Sunday, December 28th, 2014
Tuesday, 9 December 2014
By morning the wind had shifted to the NW and when I left the lagoon and returned to Placencia, the anchorage was calm again. I tidied myself up and rowed ashore. I had been told that the Hokey Pokey water taxi service was a convenient way to cross to Mango Creek from where I could get a minibus taxi to Big Creek which is a port of entry. All went according to plan except for the rather exorbitant ‘Marine Dues’ of nearly US$200 charged by the Port Authority for a 30-day stay. The obliging minibus driver took me to the nearest ATM.
Still smarting from that shock to my budget, I landed the dinghy on a small beach to avoid paying the $5 fee for using the dinghy dock. I carried my small bag of garbage across the street to a public rubbish bin to avoid the $2 for garbage disposal. The small town has lots of colourful souvenir shops and small restaurants and bars. The ground is mainly loose sand which is difficult to walk in but a web of concrete walkways makes it easier. On the way back to the boat I stopped at the Paradise Hotel to use their wifi and treated myself to the lunchtime special (shrimp quesadilla) and an icy beer. My equanimity was restored. Karen of Kestrel was also at the bar doing internet stuff and it was good to see her again and catch up with her news.
Monday, 15 December 2014
The weather for the last few days has been overcast and cool. I was enjoying the relief from the sweaty days at Rio Dulce, but I wondered how the holiday-makers must be feeling. I spent my time studying the guide book for Belize and planning my route northwards. Lots of shallow water to be negotiated, but it’s possible to stay in the deep water channel almost all the way to Belize City. There appeared to be plenty of good anchorages along the way. Now all I needed was for the wind to switch to east rather than the steady north that it seemed stuck on.
I made an early start this morning as I had put the dinghy on deck the night before. Unfortunately the wind was light and on the nose. I resigned myself to motor-sailing if I wanted to reach Sittee Point before dark. So we chugged along under an overcast sky on the smooth, reef-protected waters. I was sticking to the wide and deep inner channel as the more interesting area closer to the reef which is scattered with cays is a nature reserve with expensive fees for anchoring and the cloudy sky would have made it difficult to see the dangerous coral heads.
I reached Sittee Point by lunch time and anchored in its lee, well sheltered from the wind which was still stubbornly blowing from the north. The sun had come out at last and it was a beautiful setting: mangroves and other trees with small patches of golden sand. A mixture of pelicans, herons and egrets worked the shoreline. Three dolphins swam lazily about. No other boats to be seen.
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
After leaving Sittee Point I decided to stop wasting diesel and just sail slowly along. Total progress yesterday was 8nm, but it was peaceful and satisfying. In addition to the wind being light and dead ahead there is also a southward trending current. I could sense that Speedwell was a little disgruntled. Probably thinking nostalgically of her glory days under Bermudan Rig, making record-setting Atlantic crossings. We sailed up to a comfortable overnight anchorage at Commerce Bight and watched the birds.
That evening I was able to get a really clear weather fax using my portable HF radio and the app on my Samsung tablet. I am rather pleased with this new ability to get a forecast away from internet reception. So reassuring to know that there is no bad weather predicted for the immediate future.
I set off confidently this morning, heading for Garbutt Cay, only 10 miles away to the NE. The wind was still northerly but now it was helping us on our way and we were doing a comfortable 4 knots with 2 panels reefed. The water was deep right up to the entrance to the group of small mangrove cays. I followed the recommended track and found a spot well protected from the north wind. I hauled out the inflatable kayak and paddled around feeling like a million dollars. Back on board, I was just thinking of going for a snorkel when a local fisherman came alongside in his dugout and gave me a live lobster in exchange for a glass of water. It didn’t live very much longer.
Friday, 19 December 2014
My next little hop was to Colson Cays – a distance of about 13 miles. Arriving at the approach to the cays at 3pm, I was glad to have good light. I needed to find my way into a channel between the north and south cays to find shelter and the chart was rather sketchy. It would have been helpful to have had someone standing at the bow looking for shallow patches. It was a relief to reach deeper water in the pass between the cays and I found a nicely sheltered spot in 7m. A local fishing boat and another cruising yacht arrived soon after.
None of the places that I had stopped at since Placencia had any sort of shops and I was running out of fresh stuff. Christmas was approaching and I had given up the search for champagne but would have at least appreciated a few cold beers. I should have to keep moving till I found the shops.
Sunday, 21 December 2014
The wind has died completely and its back to motoring or face a dry Christmas. I chugged along nearly all day and anchored in a really good spot at Shag Bogue in the Drowned Cays. Still no shops, so on-on.
Monday, 22 December 2014
I woke this morning to a wonderful fresh easterly breeze. Anchor up smartly and we set off on what turned out to be the best day’s sailing so far. The plan was to go through Porto Stuck with the rising tide. High water was at 9:45 which would give me a much-needed extra 40cm through the narrow and shallow channel. Just the name made me anxious. After negotiating a deep channel called Ship’s Bogue we arrived in the shallow waters of northern Belize. It takes some getting used to skimming over a sea bottom which is only about 6 inches below the keel. But it soon became apparent that the bottom was flat with no wicked coral heads lurking beneath the sparkling water. A big barge passed us, heavily laden with trucks. We raced along at nearly 5 knots with 4 panels up, the wind just forward of the beam. Speedwell was a happy little ship again. The water grew a bit deeper and reached a luxurious 3 meters. By 11am we were safely anchored in the protected bay behind Cay Caulker.
Wednesday, 24 December 2014
I couldn’t get ashore yesterday as the wind had picked up and was too strong for me to row against. We are anchored about a third of a mile off the shore as the water is shoal for a long way out. As it is we are only in just over 2m. But the wind dropped this morning and I went ashore with a big bag of laundry. It was a lovely day. The atmosphere on the little island is laid-back with lots of holiday-makers strolling up and down the sandy main track. Traffic is mainly golf-carts and bicycles. Plenty of shops so we’re OK for tomorrow. Back on board the wind dropped completely and the water was very clear.
I snorkelled out to check the anchor and it was well dug in at the end of my customary 30m of chain. I was really grateful to have seen that later when a full force Norther hit us very suddenly just after dark. Gusts of what seemed to me like 40 knots moderating after a few hours to a steady 25-30. A big catamaran dragged by, narrowly missing us with people dashing about on deck.
This morning things were a little calmer and we had a good few hours of heavy rain. I put the cockpit awning back up, as it had had to be taken down when the wind hit us, and was able to catch enough rainwater to top up the tanks.