Our fairly long day’s travel had ended with totally unexpected trials at Banco Chinchoro, and when the work was done, I was exhausted. Laying to a big mooring gives you a real sense of security at night, but these moorings were set for really big boats. The one and a half inch tether line kind of gave that away. They’re located in deeper water, further from the protection of the island, and as a result our night was less than peaceful, rocking and rolling in the 25 knot winds that seemed to be the norm.
When I woke in the morning, I downloaded my usual weather files via our Globalstar satellite phone, and I wasn’t happy with the report. If we chose to stay at Chinchoro, we would be stuck for days as big winds were forecast arriving two days hence. I relayed this information to Kashmir and Hasta la Vista, and both said “We don’t want to go yet, but if you’re leaving, we’re leaving”. Neither vessel had any means of accessing weather forecasts, and our ability to obtain accurate GFS forecasts was a huge plus. We left right after breakfast just behind Hasta la Vista and headed south aiming to navigate the narrow pass through the reefs at Xcalak Mexico.
Our sail south and west across the stream was fast and furious. I asked our MaxSea navigation software to give me a weather routing using the morning’s GRIB files, and the software gave me a track that mirrored my own thinking. I try to think the same way the computer does, as in, speed is a good thing. We hugged the reefs along the west side of Chinchoro staying just inside the adverse 2 knot Gulf Stream current. On the way south we passed a cruise ship that had strayed a little too close to the reefs; it was firmly aground and heeling towards the banks. That captain had a very bad day as the ship now appears to be a total loss. At the southern end of the atoll our route took a heading with a sort of belly curve bearing southwest for Xcalak. Fair winds carried us along at 7 to 8 knots over the bottom, and once again, we reached our waypoint with the sun fairly high up, but not as high as I would have liked. Our guide book showed photos of a nice set of range marks and good compass headings leading us through the cut. But Hasta la Vista, arriving just before us, called to say that the leading mark was barely visible. We circled around outside the entrance until I was certain I had found the range as the waves were breaking menacingly on the reefs north and south of the cut. When we shot through the entrance surfing in on some pretty big waves, I was once again thankful for our handy guide and our trusty friends.
It was impossible to take photos as we were running the cut. Had we been able to do so, you would have some pretty spectacular footage of our trip. Just above you can see what the breaking waves look like from the shore side, and I can tell you without hesitation that the real thing was much more impressive. The Caribbean sea would hit the reefs with a vengeance, and the winds would carry the salt spray up and over our Angel on the right and Kashmir on the left as we were tied to very large moorings. Everything was damp and salt-covered long before we left this reef lined anchorage. By the way, picking up a mooring here was a piece of cake; I used Joy’s cane extended to the max length, and the mooring tether was a good 20 feet long making the process of securing the line a snap. So, maybe it was “them”, not me on the last occasion! Behind us you will see the Xcalak light house, the back mark of the range, and in the center you can barely see a spindly metal tower that is the front range mark. Well, it was partially obscured by the yellow steam shovel to the left, and all we could see was the top third of the tower. No wonder we had a hard time finding it from offshore.
Off to our right we kept watching the wave action over the pass. As you can see here, it was not a pleasant sight. The winds built up exactly as forecast, and the waves kept pounding the reefs all the while getting bigger and louder. Waves would break all the way across the pass, and we were locked in here with no way of leaving. We began to wonder if this place would be the end of our Caribbean adventure as the days went by and there appeared to be no hope of leaving in time to reach our southern destination.
What could we do but make the best of it? So we motored the dinghy ashore to wander the island looking to explore. George from Hasta la Vista said he had found a small restaurant on the south end of town, and we thought we’d give it a try. We made the mistake of landing at the very north end of town and had to walk the hot dusty road all the way to the south end.