02 – 09 Feb 2013: Southwater Cay, Central Belize 16 48N 88 05W
Our second stopover in Placencia was much shorter than the first. We hunkered down for our next “norther” which fizzled away to not much at all, then we decided to move north up the deep water channel the following day while the skies were still a dull grey. Just a 19 mile run straight up the coast, but somehow once we left the anchorage the wind was coming straight down the coast, wouldn’t you know it. So after completing 9 tacks, catching one Bluerunner Jack for dinner and covering 34 miles we finally nestled into the mangrove lined anchorage at Sittee Point, with just a smidge of daylight remaining.
There were cracks in the cloud cover the next morning so we lifted anchor to cross the channel and enter the shallows to the cays and reef. Half an hour later with 25knots on the nose and a serious amount of salt water breaking over the bow we decided this wasn’t one of our better ideas and by 11.30am we were back where we had started from.
We decided to entertain ourselves instead by undertaking a 3 mile dinghy trip up the nearby river to a local village. In company with Bandit (safety in numbers, it’s a long way to row home!!!) we set off round the point and into the mangrove lined river. Every now and again a modest riverside property would pop up, then we even found a small marina with a handful of motor boats, but the village never did materialize. Unfortunately rain appeared instead so we abandoned our onward excursion and took shelter under a riverside palapa where we shared a dry spot with a small tribe of bats, just lovely. Our return journey was somewhat soggy, and when a swell started penetrating the river we wondered if we would now find standing waves at the entrance, blocking our path home to the safety of our warm and dry boats. Thankfully all was well for our exit and we returned home after our second failed excursion of the day.
Back Out to the Cays – Take 2
The strong winds had eased the following day so we re-embarked on our journey back to the cays. We had a gaggle of 3 yachts as we passed through the cut in the reef and into the shallows. It was an extremely slow trip as we nurdled our way through the shallows, each taking a slightly different route as we discovered murky patches in front of us that we didn’t dare venture over. Times like this it would be great to have a catamaran and only draw 4 feet instead of nearly 8 feet, but after taking one and a half hours to weave our way 4 miles we finally anchored for the night in the mangrove harbour within Twin Cays.
The short hop onward to Southwater Cay the next morning called for more nerves of steel and eye ball navigation as we drifted slowly over 3 metre shallows to finally reach this stunningly beautiful cay surrounded by water in as many shades of blue as you could possibly imagine, definitely worth the “getting there” heartstopping moments. We had an afternoon snorkel in relatively calm conditions on the outside of the reef in the pass, visibility was a little murky but we saw spotted eagle rays, three schools of large tarpon, a couple of “still to be identified”, 2 lionfish, and a reasonable amount of other well known “regulars”.
We supped on Belizean rum cocktails at the shacky beach bar ashore as we watched the big ball of gold slip behind the horizon for another day. We chatted to some holidaymakers who sat and listened in awe as we told them we had been cruising for nearly 9 years, all up it is a great lifestyle and remembering this is is what keeps us going on the bad days!!!
We had a potential weather window forming to visit the outer reefs so we moved on again the next day just 5 miles north to Tobacco Cay. It was a magical short sail up the inside of the reef in gin clear waters, we couldn’t quite sit back and totally relax though as the depth sounder showed around 4metres for most of the journey! Very shallow water on the final approach had our kiwi mates on Bandit undertaking the quickest u-turn they are ever likely to do when they got down to 4cms under their keel – glad they were first – we tip-toed around them and found another way into the anchorage.
Next morning the weather window was still there so we readied ourselves to leave the sheltered waters of the inner reef and head out to Glovers Reef. First we watched as a French boat came sailing into the anchorage heading straight for the shallows, they came to a jolting stop before we could warn them, their 2 buddy boats going round and round in circles trying to help them off. Then we watched as a neighbouring yacht lifted anchor and headed through the gap in the reef, good grief – it wasn’t a reassuring sight as they pounded through the waves.
We prayed the turbulent water was only through the pass, put a couple of reefs in the main ~ just in case ~ and followed Bandit out to sea. As Brenda was taking the above photo of us becoming a submarine we were watching them taking a serious amount of water too, rather a messy reef passage, all in all way too much entertainment for one morning. Things settled as we cleared the land and we had a pleasant sail in much calmer water the 25 miles down to Glovers Reef.
We met up with British friends Barry and Lindy on Samarang again here and we all gathered ashore the first afternoon for sundowners on the beach. Took quite some convincing the caretaker of this privately owned island to let us stay though, but in the end when we pulled the ole “but we have sailed all the way from New Zealand” card he promised not to set the dogs on us!
We spent a wonderful couple of days there, the snorkelling was almost off the back of the boat, although not the best we had seen in Belize it was still very good and we saw a couple of species we hadn’t seen before.
The adjacent island to the “private” island has a few low-key eco resorts so we went ashore and were welcome to have a walk around, all well kept and cruisy looking but an obvious shortage of patrons ~ maybe they were all just out diving, but it sure had that “where have all the tourists gone”? feel to it.
slipping into island time at Glovers Reef
Our window of light winds was being squeezed shut, should we head for Lighthouse Reef and hope for enough protection in the anchorage there, should we head back inside the reef or should we stay longer??? As we were pondering over this during our regular Breakfast Board Meeting a huge Motor Yacht edged his way into our cosy anchorage with just 5 yachts. Anchors were set, dinghies deployed, and then the jetskies were lowered ~ we would not be staying!
The sensible option was to return inside the reef and wait for another window to head to Lighthouse Reef, so it was west again, a glorious downwind sail 15 miles back across and we entered through the wider reef pass a Southwater Cay, a much less exiting entry than our exit had been at Tobacco Cay.
It’s also great to return to a familiar anchorage, and Southwater Cay was one of the best we had been to in Belize, so we donned the snorkel gear again and jumped overboard. Afternoon at leisure!
Today we play, Tomorrow we head for shelter