03/18/2009, Livingston Guatemala
Waiting to check out of Belize, Mango Creek
After a great final dinner at deTatch (and we won't mention the dinghy incident!) we said good-by to Bruce and Dianne on Monday morning. And at 10:00 am we were once again on the Hokey Poley Water Taxi which took us across to Mango Creek where we went through the checking out ritual. There were about a dozen of us, some checking in, and some, like us, checking out. As the various offices are spread out, there are taxis that shuttle you around. So we all piled in and were off down a dusty road.
First stop, Immigration where we waited for about an hour. The officer was there, but his stamp wasn't. He loaned it to someone at the airport. Finally it arrived. Next stop the Port Captain who pleasantly relieved me of US$50, $40 for Belize and $10 for him, no question about trying to hide it! Next, the Customs man who issued us our Zarpe, or exit documents necessary to check in at our next stop. Then, officially checked out, we headed for the BEL office where I had a parcel waiting, a pump motor for the watermaker.
And with it we headed back for the 12 noon Hokey Pokey back to Placencia. That's the official name, by the way.
Back in Placencia we had lunch then did a bit of shopping. Next morning it was watermaker time. It hasn't been working really since last spring. I replaced the pump head before Christmas and that helped, but then it began tripping the breaker, so I finally replaced the pump motor, an awful job due to the location But after 2 hot hours with my head under the sink in the aft head and the necessary scrapes and bruises, I had the new motor in and everything back together. And... it works!!! Unlimited water, a luxury, is back. I think the problem can be traced to lack of use. Boat stuff seems to work better if it is used (and maintained) regularly.
That job done, we spent the rest of the day doing more shopping and doing some internet stuff. Then Wednesday morning we were off for Guatemala. The day was uncharacteristically flat calm, so we motored the entire distance from Placencia to Livingston Guatemala, a distance of about 45 miles. Livingston, located at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, is accessible only by water.
Once Guatemala's major Caribbean port, it serves now primarily as a port of entry for cruisers heading in and out of Rio Dulce (commonly called The Rio) and as a market town for the neighboring area. There is a small tourism component to the economy, but not huge. We were a bit anxious about crossing the bar that blocks the mouth, but saw no less than 6', so had no trouble. But we would be very cautious about trying it at low tide, even though the tides are normally only about 1'. Safely anchored in a group of about 6 other boats, we settled in to wait. We called "Raoul" on the VHF. He has a service that organizes the officials and smoothes your entry. And just at 5:00 pm we were boarded by Raoul, the Port Captain, the Customs officer, Immigration officer and someone who I later learned was a doctor. He didn't say or do anything. I guess he quietly inspected us and decided we were healthy. With some forms filled out, Raoul took our passports and told us to report ashore in an hour with 1,150 Quetzales, or about Cdn$120.
So we headed in to Livingston, a small noisy town where we found a cash machine, then back to Raoul's and we were all checked in, very efficient! Since it was now nearly dark, we decided to spend the night anchored there and will head inland tomorrow morning.
03/15/2009, Placencia, Belize,
Bruce & Dianne MacDonald with Drury and Jennifer Porteous on Ranguana Cay
On Monday morning we hustled ashore (about 10 am) to buy a few more supplies. Bruce and Dianne MacDonald were arriving at noon for a week of sailing with us, so we were just adding a few more supplies for the week. Plans were for a week of messing around where the weather permits. Buying things in Placencia is not like heading to SuperStore at home. After a week or so, you learn what stores carry what and on what days the fish man and the vegetable men come. Neither an art nor a science, it just takes persistance and patience. Here you can buy fresh fish, there shrimp. In this store they sell fresh milk, but over there you can buy UHT. This store sells this but not that, and next door, the opposite.
Due at 1:00 pm, we were still wandering around buying a few things when we spotted them in a taxi arriving about a half hour early. But we were ready to go, so not a problem. The weather was still unsettled and we were in no particular hurry, so we never quite got underway and just settled in for the night. In the morning there were some questions asked about wine consumption that accompanied dinner (fresh red snapper, coconut rice and fresh local beans, with local fruit for dessert) but all survived.
With the weather still unsettled and strong easterlies making a sail to the reef (easterly) uninviting, we headed south to Monkey River Lagoon, a mangrove lined lagoon that gave us a beautiful night in flat calm waters. Placencia's harbour doesn't provide the best protection from the north east, and we had had a rolly-polly night, so were glad of the calm the lagoon provided.
Just after anchoring, Bruce got out a fishing rod and in short order we had three small snappers and two grunts aboard for dinner. This time, more caution was shown in the wine consumption and after a great sleep, all were up and ready for sailing early.
Setting out, we were faced with the easterlies still persisting, in spite of forecasts to the contrary. So we sailed north back towards Placencia, about 10 miles away. By the time we were off Placencia, the wind finally obeyed the forecast and clocked to the south-east and dropped to an ideal 10-15 knots. With it we tacked over and were dodging corral heads on our way to Ranguana Cay, about 15 miles away.
We arrived there in mid-afternoon and were quickly in the water with snorkel gear. Ashore on the cay, we wandered around the tiny resort and bumped in to a couple from Toronto. And when they walked over to Bruce and Dianne, the man said "Bruce MacDonald!" It turns out that they worked together in Toronto some years ago. Its a small world. Lucky Dianne didn't listen to us and go skinny dipping! (We said she would never see anyone she knew out here in this remote spot!)
In the evening we went ashore (BYOB) and had dinner at the open-air restaurant on the beach. Besides us there were only two others there, cruisers from California on a charter cat. Again in the beautiful night air, we enjoyed an excellent dinner.
In the morning we we raised the main on the mooring and sailed off south searching for more adventure. Reaching down the reef in 12-15 knots of breeze behind the reef provided beautiful sailing that ended when we furled our sails and nosed in to North-East Sapodilla Cay. But we weren't happy with the anchorage, so we headed back out and worked our way into the anchorage at Franks Cay, just a quarter mile further south. Here we found an excellent empty anchorage, and flat water in the still-fresh breeze. And again we were quickly in the water with snorkel gear where we found the most spectacular coral we have yet seen. Being the only boat there (we could see one other about 2 miles further down) the coral was in pristine condition.
After we dragged ourselves out of the water we wandered ashore. The guide says there is a resort with bar and restaurant, dive shop where you can arrange diving or have your tanks re-filled. But we found only an abandoned resort slowly being taken over by the tropical vegetation. Later in the evening we did see someone land for the night at the one remaining habitable building, but certainly no resort. We dinghied across to North-east Sapodilla and walked around and out onto the reef that it sits on. Dinner was Crack Conch with cole slaw.
In the morning we headed north in search of more snorkeling grounds. By mid-afternoon we were off Laughing Bird Cay, noted for excellent snorkling and diving, but the wind was too high and the seas too rough, so we carried on. Again weaving through the coral heads with one emergency u-turn with the depth sounder screaming, we picked up a mooring off Whippari Cay. We again hoped to go ashore for dinner, but were disappointed to learn that the resort was closed for work on a new dock. But we were welcome to go ashore to walk. But by now it was time for dinner. And we prepared a pesto/cream chicken with penne pasta. It was a big celebration, Bruce's 60th birthday, so we had a chocolate bar for dessert.
On Saturday morning we again went snorkeling and I finally got my underwater camera out. Although the water was cloudy, I shot to my hearts content and was surprised at how well some came out. On the way back to the dinghy I spotted a large conch, so after some very messy cleaning we had a late lunch of conch ceviche... excellent! We had planned to head back to Placencia so that Bruce and I could go diving on Sunday, but the exercise, heat and large lunch had their effect so that by mid-afternoon, all that could be heard on the boat was some gentle snoring.
Awake in time for sundowners, we watched yet another beautiful sunset and cleaned out the refrigerator with a shrimp pasta. And dessert was similar to previous evenings, fresh local fruit! Then this morning we reluctantly dropped the mooring and sailed back to Placencia, arriving in early afternoon.
Tonight will be dinner at deTatch, our favorite restaurant in Placencia. Tomorrow MacDonalds leave and we will have to decide our next plans. It looks like either Guatemala's Rio Dulce or Nicaragua's Bay Islands of Roatan, Guanaja and Utilla. As usual, weather will dictate which.
03/08/2009, Placencia, Belize,
Stan & Jim in front of Stan's bananna tree
The weather has been, for Belize in March, unusual lately. Normally this is the dry season with easterly trade winds of 15-18 knots. But the last week has been cloudy with showers and light winds, sometimes from the west, an unheard-of direction for Belize. But its still warm and things dry quickly, so we're not complaining.
We left Belize City Tuesday morning and in the lighter winds had a gentle sail southward, heading for Placencia by later in the week. By evening we were off Garbutt Cay where we had anchored last time we were down. Garbutt Cays are mostly mangrove with a small cay with a sand and coral beach. But on the west (protected from the trades) side it is deep (30') right up to the shore, making anchoring difficult. And there was already a boat anchored in the best spot, so we decided to try to work our way around to the south side where our charts showed 10' of water and probably better protection from the north-east winds.
But the charts were wrong. We went hard aground when we should have been in 20' of water. Jeannie was on the bow "reading the water" and it rose so quickly that we were aground before I could stop the boat. But we were going dead slow, so after a minute we were able to back off the soft bottom... right onto a coral head! We hit with the rudder, causing the wheel to spin hard over. I quickly got us off and into deep water, but not without some unease about our rudder.
With that we headed back to the deep anchorage and anchored for the night, pondering the state of our rudder. It still moved freely and a quick check of it from inside the boat showed all well, as did a glimpse from the dinghy. So we crept in to the western side of the cay and anchored for the night.
We spent a quiet night, but at 7 am, we were suddenly facing a 15-20 knot wind from the north-west blowing us towards the now very near-by cays. We quickly got underway, and followed Saiid, the other boat anchored with us, out.
We sailed south-west in the fresh wind down to the lee of Sittee Point, about 15 miles. Here we anchored and I dove to look at the rudder. I found a couple of scratches and that's all! All seems well. Its what's known as a "skeg-hung rudder" so that not only is it very heavily made, but the skeg gives it extra strength. If it were an ordinary "spade" rudder, I expect I would have been looking at a bent rudder shaft, a real problem.
The only casualty was the autopilot position sensor which seems to have been jolted out of alignment. So I spent an hour up-side down in the lazarette re-positioning it. That done, we took a dinghy tour into the Sittee river. We stuck our noses in it last week, but being short of dinghy fuel, we only checked out enough to determine we couldn't get in with Estelle. This time we motored up 3 miles, passing a small marina, a large catamaran and a number of small boats. If we could get past the bar, it would be beautiful cruising. On the way out we stopped at the marina and learned that we had stopped just short of Freetown. If dredged, Sittee River would surely be one of Belize's most attractive cruising destinations.
From Sittee River we headed south , still in light easterlies and the odd shower. By mid-afternoon we were about 10 miles out of Placencia, but decided to head for Lagoon Cay to spend the night.
When we checked in to Belize in early February, we were given a 30 day visa (passport stamp) only. It can be renewed indefinitely, but you have to do it (and pay BZ$50 per person each time). Ours was due to expire on the following Monday and this was Wednesday. But speaking with Seabird, on the SSB radio, we learned that visas can only be renewed on Thursday mornings and only in Mango Creek, across the lagoon from Placencia. So we had an early start to the day, leaving Lagoon Cay at 6 am heading for Placencia. We had planned to go snorkeling around the cay as it was reported to be very good, and the local dive boats maintain two moorings in the area, a good sign.
But we had more important things to do, and were safely anchored in Placencia Harbour by 8:30 am. And on the Hokey-Pokey water taxi at 10:00 am. In Mango Creek we quickly found the immigration office and all was completed in, for Belize, short order. Bruce Montgomery (Seabird) needed a document notarized and had been told that there was a notary public in Mango Creek, the only one in this area, so we walked across the street to a grocery store to enquire and was told she was standing behind us.
That business out of the way, we began to chat and quickly realized that we had friends in common (Karl and Dorothy Menzies) and that her brother had been Chairman of the BEL Board when I was on it... Bobby Usher! I still hope to run into Bobby before we leave Belize. And quickly I put two and two together and realized her daughter had cut my hair in Placencia a few years ago! Small world. So we got fresh directions to her daughter's place and I had another hair cut by days end! Oh what a busy day!!!
On Friday we took the dinghy ashore to meet Stan and Beth Marshall, with whom we had arranged to spend the day. We were whisked up the peninsula that Placencia is on up 12 miles of rough dirt road to "Stanleyville", Stan's dream creation in Belize. First a tour of the gardens, Stan's pride and joy, and rightly so. He has planted a huge variety of local flowers, shrubs and trees, producing a riot of colours and a beautiful property. We saw banana trees, Frangi-pangi with the most fragrant scent I have ever experienced, bouganvillia bushes all blooming and drooping to the ground heavy with their bright flowers and a Tulip tree, started two years ago from a twig, now 15' tall. Coconut palms compete with small mangroves to protect the beach from erosion and the birds enjoy it all, with a flock of green parrots sweeping through as we sat on the deck.
But the boat house is best of all. A few years ago Stan bought a MacGregor 26 sailboat, but had no where to keep it. In typical Stan style, he soon solved the problem... with what must be the single most elegant boat house a MacGregor 26 has ever seen! Built on the lagoon side (on a property purchased for the purpose), it is a two-storey concrete building set back about 150' from the lagoon's edge. From here Stan has constructed a canal leading in to the bottom floor of the boat house. Through a large overhead door (not quite finished, another story), the boat can be motored into an electric lift. It is hoisted up about 6' above the waters edge (the maximum hurricane flood surge, Stan has calculated) where it sits in total protection and safety. But the second floor is not just a loft. Stan has built what for most, would be for most an elegant beach home, complete with kitchen (with beautiful hand crafted cabinets built from local hardwoods), two bedrooms, a large living room, laundry room and deck overlooking the lagoon. Given the value of the boat compared to the value of the boat home, some would wonder, but not me... Stan!!
In the evening we had dinner with Stan and Beth together with neighbors, having steak for the first time in months. Stan had purchased Belize's finest, but somehow the idea of tender has yet to come to Belize. But it was great to see Stan and Beth and enjoy their hospitality.
Tomorrow we're off with Seabird up the Hummingbird Highway to Xunantunich, a large Mayan ruin just past San Ignacio.
03/02/2009, Belize City, Belize,
Last week we headed back up to Belize City, spending a few days in the cays doing so. We left Placencia and spent the night at The Blue Ground Range, not to be confused with The Blue Field Range further north where we spent la night last week. Anchored in the Blue Ground Range we traded a 1/2 pint of rum for a nice fresh snapper for dinner with a local fisherman who had a small camp on one of the cays. Then we dinghied ashore to explore a former resort where we were met by a caretaker who was glad of the company, but more happy to hear we would re-charge his cell phone. It had once been a tiny resort(two thatched roof cabanas and a common dining cabana) but has since been sold to someone who just uses it as his private cay. But we got to stretch our legs and chat. Next morning we worked our way between coral heads to anchor off South Water Cay, right on the barrier reef. We anchored here and snorkeled the cut in the reef where we saw some unusual coral and fish. Snorkeling or diving in cuts rather than just along the reef usually produces more interesting snorkeling. Then we landed at a resort on the southern tip (the cay is about 300 yds long and 50 yds wide) where we were able to have lunch. It was a beautiful setting. After lunch we sailed north past Tobacco Cay on the reef to anchor in the nearby Tobacco Range. A "Range" is a group of cays, usually with a cut in the middle. Here we spent a quiet night following which we set out for Belize City. Again we had a beautiful sail, stopping for lunch at Robinson Cays and arriving at Cucumber Beach Marina in early afternoon. Our lines were taken by John and Barbara Anderson on the PDQ 30 catamaran "Sam the Skull" from Glasgow, Scotland. We had first met them in the Bahamas last year and knew they were heading for Belize as we heard their position reports on the NW Caribbean Net on the SSB. I have to explain the name: since their boat is a catamaran, or cat for short, and is from Glasgow, it seemed logical to call it Sam the Skull after a Glasgow drinking song about a local alley cat called, you guessed it, Sam the Skull. Google Sam the Skull and you will find the words, or on Youtube you can hear it belted out in a real Glasgow Pub! We had a great time at the Board dinner, catching up with old friends and meeting new board members and generally getting caught up on events. Next morning we were off with John and Barbara from Sam the Skull for shopping and touring Belize City. By days end we were tired and loaded with supplies and ready to head off again. Next stop, after a few days in the cays, Placencia where we'll spend a day with Stan and Beth Marshall at their house in Placencia!
02/25/2009, Placencia, Belize,
Carrie Bow Cay, Belize
From the Bluefield Range, we sailed south in another perfect day of sailing, winds 10-15 on a broad reach, to Colson Cays where we anchored for lunch. After lunch we snorkeled over a couple of small Blue Holes. A Blue Hole is an underwater cavern caused by collapsing limestone. They are so-called because they are easily identified by the brilliant blue coloring of the water in them. Belize's most famous, The Blue Hole on Lighthouse Reef, was made famous by Jacques Cousteau who was the first to dive it. It was rumored to be "bottomless" and connected to a blue hole about 50 miles inland. But it turns out to be 400' deep. I dove it a few years ago and it was a bit boring except for the depth... we dove to 125', by far the deepest I have ever gone. But having done it, it is really not too interesting. It has vertical walls until the 125' level where some stalactites and stalagmites have formed, and you can swim between them. Other than that and a few sleepy sharks, that's it. Most of the dive time is taken up in the ascent. But the ones at Colson Cay were only about 25' deep and had some interesting fish and corals in them. We searched for a coral patch a bit further out, but couldn't find it, so set off again, arriving at Garbutt Cays just in time for anchoring. It was a deep (25') anchorage but had good holding, so we passed an uneventful night. In the morning, we went ashore for a stroll on a near-by cay created entirely from dead coral washed up in storms. Then we chatted with a boat from Ontario that was also in the anchorage. And by mid-morning we were off exploring again. The wind had freshened a bit, making it another perfect sailing day and by mid-afternoon we were off the mouth of the Sittee River. A few years ago we explored this area by car and thought it one of the nicest areas in Belize. So we were anxious to try to explore the river by boat. The guides say that if you can get across the bar, there are depths of 15' up for a distance of 10 miles. But the issue is the bar across the mouth. After running hard aground trying to enter Joes Hole on Turneffe last week, I was a bit more cautious. We watched a small catamaran and an open outboard boat enter, so went in in the dinghy. We found some stakes marking a sort of channel, but found it had a minimum of 3.5', not nearly enough for our 5' draft. So we explored up a few miles in the dinghy, and found it beautiful with mangroves lining the banks and taller pines and local hardwoods behind. Too bad about the bar, as it would make a beautiful spot for cruising. Back on the boat, we headed down to the nearby Sapodilla Lagoon where we found the best protected anchorage in Belize. We entered by lining up Victoria Peak, Belize's highest peak, on a bearing of 277 mag and found lots of water. Safely anchored, we explored the banks of the lagoon looking for a creek shown on the map, but failed to find it. Back aboard, we experienced our first attack by no-see-ums in Belize. After battling them for a while, we retreated below for the night. Next morning we were off the last 20 miles down the shore to Placencia. Rather than take the direct route, we sailed down following the shore looking at the incredible development along the shore. Entering Placencia's harbour, we anchored in the largest fleet we have seen since Marathon Fla. We found a spot in the fleet of about 30 boats, half of which are cruisers, the other half being the Moorings charter fleet based here. We've been here two nights, re-stocking, updating the blog and other internet stuff, eating ashore, doing laundry, etc. And today, when the rain stops, we'll re-fill with fuel and water, then begin to head back north to Belize City where we're invited to a dinner of the Belize Electricity Board on Sunday night. I was on the board and look forward to seeing old friends again. By the way, I have added more photos to the photo gallery on the blog.
02/20/2009, Bluefield Range Cays, Belize,
Red-footed Booby Bird, Half Moon Cay, Belize
After an unsuccessful attempt at repairing Seabird's jib, we set out for Turneffe Atoll, about 8 miles outside the barrier reef. In light easterlies, we sailed S-E to Blue Creek, a mangrove creek that led us into the lagoon. The books say that the bar outside Blue Creek has just over 5' depth, and it was just about right... our depth sounder which measures water depth beneath the keel showed -0.1' but we coasted across and through about a mile of creek twisting through the mangroves until we were in the lagoon. We coasted across to the eastern shore to anchor in the lee of Deadman's Cay where we spent two nights. The next day we spent snorkeling in a nearby cut in the reef where we saw lots of beautiful coral with amazing shapes and colours, and fish of every size and description including one whose body was triangular shaped. What law of Natural Selection allowed him to evolve?? After snorkeling, we took the dinghy up the shore inside the reef to the next cut where we explored another empty cay. Then in the, for Belize, very unusual light winds (5-10 knots) we dinghied back down outside the reef. In the evening we looked for saltwater crocodiles, known to inhabit the reef, but saw none. Then next morning, taking advantage of the extended light winds, we sailed out to Lighthouse Reef, another 10 miles offshore. Here we anchored off picture-perfect Half-moon Cay, a small cay with swaying palms. Half-moon is in a national park, so the reefs around are full of fish. And on the cay is a nesting area for a rare species of Booby bird, the red-footed Booby. I don't know why it was given such a silly name as it is really a very elegant bird with, as you guessed, red feet. All nesting takes place in an area of less than 10 acres, so it is very concentrated. And at the same time, red-breasted Frigate birds nest in the same area, so it is alive with bird life. The male Frigate birds have red sacs below their beaks that they inflate with air to attract mates. It can take up to 20 minutes to inflate the sac, and when fully inflated, the birds head is pushed back so far that he can't see what's in front of him. Another silly example of Natural Selection. But it was very interesting. The Belize Audubon Society have constructed an observation platform that makes viewing easy. So we have some impressive pictures, some taken as closely as 10' away. After photographing the birds and wandering around the cay, we decided to head 5 miles back, through the coral heads, to anchor on the western edge of Long Cay, which forms part of the atoll. Coming in in the afternoon we had the sun at our backs, and I stood on the bow watching for Coral heads and giving Jeannie directions to avoid them. But heading out the next afternoon the sun was ahead of us, and we went very slowly, not able to identify a head until nearly on top of it. But we safely made it out and safely anchored in the lee of Long Cay. Here next morning we again went snorkeling this time in a bit deeper water, where the depth plunges from 20' to 600' in short order. Here the coral was even more fantastic in the water with 50' visibility. But our weather window was closing. We had had 5 days of perfect weather for visiting the offshore atolls, and the forecast was for the wind to back to the north-west and spring up to the more normal 15-20 knots. So at noon, we hoisted anchor and headed back. Breaking up the trip we sailed just to the west side of Turneffe where we anchored off another mangrove creek, Joes Hole. I thought I could find a path in, but only succeeded in running us hard aground. But using the sails and the engine, getting the boat turned, we were off in about 20 minutes and anchored nearby for the night. This morning we woke to the winds in the north-east and at the forecast 15-20 knots. So we shot across to Eastern Channel, the main ships entry through the reef. From here we sailed down past Robinson Cays, Middle Long Cay and down into the small anchorage created by four small cays known as the Bluefield Range. Here we anchored in company with Seabird and three other boats already here, a somewhat unusual sight. Ashore we wandered through the remains of a small failed "resort" that, at its best, may have competed with a poorly financed kids camp. There we chatted with some members of Belize's Coast Guard who told us that they patrol the waters continuously, something that gives us some comfort as crime is not unknown here. Tomorrow we'll just push a bit south into the hundreds of cays behind the reef.##
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02/15/2009, Turneffe Atoll, Belize,
Seabird sails down a mangrove creek, Turneffe Atoll, Belize
From Belize City we headed back north to Cay Caulker on Wednesday. Inside the reef with winds on our beam, we had beautiful sailing. We passed three cruise ships in the harbor, a couple of freighters and lots of small boats ferrying people to and from the ships. Leaving the busy harbor behind, we got our first experience of Belize sailing. We headed for Swallow Cay Bogue. A bogue is a natural channel through the mangroves. Once in them they are usually quite deep (15-30'), but the depths at either end are usually quite skinny. And there mat be a stake in the water to mark the entrance, but its not always obvious which side to pass it on. So we furled the jib and motored slowly and safely through. From there we sailed north 7 miles to Porto Stuck, a gap between two cays that was opened during a hurricane about 30 years ago. Its name tells it all, and we met a tug passing through. But again all was well. On to Cay Caulker where we were astonished to anchor behind the cay in company with 16 other cruisers! In the last few years the number of cruisers here has more than doubled. Five years ago, when I was here on business, there were just a handful. Not so now. Its not crowded by any means, but the numbers are rapidly growing. Ashore at Cay Caulker (wrongly called Cay Corker on some charts), we walked the sandy streets, bought some excellent fruit and gawked at the hordes of tourists, mostly backpackers here for the inexpensive accommodation. Next morning, Thursday, we went ashore again and had an excellent lunch at Glenda's Bakery. She does a big business with the school children and locals, so we decided to give it a try. We were told to be there before noon to be sure of getting our choice. They sell out fast! And with reason. I had stew chicken with rice-n-beans. Jeannie had a local dish that was also delicious. With two cokes (limeade sold out, water sold out), the bill was Bze$15, or US$7.50 total! After lunch we headed out for San Pedro, Belize's center of tourism. It was about 12 miles of more reaching in smooth waters... we're getting to like this sailing! At San Pedro we anchored just north of the pass in the reef, now clearly visible and easily navigated. But we were inside and had no need to head out. We did run out in the dinghy just to check it out after snorkeling. Ashore, we did some shopping. San Pedro is a good place to re-stock as most things are available within walking distance. We bought in a variety of stores from super-market style stores to street vendors. We haven't really shopped since Marathon Fla, so did quite a bit. Were now ready to go for a while. Also I called Lynn Young, President of Belize Electricity Company, and found he was in San Pedro for the day, so we arranged to meet. Meeting Lynn and a number of the BEL people with him who I had worked with was fun. We quickly caught up on events and Lynn wants to come sailing with us, so we'll make sure to connect. I'll connect with him next week in Belize City to pick up a new pump motor for the watermaker and to collect mail. After all our shopping we were back aboard then went snorkeling on the nearby reef then back aboard for the night. The anchorage was a bit rolly in the 15 knot winds that spring up at night, so in the morning we were ready to depart. By the crack of mid-morning, after yet again a trip ashore for things forgotten, we raised the anchor for another glorious sail south to Drowned Cay Bogue where we anchored for the night in seclusion and hurricane-hole protection. This morning, after helping Seabird in a sail repair, we headed out for Turneffe Atoll, one of three Belize atolls and of only four in the western hemisphere. The fourth is Banco Chinchoro, Mexico, which we passed last week on our way south. Turneffe is about 10 miles outside the reef, and in a 10-12 knot ESE breeze we had a beautiful sail across. Closing on the southern tip, we met three other sailboats anchored off the reef for diving, but we headed through Blue Creek into the lagoon where we anchored under the lee of Big Borgue Cay. We think we'll be here for a few days diving, snorkeling and exploring, then if the weather holds, out to Lighthouse Reef, another 10 miles offshore for more of the same.##
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02/10/2009, Belize City, Belize,
Goff's Cay, on the barrier reef, Belize
Well, we made it to Belize, and more quickly than we meant to. Our overnight sail to Xclak Mexico turned into an overnight sail into Belize. Heading out of Bahia de la Ascencion, we were met with more wind and waves than we expected. Rolling the cut in the reef, the big seas got very steep and we quickly had green water over the bow as we motored out into it. They were actually the steepest waves I have ever encountered, and it was slow going battering our way out. One concern was that with the huge waves in the shallow water, we might bottom out in the troughs. But we made it safely out and quickly got sail up and bore away south. In the deeper water with the sails up we were comfortable. But we were not about to head in Bahia de la Espiritu Santo, about 20 miles south. Going in with those waves, and not knowing the entrance (the charts show noting in terms of details) would be foolish. So we headed out. With winds of 15 knots on the beam, we had a beautiful sail of it and at sunset were on track to arrive at Xclak at first light. We wanted to check out of Mexico at Xclak, the last port before Belize. Checking out gives you a "Zarpe", an official paper stating you cleared out officially. At sunset, the sky started to cloud over and the wind freshened, so with the last of the light, I put 2 reefs in the main and furled the jib up to its second reef stripe. With the wind rising to 20-25 knots, it gave us a more comfortable ride, while still making good speed through the water, 6-7.5 knots. But this section of coast has the strongest currents we had yet encountered, and in the darkness we stayed well offshore to avoid the reefs, so that our actual speed was more like 5-5.5 knots. We had expected a strong current, but this was stronger than we had expected. But there was nothing to be done except carry on. In the steady 22 knot breeze, the waves had grown to 8', but we were comfortable and sailed on through the night, seeing only the occasional light on shore but nothing else. The moon was full and so it was so bright we could almost read in its light. By dawn, we were closing on Xclak and it was decision time. Xclak's entry is a 150' wide cut in the reef and a challenge in most weather. But with 22 knot winds and seas blowing straight in, I wasn't at all comfortable. So I called in to the North-West Caribbean Cruisers Net on the SSB. There are a number of nets operating in the Caribbean and southern US. In the Bahamas we checked in with Cruiseheimers net when underway. Its a safety and information thing. In this area the NW Caribbean net operates at 8 am each day at 6209 kHz. When underway you call in your position, weather and anything else of interest. And if you have a question, you ask it. So I asked for advice on entering Xclak under the present conditions. I got lots of responses, unanimous in their advice that it would be impossible. So, we decided to head to Belize and throw ourselves on the mercy of the officials for arriving without a Zarpe. San Pedro is the forst town in Belize you come to when sailing south. And again it is behind the reef with a pass through. I have been through the pass a number of times in diving boats and in good weather, but not in strong easterlies. So as we approached I called on the VHF for any boat in San Pedro for information on the pass. Again we were told it was impossible, with seas breaking right across. So on we went, another 25 miles south to the main ships entrance to Belize City. This is an all weather entrance, and arriving at it in mid-afternoon, the wind lightened, so as we sailed in between Goff's Cay and English Cay. As it was getting late, we just sailed in the dying breeze up behind Spanish Lookout Cay where we anchored for the night. Next morning, Tuesday, we sailed 10 miles across to Belize's only real marina, Cucumber Beach. It is located about 5 miles outside Belize City on the Western Highway. Project number one was to check in, and the marina arranged for the officials to come out. This cost us US$40 per boat in Mexico, but in Belize there was no charge. First came Customs, and a US$40 fee for a taxi ride. When we explained the absence of a Zarpe, he just shrugged and asked us to write a short note explaining it. No problem, mon! Then came Immigration and Agriculture. More papers exchanged, and this time US$40 for each of them for taxi. When we pointed out they came in the same cab, they gave us a "deal"... US$60 for both. No receipts issued. We knew ewe were being scammed, but had been told that everyone pays. So by noon, three of four officials had been paid off. Finally Health came, sat down and filled out more forms. I think he was new as he was a bit confused about how much to ask. In the end we paid him US$30... a deal! after we were checked in, we hopped on a bus for Belize City and for $0.50, we were in Belize City a half hour later. Arriving at a stop near the town center we hopped off and walked through the busy streets crowded with every manner of transport, all spewing smoke and honking horns. Arriving at the swing bridge man powered) we bought some local fruit at the market, tried some weird berries that were very bitter, then headed through town towards the Raddison Hotel where I stayed when in Belize on business. It is an oasis of calm in the noisy city and we enjoyed cold drinks on the patio looking out over the harbor. Then back to the marina where we had supper at the restaurant. Excellent Beliezian dishes! Tomorrow we're off north. The forecast is for an extended period of light (less than 15 knots) winds, so we'll head back up to visit San Pedro, which we bypassed on the way down.