December 18, 2006 Letter

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Happy Holidays to everyone!

After spending almost 3 weeks in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, we were finally able to get a "reasonable" weather window to head for Florida.  We could have left on our second day, as the weather was permitting.  But we wanted to stay a few days to experience the island, and we naively thought another weather window would open in a few days.  But instead a large weather system moved in creating strong north winds.   This created a bad situation for us, as we were tied bow-in to a dock with our stern facing north.   There are no finger docks alongside of the boats, so we had to tie the stern to wooden pilings.  The strong wind, current and waves relentlessly bashed at our stern for days making it very uncomfortable and dangerous.  The constant sledge-hammer-like banging from the waves hitting our stern forced us to sleep in the forward cabin, if we wanted to get any sleep at all.  Even though we had all our lines working to hold us off, we were bouncing so erratically that our lines stretched and the anchor smacked down on the dock bending the steel pin that secures the anchor to the bow.  Julio and Jaime from the marina helped us put out a stern anchor for additional holding power.  After 3 days, the weather cleared and we were able to move Aquila to the other side of the dock with the bow facing north.  It didn't matter at that point because the weather was beautiful, as you can see in this picture.  It was a challenge getting on and off the boat without a dock beside us.  We had to crawl over the pulpit and jump from the anchor to the dock!

One day we rented a golf cart and motored around the entire island.  Isla Mujeres is about 6 miles long and 1 1/2 miles across.  Our friend Jeff on s/v Enjoy went with us as our tour guide.  We went to the south end of the island to see the many Iguanas, which was very cool.  Jeff showed us the beautiful beaches, the best taco stand, the house that looks like a conch shell, the beautiful homes of the wealthy as well as the crowded little squatters shacks.  We saw the baseball park, the Governor's mansion, the cliffs, and went out to the end of the peninsula.  We had a really fun day.

On Thanksgiving Day, the cruisers organized a potluck at the marina which turned out to be a feast!  It was great!  We planned it at the last minute and didn't expect it to be such a success.  Two days later, it was someone's birthday, so we did it again.  Mike got caught up in the revelry and joined in the tequila drinking that night.  By the time he got back on the boat, he was seriously regretting the indulgence.  It was 10 days before he wanted to even look at a beer!

Linda went snorkeling out by the lighthouse with Mary from s/v Carpe Diem.  So many beautiful fish!  And they are so BIG!  Wish I had an underwater camera.  The fish were so colorful and plentiful!  However, it was a little disconcerting when a half dozen large barracuda swam around us.

On November 29 the forecast finally predicted an east/southeast wind, so we took off for Florida.  We had to cross the Yucatan Channel with the gulf stream current pushing us hard to the north, as we tried to sail more easterly.  We finally gave in and just went with the flow, easting as best we could.  The wind was blowing at 20 knots and the seas ranged from 4 to 8 feet over the next 4 days.  For brief periods, the wind pushed up to 30 knots and the seas built to 10 feet with breaking waves!  (This is how Linda spent her 59th birthday!)  When we went through the Florida Straits, we picked up the gulf stream and sailed all day at over 11 knots (speed over ground).  We entered Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday morning and couldn't believe all the crazy boat traffic.  We got frustrated trying to figure out where to check in, finding a place to dock, and dealing with the bridges, the mega yachts and speed boats.  So we turned around and headed back down to Miami.  We pulled into the first marina we saw because the sun was getting low.  The slip fee was $4 per foot per night.  Talk about sticker shock!  We were used to paying 50 cents per foot.  Fortunately on Monday morning we were able to contact our friend Brad in Ft. Lauderdale who made excellent arrangements for us, and we headed back to Ft. Lauderdale.  I don't know what we would have done without Brad since we've been here.  He's helped us enormously and we're very grateful.

We've been in Ft. Lauderdale for 2 weeks doing boat maintenance projects, shopping and running errands.  We had lunch with Gary and Gloria, friends we met in Bocas del Toro on s/v Bold Venture.  (Gary's the retired agent I spoke about in an earlier letter home.)  They are in Florida for the holidays and plan to return to Panama in January.  We had a really nice break when our good friends Larry and Mary visited for a few days.  They were here for the arrival of their new Hylas54 on a freighter from Taiwan.  We got to join them for their maiden voyage up the river to the marina where all the finish work will be completed.  Mike is green with envy at all the space in their boat.  It's beautiful.  We can't wait to see it finished when we return in January.

We're really looking forward to flying to California this week to spend the holidays with family.  Hopefully, we'll be able to see many of our friends while we are in town.

Wishing everyone a beautiful holiday!  And a Happy New Year!

(click here to see the photo album for this month)

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