Saturday, 26 January 2013

Passing the Time in Placencia ….. Jan 2013

16 – 26 January 2013:  Placencia Harbour, Southern Belize  16 30N  88 21W


First the Sun then the Storms

Our sail up to Placencia from the Sapodilla Cays in light winds and flat seas was superb.  We dropped anchor and looked ashore at the rickety town jetty, shacky thatched roof beach bars surrounded by slowly swaying palms, and thought it looked a great place to spend a few days. 

Placencia town on that clear sunny afternoon and following morning was a treat for our eyes. Bold colours jumped out at us ~ the people, buildings, signs, even the pushbikes for rent ~ all were bright and zany and the surrounds immaculately clean and tidy, what a treat.  So pleased we went ashore straightaway and saw it at its best because by the following afternoon the band of cloud associated with the approaching cold front arrived and life has taken on a grey tinge.  For a couple of hours we were spellbound by water spouts forming just to the south of usP1170074.  Interesting to watch from a distance but not quite sure if we would like to see them any closer. 

Day 11 and still No Sun!

The next weather event was to be our first North American “Norther”, preparations were made ~ the anchor doubled checked to make sure it was dug in well, the rain catcher deployed, fresh produce onboard ~ but all we saw was a peak of 18 knots and only a drop of rain, we are not complaining, much better to be prepared.  The winds died away and have stayed away but the total cloud cover has persisted, it’s our 11th day here and another drizzly shower has just passed over. 

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Colourful local homes around town

P1250137 Keeping ourselves amused

Spending time here has not been a chore at all.  The laid back town is full of extremely friendly people, everyone says hello on the streets, all the staff in the stores seem genuinely happy to have us here, there is just such a relaxed and welcoming feel to it, our sort of place.  We hired bikes one afternoon and went for a long ride out of town.  As we recently discovered in Utila, rural Placencia has also been carved up for development, large areas of “waterfront sections” for sale, both on the Caribbean coast and on the inland lagoon.  Some infrastructure has been put in place, a couple of houses have been built in each development and sit alone in solitude, the remainder of the developments are generally returning to nature – mangroves spreading their routes in the lagoon, reclaiming their land – coconut palms sprouting on the ocean side in the middle of the roads.  Maybe more deposits lost, dreams shattered, who knows.  There is however a reasonable expat community here, aged late 50’s and 60’s from the USA and Canada, certainly not a bad option for escaping the North American winter.

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a few of the local eateries

Maybe tomorrow ~ maybe not?P1200103

We have had plenty of opportunity to check out the local bars and cafes,  and have indulged in some excellent street food also.  Although the overall flavour of the town is Caribbean instead of Central American, the food flavours alternate mainly between Creole and Mexican.  We have had Bandit and Samarang along with plenty of other boats in the anchorage so there has been an active social scene to keep us entertained.

The cloud cover is threatening to clear soon, or so the weather forecasters are predicting, and because most of the anchorages in Belize are out on the Barrier Reef or Cays and the charting is somewhat vague we really need to have very good light to go out and weave our way around safely.  We will miss this delightful little town, it’s charm, colours and it’s people.

It has been a bright light during gloomy skies

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Friday, 25 January 2013

The Unbelizeable Sapodilla Cays ….. Jan 2013

12 – 16 January 2013:  Sapodilla Cays, Southern Belize  16 06N  88 16W Balvenie and Bandit,  Nicholas Cay

Another Top Spot
We have been lucky enough to drop anchor in some amazing locations during our cruising life…. South Pacific atolls, rainforest fringed coves, ancient city harbours, even the odd subterranean volcanic crater!!  So when we arrived at dawn in the Sapodilla Cays,  both somewhat dopey after an overnight sail, it was great to find another spot with the WOW factor. 

The Sapodilla Cays lay scattered at the very bottom of the huge reef system that runs the entire length of Belize,Caretaker, Nicholas Cay, Belize 2nd only in size to the Australian Great Barrier Reef.  This southern area sees very little tourism, seemingly just a few cruising boats stopping off briefly enroute to Honduras or the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.  There is a National Park Rangers Office with some very laid back, hammock swinging, friendly staff  who swung by the boat to suggest we might just want to pop ashore sometime and pay our park fee…. “but there’s no rush mun”!!

Gentle Breezes and Sunny Skies – Magic
How beautiful is this, Nicholas Cay, Belize   Nicholas Cay, Belize
We anchored at Lime Cay before moving to neighbouring Nicholas Cay and enjoyed postcard weather for swimming, snorkelling and beach sundowners with fellow kiwis Brenda and David on Bandit . However, nothing lasts forever ~ we always listen carefully to the weather forecast via our long distance HF radio and a cold front was forming in the Gulf of Mexico.  We are now far enough north for our weather to be influenced by the winter weather in the USA, something to keep an eye on ~ and there we were thinking we were still in the tropics!  
Nicolas Cay, Belize Nicolas Cay, Belize
Hurricane Mitch swept through this area a few years ago wiping out what was once a thriving dive resort, the remains of some of the buildings still stand as a reminder of the devastation that hurricanes can cause. The lone caretaker told us that Nicholas Cay was submerged for several days due to the storm surge, now days he does an outstanding job of keeping the cay pristine.  We thanked him with a few goodies to brighten his day.
Sundowners, Nicholas Cay, Belize phoning on satphone to see how Dad was
We spent a wonderful few days there, cut off from the outside world, but as a famous person once said  “No man is an island”.  During this time my Dad was taken into hospital for surgery, paradise has it limitations when your family are at home having to deal with medical issues and hospitals.  It was the first time in months we didn’t have cell phone coverage but we were able to keep in touch with the satellite phone, still working after a being drowned in Panama.  It was great to be able to talk regularly but its times like this that we feel a long way from home.
Snorkelling at Nicholas Cay
Heading for Shelter
Whilst not forecast to effect us too much this far south, the “Norther”, (an odd word used by Americans to describe a strong northerly wind caused by the associated cold front) was heading our way.

We moved further north inside the reef to Tom Owens Cay.  Quite a small anchorage which became somewhat overcrowded when two dive charter catamarans pulled in after Balvenie and Bandit.  There is a small dive resort ashore, built to withstand hurricanes it would seem rather than blending into the surroundings, the rock cave like cabanas could easily have doubled as prison cells.  Still ~ the guests looked happy, the sun shone, the diving was excellent ~ what more do you want?

Actually we wanted more sunshine and settled weather and that just wasn’t going to happen. We had a day to head for shelter.  Bandit and Balvenie weighed anchor the next morning and pointed toward the mainland and the small town of  Placencia.   Two boats, 20 miles to run, full sail, perfect conditions, 10 –12 knots of wind, tight reaching, flat water, only a few reefs and shallows to avoid – you guessed it ....

Race On !!!
Blurry sunset with new moon Nicholas Cay, Belize
For cruising information on the anchorage waypoints and where we entered the reef click here.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Unwinding in Utila ….. Jan 2013

P1100016 06 – 12 January 2013: East Harbour, Utila, Honduras  16  05N 86 53W

Lively Downwind Sailing to Move Further West
We knocked off the 30 miles downwind from Roatan to Utila in under 5 hours with just our headsail flying.  Rather a rolly trip with plenty of wind but the forecast was promising more of the same with gusts even higher over the following days, so we took the chance to move on while we could.  Tackling another reef entrance wasn’t looking too daunting with clear skies overhead, but wouldn’t you know it just as we made our final approaches a cloud formed from nowhere and visibility dropped considerably.  We made it safely into the huge bay, found a sandy spot to drop the hook and declared it a suitable home for the next few days.

Wind, Wind and more Wind P1100018
For the next 6 days there was little let up from the wind.  Accelerated trade winds were reported all over the Caribbean, with the squash zone off the top of Colombia producing gale force and 5 – 6 metre seas.  Even tucked away in the farthest western corner of the Gulf of Honduras we could not escape, although we rarely saw gusts over 30 knots, the seas were flat, our anchorage comfortable and our water tanks full to overflowing with a few downpours.

What a Funky Little Place
It was no hardship staying a few days.  Ashore was quite a delight, old wooden buildings lined the main street, some had been updated and renovated, others lay in their original condition adding a definite “Take me as I am” flavour to the town.  The mainly P1070056backpacking diving clientele fitted in well and the town survives by servicing their needs.  There were plenty of “cruisy joints” (see the zany gardens above at one of the cafes) to while away a few hours offering inexpensive drinks and food , great sunset bars on stilts over the water, hammocks slung between swaying palms ~ certainly a laid back place.

Interesting Health and Safety Standards
Lunchtime entertainment was provided one day by the local power company (just as well as lunch took nearly an hour to materialize!).  There obviously weren’t quite enough wires attached to this power pole, so it was time to install some more.  We watched as the van blocked the road for several minutes (it’s only one lane wide) and unloaded tools, electrical connection boxes, rolls of wires, 3 employees  ~ but no ladder.  Then we noticed one of them walking with considerable difficultly and everything well into place.  He had special shoes on with big hooks coming out of the heels (imagine a Captain Hook hand), he made his way slowly to the pole, which luckily was wooden!, and started climbing it, sticking his hooks in as he went.  We were pleased to see that he did clip himself on when he got to the right spot, but he sure provided quite some entertainment for all the tourists going by.  

A Hike to The Other Side
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Cabin fever had us going ashore daily for a walk, we went left as far as we could, right as far as we could and then we decided to do the suggested hike in the Lonely Planet across the island to Pumpkin Hill, a pirates hideaway in another time.  There is only one road across the island, and only one hill ~ how could we not find it??  Still, it was a hot sunny morning so maybe climbing a hill wasn’t such a good idea anyway!  We kept going north, along the paved road, past dozens of lots for sale, some of the for sale signs were so old and faded, another developers dream gone wrong.  A couple of houses were nestled in the trees, we wondered if this was quite what they had bought into originally.  Eventually we found the sea on the northern coast, the rocky shoreline certainly didn’t look to be welcoming to pirate ships we definitely weren’t at the correct destination but it was an interesting excursion , great to stretch the legs and see some more of the island.
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The good, the bad and the downright ugly – how can we clean up all this plastic?

Our Last Time to Head WestP1100021
At last the winds eased enough to start thinking about doing our final westward passage for this season.  We needed to cover around 80 miles to get us to the bottom entrance of the Belize Reef, second only in size to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.  We needed to leave in good light to get through the shallows off the end of Utila and we needed to arrive in good light to enter the reef and anchor in the southern Sapodilla Cays of Belize.  In company with Bandit we left early afternoon and sailed as slow as we could in very wobbly seas headed for Belize.  It was an uneventful night, the highlight being the most amazing night sky we have seen in a very long time, the stars penetrated the ink black sky for millions of miles, it was stunning canvas to occupy us through the night.  Daylight broke as we approached the reef.
Sunrise on approach to Belize
First impressions – Another Paradise Discovered

For reef entry waypoints, anchorage and checking out info click here to view our Cruising Info Blog 

Friday, 18 January 2013

Rendezvous in Roatan ….. Dec 2012/Jan 2013

28 December 2012 – 06 January 2013: French Cay Harbour, Roatan, Honduras  16.21N  86.26W

Nice Day for a Sail? 
We picked what looked like a perfect weather window for exiting Guanaja through the reefs and sailing off downwind to the next Honduran Bay Island of Roatan.  Samarang and Passport left before us, and then we were amazed to see 5 more yachts leave behind us, certainly a mass exodus.  Light winds, clear blue skies, sparkling waters, even some playful dolphins to accompany us on our way, but not a fish to be caught, guess we have used up all our luck on that one.  By mid afternoon conditions had changed dramatically, we were barrelling downwind doing 8 knots with freshening winds and seas rising very quickly.  The reef entrance to French Cay on Roatan had no protection from the building seas so when we turned to windward to drop the mainsail we got more salt water over the boat in 5 minutes than in the previous month since leaving Panama, oh well.  We picked our way in through the narrow passage, over the shoal area and into flat water, what a relief.

Back with BanditPC310030
Our kiwi friends David and Brenda were there to greet us.  We had said our farewells to Bandit last April in Santa Marta, Colombia when they carried on west to Guatemala and Balvenie turned south down the Colombian coast and onto Panama.  It was great to catch up with them again.  In French Cay there is quite a sailing community, daily activities were announced on a morning radio net ~ evening potlucks, pizza nights, yoga classes, games afternoons ~ the list went on.  We decided against the US$50 pp “Bash on the Beach” for New Years Eve (but did enjoy their fireworks display) and instead we had a potluck gourmet meal on board Balvenie with Bandit and Samarang and popped open a bottle of Vevue Clicquot Champagne to celebrate in style the arrival of a New Year.

Lovely Conch Shell, French Caylobster feeding, French Cay

New Years Holidays
PC310006We spent several days in the protected anchorage sitting out some very gusty winds.   We kept ourselves busy while the wind howled through.  Snorkelling on the fringing reef was rewarding, the variety of fish quite good although low in numbers, some of the coral was alive and vibrant with exquisite purple fan corals swaying with the underwater current.  Inside the reef within the marine park area the seabed was teeming with lobsters, some not at all shy and savvy enough to come out from under their rocks to be hand fed, they know they are safe here.  One afternoon we visited the nearby Iguana Farm home to hundreds of Iguanas of various ages and sizes.  These reptiles are truly prehistoric looking, hard to imagine what our planet must have been like with creatures that look this scary in monster sizes roaming around freely millions of years ago.  Some of the residents here are over 25 years old ~ they all looked ancient.  Like the lobsters, they just seem to laze about waiting to be fed by another tourist – not a bad life!

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We took a day tour of the island on a day when the winds had eased. P1040041 We drove up along the spine of the island with 360 degrees panoramic views.  The brightness of the green land colours against the many shades of blue across the reef and out to sea backed by steely grey storm clouds made a spectacular vista.  We ventured east to the settlement of Oak Ridge, a small harbour side village that tourism hasn’t yet touched, basic wooden houses perch over the water on wobbly looking wooden piles, dilapidated verandas with peeling paint completed the picture, time appears to have stood still at Oak Ridge.  

It’s quite the opposite at the other end of the island,  West Beach is the main tourist destination, white sandy cove, very cute waterfront road lined with tastefully restored and colourfully painted wooden buildings, verandas framed with overflowing flower baskets, all housing bars and cafes, chic clothing stores, tourist and dive shops ~ quite a contrast to Oak Ridge, but it really did have a laid back restful holiday feel to it.  A little further south west is West Bay, a couple of large generic resort properties have the monopoly on the beachfront real estate, looking around you could be in any number of beach holiday spots worldwide, pleasant enough but not much local character.
P1040042 P1040043 P1040046 We had seen all on offer on this island paradise, so waited another couple of days for the squally weather to settle down, then we lifted anchor, tiptoed out of the anchorage, pointed the bow west once again and flew off downwind.

Time to move on – next stop Utila

For details on waypoints, the anchorage and what to do ashore click here to view our Cruising Info Blog  

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Catching up on Other Blog Bits ….. Jan 2013

Just been having a break from regular postings and have been catching up on a few other bits and pieces.  

The Journey Above the postings but below the header photo of Balvenie there is now a JOURNEY TAB which is a summary of our journey so far, spanning the 9 years since we left Picton in the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand to take Balvenie to Auckland and a summary of what we have done until our arrival in Panama last July.  It's a much more compact version of the blog and as yet doesn’t have any photos, maybe they will come!

The Voyage Maps
I have also finally entered ALL our anchorages onto the 2012 Voyage map.  To see these click on the VOYAGE MAPS TAB, up next to the JOURNEY TAB and give it a little while to load all the anchors and sails that show our journey in Google Satellite.  If you click on "view Balvenies Voyage in a larger map" which is under the map it takes you to Google Maps which then shows a side bar of all the places and a very brief run down on them and when we were there.  There are Voyage Maps for the last 5 years now and when I get time and good internet again I might just start going backwards.

Balvenies Cruising Info Updates
On Colombia has now been added, its a little late, but better late than never and I have just added Providencia too .  We will leave Honduras tomorrow and head for Belize.  More soon.
One day I will get everything up to date!