Sunday, May 4, 2014

“Last Night, I Dreamt of San Pedro”, or, “Setting a New Monashee Speed Record”

Posted by Scot

Snorkelling the Belize barrier reef.
On our last day waiting out the weather in Cay Caulker, we figured we better at least try to snorkel the second largest barrier reef in the world.  So, we all loaded into the dinghy and pounded through the cut to the reef side of the Cay.  It was still blowing pretty hard, and the waves were breaking strongly over the reef, which made the snorkelling challenging.  I’m not sure if it was the weather, or we were just in the wrong place, but the snorkelling was only so-so.  We saw a few big fish, and the coral seemed pretty healthy, but there wasn’t as much life as we have seen in other snorkelling spots.

Trying not to let the waves bounce us off the coral.
The next day, which was supposed to be the last of the strong winds, we headed back up to San Pedro to check out of Belize.  Yes, it is actually “La Isla Bonita” of that Madonna song that begins with “Last night I dreamt of San Pedro….”.  Actually, it kind of drove me crazy, since the whole time we were in San Pedro, I had the first line of that song stuck in my head.  I don’t know any of the rest of the lyrics, so it just went around and around.  Now that I have written it down, it will probably stick with me for a few more hours.  Great.

The sail up to San Pedro was fantastic.  We had another 15 to 17 knots of wind on the beam, and were moving an easy 7.5 knots the whole way.  We left Cay Caulker at the same time as a bigger catamaran (I think it was a 47 footer).  We followed the well known rule that any two sail boats on the same body of water heading in the same direction are automatically racing.  I think they knew the rule too.  Anyway, we were really happy how our boat sailed against them.  Despite the fact that they were bigger, and had full sails out, while we had a reef in the main, we managed to catch and pass them en route.  I think the difference was Sara, who is our secret weapon when it comes to sailboat racing.  Once she smells a contest, she is on the sails full time, trimming them to perfection, and getting our boat moving as fast as it will go.

It was pretty exhilarating, and showed why Belize is famous for it’s protected sailing behind the reef.  The only unnerving part was the fact that we were in 5 to 8 foot deep water the whole way.  You definitely don’t want to hit a coral head moving that fast.  Fortunately, we didn’t.

Katie, setting her sights on the competition...
... and staying focussed, as we close the gap.
San Pedro itself wasn’t anything special.  Fairly touristy.  I couldn't really see what Madonna was singing about.

The anchorage was behind the reef, but on the exposed front side of the island, so it was fully open to the prevailing wind.  The reef cut down the waves a lot, but with the strong winds, they were still breaking over the reef a bit, so things were pretty bouncy.  That wasn’t helped by the fact that the dive boats and water taxis came by the few anchored boats at full throttle.  They would pass within a few feet of us, creating a huge wake that rocked us all.  The monohulls had it quite a bit worse than the cats.  It wasn’t like we could have anchored any more out of the way, either, since the anchorage was shallow all around, and there was only a small area deep enough in which to drop the hook.  I know, the comfort of cruising sailors is probably pretty low on a ferry captain’s list of priorities, but it sure can’t do much for cruising tourism in San Pedro.

Cloudy, windy, wavy and rainy.  Not a great night to anchor off San Pedro.
We were lucky to get checked out of Belize that day, since it turned out it was Labour Day there, and most of San Pedro was shut down for the holiday (Labour Day on May 1st – who knew?).  We just caught the immigration guys in their office by chance, and they were nice enough to check us out on their day off.  It turns out it cost almost as much to check out of Belize as it did to check in, so the whole customs and immigration process turned out to be pretty expensive.  We realized after the fact that we didn't receive any receipts on checking out, so we have no idea if we paid the official prices, or if we were getting the “tourist price” for people clueless enough to check out on a stat holiday, and not ask for documentation of the transaction.  In retrospect, it seems a bit odd, since I got receipts for everything when I checked in at Big Creek.  We had heard some warnings about corruption with the customs and immigration process in Belize.  I'm not sure if we actually encountered it, or if that was just the cost of doing business.

The next morning, we headed out through the San Pedro cut in the reef at about 8 a.m.  The wind was still up, but was forecast to drop sometime in the night.  Getting through the cut was a challenge.  There were still 6 foot waves rolling in off the open ocean, and breaking heavily on the reef on either side of the cut.  We had to point our nose directly into them to make it through, and throttle the engines up to maintain enough steerage so that we didn’t get pushed off onto the reef on either side.  Once we were through the reef, we turned north, putting the waves on our starboard side, which was a bit more comfortable, although things stayed boisterous throughout the day.

The kids love to hang out on the foredeck when it is rough out.  It lets them see the waves as they come, and makes them less prone to sea sickness.  I know it doesn't look too rough here, but there are 6 to 8 foot rollers coming in from the side, rocking us every 10 to 20 seconds.
As the sun went down, Katie and I sat on the deck, hoping for our usual evening visit from dolphins.  Unfortunately, they didn’t make it this time.  They must have had an appointment elsewhere.  As we sailed along, I was kind of dreading another night on a rough sea, until Katie said “You know Dad, when we go back home, I’m sure going to miss this.”  It really brightened up my outlook on the whole thing, and made me remember how lucky we are to be having this adventure, even when they sky is grey and the seas are rough.

If you have ever questioned why anyone would take a sabbatical and go sailing with their kids, the answer is in this picture.
We were expecting the wind and waves to drop as the evening wore on.  But we were also aware that there is a current running northwards along the coast of Mexico, and we were anticipating a bit of help from it.

Instead of the wind dropping though, it picked up, and by 9 p.m. was back up to around 20 knots.  Then we hit the current.  Our speed, which had been pretty solid at around 7 knots all day picked up to 8.5, then to 9.0  The fastest we have ever had this boat moving before was around 9.0 knots.
The current wasn’t done yet, though.  Eventually, we saw several bursts of speed over 10 knots, up to 10.2 at the peak.  Alexander, who was up doing a watch with me at the time, commented that it felt like being on a speedboat.  It was certainly fast.  In the dark, it was probably faster than we were totally comfortable with.

9.7 knots, in 17.8 knots of wind.  Between 2 to 3 knots of this speed is probably from the current.  It still felt really fast.
While we only stayed up around 10 knots for an hour or so, for most of the night we were well over 8 knots.  Usually, when we go on passage, we estimate our time of arrival based on an average speed of around 5 to 6 knots.  By keeping our average so high, it soon became apparent that our intended destination, Puerto Aventura, would be slipping past while it was still dark at around 5:30 in the morning.  So we charted a new course to the Marina El Cid in Puerto Morelos.  By 8 o'clock this morning, we had set a new personal best of around 200 miles in 24 hours.  With the boost from the current, we sailed almost the entire Yucatan peninsula in one night, and are now close to the north eastern corner of Mexico, which will be our next jumping off point.  This should give us some time to explore around here a bit while we wait for good weather to move on.

It turns out we left one long weekend in Belize for another one here in Mexico.  It is, of course, Cinco de Mayo weekend, and the marina is celebrating with a fishing tournament.  Right now, the slips are all full of fishing boats blasting music at each other as they celebrate the day’s catch.  After being up sailing all of last night, we're hoping things don’t go on too late tonight.

2014-05-03 12.07.24
One of the fishing boats in the marina, displaying an impressive catch of the day.

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