Leaving Cuba and on to Mexico – Part 1…..

February 18th – 24th, 2015 (-5 UTC)

Dear Friends and Family,

We departed Havana on the 15th of February for the anticipated two day sail to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. The Gulf Stream is the dominant feature and it would definitely let us know it was still here on our last day before we arrived in Mexico.

The first day, we motored for awhile and were then able to set sail with winds from the Southeast. We had nice protection from the land and were zipping along. We passed the famous harbor at Mariel where the Cuban boat lift departed from in 1980. This is where thousands of Cubans were let out of the country and Jimmy Carter welcomed them with open arms. They didn\’t really expect as many people to depart as ultimately did, but you can get the full story here:
Mariel Boat Lift 1980 – Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariel_boatlift

As we approached the West End of Cuba, a milestone was reached. \”Beach House\” had sailed around the world via longitude within the tropics. These milestones for me are still  bittersweet and I suppose they always will be. I still often \”see\” Cindy standing where she always used to stand on the scuba cockpit hatch in her white visor, long sleeve blue sun shirt, white muslin pants and sandals. She doesn\’t appear to me as often as she used to, but she did on this day.

According to our calculations, we should have been off Isla Mujeres, Mexico (near Cancun) by around 9 p.m. on the 17th of February. However, we were really feeling the teeth of the Gulf Stream. Essentially, the Gulf Stream is part of the enormous clockwise current circulation of the Atlantic Ocean. It is actually an offshoot of the greater North Atlantic \”gyre\” that gets compressed into the Western Caribbean, wanders through the Gulf of Mexico as \”the loop current\” and again blasts off the Florida Keys, up the US East Coast and across the North Atlantic to the British Isles . Two areas are of particular strength. One is off Florida\’s Southeast coast and the other is where it essentially begins in the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and mainland Mexico. At this time of year, it\’s supposed to be slower – around 1.5-2 knots, moving south to north – but we started experiencing speeds of 3.5-3.8 knots!

Now imagine that were going around 7 knots and you can quickly see that we were often going less than 4 knots over the bottom. This really slowed us down and worse, the wind angle changed from ESE, then South, then finally to the  WSW. This additionally slowed us down and we arrived 8 hours after we had thought we would. In addition, this made for a somewhat uncomfortable ride as we were plunging into 1-2 meter swells, current and wind against us. In some regards, it worked out okay as we were delayed till a few hours before daylight which would make a safer entry into the shallows of Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres means \”The Island of the Women\”.   See this page for how it was named:   Isla Mujeres: http://www.isla-mujeres.net/history.htm

 Welcome to Isla Mujeres – The Island of the Women

Welcome to Isla Mujeres – The Island of the Women

Nikki on the beach at Isla Mujeres

Another factor was the \”Cruise Ship Tango\”. We passed several cruise ships all buzzing around the north side of Isla Mujeres en route to Cozumel which has become a cruise ship heaven….of sorts.  Cozumel which is a true scuba diving destination is now inundated with 4-6 cruise ships per day, six days a week.  It ain\’t what it used to be and I have no idea what the appeal is to the tourists as there isn\’t much to do there but dive!

Dodging the behemoths (doing the tango!), is always a bit challenging and stressful, but we do have experience at this sort of thing. You can imagine us, cold, wet and rained on at 4 am in a squall listening to Disney Music (think It\’s a Small World) emanating from the speakers of a 950 foot Disney Cruise Liner! 4am, really?

At first light, we entered the long shallow reef on the north side of Isla Mujeres (only a few miles east of Cancun) and went through the islands\’ canal into a sort of inner lake where we anchored and the finally tied up at the dock at Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina. Though I\’d been to Cancun in 1996, I wasn\’t really prepared for how much the area had grown. I might add….not for the better.

This is the canal from the outer anchorage into the inner lagoon which is very well protected and where we stayed at Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina

I\’d not been to Isla Mujeres before, so Nikki and I walked into town which had all the usual tourist \”chachki\” traps and what turned out to be some nice restaurants. We stopped at Bahia Tortuga, a boutique hotel, bar and small marina. Friend Karen Derrick had been here with family last year and it was owned by a friend of hers from Sonoma, but unfortunately she was in the US so we didn\’t get to meet here.. After dinner, we taxied back to the boat and planned our next day to take the ferry over to Cancun for a \”recky\” (that\’s reconnaissance in OZ speak…:-))

This ferry runs every half hour from about 6 am to 11pm daily! Cost was about 15.00 USD each way pp

Culture shock was the order of the day. In 1996, Cancun was a place with perhaps 10 large hotels, a remote small town and what would look like the best of Miami Beach with sugar white sand beaches all widely spread out. Today, it makes Miami look like a quiet little hideaway. The overcrowding is amazing, the town is 100 times the size it was 19 years ago. The traffic was awful and there was a hodgepodge of old and US Mall \”new\”. It completely caters to the fly in tourist and now the ubiquitous cruise ships. In short, for me it had lost it\’s charm irredeemably. Yet another unfortunate feature was the ever present Saragossa Weed. This \”seaweed\” grows in the mid Atlantic in the Saragossa Sea, and due to what seems the recent COOLING of the Atlantic Ocean (the past two years), the weed is dying off and has washed up on virtually every beach across the Caribbean. Notably, the cooling temperatures have also decreased the amount and intensity of the last two Atlantic Hurricane seasons. This phenomenon is well documented and if you google \”Saragossa Weed\” you can read all about it.

The ever present \”Sargasso Weed\” has inundated every beach in the entire Caribbean in 2015

We did find a nice market and along the way met a taxi driver who we hired to meet us the next morning for our day trip to the famous Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza in the central Yucatan Peninsula. The Ferry runs every 1/2 hour from Cancun to Isla Mujeres and that made for an easy return. We went to a lovely restaurant and would be off on our junket the next morning.

We returned at 8 a.m. to the Cancun side and met our driver, Jorge. Jorge didn\’t speak very much English, but had made the drive before. We\’d take the toll road which added to our costs (about 35.00 USD each way!); the drive was about 3 hours, the road was very straight and in excellent shape. When we arrived at Chichen Itza, we were in luck (good planning) and we\’d beat the endless line of tour busses that were sure to be close behind. We hired an English speaking guide (wearing an LA Dodgers baseball cap) and were off.

Chicen Itza Gate. We arrived early enough to beat the big crowds that followed

I\’d been to Chichen Itza 19 years earlier and was interested to see it again. This of course would be Nikki\’s first trip. The area is actually quite immense, but due to lack of funding only a small part of it is excavated. It is thought best by the archeologists not too uncover areas until funds exist to preserve and maintain them. To this end, you can no longer climb the structures including the main pyramid known as \”The Citidal\”. I was able to climb this with Cindy in 1996. They stopped allowing the public to climb on them in 2007.

Nikki and Scott at \”The Citadel\”. This was the main temple structure of Chichen Itza and where many human sacrifices occurred at the top platform.
The Serpent shows up at the equinoxes in March and September and appears to be slithering down the stepped pyramid on the left. Click on the You Tube video URL I\’ve provided to see it in action.
Sacrificial Altar. This is where the sacrificed victims heart was placed for all to see.
Ball Court: You can see the \”hoop\” vertically mounted on the wall. The opposite wall is a mirror image. Two teams would compete while royalty watched from the distant pedestal. It is unclear if the winner or the loser\’s team captain was then sacrificed. Currently, they think it was an honor the winner was pleased to oblige!….

Often it would beat for several minutes. No thanks, sounds a bit too much like current events to me.

The Citidal Pyramid is noted for how the Mayans knowledge of the stars and calendar worked. It\’s also where under Toltec influence, the Mayan civilization turned to every increasing human sacrifices. These were performed at the top of the pyramid by the elite\’s Priests. They were so precise in the orientation of this pyramid that on Spring and Fall Equinoxes , the \”serpent\” could be seen (his shadow) all along the edge of the structure as if were were climbing along the wall. This is pretty astounding and you can imagine that around March 21st and September 21st of each year, the crowds flock here to see this phenomenon.

Chichin Itza – Wikipedia Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichen_Itza

You Tube Video: Watch the Serpent appear at the Equinox!: http://youtu.be/66ewEFbPCKg

Nikki\’s favorite was the \”Observatory\”.  It is here that the Mayan mathematicians worked out the true 365 day calendar  and oriented the building to key celestial passages and events.  This is why is does not appear to be symmetrically placed on it\’s platform which faces the four cardinal directions of north, south, east and west.

Nikki at the \”Observatory\”
Note the asymmetry of the observatory to it\’s platform

It was a long day with a 3 hours ride each way, but very well worth it and a highlight of our time in the Cancun and Isla Mujeres.

German \”Tall Ship\” with Cancun in the background – departing Isla Mujeres
Farewell Cancun – High Density tourism at it\’s finest….?

Every season, we somehow find a \”buddy boat\”. A buddy boat is another cruising boat who you more or less tag along with. We never know who it will be or if we\’ll even find one (though we have every season!). When we were nearing our departure from Isla Mujeres, we met Dennis and Lizette of s/v \”Windward\”, a Norseman 447. This is the same type of boat that our friends Dave and Kathie have whom we met in the mid Indian Ocean in 2012. They became our \”buddy boat\” that year and Ron and Kathleen of s/v \”Lady Amelie\” (sister ship Switch 51) were last season. We would both be departing for Puerto Morelos the next day and it\’s what Humphrey Bogart said in \”Casablanca\”…..\”Louis, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship\”….:-)

Stay tuned for our second Mexican Blog….I\’ll try to get it out in a few days!
Scott and Nikki (written from Barefoot Cay Marina, Roatan – The Bay of Islands, Honduras)