Our weather reports indicated very light winds and no rain for the next several days. We had heard from a number of people that the anchorage at Tulum had poor holding and was good only in settled weather. Still, after talking to the vessel, Nueva Vida, on the SSB one morning and getting waypoints and a thumbs-up on the weather, Chuck agreed to go there.
I picked a waypoint a bit offshore to stay away from the reefs, but remain close enough into shore to avoid the counter current. The waypoint was a half-mile or so from the reef pass. The next waypoint would be just outside the reef at Tulum and the last where we passed through the reef. From there, we would just turn north and run parallel to the beach, as instructed by the guidebook.
It was a beautiful sunny day and by mid-afternoon or so, the ruins of Tulum began to appear in the distance. I got the binoculars out and tried to make out the different buildings.
In reality, the pass was probably 100 yards across. Once we cleared the reef Chuck turned to starboard and began to head north toward the ruins.
Lady Galadriel made her turn again to starboard and was preparing to anchor just behind the reef. We passed well behind them to stay out of their way, and went a little further down the beach. At that point, we switched positions and I was back on the helm to anchor. We then turned toward the reef and dropped the hook.
That’s when we realized we had a problem. No, nothing was wrong with the boat, the engine, or the sails, it was the anchorage. The wind had died down leaving us sideways in the swells; we were rolling, pitching and yawing like crazy.
Lady Galadriel had asked us to stop by for a visit before we realized what kind of anchorage this was. We called them back on the VHF and politely declined. It was actually too rough to launch the dinghy from the davits and, at one point, Chuck asked me to cook dinner earlier than usual because he thought if he waited any longer, he might be seasick. We considered a stern anchor to keep us bow to the swells, but decided against that because of the rocky bottom. Plus our secondary anchor is rode with a short piece of chain, so we might have a problem with the line chafing through from the motion.
The problem here is that the reef is too shallow to break up the swells as they roll in toward the beach. They come unimpeded for hundreds of miles and, unless it has been flat calm for many days, this anchorage would not be comfortable. The difference between here and Punta Maroma was that the reef there was higher and actually almost dried at low tide. We had even tried to get behind a patch of reef that we thought was breaking more than the rest, to no avail. At this point I realized I would not be seeing Tulum on this trip. The word “untenable” comes to mind. If this is considered a fair-weather anchorage we could only imagine what it must be like in a hard blow with large seas.
As we left Tulum behind, for another time, we wondered what new experiences we would find at our next stop.