Hey Don, Thanks For Going Easy On Us!

With Tropical Storm Don predicted to make a direct hit on Grenada, we prepared for 60 knot winds (always prepare for the worst). Scott secured loose things on the flybridge, stripped the canvas off of our bimini (canvas that shades the flybridge driving station), took the window covers off, removed our flags and stowed our extra solar panels (more on those later).

He tied an additional line to the mooring ball; readied our anchors in case we needed to drop them; put our large fenders in the cockpit, making them available in case another boat broke from it’s mooring and drug toward us; brought in our flopper-stoppers (large plates that hang from the paravanes, and reduce rolling at anchor…greatly reduce); and raised the paravanes, to reduced risk of another boat hitting them, making us more maneuverable through the anchorage should we need to move in a hurry.

While we were preparing the boat, the island of Grenada was preparing as well. One of the local radio stations broadcasted storm preparation information, and we heard the local Red Cross and Coast Guard making contact with each other over the vhf radio.

Businesses were required to close at 3pm, and we were very surprised to hear that public water and sewer were to be turned off at 7pm! Here’s a posting from the National Water and Sewerage Authority, with some interesting information:

ADVISORY – NAWASA TO SWITCH OFF ALL WATER SYSTEMS ON TUESDAY JULY 18TH, 2017

The National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) wishes to advise the general public that following a meeting of its Disaster Preparedness Committee, the following decisions were made:

– ALL WATER SYSTEMS will be switched off later this evening. A timeline will be provided once an update on Tropical Storm DON is received from NaDMA.

– Once our systems are switched off, consumers island wide will have their service interrupted WITHOUT A DEFINED RESTORATION TIME.

– An analysis of ALL water systems will be conducted by our engineering team on Wednesday July 19th and restoration will commence thereafter.

The Authority implores on the general public the need to:

• Collect and store water in clean, non-corrosive and mostly tightly covered containers both in and out of your refrigerator. To increase shelf life of water, group bottles in dark plastic trash bags to keep light out.

• Store enough water for each member of your family and pet. week.Have at least a minimum of three days supply, of thirty-five gallons per person, per day for domestic use. OUR MAIN ADVISORY – Water collection and storage to last minimum of three days and a maximum of 1 week.

• Store water in bath tubs, drums, pails and buckets for flushing of toilet, washing and general cleaning.

• Shut off water tanks and individual property connections. Your water can be shut off at either the outlet valve or the water meter. Everyone in your home should know where these are located.

NAWASA apologises for the inconveniences likely to be caused by this decision, but advises that this precautionary measure is necessary to safe guard our infrastructure and is in the best interest of the consumers we serve.

 

When our preparations were complete, we spent the rest of the day checking various online sites for updates on Don, and just waited, along with everyone else in the bay. Scott had a pre-Don cocktail, and Howard kept watch for fish.

Watching for fish can be tiring. Sometimes  you have to lay down on the job.

We were getting reports that Don was speeding up, but the eye was collapsing, and that wind speed predictions had dropped a bit; all good news.

As the day wore on, the winds died completely, and by early evening the bay was lake-like.  We watched the barometer drop on our weather station, and considered this the calm before the storm. The bay was noticeably less crowded, as many chose to hunker down in marinas or other island locations.

By sunset, Don was predicted to only cause us an hour’s worth of havoc, and at a much lower intensity. We began to get a decent swell coming into the bay, and readied for our 60 minutes of storm drama.

Instead, Don fell apart as it passed twenty miles south of us. We watched the radar updates online, and by 10 or 11pm, the storm, now reduced to a tropical wave, had officially passed us by without incident.There had been no wind to speak of, and we only received a quarter inch of rain.

The incoming swell lingered on though, and we continued to roll around for hours. Rolling back and forth (actually, Sea Life tends to lumber back and forth, as opposed to rolling) wasn’t as irritating as the noise from one of our paravane cables rubbing along a mast wire; the metal scraping sound was maddening. Realizing that Don was now a non-event, Scott lowered our paravanes and put the floppers back in the water….ahhhh.

So, Don fizzled out, thank goodness, and we dodged a tropical bullet. I’d like to believe that this was our one and only scare for the season, but we’ve learned all too well on this journey that Mother Nature is fickle.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

Tropical Storm Don, Our Grenada Welcome Wagon

I have much to catch up on, but for now, a current update…..we arrived in Grenada a week ago, and Tropical Storm Don is our welcome wagon. Here’s a photo of Don’s predicted path. We are the bottom-most island/dot, in the yellowish-brown, with a 50-60% change of winds over 39 knots.

[Image of probabilities of 34-kt winds]

The storm is essentially passing right over us, with it’s specific path having very different results.

A tropical system spins counter-clockwise, with the top/north half having the most intensity.  Think of a pinwheel, sucking wind off in it as it spins. As the storm moves, that wind in the north half is given a extra boost, doubling it’s strength.

At the bottom of the pinwheel, the winds oppose the movement of the storm, and are much less, so south of a storm is where you want to be (scratch that…not anywhere near a storm is where you really want to be!).

If Don passes just north of Grenada, we expect sustained winds in the 25-30 knot range,  clocking around in every direction. However, if the storm tracks a bit south, we’ll get more direct winds, sustained closer to 45 knots….possibly as high as 60 knots.

None of this is life threatening, and we are preparing for maximum winds, just to be safe. Unfortunately, there are not completely protected anchorages or marinas here in Grenada, so we’re just gonna have to ride it out with fingers crossed.

We are currently in Prickly Bay, on Grenada’s south side. Many cruisers come to Grenada for hurricane season, so the bays are crowded with boats.

Map of Prickly Bay, Grenada

 

Image result for aerial view of prickly Bay

Our plan was to anchor, but we arrived to find that the marina here had filled most of the bay with mooring balls. Prickly Bay is safer than most, as far as local crime, so we chose to stay and take a ball. For those who may not know, a mooring ball is anchored to the bottom with a metal shackle. From there, a line travels up to the surface with a float/ball that you attach a line to.

On the positive side, balls are usually well spaced, and there’s no worry about boats with little anchoring experience breaking loose and dragging. The downside is that you’re never sure what condition the balls are in; whether the lines are still strong and the shackles are good. Several boats here have broken from their mooring here, drifting through the anchorage, one as recently as four days ago.

Our quandary is whether to stay here on the ball, and risk it breaking, or having other moorings break, and those boats drifting our way. Or, head for another bay that is just as full, and risk anchors dragging (instead of moorings breaking) and boats drifting. We considered going to a marina, but they aren’t much more protected from heavy wind, and Scott’s concerned about being tied down and not able to swing with the winds, or cut and run if needed.

Here is Don’s timeline…..Murphy’s Cruising Law: Bad shit almost always happens at night! (we are between the blue line, and the S to the right…roughly 10pm-midnight)

cone graphic

So, we’re hunkering down here in Prickly Bay, and hopeful that Don gives us a gentle welcome to Grenada.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Panama’s Insane Rain!

They say that Panama has two seasons, the dry season from December to mid March, and the wet, or “green”, season from mid March to mid December. As you might deduce from their names, the dry season means little or no rainfall, while the green season can mean rain almost every day.

However, in Bocas del Toro, it rains consistently nearly every month, except for September and October. Fortunately, the wet stuff usually comes overnight or in the early am, giving way to the brutal, hot sun. November is a different animal altogether; a rainy season unto itself.

At last check, when we left Red Frog after Thanksgiving, the monthly rain total was over seventeen inches for the month! The rain during November was often biblical. Heavy, driving rain would pour straight down for hours, and the sound was unnerving. Roads flooded almost instantly, and any grass-like surface turned to muck.

Visibility disappears in an instant, and the water turns to mud. For example, now you see it:

Now you don’t:

This nasty brown line floated our way during a recent deluge:

Scott installed a new weather station in November, after our old one gave up the goat. The new one has many more bells and whistles, and greatly appeals to Scott’s inner weather geek. For example, note how it describes a November deluge, using the most weather specific terms (bottom right corner):

To be fair, it definitely was raining cats and dogs, so kudos weather station!

This crazy rain has extended into December, and in the first ten days of the month, we’d already received close to twelve inches! Recently, just in the morning hours alone we had 3.18 inches, and at one point, the rain rate listed on the weather station was 6.86 inches an hour….biblical I tell ya!

It’s definitely the wettest area we’ve ever been to, including any travel by land, car, air or boat before this cruising adventure. As you can imagine, the humidity matches the wetness, turning our decks and lines green, and making daily tasks a challenge. Thank goodness we spent the time plugged in, and able to keep the interior humidity in check with air conditioning.

On the bright side, everything here is beautifully lush and green. Trees and foliage grow thick and tall, and brightly colored plants and flowers spring up from the ground.

We were surprised not to see more fresh, local produce grown in the area, but suspect that too much of a good thing may hinder good veggie growth.

All in all, we’ve become accustomed to traveling with an umbrella at the ready (it’s far too warm and humid for rain jackets, as they become your own personal sauna, despite the best ventilation), and push on, despite the wetness. It beats a 45 degree rain that the northeast can get this time of year, so we try to embrace Panama’s “liquid sunshine”!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

The rain here in Panama is insane. When we arrived, uring the “rainy” season, but November in particular really gave us a dousing. Heavy rain lasts for hours at a time, flooding streets, and turning grassy areas into muck.

Hurricane Otto Comes Calling

The tropical low that we’ve been watching for the last ten days has finally strengthened into a tropical storm, and  is expected to become Hurricane Otto in the next day or so. For reference, Bocas del Toro is located to the right of “San Jose,” in the little bay (cut-out) on the north coast of Panama.

Current Storm Status

Tropical Storm Otto

Later this week, high pressure is expected to steer the storm west, making landfall north of us, most likely along the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border.

It’s rare to have a named storm this late into November, even in the warm, Caribbean waters this far south. Some tidbits from the Weather Channel:

Prior to January 2016’s strange Hurricane Alex, only 18 storms of at least tropical storm strength had formed on or after November 21 dating to 1950.

Only nine tropical cyclones became hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin after November 21 from 1950 through 2015. The last to do so was Epsilon, in December 2005. 

Only one of those nine hurricanes occurred in the southwest Caribbean Sea, Hurricane Martha in 1969.

The good news is, that as of now we are not in the storm’s direct path, and will instead be getting the “fringe” effects of strong winds and rain. Having owned waterfront property for many years on the Chesapeake Bay, we unfortunately have first-hand knowledge of tropical storm and hurricane winds. The best scenario is to be where we are now, in or off the bottom left quadrant of a storm, where the winds are weakest.

With the increased wind directions more firm, we’ve decided to leave the anchorage near town, as it is very exposed to the west, one of the predicted wind directions. While we are confident that our anchor, the Hulk, will keep us firmly set, the chance of other boats dragging into us is one we don’t wish to take.

Last month, from our slip in Bocas Marina, Scott saw boats drag through the anchorage and into the mangroves during a routine thunderstorm. Our many near miss experiences in the anchorage at Isla Mujeres were enough, thank you.

While should not see big wind and water here in Bocas, the waves off shore are becoming huge, at 12 feet or more. Once the storm passes and makes landfall, it will take days for the seas out there to calm, so we are in another holding pattern.

Our plan is to leave here, and make our way to the San Blas Islands, an archipelago made up of approximately 365 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited. They lie off the north coast  of Panama, east of the Panama Canal (much more on this later).

We’d hoped to be halfway there by now, stopping to anchor at several locations along the way, and arriving in the San Blas before swells from the Caribbean’s Christmas winds increase.

Last week, forecasters weren’t sure if this thing would develop, and if so, where it would go, so we waited; not wanting to be stuck in an unprotected anchorage for days, with strong winds coming at us. This week, and for the near future, we cannot move because of large swells offshore. Yay for us.

We are tucked in behind the mangroves, just off of Red Frog marina. For now, the winds come and go, and so does the rain, but we expect things to pick up over the next few days. On the bright side, it’s peaceful here. There is less chop when the winds blow, and our friends are in view just off the bow.

Howard is enjoying the quieter location, with far few pangas buzzing by, and spends time out on the cockpit. He usually waits for Scott to set up a chair to sit in, and then happily takes it for himself.

The fresh air inspires energetic play sessions with his favorite bags, which is exhausting.

So once again, we’re playing the weather window game, to which there are no rules or time limits. While we wait, there is plenty of rum on board, and movies on the hard drive.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back At Anchor

Leaving Red Frog Marina, we headed back to anchor off of Bocas Town for a few days. I wanted to make a final trip to town, some  fresh produce before we continued on, and was also interested in renting a golf cart to see more of Isla Colon. After that, the plan was to anchor at several places in the area, and then head east along the coast of Panama.

Once again, Mother Nature had other plans. A tropical low was trying to form, just north of Panama, and the timing would conflict with anchoring in areas along the coast, as they don’t allow for good protection in certain wind directions.

The wind forecast was all over the place, predicting very strong stuff one day, and backing down on it the next. There was also a threat of squalls every day, but we are confident in the hulk, and decided to take it day by day, relocating if needed.

We decided to focus on the positives…the weather was breezy, more cloudy and cooler. All good things for being at anchor, and unplugged from air conditioning! We were also just a stone’s throw from a free dinghy dock, so shopping and other things in town were easy and convenient. Anchored off of town gave us unobstructed views of Costa Rica’s mountains on the horizon, and we were timed perfectly to enjoy the supermoon!

So it was time for another golf cart day. There are all-terrain vehicles for rent in town, but I wasn’t interested in driving one myself, and Scott couldn’t guarantee not scaring me to death if we rode together. Helmets are required to ride the ATVs, and I’d be sitting right on top of the motor. Both of those thing spelled hot for me, so a golf cart it was.

The man behind the counter told us that we were restricted as to where on the island we could go, as the carts aren’t built to handle the condition of the roads in some areas. So of course, at the first opportunity, Scott turned to the right when he should have stayed left.

Once on the forbidden path, we passed many signs for Plastic Bottle Village, and it finally came into view.  A community of buildings and houses is in development, with used plastic bottles as core material before they are covered in concrete. The castle-like, quirky entrance was definitely eye catching.

As the roads became more hilly, muddy and bumpy, we passed under a huge canopy of bamboo, thickly anchored in the ground. It was like driving in a fairy tale, and Scott wished he’d had access to bamboo this thick when building a tiki bar each year, for our  summer parties on land.

Not wanting to challenge the poor cart any further, Scott admitted defeat, and we turned around. It was lunch time, and we stopped at Scully’s for a cold drink and some food. Owned by American expats, Scully’s sits on the waterfront, with several inviting seating options.

Sadly, our little cart was not the best built model. It had been stalling on us all morning, when we slowed or came to idle, and the steering was similar to that of an amusement park bumper car. I spent most of the drive holding my breath as we’d make an unexpected, hard swerve toward the edge of the road, with Scott yelling, “I can’t help it, this thing is garbage!”

When we got into the cart to leave Scully’s, it wouldn’t start. Scott tried and tried, and waited and tried, and waited and tried some more, then made a call. A mechanic brought us a replacement cart, and we left him to deal with the dead one.

While this cart definitely ran better, the steering was worse! Scott was too worried that he’d run over some poor person walking alongside the road, so we called it a day, and headed back to the rental shop. Since we’d only had the cart for just under half a day, they refunded us some money, which was fair.

The area has been more than challenging  for Scott, when it comes to spear fishing. There just aren’t many areas to find fish and lobster. However, Scott is nothing if not diligent, and finally came up lucky, bringing home four lobsters, and a black crab.

Howard was fascinated with Scott’s catch, and watched intently as Scott prepared them. Contrary to what you may think, he wasn’t interested in engaging with, or eating the crustaceans. With more than enough lobster,  and because boiling water would heat up the boat, we decided to release the crab.

We picked up many little geckos on our decks while at Red Frog, and one has recently made it’s way inside.  Scott noticed it in the galley, near the sink, coiled up like a snake. Since then, we’ve spotted the little guy in other areas of the boat as well.

Howard has failed to notice our latest stowaway, and he’s in big trouble if I wake during the night to find a gecko crawling across me.

Heavy rain is often visible on the horizon, and the skies become dark each day, but so far we’ve dodged severe weather.

We’ve enjoyed a few more trips into town (Scott actually requested that we revisit sushi!), and I was able to get in another barbecue night at Boca Marina’s cantina. The supermoon caused higher than normal tides, and when we arrived, it was either slosh through the water, or walk across the soggy, muddy grass.

Sadly, their delicious pizza that I came for wasn’t offered, so I settled for a less yummy burger.

Weather threat aside, we are enjoying being back at anchor, and hope to be on the move again soon. Here are more photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

Growing Roots In Providencia

We’d hoped to be on our way to Bocas del Toro, in Panama, by now. However, as usual, the weather has different plans for us, which has been insanely frustrating. The latest window, that opened this week was slim, so Scott let me make the decision whether to stay or go.

Good news, the winds were supposed to die off briefly on Tuesday, before picking back up again on Wednesday. Bad news, this wouldn’t give the seas nearly enough time to lay down. Since I wasn’t up for traveling in 6-7 foot swells, with possible breaking waves on top, I chose to pass.

Good news is, it turned out to be the right decision, because the winds never died. We heard from boats arriving that it was a miserable go out there. Bad news, our next window won’t be for at least another week. As I said, this is becoming insanely frustrating, even Howard is contemplating jumping ship.

Good news, carnival started here on Tuesday! We’ve never been to a proper carnival celebration (the parade in Isla Mujeres was disappointing), and planned to go to town one night for the festivities.  Bad news, the people that have traveled here to attend carnival aren’t the best lot, and it is a zoo in town. It seems safer to stay on the boat, especially at night.

Good news, lots of reggae music is being played from the town dock. Bad news, as you might imagine, it’s at a ridiculous volume, and goes on until after 3 am. This makes sleep challenging, even with my ear plugs in.

Good news, many new boats arrived in a flotilla yesterday morning. They are Colombians, all flying large country flags as well as smaller ones; the anchorage is bustling and colorful.

Bad news, they aren’t the greatest at anchoring, and many boats drug anchor, resulting in at least one collision. Two boats that were rafted together (on the left) drifted into a third boat (on the right). Those onboard the two rafted boats were oblivious to what was going on, until after impact.

As they broke free, the two boats snagged the third’s anchor line, and almost drifted back to collide again.

It was a stressful go for those of us who’ve been here, safely anchored for weeks.  We all held our breath, and prepared to fend off anyone coming our way. Luckily, by dusk, everyone seemed to be set, and all held through the night.

So we’re here for at least another week. Good news, it’s beautiful here, and there are things that we enjoy seeing and doing. Bad news, most of them are out of walking distance. With local transportation being iffy at best, you’re stuck with paying to rent a buggy, which adds up.

Good news, there is great snorkeling here, and places to explore for fishing. Bad news, with stronger winds, visibility for snorkeling isn’t the greatest, and it’s too much of a hard time on the windward side of the island for fishing.

Good news, liquor here is cheap! A bottle of Smirnoff vodka is $8.00 in the grocery stores. Bad news, people here for carnival  are buying up the stock.

Good news, we’re not on a set schedule per say. Bad news, our insurance wants us farther south by July 1st, for coverage against any named storm damage. Yeah, yeah, hurricanes don’t come this far south….I give you Hurricane Sandy, New York, end of October. Never say never.

The forecast is riddled with tropical lows these days. They don’t directly affect us, as far as a hurricane or tropical storm, they just make the winds difficult to travel in. And, the chance of squalls just gets greater this time of year. Scott wants to get farther south sooner than later.

Good news, we’d hoped to travel to San Andres from here, another Colombian island 10-12 hours south. After that, the Albuquerque Cays, where Scott planned on some fishing and snorkeling. Bad news, with all the weather delays, we’ll be doing a three to four day run straight to Bocas del Toro…bummer. You know how I love a multi-day passage!

So it seems that we’re growing roots here in Providencia. We may have to pay taxes! Here are some random photos from the past few days.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

An Long And Stressful Night

After the squall passed through, the winds went calm for a few hours. They picked up significantly at sunset, as predicted, and Scott decided to spend the night on anchor watch in the pilot house. We were confident in the Hulk, but wanted to keep an eye out for others who may come our way overnight.

I checked on Scott a little after midnight, and all was well. Just before 4am, the movement of the boat in stronger winds woke me up, and I went to check on Scott. He’d dozed off, so I woke him to ask how things were going. He said that our anchor was fine, and things seemed to be good. I saw something out of the corner of my eye, on our starboard side. It was the white hull of a catamaran, just off of our paravanes…not good! Scott looked to the port side, and there was a catamaran there as well! What are the chances that two boats began to drag at the same time, and came down either side of us?!? Thankfully, both had missed hitting us.

The catamaran off of our port side immediately started their engines, and began to move off….whew. The one off of our starboard, however, was not as quick to respond. Their anchor had caught, and they seemed content to try and stay there until it was light, which did not make Scott happy. We went out onto the cockpit, and saw them putting fenders out alongside their boat. I guess they were preparing for possible impact. Scott shouted for them to start their motors, and re anchor. We got a response in frenzied French…great.

Our paravanes were still out, and the French couple kept gesturing at them, and then talking to each other. We hoped that the threat of contact with the paravanes would urge them to start up and move away. Suddenly, their anchor let loose, and they were adrift again, heading quickly for our neighbor behind us.

We hailed Barry, on Sea Swift, to let him know about the possible threat. The catamaran didn’t have an anchor light on, so it was nearly impossible to see them coming (an even bigger pet peeve for Scott). Scott hesitated for a second, in case we’d wake him, but Barry instantly responded to our vhf call, and I realized that no one in the anchorage was sleeping at this point. Finally, the catamaran started their motors and moved to re-anchor. Both boats ended up ahead of us, but stayed put for the rest of the night.

I was now continually scanning our area of the anchorage through binoculars, for any boats that had come loose. Not long after the catamarans cleared out, I spotted a sailboat coming through the anchorage beam-to (sideways) at a fast clip. It’s scary to see a boat coming through at a fast pace, with those aboard scrambling like mad to raise anchor and regain control before hitting someone or running aground. The boat was headed for another one of our neighbors, and Scott hailed Lucky Seven to warn them. Again, we received an immediate response; everyone was definitely awake and on high alert. The people aboard the moving boat regained control, and headed off to another part of the anchorage.

By now, it was nearly dawn, and we were thankful that the coming daylight would make it easier for us to see anyone drifting our way. Just as the skies were becoming light, our “friend” from the squall appeared, dragging beam-to through the anchorage. They’d been anchored up ahead of us, and held all night in the strong winds, but had now let loose and were heading for our friends on Skylark.

They missed hitting Skylark, thankfully, but snagged their anchor. Reacting in a flash, Ed tied a buoy to his anchor line,  so that he could locate it later, and then cut it loose. The dragging boat, which now had Ed’s anchor and the cut line tangled with it, moved past Skylark without further incident. Having to go back for an anchor later is much better than colliding with a boat, or being drug along with it; incredibly fast thinking on Ed’s part!

Unfortunately, our next neighbor was not so lucky. The boat was still moving along, beam-to (again, sideways) and was headed right for Calcutta. Igor is alone on the boat, and had gone down to try and sleep, after having been up all night. He was awakened by a jolt from the impact of the dragging boat. The couple on board had been asleep as well. They were now awake, but doing nothing to help the situation. Calcutta is much smaller, and the two boats were now tangled together. Igor went below, and appeared again with a sizeable board, that he used to try and dislodge himself from the lumbering boat that was now caught on his bow pulpit. I was in too much shock as to what was happening to poor Igor to take any photos, so I’m borrowing one that Skylark took. It’s a bit blurry, as she snapped it in haste during the may lay, but you get the idea.

Ed, from Skylark, got into his dinghy and went to help. He ended up pulling the man from the dragging boat out of the water, who had jumped in for God knows what reason, and could not get back on his boat. Still caught, Calcutta was now dragged along with the larger boat into a third boat on a nearby mooring. The two slid along the third boat, and with the help of Ed, and Kevin, from Lucky Seven, Calcutta finally managed to free itself. The dragging boat had finally started their motors, and again raised their anchor to relocate.

The winds were still whipping, and now poor Igor had a mess to deal with. He’d cut his second anchor line, in an attempt to get free of the dragging boat, but his primary anchor ended up tangled around the line of the moored boat. By now, our neighbor Rick, from Angel Eyes, had come to help as well. He got on board with Igor, and Kevin stayed in his dinghy, and they finally managed to get the anchor free, up, and back down again in a new spot.

It upset Scott that he was not able to go and help Igor. We’d loaded the Aluminum Princess onto the flybridge for the coming weather, in case we had to move quickly or pull the anchor. The motor for our inflatable dinghy is not nearly powerful enough to maneuver in the strong winds. However, since our pilot house sits higher above the water, and we look through glass rather than canvass, we hoped that it helped to be able to warn others.

As all of this was going on, another boat was dealing with a medical emergency. There was confusion on the radio as to how serious it was, but eventually it was understood that the man was having a heart attack. The dinghies nearby were helping Igor on Calcutta, and were unaware of the situation. Another cruiser, at a marina in the lagoon, lowered his dingy and sped toward the anchorage. In the meantime, Elizabeth on Skylark alerted one of the dinghies with Calcutta, and Kevin sped over to assist. After a trip to the local clinic, and then a transport by ferry and ambulance to the hospital in Cancun, it was determined that Harold had experienced angina. He was back aboard his boat and doing well later that afternoon.

It was by far our most stressful evening yet. We finally have confidence in our anchor, and Scott’s placement of it and of our chain, but in a crowded anchorage, we are always worried of others dragging. It is maddening to strain through binoculars into the blackness, constantly scanning for each anchor light, making sure that everyone is still in place.

By the next evening, the winds had subsided a bit, and everyone’s anchor had stayed put for the day, so Scott abandoned the pilot house for our bed. We brought the iPad with us. Scott uses it to plot our anchor and it’s swing. It has become his “wooby” at night. We checked it several times throughout the night, and I did a few quick scans in the pilot house, but all was quiet. We, and the rest of the fleet, enjoyed a good night’s sleep. I think we’ve all earned some flat-calm!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

An Eventful Squall

It seems as if we are constantly contending with wind and weather fronts. The most recent predicted winds to shift from southeast to north, with a chance of squalls (thunderstorms, why does everything nautical have to have it’s own language?), and blow at in the low 30 knot range for a day or so. This was far from the worst we’ve seen, but it definitely proved to be dramatic.

We saw the skies change, felt the winds picks up, and prepared for the squall that was most likely coming our way. It didn’t take long for the thunder and lightening to kick in, and then the winds hit with a bang. An abrupt, 180 degree shift sent 40 knot winds whipping through the anchorage.

There have been several new arrivals here over the last week, as people start to make their way toward various spring and summer destinations. Some are waiting for weather to head for Cuba and Florida. Others, like us, plan to make their way south, toward Honduras, Guatemala and Panama. These boats haven’t been through a big blow here, and are unaware that the bottom here in on the softer side. Strong, sudden shifts in the wind can jar an anchor loose without warning.

So back to the squall. As soon as the winds shifted, some of our new neighbors started to drag anchor. Unfortunately, one of them headed right for our bow. Scott immediately turned our motor on and put us in reverse, moving back as far as he could without having to re-anchor. The boat continued to come at us. It had no name on the transom, so we were unable to hail them on the vhf. This is a huge pet peeve for Scott, as it makes situations like this more difficult and dangerous. He went out on the bow and shouted at them to start their motor, and avoid a collision. The couple on board just stared at him blankly. Scott’s reaction…@!#%!!

The squall passed, and the boat finally started their motor, but only to stop just ahead of us. Their anchor wasn’t set, and they drifted back toward us again, again just missing our bow. Scott assumed they may have been thinking the squall was all that was expected, and that things would settle. He went back out onto the bow, and shouted to them that the front was still coming, and that strong winds would blow for another 24-30 hours. The man looked at Scott and said, “Well that ain’t good!”

After almost drifting into us again, and with some “persuasion” by Scott, they finally started to raise anchor, still drifting just off of our bow. After what seemed like hours, they slowly started to moved away, but veered in the direction of where our chain laid below. The boat’s anchor was still down in the water as they moved along. Scott was terrified that it would snag our chain as they passed over it, drag it with them and dislodge the Hulk. Thankfully, they missed our chain, and moved off toward the other side of the anchorage. Crisis averted.

In the meantime, our friends on Skylark dealt with their dragging anchor immediately, starting the motor and keeping the boat into the wind as they found better holding. Ed then put a second anchor out for additional strength. It’s a shame that the boat we dealt with wasn’t as quick to act.

Here’s a video of our encounter with them. We cut the 20 minute footage down to about three, so you can get the idea. You can see them come toward us, by the grace of God pass of of our bow, completely turn around and come back at us before finally moving away.

 

Once again, I’m singing praises for the Hulk! It held fast through the squall without a blip. I think this is getting to be old hat for the beast!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Back To Isla

The forecast calls for winds to be stronger out of the south this weekend. We didn’t have protection from that direction, and Scott’s faith in the mooring ball in any wind was slim. There is a marina nearby, but it’s a bit out of town, and we’d rather save the dollars. So…we headed back to Isla Mujeres.

It was disappoing not to have more time in this cute town. We arrived on Monday afternoon, and didn’t get into town until Tuesday afternoon (i am battling the last part of a cold, and couldn’t muster the energy until then). With Scott wanting to get some snorkeling in, we had little time time in town on Wednesday and Thursday.

We’d just gotten the lay of the land, and now it was time to head back north. Even though our first few meals weren’t the greatest, we would have liked more time to explore the local haunts, and enjoy some beach time. However, as I’ve said before, the weather rules us now..so off we went.

With winds building in the next few days, we chose to leave this morning. The forecast called for light and variable winds, and things had been calm during our past few days in Puerto Morelos. We started out for a smooth trip north. However, once we rounded the reef, things got bumpy and stayed that way…unnervingly so. I haven’t met a cruiser yet who enjoys a head sea, and we were in a fairly unruly one. It was so frustrating! The winds were blowing at only five knots, but we were in large swells, with the bow up…and then down. Howard was very irritated by it, and I started to worry he’d throw up. I too was irritated….Scott, was out in the cockpit fishing.

The first two hours were pretty crappy, then it finally settled a bit. We went in and out of two more rough patches, before smoothing out for good. I kept getting comments from the “peanut gallery,” aka, the cockpit: “I think it’s starting to calm down.” It wasn’t:…”Seems like it’s getting better out here.” It wasn’t, at least not from where Howard and I sat in the pilot house!

We’re finally learning that when you come into and out of a current in this area, the seas change for the worst. At one point, we came into a washing machine of waves and white caps. Ahead, you could see where it ended and smoother water began, so we just waited it out. Scott thinks that we’d gone into an eddy current, a smaller current that spins off of a larger one. I like the “smaller” part of that thought.

On the fishing front, we traveled out to water over 900 feet, but came up short. Scott had his bait out for mahi and larger type fish, but the season is just about over for mahi. He was hesitant to change bait, worried he’d reeling in God knows what. I think he was just enjoying time in the cockpit.

The resorts that cram Cancun’s coast came into sight, as we approached the area leading to Isla Mujeres.

As we got closer to Isla, Howard sat up and began to sniff the air. I think it was familiar to him. We’ve spent five weeks here so far, so I’m guessing it smelled like “home”..perhaps we’re growing roots!

We traveled past the crowded beaches, ferry terminal and a tour boat or two as we approached the anchorage. There were three or four new boats, but Scott was thrilled that the spot we’d previously been anchored in was still available.

As soon as the anchor chain released, Howard made it known that he was hungry. After that, he spent hours outside, and realized  that our inflatable dingy that was stored on the side deck  made a good jungle gym.

Scott was not amused…cat..claws..inflatable. However, play concluded without incident.

We are now back in the company of the fleet.

We’ll spend some more time here before clearing out of the country and heading toward Honduras. Here are a few more photos of our day trip here.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Our Days In Isla Mujeres

Catching you up on the last week at anchor here in Isla…

We started our week with, what else, A COLD FRONT! These are getting SO old! This particular one was going to come from the northwest. We were facing southeast with zero wind, and then like a light switch the winds shifted 180 degrees and came from the northwest at 30+ knots. Of course, it happened at night, when it’s more challenging to keep an eye on your location, and that of others around you.

Scott had been nervous about this front for two reasons. First, we’d heard that the anchor holding here was bad, and that boats regularly drag. Second, strong wind swinging you 180 degrees tends to dislodge an anchor. As the front slammed  into the anchorage, our iPad app that we use to track the anchor showed that it was skipping a bit. My stomach sunk at the thought of having to pull up and re-anchor in the dark with 30 knot winds. Scott decided to wait, and see if it continued. The Hulk skipped about 50 feet and then had enough, and dug in hard.

We stayed up until 1am, making sure that the Hulk was happy, and that others in the anchorage were safe and secured. Scott got some brief sleep in the pilot house until daylight. After listening to the cruiser’s net (no way I could sleep through that!), we crawled back into bed to catch up a bit. Since then, the week has been full of fronts coming through, bringing moderate winds and chop to the anchorage. Life as usual this winter!

Speaking of chop, as I mentioned before, we are anchored alongside the I-95 for tour, fishing and charter boats. All sizes pass by us, usually at higher speeds than they should. For the most part, it’s tolerable, but some of them really give us a roll.

What is amazing and entertaining is the amount of catamaran party boats that pass us, and how full they are! They are stuffed with people, so full that they are sitting on the roof and hanging over the sides.

It’s fun to watch the passengers as the catamarans go by, to see who’s already feeling the effects of the rum punch…we’ve seem some entertaining dancers! The music is also interesting. Loud, dance club-type music..all the time. We can hear them coming way before they pass by. Scott likes to say that it’s always 3am  here!

So the last week has been spent exploring the island, visiting  local restaurants and meeting some new people. We’ve found that that things are pretty darned cheap when you use pesos, while using the US dollar doesn’t get you the best price (up to 20% more than using pesos!), so we quickly made a stop at the money exchange store in town, and are now spending like locals!

We have left our bikes at Marina Paraiso, and when we dingy to the southern end of the island, they are there for us to go to the big grocery store, or to just ride the island. When heading to the downtown area, there is a dock next to one of the commercial fishing piers that cruisers can tie to. We have become pretty familiar with the downtown area, and are taking more time to explore the southern part of the island lately.

The town celebrated carnival, in the days leading up to lent. Scott and I went to shore on Sunday afternoon, to watch one of the parades. The costumes and dancing were pretty neat.

But what was more entertaining was the overall organized chaos of the whole thing. Beer was an integral part, with participants drinking it before, during and after the parade, usually while catching a ride to or from their place with a group. (Notice the beer in her hand)

Support beer cart..

We watched an entire fleet of dressed dancers on scooters ride up into the parade, get dropped off to dance and then picked back up and whisked away. Strange.

There was never an official “start” to the parade, with huge gaps between floats and dancers (luckily, that gave us plenty of time to run across the street for 2.00 beers, or next door to the ferry terminal for their restrooms). Outnumbering the parade’s numerous performers and participants, where the many, many “support” vehicles and people walking alongside on the sidewalk. We guessed that the people walking alongside must be parents…all of the parents, by their numbers. The support vehicles carried giant speakers blaring music at deafening levels and much, much beer. After awhile, the parade was randomly diverted by police onto a different street. I guess they’d used up the allotted time??

We decided it was a good time to head back to the dingy, as we’d been invited to meet other cruisers to watch some of the Superbowl at a nearby bar. The winds kicked up quite a bit while we were there, dropping the temperatures. Scott got downright cold, wishing he’d worn his foul weather coat to block the winds rushing into the open bar. As his shivering got worse, we called it a night and headed back to the boat, timing our climb back on board in between waves.

On Monday, Scott and I biked some of the southern end of the island. We had lunch at Oscar’s, where  cruisers in the area meet for Pizza Friday. Since we plan to do that this week, I enjoyed shrimp for lunch.

Afterward, we made our way to the eastern side of the island. While enjoying views of the coastline, I noticed Villa Bella. It appeared that there was a bar, and it was public, so of course we went to investigate.

our village

The small property is beautiful and relaxing (no one under 18, and no groups of people over four in number), with many “island” details.

They have a Cadillac margarita, that contains two shots of aged tequila, a shot of Cointreau, fresh squeezed lime and a shot of Grand Marnier on the side; there is a limit of two per person. Although Scott was very tempted, we opted for the regular margaritas, going easy on both the wallet and our livers. The drinks came in neat coconut glasses, and Scott soaked up some warmth from the full sun, as we’re still waiting for it to act like winter here in Mexico!

Oh, on a happy, happy note, we have solved our washer problem! Scott finally heard back from technical support. Based on the email, he was able to figure out that our washer doesn’t like Mexican electricity(??). If we run the washer on our inverter it works like a charm, go figure! So no more bucket washing for me, and we save many dollars not having to order a control panel! We just have to time washing on sunnier days, to take advantage of power from the solar panels…fair enough!

So life here at anchor is rolling…literally. Here are some photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”