This is a the text of an email I sent to friends and family shortly after I arrived in Belize
Here's a link to the charts of the Gulf of Mexico between Florida and the Northeast point of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, near Cancun and of the Quintana Roo coast from there south to San Pedro, Belize and Chetumal, Q.R., Mexico.
(begun in San Pedro, Belize... now's the time to get out your atlas (or chartbook) and look at the Gulf of Mexico between Florida and Quintana Roo,the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and a close up of the Quintana Roo coast itself)
Jerry and Trina showed up in Key West on a 16 foot trimarran, practically an experimental job (theirs is #5) that planes up on hydrofoils given the right conditions and does 20 to 30 knots without any problems. A sister ship had been clocked at 45 knots, just before the mast pulled off. They had just sailed it down from Pine Island, FL, and were looking a bit lost in Key West, not an odd thing; it's not a friendly place for boaters. They weren't even allowed to bring their boat to the dock. Luckily, they ran into me, and I offered them a place on my unoccupied sailboat, just to help them out. I was next to it in my other boat, and knew it would be better to have someone living on it, using it. I wanted to change the energy dynamic as well, so it's not just a silent and painful reminder of a lost friend. The idea worked, to a great degree. It was much better with them living there, and having neighbors as well to keep me from getting to withdrawn in my thoughts. The arrangement worked for them, they could ride in and out with me or take the water taxi. After a while, they decided they wanted to go south with their boat, and were starting to look at the cost of shipping it. I said "why not just sail down?" They said they weren't sailors enough for that kind of a open water trip. I said that I could sail it down, and the next day, they asked me if I would. I weighed the logistics, and told them if the dulcimer would fit in their boat, and they stayed and took car of my cat, my car, and my boats, I'd go. "How wide is the dulcimer?" "17 inches" I replied. "The cockpit is 18!"
So I did it, and pulled it off. I'm in San Pedro, Belize, Central America; after a 45 day passage sailing this little boat I've named "Further" for duration of the trip. Jerry and Trina have been staying up in Florida watching the boats and feeding the cat. Everybody seems to think I'm either some sort of great sailor, or have extraordinary courage, or I'm just crazy. I'm not sure why everybody thinks its such a big deal, though I guess it must be. Personally, it's just something I did, like a lot of things I've done. It doesn't seem like a big deal, even if it is pushing the envelope a bit.
It was a nine-day trip from Key West to Isla Mujeras, Mexico. KW to the Dry Tortugas, where I slept out the night, then 7 days at sea to Isla Contoy, my first landfall on the Mexican coast, and a day to Isla Mujeras, my port of entry. It was a bit of everything; a day and a half becalmed, several days of open water sailing in pretty good wind and seas, finally running into some bad storms that lengthened the trip by a few days. This open water passage was still the best part of the whole trip, the days alone with the sea. There was a night with phosphorescence greater than any I'd ever seen, not just the normal small sparks, but great globes several feet in diameter and everything in between. Nights so clear and full of stars, rushing across the waves with a stiff wind, everything taut. There was another night I managed to get the sails to balance so Further would sail unattended, and I could lie on the "deck" and sleep, looking up at that sky. There was the day of calm, when I finally started paddled, thinking, "if the Maya can do it, so can I," though I was mostly working to catch little leads of breeze to push me West against the current, just trying to hold my position. At midday, I watched over a hundred small porpoises come directly at me from the horizon, pass around and under and circle me, before disappearing onward. 50 miles from Isla Mujeras I got clobbered by a storm that broke a weld that supported the front of the starboard outrigger, and left me limping under the jib all night in next to no wind while I waited for light to jury rig some repairs. By morning I'd drifted maybe 70 miles North, and spent two days fighting back against the current to the coast, or really, staying in place against it while crabbing west until I got out of the current and started making actual progress to the South. I started out due East of Isla Mujeras and ended up coming in to Isla Contoy (NW of I. Mujeras) from a bit West of North, after quite the detour. 20 miles before I reached the coast, having hove to for another bad storm, I noticed the same weld had broken on the port outrigger, so I came into the Mexican coast with both akas wrapped up and supported by ropes. The quite unbroken sea was behind me, and I entered the world of the seacoast, the sound of surf and seabird's cries, noisy harbors and spray swept beaches, the clean smell of the sea wind mixed with the funk of driftwood and rotting seaweed.
I was treated great when I reached Isla Mujeras. The owner of Marina Paraiso, Manuel, saw me flying the Q flag and jumped in the dingy with his friend Juan Manuel and ran out to personally invite me in, and made me a special guest, at no charge; even letting me use his kitchen, and camp in the palapas. There was a sailor on a boat offshore who had a shop in town with a TIG welder to do the repairs. I was playing dulci at the Marina and all around town. Marina Paraiso was like paradise after such a hard passage. I spent two weeks there, between (among other things) the repairs, waiting out bad weather, copying a set of local charts (which turned out to be essential), and finally just waiting till Monday to clear out with the port captain. I spent some of the extra time giving rides to all the people who had helped me, and though the wind wasn't really strong enough, I was able to get everyone up on the foils at least once. I'd walk the mile to town to buy mangos and bananas, have bread and chocolate in my favorite café, and buy flan anywhere.
Whenever I couldn't work on the boat, I played the dulcimer. I wandered the town, playing for anyone and everyone, in the cafes and markets and in the street. It was really fine, in those narrow cobbled streets not meant for cars, lined with small shops, the smells of coffee, chocolate, fresh bread and pastry mixing with fresh fruit and the crowded aromas from restaurants. Here it was no problem to sit and play wherever I happened to be. Soon people would see me coming and wave me over to play. They'd ask for "just one song" knowing if they got me started, I'd play for an hour at least! The mechanic who did the welding asked me to come down to the beach to meet his friends on his day off. I sailed down to the beach and played there, balancing the dulci atop the boat while people sat in the water around me, drinking cold pitchers of iced mango juice. I played for the other sailors under the dock palapas at Marina Paraiso, when we had a little party one night, and one couple produced a bunch of wooden percussion toys, and we really got stompin' a couple times! Made you wonder briefly how good a shape the dock beneath us was in. One day while walking into town, I stopped to admire a beautiful classic old boat, something like a lugger, pulled up to the beach. I ended up playing for a beach party being held by the German consulate. One really memorable night I played for a group of sailors gathered in the cabin of a 65' Deerfoot. Its hard to describe the incredibly beautiful, deep and magic moments that the dulcimer can create when the energy is right, like that night. On this trip, it happened again and again, a constant thread in the journey, each scene like beads on that thread. It felt like I was back in the life I'd lived for years, when this was all I did, wandering the country with the dulcimer, an American bard. Now I was a vagabondi bard on the coast of the Maya, Quintana Roo.
I pulled out and headed south finally one afternoon, camping on the beach a few miles north of Puerto Morales (get out your atlases, folks), where I stopped the next morning for bread and chocolate. I made good time down the coast, through the morning, quickly realizing what a good decision it had been to spend the extras day in Isla Mujeras to copy the local detailed charts from J. Mauel's guidebook. Though I had two cruising guides to the Q. Roo coast, they were oriented to larger craft, and had details of the larger ports, but little about the coast itself. They were written for people cruising point to port offshore, not the reef-hugging small boat passage I was making, with more details on the best restaurants than on the reef. About mid-day, I passed Playa del Carmen. Though I cruised the beach a couple times while considering pulling in, I decided I had no time left to explore and pushed on, even though the weather was deteriorating. I continued on, quickly running into heavy seas and lines of storms moving in from offshore, moving fast in occasional heavy rains and winds, and some rough, hard sailing. Just short of Puerto Calique, I was running only 50 yards off shore in a storm when I look back and was amazed to find a freighter following me. I was doing 8 to 9 knots and staying ahead, but I was worried that if conditions worsened and I had to drop the main, I'd be trying to dodge that mass of metal in bad storm conditions. So I dropped the foils and leaped up, streaking away at full speed, covering a couple miles to clear the port entrance in a few harrowing minutes before I finally leapt out of a wave and crashed. The rain moved in, obscuring the freighter completely, but I wondered what the captain thought seeing the small sailboat with no engine out in front of him suddenly accelerate to 35 knots and disappear into the storm. I headed on for Tullum, but about ten miles short, the starboard weld snapped again. Maybe it wasn't a good enough repair, or the scantlings are just inadequate for the job, even with a good weld. I ended up roping it up again and heading for the closest safety I could find on a bad coast of solid reef with an already strong wind building, storms coming in, and the sun setting. My chart showed a lighthouse at Xel-Ha with a narrow opening into a caleta, a lagoon made where a freshwater underground river rises before entering the sea. It was unmistakable, with the lighthouse right on the point of the entrance. So I went for it, even though it turned out to be a narrow opening, full of thundering breakers and foam, water geysering up into the air off the reef on either side, all white and black in the deep dusk. I knew I was totally committed, no turning back, once I headed in. I surfed in running under full sail, was buried in a great wave, but kept it together and made it inside. Later, people told me they were amazed I had made it in.
I found out a couple things right off. First was that there was a floating bridge across the entrance that wasn't on my chart. I had to come about right quick at high speed, and jump into the water to get the boat stabilized between the corner of the bridge and the cliffs. Next, the rapidly appearing security personnel told me that Xel-Ha was a national park, and boats weren't allowed in, and I couldn't stay where I was. Too tired to figure it out or explain in my limited Spanish, I raised the jib, cast off and moved out into the channel, and anchored with all my scope out just ahead of the bridge. Still soaking wet, I curled up inside the boat and slept right through the storm and through the night. In the morning, I noticed that half of the bridge behind me had been washed away overnight. The Mexican coast guard came out and inspected me. I think they were certifying that, yes, the boat was broken and yes, it looked like I had sought the nearest safe harbor in an emergency. The result seemed to be that I was in the clear, officially. I swam in to shore, and the director of the park asked me not to leave, please. There was no problem with me staying, and the cut was too dangerous until the weather subsided, maybe in four days. I was welcome in the park as a special guest, to sleep in the hammocks, and make myself at home. When I offered to play for the staff, he asked me to please play for the visitors as an official performer. I floated the dulci in on my sleeping pad and spent four days in Xel-Ha, playing during the day, and sleeping in the hammocks if it was nice or under the big palapas (a palm thatched wall-less building) when it stormed, which it did a lot. It was a beautiful place, the lagoon, and the casual yet high-class facilities, with sound of live marimba players drifting through the palm-shaded deck chairs and hammocks. One of my friends their commented that even though my boat had broken, I was lucky enough to get trapped in a paradise. The high point was playing music for the dolphins in the dolphin program there. I got right down on the water to play and they loved it, rearing up to focus their sonar on the dulci. Later, they just floated motionless under the water in front of me, like spellbound children, holding their breaths as long as they could before swimming off to breath, but coming back again as long as I played. I did it twice, and the trainers were delighted, and invited me to return and swim with the dolphins after the shows, which I did.
Finally, there was a little break in the weather, enough to make it possible, if not exactly easy, to leave. I climbed out onto the rocks of the entrance and planned my exact route. I had to be right on, and spent a few tricky moments going out against the wind and wave. I had to come about a scant yard from cliffs as I tacked up, finally tacking out through the surf that was pounding on the coral rock only a couple yards from the starboard aka on the final tack that took me clear. It was a short sail to Tullum though, the town I was headed for when the weld broke. Tullum is the site of the biggest Mayan ruin on the coast, the center of their seafaring fleet that once numbered around four thousand ocean going canoes. I saw it resolve out of the seacoast haze of wind-borne spray, a large fort right on the sea cliffs, marking a narrow entrance through the reef. Coming into Xel-Ha the chart case had leaked, and since I was running for Tullum at the time, its page was on top. When I removed the page, the xerox ink had transferred to the inside of the clear plastic map case, and that imprint was the chart I used to guide myself into Tullum. Both GPS units had given up the ghost, so I came in through the Maya cut on compass, and using the ranges built into the structure of the fort. I felt myself truly following in the track of the Mayan canoes then, a great moment. I beached the boat just South of where the cliffs ended on the main beach, and spent a week getting the repairs done and waiting for a new weather window. The weather had deteriorated for sure while I was stuck in Isla Mujeras. It is strange to think that what amounted to a four day sail took me weeks between weather and repairs. Tullum was a strange place. Though I liked the town, inland a few miles, and the ruins were deep, though overrun by tourists. The beach was cool, with mostly backpackers and hostelers at the camping end of the beach where I was, but the places and people in the area behind the beach were too often distinctly unnerving, if not downright hostile, resentful or predatory. There was a family of kind folks camped where I had beached who had a car and gave me rides to town. Then one rainy day they took me all the way up the coast to Playa del Carmen, where I had the part re-welded, this time inside and out. Once again I took the people who had helped me sailing for the final couple days while I waited for the weather to stabilize.
Launching in heavy surf off the beach I almost swamped Further for the first time, and lost the top batten from the mainsail. Worse was the loss of the barometer clock Jerry had given me, an expensive little unit, and I don't even know when it got loose from lanyard and pocket and got away. From now on, I would navigate on dead reckoning alone, using the detailed coastal charts I'd xeroxed to keep track of my position in reference to the shape of the reef and the coast. I sailed South and had my first full good days run, reaching and crossing Bahai del la Ascencion and camping on the beach at Punta Pajaros. I beached beside a closed fishing lodge, now just housing a few students counting and tagging turtles and their nests each night. I played the dulci for them after I made camp and ate, sitting out on the concrete pier to get away from the mosquitos.
I pulled out in the morning as conditions were getting worse. I have a good morning's run down and across Bahai del Espiritu Santo, but as I round the point out of the bay the wind dies before the storm. When it hits, I almost pitchpole again (oh did I mention I pitchpoled in that bad storm before I reached Mexico, a bit hairy, that) before I could douse the main and run for shore under the jib. This began days of wet, cold, nasty weather. I upped sail with a reefed main and got a few miles further before the next storm hit. This time I was heading for the final opening out between the reef and shore, only to find it blocked by a fish fence and trap. I was forced to turn up and luff, and immediately was hung up in coral, luckily there was no damage. I pushed myself off after I doused the main and still had to scrape to get around the fence, waiting out the storm on the beach between two fences. I figured I'd walk Further out around the second fence as the only option, but as I started some Mexican fisherman came up from the South in an outboard skiff, scraped and bumped and cursed their way around that fence and came in. They called the fence "a bad thing", and towed me out to the point of it against the stiff wind, where I could release the rope and make my way by paddle to the beach on the other side. There I upped sail again and ran out across a bay and down the coast , outside the reef now, and got as far as Santa Anita, the end of the road coming up from the South. The area is called Tampalam, with nothing except a few fishing camps and a dirt track leading south to the town 30 miles off. I rounded the reef where a freighter lay high and wrecked, and working back North behind the reef, beached on a point well sheltered behind it.
In the night another storm came in and for the first time my camp fell apart and everything got soaked. It was actually so hot and still at first that I'd thrown the plastic back to get more air. I was under the mosquito net and didn't wake up even though it was pouring rain as the net stopped it. But I woke up soon enough as the water flooded in, puddling in the ground tarp beneath me. The wind hit, too, and I grabbed the wrong corner of the tarp cover so nothing mated up right. In the torrential downpour, everything got soaked before I could get it straightened out.
In the morning it was dead calm. I walked down the beach and to the bay, and suddenly there were all these fisherman on the beach, arriving for the beginning of lobster season. The wind came up a bit, so I went back and upped sail. I headed out across the bay, but there was a storm moving in that was no little local thunderstorm. I turned back. By which time the wind had died, and I started paddling, talking to the lobster divers who were also heading in. I looked over my shoulder at the approaching storm, stopped, dropped the main, braced myself and paddled faster. Then it hit, a wall of wind and water that picked Further up and flung her even with just the jib up. I came screaming back into the place I'd camped before, getting totally soaked as I got the jib down and everything lashed and secure, protected by the reef and shallows. The wind just kept building to a full gale, and kept it up all day, as I huddled in the lee of a fallen tree's roots, wrapped in my tarp, the temperature dropping and the wind starting to scream. To make matters worse, the sick feeling I'd felt coming on the night before had developed now into a high fever. After a couple hours of this I roused myself to get moving, knowing I needed food and better shelter, knowing it would be tough. I couldn't get the tarp up at all, the wind was just to strong. I found a fairly dry spot behind a grove of small coconuts, the wind was blowing so hard that the rain was horizontal and left a small dry "shadow in the lee of the clustered trunks. I spent an hour carefully peeling and splitting sticks for dry wood to make a fire, only to find my matches soaked and useless. The zip locks failed totally at keeping out water, every one. So I walked down the beach to the fisherman's camp, substituting movement for a fire. The owner of the place, Rudolfo, waved me to come in, so I did. He gave me coffee, beans, and tortillas; while the storm poured down. He then told me not to camp on the beach, inviting me to stay in a spare shack and hammock. So I went back to the boat and got my blanket and mosquito net, and the dulcimer. We sat in the tin roofed open kitchen shack, the open hearth fire smoking away, making tea, and I played while the storm howled and the rain poured down. Later, when the other guys all left and went to town, Rudolfo and I settled down and slept.
In the morning the sky was still overcast, but I packed up and headed for the boat, promising to return for breakfast. Which I did, fried fish and tortillas, just as the storm broke again and poured. When that passed, it looked like it might be breaking up again. I gave Rudolfo all the coffee I'd brought with me, I'd stopped drinking it during the passage across the gulf, and bid him farewell. By the time I had raised the sails, the wind had died again. But determination is where I'm at, perseverance. I knew if I could round the point, a mere five miles, I could come back inside the reef again and be able to keep working my way further down the coast, even just hops between storms. I paddled for five hours in light winds almost dead out of the direction I wanted to go, South. But eventually I rounded the point and got inside through a small cut. Of course, at this point the wind picked up. I started to run south inside the reef, but was quickly hemmed in by rock bottomed shallows ashore and coral reaching out from the reef. I squeaked through, but saw the same ahead, and the deep water I was in heading out through a break in the reef, so out I went. The rest of the day I ran outside, making for the only town on the coast, Mayugual, for food. I was down to using up the last bag of granola I'd saved for emergencies, and glad I'd saved it. It was a good run down the coast, actually, though the seas left over from the storm were a thing to see, but I'd had big seas coming in from offshore the whole trip. Near sunset I was a few miles short of the town, at Punta Rio Indios, when I turned back and made for an obvious big hole in the reef and a resort with a beach in a coast of mangroves. I didn't want to risk the town being farther than I thought and being trapped outside the reef in the dark, or even trying to run a difficult passage with the sun in my eyes and reflecting off the water obscuring everything. I came in through shallow water with everything up and camped on the beach, eating the last of the granola.
I headed out with the sun and wind rising together, wanting to get out before it rose too much and trapped me. I made it outside, turned south, and soon sighted Mayugual. I looked at the chart. The final town in Mexico, and my port of destination, Xcalak was within reach. I still had a gallon of water, though no food. I went for it, and kept on. I had a good run down the coast, running outside the reef in heavy seas, and counting down the chart pages to my destination, eight times horizon to horizon. I sighted Xcalak sometime in the early afternoon. Going from the guidebook and the charts, I ran the entrance that has a lot of the cruisers spooked, so many boats have wrecked on it, and came in at last, ahead of the storm, again. It turned out to be Saturday afternoon, and everything was closed for the weekend; except the navy, which inspected Further and checked my papers. So I went and had a chicken dinner at the little local place that was all that was open, as the town is essentially shut down for off-season. I was tired and still sick with some virus that had started on me the day of the gale, but I unpacked a bit, kept on keeping on. I was quite surprised to find a boa constrictor curled up on top of the dulcimer, wedged between the strings and the soundboard, and looking pretty seasick. I tried to pull out the dulci quick (after I took a picture), but it quickly slid inside the dulci to hide. So I put the dulci out by some brush, knowing it would certainly leave that night, which it did.
After this I lay down on the plastic to rest and gather strength, the fever was still bothering me, and even after a meal, I was pretty wrung out and weak from the past few days. I had only lain down a few minutes when a guy came down the beach to look at Further, a not uncommon thing. So after a moment I levered myself up and gave him the run down on the boat. He owned a local restaurant and dive shop, and was dreaming about something just like this, but was not just dreaming. He'd already modified a canoe to take a daggerboard and a windsurfer sail. But he invited me to stay in the closed restaurant and share the kitchen with him and his partner/relatives next door, so I moved Further down there and unloaded. They were cooking up the day's fish, so I ate again and didn't move much, but we talked a lot. The next day, I took a bath at the well, did my laundry, and cleaned the kitchen, did the dishes. It was way of saying thanks, and a gentle way to keep active while I was still feverish.
The next day I cleared with the port captain and immigration, no problems. In the morning Alexandros said the guys wanted me to stop cleaning, I think because it was forcing them to straighten up by example. That day I made sopapillas from scratch and they were finished just as the guys got back from fishing. That evening I baked bread, which seemed to amaze everyone. The next day Alexandros said the guys had unanimously decided that he should convince me to stay! I think if I'd stayed another day and made flan and chocolate chip cookies they wouldn't have let me leave! Truth to tell, he asked me to come back during season; offering me a job cooking with him, and space to build boats on his beach-front for him and me. And I could play music around town as well after dinner. I am considering it, this could be the place I go to replace Florida. I'm definitely satisfied that I can relocate to the Quintana Roo coast, whether in one town or cruising the entire area. From Isla Mujeras to Xcalak, I've found plenty that I can be satisfied with. In the bigger picture, I am happy speaking Spanish and being in a Latin country, with flan and tortillas, and people who are relaxed and make me feel welcome. Where I can play music anywhere and people appreciate it and no one asks me to move along. Where I can pull up on the beach and camp, and no one comes to harass me.
The following day I pull out. But I turn back ten miles along, when its time to shoot the reef and round the point. I choose the prudent decision with conditions worsening and heavy clouds moving in, the reef already near impassable in heavy surf and the coral near invisible in the dim light. A good sailor has to know when to turn back, when not to take a risk that can be avoided. I spend another night in Xcalak, this time being invited to a restaurant a bit out of town to play. After I do, I'm asked to come back the next night, and as long as I stay. But I have to say that I must be on my way. I am gone the next morning, shooting the reef immediately, and running outside through some of the roughest seas I've seen on the trip. Not the largest, though they were big, but it was a choppy mess with reflected waves from the reef and a deep trench just offshore combining to create huge rogues and gulfs, and breaking seas from four directions. After a few punishing hours, I ran through a narrow cut in the reef marked by a wreck the locals in Xcalak told me about. A beautiful local traditional sailboat comes by just as I'm hove to changing my flags to the Belizean and the Q flag, and I follow it down the coast into San Pedro, the trip near complete. Or so I thought.
I settled right in, playing for a good crowd in the street by the central plaza the first night. Soon I had free space on a dock, and played some places around town, invited to jam or play between sets by the local musicians. Though mostly I was dealing with trying to make arrangements to store the boat, so I could go. Though I found a new boatyard that had just opened that would store the boat, it was starting to look like getting official permission to do so from the Belizian government might actually be difficult. I made a short run down to Cay Caulker to catch up with cruiser friends I'd met in Isla Mujeras. Everyone had been watching for me and talking about me on the short-wave network, but oddly enough I didn't see another sail on the whole trip. They and others there gave me a lot of important tips on where and who and how to go about storing the boat, as I was coming to realize that Belize might be impossible. Still, it took nearly two weeks to reach the final decision to backtrack to Mexico and try there first, before continuing on to Guatemala and the Rio Dulci, rather than pay the ridiculously steep fees to leave Further in Belize. It is prohibitively expensive to leave a boat anywhere in Belize due to the government duties, 50% of the boat's value. Whereas in Mexico it is a $20 onetime fee for a permit and $30 a year in Guatemala. Lucky, I had made that trip down to Caulker Cay, where my friends gave me the name of a cruiser in Chetumal to contact, who proved to be a godsend. First, though, I tried Xcalak. Sailing out of San Pedro almost without wind, I made it as far as the border and anchored behind the reef, sleeping on deck under the stars, the first really good night's sleep since I arrived in San Pedro. In the morning I pulled into Xcalak to clear into Mexico and get my cruising permit (a "zarpe") for Chetumal. I checked around in Xcalak, but no one was interested in being responsible for Further. The next day I was off again, though that night I played the restaurant once more before I went, and made sopapillas at Alexandros's place. I played the dulci that day down at the fruit vendor's shack in town, as well, with a crowd of village kids as my audience.
I headed south out of Xcalak to try and make a narrow channel, the Boca Bacalar Chica, that the Maya had cut through a narrow spot in Ambergris Key into Chetumal Bay. The locals were split in their opinion as to whether it was possible for Further to make it through, but I figured it was worth a try. I made it to the entrance just as a(nother) storm blew in, but I doused the main and drove in fast under the jib. It actually worked well, even with the rain, because the strong wind funneled up the twisting channel, letting me sail a good ways inland before it finally died, whether because I came too far inland or the storm just passed. Then I was paddling up a narrow channel against a stiff current, using my canoeing skills to climb up through the eddies behind the curves, and ferry across the current to cross from eddy to eddy. I came to the final cut, only a few feet wider than the boat, with tall mangroves almost meeting overhead and swarms of mosquitoes in the still air. I made it halfway before I was hopelessly hung up, unable to maneuver against the current in such a small place with the current now even stronger and no curves in the channel. But I didn't give up. I took down the upper shrouds (wires that support the mast) that were causing the worst trouble hanging up in the mangroves, letting the lower shrouds support the mast. Then into the water I went, dragging the boat up the channel ala "African Queen". Luckily, this water was salt and clear, though almost too deep for me to walk in while the current was almost too hard to walk against. Another 50 or 100 yards took me through the cut, and I broke out into a breeze that immediately caught the still hanging jib. I scrambled aboard as the boat swept over me and managed to get to the rudder and keep us going down the channel. I sailed on a few miles across a bay before deciding there were no more narrows. I could see an opening leading to big water, so I anchored and reconnected the shrouds, raised the main, and peeled out. It was a bit nerve wracking to move so fast under the main in such shallow water, only waste deep, with a boat hard to control with the foils all the way up. Finally, I rounded point, skipping over a sandbar, and sailed free into the open water of Chetumal Bay. With open water to the West, I headed North following the eastern shore at a good clip, localized storms scattered all around me. By afternoon the wind had suddenly died and I was lolling across the Bay, now moving west following the curve of the shoreline. Sunset came in a glorious display, with more types of cloud formations than I'd ever seen in one sky. In the northwest were the desert skies I'd seen in my western travels, while I could see the clouds created by high mountains to the west and south, and in the foreground, the sea clouds coming ashore mixed with local thunderheads, complete with rain and lightning. As the sun set, the wind rose. I managed to make the point opposite Chetumal and round it in the dark, to anchor in the lee and watch the lightning play all around me. I was able to see the lighthouse at Chetumal clear across the Bay when it wasn't obscured by a storm. Luck was with me and I slept on deck all night without a storm coming close enough to hit me.
I raised sail at sunrise and headed across the bay suddenly populous with local fishing boats. A local boat was anchored and running a net in the shallow water near me when I got up. I remember thinking at one point that this might actually be the last passage, my last day to sail this boat, the end of the journey at last. Appropriately enough, within a mile of Chetumal, I was pounded by a storm that registered over 40 knots at the docks. I dropped the main and fought it out till it passed, then continued on under the jib, taking it easy. My friends had told me there was a floating dredge pipe across the entrance, but I wasn't sure when I'd reach it. It turned out to be small and right in front of the docks and I followed a local boat in through a gap. It was kind of Fate to let my final act be flying up a tight tack to a concrete dock, coming in between piling to pull up just right to run out and step off the nose onto the dock, rope in hand, the perfect practical ballet of good seamanship.
I made contact with John, the friend of my cruising friends. They'd even told him to watch for me. It all worked out, with John's help, though slowly. I was more than glad to accept a casual pace as the price for success in finding a place for the boat. I'd been happy to leave it all behind on this trip, and I was wishing the boats in Florida had sold and I was free to just keep on in Further. But I did have responsibilities waiting, and this passage was very much overextended, so I was relieved I need not continue on to Guatemala. I spent the extra time playing music everywhere around town, from the fruit markets to the street, and for friends of John and the other local boat owners at the waterfront. I found a small restaurant that served expresso and started drinking coffee again, writing in my journals and catching up the ship's log while the men at the other tables played dominos. I spent a few days dropping the mast and stripping the boat down to bare bones and putting the gear in a storage shed. I packed my gear and over a couple days almost repeated the whole journey by Mexican bus, up to Cancun to confirm my flight, and back to Chetumal to connect to the cross-border bus to Belize City and my flight out. I was immediately on a plane back to Miami, meeting the owners of Further, collecting the cat and the car, and pointing myself North, keeping moving till I reached Virginia at the end of August.
I had completed my little walkabout for this summer, just a bit beyond, a bit further. Everybody thought I was pretty much of something, or I was just crazy, or didn't know what to think. Well, I know I'm not crazy. I never thought of it as such a big deal, never was really worried, though I was annoyed a bit, but also happy to be back in my element. I've been doing things like this all my life, so for me, it was more a case of finally getting back to normal. I actually considered it a return to my old life. Though I'm really not free yet, it finally did take my mind off the troubles that have restricted my life for so many years, especially during drastic storms...
It was great, in many ways, though it was actually a grueling, hard trip. Still, it's just the type of thing that I like to do. I like the times that test you. Its not really fun, it is intense. I like the life that brings out the steel in you, the fire, the sheer ability and strength of will that it takes. I seek the energy, images, and emotions in the experiences encountered on a journey like this. It is what feeds the music; the passion and fury of a storm at sea, the gentle deep beauty of a sunset, and the nights full of stars, "when I walk the lonely beaches, and stare far out to sea..."
So I had it to do and I got it done, walked the road less traveled, in fact, the road untraveled would be more like it. You have time to think, out there, and time to not think. And you ponder the truths that make themselves obvious. "You can sail a track across the sea, but you leave no mark, instead, the sea leaves its mark upon you." Though I have "boldly done", I was actually following in the footsteps of the ancient Mayan canoes. Funny world, sure enough.
The dulcimer was one of the biggest threads of the story, still. Though it just barely fit, and it was a hard journey for my old companion. It was underwater several times and soaked a lot more, not to mention the snake. I played for everyone I met, every place I went, that's the bardic way. I played on the beach and on the street, in shops and restaurants, on the dock and out on their boats for the other cruisers, for Mexican fisherman in isolated camps, for tourists and travelers. As the trip evolved, the dulci, the music, became almost the central thread, and Further just the vehicle and the journey the dulci was on this time, making this passage really another adventure in my life as a whole.
The only problem with the trip was having months taken up in delays. Whether for repairs, or in finding a place to store the boat, or from the deteriorating weather as the delays used up the last of spring's good weather and pushed me right into a bad summer storm season. I never had the time to enjoy the trip, really, exploring or diving, or following up on musical opportunities. I had to keep pushing, just to get the job done, as delay mounted on delay, with no sure end. I watched the summer festival season slip away, till I ended up canceling the first festival I had planned for the summer, and deciding not to book anymore. I missed going to Alaska this year, and I miss that most of all. But at least it was due to circumstances beyond my control, though that still doesn't stop me from being disappointed. Finally, all my other plans for getting into high gear on the web and buying digital recording equipment were on hold a lot longer than I planned.
But I don't regret going, it was worth it all to get my mind off my troubles for even such a short time in such adverse and constrained circumstances. Even more, I was back in my life, even if the trip was less smooth as the trips I used to do, less together. It just meant that I had to do more to carry it through. It is true that I got the boat there, as much as the boat got me there. The delays wouldn't have mattered if it had been my boat, with no responsibilities to make me keep pushing, or responsibilities to make me anxious to return. I'd have been happy to continue on even longer if it had been winter, the off season, so I wasn't watching the summer festival season and the bulk of my annual income slip away, day by day. But there is always another year, and it feels much more important that I was back living the exceptional experiences that had always been such a big part of my life, "flying higher", "further".
I read this narrative and while the facts are there, what's missing are the details, all the scenes and moments that really make up a trip like this. Those moments are the real story, like beads upon a string...a sunset, the blue water, a birds cry at dawn, an empty beach at dusk, a dusty village street in the afternoon. They are snapshot scenes of music all along the way, and the heart-stopping moments when Further was poised on a wave plunging into a narrow opening of the reef. It was the moment when I first pointed her away from land and out into the blue water, or when we flew down through the dark and storm towards the solitary light that marked land at last, like some great bird skating over the wave tops. I remember the thoughts of a man on a solitary journey, the bittersweet sadness of talking with a sparkling girl I'll never see again. I remember the temptation to not come back, to lose myself in the wind and wave and life of the vagabondi, with a small boat and my music, and the boundless beauty of nature. My old life was calling then, when I wandered mountains and deserts and seas with the music, that less traveled road I have traveled all my life. This trip reminded me as well how limited that wandering life was in the end, how much it lacked, how little you could do outside the experience itself. On the trip, I explained it to people as "the life of music", "one's life's work" and "the crazy life" too. I said it was so like the sea, beautiful and terrible and lonely, beyond the scope of a man, yet that for a time fills you with something greater than yourself, and leaves you exhausted and exhilarated, inspired and shaken.