Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Happy Birthday in Cay Caulker, Belize

December 6th was my birthday, and we enjoyed the day on Cay Caulker!  We ate at the Tropical Paradise Restaurant for lunch.  I had a great baked whole snapper, one of my favorite fish.
Tropical Paradise Hotel and Restaurant
 Happy Birthday!!!
 Whole backed snapper!
Mom had stuffed snapper!
We then took a walk along the beach front, taking pictures of the beautiful scenes.

 Police Station
 Golf carts are the standard way of transportation on the island

On the way back to the dinghy, which was parked at the fish exchange, we met a fisherman that had some fresh crabs for sale!  Just perfect to finish off my birthday, but some fresh crabs!  

Dale talking to the fishermen about buying some crabs

Perfect end to a very nice birthday on Cay Caulker

Porto Stuck, Cay Chapel, and Cay Caulker

Today we wanted to make it to Cay Caulker, so we had a long way to go. The wind was already kicking up from the east, so this should be perfect in heading north.  There were a couple of new cruise ships that arrived overnight, replacing the ones that left.  One had a large eyes and lips, and mom said that it was the ship that she wanted to be on, too funny! 

We pulled up the anchor and headed across the bay toward a cut between Swallow Cay and Mapps Cay.  The wind was blowing at 15 knots and we were on a broad reach.  We were traveling at 6 to 8 knots and were flying!  It was the best sailing ever!  Unfortunately, we quickly arrived at the pass, so I dropped the sails and motored through.  As it turned out, we could have made it through on sails, as the pass was deep enough, but we had so much speed under sail, I was worried that if I needed to back out of a shallow spot, I would rather be under motor.
Mom on the bow as we motored through Porto Stuck.

After making it through this pass so easily, we raised the jib, and sailed between 5 and 6 knots.  The next pass was Porto Stuck, so I know that I would drop the sails again.  I don't want to sail through the famous shallow cut.  Once we arrived at Porto Stuck, I dropped the jib, and started the engines.  We followed the guide book, and the way points, and easily motored through the pass.  We once again raised the jib, and sailing in 6 to 8 feet of water, yikes, we headed toward Cay Chapel and Cay Caulker.  The water was an amazing blue green.  I guess because of the shallowness and the sand.  You could also see where they drug barges, leaving white sand instead of sea grass.  They were like stripes in the bottom. 

Cay Chapel was just beautiful, with coconut trees lining the shoreline.  It is now a private island, and you need dinner reservations to anchor.  We may have to research that more for our Christmas dinner. 
Cay Chapel
 Catamaran sailing south

We passed Cay Chapel, and quickly headed to Cay Caulker, our final destination.  We pulled into the half moon bay, just west of the island and motored until we found some white sand in 6 feet of water to drop our anchor.  We had arrived!!!  We took the dinghy into a small dock, and for the first time in almost two weeks, walked on land. 
 Yes, Cay Caulker, and our home for the next week!

We walked up and down the Main Street to get the lay of the town.  It was larger than I thought and many tourist from different countries were everywhere.  This is different than the remoteness that we experienced out on the reefs.  It was also nice to get Internet and catch up on things back home.  We ate at a restaurant close to our dinghy, as I was worried about it.  We had tied and locked it by a dive shop and hopefully we didn't block someone.  When I checked on it, there was a dive boat tied where I left the dinghy, and they moved our dinghy forward about 15 feet to get their boat tied up.  Luckily, our security cable is long and they were able to move it. 

We ate our first Belize Conch Fritters and had some fish tacos.  They were both excellent, and mom really liked the conch.  I think that we are going to like Cay Caulker!  Happy Sailing!

Water Cay, Cruise Ships, and the Belize Shipping Channel

Another early morning, as we had a long way to go today.  We wanted to make it to Water Cay, on the north side of the Belize City Ship Channel.  We had anchor up at 7:00, and we needed to head out of the pass east out of Colson Cay.  The cruising guide showed a path angling south out of the pass, as there was a shallow reef directly in front of the pass.  I guess I didn't hug the cay close enough, and soon we were in very shallow water.  I stopped and looked for a way around, so I did a 180 and headed back closer to the cay.  The fishermen were also pointing at several options.  It is always nice to embarrass myself in front of the locals!  Luckily, we found the deeper water and motored out toward the barrier reef and deeper water. 

Local Fishing Boat

Since there was a nice south wind blowing, we raised the sails and headed north parallel to the barrier reef.  We had to dodge several shallow spots, and at one point it we had to do several jibes in a row to snake through the reefs.  We were feeling really confident about how we were dodging reefs when we entered an area on the east side of Middle Long Cay.  There was a long reef running parallel to the Cay, but ahead it angled in front of us and there was no way to get around it!  I then noticed that closer to the Cay, there was a narrow channel of dark water, and a local fishing boat was coming up that way.  So I did a 180, while sailing, catching a beam reach, bumping our speed up to 6 knots, just what I need is speed to angle through the little pass into the deeper water.  I finally angled across the shoal low pass into the deeper water, just before the fishing boat came by.  Later we discovered that this maneuver caused our favorite lure to get hung in some coral, cutting the line.  Maybe the barracuda was getting his revenge!  This was some of our most challenging sailing, as we had to dodge many shallow spots and reefs.
We passed Rendezvous Caye, where many tourist from the cruise lines go for the day to get off of the ship.  It was packed with people when we went by.  No thank you!
Rendezvous Caye
Shuttle boats taking tourist to Rendezvous Caye
We then spend the next hour trying to snake through the shallow spots before we hit the ship channel.  The wind was dying, so once we hit the ship channel, we dropped the sails and motored the rest of the way.
 Local fishermen waving as we sailed by

Ship Channel Marker

We motored on the north side of Water Cay and dropped the anchor in 8 feet of water. 
We were both really tired, and it was only 1:00 pm!  I snorkeled a little and relaxed some.  There was four cruise ships sitting at anchor a couple of miles away.  It was such a contrast to see these mountainous ships, like small cities, as we sit on our small sailboat.  I am thankful that we are on our boat.  As we ate another great meal, we watched each cruise ship head past us and out to sea.  Nothing bad about cruise ships, but the experience that we are getting is much closer to nature and the local life.  We are both enjoying the solitude that we get out in the cays.  Tonight we can see the lights of Belize City, and as we are ready for Internet, people, and restaurants, the light pollution is interfering with our star gazing!

No-See-Um Attack! Flat seas to Colson Cay

This morning started early after a night of fighting no-see-um most of the night.  The wind died, and the no-see-um came out in force.  When I woke up, there must have been a million little no-see-ums waiting for me to open the sliders!  Instantly I was swarmed with the tiny blood suckers!  I grabbed the can of bug spray, Deep Woods OFF, and it barely kept them at bay.  I woke mom up, and said, let's get out of here!!!!  We fought these little brutes all day!  At last, after a couple of mosquito coils lit, the little terrors were gone! 

I started the engines, and we pulled up the anchor and headed for Colson Cay.  The ocean was a sheet of glass, so we motored the whole way.  With the water so clear and like glass, it was amazing that you could see starfish and stingrays on the bottom.  It was also made me nervous to be in such shallow water. Mom sat on the front and kept a lookout for coral heads. 

Just before we hit deep water of the channel, the fishing pole started singing!  Fish on!  I put the engine in neutral, and went back to fight the fish.  It took 10 minutes or so, mainly because the fish took out so much line.  At the end we landed a nice 8 or 10 pound snapper!  Fish tonight, and snapper is one of my favorite! 
 Dale fighting the snapper!
Nice Snapper!!!!

As we were arriving at Colson Cay, fishing pole again started singing!  This time it was a nice size barracuda.  I fought it to the boat and pulled it in.  Mom took a couple of pictures, but our freezer was full, so we let it go.  No barracuda head soup for mom!  Actually, after the last episode of barracuda head stew, we both said no more, as we smelled barracuda head for several days after!!! 
We anchored in the pass of Colson Cay, and was joined later by a local fishing boat.  Mom cooked half of the snapper with some fried potatoes, and it was great!  Snapper is still my favorite fish so far! 
 Lucky Barracuda, as we let him go free!

Tobacco Cay - Finally an easy day

Today was an easy day after yesterday!  We motor sailed about 6 NM north to the south side of Tobacco Cay and anchored in a sheltered cove.  The wind was still blowing from the north in the high teens, but died in the afternoon. 

The forecast is for south east winds for the next four days, which is perfect for our trip north.   Mom cooked chicken spaghetti and baked some fresh bread!  It was an easy day and a great dinner!  Tomorrow we will take the long sail to Colson Cay.  It is a shame, as I understand that Tobacco Cay is very beautiful, and we will not be able to check it out.  Maybe another day! 
Sunset at Tobacco Cay

Twin Cays, Belize - heading for cover!

Today the forecast that the Moorings gave was 5 to 5 knots from the north!  Once I heard this great forecast, we decided to head to Twin Cays, about 20 NM north east. The first challenge was to pull up the two anchors.  I still haven't found a good way to get the secondary anchor up without it being a circus.  Well, welcome to the circus!  Our plan was to pull up the primary with the windlass, and at the same time pull up the slack in the rode for the secondary.  Taking up the secondary rode was important, so that it didn't get hug in the rudders or worse, in a prop.  I guess I wasn't too clear to mom about the secondary rode, as when we finally got the primary up, the secondary rode was way behind the boat.  There were a few words exchanged, and my mom is funny, as when she is in a stressful situation, you voice gets louder and louder.  As she is telling me about the secondary rode, I finally asked he to stop yelling so loud, as I was just a few feet away.  It was kind of funny, but I guess she didn't think so at the moment.  We tried using the windlass and the main winch, but it was hard as the wind was blowing 13 knots, and I had to stay at the helm to keep the boat pointed into the wind.  Finally we were able to brake free the anchor, and I manually pulled it up.  We were finally free!  No pictures were taken to record this circus!

Unfortunately, we had to back track south to get out of Pelican Cays.  I am sure that there was a place to cut west, but the chart plotter is all messed up in this area, and I didn't trust it.  So we went back about 4 miles and around the last part of Pelican Cay and then out into the channel. 

The wind was already blowing in the high teens, so much for the nice forecast today.  I put a double reef in the main and put out most of the jib.  I figured that I could pull the jib in more if needed.  We tacked a few times trying to get west enough to head north.  At one point, I was concerned that we didn't have enough daylight to get to Twin Cays, and no one sails at night here!  I almost headed back to Placencia Harbor, but then decided that I didn't want to lose the 20 NM miles north that we had already sailed.  We finally got the right angle, and headed north east toward the Blue Range Cay, where we had to cut through to get to Twin Cays.  Now the wind was constantly blowing 20 knots, and gusting to 25! So much for the nice weather, plus there was no sun for the past 5 days, and our solar panels are provided nothing in the way of power!   With the reefs in the main, we controlled our speed, running between 5 and 7 knots.  The waves continued to grow over 2 to 3 meters, so we had a nice rocking and rolling ride. 
I was focused in the high winds!
Just as the wind hit a high gust, the fishing reel started to sing!!!  Yipeeeee!!!!  We had a fish on!!!!  I ran over and grabbed the pole, but then realized that the boat was still traveling around 7 knots!  I put the boat into a 'hove to', which was the first time that I did it on this boat.  It actually worked great, slowing down the boat and the rocking!  I then fought the fish for about 10 minutes.  It turned out to be a nice Jack of some sorts, and about 10 pounds!  It was our largest fish so far!  Fish dinner tonight! 

 Fighting the fish in rough seas!
 A nice Jack, not my favorite, but still good to eat!

As were approached the Blue Range Cays, in 20 plus knots of wind, the starboard jib sheet shredded, with the cover separating from the inner strands.  This caused the jib to start flapping and I didn't want it to break all of way, which could damage the jib.  I turned into the wind and I had to cut the halyard, as the outer covering would not go through the turnbuckles.  I guess it is time for new halyards for the jib! 
We then motor sailed with the main, until we arrived at the cut through at the Blue Range Cays. We then dropped the main, and motored through the pass and following the way points in our cruising guide, directly to Twin Cays. 

It was so nice to enter calm protected water!  We anchored in 6 feet of water in the middle of the cays.  I was really tired, as this was one of our more challenging sailing days. It was around 6 hours from anchor up to anchor down, but the heavy winds and waves can wear you out! 
Twin Cays - finally, calm water!

I filleted the fish, and mom cooked half of it for dinner.  The fish was OK, but a little dark for me.  We still enjoyed it and we were both stuffed! 

The rangers came over shortly after we arrived and collected $20BZ for use of the park.  It was well worth the money to have a quiet anchorage.
There are supposed to be crocks in Twin Cays, so we were not advised to swim.  They didn't have to warn us twice, as we stayed on the boat with our toes out of the water! 

Mom spent almost an hour off the back of the boat watching all of the sea life flocking to her light!  It was like an aquarium, with shrimp, crabs, small minnows, larger fish, and some sort of eels swimming around.  The crabs were the most interesting, as they swam all around eating the plankton and fighting off the larger fish that were trying to eat them.  She said that it looked like the video game Galaxy, with the crab one of the larger space ships and the minnows the smaller ones.  What can I say to that.....

Pelican Cays - Still Here!!!

Well, we are still here at Pelican Cay.  The wind continues to blow from 10 to 25 knots each day.  The days have been very overcast with no sun and very windy.  With the low temperatures, in the low 70s, it feels too cold to swim.  The water is still very warm, but we just have no desire to explore or snorkel.  The wind is still crazy outside, as I can hear it very loudly as it whines through the rigging.  The boat also continues to move around, but it is OK, as we have gotten used to the moving.  I am sure there are better anchorages, but so far we are happy staying here and waiting for the wind to die down.  I also thought about heading back to Placencia, as we would at least have Internet, but I hate to loose the ground that we have already made toward San Pedro.  The forecast for Sunday is still the 10 to 20 knots, coming from the northwest, so we may be here another full day.  We have had to run the engines about 45 minutes to an hour each day, as the cloudy weather has impacted our solar energy.  I hate running diesel for only to charge the batteries.  Let's see how tomorrow goes, and hopefully we can head north to a new anchorage. 
Patently waiting for the strong north wind to quit blowing!!!
We ended up staying here for four days!!!  I was ready for sunny skies and easterly breezes.

Pelican Cays, Belize - Thanksgiving Day

It's 9:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day and the wind is still blowing 12 to 20 knots out there!  It has been a good day, although it had some difficult moments.  We got up early and headed out of the Placencia Lagoon, where we had spent the night as the northern front came through.  Today was forecasted with NW winds at 10 to 20 knots, and the next couple days after that.  We decided that we would sail down to Pelican Cay, as it had protection from the North.  The other good thing was our chart plotter already had waypoints entered for the entrance and path through the coral to the anchorage.  So, we headed out!

All I can say is that we had two different experiences.  The first was a beautiful sail in 12 to 15 knots for about two hours.  We had a single reef in our main, but we were still sailing along at 5 to 7 knots.  The waves were not too large, and we were having a great time! 

About half way to Pelican Cay, the wind decided to pick it up a notch, kicking up to 20 knots and then gusting to 25.  We jumped up in speed pushing 8 knots, and the waves grew in size.  Every once in an while, one would crash over the front, spraying everything with water!  We were still in control, and we headed into the wind and put a reef in the jib, and then we put in another one!  We finally got the speed back down to about 6 knots, bursting to 7, but we felt in better control.  We were running close hauled, so we were facing the brunt of the waves head on.
Waves starting to pick up!

I was concern when we arrived at Pelican Cay, as the water went from 75 feet deep to 7 in just a few yards.  As soon as we crossed back not deeper water, we lowered the sails and motored the rest if the way.  It was almost 3 miles of zigging through the waypoints that finally brought us to the anchorage.  We finally decided on a spot and dropped the anchor.  We still had some wind and waves hitting us, as the anchorage was exposed on the west side.  Most of the wind was coming north, so we felt like this was a good spot. 

 Dodging shallow spots coming into Pelican Cays
Our anchorage for the next few days

After getting the boat put away, we both ate lunch and I watched part of a movie, while mom crashed.  We were both worn out, as the sail was a little difficult.  The good thing was that we handled the conditions in a good way, keeping control and not over powering the boat.  It was good practice to have some heavier winds to deal with. 

Just to be safe, I put out our secondary anchor at a 45 degree from our primary, directly west.  I had to use the dinghy to take it our and drop it.  Since the water here is 60 feet, our 200 feet of chain is not quite 5 or 7 to 1, so putting out our secondary gave us some more security.

Mom cooked the most amazing stuffed pork chops and backed apples!  We split a bottle of Melbec and had a great dinner!  The sunset was amazing, and we were both glad to be out in the cays again! 

 Thanksgiving dinner on MokaKat
 Stuffed Pork Chops and red wine

Dale eating Thanksgiving dinner!

We may stay a couple of days at the Pelican Cays as we need to head north, and both of us have no desire to motor into 20 knot winds.  We will wait until the weather forecast looks better before we head out.  Plus. This gives us time to explore the area!

Gusty winds and waves for Thanksgiving day 

Another beautiful sunset!  Happy Sailing!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Christmas Sailing Plans

Kick;n Back in Belize
When we were in Guatemala, we were trying to decide where to meet our family for Christmas.  We finally decided that there wasn't a more beautiful place than in Belize.  So we headed back north from Rio Dulce, Guatemala.  We have spent about a week in Placencia, seeing old friends and getting some repairs done.  We had planned on leaving on Tuesday, the 26th, but a cold front came down on Wednesday, delaying our departure a couple of days.  We did enjoy the few more days in Placencia, but I was ready to hit the reefs again! 
So my wife and son, Maria Paula and Blake, will fly into Belize City and then on to either Cay Caulker or San Pedro.  We will meet them at the airport and spend the holidays in that area of Belize.  We are really excited to have them come down, as neither one has seen the boat or been cruising before!  We are hoping for a great time! 
We would like to arrive in the San Pedro area at least a week or so ahead of them, so that we can scout out the area and find the best spots.  Below are the cays that we will visit on the way north. spending a day or two at each:
Pelican Cay
South Water Cay or Twin Cays
Colson Cay
Middle Long Cay
Water Cay
Cay Caulker
Ambergris Cay (San Pedro)
It will probably take us a couple of weeks to get up to San Pedro, as we are not in a hurry, and like to be out on the cays.  We hope for smooth sailing and no more northern fronts!  We are flexible, so we can't always give a specific schedule.  We may not be able to get on the Internet for a week or two, but once we finally get online again, we should have some great pictures and stories!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Visiting Placencia Belize and our First Northern Front

It was nice to be able to spend a couple of days in Placencia!  This is where we started our journey, so it is nice to come back and see all of our friends again! 
Kick'n back in Placencia Harbor!!!
We anchored near the Moorings Marina in the lagoon, where we needed the expert help of Cricket and Salam to fix a few things on the boat.  Cricket fixed our autopilot in about 30 minutes, installing a key in between the gear sprocket and the motor shaft.  So mom you are out of a job on our next voyage!
Salam helped us order and install a large hose clamp on our upper seal on our sail drive.  The original one had come off, so we feel better that this is corrected too.  He stayed on the boat one night for an hour or so, drinking a couple of our Gallo beers from Guatemala.  He just got married and is a really great guy.  He is also the lead mechanic here at the Moorings Belize. 
We also got to visit with Renee about our future plans in Belize.  She helped mark different anchorages that we can use during our sail north to San Pedro.  Thanks Renee!
We took the boat into the marina and filled our water tanks, so we were ready to go!  Mom had to do some last minute shopping with the Mayan ladies that we met last September.  I think that she made their day, by buying something from each one!

Unfortunately, the weather forecast didn't look too favorable, with a large northern front moving in on Wednesday.  So we decided to wait here a few more days, until the front had passed.  We did manage to buy some supplies while in town, and see Brenda, the Jerk Chicken lady at the dock. 

Brenda's Jerk Chicken Stand
We also had dinner and lunch with Termite, who was a live-aboard staying at the Moorings Marina.  We have kept in touch with him since we left back in September. 
Termite and Wiley (this picture was from last September.  He now has a short haircut!)
Wash day on MokaKat!  Yes, even in paradise you need to do wash!
Sunrise in Placencia Harbor
With the front coming into the area on Wednesday, Tuesday I kicked back and enjoyed the day.  It was absolutely perfect, very little wind and flat seas.  I enjoyed swimming and catching some sun.

Dale kick'n back!  Notice the Lost Bridge Marina Coolie!
This is cruising life...and the first time that I have intentionally caught some sun!
Placencia Harbor, the day before the front
That afternoon, we motored back into the lagoon and anchored just in front of the Moorings Marina.  There was just one other boat around us, so we had plenty of room to spread out.  We dropped our anchor and let out about 150 feet of chain.  The water was only about 6 feet deep, so this was more than enough!  The winds were supposed to hit 30 knots, so we wanted to make sure that we didn't drag.  No more than an hour after we set the anchor a large thunder storm hit the area.  It wasn't part of the front, but I am sure that it was created by the unsettled weather.  It dumped a lot of rain on us but the winds only hit about 18 knots, so we knew that it was not the forecasted front.  The rain did provide us with more than 20 gallons of water to top off our tanks!
Late evening storm coming!
 After the storm, we had a very peaceful evening as everything settled down.  At 4:44 in the morning, I was woken to hear the rigging singing and the wave slapping on the boat!  I guess the front finally made it here!  I got up and turned on the instruments to see how hard the wind was blowing.  It was hitting mid 20s, so nothing too much.  I sat up and watched the weather for an hour or so, and fell back asleep.  I got up around 7:00, and the wind hit over 30 knots a few times.  Our anchor held solid in the lagoon mud, so we felt very safe. 

This what I woke up to at 7:00.  It actually got worse before dying out later in the day.
We enjoyed the cooler day, and as the day wore on, the wind finally slacked off.  There were several of the Moorings Charters out in the reefs having some concerns about the wind.  They all managed to get back into port safely, after waiting for the wind to die.  We were happy to be sitting in the lagoon, before we head out in the morning to Pelican Cay.  Happy Sailing!!!