June 2017: Isla Mujeres, Key West, and the End of the Voyage

posted on
January 8th, 2019 by

May 30th:  Isla Mujeres, Mexico

After arriving, we checked in with the marina, and then went into town for our official country check-in. We remembered that it was fairly easy to check in at this port, and not nearly as time consuming as it had been at Cozumel. The marina staff made all of the many, many document copies we would need. Symbiosis did not have an import permit, but since we were only staying for ten days or so, it was possible they didn’t need one. I made a report that is posted on Noonsite – here is the text:

Reported by MV Tropical Blend: May 2017 – Checking in without an agent at Isla Mujeres

We cruised from the Caymans to Isla Mujeres, which took 54 hours. We did not make a pre-arrival notification. We asked the marina to notify the authorities, but they said they do not do that. We could not figure out any way to notify authorities before arrival.

We arrived at Marina Puerto Isla Mujeres around 9:30 on a Tuesday morning. After docking and registering at the marina, we proceeded to Centro to check in. The marina made all of the necessary copies for us: clearance from Grand Cayman (which includes a crew list), boat documents, and passports. We arrived with a buddy boat, Symbiosis. The taxi to the Port Captain’s office cost 60 pesos, a little over $3.

At the port captain’s office, we were greeted in a friendly manner, and were given two forms to fill out. They were only in Spanish, and some of the words didn’t translate, but we managed – it was data on ourselves, the boat, and our recent ports. The officer, who could only speak a little English, explained the process to us:

  1. Health inspection – he called the doctor, who would see us at the port captain’s office
  2. Immigration – about three blocks from the office
  3. Agriculture – done at the office
  4. Customs – done at the office
  5. Port fees – done at the office

Health Inspection

We only had to wait about 10 minutes for the doctor. He actually asked health-related questions (unlike when we checked in at Cozumel in 2014), such as our recent state of health, and he measured our body temperatures. Our buddy boat had officially checked in to Haiti (Île-à-Vache) so they got more scrutiny. We were all asked if we had ever gotten measles vaccinations, or had measles. After completing the interview, he stamped all of our documents, gave us the two health forms (sanitation in Spanish), and charged us 50 pesos per boat.


We proceeded to the immigration office, where English is spoken well. We handed over four copies of our docs – the ones stamped by the doctor. The officer then gave us the forms for the bank payment, and recommended we go to Banamex, as it would be faster. The bank is just a block away, and we quickly paid the 500 pesos each ($27) for the tourist cards. We returned to the immigration office, filled out our declaration forms, and received our tourist cards and a couple of the stamped docs. The officer reminded us to keep the receipts. In Mexico, when you check out, you have to show the receipt for the tourist cards, or they charge you again.

Agriculture & Customs

Returning to the port captain’s office, we were told that the customs officer would be there    in 30 minutes, but she actually showed up in about 10 minutes. The agriculture officer was also there. The officers quickly completed the forms – we weren’t asked anything about ship’s stores and provisions. Technically, you cannot bring meat and produce into Mexico, but they never asked.

Port Fees

We then gave the final docs and forms to the port captain, and he gave us a payment form for the bank. Both boats were charged 813 pesos, which I guess covered our customs, agriculture, and port fees. We paid this at a nearby bank, HSBC. Note that you can only pay the fees in cash, but there are ATM’s at all of the banks.

We returned with the receipts, and we were told it we be a few minutes. This was the only hangup in our check in: a few minutes turned into an hour and a half, and we have no idea why. We asked a few times, but the answer was always “un momento, por favor”. Finally we received our cruising permits.

How long to check in here without an Agent?

Including the hour and a half wait at the end of the process, the total time for checking in was 4 hours. That was worth not paying $100 for an agent. The procedure here was much simpler than in Cozumel, where we spent over two days and $20 in taxi rides.

As an aside, we were not asked about a TIP. We had one from our previous Mexico cruise, but our buddy boat did not. We told them we were planning to stay one to two weeks – perhaps a TIP is not required for a short stay?

We recommend checking in at Isla Mujeres instead of Cozumel, and we don’t think that an agent is necessary, or justified by the expense.

                         Cancun skyline                                             The beach at the north end of Isla Mujeres
                                                  Passing along the beach on our way to the marina
                        Relaxing at the pool                                          Getting started with the check-in cha-cha

Isla Mujeres is a tourist town, but not nearly so much as Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The streets are still charming, the merchandise is interesting, and the food is fabulous. Cruise ships don’t call here, but a lot of cruise ship riff-raff ferry over from Cancun, so it can be crowded during the day. A lot of people rent golf carts to zip around on, but we used the inexpensive taxis. One of the first problems we had was at an ATM. When we had come through here in 2014, I used an ATM where the card is returned at the end of your transaction. Most machines require you to remove the card to get the cash, but not that one. I left the card in the machine, and remembered after we were over in Cancun. I had mentioned that experience to Scott when we were in the Caymans, but you guessed it: the same thing happened to him. After he realized what had happened, we hustled back to the bank, but the card was now gone. I’m not sure what happens to them – does the next customer get them, or does the machine eat them? We could not get a bank employee to tell us – the answer was “no se”. After talking with his Credit Union, it was clear that he could not get a replacement card anytime soon, so we floated them the pesos.

We really enjoyed the food, as usual. We had not had actual authentic Mexican meals since the last time we were there.
                                                                  Mmmmm – muy delicioso!
                  The streets are filled with shops                                    Skulls are a big deal in Mexico
                                 To say that Trump is not popular in Mexico would be an understatement

The NBA finals had started, with the Warriors facing Cleveland again. We found a sports bar in town that would have the game on, but we didn’t relish coming to town at 9:00 and leaving at midnight. We found that the buffet room at the marina / hotel had a TV, and we asked if we could see the game on it. The answer was a different form of “no se”, but we gave it a try. First, we had to find the remote control, which the office was supposed to have. They didn’t have it, but a guard found it for us. After some doing, we were able to find and watch games one and two. For some reason, we were not able to get game three, but I had gotten a local SIM card, so we were able to use the phone wi-fi to stream the game. We won the first three games handily, but game four would be on as we would be cruising to Key West.

We spent a few days in Isla Mujeres, including taking the ferry over to Cancun, with visits to Home Depot, Plaza Las Americas shopping mall, the Hypermarket grocery store, and believe it or not, the Sirloin Stockade for lunch. The Hypermarket had the biggest selection of chilies I had ever seen – I picked up some dried pods, and Noi overdosed on hot green ones for snacking. Back in Isla Mujeres, we continued to enjoy the food, and we visited the Ice Bar – yes, it was made of ice, in tropical Mexico.

                                                                         Visiting the Ice Bar
                                                                                 A “sports bar” where we thought about watching the game
                         The Cancun ferry                                                       Whale sharks migrate here
                                The mercado in Cancun had more chiles than I had ever seen in my life
                                                         The pool at the marina was wonderful

June 9th – 11th: Isla Mujeres – Key West Bight Marina

The weather window to Florida was looking good, so we made plans to leave on the ninth. Checking out was even worse than checking in – we had to wait for what seemed like hours at the Capitania de Puerto to get our exit Zarpe. We left at four in the morning to time our arrival into Key West by mid-afternoon. During the passage, the issue with the exhaust stack got much worse. The noise coming out of the muffler was really loud, and the soot was everywhere. We could not use the flying bridge during the trip. I suspected that the muffler had a hole in it, but we couldn’t do anything about it until we got to Key West

                                                    Key West welcomed us after three days at sea

Position at destination: 24º33.736’N, 81º48.018’W
Air temp: 89, Humidity: 54%, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 346.9  Total: 12,848
Departed at 4:00am, arrived at 3:00pm

June 11th – 16th: Key West

We decided to spend a few days in Key West enjoying the local color. Scott and Noi had never been here, so we showed them around. But first things first – I opened up the chamber around the exhaust stack to find an incredible amount of soot, and I saw that a lot of the wires had melted insulation. The heat blanket had come loose, and it was clear that the muffler had rusted away. I called Rob at Yacht Tech, and he confirmed that the muffler was shot. They have a service life of around ten years, and he said they had recently replaced several others. They would go ahead and order a new one for us. He suggested that I take the blanket off and make a temporary patch with sheet metal, but I believed the remains would fall apart without the blanket to hold whatever was left in place. He agreed with me. My plan was to order a large thermal blanket, and then use baling wire to hold it in place. I was able to get a blanket shipped in via Amazon, and Scott and I secured it in place with a lot of wire. Hopefully, it would keep the soot out of the bridge area and minimize the noise. I fired up the engine, and the temporary fix worked well. We prayed that it would last until we got to North Palm Beach, and I cursed the muffler for failing so close to selling the boat.

We explored Key West, enjoying the bars and restaurants. Scott was delighted to find a micro-brewery close to the marina, sending him to IPA heaven. One of the highlights was a visit to the Hemingway House, filled with memorabilia and six-toed cats. Four full days went by in a flash, and this was our last shore leave of our voyage.

While we were in Key West, we were notified that at long last our villa purchase in Antigua was final. The licenses had finally been approved, and we completed the purchase. It only took a year…

                      Scott’s family of IPA’s                                                             Yeah, that works
           Proud to be there                           At a bar – imagine that!                    This met with Noi’s approval
     Noi found a shark she liked                         What a great title                         Hemingway memorabilia
                        Front of the house
             Great books were written with this                                            His fishing boat, Pilar
                                                                           It’s good to be a cat                    How may toes do you see?
                                                  Noi finally got her fill of shrimp at the Raw Bar

June 16th: Key West – Long Key Bight

We started off on our final passage under clear skies and calm winds, as it should be. We would take easy day legs up the keys, and then run through the ICW to North Palm Beach. There was not too much to say about this trip.

Position at destination: 24º49.793’N, 80º46.972’W
Air temp: 90, Humidity: 58%, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 61.94  Total: 12,910
Departed at 8:00am, arrived at 7:00pm

June 17th: Long Key Bight – Sands Key

We anchored off of Sands Key, in the same place we had dropped the hook in January of 2014. Since it was Saturday, we could see tons of boats in Biscayne Bay just over the mangroves. We had considered staying there, but we were grateful to be on the quiet side of the key. We noted that this would be the last time we anchored in the ocean.

Position at destination: 25º30.160’N, 80º10.159’W
Air temp: 90, Humidity: 57%, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 56.97  Total: 12,967
Departed at 7:00am, arrived at 4:30pm

June 18th: Sands Key – Sunrise Bay

                                                                         Approaching Miami

We split from Symbiosis for this leg. Scott did not want to be in the waterway, and he wanted to sail, so he chose to go outside, cutting back to the ICW near Port Everglades. We took a slightly different route back, entering Biscayne Bay through the well-marked and deep Biscayne Channel inlet. We were able to cross over at slack tide, and it was an easy cut. In Biscayne Bay, we passed by Stiltsville, where a number of houses have been built literally on stilts. It’s hard to imagine that they could survive a strong storm.

                                                                          Stiltsville mansions

We did well with bridge timing, and we did not miss an opening. We did have a soft grounding during the trip. Near the Haulover Inlet, there is a sand bar that is very popular with the boat party crowd. The waterway channel is very narrow there, and the edge of the channel rapidly goes up on each side. I was staying to the left of the channel to avoid the party crowd when a fire boat suddenly pulled in front of us. I veered far enough to port to kiss the bottom. I gunned the engine and managed to drive off of the bar, but there was quite a racket. That’s the only part of the ICW that I really hate. We met up with Symbiosis just south of the 17th Street Bridge. A few miles later we reached Sunrise Bay, a small bay just west of the ICW for our final anchorage of our trip. During this leg, we passed 13,000 nautical miles for our voyage.

                                                                    Scenes along the ICW

Position at destination: 26º08.570’N, 80º06.534’W
Air temp: 87, Humidity: 60%, Water temp: 84
Nautical miles for this leg: 43.85  Total: 13,011
Departed at 7:00am, arrived at 3:00pm

June 19th: Sunrise Bay – Old Port Cove Marina: Final Destination

Our final day consisted of cruising the ICW and trying to make the bridge openings. We did not do as well as the previous day, as Symbiosis had some trouble making enough speed to make the opening times. We missed a few openings, got pummeled by some rain, and had a late opening at one bridge were we thought the tender was asleep. The final insult came at the Flagler Bridge in West Palm Beach, the last bridge that required an opening. We did not read the schedule correctly, and we found out that it only opens once per hour during rush hour. We had to wait forty-five minutes for the opening, so we anchored while waiting. Sure enough, we looked to the west and saw a building with the Trump logo on it – yuck! We could not make it to Old Port Cove before they closed, but we called ahead for our slip assignments, so no problem. Symbiosis had one final insult as well – just after we passed th4e Flagler Bridge, Scott found out that his alternator had worked itself loose, so we had to stop while he re-attached it. We had some pretty heavy wind, but by the time we got to the marina, it had dies off. We pulled into the slip for the last time without incident.

Position at destination: 26º49.887’N, 80º03.266’W
Air temp: 85, Humidity: 62%, Water temp: 84
Nautical miles for this leg: 43.5  Total: 13,054
Departed at 7:00am, arrived at 6:00pm

Selling the Boats

Scott had advertised Symbiosis, and he already had a serious buyer lined up to see it. The sale went through, so he and Noi would not be taking the boat back to Baltimore – that was a relief for them.

                  Together for the last time                                         Selling a boat – the second happiest day
                       Farewell to Symbiosis                                                 Our home for four years

The night we arrived, we walked up to our favorite local pizza joint, Big Apple Pizza, and we kind of went wild on the food. The next day we met with the team at Yacht Tech to go over some of the repairs we needed to do (like the muffler and some fiberglass damage), and the pending sale. The good news was that they already had a serious buyer lined up, but we would have a lot of work to do to empty out the boat.

The buyer for Symbiosis was in a hurry – he wanted to close the sale and take possession of the boat that Saturday, just four days away. The plan was also complicated because Scott’s driver’s license had expired during his trip, and Noi had never gotten hers. Rosé came up with the idea that I could drive them to Baltimore in a rental van or truck. Since I actually enjoy long distance driving, I agreed with that plan. In the meantime, I had rented a storage room for our goods. I initially rented a 5 X 10 room, but I quickly realized we would need more space than that, so I had to shift to a 10 X 10. Fortunately, there was a n empty room just across from the one I was already filling. We were amazed at how much stuff we had on board – and we were equally amazed at how much stuff came off of Symbiosis. On Saturday, Scott closed the deal, and I went to rent a van at our local Enterprise. They offered me a full-size SUV Ford Explorer. At first I thought that it had less storage room, but after looking at it, I guessed it was bigger, so I went with that car. Scott spent all afternoon stuffing the car. And we offered our old suitcases to Scott and Noi, which went on the roof. There was a tiny area in the back seat that made a nice Noi cave. The drive up went well until we got close to DC – there was massive traffic at Fredericksburg, which delayed us for about an hour. We arrived at their old home marina, where they had arranged to stay on a friend’s boat, at 10:00 that evening. The following day I drove them to downtown Baltimore, where Scott had rented a storage room. After that, we said goodbye, and I returned to North Palm Beach, stopping for the night in the very exciting town of Yemassee, South Carolina. The next day, I got hit by massive rainstorms around Daytona Beach, which reduced visibility seriously. Fortunately, the drivers there understood that they could not maintain their typical 85MPH speed in the storms. Mission accomplished, I returned to the boat to help with offloading everything.

Going through everything was a mind-numbing task. We sold the hookah, the kayak, and the paddleboard to some of the Yacht Tech guys, and we gave them our bikes in the deal. They had taken a terrible beating from the salty environment, and would require some serious rehabilitation.