Aqui estoy mis amigos:

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The day after Crumpetina’s lovely visit ended I rather sadly set sail from Isla Mujeres. No more $4 per night hotel room, no more breakfast biscuits at Barlitos. The wind was light and I had to resort to anchoring exposed off the horrible thumping hotel zone of Cancun. Due to the current pushing me one way and the waves coming from the side I had a rough night – waves from the side strike the outrigger and then the main hull flat-on and the boat shakes and jerks so violently that I cannot lie on my side without being flopped this way and that – but at least the Asphalt Shack did not let in the copious rain. In the morning a school of little fish which had become fond of  the boat in the night swam desperately along close to the hull until I had to leave them behind, so tiny and alone in the vast clear blue.

Just south of Cancun begins the reef; a couple of weeks ago when I passed here on my aborted attempt to go south the entrance was beset with breakers but this time it was clear and calm, however the dangers of the reefs were brought home to me by two vessels –  a small sailing yacht and a big motor vessel –  that had become grounded upon the coral. Woe betide the careless here. It appeared that the big motor boat was a salvage vessel sent to recover the yacht. Once behind the reef one still has to take care because of patches of coral and isolated coral heads that are especially hard to spot with the sun ahead and low to the south, reflecting off the water. This is quite stressful and adds to my general mental malaise, irrepressible anxious thoughts that rise to the surface like the fat in a stew and cannot be stirred down for long. I would quit this voyage now if I didn’t think I would regret it for the rest of my life, also this is one of the most lovely coasts in the world and it would be a shame to miss it. I intend to go no further than the end of Mexico, then I must decide on how to save myself and Desesperado.

The wind was weak and vacillating so I didn’t get far. About four kilometers north of Playa del Carmen I ground over a few rocks then hauled out on the beach at a vacant spot between hotels, discovering to my surprise I can now move the boat up the sand end-for-end whilst it is fully loaded – I seem to be getting physically stronger whilst mentally weaker. I had a delightful night with at least four hours of good sleep which sounds sarcastic but it really was nice.  Sleep has been a luxury on this trip.

The morning, this morning, brought rain and strong winds so I stayed in bed thinking I would not sail today but finally out of sheer boredom I rose and packed up, changed down to the smaller sail then walked the boat out past the rocks, leapt aboard and blasted out to sea and southwards leaving a small crowd at a nearby hotel waving. With this howling wind behind me I made crazy speed towards Playa del Carmen and was soon soaked to the skin and wishing the sky were clearer and the sun higher.

I thought I would stop at Playa but somehow that didn’t happen. I don’t like the place that much and though my speed was frightening, the coral invisible under the chop and I was freezing cold I thought “so far so good” and carried right on by. I think a big factor in this decision was this – I was too afraid to be depressed! And busy too.

This stretch today between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum was the scariest and fastest of the whole trip. Conditions deteriorated as I went along, the barrier reef petered out leaving me on a broad reach in the open ocean with great swells lifting me high then dropping me into great pits, with confused smaller waves reflected off the land running in all directions. The wind increased, whitecaps everywhere and Desesperado plunged through wave after wave throwing up spray by the bucketload. Once in a while a little piece of my shirt would dry out enough that I could wipe off my sunglasses. The hotels on my right petered out with the reef and the coast became a low shelf of incredibly spiky wave-worn limestone beset with breakers, interrupted occasionally by small lagoons which might be enterable but for the reef strung straight across the mouth of each one. Breakers crashed across these reefs and though I might have had clearance I dared not risk it. The waves might lift me over – but they can also drop one down.

So I pounded along. I think for only about four hours or so. Then another bay appeared and this one had no end in sight. If I were to cross the reef could I sail along inside out of these crazy waves, maybe as far as Tulum, my target?

I piddled about outside the reef in an ocean which was getting madder by the minute, decided on a spot where the breakers were less. It didn’t look too bad. I shunted and headed in, regretted it as the swells behind reared up and twice bashed me sideways before passing by. I regained control and the next one lifted my stern so high I was at a 45 degree angle (I am not exaggerating, it felt like I was pointing vertically downwards) and we surfed down the slope at horrible speed, then the coral was  flashing by close below and we slowed down and it was over. I was shaking from head to toe for the next twenty minutes which warmed me up pleasantly.

The inside of this bay is strewn with the coral heads so I was continually lifting my rudder and standing up to see ahead better. A good deal of the swells made it over the reef so it was still rough and there are areas of shoals covered in breakers through which I had to run, turning into the waves when I could to lessen their impact. One breaker caught me side on and completely covered the whole boat, ripping away one of my water bottles which I keep lashed above the outrigger as weight to help prevent capsize. This was the only loss of the day – all this battering resulted in no damage at all to Desesperado.

Only a few miles of this bay-hammering and I looked up at the cliffs to my right and was amazed to see Mayan ruins. This must be Tulum! Sorry, I had my hands too full to take pictures.  A beach was coming up ahead; I landed and made instant friends. Papo unasked gave me a shoulder massage… he owns a lancha and knows the pain of steering long distances. I am glad I made the shore for the wind later became even worse and the rain returned to clear the beach of all tourists. After a couple of beers I hired a guard for the boat and was driven to the town of Tulum where I intend to have more beers and some food. I am famished. I’m going to eat now. This post is haphazard but it is done for the time being.

Waves of Doubt

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.

Mujeres, Prison Isle

I tried to escape today. More than three weeks of relentless high winds and rain were finally supposed to break today according to WindGURU. At least the wind was supposed to moderate and I was prepared to accept the rain.

(Actually we did have a weird calm day yesterday, so calm that no sailing was possible at all. I insinuated myself into a dinghy and spent some hours bringing yachts back into the harbor from the lagoon where they’d been sheltering from the tropical storm.)

But WindGURU was wrong. As I loaded the boat another howler sprang up which went on most of the day, to be replaced by rain late in the afternoon. I lashed the heavy log on over the outrigger and went out anyway but with the deck constantly awash and the platform frequently  inundated sufficient to nearly sweep me overboard it was just too stressful and I ran back to the beach after a half hour and concentrated on throwing ropes over coconuts to pull them down with. After all this forced inactivity I am in a weakened state and can no longer climb the trees; the broken rib doesn’t help much either.

There is nowhere so lonely as a place full of happy people you don’t know. I am going out of my mind here, and whilst continuing my voyage also does not really appeal I am prepared to do it just to get the **** out of here whilst I still have any motivation left at all. Anything but more thumb-twiddling tedium, wandering from place to place, eating too much, drinking not enough. It is sapping my strength. I remember so fondly all those little villages I visited on the way here and how easy it was to fill the time just by joining in with whatever the fishermen were doing. I’ve managed a little volunteering here but have found nothing substantial enough to keep me amused. I suck as a tourist. Years ago I swore I would never again visit a poor country as a tourist – I would need to be working or on an expedition – but now I have become a tourist again by default and I really don’t like it.

Sorry, I am bitching. You think I am in the Caribbean and should be having a great time but the weather is more like something from the Outer Hebrides so the Caribbean aspect is absent and this has gone on so long it is getting very hard to be philosophical about it.

A light at the end of the tunnel! Crumpetina is coming over in 16 days! YAY!