04/19/2013, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Lunch at Mangos with Gerard Watts & Helene Robichaud
We never did get to El Cid Marina. Sailing up the coast on Easter Monday, we were having such a good sail, that we decided to keep going, arriving at Isla Mujeres Marina just after noon. Off the outer harborr to Isla Mujeres, we dropped our sails and motored in through the anchorage. We were surprised to see Paul and Natalie Schnider on Renegade with the yellow flag flying from their halyard, indicating they had just arrived. We last saw Renegade in Providencia where they left heading north. And we swung past Espiritu with Liz and Chris Chesney, who we last saw in Panama.
The marina is normally full with sport fishing boats from Florida, but the season is over so it was pretty well empty. Tying up, the dock assistant said to wait until tomorrow to sign in and clear customs & immigration. After a long sail, we were grateful to take his advice and just tided up and relaxed for the day. Next morning, with coffee in the cockpit I looked out to see Paul and Cabot Lyman approaching by dinghy. We last saw Chewink with Cabot and Heidi in Roatan. So three boats whose plans like ours, change, and we meet again!
Paul and Cabot borrowed our hand-held depth sounder to check depths for Renegade's 7' draft. Hours later we had two dock neighbors as Renegade and Chewink tied up. After some waiting, some writing and some money exchanged, we were all checked in.
Then the following day, Lynn and Howard on Swift Current arrived from El Cid. Finally, Hugh and Anne Jenings aboard Serendippety arrived. So we had a full marina and had lots of rounds of lunches and dinners around the town.
But all the time we were watching for a weather window, and after a week we were ready to go. Chatting daily with Chris parker, we thought we could see a three day window beginning Friday. Chewink and Renegade, both big heavy boats, left Thursday and reported back boisterous seas and strong winds, so we waited and on Friday morning, we lefy just Serendippety alone on the dock and slipped out of Isla Mujeres in the early morning light.
04/01/2013, Yucatan Channel
Cay Caulker, Belize
We woke before dawn yesterday morning to make final preps for our overnight hop from Belize to Mexico. First check was the wind. We have been waiting for it to clock to the south-east as our course for much of the way is NNE. And sure enough, is had a bit of south in the light airs. So dinghy lashed down, breakfast eaten and cleared away and we were ready to head out.
We headed out through the reef at Long Cay Cut, just 5 miles south of Cay Caulker where we stopped Saturday for a few fresh supplies and a walk. Easter weekend is a big affair in Belize and Cay Caulker was making the most of it. Its tiny dirt streets and beaches were crowded with people of all descriptions from lots of locals of all ages to backpackers from all over, plus a few Yatties like us. But there were only eight boats in the anchorage, so we weren't too many. Our trip so far can be best described with one word... accelerating. The further north we get, the stronger the Yucatan Current. By the time we run between Cozumel and the mainland we will have 3.5 knots of current driving us north. As I write, we are 68 miles to El Cid resort and marina, where we will check in to Mexico and spend a few days. Then off to Isla Mujeres, just 35 miles up the coast where we will wait for a weather window for Key West. Looking out the stern I can see the Southern cross as it recedes towards the horizon on a daily basis, while off the bow, the North Star rises to greet us as we work our way north. A few more miles north and the Southern cross will be below the horizon, not to be seen until we return south. Not sure when that will be.
03/28/2013, Bluefield Range
Jim with Lynn and Althea Young on St George's Cay
As the sun rose behind us, we watched as the depth sounder came to life. Approaching a reef is always a bit un-nerving as you go from ocean depths to "on-soundings" then watch nervously as the depths rapidly drop. And they finally settled out at about what the charts said. And "about what the charts say" is as good as it gets here in Belize. The only official charts (government charts) are such large scale that they are just about useless. We have two others, one paper and one electronic that purport to have more detail, but they need to be treated with caution too.
So with the sun rising behind us, we slowly entered Gladden Cut. The small ocean swell quickly disappeared and in the light winds, we wound our way through the opening. At Gladden Cut, the reef is about 20 miles off the mainland. So we slowly headed for Placencia where we would check in.
After eight miles, we intersected a former track we had taken when here in 2009, so we were able to relax. Passing Laughing Bird Cay, we rounded up and headed west for Placencia. We anchored in the small harbor in company with 10 other cruisers and a few charter boats. As we had made such good time, we headed ashore to check in. That means a short trip in the "Hokey Pokey Water Taxi" over to Mango Creek, where we were met by a taxi waiting for just the likes of us.
Checking in in Big Creek requires a taxi ride, first to Immigration, then Port Captain, and finally Customs. But all was done in a friendly and efficient manner. In fact, among the changes we have noticed is the improvements in the check-in procedure. All is now courteous, efficient, and absent the "extra fees" for which receipts are not given. by 3 pm we were back in Placencia, had an excellent ice cream at the Tutti-Fruti Ice Cream Shop, and back aboard for an early evening.
Next day we headed in to town for a few items, an internet fix and to stretch our legs. The forecast of bad weather had been delayed, so on Friday we headed out to the cays. Our destination was South Long Coco, a cay about 1 mile long. As we arrived we saw three boats anchored closely together, and we soon learned why. Normally cruisers try to space themselves to give everyone some privacy, but at South Long Coco the available anchoring space is tiny. Other than one small sand patch the water is either 70' deep or hard rocky bottom. We made one failed anchoring attempt, but gave up and changed our plans to nearby Wippary Cay. Here the owners run a very small sport fishing operation and a small bar. They also maintain two free moorings. So we picked one up and went in for a "Belikan" and a chat.
Next morning we headed for North Long Coco, a few miles (not surprisingly) north of South Long Coco. We spent two beautiful days here, snorkeling a beautiful coral patch, and walking on the cay.
One of the big changes we have seen from 2009 is the amount of development, both ashore and on the cays. Previously, there were a few resorts on some of the larger cays, but today, most cays have either a small resort or a private home on them, preventing cruisers from landing. South Long Coco falls into this class. But North Long Coco is different. It has been bought by a huge development on the mainland that keeps the cay for owners and guests to visit. But they allow cruisers to land, and are happy to chat. The caretaker is happy to see you too, and is equally happy of gifts of beer and food, we found. So we spent our time snorkeling and strolling the beaches chatting with visitors. By Sunday night, the anchorage had swelled to eight boats from the two there when we arrived.
Monday brought a forecast for three days of strong north winds and squalls, so with the other boats in the anchorage, we were underway heading for cover. After a quick trip through Placencia Harbor, determining that it was way too rolly for comfort, we headed for Sapodilla Lagoon, about 15 miles north of Placencia.
As we sailed north along the Placencia Peninsula, we were constantly gawking at the new development ashore. The change in four years is unbelievable. We had spent some stormy weather in Sapodilla Lagoon in 2009, and enjoyed its quiet tranquility and beauty. It isn't too difficult to get in to if you go slowly. But it has none of the easy markings of coral, so it is go slow. About half a mile off, we were surprised to find the best set of navigation marks in the Western Caribbean showing us our way in.
Inside the lagoon we anchored with five other boats, and found a gigantic development complete with monstrous marina ashore. Luckily the development is not on the shores of the lagoon, but behind it, accessed by a new canal dredged out. Sanctuary Belize is a development of 12,000 acres with 1,450 building lots, of which 400 have reportedly been sold. They have dug canals all over the place, and construction is underway. In the morning we headed in to the marina in the dinghy and were warmly welcomed by the Harbourmaster.
Over the next two days, we walked around, toured the canals by dinghy, saw the "beach" with its elegant hotel tents. There are some beautiful homes already built, but they still have a very long way to go before it is declared a success. Plans include hotels, condos restaurants and golf. We were assured they would have it up and running shortly, but the construction pace looked suspiciously casual. Time will tell. The Bahamas and the Caribbean are littered with abandoned projects similar to this, but it would be a shame to see this abandoned, leaving a huge scar on the landscape.
We left Sapodilla Lagoon this morning, heading north. The forecast for the week-end looks good for an overnight trip up to Mexico. So we're planning to see our friend Lynn Young at his property on St George's Cay, then up to Cay Caulker, where we'll wait to head out on Saturday or Sunday. Just over 200 miles and with the strong Yucatan Current boosting us along, it should be a trip of 36 hours or less to El Cid Marina, where we will spend a few days. We have left lots to see in Belize, so I guess we'll just have to return to this beautiful place, hopefully before too much more development.
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03/21/2013, 30 miles off Gladden Cut
We're not complaining about the heat, but we are having to keep it in mind. The nights cool off to the high 70's and by 9 am its just too hot for much but sitting and reading, limeing (talk with neighboring boats) or swimming.
And that about sums up our 5 days in West End. It is a beautiful anchorage, one of the nicest we have been in. To enter you run through a marked cut in the reef about 60' wide with depths from "off-soundings" (too deep for the depth sounder, meaning greater than 400') to 8' in about 200 yds, a nail biting experience. Then you pass through the reef with waves breaking on either side of you, and you're in... swell gone and flat clear water.
We picked up a park mooring and quickly settled in. We were in with two other boats we have met, and were soon joined by Chewink, with Cabot and Heidi Lyman aboard there Seguin 47' (built in Cabot's boatyard, Lyman-Morse, in Thomaston Maine).
All settled in the anchorage, we headed for the dive shop to arrange diving for the following morning. Next, we wandered the beach heading down to West Beach. Its a 2 mile walk with small resorts continuously lining the shore. By then it was time for sundowners on Appleseeds (Pete and Eileen, better known as Ace, from Vancouver), and the day was done.
The following morning we went diving off our dinghies, another beautiful reef. In many places we have seen reefs under obvious stress, but here they seem healthy with lots of healthy coral and great fish diversity. In mid-afternoon, Swift Current (Howard and Lynn from Vancouver) came in and picked up a mooring, so our fleet was complete. Swift Current had been delayed in French Harbour having their engine mounts replaced, Three had sheared off completely on the trip from Providencia. But all was now well. So dinner for all aboard Chewink, and we had managed to fill another day.
On it went with snorkeling, diving and eating until the weather forecast told us it was time to move. So early Wednesday (yesterday), Swift current headed out for Mexico. We delayed our departure for Belize until evening. The trip is just slightly too long to do in daylight, so we decided to leave at dusk, arriving at the reef cut at dawn so we would have plenty of excellent light for the required "visual navigation". In Belize, we'll check in with Immigration, Customs, and the Port Captain, then play "Hide the Boat" from strong (gale force gusts) winds on the weekend. Then next week we'll head out to explore the beautiful offshore cays with more snorkeling. Hopefully our friend, Lynn Young, from Belize, can join us for a few days.
03/14/2013, Fantasy Island Marina, French Harbour, Roatan
Chapter II and Estelle, Fantasy Island Marina, Roatan, Honduras
Well, we have been in Roatan for two weeks, and still no sign of moving on. Here at Fantasy Island Marina we have been busy doing little. We have been diving, snorkeling, playing tennis, touring and just messing around. John and Paula Dennis left two days ago for Rio Dulce. We spent quite a bit of time with them, touring, and snorkeling with John.
The diving and snorkeling are fantastic just 100 yds off the marina, so we've been in the water lots. Pictures to come when I find time and a good internet connection to post them. I have four small boat projects to do, but they seem to remain unattended to. On sunny days, its too hot to do them, and today, the first cool and cloudy day, its too rainy. Maybe tomorrow.
But tomorrow will also be re-stocking day as we prepare to head off. And this is the best grocery shopping we have found in the Western Caribbean. Between the Bulk Gourmet and Eldon's Supermarket we can find just about anything we need. So we'll do a good stocking up for Belize, where we are really only assured of fresh fruit. Oddly enough, bananas are rare here, as are oranges, both locally grown.
The plan is to head to West End (of Roatan) on Saturday for a few days. It has excellent diving and snorkeling, as is available all around Roatan. And ashore, it is a bit like a tiny Key West with one dusty street filled with dive shops and restaurants, and sunburned gringos. It is a fun place. We've been there a couple of times by car, and look forward to a visit by boat.
Then some time next week, when we have had enough of West End, we'll do a short overnight sail to Belize. Its just 82 miles from West End, a bit too far for a day sail. And we need light to exit the reef at West End and to enter the reef in Belize. So an evening departure and a lazy sail should do just fine.
The plan, written in sand at low tide, is to spend a week to ten days in Belize, then off to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, our jumping off port for Key West, and in the US in early April. But before that, more snorkeling and diving before we get into the cooler weather.
03/03/2013, French Harbour, Roatan
Exploring Roatan with John & Paula Dennis
I have been reminded of my delinquincy in keeping this blog up to date.
On Feb 25th, we watched as Providencia's mountains disappeared in the mist behind us. We were on our way north to Roatan, 450 miles away. We were underway at 0700 hrs after shedding a large chunk of fish trap from our anchor.
After ten days in Providencia, the boat was ready to go, all projects completed, but we could have stayed longer. During our stay, we toured the island by motorcycle, climbed its 1000' peak, 1.5 hours each way in the tropical heat, to gaze down on the tiny harbor below us, seeing Estelle gently bobbing on her anchor. Providencia is an oasis in more than one way. It has an excellent protected harbour in the middle of the S-W Caribbean, making it an excellent stop-over for boats heading north and south. It is also extremely safe. There are no records of boater crime, an unusual claim in this part of the world. And English is as commonly spoken as Spanish. It has a long history of English occupation, both by settlers and pirates. It finally became Colombian about 100 years ago, and today, there are more than a few who are suggesting that they should go back.
In January, the World Court at The Hague came down with a decision on the islands and the fishing rights around them. And it did not favour Colombia. Although the islands remain Colombian, all the surrounding waters have been given to Nicaragua. The decision sent the navies of both countries scurrying out bristling, but all remained quiet.
So when we were there, people were to say the least, unhappy. When we heard the President was coming to address the people, we hustled ashore to watch the fun. The local school band played the national anthem, all four long verses. Then the mayor spoke (at length), the local member of the federal government spoke even longer, and finally, El Presidente arose. He spoke long and passionately, but not a word about the fishing rights dispute. Instead he unloaded a series of promises that puts any of our politicians at home to shame. He promised new schools, hospitals, lower ferry rates, a new marina and more. Then he headed home. But nobody seemed fooled. Politics are the same everywhere, it seems.
Our last day there we dinghied ashore to watch two local baseball teams compete. It was great fun with the game competing with the fans for entertainment value.
So as we watched the island disappear, sailing past Morgan's Head (named after the infamous Captain Morgan who laid in wait for the Spanish treasure ships sailing from Portobelo to Spain) we thought about the new friends we had made during our 10 days there.
Our course was NNW in an ESE breeze of 15-18 knots. We were sailing in company with Swift Current, a Sabre 45 and Camelot, a Catalina 47. With their longer waterlines, they soon pulled ahead. But in the fresh breeze, we romped north at 7.5-8 knots. In late afternoon a large target appeared on the radar. These waters are known to be a bit unsafe, with a bit of piracy against boaters not unknown. So we watched the target with interest as it slowly bore down on us. By the time it was within sight, we recognized it as a Colombian Naval frigate. In addition to the odd pirate (mostly poor fishermen) the waters are also heavily used for drug smuggling between Colombia and Mexico. The navy just passed us slowly then headed off south in search of more interesting quarry.
At 0400, after 21 hours and 156 miles, we reached our first waypoint. I was on watch, so roused Jeannie from her bunk to help gybe us over onto a course due west to pass the Cayos Vivorillos another 54 miles away. On the map, the ocean off Nicaragua, the Mosquito Coast, looks empty, but a closer inspection shows it infested with reefs and shoals out 100 miles. That's why we headed NNW before gybing due west. And the banks make good fishing, so through the night we had to keep a sharp lookout to make sure we kept well away from the boats and their gear.
At noon, we sighted the Vivorillos. They are a beautiful set of cays surrounded by reefs that can provide a beautiful anchorage in the right conditions. But in the fresh south-westerlies, it was wide open. And again there is a question of security. It is not the place to anchor alone. And finally, our weather window was closing. We were racing a major cold front that was due to hit Roatan with 35-40 knot winds later in the week. So we watched the Vivorillos disappear as we again altered course to the north west, this time to keep at least 20 miles off the coast of Nicaragua for the night.
Again the wind stayed a fresh 15-20 with gusts to 25, we romped along until dawn found us with just 50 miles to go. As the sun rose to yet another glorious day, the wind slowly died, leaving us motor-sailing by mid-morning. Our buddy boats were about 18 miles ahead of us, both developed problems. Camelot lost their auto-pilot the previous day, leaving them hand steering in the boisterous following seas, and when they began motoring, Swift Current broke a motor mount, requiring them to motor the last stretch at low speed. So by mid-afternoon we were all safely into French Harbor, Roatan. As we rounded up to our marina berth at Fantasy Island Marina, we recognized Chapter II from our yacht club, in the next berth. Before we had our lines secured, we were catching up with John and Paula Dennis, a warm welcome!
Trip over, 420 miles run in 55 hours, an excellent passage. Plans kind of run out here. Roatan is known for its spectacular diving, so I hope to find time for a couple of dives. We will probably spend 10 days here then off to Belize for a couple of weeks, who knows?
02/18/2013, Isla Providencia, Colombia
On "The Peak"
Yes, Mr. Bush, we are relaxin! Mr Bush is the marine agent who gets you through all the officialdom of checking in and out of Colombia. That we are "relaxin" seems to be his major concern.
We left Colon on Thursday for a beautiful overnight sail here, making great time in the best conditions we have ever experienced... 12-18 knots on a close reach in seas 2`-3`. We made 260 NM in 37 hours, an excellent passage for us.
We arrived off the harbor at 8 pm in darkness, but having been here before, we were able to enter without problem. Neither of our charts is accurate, but we made notes leaving, so were fine. We had a three day weather window before the winds and seas kicked up, so we are now sitting out 20 knot winds whih 10'-12' seas outside.
Saturday morning we checked in along with two other boats that had arrived, one 60` , Renegade, with Natalie and Paul aboard, arrived ahead of us from Colon, and another arriving from the San Blas pulled in at dawn with a family of three aboard. Together we were easily cleared in, and just as easily relieved of $140 in the process.
Fees vary greatly from country to country. Belize and Panama seem to be highest at about $200 after the questionable parts are included, and Jamaica is free! Bahamas is $300. In any case, having cleared us in, Mr Bush`s next concern was that we were `relaxin`. And we can assure him that we are.
Talking to Chris Parker this morning, it sounds like we may be here for 10 days before the wind and seas will let us continue.
There are 13 boats in the anchorage, and already two have dragged anchor. I won`t go into too much detail, but one was from eastern Canada... PEI to be exact. But with the anchor re-set and a second one set, we are fine. This morning a squall blew through with 30 knot winds and heavy rain. We held fine and the rain was welcome as it washed off the heavy salt layer from our passage.
Then after the squall blew through, we headed ashore for excitement... El Presidente de Colombia was in town!!! In December, the International Court in The Hague issued a binding decision on waters around Providencia and San Andres. The dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua has been long-standing, and both parties agreed to binding arbitration.
Big mistake for Colombia. With the exception of a 12 mile limit around the islands and a small access corridor, huge fishing grounds went to Nicaragua. The locals were unhappy to say the least, so we waited for the fur to fly. We listened in both English (English is spoken equally with Spanish due to the island's English origins)and Spanish as local and federal politicians spoke about the wonderful projects the government was undertaking.
An agreement for a new water system was signed. New education, health and tourism projects were announced (including a marina), but not a word from anyone about Nicaragua or the fishing grounds. With that, El Presidente hopped on a plane and was gone, leaving an island full of very unhappy people.
Next, off to see Mr Bush about someone to look at our outboard engine which is acting up. Then to the bakery for pastries and back to the boat for an afternoon of boat projects.
On my list are four major projects: re-pack the rudder stuffing box, adjust (again) the generator governor, re-commission the watermaker and investigate why the radar is not working. Then, I will be relaxin. We'll tour the island by motor-bike, do some snorkling on the beautiful reefs, try out a few restaurants and hike some of the spectacular trails that climb the steep mountains.
02/14/2013, 125 miles off the Panama coast
D Dock at Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama
Exactly 51 weeks after our arrival in Shelter Bay Marina, we cast off our lines and headed out for Providencia, Colombia, 250 miles northward. In that year, we have traveled through Panama, Peru and Colombia while Estelle has acquired a new engine and had a myriad of other improvements and repairs. We have met countless new friends, both cruisers and Panamanian and will always look back on our time in Panama fondly. But it was time to go and the boat was loaded, so we cast off. We have a weather window that will allow us a nice sail directly to Providencia, so we'll take it. Its a bit unusual, directly out of the east, giving us a nice sailing angle. So the trip back to San Blas is off and we're on the way home!
Last night we said goodbye to friends in the marina with a small party in the cockpit, then turned in. We'll spend a week or so in Providencia then head for Roatan. From there we're off north.
Its good to be sailing again and the forecast looks like we will have excellent winds, arriving in Providencia just at dusk.