Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Boat problem

See the crack in the skeg just ahead of the rudder? Not good!
Shortly after we arrived here in Isla Mujeres, I put on my snorkeling gear to take a look at the growth accumulating on Whispering Jesse below the waterline. What I saw under there shocked me: the skeg that the rudder is attached to was separating from the hull! There was a wide crack at the juncture between the skeg and the hull that ran all the way around and a second crack that ran all the way down the forward edge of the skeg. I could see inside the crack that the structure of the skeg was still intact, but it appeared that the only thing holding the outer layer of fiberglass in place was the hardware that attaches it to the rudder.

The boat's hull had been professionally cleaned at Delegal Creek Marina in late March, and I'm sure the gentleman who did the job would have told me if he had seen anything suspicious. So the damage must have occurred either during the shakedown sail we did before our big trip down here or sometime during the trip itself. The logical assumption is that it happened when we ran aground on a sandy shoal during low tide at the entrance to the Delegal Creek channel. The boat pivoted on its keel as it rounded into the wind, and it's possible that the skeg contacted the shoal as well. We were stuck there for over an hour until the rising tide lifted us off, which would be plenty of time to create the kind of damage that now exists.

The scary thing about this is that it means we sailed all the way from Savannah to Isla Mujeres--over a thousand miles--with the damaged skeg. If I had snorkeled under the boat when we reached Florida, where the water was less murky, and seen the damage, I probably would have ended the trip right there.

Now we're in Mexico and the repair may be difficult and expensive, but it needs to be done before the boat can be sailed again. There is only one real boatyard with a lift here on Isla Mujeres. Fortunately, it is only a few hundred yards away, on the channel connecting the bay and the lagoon. We have received a haul and block quote from them already, and it was not unreasonable. With any luck, the repair estimate, which will need to wait until the boat is hauled and inspected, will also be reasonable. Before we motor over there, though, I am thinking it might be a good idea to go under the boat with some cord and lash the skeg together as best I can, just in case.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Immigration update

It took two more trips to the Immigration office in Cancun, on Thursday and Friday, after Monday's all-day affair, to get Nan squared away with her official permission to leave and return. What we did not realize until Thursday is that in order to get the permission, one must first complete the residency card requirements. They are not completely separate processes, but this was never communicated to us. Instead, we waited (and waited) for one of the officers to approve Nan's documentation (for a second time), with the correct number of copies of everything this time, and to give her a number in line for fingerprinting, which we wrongly assumed was a permission requirement.

It was mid-afternoon by the time an officer took Nan's fingerprints and handed her a paper towel but no solvent. The officer then asked to see Nan's face photos, which we had taken at a photo studio in Isla Mujeres after our first trip to Immigration. She frowned and said the face images in the photos were too small; the photos would need to be retaken. I could see Nan start to lose her composure. Heck, I was losing mine. The officer then asked to see Nan's bank receipt for the 3,130-peso fee for her residency card, which Nan didn't have yet because she assumed she was processing her permission, not her residency card. We hastily thanked the officer and said we would return with the receipt and the new photos. We were both shaking with anger by the time we were back outside. Nan said, "Screw it!", or words to that effect. "I am not coming back here! I will just tell the airport people that I lost my travel visa and pay the fine."

We had cooled down by the time we reached the ferry terminal for the ride back to Isla Mujeres, and we decided that it would be too risky to claim a lost travel visa. What if it caused Nan to miss her flight? Instead, we would go back to Cancun early the next morning when the Banjercito bank opened, pay the fee, make the copies and get the new photos, but not wait in line again. "Regresemos" (We are returning), we would say to the guard, and we hoped he would recognize us and let us in.

Well, it worked. Of course, it took most of the day again, with a two-hour wait for final document processing, but then Nan was the proud owner of a very official-looking document giving her permission to leave the country of Mexico, which she did bright and early on Monday morning. She is back in Wisconsin now, attending to her mother and making plans for her return, hopefully late next week and possibly with Scout.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Another trip to Immigration

Another day of waiting at the Immigration office
Nan and I returned to Immigration in Cancun yesterday to process requests for permiso de salida y regreso (permission to leave and return). We surrendered our travel visas last week when we submitted the paperwork to convert our residente temporal (temporary resident) visas into residency cards. Without our travel visas, we cannot leave Mexico legally. It takes special permission: a letter of explanation in Spanish, an official form, copies of passports and other documents, face photos, fingerprints, and 320 pesos. Some of this we did not know about before we showed up bright and early to wait in line outside the office again, this time in blazing hot sunshine.

Nan's mother fell and broke her hip recently. She is recovering well with the support of her large family, and Nan wants to be with her now, not in the three weeks we were told last week that it would take to get our residency cards. Thus, her need for special permission. My father is turning 80 at the end of this month, and my family has planned a get-together in San Diego. But if it takes longer than three weeks to get our residency cards, then I would be out of luck, and I already have airline tickets. Thus, my need for special permission.

When we finally made it to the head of the line, we were told by the officer that we needed copies of documents and proofs of payment that we did not have. Also, my letter of explanation was not specific enough. Apparently, "family matters" is not a sufficient excuse. We would need to do as requested and then stand in line again. I was ready to go back to Isla Mujeres and return the next day, but Nan pointed out that we could probably get everything done in Cancun. We started at the Banjercito bank around the corner, to pay the necessary fees and collect our receipts as proof. I remembered seeing an Internet cafe out the bus window on our way to the Immigration office, so I went off to find it while Nan held our new place in line. Six or seven blocks of very hot walking later, I found the cafe and retyped my letter in Spanish on a Spanish keyboard--not as easy as it sounds--and provided details of the birthday trip to San Diego. I made the necessary document copies, paid my sixteen pesos (only $1.25 USD for a half-hour of computer time and eight copies), and then headed back to Immigration.

I expected that Nan would be near the head of the line after the 45 minutes I was gone, but the line had barely moved and she was still not even under the awning. I held our place in the brutal sun while she went for liters of cold water at a nearby Oxxo (Mexico's version of 7-Eleven). Two hours later, we made it back inside to speak again with the officer. This time, Nan's request and documentation were fine, but my request was too far into the future. I would need to return five or six days before my scheduled departure. Why he didn't tell me that the first time is beyond me. We were told to sit and wait another half-hour and then Nan would be fingerprinted. A half-hour later, Nan got up to talk with an English-speaking officer who said no, Nan's fingerprinting would take place when we returned on Thursday for her final document processing, which will require another long wait in line. No kidding.

Then on June 24 and again on June 27, I will need to return for the two trips necessary to process my own permission. Sometime in July, enough time will have passed that we should be notified to return to finish the processing of our residency cards, though an American in line ahead of us told us not to get too excited; he had been waiting for his for almost three months.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

La Amada Marina

Promotional photo for La Amada Marina
Last Friday, before all the rain started, Nan and I drafted Felix, the Mexican sailor who is looking after another sailboat here at El Milagro Marina, to motor with us over to La Amada Marina for a fuel fill-up and holding tank pump-out. We had thought we would be able to pump out at Puerto Isla Mujeres/Villa Vera here on the island, but their pump-out service has been out of commission for a few weeks and the stink in the boat from the holding tank was so bad that we couldn't wait.

La Amada is located on the mainland due west of Isla Mujeres's bay entrance, only about three miles or forty-five minutes of slow motoring away. It is the only public marina located anywhere near Cancun, but it is at least three miles north of the Puerto Juarez ferry terminals and a little north of the Punta Sam car ferry terminal--not exactly walking distance to downtown Cancun or the Hotel Zone.

We threw off Whispering Jesse's dock lines and motored out at about 2:00 in the afternoon. I was pleased to see that the repair to the drive chain's connecting plates, which was completed shortly after our arrival, was working well. (The mechanic did show up finally but not until the next day, and then two hours later than scheduled.) The wind and waves were favorable, and we soon picked up the entrance channel's buoys leading into the marina. I radioed that we were requesting a pump-out but didn't get an intelligible response after multiple tries. It wasn't until we were treading water in front of the marina office that a woman came out and pointed across at slip 88. We floated a little longer waiting for a dock worker to ride his bike around to meet us and then motored slowly into the slip. Thanks to Felix's native Spanish, we were able to make it known that we wanted a pump-out of our agua negra. After the holding tank was empty, I went down and flushed many gallons of sea water through the head, until the fluid coming out through the suction hose was completely clear. Next, we motored back to the marina office, where the diesel pumps were located, tied up and topped off the fuel tank. The price was in pesos per liter, which is a complicated conversion, but it worked out to just under $200 USD total. Along with the $45 USD pump-out fee, it was an expensive but worthwhile trip. The stink was gone, the fuel tank was full, and the engine tested perfectly.

Aside from the available amenities at La Amada Marina, there is not much to promote it. In addition to its isolation from almost everything on the mainland, it is not an attractive place, despite how it looks in the promotional photo above. The foliage in the photo is long gone. The marina is nothing but stark concrete piers surrounded by stark concrete walls, and all of it is reflecting intense heat. It might be a good, protected place to keep a boat, but it would be a terrible, depressing place to stay on a boat, even for an overnight. Maybe we'll check out Puerto Morelos, south of Cancun but north of Playa del Carmen, for our next trip over to the mainland.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rain, rain, and more rain

Our dinghy full of rainwater at El Milagro Marina in Isla Mujeres
Nan and I were caught in a downpour on Saturday afternoon while pedaling our folding bikes back to the marina from a stop at Brisas Grill in el centro for a drink and a chat with our friend, Juan, who works there. We waited out the rain under a palm tree before continuing, and it seems we have been waiting it out ever since, going on four full days now. Activity on the island has come to a near standstill, as roads are flooded and businesses are closed.

It has rained over a foot in the last twenty-four hours. Take a close look at our dinghy in the photo above. (Click it for the full-size version, if you like.) Yes, it is completely full of rainwater. Yesterday, it was almost dry after Felix, a Mexican sailor who looks after another sailboat in the marina, bailed it out with a cut-off water bottle for something to do. He volunteered to do it again today and I told him, "Mas tarde," after the rain stops. There's no point in bailing while it's still raining. The water level is high enough now that it's running over the transom, so there's no danger of the dinghy sinking. I wonder if the cut-off water bottle is still floating around in there somewhere. Note also the well-flowing scupper on Whispering Jesse in the background.

We seem to be experiencing the aftermath of Hurricane Barbara, but a look at the satellite images on the NOAA website shows another system developing to the southwest, where Barbara came from, so the rain may continue for several more days. I told a resort guest this morning that it might be time to start building the ark. His vacation mostly ruined by the rain, he didn't think that was very funny.


A photo of a photo of Foster from the El Milagro palapa's bulletin board
When Nan and I were checking out all the marinas on Isla Mujeres last September, El Milagro was the only one with a resident mascot, Foster, an elderly Australian shepherd belonging to the marina's owner, Eric Schott, who splits his time between here and California. Foster did not travel back and forth but rather spent all of his time at the marina, lounging under the palapa, barking at the local fishermen's dogs, and taking hand-outs from marina guests. He has been a fixture here since Eric bought an old shrimp processing plant about eight years ago and converted it into the marina and resort that El Milagro is today.

Foster died yesterday. He was fourteen years old and was suffering from deafness, near blindness, and terrible arthritis in his hips. He had been to the veterinarian last week for medication to ease his pain, but it had the effect of rendering him glassy eyed and immobile. After a bad weekend, during which he also became incontinent, Eric and the marina's manager, Jaime, decided over the phone that it was time to put Foster down. Yesterday afternoon, during a steady rain, Jaime and other marina workers moved Foster gently into the back of a pickup truck for another trip to the vet. It was hours later before they returned. Jaime was very emotional when he called Eric to tell him that Foster was gone. He asked Nan to talk to Eric, and she spoke with genuine affection for a dog we had known for only a couple of weeks.

Foster is buried now, down near the beach, next to sheltering palm trees. The rain has smoothed the mound above his grave, but there is not yet a stone to mark it. I am sure there will be one soon. Foster was a true Isla character, and he will never be forgotten.

Monday, June 3, 2013


Waiting in the rain outside the Immigration Office in Cancun
Early this morning, Nan and I took the ferry over to Cancun for another visit to the immigration office. We were there last Thursday to exchange our Residente Temporal visas, which we secured through the Mexican consulate's office in Denver before leaving home, for our Residency Cards, which will entitle us to many benefits including eligibility for the national health plan. We were led to believe it would be an easy process, but we were presented with a daunting list of additional requirements, including face photographs and letters in Spanish explaining why we wanted to live in Mexico. Naturally, this took a few days to pull together, and we were still not certain if we had it all right when we showed up there again this morning. It was raining steadily, as it has been since Saturday afternoon (Thank you, Hurricane Barbara!), when we took our places in line with the other hopefuls outside the office. Thankfully, there was an awning, ostensibly for sun protection but also serving adequately to keep us all dry.

After an hour's wait, outside in the rain and then inside in the chilly air conditioning, we were ushered up to the same officer who had assisted us last week. She took our passports, noted us in her ledger, asked if we had all of our documents, and then gave us a number in line to see a processing officer. He looked through our stacks, had us sign in a few places, and then gave us numbered forms showing how we could look up our processing statuses online. He told us processing would take about three weeks, which will delay us in returning to the U.S. to get Scout because we can't leave the country until processing is complete except in an emergency. Nan and I miss Scout terribly and want him here with us as soon as possible. We exited the office into a downpour with smiles on our faces knowing we are almost there.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Isla Holbox

Abandoned sailboat near the Isla Holbox ferry dockThis past Monday, Nan, Mike and I traveled north to Isla Holbox to check it out as a possible nearby sailing destination. We took the ferry across to Cancun and then took a Mayab bus from the central bus terminal. It dropped us off in Chiquila about two hours later, and we took another ferry ride over to Isla Holbox. I was looking out the ferry's windows for sailboats as we approached the island, but there was only one and it was an old grounded wreck abandoned to the elements. Except for dredging to accommodate the ferry, the waters immediately around the island are too shallow for sailing. One would need to anchor out about a half-mile for safety, which would make for a long, wet dinghy ride in to the shell-covered beach.

Nan in front of the fishermen's memorial photographing an Isla Holbox sunsetMike's reason for checking out Isla Holbox was equally disappointing. In recent years, the island was a mecca for kite surfing, but we heard that local fishermen complained about the kite surfers interfering with their boat movements to and from shore, so the government banned it. Now it's allowed only on a beach about sixty miles east of Holbox.

Whale shark image stenciled on a wall in Isla HolboxWe stayed at a nice little hotel/restaurant, located next to the central plaza, called Casa Lupita. There were several similar businesses--restaurant on the ground floor, hotel rooms above--all around downtown, but none appeared to be doing much business. In addition to the loss of the kite surfing clientele, it was also off-season, so the hot, dusty, unpaved streets were very quiet. Frankly, there is not much to do there except hang out or eat and drink at the many good restaurants, at least until the whale shark viewing season picks up in a few weeks. Nan and I were ready to leave by Wednesday morning and were back on our boat by late afternoon. Mike planned to return today, but he cut his trip short by a day, having run out of reasons to stay.