28 September 2020 | New Braunfels, Texaa
10 June 2020 | RAM Marina - Rio Dulce
19 May 2020 | The Reserve Marina in Sapodilla Lagoon in Belize
26 March 2020 | Placencia Harbor
22 February 2020 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
27 December 2019 | 950 Gruene Place Dr. New Braunfels Texas
12 October 2019 | 950 Gruene Place Dr. New Braunfels Texas
12 August 2019 | Newe Braunfels, Texas
08 May 2019 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
27 February 2019 | Roberts Grove Marina and Resort
25 January 2019 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
10 December 2018 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
04 October 2018 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
09 August 2018 | Palenque - Mexico
30 June 2018 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
04 June 2018 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
03 April 2018 | River Ranch RV Resort - New Braunfels, Texas
17 January 2018 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
29 November 2017 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
13 October 2017 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
Experiencing the Covid-19 Virus and Election Fever in Texas
28 September 2020 | New Braunfels, Texaa
Bert Dorrestyn | Partly Sunny but very windy
In our last blog written on June 10, 2020 I described how we, after a long wait were allowed to enter Guatemala. So, it is a long time ago that I wrote a blog. The reason for this big gap is that after we returned in Guatemala we came in more relaxed state of mind after living for 4 months in uncertainty what to do with the boat in the approaching hurricane season. The Rio Dulce in Guatemala is the most safest hurricane location to store our boat in the entire Caribbean and RAM Marina is for us the best; it is like coming home and putting ourselves in the care of our daughter Karen, the manager of the marina. We knew that we could fly back to the USA and that we have a beautiful new home waiting for us in Texas.
The first 2 weeks in Guatemala we were in quarantine with the boat in a Mediterranean mooring 6 feet from the pier and no access to land. Mediterranean mooring, also known as “med mooring”, is a technique for mooring a vessel to a pier at a perpendicular angle. The ship thus occupies less space as it is connected to a fixed length of pier along the width rather than its length. This mooring gives you no privacy since there is only a foot separation between boats. We expected that we would have to be on anchor in an isolated area in the Rio Dulce Golfette and we had for over 3 weeks of food and other necessities on board. We did not need a lot of help, but the marina staff was the entire day available to help us and supply us with whatever we needed. The health authorities came to check on us on a regular basis and that could only be accomplished by us hanging from the back of the boat and the nurse reaching as far as possible from the pier. It was every time a hilarious event.
There was a lot of confusion what would happen at the end of the quarantine time. We knew that we had to be checked and get a certification of health before we could leave the boat. We waited the entire morning and no health authorities. In the late afternoon Karen, de marina manager took both Dorothy and me together with our neighbors Sabrina and Tom from s/v Honey Rider by car to the health clinic in town and we received the certificate of health and could move to a normal location in the marina. Some people were disturbed by this special service, but what can you say when your daughter is in charge.
We moved to our typical and favorite spot opposite the fuel dock and started to prepare the boat for the “Hard”. Going the hard means that the boat gets hauled out of the water and put on stands. We installed the window A/C and the humidifier which both can be used on the hard. We ordered some repairs jobs and installations. The biggest one was the replacement of our awning which covers the entire boat. We took the sails down, cleaned the boat and stored many items inside. We topped off the diesel fuel tank and polished the fuel with a system we purchased last year after a lot of problems with contaminated fuel and a dirty tank.
The past years we were experiencing problems with the electricity on board. We had an indirect lightning strike and many items started to give problems. During our stay in Belize the wind generator began to make a lot of noise and produced only limited power for the batteries. We shut it down and ordered a new one. However, the biggest problem is that we are losing a lot of voltage in our wires from the battery to the equipment on board. When we return to the boat some time in the autumn I intend to replace all the wiring and install new switch and breaker panels. This is a very big job and there is a lot of money needed for the materials, but nothing is cheap on an offshore sailing vessel. I started the job before we put the boat on the hard to get an inventory of what we need to buy in the USA and take back to the boat.
We stayed in the water as long as possible so we could use our own shower and bathroom facilities instead of the public marina facilities. When we went on the hard we rented a room with private bathroom in one of the cabanas in RAM Marina and this made it also more convenient to organize and clean the boat on the inside.
We left on July 7, 2020 to Guatemala City to catch the next day the repatriation flight back to the USA. Since no public transportation was available we made the trip by taxi. The taxi driver needed to be back the same day in the Rio Dulce before the curfew time of 6:00PM. The taxi picked us up 15 minutes after the end of the morning curfew time of 5:00AM. The trip was different as we were used to, very light traffic and no buses on the road and we made it in less than 6 hours. We arrived in the hotel in Guatemala City at 10:00AM and since we were the only guests in the hotel we could check in and get our room. Driving through the city was weird, the normally very crowded and busy city was nearly empty. Restaurants were closed and only outside pick-up was allowed. In the hotel we could eat our picked-up food in the empty unused restaurant which made it convenient. The hotel has a “Beauty Salon” which was closed, but the lady of the reception desk (the only employee in the hotel) called a stylist who arrived an hour later and she did Dorothy’s hair.
The next day the hotel paid Uber drove us to the nearly empty airport, with about 100 passengers for the morning flight to “New Jersey” and about 50 passengers for the “Houston” flight. After the New Jersey flight left it was very empty in the airport. The only flights that could leave are so called “repatriation flights” with special permission from the government of Guatemala and these fights arrive empty from the USA. Arriving in Houston was special again since the normal very busy airport was very quiet. The other special ‘event’ was that the security dog in the arrival hall smelled our half-eaten salami sandwich and after a serious reprimand we were sent to the special customs desk where the remainder of our food was confiscated.
Our daughter Dominique and our granddaughters Kristin and Katelynn picked us up from the airport and drove us home to our new house where we lived for 4 months last year. It was great to be home, but we needed to get used to the new world of Covid-19 Virus. We planned to play it safe and did not visit people or invite people including our family. After a couple of weeks, we started to relax a little and now we are still careful but live our normal lives. At 4:50AM I go to the swimming pool in the New Braunfels City Recreation facility called “DAS Recreation Center”. When I return we drink a cup of tea with a slice of raisin bread and we make an intensive 4 miles walk in our neighborhood. We signed up for private Latin American Dance lessons and two times a week we dance with our very young 18-year-old beautiful dance instructor Sarah.
My first project was to complete the construction of our patio on the backside of the house and put some nice partly self-made furniture there. We planted 3 Italian Cyprus Trees in the back yard and filled the nice flowerpots that our friends Kitty and Kurt brought for us from Mexico with flowering plants.
When I was working in the garage on our patio furniture an older gentleman stopped and ask me if I could restore an antique rocking chair which was made by his wife’s grandfather. After some hesitations I told him to bring the chair and I would see if I could do this job. Long story short I am now already for a month working every day a couple of hours on this chair and have a great time doing it.
We have a large window above our front door which we did not like. We asked a stained-glass designer to design for us a window with a sailboat feature. After some line designs he created a color design that we liked a lot and he created a wonderful stained-glass window and installed it for us. See our album for the pictures.
We have a long list of parts we need for our boat and items that need to be repaired. We visited a shop in Kemah for the items for the water maker and the repair of other parts. It is unbelievable but after 2 months’ waiting we still do not have the things we need new and/or repaired. The virus is the typical excuse given for these issues, but for us it is hard to believe. We live in a small new neighborhood with only custom build homes. At this moment 5 of these homes are under construction and we see daily how the hardworking people are doing their job. I talk a lot with these people and it is good to practice my Mexican Spanish.
Coming back to the USA always includes doctor visits. I needed to have some checkup about conditions and development that last year became an issue during my yearly checkup. Fortunately, everything was fine and I only need to return for another checkup next year. Despite a lot of pain treatments last year for my neck issue with very limited neck movement and a lot of pain the problem only became worse and there was no treatment available. My son advised me to take “Glucosamine with Chondroitin” capsules and to my big surprise these have reduced the pain and gave me a lot of mobility again. I had to see two eye doctors, one for a regular checkup of my corneal transplant and a retina specialist for surgical removal of a wrinkle on the retina of my left eye. The surgery went well, but as a side effect due the glaucoma tubes in my eye I lost all the pressure. This is a dangerous condition and although I use stronger eye drops than usual the pressure is not coming back yet.
Up to today it was a very active hurricane season this year and the suffering of people and destruction of property some of the hurricanes caused became personal for us. Before we knew that the Government of Guatemala allowed us to enter the country one of our options called “Plan B” was to store our boat in “The Reserve Marina” in Sapodilla Bay in Belize. It was and expensive option since we had to pay our Boat Insurance an additional premium of $1,950.00 to leave the boat there. In hindsight it was a good choice to not use this option since hurricane “Nana” hit Belize as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph with its center close to the lagoon and the marina. Buildings at the marina were destroyed and one boat sank.
Tropical Storm Beta coursed major flooding in Houston again which delayed the repair and delivery of some parts in marine repair facilities in Kemah. Friends of us have their home base in Louisiana and the area where they live was hit by Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm, and tied with the 1856 “Last Island” hurricane as the strongest storm to make landfall in Louisiana.
Hurricane Teddy brought tropical storm strength winds and 30+ foot waves to Bermuda and friends of us who are from Bermuda sent us pictures and a video how the waves came on land and flooded their swimming pool and backyard. Hurricane Paulette made landfall in Bermuda as a Category 2 hurricane but luckily caused only minor damage.
With the Presidential elections coming close, our county becomes more and more a banana republic. It started in 2016 when we started to discredit the outcome of the elections and the status now is that the outcome of a future election is already discredited. Riots in the street are called peaceful protests, while peaceful protests are disturbed by rioters and sometimes armed rioters. The irresponsible and sometimes criminal behavior of a few police officers is now a reason to ask for defunding of police departments in large cities. Respect for opposite opinions are gone and if you express your opinion you are a socialist/communist or on the other side a racist. The most extreme example of this idiotic society is the call by the speaker of the House of Representatives to have an Impeachment of the President one month before the Presidential elections. Our system of our country is based on a form of the “Separation of Powers with Executive, Legislative and Judicial independent branches. Since the early 70th this system in not working anymore since the Judicial Independence is gone with judges who are representatives of political parties and ridiculous and disgusting accusations are now the most important part of the conformation process of judges.
It becomes very urgent and important to us to leave and go back to our boat where we can live a normal life and we hope we can leave soon.
We can return to the Rio Dulce
10 June 2020 | RAM Marina - Rio Dulce
Bert Dorrestyn | Hot and Humid
In our last blog I described a big storm we had in Placencia and that we sailed to a very nice marina in Sapodilla Lagoon called the Reserve Marina. It was our intent to stay in this marina until we could return to Guatemala for the hurricane season. Together with us some other boats arrived, but they had different plans.
There are a lot of Americans living in very nice homes in Belize but many are returning to the USA during the hurricane season. But the borders are closed as well as the airport. The American Embassy in cooperation with United Airlines negotiated with the government of Belize a repatriation flight to Houston, Texas every 1 to 2 weeks. The flight comes in empty and the people who want to return to the USA need to go through a process to get a place on these flights.
The 2 boats which came together with us in the Reserve Marina kept their boat in storage in the marina and took one of these repatriation flights.
When we left the marina, they already had 6 other boats that took this option. Dorothy and I considered this option very seriously but decided to wait after talking to our adopted daughter Karen the manager of RAM Marina in the Rio Dulce. The borders of Guatemala are closed and it is expected that they will stay closed for some time. A group of people from the marine industry, local government and other interested people started to put together a proposal to get the cruisers in who want to spend the hurricane season in the Rio Dulce. This proposal needed of course be approved by many governmental agencies before it could be presented to the President of Guatemala for his approval since this proposal would be an exception to all the rules and restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
These are the official rules regarding the boats coming to Rio Dulce Marinas
“The Guatemala government has granted humanitarian relief to boaters that have been stranded around the Caribbean and are in danger of being in the path of oncoming hurricanes.
All of these boaters have been in quarantine in the countries from where they are coming and have not had any exposure to COVID-19. Belize for example, has been COVID-19 free for more than 7 weeks. Roatan where many boats are coming from has never had a COVID-19 case.
After the boats are checked-in in Livingston the boats will proceed directly to the marinas where they have a reservation. It is required that the marina be INGUAT registered and that marina personnel provide support for the quarantined personnel. This was a change of the original proposal but it is a presidential order and must be followed.
All of these boats are to proceed to the marina where they will be required to quarantine aboard their boats for 14 days. The quarantine order requires that they remain aboard the boat. They must be wearing a mask when on deck. No one is allowed to go on the boat other than Guatemala health officials. They can receive assistance from marina staff but there must be no contact between marina staff and the quarantined personnel. Example, money can be placed on deck for purchases and the purchased items can be placed on deck without having any close contact with the personnel on board. Marina staff must wear masks when in close proximity to the quarantined boats.
Guatemala government health personnel will make periodic visits or phone calls to monitor the quarantined personnel.”
The original procedure called for that all the boats coming in would be quarantined on anchor somewhere in the Rio Dulce. Based on this we rented a car and went together with our cruiser friends from “s/v Kooky Dance” on a shopping spree so we could survive for 3 weeks on our way and on anchor. We also wanted to use this trip to do the checking-out of Belize. But to our big surprise Belize refused to grand our exit permit since the borders are closed. The officials in Guatemala informed us that they will accept our special entry without a so-called “Zarpe” and exit stamp in our passports. We did not go to immigration and customs and the next day we casted off at 5:00AM to sail to Guatemala. In front of the Rio Dulce in Livingston is large sandbank which you can only cross in a very narrow channel with high-high tide and not even with the high-low tide. To be able to be at the right time in Livingston, boats usually stay about 10 miles away on the other side of the bay called Tres Puntas. But while we were on our way we received notification that the Livingston Port Captain wanted all boats under strict control of the navy and we only could anchor in Livingston. The high tide was the next morning at 8:25 AM so we had to anchor in a very open area next to the river entrance. The weather was good so it was not too bad to anchor out in the open and we slept well.
The weather during the sail from “Sapodilla Lagoon” in Belize to Livingston, an 11 hour and 15 minutes sail with a distance of 62 miles was very variable and still under the influence of tropical Storm named first “Armanda in the Pacific Ocean” renamed to “Cristobal in the Atlantic”. We had from great sailing wind of 15 to 22 knots to no wind at all and had to use the engine also called the noisy sail. We reached Livingston and together with 3 other boats anchored out. The next morning other boats arrived from the last anchorages in Belize after they had to leave very early to make it, while we had a great night’s sleep after we kept an anchor watch during the first couple of hours of the evening.
All the boats lined up to go over the bar, but although I asked the boats with too large draft to wait, a Canadian boat waiting for the tow boat was exactly at the starting waypoint of the channel and although I passed him within a couple of feet we touched the bottom but did not lose forward speed and we crossed the bar without any problems. The surprising thing for me was when anchoring in the river in Livingston is the strength of the outgoing water from the river. You expect incoming current during high tide, but no the current is still very strong outgoing. During the day we had a very nice sea breeze which made it very comfortable on anchor. At the end of the afternoon the breeze became very strong and the wind waves high because the current from the river kept flowing. The boat made a lot of jumps at the stern which is very unusual while anchored.
The wind became less during the night and we slept well although it became very hot in the boat. We woke up with no wind and when the sun came out it became very hot inside the boat it. But what can we say and complain about? The boat with the officials came and all had medical masks and hazmat suits and the navy guard and boat driver were in full uniform, but they were very friendly, efficient and professional. The doctor took our temperature and asked questions about our conditions, we filled out the paperwork. We did not have sufficient Guatemala cash and are not allowed to go to the ATM, so we gave our card to our agent and he will take the money from the ATM.
Just after 1:00 PM our agent came to return our paperwork and gave us instructions to go without any stops to our marina. We left in a hurry and arrived at 4:30 PM in RAM were our adopted daughter Karen and her staff were waiting for us to put our boat in a mediterranean moor in a special area where all boats in quarantine needed to stay for the next 14 days. Although we were not allowed to come ashore and hug each other we are so happy to see Karen and her staff. After we got secured we put on the a/c went inside, had a small bite to eat and just crashed.
The next day it was very hot and humid. We did the necessary boat jobs and welcomed the rest of the group who decided to stay overnight in Livingston. We could talk to Karen from a distance and started to get used to the fact that we will need her staff for any necessary help for the next 14 days. We are so happy to be back and no longer have to live with the insecurity we had before the Guatemalan Government allowed us in.
Most people who read my blogs will not recognize the names of the group that worked so hard to get us in, but I want to show their names so Dorothy and I will never forget them and what they have done for us.
Karen de Lopez – Legal Representative RAM Marina - Coordinated communications with Guatemala government officials
Eugenio Gobbato – Owner Tijax Marina and President of ECORIO - Communications with Guatemala government officials
Emilio Mendizabal – President COCODE 2nd Level of Rio Dulce
Oswaldo Contreras – Vice President CAT Rio Dulce
Richard Monstein – Owner RAM Marina - Background communications
Oscar Pensamiento – Hotel Vinas Del Lago
Omar Solis Cervantes - Local representative of INGUAT (Ministry of Tourism)
Daniel Pinto – Mayor Municipality of Livingston
Lic. Hector Eduardo Morales Alarcon – Governor Department of Izabal
Licda. Lorena de Leon Teo – Representative of Izabal on Congress of Guatemala
Raul Veliz - Agencia Maritima Servamar - Liaison with Guatemala SAT, Immigration, and Port Captain
Captain John Brandes – Owner Captain John’s Marina and Rio Dulce Marine Surveyors - Mouthpiece and Juggler Extraordinaire.
Under Lock-Down in Belize
19 May 2020 | The Reserve Marina in Sapodilla Lagoon in Belize
Bert Dorrestyn | Hot and muggy with overcast. Light Wind
It is already a long time ago I posted a blog update about our sailing adventures in Belize. The reason is simple we are since the end of March in a lock-down and are not allowed to move to different locations. This is not what you will hear from other cruisers in Belize, but we were sort kind of trapped in Placencia. The lock-down order said that people in Belize could not travel outside their district and could only leave their home for essential business which of course includes getting food. For cruisers that meant that you could sail from your location to locations where you can buy essential items and one of these locations is Placencia. Which meant for us that we could not leave Placencia. This order was enforced by a visit from the customs, immigration and port control to all boats in the Placencia area where our papers were checked and pictures were taken of the boat. Cruisers came in who told us that they were sent away from the cays they were visiting and were told they only could stay in Placencia.
Belize is a poor country and there are many cays in between the outer reefs and the mainland. Outside the outer reef there are three large atolls and due to that with the limited resources hard to patrol. This is for some people an invitation to violate the rules. Most of the governmental offices closed and we did not have to extend our monthly visas, visit Customs and pay for our cruising permit. On the mainland we understood that the rules were very strictly enforced. It appears that these rules had the intended effect since there were not many new cases of the Covid-19 and the amount of people who died from the virus was limited. On the day I write this blog Belize has had no new cases for 32 days and the rules are now relaxed.
The grocery stores in Placencia are for the majority owned and operated by Chinese people from Taiwan, which reminds me always so much of Suriname when we started living there in 1968. We did not go to the store, but to the “Chinese”. After hearing about the empty shelves in the large stores in the USA it was amazing to see the well-stocked stores in Belize where you can find everything you need except of course the special items. The restaurants and bars are closed, but you can get take-out food in nearly every restaurant.
Cruisers in general all over the world are in problems. Most countries closed their borders and if you did not check-into a country before the date that the border closed you had no place to go. We heard several stories from boats that were removed by force from the harbor or bays when they tried to enter a country. This happened in Guatemala and in the Bay Islands of Honduras. Some of these stories are heart breaking since it was not their fault that they did not reach a safe destination in time, other stories; however, were from people that deliberately tried to violate the rules. We have seen both of these instances here in Belize and even one night in jail in Belize is something you will not easily forget. Over the last 2 weeks we got visited on board by the authorities and on May 12, 2020 we had again another visit from immigration, customs and port control. For us it was a pleasant visit with some nice small talk and a fast check of our paperwork. For a boat next to us it was a big problem and this boat left Placencia early the following morning and we hope he will reach a safe location.
We are anxiously waiting to hear if and when the border with Guatemala will be opened. In view of the start of the hurricane season on June 1 a lot of cruisers are not waiting any longer and sailed or are in the process of sailing back to their home country. If you are US citizen you can sail to the USA. People from other countries are allowed to enter but only to take food and fuel but are not allowed to stay. We considered this option but chose, after consulting with our adopted daughter Karin, who is the manager of the largest marina and boat yard in the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, to wait a little longer and see what will happen.
Staying in one location while you are on an adventurous sailing cruise through the Caribbean does not sound very exciting and that is true it is not very exciting for most of us, but we still had our small adventures.
The charger cable of my tablet gave out and I could not find this item in Placencia. We had some other special computer items and printer toner which we could not find in Placencia. We rented a car and made this beautiful drive to the capital of Belize called Belmopan. The road to Belmopan called the ”Hummingbird Highway” is beautiful and is for me always a pleasure to drive. Nearly everyone is wearing facemasks in Belmopan and it looks like the instructions from the government are taken very seriously here.
It was windy when we returned to Placencia, but we have a good anchor system and had sufficient chain out to feel safe. The wind in this area of the Caribbean always picks up in strength late in the afternoon and starts calming down after midnight. During the night while we were sleeping and there was still a brisk wind our windlass started taking in the anchor chain all by itself. Our bedroom is in the front of the boat close to the anchor room and the noise made us fly out of our bed. Dorothy was fast to switch off the breaker and that was great since de chain was locked by the safety pin and thus under a lot of pressure. I had to take the pressure off the chain in the dark. The following morning, I had to crawl into the anchor hole which is small and very uncomfortable to find out what was wrong with the system. It took me 1-1/2 day of re-wiring to solve this problem. Never actually found the cause of the problem but it must have been a short in one of the wires I replaced.
After serving us for about 10 years our wind generator gave up. After some repairs which did not solve the problem I took the blades off so we did not have to hear the noise anymore the generator was making. On a sailboat a wind generator and the solar panels are the best way to keep your batteries fully charged. We have a power-hungry boat with a freezer, refrigerator and watermaker. When there is no wind which happens a lot in protected anchoring spots we are dependent on our generator to charge our batteries and to use the watermaker. This means we need the generator a lot more, but one morning after running for about 15 minutes the generator stopped and was overheated. I opened the generator and found that the impeller of the water pump was broken which means that the generator did not have sufficient water. I investigated this but did not find any problem with the thru-hole and the strainer, put in a new impeller and tested the generator. No problems and the generator ran for close to an hour. I started the generator the next morning at its regular time at 6:00 AM and the system stopped again after about 10 minutes with a system overheating. Both Dorothy and I were devastated. We started the process again, but fortunately the impeller was still in a good condition. It turned out to be that the screen in the strainer was floating and not held in place. I fixed this with a piece of wire to keep the screen down and that seemed to fix the problem. But no, the next day the engine overheated again and it was time for another solution. To prevent marine growth on the bottom of the boat we put on a special bottom paint on a regular basis. During the bottom paint job, the screen got too much paint and due to that the generator was not able to get sufficient water so the impeller ran dry and broke. I changed to the thru hole used for the anchor wash pump and the problem was finally solved.
I even do not want to talk about our watermaker. It is a great tool since it makes you independent from where you are since you can make water anywhere you are. I am sorry, a watermaker does not make water, but it converts saltwater to fresh water. On our boat that is very important since we do not use salt water in any system, even our electric heads use fresh water. We took the system back to the USA for a complete overhaul, but although we spent a lot of money our dealer did a very bad job. We had to wait close to a month in Guatemala before we could leave for the parts he forgot to include on the overhauled system he sent to us. And after the installation the system still did not work the way it is designed. The factory sent me a lot of advice, but the system did not work. I took out the computer part and made it a manual system, and now at least we can make fresh water again.
We have good communication equipment on board: an SSB radio for long distance communication, VHF for line of sight communication and our Satellite Phone System. Our SSB always had a good reception, which is good for getting weather information but could not transmit over long distances. I rebuilt all our connections to the antenna tuner and for the first time as long as we have the boat our transmission was loud and clear. Now I need to fix the VHF, but that needs a new cable which is installed in the mast and I leave that to young people to climb the mast.
Sailing and weather is a partnership. To sail you need wind, but not too much and of course from the right direction. When you anchor, you choose a location that protects you from strong winds as well as high and short waves. Placencia is a good anchorage which protects you from all directions except the south. But still, sometimes when a squall comes in it can be rough. This situation happened a couple of weeks ago and of course it happened at night fall. The wind was close to 35 knots and Dorothy and I were struggling to get our awning in, when panic broke out in the anchorage. A large catamaran ran off the anchor and was heading fast in the direction of another boat behind it. Thanks to the help of several other cruisers in their dinghies it could be stopped just before it hit that other boat.
And then the wind started to blow good heavens only during the day from the south/west. It was very rough and all the boats were pitching and sometimes the pulpit dove underwater. Boats that had long anchor chains out came very close to shore and had to reduce the anchor chain length, which reduces the safety of the anchor hold. But as always it passed and we all did well.
But the last weather event did it for us and this is the reason we decided to wait out in a protected marina until the Guatemala borders are opened. At 12:15 AM all hell broke loose in Belize when the thunderstorms moved in. From no wind we went to over 35 knots. I jumped out of my bed to turn on all the controls while Dorothy still slept. The lightning illuminated the entire sky, the thunder woke Dorothy up and she came to check what was going on. The waves were already high and the boat was pitching and rolling. I clocked several 48 knot gusts and another cruiser 50 knots. A lot of boats dragged and 2 came off the anchor. One boat was blown on a sand bank and was pulled off the next day in the afternoon with a lot of help. One boat hit the dock on Placencia Island and caused some minor damage. Island Girl dragged for 50 ft in the direction of Placencia Harbor, but by running my engine at idle speed I could control it. The wind and waves diminished at 4:00 AM, but the westerly wind stayed until around 8:00 AM.
The next morning, we raised the anchor and the anchor line was clean due to the violent movements in the water during the storm. We sailed 17 miles north to Sapodilla Lagoon and checked into the “Reserve Marina”.
Now it is waiting until Guatemala opens it borders and we can go back to RAM Marina. We hope it will be soon, but we have our doubts. We will let you know how it went in our next blog.
26 March 2020 | Placencia Harbor
Bert Dorrestyn | Cloudy, windy but nice warm
In our previous blog we described the plan to leave Guatemala and to sail to Belize. Most of the time these plans are written on the beach in the sand at low tide and when the tide turns the plans are gone and new ones are developing. But this time the plans exactly worked out.
We left RAM Marina on a nice Sunday morning and motor sailed over the Golfete to a bay called Texan Bay or in Spanish “Cayo Quemado” and stayed overnight so we could leave early the next morning to be just past 8:00 AM in Livingston to give our passports to our Custom Agent Raul. He always sends his nephew with a lancha and delivers our stamped passports and “Zarpe” back to us on board of “Island Girl”. A “Zarpe” is a ‘set sail document’ you need when you leave a Central America country and sail to another country.
You have 2 high tides but one is higher and the most preferable tide to cross the sand bar in Livingston. Unfortunately, on our departure day this tide was late in the evening so we used the low high tide which was only 1 Ft. A week before our departure a fellow cruiser did a survey and posted the waypoints to cross the bar. We exactly followed these waypoints, had no problems to cross the bar and we motor sailed to a safe anchorage called “Tres Puntas’.
The next morning, we left the anchorage just before sunrise in the dark for our trip to the port of entry in Belize called “Punta Gorda”. This port has no protected anchorage and can only be used in very calm weather without any swell coming in. We had such a day, but out of safety Dorothy stayed on board and I took the handheld radio so she could call me if problems arose. It took me just a little over one hour to get cleared in and we continued our trip to a very safe bay called “New Haven”.
The water was like glass with no wind and hardly any waves. This was the same the next day but it was the quiet before the storm. At 6:30 PM the storm blew in. It was a very bad cold front arriving from the USA. In minutes the wind picked up from 0 to 37 knots. The rain came down and even the very protected bay had some significant waves. The rain stopped after about one hour but the wind remained very strong the entire night. It took 3 days before the wind and seas came down and since we did not have any communication with the outside world except through our Sat Phone “New Haven” became very lonely.
On Saturday we left New Haven and motor sailed to Placencia. We did not leave the boat until Monday morning to get Belize dollars and do some shopping. Placencia is a lovely town with nice restaurants and shops. It also has Dorothy’s favorite Hairdresser shop and the cost for her typical treatment is less than half of the price in the USA. I followed with the dinghy my cruising friend John to the gas station to pick up some diesel fuel to keep the tank filled and with that preventing too much condense developing in the fuel tank. Failing to do this last year gave us so many problems to get the fuel and the tank cleaned. To get to the gas station we had to follow some of the channels to the town. Along these channels you see some very beautiful homes and rental guest houses, but many are for sale. This is what we observed in many places in Belize; a lot of development of beautiful homes and resorts but many are for sale and/or show clearly overdevelopment.
We saw this last year during our stay for 3 months in “Robert’s Grove Marina” but I write this blog during our stay in a beautiful Resort and Marina development in “Sapodilla Lagoon” called “The Reserve”. The marina has 250 beautiful slips surrounded by restaurants, bathrooms, laundry facilities and a convenience store with a car and boat fuel station. There were only 8 boats in storage in the marina and 2 boats including “Island Girl” had people on board. When we arrived, there were no boats anchored in the lagoon while this is a very protected anchorage. At the same time a lot of boats were anchored in Placencia when another incoming cold front created large swell and made boats roll in the most uncomfortable way. We left Placencia before the cold front moved in and had a great sail with a stiff northerly wind with speeds up to 27 kn. We had to tack a couple of times and sailed close to the wind but “Island Girl” was in her groove and we loved to finally sail again.
We were not planning to go into the marina, but since there were no boats on anchor and we still had some work to do on “Island Girl” we took a slip connected to shore power and water and I started one of the outstanding projects while Dorothy used the laundry facilities. We toured the proposed resort and enjoyed the beautiful landscaping of the partly developed resort.
And then the cold front moved in; howling wind and the temperature dropped like a rock; it was very cold at 65 F when we went to bed at 9:00 PM, but we slept so well that we did not wake up the next morning until 7:00 AM instead of my usual 5:00AM. It is amazing that we were only 2 weeks on our way and had 2 major cold fronts coming down on us here in Belize. Many cruisers who spend a lot of years in Guatemala, Belize and the Honduras Bay Islands told us that this was very unusual. The next morning it was raining and it lasted the entire day. We had reserved for the next day the only available car to drive to a little town named Hopkins and a larger town called Dangriga both along the coast to do some provisioning and at the same time some sightseeing. The people who used the car dropped off the key in the evening and they were drenched from the rain but despite the weather they said they had a good day.
We had a great trip to both cities and we even took some time to drive along the Hummingbird Highway which circles into the mountains to the new capital called Belmopan. We were lucky to go to the grocery store just before 12:00 PM; it was a national holiday and the stores were all closing at noon. Three employees helped us to scan all our items, pack them, took them to the car and they closed to door behind us. The marina is in receivership and allows only cash transactions, so we needed to go to the ATM. We do not know if it was because of the national holiday or that the ATM in Dangriga never allows transactions larger than BZ$ 100.00 (US$ 50.00) but that was all we could get. We needed a lot more so we made a lot of transactions to get what we needed.
The next day we checked out of the marina and went on anchor in the lagoon in preparation for the next day trip to South Water Cay. We made this trip via “Blue Ground Water Range” which is a collection of mangrove cays that enclose a 40 ft deep lagoon. Entering this lagoon is a little intimidating since you must cross over a shallow reef between two cays. Our friends from “s/v Aeesha” guided us through. The remainder of the trip goes over a shallow area with a lot of coral patches but we followed a track from our dear friends and “adopted” children Keith and Ida from “s/v Cheers”. We had a great sail, arrived safely and anchored in front of “South Water Cay”. On this location you are so close to the outer reef that you hear the constant sound of the waves crashing the reef. We stayed there for one week and had a great time with snorkeling and using my Hookah to dive underneath the boat to remove a fishing line and a lure from my propeller.
We were surrounded by 12 other boats, but one morning everybody left. We found out later that everyone wanted to return to Guatemala before the borders closed. And now they are locked up in the Rio, cannot leave since all the borders are closed and the airlines are not allowed to fly to and from Guatemala.
We could not use our cellular phone at this location since the reception was to weak. A fellow cruiser advised us to raise the phone into the mast and use the “Hotspot” this worked out great; we got all the news and could stay in touch with the family.
We sailed back to Sapodilla Lagoon and every afternoon we went with our dinghy to the “Beach Club” to swim in the wonderful pool and enjoy the beach. During the week the “Beach Club” is closed, but we can use the facilities. In the meantime, I also worked on some boat projects although I could not solve every issue we have.
At this moment Belize has only one infected person with the “Corona Virus” but is preparing for more problems. The schools will be closed for 1 month, but there is no restriction on travel in the country. The airport is still open for local traffic and charter flights taking tourists and some cruisers back to their home country. We had not experienced an impact of the Corona Virus Crisis but we needed to renew our visa and cruising permit and for that we needed to go back to Placencia. There is a lot of confusion at which immigration offices you can do this and it seems that the one in “Big Creek” which is close to Placencia is the only safe option. We heard rumors how bad it was and how difficult it was to get provisions so we were a little apprehensive when we went ashore. Placencia is a tourist town and in the high season there is a lot of activity going on. However, now it was very quiet, restaurants and bars are closed but shops are open and we could find all the provisions, parts and fuel we needed without any problems. A lot of places have a mobile sink outside with a water hose, soap and paper towels and you need to wash your hands before entering. The water hoses are lying in the open and with the sun shining the water is warm, which is a luxury for sailors who do not always have warm water available on board.
Getting our visa, custom clearance and cruising permit extended was no problem and since we were the only one in the offices, we were done in a record time. So, we are ready to spend another month in Belize and hope to find a lot of new places we can enjoy.
A lot of waiting and boat work in Guatemala
22 February 2020 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
Bert Dorrestyn | Light Rain and a cool breeze
In our previous blog I wrote that all the needed parts and tools where shipped and we had packed the remaining parts we needed to make the necessary repairs to our boat. We were quite optimistic when we left on December 30, 2019 to head to the Rio Dulce where our beloved boat “Island Girl” was waiting on the hard for our arrival.
The flight to Guatemala via Houston is not too bad and with an early start at 4:30 AM we arrived at 2:00 PM in our hotel after we went first to the bus terminal to buy our tickets for the next day bus trip. It was a very fast bus trip and after departing at 9:00 AM we arrived in the Rio Dulce at 3:00 PM.
It is always a little scary to enter the boat after you leave it behind for 7 months. But thanks to the great care by Adan one of the employees of RAM Marina the boat looked splendid. The humidifier kept the boat at a great humidity level of 55% and that is compared to the outside humidity level, very good. We turned on the window A/C and we could move in. But we did not do this, we slept for 4 nights in one of the cabanas which gave us the opportunity to unpack all the gear and find proper storage.
Then the disappointments came. Because of lower shipment costs most of the parts was sent by boat and it would take a few weeks before they would arrive. But the biggest disappointment was that the shipment by our Watermaker Spectra Dealer was incomplete and we could not install the watermaker. It took to until the 9th of February,2020 before the parts arrived. This delayed our possible departure from Guatemala by close to a month.
Our boat is built in 1991 and the insurance changed the interval of inspection surveys from every 5 years to 3 years. In the Rio Dulce is a very good mechanic and marina owner who has the full certification for American and International boat inspections. He is known in the Rio as Capt. John. Capt. John found during the inspection some space on the bearing for the propeller axle. On an “Island Packet” boat that is a difficult and costly repair. But Chris Wooley and his crew got the job done in 3 days and we were ready to go into the water and complete the inspection. The inspection resulted in some minor recommandations but no issues with the seaworthiness of the boat and it received the classification of “Above Average”.
During the morning “Rio Dulce Cruisers Net” the reception of some of the other cruisers was either bad or we could not hear them at all. After we replaced the connector and a new antenna this problem was solved. The antenna is high in the mast and I was happy that Nelson, one of the best technicians here in the Rio Dulce could do the work for me.
RAM Marina is a maintenance and storage facility and besides many covered slips for large yachts it has very limited dock space for sailboats. But the manager, our adopted daughter Karen always has a place for us and our favorite place is opposite the fuel dock. However, that is also in the channel and ramp for the launching, splashing and lifting of boats out of the water with the travel lift. If a large boat is splashed or taken out of the water, the crew moves our boat to the fuel dock to be able to get that large boat out or into the boatlift. The happened this week and it took a long time to get this boat in the water since it was so wide that it got stuck due to the lift straps. To allow other boats to get to the fuel dock the crew moved our boat to the end of the fuel dock and the backside was now sticking out. When the large catamaran left the fuel dock the crew of the boat showed that they had no notion how to maneuver a large boat and came straight to the backside of “Island Girl”. Although I was screaming the boat crew did not react and I jumped on the dock to push this large boat from the dock. I succeeded only partly, because the catamaran took my flagpole off but missed the davits with the solar panels. The marina built me a new flagpole, but I was not a very happy camper.
The remainder of the week we spent on doing provisioning and checking the systems of the boat. We cleaned the boat, took off all the awnings and stored them. The Rio Dulce town called Fronteras has a new strip mall with a great new grocery store. It is a very modern store with a lot of fresh produce and a lot of fruit. We were able to find all that we needed for the first couple of weeks while we are underway.
Belize is a very expensive destination for cruisers. Not only because of the high cost for customs clearing and immigration, but also port control, health checks and agricultural department. Normally most cruisers check-in close to Placencia, the location where most cruisers start their trip in Belize. But this location went completely over the top, both in cost and procedures. So now we are trying to check-in in the first coastal town north of Livingston where we go over the sand bar. But this location has no protection from the normal trade wind and can only be used in very mild conditions. It makes the starting trip to Belize a little complicated. This is the plan:
1. Sail through the lake to Texan Bay or in Spanish “Cayo Quimado” and stay overnight
2. Sail the next morning through the “Gorge” to Livingston and check-out with the help of our agent Raul.
3. Cross the sand bar and if you get stuck or have a draft of over 5.5 feet use a towboat.
4. Sail to a protected anchorage called “Tres Puntas” and stay overnight.
5. Leave the next day early and sail to “Punta Gorda” in Belize to check-in.
6. Depending on the time of the day either sail back to “Tres Puntas” or continue the trip to a nice and protected anchorage called “New Haven”.
7. Most of the time people spend a couple of days in “New Haven” to relax before continuing to Placencia in Belize.
This is the plan and in our next blog I will report how it all worked out.
Goodbye Texas - Hello Island Girl
27 December 2019 | 950 Gruene Place Dr. New Braunfels Texas
Bert Dorrestyn | Cloudy 60F and Light Wind
In my last blog post of October 12, 2019, I mentioned that on the first day of fall it was cold with a morning temperature of 53F. Now when I go at 5:15AM to the swimming pool I don't even dress warm with this kind of temperature. But on November 19 it was 28F and I tell you I was very warmly dressed but with the 25/30 knots of wind from the north it felt like I was naked when I walked on the parking lot of the health center.
When I was young and living in The Netherlands where I was born this kind of temperature was nothing for us and I was looking forward to winter when the canals, streams and lakes were frozen and we could ice-skate. Snow skiing was for many years besides waterskiing my favorite sport. Even after I moved to tropical countries like Suriname (SA) I returned in the winter to Europe to go snow skiing in Switzerland and Austria. The last time I went snow skiing was in 2010 in Park City Utah and I had a great time skiing with my son Robert and his two boys Jack and Max. We sold our Ski Nautique waterski boat in that same year and put all our entertainment into sailing with our beloved sailboat Island Girl which we purchased in 2009. This also marked the time that I started hating cold weather and we were fine living in Miami Beach, Florida. We had one car for Dorothy and I drove a small scooter except on the few days the temperature was below 65F then Dorothy had to drop me off at City Hall.
I hope that I made my point that I hate being cold or to be in a cold environment. On "Island Girl" I always sleep under a blanket even on hot days. We left Texas for Miami Beach, Florida in September 2006. The summers in Texas can be brutal hot and the winters are typically mild with mostly nice and warm days and this was how I remembered it while living for 22 years in Texas. So, it was a shock for me that since half October we have had so many cold days. But it is Texas so it happened a lot that the mornings are cold in the low 40's and the afternoons nice and warm up to the high 80's and sometimes even the mid-90's.
We spend a little over 6 months in the USA to watch and work on the completion of our new house in the Historic District "Gruene" in New Braunfels, Texas. Although we don't want to repeat it, we had fun doing it. Only 3 weeks ago we had the last inspection by a city inspector for our backyard patio and the fence. It was long process but compared to our neighbors in our small neighborhood it was the fastest. We love the house and we are feeling at home.
We experienced also how fun it is to live in a small community where you know or at least have met your neighbors. We had afternoon get-togethers along the river where the neighborhood association created private access to the river with a small picnic area. With Christmas time some of our neighbors organized Christmas get-togethers and the first one was a "Progressive Dinner". We started in the first house with drinks and appetizers, then we moved to the second home where we had the main course and in the third home we had deserts. The choice of drinks and food was overwhelming and it was all very good and tasty. I keep a pretty strict food intake, but it was impossible to stick to this with all this great food. Our neighbors are great and easy to communicate with. Of course, we all have the same interest in how our small subdivision is developing, but besides that it was great to share stories and life experiences. After this great evening we also spent a very nice and sunny Sunday afternoon in one of the largest homes in the neighborhood which is built on the cliff along the Guadalupe river. The view from this house over the river is great and we had a nice afternoon. Our last get-together on Friday night before Christmas was with a smaller participating group but it was still a lot of fun.
This is the first time since we left on our Caribbean tour 7 years ago on December 6, 2012 on our boat "Island Girl" that we stayed this long in the USA. We decided to stay this long to make sure that our new home was complete with no open issues that could cause problems in our absence. We also wanted to be with our family for Thanksgiving, my birthday and Christmas realizing that it was 13 years ago that we had done this. We had great get-togethers with our family on the two holidays and on my birthday. Experiencing the Christmas shopping craziness in the USA is something we are completely grown out of during the time we spent the holiday season in the Caribbean and South America. Earlier in the year we celebrated the 21st birthday of our granddaughter Kristin and the 50th birthday of our daughter Dominique. Both milestones in their lives.
To prevent having to buy in every country we visit a new SIM card for our phone and thus having a new phone number over the last 7 years we obtained a "Google Fi" SIM card which can be used in 100 countries in the world while keeping the same phone number. We purchased an unlimited plan for data, phone and text and used this on Christmas day to contact our overseas families in Grenada, Colombia, Guatemala and The Netherlands. It worked great and now we hope that we can make and receive calls in our sailing destinations this season. We also replaced our old Satellite phone we have used over the past 10 years on the boat for a new product called "Iridium Go". Iridium GO is a small but powerful satellite communication device allowing multiple users to connect and use voice, text messaging, map and weather data as well as SOS and GPS navigation. The system is an internet router which allows you to use your cell phone, tablet, computer etc. to communicate. Although we have VHF and SSB radio onboard, Satellite phone communication is a very important safety feature. Last year we used it intensively when we had a non-working engine and no wind while we were slowly drifting to the reefs of Belize.
All the needed parts and tools are shipped. We packed our last belongings and remaining parts we need on board and we are ready to go back to our beloved boat "Island Girl". We will leave on December 30, 2019. We will miss our family and friends and our new house but we will be happy to go to a warmer Guatemala and new adventures in the Caribbean.