Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Zig-Zagging Around Belize ….. February 2013

02 – 09 Feb 2013:  Southwater Cay, Central Belize   16 48N 88 05W

P2030016Up the Creek without a Paddle – or Raincoat!

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. 

P2030021There 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.P2030019  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.  P2050126 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,P2050032 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!!!

Tarpon Spotted Eagle Ray, Southwater Cay Lionfish, Southwater Cay

DSC_0460Out into the Big Blue Wobbly Stuff!

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. DSC_0491

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.

P2090027 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!  P2080016

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.

   P2080019P2080023 P2080024

slipping into island time at Glovers Reef

DSC_0528-001 Where to go ~ what to do??   

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!

P2050038 Brenda and David P2100036

Today we play, Tomorrow we head for shelter

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Life without internet ..... Feb 2013

01 - 19 Feb 2013:  Western Shore of Turneffe Reef, Northern Belize  17 14N   87 56W
Just a short update to confirm that we are still bobbing around.  We have had no internet for nearly three weeks so just a short position report via satphone.  We are ready to leave Belize and head north to Mexico.  The last week has been a little challenging with the weather and we have finally aborted our attempts to visit Lighthouse Reef.  Might just have to come back one day to do that.  Overall we have loved Belize but it is time to move on and we have a forecast of East to South East winds to blow us north, so we heading that way.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Compensation for the Clouds ….. Jan 2013

27 Jan – 01 Feb 2013:  South Long Cocoa Cay, Southern Belize  16 29N  88 12W

North Long Cocoa Cay, Belize And on the 13th Day ….

The sun finally came out to play once again.  It was a most welcome return to a long lost friend by all in the anchorage and the rumbling of lifting anchor chains filled the air as a mass exodus ensued.   After a very long game of “patience in Placencia” it was time to go reef hopping once again.  There was a gentle breeze ~ enough for us to sail in ~ so we took the longer but deeper water route out to our destination and had a great sail (well maybe just a couple of tacks too many!)  in flat water between the reefs.  We even caught two fish, unheard of for us on a day sail, both were Yellowtail Snapper which we were able to identify easily as we had just purchased a Caribbean Coral and Fish Guide in Placencia,  a Christmas present from Mark’s Mum.   We arrived at Rendezvous Cay but after spending all day avoiding the shallows while under full sail, we then couldn’t find enough shallow water to anchor comfortably in, bugger!


Our first taste of Cocoa

North Long Cocoa Cay Good thing North Long Cocoa Cay was only a mile away so we headed over there.  Finding shallow water was not a problem as we very slowly nurdled our way in, we found a lovely big sandy spot in just over 3 metres, dropped anchor and settled in to appreciate the stunning vista around us.  We had our own island paradise, we wonder how many places in the world there still are that are so beautiful and almost untouched.  Not that our island was really deserted, there are two full time caretakers who prune the palms and rake the sand daily, then hang around in hammocks waiting for the once-monthly boat load of tourists to arrive for a bar-b-que lunch from a resort on the mainland, the tranquillity is shattered for just a short time, then life on this sleepy cay returns to normal.Mark and the caretaker at North Long Cocoa Cay

More Cocoa

We spent two wonderful days and nights, checked out all the snorkel spots, circumnavigated the island by dinghy, walked on the beautifully manicured sands not wanting to leave footprints then came down to reality and digested the latest weather forecast.  We had hoped to go out to one of the outer reefs from here but the forecast was now for 20 –25 knots from the south east for 2 days, followed by another norther on the bottom of a cold front, hmmm …. definitely not great for the reefs.  So we rolled out the headsail and had a very slow gentle sail in company with Bandit for a few miles to South Long Cocoa Cay.  This cay had some low key development on the southern end, a JCB digger and a couple of trucks moving backwards and forwards in the middle (doing exactly what we are still unclear of) so we opted for the northern end, densely covered by mangroves and home to a significant number of pelicans.  Just watching the pelicans taking off, flying, gliding, fishing and landing provides us with countless hours of entertainment …. we love them.

An Absolute Underwater Delight    

vivid fan coral, Belize P1300048 soft coral, Belize

Selection of soft corals at South Long Cocoa Cay

sleeping nurse shark, South Long Cocoa Cay But the pelicans weren’t the only wildlife to get our attention.  The first afternoon we went snorkelling off the northern reef, some locals were out spear fishing and were getting some good dinner sized fish, we really need to buy a spear gun.  The corals and fish were interesting but the visibility wasn’t very good.  After watching another superb Western Caribbean sunset and moonrise we settled in and waited for the wind to fill in.  Thankfully the 25 knots never materialised, and we awoke to a bold blue sky and absolute glassy water, the wind gauge registered 1.6 knots, yippee.

We decided to try the eastern side of the cay in the calm conditions and set off on probably the best snorkelling excursion we have had in the Caribbean. sleeping in the sun!  Nurse Shark, Belize Brenda spotted a sleeping (thank goodness) nurse shark, Mark and I struggled to see it even when she was pointing at it, it lay happily on the bottom in just a couple of metres of water hiding under some coral, if you look at the first photo you can see the end of its tail on the right – the very far right!, it sure was a good size. 

The soft corals were outstanding, the best range of corals we have seen since the Red Sea.  We retraced our steps covering the ground we had snorkelled the previous day but it was as if we had been transported somewhere else.  The selection, amount and size of fish was excellent, the seas still glassy calm and the light superb ~ maybe that made all the difference.  See for yourself the beauty underwater and why we enjoy snorkelling so much. 

coral gardens, South Long Ccoa Cayclear and sunny, underwater Belize

all clear and sunny underwater …… then it looks like a snow storm!

South Long Cocoa Cay, Belizeunderwater snow storm!  Belize

Sergeant MajorsSouth Long Cocoa Cay, BelizeSpotlight Parrotfish

Where to now? P1300088

The forecast for the next 2 or 3 days  promises a brushing from the cold front up north, rain today and tomorrow, some squalls but not much wind.  This morning dawned quite clear but by 9am the lines of squalls were marching down towards us.  Still in company with Bandit we lifted anchor and retraced our steps through the shallows, out into deep water and headed back to Placencia, where we now are.  We anchored by 11.30am, the sun came out and we have had a brilliant day.  It is no chore returning here, Placencia is a serious contender for our No 1 Caribbean town, can’t say a word against it.  We will go ashore soon for one of the best chicken burritos you are ever likely to taste, the gelato is up there too but best not have both as tonight we will try Omars, we are hoping for 3rd attempt lucky as it comes very highly recommended as the best Creole food anywhere, we shall see.  We love to visit the remote cays and reefs but we do enjoy our shore leave too!


For now we are happy to resume our game of “patience in Placencia”

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