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

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