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 CaƱa 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