**Mark Hopkins gets half the credit for all the below photos as half of them are his 🙂 **
Sea shanties are playing in the background while I listen to Kyle and Max converse about the large tanker off our starboard quarter. Mark is down below resting before he takes the helm from Kyle for his 3-4 hour shift. I am sitting in the cockpit on starboard side, looking up every once in a while to stare out at the vast horizon. This is the first time since we left 4 days ago that I am able to sit down and journal. The wind is behind us and so are the waves, in the gusts we surge forward, surfing the wave and bringing our speed up a knot or two. The sun is shining, but on its way down. White puffy clouds float carelessly throughout the sky. The water surrounding High Climber’s hull is the purest blue, scattered with golden sea weed providing a stark contrast of colors. It seems that as with each 100 miles the water gets bluer and at this point it is taking on an almost clear look. Isla Mujeres, Mexico is about 75 nautical miles away and we have been underway for about 76 hours, we should be arriving sometime tomorrow morning or afternoon.
The first 24-36 hours of this passage were rather rough for me. We left on Thursday afternoon around 3pm with a wonderful farewell from our dockmaster at Blind Pass Marina and fellow dock friends. We then motored under a bascule bridge and then under the Pinellas Bayway. Our good friend Lynne rode her bike from Gulfport and was on top of the bridge when we went under- so much fun to see her 65ft up there- made my day to have her see us off! After filling up on fuel at Tierra Verda Marina we headed out towards the Pass-A-Grille channel to get out to the Gulf. Well, the wind had been blowing rather hard the few days leading up to our leave, and thus the waves leaving Pass-A-Grille were really big- about 8-9 feet. But those numbers really don’t give the waves or conditions justice. The waves were steep, compact, and standing- kind of like giant rapids as Max puts it. Not only that but we only had about 3ft of water under the keel, causing them to be more intense. Just 50ft away the waves were crashing hard on the sand bar. Needless to say it was an intense situation. To be honest, I curled up in a ball and cried, I was so scared. Max handled the situation at the helm wonderfully but suddenly the engine warning alarm began going off and we didn’t know why. There was nothing to do but hope the engine held out until we got through the channel. Kyle rubbed my back to keep me calm and Mark seemed to handle the situation well, although I was a bit distracted with my own fear. Anyway, after clearing the treacherous waves we were safe in deep water of the Gulf. I must give our captain Max credit for getting us through safely and calmly. The engine turned out to be okay and we turned it off and raised sail; I always forget how loud engines are until they are turned off. Once out in the Gulf the waves were still much bigger than I was anticipating and it began to make the crew sick. Mark and Kyle became sick rather quickly, while I laid in the cockpit and slept, Max stayed on the helm. The next 20 hours are blurry for me and I can’t particularly remember the series of events. I never really got sick, but just generally felt awful. I know that I didn’t go down below for a full 24hrs and just camped in the cockpit. Mark, Kyle, and I took bonine which provided some relief but not a lot at first. In reality the conditions weren’t that bad by Friday morning, but my body was having a hard time adjusting to the non-stop moving. By Friday evening Mark and Kyle were on the up and up and were able to keep down some food, water, and take full shifts.
Anyway, skipping forward to Saturday and my goodness what a different and wonderful world!! I was starting to think I would never feel better and was absolutely dreading the rest of the passage- but Friday night I kept down some rice and by Saturday I was feeling good enough to make coffee and tea for the crew. The better feeling continued and right now, at 7pm on Sunday evening the boat is rolling through the waves and I am sitting and looking at the Ipad screen. Kyle and Max are reading, and Mark is on the helm, but can also read and write. Overall we have all adjusted 100% at this point and the moral is high! Yesterday afternoon the wind died a bit and we took the opportunity to swim behind the boat and rinse in fresh water. Kyle and Max climbed up the mast and jumped from the first spreader before grabbing the rope we had dragging behind the boat. Mark and I jumped from the side, but it was fun none the less being pulled behind High Climber’s stern in the deep blue water. Crazy to think the ground was 10,000 feet below us. Max made a big stew for dinner and we took turns on the helm throughout the night. I am not quite comfortable being on watch by myself at night yet, so Kyle and I have been tag teaming during the night hours. Generally speaking we do 3-5 hour shifts depending on how the person at the helm is feeling. It has been really nice because the people on off watch are getting anywhere from 6-12 hours of off time.
This morning I woke up and made breakfast burritos with potatoes, eggs, onions, and tortillas. I was able to use the nylon strap connected to the stove to hold me in place while I cooked which was very helpful. I have never used one before but I feel as though I would not have been able to make such a successful meal without the strap. The boat is constantly rolling and thanks to the gimbaled stove and tie in cooking has been quite enjoyable. I then took watch for about 4 hours and had the most enjoyable shift! The wind has been blowing from behind us about 95% of the time which is causing a following sea. So to any of you whom wished us fair winds and following seas- THANK YOU! That is exactly what we have had and it has been quite magnificent. Holding the large wheel and steering the boat down wind through the rolling seas and ever so often surging down a wave gives me a feeling few things else in this world do. It’s so powerful being pushed by the wind in your house with all your friends and belongings with you. Sometimes I would listen to music, other times I just listened to the water flow along the hull of the boat.
It took a good day and a half but I am now in the rhythm of life at sea. We haven’t seen land since Thursday evening and sometimes I feel like I am in a big blue globe. I am sure spotting Isla Mujeres tomorrow will be rather exciting and I look forward to what it has in store for us. Cheers!
The wind is blowing gently from the Southeast providing some reprieve from the tropical sun. The water below the hull of High Climber is crystal clear, allowing me to see even the smallest shell 10ft below us. Kyle sits next to me reading his novel, Mark is down below reading as well while Max is ashore attempting to check us into the country. Large catamarans with at least 30 people crowding the decks pass by every few minutes blasting Spanish music, partying on this sunny blue skied day. The wakes from the boats passing by causing High Climber to bob up and down in her slip at Marina Parisio. The journey here was a long one, but the beauty awaiting us here on Isla Mujeres seems to make all the hardships worth it.
After an awesome morning of sailing downwind at a consistent 5 knots on Sunday we entered the Yucatán Channel where we were greeted by a rather strong current, really reducing our speed and progress towards Mujeres. We were only about 50 nautical miles away, but due to the current, a cross swell, and finicky wind the last 50 miles took us almost 24 hours to complete. It was a rather long and frustrating night with little sleep from any of the crew. Kyle and Max were up for hours throughout the night trying to change the sail plan and reduce the rolling of the boat. Whoever was on shift experienced the frustration of keeping the boat on course with the current and swell against us. Around 7am Monday morning towards the end of my 4 hour shift we made the decision to turn on the motor as we couldn’t seem to make much progress and were getting pushed North. Fortunately around 10am we left the current behind and the wind picked up from the East. With a strong wind we shut the engine down and Mark sailed us on a beam reach at a consistent 5 knots the last few hours; crew moral was instantly lifted with the pristine sailing conditions. At 11:00am Mark pointed to some structure off our starboard bow. Looking through the binoculars I saw trees on a Cay just North of Isla Mujeres’ location- “Land Ho!!!” Kyle bellowed. We all giggled and found ourselves giddy with the view of land for the first time in almost 4 days and within twenty minutes Isla Mujeres became visible directly in front of us. With perfect wind we sailed all the way into the Channel entrance of the island before dropping sail. The water below us changed from a deep clear blue to crystal clear water showing sea grass, white sand, and some small reefs.
It is hard for me to capture the feeling I had when the island came into view. Leaving Florida and arriving in another country under sail 4 days later was something special. Not only that but the island that greeted us had pristine white beach, colorful boats, people radiating joy on the boats and beaches, and palm trees with coconuts. We had sailed into a tropical paradise and instantly all the hard work done to get ready was well worth it. With our yellow quarantine and Mexico flags raised and flapping in the wind we motored to an anchorage just on the other side of the channel across from some marinas. After some celebratory cocktails and spending some time tidying up the boat, Max and I grabbed the notebook with all our documents and hopped in the dinghy. Max rowed us over to El Milagro Marina where we were hoping to get a slip and checked in with customs. Arriving at the dinghy dock I found myself in awe of how incredibly relaxing the entire place looked. Mosaic table and chairs were built into the sand so one could sit partly submerged in the water while enjoying lunch or a drink. On shore numerous hammocks and lawn chairs were filled with people of all ethnicities lounging in the warm sun. Iguanas basked in the sun and thatched roofs covered the office and bar area. The moment our feet hit the dock for the first time in 4 days we both felt like we were moving. It was such an odd sensation, I felt like the dock was swaying back and forth- and it only intensified as we walked towards the dockmaster. We were greeted by a few different marina employees who kindly welcomed us before informing us that because it was after 1pm they would not be able to check us into the country today. Feeling a bit disappointed since we were all really looking forward to dinner out on the town, we explored the marina grounds for a few minutes and walked to a small store at the edge of the marina where we bought some cold beer to bring back to Mark and Kyle. Once back at the boat we informed Mark and Kyle of the news that we would be stuck on the boat until tomorrow and decided to make the best of it by going snorkeling.
Our bellies full with rice and beans, the boat cleaned, and our snorkel gear ready we headed towards some reefs that our dockmaster in Florida had told us about. Being that there are 4 of us and only 1 dinghy Mark and Max rowed towards the reef while Kyle and I swam and were towed behind. There were a few other snorkel tour boats in the area but it wasn’t too crowded. Setting the dinghy on a small sand bar we took off on an amazing snorkel adventure. There were tiny islands made of porous rock that below the surface were colorful. Swimming in, around, and near the small reefs were hundreds of immaculately colored fish. My favorite were the tiny fish that were mostly black but had glowing blue specks and a mouth that almost seemed to light up. Another was a medium sized fish that was quite literally a rainbow. Most of its body was pastel green but then it had purple lines across the top, a bright yellow dot on each side of its mouth, pink, yellow, and orange mixed in on its scales. The current was quite strong and it made the snorkeling a bit hard, but we enjoyed the reefs for an hour before returning to the dinghy to make the row back to the boat.
Being that no one really slept the night before we were all rather exhausted. After some lunch left overs for dinner we all retreated to our bunks and slept for a good 11 hours. The following morning, Tuesday, Max rowed to shore to try and check in again. He was told we had to go to the hospital, then customs, then a different office before going to another office, etc, etc. Not wanting to spend the entire day attempting to check in ourselves we lifted anchor and motored over to another marina called Marina Pairiso. There the dockmaster aided us in checking in by bringing agriculture, health, immigration, and customs to us. It took about two hours of having various people look at the boat (although no one boarded the boat), filling out documents, providing copies of passports, ships papers, and health information but we were allowed to hang out at the bar and pool at the marina the entire time so it made it extremely easy and relaxing. My job before we left on this journey was to take care of all the documents needed to get into various countries. I must say, it is much more complicated that I would have ever anticipated and took me over a month to get everything in order. I worked really hard to make sure we had every single piece of paper we could need, and then made 30 copies of each document as most countries want 5 copies each. An example of how confusing and difficult it can be is a Zarpe. A Zarpe is a form that you receive when checking out of a country to prove when and where you left. Well, America does not give Zarpes to small craft, only to commercial vessels- yet Mexico requires one to enter the country. There have been accounts of people showing up in Mexico without this form and having their boat confiscated and then being kicked out of the country. I wasn’t sure what to do so I printed a Zarpe online, filled it out to the best of my ability and then had my mom notarize it. Well it turns out this was a very good thing to do- as Max made it seem as though they would not have checked us in without it. Anyway, moral of the story- before traveling out the country by boat it is extremely important to get everything in order and make sure you have everything needed. If any of you ever need help in this manner please feel free to email me- I think I have it mostly figured out by now 🙂
At the end of the process the immigration officer stamped our passports, provided us a visa, and welcomed us into the country. We all felt so thankful to be free to explore the country and not be confined to the boat. Within 20 minutes we had put on walking shoes and sunscreen, grabbed our backpacks and headed for the Island. Six hours and 8 miles later we had walked almost the entire Island! Leaving the marina we were instantly greeted by endless golf carts and mopeds; that is how everyone gets around on this island- even the police. The mopeds amazed me because many of them had over 3 people on them and then a baby or two hanging off the side in someone’s arms or standing at the driver’s feet- same as the golf carts. I will say though that everyone, except maybe the baby’s and small children, wore helmets on the mopeds. Interesting! Walking the Main Street for a while we quietly observed our surroundings- the colorful buildings and homes stacked really close together, the equally colorful skiffs lining the inland beaches, and some pretty awesome street art and murals. Finding a small opening between buildings we crossed over to the Gulf side of the island and walked North along the sea wall with large waves crashing down below. The waves were a mixture of clear blues and greens that would roll and smash down on the rock and white sand on the shoreline. Making our way back inland a bit we found the market area which were streets lined in colorful shops with jewelry, blankets, and endless trinkets lining the front of the small shops. Sitting down for some lunch I enjoyed the people watching and observing the cultural differences from America and this small tropical island. We found a convenience store and bought a SIM card for the Global cell phone we had bought before leaving and the nice men behind the counter helped me get it all set up- it took a few minutes due to the language barrier, but within 10 minutes Kyle and I were able to call our parents to check in and say hello. I was very thankful to be able to check in and catch up with my family! The rest of the afternoon was spent in a similar manner- exploring and enjoying the Isle of Mujeres. Around 6pm we arrived back at the marina where we took a quick swim to stretch our tired legs and sore bodies, before taking showers and using some wifi at the marina bar.
As I write this I am sipping on hot coffee looking out over the tiki bar to the marina and clear waters beyond. Kyle is reading in front of me and we are going to head into town soon to do some laundry and find an Internet café. This afternoon we will probably find another snorkel spot before our 7pm reservation at Limon. Our dockmaster from Florida, Todd, was so incredibly kind and provided us dinner at a local restaurant owned and operated by a man named Sergio. It is supposed to be quite spectacular and Todd who visits Isla Mujeres somewhat regularly wanted us to experience the food and dining the restaurant provides. We haven’t even been yet, but thank you Todd!!! We will cheers you at dinner 🙂
We will probably be in Isla Mujeres for a couple more days as we are hoping to take a ferry to Cancun tomorrow and catch a ride to Tulum to visit the Mayan Ruins. We were planning on going to Roatan, Honduras on our way to Providencia, Columbia- but as of this morning due to a few different factors might skip Roatan and visit a small island called “Swan Island”- it is basically uninhabited and sounds like it would be quite the experience. If you’re interested here is a pretty cool article about some people who visited last year: http://www.bwsailing.com/bw/cruising-news/places-no-one-has-been-before/
I feel incredibly grateful for all this journey has provided thus far and look forward to the what comes next. Onward!