MEXICO AND BELIZE
20 April 2013
Isla Mujeres, Mexico, is a lovely place to spend time as a cruiser. There is a Cruiser's net on VHF Channel 13 with weather and social announcements to start your day, everyday. There is live music at the bars and the party starts at 6:00 PM. Lucky for most of us, the band finishes by 8:00 PM, allowing most of us partiers (also known as: senior citizens and senior citizen wannabes) to get some sleep.
My step-son, Sandy (Dave) and his wife, Renei joined us here for a week over Easter. We were docked at the Marina Paraiso so we could enjoy the pool, bar and hot showers during their visit. From here, we can walk to town and enjoy the restaurants close by. Sandy and Jim went scuba diving and saw a bunch of underwater sculptures- the big highlight of their trip wasn't the diving but the sunburns they came back with.
We booked a trip to Isla Contoy, a national park located just north of Isla Mujeres. It was a fantastic trip. The tour boat took us to the Cancun side to pick up more guests and then dropped us off in the middle of the ocean so that we could snorkel/flounder with about two hundred other tourists. A few fish were spotted. This ordeal was eventually over and we were on our way to the Isla Contoy.
Arriving at the island, the first thing we saw was a shark and a ray swimming in pristine, beautiful waters. Frigate birds were flying everywhere. We went around to the back of the island and came to a perfect, sandy beach. The waters were crystal clear and blue. It was paradise! There were a few other boats at the dock but it did not feel crowded. Once ashore, we went swimming and exploring. Our tour of the island would come after lunch. At one end of the beach there were barbecues and tables set up. Fishermen were cleaning their catch and preparing salsa, chicken and fish. The chicken and fish were covered in lime juice and marinated before going on the barbecue. Everything looked very tasty! And I am happy to tell you that everything was delectable!
After enjoying our meal and all the free beer we wanted, we went on the island tour. We saw a frigate bird nesting colony with newly hatched and very hungry fledglings in the nests. Great outing and we highly recommend it to everybody.
After Sandy and Renei flew back to Calgary, Jim and I sailed down to El Cid Marina near Puerto Morelos. The marina was very protected by a huge breakwater. The downside of the breakwater was that it also protected us from the prevailing winds. It was hot and windless on the docks. Lucky for us we have a portable air conditioner. The El Cid Marina is part of a resort complex and as guests of the marina, we were allowed to enjoy their beautiful pool and use their bikes to explore the area.
Our friend, Bil Philips, who lives in Tulum, came down for a visit. Bil is an avid underwater cave explorer and very well known for his extensive explorations under the Yucatan. He brought us up to date with his latest adventures. It was a real pleasure having him aboard.
We met other cruisers at the marina, some heading north and some heading south. Anton and Rita, aboard their 40 foot, Nordhavn trawler, were going to be leaving for Belize on the same weather window as ourselves. Together we enjoyed a three day trip southwards. The first leg was easy with a short trip to Cozumel. The Gulf Stream current flows northward at speeds of up to 3 knots. By hugging the reef along the mainland coast of Mexico, we were able to ride a back eddy all the way to Puerto Adventures. From there we made a beeline straight over to Cozumel. We anchored right next to Papa Hogs Dive Centre. It was very tempting to stay for a couple days and do some diving but the weather window we had was short and we still had a couple hundred miles to go before San Pedro, Belize.
BELIZE-ONLY A FEW HUNDRED MILES TO GO.....
We departed Cozumel at 2 AM and darted across to the mainland coast to could avoid the current. This strategy worked very well for us and we made it to Bahia de la Ascencion in the early afternoon. This was a beautiful bay but the anchorage was rougher than we expected because of the southerly wind direction and the long fetch over the bay. Next morning it was another 2 AM departure. We had moonlight to help us on our way. By early afternoon we arrived at the Chinchorra Banks where we were promptly hailed by the Mexican Army. They approached us at full speed with their military boat and circled us again and again while they talked to us on the radio. After asking us what our ages were, they gave us permission to go to the Chinchorra Banks anchorage. I guess being old is not such a bad thing, if that is why they allowed us to stay.
A few minutes after tying up we were boarded by two heavily armed, but friendly and polite soldiers. They checked our papers, searched for drugs and welcomed us to Chinchorra Banks. The area is so beautiful that we were tempted to stay an extra day so that we could explore it further. However, our weather window was not improving so we had to leave at 2 AM the next morning. We were able to sail the entire way from the Banks to San Pedro. It was a bit slower going for Albatross. We got to the San Pedro Pass at 1:30 PM. This gave us perfect lighting conditions for entering this tricky pass. Once inside and anchored, we were able to describe the entry conditions to Albatross so they knew what to expect. They made it through with no difficulties. After checking in to Belize, we enjoyed a nice dinner at the Hurricane.
The waters of Belize are very shallow. Our 5 foot draft allows us to cruise most areas. The cruising guide to Belize and Mexico's Caribbean Coast, written by Captain Freya Rauscher is excellent. We had the Third Edition and it included a lot of very useful waypoints. The charts on our GPS did not align with all the Cays. This is an area where eyeball navigation is a must. There are lots of reefs and sandbars to avoid. The guidebook was invaluable. Before leaving Mexico we had spent time with cruisers who had already visited Belize. They were able to share with us their experiences. They pinpointed their favourite islands and gave us the location of the best hurricane holes. We took full advantage of Sapodilla Lagoon when Chris Parker warned of coming convective squalls with winds in squalls expected to be greater than 40 knots. The nasty weather came just as predicted and we were very safe and secure in the lagoon. Other boats in other areas of Belize were not so lucky.
Sapodilla Lagoon is the location of a developing community called Sanctuary Belize. The dock master, John, and his wife, Lucie made us and other cruisers very welcome. They allowed us to use the facilities for picnics and for a pot luck dinner. We were treated to a tour of the area and were amazed at all the work that goes into creating such a huge complex. We were there to watch the new pool get filled with water. Next year we hope to be swimming in that pool and enjoying a nice meal at their restaurant which is currently under construction.
Sailing in Belize was excellent. The winds were favourable and the extensive reef system protected us from the waves. Snorkeling was very good. We saw eagle rays, followed a sting ray all over the reef and watched him eat, and came across a couple of sleeping nurse sharks. Scuba diving was disappointing as the inside waters were too shallow and the outside reefs were often too rough. We did one dive at South Water Cay and it was beautiful. The diving towards the south side of Belize looks very good and we plan on enjoying more of that next season. Hopefully we will find a couple of other buddy boats with avid scuba divers. The outside reefs are very isolated. Two dinghies anchored on the outside reef increases the safety factor.
Grocery shopping in Belize was not as good as I expected. We like to buy lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. We found the quality to be very poor. Bananas, one of Jim's favorites, were really terrible. They were sold individually and were overripe. Perhaps they export all the good ones. Tomatoes were excellent. Carrots were not. We did find some good broccoli. In the town of Placencia they had the best ice cream on the planet. The store is called Tutti Frutti and the owner makes all the fresh Italian ice cream daily. The dark chocolate is amazing! We went there often and are looking forward to enjoying more of their ice cream next season.
Life is good! Next stop is Guatemala!