EPISODE 1: “Oops!”
12:30 PM: After two months of renovation, repair, upgrades, frantic phone calls to vendors, waiting for parts, waiting for the right parts, repairing, checking and installing all kinds of new and often previously unfamiliar equipment, Captain Isidor (“Izzymon”) Garcia and his crew Divemaster (and captain of his own boat) Gerry Ack, of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize and nephew/student/surfer Augustine Garcia, Jr., of San Diego finally head out of the Cape Fear Marina, ready to take the newly outfitted and provisioned Xaloc (a red and white 37 foot Prout Snowgoose) on her first open sea voyage. Destination: Ambergris Caye Belize!
The night before, Izzy was up until 3 AM playing with the GPS and navigation
software, trying to get them to “talk” to each other. Finally (after some
web searching and a desperate “help” post to the Nobeltec Visual Navigation
Suite support newsgroup), success! The software and hardware recognize each
other and it’s a “go.” The weather is cooperating and the tide is high!
Friends come to see the voyagers off: George and JoAnn, owners of the machine shop that made the stand for the dinghy (and gave us a beautiful kitten who they will keep for us until Izzy flies back in July to pick up his car and drive it back to California), Dick and Joe (other boat owners at the marina), new friends waving good bye, bon voyage!
Gerry takes the helm and calls the bridge operator to raise the bridge for Xaloc, he steers a straight course through the narrow opening.
OOPS! What’s that funny sound coming from the motor? Something isn’t
right. Izzy checks out the almost-new motor one of the few things he hasn
’t taken apart and put back together with his own hands (because it was
almost new when the boat was purchased) and finds the belt is no good. No
big deal, grab one of the spare belts, put it on and crank it up.
OOPS! Something smells wrong. What’s wrong turns out to be that the replacement belts are the wrong kind. And the water pump for the motor doesn’t look so hot. And there’s more: The propane regulator isn’t working right. Turn around, call the bridge operator, tell him to raise the bridge. The folks on shore are shaking their heads: “That was a short trip!”
First thing tomorrow morning, Izzy will buy and install a new water pump and new belts and regulator. (The peter principle at work: Whatever you don’t personally check out is what will break down first…) Everything else is working OK so far: The toilet is flushing, the sink is flowing, the refrigerator is refrigerating, the freezer is freezing, the wind turbine is spinning, the GPS is plotting, the computer is displaying crisp weatherfaxes.
The goal: Depart by early afternoon on Monday.
EPISODE 2: “I don't need no stinkin' hydraulic steering!"
Monday afternoon, May 20:
By mid afternoon, the motor is all fixed up, spare parts (the right kind this time) are stored away safely, and the crew is ready to hit the road again. George comes back to see them off, more hugs, goodbyes and photo opps. The weather is gorgeous. Chug chug down the river and back onto the ICW. Because its late, Capt. Izzy decides to knock off three hours later in Southport and start again the next morning. Augie Jr. cooks up some barbecue and everybody chows down with a beer or two.
Tuesday morning, May 21:
Up and out, time, to go! The wind is kicking up and a lot of traffic seems to be heading in the opposite direction. The radio reports that there are 14 foot waves where the ICW meets the ocean and a boat capsized and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard.
Suddenly, a caravan of four BIG motorboats go by at high speed and their
wake knocks Xaloc onto the sandbar, breaking a hydraulic line and spilling
out hydraulic fluid. Oops! Izzy has to purge the hydraulic fluid and then
tie the steering with a rope. Gerry takes the wheel and backs the boat off
the sand bar. Until the hydraulic line is fixed and re filled, the boat
will have to be steered using the manual outdrive. Izzy calls George to see
where they should stop and they decide on North Myrtle Beach to find some
hydraulic fluid and try to repair the hydraulic lines and steering. But
somehow, they miss the turnoff and end up in the middle of what looks like
nowhere, still looking for a marina. They end up in someplace called
Bucksford (at least, I think that's what its called, though I couldn't find
it on the internet), which seems to be inhabited primarily by several 10-12
foot crocodiles ("those are some big-ass crocodiles!")
Izzy spots a creaky dock that looks like its about to fall apart, and pulls up to it, ties up the boat and goes in search of the owner of what is supposed to be a small marina. The owner turns out to be a really nice fellow named Stewart, who tells Izzy that he inherited the marina from his father. When he hears where Izzy is headed, he asks about Belize and within a few minutes, is already planning his own trip. Izzy buys a container of hydraulic fluid and goes to work to fix the broken hydraulic line. He bleeds and purges the line and patches it together. It leaks a little bit but he thinks it will hold up until he can get to the Georgetown Landing Marina for some serious hydraulic repair. It's time to eat and a beer is way overdue.
Well, this was the "shake-out" sail and so far its working. There's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on! Not a whole lot of forward motion, though....The June 1 target for arrival in Ambergris Caye is looking pretty shaky too.
EPISODE #3: "It's amazing what a bicycle pump can do"
Team Xaloc chugs into Georgetown, South Carolina in late morning, stopping first at the hoity-toity Georgetown Landing Marina, only to be told "We don' t have any room for you." (Could it be the Raider Nation flag flying high above the antennas?) The team has better luck at the Boat Shed Marina, where they disembark and Izzy goes in search of a replacement for the hydraulic steering hose that broke and for someplace that sells ice cream.
The next morning, Captain Izzy dispatches Augie Jr. to the local Kmart to
get a bicycle pump. Izzy and Gerry spend a couple of hours pumping and
examining the rest of the hosing. It looks OK and the parts store does not
have enough of the right kind of hosing to replace all of it, so they
replace the bad section and buy some copper hosing to keep as spares in case
of emergency. After a couple of hours with the pump, the steering is
better than it was before the breakdown. They will get some more high
pressure hosing in Charleston, which has more suppliers than tiny
Suddenly: CRASH! What happened? What happened is, another boat trying to dock next to Xaloc misjudged the turn and hit Xaloc on the side. Luckily, Xaloc is equipped with bow protectors, there does not appear to be any damage. Then, Izzy has to spend a few minutes performing his least favorite duty: calling Nobeltec Support to find out why the Visual Navigation Suite doesn't want to start up. But finally, everything is back up and running.
Some local fishermen are selling fresh jumbo shrimp for $6.29 a pound.
Dinner is a real treat: Augie whips up a delicious meal of shrimp scampi
over pasta served with fresh broccoli and beans cebollo (sauteed with
onions). Xaloc may not be moving real fast but nobody has complaints about
the chow! Izzy reports that "there's fish all over the place around here"
but they have been warned not to stick any lines in the water without
getting a fishing license, which they will have to pick up in Charleston,
(and again in Georgia and Florida if they want to fish there.)
A low-pressure system is circulating over Jamaica and Cuba. It may or may not turn into a tropical depression, and may or may not move onto the South Florida coast. Meanwhile, northeast winds have been high and small craft warnings are out for the southern Atlantic, so Xaloc will stay on the ICW, traffic or no traffic, until the weather improves. Hopefully, all will be well by the end of the weekend. It looks like the new target date for arrival in Belize is somewhere between June 5 and June 10. Xaloc will depart for Charleston at 5 AM tomorrow morning.
EPISODE #4: “Swimming deer and dancing dolphins”
Team Xaloc has just dropped anchor, having moved south about 70 miles today.
They hard originally planned to dock in Charleston, but it looked like the
Venice boardwalk, boats and people everywhere. It’s the start of a holiday
weekend so Izzy decided to bypass Charleston and find a quieter place to
spend the night. About 17 miles past Charleston, they pull into a small,
quiet inlet called Point Goshen and decide to hang it up for the day.
Tomorrow, Xaloc will proceed to Beaufort, Georgia and then to Savannah.
This stretch of the ICW offers great wildlife viewing; Izzy and crew were amazed to see a pair of antlers moving across the channel in front of the boat; moments later a large buck clambered up the bank and disappeared into the grass! And three separate pods of frolicking dolphin swam alongside Xaloc at various times today.
Today was a good food day too: The team had eggs, sausage, beans and tortillas for breakfast, and jumbo shrimp and fried rice for lunch. And now, its time for dinner: the barbecue is lit, and potatoes are cooking, just waiting for the dinner fish to make their appearance.
Over and out!
EPISODE #5: “Hosed for the holidays”
This is also The Day The Batteries All Went Dead At The Same Time. Notwithstanding redundant power sources, there’s too much power being consumed and all battery operated equipment is now on an energy diet, starting with both Izzy’s cellular phone and the Iridium phone, which works everywhere in the world, but only if the battery is charged. Most likely, the batteries were not charged fully when Xaloc took off. So everything is being allowed to discharge down to zero and Izzy will run the generator and charge everything up again.
What with the hose job, the hose search and the Great Battery Adventure, not much progress on Saturday. Finally, George, back in Wilmington, calls to tell Izzy he has located the right size and type hoses…the next step is to decide how and where to send them. All the marinas as far as Fernandina Beach, Florida seem to be full. Since Monday is Memorial Day and Fedex is shut down til Tuesday morning, Izzy and George agree that he will find a reliable location for Xaloc to dock Monday night or early Tuesday morning, and George will overnight the hoses for delivery on Wednesday.
Augie goes in search of food. After dinner, the team decides to spend the
evening at a blues and jazz festival the local African-American community is
putting on near the marina, so off they go. Then, its time to crash; Izzy’s
back hurts from the unusual positions required for hose-fixing and is
thinking about trying to fit in a quick visit to a local chiropractor at the
next big town. The team is a bit nervous because Xaloc is illegally parked.
Luckily, there are no nautical meter maids about.
Sunday morning: Izzy puts the sails up for the first time! Xaloc’s jib is really huge! The wind is blowing and between wind and motor, Xaloc is going about 9 knots per hour. Much better! Xaloc is leaving the large alligators 10-12 foot alligators, who like to swim next to the boat, in the dust. Sunday is a great day Xaloc is moving and nothing breaks down (other than the speedometer, which doesn’t seem to be working…)
Sunday night: Xaloc stops for the night “somewhere in the middle of nowhere.” The GPS says they are about 80 miles south of Fernandina Beach and hope to make it there by Monday night, if there’s a marina available. Otherwise, they may stop in Brunswick, Georgia, the last real town before the Florida border and wait for the hoses if there’s a spot open at one of the marinas there. A lot of weekend sailors will be headed home, so the team is optimistic about finding dock space.
It’s quiet and the moon is huge. Dinner grilled steaks, smothered with onions, rice, and vegetables is almost ready and its definitely happy hour.
EPISODE #6: “This boat really hauls ass”
By evening, Xaloc has left Georgia and is approaching Fernandina Beach. Izzy phones ahead, and is told that there is deck space available at the Fernandina Beach Marina. They dock and head for the marina shower facilities. Later, the captain decides to give Augie a break from cooking, and the team walks to town in search of dinner, settling on barbecued ribs. They’re good, but not “Oakland good.”
Back at the boat, the team is joined by a pretty black cat, who is curious about Xaloc and decides to jump on board and check it out. She is friendly and gives Izzy some of those irresistible kitty head-butts, for which she is rewarded with a rib. She’s fairly plump and looks like she eats regularly; maybe she’s the official marina cat.
Tomorrow morning, they’ll decide where the next port of call will be either Augustine Beach or Jacksonville, and make arrangements for the hydraulic hosing to be delivered. Izzy also plans to do some final work on the water maker installation and see about another termination point for the 12-volt chargers.
EPISODE #7: “Tired of the ICW”
Tuesday is spent under sail and motor, trying to make up for lost time; the plan is to spend Tuesday night in St. Augustine and Wednesday night in Daytona Beach. George has located a parts supplier in Daytona Beach who has the long-awaited hydraulic hoses in stock. Xaloc stays on schedule, despite a close encounter with a sandbar on Tuesday afternoon. The wind can’t seem to make up its mind which direction to blow, but the good news is that the solar panel and wind turbine are drawing lots of power. Dinner is seafood at a local restaurant.
Everybody must have been tired, because nobody wants to get up Wednesday
morning. Izzy calls home Wednesday morning for a cat report. Jazz, our
silver and white Persian, has not been eating the last couple of days and is
in the kitty hospital for IV fluids, laboratory tests and X-Rays. The lab
tests are inconclusive, but the X-Ray report is not good; Jazz has a tumor
on her lung and must see a specialist tomorrow. Xaloc departs about 11:30
AM., heading for Daytona Beach, where Xaloc has a reservation for dock space
at the Daytona Marina and Boat Works.
Thursday is shopping day. The Marina kindly offers use of its van for a trip to town to retrieve the elusive hosing. Izzy also buys a spare emergency rudder arm “just in case.” Back at the boat, the Captain/chief mechanic goes to work on the hoses. Meanwhile, Augie notices that there are some nice looking fish swimming around the boat, and out comes the spear gun! Leaning down over the water, he spears a 5-pound snook. Dinner will be barbecued whole fish wrapped in tinfoil, with onions, bell peppers, garlic and hot sauce, with a big pot of rice and fresh veggies.
After dinner, the team plans to watch the planned launch of the Endeavor shuttle at Cape Canaveral; there’s a good view from the boat. But, the launch is cancelled at the last minute due to weather. This is not good news, because the military has decreed a “security zone” extending 70 miles out to sea. Izzy’s plan to continue the rest of the journey down the Florida Coast on the open sea is on hold til at least Friday evening, when the Endeavor launch is next scheduled, weather permitting.
EPISODE #8: “Manatees!”
Weather is supposed to be good tomorrow; if so, Xaloc will finally say
goodbye to the ICW and head out to sea for the rest of the journey along the
Florida coast and to Key West, the last stop before Xaloc leaves the US
EPISODE 8: “Water, water, everywhere!”
A few hours later, I get a slightly panicked call from Izzy. One of the
“floats” attached to the hulls has broken completely off, and Izzy is
worried about the integrity of the hull. The floats, which were not part of
the original Prout construction, are supposed to assist in cutting through
waves. Izzy decides that he will have to pull into a harbor and have the
boat lifted out of the water to check the hull.
A few minutes later, he calls back to report that our marine machinist friend, George, advised him that the floats are installed in a way that does not impair the integrity of the hull (and also makes them vulnerable to coming off the boat, which probably occurred during the most recent encounter with a sand bar) and that he should not be concerned about the hull.
A thorough search for any leaks is made and everything looks OK. Augie volunteers to put on a snorkel and do an underwater check of the hull; there are no apparent holes, cracks or leaks, notwithstanding the missing float. He jumps back on board after being poked by a curious manatee (or maybe the manatee was just horny; apparently its manatee mating season…)
Panic over, we discuss what we are each having for dinner. I am having a Lean Cuisine rice bowl; Team Xaloc is dining on grilled garlic pork chops with onions, baked potatoes, and barbecued corn. A happy ending to what is officially the first day of hurricane season.
EPISODE 9: “Out to Sea!”
On the morning of Sunday, June 2, Xaloc leaves the ICW and heads out to sea for the first time! The weather is great, waves around 3 feet. Izzy reports that Xaloc’s sails perform beautifully and she is a pleasure to sail. The motor is going too, because Xaloc is sailing against the current. That afternoon, Gerry spots a hammerhead shark near the boat; there are probably others in the vicinity. In the evening, Xaloc is parked at a marina in Del Ray Beach, the team showers and then heads to a local watering hole to eat, drink and watch the playoff game.
With both sails up and the motor running against the current, Xaloc reaches Miami by mid-afternoon. The team cleans up and then has home made chicken tacos for dinner. After dinner, everyone goes ashore for some shopping. Izzy’s watch has died; he buys a new underwater watch with all kinds of gewgaws for himself and one for Gerry, to replace the one that broke. It’s a good thing that the watches have alarms, because the weatherfax seems to balk at downloading unattended weather faxes; in order to receive, Izzy or a crew member has to check the weatherfax schedule and tune in to receive it manually at the appointed times. I’ve posted a message asking for advice to the Iridium/weatherfax listserv. One sailor has already responded, saying that he had the identical problem and solved it by replacing the demodulator. We’ll see what other suggestions we receive on how to fix the unattended fax problem.
127 miles to Key West; Izzy estimates it will take a day and a half to get there. Unless the weather turns ugly, it looks like Xaloc will probably make the revised June 10 deadline for arrival in San Pedro.
EPISODE 10: “The end of the trail the US part, that is!”
Xaloc has now left the ICW behind and is heading south along the coast towards Key West. Tuesday night, Xaloc anchors offshore, with Capt. Izzy keeping one eye on the thunderheads that are dancing around on the horizon, and another eye on the weatherfax, which warns of a “possible tropical development” in the Northwest Caribbean. The sailors don’t sleep too well that night; it sounds like some kind of underwater cable is triggering electronic interference and strange noises under the boat.
Wednesday morning is beautiful. The threatened rain and thunder doesn’t arrive, and Xaloc steams ahead, under sail and motor, towards Key West. Izzy calls in for a cat report and learns that Jazzy Cat is scheduled for lung surgery on Thursday; she is on an intensive feeding program and has gained back the half pound she lost over the weekend. Izzy remembers what great company she was on the drive to North Carolina and the weeks spent working on the boat daily doses of purr therapy far from home!
Izzy reports that he got an unattended fax just now, the first one he has been able to receive without calling the radio for it manually. A new demodulator is on the way, but he won’t get it until after he gets to Belize; at least it provides reliable weatherfaxes on demand. The thunderheads in the horizon seem to be dissipating, and the threatening low over the Western Caribbean and the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula is generating nothing more than scattered showers, isolated thunderstorms, and seas of 3-5 feet. The weather gurus now say it is weakening and unlikely to develop into anything of substance. It looks like a good weather opportunity for Xaloc’s first real venture into the open ocean and hopefully, arrival in Belize in a few days. The team is heading for town for a final shopping expedition, dinner out, and then back on board for a good night’s sleep. Zaloc is parked at the Oceanside Marina, at the exorbitant rate of $105 per night this will definitely be a one-night stay! Key West marina fees are out of sight!
EPISODE 11: “An ending and a beginning”
June 6: It’s the Captain’s 55th birthday and should have been a happy day. But it’s also the day we lost a member of our family, our beloved Silver Persian Jazzy Cat, the world’s most beautiful cat, to metastatic lung cancer.
Our little six-pound Jazzy Cat loved a journey. She would purr loudly when put in the car no cat carrier for her! Her favorite spot was on the dashboard looking out the window; her second favorite spot was the driver’s (usually Izzy’s) lap. A born explorer, she was never daunted by winding roads, bad weather, or even a 3000 mile drive across the county. Most cats crave routine; Jazz loved exploring someplace new. A new condo in the mountains, unfamiliar hotel rooms, even six weeks living aboard Xaloc while Izzy worked on the boat in dry dock oh goody, an adventure!
And now, Jazz is off on her greatest adventure yet. Has she made that leap from this world to whatever exciting experiences await her in the next? Or is her spirit still hovering here, enjoying a few more minutes of familiarity, floating lightly above the circle of flowers that surround the resting place for the physical body that no longer confines her? There is no breeze at all, but the red candle’s flame is dancing as though batted by invisible cat paws….Jazzy never could resist an invitation to play.
Izzy is sad and Gerry and Augie try to cheer him up by taking him out for dinner. But everyone is tired, having partied hearty the night before, and it turns out to be an early night.
June 7: Friday is spent doing a complete checkout of Xaloc and a final trip to town for last minute shopping, with an emphasis on soups and sandwich supplies and other things that are easy to prepare and eat. Weather reports look pretty favorable. A rapidly weakening tropical wave is passing very near Belize, but will be long gone by the time Xaloc gets close. Weatherfax data indicates the worst Xaloc should experience in the next couple of days is an occasional scattered thunderstorm, 15-knot winds, and 3-5 foot seas. Today is the day!
Xaloc pulls out around 4 PM. A mile or two out, a US Coast Guard patrol boat passes and turns around to follow Xaloc. Izzy expects them to stop and board, but instead, they slowly circle and then leave, after giving Xaloc and crew a long-distance eyeballing.
A couple of hours later, Xaloc crosses the limits of U.S. territorial waters. In 15 or 16 hours, Xaloc should be approaching a rather large island, where she will probably make a “fully hosted” stop for a rest and some boat maintenance chores.
EPISODE 12: “Welcome to Havana!”
Xaloc makes it to Havana from Key West in about 17 hours, managing to avoid the thunderheads lurking on the horizon, with seas around 3 and occasionally 4 feet. Izzy calls me at about 12:45 AM (EST) to tell me about “the one that got away” a large dorado that they managed to reel in to about 10 feet from the boat, before it took off, line and all. I get another call at 8:30 AM to let me know that Xaloc is about 19 miles from Havana. Earlier that morning, Xaloc ducked a large waterspout that suddenly materialized.
By 11:15 AM, Xaloc is a half-mile from the Hemingway Marina, which is the
official checkpoint for all boats entering Cuba from the North. Izzy hasn’t
been able to reach the Cuban port authorities on VHS, and the marina doesn’t
answer either its VHS radio or its telephone. Izzy asks me to fax them a
note to advise of Xaloc’s arrival and request dock space, but the fax number
and phone number from the Cruising Guide to Cuba don’t get a response. I
get on the net and pull up a couple of web sites with marina info; but those
numbers don’t seem to work either.
I finally locate a home page for the Hemingway Marina on a Cuban travel web site, but by that time, Izzy has already made it into port on his own and has finished clearing immigration. Izzy and crew are on board waiting for customs officials to clear Xaloc. The plan is to clear customs, get checked in, give Xaloc a once-over, shower and take a nap; they’ve been sailing all night. Next in order will be something to eat, and a walk to the marina bar, for a welcome mojito, or maybe two.
EPISODE 13: “It’s mojito time!”
After a few hours of rest, Izzy and crew shower and head into town for food and some sight-seeing. Havana is bustling with tourists, though a lot of the shops are closed because its Sunday. At one of the crafts shops that is open, the guys strike up a conversation with a young man who ends up taking them to a “restaurante privado.” These are run by Cuban families who supplement their income by turning their dining rooms into private restaurants and serving home cooked meals to tourists. It’s a great deal for the families, who can earn precious US dollars, and also good deal for the tourists, who get a meal that is better and cheaper than the hotel restaurants typically offer.
These private restaurants used to be illegal, but the government bowed to the inevitable a few years ago and legalized them, although its difficult to believe that the owners report and pay taxes on all their income as they are supposed to do. Income reporting/tax evasion seems to be the national Cuban pastime. An “undercover” deal for a case of rum or a couple of boxes of Cohibas can easily resemble the “scoring” scene from a Cheech and Chong movie, as the vendors try to avoid “los ojos.” But there are no street corner thugs hawking crack in Havana.
Plans for tonight include dinner at another private restaurant, more “window-shopping” and a visit to a local pool hall. Weather permitting, Xaloc will depart Monday afternoon and begin the final leg of the sail, heading for Ambergris Caye.
EPISODE 14: “Visa? I don’t need no stinkin’ visa!”
Sunday night’s dinner at a Cuban family’s private restaurant (the captain had grilled lobster) was great, followed by more mojitos. Julio, the young Cuban store employee who the team had met the day before takes them to a “non-tourist” night club where the team has yet more mojitos with a bunchy of friendly Cubans.
Izzy had planned to leave on Monday. However, Gerry had left his camera at Julio’s shop and he and Augie go into town to retrieve it while Izzy stays behind to get the boat ready to sail. But they took longer than planned getting back to the boat, as Augie had made contact with a couple of girls his older brother knew. The girls had a car, and they take Augie and Gerry on another tour of downtown Havana. By the time they get back, the weather had begun to look bad, so Izzy decides that Xaloc would leave early Tuesday morning. Weather faxes show that a tropical wave is scheduled to pass over Northwest Cuba that night and should be gone by tomorrow morning.
Tuesday morning: The weather is OK to go. However, the Cuban port authorities are not. There is some kind of emergency occupying their attention elsewhere, and they do not show up to clear Xaloc out until early afternoon. But, then, Izzy and Augie realize that they have both lost their visa cards, which are required to be presented and stamped when existing the country. No visa, no stamp, no exit. The immigration agents don’t know what to do, so they instruct the team to stay on board while they go back to their office to discuss the problem with their supervisors. Izzy and crew wait anxiously (well, Izzy and Gerry are anxious; Augie wouldn’t mind sticking around a few more days), wondering if they will be stuck in Cuba, while the skies turn dark. By the time the immigration agents arrive with new visa cards for Izzy and Augie and the all-clear to depart, it is pouring rain.
Xaloc finally departs the Hemingway Marina at around 5 PM. There’s a couple of daylight hours left; but the fish finder/depth sounder does not seem to be working, and Izzy does not want to sail so close to the reefs at night. So, Xaloc makes a short two-hour hop to Puerto Mariel, where they are greeted by more customs and immigration agents, more paper work. At least, they have found dock space for the night. Izzy vows to get a very early start on Wednesday morning. Weather reports indicate a trough will be crossing the Yucatan Channel on Wednesday, but Xaloc has about 160 miles to go before reaching the northernmost point of the Yucatan Peninsula, so Izzy is hoping to avoid the worst of it. The weather forecast for Xaloc’s path is for winds of 10 kt and seas up to 4 ft, but occasional thunderstorms are also forecast along the path and they can bring higher winds and waves.
The plan is to sail straight through to San Pedro once Xaloc leaves the
Cuban coast, and not make any port stops in Mexico. They will have to
hustle to get to San Pedro in time for Gerry to make the first day of
lobster season, which is Saturday, June 15. They have about 445 miles to go
before reaching San Pedro Town.
EPISODE 15: “Fish!”
Xaloc is approaching the reef and Izzy decides to take the boat inside the reef and hug the coast for awhile. The weather forecast says that the trough is huge and stationary; it is running from Belize to Southwest Florida, with sporadic pockets of thunder showers, rain and high winds. So far, Xaloc has managed to duck most of them, though they are definitely looming on the horizon and it has stayed cloudy. This area is completely empty, no other boats in sight. If there were no time pressure to get to Belize, it would be an ideal place to cruise around, snorkel, and fish for dinner the old fashioned way with a spear gun.
Later this evening, Izzy calls back to report that Xaloc has now dropped anchor inside the reefs near Santa Lucia. As we are talking, I hear some excitement in the background Gerry has caught another fish. It’s a small snapper, so they decide to use it for bait to snag a larger fish. Izzy reports that Augie began cooking the first fish within 15 minutes of catching it lunch was fish tacos made of grilled fish cooked with onions.
There was a little mechanical emergency this afternoon the engine suddenly died and Izzy had to look at it and diagnose the problem, which turned out to be a loose water pump belt. Izzy tightened it and the engine resumed humming along. And, the fish finder is working again, which comes in handy when sailing in the shallows near the reef. Izzy suspects that it had stopped working because it had been calibrated for salt water and the first several days of Izzy’s trip was mostly in fresh or partly fresh water. The fish finder may have needed a few days of pure salty water to get it moving again.
The 4-6 foot waves projected by the weather forecasts haven’t materialized and probably won’t until Xaloc leaves Cuba and starts the Yucatan Channel crossing, which will probably happen on Friday morning. The weather is supposed to clear by end of the week; if it does, Xaloc should be in San Pedro by late Saturday or early Sunday.
Meanwhile, the grill is warming up and so is the cook. Dinner is…you guessed it grilled fish! And now, its beer time!
EPISODE 16: “The art of the deal”
After clearing in, the Cuban Guardia on duty tells Izzy that there is no diesel on the dock, but he will send for a truck for the next morning. As always, the Guardia are pleasant and professional. Xaloc docks for the evening and Augie whips out the barbecue. On the menu: fresh lobster marinated in garlic and butter and topped with onions, rice, beans and pita bread.
Captain Izzymon and crew have spotted small pods of dolphin several times
during Xaloc’s Cuban journey. The weatherfax data indicates that scattered
rain storms and wind spurts are likely to continue for the next 72 hours,
but a large high pressure zone is behind the trough and the last day or two
of sailing should be accompanied by sunshine. Izzy hopes to reach the point
by late Friday; then proceed to Cabo San Antonio, where they will make their
last Cuban customs and immigration checkout before leaving Cuba. Hopefully,
the weather and winds will cooperate in getting Xaloc to Belize by late
Sunday or at worst, Monday morning. It looks like Gerry will not make it
home to open lobster season on Saturday.
EPISODE 17: “Thunder and lightning and waves, oh my!”
No sooner did she pull out of port than thunder, lightening and heavy rain
began hitting Xaloc, as she traveled directly below the squall line of the
trough. Facing into the wind and waves of about 7 feet, Xaloc is forced to
motor to gain any progress. Izzy describes the waves as “the biggest ones
we’ve had yet, and we are sailing right into them.” The motor takes a brief
and unplanned break, but an examination does not show any problems and after
a few minutes, it starts up again. Izzy thinks that probably some seaweed
had gotten caught in the propellers but worked its way loose.
After a few hours of battering by the storm, which showed no sign of abating, Xaloc pulls into port at La Fe. Here, Captain Izzymon is greeted for the first time by a less-than-cordial port official, who demands that Xaloc pull off the dock and anchor in the channel. The reason given is: “there are too many girls here and we don’t want them climbing all over your boat.” As a result of this uncharacteristic show of inhospitability, Xaloc is forced to leave the dock and head out to the channel, where she almost gets stuck in a 3-foot deep sandbar. After more wind and rain, the storm finally began to subside. Meanwhile, storm notwithstanding, the fishing lines are out, and the crew is rewarded with another small barracuda, which joins the remaining lobster on the grill, accompanied by a pot of rice and beans. Zaloc anchors around the bend for the night.
The weather fax promises good weather for the next couple of days, and the Captain plans an early morning departure, heading for La Maria Gorda and the end of Xaloc’s Cuban adventure, heading southeast, then southwest towards San Pedro.
EPISODE 18: "A sad story ..."
Xaloc is about 10 miles from the point at Cabo San Antonio, and the weather is starting to get rough. Izzy decides to pull in near Santa Elena and wait until very early morning to go around the point, because the currents and waves are usually at their mildest early in the morning. Xaloc will have to cross at the narrowest point before proceeding east, and he feels its better to lose a few hours in exchange for an easier (and undoubtedly faster) passage across the opening to the Yucatan Channel.
Xaloc docks at a tiny port called "Punta Moro de Piedra" that isn't even on the map. They strike up a conversation with the young man on the next sailboat and hear a sad and scary tale. His name is Mark Berg, and he is a Dutch citizen who is cruising the Caribbean with his Argentine girlfriend aboard his monohull the Mary Morgan. The boat broke down in rough seas, with damage to the top of the mast and the engine, and he pulled in to the nearest port to get his boat repaired. He made arrangements to have his engine worked on and advised the port authority that he needed to go into town. The guardia chief made arrangements to rent a car, but the cost of the car was more than Mark's available cash, and Mark was not able to negotiate a wire transfer or a credit card advance in town, so the port authorities took his girlfriend, Milagros, into custody and are keeping her away from the boat until Mark agrees to sign his boat over in lieu of the $250 car rental fee. She has been forced to sleep in the rental car because she is not allowed on the boat. The guardia in charge wants Mark to sign an agreement that says if he leaves the boat to go into town, it has been "abandoned" and now belongs to the Cuban government! Mark has only been able to talk to his girl friend once in the 5 days he has been in port, and he has no money left.
Horrified at this abuse, Izzy calls me and asks me to try to contact the Dutch consul in Cuba. After much searching and a multiplicity of wrong numbers, I am able to reach a Cuban clerical employee at the Dutch consulate and in my less than stellar Spanish, ask him for an emergency number to call for a Dutch citizen who is in trouble on a boat. I dial the number and miracle of miracles, the Dutch consul, a nice man named Rene Heemskerk, actually answers the phone! I relay the tale of woe and he promises to call the Cuban authorities and get some help to Mark and his girlfriend. I also call the Argentine consul in New York (nobody answers at the consulate office in Cuba) and leave a message on an answering machine. An hour later, a woman from the New York consul office calls and promises to call her counterpart on Monday to file a complaint on Milagros' behalf with the Cuban government. She reassures me that the Dutch consul will have already done this and expects that his intervention will solve the problem. She is shocked at the story and says "they can't do that!" My response is: They ARE doing that and will continue to do so until phone calls to Havana provoke a corrective command from their superiors.
Meanwhile Izzy feeds Mark dinner and a beer and gives him a few bucks, but Xaloc is running low on funds and there's not enough in the kitty to lend Mark to get his girlfriend out of the hoosegow. However, we think that the local port captain will be hearing from his boss on Monday morning and Mark and his girlfriend will be reunited and assisted with funds to get their boat fixed and out of Cuba. This incident is not typical of the treatment of cruising sailors in Cuba and we hope the local guardia will be reprimanded by his superiors for his abusive treatment of Mark and Milagros. Izzy has asked Mark to stay in touch with him and we will definitely see that this incident - and its conclusion - makes its way onto the cruising sailors' grapevine. Izzy says that this all goes to show that there are assholes everywhere and the guy running the show in Punta Mora de Piedra definitely qualifies.
It's been a good fishing day, and Izzy has caught several snapper, dinner is definitely happening. There's nothing to do now but relax and wait for morning. This might be a good time to have a mellowing tequila shot or two.
EPISODE 19: June 15-18 - La Maria Gorda, Cuba to Cozumel, Mexico
Saturday, June 15: Xaloc rounded the point and crossed the entrance to the Yucatan Channel but it wasn't an easy task -- waves and current gave Xaloc a bit of a beating, a bolt came off the dinghy holder and will have to be replaced, but after proceeding east a bit, Xaloc has made it to La Maria Gorda.
After clearing in, its time to clean up, eat, and crash. Everyone is pooped and the captain agrees that a day of R and R is needed.
Sunday, June 16: Everybody goes swimming, the water is gorgeous. This port is beautiful, the water is turquoise and clear, and there lovely coral reefs everywhere. This is a big dive destination for tourists, there are many local dive operators docked here. Fishing is successful too, fresh snapper is on the menu! The plan is to go to sleep early and leave early Monday AM. This is the first day of sunshine and the weather reports are good to go for the next couple of days.
Unfortunately, the Cuban port authorities do not want to cooperate. Although they are supposed to offer 24 hour clear-out, the fellow in charge refuses to let Xaloc clear out until 8 AM because "we need to call Havana about your visas." The captain is irked because Xaloc will lose 8 hours of good weather sailing and everybody is up and ready to go.
Monday, June 17: Xaloc and its crew are finally allowed to clear out of Cuba. The plan is to sail east 30 or so miles and then proceed south, gradually moving southwest and avoiding the currents of the Yucatan Channel. A good plan...but after a few hours of good sailing, the weather turns nasty and makes a liar out of the NOAA people. For the next day and a half, Xaloc is fighting against 10+ foot waves, wind in all kinds of directions (mostly the wrong ones) and water everywhere. Thunderstorms, lightning. After a day of satellite phone silence, Captain Izzy finally calls his anxious wife and daughter in San Pedro and tells them that Xaloc has given up the goal of proceeding direct to San Pedro and is now heading west to Cozumel. Everyone is exhausted and there has been damage to the boat. Nothing fatal, but the smallest sail is torn and some of the interior bolting will need to be repaired. The engine is fine and all electronics are working. Everything is wet, and the crew plans to get hotel rooms for the night. Instead of arriving Wednesday as planned, the crew will probably arrive on Thursday, weather permitting.
Meanwhile, I got a nice message from the Dutch Consul, thanking us for coming to the assistance of a Dutch citizen in jeopardy. He is working with the Argentine authorities to get the Cuban government to cooperate and let the two y oung people and their boat out of Cuba. The problem seems to have arisen because the poor young Dutchman only had an American Express card, albeit a Dutch version, and the Cubans would not accept it to get money. When they say "don't leave home without it," they should add "and don't take it to Cuba!"
EPISODE 20: June 17-19, The Northwest Caribbean to Cozumel
This is what Izzy didn't want to tell me when he called to report on why Xaloc was heading for port in Cozumel instead of sailing straight through to San Pedro:
On Monday, morning, Xaloc departed 8 hours behind schedule, due to the intransigence of Cuban port authorities, who refused to clear Xaloc through immigration and customs when the crew was ready to leave at 1:30 A.M., thereby wasint 8 hours of good weather.
The nasty weather alone (thunderstorms, lightening, 10+ plus foot waves and head on winds) would not have inflicted anything more than minor damage and delays on Xaloc. But what Izzy did not know was that Xaloc's previous owner had installed wood paneling and shelving without realizing that you cannot renovate a boat the way you do a house -- ie, there is a limit to how far you can drill. Instead, he drilled into the bulkhead, creating unseen openings for water to come through ... and come through it did, once the high waves started washing over the boat in the storm. Gerry noticed that the front of the boat was getting lower and lower and the back higher and higher. Izzy went back to check it out and found water pouring into the boat through the holes that were opened when the boat was bounced around. There was a foot of water in the interior cabin.
The crew began bailing as fast as they could, wondering if a boat that was thought to be unsinkable might in fact sink. At this point, Xaloc was more than 40 miles from the nearest land. Izzy got his tools and began patching the holes. Meanwhile, the waves got higher and the thunder louder anmd the lightning brighter. At one point, Izzy had the IBIRB in his hand, ready to push the emergency button...but he decided to keep bailing and eventually, they got the water down and staunched the flow into the boat.
The electronics continued to function, and Izzy plotted a course to Cozumel. The refrigerator stopped working, probably due to a circuit breaker getting soaked, and the wind indicator also stopped working. The storm was so intense that there was no visibility but Izzy was able to navigate using the radar.
Izzy found a marina in the cruising guide that offered clearance services as well as dock space and tried to call them on his satellite phone, but could not get through. He then called me and I determined that the phone numbers were no good. With the assistance of BTL directory assistance, I reached the marina and advised them that Xaloc would be arriving that night and needed dock space and help with clearing Mexican customs and immigration. They advised that space was available and they would keep an eye out for Xaloc and that the skipper should call them on VHF when Xaloc was approaching. However, by the time Xaloc was able to round the point and approach Cozumel, it was 1 AM and when he called, he was advised to anchor and wait for morning because nobody was available to clear in. He was given a location to anchor and everyone tried to get a few hours shut-eye, difficult when the entire boat is soaked inside and outside. Everyone had been up for two days fighting the storm, patching holes and bailing water.
On Wednesday morning, Xaloc docked at Blanco Playa Marina. After clearing in, the crew took a taxi to the Plaza Cozumel and got rooms. After a meal, the crew returned to the boat and began cleaning it up. Weather permitting, Xaloc will leave for San Pedro late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
EPISODE 21: Cozumel Mexico, soon to be in San Pedro Town, Belize
After a couple of days spent catching up sleep, meals, and drying out the boat, Xaloc is ready to head for Belize. Actually, they were ready to leave today, but were held up by the fact that the engine suddenly decided not to start. Izzy pulls out the solonoid starter, greases it and plays with it awhile. Now its starting up fine, and Izzy is waiting for this clear-out paperwork to arrive. Because of the motor problem and the immigration delay, everyone agrees that its best to take off early morning rather than late in the afternoon, so Xaloc will depart Saturday morning at 4 AM. The weather reports say that the next couple of days will be good weather (finally; and today was good too!). The plan is to sail southwest to about 3 miles off shore and sail along the Yucatan Coast; if the weather decides to make a liar out of the NOAA forecasters, it will be easy to take one of the cuts and go inside the reef. Gerry knows this area well, and Izzy has obtained maps that are more detailed than the charts he has been using the plot a course. The new (expensive) marine refrigerator is still not working; Izzy informs me that I will have the pleasure of dealing with the warranty when he arrives...
Yesterday was The Money Hassle Day. On arrival in Cozumel, Izzy is chagrined to find his VISA card being declined and hardly anyone takes American Express. Izzy calls me, and I spend three hours on the phone with First USA Bank and Alliance Credit Union. Seems an electronic transaction used to pay the June Visa bill went astray and the payment, though its been debited from my account, is lost in the First USA system, and despite assurances by my credit union in a 3 way conference call, First USA insists that the payment was "never made" and the card is now over its limit. I am forced to pay the July bill (not yet received) on the phone while the two banks argue with each other about the whereabouts of the missing money (a not inconsiderable sum) in order to bring the card back below limits. A plea for a bit of courtesy by First USA given that we are good customers who pay our balance in full every month and have never missed a payment fall on deaf ears. First USA joins the Cuban government and the weather on the "they suck" list.
Later, I wire Izzy money but first have to get a "permit" from the Belizean government to send more than $500 out of the country and when Izzy goes to collect it, he can't because while he was at sea, his drivers' license expired, so he has to go back to port, retrieve his passport and return to the local Western Union agent to get cash (pesos....)I guess it could be worse...he could have run out of money in Cuba and been held hostage like the poor young Dutchman and his girlfriend....
Izzy expects to arrive in San Pedro early Monday morning. He promises to call me a couple of hours before arrival. Our friend Eduardo has promised to get the customs agent ready to clear Xaloc as soon as she pulls into the San Pedro channel and after clearing, she will proceed to the Sol Caribe dock, where a welcoming party will greet the long lost sailors.
EPISODE 22: June 22-23 Cozumel to Majawal
Saturday morning, Xaloc departs Cozumel at around 6 AM. A half hour out, another fan belt bites the dust; Izzy whips out one of the spares and puts it on. As Xaloc moves Southwest towards the mainland, weather picks up and thunde, wind gusts and lightning make its now predictable appearance. The second small sail is the next to go; but the mainsail is in good shape and should get Xaloc home.
Oops! It looks like one of the water tanks got contaminated with sea water.....well, there's plenty of water in the other tank...err...scratch that idea! The other tank seems to be contaminated too! Luckily there are two large water bottles still full, so there should be plenty of drinking water for the crew until they get to the next port town. Right about now, the captain wishes he had listened to his wife and taken the extra time to finish installing the water maker! But if the weather continues in its present vein, there will be plenty of rainwater to drink. Xaloc progresses about 80 miles before anchoring for the night.
Sunday morning, the crew departs about 6 AM. The marine head is now added to the "it don't work" list. Izzy guesses that this problem, like the refrigerator failure, is the result of the flooding. Shit happens! Xaloc passes the Chinchorro Reef; based on advice from Eduardo, Izzy decides to pull into Majawal to pick up water and some provisions to supplement the fish caught today. On the way in, the wind vane finally comes off and lands on deck near Izzy's head.
The plan is to leave at dawn. Xaclak is about 35 miles away and from there, its another 25 or so miles to San Pedro. It looks like Xaloc will be pulling into San Pedro just in time to catch the customs agent before he closes up for the day, probably around 3-4 PM. Izzy promises to call a couple of hours before anticipated arrival time, and we will caravan out to the clear in dock to greet captain and crew with well deserved cheers.
EPISODE 23: June 26 – Majawal to San Pedro Town
The previous day was not a total waste, because Izzy and Gerry were able to repair the jib sail and its up.
The winds are running around 15-20 knots and the waves are running 6-10 feet;
the larger ones are breaking over the bow, but Xaloc is making good time even
though the mainsail has been reefed because of the breaking waves. They pass
Xcalak at around 11:45 AM; Izzy calls to tell me that they expect to get to San
Pedro before 5 PM.
The plan has been to go inside the reef at the first cut after Rocky Point, but the waves are so high that Izzy decides its too risky to try to enter the narrow channel. Instead Xaloc will continue outside the reef and enter at the San Pedro Cut, which is much wider. I call Customs and alert them to Xaloc’s arrival; the customs agent advises me that the boat should dock at the Belize Yacht Club and call him when it arrives for clear-in.
At 4:15, Roberto Smith of the Winnie Estelle knocks on the door and tells me
that he’s spotted a catamaran taking down its sails just offshore. Chas has
already left with her friend Kilolo and I pile into the golf cart with George
EPISODE 24: July 6, San Pedro Town
Gerry found Izzy a boat builder to repair the damage to the fiberglass, a new starter solenoid was ordered, and work commenced on the toilet. It's working, though it has to be manually re started each time because the circuit board got wet and needs to be replaced. The refrigerator's electronic board is also damaged because the factory failed to seal it and it got wet; the warranty should cover that replacement. The roller furlers were fixed and are now working beautifully. Izzy finally finished installing the watermaker but it seems to have a problem: It starts up but shuts down after pumping for a couple of minutes. Izzy will tinker some more and make a call to Spectra tech support for suggestions on what to do, given that it was installed precisely per the manual. The water tanks have been de-contaminated and cleaned. The engine got an oil change. An inspection of the bottom showed a few scrapes on the bottom paint that will need to be repainted once Xaloc gets to the Rio Dulce. A spare propeller is being ordered from England. I cleaned the kitchen and washed all equipment. Izzy had a board made to turn the salon into a queen size bed.
On Sunday, we sailed to Caye Caulker, with a stop at Hol Chan for a snorkel -- we saw several nurse sharks, three large manta rays, an eel, giant groupers, a school of large tarpon and the usual assortment of lovely tropical fish and gorgeous corals. This was my first ride on Xaloc. It was fabulous! The boat glides through the water quietly and so smoothly that you can balance a beer on the deck without losing a drop. Izzy enjoys the luxury of sailing for pleasure instead of to get somewhere...a reminder of why we got the boat!
Tomorrow, we will set sail for the Rio Dulce with Gerry and his wife. Xaloc will live at Mario's Marina for hurricane season and a thorough going over and necessary repairs in preparation for the sail to Panama at the end of the year.
Xaloc’s Sailing Adventure to Belize
After two years in the making, Isidore "Izzymon" Garcia's dream came true this year. Garcia, a long-time visitor to San Pedro, Belize since 1988, sailed his 37-foot catamaran yacht "Xaloc" from North Carolina's Cape Fear to Belize, a more than 2,000 nautical mile voyage that took him and his two other companions 38 days of seafaring adventures, complete with high-seas drama, including ferocious tropical storms, deep-sea fishing, and intriguing ports of call.
Joining Izzy on Xaloc was Captain Geraldo "Jerry" Ack of San Pedro and nephew Augustine "Ag" Garcia, a devoted surfer from California and Xaloc's chef "par excellance". Jerry, a seasoned tour guide and fisherman who worked for many years at the Paradise/Sol Caribe Dive Shops in San Pedro, was invited by Izzy to help him pilot the catamaran on the long sailing trip to Ambergris Caye. Izzy acquired his sailing experience during his five-year tour in the US Coast Guard, serving as a crewmember involved in search and rescue operations on the treacherous seas off Alaska. Ever since then, Izzy's love for the sea had him dreaming about buying his own boat one day and sailing down to Belize from the US.
Xaloc's crew met in Wilmington, North Carolina early in May and started preparations for the voyage. After some minor repairs and outfitting to the boat, Izzy and his crew started their sea trial-runs around Wilmington's waterways near North Carolina's famous Cape Fear, testing the catamaran's mettle on the open sea and figuring out what needed to improve or how far they could push its sailing envelope. During this time, continuos bad weather off the eastern US coast, and the news of several search and rescue trips made by the US Coast Guard weighed into the Xaloc's crew decision to commence the trip by sailing down the Inter-Coastal Waterway. The Inter-Coastal Waterway was built during World War II as a means for the US merchant ships to sail safely from ports on the northeastern United States to ports on the southeast, avoiding the treacherous German "Wolfpacks" or U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean. It is actually an inter-coastal "highway of water" that was for the most part built by the US Army by connecting natural waterways (such as rivers, canals, and creeks), throughout the US eastern coast. Izzy and crew opted for this route instead of the open Atlantic Ocean and the menace of tropical storms affecting the area at the time.
Dolphins, Manatees, Sharks & Tropical Storms
On Tuesday, May 21, Xaloc's intrepid crew officially started their sea quest and cast off from the South Port Marina near Wilmington, N.C., for the first long-leg of their adventure, which would eventually have them docking on the Port of Miami 12 days later. During their trip down the waterway to Miami, Florida, the crew had to keep a keen-eye for the correct buoy markers, which pointed their way on the right path towards the Port of Miami. "It's very easy to get lost sailing down the waterway if you miss the right buoy marker," Izzy told Ambergris Today. "It's like getting off the wrong exit, which in our case would cost us in additional hours of sailing. There are lots of rivers and creeks which can easily sidetrack you from the right way to your destination."
On their way down, Izzy and crew sailed close to Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina, Beaufort and Savannah, Georgia, where they encountered playful dolphins and huge manatees, plus deer crossing over the small rivers. While coming down South Carolina, they decided to take Xaloc on open seas off the coast and as they sailed on the Atlantic Ocean close to the South Carolina coast, they saw a huge hammerhead shark swim right next to the boat. "It was a really big one," Jerry told Ambergris Today. "Made us realize that these waters were known for big sharks and that we needed to avoid getting into bad storms and getting shipwrecked."
As they crossed into Florida down the waterway and got close to Titusville, they encountered more manatees, but also a severe tropical wave, which had made up its way through the Gulf of Mexico. Strong winds and heavy rain pelted the deck and crew of the Xaloc, giving them their first taste of bad weather, but fortunately for them, they were inside the waterway and off the Atlantic Ocean. And then near St. Augustine, Florida, Xaloc's voyage almost ended abruptly when a severely strong current nearly smashed the boat against the Bridge of Lions. Only a couple feet separated the bridge's frame from making drastic contact with Xaloc's fiberglass hull and smashing it to pieces. A couple stops for fuel later and twelve days after casting off from North Carolina, Xaloc's crew docked at the Port of Miami, where they spent one night, but not before heading out to town for some good food and drinks.
Key West, Florida and onwards to Marina Hemingway, Cuba
Early next morning, after calling in their GPS markers and sailing plans with Coast Guard officials, Izzy and crew took off from Miami to Key West, Florida. The second leg of the journey to Key West took them 3 days along coral reef waters and the many islands making up the Florida Keys. Sailing was smooth for the most part, except for the occasional squalls and thunderstorms. During this time, they also had a chance to do some fishing, catching delicious food for the grill, including Dorado, Barracuda, and Grouper. Ag did wonders with the fish, cooking up a storm with the fresh catch, with only a little bit of complaining on Jerry's part when he didn't agree with Ag's "haute cuisine". For Jerry, rice & beans with fried fish would have done just fine, mon.
The crew spent two days at Key West before heading out on open sea towards the Caribbean's biggest island, Cuba. More fishing, fresh fish tacos, and wonderful weather greeted them on their way to Cuba and after several hours of sailing, they docked at the famous Marina Hemingway in Havana, Cuba. The marina was named after Cuba's most famous tourist and eventual resident, Ernest "Papa" Hemingway, the famous author of classic adventure/romantic short stories and novels such as "The Old Man and the Sea". It is an exclusive yacht club with fine restaurants and bars, jet-ski and motor boat rentals, where beautiful bikini-clad women, yacht owners, and "mojito" sipping patrons relax away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Havana and its millions of inhabitants. The day Xaloc docked at Marina Hemingway, a fishing tournament was taking place and the site was busy with anglers and onlookers checking out the action of the day. After a brief clearance with Cuban custom officials, who asked a few questions and inspected the boat, Izzy and crew headed out to La Habana for some R&R.
For the tourist or visitor, Havana is made up of cheerful and friendly people, beautiful Spanish influenced colonial-style architecture, hot salsa music, and a trip back in time to the 1950's with the many Chevy and Fords of that era that can still be found operating in perfect condition on the city's wide boulevards and narrow streets. But Havana also has late model Mercedes-Benzes and other brand new European cars on its streets, plus a pulsating nightlife, which comes alive with the best Cabaret shows in the world. It is no wonder that Ag did not want to depart after three days in La Habana, Cuba.
Bad weather forced the Xaloc crew to spend another 6 days sailing down the Cuban coast from the Marina Hemingway to its northern-most tip where Maria La Gorda is located. With bad weather and rough-seas prevailing, Izzy and crew decided to make the daunting crossing from Cuba to Cozumel, which would bring them only a couple hundred miles from the Mexico-Belize border.
"Boys, we're going down!"
Two terrifying episodes awaited the Xaloc crew during their crossing from Cuba to Cozumel. About 40 miles from Maria La Gorda, Cuba, Captain Jerry Ack started noticing that the catamaran's bow was riding low against the rising waves. Seawater was plunging increasingly into the front part of Xaloc, and Izzy decided to take a look inside the cabin. Seconds after going inside the cabin, Izzy emerged white-faced and visibly shaken. "Boys, we're going down," was all he could blurt out at Jerry and Augustine. Jerry handed over the controls to Augustine and immediately took a look inside the cabin. What he saw terrified him. "I felt a cold shiver run up my spine and the hair on the back of my head stand up," said Jerry. "Sea water had poured into the cabin, and we only had a couple minutes before the boat started sinking, right in the middle of rough seas and night quickly approaching."
Izzy immediately activated Xaloc's homing beacon and threw it off the side. For his part, Jerry grabbed the manual hand pump and started pumping seawater off the Xaloc like he had never done before. "I just made the sign of the cross and started pumping," Jerry said. "I don't know where the energy came from, but I was a machine, going on non-stop until we managed to get all the water out."
The crew then found out that a small electrical hole at the bow had come unplugged and seawater was coming in through there inside the cabin. They quickly applied a wooden plug into the hole to fix that problem, but one more was on its way. With its sail on and engine running, Jerry saw little progress being made towards Cozumel. "We kept on seeing the lighthouse, but it was as if we were remaining in the same spot for hour after hour," recalled Jerry. And then his sailor instinct took over. Something told him to bring down the sail, and a minute after they did, a tremendous squall with ferocious wind and waves hit the Xaloc. "It was definitely one of the most exhilarating times of my life," Izzy told Ambergris Today. "It was night time and we were in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and then this powerful storm came. We were on the edge here and praying to make port as quickly as possible."
For Augustine, the trip was the first time he had been out on a boat in open seas for more than one night. The dedicated surfer from southern California had volunteered to come aboard only after Izzy could not find another crewmember to accompany them on their daring trip. "What the hell am I doing here," was all Ag could think of during the stressing times. Izzy would later on invite his nephew to accompany them on their other trip to Rio Dulce, Guatemala, but Ag was more than happy to decline as he took a flight back home to California from Belize.
After about 2 hours into the storm (what seemed like an eternity at sea to the crew), Xaloc came into port at Playa Blanco Marina in Cozumel, a little battered and bruised, and with its crew longing for a shot of rum and a warm cot.
A call in the middle of the night
While Izzy and crew took a well-deserved rest at port in Cozumel, Jerry's wife Magdalena received a call in the middle of the night from US Coast Guard officials. The US Coast Guard told Magda that they had received a distressed signal from Xaloc the previous evening, and they believed that the boat her husband was sailing in had gone down near Cuba and was lost at sea. Fortunately for Magda, she had received a telephone call from Jerry that very same day informing her that they were safe and sound at Cozumel and looking forward to docking in San Pedro in the next four days. Magda told the US Coast Guard officials about Jerry's telephone call and after thanking them for their concern, ended the overseas call from the US. Apparently, the US Coast Guard had tracked down Jerry's home phone in San Pedro from information details left over at Xaloc's last port of call in Havana's Marina Hemingway. So the US and Cuban officials do show professional liaison sometimes when it comes to concern for human lives. "Thank God for their humanity in times like these," Izzy gratefully said, recalling the dramatic night off the Cuban coast.
Rough seas prevailed due to tropical waves in the Caribbean, but Xaloc and crew took off from Cozumel to Bahia del Espiritu Santo and then on towards Mahahual, which lies only about 40 miles from Xcalak, Mexico and a mere 70 or so from the Belize-Mexico border. "We were anxious to get home and wanted to continue sailing on down to San Pedro, being now in familiar waters," Jerry recalled. "But the Mexican port officials were very cautious and would not let us out of port for the next 3 days due to the tropical wave weather prevailing."
Jerry and crew waited and enjoyed the warmth reception of the safe harbor at Mahahual, with its impressive deep-water port and facilities for the cruise ship industry. They were finally given the go-ahead by Mexican port authorities and immediately set off amid choppy seas.
Xaloc arrives safe and sound at San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
From Mahahual, they set off towards Xcalak, sailing close to the lower Yucatan Peninsula coast and its coral reefs. High winds and choppy seas still lingered throughout the area with the occasional squalls from a tropical wave affecting the area at that time. Their arrival at Xcalak put them at only about 40 miles from San Pedro, and as they crossed the small channel at Basil Jones near Ambergris Caye's Rocky Point, Jerry felt exhilarated that he was back home, safe and sound in Belizean waters.
Sailing inside the reef towards San Pedro Town was a beautiful feeling for Izzy and crew, who felt a great accomplishment and satisfaction as they passed familiar sites such as Mexico Rocks and the new Avalon Resort, the Essene Way, El Pescador Lodge and the Boca del Rio Area. Xaloc docked at the Paradise Villas on Thursday, June 27, early in the afternoon, 38 days after sailing off from near Wilmington, North Carolina. For Izzy, his dream had come true. Jerry was more than willing to walk the brisk distance to his house and be once more with his wife and children, savoring the pleasure of hot and delicious Belizean food and his warm bed. For Augustine, the trip had also been quite an amazing experience. But Ag was already making plans and day-dreaming about surfing the waves off California's Pacific coastline. Xaloc's crew celebrated their great sailing adventure from North Carolina to Belize by going out for dinner at Wet Willy's on Hustler Dock, accompanied by Izzy's wife Susan and daughter Chazz, plus Jerry's wife Magda and their children.
-by Edwardo Brown Jr. of the Ambergris Today
2. Jerry pets a manatee coming out from under the boat.
3. Augustine was happy to know that dinner was caught.
4. Izzy works for his food.