In late March on the Caribbean side of Panama, the weather grows calmer and cruisers select from many fine travel choices. Some prefer to stay in the San Blas archipelago for, like, ever. Others work their way NW to Panama's popular Bocas del Toro and all its anchorages and marinas. Perhaps the majority of Western Caribbean cruisers head for the summertime hurricane protection of the Rio Dulce in Honduras. If they sail there from Panama, cruisers typically take time along the way to visit Isla Providencia, due east of Nicaragua; gradually work their way north around Nicaragua's extensive shallows to the Vivorillos islands, then turn west to stop off at popular Isla Roatan in Honduras before closing out the cruising season by traveling up the Rio Dulce to one of its many marinas. It sounds like a grand tour and one that we'd considered. But this cruising season we had bigger fish to fry: we wanted to get to Mexico's Yucatan peninsula as quickly as possible so that we could tour Mayan ruins until we couldn't stand the tourism any longer and the approaching hurricane season forced The Fox onward to the US East Coast for a well-earned refit.
Thus it was that, contrary to almost every other cruiser out there, as soon as we found a long enough weather window we left Panama on March 28 and sailed 880 miles directly to Puerto Morelos, Mexico (located about halfway between Cozumel and Cancun). It was one of the calmest, easiest passages we've ever had. See above photo for wing-on-wing goodness.
Our course put us to the east of most of the shallow areas of the Quita Sueño and Nicaragua Banks. There was virtually no vessel traffic during all but the last day of our passage. Two pairs of disoriented, high-strung barn swallows landed on our boat for brief rests; sadly, one of them died from exhaustion and The Fox experienced its first funeral at sea. Later a young red-footed booby stopped by to perch on our lifelines for a day and a night while he obsessively preened. Check out the toenails on that guy.
As we changed course to the NW toward Mexico on about the fourth day, we discoverd a mysterious, strong (1-3 knots) current in our favor. Lucky. As the days passed we kept expecting it to disappear, but it stayed with us all the way in to Puerto Morelos. It enhanced our speed so well, we made landfall much earlier than we'd planned. Midnight found us about about 50 miles offshore, when of course our calm winds increased to the low 20s and the seas grew to a 2-3 foot chop. After 6 days and nights of no vessel traffic, we began to encounter cruise ships and commercial vessels putting in to Cozumel and Cancun. It got busy. Meanwhile, that fair current was still pushing us forward.
We'd wanted to approach the Marina El Cid at Puerto Morelos in daylight, so we tucked a reef in our main sail to slow down The Fox. No results - we were still humming along at 7 knots. We put in the second reef and reefed in the foresail. At 0400 we still had not slowed down much, so we decided to heave to until sunrise. We entered a GPS waypoint into our chart plotter to track our course. Just 15 mintues later, GB noticed that our fair current, plus the rising winds, had pushed us a full mile off our intended course. With double-reefed sails completely powered down, we were still moving sideways at four knots! If we'd stayed hove to for much longer, we'd have ended up in Missouri.
We had no choice but to douse the sails, turn on the engine, and power into the current, wind and chop, and so we remained until the sun rose and we could finally see where we were going. The sea was turbulent along the eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula, and The Fox rolled uncomfortably as we closed with the shore during those final hours. Nevertheless we entered Puerto Morelos under hot, sunny skies and tied up to El Cid's docks without incident. Ta-daa!
It felt good to be back in Mexico again with a Mayan adventure in our near future. There's just something about Mexico that feels...different.