Westward Ho'Okele - Dispatch Two

Westward Ho'Okele: Dispatch 2

Isla Mujeres

By Peter Swanson

We arrived at Isla Mujeres on the night of December 6, coming in with the same Norther that had recently smitten Georgia and the Carolinas with a wintry cudgel. The last 10 miles were a bit of a sleighride for us with its sudden 6- to 8-foot seas, but not enough to disturb dishes drying atop a non-skid pad on the Great Harbour N37's countertop. In the lee of the 4-mile-long island water had calmed to a modest chop as we ghosted past the waterfront of this small Mexican resort at 5 knots. By now, Associated Press photograper Jim Cole and I were on the flybridge steering for the narrow, mangrove-lined cut to the inner lagoon and its promise of calm; my boss, Ken Fickett, stood lookout on the bow. Moonless night obscured the lagoon's entrance but, when It finally occurred  to me to look down at our Furuno chartplotter (having made most of my previous entrances visually, I had actually momentarily forgotten about this wonderful device), I was reassured that we were right on.

Into the cut we slid. According to our log, we pulled into the Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina at 8:30 p.m. Nice facility-part of a resort hotel with adjacent fuel docks and boatyard. To our surprise, the immigracion officer came right down and cleared us in for a modest $20 fee in addition to the approximately $20 per passport. After our 53-hour transit, we declared ourselves eligible for shoreleave and headed downtown.

(Here I need to take a short break. As I write, we are 150 miles southeast of the Yucatan, and Jim has just brought up French toast, homefries and juice. El mare es muy tranquilo!)

Anyway, the first night was one of grouper, shrimp, margaritas and some the most miserable billiards ever played. We rolled home back to the marina happy and favorably impressed with the village and its friendly people. Though decidedly a tourist haunt, Isla Mujeres had not shed its rough-cut, somewhat bohemian appeal as have its more upscale seaside counterparts.

Jim, who had never been to Mexico, spent the next day shooting character shots in the village, including a parade dedicated to the village's fishermen. Perhaps we'll get to see some of them in the near future. Ken, who had been here during his sailboat racing days sometime in the late Pleistocene, noted how much bigger and bustling the island seemed. Our stay was rainy with fresh breezes blowing down the village streets, but the overall impression of warmth and friendliness was not diminished.

Isla Mujeres puts a good face to Mexico. (And it's a Mayan face, I might add. Many of the Mexicans here have the profoundly hooked noses that you see on the profiles carved onto the walls of Mayan ruins.) Islas Mujeres stores offered good deals on silver jewelry and all manner of Mexican kitsch. There is a small but modern supermarket, a diveshop and hardware store. Overall, however, I would rate Isla Mujeres low as a provisioning stop. Regular ferries run to the mainland with its host of stores, including a WalMart.   Besides its open air restaurants and dockside fuel, Isla Mujeres greatest draw to the mariner should be her long, inner lagoon, which forms outstanding hurricane hole, even though its grassy bottom is reported to hold poorly. Standard practice in a mangrove hole such as this is to nose right into the qnarly bush and weave your vessel to the trees until it looks like it was caught in a giant Dacron spiderweb.

Before I sign off I'd like to share the names of two local gringos who can help you find what you need. One is Pierre Sanchez, who manages the Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina; the other is Genevieve Pritchard, who owns a little bookstore and internet place. This amiable refugee from Indiana also owns a downtown restaurant (as does Sanchez), but my contact with her was at her Cosmic Cosas shop on Avenida Matamoros. Throughout the Caribbean ex-pats such as these are a great resource for foreign mariners. Getting into Isla Mujeres-even in the dark-was easier than getting out, and served as a reminder of why there are few two-day turnarounds when you stop for fuel in the sunnier latitudes. When it came time to check out, the imigracion man was not in the office even though I was there an hour before his noon, Sunday quitting time. Nor was he there at the start of business on Monday, though he eventually showed up. So we lost 20 hours of good weather on our trip to Panama, and all for lack of a rubber stamp, but Jim Cole and I said goodbye to Ken Fickett just before noon on December 9. He boarded the ferry for Cancun and a Florida-bound jetliner. Jim and I set a course for the western tip of Honduras.

'Til next time.



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