Blog Archive

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Back to the Rio and Homeward Bound

It was great to be back in the Rio Dulce again and we probably surprised ourselves just how fond of the place we had grown, helped of course by meeting some amazing people along the way. However, this time we had flights booked back to the UK so much needed to be done before we left.

Prior to getting to the Rio, we spent our last few days in Roatan, once again in French Cay, pottering about with barbecues, swimming and Mexican Train Dominoes. All in all a very convivial time.
Steve even found time to set about cleaning some of the hard to reach boat places with a toothbrush!


Steve Farnsworth
























We even had rain one day.



French Cay Roatan



















The passage to the Rio would have been straightforward had we not incurred a total instrument failure. We discovered a blown fuse on the Course Computer for the SeaTalk network, and subsequent replacement fuses also blew. Although the chart plotter appeared to function as normal, it was not receiving a GPS input so we did not have our position. Not especially great when your way in and out of the anchorage is fringed by reefs, and to add insult to injury, no working depth display. We had wanted to follow our inbound track out, but without GPS this was not an option. 
As it turned out, friends Robyn and Tony on catamaran Alley Cat Too were heading back to the Rio at the same time, so we followed them out and used our InavX App on the ipad as a chartplotter for the rest of the passage, which went without a hitch.

Once again we stopped at the 'Holding' anchorage of Tres Puntas, about 10nm to the North of the river entrance at Livingston. We spent a few relaxing days there, although we did have a bad thunderstorm one night and fork lightning is pretty scary when you have a tall metal mast.

We had timed our passage to coincide with one of the highest tides of the year. We needed all the depth we could get to transit the sand bar at the river entrance. To belt and brace this, we once again enlisted the services of a local called Hector and his friend via our Agent Raul, to tow and tilt us over the sand bar.
At the appointed time we made the rendezvous and the process began. Like last season, the side decks touched the water and it was a very surreal experience.


Sand Bar at Livingston


















Once safely across we anchored just off the town of Livingston and unlike last time, the officials came out to the boat. The paperwork took next to no time to complete, but we still had to go ashore to find a cash point to pay for the services of Hector and the Agent.

Although it was still early morning having cleared in so quickly, we chose not to go all the way to our marina but break the journey up by stopping off at Texan Bay. This allowed us to go slowly through the gorge to take in the sights and sounds.


Gorge near Livingston Rio Dulce


















Gorge near Livingston Rio Dulce

















Gorge near Livingston Rio Dulce



















It was whilst in Texan Bay that we met a young Polish couple, and had happened to mention that our instruments had gone on the blink. Very kindly Bartek offered to come and take a look later on that day. It transpires that it was a faulty voltage regulator on the TriData repeater instrument, and within 20 minutes Bartek had soldered a new one in place. Hey Presto, all the instruments came back to life! 
We did not have time before we left, but the intention is to rewire the instruments in such a way, that if one goes down it does not prevent the rest from working.

All too soon we left the tranquillity of Texan Bay and headed down to Fronteras. We anchored off Monkey Bay so we could nip ashore to say hello to Jim and Kitty, the marina managers.

The next morning we were rudely awakened by the rather haunting sound of Howler Monkeys. If you have never heard them before, check out the clip below.






The following day we headed to Tijax marina and moored in the same berth as last season, which we had reserved and probably just as well. With two devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean last year and the need to find safe harbour, most if not all of the Rio marinas seemed to be full or very nearly.

During our chores to put the boat to bed, we discovered some water in one of the bilges. Eventually we tracked it down to a leaky gasket on the fresh water pump. With almost no chance of buying a rebuild kit, we purchased a new pump and will get a gasket kit when we are back in the UK. Feeling smug at having solved the issue, it was disappointing to find more water in the same bilge the next day. This time it took the best part of the day to discover it was down to a broken ring clamp on the shower sump pump. Of all the spares we keep, this was not an item we had thought of. All we could do was add it to the list of items to purchase.



Whale Pump Clamp Ring




















We also met up with Jose the carpenter who looked over the minor snagging issues on the new teak deck. He will attend to those whilst we are away. We have also asked him to sand and varnish the internal companionway hand rails, and we are going to get Jose to put white formica on the companionway sides and just above the steps. The varnish was looking shabby in places and for some reason the wood veneers never did match. Once it is done we will take some photos. Below are the 'Before' pictures.



Jeanneau 45 Companionway

Jeanneau 45 Companionway
























Jeanneau 45 Companionway



















One of the last minor jobs was to apply the custom cut vinyl to the outside of the front hatches. We had already done the others and it had made a big difference in keeping the interior cool, but allowing enough diffused light in so as not to make the boat gloomy below. We went to a local company Andy Stickers and were very pleased with the results. It has made a huge difference in keeping the boat cooler.


Jeanneau hatches with white winyl covering

























Other projects, including the anti fouling, can wait until we haul out in nearby RAM marina in October.


Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45



















And so, our relatively short sailing season was at an end. Although we had only covered about 1000nm, quality made up for quantity. The Bay Islands were truly spectacular, and it was great to visit Mexico and Chichen Itza. The best part however, was that Lynne had not had any recurring vertigo attacks.

Our flights were booked back to the UK from Guatemala City. To break the journey up, we left the day before and stayed up at the Conquistador Hotel in Zone 4.
It took us 6 hours door to door by coach and taxi to the hotel from the bus station in Fronteras. We had on the recommendation of fellow cruisers, booked a taxi driver called Roderico Lopez to pick us up from the bus station in Guatemala City and take us to the hotel.

Below is the view from the hotel bedroom window.


Zone 4 Guatemala City


















The hotel is a little shabby around the edges, but the location seemed safe enough for us to have a stroll in the evening to find a place to eat.

At this juncture we would sign off until next time, but our adventure was not quite over. On the flight back we both developed severe stomach cramps during the stopover at Madrid, followed by severe sickness and diarrhoea, never nice. Fortunately Lynne's sister and husband picked us up at the airport for a marvellous door to door service.

Our timing to the UK has worked out well as we arrived to one of the hottest summers since 1976.

We will start the blog back up again when we return back to the river. In the meantime we should just mention that Janet and Kelvin had been in touch to say that Scarlet Lady had been sold. We wish the new owners fair winds and safe passages.










Sunday, 29 April 2018

Mexico

Isla Mujeres


Isla Mujeres boat and shark roadside display















Google Earth view of location of Isla Mujeres


Coincidence, fate? Here we are with a yacht called Aztec Dream in Mexico. How did that happen? By rights we never planned to visit Mexico, but as any sailor will yell you, plans are for changing. Perhaps Aztec Dream was telling us, she is happy to take us anywhere in the world, but visiting Mexico was her rite of passage. Fair enough. Not to mention a visit to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza is somewhere on the bucket list.

Without a working autopilot it was always going to be a tough passage, hand steering for 60 hours or so to get here. Raymarine had been very helpful via email correspondence, and we more or less knew it would come down to replacing the drive motor. Safe in the knowledge it was on order and due to arrive with Lynne’s parents, we weighed anchor and left one of the most beautiful anchorages we had been in for some time. It was just a shame about the wretched sand flies.

We left with a forecast of 15 knots from the East, which should have put us on a beam reach. Instead, for the first two hours we had very little wind, from the North! Eventually, the wind strength and direction lived up to expectations and Azzy raised her skirts and sliced gracefully through the azure blue sea, with the wind at a very agreeable 120 degrees from starboard. What is nice about this point of sail, is how quiet it is. With the gentle motion of the boat, the almost cloudless sky and the occasional squadron of Flying Fish for amusement, the experience was somewhat soporific. 

However, our state of semi-euphoria started to wear a little thin by nightfall, even after watching a stunning sunset. 

Sunset in Passage to Mexico




Two hours 'on' and two 'off' really does not allow for much rest, and by morning we were both very tired with the prospect of another night to come. Some of the waves we were riding were huge! It is not often we find ourselves counting down the minutes to a change of watch.

On the plus side, we could take some positives out of the experience. It proved we could still manage the boat, and it honed up our helming skills. In fact on the last day, we mostly relied on the feel of the pressure of the wind on our bodies to hold a good course rather than watching the instruments. It was still very tiring though.

Normally we don’t enthuse much about seeing a coastline of concrete high rise buildings, but on this occasion the almost Miami-like coastline of Cancun was a welcome sight. By this time the helpful current had really taken hold, and we barrelled towards our goal at nearly 9 knots. We followed our waypoints through the busy channel and across to the island of Isla Mujeres, which would be our home for the next few weeks. 


Raymarine Tridata Instrument





























Isla Mujeres is a small island adjacent to Cancun and is a popular tourist attraction. The first thing you notice going ashore is the abundant traffic, consisting mainly of rented golf carts.

We had heard many stories of poor holding in the anchorage, so when the time came to finally drop the anchor we made sure it was well and truly dug in... or so we thought! Exhausted from very little sleep during the last 60 hours, we opened all the hatches, completed the final log entry and put on the anchor alarm. It was a very strong gust of wind that woke us up. We had both said "Let’s just have a little nap", but were so tired we had slept through the klaxon of the anchor alarm, and a tentative peer out of the window revealed our new location, about 10 metres from a reef and a good 100 metres from our original location. Fortunately we had anchored at the back of the herd, so we did not have any boats behind us to hit. We re-anchored and agreed to take our naps in shifts!

The next day we moved Azzy into El Milagro marina to await the arrival of Lynne's brother, Phill. Many thanks to the crews of Easy Rider and Tulum III for helping with the lines on an unfamiliar pile mooring. We actually managed to run aground in the soft mud on the first attempt to berth, so have made a mental note to leave at high tide and must make a plan how to untie ourselves without bouncing against the moorings. It was much easier in the Med!

One of the first tasks was to clear into to Mexico. Whilst you can do this without an Agent, we elected to use one and were very thankful we did. Julio at El Milagro took care of everything. We had our temperatures taken by a Doctor, and Customs and Immigration came to the marina for the raft of form filling. The next day the paperwork was ready, save the temporary importation of the boat. This has to be done within 4 days of arrival or you face a big fine. We took the 20 min fast ferry with the paperwork over to the relevant office in Cancun, and half an hour later emerged with a ten year permit. In all it cost us about US $300 just to clear in. Compare that to Martinique, where we paid 2 Euros each and booked ourselves in on a computer terminal in about half an hour. Oh well, you have to go with the flow.


El Milagro Marina


El Milagro marina is delightful. It is small and intimate and the staff are very friendly and helpful. Once a week, they organise a barbecue and buffet of side dishes for just $15 a head, all you can eat. The marina also gives patrons free use of kayaks and paddle boards, has a small plunge pool, use of kitchen and even a table tennis table and lending library. Along with Phill, we did try the paddle boards and none of us fell in, which was a minor miracle given the swell from the speeding leisure boats that pass the marina. The cost is about $250 US per week, which is more than we were paying per month in the Rio Dulce. The dock side water is not potable and we have been advised not to drink the tap water in Mexico, but you can get bottled water from the small shop just at the marina entrance. Electricity, unless you are running your air conditioning 24/7 is included, and the WIFI is also free. Although it is not lightning fast, it is very good and we can even pick it up on the boat.


Aztec Dream in El Milagro marina Isla Mujeres

















Views of El Milagro marina Isla Mujeres


















Views of El Milagro marina Isla Mujeres

















Views of El Milagro marina Isla Mujeres



















Views of El Milagro marina Isla Mujeres


















Views of El Milagro marina Isla Mujeres

















Views of El Milagro marina Isla Mujeres
Paddle Boarding El Milagro Marine Isla Mujeres

















Barbecue at El Milagro Marina Isla Mujeres





























By the time we had completed clearing in and got our bearings, Lynne’s parents had arrived at their hotel in Cancun and we took the high speed ferry to pay them a visit. About a month ago, the ferry company started three new routes to the 'hotel zone' and one of these new stops just happened to be about 200 metres from their hotel. What a result! As the hotel was 'all-inclusive' and we were not guests, we enjoyed a nice lunch out in a nearby steak restaurant and the staff were kind enough to provide a cake and candle as it happened to be Graham’s birthday.































No visit to Mexico would be complete without a visit to one of the wonders of the world, Chichen ItzaWe arranged a tour through the hotel Lynne's parents were staying in, and happily friends on Tulum III and Easy Rider agreed to join us.

The first stop on our tour was at Hubiku where the brave could take a plunge in the cold waters of a Cenote. A Cenote is more commonly known as a sink hole, and it exposes the water table underneath the fallen limestone rock. The Mayans would have considered them very important, not only as a source of fresh water, but some of them would have been used to cast artefacts and even sacrifices into.

Lynne braved the cool water to have a dip, as did many tourists, and shared the water with a very tame fish population. Up above small birds flew around and the setting was quite breathtaking.


Visit to Chitchen Itza



Entrance to Cenote in Habiku Mexico

















 Cenote in Habiku Mexico

















 Cenote in Habiku Mexico




















From Hubiki we made our way to Chichen Itza. It has been a while since we have been on a modern coach, but what’s not to like? Efficient air conditioning, reclining seats, smooth and quiet, and as the only scenery appeared to be about 15 foot high shrub land it was nice to have a nap.

Chichen Itza is a remarkable place, and this is a view that many shared judging by the thousands of tourists already on site. Lynne had first visited some 13 years ago and at that time, like some temples in Tikal in Guatemala today, you could climb the steep steps of the main temple. Today it is roped off to preserve the structure, but frankly with the temperature feeling like 40C and no shade, you probably would not want to climb to the top anyway.

Our guide Raul told us that what we could see represented only 6% of the the total site. Most of it remains encapsulated by vegetation and will take a generation to uncover it, if at all. The sheer scale is as remarkable as the location in the heart of the Yucatan. Napping on a 3 hour coach journey was one thing, but at the time of the Mayans, the wheel had not been invented. They walked almost 200km from the coast before choosing the location to build their city.  

The Temple, or pyramid known as El Castillo dominates the skyline and is simply stunning. Archaeologists believe it is where the people of the Yucatan worshipped the 'Plumed Serpent', known as Kukulkan to the Mayans and Quetzalcoati elsewhere in Central America. El Castillo has been described as 'a pyramid within a pyramid, within a pyramid' due to the discovery of a substructure underneath the two outer pyramids. The ancient people built the three pyramids in successive phases. The outer, visible pyramid measures about 58 metres on each side. The next, intermediate pyramid below it measures roughly 32 metres per side and is 20 metres tall. The smallest innermost structure is about 10 metres tall. It was also recently discovered that the pyramid is built over a large cenote, and some experts are concerned that it might someday collapse in on itself. 


Temple El Castillo Chitchen Itza


















Temple El Castillo Chitchen Itza


















Temple El Castillo Chitchen Itza


















Temple El Castillo Chitchen Itza





















Although there are 13 ball courts on the site, the Great Court is easily the most impressive and here you can see some of the carvings on the wall depicting the players. Although no one knows the rules, it is likely a form of basketball and the teams have to pass a solid rubber ball (about 3 to 4 inches in size) through a stone hoop, high up on the outer wall. There is some debate as to whether the winning or losing captain was decapitated, as it was considered an honour, and also likely that some deaths or serious injuries took place as a result of being hit in the head by the ball.


The Great Ball Court Chitchen Itza

















The Great Ball Court Chitchen Itza



















Wall engravings along the Great Ball Court Chitchen Itza

















Wall engravings along the Great Ball Court Chitchen Itza






















We spent some time just wandering around the vast site, taking in the Temple of a Thousand Warriors, the Jaguar Throne and a visit to one of the Cenotes. This particular cenote was considered sacred by the Mayans who used to throw offerings to the gods into it. Divers have also discovered human remains, and it is thought some people were sacrificed to ensure there was enough rainfall to grow their crops.


Jaguar Throne Chitchen Itza
Temple of a Thousand Warriors Chitchen Itza
Temple of a Thousand Warriors Chitchen Itza
Temple of a Thousand Warriors Chitchen Itza
Temple of a Thousand Warriors Chitchen Itza
Ruins at Chitchen Itza Mexico
Ruins at Chitchen Itza Mexico
Cenote at Chitchen Itza Mexico
Cenote at Chitchen Itza Mexico





















Just before we sign off from Chichen Itza, we should just mention that twice a year on the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, you can join about 30,000 people to witness the descent of the Plumed Serpent. Seven triangles of light (alternating with seven triangles of darkness) can be seen projected onto the staircase of the pyramid for about 20 minutes. 

The library picture below shows this to good effect.
























Autopilot Update


Next up was to replace the autopilot motor, and we are happy to say that it was very straightforward. Just drop the ram from the rudder quadrant, remove the wires from the junction box and unhook the rear of the unit. Then it is a question of undoing some allen headed bolts, removing the old motor and replacing with the new. The dive belt was in perfect condition and the clutch plate surfaces looked OK, so all back together and hey presto, we now have a working autopilot...

Exploded view of Raymarine Type S autopilot



Well, at least one that will turn Port and Starboard to the inputs from the Control Head. We will have to do a sea trial, but this should be a formality. The original set up is stored in the on board course computer so no calibration should be necessary.

We did take some time out to visit Cancun. We found an Apple store that replaced Lynne’s iPhone 6S battery under a campaign for a small fee, and purchased a handy lead to plug the iPad into the TV so we can watch our favourite YouTube Vlogs on the big screen.

Exploring Isla Mujeres


On Phill's second week with us, we hired a golf buggy for half a day for 750 pesos and did our tour of Isla Mujeres.


Golf Cart Isla Mujeres





























The first stop was the sculpture garden at Punta Sur, the most southerly point of the island, which at 20 metres above sea level is surprisingly the highest elevation in Yucatan. Now, when I (Steve), think of sculptures I 'get' the ones like the Bust of Nefertiti or The Burghers of Calais, but modern sculpture leaves me cold. I just don't get it, and even less so when I read that the sculptures are the artists interpretation of the spirit of the Mayan civilisation. Maybe I just needed to squint and use my imagination? Anyway, it was nice to be out and about and the park afforded some fabulous vistas.

Sculpture Garden at Punta Sur Cliff Isla Mujeres














Sculpture Garden at Punta Sur Cliff Isla Mujeres














Sculpture Garden at Punta Sur Cliff Isla Mujeres














Sculpture Garden at Punta Sur Cliff Isla Mujeres














 coastal views from Sculpture Park Isla Mujeres













 coastal views from Sculpture Park Isla Mujeres












 coastal views from Sculpture Park Isla Mujeres














 coastal views from Sculpture Park Isla Mujeres




























Frigate bird in flight



Iguana


















Sculpture Garden at Punta Sur Cliff Isla Mujeres
















 coastal views from Sculpture Park Isla Mujeres
































Iguana




















 coastal views from Sculpture Park Isla Mujeres



Sculpture Park Isla Mujeres
























Sculpture Park Isla Mujeres



















After the Sculpture Park we headed to the Turtle Sanctuary, had a spot of lunch, then stopped to have a drink on the beach at the North of the island before returning our cart.


Hawksbill Turtle


















Sea bird Isla Mujeres




















Party Catamaran Isla Mujeres




















Beach at Isla Mujeres Mexico











Beach at Isla Mujeres Mexico



Lynne's parents came to visit us at the marina a couple of times and enjoyed the peace and tranquillity, compared to their bustling hotel. Steve took them for a ride around the anchorage and into the Lagoon in the rib, and we all had lunch in the excellent restaurant of the neighbouring marina, El Paraiso. It was hard for Lynne to say goodbye to her parents when their holiday came to an end, but she will see them again soon when we are back home in the UK for the Summer.


Lunch at El Pariso Isla Mujeres

























The Robinsons


Moving On

As our time in the marina draws to a close we said goodbye to Phill and look forward to seeing him in the UK in the summer, and again in Guatemala in September.

Now we need to start thinking about our sailing plans again. Probably the favourite option is to head South and back to Guanaja, then on to Roatan, and finally clearing out in Utila when it comes time to head back to the Rio in June. We really enjoyed our time in the Bay Islands and look forward to returning to them briefly.

As we have covered the Bay Islands in previous posts and don't intend to do anything spectacular other than read (John Buchan knew how to write a great story), swim and explore a little more, this will be our last blog post update until we get back to Guatemala.

So far it has been a very relaxing season, and we are glad that Aztec Dream made it to Mexico.

We thank you for taking the time to read our blog. In the absence of any updates on here for a little while, we will post some interim ones on our Facebook Page, The Voyages of Aztec Dream.