Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas from Belize

Merry Christmas!
Christmas carols to a reggae beat, lighted boat parades and cruisers' potluck dinner instead of cocktails at the Sazerac Bar, Christmas Eve at Galatoire's and presents under our own tree with friends and family. Experiences are what makes life exciting.

Boat parade Placencia Harbor

We wish you all many pretty presents under your own tree and a New Year's Eve filled with fireworks and champagne. But mostly we wish for you a Caribbean vacation aboard Wahoo in 2014.

1st morning in San Pedro

We sailed from Isla Mujeres with a 20 - 25kt East wind which gave us a reach all the way down the coast. But a mighty current was flowing against us, often as much as 2-3kts. This is where the Yucatan Current takes its load from the Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico. This was our 3rd trip between Mexico and Belize and we know on our fourth the current will be with us. It was a long 42 hours of sailing, the seas were high mostly 5 - 6ft but a few higher waves made an appearance all too often. Wahoo sailed along at about 8kts but our course over ground was lessened by that pesky current. We sailed 8 hrs to Cozumel for an overnight stop than 34 hours to the reef opening at San Pedro, BZ. The current and engine gave out just as we reached Reef Point which is the boarder between Mexico and Belize. Luckily we had both sails out and were able to continue making headway but that last 18NM took a little over 5 hours. Roy's skills, tools and abundance of spare parts got the engine's impeller changed and while there were still parts of the old one making the engine run hot we were able to douse the sails and motor gently through the reef cut to our favourite anchorage.
Johnny Cakes for breakfast, yummy

It always feel so good to shower and lay down to sleep after those long overnight passages!

Celie with Roy & I
Street walking in San Pedro
 A couple of hours sleep and we were eager to visit one of our favourite places. San Pedro Town brings back so many good memories and offers the chance to make more every time we visit. Our first stop was Hurricanes Bar and Grill to drink a cold Belikan and see Josh and his parents Daniel and Elodia. Also, they have the very best ceviche of any we've ever had and we have ceviche everywhere we go, so that's saying something. During this stop we spent some time with Celie who owns Holiday Hotel and is a very long time family friend of the Rosses. She had just started renting rooms when we came in 1975 with a 3 week old John Edward. Alex and Donna, Roy's nephew and his wife, got married at Holiday Hotel and last summer came back to celebrate their 10year anniversary.

Rice and beans with stew chicken, garnaches, salbutes - just for the other Rosses

We only stayed a week this time as we had to press on to Belize City and Cucumber Beach Marina. We had 4 boxes of supplies and parts plus two new house batteries being delivered to us there. Plus we were having trouble with the alternators we'd had rebuilt in the summer and Roy wanted a mechanic to look things over. We also continued having issues with the depth sounder and the wind indicator. The wind indicator was giving the right speed but from the opposite direction, go figure! We were counting on better internet reception for calls back to Raymarine who made most things electronic that steers Wahoo. On top of all that a Norther was expected and though we love San Pedro the holding is thin sand over coral. Not a good spot to wait out high winds from the North.
Wahoo behind the reef in San Pedro

Our trip through PortoStuck was a breeze as I've become a whiz at bow watching for depths and we were there before we knew it. Remember the colors - Sky(vodka) , Tanquerey, Amsterdam and that no no - Tequila.

Roy & his King Fish in the dining room at Old Belize
Of course we had to eat at Old Belize that night and Roy had his favourite. King Fish Steak. The guys who run the restaurant at Old Belize are from Turkey. They do a great job and always remember that Roy loves the Kingfish Steak and try to get it for him. The Norther blew in and we had days and days of rain but our boxes and the batteries got delivered, the mechanic came by and they figured out the alternator problems - it was wired backwards when it was rebuilt last summer. Roy talked to Raymarine and figured out why the wind was blowing backwards on our boat but the depth sounder is still an issue. They say there's a new downloadable system coming out in January that will fix the problem.

An aside here for anyone shipping to Belize - can't say enough good things about Belize Freight. They picked up our 4 boxes from John Edward's house in Houston. Put them together with the 2 160lb batteries we shipped from BD Batteries to their warehouse in Miami. They shipped and held the stuff until we got here. Lastly they delivered to the boat at Cucumber Beach Marina. The service and pricing was superb!

Cucumber Beach Marina and Old Belize, from the mast
We spent an evening with friends Mario and Solie catching up as we'd missed them during the summer. Had two interesting meet-ups. First the couple in the slip next to us were from Baton Rouge and she works for Worley (The company Roy works for when doing cat adjusting). We also had a pleasant shock when looking at Cruisers Forum we saw a message to us with a picture taken from the other side of the marina! Sure enough a fellow member was in the marina and recognised the name of the boat. His name on the forum is BelizeSailor and he gives really good advice for people asking questions about the NW Caribbean. We were grateful for his knowledge many times when planning the trip here in 2012.

Now a week later we are in Placencia where we'll spend Christmas and New Years before doing some more exploring along the cayes and atolls of Belize. You'll find the very tentative cruising schedule for 2014 under the Itinerary tab. That way you can plan when you want to meet up with us - the V Berth looks so lonely.)
Placencia is very busy now that the holidays are here. The small hotels all seem full. We saw lots of NO vacancy signs while taking a walk along the famous sidewalk, there's 13 sailboats in the harbour and look what just pulled in.

160 ft  - 10 crew
Here's some great signs - Left is a picture of the Placencia co-op. Middle pic is the sign on the left and...
Yes, the other picture... well its the other sign.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Marina Del Sol in Isla Mujeres

Roy and I are now in Isla Mujeres, Mexico aboard Wahoo. We arrived Thursday, Nov. 21 and our current plan is to stay on the boat until August next year. Note: sailing plans are written in disappearing ink. 

Poncho, the resident iguana met us on the dock
Bringing back the laundry
We arrived at the Cancun airport along with 7 other planes, all full of Thanksgiving holiday-makers. There had to be 1,000. people trying to go through Immigration and Customs. It took us two hours and that was with the help of a wily Skycap. After helping us find all four of our bags (Thank you Southwest for not charging for checked bags) and getting us into the line for Customs he took Roy aside for a whispered "I get you through this quick - $30". Before we knew it I was plopped in a wheelchair and we were zipping through the handicap lane! The kicker came when after we'd passed through the scanning machine, he leaned over and said to me. "Ok, you get up now". I was in front of those 1000s of vacationers, Whooooo, were those daggers in my back. But then we were called to get examined and every box had to be gone through. I'm sure everyone thought we'd gotten our comeuppance. Actually, it wasn't so bad. The Customs agent was a young lady who did her best and when she realised we weren't upset, and weren't going to give her grief for a little custom's duty, things went rather smoothly. In fact, she didn't even notice the 6 lb. of Manda Smoked Sausage. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Sebastien for waiting for us and giving us a ride to the Cancun-Isla Mujeres ferry.

Also, thanks to Sebastien for keeping Wahoo safe. She was in great shape when we got back . 

We had left Marina Del Sol in mid-July as a sleepy marina with most boats covered and owners gone. We came back to a bustling place as owners were arriving and getting ready for the Winter cruising season. Such a variety of boats and cruisers. We love it. Everyone chatters away about their own project and plans, yet there's always a hand when you need it most. 

Greg and Carol on their catamaran
We've met Greg and Carol from the Pacific Northwest. They completed a five year circumnavigation on their monohull which is moored in the Sea of Cortez. But they recently bought a catamaran to cruise the Caribbean, and call home a 65ft trawler in Seattle. These are dedicated and experienced cruisers, of 3 different boats. Next there's Jean Pierre from Quebec. He's retired and waiting for his wife to come visit around Christmas. He spends part of his time on Taj Mahal a 33ft steel sailboat and part of the time either traveling  or at home in Quebec. Across from us is another 40ft steel hull that belongs to Etienne and his girlfriend, Pam. They hail from Paris and Normandy. Last year they did a boat delivery that found them becalmed in the Pacific for 80 days! Of course Sebastien's boat Sea Rooster is also here and there are many more. But perhaps the most interesting is the 23 ft pocket sailing cruiser, Maus, from New Orleans owned by Martin and Alysia. They just left for a 9 day crossing of the Gulf of Mexico back to New Orleans. (yep, I said 23 ft - outboard engine if you're wondering)

Maus leaving for New Orleans

Wahoo needs work too. So we've started on the never ending list. 
Definition. Cruising: Fixing your boat in exotic locations.

Etienne working on the aft bulkhead - Tight Fit!
The stern bulkhead needed to be repaired as there was rot near the water line. I was wondering why there was a sloshing sound under my head at night.
The wind transducer quit working when we were in Belize during the summer. So our luggage included a new one. Of course the new one didn't quite work with our instruments, so Roy had to figure a way to fix that. All at the top of our 63ft mast.

We'd also brought two 18" X 2" x 1/2" stainless steel bars that Roy fabricated while we were in Houston. These were needed to repair the anchor holder which was cracked. So while making that repair we're installing new bow cleats. They're much bigger and as we anchor or pick up a mooring most nights, will be very handy. But what a job getting the old ones off. They'd been on since the boat was built in 1992. Lots of pounding and drilling was heard throughout the marina.

Wahoo also needs a new transducer to repair our depth finder which also quit working during the summer and the engine shaft needs some repairs. As Wahoo needs to be out of the water for these, we'll do them at Cucumber Beach Marina and Shipyard near Belize City. In fact there's a whole other 4 boxes of parts that's, hopefully, waiting for us there. 

As those of us aboard say - "If it ain't broke - just wait a minute."

Pelicans nesting in trees near the marina. Never saw this before.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Four Months in the States

"Is it so nice as all that?
Nice?...Believe me my young friend. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
from The Wind in the Willows

I guess we agree because after only four months we're heading back to Isla Mujeres and Wahoo on Thursday (Nov 21, 2013). We've been in Houston staying with John Edward and Laura so that Roy could help get John Edward's music studio built. A disastrous contractor who was also probably financially distressed (or a monster out for John Edward's soul, hard to tell) had mucked things up very, very badly. Roy, John Edward and Walter, a Honduran carpenter spent a month or more on remedial work, including the need for a new roof, but eventually started moving the project forward.

It's Looking So Good!
The building is finally closed up and sheetrock is in. Going forward John Edward still has all the finishing left but he is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and we're all hoping it isn't a train! We're happy to have been able to help and pleased with the unexpected pleasure of living and working so closely with our adult son and his girlfriend. Not something that happens too often in these times.

The patio in Maine
As Roy did most of our work I found time for other things, including a trip to visit with Louana and Ted at their island retreat on the coast of Maine.  Of course, we also found time for several trips to New Orleans. Great memories of cocktails in the courtyard on Pauger Street with Sammye and Grouper, birthday parties and Saints games at Greg and Teresa's and lots of raw oysters and poboys with Andrew, Cynthia, Armand and Patty. We even got to spend time with Austin and his girlfriend, Amanda. Congratulations were in order as he had completed EMT training during his summer break from college. But so many friends and family we didn't see and know we will miss everyone.  However, I did get to spend a few days with Nancy in Pass Christian, it was sad but a good way to say goodby.
Oh What a Birthday!

It surely wasn't enough time to be home but with Roy working so hard in Houston and no hurricanes this year we decided to let 7th St keep feeding the cruising kitty and head back South.

Austin & Amanda

Plans are being made for 10 months of cruising. Belize for the winter then across the Yucatan Channel to island hop along 660 miles of Cuba's southern coast. We'll then sail to Jamaica, the Southern coast of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and decide where to leave the boat in August. More on all of that later. Now we're just looking forward to Roy being able to sleep-in most mornings.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Heading (towards) Home

Saturday, July 20, we fly from Cancun to Houston. Its sad to leave Wahoo. We've spent the past week getting her ready for whatever comes. Hopefully, not a hurricane. This year like future years she will be in harm's way. We tell ourselves it would be that way even if she was home in New Orleans but its still brings worry lines to our foreheads.

We are in a marina in the lagoon and it is The "hurricane hole" of the area. But Isla Mujeres is not a place that commuter cruisers, like us, usually choose for hurricane season. Normally they head to the Rio Dulce like we did last year. We just couldn't bring ourselves to "going backwards" and felt if we had to come through Belize again we'd be right back in the same spot next year and would NEVER leave the Western Caribbean. So our plans to cross over to the Eastern Caribbean are dictating our decision. Fingers Crossed!!

Sebastien and his Dinghy came to meet us!
We sailed into Isla without a hitch riding a 2 knot current that carried us most of the way. Sweet! Sebastien, who lives on his boat here at Marina Del Sol, came out to meet us and guide us through the lagoon to the marina. It's a tricky, shallow route. So good to see him and Lily again. We feel confident that the boat will be watched over as Seb lives on Sea Rooster right across the pier from us. So home for Wahoo is Marina Del Sol, Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

We took a day off from chores to enjoy Sebastien and Lily's company. Seb took us out on Sea Rooster for  an afternoon swim, Lily drove us into Cancun for some parts, and we ended the day feasting on the last of the Belizean lobster we'd "caught".  A lovely day ending with a great sunset.

Nothing left but the shells

Roy took this from the top of the mast

Marina Del Sol is a barebones marina. Meaning none of the great amenities we enjoyed at Mario's last year. But its safe and has all the necessities. Both the owner and his brother live onsite and they care for about 30 boats. So Roy's taken off the chart plotter and wind-vane to come home and be repaired. We've repaired leaks, cleaned inside and out, changed the oil, filled the diesel tanks, removed the jib, tied up the main, secured the dingy, taken off the bimini, added extra dock lines and now what's left is to get her under wraps and head for home.

We look forward to coming back to Isla Mujeres and we'll love the ease of provisioning in Mexico for our next cruising season.

PS: We'll be in New Orleans August 1st - 10th maybe a little longer for me.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Checking In to Cozumel

Yesterday and today are why cruising can be so much fun! Roy and I want to share the silliness.

down comes the Belize flag
We were able to sail out of the reef at San Pedro Sunday (July 7 - John Edward's birthday). We left by 7am and knew we would sail 154 nm, our longest sail yet, and it would take about 24 hours. We had decided that as we had a short weather window we would make it all the way to Cozumel and not make the one overnight stop we could. The sail went pretty much as planned except that we had about 15kts of wind from the NE instead of 10 kts from the SE and the waves were 4 - 6ft  with 1 - 3 second intervals instead of 3 - 5ft with  8 - 10 second intervals. The difference between a nice beam reach and a choppy day and night. But we only had the edge of 2 squalls and we had nearly a 2 knot current going with us; whose complaining. We made Cozumel around 5am and worried for a little while that it would be too dark to anchor. But the sun rose as expected and by 6am we were snoozing.

At 9 we woke up. The plan being to get checked in, get a MX simm card for the phone, find some WiFi and get a good night's sleep and then sail the 53 nm (7-8 hrs) to Isla.

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha HA Ha Ha Ha

Totally oblivious of what was to come
The Capitania De Puerto is right near the anchorage and last year you could pull the dinghy up on a little sandy beach nearby. First off we noticed that this had been roped off. We would have to land the dinghy across some coral on a sand spit. Roy waited for the highest possible wave and we surfed in, I jumped out and tried to pull us up on the sand. Ok, so now we are wet and sandy but the dinghy's secure.

Inside  the first officer called a second then a third for assistance. There's that  sinking feeling. Eventually it was agreed that they would start the process but we would need to go to the airport then to immigration downtown and then to the hospital. The hospital we asked? "Amigos no problemo, no pay at the hospital". So after they made copies of our passport and filled out a gozillion forms we hailed a taxi. At the airport we spotted a series of 3 windows: Customs, Agriculture and something unknown. Now in Mexico - you can stand in an office or at an office window forever because to the guys inside... you are invisible! I don't know, is the window opaque from the inside? We tried the first window, could see the Customs agent on his cell phone. He didn't see us. The second window, two people totally involved with their computers, they didn't see us. At the third window our distress led to an answer. Ahhhh, a young lady looked up. Roy was waving papers and I kept repeating "Stamp, Stamp?" I'm not sure, was it the yelling of "STAMP" or the rather insistent knocking. All 3 windows conferred and eventually decided someone needed to inspect the boat.  Hospital, we asked? No, of course not, we didn't need the hospital, they took care of it all.
Cozumel for cruise ships Not Cruisers!

We were getting somewhere now! Two guys thought they pulled the long straws and were getting out of the office, yippee! We all hopped in a truck and drove to the waterfront. One look at our dinghy and these guys, not dressed for dingying, were sending out worried signals. One of them had an idea. He instructed us to get the dinghy and meet them over at the cruise dock. They dropped us off and we manfully managed to pull and push the dinghy back through the sand, over the coral up the cresting wave and get it launched. Wet Again. Soon there's me, Roy and 2 overdressed burly custom men in the dinghy heading to Wahoo. How we managed to get everyone aboard is still a mystery. But they dutifully "inspected" our boat and to prove they had been there, confiscated 1onion, 2 mangoes, 3 tomatoes and half of a lime we'd left on the counter - left us the garlic though.

Back in the dinghy for the reverse trip. Thoughtfully, they dropped us off at Immigration, downtown. Of course, when we knocked we were told they closed for the day at 1pm (it was 1:15). We must have looked more than a little of what goes for postal in Mexico because an officer came outside to talk to us. He said he'd sign the papers and take care of us if we took care of him. Of course we would :-)). Soon, we're all in the nicely air conditioned office and zip, zip, zip papers are signed. Now we're told that we must take these papers, all with one stamp a piece, over to the bank to pay. All the paying is done at the bank. Its hot and still outside but, who cares, we trot those 6 blocks to the bank just knowing we're finally nearly done. Dead stop! The bank line is about 20 deep. We wait, wait and wait some more. Its finally our turn and Roy is prepared; he'd noted an ATM and taken out pesos. Guatamala banks won't give you money, you have to do it through the ATM. I was very proud of his forethought because I'll bet its the same in Mexico. Only about 20 minutes for the bank tellar to collect the required 550 pesos, laboriously fill in and print out an additional 6 forms. 3 for him, 3 for us - but all stamped. Yea!! Back to immigration where our friend looked everything over, took the copies of our passport which were made by the Port Captain (remember this point), stamped everything again - now our Second Stamp and told us we were done. Roy tried to pass him a little something as we offered a profuse "Gracias".  He just smiled, shook his head and said "De Nada".

Time to get back to the airport for that Customs stamp - we eventually found a taxi and headed out there. No one is at any of the windows! But we can see that bag with our 1 onion, 2 mangoes, 3 tomatoes and 1/2 of lime sitting right there. In desperation we run around the airport asking everyone for the Custom and Agricultural Agents. I swear, in another little room was a fellow in a T-shirt and jeans when we finally asked him he looked up from playing on his cell phone and held out his hand for the papers, totally bored. This was The Guy? We were too dumb-founded even to be shocked. He went over everything, looked at each stamp and all the papers right side up, upside down and backwards. Shook his head, made a phone call, looked at everything again and finally, finally reached for it it, YES the STAMP. Three Stamps! Are we home free? The Guy agrees. Says we, now, just have to present everything back to the Port Captain and we're good to go. So we go out to hail a cab. Look around - what kind of airport doesn't have cabs standing in wait? Well the Mexican kind where the mayor controls the airport and all transportation goes through him or his brother. We must buy a voucher and load into vans that make the rounds of the hotels and condos. So not only is it twice as expensive but we must wait for the van to load up with 8 passengers and then wait our turn to be dropped off.

Exhausted but still a beautiful Flamboyant tree
Finally, our triumphant return to the Capitania De Puerto. Out of the van clutching our paperwork and up to the door - LOCKED! Its now 3:15pm and this office, like the Immigration office closed at 1pm!!! Did anyone tell us? Did we look?

In shock I want to just leave, hand all those papers and stamps to the agent in Isla Mujeres where checking in was so easy last year. Luckily Roy's cooler head prevailed, he steered us to a restaurant - we hadn't eaten all day. Ordered some food, used their wifi to get in touch with everyone and I agreed, there was nothing to be done. You don't mess with Mexico - last year a friend of a friend's boat was impounded for over 6 months because he didn't have a Zarpe from his last port of call.

We went back to the boat and had our first taste of good news. There was free WiFi in the harbor so we could make phone calls, get weather reports and emails. We had a cocktail (or two, was it three?) and went to sleep. Tomorrow was another day.

This morning off we go -
The Port Captain accepts our paperwork looks at it from every direction, counts the stamps and looks at us and says -
"No hospital? No doctor stamp".
"What, the hospital, no - no -no Customs told us they did it all", we only needed three Stamps!. We are looking desperate again. He took a step back, raised himself very upright and in a deep, official voice said "I am the Capitaine of the Puerto I decide if you must go to the hospital". He then smiled and offered to give us the address and once again said "hospital, no problemo, no pay". Again we hailed a taxi, again there's a window where no one looks at you. But now we know - Knock loudly on that opaque glass and yell Stamp, por favour. We eventually got the Fourth Stamp, again handed in the paperwork,  again it was looked over. The Port Captain looked up and ominously said "Where's the Copy of your Passports?" (well he said it in Spanish) . The response to our reply that it had been taken by Immigration was a sight we would have preferred to miss. "No, No, No, My machino make copies not their machino" this went on for awhile with lots of slamming of doors and stomping of feet. Not knowing what to do, we just stood there. Eventually he came back handed us both our Mexico check-in papers and our departure for Isla Mujeres paperwork and with a quick smile said."It is better for sailors to check into Isla Mujeres."
We Definitely Agree!!

Friday, July 5, 2013


My Belizean readers will recognize the title immediately. And yes, we (almost) got stuck in PortoStuck.  Seemed the right, oh no, that's starboard; port (left) the thing to do.

Belize Swing Bridge from the Ferry
PortoStuck (go to port or get stuck) is one of those wonderful Belize names and terms that means exactly what it says. It's a narrow and shallow passage between 2 small cayes that you must pass through between Belize City and any of the northern cayes (Cay Chapel, Cay Caulker, Ambergris Cay). We were headed to San Pedro on Ambergris Cay from Belize City.

Anyway, we made it to San Pedro on June 21 right in time for the Lobster Fest on Saturday the 22nd. Lots of lobster was had and we once again enjoyed the pleasures of San Pedro Town. On the 26th we took the fast ferry back to Belize City to meet Cynthia Reeves and Pat Cabral. We wanted to give them a taste of Belize City as the rest of their trip would be spent on the island. So we toured Government House, St John's Cathedral - the oldest Anglican Church(1812) in the Americas and the Museum that's in the old prison. We finished with a typical Belize lunch of rice and beans, stewed chicken (or fried fish), potato salad and fried plantains at Bird's Isle Restaurant looking out on the Belize River.
Snorkeling across a Hol Chan Reef

Up Close and Personal - 200 lb Grouper
The next 5 days were spent snorkeling, eating more lobsters and generally enjoying San Pedro (Sour Sop ice cream, yum yum). Our best snorkeling trip was Hol Chan Marine Preserve. Hol Chan was Belize's first marine preserve established back in 1981. We're proud to say we were there then! Once again we anchored outside of Hurricane's and enjoyed cocktails and ceviche as well as the view. Its been great, but Cynthia and Pat left on the 2nd and took the good weather with them.

We were left with two tropical waves one of which raised the winds to nearly 30kts and almost had us and Wahoo in Hurricanes for cocktails. After that 300 ft anchor drag we moved over and re-anchored using both anchors the Bruce and the Fortress. Thankfully they held throughout the night and all of yesterday as the winds howled. The reef protects us from the higher waves and the anchors did their job.

Check Out the Green Moray and a Black Grouper

Finally things are settling down and we're looking to leave. Roy's ashore checking us out of Belize, I'm doing my best to get 7th Street re-rented. We'll motor over to the fuel dock tomorrow and fill up with diesel and water. We'll sail for Isla Mujeres either Sunday or Monday. Maybe Sammye and Grouper will meet us for fun and games in Mexico. We'll be on our way to Houston before the end of July. John Edward is building his studio and he wants his Dad there and his Dad wants to be there.

Good by Belize - We Loved Every Minute!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Charts of Southern Belize

Tropical Depression#2 went inland yesterday just South of Placencia. Winds and rain continued all day and most of the night here at Cucumber Beach Marina. We saw and felt 45kts a few times. We were glad to be inside! It's supposed to be cloudy and rainy for several more days so that might curtail our plans to go into Cayo District for a couple of days. As Cayo is one of our favorite parts of Belize we hope to still be able to go but we also want to be on Ambergis Cay for the San Pedro Lobster Fest, Sat. June 22nd. Such a dilemma!

Thought it might be fun for you to see the charts we use and our routes and waypoints around Southern Belize this past month. I've used screen shots to give you an idea. You can enlarge each map to get a better view.

The blue lines are our routes through and around the cays. The yellow names are waypoints (latitude and longitude points on the map that we sail to). On the chart the colors are confusing at first. The green blue near shores is shallower and the white is very deep. Luckily the depths are marked.
Belize has a safe, reef free, inner channel between the shoreline and the first line of cays (blue area near shore). Its 40-60ft deep so you can sail here without keeping a bow lookout for coral heads. There is also a very deep mid-channel named Victoria Channel that averages 60 - 100 ft from the mid point of Belize most of the way South (see the white area on the charts). Victoria Channel winds its way through the middle cays which are often mangrove cays though some are part mangrove and part sand/palm trees. Victoria Channel is mostly free of coral heads but you do still have to keep a sharp lookout as there are shallow patches and areas of coral that extend from the seafloor and these need to be avoided. Once East of Victoria Channel you are headed towards the reef and it is much shallower 5 - 15 ft with coral heads and reef patches reaching to the surface. Coral and reef patches are marked on the chart as a red "+" but this denotes many coral heads and reef patches so a red + means "beware of this entire area. The cays here are sand and palm trees. Outside of the reef is the Caribbean Sea and depths quickly reach thousands of feet except for the atolls.

Our route from Placencia SE to Ranguana Cay then NE along the outer cays to Silk Cay, Little Water and Rendezvous Cays. Little Water was very difficult as the chart was off.

After Rendezvous and N Long Coco we went back to Placencia. When we left the next time our track was N to Sopodilla Lagoon to Sanctuary Belize (we didn't run over the land but stayed in the Inner Channel). Then we went E to Whippari, S Long Coco, Hatchet, then out the Queen Cay Cut to Glover's and back in to South Water Cay before coming on to Belize City.
Above is an enlarged chart of Little Water clearly marking the safe way to enter (waypoints are on the blog entry). At Little Water you can see that our anchorage is very different than the chart. We believe the deep blue patch where we anchored is shown on the chart to our SE though we were in 30 - 40 ft not 15ft. The marked anchorage to our NW was clearly coral filled and about 3 - 5 ft deep.

This is our entry from Victoria Channel to the anchorage at Rendezvous Cay. We had to very carefully eyeball our way through the coral between Long Coco Cay and Rendezvous. There is a reef near Long Coco which isn't shown on the chart but clearly shows up as you approach.

Polarized sunglasses are a must and the general rule is move only when the sun is high in the sky. Go East between 11am and 2pm, West early morning until about 1pm. If you can do that and remember your liquor bottles you'll be OK. Sky Vodka: 50+ feet, Tanqueray and what you imagine it looks like if it where more blue: 25 ft or so. Bombay: about 15ft. Watch out for anything that looks like Amsterdam Gin and definitely remember how bad you feel after a Cuervo Tequilla night (coral heads coming to the surface!!)

These are Navionic Charts from MacEnc on our IMac. 
Of course, you wouldn't want to cruise Belize without Captain Freya Rauscher's Guide to Belize, Mexico and the Rio Dulce.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Running from the Storm

Chris Parker, the marine weather guru, told us on Wednesday that we needed to be somewhere safe by Saturday. He was soooo right and we are are very glad we did just that. Sailed in to Cucumber Beach Marina which is 4 miles South Belize City yesterday around 4pm. A couple of squalls on the way here and today...
can't even see Belize!

Ahh, but the week prior was perfect. Wippari Cay (or Whipray) was our last night with Tom and Coleen as they planned on taking Unplugged to safe harbor in the Rio Dulce. I think we're the only boat still out except for chartered cats. Whipray Cay was exceptional, how could I have left the camera on the boat. Whipray Lodge is a small fishing lodge on Whipray Cay and if you want to fish Permit this is the place to be. Julian Cabral is a world renowned Permit guide and he and his wife Beverly run the 3 cabana lodge. But, it was his young son who showed us the "coral nursery" that made snorkeling this cay's reef so special. I've know since last year (see the link in the San Pedro blog from last year) that Belize was one of the places where marine biologist are trying to grow coral. We swam over what looked like bed springs raised over the seafloor with pieces of coral attached. Since I didn't have my camera check out this website "New Hope for Belize Coral Reefs".

Diner overlooks the sea at Hatchet 
Of course, this effort can't repair all the damage being done by warming oceans, boat and human traffic and other environmental damage but mitigation is the name of the game and growing coral is part of that. We saw anchor and rode damage all over. Even trying our hardest not to, we sadly added our own. Belize is putting out mooring balls and hopefully as this lovely destination is growing ever more popular they will put out more of them and maintain them better. And, hopefully, those of us boating here will learn to distinguish coral from grass when we must drop an anchor. I was surprised that of the other tourist (not sailers, thankfully) we met, many didn't know that flippers can damage coral! No wonder Belize is insisting on guides on all of its marine parks.

Vamping among the Cabanas at Hatchet Cay
After Wippari out next stop was Hatchet Cay and what a difference! Hatchet Cay is pure tropical sophistication. Beautifully landscaped, meticulously run, truly a superb tropical island resort. We grabbed a mooring ball and stayed for 3 nights. Cocktails at the bar each evening, dinner with guests we met (from Mobile!). Tanya, her two twin sons Nick and Ethan, plus Dan who was traveling alone from Sacramento became our new "best friends" We invited them to the boat and everyone went out snorkeling with Roy towing the boys until they got the hang of things.
Taking the boys for a swim - they're invited for Bachus Sunday next year.

Wahoo at Glover's Reef
The wind was blowing 20 - 25 knots all the while we hung out at Hatchet which isn't the most protected of anchorages so maybe that's what gave me the courage to say "lets go for it" when we decided to move on. The "It" was a sail outside the reef to Glover's Reef, one of Belize's 3 atolls. Knowing that with the weather disintegrating on Sunday if we were ever going to do it we needed to do it now. We left the shelter of the reef through the Queen Cay Cut and sailed the 18 miles to Glover's in 5 - 7 ft seas. (Gulp!) Oh but once there, Wow! 
Isla Marisol, a dive "resort" on Glover's

Coral Reef - Glover's
Scrawled filefish - Glover's Reef
Smooth Trunkfish - Glover's Reef

An atoll is basically a shallow limestone lagoon rising out of the ocean formed by a circling coral reef with numerous coral patches scattered throughout the "lagoon". Belize has three of the four atolls found in the  Western hemisphere. Turneffe, Glover's and the"blue hole, Lighthouse Reef, made famous by Jacques Cousteau. The diving at these reefs is spectacular as the vertical coral cliffs go down hundred's of feet. But the snorkeling is pretty good also with better visibility and many interesting species that aren't seen as often inside the reef. We were glad for our one day there. Glover's is one of Belize's Marine Parks. There is a research station and it is a protected fishing zone. Much of it is "no take" and other parts have strictly enforced seasons. The fishing boat below was there to take advantage of the Lobster season.
A lurking Barracuda
As we were headed for safe harbor we saw at least six of these small sail boats with their fishing dories. Each one has at least 9 men aboard who paddle the dorries out to fish. I caught this one while they where still asleep very early Friday morning at Glover's Reef. Lobster Season started the next day. I guess the bad weather is just part of their life!

Carrie Bow Cay with South Water Cut visible on the right

We knew that early Friday morning we had to sail back inside the reef. Luckily the wind was down to 10 - 15 kts and the seas laid down accordingly. We had a lovely sail coming back inside at South Water Cut, turned right and had a perfect anchorage in the lee of one of our favorite islands, South Water Cay. Enough snorkeling is an oxymoron so after a rest and lunch we took the dingy to a sweet spot we had enjoyed last year and happily spent time doing our thing.

Saturday morning we headed west for the Inner Channel and sailed the 42 miles to Belize City and safety. As it was a bright blue morning with the sun sparkling off the turquoise water it was hard to leave the reef but a nasty squall near Dangria confirmed that we had made the right decision.