharp eye on us.
To escape from touristy places, we often took the dinghy to a small mangrove island at the edge of the anchorage. The shallow, small sandy beach is mostly washed over by high water, but a small corner with a fireplace and plastic chairs invites for beach BBQs and sundowner drinks. When the tide falls the sandy beach becomes wide enough to play Spike Ball or frisbee. Here Manu also found the only place on the island that is not within the restricted area for drones and we were able to take some great aerial photos of Isla Mujeres.
One of the main attractions is the Underwater Museum of Art located in a protected marine park in the southwest of the island. Nearly 500 art sculptures are scattered on sandy bottom to attract tourists to protect the nearby reef. After Daniel and I snorkeled the underwater sculpture park of the same artist in Grenada, we were excited to now scuba dive it with our friends from SV Philos. Corals and sponges that grow on art sculptures create unique effects on the various art pieces. We observed colorful reef fish and turtles using the artificial reef as protection.
Initially we did not plan to stay in Mexico for more than 3 weeks but looking at the weather forecasts it doesn’t look like we will leave before the end of April. We used our free time to prepared Porky for the sail to the Bahamas, fixed what had to be fixed, stored as much food as we can fit since we expect high prices for food in the Bahamas. It is a long wait for a suitable weather window that would allow us to sail east. Now that we are leaving the classic barefoot route along the equator, we will have to get used to inconsistent weather and more detailed passage planning.
Due to the company of many other sailors and friends the wait for favorable winds was not bad at all. One of the friends we made during our time in Mexico invited us to Cozumel to do the advanced diving certification with her. We spent two fun days with Ivanna on Cozumel, mostly in the water. After a few training dives, a night dive, a deep dive and a wreck dive we are now certified to go down to 30 meters. Cozumel‘s underwater world was impressive. The reef in the south is growing on large boulders and rock formations creating thrilling swim-throughs in the strong current. When we swam inside the narrow hallways of the wreck we tried to imagine what the retired US warship must have looked like when still in operation. During the night dive we spotted many nocturnal creatures that we have never seen before. Four octopi and many different crustaceans were on the hunt while we tried not to shine our bright flashlights on the sleeping reef fish.
Back onboard we now sit and wait for favorable weather to sail to the Bahamas, hopefully soon…