Panama to FL II – #103

Although I am getting my share of foreign landfalls the dream stays entrenched for me by knocking out projects on Low Key. I am gathering the pieces for an electric motor set up including some borrowed parts from a golf cart. A key part to off the grid bliss is getting the most from our solar panels. I’m adding a Solar Boost charge controller to my set up. Everyone should know about these. They extract 30% more juice than the old technology. You can get them from our friends at

When I left you last month Wade and I had just been boarded by the Coast Guard off Nicaragua while delivering a 43′ Beneteau named Camaraderie II from Panama to Miami. Shortly after that we rounded the top of Nicaragua and were on a beautiful broad reach toward Mexico. Mostly we ran with just the full headsail, rolling her up some for the odd squall. The weather was great, the seas were low, the boat was going fast. It was warm and sunny most of the time as we skimmed along through that deep blue Caribbean water. The boat lacked shade in the cockpit. Wade and I rigged a tarp to provide relief during the hot part of the day. We had dolphins by day, shooting starts at night – both are good luck you know.

We had run the fuel tank dry before making the turn for Mex. Running a tank dry can clog filters. If you’re not getting your fuel polished it’s not so bad to run the tank down to get that stuff to filter out. We took advantage of the calm downwind conditions to empty a fuel jug into the tank and change the primary fuel filter. Note that with most boat diesels, the engine revs up when getting starved of fuel. A switched on crew immediately shifts to neutral while shutting the engine down. If done quickly, no engine bleeding is required. In ideal conditions, always let a diesel run in neutral for a couple minutes to cool down before shutting her off.

Almost five days after leaving Panama we arrived in Mex at a little island NW of Cancun called Isla Mujeres. There was a regatta on that had filled the swell plagued outer marinas and so we pulled in to the Marina Puerto IM. We hopped up on the dock with our coldies and stretched our legs.

There on the dock was a big Jacuzzi. That’s right, a Jacuzzi. Mrs. Longacre, a Lats contributor, was having an afternoon soak and a coldy. A different cruising couple, these two out of Galveston, were kind enough to offer us a few pesos so that we could catch a cab into town. How nice is that??

I met with the marina’s agent Herman who offered to check us into the marina and in and out of Mex … on a Sunday. We agreed on a price and then Wade and I hit the town. IM is close enough to Cancun to get some of the tourist crowd but isolated enough to still have it’s own pueblo flavor. Downtown has beautiful white sand beaches that run into that light blue Caribbean water. We ate and had some coldies on the regatta pier where all the sailing folk were hanging out. Up the cobblestone streets I grabbed some gifts for friends and family back home.

After dark we wandered in a couple blocks to the main thoroughfare. This is where IM shines. It is an avenue that travels the length of the little town and is lined with restaurant/bars. Each one is has a different theme and feel. We picked and chose our pit stops carefully on the criteria of: funny crowd, special drink, street entertainment? Ya, street entertainment. Our last stop had a kid, euro backpacker type, playing the conga across the walk street from our table. His friends emerged from the shadows and joined in with various instruments. The tempo and volume built and the crowd gathered. One of the tattered performers starting dunking ropes in a liquid he pulled from his backpack. Our impromptu street jam turned into a tribal fire dance with a jungle beat. The dancer swung his burning ropes all about as he jumped in and out of the rings of fire. The line of female tourists sitting behind us exploded in cheers, oohs and ah’s.

First thing in the morning we pulled around to the fuel dock to fuel and await our agent. He showed up with some surprise fee increases. Normally I would have turned him away and completed the check in/out myself but that would have meant at least another 24 hours in port. At my daily delivery rate that wouldn’t have made sense. He had me and he knew it.

We headed out into the sea making the change from the Caribbean to the Gulf of Mexico. We had good conditions as we beat toward the western tip of Cuba. That is to say as good as we could expect. We had 20-30 knots apparent off the starboard bow. It was sunny and the seas were manageable and we had that tail current giving us a hand (or is it a foot to the backside). The gps gave us our speed toward the waypoint (Velocity Made Good) which kept us knowing when we had found the thick part of the current. Also important is tacking around to find the lowest seas. Again and again we found both which made for a blistering bash to windward making 6-7 knots VMG the whole leg. Shooting stars, phosphorescence, and on and on – it was as nice of an upwind ride as we could have hoped.

Two days later we arrived at Hemingway’s Island, little Key West. I called the CG on my cel phone and they told us to take a berth and walk in to Customs. We fueled and then got tied up at the City Dock (the cheapest at $2.50 a foot a night). Customs was closed by the time we got there so Wade and I headed into town to see if there was any chance a sailor find a couple coldies and maybe some entertainment. We found both. Wade and I started out at my old favorite, Sloppy Joe’s for well earned hamburger, some brew and a sidewalk view. We caught the margarita contest over at Hogs Breath. The highlight for me was hanging out at Wade’s favorite, The Green Parrot, listening to Irish Kevin pluck a four string homemade ‘guitar’ and sing about life in the bayou. We took a walk through the Haitian quarter and ended up back in town at some rooftop bar partying with a bunch of naked people. It happens.

I lost Wade for a couple hours but he rolled in ’round sunup. We left Key West on the tide (meaning when I felt ready). It was a beautiful day. We took advantage of Wade’s local knowledge and ran up inside the reef ‘tween the buoys and the Keys, flat and fast. That evening we headed outside to avoid the crab traps. It was nice out there too.

The next morning we arrived in Miami and pulled Cam II into her new home at Dinner Key Marina, safe and sound and in record time. We put away the boat and cleaned up. My friend Kim, author of Yoga Onboard, picked us up and took us to a dinner spot before dropping Wade off at his car and me at the airport.

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