The plan was to move south from Isla Mujeres overnight then into San Pedro Belize the next day. Beautiful easy sailing day within a half mile of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen. We stay close in to the reef to avoid the nasty current in the deep water, and fly by Tulum as the sun slips away in a gorgeous sunset with a light evening breeze. As we worked our way east to get around the point the wind picked up. We were getting overpowered and needed to start the engine. As I started her up something didn’t feel right. I looked down at the temp and it was up to 225. Way hot. Have to shut it down. Jib partially in. Reef on the right feeling closer but pitch black so can’t see a thing. Depth going from a comfortable 80 feet to 30, to 25, to 20. Needing to get some speed to get by the reef, but have to to stay up wind. They call that clawing off a lee shore. I call it fucking hairy. Sailing another hour then in through a cut in the the reef and then downwind into a semi safe anchorage all in the dark. Shirt soaked in sweat. No motor to set the anchor. Wind howling. Sail in, drop her down, and hope she holds. Hard to sleep in the rolly incredibly deserted and off the map anchorage not knowing if I will be able to get the engine to start in the morning.
The weird and disoriented thing at night is that you don’t have any visual reference points. And usually when something goes wrong it is brought on by a squall, or an increase or shift in the wind. Much of the time it appears suddenly. The squall winds blow seemingly from all directions at once. All you have to go in is your electronics, wind speed and direction, chart plotters. You can’t look out and line anything up. All of the sides in the cockpit are rolled down to keep the rain out. You are in this weird little dark, sweaty, loud, moist, scary bubble staring at electronic numbers and pointers trying to figure out what to do.
Cayo Levisa, Cuba. Sweet little peaceful anchorage. Got in close to shore to have more protection from the cold front coming in, but anchored in grass. Went in to use the internet and came out to see the boat dragging and ending up just yards from the mangroves in a 30 knot wind from the south. Sped out in the dinghy to drive her back out, and reset the anchor, heart beating fast. As the sun set, as predicted the wind swung west and then from the north. Started picking up big time with pounding rain, lightning. 30 knots, 35. Orion’s bow pushed over to one side, tracking until brought up and then back the other way. Everything loud and rattling. All of my attention on the little circle on our anchor alarm that shows if we are staying put. At 42 knots the picture jumped. We were dragging. Start the engine and try to drive strait into the wind to keep us from being blown across the bay. Way too much wind to try and bring in the snubber and the anchor. Locked into our little plastic enclosed cockpit with no real sense of reality other than what is on the screen on the ipad and the feeling of playing a video game to keep the boat in the circle while all hell is breaking loose around us. Hours later if dropped back below 30 and the anchor held. That night 65 miles east of us in Havana there was the largest tornado in over 75 years.
Then just last night. Tennuriffe atoll 8 miles off the coast of Belize. The problem with Belize is that the charts suck. They provide some information but then spotty information can be worse than none at all. The main chart book everyone uses was written in 2006. The Navionics electronic charts are incredibly vague. And behind the reef we are regularly in water that is just a couple of feet deeper than our keel. At any rate. Coming through a fairly narrow cut in the reef that by all accounts should have been strait forward. As we went through there was a scraping sound meaning we knocked into coral, a rock, or something that wasn’t supposed to be there. Then into the lagoon. Crawling along in 5 and a half to 6 feet of water. Finally stopped and set the anchor. Wanted to get around behind an island but water was skinnying up fast. As we sat still a local guy came by and told us we could go around a shoal to get to a more sheltered place. I’m always trying to get a little better spot, so we pulled up the anchor, followed him around, and ran hard aground. Dinghy couldn’t push us off, anchor out in the sand couldn’t pull us off. Sitting sideways to the wind banging loudly up and down until about high tide at 3 am, when I finally got us nudged into deeper water. Next day waited for the tide to lift us 6 inches to give us the best chance to get back out the cut in the reef that was not visible at all from this angle. Shows on the charts and can see where we came through from out chartplotter track but as we get closer it looks hairy. Waves building up. At some point the only move was to head in, crunch through some more coral, and finally out. Very glad to have a thick skinned solid fiberglass battleship of a boat. A very scary, intense, sleepless, nervous 24 hours .
There are times it’s like that. Situations that can end very badly if you either make a bad decision, or circumstances conspire. And that gets balanced with sitting here now behind Water Cay at sunset, grill churning out chicken, Elia cooking up the yummies and all utterly calm and peaceful. So what’s the takeaway. One is to be more and more respectful and prepared for things to go wrong. Build in a larger safety margin. Have redundant redundancy in the systems. Always have a plan B, and then C in the back of the mind. And know that it’s all part of the boating lifestyle. Things will breakdown, screwup, and there is are certain times where that can mean a life threatening situation. Be as prepared and vigilant as possible.
And then there is always the question, Are We Nuts? I’ve seen three cruise ships go by in the last hour from Belize City, and there is a part of me that envies the ease and lack of responsibility involved. They end up on a lot of the same little islands that we do. The same streets in the cities. And they don’t spend any time whatsoever wondering if their little home will end up on a reef in the middle of the night. But then they pass by with there 3000 peers leaving us all alone with the stars and the quiet and the answer is clear.