Adventures in Belize…

November 14, 2007
Tobacco Range, Belize

So there we were …

On Monday morning over the Northwest Caribbean Radio Net, we heard our friends from s/v Litbe check in. We met them last March during the great rescue-the-other-trawler-off-the-reef incident at Spruce Cay, and they also opted to spend hurricane season on the Rio Dulce, departing in October.

They told us they were on their way out to the atolls – Lighthouse and Glovers Reefs – and we thought it might be a good idea to have some company for the trip. We agreed to meet up at the south side of a teeny tiny little place called Rendezvous Cay, where we would meet the folks from Sea Biscuit and Come Monday. The day was stern and grey, with northerly winds from 15-20 knots that we had to head into. The fur princess was unhappy again, but only for a few short hours.

When we got up to Rendezvous Cay, Torrey of Litbe was poised in his wetsuit, in his dinghy, with a handheld depth sounder, motioning us in like we were a 737 coming to gate E-11 – in this case to the port of all three sailboats, toward the western corner of the cay. We dropped the anchor, backed down, and didn’t hold. So we tried again. And again. Then read in the cruising guide that the anchorage is “poor holding, with sand over hard coral.” Hmmm. So we moved over to the east side of the Cay – starboard of the sailboats, and had no luck there either. Now when we say a “teeny tiny little cay,” we’re talking yards long by feet wide, with a few scraggly pines and palms and a bit of a fringe reef running from either end.

Because it was 4:00 in the afternoon, edging toward twilight, Ole opted to dive into the line locker to dig out the spare anchor – a 65-lb CQR – to exchange with the Bruce that wasn’t setting. Now I’m not saying anything untoward about my captain, but it did make me laugh to see him on his hands and knees throwing things out of the locker, muttering to himself. I don’t know, it just seemed badger-like. When the anchor was finally uncovered, the question at hand was, “how did I ever get this thing IN here???”

By about 4:45, we found a place to drop the hook on the port side of the sailboats in 11 feet of water, and it stuck. Barbara over on Litbe told us not to cook – she had hors d’oeuvres and dinner all ready for us. We enjoyed homemade bread, great sloppy joes and beans –

Then it all went horribly wrong.

The wind suddenly kicked up to about 30, and within seconds, Torrey was up and out the door shouting something about dragging anchor. The folks from Come Monday were out the door and onto their dinghy in a blinding flash to check on their anchorage, leaving Ole and me and the folks from Sea Biscuit to help Torrey try to secure Litbe again, in 30-knot northerly winds, with a hand-operated anchor windlass and a 65-horesepower diesel that sounded like it had got up in a bad mood. Torrey and Mike were on the bow, which was pitching 6-7 feet straight up and down as they tried to haul up the anchor, and dousing them with green water on every down pitch. Ole manned the engine, Sue watched the depth sounder, and Barb and I manned the electrical panel and the ashtray from inside the warm, dry cabin. All I kept thinking through all of it was what could possibly be happening to Emma Jo.

I couldn’t begin to remember how many times they tried and failed, but after about an hour and a half, they were stuck enough to run us back to the boat in their dinghy. The good old CQR did a fine job, but we opted to stand an anchor watch throughout the night. We set the anchoring alarm on the gps, and over the course of the night watched the wind turn a complete 180° by 4:30 a.m., pointing our stern toward the shallow(er) end of the island. By about 5:00, we decided we’d sweat enough, so hauled up to find a secure place to get some sleep.

We headed for Sapodilla Lagoon, got there, anchored, and fell over at about 9:30 am, sleeping until about 2:00 in the afternoon. It was the perfect place – flat calm and quiet. On the net the next morning, Litbe called us again, inviting us to join him further north in the Tobacco Range, just spitting distance from Southwater Cay and Pass, making it possible for a direct jump out to Glovers Reef if the weather permitted.

So off we went, deciding to run the watermaker while underway, and discovering a cheap-ass plastic elbow fitting had broken, rendering the watermaker caput, and us with less than half a tank with no supply in sight. We arrived at Tobacco Range, a couple of mangrove cays shaped like offset parentheses, just about lunchtime, finding Litbe anchored in the windiest part of the lagoon. We shared our watermaker troubles, and Litbe and Sea Biscuit dinghied over with an assortment of fittings to Rube Goldberg a repair together. Back in bidness.

Late in the afternoon, a family of dolphin cruised into the lagoon for a feed, but didn’t get close enough to us to photograph. Cameron and Jenny, a young couple of marine biologists aboard their sailboat Velela, were out kayaking and within 10 yards of the dolphin, just as the sun was getting lower in the sky.

For the kindness of watermaker help, we hosted spaghetti dinner with homemade focaccia for everybody in the anchorage – YUMMM. So far a record of 8 for dinner aboard – there were Torrey and Barbara from Litbe; Mike and Sue from Sea Biscuit; Cameron and Jenny from Velela; and us.

We hoped that the weather would improve enough to get out to Glovers Reef atoll – the sun came out, but the wind was cruising along at 20-25 knots. Upon reflection, looking ahead to getting to Panama by Christmas, we may have to curtail the Glovers Reef trip and head straight for the Bay Islands of Honduras.

Happy Birthday to Me!

November 11, 2007
At Anchor, New Haven, Belize

Happy Birthday to me!!!

We left Texan Bay Marina yesterday morning at 9:45, aiming for New Haven in southern Belize. The weather wasn’t all that great, overcast with some showers, but it matched our mood at saying goodbye to the Rio Dulce.

The cruise downriver was a bit like a farewell parade, as some fish were running that brought out the Mayan cayucos by the dozen.

Crossing the corner of the Gulf of Honduras wasn’t too bad – certainly it wasn’t as placid as our arrival last March – and it came as a shock to the system of Mary Margaret von Stripenfurs, the seasick pussycat princess. Part of the securing for sea ritual is making a circuit of her “deposit” sites, trying to keep things tidy for obvious reasons. When we finally dropped anchor in New Haven at 2:45 in the afternoon and shut down the engines and generators, she glowered at us until the food dish was lowered at 5:30.

After the obligatory anchor dram and nap, Ole made me a birthday dinner featuring huge pork chops (from the Casa Guatemala orphanage store) braised in herbs and apple juice, with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh green beans – followed by a beautifully conceived Norwegian cream cake, caffe lattes made with the stovetop machine and cognac. Great celebration!

Goodbye Belize

March 21, 2007
Placencia, Belize

We opted to stay a couple of days here, as it is a delightfully funky place – kind of an “end of the road” collection of stilt houses painted all kinds of Caribbean colors from turquoise to pink to violent coral purple.

It’s a cruiser haven, and when we pulled in the other day, there must have been about 50 boats huddled between Placencia proper and the cay across. Many American, a few Canadian, and a couple of Germans, from Hamburg, no less.

When we went ashore, we followed a ½ mile long sidewalk that wanders in between the stilt houses and found an eclectic collection of businesses – dive shops, guest houses, an acupuncturist, a sports bar, and even a salon and “spa.” I couldn’t decide whether my favorite is the combination coffee house/internet café/laundromat started up by a guy from Vancouver or the bar/restaurant called “Purple Space Monkeys” painted wild colors. On the walk, the strangest site was the cemetery, where some of the departed had proper crypts above the ground, and others appeared to have been laid to rest in plain old sand, and recently at that.

Grocery shopping was good at Wallen’s market, where there is a semi out back with cases of beer (they know their clientele!). You take in your empty bottles, the “writer dude” gives you a receipt, and the cashier gives you a ticket to take back to the semi for replacements. Very efficient. Stocked up on crackers, coffee, and cookies as well. Ole went back for a nap, leaving Jan with the dinghy (she’s now dinghy-certified) to go get a haircut and check e-mail at the Canadian’s laundry.

Last night we hosted cocktails for some new friends, and oddly, most of them were from the west coast – from Las Vegas, from Montana, and from Oregon. It was our first official “cruisers” cocktail party, and we were surprised to find each couple bringing an hors d’oeuvres to share. There was so much, it was almost a shame to leave for dinner ashore! The company was exceptional, the conversation was fun, and dinner ashore was great.

We left Placencia this morning at about 10:30 to head for New Haven. It’s hard to face it, but tomorrow we’re hoping to clear out of Belize at Punta Gorda, clear in to Guatemala at Livingston, and anchor somewhere in the mouth of the river to head up on Friday to Hacienda Tijax, which we hope will be our home for the next several months.

Lessons Learned (Part 2 of Many…)

March 19, 2007
Placencia, Belize

So after another wonderful day, we heard on the radio that there was a norther coming on Saturday morning, with expected winds from the northwest at 10-15. As we sat Friday night over the rum and oj, we remarked to ourselves that heck, 10-15 was nothing, we were on the south side of the cay, and we could handle it. We snorkeled the anchorage, and found we were set in sand on top of a hill in about 30 feet of water. The anchor chain lay across the top of the hill and gently circled down to the bottom at 50 feet before tracking back up to the boat. We thought we’d be fine, as we had out 175 feet of chain.

About two miles away, in an area the chart calls Bread and Butter Cays (but the cruising guide calls Stewart Cay), we spotted another trawler, tried to hail them on the radio, but they must have been otherwise occupied.

At 11:00 p.m. on Friday night, Jan was up on the computer and Ole had just gone to bed, when, out of nowhere, the wind started blowing 25 with gusts to 30, out of the northwest. So much for weather forecasting.

Ole shot out of bed, looked at the plotter, and found we had slipped anchor and our adrenaline kicked in.

This area is another of those where the plotter, the chart, and the cruising guide differ as to precise positions, so Ole started up the engines, and wisely watched the radar and the plotter for about an hour. When he saw that the anchor had dug in and we were holding ground, he decided to stay up until the worst was over. Jan cat-napped on the watch berth, periodically rising to confirm we were still okay.

At 6:00 in the morning, the light showed we had indeed traveled what we thought was sickeningly close to the reef, but were still holding. The winds had abated during the night, but picked up again with daylight, producing quite a chop in our anchorage. As we considered our options, we heard a call for “any vessel” from the boat we had spotted the night before. They, too, had slipped anchor, but were not so fortunate, as they had been shoved up onto a sand bar and were hard aground. They confirmed their boat was fine, the people were fine, and requested some help in the form of a tow.

We were not at all sure we could help. Our dinghy was still in the water, the wind was blowing a steady 20 knots, and we were unsure about how to get out of the zigzag entrance to our lagoon.

Once we decided to give it a shot, we raised the dinghy, started the engines, and Jan went forward to heave up the anchor. The switch for the anchor windlass chose that precise moment to become non-functional. Ole ran down to the chain locker to examine the switch, and tried to jump-start it, to no avail. After about 10 minutes, we found that by pressing on the switch with a thumb and wiggling as we pressed, we could get some response, and the chain crept up in fits and starts, allowing Ole to position the boat on the track line we left coming in, and get us safely out of Spruce Cay lagoon.

Once underway, we headed toward the vessel in distress, and formulated a plan.

We took out our 300-foot, 1-inch hurricane line, looped it through our two aft hawse cleats, and made a makeshift bridle with a trusty bowline, allowing the distressed vessel to send a party over by dinghy to pick it up. He returned it to his boat, tied off to his two aft deck cleats, and we started pulling, thinking we could “back” him out of the sand bar. Even though we revved up to a mighty 2000 rpm, we made no progress other than to rip out one of his cleats and a chunk of railing.

That having failed, he opted to shift the tow line forward, and asked us to maintain just a constant low-rpm pull, with us headed into the wind, hoping at best that the wave action would work his boat loose – at least that we could keep him from being washed further toward the mangrove until another boat en route could help with the tow.

We found that each time we fell off the wind and had to reposition the boat , we were creeping into shallower and shallower water, until, when the depth sounder crept below 4 feet and quit returning a signal, we decided to add another 200 feet of line. Just as we requested adding a third line, the other vessel showed up to help.

About 11:45, other boat added its heft to the effort. Since the distressed vessel was losing cleats left and right, they were advised to wrap one of the tow lines around their house and send it to the other assisting vessel. Once all lines were in place, we and the assisting vessel coordinated a mighty pull, which snapped the tow line attached around the house. We decided that there was nothing more we could do, and to head for Placencia.

Once our decision was made, we agreed to lend the vessel our lines, and decided to let him haul them in from his end. Trying to untie the bowline in our towing bridle proved impossible – given the strain of pulling a 10-ton boat with a 24-ton boat with saltwater-drenched line. Out came the trusty knife.

Once the line was cut, Emma Jo drifted backward, and in spite of furious pulling on the line by the distressed vessel, we ended up with tow line wrapped around both our propellers – in 20 knot wind, in 7 feet of water, in 2 foot chop. Jan rushed up to drop the anchor, which did not set. Using the less-than-effective thumb-wiggling anchor retrieval technique, once the anchor came up we saw it had a huge rock wedged into it.

Since we had no other choice, we dropped the anchor yet again, and fortunately, the anchor hitting the bottom knocked the rock loose, and it held. The distressed vessel helped cut the line off our shafts, Jan thumb-wiggled the anchor windlass switch and we were off. The assisting vessel remained nearby in case they could be of service.

Once we got safely anchored in Placencia, we had a nap and a meal, and turned in early.

Sunday lunchtime we decided to meet some of the people who had been hovering on-site or coordinating radio communication from Placencia during Saturday’s efforts. We took the dinghy over and met some wonderful people for lunch – and debriefed the situation. When Ole heard that there was to be a commercial tugboat dispatched to help the distressed vessel, there was no question but that he would ride along with them.

There was quite the vicarious sense of adventure listening in on the radio, which for some reason, was louder and clearer than it had been the previous couple of days. When it was announced just after high tide that the vessel was floating, had intact running gear, and could motor on her own, in spite of snapping a 2-inch tow line in the process of getting free, you could almost hear the cheers from 20 miles away.

So this adventure raises a few moral questions:

Should we put our own vessel at risk to help another? When is it time to abandon an assistance effort? When, in a third-world country whose Coast Guard doesn’t have any ships, is it appropriate to alert the authorities? How much detail about another’s predicament should one provide on a public website?

In the first case, each boater must assess his own abilities, equipment, and resources. There is, of course, a long tradition of Samaritanship at sea – and an international treaty which requires commercial ships to render assistance when possible – Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS. While we seriously contemplated denying the request because of the conditions in which we found ourselves, each decision and consequence allowed us to rethink the situation and choose anew. Several times during the 5 hours we stood by the distressed vessel, we thought to end the effort, but found that we could do more, take more than our fears would have us. After all – it could just as easily have happened to us – and very nearly did. The key seemed to be to stay present, stay rational, and adjust as necessary, avoiding the temptation to let panic or adrenaline decide. Another factor is, of course, Ole’s profession and training, allowing him to take the emotional lead on our boat.

We felt thoroughly terrible saying goodbye and turning our back on the distressed vessel. But we had tried for nearly 5 hours, through high and approaching low tide. The addition of a second vessel with a similar power plant to ours seemed to make no difference to the result. We had been up all night, and maneuvering in bad conditions for 6 hours from the time we left our anchorage to the time we left the site — and fatigue was setting in. It sounds harsh to me – but taking care of oneself needs to be the prime directive when taking on helping another.

The third consideration is interesting. As decent, law-abiding cruisers, we should make every effort to deal honestly with the governments of the waters we cruise. We do not want to be ugly Americans (or otherwise) while guests in foreign waters. But in a part of the world where a vessel blown aground onto a reef was recently faced with a fine of $30,000 and a jail term of 3 years, one has to determine individually whether honesty is in the best interest of captain, crew and vessel.

And finally, because of the previous moral consideration as well as the last, as the webmaster and diarist of this website, it falls to me to make the decision about how much detail to make publicly available. I have attempted to include as much detail as is pertinent to us, the crew of Emma Jo, while eliminating any detail that would positively identify the vessel in distress or other parties who might have assisted in her rescue.

Moral questions aside, it has been an interesting few days, and has not only added to our cruising repertoire but also to our sense of community within the cruising world.

Aaaah. So THIS is Cruising!

March 16, 2007
Spruce Cay, Belize

We spent another day at Southwater Cay, relaxing in the morning and going ashore to explore in the afternoon.

The island has two lodges – Blue Marlin and Pelican – on opposite ends, and a private homestead for the Bowman family, an outpost of the IZE (International Zoological Expeditions), and a station for Southwater Cay University in between. All of these facilities exist on an island that is barely ½ mile long and about 100 yards wide, situated right on the barrier reef, and are connected with a one-person wide footpath. Everyone we met along our walk was lovely, friendly and welcoming. After our walk, we ended up back at Blue Marlin, and waded out to the top of the reef for a look.

We opted to dinghy ashore for a decent, family-style dinner in their lovely restaurant, where the only other patrons were the family of four that we had met the day we arrived. We can’t say the prices were exactly reasonable, but considering that every single item on the menu or in the bar has to come in by boat from 20 miles away, it wasn’t too dreadful, either.

We called it an early night, in order to get ready to cross about 10 miles over to Spruce Cay this morning, arriving about noon.

Spruce Cay is yet another ¼ mile-across mangrove island, but its redeeming feature is an almost circular surrounding reef, which required some zigzagging to get through safely. Once we anchored, we took the dinghy through the lagoon to take some soundings, as we are not yet too adept at matching up what we see with the depth sounder with what we see over the side. Reading water colors is an art that requires much practice.

Once we decided we had enough depth and swinging room, we loaded up the snorkel gear and headed for the southwest side of the island where our cruising guide said good snorkeling was to be had. We were not disappointed. This was the best so far, with plenty of colorful corals – red, purple, mustard and orange – with quite a few fish and startlingly clear water. This is the snorkeling experience I have wanted Ole to have – like being in a dentist’s office aquarium.

This notion of nothing to do but swim and snorkel and have cocktails on the aft deck in our skivvies and watch the sunset is exactly what we had hoped for! Even the cats are finally chilling out, but we need a lock on the fridge…

We’ll spend another night, and head for Placencia in the morning.

Now We’re Talking!

March 14, 2007
South water Cay
Belize

Wow. Glee is now raging in full force.

The 10-mile cruise from Garbutt Cay yesterday took us southeastward toward the barrier reef, from 30-foot depth to something in between 8 and 10 feet, cruising in water so disarmingly clear we could just about count the hermit crabs on the bottom as we motored along. On the way, we passed by Tobacco Cay, which seemed attractive to quite a few cruisers, including the Texans from yesterday.

We anchored within 100 yards of the north end of Southwater Cay, after aiming at a mooring ball closer in and determining there was only about 4.5 feet of water under it. The area has grassy patches, so we found a clear patch of sand to drop the anchor and back down about 50 feet of chain. The water is so clear that we could physically see the anchor dug into the edge of the sand patch.

Immediately, we lowered the dinghy and the spare gas can and fumed our way to the dock at the Blue Marlin Resort on the north end of the island. We were met by a lovely, charming woman who welcomed us with a smile and told us we could tie up the dinghy just about anywhere on their dock – that she didn’t think they had any gas to spare but a facility toward the center of the island might be able to help. A speedboat arrived just minutes after, and unloaded a family of 4 that were planning to stay in the resort up to the weekend.

With the speedboat came supplies for the lodge, and one of the guys, seeing the gas can in our hands, asked if we needed help. We asked if they had any fuel to spare, and he told us to set down the can, have a walk around, and they would help us as soon as they finished unloading their boats.

So we had a look around. This place is just about the most beautiful little spot we’ve seen since Huahine in Tahiti, 20 years ago. The lodge is a collection of guesthouses, reef-facing cottages, and little concrete domes that can accommodate up to 32 guests on vacation, diving, or swimming packages. It’s so lovely that we feel compelled to offer you their website, where you can take a virtual tour of the place: www.bluemarlinlodge.com The owner of the place is Rosella Zabaneh, and you can email her at marlin@btl.net Here are a few photos we took, trying to capture the magic of the place.

After a look around, we sat in the shade with a couple of beers and the lodge’s boat captain/dive master, a Nicaraguan named Ron, who entertained us with stories of how he ended up in Belize after escaping the Sandanista/Contra unpleasantness during the 80’s. He confirmed what we have been researching on the internet – that Nicaragua is now considered to be one of the safest countries in Central America.

Once our chat with Ron had finished, the guys brought us back our full gas can, pre-mixed for the outboard. The manager, Juliette, came out to us in the garden to settle the bill — $6.00 US per gallon. Eek. But considering the distance of the nearest gas pump (20 miles), the fact that the gas had come in by speedboat, and had been pre-mixed for us with such gracious service, we were happy to pay it.

As we headed back up the dock to fuel the dinghy and go, the Texans motored in.

Once we had the dinghy properly fueled up, we headed the half mile to the south end of the island, where Ron told us we could snorkel right around the edge of the pass. On the way toward the pass, we did find a few jacks, some snapper and damselfish, but when we saw a 3-4-foot nurse shark wrestling with something about 30 feet in front of us in less than 4 feet of water, we opted to make like Lloyd Bridges and back off to the beach.

Back on the boat, it was mojitos on the back deck as the sun went down (thanks again, Lise – we just finished the last can of mixer!)

Since we didn’t stop at Tobacco Cay, we’ve opted to stay here another night and dine in the restaurant at the Blue Marlin. Tomorrow, if the wind stays like it is, we’ll head across 15 miles of ocean to Glover’s Reef, one of the only true atolls in the Northern Hemisphere.

This morning, while enjoying the second cup of coffee on the aft deck, a family of dolphins came cruising by within about 25 feet of us – mom, dad and baby.

sunset-feet-2

Yup. NOW we’re talking.

Garbutt Cay, Belize

March 13, 2007
Garbutt Cay, Fly Range
Belize

After just about an hour’s cruise from Bluefield, we arrived on the west side of Garbutt Cay, and anchored in about 20 feet of water. It was so still, and the water so calm, that we opted for an early afternoon swim and a few cold Lighthouse beers.

About the time we were out of the water and suitably dressed, a catamaran bearing a family of 7 and a Texas flag where the US flag should be came right up beside us to anchor for the evening, launching the kids in a kayak and the parents in the dinghy to go fishing.

We saw a few people on the cay, and as you can see by the pilings in the photo below, determined that they had been sent to clear the island and protect its shoreline. The cruising guide spoke of a few fish camps on the cays, and apparently this was one of them. We dinghied over on the off chance we might be able to buy any spare gasoline they might have, but their spokesman told us that gas was available on Tobacco Cay, some 7 miles away. When Ole noticed the size of their knives, we introduced ourselves, asked for their names, smiled, and used the fumes in the dinghy’s gas tank to zip smartly back to the boat.

This was perhaps the quietest anchorage we’ve had so far – with little to no wind and therefore no current, and both of us slept like rocks.

This morning, we got up at a fairly civilized 7:30 a.m., read and wrote for a bit, then took the best shower available on the planet – on the swim step, after the Texans had left. I think the “glee” factor is warming up.

We’re leaving this morning, skipping Tobacco Cay, and heading straight for Southwater Cay, which is a sand island that lies directly on the barrier reef. In terms of the mangrove cays, we’ve now been there, done that, and are looking forward to some good snorkeling.

Here are pictures of Garbutt Cay.

Bluefield Range, Belize

Monday, March 12
Bluefield Range, Belize

Another astonishingly pleasant day. After pulling up anchor at about 11:00 a.m., just a scant 4 hours later we crept into a perfectly sheltered little bowl amidst three mangrove cays with about 12 feet under us. The trusty cruising guide spoke of the “Bluefield Range Resort” on the southern tip of the westernmost cay, but binocular surveillance showed a ramshackle collection of stilt buildings with all doors and windows open and looking pretty well abandoned.

The post-nap dinghy trip over to the “resort” confirmed that the place was indeed deserted, but not abandoned. The cay is barely a quarter mile long and maybe 50 yards wide at the widest point, with a few scrubby trees and mangroves along the north end. The grounds appeared raked, there was no trash or flotsam on the shoreline, there was a neat fire/trash pit, and the place looked tidy. When we found a laundry bucket with warm water and clean clothes in it, we got a little spooked, as there was no evidence of anybody around.

We decided to walk along the docks connecting the stilt huts, and from out of nowhere, a man quietly appeared from one of the huts. He greeted us in limited English, and we gathered that he was there to “watch the resort for the owners.” We asked his permission to look around further, and found a collection of half a dozen or so little huts, each with a bed frame and bedside chest, wooden floor, and white-painted lounge chair out front. “Resort” was more than stretching the term. It reminded us of the wilderness cabins the forest service maintains in Alaska – nothing but the barest, most primitive shelter.

The man said he had been on the cay since June – that makes it 9 months! He appeared clean, tidy, and well-fed, but we were compelled to ask how often someone came by with provisions. “Weekly,” he said, but his provisioner was a few days late this time because he was ill. He was out of fuel for the generator, but had plenty of water. A glimpse into a doorway behind him showed a primitive, if well-stocked little kitchen, with neatly stacked crockery, pots and pans, and canned goods.

In a way, he was also the owner’s real estate agent, explaining the resort was for sale – that the owner was asking $500,000 Belize for it (about $250,000 US). Great price for the island, but the buildings weren’t much more than salt-washed kindling.

Later that evening, as the sun went down and we sat on the back deck looking over toward the “resort,” we couldn’t help speculating about the guy. Did he need anything? What about communications? Did he have a radio? Enough food?

I suppose this won’t be the first of the culture clash conversations we will have. Who are we, comfortable and prosperous in our floating home with ice, generator, frozen food, electronic entertainment, and way too much clothing, to assume this man needs anything? He gets up with the light, and goes to sleep with the dark. He is only about 20 miles from Belize City, a half-hour by speedboat. The “resort” is listed in the cruising guide, and probably visited several times a week by yachties of one sort or another. He’s fine.

And so are we. We turned the anchor light off at about 9:00 p.m. so that we could sit on the sun deck and look at stars, which we don’t often get to see in the “civilized” world of light pollution. It’s definitely contributing to the kindling of a tiny “glee” spark to note the Southern Cross rises fairly early in the night and stays constant.

Off tomorrow for the Fly Range and Garbutt Cay.

At Last…Cruising Belize

Sunday, March 11
Bannister Bogue, Drowned Cays
Belize

Wait…can this be? A passage of just a couple of hours with no knockout swells? A gentle breeze? Balmy temperatures?

You’d think Mercury had gone direct or something!

We headed generally south of east from Belize City at around 11:30 a.m. for a string of mangrove islands called the Drowned Cays, and a particular channel through them called Bannister Bogue, found it without problems, and dropped anchor in about 12 feet of water in front of two big sailboats at about 4:30 p.m. It didn’t seem all that great for swimming, as a pretty decent current through the bogue ran from the lagoon east of us to the flats to the west.

We were surprised to find a resort of sorts newly built on the east side of the cay, and had a few go-fast boats zoom past the anchorage during the late afternoon, but by the time cocktails and dinner had been accomplished, it was all quiet.

Here is the chart we are using, from Freya Raucher’s cruising guide, and pictures of the bogue.

Getting Ready for Some Fun in Belize

Saturday, March 10, 2007
Radisson Fort George Marina
Belize City, Belize

It’s just after 11:00 a.m. and we’re finally getting ready to get underway for what we hope will begin the fun portion of this cruise.

Ole got back yesterday afternoon as planned, we washed down the boat, reset the lines, pulled up the anchor we had set against the norther, and looked at what we’ll do with the remaining 19 days of his vacation on the way to Guatemala. We think we have a plan. We’re not tied down to waypoints and planning for seas, as we’ll be cruising all through protected waters until we arrive in Rio Dulce – but the plans do call for napping, skinny-dipping, snorkeling, and the “work a little, play a little” ethic we thought this cruise would be about.

Jan heard over the radio that Mercury was retrograde during the months of January and February and was about to turn direct – apparently there’s some folklore that when Mercury is retrograde, travel and communications get messed up. No kidding.

It’s return to a direct path, whether we believe it or not, at least gives us reason for optimism, hoping that the next three weeks will be much more delightful than the first three!

This morning, we went to the open-air market to provision fresh fruits and vegetables, and to a modern, clean grocery store to stock up on the dairy, dry goods, and beverages.

Here are a few pictures of what we saw:

We’re only going to cruise about an hour to a protected spot in the Drowned Cays, from which we’ll launch the dinghy and explore. We don’t know exactly when the next internet connection will be, so we’ll take lots of pictures and update the journal daily, uploading it when next we can.