On Monday the weather seemed a bit better and we decided to follow instructions on how to enter the reef on the Western side to Half Moon Cay using the cruising guide "Belize and Mexico's Caribbean Coast" by Captain Freya Rauscher. This guide had been our main source of information for Belize. We were a bit concerned because to enter the reef and reach Half Moon bay, the book gave a way point and then a course - no way points in between. However, we decided to try it, with Maria and Daniel at the bow spotting for coral heads. We found the way point, set on the recommended course and marched forward but as we got closer to the entrance Maria begun to see the heads closer to the surface. It is hard to judge how close coral heads are so finally when they looked too close Maria shouted for Kim to stop. Unfortunately it was a bit too late and Kim continued on the course to bump over the first head. Thankfully he was able to get Kikuyu off rather easily and veered to the left where we found deeper water.
After his near run-aground/coral-head stuckness event, we decided to enter the reef to Half Moon Cay on the eastern side of the Lighthouse reef which offered a much wider entrance and less of a chance for error. This turned out to take nearly all day as we headed south to round the cay which is very long. The weather also turned bad as we were rounding its southern tip, with a head wind that gave us only 3-4 knots of speed. Fortunately, we got around safely, entered the reef with at least 14 feet of water under our bottom and anchored near Half Moon Cay with two other boats that were already at anchor. One of this boats, s/v Southern Cross, we had communicated with on our way to this reef. They came to introduce themselves soon after we anchor and we agreed to go ashore the next morning.
Half Moon Cay is a National Park where the Audobon Society has a chapter that is now run entirely by Belizeans. There is a small museum & information center and the man in charge told us that the Audobon Society's marine biologists were going to the Blue Hole to take samples of the water in the early afternoon. After talking with them and learning that Kikuyu's draft was too deep for us to safely navigate the many coral heads on the way to it, they agreed to let us ride with them to snorkel for a nominal fee. Daniel was allowed to dive and help them collect samples. Our lucky charm again shone on us with this opportunity.
Once we reached the Blue Hole, we could see the entire rim from our entrance point to the reef. It seemed a lot smaller than we had envisioned. We snorkeled around almost the entire ring, saw some wonderful coral fish and swam across its amazing deep blue water in the center that leads to its deepest part. After two hours we were ready to head back, very thankful for this awesome experience.
Finally, on Saturday after we felt comfortable that the alternator was working and charging the batteries we left Belize City for the second famous Atoll in Belize- Lighthouse reef. There are three atolls in the Western Hemisphere - one in Mexico (Banco Chinchorro) that we sailed passed and the other two in Belize that we visited - Glovers and Lighthouse reefs.
Our hope was to be able to go to the Blue Hole, an over 450 feet deep hole surrounded by a nearly perfect coral reef ring, and broken by 2 passages, each about 9 feet deep. From the air, blue hole is a fantastic sight. The indigo water of the Blue Hole forms a perfectly round ring, rimmed by living coral. Jaques Cousteau and his boat, The Calypso, explored this strange geological phenomena in 1972. His divers descended to 125 feet where they discovered a forest of underwater stalactites, implying that the blue hole was once a cavern above the water's surface.
There was a cold front that had been covering the region for at least two days and it was still creating very unstable and stormy weather. Because we did not have way points to enter the reef to Half Moon Bay, the island closest to the Blue Hole, we decided to anchor off a nearby by Cay, Long Cay. Thankfully this was a good decision because by late afternoon when we arrived the light was not as good to navigate safely through reefs. We spent 2 days in Long Cay waiting for the weather to turn. We tried to snorkel and swim but the visibility was poor due to the high winds.
We got up early on Wednesday and got underway toward Belize City at 5AM. We were hoping to clear customs quickly and take our alternator to an expert that had received great reviews from cruisers on the Western Caribbean SSB Net to which we listened in the mornings. The 35 nautical mile trip was short with one event - we caught a fish that we could not indentify. At first we thought it looked like a small shark and it seemed to behave like one as it fought fiercely to get off the hook. Kim brought it in slowly, pulled it up and we still could not identify it. We hesitated long enough for it to shake himself violently and off the hook -it took with him the hook and bait - it was a heavy fish. Later we showed a movie of it to a local fisherman who identified it as one of their best eating fish - a Cobia.
Arriving at 11AM to Belize City we spent some time contacting marinas listed on our cruisers' guide only to find out that they were too shallow for us to go into. We decided to anchor off Fort George Radisson Marina, an old marina taken over by the Radisson hotel that catered more to locals and dive boats. We were told that there were 7 feet of water at the dock so we picked up our anchor and tried to go into the marina but Kikuyu hit bottom (thankfully sand) twice in our attempts. So we re-anchored in 6.5 feet of water only to swing into the bottom - a final anchoring gave us 8 feet, facing the expanse bay formed by the Belize Great Barrier reef on the east and the land on the west. Once again, Kikuyu was the only boat at anchor, facing the incoming north wind which picked up to over 20 knots for two of the three days we were there. Nonetheless, we were able to sleep well as the wind was steady and Kikuyu was not rolling.
Clearing was indeed painful and expensive. Customs & health officials came to the marina and charged us not only for country entry fees but, also, for very expensive cab rides - this was their commission, we figured. However, besides these officials, the people in Belize City were very hospitable, friendly and helpful. We were asked if we needed help by several people who guessed that we had questions when we were trying to find the alternator guy - they were genuine in trying to help us. The alternator guy was very decent and charged a very modest amount for several hours of work rebuilding our generator - he did a great job at rebuilding it. And the guy running the Fort George marina was a wonderful and helpful man - he was surprised when we gave him a good tip upon departure.
Our stay in Belize City was occupied getting the alternator fixed, taking buses to a marine store, the supermarket and getting our laundry done. Daniel had a great place from which to do his schooling online - the lobby of the Radisson hotel. Though the city itself was run-down looking and not attractive, we left Belize City with a wonderful feel for the people. They were very nice to us and made our stay very comfortable.