Mexico and on to Belize – Part 2…..

February 24th – March 3rd, 2015 (UTC -5)  Quintanaroo, Mexico has decided to stay on US East Coast time despite being as far east as Texas!

Dear Friends and Family,

We departed Isla Mujeres and motored with little wind down the coast for the 30 mile trip to Puerto Morelos, Mexico – still in the State of Quintanaroo. Ya\’ gotta\’ love that name!  We arrived with Dennis and Lisette on  “Windward” and decided that the next day we’d rent a car and the four of us would drive to the Mayan Ruins of “Coba” and “Tulum”.  Along the way we made a quick drive through at Puerto Aventura which ended up looking like a Mexican Newport Beach, California. Very upmarket with a well protected marina. It would have made an interesting stop with the boats.

Note our alternate ride en route to Coba…..:-)

Scott and Nikki in our Coba Taxi. It was a long walk between pyramids, so we took the easy way out.

It was about a 2 hour drive to Coba, which means “Wind upon the Waters” and the link below has an short, but excellent presentation on the details and importance of the Coba site in the Mayan culture:

As there was no Toltec influence in Coba, there was no tradition of human sacrifice. This despite the fact that it was only a few hundred kilometers from Chichen Itza to the north.

Dennis and Lisette of \”Windward\” at the base of the 70 meter pyramid – El Citadel
Nikki and Scott (in distance) carefully negotiating our way down El Citadel. It was much steeper than it looked. Note the rope if you need a security blanket.
Guard Tower: There were several roads that at one time were up to 10 meters wide and completely paved with stone. Guards would sit on the four corners of this structure and could see for miles who was coming toward Coba.

We got off to a late start and realized that if we wanted to get to Tulum before it closed, we’d have to make tracks.
We arrived about a half an hour before Tulum closed, but it was long enough to get a feel for one of the only Mayan sites that was right on the coast of the Mexican Riviera. In the Mayan language (of which there are about 22 dialects), Tulum means wall. It was one of or the only walled cities in the Mayan culture. An incredible beach setting, see all about the particulars at this link below:

Nikki entering one of the few places the wall has an entry portal – Tulum, Mexico \”The Walled City\”
The main Citadel from the north side with the beach down below
Beach below the Citadel, Tulum – Mexico. Note the ever present \”Sargasso Weed\” on the white sand beach.
The Citadel – The ruins of Tulum are actually not that extensive and the Citadel is the most interesting and prominent building as it is right on the cliffs above the beach. Reserved for the elite of course!
Tourists on the beach below and just to the north of the Citadel. Day boats will anchor inside the reef on somewhat calm days. Today was not one of those days….

We got back to the boat late and were very glad we’d moved from our original slips as a Southeaster started to blow hard and the way the marina was oriented, it made for the docks to look like roller coaster tracks during the night.

The really cool thing is that when we went to the end of the dock, we saw another SWITCH 51 sister ship, “Neko” with Peter and Mary had just arrived from the island of Providencia, Columbia – headed north. A great surprise!

Peter, Mary, Nikki and Scott onboard \”Neko\” – Switch #12. \”Neko\” is cat in Japanese.
\”Neko\” has the tall saloon roof like Beach House and except for their red versus our blue, the boats really do look alike. As well, they have twin aft wheels where we have a single steering wheel on the port forward bulkhead.
Scott, Nikki, Mary and Peter aboard \”Beach House\” – Puerto Morelos. We\’d been hoping to catch up with each other for several years.

We had been in touch ever since Peter bought the boat (Hull #12, the one right after Beach House) and hoped that we would meet up one day. Friend and blog follower Mike Priest had even delivered the boat for Peter from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to San Francisco back in 2010-11.

We had a great time meeting them, looking at each other’s boats and comparing notes. Peter and Mary would be stopped off for an air trip to TITSNBN in a few days (You remember: That Island That Shall Not Be Named – aka: Cuba) while we would continue south with “Windward”.

After our trip to the ruins, we spent a few days in Puerto Morelos including visiting the small town which turned out to be really nice. Some great restaurants, a nice town square (zocolo) and all right on the beach. There is the old lighthouse that was turned into a “leaning tower” when Hurricane Mitch came through in 1998. Puerto Morelos was ground zero where \”Mitch\” came ashore. “Mitch” was a whopper and almost 20,000 people were killed throughout Central America and Mexico with over 6 billion dollars of property damage. The far Western Caribbean doesn’t get that many Hurricanes, but when they do, they can be devastating. See the following link on Hurricane Mitch:

The old lighthouse in Puerto Morelos that was doing it\’s best leaning tower of Morelos imitation. It has since been replaced as a lighthouse but left as a reminder to the devastation of Hurricane Mitch.

Time was progressing and “Dad” Scott has to be in LA on the 30th of May to give away my one and only baby girl at her wedding!  Temps Fugit – Time is Fleeing and as such, we moved on next to Cozumel which was only about 20 miles to our Southwest. We’d meet up with “Windward” at the small island of Cayo Cuelbra in a remote bay in southern Mexico – en route to Belize in a couple of days.
Though the trip was only 20 miles, it took quite along time as the 3+ knot Gulf Stream Current yet again reared it’s ugly head. There are no great anchorages in Cozumel and it’s really a Scuba Diver’s Paradise. There are some of the best drift dives in the Caribbean along it’s western reefs.

I\’d like to give a better photo, but this cruise dock says it all

I had been here with Cindy in 1996 for a diving vacation and boy had this place changed. Again…not for the better. Back in the day, Cozumel was about 4 diver hotels with a few upmarket resorts – all catering to divers. Today, 4-6 cruise ships a day come here every day but Sunday. Why? I have no idea. There really is no site seeing here, nothing of archeological or historic interest and the Cruise Lines have created a giant open market (that looks local, but isn’t) where the tourists buy “Chachkis” by the bus load. The folks on the cruise lines think they’re buying local crafts and…a few of them maybe are. For the most part it’s a rouse and the market is owned and operated by the cruise lines themselves. Just another revenue source from the tourists. They typically stop is for just the day.
After one night of this, we knew it was time for our boot heels to be wanderin’….

The next morning, we left early to beat the cruise ship tango and motored along the Marine Reserve on the Westside of the island. Dozens of dive pangas (small boats) were on site by 8:30 a.m.

Cayo Cuelbra Dolphin. The water was only 10 feet deep, but an entire group of dolphins followed us into Cayo Cuelbra. Yet another bay with so so charting.
Cayo Culebra Sunset.

When we reached the tip of the island, we set sail for the 40+ miles to Cayo Cuelebra where we hoped to meet up with “Windward” for the night. It was a combination motor/sail but a much easier trip than the day before. We arrived off the shallow banks of Bahia de la Ascencion and hailed “Windward” on the radio. They had arrived that morning after an overnight sail from Puerto Morelos. They had been to Cozumel more recently and knew that we’d be disappointed. They were right.

As part of the off the beaten path adventure route, Nikki and I decided to head for Chinchorro Bank which is one of only four true atolls in the Caribbean. Much like the islands of the Tuamotus in the South Pacific, this is a rarely visited Mexican National Park and research atoll. It was right on the way, so we decided to go. Along the way, we came across two boats headed north who had stayed there the night before. They said it was beautiful and that getting into the anchorage was easy if we followed the cruising guide….ummm!

A very interesting adventure page on Chinchorro Bank, it’s Manatee’s and Crocodiles can be seen here:

When we arrived at Chinchorro Bank, it was getting late. First we realized that our charts and the guidebooks\’ waypoints had only the vaguest notions of each other in common. In fact, following the guidebooks waypoints, we’d be going right over the entry reef for over a mile! As such, we cautiously did so and had no difficulties till we got to the anchorage. Here, the guide book told us we’d have 6-8 feet of depth to anchor in the protection of Cayo Norte, a small island inside the north of the bank. This was also where the park headquarters were to be found. When we got to the anchorage, we quickly found we were in MAYBE 4 feet of water and no matter how we hunted and pecked our way around, it wasn’t getting any deeper. A panga from the park (we surmised?) came out and as it went zooming by, suggested the one mooring that was apparent. First, I’m suspicious of anyone’s moorings I don’t know. Second, it was in an open unprotected area and would have been very uncomfortable for the night, especially when the reef was at high tide. Lastly, every time I tried to get close to it, the water got shallower!

Cayo Norte with it\’s lighthouse at Chinchorro Bank. The water was all of about 4 feet deep here.

As such, I had found a 4.5 foot spot, went back to it and dropped the anchor. We did this just before it got too dark to see the bottom. We had a pretty comfortable night and also…a full moon. This turned out to be a light bulb (of sorts). Knowing that we had to leave VERY EARLY the next morning to get to San Pedro, Belize, I was concerned about seeing my way out with no light.

The sand flats were interspersed with flat areas of rock and hitting that would be more than a negative experience. I got up at 4 a.m. and low and behold, the moon was so bright, I could easily see the bottom and discern where the rock flats were from the sand patches. However, at 7 a.m. (when I wanted to leave), the moon would be too low, the sun too bright to see even the 4 foot depths.

So, (and here’s where the light bulb so to speak) went “on”. I turned on our very bright search light which is located about 1/2 way up our mast. It’s remote controlled and it lit the sandy bottom (before sunrise) up like a light show! This allowed us, using our in bound track, to see any obstructions and get out of Dodge.

The charts were clearly not \”geo referenced\” as there was no commercial need here. Geo Referencing charts is where the original surveys, often done in the 1800’s, are not correlated to accurate modern GPS positions. The charts are usually right (but not here), and the GPS coordinates which are highly accurate don’t match. Geo Referencing is an ongoing project by charting agencies around the world started back in 2007. Areas of high traffic and commercial interest are being done first – and for the most part – have been completed. Chinchorro Bank has not been done. The other aspect of our charts was that they showed land areas where there were none! I suspect Hurricanes over the years have submerged these areas. Chinchorro is a wild place and would have been fun to explore, but given the weather moving in and poor charting, it will have to wait for some other intrepid navigator to take it on.

Nkki en route to San Pedro Belize from Chinchorro Bank

\"Chinchorro Chinchorro Rainbow en route to San Pedro Belize

We had a brilliant and lovely sail, the 50 miles to San Pedro, Belize and yet again another “experience” with inaccurate charting. The entry to to reef would be with the sun behind it in the afternoon, making the entry potentially difficult to see. Dennis on “Windward” was already inside the reef and confirmed the location of the buoy and entry coordinates for us.

Arriving outside the reef at San Pedro, Belize (Photo by Dennis). Believe it or not, in our next blog, you\’ll actually see Beach House UNDER SAIL!
Scott breaking out the courtesy flag of Belize with our Yellow \”Q\” Flag below

You have to make a quick dog leg to the right just after you get through the reef as to not hit another reef, just inside the passage. The light was good, so the entry was straight forward. This was the first pass I’d seen in sometime that looked like some of the areas of the South Pacific. We anchored in 5 feet behind “Windward” and shortly after, the expected 20-30 knots started to blow. The reef was good protection, but at high tide, a bit bouncy! We’d check in the next day after sharing “sea stories” with Lisette and Dennis and begin our Belizian experience then!

Adios for now!
More soon,
Scott and Nikki (written from Roatan – The Bay of Islands, Honduras – waiting out the weather)