Some Days are Diamonds …
Sadly it was time to leave the crystal clear waters of the outer cays again and head for better coverage from a strengthening easterly wind that was forecast to hang around for a few days. Southwater Cay was a favourite stopover and when we left the sail we had in light winds up inside the shelter of the Barrier Reef was just magical. Because we were retracing our steps of a week before we didn’t even worry too much about the 4 metre depth, and we knew where to go to avoid hitting the shallows at Tobacco Cay, a lot to be said for travelling in familiar waters. Also there was the double bonus of catching two fish, first a yellowtail snapper then a small barracuda, days don’t get much better than this.
We pulled into our overnight anchorage at Garbutt Cay and tucked ourselves up behind the mangroves. A small white sandy beach ashore looked the perfect place for sundowners, but first we were visited by Harry, the unofficial major of this tiny group of cays. Harry had lobster tails to sell but with two fresh fish in the galley waiting to be filleted we didn’t need lobster as well. But Harry was desperate, Bandit had already taken some so we did the honourable thing and relieved him of the rest, hate them to go to waste. We did a fair trade of a hipflask of rum, a paperback and some crackers – oh and we threw in some coke so he wouldn’t have to drink the rum straight!!
The small beach ashore wasn’t quite as picturesque up close as it looked from the boat but it was a great spot to feast on fresh sushi, while watching a Blue Heron wade slowly closer and closer to us as the sun faded behind mainland Belize. The perfect end to a perfect day.
You Can Check Out …. but You Can Never Leave
Our one month visas were nearly up and the check out facilities further north were off limits to us because of shallow water. We would either need to return to Placencia (again!!) or try and anchor off nearby Dangriga which would be an unprotected anchorage on a lee shore in the easterly winds. Neither option was appealing, but Harry with his “local knowledge” assured us that the wind would die later in the afternoon and it would be fine to anchor off Dangriga, hmmm, we weren’t so sure. So we covered our bases and left Balvenie at Garbutt Cay and the 4 of us went on Bandit the few miles across to Dangriga.
Harry’s promised easing of the winds did not eventuate so Brenda, Mark and I went ashore in the dinghy, negotiating our way in through the extremely shallow river mouth with a very choppy following sea, while David stayed onboard Bandit and motored around in circles awaiting our return. Checkout was reasonably seamless (once the necessary staff turned up), fresh provisioning was conducted at a road side stall with a speed shown by those “on a mission”, then it was a speedy zoom around the supermarket to spend the last of our Belizean currency.
Dangriga definitely didn’t have that “cute” feeling of Placencia, it certainly felt more like a functional working town. There were few cars, most locals were riding past on bicycles and everyone seemed to know one another. I certainly had that “there’s stranger in town” feeling as I waited with the groceries while Mark and Brenda completed with formalities ~ several people stopped to ask me if I needed help. The inhabitants are mainly Garífuna of African descent, and on a glance around you would never have though you were in Central America.
With passports stamped and ships clearance papers in hand (sensibly stowed in dry bags!!) it was time for the return dinghy ride to Bandit. This could only be described as the WETTEST dinghy ride ever undertaken as we ploughed through the waves at the river mouth, at least it was warm. Provisions were quickly passed to David and somehow the three of us managed to get safely out of the dinghy while bouncing up and down, dinghy was lifted on deck and we were off, back to Garbutt Cay and Balvenie. All somewhat soggy but mission accomplished.
Not Another Norther!
The next few days were spent in limbo, another cold front was forming in the Gulf of Mexico which would send more northerly winds our way. There was nowhere on Turneffe or Lighthouse reefs for us to safely sit out a norther so we filled a couple more days moving up the inside channel. We snorkelled on a barge wreck in shallow waters at Middle Long Cay, it was teeming with fish and lobster but unfortunately the waters were very murky and there were mean looking barracuda lurking in the shadows. Sadly the lobsters had many nooks and crannies to hid under, and although David persevered for ages trying to catch some, the lobsters survived to tease another cruiser!
We found shelter from the norther tucked behind Robinson Island, just 7 miles from Belize City. We sat there with Bandit during the weekend and didn’t see another boat ~ these waters are truly deserted. After the norther had blown through ~ this one had brought over 30knots of wind ~ we had a forecast for light east to south east winds so decided to try once again to get to Lighthouse Reef before we headed for Mexico. We stopped briefly for a snorkel at English Cay, a tiny cay at the entrance to the shipping channel. The stag and elkhorn corals were magnificent and there were many schools of hundreds of fish, not a huge variety but the numbers sure made up for it.
Our Worst Night Ever at Anchor
Turneffe Island lies directly on the path between the mainland and Lighthouse Reef so it made sense to stay the night there enroute. We sailed on the wind in flat water, the skies were clear and all was well. But as the afternoon progressed things started going downhill. Our intended anchorage on the west coast was not now an option. As we closed on the island the wind backed around making the anchorage exposed and choppy, so we decided to enter through the reef pass into the anchorage at Cay Bokel on the southwest corner of Turneffe. This was a very poor judgement call on our part and we should have rechecked the guide book as the anchorage only had 8 feet of water, very very tight but it was nearly dusk and we had no other back up. 8 feet was in fact too tight ~ we anchored in just enough water but forgot about the tide. The tides are only 20 cms so we hadn’t really been giving them much thought for months now, but when you are nearly on the bottom 20cms makes a big difference. As darkness engulfed us the tide started dropping and we felt the odd graze along the sandy seabed. We looked at each other and weighed up the options * there was nowhere deeper in the anchorage to move to * it was not safe to leave through the narrow reef pass in the dark even with our incoming track * and a little nudging overnight wouldn’t do any harm.
But then the wind switched to the southeast and built, small waves started coming over our reef protection, the tide dropped a little more, we swung to the wind and waves and started hobby horsing then found ourselves an even shallower spot – and there we stayed. No amount of forward or reverse thrust could move us, we were well and truly attached to mother earth. At 2.30am still in total darkness there was a glimmer of hope when the depth sounder finally started to show an increase in water depths. With Mark on the bow ready with the anchor control and me at the helm asking Olive our Volvo to give it all she had we finally managed to bash and bump our way off the hump and into water we could float in, what an immense relief. We gingerly headed as close to the reef as we dared and found 10 feet, re-anchored, set the anchor alarm for 10 metres (we had NOTHING to play with) and managed to get a couple of hours sleep of sorts.
At first light we had anchor up and very cautiously nurdled our way back to the reef entrance, then we bashed our way out through the shallow pass. Never have we been so pleased to see a mere 4 metres of water in open sea!! The winds were close to 20 knots from the east, Lighthouse Reef was around 20 miles just north of east. After the night we had just had there was no debating whether we would head for Lighthouse ~ we turned around and headed to the now calm anchorage we had passed up the afternoon before. We dropped anchor in plenty of water and collected our thoughts.
Some Days May Be Diamonds …… but Some Are Just Dreadful