Cruising Belize April 2006

I have looked over the update that we sent out about our cruise to Belize, and I am going to use it here to describe the trip. The difference will be that this will have pictures! With this trip I should have taken more pictures, but you will get the idea! Please enjoy.

We left the Rio Dulce on the the 7th of April after motoring down the Rio Dulce to Livingston. We checked out of Guatemala at Livingston and then crossed the bar to get out into the Bay of Amatique. We crossed the bay to anchor in the lee of Cabo Tres Puntas, Guatemala. We were sailing in company with another boat, named Serenity, captained by Paul Furstenburg. Paul has been a friend for many years. He was supposed to sail down with us from Key West in November of 2005, but Miss Wilma (the hurricane) changed his plans by sailing Serenity across the bay and ramming the bow into a dock, holing it badly. Paul finally got his boat fixed, and arrived in the Rio Dulce the first of March, 2006.

We stayed at Cabo Tres Puntas two nights. On the morning of the second night, the wind started to blow out of the northwest, which made the anchorage a lee shore. A few hours of that, and we decided to up anchor and move on.

When we left Cabo Tres Puntas, we headed over to New Haven Bight in Belize. We liked it's protected harbor, and peacefulness, so much that we stayed two days and nights. Then, off to Big Creek, a Garifuna town, where we cleared into Belize. Somehow I had expected Big Creek to be a major town, but it was barely a village ... and strung out so far and wide over dusty flatlands that one could not tell how big it actually might be. We followed the markers into the harbor, and came to a sudden end of navigable waters, at least for the big boats ... the docks were occupied. We anchored, and took a dingy in to a small, covered dock, then walked across an oil field compound to the street. Fortunately, Customs, and the Health agency (BAHA), were right there on the street, but we had to get someone to drive us (loosely, a cab ... but more like a fellow who carried one about in his own vehicle ... one time it was a small truck, but that was later) to take us to Immigration. English is the primary language in Belize ... though it is culturally modified, and spoken so rapidly, that it is sometimes hard to follow. We got cleared in, even the cats (Paul has one, too), though they cost more than we did, and took the dingy back to the boat. We thought about staying so that we could watch the departure of the banana boat they were loading, but decided we might be in the way ... the harbor was a really tight fit as there was also a barge in (from Texas) ... so we went around the bend to Placencia.

We stayed in Placencia several days. It was once a small Creole village, but now Placencia has been discovered not only by those whites from various countries who have set up permanent residences there, but also seasonal visitors, guests at the resorts, backpackers, and cruisers. There were about 20 boats in the harbor on this first visit, many of them catamarans offered for chartering by The Moorings. We found the anchoring in Placencia very charming and comfortable, and the town delightful. Everything was available from the Internet cafes to John the Baker Man, who had a shack with old iron-sided wood ovens wherein he bakes most of the town's bread and cinnamon rolls.

Serenity Anchored Cabo Tres Puntas, Northwest Wind

Sunrise At Cabo Tres Puntos

Sunrise At Cabo Tres Puntos

Admiral and PNB Underway to Belize

Serenity and Sunset in New Haven Bight

Serenity, Paul and Sunset in New Haven Bight

Dolphins Swimming In New Haven Bight

Dolphins Swimming In New Haven Bight

Beach House In New haven Bight

Schooner Anchored In New Haven Bight

PNB Checking Out Forward Deck Box

Sunrise In New Haven Bight

Anchorage At Placencia Cay

Anchorage At Placencia Cay

Sunset From Placencia Anchorage

Placencia Village From Anchorage

A few quick comments about Belize in general, then on to trip highlights. One, it seems that an abundance of oil has been discovered in Belize, and they are in the beginning stages of getting it out into the market ... mostly the U.S. market, from what I understand. Two, although we did not do definitive diving, we were sorely disappointed in the reefs on which we did dive. They seem to have been badly battered by storms, and, although there are some colorful fish, the actual reefs are struggling to restore themselves. It was sad to see. Also, and perhaps for the same reason, we found a good fish dinner somewhat hard to come by, and very expensive, compared to other dinners. That was a surprise. And, three, we are told that land (other than waterfront) is very cheap right now, but is on the verge of exploding, so it may be a good investment, should you be so inclined. Hot there, as all around this area, but lovely, so would make a nice vacation spot or actual residence.

From Placencia, we sailed over to Blue Ground Range, where we ran aground in the one high sandy spot entering the protected area. Jim and Paul got in the dingy and 'pulled' us off using a halyard .. but I think we were already drifting off on our own. We went up into the harbor, which was absolutely lovely, and envied the private island on our left. It had graceful stone masonry docks, and several large buildings ... most with the thatched roofs so common down here. It seems that thatching is cooler, and much more resistant to being blown away by high winds and storms. However, it is also a warm and welcoming nest for a myriad of bugs, including scorpions, so many people prefer tin roofs ... or perhaps tin, as a barrier, and thatch somewhat above it, to ward off the worst of the heat. At any rate, the homes on this private island were quite spiffy, and there were several guest bungalows, as well as servants around to care for the visiting children, so I gather it belonged to a man of means.

From Blue Ground Range, we sailed to Robinson Point Cay, and anchored in the lee of Ramsey's Cay. There we met up with our dear fiends, Nicola and Noel, who had sailed down from Houston, aboard their 52' Irwin, Tantalus, to meet us. They brought our mutual friend, Alan, with them, and he will be sailing back to Houston with us. We all had a joyful reunion, caught up on news, and started a still swirling evening tradition of Rum Wookie sundowners. We have also been trading off meals, which has been great fun as N&N are wonderful cooks.

The next day, April 17th, we sailed to Middle Long Cay and all boats anchored there. For the sail to Middle Long Cay, Paul and Serenity left early to get there and check out the anchorage. Dream Away and Tantalus sailed together to Middle Long Cay. Any time two sail boats sail together, it is a race! Needless to say before the "race" was over, both boats had all of their sails up. Noel had a few problems with some lines, but finally got that sorted out. Noel and Tantalus was having such a good time sailing that after Dream Away turned to head to the anchorage at Middle Long Cay , Tantalus kept on sailing, and got to the anchorage a couple of hours later. On April 18th, we took two dingys over to Rendezvous Cay for some snorkeling, which was, as I mentioned above, very disappointing. However, the water was exquisite, both to look at and to feel against one's skin. When the snorkeling trip was over we decided to sail to Garbutt's Cay and anchor there. At this point we were still a company of three boats. Paul stayed only the one night in Garbutt's Cay with us. On April 19th Paul, and Al, took his boat, Serenity, back down south to Placencia and waited for the rest of us there.

Also on April 19th, Jim stayed at Garbutt's Cay on Dream Away, while I went with Tantalus to Dangriga (formerly Stann Creek) to deliver one of N&N's crew, Paul, to the mainland so that he could head back home. Just as we arrived at the makeshift dock up river in Dangriga, the dingy motor stopped. I blithely assumed that Noel had cut the motor early so as to not crash into the dock ... and we did drift in gently. I was having my usual problems with the heat, so dashed into the nearest Internet cafe and tried to check email from their computer. Too slow, but found a better one later ... and that building was air conditioned. When Nicola popped in, we traded info on grocery shopping, and then she was back to the dock with Noel. I now knew that there was a problem with the dinghy motor, but there was a cast of thousands, led by "Charlie", helping Noel, so I headed over to the cooler Internet spot to check email, and picked up some groceries, and it was time to go. We didn't have time to explore Dangriga, so I hope to do that when we return. It appears to be a vibrant place with lots of colorful, cement buildings, many of them two-storied, and is, as I understand it, the Second largest town in Belize.

The following pictures cover the trip from Placencia to Blue Ground Range, the sail to Robinson Cay, then back down south to Middle Long Cay, and then the anchorage at Garbutt Cay.

Checking Depth At Blue Ground Range

Jim And Paul Checking The Channel

Jim Taking Paul Back to Serenity

Sunset At Blue Ground Range

Sunset At Blue Ground Range

Sunset At Blue Ground Range<

Sunset And Serenity At Blue Ground Range

Sunset And Serenity At Blue Ground Range<

Dream Away Heading North

Spinnaker Set On Dream Away

Dolphins On Dream Away Spinnaker

Nicely Makin' Way

Dream Away Under Way

Anchor Windlass & Anchors

Tantalus Sailing In The Race

Tantalus Sailing In The Race

Tantalus Sailing In The Race

Noel And Al Making Repairs

Noel And Al Making Repairs

Paul Steering And Nicola Recording

Serenity and Tantalus Anchored At Garbutt's Cay

Paul Pulling On Anchor Chain

Tantalus Heading Out To Dangriga

Kitty Waving Goodbye From Tantalus

Noel Showing The Path To Dangriga

Tantalus Heading Out

Serenity Heading To Placencia

Alan Driving Serenity

Alan Happy To Depart

Paul And Alan On Serenity

The next day, April 20th, we sailed to Tobacco Cay, anchored out, and went in to shore in the dingy to visit the bar (hammocks and cold beer) that N&N had loved from their last visit. The reef comes right up to the bar, and other edges of the island, so one had merely to walk out a few feet and peer underwater to start the adventure. Again, the reef was not spectacular, but there were entertaining fish, and some wonderful birds about ... including a nest near-by that contained two osprey(?)chicks and two very busy parents. Jim and I actually walked around the island, and made arrangements with one of the small establishments to have a fish dinner that evening. However, in the meantime, Tantalus starting dragging her anchor, so we felt it best to return to Garbutt Cay where they had better holding. Unfortunately, this was not to be as they dragged there, too, several times, and poor Noel was exhausted as his windlass was broken and he had been hauling the anchor and chain aboard, hand-over-hand, for some time. We stayed a recuperative day at Garbutt's, then headed for South Water Cay, which looked delightful, but the holding for Tantalus wasn't good, so we sailed over to Twin Cays and anchored there. While we were anchored at South Water Cay, two Belize fishing sloops sailed by. Pretty interesting to see two 35 foot boats with about six people on each one and several dories stacked on deck. Certainly old fashioned fishing there! We ended up staying at Twin Cays for two nights, so that Tantalus could do some repairs, then we sailed for Placencia, on April 23rd. En route, as we cut through Blue Ground Range, Tantalus was cruising through 32' of water, and came to an abrupt stop. She had caught on a coral head. We circled for some time, and tried to get a line to her to pull her off, but in the end Noel was able to power off, and we were back on our way for the return trip to Placencia.

Paul and Al had been waiting for us in Placencia for five days, and Paul was anxious to get back to the Rio Dulce. So, Al went aboard Tantalus (so he could help with the anchor chain hauling once they sailed), and we settled in for a few days. This time the anchorage was not as comfortable as we rolled a bit, but we still enjoyed it, and we benefited from our past adventures there ... we knew right where the Internet, steaks, and ice cream were ... and we made use of this valuable information.

Rather than take the two big boats around the bend to Big Creek to clear out of Belize, we got tickets for the Hokey-Pokey water taxi. While waiting at the dock for the water taxi to leave, an older American (he explained that he was 83 ... and he looked about 60), was preparing to leave in his huge launcha, and he invited us to go with him. We did so, and en route, he explained that this launcha was the same as those used by the Columbia drug boats. It had two 250 HP Suzuki 4-cycle engines on the back. When he said, "Hold on to your hats.", he meant it. The boat went from an idle speed to running at 45 knots, at about half-throttle, in no time. While running along at 45 knots there was no vibration, but we were pitted against the wind, and we were in for quite a ride. After a quick ride to Big Creek (Independence), we cleared out of Belize, then took the Hokey-Pokey back to Placencia, where we stayed overnight.

On April 27th, we sailed back to New Haven Bight, retracing our anchorages towards 'home', stayed there a night, then on to Cabo Tres Puntas for a night, then an early rise to get over the sand-bar at Livingston around 0900 the morning of April 29th, and cleared into Guatemala there. Livingston is a Garifuna community. As I understand it, the Garifuna's are descendants of African slaves who were on St. Vincent, but who were transported by the British, who feared that they were aiding the rebellion, to the Bay Islands, Honduras. From the Bay Islands they spread out along the coast of Guatemala and Belize. They have colorful villages full of happy people and lots of noise.

Birds On the Beach

Admiral Breakfasting On Dream Away

Belize Fishing Sloop Sailing By

Belize Fishing Sloop Sailing By

Belize Fishing Sloop Sailing By

Second Belize Fishing Sloop Sailing By

Second Belize Fishing Sloop Sailing By

Second Belize Fishing Sloop Sailing By

Second Belize Fishing Sloop Sailing By<

Puss-N-Boots Standing By To Raise Flags

CAPN Program On Computer While Under Way

Nicola And Noel At New Haven Bight

Wookie Ready For A Rum Wookie!

Wookie Really Ready For A Rum Wookie!

Mangroves At New Haven Bight

Strange Cloud Formation At New Haven Bight

Strange Cloud Formation At New Haven Bight

Strange Cloud Formation At New Haven Bight

Tantalus Anchored At New Haven Bight

Tantalus Anchored At New Haven Bight

Tantalus Anchored At Cabo Tres Puntas

Paperwork, and cool drinks in a shaded cafe with lazy over-head fans, completed, we set off up the river, again taking a leisurely ride through the fantastic limestone canyon covered with beautiful trees and vines, and lots of birds. Going up the Rio Dulce is an experience in the Guatemala we imagined, with thatched-roofed bungalow nestled back in the trees, and locals in cayucas (little boats made of hollowed-out logs) fishing. There are an increasing number of big haciendas along the river, and more and more fast launchas, but still the setting is lovely. Again, as in Belize, land here is still cheap, but is beginning to boom. I would truly like to buy a lot here, though along the river one can only lease land, 38 years at a shot, rather than make an out-right purchase. We cruised up-river, crossed the Golfete, which has an area to the west called 'Gringo Bay' because mostly Gringos live there (maybe five homes), and arrived at Tortugal too late to get into our slip (very windy in the afternoons), where we grabbed a mooring. N&N and Paul have their boats just up river about 200 yards at a new marina called Nutria, but there wasn't enough room for us there. Nutria is a little jewel of a place that is curved in from the main river, a bit away from the river traffic. It has lovely shade trees, small cement bungalows, and exquisite views of sunsets and of the 'Castillo' ... the ruins of a small fort.