We are in Mexico!! After two long weeks of waiting for decent weather and winds to continue to Isla Mujeres, a tight window finally appeared. It wasn’t the best scenario, so we discussed our options:
1 – Head to Mexico, and hope that the weather forecast was correct, knowing that it wouldn’t be the smoothest journey.
2 – Go back to Florida and get a mooring ball(in Ft. Myers) and wait for the endless string of cold fronts to slow down, most likely taking a month. We’d spend money that was meant for Mexico, need an additional 18+ hours to get there and have a month less time to get past Costa Rica before hurricane season sets in.
3 – Stay anchored off of Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas national park. We’d endure at least two – three more weeks of cold fronts at anchor, losing what was left of our sanity (more on our time at anchor here later).
Scott left the decision up to me, releasing himself of blame from whatever option was chosen. None of them were good, in my opinion. I definitely didn’t want to spend unplanned money or go backward and add time to our Mexico trip, so option two was out. The thought of staying two or three more weeks at anchor where we were made me crazy, but I was very nervous to continue on with the current weather window. After much back and forth, I told myself that we’d chosen the Krogen for it’s seaworthiness, and crossing conditions weren’t always (almost never) going to be perfect, so on to Mexico it was!
Knowing that the sea conditions in the area still weren’t great (the winds had died, but swells take more time to settle), we left Sunday at noon. A cold front with strong winds was coming to Isla Mujeres on Wednesday, and we wanted to arrive ahead of it. The plan was to leave in “bumpier” water, and eventually have it get better as we traveled. We hoped to be at the marina in Isla Mujeres sometime on Tuesday afternoon.
Scott had a track mapped out which would take us southwest toward Cuba, more westward off of Cuba, south once we rounded Cuba and then west toward Mexico, before heading north to Isla Mujeres. It wasn’t the most direct path, but he chose this route to try and cross the Gulf Stream current (which would oppose us and slow us down) as quickly as possible, and then stay in it’s counter current, keeping our speed up. We also planned to travel with our motor at a higher rpm than normal, hoping to stay at 6 knots or above and make our arrival window in Isla Mujeres before the coming cold front.
Once out of the reef around our anchorage, we realized that the waters were more than bumpy. The swells were pretty large, close to nine feet. It was quite an adjustment, but swells aren’t as jolting as waves, so we rolled our way toward the waters off of Cuba. We traveled at 8 and 7 knots for the first seven hours, which was great! I came on for my shift at dark, and things settled down over night to a much more comfortable ride.
At one point, a boat appeared on the radar about four miles off of our port side. After some time, it dropped back behind us, and then headed off of our starboard side and off of the radar. Scott assumed that it was the Coast Guard, making sure that we weren’t headed to Cuba.
By daylight the winds had calmed even more, and we enjoyed a terrific ride for most of the day. Scott was even tempted to make a drink and enjoy some time up on the bow! All good things come to an end however, and by late afternoon, the winds had increased again. Scott took us closer to Cuba than expected, trying to get some protection from the building winds. We were about 14 miles off of the coast and still in the counter current, making about 8 knots.
When I came on again at dark on Monday evening, our ride was getting more “spirited,” as Scott likes to call it. We were rounding the western coast of Cuba and heading south, still in the counter current and still making good speed. Wind and waves continued to build, and it felt at times like we were on a roller coaster ride, rising and falling, and then jolting from side to side suddenly along the way. Once in awhile we’d get a really good roll (or should I say jolt)to the side, which would wake Scott up. He would come up to make a course change, trying to smooth things out a bit. It would be effective for awhile, and then we’d start to hard roll again, and he’d have to readjust. He’d planned to turn more south overnight, but it would have put us in a pretty big beam sea (side to side) even with our paravanes out, so we stayed where we were.
I stayed on watch for eleven hours overnight, trying to give Scott a chance to rest and stay out of the pilot house as much as possible. By 2am or so, things started to calm down a bit, and I think he got some bits of actual sleep. At 6:30am, when Scott came back on watch, I was looking forward to some actual sleep myself, in calmer conditions. That lasted all of 40 minutes.
I awoke to another, bigger, faster roller coaster ride. Knowing that Scott would call if he needed me, and not wanting to see what was causing the roller coaster ride (I had a sleep mask on, to keep daylight out, and also the site of big waves), I stayed on the couch, which was a bit challenging. We were rolling so hard that the couch was trying to move, even though Scott had it screwed down. The same was true for our table, that was tied to the wall. It was doing it’s best to come across the saloon toward me. Our end table moved back and forth so much that one of the legs unscrewed itself. Thankfully, I had stuffed towels into the refrigerator and some of the cabinets, to keep the clanking of bottles down.
When I finally couldn’t hold off a trip to the head any longer, I made my way there with the sleep mask on, not wanting to catch any glimpse of what was going on outside through windows. I managed to feel my way there and back, flopping onto the couch and assuming a braced position on my side.
I kept waiting and waiting for the winds to calm as I laid on the couch, trying to hold on without getting my fingers pinched as it tried to move back and forth. After almost four hours, things seemed somewhat better, so I ventured up to the pilot house to see how Scott was faring. I learned that my decision to stay put, with my mask on, was a wise one. We had come into big, BIG seas. Our autopilot was working, but Scott had to constantly change course, to keep the confused seas on our stern, so he ended up hand steering through it.
Scott estimated that the waves were as high as 14 feet. My husband doesn’t exaggerate, or embellish for effect. Believe me, we’d much rather brag that we had glass calm seas! The waves around us were larger and higher than our boat. Scott’s eye level is approximately 12 feet off of the water line when at the wheel, and the waves were well above his eye level. He’d see the wall of water coming at him, and then a hole would open and our boat would go through. Waves were higher than our flybridge on all sides.
We would roll to about 30-35 degrees, and hold there, until another wave came from behind to push us back. At some points, the waves were large enough and steep enough that we were sliding down them sideways. Again, I was VERY happy to have been down on the couch, with my mask on….can you say heart attack at sea?! During all of this madness, our speed went down to as low as 3 knots, when we weren’t surfing down a wave at 9!
We were still clawing our way south. Every time Scott would change course, the waves and winds would pick up again and we’d have to adjust back to the north. There is an entrance to Isla Mujeres from the north, but a sandbar runs across it. Scott was worried about waves from the large swells breaking on the sandbar, causing us to drop and hit bottom, or causing our paravanes to hit bottom, so we stayed on course for a southern entrance. By noon, things had calmed to a “normal”, big roll, and we were approximately two hours or so from Isla Mujeres. Those last two hours felt like two days! Seas were still big, and we were still fighting our way south.
FINALLY, Isla Mujeres came in sight!
As we moved behind it, the waves died down from protection of land, and we picked up some current that pushed us back up to 8 knots…thank the Lord! We had to bring the birds in, as we came into waters below 25 feet or so. To do this, the boat has to be at idle and pointed into the wind. Thankfully, as the waves had died considerably, this went really smoothly. We’ll take smooth wherever we can get it! Scott also raised the paravanes up, to prepare for coming into a slip.
We made our way past beaches and hotels along the shoreline, and into the harbor of Isla Mujeres. After finding Marina Paraiso, we tied to the end of a pier, to await our slip assignment and instructions on how to proceed with customs (more on this later). We arrived at the dock at 3pm on Tuesday, 51 hours after raising anchor in the Dry Tortugas.
Looking back at those few hours of stress and worry in huge seas, we realize how great our boat handled it. Had Scott not hand steered, it still would have been fine. He was just trying to make it somewhat more comfortable for us. We could have let it continue on autopilot, and would have made our destination with no problem. This boat has crossed the Atlantic with a previous owner, without paravane stabilization, so a few hours of 14 foot seas was probably just a blip on it’s radar.
The best that Scott can figure, is that the high waves were caused by a combination of depth change (as we entered more shallow waters) and eddy currents (currents that spin off of a main current) opposing the 25 knots winds. All of these factors came together at the right time to cause large, confused seas.
Howard weathered the trip like a champ, enduring it better than us! He was tucked into his “triangle of safety” on the pilot house bench, where he now spends long passages.
When we had a sudden roll, or a wave would break on us, he’d raise his head, eyes wide. We just had to pet him a few times and tell him he was fine, and he’d settle back into his travel coma (not drug induced this time!). I don’t think he was actually getting much sleep either, more like just trying to get through it, like the rest of us.
Now that it’s all behind us, we’re thrilled to be here! I will be posting about our trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas, and our two weeks at anchor there soon, as well are our customs experience. For now, we’re still getting settled here, washing our salt covered boat, doing laundry, orienting ourselves to the area, etc. Hurra Mexico!
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”