Route from Key West to Isla Mujeres
There are two or more published sources of information that cover this particular crossing, and here the author will like to specify, references to this publication are: “Cruising Guide to Belize and Mexico’s Caribbean Coast Including Guatemala’s Rio Dulce” from the author: Capt. Freya Rauscher and Published by: Windmill Hill Books . This book in particular is very recommended to have onboard while cruising the Yucatan and Belize’s coast.
Key West to Isla Mujeres is the shortest passage from the US to Mexico if you come from the East coast or Florida, with a total distance of 330 nautical miles at a course of 235º.
The average current is between 1.5 and 2.5 knots running south to north.
Capt. Rauscher suggests to take a course of 267º for 66 Nautical Miles until you are in a position 14 miles south of Dry Tortugas then take up a course for Isla Mujeres. You have to make sure you make the appropriate corrections for current shift, depending on the current at the time of the crossing and keep a close watch on your GPS for correct course. The way point you should be heading to on your GPS is:
N 21º 16’ 29’’
W 86º 45’ 09’’
This waypoint is at the north tip of Isla Mujeres and just about .4 n miles north of “El Yunke” (Anvil Rock Light) which you will have to pass on your port side as you enter to Isla Mujeres harbor. (See the section on Isla Mujeres for details on how to navigate the entrance and local charts)
The Yucatan Channel
The Yucatan Channel is the stretch of 100 miles between the eastern most point of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and the western tip of Cuba (Cabo San Antonio).
This short pass makes the only sea link between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, that is why this area has such strong currents (the gulf stream) that have to be watched for, but also it is the passage of all shipping, that goes from the southern Caribbean to the Gulf of Mexico.
Yucatan Channel Current (Gulf Stream)
The famous Gulf Stream runs through the Yucatan Channel usually from south to north at approximately 1 to 6 knots depending on the time of year and weather. The current conditions are reported daily so check for velocity and direction on the weather and current forecast before heading for the channel.
Weather and currents can be looked up at www.passageweather.com
From late fall to winter and spring, the winds can blow strong 10 to 20 knots from the east or north. In the spring and summer, usually less strong wins (5 to 15 knots) and is also the time when tropical storms begin to make their way here, so cruisers should be more aware of current weather forecasts. (Isla Mujeres has been a very good hurricane hole) The most common months for tropical weather in this area are August and September.
* There is always the option to stop at Dry Tortugas which we do not cover in this guide.
International Arrival to Cancun or Isla Mujeres
Cancun and Isla Mujeres are official ports of international arrival and any cruiser can arrive to either from the United States or Cuba.
The procedure for making Cancun or Isla Mujeres the port to enter Mexico is to proceed to go trough port arrival with Ports Captain, customs and immigration, as well as international health authorities. The vessel also has to purchase a temporal (10 years) importation permit.
If you arrive direct to any marina, you can keep your yellow flag up, and ask the dock master to call for the authorities and they should come to your vessel to do the proper paper work.
But the easiest way is to contract the services of a Ship´s Agent which will help you with al the paper work, call the authorities and take care of you on those matters. (of course there is a fee for the service, but well worth it)
Some of the recommended things to bring for this process as well as some of the fees associated with it are:
- Bring at least one copy of the passport of each one of in the crew.
- Place, date, time and port from which you left.
- Copy of the the boat’s registration.
- Proof of Insurance for the boat.
- For non Mexican citizens, there a fee of MX$306.00 paid to customs.
- The fee for the temporal importation of the vessel is US$65.00 paid at Banjercito.
- If the vessel is registered on a corporation, bring copies of the corporation’s minutes.
- The fee for the Port Agent usually is MX$2,200.00 (about US$180.00)
- We strongly recommend not to bring any firearms into Mexico!!!
A Ship´s Agent in Cancun is:
Capt. Roberto Moreno
+521 (998) 2402837
Note on Cabo San Antonio, Cuba
There is an option that in case of an emergency or if you just want to make the stop at, Cabo San Antonio, Cuba, is just 100 miles northeast of Isla Mujeres and just a few miles of route from Key West which is about 240 miles north east.
Cabo San Antonio has a good anchorage and also a dock prepared for receiving cruisers. The Entrance to Cabo San Antonio is very easy and safe and it is the place to clear customs and immigration if you want to visit any of the near by locations in Cuba.
I will recommend the stop at Cabo San Antonio for anyone doing the crossing, since it is a good place to rest, take fuel or water, or just take a shower or a drink at the bar. The small facility has most services needed like: Telephone, gas, water, showers, small store, bar and restaurant and even SCUBA tours. There is also a small Hotel which is part of the Marina. Internet is said to be installed in the next few months, so check on updates. There is also cellular coverage by CUBACEL, so it is possible your cel phone will work. Both of my mexican cel phones worked OK.
If you are planning a stop at Cabo San Antonio, you can call them and let them know you are coming at Claraboya Bar in Marina Gaviota. The telephone number at he bar is: (53 48) 75 01 23 and (53 48) 75 01 24 you can talk to Hector Campo, the bartender.
You can head strait to:
and then from that point, you can head strait to the dock
passing in between two red and green markers.
The entire way from point one to point 2 is a very wide channel with more than 15 feet of water at low tide. The depth at the dock is more than 8 feet at low tide.
The dock has electricity for small boats as well as fresh water.
Other resources on Cabo San Antonio are Marina Gaviota, they have a webpage which works most of the time, but not always: www.gaviota-grupo.com
The government of the United States considers visiting Cuba a serious violation for both citizens and non citizens of the US, therefore we strongly recommend that if you are making a stop at Cuba, do not leave Cuba and go directly to the US and viceverse, otherwise you can be denied entry to the US or at least be searched and required to make all kinds of statements. It is not pleasant!!! Stop at Cuba, only when going from the north and down to Isla Mujeres, because Mexican authorities have no problem at all with you being in Cuba.