Sunday, June 10, 2018

Ninety Days (that's all we get)

In Belize when the trades die bad things come from the West!
Belize, in fact all the Central American countries have this weird time thing going on. In the CA4 countries of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala you can't stay longer than 120 days total. So if we wanted to go from the Rio, which is in Guatemala, to the Bay Islands of Honduras after spending hurricane season on the river we'd have to first head to Belize for a minimum of 72 hrs to reset our 120 days. But our boats can only stay in Guatemala for 90 days before having to be "imported" for 9 months. Once that's been done we need to stay out for 3 months before starting all over again. But back to Belize, that country only gives our boats 90 days before we have to clear out for at least 24 hours before clearing back in. Does that make your head hurt? No idea what the reasoning is; some say its the money, some say it's to prevent derelict boats - derelict boat prevention!!!, ha, ha, ha have you seem some of the boats on the Rio? Derelict is a step up!

Regardless, or is it irregardless, of the reasoning - as our friend Douglas Fleming says "No reason, just policy". our 90 days in Belize were up and we left. Back to the Rio Dulce and Wahoo's home for hurricane season. But from the last blog to this one we still had one more month of sailing these lovely azure waters. We made the most of them and visited some of the most picturesque places around.

southern ray, hiding in the sand


For us, it's always about the snorkeling

It was time to bid goodbye to the sailing yachties who had made our first 60 days so much fun. Alta Mae (Kent & Shelley) and Cordelia (singing, guitar playing Dave & Ellen) both were headed back to the Rio in early May then back to the states for 6 months. It's always a bit sad to see your buddy boats sail away but it's just a part of the wanderlust life we lead. In this case, we'll all be sailing together again next year.  And then there's the fact that Cordelia is our neighboring boat in Tortugal Marina. So after a final evening at Yoli's Bar in Placencia they headed South and we headed back to the cayes to see what we had missed.

Laughing Bird Caye
More coral = more fish 
Our first stop was a small caye that has had a big impact on Belize's efforts to regrow coral. Laughing Bird Caye is one of Belize's National Parks. As such it cost $10US per day/per person to be there and, as in Hol Chan up North, you can't snorkel without a licensed guide. We anchored off and explored the little island on foot and by dinghy. I must say I was tempted to go over the side. Who would have seen me? Fragments of Hope, the coral restoration program in Belize, has done a wonderful job here and pictures show huge stands of Elkhorn coral that have been regrown from coral seedlings. But we resisted the urge and sailed on to spend several nights at South Long Coco Caye which lies on the edge of the park and is obviously benefitting from even being close by. We had last snorkeled here with Sammy and Grouper in 2012 and it had been very disappointing. Well boy, not this time! This time it was amazing, saw a school of tarpon swim right by me!! We ended up spending 3 nights here and snorkeled both the East and the West side of the island. Stunning even though the water clarity wasn't great. See more about Fragments of Hope

Panorama of Wahoo approaching the Silk Cayes

Easternmost Silk Caye that we snorkeled to.
Evening at Hatchet Caye
Next, we visited another National Park and beauty, the Silk Cayes. These 3 specs of sand and coral sit along Gladden Spit, the most Easterly part of the Belize Barrier Reef. We did a sneaky snorkel workaround. We anchored Wahoo and swam ashore thus ensuring we'd get to see what's beneath the waves. Of course, we still paid our $10. This time Roy had it with him, a little soggy but still... The Silk Cayes are definitely not an overnight stop but 3NM away is lovely Hatchet Caye with its beautiful restaurant where the service, the food, and the view couldn't be more spectacular.

A healthy coral reef is a wonder to see! Two big elkhorn coral(center & right). 
Inside the Lighthouse Reef Atoll-approaching Half Moon Caye

Roy & I were doing our best to lift heavy hearts as the one year anniversary of Austin's death was upon us. We wanted to do something that would be as memorable as he is. We decided on something a little challenging and oh so beautiful - just like him. We sailed beyond the barrier reef out to the furthest atoll, Lighthouse Reef. This is the atoll that contains the famous Blue Hole.

Anchored off of Half Moon Caye, nesting site for the Red Footed Booby

We had visitors (picture taken from Wahoo's deck!)
 Lighthouse Reef is a perfect Pacific-type atoll with a coral reef enclosing an inner lagoon that contains small coral islands, including Half Moon Caye which hosts one of the few nesting colonies of Red Footed Boobies. (not that Austin was a red-footed booby kind of guy but he liked exploring and seeing new things, so it worked) This proved as good an idea as something like this can be. It offered hours of solitude as we made the 30+ miles in open ocean and ended up giving us something we would have loved to share with him. Of only...
In addition, it added the crew on Blue Jacket to our list of "great yachty friends." We continued our remaining time in Belize together with this amazing couple on their Freedom 40 sailboat. At home in Boston, Geoff and Sue run a charity called "Fresh Start" and help people who need a helping hand trying to start their life again.  Knowing them got us even more involved with Pass It On Guatemala which is an organization that helps Mayan villages. See more about Pass It On, Guatemala

Red-Footed Booby

Brown Booby

You can see the birds up close from an Observation Deck. They don't seem to mind that you are standing right in the midst of their colonies.

So our time in Belize came to an end for 2018 and our time in Guatemala started back up. We have a visit from John Edward and Laura to look forward to. They will meet us for our last week and we'll travel inland before heading back to Houston on July 18 and then it will be on to New Orleans.

If you're counting, this is our ninth year with Wahoo. 2009 & 2011 saw us take extended sailing trips to the Bahamas. Now it's the sixth year that she hasn't been back in the states.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Barefootin' in Belize

A Caye Caulker Kind of Evening

The last blog told of our time in Guatemala and ended after we had cleared out at Livingston and were headed for Belize. And always, figuring out how to live while missing our boy. Six weeks have gone by and we have been sailing in crystal waters under the blue skies of Belize and visiting palm tree laden islands. Definately balm for the soul. 

Approaching tiny islands-Ranguana Caye
Roy had Rack of Lamb at Hatchet
We arrived in Belize waters in time for Roy’s birthday on March 6 and spent several evenings treating the birthday boy to dinners in exotic places. First off was tiny Ranquana Caye, one of several cayes that lie right on the reef. The tiny resort has four cabins. But it also offers 3 mooring balls for visiting sailors and allows you to order “whatever is being served” in a sandy-floored thatched roof palapa that serves as front desk, restaurant and bar. The next night we found our way to the larger resort at Hatchet Caye and enjoyed a more expansive dinner in their beautiful open dining room. One of our favorite things about Hatchet is that you find great snorkeling right from the boat, always a plus. We spent a couple of days here before making the 3-hour sail into Placencia Harbor, the “home” for Belizean cruisers. It was time to meet old friends, drink as many rounds as possible at Yoli’s, buy some temporary batteries to help us keep the beer cold and plan our next round of adventures in paradise.
Vivid Fan corals and a school of Grunts 

One of our chores was delivering packages from the Rio to other cruisers. Cockpit cushions for Lapis went to Seadragon for further forwarding, Flor de Caña rum went to Emerald Seas and a box of goodies was delivered to Alte Mae. Just part of the musical chairs as played by cruising boats. 

Alte Mae, our buddies
A toast to the birthday girl
We decided it would be fun to buddy boat with Alte Mae. It was their first trip to Belize. Kent and Shelley have spent a lot of time cruising in foreign parts but were happy to have a helping hand around the reefs of Belize. It’s been a perfect match and we’ve been together for about a month exploring, snorkeling and generally keeping each other out of too much trouble. Among the many islands we’ve visited the standouts are the twin islands of North Long Coco and Rendezvous where we found beautiful waters, delightful snorkeling, fishing and a great beach party to celebrate a special lady and her birthday.

Swings at North Long Coco

Swinging San Pedro
Roy & Kent ravishing a breadfruit tree on Caye Caulker
We sailed up to North Belize and visited Caye Caulker and rowdy San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye. San Pedro is where we did our re-check (or as Roy calls it re-upping). Each month visiting cruisers much check in with Customs and Immigration to have their Visa extended for another 30 days. 90 days is the max you can stay.

Wahoo's keel at anchor - San Pedro
waves wash over the reef
At San Pedro you anchor directly behind the reef in about 7 ft of water.
Glad we have a good anchor!

Eventually we finally made it back South to Southwater Caye, one of the jewels of Belize for 4 days of fun. Southwater is another caye that sits right on the reef and has been named a UNESCO site. It is also one of Belize's Marine Parks. So visiting boats pay $10BZ ($5US) per person per night. You find some of the clearest water here and the snorkeling off of nearby Carrie Bow Caye is spectacular. IZE (International Zoological Expedition) is here plus a couple of eco friendly resorts.

While there's a cool seaside bar on the island we found our own spot for evening Sundowners!

All us cruisers at anchor in Sapodilla Lagoon
We attempted the sail to Southwater three times before we made it. Almost weekly cold fronts had us running from storm systems into Sapodilla Lagoon (Stann Creek District if you know Belize). This is no longer as arduous as it once was. Sapodilla Lagoon leads right into The Resort at Sanctuary which has been under construction for years and years. Last year they started selling fuel, water and a few staples. But this year they opened the bar, pool and restaurant. Best of all they allow us cruisers to enjoy all these wonderful amenities even though we’re only anchoring in the lagoon. Supposedly the marina will open next month. Though we’ll probably mostly continuing opting for the freedom of being at anchor.

When we visited in 2013

Belize is so small, just 180 miles long and 60 miles wide. The distance from mainland to reef varies from 12 to 24 miles. Except for the three offshore atolls the islands are within the reef. Most sailboats sail at 5 to 6 knots per hour so a 4 hour sail easily gets you away from the mainland and out in the cayes. There is an inner deep water channel that runs along the coast North-South, then inner islands that are mostly mangrove cayes with a 2nd deep water channel once you have moved more South. The water East of the inner channel is studded with hundreds of cayes that are surrounded by coral even before you reach the reef. So once you’re out of the inner channel you keep a good look out. That description sounds more treacherous than it is as there's plenty of open water between the cayes and the charts are fairly complete even if they are old. I guess islands don’t move around all that much.

Ha Ha, Beware...
the ladies are coming!
Belize sailing is great. Winds average 15 to 20 knots out of the NE-SE. The trades aren’t as steady as the Eastern Caribbean so beware a West wind can sneak up on you. Its best to go carefully whenever the wind has a West component, unless it's the normal diurnal pattern that includes land breezes. A nice thing is the absence of ocean swell; all the waves are wind generated. So you, the waves and the wind can get in sync.

Belize cayes feel much more isolated than the BVIs. Nowhere near the number of boats means you’ll often have an anchorage to yourself. It also means you should provision well as the bars and restaurants while out sailing are few. You also won’t find $30/night mooring balls; so know how to anchor and trust your ground tackle. But the distances are short. Day stops at cayes untenable as an overnight anchorage are easy and if what you enjoy is sailing, sun and snorkeling or diving there is no better place. 

The NW Caribbean Net adds a nice touch. Turn on your SSB (single side band) radio at 8am each morning and hear a fellow sailor reading a weather report, asking if anyone needs help and then monitoring the check-ins of all the boats out sailing around. This allows boats to stay in touch or arrange to meet. For those sailing North to Mexico or South to the Bay islands, it’s also a place to report your progress to sailors who want to make sure of your safe arrival.

 Right now we’re once again in Sapodilla Lagoon, enjoying dinghy parties and Dave from Cordelia's music. We're waiting for a front to pass by and we plan to get back to sailing as soon we can!!

I just know he's out there somewhere - at peace

Monday, March 5, 2018

And Life Goes On

Mountains of Guatemala from our ancorage off of Tres Puntas
Tonight we are at anchor off of Tres Puntas, Guatemala. The Rio Dulce lies within the mountains we see off the stern. Tomorrow morning we will head to Belize, spending a couple of nights out on the reef before joining up with the cruising community that calls Placencia its homeport.

Though there is a hole in my soul It seemed time to make my fingers clatter away at a keyboard once more. If children are our hostages to fate Roy and I can now only feel that our fate has been cast to the wind without anchor or rudder. Appropriate, though a bit dangerous, for sailors I guess.

So, what’s been happening on Wahoo? 

Tortugal Marina is builts over the river on stilts
After 6 months in the States we arrived in Guatemala City Jan 21, spent a couple of days there and let our dentist see to our oral needs. After the typical 6 hour bus ride we arrived in Fronteras on the Rio Dulce to be fetched in Tortugal Marina’s launcha and finally ended up home, aboard Wahoo. Even though we were late in this sailing season, weather and boat issues had kept many fellow cruisers on the River. We were warmly welcomed, which felt just fine. Weather, ha, a simple term for what was weeks of monsoon type rains. The River rose, several Mayan villages endured mudslides and a couple of bridges washed out. For us our leaks had leaks. The cold fronts sweeping through North America were ending in the tropics. 

There were lots of boat projects on our to-do list but we were watching the rain as we waited for our crate to arrive. It was filled with the supplies we’d packed and shipped back in November. Of course, as usual, wherever cruisers gather in great numbers there are lots of cruiser generated activities to keep us well lubricated and entertained. In slickers and under umbrellas we went to movie nights, pub trivia and musical events. Dinghies and launchas headed up or down the River as we all tried to keep jolly and dry. Plus it can’t be too bad when the Casa Guatemala boat delivers groceries to the marinas each Tuesday and Saturday.

She is really singing in the rain. (I'm new to embedded videos, hope this comes across)

Twice each week
we get the grocery boat
The crate, finally arrives
Eventually the weather improved and our crate arrived. Roy slaved away to create our beautiful new Galley. I was only great at handing him tools and keeping him fed and watered. In addition to the Galley we finally replaced the bimini and dodger as well as repaired Saloon cushions and even spruced up with new throw pillows. Leaks were traced and hopefully fixed and the heads were replumbed or something like that. 

In the meantime while all that was happening our 3 propane tanks (used for cooking) all decided to die at once. In sympathy our large house batteries did the same. (Their job is to store all the lovely electricity created by solar panels and wind generator, then give it back to us as needed to run the refrigerator and freezer plus a few things like lights, TV and computers). Both propane tanks and house batteries need to come from the States. Like the crate we’d been waiting for, they must be shipped in, inspected by Customs and delivered. Shipping into Guatemala is on GMT ( Guatemala Maybe Time) friends say. So far we’ve only received one propane tank, the other decided to go walk about and didn’t make it onto the plane as ordered. Some parts that haven’t arrived will be brought to us in Belize by cruisers leaving the River after us, just as we are taking things to cruisers who left before us without things they ordered. It’s a game of sailing musical chairs over here.

                                 Hard at work...............................................................................Finished project

The new bimini and dodger, like the old one, just better.

The really really helpful dock boys
at Tortugal
So, on to Belize where we can trust Belize Freight to collect, ship, and usher things through Customs for us. The batteries will come through them as will the wayward propane tank. Things are particularly dire without the batteries. All’s good during the day while the solar panels turn sun into amps and the wind generator spins away. But each day the sun moves on and here in the Western Caribbean the diurnal wind pattern means that even the trade winds disappoint when evening comes. It will be April before our ship arrives.

But what would the cruising life be without a few hardships.

In the meantime we know that Tortugal will be waiting for us to return, The jungle along the River is beautiful and we've just spent two lovely days in the small Mayan river village of Cayo Quemado. Best of all we're ready to set sail once again on the tourquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Scenes from Cayo Quemado

Mayan Home on the river
Who can resist a family of ducks

But always we remember our boy-

and happier times aboard

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bouncing Around, Belize to Guatemala

Heading Up the Rio Dulce

If you've asked yourself, as my forever friend Louana did, "where oh where is Wahoo?" 

Our home in Guatemala
The answer is - right now we are tied to the dock in Tortugal Marina on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. 

The Rio Dulce is a fresh water river that travels trough a soaring gorge from Lago de Izabal down to the Caribbean. Because it's Western confluence with the lake is situated amid mountains the area has become THE hurricane hole of the cruisers in the Northern and Central parts of the Western Caribbean. The twin towns of Fronteras and Renello are on either side of the highest bridge (75 ft) on the Pan American highway. The area around the bridge has become cruiser central. Many cruisers find that they "swallow the hook" once here. It offers marinas and marine services plus assorted bars and restaurants together with hikes and numerous cruisers events. There is also a strong "giving back to Guatemala" feeling that runs through the cruising community which binds us all together. Each morning the local Cruisers' Net keeps us up to date on what's happening "on the River".

Main Street of Fronteras where we can find the freshest fruits and veggies!! Not to mention those plantain chips.

So why are we here in May?? Well that's a result of Belize's weird relationship with the cruising life. Belize allows only a 3 (maybe 4) month Visa for International boats. I could stay a year, Roy indefinitely but Wahoo must sail away. She surely can't go it alone so here we are. Belize takes knowing about her ex-pats very seriously. First we clear in, which involves a visit to Immigration, Customs and Port Authority. A last visit to BAHA (Belize Agricultural & Health Authority) completes our admission provided we pay our dues. Authorities can be found in San Pedro, Belize City, Dangriga and Punta Gorda and rules seem to differ with each place, the officer and whimsy. Initial clearance gives a month in country, with 2 (or 3) extensions.  We must revisit Customs and Immigration each month to get our share of abuse and renew our Visas. After the third month if you're in Placencia it's "Adios" but if you're in San Pedro it's possible to get a 4th month. 
No Reason, Just Policy!

Sadly, it's the small vendors that suffer in lost income as cruisers take their money elsewhere. We've been told that Belize doesn't value cruisers as we don't "put heads in beds". Obviously they choose to ignore the money we spend in other ways. But, there's lots of area to sail between Mexico and the Bay Islands. Even if we leave out the rest of the Western Caribbean that would take us down to Panama. For the crew aboard Wahoo the 300NM that covers Isla Mujeres to the Bay Islands of Honduras will give us plenty of scope for the next few years. Much of it will be spent in Belize but obviously not all of it.

Spotted Eagle Ray

This Grouper came too close & ended on the grill
Of course, our three allotted months in Belize included plenty of time for us to visit San Pedro, Caye Caulker and spend time at Turneffe Atoll for the first time in umpteen years. We also visited several of the middle cayes including one of our favorites, Whippari. What's saiiing without the odd storm or two and we endured ours while at Hatchett Caye. As usual in Belize, storms send us all scurrying back to the cruising "mother of harbors", Placencia, so that Yoli's can offer solace in the form of cold Belikins and lots of camaraderie. On one arrival we were entertained by a visiting manatee that hung around. We tried feeding cabbage and lettuce but it only wanted companionship. We've found Wahoo to be a magnet for wildlife lately, including a Pelican, a Brown Booby, a very Yellow Warbler, several Bahama Swallows that wanted to build a nest in our mast and that visiting Eagle Ray you see above.

With family arrivals starting on June 20 we needed to depart Belize so that we could come back ( how can they miss us if we don't go away). So there we were heading to the Rio at the end of April. While on the river we decided to get some interior work done. Over the years much has been done to keep Wahoo in Bristol fashion but the interior has taken both a beating and a back seat to the more pressing needs of rigging, solar and wind generators, wind indicators, depth sounders, auto pilots and all the other life saving/enhancing items. Finally refinishing our traditional teak and holly cabin sole was deemed necessary and boy does it make dear Wahoo look like a new boat! One of the many joys of an older sailing vessel (Wahoo was born in 1992) is how much more of everything was used in construction compared with the newer boats. From the thickness of the fiberglass hull to the teak cabinetry to the cabin sole all of it was made to be used, refinished and simply last, whether it was experiencing pounding seas or sand encrusted feet.

Volcán de Fuego,  seen from our terrace in Antigua, still showing off after destroying the city many times in the 18th Century

And because no one stays on a boat when the interior is being sanded and varnished we decided to take a little trip. Buses can take you anywhere so we left the summer heat and humidity of Rio Dulce for the cool temperatures of the highlands. Our plan was 4 days in Antigua Guatemala, the old Colonial capital established in 1543. Antigua served as the capital of Guatemala (territory included present day Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) for 300 years enduring several earthquakes and volcanic eruption during this time. Finally the Santa Marta earthquake in 1773 destroyed so much that the capital was moved to Guatemala City in 1776. There were over 30 Catholic monasteries and convents in Antigua in addition to splendid government buildings and homes. Today the remains of these are the reason for visiting this beautiful ancient city.
cloisters of Guatemala Cathedral
amazing beauty when you look up

Casa de Santo Domingo: the beauty of the entrance is a foil for the juxtaposition of the marvels inside. This ancient monastery is now a world class hotel & restaurant set amid the ruins as shown by the crypt above. In addition there are several suburb museums of both modern and ancient Mayan history.

Whether we were viewing churches and ruins, dancing under an Antiguan "second line umbrella" or getting a shoe shine at our favorite Antiguan bar -

You can bet we were having ourselves a good old time!!


We then spent 4 days on Lake Atitlan. At 5,500 feet its not a lake you go down to. Its the deepest and the highest lake in Central America with a maximum depth of 1,120 feet. Deemed the world's most beautiful lake by Aldolus Huxley. Lake Atitlan is the crater of a volcanic eruption 84,000 years ago. It's ringed by 3 active volcanoes and several mountains. We climbed to over 8,000 ft before coming to the town of Panajachel. From there we took boats to visit several of the Mayan towns around the lake. In many of the Mayan villages the people hold fast to their culture. It was obvious that dialects and native attire varied between villages less than 5 miles apart. You wander among a mishmash of ancient Mayan village culture and the attempt to invest in the world of tourism. Together with Val and Lloyd, the crew of Puddle Jumper, we had a grand time.

Lake Atitlan, an overview

These are our first views of the lake from a restaurant terrace on a rainy afternoon, up in the clouds.

Approaching San Marco de la Laguna

The boat dock at San Antonio

Guatemalan textiles are created by the Mayan woman. It can take up to 40 days to make the more intricate patterns. These woven for the tourist market are still done by hand but take only 40 hours!!

I chose that one for me and after a couple of text messages with Laura I chose one for her.

Now we're back aboard and so very pleased with the workmanship refinishing the cabin sole, the companion way ladder and handrails, the galley fiddles and the saloon table. We gave the work to Byron, the young dockmaster here at Tortugal Marina and he and his workers did a stupendous job. Only one small section in the v-berth, where the teak and holly floor needs replacing, wasn't completed. That wood has to be ordered from Guatemala City - so completion on our return trip. There's a few more chores to complete like having our anchor and anchor chain re-galvanized. RAM Marine is the ONLY place in the entire Caribbean that can re-galvanize anchor chain. We thought Trinidad did but you need a shaker to do the chain and their's broke umpteen years ago and so they prefer selling you new chain at 4 times  the price. You must check the links carefully, no one wants an anchor chain with a weak link, but if the chain is in good shape  it's much more economical to have it re-galvanized. Now Roy won't have to decide between changing into his oldest and yuckiest shorts or going nude when he raises and lowers the anchor.

Tied to a dock and having to walk the plank (to get aboard)
Another detail was selling the 9.5 ft dinghy we bought after the original Woo-Dat died on our journey to Puerto Rico last year . We decided that we needed one that was an equal replacement to the original 10.5ft Woo-Dat. Until you ride in it you'd never believe the difference one foot can make in comfort and stability. Now we can make it to those wonderful snorkeling spots that are only accessible with a small boat. We'll be heading to Cucumber Beach Marina near Belize City by May 28th to pick up the new one. For all of Belize's ridiculousness about clearing in and Visa extensions they are much better than Guatemala at shipping prices and recognizing duty free items for vessels in transit. A real shout out to Belize Freight for being so good at picking up, transporting, clearing Customs and delivering.

We are looking forward to getting back to Belize and spending more time out on the cayes. We'll have a crowd of family to enjoy come June 20 when John Edward and Laura arrive along with the North Carolina contingent which we're thrilled will include Sandra as well as Dave and Angela plus their two girls, Sarah and Alexis. We'll travel inland together then a day of snorkeling from Wahoo before we divide up for a sailing trip with John Edward and Laura who will be replaced aboard by the North Carolinians for another sailing trip. After that Austin comes for a 2 week stay in which he hopes to return home fully PADI certified for diving.

Right now our plans call for a return to the Rio in August and probably a flight back to New Orleans, via Houston, come middle of that month. But you never know...

Can't help it.
Here's two more picture of Mayan women. They carry Anything on their heads and their babies on their backs!