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Ship's Log: Updated August 4. 2007

Isla Mujeres Adventures

Island living continues to agree with us--no surprise there. But yesterday's side-by-side swimming with the whale sharks has got to be the highlight of our trip so far!

Ten of us left the left the Isla Mujeres fuel dock at 7am Wednesday in Ceviche II, a 29 foot boat built here on the island. Along with Tracy and Sharon were three fellow cruisers, Bob and Annette from Tempest, an Amel 53, and Christopher from Stingray, a Gemini 30 catamaran. Along with us sailors were Steve, who owns Casa Sirena, a local boutique hotel, and who has become a friend, and his two friends, John and Adriana, who are the boat captain's long-time friends and partial benefactors. The captain, "Cuco", and his son, Jesus, now a tour guide, have the permit that allows them to take visitors to swim with the whale sharks.

Capt. Cuco quickly got the boat up on a plane with his twin 60 hp outboard engines. Skimming over calm seas outside the reef, within an hour we were in whale shark habitat. And began searching for them. For a while it seemed we might not see any, but we persevered, and after about 45 minutes, we finally sighted one--and then another, and another... This is a 30 footer approaching the boat. It's longer than the boat we were in!

Whale sharks are the largest fish on our planet, growing anywhere from 30 to 60 feet long. And every year around this time, they return here to the north end of the Yucatan Peninsula, where circular currents of warm water provide the ideal habitat for exactly the kind of food that whale sharks love to eat. In fact, this area is one of the most densely congregated habitats for whale sharks on the planet, and a place where they mate and breed. Very little is actually known about them, because serious scientific study began only recently.

But just an hour north of Isla Mujeres, lucky swimmers like us can get in the water and swim with them while they feed. That's Tracy in the black mask and blue tip snorkel. He is "almost" at the whale shark's tail. The creatures are so big that they seem to go on, and on...

We had no fear, because whale sharks are filter feeders with tiny teeth, straining out plankton and very small fish through their huge mouths and returning the water to the sea. Approximately 13,000 gallons of water an hour pass through their gills--that's some gulping!

They are also totally non-aggressive (unlike some other sharks we know!). One of the rules for swimming with them is that boats must stay 5 meters away, and swimmers must stay 2 meters away from them, and no touching allowed. These rules are to prevent swimmers from interfering with the whale sharks' feeding. However, as we found out, that isn't always possible, because sometimes they swim right toward you--and they swim faster than you can! This one is of one of our guides trying to take an underwater photo. Say "Queso!"

Anyone want to bet what kind of "whale" swallowed Jonah--and spat him back out?

On one swim, both Sharon and Tracy were able to keep up with one for long enough to get out of breath. Exhilarating! We could have lasted longer and swum faster, but they make you wear those awkward life jackets! (Rules, rules; bureaucracy is everywhere!) In this picture, Sharon has finally run out of steam. But ready to go again any time! The guides let us all swim as many times as we wanted, two at a time, plus one guide. We stayed with the sharks for about three hours. Sharon swam five times. But anyone who knows her knows that she's a fish, right?

Was that just the best?!

Fishing for Lunch

On the way back to Isla Mujeres we set out three fishing rods baited with ballyhoo, to catch lunch. (You know the old Sara Lee jingle, "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee"? The fisherman's variation is "Nobody doesn't like ballyhoo...") Then the guides started doing their "fish dances" while singing special fish-catching songs: "Hey, barracuda...", sung to the "Hey, Macarena" tune; wiggling hands over their backs while swooping up and down, imitating sailfish; the dorado pow-wow dance, stomping around like get the idea. It was hilarious.

Tracy caught the first fish! And wisely let the guides bring it onto the boat--those teeth are really nasty sharp, and we tourists had to take our shoes off when we got aboard!!

Barracuda are considered good eating here, at least the small ones. Two barracuda later, the captain brought us back to port, cleaned the fish, and we were heading into a beach restaurant with a big bag of fillets. The chef cooked up our catch and served up two big platters, one sautéed, one battered and deep fried, along with rice and tortillas. Oh, and of course, beers!

However, throughout the whale shark adventure, we kept to the "no alcohol" rule. Notice Tracy with a Coke in hand? A rare occasion indeed! (Well, it was before noon...)

What a great day!

We took a bunch of non-digital underwater pictures, but that film still has to be developed. If any turn out to be spectacular, we'll post them.

The Passing Parade

Landfall is tied up on the end of the dock, and all the boats leaving and entering Laguna Makax pass by our bow. Most are small local pangas:

Some are modern powerboats:

Some are crowded tourist party boats:

There is the occasional corporate yacht:

With a dinghy the size of a ski boat:

But this one has to take the prize:

The Captain Hook, a totally fake boat! It's for tourists from Cancun! And in fact, there are two Captain Hooks, one red, and one green. They are both normally docked in Cancun. This green one apparently got a bit off course, as just moments before it had been aground, and had to be pulled off!

Yes, tacky! But kind of cute and funky in its own way, don't you think?

Stay tuned...

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