Why didn’t I just say “no”?, I keep asking myself.
I am sick. I can’t see my own face but I bet it is as greenish brown as the Sargasso seaweed that is spread all over my deck. I feel terrible. Cold sweat is running down my face. I remember the fun fact that it has the same salinity as the ocean around me. I hold on to the massive sea fence of Seefalke and get in position to relief myself one more time. As the chunks start shooting into the water I see their iluminescating trail. Beautiful! Even though I feel horrible I am fascinated. The sea always holds more surprises for you. I have seen bioluminescence before. I have seen the illuminated wake of my boat or dolphins producing an illuminated trail – amazing and eerie at the same time. But I have never seen bioluminescent vomit. The sea takes, the sea gives. I already feel a little better.
First Time Bioluminiscent Vomit
I hadn’t been seasick in a while. But maybe also because I hadn’t been out in weather like this in a while. The irony is I picked this weather deliberately, knowing what it would do to me. It is a Northerner, a Norteño, as the Mexicans call it. A Norteño is a cold front coming in from the north, all the way from Texas usually, with fresh to strong northerly winds. This Norteño is my magic potion against that powerful Yucatan Current if I want to sail south.
The strong northerly winds slow down the Yucatan Current and give me enough power to plough right through it. But the proud Yucatan Current will not just give in. The nautical handbooks call it “wind-against-current-situation” and warn that it can cause steep seas and confused cross-seas. I call it bare-knuckle fist fight between Aelos and Poseidon. The God of the Winds is having it out with the God of the Seas. I have first row seat in the Winds’ fan block. So, I am making good time, well, no, as much as you can expect against three knots of current, and I am paying my toll.
Bare-nuckle Fist Fight between Aelos and Poseidon
We just passed Punta Molas, the notorious northern cape of Isla Cozumel where the Caribbean deep sea basin hits the Mexican continental shelf, which doesn’t make it better. I decide to crawl into my cabin to take 45 minutes sleep until the alarm would call me back into the cockpit. As I finally hit my bunk it smells fishy. F..ck does the head have a leak? That could be dangerous, potentially sink the ship. The siphon effect! So I bite my teeth and crawl out of my bunk again to check the head. But nothing, all good. No leak, no smell here. I decide I will check on it tomorrow during day light then.
The next morning is less rough, the seas still moved but no cross-seas anymore beating us from one side to the other. And I also finally find the source of that fishy smell. With big eyes, wide open it is looking at me, that flying fish that miraculously made it all the way into the cabin and finally landed on the book shelf between Jimmy Cornell’s “World Cruising Routes” and a copy of my own book “Birth of a Solo Sailor”. And when I give it its proper seaman’s grave I keep asking myself again: “Why didn’t I just say ‘no’?”
Setting Sail for Evacuation Mission
I got the call about a week ago, it was my German friend Marinus. He called me from Belmopan, the capital of Belize and asked if I could come and pick them up. Them would be him, his Belizian girlfriend Franchesca and their eight months old son Peter. Native Mexican, born in Isla Mujeres. He asked that as if his car broke down just a kilometer down the road and it would take max. 15 minutes beginning to end. But it wasn’t their car that broke down, it wasn’t just a kilometer down the road and it would take slightly longer than 15 minutes. It was 250 nautical miles down to San Pedro, and a nasty current and a dangerous reef away. A week at best beginning to end.
Two weeks earlier they flew from Cancun to Belize to apply for their US visas. When they wanted to check in to their flight back to Cancun the Belizian authorities wouldn’t let Franchesca leave the country because she did not have the required ton of documents Belizians need to travel internationally. This is how they got stuck. They couldn’t leave by plane, nor could they leave by car. Their only hope was to sneak out by sea, in the cover of the night. And now they were looking for someone who would sail three days down to Belize to smuggle them out of the country and take them back to Isla Mujeres in Mexico, back to their boat. Or – in short – some stupid but trustworthy pirate like me.
Stupid but Trustworthy Pirate Wanted
I could have said “no”. But they were friends, they were in trouble, and they relied on me. I knew they wouldn’t find anyone else. So, “no” was not an option. Also, the truth to be said, I hadn’t been sailing in a while and was itching to go out to sea. And this mission gave me a good reason. So, I said “yes”, waited for the next Norteño and set sail.
And here I am, kicked around, seasick, and with a stinking fish in my cabin – and wished I had said “no”. But it’s too late now, I better accept it and make the best of it.
When the sun rises we are already south of Cozumel, still fighting the current, but the seas have become more organized and less chaotic. Drugged up with Dramamine I already feel better and start to enjoy the ride.
Our rendezvous point is San Pedro on Isla Bonita. Yes, that very place Madonna dreamt of last night. I am curious because I had never been there and mainland Belize hasn’t convinced me yet. Ready to give it another chance, it still ranks pretty low on my favorite country list. It may actually lead that list.
Last Night I Dreamt of San Pedro…
Maybe this is because the first time I came to Belize, I got arrested the very first day at gun point for not wearing that stupid face mask. Maybe because I jumped out of a driving cop car to escape my destiny. Maybe it was because I had to bribe myself out of jail. Maybe because Belize City felt like Zombie Apocalypse with all the walking dead crack junkies. I have thousand reasons to not come back.
But a friend in need is the one reason that trumps them all.
As I am getting better and closer to Belize, I start worrying about the cut. Isla Bonita lays behind the huge Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest reef in the northern hemisphere, globally second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Home to an unmatched diversity of wildlife it is the one reason to come and visit Belize. It is not only unbelievably beautiful it also provides great and safe anchorages on the other side. It stretches from Honduras all the way to Mexico and has lured an uncountable number of brave souls into Davy Jone’s Locker. Every year his crew is growing and the Belize Barrier Reef sure is one of his more active recruiting offices.
The Cut. The San Pedro Cut. The virgin among the cuts. So tight I regret I didn’t rub my hull in Vaseline. The San Pedro Cut is impossible to pass in fresh or strong winds. Impossible to pass at night. Impossible even in moderate swells. This is what the handbooks say. There are so many “impossibles” I am asking myself why it is even there. But it is looking good, the swell is coming from the north, the winds are calming down, I should arrive just after sunrise. It looks good! Almost too good to be true. But on the other hand, didn’t I earn it after this rollercoaster ride?
And so, just after sunrise I tread through the Cut as if my hull actually was rubbed in Vaseline and a little later my anchor drops into the crystal clear turquoise water of San Pedro. I launch the dinghy and make my way to the hotel pier where Marinus and the best part of his family are welcoming me warmly. His grandfather owns a nice hotel there and generously puts me on the “family tab” meaning I wouldn’t need to spend a dime for food or drinks as long as I would reside in San Pedro. Maybe it was worth the trip after all! Maybe Belize has just started to work itself up the list.
While normally the clearing-in procedure is quite hassle-full and costly, again, Marinus’ grandfather swings is magic wand and all is taken care of. Yeah, so far I have only been on the other side of those privileges.
The Surada Is the Ticket home
Now, we just need to wait for the Surada. A Surada is the opposite of the Norteño. Caused by powerful high pressure areas that regularly occur in the southwestern Caribbean it normally provides a good two to three day stretch of strong to gale force southerly winds, steady, without gusts and no clouds or rain. Again, if you decide to buy the ticket, it is going to be an express ticket but third class at best, rather cargo compartment. Fast but lack of comfort is guaranteed.
Finally, the passage is planned and the day before departure we secretly transfer my little stowaway family to S/V Seefalke that is waiting in the calm waters behind the reef. With the first sunlight we dread through the cut again headed for the open sea. We know it is going to start off slow, intentionally timed to pass the cut in calm conditions, but there is no doubt the show is about to start very soon.
The winds are picking up and pushing away the last remaining clouds, clear skies all around. Slowly, like a freight train, my heavy battleship accelerates, we squeeze ourselves between the mainland and Banco Chinchorro, enjoying calm waters one last time. It almost feels like this slow and endless rise to the top of the roller coaster, giving you just enough time to enjoy the view and shit your pants.
And as soon as we stick our nose out of Chinchorro, we are getting the beating that we deserved, the Belizian curse. Franchesca and the baby are hunkered down in the stern cabin and stay there for almost the entire ride. We have a little water ingress, the port head porthole was fixed with little motivation and it shows. Laziness just never pays. Later a bad breaker shuts off our starboard navigation light but it is not long until sunrise anyway.
When Cancún comes into sight and the Mexican flag goes up the starboard spreader, the seasickness torn faces of my passengers lighten up. We almost made it! As we turn into Bahía Mujeres with our shattered nav lights, the waves and the winds calm down, then we pass Punta Sur, the little light house, we smell the sunscreen of the beaches and get almost run over by one of these Ultramar high speed ferries. All familiar, feels like home! We pull into the anchorage of Isla Mujeres and our friends are welcoming us back. Viva México!
You want to read more about Seefalke’s adventures in Mexico? Try this: