We left Puerto Aventures at 10 am on Wednesday for the 17 nm trip over to Cozumel. Having run down our lists over the previous few days it felt great to be organized.
After Kyle release our last stern line, I eased Ad Astra forward so that he could release us from the forward mooring ball as we were med-moored. The breeze picked up a bit and I was sideways to the wind with a small fishing about down wind from us. I re-directed Kyle to use the dinghy and help make sure that we stayed off of the fishing boat while I maneuvered Ad Astra deeper into the marina channel and presented her stern to the wind where it is easy to keep her to the wind.
Then is when I noticed that we were not getting depth readings, what happened? It was working yesterday.
Welp, we were in the middle of the channel, collected out lines, and time to collect Kyle and the dinghy. With Kyle aboard and the dinghy draining some monsoon water, I sprinted downstairs to take a look at the transducer - aha! It was missing a blue terminator on the end of the propitiatory Raymrine Ethernet cable. Still in the harbor, with Kyle at the helm now, I pulled up the dinghy tight, located a new spare terminator and popped it on the end of the line, super confident that it would now be working.
Returning to the fly bridge, I frowned at the display still just –. Speed from the same transducer was showing up, but not depth. Welp, we could not occupy this space any longer we were holding up the day cats trying to make money. We would just have to punch through the bar on memory and feel. The waves were not so big today - at most 3 feet - but with a 6-8 feet depth and a 4.5 foot draft, it could get interesting.
Lined up, waited for a break in the sets, and then I punched it, or at least I pushed the RPMs up to about 2600 and took her from 1.5 knots to about 5 knots as we cleared the bar.
Did not hit the bottom.
The wind was directly on Ad Astra’s nose, as expected. But it was only 17 nm, while it was just 10 am, it would be good to use the engines in earnest for the first time in 5 months - so no sails. The crossing itself was uneventful. Thinking about the depth sounder, I was convinced that we just must have disturbed the electrical conductivity while shifting some water filters around.
Arriving at Cozumel in the afternoon, we first found our way to the new marina Fonatur that the harbor master of Aventuras recommended to us as a base to do our checkout procedures. The dock staff where very friendly and helpful, and after tying us up they escorted us past the half-empty huge marina to the office. There an incredibly unpleasant Mexican woman in her 30s did her best to not be helpful. First she tried to hook us up with her friend a boat agent who tried to offer us $250 as a fee to check out! No way. If he had suggested $50-75 for the relatively simple check out, I maybe would have gone for it. Then she proceeded to scribble down on paper that she would charge us $120 USD a night for a slip. Am I in the south of France? Nope, no to that as well. We left the marina and headed for the designated anchorage.
After checking on the anchor and seeing that it is just a few inches of sand over hard pan, we decided to stay aboard for the rest of the afternoon as an anchor watch and to get a feel for the boat traffic in the anchorage.
Turns out that the SCUBA pangas decided to be dicks and would purposely track within 20-30 feet of Ad Astra.
I pulled the transducer cable off of the T-connector, and plugged it into a new T-connector and directly to the HUB - again with a new terminal. Still –. Read on-line and turns out transducers have a lifetime of 5-10 years. Our is 6 years old. Time for a new one.
Where to buy one? In Cozumel? Back to Aventuras and try renting a car and going back to Cancun? Shipping a new one into Aventuras would take a week or more, and not without certain difficulties and a non-trivial risk of non-delivery. We did not have more time to wait, already two tropical systems formed over the Yucatan. Hurricane season is knocking on the door. We need to go.
The next day, Kyle and I went to shore at 9 am to go visit Pirate Marine. Cozumel’s water front looks just like Bonaire’s or Aruba’s or Cayman’s or St Thomas with the obligatory Senior Frogs, 3 dozen diamond shops, cigar shops, and tacky souvenirs so bad, that they are almost charming again.
Walking several blocks into the city of San Pedro the tourist crap faded away to normal Mexican pueblo style buildings of a relatively well to do location. Pirate Marine had a fairly modest selection of marine hardware - some line, a few zincs, a few terminal blocks, small buoys, some fishing gear. The owner suggested we walk a couple of kilometers south to the industrial marina shop.
We did. It was pretty hot and slow going, but Kyle and I had a nice chat. The industrial marina shop was quite large and had a really nice selection of gear including electronics, I was feeling optimistic they would have a replacement transducer. While we waited for one of the staff to become free a veritable cloud of mosquitoes enveloped each of our legs. Working my poor Spanish, I made myself understood and they dug up a Hummingbird fish finder with a B&W LCD display. Awkwardly flailing our legs, I was allowed to open the box and check over the gear and its cabling. Sigh. Hummingbird has its own proprietary network, and we already started out with Raymarine, and I was moving the boat to NMEA 2000. And $400? No, I didn’t want to take the day to install this thing that I would immediately want to remove.
I decided that we would sail through Belize and to Rio Ducle without a depth transducer. We have multiple charts, we have plenty of crew. We would just have to do it the old fashioned way - eyeballs - and when in doubt. Stop and drop a line.
Altogether Kyle and I would walk 10 km in an uncomfortably hot sun. Maybe it was the sun, or the mosquitoes, but I lost my judgment and we decided to eat lunch at the Hooters they had right where the tourists get off the cruise ships. Kyle had a cheese steak and I had their sliders and a couple of Tecates.
Later that night, as we played the Colonize Mars board game, I would develop the foul symptoms of food poisoning.
The next morning, everyone piled into the dinghy and we went north to the old marina Abrigo, and the staff there were quite friendly and gave us a space where we could tie up our dinghy where it would be watched.
The checkout procedures were pleasant, if not simply slow. They had a lot of forms to copy and fill out even though we were as prepared as possible as we came in the late afternoon the day before to pick up the forms and procedures. At one point we needed to walk about 10 minutes to a local bank to pay the $24 exit fee. A little more wait when we got back, and then bang we had our zarpe!
Kaiwen cooked a storm in the afternoon, lasange, salmon cakes, and potato salad. I just played host to the bio warefare in my stomach, but I sensed the good guys were making quick work of it. I settled into Greg Bear’s EON. Third time I tried to pick it up, this time it finally stuck and has been a great page turner. I can see strong elements of Seven Eves, actually makes me feel much better about possible future story telling.
We have just 107 nm to the Chinchorro Banks, but we have a dirty bottom (we did clean the props), and we would be making a close reach into the Gulf Stream at its strongest. I planned on 4 knots as our cruising speed - 26 hours.
We lifted the main sail at 9 am while still on the hook, then lifted the hook and sailed off. A leisurely morning cruise along the coast of Cozumel and we saw some pretty inviting beaches with other cats at anchor, but we were already off. Two more hours of connectively, check the weather again, check facebook again, etc. Sailing in the direct lee of Cozumel was probably the best windward sailing I have experienced, about 5.5 kts with full main and Genoa.
After clearing Cozumel, just a bit of one meter swell on the front quarter. But man the gulf stream kicked our ass. With full sail we would still manage between 4.5 and 5 kts. Then the winds picked up, but our speed did not. Maybe we saw some 5.4s, but we were doing a bit of heeling and I just am not a racer. I ordered a first reef in the main, and we sailed that way until 5 in the afternoon when the Yucatan slowed down on its land breeze effect. Back to full sail and doing 4.4 kts again on a course of 191° for the better part of 100 nm. Looks like a 10 am arrival. Great light for that atoll’s entrance.
Night watch was uneventful with a ¾ moon. No boats, just two jets overhead and a lighthouse at Bahia de Espirito.
By daybreak we broke free of the powerful Gulf Stream, and despite the dirty bottom and the headwinds and swells we were sailing 6.4 kts under full canvas.
Overall it was still not a truly enjoyable sail, probably other more salty sailor would have loved it. But the waves were on our port quarter and the boat rolled uncomfortably for a cat. The rear-facing galley sliding window actually worked its way out of the track due to the corkscrew action. I do not get seasick, and I can read, but the motion meant that you had your abs in a constant state of work and you could not really relax.
We sailed to within 3 nm of the Bank, but then took all canvas down and motored in very carefully. The three charts that we have for this place all disagree with each other by up to 0.75 nm! Coral heads and shallows all about and dozens of wrecks reported here. We crawled in with a bright tropical sun 10 o’clock high and we dropped the hook in 6 feet of water still about a half mile from the Cayo Norte’s northern half.
Snorkeling on the anchor the water was surprisingly chilly for Caribbean water. The floor had isolated eelgrass, conch and humongous sea stars. The small bits of rock here and there created mini tropical reefs for the blennies and smaller trunk fish.
A couple of hours later the Mexican Navy with four officers came by to check our paperwork. They were friendly and very fast for this part of the world. Expecting the suggestion, I was happy to oblige them with a bottle of that super cheap Gin I found in Playa del Carmen. In return for the bottle, they made a pretense of inspecting our boat by simply posing as if they were looking under our cushions for a couple of pictures. Being on passage, I did not have any cold beer to offer them, but they were happy enough with an odd cold ginger beer.
The rest of the day went into super slow motion. Picture being anchored in bright turquoise water, there is a movie set deserted island with a light house on the distance shore. Looking around in 360 there is nothing but shallow water, tame wavelets behind the barrier reefs of this atoll - the only coral atoll in the Atlantic!
The crew has decided to spend an extra day tomorrow investigating the Raymarine power connections and taking it easy in this anchorage for another 48 hours.
Kyle gallantly scrubbed the bottom of Ad Astra alone while Max and I focused on the Raymarine debugging. To figure out what is going on with the depth transducer definitely, it is always a great idea to isolate the instrument to the smallest possible circuit to clean up the problem.
Max and I created some a new Raymarine power cable by cutting in half one of the uselessly short 12 inch cables and splicing in some 12 volt power leads. We then connected the depth sounders lead to a Raymarine T-connector with a terminal then a backbone cable to a Raymarine 5-port hub, which also had the new power cable and the lead to a single MFD. Once all of that was set-up: “–” read the depth. The transducer is detected just fine, but simply no longer outputting depth. A bad transducer indeed. So, no depth, as we go through Belize and up the Rio Dulce, but at least we know what it is and there is a West Marine in Guatemala, that I assume will be able to ship in parts. We will just be extraordinary careful with our navigation. I am feeling good about our eyeball navigation, but my current concern is what about when we go up the Rio Dulce - will the water not be green and opaque?