Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Key West Idyll

We’ve always enjoyed this place. Saturday we made what we intended to be a short trip into town and ended up staying all day. We celebrated our return to the USA with peel-and-eat shrimp and Pinot Grigio at Turtle Kraals, something of a Key West tradition for us. Part of the tradition is for John to call his sister Jenice and gloat about dining al fresco while she’s suffering whatever weather Oregon is dishing up in April. This time she wasn’t suffering at all; she was skiing and having a good time herself.

Despite long, wet dinghy rides to shore, we’re reluctant to leave here quickly. We really like Key West. There was a weather window yesterday to head north, but we decided to wait for the next one. It's less expensive for us to be on a mooring buoy here than to anchor out legally in Fort Lauderdale, but it’s probably less expensive to buy stuff in Fort Lauderdale. So we’re buying stuff online while we’re staying here and, after the first day of being tourists, we’re eating on the boat.

We’re finding it easier to go to the downtown dinghy dock than to the one that’s free with our mooring fees here at Garrison Bight. For one major thing, we haven’t found free wireless around Garrison Bight. The Pelican case we bought a year ago for the laptop is finally being used seriously when we take the computer to shore. We’re even using the dry bag to keep the rest of our stuff dry. Except for the return trip on Sunday, John and I are only getting splashes that require a rinse of the glasses to get the salt off. Sunday evening, I had to rinse the salt out of our shorts too.

We met an interesting woman Sunday at West Marine. Kathy (K or C, I don’t know) and her husband, Greg, recently bought a Cabo Rico 42 to begin their cruising life. Previously they’ve lived all over the world with Greg’s job, lastly in Singapore but also fairly recently in The Netherlands. In fact, they have dual citizenship (The Netherlands and US) and both speak a little Dutch. We stopped by their boat, Indigo, yesterday for a visit on our way back to Solstice. We had a nice visit and borreltjes. John really liked them and I think we’ll try to see them again before we leave. When we met Kathy, they didn’t know which way they were heading. Now they’ve decided to head up to the Chesapeake, so maybe we’ll see them again in Fort Lauderdale.

I updated our mileage log this morning and have a few more statistics. Panama City, Panama, is still the furthest east we’ve been by a couple of degrees. Our rhumbline from Isla Mujeres to Key West was 370 nautical miles (nm), but our actual track shows we traveled 485. You should see it. It’s quite the zigzag. That explains why it took a day longer than we thought it should.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Crossing the Gulf Stream

Sailing from the tip of the Yucatan peninsula to Key West was four days of sailing to wind. Most of the time we tried to stay 30 to 35 degrees off the wind. Think of tacking back and forth in August between Sausalito and Marine Park for four days with each tack lasting 12 hours. At times we had 25 knot winds and it was tough to sleep. Even Marzen appears to be sleep deprived.

Last night we crossed the Gulf Stream. The wind from the NE and an opposite current. There was some big waves. I finally gave up on the autopilot and started to hand steer to try and lessen the impact of the waves. I swear we'd hit a 20' wave square on and the front half of the boat would be free falling off the back of the wave. It was awesome, loud, wet, and created a lot of adrenaline. I have a whole lot of respect for the Gulf Stream now.

The upside of four days head on to the wind is that nothing major broke and it pointed out improvements that should be made prior to crossing the Atlantic. It was in every sense a real shake down cruise.

Thump, thump, crash... Repeat.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

New photos on the website

Our photos from Isla Providencia are now available for your viewing pleasure at http://www.svsolstice.com/photos/providencia/index.html.

Enjoy! We did.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Isla Mujeres

Pangas on the main beach

We’ve been here at the El Milagra Marina on Isla Mujeres since Sunday, and we’re enjoying taking it easy in the comfortable weather here. The cold front has passed, and boats started leaving here the other day, first those heading south and then yesterday the first northbound boat left. We could leave too, but we’ve decided to linger until Monday.

Yesterday we rented a golf cart to tour the island. It’s really flat here, so golf carts work well. Today we visited the grocery store and stocked up on food before returning the golf cart. The store is within walking distance, but it’s a bit of a hike, especially toting groceries since the folding dock cart was crushed in a taxi’s trunk in Huatulco. (It’s on the list of things to replace in Florida.)

The highlight of yesterday’s tour was a visit to a Mayan temple ruin at the southern tip of the island. We knew the ruin was there, and it frankly wasn’t that impressive. But it’s at the end of a sculpture garden, and that was totally unexpected. There’s also a walkway around the point near the water where the breakers crash against the reef. It’s the most eastern point in Mexico. Very cool.

Mayan temple ruin

One of the sculptures at Punte Sur
Rocky Punte Sur

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What time is it?

When you’re traveling the world, do you have trouble keeping track of what time it is? If you’re flying, the crew generally tells you the local time at your destination. For those of us traveling by sailboat, it’s a little more complicated. A recent thread on the Yahoo! World-Cruising group about time coincided with our return to Mexico from Panamá and the western Caribbean islands. This and my mom’s question, “What time is it there?” prompted this meander.

When you’re at sea, it’s whatever time those on board agree that it is. However, since communication with others is important, some standards are useful. Our standard is Coordinated Universal Time or UTC. This is also known as GMT or Zulu time, but GMT can be confusing because that’s what the British and Irish call their time, but they use daylight savings time in the summer, and Zulu and UTC don’t. So we just call it UTC and keep one clock and the ship’s computer set to it. SSB radio schedules are usually given in UTC, and we report our position using it as well.

Our UTC clock at the nav station
Our UTC clock at the nav station

When we left San Diego at the end of October on the Baja Ha-Ha 2007, the daily question was “What time is it here?” Every day the answer was “the same time as when we left San Diego.” But when we left San Diego, it was still Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), but in Baja California (the Mexican state), it was still Pacific Standard Time (PST) when we arrived at Cabo San Lucas. Across the Gulf of California in Mazatlán, it was Mountain Standard Time, which is actually the same as PDT, but by the time we got there, our family on the Pacific coast of the U.S. was back on PST, so there was still an hour’s difference. In Puerto Vallarta we were late to happy hour because there was a time change between La Cruz where the boat was and PV, which is on Central time. We don’t know if they use daylight savings because it was winter, so at least we avoided that complication. If this confuses you, then you know how we felt.

Time was easy for the rest of the winter (which they call summer in Central America even though it’s north of the equator, but that’s a different story). Central America is on Central time until you get to Panamá, which is on Eastern time.

When we left Panamá at the end of March, we were on Eastern Standard Time (EST), which seems to have been the time in Isla de Providencia and Grand Cayman too. At least, we met the agent in Providencia at the correct time, and the restaurant in Grand Cayman was still serving lunch when we got there. We stumbled across a cruising net on the SSB, though, an hour earlier than the time we had been told it was. Our fellow cruiser said it was Eastern time, but, oops, it’s April now, and it must be Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). (That’s why SSB radio information should always be given in UTC.)

But what time was it when we arrived at Isla Mujeres? One of our cruising guides said that Mexico and Belize don’t observe daylight time, so when I talked with Mom as soon as we arrived here, I thought it was Central Standard Time (CST), which would only be an hour different from the PDT in Portland, Oregon, at this time of year. Based on this information, John and I had agreed to leave our watches and local time clocks as they were because we were going back to Eastern time soon. No need to change, we thought. Boy, were we confused. When I finally looked it up on World Clock, it turns out that most of Mexico observes daylight time, so the cruising guide was wrong, and it’s Central Daylight Time (CDT) here. We don’t have to change our local time clocks now, but we will need to do that when we go to Florida where it’s EDT.

When it comes to time, it’s only going to get worse. For example, what will we use for local time as we cross the Atlantic? Someone on the World-Cruising group said that there are four time changes across the Atlantic. Looking at the map, I count five. And then someday when we get to India, we’ll have half-hour time differences, something I discovered when working for a global company. It’s a good thing the Internet is everywhere so we can be on time, whatever that is.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Arrived Ahead of the Cold Front

The front we beat

We have arrived in Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) in Yucatan, Mexico. We beat the advancing cold front and the wind, rain, and building seas it will cause. The front is forecast for 20 knots from the north, which is opposed to the 2 knot current in the Yucatan Channel. The wind opposite the current will build up nine foot very steep wave. These waves would have been mostly on our beam and not comfortable.

It feels good to be back in Mexico. Almost like coming home back to the land of good food. On our first outing on the island we found a sidewalk BBQ stand. We purchased two orders of BBQ pork ribs with tortillas, beans, coleslaw, and salsa for seven dollars. The ribs are done with a chile and salt dry rub the coleslaw is cabbage with cilantro and jalapeño. Ah the flavors of Mexico! I'm sure there will be much more Mexican goodness to come.

We should be here about a week. We need to wait out the north winds before we head to Key West, Florida.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Underway again

Grand Cayman was a nice place to visit and easy and cheap to clear in and out of. Actually, clearance is free if you do it during regular business hours. It's about the only thing that's inexpensive on the island, though. The people are very friendly and welcoming, but the prices are quite high. We did a little provisioning at a very nice store that was full of good things we hadn't seen in months, like Pepperidge Farm cookies, because our one visit to a restaurant cost us $45 US for two glasses of wine and a shared appetizer.

We wanted to stay a couple more days, and it wasn't the prices that scared us off. The long-range weather forecast (five-day) shows a front approaching from the north, and we definitely want to be across the Yucatan Channel at Isla Mujeres before northerly winds show up. By leaving Georgetown this morning, we should beat the front by more than a day. So far the winds are lighter than we had hoped, but we are sailing.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Georgetown, Grand Cayman

Our previous record number of cruise ships sighted at anchor in one port (five in Ketchikan, Alaska) has been broken. There were six here yesterday. Port Security stopped by in the morning to tell us that we wouldn't be able to clear in until afternoon. No problem. John had a good wireless connection, and we didn't mind taking it easy.

It was fairly late in the afternoon when Port Security led us to the clearance wall. (I can't call it a dock because it's really just a concrete wall. We used all of our fenders to protect us.) The authorities were very nice, but it was the most thorough inspection we've had since the US. There was a delay due to Märzen because they had to call an inspector from the Department of Agriculture to look at her. In the end, she isn't allowed ashore because we didn't get an import permit for her, but we don't like to take her ashore in strange places anyway. She doesn't enjoy it, and it's a hassle.

The customs agents told us that the mooring buoys were available through Port Security and that the location was more convenient for provisioning than the other anchorage we had been considering. So we called Port Security, and they told us we can stay on a buoy for as long as we like for free! Clear-in and clear-out are also free if we do it during their regular hours. We're planning to stay until Friday or Saturday morning before heading for Isla Mujeres. John has already been snorkeling here and says there are some nice coral heads around the boat. We'll go exploring later.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Arrived at Grand Cayman

In our days in the Pacific, we estimated our passages based on the five knots we do under power. We have to stop doing that. Instead of the 74 hours we estimated, albeit conservatively, it would take us to get here from Providencia, it took just 58. That means that we arrived after dark at 8:30 instead of in the daylight. We didn't leave Providencia until after noon figuring we would be a little faster than estimated, but we set two new records for our daily speed on the way.

Whatever. We're here now, and after finding our way in the dark in yet another strange harbor, we're secured to a quarantine mooring buoy for the night. In the morning, customs and immigration will tell us where to go to clear in and when.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Left Isla Providencia Headed for Grand Cayman

Isla de Providencia was beautiful. We wished we could have stayed there any another couple of weeks. Seems a lot of cruisers stop for a couple of days and stay for weeks. We just completed our fastest 24 hour passage at 6.7 kts average for 160.5 nautical miles. It's been a fast and wet ride so far.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

New photos on website

We're a bit Internet-challenged here in Providencia, but nonetheless, I've managed to upload some new photos to the website. Check them out at www.svsolstice.com/photos.html. Look under "Latest Additions."