02 March 2014
Belize offers great sailing opportunities. There are dozens of cays and they lie behind a coral reef, the second longest in the world. This provides calm, protected areas for cruising. Depending on the wind direction, you choose the cay you wish to visit and away you fly. Trouble is, you also have to look at the anchorages you are heading for. The outer cays are very small and the seas can wrap around creating rolly and uncomfortable conditions.
Jim and I were a bit tired of the rolly anchorage at Placencia so we decided to set sail in the brisk NE winds and head for Tom Owens Cay. The sailing was fantastic! Winds were blowing around 20 knots but coming from our beam. Our destination was 18 miles away. About halfway there the seas and winds picked up even more. I thought that it might be a good idea to look at our guide book and see what it says about the anchorage.
Oh oh! It saysÂ' no protection in NE windsÂ'. Damn! We turned the boat around and headed back the way we came, only now we were beating into the wind and making very slow headway. We altered our course more to the south, and enjoyed a more comfortable sail to Harvest Cay, only 4 miles from Placencia. What a great little spot! We had the island to ourselves. The holding was good and it was nice and calm.
We returned back to Placencia the next morning for some more ice cream at Tutti Frutti and signed up for the Monkey River Tour with 5 other cruisers. Our panga picked us up at 8:15 AM and took us over to Monkey Town. On our excursion we saw a crocodile, turtles, birds and lots of howler monkeys. Our guide, Percy, was very knowledgeable about the plant life and their medicinal properties. He taught us a lot, I only wish I could remember some of it in case I ever participate in some kind of survivor show. Following a great lunch, we headed back to Placencia, stopping to watch manatees as they fed on the sea grass.
The following day we took off for Blue Ground Range with our friends from Scott Free. We spent a relaxing afternoon and explored the area by dinghy. The next day we sailed to Tobacco Cay. We kept a close watch in front to avoid the coral heads and Scott Free followed close behind. We draw 5 feet and they draw 6.5 feet and we can warn them early if the waters are getting too shallow. Tobacco Cay is another Belizian jewel. Its almost joined to the outer coral reef system and there is excellent snorkelling nearby. As we motor sailed to the Cay we were hailed by our friends on Free Will, Ernst and Joke. We had not seen them since last year in Mexico. They decided to join us at Tobacco Cay. That night we opted to stay put even though our guide book recommends daytime anchorage only. We had no problems that night as the weather conditions were so good.
The southern anchorage at Tobacco Range was our next stop. After leaving Tobacco Cay in good light, we meandered our way carefully to the southwest corner of Tobacco Range. The entrance to the protected cove in the mangroves is very narrow and shallow because of the sand bar and shoals to each side. We led the way in for our buddy boats and the shallowest we found was 7 feet. Scott Free found an even shallower spot but managed to push their way through. Inside the waters were deep and the holding excellent. It was very pretty and we did some snorkelling in the mangroves. Jim had a great encounter with a manatee.
In the afternoon we hailed a passing boat full of Belizian fishermen. We were able to trade 3 gallons of gas for 8 conch. Everyone was happy with the deal, except perhaps Jim, who got to spend time cleaning them, a slimy and time consuming job. I made conch cerviche and froze the remainder for future use in conch fritters. It was a busy day of diving, swimming, exploring and visiting friends and finally it was time to head to bed, watch a movie and get a good sleep.
Just before midnight, Jim starts yelling about a boat banging alongside. Oh God! Pirates! As we leapt out of bed we could hear repeated clumping and banging noises on our deck! We were terrified and brave at the same time. I started knocking on the port light and shouting and Jim got his light and bravely headed up the companionway, unarmed and naked, to confront the enemy. By then I had a visual on the culprit. It was a fish that had jumped out of the water and onto our deck. Took awhile for our hearts to slow down and get back to sleep.
The next morning Scott Free left for a dinner engagement in Placencia. We wanted to stay out longer and enjoy the settled weather. We set off for Spruce Cay. Jim looked it up in our Rauscher guide and it described the island as being surrounded by coral reefs. This boded well for snorkelling. The entrance to the anchorage was tricky as we had to wind our way carefully around the coral heads. Good light is a necessity at this location! It took a couple of attempts to anchor. At first we tried our normal routine and threw the hook in what appeared to be 20 feet of sand. Emerald Seas dragged right away and we ended up motoring beyond the shallow hump and anchored in 50 feet of water. Snorkelling here was fantastic! Healthy corals, lots of small fish, eagle rays and stingrays. We definitely look forward to coming back to this spot next time there are settled weather conditions.
Lark Cay was next on our list. This area had interesting mangrove passages to explore and we found good snorkelling on a small coral reef, the highlight being the octopus I found out in the open. Joke had never seen one before and was a bit reluctant to come near it, but Jim took her hand and dragged her over to see it.
The next morning we sailed to Placencia, a short trip but a great sail. It was time for us to visit customs for our month extension and buy more food. Joke and Ernst from Free Will were going to check out of Belize and head to Guatemala. Our friends on Scott Free had found the weather window they were looking for and had motored all the way to Utilla. Already we have connected with more cruisers with similar plans. Peter and Joyce, aboard Minx, a 36 foot Nauticat, might tag along with us. They are from Vancouver Island and spend their summers in Errington, only a short distance from our home.
We are not sure what our schedule will be like for the next while. We are getting Emerald Seas ready for departure and paying lots of attention to the weather. We may head to Lighthouse Reef and then wait there for a good weather window to take us to Utilla or we might sail from Southwater Cay to Utilla in a norther if itÂ's a nice norther with no squalls.
As always, life is good aboard Emerald Seas!