Here’s part III of our Cancun trip taken last November (part I: wedding and part II: island).

Our last full day in Cancun was my mom’s 60th birthday. She wanted to go snorkeling; it’s her favorite thing to do. During our bareboat charter in Australia six years ago she went snorkeling five separate times in one day. (It’s not enough that California has beautiful weather and coastline, it needs coral reefs for my parents to visit me more than once every couple years ;).

We chartered a sailboat to get to the better reefs that lie in between mainland Cancun and Isla Mujeres, the island a few miles off the coast on which we were staying. Our boat’s captain told us the reefs were mere fractions of their former selves since hurricane Wilma hit in 2005, hammering Cancun with 95-130 mph winds for 36 hours. But even so, he knows a good spot, he said.

When planning our trip, I told my mom we’d love to do a bareboat charter — it’s more of an adventure when you’re in charge of your own boat. Finding a boat that didn’t already have a captain proved tough, especially a sailboat. Since we weren’t willing to give up sails just to be able to skipper our own vessel, we ended up chartering the 40′ monohull Xanadu, captained by Luis Alonso Nieto, who told us as we stepped aboard that his boat was our boat for the day.

Captain Luis’ knowledge of the area was invaluable. The reef he took us to spanned a few hundred feet in the middle of a 5-mile channel between Cancun and Isla Mujeres — needle in a haystack. Once we arrived at the reef, we jumped off the stern, hung onto lines behind the boat, donned snorkels, and dove to swim with the fish. (See the video at the end of this post!) My lungs felt new levels of exhaustion afterward.

Back on Xanadu, Captain Luis’ crew trimmed the sails, and we were off on a tack toward the southern end of Isla Mujeres. The wind was a bit touch and go, letting the boat bob more than my dad’s and sister’s stomachs cared for. Nausea is half in your head; the more you succumb to it the worse it gets. Occupy your mind otherwise and you can usually make it disappear. I told Kelly to get to the helm. “You want me to steer?” She thought I had water in between my ears. “Get yourself up there, you’ll feel better. Promise.” After ten minutes of steering, she was looking spritely.

At the southern tip of Isla Mujeres, we turned back north to sail along its coast. The afternoon melted into early evening, and by twilight Captain Luis dropped us back on the dock. Salty and sun-weary, we thanked him and his crew for the fun day, and wonderful 60th birthday for Mom. ☼

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