Aqui estoy mis amigos:

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.


15 thoughts on “

  1. good job hammering it out chris! i get white knuckled just reading your posts, i can’t imagine living thru these harrowing adventure rides you describe. hey, you will see a long haired guy selling dreamcatchers on the beach in tulum. his name is albino and he is the brother of juan in holbox. he is also a good friend of mine. if you run into him, tell him i say “hola”.

  2. Grill, you are a gifted storyteller and you tell it all, the good and bad, yin and yang. I’m glad you have finally left the isle of women. Odysseus and his crew were also beguiled by Circe and her many charms, though he eventually escaped and continued his journey. And so did you.

  3. Chris, this is an exciting but really really deadly business. What do you have in the way of weather forecasting? How good are your charts? Even an hour looking ahead on Google Earth might be priceless. After a few minutes poking around myself, I saw some of the reefs you risked tangling with. Take care! Fair winds!

  4. Great chapter! Sorry you had so much wind, but at least you will get to see Tulum. That is as far south as I have been on that side of Mexico. I hope the next part of your trip is not as hairy!

  5. I’m glad you have escaped Isla Mujeres, you seemed very depressed there. I’m sure your mood will pick up now you are away from the tourists 🙂 I look forward to more of your journey.


  6. Cor! Glad you’ve got your second wind.. (and a few hundred more it sounds like) Fab episode oh yarn-master general. Sad that you couldn’t even take pictures of the 45 degree wave angle – or blurry Mayan ruins.. hoping you remedy this next time – esp if you’re ‘becalmed’ to use obtuse obverse of the phrase coinage. Toodle-pip squire, full esteem on your head.

  7. I tried to get threw the pass at Tulum last year in my IF36, I chickend out at the last miniute, You do have the Blue book guide? I hope so it has a lot of good info. The ride along the the coast in that area seems to be a rough go, big and scary at most times. We did stop in Isxlac ? You may find it interesting, You should enjoy Punta allan and the two big bays south of there, lots of protected waters to explore. It would be epic if you made it out to the offshore atoll, I forget the name but I spent a night there once and have always regretted not spending more time there.

    • I don’t have the blue book, or any book. I could find nothing in Veracruz and I never thought I’d get this far, or if I did something would fall into my hands but that never happened. It has indeed been quite a ride down this coast.

  8. I see you have cleared the Canal Zaragoza after leaving Xcalak this morning. My guess is that you are now headed to Chetumal City to clear Mexico and to officially enter Belize.

    I am really impressed, Son! You have now taken a tiny vessel single-handed from Veracruz to the very end of the East coast of Mexico. That’s well over a thousand miles, and represents over two thirds of the entire East coast of Mexico.

    You should be proud! I know I am.


  9. Well done, and excellent descriptions. If this is what you write like when you’re dashing something off with no time for editing maybe you should think about a book when you finally get back somewhere settled.

    Going sailing tomorrow, and you’ve got me in just the mood. Cheers!

    • Sorry Pete; I am on Utila and haven’t sent a SPOT message for over a week. They erase anything older than that.

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