At around I did my usual visual inspection of the bilge and engine compartment with no surprises. The autopilot was steering us effortlessly to our next waypoint and all was good with the world. It is days like this that make all our hard work and efforts to prepare for this trip totally worthwhile.
Around we were sitting in the cockpit contemplating lunch when the familiar sound of the fishing reel set us into action. We had done well on this part of the coast so we knew what to do. Susan eased the throttle back to idle and I grabbed the reel. Within a few minutes we had landed another blue fin tuna. We were beginning to wonder if any other species roamed these waters but we were not complaining. Once again, fresh tuna would grace the captain’s table for dinner. And fresh tuna salad is always one of Susan’s favorites for lunch.
We wondered aloud how the wreck might have happened. Did the boat lose steering and drift up on the reef? Did the crew make a fatal mistake in navigation? Was a storm responsible? The hull seemed pretty much intact so it must have only been there a short time. Anyone who has spent any time cruising will understand the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach anytime you encounter such a sight.
Now it was our turn to cross that same reef without mishap. We had been provided a set of waypoints by a friend in Isla Mujeras that had been in and out of here only a couple of weeks before. Even with first-hand waypoints we are always cautious and a little apprehensive. We had plotted them on our paper charts, and on the electronic charts on the computer as well as entering them into the GPS as part or our route. All seemed in agreement that we would enter with a good margin of safety.
The first waypoint was outside the reef line and put us in a good position to maneuver to the second waypoint inside the reef line. Even with good coordinates we still always maintain a watch on the foredeck and, when entering a pass, will even climb the rigging using our mast steps to get us high enough to get a good visual on the depths and the periphery of the reef pass. Our third waypoint put us well inside the bay. Our anchorage was a good five miles once we had crossed over the reef line. From our third waypoint the rest was all eyeball. We knew from information we had gathered and from our guidebook of the area that there was a shallow bar that extended almost a quarter-mile off the north end of Culebra Cay, where we planned to anchor. So from our third waypoint we headed directly for the north end of the cay, then maintained the quarter-mile distance once we were close in. We saw no less than 12 feet of water all the way to our anchoring spot on the west side of the cay. There we would have good protection from the swells that worked in from the sea as well as the prevailing easterly winds. As usual, things were going too easily.
As we came out on deck we found a pigeon had landed on deck and was walking around as if disoriented or not well. This has happened in the past when a stray bird came in contact with our wind generator. This one did not have any visible injuries. But we also knew what kind of a mess birds make on the deck and canvas. So we made an attempt to coax her off and convince her to fly away. She would have none of it and ran around the deck staying just out of our reach. The end of any passage, no matter how short, is time to just relax, so we decided to leave the bird be for now and perhaps she would just leave later.
Since Susan is an old softy she insisted on giving her food and water. I warned her that if we did, the bird would move aboard, and reminded her of what the decks would look like the next morning — but she insisted. The bird stayed with us for another day and a half, then just flew away. No thank you or anything, just little deposits everywhere.
The settlement at Punta Allen was about three miles due north of us in the bay. Our guidebook suggested it was unimpressive and not worth a visit. In addition, there was a naval base there and a visit could result in a hassle from officials.
One morning we happened to pick up a conversation on the VHF from a couple of boats that sounded close by. So we jumped in and introduced ourselves. We were surprised when they told us they were anchored near the settlement, and it was really a great little place and we should visit before we left. Within the hour we’d hauled up anchor and moved the three miles to the anchorage behind Punta Gorda.
After we splashed the dinghy we stopped to chat with one of the boats we had communicated with earlier. They gave us the scoop about the town and where everything could be found, including the new town-built dinghy dock, the local tiendas — or grocery stores — and the all-important Internet cafe.
We found the town delightful, and the people friendly and helpful. We learned they are trying hard to attract tourists since this area is famous for its fishing, and diving and snorkeling on the reefs. As evidence of their sincere intentions, it appeared they had converted every other house on every street into a restaurant.
We stayed another two days just to enjoy the settlement. The navy presence was never a problem, and they were always friendly and polite when we met them on the street. But we knew it was time to continue pushing south.