After finishing last minute details such as topping off the fuel tanks, checking out of the marina, etc. I departed for Isla Mujeres Mexico as part of the crew on a Sailboat named “So”. So is a Bruce Robert’s La Fitte 44. Dan, the owner, found me on a web site where people look for boats to crew on. Angie, also from the same web site, flew in from Maryland to be the other crew member. It was a chili and damp Sunday morning when we left Corpus Christi on December 6 at 10:30 a.m.
There was no wind so we motored thru Corpus Christi Bay and cleared Port Aransas Jetty at 1:30 p.m. We sloshed around in the confused seas leaving the jetty and I had to remind myself that they would get better. There were ships anchored just past the jetty and once we past them we raised the main sail to ease the rocking motion of the boat. We motor sailed thru night as the winds were light.
On Monday it rained hard. My rain gear did a good job keeping me dry but the blowing winds and taking the gear off and putting it on between watches made the gear damp on the inside. I learned from Angie, who is a seasoned sailor, that things drenched in salt water will not dry out because the salt absorbs moisture. Being wet just added to other miseries.
I spent the first three days sea sick. Dam that sucked, I have never been sea sick before even on an earlier crossing to Florida. Monday I found myself starving but too sick to eat. I had not eaten anything since Sunday morning when I ate junk food for a quick breakfast. Unfortunately along with being wet, cold, and sea sick the engine crapped out around 4:30 Monday morning so we continued creeping along under sail.
We were rarely alone as there are a lot of ships in the Gulf of Mexico. During the night I had to hail a tanker who was on a course that was too close for comfort. Its captain agreed to change his course to give us more clearance. Our boat had AIS, a device that plots a ships information on our chart plotter (GPS). With AIS we could talk to approaching ships even before we could physically see them. The AIS worked wonderfully. Also on Monday we sailed thru a school of Man o’ War and for quite a while we passed these creatures. Angie called it a Miniature sailboat race as all we could see were their inflatable cones sticking above the water.
On Tuesday we were faced with high winds. Now I can not tell you with certainty how fast it blew since the sailboat did not have any wind gauges. Dan thinks your not a sailor unless you can use the seas to judge wind speeds and your face to find its direction. This was good for me as the only reason I am taking these trips is to get experience. Using the Beaufort scale I figured we were in 30 MPH Winds and Dan agreed. The seas were reaching 12 feet with spray blowing from the foamy tops of the waves. I never felt scared as his boat handled the waves nicely but I must tell you I was glad when night came so I did not have to look at the waves bearing down on us.That night I was sleeping in the main salon when I was awaken by water pouring in thru an air vent in the cabin top. Closing the vent did not help and every time the bow would slam into the sea, water would flow into the boat. We were double reefed on the mainsail and had the fore sail rolled up except a sliver of cloth. Even under reduced sail the boat was still moving over seven knots. Later Angie discovered that we had about 30 gallons of water in bilge and after pumping it out it replenished itself every four hours. We checked for leaks and determined that the water was coming from the anchor haws pipe where the chain went thru the deck. Well, there and just about everywhere else. Dan had spent a lot of money on his La Fitte 44 from rigging to electronics etc. The boat was even re-powered with a new engine and running gear. He has plans to get the deck re worked in Central America but for now we had to put up with the water.The boat has a separate cabin that Dan slept in. But he found it difficult as water from the seas crashing over the boat would find its way thru the hatch and flood his bunk. He called it Chinese water torture and eventually slept on the floor of the main salon.
Also On Tuesday we were able to get the engine running again after switching fuel filters. Now the auto pilot was acting up and I puked again. Tuesday night was a night of misery. Not only was I sick but I was cold and wet. My foul weather gear had been doing a good job for the past few days but it was now soaked from the inside out, and I stunk!! My socks had not been off since I put them on Sunday morning and I was looking forward to taking a sponge bath after my evening shift. Unfortunately Dan was sleeping on the floor and I did not want to attempt to get past him to get soap and a change of clothes from the V berth. I tried to bathe using dish soap and afterwards covered with a sweater since I could not get to my underwear. I have sleep apnea and my CPAP, that I use to sleep better, was out of reach since Dan was laying next to it. It was a miserable four hours as I waited for Dan to wake up.
Wow what a few hours can do. Wednesday the weather became calm. Too calm. We motor sailed until the diesel crapped out again. We measured the fuel in the tanks an then determined the problem was either too small of microns for the filters or an electric fuel pump that we thought was for priming the engine was actually needed for running. Either way the boat ran good for the rest of the trip.
There were a lot of ships on Wednesday morning. Some were doing seismic test pulling 4 miles of cable behind them. We also past a drilling platforms in 2000 plus feet of water. Four days out and the Gulf was still a busy place. There were also more man-of-war’s. Wednesday was a day to clean up. Both the boat and ourselves. The shower felt good. I was over my sea sickness and things were looking better. Later we rarely saw signs of human life and we were in 10000 feet of water.
Thursday things were calm. We spent most of our time watching our course as the Yucatan currents were strong and we were not able to keep on our rhumb line. In the evening the wind would pick up and even though the boat was heeling as if we were making good speed the current was keeping us a few knots slower that expected.
Friday the seas were a little more confused. For entertainment we guessed the distance ships were from us as they passed. We went from 10000 feet to 700 feet in no time. Our trip was coming to an end. We sighted land on Saturday around 9 am. We had been seeing more and more local fishing boats and I became apprehensive about being in a foreign country. I did not know what to expect. I had heard that people had problems getting out of the country when they arrived by boat but left by plane. This did not turn out to be a problem.
The water around Isla Mujeres was a beautiful light blue and we could see the bottom. Waterfront property on the island consisted of large resorts next to shacks made of scraps of tin with junk boats pulled up next to them. This was also the norm thru out the rest of the island. The people were nice but the merchants would take advantage of tourist. If the marina staff said a taxi was 3 dollars expect to pay a little more. I can’t help but think that those providing services to tourist are perhaps some of the best paid people in Mexico, I mean with the discrepancy between dollar amount we are use to paying for services in this country and the cost of living in Mexico a 5 dollar tip might just put a waitress in another tax bracket.
This was yet another beneficial trip for me. It has been good to compare how different boat owners do things and how they look at safety. My wife, Kerry and I are in Corpus Christi to immerse our selves in sailing. We plan to go cruising in 2011 and moved onto our 31 ft Cape Dory as part of our emersion education. Along with reading all that I can, and sailing with the Bay Yacht Club I lend myself out as crew for other who need it. This gives me the opportunity to experience as much as I can and it also allows me to compare how others do things. So far so good.