A Tropical Anniversary

Monday December 16, 2013

Cay Caulker, Belize

We eventually ended up back on the deck of Serendipity, trying to pick out the stars through passing clouds. It definitely wasn’t a bad anniversary for ‘having to settle in a boat yard’, but please, please let me be in a tropical location next time around.” I have to laugh at that comment from the blog last year. I had been (slightly) upset that our wedding anniversary was spent in St. Augustine Florida instead of the Bahamas. All I wanted was to be somewhere warm with beautiful beaches. I guess technically, I got my wish this time around.  I just should have been more specific and asked for a tropical location and good weather.

Even though it was still raining on and off, has been all day, and has been for the past five days now, we pulled on some quick dry gear and puttered to town to have a nice lunch out.  I can’t really say that it was romantic, I spent the whole hour and a half with my face glued to my computer.  Can you blame me though? You’ve read what my past few days have been like on the boat. I needed social media interaction.  Lovey-dovey time with Matt could wait, I see him all the time.

After finishing our authentic Belizian lunch, we tried to stroll the town a little before getting rained out and heading back to the boat for the evening.  It turns out that even though I ignored him all through our lunch, Matt did have a special little anniversary surprise up his sleeve.  He’d saved up enough battery on his touch pad that we’d be able to watch a movie together that night.  Piling up a bunch of blankets and pillows together in the v-berth, we feasted our eyes on a Pixar movie while I devoured the last of the hard candy I bought back in Guatemala, the closest thing I could get to Skittles.

It was sweet, and as silly as it sounds, something I really needed in my life.  I miss cuddling up to a good movie.  Unfortunately it ended quite some time before we were ready for bed, and we went back to…reading.  I’d already gotten most of the way through Sailing, by Ellen MacArthur, but my brain didn’t want to take in any more boat related information for the night.  So, I finished out my night by grabbing a deck of cards and playing Solitaire.  On my wedding anniversary.  Oh, the irony.

I just have one big favor to ask, Fate.  Next year will be a milestone, our ten year wedding anniversary.  Please, please, please let us be in a beautiful location, with good weather, and a nice restaurant to visit for dinner.  Something I wouldn’t feel out of place wearing a dress to.  Come on, help a girl out, I’m trying to be really specific this time.

beach on Cay Caulker, Belize

coffee shop, Cay Caulker, Belize

market, Cay Caulker, Belize

bakery, Cay Caulker, Belize

La Cubana, Cay Caulker, Belize

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Eat. Sleep. Read. Repeat.

Saturday December 14, 2013

sunset over sailboat, Cay Caulker, Belize

Our plans to leave on Thursday morning for Cozumel were completely and utter squashed. After we got back from our little snorkel adventure on Wednesday we secured the dinghy on deck, cleaned the boat up, and prepared ourselves for a 9 o’clock departure the next morning. The alarm was set for eight just to give us enough time to fully wake up instead of putting the engine on while still in our pajamas and leaving while rubbing the sleepies from our eyes, as we had done so many times in our past. Just like the time we had gotten so excited to leave St. Augustine this year though, we could tell it would be a no-go before we even woke up.

Outside the winds were howling and we were bobbing up and down in the normally well protected anchorage. There was a northern on the forecast, something we were hoping to dodge by quickly checking in to Cozumel and waiting it out in Puerto Aventura, but it looks like it decided to come a few days early. It wasn’t to the point yet that we didn’t dare venture outside, and so we decided to have a discussion on if the trip was still a go or not. Having gotten in the habit of downloading all of Passage Weather’s images so we can keep them on our computers even when we don’t have an internet signal, we took a look at the next week.

The forecast on screen hadn’t changed since we last looked at it (obviously), showing us that we had a comfortable 48-60 hours to get ourselves to Cozumel and then quickly across to Puerto Aventura. Looking past that though, we’d be shut in for the next week. Since we still had a little time on our hands we decided to keep checking the conditions outside until noon to see if they improved, still letting us make the leap. We’d already been in Belize about a week at this point, probably overstaying our welcome, and we wanted to get moving on. Every check on the hour though, nothing changed. In fact, it only looked to be getting worse. The final decision came down to me, as it usually does, and having made at least one major wrong decision before, I decided that we stay put. We might be here another week, but at least we knew we’d be safe.

Thus began the most boring past few days of my life. Have I mentioned that we’ve been getting a lot of rain here in Belize? And that pretty much the only sunny days we’ve had have been travel days? Now don’t pounce on me just yet, I know you’re probably thinking ‘There’s plenty of things you can do to keep yourself busy in bad weather’. In fact, I think I remember participating in a thread about the same subject in Sailnet before leaving on this journey. And no Ron, I can’t just pop in the water and go snorkeling, there’s nothing to see here. Other suggestions ranged from taking time to go through photos (mine), using the rainy day to hunker down and watch a movie (probably mine too), or spend some time in the bedroom with your significant other.

Well, for your sake I won’t get into the last one, but the first two couldn’t be done even if we wanted to. Ever since leaving our slip in Rio Dulce, our batteries have been slowly dwindling and we’ve been in power conservation mode. Our main source to gain power is our 470 watt solar panels, but conditions have just been so crummy lately that there hasn’t been any sun around to make us power. We’ve even succumbed to running the engine at least an hour a day to keep all necessary parts running, such as the chill box. Everything else was only if we could spare it. And usually, we couldn’t. My Samsung laptop which takes about 1 hour to charge and uses 4 amps while doing so, was allowed one charge per day. Maybe. T.V. or movies? Completely out of the question. We could have hidden out in bars and restaurants, but we didn’t want to use our credit cards here, and our cash reserve was getting low (more on that later). So, we took to reading.

Both of us have our own e-reader. Mine is a brand new Nook that my mom bought as Matt’s birthday gift last year after I stepped on and broke his Opus (thanks Mom!). And Matt’s is a new Kindle that we bought off our friend Nate in Cayman when the Nook didn’t arrive in time to meet us in Jamaica and we didn’t know we’d be headed back to the states to pick it up (Thanks Nate!). This may have been fine, except we’ve been following this same routine for days in Guatemala, Colson Cays, Middle Long Cay, and St. George’s Cay. For almost weeks now we’ve been following the theme of Eat, Sleep, Read, Repeat. Sometimes a little excitement will be thrown in when the rain really starts pouring down and we try to catch it since, running the water maker uses power that we don’t really have right now. One of us will be sent on deck in half a bathing suit to open the deck fill, and then run back down, soaking wet, but at least having gotten a mini shower in for the day.

Today, I think I might be the final straw though. My e-reader has run out of juice and there just isn’t enough left in the battery bank to allow for such frivolous charges. My only fiction paperback book was finished last week, and now all that’s left for me are sailing manuals and how-to guides. Things are getting dire people, I might actually have to learn something.

lancha in palm trees, Cay Caulker, Belize

Georgie on deck

 Georgie was happy just for a chance to get on deck again.

12.14.13 (2)

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Cay Caulker….Go Slow

Wednesday December 11, 2013

palm tree at Cay Caulker

I love when a place has it’s own catchphrase.  Normally you might see it for a whole country or even just a large providence, but we’ve stumbled upon a little island that has it’s own catchphrase.  Everywhere you go on the island you’ll see it posted on boards, painted across buildings, and imprinted on tee shirts.  Cay Caulker…Go Slow.

Today we decided to follow just those rules, to go slow.  In our dinghy that is.  Now that we’ve gotten rid of our Johnson 9.9 hp, all we’re left with is our Mercrury 3.3, which is normally just fine for us.  Before we even sold the Johnson though and had the chance to slip those crisp hundred dollar bills in our pockets, we thought to ourselves, ‘If only we could keep it long enough for Belize’.  The reason being that Belize has a lot of great snorkeling sights, but none of them are usually near anchorages.  Which leaves one with two options. Take your dinghy out there, or pay a fairly hefty price to hop on a tour boat and have them take you the 3-6 miles to a decent dive/snorkel site.  We decided against the latter since we’re cheap and would kick ourselves later for paying money for something we could get to on our own.  Maybe not here, but in general.  Which left us with the dinghy and our little 3.3 hp engine. Oh, and only about two gallons of gasoline.

We never really communicated between each other what the plan was when we left Serendipity, sitting in the west bay of the island.  All I knew is that we had our snorkel gear, the dinghy anchor, a nalgene bottle full of water, and our two gallons of gasoline.  Puttering out through the dinghy cut to the east side of the island and the barrier reef lying a mile out, we passed a popular restaurant situated right on the cut full of already tipsy backpackers and vacationers which were probably wondering where these two people were going in a 9 ft inflatable boat.  Due to the non-communication between the two of us, I assumed that we were planning on motoring the one mile directly out to the barrier reef to see what kind of diving we could find out there.  It’s not like we wouldn’t be able to find it, the thing stretches for hundreds of miles with very few breaks in it.  The reason I assumed this is because all the dedicated snorkeling sites on our charts were at the north and south tips of the island, and we were somewhere in the middle.  Which would have meant about a six mile round trip in the dinghy to get there and back.

Not only was I not sure if we would have time or fuel, for some reason I had a distinct feeling that if we went that far away, something would go terribly wrong and either the dinghy would become untied from the anchor leaving us stranded in the water, or worse, we’d be carried out to sea with it.  Don’t ask me how these thoughts make their way into my head, but once they’re there, it’s 100% certain that it will happen.  I can see into the future, trust me.  So when Matt asked which way he had to turn to make it to the marked snorkeling site, I violently shook my head back and forth.  Not that he usually believes in my fortune telling (although I have frightened him before by being eerily accurate) I told him the more logical reason, that it was a six mile trip, we were moving at about three miles an hour, and it was already mid afternoon.  He bought it, and we continued on a direct path to the barrier reef instead.

Motoring out until we were only about a hundred feet from the reef, we dropped the anchor for t/t ‘Dip in about ten feet of water with a sandy bottom.  It’s surprising how much eel grass is all the way out here even, trying to find a spot to anchor the dinghy was a challenge in itself.  Slipping our gear on and dropping into the water, we were greeted with a large head of brain coral.  Score!  The two of us absently bumped into each other as we tried to explore the one piece of coral together, before finally taking opposite sides.  It definitely wasn’t as impressive as some of the diving we’d seen in the Bahamas or Grand Cayman, but again, we weren’t in a designated snorkeling spot.  We just dropped anchor on the first thing we found.

Dolphin kicking our way to the bottom, we’d drop further in the water and try to get a close up view of the coral without doing anything to disturb it.  When I came to the surface again, Matt was pointing to something off to our side, a few barracuda keeping their eye on us.  The first few times I’d swum with these things I used to get really nervous, but quickly learned they want nothing to do with you.  They may float there with that evil look that says “Watch your back because I’ll devour you in three bites”, but I’ve never actually seen one follow through on that promise.  We went back to our diving until Matt once more motioned for my attention.  Kicking over to his area he pointed at a little opening in the coral and mimed for me to do down and check it out.  Pumping my way down through the water I saw it was a lobster that had caught his attention.  Dinner?  Getting back to the surface, I asked Matt what he was waiting for, go catch it!  Luckily he had brought his diving gloves with him so his hands wouldn’t be sliced open by the shell, and now the chase was on.

Over the next 20 minutes he’d dive down and stick his hand in little nooks trying to capture the crustacean, but it was quick and always ducked just out of reach.  Then we’d both go on scouting missions, trying to find it’s new hiding spot, turning it into an adult version, with very high difficulty, of whac-a-mole.  We never did catch it but instead went back to our business of just admiring the coral and fish.  Matt only took one more opportunity to point something out to me, a lion fish that was lingering near a jagged edge of coral.  As many of these suckers as I’ve enjoyed for dinner after Matt or Brian would spear them, I’d never actually seen one in the water before, and honestly, it kind of scared the hell out of me.  All of it’s stingers were on full guard, and for as small as these things are, it looked pretty damn menacing.  Maybe only because I’ve heard a few first hand accounts of people that had been stung by them, but I knew that with no barrier between my skin and this predator, I didn’t want to get too close.

It was shortly after this that I thought we’d seen enough of that coral head and we went to move on to the next.  Swimming in large circles we discovered that we’d plopped down next to the only decent piece around, and turned our sights to the actual barrier reef to see what it had to offer.  Turns out, not a whole lot.  Once we got up close to it we found that it was literally just one large shelf of coral with no fish floating around it.  The top was only a foot or two under water, with large breakers constantly crashing over them, which meant no snorkeling.  Unless you wanted to put yourself in a human washing machine full of sharp bits to tear you to shreds.  Maybe tomorrow?  I don’t know, I’m just not in the mood for that today.

Once again proving ourselves to be the worst cruisers ever, we decided to throw in the towel.  Sure, we could probably motor around a little longer trying to find more coral heads to dive on, but neither of us were very much in the mood.  We came, we saw, we conquered.  One piece of coral.  Good enough for us.  Now it’s time to get back to Serendipity where there’s beer and sunsets.  That kind of puts us back into the cruiser category, right?  Maybe just a little?

dive shop on Cay Caulker

I’m starting to think forking over the dough might have been worth a real dive tour.

La Cubana restaurant, Cay Caulker, Belize

Hiding out the rain while eating lunch.

inside La Cubana, Cay Caulker, Belize

Serendipity, West Bay, Cay Caulker, Belize

 Serendipity, sitting pretty where we left her.

rain showers, Cay Caulker, Belize

 

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We Found Cay Caulker….Corker Cay?

Monday December 9, 2013

sunken ship at Cay Caulker, Belize

Even though we had enough entertainment to fill our whole day now, with the dolphin show presented to us as we were leaving St. George’s Cay, there was still the business of getting up to Cay Caulker. Matt had allowed us to use our engine as we made our way between a fairly tight channel between two of the cays, but as soon as we cleared them we were reliant solely upon our sails once more. Pointing the bow in a northern direction, surprise, surprise, we were in irons and had to adjust our course. Falling off 3 degrees at a time, we finally had enough wind in our sails to move us forward, only to find out that this course would put us in the shoals on the west coast of St. George’s Cay within about two miles. We still kept this course for just a bit, to get as far north as we could, and then tacked.

Usually with our headsail up we can point within 35-40 degrees of the wind, but they were just so light today that even subtracting 110 degrees from our previous course we’d get luffing up front and forward speeds of 1.5 knots. Subtract 3, subtract 3, …..ok, now we’re pointing directly at Belize City. We were pretty much now headed in the opposite direction we wanted to go, although this was going to put us further out in the bay and when we went to tack again, hopefully on a course toward a channel we needed to cut through to get to yet another small bay. I’ll save you a long story of lots of tacking, light winds, and not getting far. After 90 minutes of entering this bay, having made about a half mile in the direction we needed, and winds now dipping to 5 knots, we finally conceded and put the engine on. I’m pretty sure that just after that, all wind died out together and the 5 knots we were still showing on our gages was only the apparent wind we were creating from motoring forward.

It was the first beautiful day we’d had in awhile and we enjoyed the sun and the calmness as we sat in the cockpit and tracked our progress. Matt was able to enjoy it just a little longer than me, because as the self appointed navigational specialist, I was the one behind the wheel, trying to line us up perfectly with the forementioned channel. Or, Porto Stuck as they refer to it on our charts. I’m pretty sure this is because if you get anywhere outside of the channel, you will get stuck. Possibly even in the channel, since the depths there are only 6 ft at MLW. Not only did I have these shallow waters to worry about, but we were getting conflicting information between the paper charts in our guide book, and the information typed into our chart plotter. Which one was I to trust? The usual ever reliable paper charts and notes from 1996? Or the new and just updated waypoints and notes on our Navionics electronic guide?

Matt told me to listen to our guide book, plugging in a few waypoints listed in there, but when overlapped with our chart plotter, showed us running right over stakes in the water. I was not convinced. As soon as the water hit 8 ft I slowed us down to a mere 2.5 knots, thinking that at least if I was going to get ‘Porto Stuck’, I wouldn’t do it with much force behind me. Another long story short, the guide book was to be trusted over the chart plotter. We never did get ourselves stuck, but there were a few times we got down to 5 ft on our depth sounder (we have a draft around 4’9”), and the closer I edged to where our guide book told us to be, the deeper the water became. Once I realized it was the waypoints from the guide book I should be following, we passed through with a comfortable 8-10 ft below us.

Getting through the channel we had to adjust course a few more times since if you keep following your path through the channel, you’ll quickly find yourself in 3 ft of water. There was a tricky 7-8 ft for awhile, but as soon as we were in 10 feet again I said screw it to the charts and pointed us right at Cay Caulker. There did become a point though, again, that I was really happy we had our guide book with it’s paper charts. It turns out that Navionics didn’t feel like charting this area. It covered Chapel Cay, the next island in front of us, but after that it was only ambiguous blobs of land, surrounded by three feet of water, or so they said. If we did not have our guide book, I would not have touched this area with a 10 ft pole. As it stood, we continued to motor through 13 ft (hear that Navionics? 1-3. You still need to add the 1 on your charts) of turquiose water towards what looked like a very nice anchorage at Cay Calker. Or, Corker Cay as our chart plotter was referring to it as.

Getting closer to Chapel Cay and finally Cay Caulker/Corker Cay, I was on a constant spy mission with binoculars glued to my face. The reason? We knew that Skebenga was traveling through the Cays of Belize, but since we haven’t had internet since leaving Livingston a week ago, we had no idea where in the islands they might be at the moment. There were no masts to be spotted at Chapel Cay, but my excitement did grow as I could tell there were at least three boats at Cay Caulker/Corker Cay. When we finally rounded the corner to the little bay tucked into the west side of the island I was disappointed to find out that none of the boats there were Skebenga. Traveling into the bay as far as we dared, the anchor was dropped in 13 ft of water and we kept a suspicious eye on the three shades lighter water about 150 ft south of us. The boat was quickly put back together, and Matt uttered some words that made me almost fall out of my chair. “Let’s go to shore”.

It was now about 3:30 in the afternoon and I assumed he’d want to save it for the next day. We hadn’t touched land in 7 days, what’s one afternoon more? That’s what I thought would have been going on in his mind. This is what had been going through mine: ’7 days. No land. No people. No internet. DIOS MIO. I NEED INTERNET!’. How did people even used survive without it? I could probably tell you, but then I’d have to launch into a ‘When I was a kid…’ story which would give up any illusion that I might still be in my early to mid 20′s. When Matt said it was time to go, I didn’t even put up a fight that I had no make-up on, I just wanted to get the dinghy down before he changed his mind.

Trying to decipher the rudimentary map drawn in our guide book, we landed the dinghy at a concrete pier where I was volunteered to stick my arms through the seaweed and alge to run our lock around one of the posts.  Sloshing through all the puddles caused by the recent rain and causing bits of mud to flick back up at us, we wandered down the street until we reached the main road.  We spent about 20 minutes strolling down the street and back, admiring the laid back atmosphere and island vibe this place had to offer.  It was a perfect little beach town, and had we been touring Belize by land and not boat, it’s definitely a place I’d want to stay.  It kind of reminded me of Utila, Honduras, but much better.  It was cleaner, brighter, and postcard perfect.  Dive shops and paddle board rental facilities were sprinkled between restaurants and bars, and couples and families would roam the dirt roads, enjoying an ice cream cone or an iced coffee.  It looked like a great island to stop at, and I’m not even just saying that because it’s the first landfall we’ve made in a week.

Getting back to a restaurant we had passed on our way in, the two of us slid into a table, ordered a couple of Belikins, and took advantage of the internet.  Our inbox was full of messages and our Facebook page had more notifications than I even had time to look at.  A few quick messages were sent out to our families to let them know where we were and that we were safe, and then a message was sent to Skebenga to try and find out their whereabouts.  Since we’re trying to blow through Belize as quick as possible we might only have one or two more occasions to come to shore, but of all the islands we could have landed on, this one is an undeniable winner.

sunken boat at Cay Caulker, Belize

abandoned sail boat, Cay Caulker, Belize

grabbing a beer in Belize

Hey, husband, I’m over here….focus!

Belikin beer, Belize

Ronnie's BBQ, Cay Caulker, Belize

beach, Cay Caulker, Belize

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Close Encounters of the Dolphin Kind

Monday December 9, 2013

dolphin at St. George's Cay

What can I say?  The weather has not been cooperating with us since we’ve been here in Belize. Actually, it hasn’t been on our side much ever since we went to anchor back in Rio Dulce. The only decent days we seem to have are the ones that we’re traveling.  Hmmm…

Although we probably could have taken the dinghy to shore here in St. George’s Cay and stroll the streets to see the Cottage Colony, a set of colonial white cottages bordered with gingerbread trim, we couldn’t muster up the energy to get the dinghy from the deck into the water, plus it’s been overcast and raining on and off, and we’re much more comfortable huddled in the boat with a good book and hot cup of coffee. I had been enjoying my coffee the past few weeks by making larger amounts in my Thermos brand french press, but then yesterday something disastrous happened. I had climbed down the steps of our ladder to give it a good rinsing in the salt water. Filling up the container, I washed all the remaining grounds out, and then went to rinse the filter/plunger part. I’ve found that giving this a good swish though the water is the easiest way to clean out all remaining grounds that stick to the filter. It was dipped in the water, rapidly moved back and forth, and before I knew what was happening I saw the little mesh filter and it’s metal plate become unattached and begin floating down through the depths of the water.

Had I been smart, I would have jumped in, clothes and all, to retrieve it while it was still in sight. Instead I let it sink lower and lower, and while Matt watched my face crumple, he started digging out our snorkel gear so we could dive for it. Quickly changing into our suits we slipped into the water and dove to the bottom. Normally you’d think something so shiny and alien in that environment would immediately stand out, but we had two things working against us. One is that we still haven’t gotten into clear waters yet. Even at 7 ft depths, we’ve never been able to see the bottom while sitting on deck. The other, is that the bottom of the anchorage here is nothing but fields of eel grass. It was thick and long, and there were plenty of places that my little filter could tuck away. After fifteen minutes we called off the search, my filter deemed to be lost at sea forever. It was a sad, sad day on Serendipity. At least I’ll always have my Clever Dripper.

storms over Drowned Cays

St. George's Cay, Belize

 All the cute houses lining St. George’s Cay

storms at St. George's Cay

Since St. George’s Cay now held such bitter memories for us (ok, that’s not really the reason, we just needed to keep moving), today was another travel day, trekking only 12 more miles north to Cay Caulker. This time though, I talked Matt into letting us little inner paths and channels instead of going back out to the Caribbean Sea. We trust the St. George Cut, but nothing we’ve read about any of the the Cay Caulker Cuts sounds too assuring. The first order of business was getting around from the east side of the island to the west. Flipping on the engine to avoid all the 3 foot shoals surrounding the island we began to motor toward the magenta line which would lead us between St. George and the Drowned Cays.

During our two night stay here in St. George’s Cay, we’d spotted a few dolphins crossing the anchorage, always getting excited and making sure Georgie also caught the show by hoisting her up Lion King presentation style, watching her eyes grow wide as she watched their fins cutting through the water. When we spotted them again this morning, we assumed they’d take the same path, crossing in front of our bow to get out to sea, and never looking back. Instead, much to our delight, they decided to follow us along on our journey, swimming up to the bow and riding in our wake. If you’ve been following for awhile, you’ll know that every single time we’ve seen dolphins so far I haven’t been able to capture them on camera because they either leave as soon as I go to grab it, or, like on our ride to Honduras, conditions were a little too bumpy for me to trust myself on deck with a camera. I was not about to allow this opportunity to slip through my fingers though, and positioning Matt in front of the wheel, I scrambled down the steps to grab my NEX-5 before they could leave us.

Standing at the bow I tried to get those perfect dolphin in the water shots, but when I realized my timing for pressing the shutter and their surfacing the water wasn’t always going to line up the way I wanted, I just kept the shutter button down, taking as many shots as I could and hoping a handful would turn out. When I had my fill, I went back to man the wheel and keep us on course while Matt went up on bow to have his fun with them. What we found out from him being up there is they seem to respond to praise, with high pitched “Yay!!”s bringing them to the surface. Maybe they thought we were tying to communicate with them? The more noise we made though, the more they seemed to jump up and attract even more to join the show.

Almost as good as the show from the dolphins themselves was Georgie’s reaction to them. We thought she’d be intrigued since she’s always sticking her head over the side of the boat as soon as anything makes noise in the water. A few minutes into Matt’s cheerleading session at the bow, he decided that Georgie also needed a front row seat and scooped her up to watch the real action up there. For a few minutes she stared on with curiosity, and then she tried her damndest to escape from his grip, taking shelter behind the safety of the dodger. Every so often she’d hear a splash on the side of the boat and tentatively stick her head around to see what causing the ruckus. She thought she was playing it so smart, using the fabric of the dodger as a shield for the front of the boat, until a few of the dolphins caught on to her and started coming to the stern of the boat and splashing around, completely catching her off guard and leaving her with no place to hide. Dolphin intelligence: 1. Cat intelligence: Well give her a half a point for trying.

dolphin at St. George's Cay

dolphins at St. George's Cay

dolphins at St. George's Cay, Belize

dolphins at St. George's Cay, Belize

 

 

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Schizophrenic Winds

Saturday December 7, 2013

Private island in Belize

It took two days of waiting around at Middle Long Cay in Belize, waiting for that perfect opportunity to bring the anchor up and motor the three miles out to Rendezvous Cay for that crowning Mesoamerican Barrier Reef snorkeling, but the day still never came. Winds have been kind of nasty around here, and while we sit protected behind our little shelter of mangroves, it’s not hard to see that just around the corner are small white caps and disturbed water. We reasoned that even if we did bring the boat around, the visibility would probably be poor anyway and our day of snorkeling would not be so grand after all. Which is ok. It’s not like we’re leaving Belize tomorrow, and we’re only headed further north where the water can only get cleaner and crisper. We will not leave this country without a successful snorkeling trip!

The goal set in front of us today was to make the 20 or so miles north to St. George’s Cay, via the Eastern Channel and out to open waters where we would re-enter the cays though a cut in the reef. Instead of taking our 1996′s paper chart’s version of the magenta line, we reasoned that we should have no problem getting through the Twelve Foot Banks where we could cut right in the middle of the channel, instead of adding 10 miles taking the roundabout way. Plus going that route might mean extra maneuvering, and Matt’s still on engine shut down mode (as much as possible anyway) until we can get to Mexico where we know if the thing really breaks down on us we should be closer to finding spares. Plus we’re not sure where we’d be able to purchase extra fuel since we’re trying to stay at as many isolated islands as possible. Let’s just say that we don’t want any officials knocking on our hull checking for cruising permits.

Getting across the Twelve Foot Banks on sail power alone was harder said than done since the wind seemed to be just a few degrees close enough to our nose in the direction we wanted to head, which left us tacking all over the banks and probably adding just a few miles. When we finally had the option to turn east and point ourselves toward the channel and the exit, a large tanker was in there following the swirly path out, and Matt wanted to make sure we had no chance of intersecting with it. Holding our course a little longer than what was necessary we finally made the turn, found the red and green markers, and entered the 120 foot depths of the channel.

The same NE winds we were trying to avoid in the Twelve Foot Banks were also dictacting our travel pattern out in the Caribbean Sea. Instead of just clearing the picturesque private island filled with palm trees and pointing our bow in the direction we wanted to head, we had to motorsail a mile out from shore before we could head up. Once we got on this path, the sails were trimmed, the engine was cut, and we were flying along at 6.5 five knots in clear Kool-aid blue waters. Sitting on the combing and resting my back on the lifelines, I smiled blissfully, sun resting on my shoulders, thinking that we might be able to make it to our destination in just a little over two hours. This feeling lasted about 30 minutes.

Directly to the NE were some mounting storm clouds. I don’t pretend that I’m an expert on weather, but it’s my job on board to try and read it as best as possible, and when Matt made the remark that those clouds were going to come nowhere near us, I corrected him that, no, they’re actually headed directly for us. For a little while we stayed as we were, the sky growing darker and winds building to the upper 20′s. I told Matt I still felt comfortable as we were, as long as things didn’t get worse. But unfortunately, wishing for something does not mean it is going to happen. Prepping for the unavoidable, we put two reefs in the main and began the job of putting up the smaller headsail. There were only a few minor f#ck ups with quick remedies while changing out the sails, and I’m still so happy we tried it for the first time on Lago Izabal.

Since the original headsail needed to be rolled in while we prepped the new one, we had lost almost all forward drive and were now drifting west back towards shore and that pesky barrier reef. Once more we had to get ourselves east, with a lot of south thrown in there as well, almost losing all the ground that we had covered in the last hour. When we were finally able to adjust back to our original course, the sheets of rain started in on us. Because I’m stubborn, and for other reasons still unbeknownst even to myself, I held my position at the stern instead of hiding under the protection of the dodger. The showers passed quickly enough, and wind gusts only hiked up to the mid 30′s. Speeds were incredibly diminished though, winds becoming schizophrenic and dropping down to 15 before jumping up to 25, and we weren’t even sure we’d make it in before sunset anymore.  We wanted to change out the headsail once again, but another set of dark clouds in the distance told us we should just bear with the slow going for the moment.

With a few more rain showers and gusts, we eventually made it to the St. George cut around 3:30 in the afternoon. Still plenty of daylight to get ourselves inside and anchored. The entrance was incredibly easy and we couldn’t even make out where any of the barrier reef was where we passed through, which is part of the reason we chose this anchorage. Wide cuts are always favorable in our opinion, the last thing I want our hull bashing into is hard coral.  Plus, with the wind once more building to 30 knots, we were now getting some pretty big swells pushing us from behind, which could have made a smaller cut very tricky. Once again deviating from the magenta line, on our actual chart plotter this time, we spent the next 30 minute watching the sun slowly make it’s way out if it’s shell of clouds, and the swell that had been directly behind us fade with every few hundred feet in.

Dropping the hook in 7 feet of cloudy water, we went through the steps of after-passage clean up, somehow tired to the bone.  When the last line was coiled, and winch cover placed on, I had just enough energy to drag up one of our sport-a-seats from the depths of our storage before immediately falling asleep on it in the cockpit, ready for a late afternoon nap.

sunset in Belize 1

sunset in Belize 2

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Outer Cays of Belize

Thursday December 5, 2013

*So, I kind of forgot to take photos here and had to borrow some from other cruisers.

Entering fishing camp

Approach to Colson Cays
(Photo courtesy of Sailing Bailando)

 

To my surprise, Serendipity picked up some speed as I was sleeping, and now we were gliding through the inner channel at a steady 5.5 knots. During my slumber I had heard Matt try and open the headsail, hoping that the engine would not be needed, but the wind was still too close on our nose and we had to continue motorsailing with the main. My spirits instantly lifted when I heard the engine come back to life since I am not a fan of sailing through channels at night. Alone. On my first day back to sailing in 5 months. There were a few times in my sleep shift that I was also called up to lend an eye with my navigation skills.

Throughout the channel were markers of the channel as well as various buoys marking shoals and cays. As I rubbed my blurry eyes and looked at the chartplotter while Matt tried to place a green buoy that he could not see on there, I turned to look for the source of light. “Do you see that green one between the two reds?”, Matt asked me. “No, I see two reds with a white in the middle though.” “I don’t know how you can’t see it, they’re right there about a mile away from us!” I looked at it again. And again and again to make sure I was seeing it right. Then I turned to Matt and shouted “It’s not green, it’s white! Like really, really white!”. Poor guy. His somewhat colorblindness was cute back in our home when he thought our living room was painted light green, and not the oatmeal it actually was, but out on the water it’s a little scary. I matched the white buoy with the one it was representing on the chartplotter and went back to sleep. Luckily he saw a real green buoy shortly after and is now able to tell the difference again.

My next shift up was full of nothing, and that’s just the way I like it. Calm seas, starry skies, and good music playing through our cockpit speakers. By the time my shift was ending at 4:30 am, we were already passing the Tabacco Cays which meant we would not be stopping there unless we wanted to circle that area for the next two hours. Which I did not. I found something else about 15 miles further up and told Matt of our new destination as I went back to bed. Where I heard that Matt figured out our course had taken us off the wind enough that he now actually could let out all the sails and cut the engine. Oh well, at least I wouldn’t have to touch them. My next sleep shift would take us all the way to anchor.

The next time I was woken up we were just about to make our entry into the Colson Cays. It was a pretty straightforward entry with only a few coral heads near the entrance, so I was put at the bow with my polarized sunglasses to keep a lookout for them. Which of course did nothing for us since the sun was so low in the sky and I couldn’t make out anything more than three feet past our bow. There were no issues though, and moments later we were dropping our hook in 12 feet of clear green water. After we went through the steps of putting the boat back together we happily passed out in the v-berth for the next three hours.

Getting up in the late morning we tackled a few chores like trying to get the bottom of the dinghy from a nice espresso color to a lightly coffee stained color. Then came the most important part of the day, trying to find a good snorkeling patch. All of our guides showed a spot for excellent snorkeling just out from the northernmost Colson Cay. Searching through the depths of our lazarette for items that we hadn’t used in almost six months, such as our snorkel gear and the dinghy anchor, we packed everything up and set off for clear waters full of fish. Who knows where those were hiding, because we did not find them here. Dropping in the anchor that looked like it might have coral around in, we fell into the water only to find nothing but eel grass.

Swimming for a few hundred feet, that’s all we continued to find. Pulling ourselves back into the dinghy we continued further up the little island made of mangroves. No coral patches popped up, but we did cross over the blue hole that was marked on our charts. As many times as I tell myself that taking a dinghy or swimming over the top of one means it’s going to suck you into it’s depths, they always give me an uneasy feeling in my stomach when we pass over one. Just for something to do, we anchored the dinghy outside of the hole and decided to swim around it’s outskirts. I was hoping for the same kind of clarity and fish that we came across when we encountered blue holes in the Bahamas, but this one was a little bit of a let down. Visibility was slightly murky and again, all we could see was eel grass and one or two chameleon fish that blended in with their surroundings. Dejected, we got back in the dinghy and puttered back to Serendipity.

Still determined to find good snorkeling, we powered up the chartplotter so we could grab the coordinates of the so called excellent coral in the area. Entering them into a little handheld GPS, we set off once more. Tracking down the exact spot we had marked for ourselves we once again lowered the anchor and slipped into the water. And once again there was nothing. Visibility was even worse out here and the only thing we seemed to find was a ton of those little jellyfish without the tendrils. Circling the whole parimiter we saw nothing, but I think I did get a few small stings from those little jellyfish. Nothing very painful, just a little prickling that stayed with me for the next 30 minutes.

Back at Serendipity we went about the rest of our chores, Matt tightening our stays and me trying to make bread, hamburger buns actually, with only a lingering memory of the recipe in my head. As the afternoon wore on we relaxed in the cockpit, and good book in one hand and a Red Stripe in the other. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset while watching that big orange ball fade behind the mountainous backdrop of mainland Belize.

Today we moved ourselves 10 miles up the coast in hopes to find good snorkeling at a little place called Rendevoux Cay. It sits right next to the barrier reef, and our charts show it as a good day anchorage while you’re exploring the water, but shelter overnight should take place at another cay three miles away. We hauled anchor mid morning, falling back into the routine of the Bahamas where we were doing everything under sail power as to keep ourselves from using the engine more than necessary. It came up with ease, and the help of our windless, soon we were sailing back out into the channel. Winds were strong and steady, holding at 20 knots with gusts to 25. We pressed forward at 5 knots with only a double reefed main, and watched as Georgie gave us the death glare while trying to squeeze herself into her little hiding spot under the combing.

Watching the wind steadily build around us as the very tips of waves frothed into white, we both knew that snorkeling was now a no-go for the day. Conditions didn’t appear calm enough to make the tricky pass with Serendipity through the coral heads that circled Rendevous Cay, and neither of us were too keen on taking the dinghy for a 6 mile round trip in this weather. Falling into our back up plan we set course directly for the overnight anchorage again, hoping that tomorrow will bring us good enough weather to finally check out the Mesoamerican Reef.

 

Colson blue hole

Blue hole at Colson Cays
(Photo courtesy of Sail Winterlude)

Reef at Colson Cay

We saw one starfish like this. It was the highlight of our snorkeling.
(Photo courtesy of Wand’rin Star)

boat at Colson Cay

The cays here are all made up of mangroves. No beaches to stroll.
(Photo courtesy of MokaKat Sailing)

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Goodbye Guatemala

Tuesday December 3, 2013

12.3.13 (1)

This morning we were up with the sun, only to find out that most of the other boats in the bay had already gotten out before us. I swear, I didn’t even think I was sleeping that hard, but I heard no engines running or anchors being weighed. Our only hope is they don’t get to the agent’s office in Livingston before us and clog up his day with paperwork, forcing our departure back until late afternoon. It didn’t matter to me though. Once again, we were moving. And the best part of the Rio was yet to come. The rocky cliffs, the immobilizing thick jungle, and being deposited into the Amatique Bay, leading out the the Gulf of Honduras and Caribbean Sea. We were about to be set free once more.

Reaching the town of Livingston about half past eight in the morning, we dropped the anchor off to the side from the flow of traffic and put the dinghy down to get ourselves to shore. None of the other boats from last nights anchorage were resting in the same place, which means they must had checked out previously, going back up the river for the night and heading back down to catch this mornings high tide. We had contemplated that as well, but since we want to arrive at our destination tomorrow morning, a mid afternoon low tide departure will suit us just fine. We tentatively powered the dinghy up toward shore, scanning the horizon between all the shouting children that were pointing for a spot to go, until we saw the older Rastafarian man that had kept an eye on our dink when we first arrived here, and mentally reminded ourselves to save at least $5 before we spent the rest of our Guatemalan cash so we could tip him when we left.

Rounding the somewhat familiar streets, we walked up the steps to the agent’s office and found out that even though it wasn’t quite 9 am yet, the door was open. Raul, the agent we were used to working with, wasn’t there, but in his seat was a younger man of around 15-20. Maybe his son or a nephew? Just as friendly and outgoing as Raul though, this new guy mentioned Raul would be in shortly and that he could get our paperwork started in the meantime. Going over the fees, he told us what we could expect to pay to check out, and that we should be back in an hour to collect our zarpe. Other than that, we were free to roam the town.

I had been able to sneak my laptop in my bag with me, along with all the necessary boat papers that had to make their way in, and after walking through a few of the backstreets and realizing we didn’t have a need (or want really) for any of the goodies in the thrift shops on the main street, we decided to stop for breakfast at a brightly blue colored restaurant, taking seats in the shade on a covered patio. Proud of myself for speaking only in Spanish, I was able to order a coffee along with some delicious sounding coconut bread and jam I keep hearing about, and procure the password to their wifi signal. While I was doing last minute Facebook updates and assuring both our parents that they we may be out of internet range for the next week and they should not alert the authorities about us if we’re not heard from in the next two days, Matt did some last checks on his email and the weather.

Before we knew it, our hour was up and we were back in Raul’s office, shaking his hand and getting our zarpe, the whole process already completed for us. Man I love dealing with an agent. One stop shopping. What we did realize after checking out though, is that it cost us a good deal less than we thought it would, and we were still left with 300 Q, or about $40, in our pockets. I looked at the pretty sundresses billowing in the wind while resting on mannequins, but Matt just shook his head no. I already have too many dresses, and they never get worn. True. So instead we hiked up the hill to the bank and exchanged our Guatemalan cash for US and began our descent back to the dinghy.

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Getting to Serendipity once more it was still about three hours before our slack tide, but the waters looked so calm that we didn’t think going out against a small opposing current would be a big deal.  The dinghy was quickly hauled up on deck and secured and before we knew it we were motoring out through the bar, following our previous tracks from our entrance back in June, and my heart in my throat until we hit steady depths of 12 feet again, although we only saw under 7 ft once or twice.  The winds were on our nose just enough that we were able to motorsail with the mainsail up, sacrificing just a little speed so that we could point high enough that we didn’t run ashore on the point of land in Guatemala that hooks out at the end of Amatique Bay.

For hours we cruised on like this until just an hour before the sunset when we were able to point more north, prepping ourselves to sneak into the inner channel between mainland Belize and it’s outlying cays.  We found a coordinate that allowed us to take open waters for a great portion of the southern point, and then duck in with ample safety once we reach it in the dark.  Matt took a nap to prepare himself for the first night shift, and when he woke up I heated the chili I had prepared the night before.  Seas were mostly calm and I didn’t even get sick below deck which I was very thankful for.

I have to say, our first day back out, and everything was perfect.  Oh right, except for that one issue.  The issue of a bolt shearing off on the engine, one of three that holds in the new alternator bracket we just had fabricated.  And what’s that?  Oh yeah, we’re in the middle of a channel.  In the dark.  With the wind still on our nose.  Having a running engine is kind of an important thing.  Matt shut the whole thing off for a few moments as we bobbed around, losing all forward momentum, making sure the issue didn’t look like it was going to get worse.  We could survive with 2 out of three bolts, but if either of the others went, we would be fu@%ed.  Thinking quick, he took some wire and wound the bracket on tighter, but now the rest of the passage will consist of 30 minute engine checks to make sure it’s all still running smoothly.  Dear god, do not let anything happen until after my night shift.  I don’t think I could handle sailing through this channel while left to my own devices right now.

Gulf of Honduras at sunset

mountains of Belize at sunset

 

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We’re Leaving This Time….I Mean It

Monday December 2, 2013

Serendipity in Fronteras

Thank the lord,  this day has finally come. Not that I don’t absolutely love Guatemala, a country that will now always be a part of me, but I’m happy to once and for all be making my way out of her. Which has been no easy feat, since she had decided to dig her claws deep into us and make it very hard to go. Not only were we suffering from a bout of bad weather windows, but a few days ago when we threw on the engine to power our batteries, our alternator bracket snapped in half. It didn’t even take two minutes before we had the part off and were in our dinghy, seeking out Luis’ help since our new welding friend Thomas is off on holiday and we needed to find the next best guy. Bringing us to town and guiding us into a tuk-tuk, we rambled out the main road of Fronteras until we were on the outskirts of town and up to a little house that held the local welder. Between a few conversations, two days, and $18 later, we had a new bracket in our hands and a weather window to get.the.hell.out.

There’s a slack tide tomorrow just after noon, and we’d like to position ourselves to be in Livingston and checked out of the country in time to catch it. From there it will be somewhere between 60 to 100 miles to our first anchorage in the outer cays of Belize, we haven’t quite decided on one yet. The big job for today though, is to move ourselves from our comfortable little home of Fronteras, which we’ve gotten to know and love so much, down the river about 12 miles where we’ll be anchoring overnight in a safe little bay that’s popular among cruisers.

The was a mixture of feelings flowing today as we upped anchor from in front of our old marina. Excitement to be moving again and seeing new things, and heartache to be leaving a place that’s grown so special in our hearts.

The trip down the river was incredibly relaxing and just reinforced the traveling lifestyle once more, an afternoon sun casting golden rays on the surrounding landscape. Once we were in the safety and wide spaces of the Golfete, I felt safe that Matt wouldn’t crash the boat into anything (damn his short attention span for steering!) I took a seat up near the bow to fully immerse myself in the tranquility around me and find asylum from the dirty looks Matt was giving me from adding Kraken to my Pepsi at two o’clock in the afternoon. Hey, we’re finally traveling again, this is a cause for celebration.

After two and a half hours of motoring, we set our anchor down in the little bay with four other cruisers that looked like they had the same plan we did, to escape first thing in the morning. Even though the setting wasn’t quite secluded, it was undoubtedly gorgeous, and we couldn’t help but pull our sport a seats out on deck to enjoy the view along with a good book until the sun went down. Finally the early evening chill and swarms of bugs drove us indoors, and now I start my batch of chili so that we’ll have a pre-made dinner to eat on passage tomorrow.

Although we didn’t move far today, moving at all has made a world of difference from what we’ve been used to for so long now. The excitement, the anticipation, the unknown. Dare I say, I’m actually eager to get back out there and begin cruising again.

leaving Tortugal

 Leaving Tortugal behind for the last time.

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

trees & mountains

Matt behind the wheel

El Golfete, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

blue boat in Texan Bay

boats in Texan Bay at Sunset

sunset in Texan Bay

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

Family.  A basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.

 

In this weeks challenge from the Daily Post we’re supposed to define our interpretations of family.  For myself, I’m going to very literally, show my own family.  Now that we’ve been cruising for about 16 months, in various parts of the US and Caribbean, we haven’t been able to see as much of our family as we’d like.  It was quite a drastic change going from living with Matt’s mom and step-dad for the last year before we left, seeing them each and every day, to now seeing them twice a year, when they’re sweet enough to fly down and surprise us, or when they graciously allow us to steal the spare bedroom back when we come home for a visit.

Then there’s my parents, who have been traveling to various spots around the country and even globe for my dad’s job, before settling down in Mesa Arizona just a few years ago.  Even before Matt and I left, I was restrained to seeing them only once or twice a year ever since 2005 when they left our hometown to spend a few years in Vietnam.  Coming home once a summer to visit family, they’ve also been charitable enough to fly me out to see them the past few years in Arizona to spend some much needed quality time together.

Family is something you don’t often think of when they’re right next to you, but let me tell you, they shoot up to number one on your list of priorities as soon as you lose easy ways to connect and visit.  Most of the time if I’m ever feeling sad or lonely while we’re out traveling, my thoughts turn instantly to my family and how everything would instantly be better if I could have them by my side.  They’re definitely mine and Matt’s anchor in our lives, and we couldn’t be more thankful to have them.

family 1

 My dad, brother and I, while traveling through the UP.  Don’t we look so happy to be there?

Circa 1989

Family 2

 My brother and I, getting ready to road trip home from Minnesota in the back seat.

Circa 1988

family 3

 All four of us together again to do some off-roading in Sedona.

Circa 2012

 

 

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