Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | June 7, 2013

A Hard Passage

N 20° 49.8′   W 86° 53.3′

El Cid Marina, Puerto Morelos, México

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Roatan fades into the distance. Then the cameras were put away until the seas calmed.

Have I mentioned that sea travel in a small boat can be brutal?

I was going to entitle this “The Worst Passage” but there is some disagreement aboard about how this one ranks. Bob thought the Aruba-Colombia trip was the roughest. That was more of a Ba-BUMP-Ba-BUMP-Ba-BUMP pounding experience and only really nasty for about 12 hours. This 2-day journey was of the rolly variety, with large beam seas (maybe 6 to 8+ feet at the worst parts) and about 30 hours of unpleasantness. A slow and smooth tipping of the boat to port, with contents and passengers sliding downhill – HANG ON EVERYBODY – then a swoosh back to the right, contents rearranging, then slipping to neutral, repeat. Every couple of minutes there was an extra big wave when it seemed that the force might rip something loose, like a dockbox from its mount or the dinghy from its perch on the sundeck roof. Using a formula of degree of crew misery times duration times boat dishevelment this passage was the worst.

The starboard stabilizer, which has defied troubleshooting, picked this passage to act up again, making a threatening CLUNK-CLUNK . . . CLUNK . . . CLUNK-CLUNK . . . CLUNK sound. It seemed best to shut it down to risk further damage to the system. It was not a good time to be without full stabilization.  Bob laid out the options.  We could continue on or turn around, make it back to Roatan before dark and spend the hurricane season at Fantasy Island.  My choice.  It was SO tempting to return, but not wanting to be defeated and optimistic that conditions would improve a tad, onward we went.  I think Bob might have been quietly disappointed that we didn’t turn back.  Perhaps he might have convinced Jerry to give him a try as apprentice dockmaster at Fantasy Island.

The crew did not perform optimally and fatigue probably played a role as it was hard to get any sleep. Bandit was the only crew member who did not have an outburst. She spent most of the rough moments standing, quietly fighting the sea to keep her balance. She finally gave in, exhausted, after many hours and settled down on the floor. It was a tough trip for an old pup. The rest of us had moments of snipping and sniping, not the expected behavior for our level of experience. Lady initiated several squabbles with Bandit over precious cabin territory rights. Poor Bob was trying to sleep during one of the skirmishes.  His foot, sticking out from the settee ended up in the middle of a dogfight before I could get control of the situation. The Captain was not too happy about that. Lady came pretty close to walking the plank. We dug out the doggie tranquilizers, better late than never. Lady slept most of the rest of the way.

There were a few brighter moments. We had some relief as we passed behind the Chinchorro Bank off the coast of Mexico. I was able to open the refrigerators without having to change our heading and loaded essential items into a cooler bag on the galley floor for the rest of the passage. The currents were very favorable, and while we had anticipated a 3 pm arrival at Puerto Morelos, we ended up getting way ahead of schedule. We picked up a mooring at Cayo Norte to kill about 5 hours the second afternoon and avoid a nighttime arrival. We also got to entertain the Mexican Navy for an hour as they conducted a surprise welcome reception for us.

The stop at the Chinchorro Bank was a chance to visit an atoll, a ring-shaped coral reef that encircles a lagoon. The Chinchorro Bank, along with the three atolls off of Belize are the only true atolls in our hemisphere according to the guidebook. Supposedly they are similar to those found in the South Pacific. The geography on the chart was more intriguing than the actual experience of being there. It felt pretty open, the anchorage rolled and much of the reef was submerged. Let’s check “visit an atoll” off the bucket list and skip the trek to the South Pacific please. Admittedly, we did not do full justice to the experience with an underwater excursion around the reef which is supposed to be a marvelous sight. I took a quick swim in the clear waters, a passage first.

The Western Caribbean had the last hurrah.  Nothing life threatening or anything, actually a better than average sea day in this part of the world.  For me, the take-away from this trip is that the joy lies not in the journey, but in the destinations. There is no passion for the sea here, other than reflecting on its beauty and power from a comfortable harbor.

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A brief respite on the Chinchurro Bank at Cayo Norte

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Welcome to Mexico! A boarding at sea was not a good idea, even in the calmer waters behind the Chinchurro Bank and the attempt left us with another blemish to repair. They agreed to postpone the  inspection until we moored at Cayo Norte, a mile ahead, where two soldiers searched the boat, I had a Spanish lesson with the commanding officer who completed the paperwork and  a diver checked the hull for contraband. We should have offered them beverages and treats, I suppose but I was exhausted and a poor hostess.

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Cozumel in the distance, and another land mass to help shelter us from the big waves. We were surprised that there was little boating traffic here.

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A beautiful sunset view from our current berth at El Cid Marina & Resort. Currently unscrambling the boat, shaking the passage hangover and trying to figure out what to do about the stabilizers. I’m not too keen on a Gulf crossing without them.

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Responses

  1. Wow…. what a trip! Sorry to hear it was so rough… glad you all made it one piece.

    • In hindsight it would have been more pleasant to remain at Fantasy Island. Sure you don’t want to fit in a trip to Cancun in the near future? We could use a stabilizer part plus of course it’s always great to see you 🙂

  2. What is it about stabilizers and big beam seas on the way TO Mexico? Your description of your trip sounds just ours when we lost our stabilizers. I could well picture the roll, hang on, snap back and roll again along with the fatigue and too rough to sleep conditions. Glad you made it safely. Hope you get the stabilizer fixed and have as smooth a trip FROM Mexico as we did.

    • Yes, those stabilizers are essentials out here for sure. Bob had been thinking it was a bad potentiometer but the Naiad troubleshooting gurus disagreed. Have been getting feedback from our Defever Cruisers network that Bob is probably right on target based on our symptoms. So now we have to decide how much it is worth to us to have it for the Gulf Crossing. Getting boat parts shipped to Latin America can be maddeningly expensive and a cumbersome process and sounds like Mexico will be no different from the rest.

  3. We timed our return trip to be about three days after a strin front blew through. Long enough for the winds to have died down, but not so long that they had clocked back from the north to their usual east at 15+ knots. They were still out of the north and lower, 10 knots or less. I don’t know if you can count on any more fronts this late in the season. If you do go with the winds in their usual direction of from the east take comfort that that will produce pitching rather than rolling so your stabilizer (or lack thereof) will not be as noticeable. Good luck.

    • Thanks, Brad! Any advice on how you routed and what you experienced with the currents? We want to take advantage of the Gulf Stream push as we can, although stay out of the thick of the shipping channel as we make our way around Cuba. Getting the timing correct is so hard in a slow boat. On this last passage we found the current model to be way off. It’s maddening, plus not as optimal for stabilization, to have to idle along to avoid a nighttime arrival.

  4. Coming back this time we just made a straight line for the Dry Tortugas. Got a great push from the current. But the weather let us do that. Five years ago we ran that straight line for 12 hours (over 12 kts SOG at times!!). However, the pounding got really bad. We altered course to the north northeast took the seas on our starboard side and let the stabilizers do what they are paid to do. Of course, that presumes working stabilizers. We kept that heading until almost on the same parallel as the Dry Tortugas and turned straight towards them. A longer trip and we did not have the benefit of the current, but it was well worth the trade off in comfort. Both times we did not worry about timing our trip to avoid shipping. They and big and you see them for miles. We just kept close eye on them and check the compass bearing. Once you can establish that you are not on a line of constant bearing the anxiey level drops significantly. In two trips to Mexico we had to alter course twice and we saw lots of ships.

    • Oh wow, 12 knots! That does make planning a challenge. We are looking at a possible weather window out of here this weekend. Sure hate to cut short our time in Mexico but looks like 3 foot seas on departure declining to less than 1 foot most of the way if we take this one. So that might be our best option. Considering making landfall at Naples or Ft. Myers vs Dry Tortugas. We’ll see if it works out.

  5. Good luck and have a safe passage. We are in the lower keys until Friday morning when we head back home.


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