24/02/2015/3:24 pm, Quamina Cay, Belize
What a great feeling to be in the water again - and in such a gorgeous place. We followed Peter and Mary (Rendezvous) to Quamina Cay where they said the snorkeling was fine. And it was!
My one regret about Sapodilla lagoon was that we didn't feel quite comfortable swimming there. Although many folks did, the reports of crocodiles in the canals were enough to keep us out. Peter had seen one, and when we checked with Bonifacio, he said there was a big one near the marina. Thinking that perhaps they didn't venture out into the lagoon proper, I asked him if he thought swimming was ok. His smiling response, "Weeeellll, you cooooouuuuld, but not on my say so" was the clincher. No swimming for me.
So it was a delight to find Quamina. It's a cay we hadn't even heard about before although it is marked on the charts just SW of the Pelican Cays. It's a day anchorage only and good light is essential (and Peter's "Turn now. Don't go that way. Head straight for us." directions sure helped. We started a track on the chart and marked some waypoints so we can get in there again. (You may be able to see how glorious it is by checking google earth with the latitude and longitude of this posting - see the links in the sidebar.) There are numerous peaks and valleys in the sea bottom here so we went quickly from 80 ft to 10 ft and were perched on a little plateau.
Once Jim checked the anchor and we stayed aboard a half hour to make sure we were settled, we grabbed our fins and snorkels and headed around to the east side of the cay where Peter and Mary had gone. In this pic, Jim (with snorkel hair, not bedhead) is a contented man after emerging from a swim among corals and fishes, with nearby pelicans splashing into the water doing their best to catch their dinners.
While I have yet to find coral as beautiful as I remember from North Long Cocoa two years ago (I'm beginning to wonder if I imagined it, but the blog postings show that I raved about it at the time!) there was a wonderful variety of tubes and fans and feathery plumes and brain coral. We drifted around for an hour, just loving being in the sea with aquarium style fish - neon blue ones and yellow stripey ones, tiny silvery ones that flitted by in schools and bigger fish that circled around to have a look at us. I hovered over a puffer fish that was well and truly puffed as he lay on the bottom, and avoided the area where Mary said she had seen a couple of barracudas big enough to be intimidating. We will go back again to snorkel the line of coral that stretches a mile and a half along the western edge of the cay. (That's the same line of coral that we had to work our way through before we could get close to the cay.)
We ate lunch and I had one more snorkel excursion off the boat and then, since this is a day anchorage only, it was time to move on. We followed our track back out through the coral bar and motored south until we move East through it again. Rendezvous anchored off Crawl Cay and we went in there to see what the possibilities were for anchoring with them, but there were too many shallows and coral heads and too little room, so we left and went to our original destination - Lagoon Cay. That turned out to be a fine spot - at least until 2 am!
We enjoyed a gorgeous evening, watching more pelicans go crash-splashing into the water all along the edge of the cay. Those birds must have short lives with all those dives. They are not streamlined like gulls and terns. They look like they are making belly flops with great splashes of water before they emerge and swallow. The BBQ king cooked a fine pork tenderloin and I made garlic mashed potatoes and a broccoli salad. We sat in the cockpit for a long time, watching the sky, identifying stars and planets with the help of my iPad Sky Guide (Venus and Mars are really close together right now) and I watched a glorious shooting star go soaring across the sky - long long tail streaming out behind.
It was only when the wind picked up and the swells started curling in around the south side of the cay that we wished we had moved a little farther in to anchor on the innermost bar instead of opting for the outer one - where we thought we would have more room for emergency maneuvering if necessary. It was not necessary thank goodness! We endured the rock and roll till morning and then detached ourselves and headed south to Placencia. That same wind gave us a perfectly wonderful sail south - time to restock and connect with the world again for a couple of days.
24/02/2015/3:18 pm, Sapodilla Lagoon, Belize
It was our first dinghy raft up!
Six of us (crews, that is) gathered in an open area among the boats at 5 o'clock one evening, lashed our dinghies together, and proceeded to pull out bottles and glasses and pass food laden platters from hand to hand. What fun it was! Someone brought homemade pizza; someone else brought yummy pepper/pimento eggy squares. We snacked on smoked oysters, cheese dip, sausages with mustard sauce, and downed our drinks of choice. It was such a fun way to meet new folks, eat, drink and chat while floating around in this lovely spot. I didn't have my camera with me, but Jim (Emerald Seas) took this fun shot as we enjoyed a spectacular sunset - behind the photographer!
We gathered on Emerald Seas for a potluck dinner one night, dining on loaded nachos, hearty chicken-vegetable soup, spice cake and Peter's famous maple-rum bananas flambé. There are some seriously good cooks on these boats! And as we visited back and forth from boat to boat for coffee and cold beverages, baked goods and simple munchies, I remembered for about the fiftieth time how much fun these impromptu gatherings are. All we need is something to snack on, something to drink and the desire to share stories and news with old friends and new. It can happen anywhere, anytime.
24/02/2015/3:14 pm, Sapodilla Cay, belize
We motor sailed north to Sapodilla Lagoon - a safe anchorage for the expected cold front due this week. We had heard other cruisers mention this spot but had never been in, and for some reason I had it in my mind that it was too shallow for us. Not so.
This is a lovely lagoon - and extremely well protected from wind from any direction. The fact that it is part of the mainland also makes it a really safe spot - with road access in case of emergencies. The waypoint in Freya Rauscher's book is just north of the entrance so we dropped our mainsail there and pointed the bow toward the shoreline. The book said to take a bead on Victoria peak on land, but there was a huge amount of smoke billowing around and obscuring the hills so that didn't work. Fortunately she also gave a bearing to follow - in this case, we steered a course of 268 degrees true until we passed the brown bar stretching from the point on the right, then turned to starboard and followed another bearing (325 degrees true) to take us past the bar on the port side. In the right light, these bars are easy to see too. The experience reminded me of earlier explorers making their way into new harbours. What did they do when their landmarks were obscured by smoke or cloud?
Once inside it was easy to follow the well-marked channel to find a good spot. Our friends on Scott Free and Emerald Seas were already there, along with two other boats, and we joined the line of deeper draft boats on the right of the channel. This is a large bay with a picturesque little island in the middle, and although much of it is shallow, there is room for quite a number of boats, especially shallow draft vessels. By the time the winds came, there were 9 of us here, with room for more.
We ended up spending 5 nights here - we got in a day before the front came through because we wanted to make sure we got a spot, and we stayed a day longer than was absolutely necessary because we saw no reason to bash against wind and waves to get back to Placencia when we could have a more enjoyable trip the next day. And it proved to be an excellent spot to stay out of the wind. While reports were of 2 and 3 foot seas outside and we registered 25 knot winds at the top of the mast, the boat hardly moved.
So what's Sapodilla Lagoon like? What did we do there?
We joined Scott Free and Emerald Seas on a dinghy exploration of mangrove-lined Cabbage Haul Creek that runs off the lagoon at the southern end. I bet an early morning trip would have been a better time for bird watching, but we did see some egrets and small herons fly away as we approached, and we had a great time slaloming through one section on the way back out.
On another day, Jim and I dinghied up the little creek heading north near our boat - and as Jim reported to the others, "We went along farther than it was passable!" Indeed, it was very overgrown and narrow in spots, and I was continually fending off the mangrove branches over our heads as Jim kept the outboard from getting caught in underwater roots. Those of you who know us will be able to picture me saying, "Just a little farther!" while Jim muttered under his breath and finally said, "Enough!" Truly it was far enough with an outboard - but it would be delightful in a kayak - and I know there is another lagoon in there somewhere waiting to be discovered.
A huge marina/housing development is experiencing on-again/off-again progress inland on the west side. The only really visible signs from the anchorage are the red and green navigational buoys through the lagoon and the red mud of the dredged entrance into the development. Of course, it begged for exploration as well.
Once through that channel, the unfinished marina is on the left. Large, solid docks with dozens of slips await completion. Some have cleats; a water tap is functional; fuel tanks are in the ground but not full. A security guard and dog are on duty all the time and we found them to be welcoming. We bought water, as did a few of the other boats and we were amused that the price fluctuated according to who was on duty. Madcap Jim paid Benjamin the most at 25 cents per gallon, while Emerald Seas Jim paid Louis 6 cents and we heard that someone else paid another guy 10. It would be worth negotiating! There is good deep water at the docks, so while the two Jims fetched water in jerry cans, Scott and Heather pulled the big boat right up to the long dock to fill their tanks.
A canal leads off to the right through the housing lots, past 4 or 5 completed houses (with airy centre structures with rooftop palapas and wings off to each side - one even with a "boatport" instead of a carport), and around to the beach area. A whole group of us pulled dinghies up on the edge of the canal to have a look at the pool, palapas and beach one day, and on another day Jim and I walked with Peter and Mary (Rendezvous) all the way along the mud-red road from the marina. This beach area fronts on the sea outside Sapodilla Lagoon and is picture perfect beautiful. The large sandy area below shady trees was groomed (we saw workers with rakes, and little tractors and wagons hauling away the kelp that washed up along the shore) and a half dozen people were enjoying the pool and lounge chairs. A well-designed and constructed (but empty) bar, and a closed restaurant were encircled by attractive plantings. Farther down the beach, we found several high-end tents on concrete platforms - "hotel rooms" maybe? Check out www.belizesanctuary.com for more information. (I also found a number of other sites with comments about the place. It is so lovely and there is such a good start, I do hope something continues to happen there.)
We chatted on our second trip with Bonifacio, the security guard, who was also very welcoming but who had few answers about when the place might be really open, and Jim struck up a conversation with a property owner who didn't have much more information but who said, "Come back any time." When we got back to the marina, both the tour boat that brings prospective guests/buyers to have a look, and the impressive motor yacht, Mariah, were at the dock and "Mr. Gordon" hailed us to ask how we liked the development. While he was probably a little disappointed that we hadn't been on the tour, he did agree that the sooner the marina gets open, the better. The whole place is a wonderful hurricane hole, but the dock would offer even more protection along with services to visiting cruisers.
There appears to be a bit of a "history" around the development with some bills unpaid and management changes so who knows what will really happen here.
Whatever happens to the development itself, the lagoon remains a lovely spot to spend an overnight or a few days - and you don't even have to wait for the excuse of a cold front to go there.