2. July 2023

Sailing Log: Cuba to Mexico

As we leave Cayo Largo and Cuba, we are not alone. El Russo, the employee of the turtle center, has given us twenty freshly hatched turtles. We pack them in a Tupperware and carry them back to Mabul. We cast off and finally we are sailing from Cuba to Mexico. One by one we drop the tiny ones into the sea near the coast. May they have an exciting, long life without shark encounters!

Baby turtle release close to a reef

With six knots of speed and full sails, we make good progress. Every now and then a small island rises out of the sea to starboard. Isla de la Juventud, the last big Cuban island, we only see on the chartplotter. We are surrounded by the blue of the sea. The first night passes quietly and uneventfully. Only in the early morning I see the dorsal fins of dolphins moving fast in our direction. I wake Alex and we watch the large, gray animals as they flit back and forth in front of the bow. There must be at least twenty of them. One by one they disappear again, only one young animal remains behind. The little one doesn’t seem to notice that he is alone at the bow. Again and again he shoots out of the bow wave to the surface, only to dive down again in a flash. Then a big animal appears, whistles the little one back and together they dive down and disappear. A scene that could have taken place in any playground in the world.

Dolphins accompany us for a short distance

An hour later, Alex has lain down again, the main sheet traveler slams to the side. A block is torn out of the corroded anchorage. The first damage on this crossing from Cuba to Mexico. I make a short emergency repair. Alex will fix the block again later and add it to the long list of items to order and mend. In the afternoon I hear the whirring of the fishing rod and feel the drag on the line. Hopefully not a barracuda! The fish struggles, shoots left and right and there I see him: it’s a neon yellow Mahi Mahi, my first ever! We get him on board, I pour a shot of rum over his gills, stick the knife into his skull and sever the aorta, then bleed him out in a bucket.

The Mahi Mahi is a peculiar fish. With its nose pushed in, it looks like a fish that would have lost too many boxing matches underwater. As its life fades, it also loses its neon luster. Later, fried in olive oil, it tastes excellent!

Karin caught her first Mahi Mahi

During the second night, the wind drops almost completely. We are between Cuba and Mexico. On the chart plotter we see the container ships heading north with the Gulf Stream or south against it. Since the sails hardly stay up and we barely make any speed, I would start the engine and chug on the direct way to Isla Mujeres to Mexico, but Alex wants to seek the wind. Alex is the skipper and so he bears off to a more southerly course. Already the sails are up again and after a short time the wind picks up and we are making 6 knots through the water.

When my shift starts early in the morning, we are already sailing north again, or better said: we are pushed forward by the Gulf Stream, which seems to carry us like a flying carpet. Then the wind dies again completely and we now definitely have to start the engine. While sailing from Cuba to Mexico, we spend the day reading. “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Che Guevara for me, “Mad man’s voyage” by Peter Nichols, the stories of the truly crazy men of the first Golden Globe race, for Alex.

On the third night we turn towards the west, but miss the timing and are now fighting the Gulf Stream. This means that with 45 degrees of leeway, full sails and engine, we are only making two knots of speed over the ground. Now we understand the meaningful looks from other sailors when we told them that we will sail against the Gulf Stream from north to south… It is a struggle.

The first impression after six weeks of loneliness in Cuba: Mass tourism on Isla Mujeres

After what feels like an eternity of silently cursing ourselves for having missed the right moment to jibe, we see a narrow strip of land in the distance. The first sport fishing boats cross us and the narrow strip grows larger, becoming an island where we can make out the houses that stand close together along the entire coastline. As we turn around the north beach, we see an armada of charter catamarans, loaded with half-naked, drunk people lying on the catamarans’ trampoline like sardines in a can. Women stretch their bare bums to men with gold chains, entertainers yell into microphones, “Let’s have fun guys!”

Playa del Norte is only for hardcore package tourists

Out the dream of the lonely, romantic island! Isla Mujeres is a tourist hell! And we don’t know yet that the bureaucracy here, as in no other country, will drive us to madness…


Distance covered: 360 nm
Time : 2 days 23 hours
Average speed: 4.9 kt
Engine hours: 17 hours
Damages: Traveller block torn off port side

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