Tuesday 1 March, passage to Honduras Bay Islands, day 1: Departing Punta Allen.
After 2 wonderful days in Punta Allen, we depart Mexico for the Bay Islands in Honduras, a passage of 230nm to the southeast. It must be said that we really enjoyed Mexico. There was so much more to see and do than we had initially anticipated. Yes, the sailing was pretty restrictive, but we really enjoyed Isla Mujeres and the 3 weeks in El Cid Marina was a pleasant change for us, given we normally avoid marinas. And then the natural surroundings of Punta Allen were completely different, a real highlight and a brilliant way to break the journey to Honduras. It also enabled us to sail all along the stunning Yucatan coastline right up close to the shore where we could view the contrasting tourist hotel developments and the virgin beaches and bays as yet untouched. So it is with a rather sad heart that we leave Mexico with its warm and friendly people, but we vow to come back in the future and explore other parts.
To ensure we arrive before sunset tomorrow, we really need to have an early departure today. But first I have a job to do. I need to dive where I placed the marker buoy last night, roughly marking the spot where the outboard lock had fallen in the water, and to do that I need at least the first sunlight. Though it’s a hopeless task. The first time I dive down I have maybe 1 meter visibility. Just enough to see that the dive weights on the end of the buoy were completely covered in silt. Meaning the dinghy lock would similarly be invisible. Then the second dive is even less visibility now that I have stirred up the silt. So the mission is quickly aborted. I’ll have to break the news to Ray that I need another one made ☹
We lift the anchor at 8am, yet again having difficulty in the anchor locker. It is clear now that the chute we had made is actually detrimental to the chain stowage, contrary to its designed purpose. Previously, the chain would stack up in a half-pyramid against the bulkhead, and then easily fall down, leaving the hawse-pipe clear. Now, with the chute directing the chain more centrally into the locker, the chain mounts in a full pyramid which surprisingly doesn’t collapse so easily, allowing it to back up into the hawse-pipe and blocking the windlass. So, for all the effort to make the chute, it looks like we should now remove it and revert to the original design. Some improvements work, other don’t. But better to have tried and failed than not try at all!
With the anchor up and secured, we motor out of the shallow bay, only unfurling the mainsail once the depth deepens beyond 4m. Then when out beyond the reef we pole out the genoa to port and gently sail downwind wing-on-wing, keeping to the 10m contour to avoid the Gulf Stream current that runs counter to our trajectory. The sea is very flat, the early morning sun is shining brightly, and we are cruising nicely at 7kts in 12knts of true wind, running along the edge of the reef, backed by a pristine beach and sand dunes, all covered with palms gently swaying in the breeze. Some might say paradise. And to add to the pluses, we have a full 1kt of counter current helping us along.
At this point, I would have run around setting up the spinnaker. The conditions and wind direction are perfect for it. But we are so relaxed that I have one of my rare “can’t be bothered” moments, which I later regret. When we had sailed Key West to Mexico, I had enthusiastically put up the spinnaker no less than 4 times, only to take it down after only a few hours each time. I love sailing with the spinnaker, but at the same time I live in fear of squalls when it’s up. Meaning it’s an exciting sail, but not a relaxing one to use. This time, relaxation got the better of me. So, we continue wing-on-wing at a slower speed than I would have liked and missed the opportunity of a drone video of us sailing with the spinnaker against the back-drop of this wonderful coastline.
By midday we are 25nm south, adjacent to Punta Herrero, where we depart the coastline and head in a SE direction out into the current, aiming for a waypoint 45nm away, that should, in theory, mark the end of the negative Gulf Stream current. As soon as we are beyond the 25m depth contour the current starts. Thankfully, for the whole stream crossing we don’t see more than 1 kt against us. But what we do find is the usual chaotic seas which are characteristic in the Gulf Stream and soon Oana is feeling the effects of mal de mer ☹
We spend all afternoon in the light breeze with the sail wing-on-wing in this horrible sea. The sails and rig are shaking fairly violently as the boat is pitched this way and that. It’s this kind of movement that puts the greatest stresses and strain on both the sails and the rig, much more so that sailing in a strong wind. Hence with patience running thin, we gybe the genoa and turn onto a reach, which allows the sails to power-up and better pin the boat down. Better for the rig and somehow better for our comfort (there is some serious throwing around with the slap of the swell on the side of the hull) … and definitely better for our sanity! The downside is that we are now heading west of our intended waypoint which in theory will keep us longer in the current.
By mid-evening the current has finally gone, and our hull speed now matches our speed over ground. The wind has picked up to 15-19kts and we are really moving fast on a beam reach with one reef in the genoa and I head down for a nap leaving Oana to navigate us over what looks like a shipping lane, with several ships crossing our path ahead.
Below the sound of the water rushing past the hull and the boat movement means sleep doesn’t come easy and I’m back up just one hour later. As I enter the cockpit Oana pushes passed me the rushes to the toilet. Seasickness has got her again, poor Oana ☹. I try to make her as comfortable as possible in the saloon, where the motion is the least, then it’s back on watch among all the shipping.