I decided I was going to have to put up with winds higher than I would like because they just never seem to stop. Sailors always say there is either too much wind or too little. So accordingly I set sail around lunchtime on Tuesday and made good speed on lumpy open ocean across to and then past horrible thumping Cancun. As the huge hotels, built on a scale that staggers me – I feel so small, a little fish – petered out I approached an area where the sizeable swells were rearing up over shallow water and coral. I had some idea that here an offshore reef started that would continue down the coast a ways offering a strip of sea by the coast between a half kilometer and 2 kilometers wide that was protected from the swell, an easy passage southwards. But first I had to get inside and this entrance was narrow and beset with huge breakers and I didn’t like the look of it at all.
Desesperado has the great advantage of remarkable speed. The bigger the waves the faster they go. With enough wind behind me I can outpace waves five feet tall or so, bigger waves will catch up with me and start to raise my stern so I surf down them at thrilling velocity, staying ahead as the wave crests and then breaks harmlessly behind. The trick is to wait for a set of bad ones to pass, then get up enough speed and maintain an iron grip on the tiller and total control through the charge. Heaven help me if I broach and trip…
So it went here through the danger area. After the worst I found my heart pounding so hard I thought it would do itself damage, and I was shaking from head to foot and ooh I felt so alive.
Inside the reef there were some coral heads to negotiate but I got around these and for the next few hours raced along on pretty flat water with the wind behind me and the surf crashing on the long barrier reef on my left. Sporadic huge hotels separated by low scrub and swampland passed by on my right. Not much in the way of attractive beach.
Towards dusk I anchored in the shelter behind a wrecked ship at Puerto Morelos. A police car glowered at me from the shore, but waited until an hour after dark and I was in bed to shine a spotlight on me and bellow through his PA that I was in a federal security zone related to a nearby shipping terminal and I had to go. I’d be damned if I’d take down my shelter (which due to its heavy and malodiferous coating of tar I now call “The Asphalt Shack” or ” The Roadhouse”) so I upped anchor and let the cold wind blow me sailess down the beach to a new and darker place. Later somebody else trained a spotlight on me and flashed it for ages but I ignored them and they eventually gave up.
Nights are always long on Desesperado but this one was particularly grim… I am constantly assailed by the worst thoughts about my situation, the wisdom of going on, my station in life, my past decisions… everything. Why do I make friends then move on? Why am I always alone? Why did I give my dog away? What am I doing? What am I going to do? It rained but at at last the cover worked, ninth time lucky with the waterproofing I guess.
More reef-protected coast southwards the next day. More huge hotels, tourists dotting the beach, shallow water, coral heads to avoid, dumbo jetskis, boat-towed parasails, dive boats, Hobie 14′s, beach bars. I thought I would like this coast but I do not: it seems like a vast tourist-processing plant absolutely devoid of character. Much of the beach is mundane with nothing to recommend it, so why build hotels there? The answer is money-laundering, everybody knows it, though I do not understand how it works.
I hit one coral head pretty hard but the boat ground its way quickly over to the other side and deeper water. The noise was horrible. I have not inspected the damage yet.
I have never raced an 18 but Hobie 14′s certainly do not stand a chance against Desesperado on any point of sail. I leave ‘em far behind. Jetskis I do not even wave to. I despise them.
The mad water activity increased as I approached Playa del Carmen whose beach was at least more attractive though it would be nicer without the continous wall of hotels behind it, and all the noise. I anchored in front of one blasting out the most horrible bleating whiny music I have ever heard “Oh I neeeeeeeed to be with you baaaaaby, ohhhh, ohhh…” Just pathetic. It was probably Craig David. No man should have two first names says Crumpetina. Who listens to this shit? I found myself averse to having the same old conversations about the boat so I quickly walked into town toting my most valuable valuables to find something to eat. I found this major tourist-processing facility quite without charm or character and as soon as I had some globitos I got back aboard and hauled up the anchor. I headed south towards Tulum.
Crumpetina is coming for a long-overdue visit on Wednesday, flying into Cancun. I was looking for a good place to entertain her but did not find in this coast what I expected, and did not like it as much as Isla Mujeres. If I continued much further south Crumpetina would have to spend a good portion of two of her seven days here on buses. Isla Mujeres is a nice place with all the character this coast lacks, plus I now have a few friends there and I know where I can leave the boat unattended safely. The wind was dead behind me, every kilometer I went south would require two kilometers beating back northwards… so right there I turned around and headed back towards Isla Mujeres.
I tacked (shunted actually) a few miles north before dark, spent another wretched night by some desolate swampland between hotels. The tide went down and at 3am I started to hit bottom and grind against the strewn lumps of limestone-upon-sand so I had to up anchor and sit, naked and freezing, as a cold westerly blew me out to deeper water. Well I wasn’t sleeping anyway. The next day the westerly continued blowing me close-hauled up the coast in fitful rain, then it clocked around to an easterly, more rain and cold, then a long becalming, and finally more rain and a nasty blow in my face beating across from Cancun to the island. By Cancun a park guardboat approached, said I could not fish (I was trailing a lure, not a bite on the whole trip) because it was a protected park of which I was genuinely unaware “But there are fishermen everywhere” I protested, which is true, both tourist and commercial, so it does not seem very protected at all. “They have special permits”.
Well, ok. I guess. It seems a little rough after a life of careful environmental responsibility including 26 years as a vegan that everyone but me gets to fish. Am I being entitled? Not for me to say. Anyway I threw the lure back over after they were gone and caught two fine barracuda near Isla Mujeres during a pretty bouncy and splashy ride. Desesperado performed magnificently as always throughout this trip.
So I am back on the island, waiting for Crumpetina.
Doubt. It is quite intense. I am tired. This isn’t fun any more. I have come a long way and want to do something else, but I knew that the fear and discomfort would cause me to think this way so I must fight my rationalizations towards quitting. I have several options about what to do next. I have kind of committed myself to some work in Panama starting in January. I would like to save Desesperado which means getting him safe somewhere. It is getting cold and severe nortes blow every few days. These factors make decisions difficult.
Option 1) Sail back to Zapote. Not too appealing, I have done this coast. With these winds though it might be a quick trip, 2 – 3 weeks perhaps.
2) Sail to Cuba, then up to Miami. Then go get my car and trailer from Mexico and drive the boat up to NY State from there. This means at least two long and possibly dangerous crossings, plus possible trouble from US authorities who just can’t get over something that happened before I was even born. Who voted for this? Anyone? I am not sure I have the energy to take on Cuba. And my salsa lessons went nowhere. I still can’t dance.
3) Try to sail to Panama. Virtually impossible to go another thousand miles or so before January, and frankly in my present state of mind I don’t know if I could survive the ordeal. At the very best I would have to rush along, suffering all of the difficulties and not being able to stop for the rewards. I dread all the bureaucracy of checking in and out of all those countries, that alone could take a month. Urgh.
4) Find somewhere to store the boat between here and, say Honduras, and return refreshed later on to continue the odyssey.
5) Stay here, find work, make a life. Isla Mujeres is a fine place.
Whilst I ponder these impenetrables I have a $4 per night room at the scabby Hotel Caracol, above the disco. It is ok but the gold filigree and inlaid lapis-lazuli is harsh on the eyes. I am trying to find an old sail from which to make a new and better one than the polytarp job that has pulled me so far. I do a little sailing when weather permits. The beach is still very pleasant; I adore David and Marcelo of Stand Up Paddleboard Isla Mujeres and Adriana of Mundaca Divers and Alina the Masseuse for the NaBalam Hotel and Mary Ann who has been so good to me, all are wonderful company. The busted rib is healing and I have developed the ability to climb coconut palms like a monkey. I accidently had a wave of positive feeling today but it passed. Phew.