Time to say goodbye to Mexico, hello to Florida

Margaret McGovern wrote this column before the couple embarked on the journey home this week.

The time has come for us to leave Mexico and head back to the U.S. Our boat has been in Central America for nearly five years, three in the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, and the last two here in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We have spent each winter living on it, taking side trips to the Bay Islands of Honduras, to Belize and up the Yucatan Coast. But the time has come for Sunshine to get new bottom paint and other repairs that are best accomplished in Florida.

Depending on the weather, the trip from Mexico to Florida can take three or more days. Getting ready for a passage involves quite a bit of preparation.

Sunshine has two diesel engines. A local mechanic has spent nearly two months rebuilding one engine and reconditioning the other. (The project should have taken a week or less, but this is Mexico, where “manana” doesn’t mean tomorrow; it means “not today.”) We hope to be able to sail, but we usually end up motor-sailing, using both the sails and the engines.

Phil has checked the sails, the electrical system and the water system. The head (toilet) was not working very well, but a dose of muriatic acid has solved that problem. The refrigerator is acting up, so he gave it a shot of refrigerant. That didn’t seem to help, but fortunately, we have a separate freezer that can work as a refrigerator. Everything on a boat needs a backup.

Our bimini (the awning over the cockpit) needed some repairs, so I have re-sewn its seams and we reinstalled it this afternoon. Andres the boat bottom cleaner stopped by this morning and spent a couple of hours scraping vegetation, crustaceans, mussels and other debris that has collected on the bottom of the boat.

Preparing for a multi-day passage involves planning what we will eat. I am making two provisioning trips to the grocery, stocking up on things that need no cooking or are easy to prepare. I plan to prepare and freeze several dinners ahead of time. We may not have an opportunity to replenish our pantry for a week or more, so we have to think carefully about what we might need.

Travel by boat from one country to another involves “checking in” and “checking out” with local authorities. We will have to check out of Mexico right before we leave, presenting multiple copies of our passports, boat certification, crew list and our current Mexican visa to the port captain and immigration and customs officials. Checking out of a country is a fairly easy process. Checking into a country is another matter.

We plan to stop at an island we shall call “Atlantis,” which lies between Mexico and the U.S. and makes a good stopping point to rest. The officials will want to come aboard to inspect our boat, looking for contraband, drugs and certain foods like fresh eggs, citrus and chicken. I plan to bring some of those food items and hope they don’t get confiscated. We will try to convince them the food is only for our consumption on the boat.

They will check our crew list, passports and boat certification. They also will ask us dozens of questions about our travel plans. They might also bring a dog aboard, not just to search for drugs but also to search for stowaways.

Slowly, we are checking items off our list. Laundry is done. Pantry is organized. We will stock up on water and fuel right before we leave. Tomorrow will be a final trip to the grocery. Copies of passports, crew lists and boat certification have been made. Everything will be ready … and then we wait for the right weather window. Monday or Tuesday looks good now, but that could change. It will be a game day decision!

If all goes well, my next column will be written from Florida. I hope to have many tales to tell of our passage and the stop in Atlantis.