Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | June 21, 2013

Closing the Circle

N 27° 26.2′   W 82° 40.8′

Longboat Key, Florida.

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We completed our Caribbean Loop on Sunday morning 6/16 as we passed the Sanibel Island lighthouse on the Gulf Coast of Florida

The last few days in Mexico were hurried as we prepared to catch the super calm weather window unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. On Wednesday morning (6/12) we decided to take the boat 4 ½ hours north to Isla Mujeres, an island just off the coast of Cancun. Our goals were to quickly see the area,  take on diesel and check out of Mexico.

That was one of our more frustrating cruising days. Spur of the moment marina check-outs were not easily accommodated and the only person who could handle the task was late arriving to work. The delayed departure resulted in a siesta-time arrival at the next marina. No one answered our radio calls.  Docking was complicated by tight quarters and vicious ferry wakes. After the docking ordeal was over we were told we would need to wait 30 minutes before someone could come to turn on the fuel pump. The wait stretched into 2 ½ hours, with the Captain seething about the situation for which there was nothing that could be done. We absolutely had to take on fuel at this port since our last fuel stop was many miles ago in Panama.

We got the fuel aboard by 6 pm and the marina manager said we could spend the night in the same slip. I voted to get the Mar Azul out of her precarious berth, away from the wakes trying to smash us into the concrete dock and into the safety of the anchorage. The Captain was tired and didn’t feel like anchoring and launching the dinghy. He didn’t want to move the boat stern-to the slip so that one could disembark without performing a gymnastic maneuver that is not easy for those of us with short legs. There’s no way I can get off this boat . . . It was your idea to come here . . .  I was perfectly happy to stay at the other place . . . Why didn’t you say so before we left . . . We have got to turn this boat around so I can get off . . . I’m tired and not moving . . . Its easy to get off the boat, see . . . blah blah blah. Fortunately that kind of day is outnumbered by the ones where everything goes pretty smoothly and we operate in sync.

Once I figured out a way to get off the boat we found a cute, Mexican tourist town ashore filled with tempting restaurants. Full of lamb chops – the finest he has tasted since Culebra – the Captain stopped griping. The absence of galley duty after an aggravating day plus delicious Moroccan Tapas followed by a stroll around the upbeat downtown restored me to good humor too.

The next morning we handled the exit clearance ourselves, involving a stop at the nearby port captain and immigration offices. The marina wanted a $134 fee to process the paperwork.  The cost for doing it ourselves was $34 for about 45 minutes of time, not including the hour we spent in an air conditioned cafe eating breakfast while we waited for the immigration lady to get back to the office.  Unemployed and trying to stay on budget, the decision was a no-brainer.  We did not mind using the more reasonably priced agents in Colombia (required by law) and Honduras (optional), feeling that the service made logistics and communication easier for us.  In Mexico the agent fees were higher (the “sailboat rate” at Puerto Morelos for a check-in was $175 + $26 per person, not including the$50 boat importation fee plus $145 to check out; at Puerto Aventuras to the south we were told to expect between $450 – $500 plus boat importation just to check in).  We heard different versions of what was allowed by the officials in terms of independent check ins and outs in the different locations and never really nailed down the exact rules.  Our final impression is that the situation may be in flux, but at this moment for fellow cruisers looking for the most economical option, a self-directed process at Isla Mujeres is the way to go.  With a US address, the boat import permit process can be handled in advance on-line via the Banjercito website assuming you have a way to access your mail at least electronically.

We left Mexico with sort of a bad taste in our mouths about the marina and agent fee schedules that target power boaters. Oh, you aren’t a sailboat. That’s a different rate then. You guys can afford to pay more.  We have to charge sailors less because they won’t come otherwise. No kidding. It was not unlike what we found in a few places in the San Blas, but the Mexicans were not as endearing in their quest to extract money from the gringos.

We scooted out of Mexico on Thursday, leaving the turquoise waters of Isla Mujeres behind at sunset. The Mexican Navy bid us farewell off the northernmost island of Isla Contoy. That involved a few heart-stopping moments when we weren’t sure about the intentions of the boat that circled and sped up from behind in the dark. It was either the Mexican Navy or it was going to be a really bad situation. Bob asked me to go up to the flybridge radio, stay out of sight and quickly get out a distress call to the nearest ship, the Carnival Elation, about 10 miles to our port side, if it turned out to be a hostile situation. Not that it would have been much help in the immediate moment. The approaching boat finally came on the radio, identified themselves, asked us to stop and provide vessel and clearance information. After a difficult English-Spanish over-the-radio chat, they allowed us to continue on our way. It was one of the times we were glad we had given Mar Azul a Spanish name, familiar to our interrogators. “Ah, ‘Mar Azul’, ‘Blue Seas’”!

The strong Gulf current whisked us north through the Yucatán Channel at speeds up to 10 knots.  We crossed the 23° 26′ 15.143″ north latitude marking the Tropic of Cancer, leaving the tropics behind.  The rest of the passage was uneventful and fulfilled the promised pleasant conditions. Three foot seas settled down to a one-to-two-foot swell on day two, and the Gulf was almost totally calm on the third day. There was just enough shipping traffic on nights one and two to keep us alert. Even without both stabilizers functioning the ride was near perfect and justified cutting out of Mexico so quickly. We floated by the Matanzas Channel off of Ft. Myers Beach on Sunday morning, crossing the path where we had exited 803 days prior for a southbound trip to Marathon, the first overnight passage of our voyage.

We docked at Sanibel Marina and checked in with US Customs & Border Patrol by phone.  We are registered with the Small Vessel Reporting System which makes it possible to handle arrivals online and telephonically. We came direct from Isla Mujeres, Mexico. No, we didn’t visit Cuba. (Would have liked to, but felt we had to honor the outdated US policy making that in effect illegal. We didn’t say that.) We were in Roatan, Honduras before Mexico. Nothing to declare but a few molas. (Not enough to worry about.) Only a small amount of frozen packaged meat and produce aboard for our own consumption. We can dump it if you require. (Wasn’t necessary.) They never retraced our journey any farther, which was good since we expect that arrivals from Colombia might be treated differently. The officer didn’t know where Sanibel was, but decided it wasn’t worth a field trip and issued an 18-digit clearance number.

Monday we traveled up the Caloosahatchee River to downtown Ft. Myers where we checked out several marinas for future liveaboard options, met our friends Steve & Jean and toasted the completion of our voyage.  It felt strange to come back into the country with no home other than Mar Azul, no working cell phones, no internet service provider and no car. The following day we set off with a priority to get reacquainted with US supermarket shopping since we had come in light on fresh provisions not knowing what the authorities might make us pitch.

The next task was to figure out internet & communications.We have vowed to keep our lives simple but internet & phones are pretty much essential.  I mean even the Kuna Indians have cell phones, right? We walked the pretty streets of downtown Ft. Myers almost expecting to see vendors sitting along the sidewalks under colorful umbrellas dispensing phones and minutes and internet service like they did in Santa Marta. We found out the nearest phone stores were about 6 miles away in the shopping plazas. No taxis came along during a 2 mile walk, tooting a quick 2 beeps as they passed to see if they could be of service.  Even if they had, they wouldn’t have been of the $2 – 3 per trip anywhere-in-the-city variety. No public buses traveled our path with a waving conductor hanging out the door recruiting us to climb aboard an overloaded vehicle. This is the land of private auto transportation which I suppose will be soon on the list to address. We went back to the marina and called Steve who picked us up and delivered us to the AT&T store.  Two smart phones later we are feeling more connected and better armed to tackle the transition to life in the States. We’re learning how to Swype and use voice recognition software and figuring out the new apps.  Hopefully we will catch up quickly.

Our body clocks seem to be stuck on the Central Standard Time of Honduras so the ship’s schedule runs a bit late for this time zone at the moment.  We are wondering if it was always this hot in Florida in June.  The absence of the Trade winds makes the sub-tropics seem hotter than the tropics.  Maybe we should have picked another season to return.  And my gosh, the bugs in Southwest Florida might just be worse than in Panama.

Otherwise, at this point returning seems easier than leaving. Ask us in a couple of years.  We’ve grown and changed in many ways and have a new perspective.  We have a different appreciation for the way people live in other places and for a lifestyle that affords a strong connection with the beauty of our world.  We’ve learned how to be more self-sufficient, had many lessons in teamwork and achieving goals that seemed out of reach.  Having gotten rid of tons of material possessions we are committed to living a simpler lifestyle from this point forward.  We’ll see how that works out.

But a passion for experiencing new cultures and connecting with people different from ourselves has been kindled. Maybe the Mar Azul and/or her crew will live in distant lands again one day, who knows?

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One of many Isla Mujeres-Cancun ferries passing the fuel dock. One thing we are definitely not going to miss on returning to the US is the lack of attention to the effects of one’s boat wake near shore that was prevalent in many of our destinations.

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Charming downtown Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We saw so little of this island – wish we could have stayed longer.

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One of the top ranked TripAdvisor restaurant choices in Isla Mujeres did not disappoint

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Uh-oh. Not something we want to see on the radar screen. Big sigh of relief that it was in fact the Mexican Navy not the bad guys.

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Now THIS is passage weather, the Gulf of Mexico at its finest. Second only to the Bahamas-Turks crossing. Why can’t they all be this smooth?

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Friendly welcome from some familiar creatures and a little entertainment for the pups on an otherwise boring day at sea

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Bandit says, yeah, the St. Augustine grass here is good, but I’d rather be at Fantasy Island hunting watusas. Not a born cruiser, she tolerated our adventures but might have been happier if we had left her behind with Chuck & Sheree on their ranch.

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Lady doesn’t care where she is as long as she is within two steps of Bob.  Absolutely loved cruising, having her humans nearby and serving as an imposing Chief Watchdog. She is starting to have some issues with advancing age but is forever our “Miss Enthusiasm”.

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The best part of returning is connecting with friends and we look forward to many more merry reunions. With Steve & Jean at Legacy Marina, Ft. Myers.

So . . . this is our last post.  Until the next adventure, that is!

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Responses

  1. Welcome back to the good old USA! It seems the hassles you experienced with the various customs and govt. officials boating makes our experience last summer crossing the border four times flying to Alaska and the problems with eapis seem simple.
    Bob, I guess you will be needing a BFR? N123E is available . ( a little far to Ellijay Ga.) I know a good CFI here. You could sail to Chatanooga and we would pick you up. Sam ps send your contact info

  2. Welcome back Elaine – you both look marvelous!

  3. Welcome Home! I will miss reading your awesome blog, and dropping in on you guys for all of our amazing Mar Azul Adventures! Drop in on me any time. I think you can make it almost to Lake Mabel via the very smooth and glassy Kissimmee River (Lake Tohopekaliga is probably the end of the “road”). P.S. I love your pic of the dolphins leading you guys home.

  4. What an adventure, way to go!

  5. Welcome home Elaine … I will miss your stories.

  6. Bob, Been reading your Blog. Love it. Welcome back and Im glad you two are safe and sound.

  7. Welcome back! I came across your blog from reading zerotocruising.com and thoroughly enjoyed your adventure. You both write well and I was particularly interested because you did it in a power boat as opposed to a sailboat. I read it from the beginning as I am currently researching the same type of trip, but in a powercat. Would you be opened to sharing general costs, privately? Trying to get a handle on how much cash flow is needed. I liked the way you did it casually and stayed in some better locations for longer periods. Thank you.


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