Made the trip 3 times, 2 of them single
handed. First you will not have a counter current the whole time . The last 18 hours are the hardest. A buddy boat is false security
. Anytime of the year is fine. Just watch the weather
and get a sense of the trends. Watch the wind and wave charts
, buoy reports everything you can find. Its a 3 day trip at 5 knots and the weather
is very predictable for that amount of time.
to the Dry Tortugas
, get some rest and tour the fort. The Staff there has access to weather reports. Head south to Cuba in the am at a right angle to the Gulf stream
. Get withing 10-15 miles of Cuba then turn west along the coast. You may find yourself with a weak current pushing you along. It will be late on the second day as you approach the west end of Cuba. You will know you are sticking our nose out into the Yucatain straight because it will begin to get a little rough . Head north around the tip of Cuba for as long as you can take it. I turn when direct Isla Mujers is 90 degrees off the starboard side.
For the next 18 hours or so you will be on a wild ride, just relax and enjoy, trust the boat. The current will feel like a giant claw
pulling you back, 3 or 4 knots at its peak. There will be waves. Be kind to the boat so you do not break something. You will be in the current until the ocean floor begins to rise.
Two of the trips across ended up coming in in the dark. Rule
#1, no strange approaches at night, right. IMO this one is pretty easy. There is a buoy off the northern tip of Isla. It is on the NW Carribian garmin
You need to stay at least a 100 yards north of this. but if I remember correctly there is at least a mile North of that marker to get over the reef safely. Make a plan and stick to it. If things do not feel right wait for light. Use a google earth
view and your charts
to get a good feel for the approach. I have crossed the reef with 30 knots winds out of the east and the reef was breaking , scary but still doable. The two night time approaches it was flat calm. I do not think I could approach a breaking reef in the dark, yikes!!!
Oh ya, get the blue guide book. Isla is a great anchorage and wonderful town. Lots of great restraunts and I have spent months there on the hook and at marinas
with out worries. But my rule
is back on the boat by dark, well almost anyways. After you get your fill of Isla life head south.
First stop Porto Moralas. Easy well marked entrance. A easy day trip. Get there early by using the little cut in the south end of the ISLA anchorage. Its fun. Check it out with your dinghy
first and scope
it out with a portable depth sounder
. Get to PM early because there are a few mooring
balls behind the reef. Grab one if you can. I have anchored there as well. I would drop a anchor
even if I was tied to the mooring
. You anchor
right in front of the town. I did not find it overly interesting. When traveling south you want to stay tight against the reef, 20-50 feet of water
. Venture to far out and you stick your nose into the current. a few hundred yards off the reef and you get a nice counter current pushing you along, day only of course.
Next stop Porto adventura, another easy day sail. A interesting entrance, just follow the blue books
advise. They have gps
way points for everything. Sort of a mini sea world kind of place. A small man made concrete lined harbor, $20 buck a night gets you a med more and power. Last time I made the trip I should have checked out of Mexico
here. Long story but I ended up in Belize
with out a Zarpe. Turned out not to be a big deal.
Another day sail will get you to Punta Allen. Again google earth
all these places and save the file in your lap top. Anchor behind the town, to exposed out front. Follow the book. Do not get to the way point and head for the town, you will hit the reef. The folks that do this blame the book but it is there own mistake. It is a easy all weather entrance. Check out the little dirt road town. There is another bay 20 miles north, a cool offshore
atoll further along.
Last trip I tried some of the reef passes that the book shows but they are plenty scary and I mostly chickend out at the last minute. Remember you are now in the trades and a steady 20-25 day 25-30 night wind blows constantly out of the east.Making the reef entrances mean looking.
There are stops all along the way to Belize. But like I said those skinny reef openings. Your first stop in Belize can be , crap I forget the name but it is the first Island behind the reef in belize, A big town cool ,town but the anchorage is no bueno, to rolly and windy and lots of boats. One night is enough but this is the place to check in. The reef entrance is tight and you have to make a hard right after the cut, its all in the book. It is well traveled in the daytime so it may be worth a try, might get to follow some other boat in.. Again follow the books
advise. There is a large ship channel further down and at some point you get some relief from the HUGE swell that the trades create from the off shore atolls. Belize is awesome, the Cays anyways. The mainland is sometimes scary.
Explore to your hearts content, eat lobster till you are sick of it. Then head to Roatan which is a overnight endever. The wind is most likely not going to be your friend so pick a lull in the trades to make it over. Roatan is cool and has many protected anchorages
, a generally safe place.
I did a very cool 6 day solo sail back to Key West to complete my last voyage. Trades on the Beam with a nice current for 3 days then a right turn around Cuba and 2 days motoring into KW. Just to much fun.
I did these trips with very little sailing experience. The Blue book has all the info you need about weather and such. One note of caution. I have spent quite a bit of time hanging out in the KW anchorage. On more than one occasion I have seen boats that needed help getting back from Isla. If you go against a strong wind you will get beat up and then run out of fuel
. So plan your departure accordingly.
It is a fun trip and land is never more than a days sail away. Go for it!!
Chuck S/V Perrovida 1978 IF 36