Cayo Culebra

12/15/2021

Day in and day out, this lifestyle presents me with a new opportunity to let go of all my planning and figuring out, and instead leaves me realizing I can’t plan it all out. I wonder how many times I am going to have to learn this lesson. Maybe forever, maybe it’s my life path to be presented with this over and over again. It’s humbling though, living in a way that takes me by surprise at every bend. 

I am currently sitting in the cockpit sipping on warm coffee out of my favorite thrift store mug. The water is mostly calm, but has some wavelets that bounce the boat up and down in a soothing manner. To my right is luscious green mangroves. To my left is horizon as far as I can see. Kyle is down below at the chart table working on Solidworks, and Mason and Zoie are asleep in the v-berth. The sun is just rising, and it’s creating a glare on my computer screen, making it difficult for me to see. I’ll have to change positions soon. The land to my right is an island called Cayo Culebra. It’s located in  the bay called Bahia De La Ascension on the East coast of Mexico, south of Cozumel. 

There is no one in this bay. Just the four of us and Safi. We have been here since Monday morning. The days have started to blur together again, and yesterday it took me, Kyle and Zoie a few minutes to figure out what day of the week it was and what the date was, before we finally looked at a phone to confirm. 

On Sunday morning we pulled out of our slip in Isla Mujeres, motored away from the island, turned South towards Roatan, and set sails. Mason steered the boat for the first hour or so, he seemed to really enjoy it. But eventually it gets tiring, and we turned on the autopilot, which stayed on all the way until we dropped anchor 24 hours later. Having an autopilot and a windvane, both things make it so we don’t have to steer, is absolutely essentail to cruising. I would never go anywhere long distance without them. Being on watch consists of looking for ships, adjusting sails, checking our course, and just making sure everything is going okay. But you can still go down below for a minute to ues the bathroom, make some coffee, grab a snack or whatever else. It provides a lot of freedom and really helps reduce fatigue. 

The sea state was much larger than forecasted, and the journey was quite rolly and lumpy. Mason and Zoie both got sick at the exact same time. I was sleeping down below, Kyle was on watch, and Mason and Zoie were feeling just fine, sitting in the cockpit. And suddenly they both sat up and puked over the side. Kyle then gave them dramamine and they passed out for 4 hours. When they woke up they were feeling much better- I made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, had them drink as much water as possible, gave them one more dramamine, and told them to try and sleep down below. Sleeping is the best thing you can do when seasick because it allows your body to acclimate while you’re asleep so you don’t have to deal with the effects. It clearly worked because that evening they made veggie stir fry with rice while we sailed passed Cozumel. Thankfully they were both such great sports about the whole thing. Their attitudes were unwavered and they were able to laugh and joke about it, without getting upset or feeling distraught. Attitude is so important in this lifestyle, as it can make it or break it. 

However, since the sea state was rougher than expected, Kyle and I pulled another GRIB file (this is how we check wind, wave, and weather forecasts at sea). The GRIB showed that the storm front was moving up, and would be arriving sooner than expected. We once again, had to make the difficult decision to change plans. We considered pulling into Cozumel and anchoring in the lee of the island, but this would require us to check back into Mexico (not a simple process at all on a boat). It also would involve being in a super touristy area, which none of us had any interest in. But we knew the passage to Roatan would be uncomfortable and possibly a bit scary for our new crew, so we had to come up with another plan. I found a small bay south of Cozumel that had an achorage symbol and some reviews written by other cruisers about how amazing of a spot it was. We decided that was the answer. It was 7pm when we made this decision, and we were 12 hours away, this would give us time to get there and in through the reefs while the sun was coming up, and also arrive before the higher winds were forecasted. 

The passage from the lee of Cozumel to Bahia De La Ascension was a good one. The seas were still a bit lumpy, but had calmed down. The wind was consistent, and if it weren’t for the current against us, we would have been making 6-7 knots the whole way. Instead we only made 4-5 knots over ground, but it was perfect timing as we didn’t want to arrive to the entrance in the dark since it was surrounded by reefs. Kyle and I took turns on watch, and Mason and Zoie each took a night watch. Since it was their first time, Kyle and I took turns sleeping in the cockpit while they were on watch. So Kyle took watch from 8pm-10pm and then Zoie took watch from 10pm-midnight, but Kyle was sleeping in the cockpit during her watch, so if anything happened or she had any questions, he was right there. Then at midnight, I took watch until 2am by myself. At 2am Mason came to take watch, while I slept in the cockpit until 4am. It worked out well, and Kyle and I both got some sleep throughout the night. Zoie’s shift started with a small rainstorm which caused the wind and waves to pick up for a minute, and Kyle and I had to change the sail configuration. Ten minutes later it was over, and we went back to full sails and a peaceful night. But we all laughed the next day that poor Zoie was introduced to night watch during a squall while Mason had a perfectly clear, peaceful, evening filled with stars and consistent wind. That’s the name of the game though. They both handled it all so well. I am very impressed with both of them. This is not an easy thing to do, and it takes a lot of courage to sit in the cockpit at night and keep an eye on everything. Especially when you’d really rather be sleeping.  

Around 6am Kyle came below and woke me up. “We’re about to head in between the reefs, i’d like you to come navigate with me.” I hopped out of bed, put on a sweatshirt, and joined Kyle in the cockpit. Since we don’t have to steer the boat, we sat together for a few minutes and enjoyed the pre-dawn. The closer to shore we got, the calmer the seas became, so as each moment passed, each moment became more tranquil. We had one mile on each side of us between the reefs, we weren’t even close enough to see or hear waves crashing on them, but anytime a boat is near a reef it is important to be on full alert. So we utilized all our tools: our eyes, ears, the chart, the compass, the depth sounder, binoculars, a second chart, the navigation app. We just kept verifying we were on course and heading into the deep waters of the entrance. The entrance was uneventful, we were able to sail our way in, and once in clear of the reefs we turned and the seas instantly became flat, as though someone turned off a switch. The sun was beginning to rise, and the pre-dawn colors were magnificent. Mason and Zoie were still both asleep, and I had a strong urge to wake them, but decided against it. Safi glided along the surface of the water, making 5 knots and it barely felt like she was moving. Eventually Mason and Zoie woke up, and they were able to come on deck and enjoy the experience of watching the sunrise, the calm of entering a protected bay, and put eyes on the island which would become our home for the following 3.5 days. 

By 7:30am we had rounded the island, dropped anchor, and began the process of turning the boat from a sea-going vessel into a floating home for 4. I made everyone a big breakfast of eggs, toast, tortillas, hashbrowns, and avacados. Mason and Kyle launched the dinghy. Zoie helped clean up the boat and get breakfast ready. By 9:45am we were all fed, the boat was clean and organized, and the dinghy was floating happily behind us. It was time to explore. 

I have tried to start this paragraph multiple times, but the words keep escaping me. It is Wednesday morning, we have been anchored in this bay for two days and we leave tomorrow afternoon for Honduras. The last two days have been nothing short of magical. On Monday after we arrived, we took the dinghy to the beach on the point of the island. We brought a machete for coconuts, a frisbee, some towels, lots of sunscreen and water. Within minutes of making land fall on the island, Kyle was up a coconut tree throwing down fresh coconuts. We waded out into the shallows to avoid the no-see-ums, fire ants, and mosquitos that tend to plague tropical islands, and let the cool ocean water rejuvinate our bodies after a 24 hours passage. Kyle used the machete to open the coconuts and we drank fresh coconut water while the waves lapped on our waists. 

We played frisbee for hours in the shallows. Mason and Zoie are both on frisbee teams so they are quite good. It was fun playing in the shallow water because we were all much more willing to dive to catch the frisbee as the water provided a soft landing. While we were playing a raincloud rolled in and provided a torrential downpour for a few minutes. We kept playing through it all, and enjoyed the cool, fresh water. 

That evening we decided to pull out the projector and have a movie night on the boat. We hung the projector in the companionway in front of the stairs. Kyle and I sat on the starboard settees (right side couch) and Mason and Zoie on the port (left side). We ate freshly made pizza Kyle had baked for dinner and a fresh crunchy salad while we watched a movie about climbing. The wind was howling around us and we were so glad to be safely anchored behind the island and not out sailing to Roatan. It was cozy and wonderful. 

The following days are a blur of exploring, relaxing, eating, swimming, napping, and reading. One day we went back to the island, but this time with a mission to explore inland. However, we knew it was very overgrown and that the bugs would be terrible, so we wore pants, long sleeves, shoes, and bug spray. We made our way into the mangroves and bush whacked through a variety of tropical plants, trees, and bushes. All around us were hermit crabs. By the thousands! If you looked at one spot on the ground long enough, it would just start moving and you’d begin to notice all these shells of various sizes moving around. We really didn’t want to step on them, so we made our way carefully deeper into the island. Kyle and Mason were on coconut missions, while Zoie and I just enjoyed the walk and tried not to get mauled by bugs. Eventually we had gone as far as we could, and all stopped in the bushes and ate some fresh coconut. 

Another day, or maybe it was the same day but later in the day? Who knows. We blew up some floats and tied them off the back of the boat. Mason and Zoie floated behind the boat for a bit while I did laundry and Kyle did boat projects. Eventually we joined them and enjoyed cooling off in the clear water. One night Mason went up the mast at sunset and the following morning Zoie did the same. The view from the top of the mast is unbeatable, and they got some awesome photos of Safi.

Fortuntely we are all avid readers, so some parts of the days were spent reading for hours on end. Food was also a big part of our little floating world. Zoie became the baker and baked the most wonderful banana bread. Kyle did a red sauce curry, and Mason and Zoie did tacos. I was usually the breakfast maker. 

Continued on 1/2/2022 

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on our time in Cayo Culebra. And something that I noticed was how much I enjoyed the “in between” feeling. We technically were checked out of Mexico and supposed to have left their waters, but because of the change of forecast, we hid behind Cayo Culebra. This is a bit of a grey area when it comes to immigration. They are understanding of sailors and the need to wait for weather, but they also would like you to leave the country when you check out. So there we were, in what felt like the middle of nowhere, not checked into Mexico, not checked into Honduras, and not checked into the U.S. We were just sort of floating there, in between, waiting for the seas to calm down. And there was something magical about that. Something special about the fact that we were just this little floating self-sufficient home. We had plenty of food, we used the water maker to turn salt water into drinking water, so had endless fresh water. Our solar panels powered all of our technology, and the dinghy provided a sense of not being stuck on the boat. We didn’t have cell phone service, we didn’t see a single person the entire time we were there, and the island was so idealic looking. I find myself feeling quite grateful for our time there. In the hustle bustle of the world, it is difficult to find 4 days to just slow down and experience stillness. Like life was on pause. 

And now, almost 3 weeks later, I write this from anchor in Honduras. And I smile because I now have the hindsight to see how quickly life can go from being on pause to just the opposite. And I giggle at my first paragraph of this post- I wrote that on December 15th, and today, on January 2nd, things are going even less according to “the plan”. And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s beautiful, and I look forward to sharing our journey after we left Cayo Culebra. 

What I am beginning to really learn is that there is no plan. We can choose a direction. We can guide ourselves towards a destination, but as cliche as it sounds, the journey, not the destination, is what this is all about. So once again, I am letting go of this idea of a plan and rather moving with intention towards what I feel called to do. 

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” -Paulo Coelho 

*Photo credit goes to: Kyle, myself, Mason, and Zoie*

2 thoughts on “Cayo Culebra”

  1. Thanks for again taking us along on your adventure. I look forward to more posts from me, a landlocked (and cold) Minnesotan subject to seasickness are the rare occasions I’ve been on an ocean going vessel.

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