BELIZE AND HONDURAS - SCUBA DIVING AT LAST!
24 May 2014
Some of our cruising buddies had abandoned us. Free Will headed to Guatemala and Scott Free took advantage of a short weather window and sailed to Utila. Jim and I were having so much fun in Belize that we decided to stay for a couple more weeks. We anchored in Sapodilla Lagoon to avoid some nasty weather, with the idea of sailing to Dangriga to check out of Belize when the squally weather passed. This plan failed miserably as the winds stayed out of the North, which meant that the trip to Dangriga would be straight into the wind and seas. Instead we had a brisk sail to Blue Ground Range, one of our favourite anchorages.
In the morning we chatted with our friends, Woody and Judy, from Lapis. They suggested we meet them over at Tobacco Cay and travel with them to the Turneef Islands. This sounded like a plan and Woody promised to guide us over and around the shallow spots between Tobacco Cay and Glory Cut. Part way through the trip Woody spotted a suspicious package floating in the water. It was a bundle of drugs and supposedly worth a huge amount of money. Some say finding a bundle is like winning a lottery but if the drug cartels ever found out that you took the drugs and sold them they would use their favoured form of retaliation and kill you. If the police found that you were selling the stuff, they would throw you in jail for a very long time. Woody made the decision to leave the stuff alone. Jim thinks that Woody is a big chicken.
After clearing Glory Cut, we enjoyed a great sail to Turneef Islands and then followed Lapis into Blue Creek which has a shallow spot of 5 feet at the entrance. We had no problems in the creek which opened up to a large lagoon. Woody and Judy led us all the way into the lagoon and to an area which has good holding. We would not have tried entering Blue Creek without Woody to encourage us!
While at Turneef, Jim and I took Emerald Seas back to Blue Creek and anchored on the west side of Turneef. We gathered up our dive gear and underwater cameras and dinghied over to one of the moorings nearby. We enjoyed a great dive and ventured out the next day for another. After spending a few days with Lapis it was time for Jim and I to leave. The trip was rougher than we expected but Emerald Seas sailed beautifully all the way to Sapodilla Lagoon. Here we persuaded our friends from Stoneage, John and Lucy, to drive us to Dangriga so we could check out. They were happy to do so, making it possible for us to leave for Utila the following day.
In the morning of Tuesday, March 18th, we motored to Southwater Cay and spent the afternoon relaxing and getting ready for our overnight trip to Utila. We headed out at 4:15 PM for an overnight motorsail. Sea conditions were benign and the moonlight made for a pleasant trip. As we rounded the north and east side of Utila, we saw dozens of dive boats heading out for the first dive of the day. Utila and Roatan are popular diving destinations and both islands have moorings for the use of dive boats. Cruisers such as ourselves were welcome to use them too.
Utila is a funky place with dozens of dive stores and hundreds of young people. These young people are like diving hippies, here for the cheap food, accommodations, pot, inexpensive diving and training. We fit right in!
From the moment we arrived in the Bay Islands our cruising focus switched to a scuba diving focus. We dove almost everyday and took thousands of pictures. We saw seahorses, shipwrecks, groupers, turtles, sponges, barracudas and dozens of divers underwater. We swam through beautiful underwater canyons and crevices in the coral reef. We had a fantastic time! We did about 50 dives and are looking forward to going back for more next year.
We used our dinghy most of the time and got the scuba cylinders filled at Roatan Divers located at West End. They filled our tanks for $5 and we could use their freshwater for rinsing our scuba gear, cameras and ourselves. We dove with our friend, Scott, and he was an amazing spotter. He pointed out a scorpion fish and a yellow seahorse. Since it was difficult to have three divers diving out of just one dinghy, Scott would follow us in his Fold-a-Boat. This worked well while it was calm but we had a near disaster when we went diving on a rough day. Scott and I surfaced after enjoying another wonderful dive and I got into our dinghy. Scott tried to get into his boat but things went wrong and a combination of waves, boat wake and Scott trying to get in his boat created a situation where the boat filled with water and was in danger of sinking. The engine was partly submerged. Frantic bailing was not helping. Luckily a dive boat came to the rescue and towed Scott┬'s boat to the dive shop.
The West End of Roatan offers a protected anchorage for cruisers as long as it does not blow from the West or the North. While there, the Marine Park officials were putting back the mooring balls that had been taken away a couple of years previously because of a dispute between Anthony┬'s Cay Resort (the owner was the mayor at that time) and the marine park. The new mayor is more supportive of sailboats and as a result, they have replaced the mooring balls. Everyday we would see turtles feeding on the turtle grass and sometimes dolphins would be around the boats.
A big norther was heading our way so it was time to leave the West End and go to French Cay Harbour, located on the south side of Roatan. The distance is about 15 miles and should take about three hours. On the morning of Saturday, April 5th, we headed out with Scott Free. As we rounded the SW corner of Roatan, the seas became very rough and the wind was right on the nose. Scott Free was ahead of us and it was awful to see her hobby horsing, knowing that we were going to be in the same situation soon.
We quickly realized that the combination of sea and wind would mean slow going for Emerald Seas. Jim changed our angle to the wind and we were able to motor sail and be more comfortable at the same time. Scott Free┬'s engine is three times bigger than our own and they were able to plow through the seas easily until disaster struck and their engine quit. We were able to sail into Coxen┬'s Hole and anchor so that they could fix the fuel problem. The anchorage was much nicer than we expected and we were able to watch jets flying over us and landing at the airport.
After about two hours, Scott and Heather had changed the fuel filters and it was time to continue our trip to French Cay. Seas were a bit rougher and the wind was blowing briskly, but with only 7 miles to go before our destination, it should be a piece of cake. However, we had not travelled very far before Heather radioed to us, advising that their engine had quit again! We were able to sail into Dixon Cove and anchor near the ferry dock. Nearby was a little marina and they sent a mechanic over to lend a hand. Since it was getting late, we opted to spend the night where we were.
In the morning we headed back to sea again. Winds were in the mid twenties and the seas were worse. We only had 4 miles to go. I was dreading every mile, worried that Scott Free┬'s engine would quit or that our engine would start having fuel problems too. Instead, we had an uneventful but exciting ride to French Cay Harbour, our home for the next few weeks while we await the arrival of my stepson, Sandy and his wife Renei.
While at French Cay Harbour, we stayed at Fantasy Island Resort Marina. Jerry, the marina manager, made us very welcome and there were lots of activities to enjoy. Hamburger night, sundowner night, help yourself bar, monkeys, peacocks, swimming pool, internet and scuba diving. Jim and I checked out the Fantasy Island Dive Shop and signed up to go on their dive charters. Cost was $25/dive and they provided towels, fresh fruit and water. The diving was excellent but we did get a bit tired of looking at all the scuba divers underwater as they clustered, swam, sank and kicked up the bottom. We soon learned to drag our heals and follow as slowly and as far behind as possible.
Provisioning in the Bay Islands was very good. Eldon┬'s Supermarket had just about everything we needed. Beer and wine were inexpensive, especially when compared to the high prices in Belize. We had fresh water delivered by a water truck because the water at the marina was very salty.
Sandy and Renei arrived for their week vacation on April 19th. The very next morning, Sandy and Jim went scuba diving while Renei and I went kayaking. Our kayaking trip started with my kayak sinking and having to drag it ashore. I found a replacement kayak that was a bit more seaworthy and Renei and I explored the bay in front of the hotel and then kayaked towards Emerald Seas. Renei, although a bit nervous, was willing to explore further so we decided to go all the way around Fantasy Island. The clouds were black and nasty looking and before long we were getting drenched by a tropical downpour. We tried to stay dry under the bridge that joins Fantasy Island to Roatan but were unsuccessful. Soaked through but still cheerful, we continued on and completed our circumnavigation.
We totally enjoyed our time with Renei and Sandy. In the mornings, Jim, Sandy and I would go diving while Renei enjoyed some quiet time with her book or ventured out to talk with other tourists. Afternoons were spent exploring Fantasy Island, swimming and visiting the monkeys, peacocks, iguanas and other animals that were on the island. Easter Sunday was a cruiser event at Brooksey Point. A ham dinner with all the trimmings followed by dancing made for a very fun night. Halfway through the week, we sailed in light breezes but flat calm conditions back to West End. We took Sandy on a bunch more dives and enjoyed the restaurants and bars in the area.One of our favourite restaurants featured an all you can eat brunch which included unlimited champagne or mimosas for $15. On our last morning together, we walked along the beach at West Bay and then sat and enjoyed some margaritas before heading back to Emerald Seas for lunch.
We remained in the West End for another two weeks, enjoying more diving and good times with fellow cruisers. Another restaurant at West End had excellent rotisserie chicken and homemade cinnamon buns. Customers would line up to buy them at 4 PM, just as they came out of the oven. It was hard to leave those cinnamon buns behind and set sail for Utila but our cruising season was coming to a close and it was time to move on.
Back in Utila we signed up to go diving with Eldon┬'s Dive Shop. There are two morning dives and the first one is always on the north side of Utila. Between dives, the captain would take us out to sea and try locate whale sharks. No whale sharks were sighted but the diving was great!
All good things come to an end and it was now time to catch the next weather window and sail to Guatemala. There were about seven boats heading in the same direction and we hooked up with De Capo, Leonie and Arn, as a buddy boat. They had not been to Guatemala before so we were able to help them by giving them GPS waypoints and sharing our experiences regarding checking into Guatemala.
We left Utila on Tuesday, May 13 at 11:00 AM, bound for Tres Puntas, Guatemala, 110 nautical miles away. The trip took 20 hours and we sailed most of the way with E-NE winds at 12- 15 knots and following seas. Weather was sunny when we left and at night we had a full moon to sail by. What a fantastic way to finish our cruising season. We were anchored before 9:30 AM and spent the day relaxing and reading. We went to bed early that night because we had to be underway to the Rio Dulce at 5:00 AM in order to catch the high tide for crossing the bar.
During the night the winds started to blow from a westerly direction which just happens to be the worst direction possible if you are anchored at Tres Puntas. By 2:00 AM we were bouncing up and down at anchor and some boats were dragging. I moved into the main salon in the hopes of a better sleep and Jim followed soon afterwards. We pulled anchor and were away by 5:30, winds on the nose as we motored across to the shallow bar at the Rio Dulce entrance.
Check in at Livingston went smoothly and after enjoying lunch ashore, we motored up the beautiful Rio Dulce. By early evening we were anchored in front of Tortugal Marina and listening to the loud cries of welcome from some of our cruising friends who had arrived before us. It was great to be back!
Already we are looking forward to next season in the Western Caribbean. The only thing that went wrong this season was our refrigeration system. It gave us a bit of trouble in December but after some servicing it worked faithfully till our last week in Roatan and we have made the decision to replace the old system with a newer one. My stove top burners are wearing out and if they cannot be repaired we will have to replace it.
We have less than a week left in Guatemala before flying home on June 2nd. Jim is installing the new anchor winch that we bought 2 years ago. He was surprised to discover that the old winch was in worse shape than he expected. The lower housing and seals were shot. I am busy cleaning and organizing Emerald Seas and packing up our bags. Each day the cruising population gets less and less here on the river as more people are flying home for the summer. The staff at Tortugal Marina get tearful when they say goodbye. They have become good friends to us and we know that they will look after our boats well while we are away.
What a great year and what a wonderful world we live in! We are fortunate to be able to experience this part of the world together. Jim and I have much to be thankful for!