We left the rolling anchorage close to 10am. Although the weather was calling for cloudy skies, it was turning into a beautiful partly cloudy day. One look back at the beach made me wish we weren’t moving on. But I reminded myself that a beautiful beach could lay ahead as well. We still weren’t sure what we were doing, but we were moving southwest, closer to Key West. And the water is so beautiful—turquoise blue.
Shortly under way we received a phone call from the other boat we had met that was headed to Isla Mujeres. They were planning to head out from Key West to Mexico between noon and 1pm. We were still at least 3 hours from Key West. Decision time. We pulled up the weather again and took another look. There is a front forming over the Gulf of Mexico that was going to develop and move in over the weekend. If we could get out in front of it, the weather looked good and the wave predictions were calling for 1 to 3ft most of the time, with maybe a short bit of 3 to 5 ft. As long as they stayed under 5ft I felt we would be okay. And as long as the pressure system didn’t move in faster on us. I wasn’t interested in getting sick, nor taking care of sick kids for 2 days straight. We looked again at what we felt would be our next window in another 6 days and saw that they last day would include possible 6-9 ft waves. We decided the current window was the best option and we were going to take it.
We had a few matters to wrap up and quickly as we were going to run out of phone and internet access when we pass Key West in a couple of hours. 1. our internet track system had stopped working, the company could ship us a new one, but we didn’t want it shipped to Mexico. My brother is flying to Cancun in a week for his honeymoon. We are excited to celebrate with him and his new wife and he nicely agreed to bring our package with him. 2. Our Generators have been having some issues. One had been having a voltage regulator problem that we hoped would clear up when we left the Radio Tower area, but it didn’t, however David found some spare old parts that needed minor repairs. He contacted a company that could do it but we had to mail them those parts. So as we neared Key West, I slowed down RCabin and David lowered the Dinghy. David ran the few miles ahead in the dinghy into Key West to mail the package, while we continued under way. Just as we were going to pass the Marina David took the Dinghy into, he caught up with us. We got him and the dinghy back on the boat and off we went. About this time, the other boat headed to Mexico hailed me on the radio to say they had made it out the channel past the reef, and had set their course to Isla Mujeres. They were, at this point approximately 11 miles ahead of us. 3. We needed to decide exactly where we were going to clear in at so we could call and make arrangements with a Marina for our arrival. Did we want to go to Isla Mujeres, or another 3 miles across the bay to Cancun? We decided to head to Cancun to clear in, hoping it would be a little easier. Also then we would be on the mainland and can easily get to church, since we will be arriving on Saturday. We called the Marina in Cancun, La Amada Marina, to make a reservation so they would be ready for us. We were on our way.
We headed out of Key West and passed the reef. We were traveling with Valkyrie, and they were still 11 miles ahead. Their boat is a nice, new Fleming trawler that has the means to go several knots faster than us. They had told us they planned to travel at 7-8 knots, which is what we typically travel at, so we thought we’d be a good match. They had set a direct course and after some research I decided to set a bit of a different course from them. I had read that if you set a direct course from Key West to the Yucatan then you end up spending more time in the Florida Straits, which have a strong northern current—the wrong direction, therefore slowing you and causing a more bumpy ride. I decided to set a more western course that would keep us out of the straits until we were about halfway across Cuba lengthwise. An hour or so after leaving Key West behind. David came upstairs from a nap and said he forgot he wanted to double check our props and make sure no lines were caught in them. There are crab and lobster pot lines all over the place in the Florida Keys. We tried to dodge them but it was like playing mine sweeper. So we stopped our engines and David jumped in for a quick dip. Since the water was sooooo clear it was easy to see, everything looked fine. Onward we went.
Sometime late in the evening it was time to change course and head through the straits or gulf stream. At this point we were now only 8 miles away from them. Our distance was shrinking. We’d check in with them every few hours. They had made this crossing a few times before. But they remarked at how fast we were catching up. Our course had given us an advantage in a longer time traveling with the current helping us go faster. I had made a good choice. Looking back I think it was also to our advantage because we spent less time in the gulf stream-with choppy current opposite of our direction and it came at a later point in our trip. This was important for what happened next. But before we get to that—the water was just gorgeous. It was a beautiful day, and the water was so clear that it was like looking thru blue glass when a dolphin swam with the boat. It was so clear.
OK, what happened next? Well I had gone to bed early that night hoping to get some sleep so I could trade shifts with David later. Around 10pm David came in to get me, he needed to talk, there was a small problem. I had noticed about an hour before that it hadn’t gotten a little rougher, but I had checked on the kids and everyone was sound asleep. 30 minutes later I noticed it was even rougher. So David informed me he had to turn off our stabilizers 30 minutes ago—that explains the rougher. He said they were leaking oil and were completely dry and he wasn’t sure what to do or how to fix them. We were 8 hours from Key West, and if we turned around now we would be there by sun up. But we didn’t know if they would have the parts we needed, or how expensive it would be to be fixed. At this point we were crossing the gulf stream and it was a little rough. The kids were all asleep except Savannah—her turn on watch, so none of the others were up to get sick. We contemplated what to do, If it was going to be another 36 hours in the type of seas we were currently in, then I did not want to continue without the stabilizers. But we didn’t know how it would be. We decided to pray to ask for help on what to do. We then decided we should turn back and rather than have everyone sick for 36 hours. We radioed the other boat, Valkyrie, to let them know our problem and plan. They suggested we get it looked at in Mexico. But we had the problem of getting to Mexico. David suggested we turn them back on and see how long it takes to run the oil dry. They take 10w40, and we have 20 gallons of straight 40 on board. We could use that, it’s similar enough. So he filled up the oil, and the tank holds 3/4 a gallon, and we said a prayer and then turned them on. After 10 minutes we checked and the oil line hadn’t moved. So we waited some more
While we waited to see what would happen with the oil, I noticed on our GPS a cargo ship that had a Polish name. I mentioned it to David. He hailed them on the radio to see if they spoke Polish, and sure enough, they were a Polish shipping boat. They had come from Mobile, and were headed with their cargo to Germany. David had a nice chat with the Polish crew member on watch, who asked how David knew Polish so well. He was able to share his experience as a missionary for our Church. At this point Isabel was on watch with us and thought it was so funny that her dad was talking in Polish to another boat. The random moments in life…we hardly run across a Polish person in Idaho, so why not on the ocean late at night.
After 30 minutes more we checked on the oil, and it was almost half way gone. David topped it off with the rest of the gallon. We figured if we could get an hour and a half out of each gallon we’d have enough to make it there. We decided to continue on to Mexico and figure out how to get it fixed there, while having a great time. We knew we wouldn’t need the stabilizers in Belize, and we could just pick good weather windows and short running days to get there. I told David he should be prepared to hire crew to help move the boat back to the US, while I fly home with the kids, if they didn’t get fixed in Mexico. I wasn’t sure I would be up for the trip back without the stabilizers working. We may just leave the boat in Mexico for Hurricane season anyway. We called Valkyrie on the radio, and said we were continuing on. It was nice to have a voice nearby to chat with and know that someone else was out there with us. Because other than a few big cargo ships, we did not see any other boats, including Valkyrie for almost 2 days.
David went to sleep for a few hours, near 3 am it was his turn for watch again, and my turn to sleep again, or attempt to sleep anyway. Around 7am I took over watch and David went back to sleep. Around 8am I checked the stabilizers and saw they were out of oil, so I turned them off. By this time we had beautiful weather. The waves were maybe 3 feet, and somewhat following, which is nice to sail in. So not having the stabilizers work was okay. During the morning, Valkyrie hailed us to ask if we were fishing, as they had just caught a big fish. We aren’t very experienced with fishing, so we had not put out any lines. We have a rod on board, and some fishing stuff, a friend of mine in MD actually fixed the rod for us when we were there. When David awoke later that day he put out a line with a lure off the back of the boat. The kids liked watching it and yelling we caught a fish when the line would go tight, but then it would bounce back. About 25 minutes later we noticed our lure was gone. Either the bouncing in the water tore it off, or a fish did. Not sure which one. But it was fun while it lasted.
As the day continued on the waves just got smoother. We were truly blessed with good weather to travel in. Later that day we saw water shooting into the air, about 150 yards from the boat. A whale! The kids wanted to get closer, but he wasn’t swimming our way, and we were happy to keep our distance, not wanting possible damage to the boat. But it was neat to see him surface and go back under and blow air out, even from 100 yards away.
I was able to rest again in the afternoon, but the day was so beautiful it was hard to take myself inside to lay down. I knew I would need the rest for our last night of travelling, so I forced myself down to my room for a few hours while Matthew took his nap too. We made homemade pizza for dinner and then David headed straight to bed for a few hours of sleep. A little while later the rest of the kids were off to bed and Isabel and I stayed up for first shift of night watch. Around 9pm we looked out and saw glowing patches of water. We went down to the sides of the boat for a better look, and sure enough it was glowing patches of water. Bioluminescence. I had read about it but never seen it. It was very neat. The wake along the bow and front sides of the boat were easy spots to see the bioluminescence being moved around, but if we looked out into the water we could see occasional large patches of Bioluminescence shimmer in the dark. I went and woke up both Savannah and Calvin to come and see. I debated over whether to wake up David, and in the end decided to because I knew I would want to be woken up to see the glowing water. In the past we have read about Bioluminescence in the water. I have always wanted to see it, it was very cool.
David went on watch, while I went to sleep. I hadn’t much sleep the last 2 nights. It is a little hard to sleep with the boat rolling around. It is somewhat like sleeping on a trampoline with people walking around you. You sort of bounce and roll with the motion, hard to relax. It was still very calm out which made getting to sleep easier, and I decided to take an antihistamine and some melatonin. All combined, I slept until 4 am, when I awoke bouncing all over. It was the roughest yet. Calvin had been up for watch and was now laying on the couch upstairs not feeling good. David had given him Dramamine in time, so he didn’t throw up this time. I sent him down to sleep, for the kids sleeping thru the rougher seas is the best and easiest thing. We were crossing the Yucatan channel, and we knew this would possibly be rough. The winds were blowing against the current and we were cutting through the current. The waves weren’t big or steep, just very confused, which makes it quite rough. Without the stabilizers it was making me sick, and I had taken some Dramamine too. David was off to bed, he’d been up for 6 hours and was ready to sleep. Before heading to bed I had asked him about turning on the stabilizers, but he said he didn’t think the oil would last more than 30 mins compared to how fast they were leaking earlier in the day when he had been making a video of the leak to send to the manufacturer. He filled the oil tank for me anyway. I told him that I had faith that Heavenly Father could fix anything if we asked. David was too tired to wait to see a miracle, so he was off to bed. Valkyrie checked in with us, they were about 4 miles almost directly in front of us. We had made good time.
After 30mins, I started to not feel so good. Savannah was on watch with me, and she was doing okay, but was not liking the motion of the boat either. So I said a prayer, and turned on the stabilizers. I checked them 20 minutes later and the oil line had not moved. I set a timer and continued to check them every 20 minutes; 3 hours later there was still 1/3 left in the oil reservoir. The kids all woke up to start the day, as we were headed into smoother waters. We were within 20 miles of Mexico and had cleared the Yucatan Channel, so the water was much calmer. David woke up a little bit later and I told him he should go check the stabilizer oil, as they had been running for over 3 hours without needing a refill. He was amazed. I told him, I believe in miracles, because to me that is what it is. My theory is that when the stabilizers are off the oil cools and thickens and plugs the leak. Since they were off all day, they were quite cooled and plugged up and therefore were able to run for several hours before heating up and melting the plug to start leaking again. That’s my scientific possible explanation, which David thought a little reaching. But I prefer to think of it as a miracle- the work of Heavenly Father. I know Heavenly Father watches over us. I know he can performs miracles of all kinds, and can fix something as trivial as my boats stabilizers so I can have a more comfortable ride through the ocean. As silly as that seems with all the other problems in the world, I know He was watching over us.
We turned the stabilizers off as they weren’t needed anymore with the calmer water. We were an hour away and could see the hotels on Isla Mujeres. It was a great sight after 40 hours of no land in sight. We arrived at La Amada Marina in Puerto Juarez, just north of Cancun around 10am.
It took 46 hours from passing Key West to arrive in Mexico. We anchored 2 hours east of Key West, so it took us a total of 48 hours to get to land. Aside from all the exciting things above, what was life like during those hours. In addition to sleeping, the kids had school. We left on a Thursday morning, so the kids had school Thursday and Friday. Friday was PJ day, which they earned for getting their school work done that week in a timely manner. We typically have school hours from 8am to lunch (or after if they don’t finish before hand). Once school work is finished it is time for chores. We do at least one load of laundry everyday but Sunday, even if the boat is in motion. The washing machine runs on the battery, and then in the evenings, we run the generator and run the oven, dryer, and AC’s to cool the rooms off for bedtime. While crossing the ocean there was a pleasant breeze, and up top on the fly bridge where we drive from was pretty nice. But inside, and especially down in the rooms, could get stuffy. Every bed has a fan, but at by bed time, we needed a little AC to help cool them off. Once cooled down, with the fan it would be okay till morning. We have a dishwasher on board; it can run on the battery, but we prefer to run 1 load in the evenings when the generator is on. But it is the kids chores to empty and load it. We vacuum the living area once a day and wipe down the stairs each day. Once chores were completed, then the kids can play. They build with blocks, or play with Barbies or dolls, they play dress up, they read books, they make art projects, or they watch for dolphins or whales on the bow. They play restaurant or snack shop and make snacks for everyone to eat. They watch a movie or TV show. It’s just like being at home, except it’s a boat crossing the ocean. If it gets rough out and they feel sick I like to settle them down for a movie. It can be hard for the little ones to move around when the boat is rolling. Luckily we didn’t have much of that during the day this trip.
Matthew takes his afternoon nap at 1pm everyday, even on the ocean. While the kids are doing school, he likes to sit up on the flybridge with David and I. He loves to point out the birds. Sometimes one of the kids will bring up school work or reading too. They each take turns helping on watch. On a long passage like this there isn’t much driving. We just set the autopilot and go. But someone needs to always be on watch. You can disappear to the bathroom, or nod off for a few minutes of sleep, but we use a timer, and the horizon and area need to be checked every 7 minutes—in case something is out there, another boat or marker or something we don’t want to hit. In the middle of the night, that timer is a big help, to make sure we are awake to check things out every 7 minutes. We arrived Saturday morning, so the kids had play time and of course had to be ready to help with docking lines and fenders when we arrived. They were all excited when we could see land!