After a year and 8 months, we returned to the United States from Mexico, but how did this happen? We are the first to admit that we felt at home in Mexico. We were fortunate to have met many great people who became like family. We were a diverse group from all over, but great friends (Texas, Idaho, Virginia, New Jersey, California, Canada, Sweden, and Russia).
How did we decide to leave? This little girl who turned two in September held all the cards, our granddaughter Lilia or as we call her, Sunshine who we want to be closer to. So we are Chasing Sunshine. We know she is growing so fast, and we want more time with her so how can we easily see her more often? Well, Mexico was not the answer. So the hunt began for a marina as we decided we would plan to cross back over to Florida before Christmas.
The marina hunt was of course the first piece of our puzzle. After Ian hit the Gulf Coast of Florida, and this was the area we preferred, we knew it might be challenging. Florida marinas are changing so much. Live aboard marinas are getting harder and harder to find and the cost seemed to be going up everywhere we looked. Either way, I was getting lots of Nos for an answer or put on a waiting list. I did start my search at our old marina in Naples, Port of the Islands. We have been here several times since we found it in 2019 and it always feels like home. When I first reached out they did not have anything. Yes, I bugged the dock master, Mike over and over and he promised me I would get the first opening. Finally, in October we got the news he would have a place for us in November. Having a slip and being able to plan was a huge relief to start moving forward with planning.
We were targeting around Thanksgiving. Dee began watching the weather the first week of November and looking for what he had hoped would be a 4 to 5-day window. We began to prep Journey for departure. After living in Mexico for over a year and having lots of dock space we had spread out a little. The meticulous process of cleaning out, throwing away, and repacking Journey began. This was a process, but something we certainly needed to do after living in Mexico for so long. We hadn’t been in and out of the same place for more than 6 months, so one year and eight months had caused us to set up house and spread out. We had moved out of the public marina about 8 months after arriving and began renting dock space from a private owner.
The Thursday before Thanksgiving, Dee says that he sees a window opening on Sunday the 19th. We needed to go, so we really amped up packing and on Friday he put our Motorcycle up for sale. Yes, we bought a motorcycle but when you buy one at the grocery store it is super easy and was great transportation for us. We had our good byes on Friday evening and the motorcycle sold on Saturday morning. It seemed like everything was working out until late Saturday afternoon when the front stalled and the weather forecast went south on us fast.
We were so disappointed especially on Sunday morning when we woke to no change and had to make the decision to stay put. We did spend the afternoon with friends and tried to enjoy some more Mexico time, but it was bittersweet. At this time, it looked like Thursday or Thanksgiving Day would be the departure day so we began eating the food I had prepped and continued our planning to depart on Thursday.
Why was this an issue and so much disappointment? One reason is the checkout process in Mexico and the cost. So let me back up and share that procedure. When we believed we were leaving on Sunday we began that process. We had to check out on Friday due to the weekend and get all our paperwork straight with Mexico. This cost $300 USD and the paperwork was to be good for 48 hours. This really is for the US so we felt if we could get out within the week we would be good to get cleared into the States without starting this process again. This led to our disappointment when looking at the weather and hoping for the Thanksgiving departure.
Monday afternoon the world changed on board Journey. I was doing some work on my computer and Dee was on his iPad. I didn’t realize he was checking the weather again, but I should have. He sighed handed me the iPad and left the boat. When I looked at Thursday - the weekend was a mess. A new front was developing and coming to stay for the weekend. I looked and looked at all the windows over this period of time and of course, could find nothing. So, I backed up to Tuesday - the next day, and saw hope. I knew the winds leaving Mexico shores would not be that great, but was hoping that the southerly shift might hold. It appeared that crossing over to Cuba things would get better later in the day. After that, all looked good, EXCEPT for the coming front that was dropping into Naples and the Dry Tortugas even Key West on Thanksgiving Day. So hopeful, I went out and asked Dee to come and discuss something I was seeing with me. I think he could see a little hope as well. He was concerned about our departure and arrival and made the decision then to start out heading towards Marathon in hopes we would beat the front and arrive in time for protection if the entire Keys were affected. Fortunately, we now have Starlink and knew we would be keeping a check on the weather several times a day. We also told those who needed to know and got our prayer warriors praying for our crossing. So we went to bed with the plan to get up early, check the weather one more time, and get off the dock
Tuesday Departure Day:
We were considering heading to Marathon instead of Naples, but even almost pulled the plug on leaving Mexico. The worry was that we saw no windows for travel in our near future. The fronts were dropping from the North one after the next. We are off the dock at 7:45 am and once out of the inlet the waves became consistent from the NE but decently spread out with some slams, it's doable so we continue. The occasional beam rollers begin once we are out of the inlet and stop after about an hour. We are fully committed now to the crossing. This was going to be a long day and making it even tougher was that we had not slept well the night before. This is a day where you get a seat and you keep it and even at that, your core is getting a continuous workout trying to keep you stable. Journey is taking a lot of abuse. We know it sounds worse than it is but we still worry about her.
The time goes by slowly, even though we have the Yucatan current in our favor the wind and waves are not allowing us to gain any time with the current. By 4 in the afternoon, when we hoped for change nothing has changed, Journey had taken plenty of waves over the bow and was very salty. Before sunset, we get out The Great Gazoo (Starlink) and check the weather. All seems good and no major changes ahead. At this point, we are 9 to 10 hours until the tip of Cuba and protection from this land mass. We enjoy the sunset but not the darkness that follows. We say our prayers and are thankful. The moon is in the first quarter so we have some light until around 1:30 in the morning.
By 2 am we have reached the tip of Cuba and the seas are beginning to lay down and it is a welcomed relief. Dee gets about 4 hours of sleep to Allie’s 6. We take 2-hour shifts to watch through the night. Once we lose the moon for the night it's not until 5:45 before we begin to see light on the horizon again, but it is a welcomed sight. We were not lonely as we saw cruise ships, tankers, and cargo ships busy the entire passage. In fact, we saw 10 cruise ships alone during our crossing.
Here are two cruise ships we passed the first night. Sorry about the quality of the video. But still a sight to see.
As the sun rose around 7 am the seas calmed to soft swells cradling Journey lifting her and easing her back down in a smooth rhythm. It is a great morning with our coffee enjoying the seas. Off our starboard bow, we watched a whale blow many times but I didn’t think of a video until it was almost passed us here is what I was able to capture.
We have slowed way down to averaging under 7knots so the time and miles are passing slowly, but we are thankful for the calm seas. Around 11 am we are greeted off our port bow with a large pod of dolphins jumping. They ride our bow then jump in our wake for about 10 minutes and we take it as a good sign from God that he has us and will protect us through the unknown of the next night and day.
By afternoon even with an angle toward the Florida Keys, we are still right alongside Cuba. As the sun begins to set we get The Great Gazoo out and check the weather again. Some models are showing wind will be up in the morning, but others are conflicting so we are hopeful, and enjoy another beautiful sunset and the calm waters.
We are expecting to enter the Gulf Stream around 8 pm. We have increased to 7.5 knots so hoping for 9.5 when we hit the Gulf Stream. The moon is waxing gibbous tonight so a little brighter and will last longer. We have to force ourselves to remember how beautiful this is, even though we cannot truly appreciate it in the moment as we are in a hurry and get there mode. Dee sleeps first the second night and by the time he is back up, we are flying. The seas are smooth but with the speed, we have more movement. After the moon sets it is followed by Venus rising which casts a bright reflection in the water for miles. We both during our shifts watch what we believe were satellites circling Venus. This was cool but video just didn’t capture it. By sunrise we are approaching and passing Key West, the seas are eerily calm with a slight haze. For us this is one of the greatest Thanksgiving mornings ever. God is good and prayers are being answered because the morning weather report shows a stalled front.
We planned to head to Marathon but daylight hours are our enemy and we would like to stop somewhere before dark tonight. We look at several options, but only one gets us where we need to be to get into Port of the Islands Marina at high tide. This route passed through the Bahia Honda Bridge, up the Big Spanish Channel, and onto Shark River in the Everglades to make a 4:30 pm arrival before sunset. We have the fuel to do it but by the time we make the Port of the Islands marina, we will be down to 100 gallons which is the lowest we have ever been.
As we pass under the Bahia Honda Bridge around 10 am, we find it ironic that this is where we left from back in March 2022. We get some FaceTime with Family after we are under the bridge and share some Thanksgiving time together. We are now back in the land of shallow waters and crab pots - OH MY! After 30-plus miles of avoiding crab pots, we drop the anchor. Are we really going to shut the engines down after 58 hours straight? Yes, but it did feel strange and eerily quiet. It is hard for us to describe how we felt but accomplished and thankful we are for sure. We had celebratory cocktails and meatloaf with mashed potatoes. Happy Thanksgiving!
The alarm rings at 5 am and pull the anchor before 6 to make sure we arrive at the entrance to the channel by 11 am. It is dark when we pull the anchor and we watch the slow glow of the soon-to-be sunrise as we head out for our 5 hour cruise in smooth waters. We arrive at the entrance around 11 am to a familiar place, but we don't make any assumptions since Hurricane Ian has recently visited the area. The tide is rising so the current is pushing us along through the channel. The wind is blowing hard down the canal but when we get first sight of the marina the winds look light around E Dock. Several are there to assist our docking and Dee slides her in nice and easy. She temporarily secured, engines are shut down and we can officially celebrate!
Details of Travel:
Mexico to Shark River
464 miles straight
229 gallons wiht 3.6 per hour burn
We are back in the USA and closer to Sunshine! Merry Christmas Everyone from Solmates Journey!
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