February 2013 - Cuba To Belize

1 February 2013   Cayos de la Lena, Cuba

Foolishly, last night I said that I’d swap some films with the kids on “Yindee Plus”, so Chris came over with a whole load of DVDs.  I ended up spending most of the day slaving over a hot laptop, ripping their DVDs onto our media player and copying my AVI files onto a hard drive for them.

A small boat with three guys came over from one of the large fishing boats in the anchorage and we traded a third of a bottle of rum for a very large snapper.  They were very friendly and it was very frustrating not being able to talk to them properly.  However, we did manage to find out that the crew come from all over Cuba and normally spend twenty days on the boat, fishing between Mexico and Cuba.

Fishermen enjoying a tot of rum with us, Cayo de la Lena, Cuba

The weather was a lot more settled today, so I pulled up our secondary anchor and in the process, I’ve pulled a muscle in my back – when will I learn that I can’t pull a 12 tonne boat around by brute force and ignorance.  The anchor rope was a right mess being covered in antifoul paint and thick gloopy mud, so I had to spend 20 minutes cleaning it with our sea water deck wash hose.

We had a quiet night in.

2 February 2013   Cayos de la Lena, Cuba
It was a lovely day, so Glenys spent most of the day cleaning the stainless steel on deck - everything looks sparkling now.

I spent most of the day on jobs.  I rewired our media player and the stereo system, so that the wires are hidden and also to stop an irritating hum that has been coming through our loudspeakers.

We went for sun-downers on “Yindee Plus”.  We’ve run out of beer, orange juice, wine and tonic water, so in desperation, we took an old bottle of margarita mix and the remains of a small bottle of tequila that has been lurking around for a year or so – not our favourite drink.  All we’ve got left now is a bit of rum and coke.  It’s time to go shopping.

3 February 2013   Cayos de la Lena, Cuba
I had a dreadful night.  At first it was very calm and hot – this gave the no-see-ums a perfect opportunity to breach our defences, so I was trying to hide under the sheets.  Then another cold front came through, giving us lashing rain and winds up to 30 knots, so I had to get up to check that all the hatches were closed and everything was secure.  

We had a quiet day in.  I spent most of the day getting my photographs and this diary up to date ready to publish it all when we get to Mexico.  Glenys meanwhile was reading up on Mexico and Belize planning our cruising for the next couple of months.

The weather improved during the day and, by the evening, we had blue skies and a nice 20 knot north east wind.  I downloaded a weather forecast and it’s looking good for leaving to sail to Mexico tomorrow.

We've produced some Cruising Notes for Northwest Cuba with navigational information:

4 February 2013   Cayos de la Lena to Isla Mujeres, Mexico (Day 1)
The alarm went off at half past six.  We jumped out of bed and motored out of the anchorage just before the sun rose.  We motored around to Los Morros Marina having breakfast on the way.

It’s very generous to call this a Marina - it’s a concrete dock that was once used by fishing boats.  The dock lies roughly north/south and there’s only 150 foot of dock which is suitable for mooring alongside – the remainder of the dock stretching to the shore is really a breakwater, edged with rocks.  The eastern side of the dock is untenable in the prevailing easterly winds because it is completely unprotected with waves crashing against.  

The approach was a little fraught because our charts don’t even show the dock and the cruising guides don’t have any details either.  We headed more or less south towards the end of the dock passing between red and green markers.  The depth dropped to 2.5 metres as we approached the dock, but then, thankfully, increased to over 5 metres as we moved to the west of the dock.  There was well over 3.0 metres of water alongside the west side of the dock, but it was occupied by a local fishing boat, a sport fishing boat and a yacht, so we had to raft up on the fishing boat.

Los Morros Marina, Cuba

The Port Captain/Guarda Fronteras was very efficient and helpful - we managed to come alongside and clear out in less than two hours.  There’s nothing much in the marina apart from a few small buildings housing the marina office, the officials and a small bar where I managed to buy a few beers, ready for our celebration when we arrive in Mexico.

After finishing the paper work, while he was still sat at our saloon table, the Port Captain said quietly, “There’s a small problem”.  He then went on to tell me that his wife was very ill and a little something would help him.  I gave him a withering look, but then relented and gave him $5 – it’s the first time that I’ve had to pay “mordida” in nearly two years of dealing with officials.  I’ve normally got away with “No Comprendo”, but it may have proved difficult to get him off our boat without a payment.  

We managed to get away by ten o’clock and motored out onto a nice blue sea.  The wind was very fluky in the lee of Cabo San Antonio, so we had to motoring for a couple of hours.  Once clear, we had a great sail on a close reach.

The Gulf Stream is very strong as it sweeps north and is squeezed between Cuba and Mexico with currents up to 5 knots at times.  We had no idea how strong it would be, and trying to sail on the rhomb line might sweep us too far to the north, so we decided to take the advice of Nigel Calder in his cruising guide and head south before trying to cross the fast Gulf Stream.

As night fell were still heading south with a good 15 knot wind.

5 February 2013   Cayos de la Lena to Isla Mujeres, Mexico (Day 2)
It was a very pleasant night, but the wind dropped just before midnight, so we had to motor for the rest of the night.  We finally turned west at two o’clock in the morning and started to head towards Mexico.

By dawn, we had enough wind to sail again and four hours later passed to the south of Arrowsmith Bank, which is a large shoal area that I wanted to avoid.  The sea bed comes up from 1000 metres to 15 metres in a very short distance and I suspected that the area would have nasty waves. 

We arrived in the Isla Mujeres anchorage in the middle of the afternoon and spent the rest of the day chilling out. 

Tourist Town, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

In retrospect, our strategy of heading south was unnecessary.  We did a total of 190 miles, which is a lot further than the 110 miles for the rhomb line.  The Gulf Stream current didn’t seem to be very strong – perhaps two knots south of the Arrowsmith Bank, so I think that if we ever do this again, we’ll just sail on the rhomb line and correct for the current as necessary.

6 February 2013   Isla Mujeres, Mexico
We were up early and went ashore to clear in.  We struggled to find a place to tie our dinghy up – there’s a nice beach in front of the Naval headquarters, but we were chased away by a guard.  We ended up pulling up on a beach in the town and chaining it to a dock outside a restaurant.  They seemed okay about it as long as we bought a drink there.

We walked down to the Port Captain’s office, but it was closed.  That was odd because it was half past nine and a notice on the door said that the office should be open at nine o’clock.  We wandered back down the high street and noticed that it seemed very quiet, then in a flash of inspiration realised that we were in a different time zone and it was only half past eight!

We went back to the Port Captain’s office at quarter past nine (Mexican time) and he sent us off to the medical centre to see the Heath and Sanitation officer.  The locals don’t speak much English here, so it took us a while to find the correct office and when we did the only lady in the small office wasn't very helpful and babbled away in incomprehensible Spanish - I almost believe that she was speaking Mayan.  We eventually grasped that the Heath and Sanitation officer wasn't there, so we should come back in an hour.

After an hour of wandering around the tourist shops and supermarket, we returned to the medical centre to be faced with the same unhelpful lady – we spent five minutes trying to understand her, then she just shrugged and disappeared back inside her office leaving us sitting dismayed in the corridor.

We returned to the Port Captain, who ran a couple of numbers and then told us in pigeon English that the Heath and Sanitation, Immigration and Customs would all come to his office in a hour’s time.  Thanking him, we went for another walk around town – it’s only a small place and we’d seen enough of it by now.  

At half past ten, we showed up at the Port Captain again who asked us to sit down and wait – they would be here soon.  Two hours later, the Heath and Sanitation and Immigration officers showed up.  They told us that they had all been at one of the marinas clearing in four sports fishing boats that have arrived from the USA for a fishing tournament – just our bad luck.  

It took fifteen minutes to fill in the Health & Sanitation and the immigration forms by which time the Agriculture and the Customs officers had arrived.  The Port Captain filled in a form and there was much stamping of various documents by all five officers.  After half an hour, we were $100 lighter and were told that the Agriculture and the Customs officers needed to inspect the boat and we would have to transport them out to Alba in our dinghy.

We all walked down to the dinghy and motored out to Alba – it took fifteen minutes with four people on board.  The Agriculture officer inspected Glenys’s food cupboards and fridge.  He was not happy about her rice and pasta, because she had taken them out of their original packaging and put them in tightly sealed plastic containers.   We thought that he was going to confiscate the food, but I think that he must have decided that it was too much trouble to carry it all back in the dinghy, so he left it all on board.  The customs officer didn't even bother to go below.

There was more flamboyant stamping of documents and that was it.  We took them ashore and staggered into a restaurant for a beer and a meal just before three o’clock.  What a palaver – seven hours to clear in, it’s a record...  

Having fortified ourselves with a couple of beers, we went to the supermarket and bought a few essentials – beer, bread, eggs, orange juice, etc.  We had an early night because we were so exhausted.

7 February 2013   Isla Mujeres, Mexico
The plan was to have a day on board to catch up with a few jobs and the 200 emails that we've received over the past six weeks.  However, it was not to be.  We talked to someone on the morning VHF net to clarify the procedure for moving between anchorages in Mexico and we were told that need to import the boat if staying in Mexico for more than a week.  We were totally confused about this so we decided to go into one of the marinas and ask them.

Bailing out the dinghy, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

After lowering the dinghy into the water, I found that the outboard was not running well at low revs, so I removed and cleaned the slow running jet.  While putting the cover back on, I managed to pull one of the HT leads out of its fitting, so that took another 30 minutes of swearing and cursing to sort that out.  Satisfied that all was well, we dinghied into Marina Paraiso, but on the way the bloody out board packed up on us, so we had to row into the dinghy dock.  It seemed that the Gods were against us today.

We asked the marina manager, Kevin, about importing our boat and he confirmed that we have to get an “Importada”.  But he explained that it’s really a kind of multiple entry cruising permit for ten years and is another way of the government getting $50 out of us.  We will have to go to Cancun tomorrow to get it sorted out – God knows why the Port Captain didn't tell us about this.

Dismayed, we walked to supermarket up the road from the marina – it’s quite a way, but is much better than the one in town.  We’ll do a big shop there in a few days and catch a taxi back.

Back at marina, I managed to get the outboard started and then after lunch, I stripped down the carburettor and replaced some parts.  It was still not running correctly at low revs, but after a bit of trial and error, I found that if I manually pumped fuel through the fuel line then it would keep running.  This obviously pointed to a fuel supply problem, so I cleaned the fuel filter and checked the fuel line connections – it now seems to run okay.

Philippe and Sandra from “Ulana” came for a beer or two.  We told them about the “Importada” and they hadn't realised that they need one either.