Dream Away Update 03-May-2006
We left the Rio Dulce on the the 7th of April after motoring down river 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. 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, but Miss Wilma (the hurricane) changed his plans by sailing him across the bay and ramming his bow into a dock, holing it badly. He finally got his boat fixed, and arrived in the Rio Dulce the first of March.
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.
Hi All, This is Katherine (Kitty), writing more on the update. Jim is headlong into boat projects, as usual, and now Al is here to help him, so I have been asked to continue this missive. Right now they are repairing a hole in the dingy. Don't know how it got there as it is on top, but it was leaking air just the same.
Back to the dialog ... When we left Cabos Tres Puntas, we headed over to New Haven Bight, and 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.
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, where 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 we sailed to Garbutt's Cay and all boats anchored there. We took two dingys over to Rendezvous Cay for some snorkeling one day, which was, as I mentioned above, very disappointing. However, the water was exquisite, both to look at and to feel against one's skin. At this point we were still a company of three boats, but Paul stayed only the one night in Garbutt's Cay with us, then he, and Al, took his boat, Serenity, back down south to Placencia and waited for the rest of us there.
The next day, Jim stayed at Garbutt's Cay 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, 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 next day 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. We ended up staying at Twin Cays for two nights, so that Tantalus could do some repairs, then we sailed for Placencia. 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. When the boat was running at 45 knots, at about half-throttle, 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.
We sailed back to New Haven Bight, retracing our anchorages towards 'home', stayed there a night, then on to Cabos 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.
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.
We are all now preparing our boats for the season ahead. N&N and Paul will be leaving their boats here through hurricane season. Paul will be flying back to Florida to participate in the Boy Scout program for the summer, and N&N and Al will sail with us to Isla Mujeres. We plan to leave Tortugal on May 18th for a crossing of 5-6 days, and hope to arrive at Isla Mujeres, Mexico, in time to have some play time before N&N leave for England and their seasonal car racing. Steve is to join us on Isla on June 5th, then he and Al, and we two (three if you count the cat :-) will sail for Houston, an anticipated crossing of 8-10 days.
Someone wrote me that when man makes plans, God laughs, and, with our history of changes, you know that this must be true. As ever, our plans are 'guidelines' (thank you 'Pirates of the Caribbean' for that most appropriate word, it is ours forever). We will keep you posted as best we can. I am way behind on emails, but have hopes of catching up now that we are stationery for a week or two. Please bear with me. Jim, on the other hand, seems to be keeping up as he gets up very early in the morning, literally, to do just that.
Looking forward to hearing from you all. Hope all is well with you and yours.
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