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.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sanctuary Belize

Wahoo sailing along the coast of Belize
Well yes, Belize is a sanctuary but the title actually refers to an amazing project in Sapodilla Lagoon which is North of Placencia and where Roy's dad, Walter, ran a sawmill for his uncle. For those of you who remember Walter's story of being stranded in a small boat for 5 days with no food - this is where it happened. (the hand shake, "Well that's breakfast, followed by another, "Well that's dinner", then the plane fly-over that dropped food in the salty water - good story, lovely man!)

Unplugged under sail
The night before we were to leave Placencia for cays on the reef we had a big storm. Winds were clocked at 47 knots and several sailboats, including Unplugged, dragged their anchors. One of the dive boats sank (no injuries). Unplugged is Tom and Coleen's boat and we were going together out to the reef. After the storm everyone felt the need to be totally enclosed and spend a night or two without any drama. So having heard about an unfinished marina in Sapodilla Lagoon with great all around protection, we decided to head that way. Unplugged, Wahoo and two UK sailboats headed to this protected harbor.

Happy Hour on Wahoo
John and Lucy, the future marina managers, welcomed us so warmly that it was 3 days before we all left. They set up pot-luck dinners, allowed us access to the pool, drove us into Dangria Town and gave us a grand tour of the entire development. John and Lucy, were hired by Sanctuary and sailed to Belize a year ago from Vancouver. They sail and live aboard their 70 ft ferro cement boat, Stone Age, while helping to get the marina up and running. The entire Sanctuary Belize site is a 21,000 acre park of which 10% is being developed for homesteads, a cabana style  hotel, beautiful clubhouse with a salt water pool and marina. They are using lots of solar and bio-fuel for power, some of the houses are even made of native bamboo. Of course, Roy knew the family of the man in charge, John Usher, who is a nephew of Mrs Jane Usher. 

Thatching a Roof

As usual, few days go by without an incident. While Wahoo didn't experience the seriously unpleasant sensation of an anchor dragging and the subsequent effort to keep your boat away from shore, docks and other boats in the torrential rain and winds that cause the experience to begin with, we did manage to have our own little experience.

John with a welcome wave on Stone Age

 Here we are motoring up to Sopodilla in very light winds with a clear blue sky above when "thunk!, ba-baump!' "What the hell is that? The engine is vibrating, turn it off fast!! " We're in 90 ft of water in the inner passage - can't be a coral head. Guess someone has to have a look. That means stopping the boat and going into the water while we are NOT at anchor, yikes! This is another of Roy's tasks. Which leaves me making sure we don't sail away and he can get back onboard. Now here's the cool part. This was our first example of traveling with a "buddy boat". Roy raised Tom on the VHF radio to tell him what had happened and he offered to come to our assistance. But we asked that he just standby. It ended up being some coconut fronds which were quickly freed from the propeller  but it did feel good to know that someone WAS standing by.

Salt Water pool overlooks the Caribbean
Coleen and Dale
We stayed with Unplugged for the 3 nights in Sapodilla then 2 nights at Whipray Cay where we enjoyed some good snorkeling, dinner together and a movie night. Yesterday, the 8th, we separated as they were heading to cays we'd already visited for a few days prior to sailing on to the Rio for hurricane season. Tom and Coleen are seasoned sailors who spent 5 years living aboard and sailing the East Coast and the Eastern Caribbean. After a few years back in St Pete they are out and continuing the sailing life, at least for awhile. Its fun to make new friends while sailing, a little sad as you part ways, but then you try to keep up and stay in touch as your wakes may meet again.

A bamboo house

We came back into Placencia for water, a generator repair, some Wifi and time on our Belize phone. This morning we are heading back out and hopefully will make it not only to the cays but beyond to Glover's Reef, one of Belize's 3 atolls.

(News Flash -At 8am on June 9th,  for the first time, we were able to, not only listen, but check in to the NorthWest Caribbean Net! This is a big step forward in our attempt to conquer the SSB!!)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Life At Anchor

We arrived back in Placencia just as the weather changed from beautiful blue skies to grey and squally. What a weather forecaster - but I learned it all from Nash.

Cool and wet gave us a perfect time to get some chores done. We gave all the stainless on the boat a good cleaning, fixed a vent hose that was in a very difficult location and cooked enough red beans to put lots away in the freezer.

Of course, even that allowed for afternoons over at Yoli's Bar which was good as it put us smack in the middle of wedding plans made on Wednesday with vows on Friday. Who says Island time has to be slow. Below is the bride and groom on Yoli's deck looking out on the harbor.


Placencia's famous sidewalk - go here to nearly everywhere.
Getting stuff is always a trip, sometimes literally. For instance to fill up with fuel and water means sailing (well motoring) to the Big Creek Ship Channel South of Placencia then turning out of that to inch our way over the 5-1/2ft bar that leads to the lagoon (we draw 5ft 3in - tides are important), then up the lagoon about 3 miles to fill up at Robert's Grove Marina. The whole trip, there and back takes 4 - 5 hours as we must go slow, slow in the shallow lagoon. That was a large part of one day. Laundry is good here as we found someone to do our laundry for $7 a load (wash, dry and fold). We just haul everything there and back from the boat to the dinghy and over to her house, then back again. Believe me that's not a bad deal!

Finding provisions can be both fun and frustrating and a repeat of boat to dinghy to dock to store(s). Placencia has two vegetable stands, 2 grocery stores - 1 with beer, 1 with liquor, plus John the Bakerman. Oh and Belikan comes only in bottles, you didn't think there might be something else did you? Basically when you see something you want better get it as it probably won't be there next time. This especially applies to fresh produce and bread. I learned an important lesson - don't turn your nose up at head lettuce. If you do you'll go without!
Conch Fritters! Yummy.

Monkey River Town
The weather improved on Thursday so we hired a guide and took a trip to Monkey River Town. We saw everything there is to see by land (during a Jungle Hike) and sea (from the guide's Panga boat) - Crocodiles, Howler Monkeys, Giant Bamboo, Montesuma birds with their strange hanging nests and long yellow tails and lots of Manatees.

Howler Monkey - this troop had a big male, 2 females and 1 baby. Hope the video in the email works.
We've spent 10 days hanging around and getting chores done. We even bought 5 lbs of conch on the last day of conch season and watched all of "Breaking Bad" season 4.  Today, which we think is our last one here, we had quite a treat. Together with another sailing couple, Tom and Coleen, we dinghyed around the point and up in front of town (Placencia is a long curving peninsula) to Turtle Inn for lunch. Turtle Inn is one of two resorts in Belize owned by Frances Ford Coppola. Needless to say this was a far cry from rice and beans with stewed chicken.
Turtle Inn
Lunch at Turtle Inn

Tomorrow if the weather stays as forecast we'll buddy sail with Tom and Coleen to Whippari Cay then out to Glover's Reef, one of Belize's atolls.

While we love the hustle and bustle of San Pedro and the old Colonial charm of Belize City, Placencia has a special place in our hearts as the place we decided to live together way, way, way back when!

Placencia Beach
Looks like "our spot"