Sunday, May 26, 2013

Placencia and the Southern Islands

Wahoo at Anchor
We sailed into Placencia with a squall haunting us and 24 knots of wind making 4 foot waves hitting at that awkward angle on the rear quarter of the boat. We were glad to drop the hook in Placencia Harbor. There were way more than the three boats that were here when we sailed out last August. Most are waiting for the full moon and high tides May 25 - May 27. They want no hint of a problem as they cross the bar into the Rio Dulce for hurricane season. We, on the other hand, are just starting our cruising season. I guess if your home port is New Orleans you just go where you want. We think our insurance company is happy we aren't home!

Placencia's great! John, the bartender at Yoli's, started our bar tab and Brenda, the creole lady who cooks near the town dock, gave us a hearty welcome and made some conch fritters for us. Got some Belize dollars at the Belize bank, a Digicell simm for the phone from BTL and some meat pies from Belly Full restaurant. Soursop ice cream  is next on the list and we feel like we're home again.

Wahoo and a Mooring Charter Cat at Ranguana Caye

After a few days of making the rounds we were itching to get out to the cayes and the weather looked good. So on Sunday, the 19th, we raised the sails and headed East. A nice and easy 3 hour sail got us to Ranguana Caye, a tiny island of sand and palm trees, about 3/4 mile from the barrier reef. Leaving Placencia we followed a track of 135º, passing Colson Caye to the South and anchored in sand and grass in about 10 Ft of water. (waypoints below) Capt. Freya Rausher' Guidebook, the bible for sailing Belize, said there was good snorkeling and a small bar/restaurant on the island. We found the snorkeling and the bar but the restaurant was out of supplies. Luckily we had our own.

Sooty Turn
Ranguana Caye is beautiful. There are 3 tiny cabins that share showers and bathrooms looking out toward the reef. Southeast and Southwest of the island is a coral reef that makes the anchorage more protected than you'd expect from its 2 acre size. The island is home to a nesting colony of Sooty Turns plus we saw Magnificent Frigates, Brown Pelicans and even our old friend the Laughing gulls. Anyone wanting to get away from it all - here's the place!

Roy & I spent two days snorkeling the morning away and reading (snoozing) during the afternoon while watching a couple of charter boats come and go. After all this strenuous activity we welcomed  cocktail hour. Wow, what a difference from a week ago!

The "largest" of the Silk Cayes
Tuesday morning we got up and decided to head a little north but stay out near the reef. Following a tract of 45º for about 9NM we mostly saw 18 feet of water but kept a watch out for any lurking coral heads. Last year we had wanted to visit the Silk Cays (also know as Queen Cays) but never made it. So we were on our way. We bypassed several cays that looked inviting but wanted to get anchored by noon. The Silk Cays are only a day anchorage as there is very little (read none) protection. They are even closer to the reef then Ranguana and consist of a group of three very, very small cays, two surface reefs and a drying reef with deep water in between. This is part of the Laughing Gull Marine Park and Preserve so you must pay to visit. $10 US per person per day(no cost for Belizeans). Plus you can only visit with a Belizean guide. Luckily I carry my guide with me at all times :-). Its also a "no-take zone". When we arrived a boat with 3 rangers came over and collected. One would have been a guide for $30 had we needed him. They were very friendly and after looking at Roy's passport allowed us to enter. We happily hooked the only mooring ball there and soon were in the dingy heading for the nearest reef. This was, by far, the most stunning reef we have visited! Check out the pictures - AMAZING! A worthwhile $10 for sure. There were two other boats around with groups and guides having an island BBQ and a generally great time. Both snorkelers and divers are happy here. We watched the guides separate the two and take them to different areas in the preserve.

Coral Gardens at the Silk Cays

Reef Fish at the Silk Cays

Our polarized sunglasses saved the day!
After lunch and our afternoon snorkel we headed 5 NM to Little Water Cay. This cay is surrounded by reef and coral and was the closest spot for a protected overnight anchorage. It's also the only time we found all of our charts and the guide to be wrong! Trying to follow the course indicated and with a look out on the bow we still floundered into the shallows and only a close lookout and Roy's skills kept us from having a serious encounter with some coral heads. We finally dropped anchor in a deep blue hole, not on any chart, with 30 - 40 ft depths. Looking around we weren't sure how to get out! The next morning we had light winds and a sunny sky so I donned mask and flippers and swam along with the dingy as we explored what proved to be a shallow coral bar with one area having 8 -10 ft depths. Roy used the hand held compass to carefully note the way. We headed back to Wahoo and weighed anchor. We were both sorry not to spend more time as there's a scientific research station which would have been interesting.

This area between Laughing Bird Cay to the West and the Silk Cays to the East are the only predictable area in the world where whale sharks are known to gather each Spring. In 2003 the Global Conservation Fund partnered with Friends of Nature to purchase Little Water Caye. So now the whole area from Laughing Bird Cay to the Silk Cays including Gladden Spit is a Marine Preserve and World Heritage Site. Roy thinks he spotted two smaller whale sharks (the largest fish on the earth) put I didn't see any. More time would have been better but we were very worried and felt it best to leave before the weather changed. We have our waypoints and track (see below) so we can return with confidence.

See how long the beach at Rendezvous Cay is?
Rendezvous Cay beach
We went Northeast into Victoria Channel, a deep water channel, to the West of the outer cays. We were still a little leery but in general saw 70 - 120 foot depths, only passed through one 18 ft area and it was clearly marked on the charts. About 8 NM took us to the area around Rendezvous Cay, the Funk Cays and North Long Cocoa Cay. We carefully threaded our way around the cays following the deeper blue waters with a sharp bow lookout to a wonderful anchorage in 8 foot depths over a sandy bottom. Another sand and palm tree studded island and this one has a long curving sandy beach that goes on forever. Obviously work was being done ashore so we dinghied over to get the story. Three caretakers live on the island. We were told that a resort with timeshares, a restaurant and breathtaking views was planned about 8 years ago. Five bungalows are in various states of construction and you can see the quality that was aimed for in the one that is almost complete. What a shame, though there must be hope as the 3 guys are kept on the payroll raking, planting and maintaining the island. Pablo said it has been three  years since construction stopped.

Alex photo bombed by his pup
Just another snorkeling trip
This was another good stop for us as we could also dinghy to N Long Cocoa Cay to snorkel the reef there and meet its caretaker. This island is used for beach BBQ's for tours usually once a week or so. Alex, the caretaker, paddled over and visited with us over a cold beer. These guys have an odd life here in paradise. They stay out 28 days in very primitive condition with only a small generator for power, no refrigeration and only their cell phones for communication. Their visitors are cruisers like us, maybe a fishing boat working the area and each other. We traded cold beer, dvds, candy, and a few medical supplies for conch - seemed like a good trade to us.

At Rendezvous we had the most wonderful dolphin experience - while heading out to snorkel on a perfectly calm day two dolphins decided to fish right next to the dinghy. We were nearly eye-level as they swam and snacked around us. Cool!! Very Cool!!!

Before we knew it the weather was starting to change and water was getting as low as our supply of mangoes so we headed back to Placencia  in time for the Optimist Kids Regatta. Boats came from Corozol, San Pedro, Belize City and Placencia. While watching we had the unexpected pleasure of meeting up with Roy's friend from Belize City, Francis Hueshner. Francis is an avid racer and raced with New Orleans and Southern Yacht Clubs in the 80s and 90s. He was here helping out with the regatta.

Launching in 2 -3 ft waves 18 knots - brave kids!

 30 boats, kids 8 - 14, competed

Charts in Belize are based on British Admiralty Charts from the 17th Century!

Ranguana  Cay Anchorage 16º19.75N  88º09.50W

Little Water Cay.  Stand well off of the cay, even outside the shoal line on the chart. 
  Approach 16º26.995N/88º06.065W, then 16º27.483N/88º05.730W
  Anchorage 16º27.173N/88º05.683W

Rendezvous Cay
  Approach 16º33.153N/88º06.748W, then 16º33.357N/88º06.377W
  Anchorage 16º33.164N/88º06.168W

Saturday, May 11, 2013

On Our Way

There she is with a bottom smooth as a baby's behind and in the eyes' of her owners, oh so beautiful! 

Don't see no blue

Rio Dulce from top of the tallest bridge in C.A.
"Splash Day" was Monday, May 6th, 5:30 PM.
10 long, long days in the shipyard.  We are hoping that by Monday, May 13th we will have checked out of Guatemala and be, finally, on our way to Belize. A look at our torn, faded and tattered Guatemalan courtesy flag says its past time to go.

"Belize? I thought the next stop was Honduras." I hear you and we know, many changes this year. But after thinking it through we only came up with one reason to visit the Bay Islands - we have the courtesy flag. Didn't seem enough to make that sail to windward especially to islands that are not very cruiser friendly. Plus Belize and all those lovely cayes are calling to us.
Dale's head at the Water Falls

We've spent a couple of nights at the dock cleaning and fixing up after the shipyard, then a couple of nights in Lago Izabel to make sure all is well and to visit the Agua Caliente (warm waterfalls). There's Roy with a very social iguana in the pools by the falls.

Tomorrow morning we'll get some provisions and head down Rio Dulce, through that magnificent gorge. Monday we'll stop in Livingston to see Raul and clear out. Next, cross the bar and out to the Caribbean -  Placencia, can't wait to see ya!

Guatamala Clearance papers are $80.00 US (Clearing In was $174.00. A year's extension was $264.00. There are no shorter extensions

 Roy enjoying cashew fruit from the trees around Ram's Shipyard and Marina. One fruit, one cashew -  that's it hanging off the bottom.

Mangoes are my favorite provision

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Guatemala-Lessons Learned

Well it's the 2nd weekend of Jazz Fest ( I hear its a muddy one) and we're up in the air, literally. Instead of sailing the ocean blue, Wahoo is hauled out, up on jackstands and we're camping inside. See, its not a vacation - its just another way to live. Problems and all.

Lets start at the beginning -
By April 1'st we were out of Seventh Street and hanging with friends, first at Greg an Teresa's with our last taste of crawfish then over to Sammye and Grouper's and a Maringy lifestyle. We went to Jean Lafitte for the museum opening, spent time with Spencer and Olivia Maki and their mother, Nancy Welsh. It was a great NOLA time!

John Edward & his studio
Wahoo Waiting for us
We left New Orleans and drove to Houston to be with John Edward and Laura. Excitement, excitement!! John Edward has started his studio. Roy and I got to see the construction first hand. Roy got to be involved just a little bit. We are so proud of that child, felt our heart would burst. It was hard to leave but April 14th came and off we flew. John Edward marked the date in this new-fangle way - he posted our airport picture on his facebook page.

Arriving back in Guatemala Marco, the marina manager, arranged for us to be met at the airport for the 4 hour drive from Guat City to Fronteras; then he brought the launch and took us "home". He'd been looking after Wahoo and on the day of arrival he arranged to have the interior cleaned, even turned on the AC for us. What a welcome!!

Before we knew it we were back in the swing of poolside afternoons, happy hours, potluck dinners and birthday parties. We added a New Orleans twist by bringing Mardi Gras beads to the birthday party and handing out Victoria Inn T-shirts to Marco's girls.

Mario's Marina is a pretty place with palm trees and flowering plants wherever you look. A small pool for hot afternoons, a tienda for necessities and a cantina overlooking the river. Its easy to see why couples who have been cruising for years come here for hurricane season and never leave. Marco makes life easy for the cruisers from refilling the propane tanks to having work done. He keeps his flock happy.

Workmanship in Guatemala is good so while we were stateside the cabin sole was repaired. That turned out so well we decided to have the interior of the Saloon and Galley refinished. Before heading out we wanted to have Wahoo hauled out and her bottom washed, topsides waxed and a seacock that was leaking replaced. 4 - 5 days max. We'd go to Antigua for part of the time and then be ready to provision and go cruising.

Y'all know about the best laid plans, right.

First, our cruising friends, listened in horror as we detailed our 2013/2014 plans to head down the coast to Honduras, a stop at Island Provedencia then on to Panama. Vlad and Attila on Bettie del Mar had done this last year and we'd seen their blog. It all looked so beautiful. In 2014, we planned to continue east  eventually getting to the ABC Islands and finally Trinidad - Tobago and do the lesser Antilles counter-clockwise.  Here's where knowing your geography comes in handy. What's after Panama? (answer: Columbia and Venezuela).  We'll come to find out you absolutely CANNOT go that way. Between the crime in those countries and the winds and seas in the area NO ONE DOES THIS. There's no harbor hopping. If you were going to do it you would have to do it right after hurricane season, wait for a norther to pass and ride the winds down. But even then its a long slog and the crime is still to be faced. Now does that sound like Dale's kind of sailing? What to do?! What to do?!
Sandblasting done

Next, our mind gets made up for us.
Wahoo was hauled out, our Antigua plans were firming up and then...
Murphy stepped in. When the bottom was washed the barrier coat started to fail and pretty soon 1/3 or more of all the bottom paint came off with it. We spent two days agonizing and looking at the pricetag to fix it. Our only option really was to sandblast the bottom, hand sand the gelcoat and apply 2 new barrier coats and 2 top coats. To add insult to injury the freezer went out.

So we shortened our stay in Antigua, planned to mostly stay in Belize this summer and leave the boat in Isla Mujeres ready to get our "easting" off the southern coast of Cuba during our next sailing season. Not a bad plan
- easy for friends & family to come and visit. (hint hint)

Santa Catalina Arch(17th century).  So cloistered nuns could pass  from convent to school

Ruins Inside the Cathedral
Volcanoes Agua and Fuego
Capitaines General Palace, now abandoned.
Let me leave you with a bit from our short stay in Antigua Guatemala (meaning old Guatemala). By 1506 when Columbus died all of the Antilles had been discovered and Spain was eager to colonize the mainland.

Spain took very seriously the pope's gift to them and were eager to bring their religion, economic and social order to this new world.

Unfortunately, they were ill equipped to do so. After spending so many years fighting the Moors, creating a unified country and losing the most industrious of their citizens when they expelled the Jews they had a population that was fervently Christain but exhausted. Their society rewarded the few and had no value for the many. However, unlike England and France they sent the finest of their young men out as Conquistadors to build church, found monasteries, build schools and provide for the welfare of the natives. (of course, that's not exactly how it turned out). But in 1523 one of those young Conquistadores, Pedro de Alvarado, came to northern Guatemala and defeated the Mayan Empire in the highlands. He was named Governor of lands that stretched from Chiapas, the southern state of Mexico to present day Costa Rica, including today's El Salvador, Honduras and Belize. He founded a capital, Ciudad do los Caballeros de Santiago, and moved it twice before finally settling on the present spot in a lush valley. It became the capital city of the Kingdom of Guatemala for over 200 years, 1543 - 1773. Fine buildings were built and embellished, a cathedral and over 13 other churches and monasteries were established because as the Spanish went through the country they colonized by building a church and installing a religious order and school. Each order had its headquarters in the capital. The University of San Carlos, the first university in Central America was built there in 1676. Located between Peru and Mexico the city prospered and many of the original Conquistatores' families became merchants and officials.

Detail from the university entrance
our hotel
Ciudad do los Caballeros de Santiago was situated in a fertile valley between 3 volcanoes. It had a wonderful year round climate, fertile lands and plenty of clean fresh water coming from the rivers in the mountains. However, it also had earthquakes. After the 1773 earthquake the government said "enough already" and ordered everyone out to a new capital, first named Nuevo Guatemala eventually becoming Guatemala City. Not everyone left of course and even though the government took everything - doors, windows, statues, furniture many of the buildings still stood.  Years passed and the people of this small town did what people always do they rebuilt their lives and their community.

Eventually they stopped calling it Santiago and called it Antigua Guatemala, old Guatemala. In the 1960's they started looking around and realized they had a beautiful town even if lots of it was filled with rubble from the earthquake. Little by little they improved what they could. In 1979 the town became a Unesco World Heritage Site. Early in the 21st century tourism came to Antigua Guatemala. Now, its a picture book of cobblestone streets, flowering gardens and old world architecture. The town square is once again the heart of the city, many of the fountains are restored and homes with lovely courtyard gardens have been turned into restaurants and small hotels.

ruins at Santo Domingo Monastery
Walkway into the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo
The Dominican Monastery is slowly being reclaimed and has a 5 star hotel, restaurant and first class museum, but still much of it is still in ruins.

Gardens and rooms

In the Cathedral de San José on one side of the square
the entrance transept has been reclaimed as a parish church. The rest of the massive church and rectory shows all the signs of the 1773 earthquake.

Cathedral de San José
Inside no roof, ruins

Lonely planet says Antigua looks like Guatemala if the Swiss came and ran it for a few years.

We loved it, and the welcome relief of being away from the problems facing us.
and wine!
Always time for chocolate