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North West Caribbean Circuit
The account of an easy cruise from the Chesapeake Bay to the North West Caribbean and back. A compliment to your pilot books. A great primer to get you, your crew and your boat, Ready to sail off on your own exciting adventure.
If you’ve been thinking about ‘going cruising’, this is the guide that will get you out there!!!
Escaping the North American winter, we Cruise to the Northwest Caribbean and discover a great sailing circuit for anyone with a sail-boat on the North East coast of the U.S.
Sail with us from The Chesapeake Bay, down the East Coast to Florida, through the Bahamas to Jamaica, Cuba, Cayman Grand, Honduras, Guatemala & Belize. Returning to the U.S. in time for summer! Read on and see how easy it can be…..
Introduction The Author The Boat The Dinghy The Route Getting ready / Launching and testing in the Chesapeake… Hurricane Isabel… General advice on Hurricane preparations… Going south down the East Coast General advice for crossing the Gulf Stream The Bahamas northern section South through the Exumas Georgetown Exumas Going south to the Aklins Jamaican adventure To Cuba's southern shores Off to Grand Cayman The Bay Islands of Honduras Detour to the Sapodilla Cays of Belize Guatemala, up the Rio Dulce and Tikal Behind the Great Reef of Belize From Belize to the Chesapeake
4 5 7 9 10 13 20 27 32 34 37 40 48 50 53 58 65 69 74 76 85 97
In writing this book, I have a selected audience in mind; whilst I tried hard to entertain all readers I wanted the book to have a focus. The aim is to get you thinking about ‘The North West Caribbean’ as a destination. In particular, for those of you with a boat and a desire to go places, this is a worthy cruising ground and a good area to visit. For those on the East Coast of the United States, the North West Caribbean is a neat extension to a Bahamas cruise; if you have already cruised the Bahamas, then this is the next logical step. Unfortunately CUBA is, at the time of writing, a little problematic for U.S. Citizens with boats (although many do still visit and find ways to avoid any repercussions); however Cuba is not central to this cruise, one can quite easily go from Jamaica to The Cayman Islands and avoid any controversy; you could just wait till Cuba opens up but don’t wait too long! Anyone on the East Coast, going south for the winter, has enough time to complete this circuit and be back in home waters before the onset of the next Hurricane Season; even the Snow Birds from Canada can make it! There is no need for anything special in way of boat or gear, the average cruising boat with the average crew can make this trip with ease however I should point out here that to exceed six feet draft would be a handicap. The trip can be broken up into short legs so that one would never have to do more than one overnight at sea and even that only once or twice on the whole circuit. This is not a Pilot Book, there are plenty of those available covering this whole area in depth;
it is a travelogue of what we did, what we saw and how we went about it. I have included
some chapters where I give a little advice on certain things; bear in mind that, like most sailors, I’m very opinionated. You may well come up with a better way of tackling some subjects, I merely state what works for us and what my experiences have lead me to believe is correct. Some of you may be thinking that this is a dream beyond reality; I want to assure you that, even if you have half the boat, half the experience, half the time and half the money you believe is required for this venture….. Just go! Nothing is ever perfect in sailing or cruising and when it comes to seeing the world, each year there is less of it to see. I hope this book gives you the encouragement you need to set out on your own adventure and hopefully do more, see more and achieve more than we did.
Good Luck and Good Sailing.
A little background about The Author :
John and Paula Wolstenholme with “Mr John VI” in the Bahamas 2007
Early days with “Mr John” (a Shipman 29) in Vilamoura - 1979 various cruises – UK to the western Med.
Mr John II” (a Sigma 33) did four Atlantic crossings in the early 80’s Cruising the Caribbean and U.S. E. Coast.
“Mr John III” ( a Sigma 36) was the bigger sister of “No. II” and did one Atlantic, UK to Rhode Island where we cruised the NE Coast.
“Mr John IV” (a UFO 34) took us round. We had a couple of years operating out of New Zealand into the Pacific. To complete, we took the Suez Route and spent some time in the Eastern Med. Before tying the knot back home in Spain.
“Mr John V” Was a 40ft Steel Cutter that we bought in Durban SA. And sailed up to the Caribbean, across to Europe; back to the Caribbean, the U.S. east coast and eventually sold in Annapolis.
Designed by Ted Hood the Bristol 35.5 is a solid and well constructed cruising boat with little in way of extremes; she is actually quite small by modern standards having a relatively narrow beam (10’ 10”). You will note that she is a centre board boat, however with six thousand five hundred pounds of lead in a nice long keel she will get to windward; even without putting the board down! With the rudder secured to a short skeg well aft she has lots of directional stability and steering is light and easy on all points of sailing. We picked her for many reasons: shallow draft, fun to sail with a near racing performance, easily driven, manageable size, nice layout for two people to live aboard for extended periods, solid GRP hand laid hull, great reputation, good resale value, well kept and maintained (not heavily used). As number six of the ‘Mr John’ series we felt we knew where we were going with this one….!
Mr John VI under her previous name during the pre-purchase survey.
Note the long keel that houses the Centre Board, the skeg and semi-balanced rudder and the propeller, protected in its own aperture.
There are many keel configurations to consider, it depends on what you want to do with your boat.
There are many things that set a cruising boat apart from those craft which are used to ‘weekend’ around the bay. Amongst the few additions and alterations you can find aboard Mr. John are: 1: Kedge anchor stowed handy on the rail. Big anchors and lots of gear are essential. 2: Permanent Canopy to helmsman from the elements. cover
3: 2 x 20lb Gas Bottles on the rail (which ever way you go, you need several months supply for independent cruising)… 4: Solar Panel(s)….. as many as you can carry! The permanent canopy gives a good place to mount them. Since this photo we have been adding one panel per voyage, for as time passes, it seems our amount of ‘toys’ increase!!! 5: Radar is not essential but a nice thing to have at times… 6: A Wind Generator to give another option to solar energy, there never seems to be enough power. 7: An outboard for the dinghy; Essential if you have an inflatable! 8: The Vane Gear; It’s not a real offshore cruising boat until it has a reliable Wind Vane. This is indispensable equipment! There is also an auto-pilot on the wheel and a ‘linier drive’ tiller pilot that can drive the vane gear. 9: Man-overboard recovery equipment. Should be tried and tested as you don’t want to use it first time in a ‘real’ situation. 10: GPS, I like to know where I am and carry at least two units, I am by profession a navigator and circumnavigated by sextant however, I’m a firm believer that most people are better served, these days, by understanding properly their GPS, than messing about with celestial navigation! 11: Bilge pumps, both in the cockpit and inside the boat, manual and electric; if you get water in than you must have ways of getting it out! 12: Sails…. We have always had at least one full set of ‘newish’ sails for getting to windward; going downwind you can get away with some older sails but once you have to go to windward in a blow any weaknesses in your wardrobe will be revealed.
THE DINGHY: I always like a hard dinghy, and one that rows well is a bonus. When working on the foredeck, it’s nice to have a bit of space. If you are going for a ‘Hard Dinghy’ on a small boat, you may have to make some compromises. On those occasions when I want to get the motor on and off, I like to be able to do it without resorting to blocks and tackle!
These new, small, four-stroke motors are both light and reliable.
Room on the foredeck…
On “Mr. John” we did managed a great compromise……. I like our tender but it’s not for everyone When it comes to the choice of what dinghy you are going to carry there are limitless options. Amongst the things you have to consider: Is there space available to stow it aboard? Will the weight / size affect performance /safety? Is it going to be your life-raft as well? Has it got built in buoyancy? Number of persons it has to carry? Are you going to row it or power it? What are you going to power it with / how fast do you want to go? Do you have children and is it safe for them? Are you going to be swimming from it? Can you get into it OK from the water? Will it perform in all kinds of weather? Is it cost effective? Is it rugged enough for the job? Is it a target for the ever present thief? Can you afford to loose it?
Our route worked out to be a nice easy “one season” circuit of the North West Caribbean. This circuit could easily and safely be extended by spending a hurricane season up the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and doing Land Tours during that period. There is certainly plenty to see and do in and around Central America. For us the most difficult part of the trip turned out to be the Windward Passage. This was due to the lack of wind rather than too much of it! We motored most of the way from the North Part of the Passage to Jamaica in a lumpy little swell, which threw us around unmercifully. In retrospect, we were probably too conservative with the weather on that leg, waiting for winds to go light when we should have gone out and used what there was; especially where those winds were going to be from abaft the beam! We may have had better sailing, less motoring and saved our gear from getting flogged. None of the legs were so long that a couple couldn’t manage them without becoming fatigued; most of the anchorages were well protected and relaxing and there were no worries about fuel, water or supplies. Once through the Bahamas there was almost no more windward work and most of the sailing was in light to moderate conditions.
Chesapeake to Beaufort N.C. is normally undertaken via the I.C.W. and can be done in two days however that would be a waste as this is a particularly beautiful area. The Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds are a cruising ground in their own right and could give many months of delightful cruising. The water-way also gives several choices with various routes covering this ground, if you have time then it would be nice to take the longer route and explore. If your mast height (above the waterline is over sixty-four feet, you have little alternative but to miss this beautiful part of the Eastern Seaboard due to the bridge restrictions; you will have the pleasure of crashing about in the big seas and adverse currents off Cape Hatteras. A draft of over seven feet would also be most uncomfortable on most stretches of the I.C.W; in many places you would spend more time aground than making forward progress. I should point out here, in these early stages that an optimum draft for this whole cruise would be less than five and a half feet, as you go up from there the hardship increases, not only in the I.C.W., Bahamas and Belize but just about everywhere, Drafts over six feet are fine for the ocean…… but do you really want to spend all your leisure time offshore? Beaufort Southwards has plenty of alternatives; we have friends that top up with their stores in Beaufort and then head directly for the Bahamas taking one of the northern openings into the Abaco Islands. This is an ‘express route’ south as it not only gets you into the Bahamas in three to four days sailing; it also gets you some ‘easting’ and gives you the weather gauge for the next jump south through the chain. This offshore route requires a more experienced and savvy crew with a good sea boat as the passage has to be juggled between cold fronts and the possibility of a late season
hurricane. We like to do the route down the coast, if weather permits then we’ll go direct from Beaufort to Ft. Pierce or beyond, curving to the west with the coastline and picking up some of the counter current that runs south (staying well away from the Gulf Stream that runs north and northeast, somewhere out around the one hundred fathom contour. The Gulf Stream is one of the major obstacles to getting south, you can go inside or outside, bucking it would be fruitless. The Direct Route and the Coastal Route are the two considerations. We always go the Coastal Route finding it convenient to go out at Beaufort and re enter the I.C.W. at Wrightsville Beach, this can be done as a nice ‘daysail’ resulting a good nights sleep at either Wrightsville Beach or Carolina Beach before taking the I.C.W. to the Cape Fear River and exiting at Southport once more the Atlantic; this slight detour avoids having to sail around Frying Pan Shoals and adds a little interest to the cruise. There are a couple of places in the to wait for weather or should you choose, it is only a two day run down the I.C.W. to Charlestown where you can again exit to sea and head south. Our approach is to head offshore as soon as the weather is favourable and go as far south as we can before ducking back inside however, if the Frying Pan weather is against us we have no hesitation in Shoals and making progress on the inside, down the I.C.W. the Cape Fear In my opinion the East Coast of the U.S. is an River unsung gem of a cruising ground, lots of fantastic places to visit, free anchorages, friendly natives, lots of history and nature. Great weather forecasting (continuous on the VHF), helpful currents (when you play them right) and the ability to sail either in the Ocean or in the I.C.W., make this a hard to beat experience. A little note on the weather Our experience has shown that you have to be south of Great Bridge (Norfolk) by the fifth of October or the winter weather will overtake you and it can get cold very quickly. To start heading south much before can increase the possibility of contact with a late season Hurricane and many of them skirt close to the Cape Hatteras shoreline and the Carolina’s. You do have to watch the weather but fortunately the forecasting is very good and there are plenty of ‘hurricane holes’ to run to. Florida to the Bahamas One of the problems of following the coast or doing the I.C.W. southwards is that you give up your ‘easting’; you fall further and further to leeward when considering the prevailing wind. So having arrived in the Sunshine State you now face an uphill struggle to get out into the islands; on top of this you still have the Gulf Stream to cross.
Preparation for a cruise in a small boat is no easy matter so before I start this account I'd better bring you up to speed, lest you think we went at this with indecent haste! My wife and I purchased our Bristol 35.5 in June of 2002 on the Chesapeake. It was the result of much searching but I have to say that most of that searching was not around boatyards but on the Internet. I firmly believe that if you go looking around boatyards you will end up with a boat and maybe it will be the best one available to you at that time, maybe you will fall in love with it and live happily together for many years. However, by searching on the Internet you will more likely find your target boat, so long as you have defined your search and have a target boat to look for! Our search had been made easier by reducing the field, there are not that many thirty-five foot centreboard boats that can tackle ocean sailing and it did not take us long to fall in love with the Bristol 35.5. We were very lucky that a very fine example came on the market at just the right moment for us. She became "Mr John VI" and joined the line up of sailing boats that have in the past given us so much pleasure and at times, so much grief! I do admit however, that without the grief, there would have been much less pleasure. The various "Mr John's" have seen us across most of the world's oceans and enhanced our knowledge along the way. You learn something from every boat and each mile sailed adds to both to your confidence and fear of the sea. No matter how many miles we have sailed across the same bit of ocean, we are always confident that tomorrow we will learn something new. Thus it pays to prepare well. For four months we put the boat through her paces. The Chesapeake Bay was a good and forgiving place to get to know our new boat and fit the equipment we thought necessary for cruising.
Getting the Radio gear in ‘working order’
With a little help from information gathered on the internet, I snipped a couple of wires on our second hand ‘ham radio’ and came up with something a little more useful.
When October came round and the cold weather arrived, we headed south joining the armada of boats heading for the Bahamas. It was a great shakedown cruise and the boat proved to be everything we wanted so the following summer we returned to the Chesapeake where we felt a little less exposed to the Hurricane season. We flew home to Europe for a couple of months and did a little work for a friend, it passed the time and built up our cruising kitty.
Returning to "Mr John VI" in Coan River Marina on the 3rd August 2003, the bilges were dry and everything seemed to be in good order so we stowed our gear and made plans to get afloat. It was raining heavily when we arrived back as it had been when we left. I got the impression that it had never stopped the whole time we'd been gone. Having not been out of service for very long, there was not a lot that required attention; I antifouled whilst Paula did washing and squared away inside. We made some alterations to the gas cylinder stowage as whilst we’d been away the ‘safety valve’ system had been introduced and our old ten pound cylinders were now useless. It was a good opportunity to move onto twenty pound bottles which we mounted on the aft rail in the cockpit. This doubled our capacity and we were much happier with the new system as the regulator was attached to the bottle and there was no High Pressure Gas anywhere inside the boat. Two twenty pound gas cylinders, the supply tube passes through a heavy duty covering pipe which protects it from the elements. August 5th, we launched and were snug in a berth for 1100hrs. The sun came out and it was a nice day! We polished the hull and prepared the boat for sea. There was an active thunderstorm during the night and the lightning disturbed our sleep but reminded us that fall would soon be coming and there was much to do if we were to get away from the Chesapeake before the temperature dropped.
The next day we settled with the Marina and moved off the dock to anchor for a short time whilst we ran the headsail up the foil and furled it whilst facing the breeze. Once ready we moved off north and had a mixed bag of sailing and motoring in light head winds. We anchored in Back Creek at the Solomon's Islands late that afternoon.
It had been a good test of both sails and motor, we found a small sail repair to do so that evening we had the Genoa down again and did a little sewing on the luff tape before hoisting it again as the sun was setting. Having a sewing machine on board can save a lot of money. Apart from repairs to the sails and canvas work it also allows you to do those personal touches around the boat.
We spent two days in the Solomon’s, bussing to the shops to buy items required. Paula upgraded to Windows XP and finally gave up on ME, which had proved a dead loss. I fitted a second Solar Panel, which we had brought back to the boat with us. That gave us two, fortytwo watt panels and the Air-X wind generator to feed our power requirements.
Installation of an inner forestay and a rigging check. Annapolis is a good place to find rigging shops and everyone was most helpful.
Note the 5.1 tackle for getting aloft, I like to be able to hoist myself aloft on a regular basis…. We do a rigging check before and after every major passage
The day we picked to sail up to Annapolis was beautiful, we had a magnificent Cruising Chute Reach just about the whole way. It reminded us of just how much great sailing we have had on the Chesapeake Bay which is a fantastic cruising ground and rates in my top five world-wide. We spent almost two weeks in Back Creek, Annapolis and every day was a full one.
Jobs included, replacing all the lifelines, fitting an inner forestay for our new inner headsail. Our previous shake-down cruise had taught us that we needed a small inner headsail that would take us to windward in the twenty to twenty-eight knot range. Those wind speeds are ‘relative’ not true….. Over twenty-eight knots relative (twenty-four knots true +/-)… we don’t go to windward…………. we find someplace else to go!
Fitting of Norseman or Staylock terminals….. Just read the instructions and have faith!
We also fitted two more drains at the aft end of the cockpit to aid faster discharge of any larger lumps we should ship at sea. It is not a necessity to have all the drains right at the bottom of the cockpit, it is only important to drain the most part quickly, no matter which tack. There were a whole host of smaller jobs which we worked our way through but in the midst of it I was forced to take time out to visit Canada where, for reasons I don’t quite understand, I had to take a Seafarers Medical Examination. This was to update my British Certificate as a Master Mariner; they wouldn't accept an American Medical Certificate or one from the Bahamas! I was not impressed, it was a most expensive medical certificate but it was cheaper than having to fly back to the U.K.
On the 23rd of August we sailed back to The Solomon's and anchored in our usual spot. Somehow we managed to spend two weeks in this delightful anchorage, the time went very quickly. The main job was to attend all the varnish work on the outside.
The Stainless Steel runner strips were removed from the rub-rail and this gave us chance to do a proper job, sanding and varnishing both the rub–rail and toe-rail. The Bristol has a little more than average brightwork for a GRP yacht but when it is in good order the effect is very pleasing. It is very nice to find a quiet spot for this type of work, you really don’t want other vessels going passed when working from the dinghy; our anchorage was undisturbed except for the Ducks, which required almost continuous feeding and a few inquisitive Swans
It was the 11th September before we moved off again and had another great Cruising Chute Reach down to Coan River where we anchored off the Marina and went ashore to see our good friends Geoff and Merel with "Sifar"; they were up in the yard doing a wonderful job of painting the decks. We had met Geoff many years before when doing the 'Over-the-Top' race out of Gove on the North Coast of Australia; the more people we meet on our voyages the more we look forward to meeting again and its uncanny just how many we keep bumping into again and again. We were off the Marina for a couple of days whilst a Front came through and we bobbed up and down in the anchorage which was a little more exposed than I would have liked but we do make accommodations to visit with friends. I did however make a note in the log that this was "no port in a storm". Those words were later, unfortunately, proved correct as several boats were sunk at the docks in the Marina during the Isabel incident, which I am about to unfold.
The next day we left and had a good close reach across to St Mary's where we anchored under sail off the Collage. There is not a great deal here except the collage but we have always liked it. We can use the Internet facilities in their lovely Library and eat in the refectory where they serve great meals at affordable prices. It was here that we were thrust into taking notice of the developing situation out in the Southwest North Atlantic. We knew there was a storm brewing and that it was coming our way but once we got a good look at the on-line data from the Miami Hurricane Centre, we were awakened to the very real and imminent danger posed by this storm. Hurricane Isabel was a Category 5 Storm and the predicted track took it right over us. We decided that there was little time to lose in looking for a safe haven for our boat and ourselves!
On the 15th of September we motor-sailed down to Reedsville in pouring rain and reduced visibility; it was a GPS and Radar job for the first part of the trip but as we arrived, the rain cleared and the sun came out. We went alongside, purchased some Diesel and topped up with water. This proved to be a very good move and if you don't have topping off fuel and water tanks as part of your Hurricane Preparedness Plan, you should add it. There wasn't much to be had in the way of provisions available but we managed to secure some bread. Reedsville. This dock went underwater during the hurricane, so did the fuel pump! Water mains were damaged so if you could get water afterwards, you were advised to boil it
Having departed Reedsville, we cast off and made our way up the Great Wicomico River to Horn Harbour, where we found the most secure anchorage we could, goin into it just about as far as our draft would allow us to go.
On the 16th we began our preparations in earnest; I decided to leave the anchors until last as I wanted to see which way the storm would deviate as it approached. I also wanted to see what other boats were going to do in the anchorage; you can never tell if someone is going to anchor on top of you at the last moment with insufficient gear and you may feel more comfortable moving to another spot. We took everything off the deck that didn't have to be there. I even removed surplus halyards leaving only the basics. The Mainsail was lashed tight to the boom and wrapped in tarpaulin, the boom was then un-shipped and secured on the deck where it was covered by the dinghy in the 'stowed for sea' position. We covered what we couldn't move and used Duct tape on the cockpit seat lockers, which were then all locked down tight. The 17th saw some improvement as Isabel was downgraded to Cat 4. Not much would survive a Cat 5 Hurricane, certainly, not much afloat! However it was still coming our way and Cat 4 was still way to much wind for this anchorage. A few more boats arrived; they had been ejected from the local Marina who were, no doubt, looking into self-preservation. No one came and anchored on top of us and with a few minor exceptions people seemed to be doing a good job of securing their assets. I brought up all my gear in the morning and started laying things out in the afternoon. Paula went into Kilmarnock with some friends we had just made on a boat called "Painted Sky's" who had a dock in a quiet corner of the harbour; she returned with plenty of nice 'goodies' to see us through the blow and some new friends that were going to stay in VHF contact throughout the blow. Whilst there is not always a lot one can do to help others in the midst of a storm (being too occupied with self preservation), it is always nice to have a fellow sufferer to exchange words with, it does give some re-assurance in case things go horribly wrong!
When tying off to trees, remember that there may be some fishing boat that sneaks in last moment (maybe in the dark) so its good to buoy the lines.
In the evening the wind started to increase from the Northeast but we did not expect more than 35kts till morning. By this time we had five anchors out and two lines to stout trees on the shore. There was plenty of chaffing gear and all the lines were well protected. I buoyed the shorelines so that should anyone be moving about last minute they would be visible. Before we turned in we heard that Isabel had been further downgraded to Cat. 3. It was good news and we slept well.
Chafe protection on all lines is critical whether alongside, moored or at anchor
Thursday 18th September in the early morning the clouds were scudding across the sky at 35/40kts but we were still quite protected in our anchorage. Just the occasional gust would sweep around the corner and we'd settle back on the main bow anchor for a while. There was little to do at this stage but listen to the radio and check the lines. We plotted the course of the storm as it approached
The late morning report downgraded Isabel further to a Cat. 2 storm and it was due to cross the coast just south of Cape Hatteras at about1600hrs with winds of 95 gusting 105kts. In the afternoon the wind slowly shifted from Northeast to east, we were not putting a lot of weight on our gear. On occasions, some of the wind that was ripping by up above would drop into the harbour as a downdraft and we would heel over momentarily under its weight. As Isabel approached the coast the radio stations we had been listening to began to drop out. The power was going out in Virginia and even our local Heathsville NOAA station died on us. I was very surprised that these important links to emergency information did not have back up. By nightfall we were getting very little on the radio that gave us concrete facts on where the storm was located or where it was going. From what we could hear on the radio, It was clear that some people were having a very hard time; much of Virginia was already under water and the down town areas of Annapolis and many Chesapeake towns were slowly getting inundated as water levels rose all over the bay. It was a night to remember, even inside the boat we could hear the tortured sound of the forest around us, Trees were snapped like twigs in the wind and came crashing down, some sounded very close and there were cracks like gunfire right through to the early morning. Sometime around midnight we started to face Southeast and I went out on deck to adjust some of our lines so that with the swinging about we would not take off the antifoul with ropes under the hull. In the morning there was a noticeable improvement in the conditions and we realised that we had come through the worst. "Mr John" had survived without a scratch; we had been very, very lucky! As the sun came out we were able to see some of the devastation around us. All the boats anchored in our area had survived intact but the trees that had offered us their protection had suffered greatly. Our friends from "Painted Sky's" came by in their RIB and we had coffee whilst exchanging stories, they had also fared well. We were lucky, there was over 1.8 million people without power, thousands homeless and many more flooded out. The Chesapeake was a mess and the Northern Neck of Virginia, where we were located, was one of the most devastated areas.
Some boats were not so lucky We spent the next couple of days putting the boat back together, stowing anchors and drying lines; time was moving on and we were keen to get going. We motored back down the river to Reedsville surveying lots of damage on the way. The fuel dock and part of the town had been underwater and the residents were cleaning up. There was no power so there was no Fuel but we were able to obtain some water. We were lucky to have taken fuel before the Hurricane; there was enough to see us at least as far as Norfolk. We pushed on down to Kilmarnock skirting a lot of floating debris on the way.
There were boats, bits of boat, docks, tree’s and many other items floating all over the Chesapeake and you had to keep a sharp eye out. We learned also that there were over a thousand Navigational Markers missing or knocked down, it was going to keep the Coast Guard busy for quite a while!
Painted Skies” also came through it all OK secured to their own dock. They took the wise precaution of having anchors out to starboard and this worked well as the water level rose far enough that they would otherwise have sailed over their pilings!
We anchored in Indian Creek and went for a little walk ashore in the evening, there were a few damaged boats at the Marina and lots of trees down ashore. Crews were out and about clearing roads, securing downed power lines and trying to clear up the mess. We returned on board early as we were expecting a frontal trough during the late evening and I wanted to be secure. It somehow got magnified as it got closer and when it hit we had over Fifty Knots of wind. As it went through it spawned some mini tornadoes and later we heard that some people got more damage from these than they did from Isabel. Again we were lucky that we were in a sheltered spot and our anchor held well. The next day we were able to get some groceries from up town, things were scarce and there was still no electricity but many people had acquired portable generators so that they could continue to keep their A/C running and their beer cold! We lugged our groceries the two miles back to the boat grateful that we could still get fresh produce. The next day we moved down to Irvington where we found American Wealth, tucked away in a quiet corner of Virginia, trying not to get noticed; A beautiful area with some very nice waterfront properties. The weather seemed to have now fully recovered and we were again in the glorious sunshine of a summer's day with the promise of more to come. Whilst here, we made use of this nice safe anchorage and hired a car for a weekend to go and visit with our friend Debbie in Culpeper, Virginia. It is great to be able to visit with friends and it’s great to have a car and see a little more of the interior of this fascinating country. As a Bonus to this trip we also took in 'Monticello' which was once the home of Thomas Jefferson. Virginia is a beautiful state to drive around it has a charm all of its own. It has always seemed strange to me that the East Coast of the U.S. is so ignored as a cruising area. I have found it both interesting and entertaining with some great sailing and plenty of good anchorages; it would not however, be quite as good if your draft exceeds six feet or your mast height over sixty-three feet.
The Chesapeake is a beautiful place for ‘messing about in boats’ Having the right dinghy helps as there are thousands of creeks and inlets to explore
General advice on hurricane preparations
There are many books that specialise in these matters and if you are going to cruise in an area where there is any possibility of encountering a hurricane you should make use of at least one. Knowledge is essential and experience comes in handy. I am listing a few points / observations that I have picked up along the way, they are not in any particular order, I hope you find them useful. Always be aware of your nearest Hurricane Hole and how many hours it will take you to get there Have a back-up ready, preferably not to far away from your first choice Make a note of places you find that could be potential hurricane holes for your boat Arrive as early as possible so as you can sound around and select good spots within the anchorage. Don't get all your anchors and ropes out immediately. By all means, bring them up on deck and check them out, make plans on where they will all go. However if you start laying out a spiders web of lines you may find that you have to move most of them as smaller local boats want to pass by to get deeper into the anchorage than you can go. Another problem can be the arrival of another vessel that posses a threat to your vessel. Don't think that you will get them to move, you will have to relocate or face damage. I don't like the idea of leaving a boat unattended for a storm but if you must, remember that some last moment fishing boat may slip into the anchorage in the dark. He may run over and cut any lines you leave in his way and he may well ram your boat if you leave it unlit. There may be a tidal surge increasing the depth or the wind may drive the water away from your boat leaving her high and dry. Both scenarios must be considered.
Remove all that you can and cover breakables in case of objects flying aboard during the blow.
Before the storm you should take on what provisions you can, top up on fuel and fresh water. After the storm there may be shortages and power outages ashore will mean no one can pump fuel. Don't be afraid to be over cautious, especially in your preparations. It may be extra work to remove the headsail and lay your boom on the deck etc but a sudden change in the storms intensity or direction could leave with a major problem if you are not prepared for the very worst. Monitor the wind direction and speed yourself, keep a log of the barometer readings. Outside information tends to dry up fast as a hurricane passes close so keep your own track on the storm. Watch out for rivers or flood plains, a storm will drop a lot of water on the land and you don't want to be anchored in some river that becomes a ragging torrent with trees and debris coming at you. Fetch is a killer; a hurricane can produce big seas in a very short distance so get well tucked in. Just be careful that you are out of range of things falling over ashore. Trees along the water's edge tend to be weaker and may topple towards you. Stay away from potential flying objects; many third world villages have tin roofs. Corrugated iron and coconuts flying through the air at over a hundred miles an hour can make a real mess of your boat. If coconuts are unavoidable consider protecting hatches etc by lashing mattresses over them. Hiding behind a big breakwater can be good but often the sea will carry small pebbles (and big rocks) over the top so be prepared to lay off a good distance. Carry a roll or two of Duct Tape to seal lockers closed and secure chaffing gear in place, I carry four lengths of plastic hose which are dedicated for chaffing gear, both anchor and mooring lines have been tested to fit. If you are thinking of taking the storm in a Marina berth then you are going to need much more! Beware that when you want to stay with your boat the local authority may come along and order you off. A storm's effect at surface level drops dramatically as it moves inland so the further you can get away from the ocean the better. Much of the major damage done by a hurricane is caused by individual Twisters, which are triggered by the storm. These may cause extreme winds in local areas. Beware of Bluff's, peaks and tall buildings that may assist in their formation. For example: In steady force five conditions you can find white water squalls and heavy down drafts in Gibraltar Bay. In storm conditions things could get more than extreme!
Carry good gear and plenty of it, if you have a cruising boat you must always think of Panama and the Pacific so you may as well get your four unbroken lengths of 120ft on board now and make sure that each of them will hold a sixty-footer or more. I carry three lengths of oversized chain each sixty-foot and a couple of shorter lengths. However I use a mixed chain and rope anchor rode; if you use all chain then two times a hundred and twenty feet would be minimal. Every one has their own ideas on both methods and equipment, but good anchor gear will help you sleep better at night. Always stow for sea, be ready to be forced over on your beam ends, duct tape the hatch boards and lock them in place.
Secure the rig, many of the modern rigs start pumping all on their own in high winds and roller furling foils flay about madly unless restrained.
Remove also the blades from wind generators, as these are prone to damage from flying debris.
I’m not going to lecture on anchors or anchoring techniques but I will list some of the weaponry aboard “Mr John VI” (LOA 35.5’) FX 55 FX 37 FX 23 Bruce (original) 33lb Folding Grapnel 22lb 60ft 3/8th Chain 40ft 3/8th s/s Chain (working gear) 2 x 60ft 5/16th Chain 30ft ¼ s/s Chain 4 x 120ft plus lines over 7/8th (required for Panama transit) 300ft 3/4inch ‘Goldline’ Nylon multi-braid Various other lines, spare halyards and short lengths of chain. 6 x 2.2lb divers weights (good for keeping slack lines down on the bottom). Dedicated hose to use as anti-chafe gear. As you can see from the above, when it comes to anchoring we don’t mess around. We do not have an anchor windlass so we make use of our shallow draft to keep anchoring depths minimal. When required, we can heave up using the cockpit two speed winches.
Better than a lecture on anchoring, here are a few Hurricane pictures from our log……
Mr John III prepares for “Gloria” In the Fall River 1985
The boat in the foreground is still attached to a mooring which was clearly not adequate for a storm….Note: the ketch in the background still had his roller furling headsail on; if you don’t prepare properly, you don’t stand much chance!
When its blowing hard the water is just a mass of white spume and the noise is terrific. (Right) No longer screaming but still very uncomfortable. Note: far to much fetch in this anchorage…….I got better at picking more protected anchorages after this experience!
Both these boats were write-off’s and so were the other four that are underneath them in the pile! Both had been left unattended on moorings…
Going South down the East Coast
On the 30th of September we moved down to Deltaville and got going on our passage south; we have an unwritten rule that says. "The Annapolis Boat Show is held during the first week in October…… if you go to see it then you'll get your butt frozen and your head blown off going south. If you can be south of Great Bridge before the 5th of October, then you stand a good chance of getting clear”. So far that rule has worked for us and those that followed behind have told us stories about how not following the rule worked against them! We had a good passage south as far as temperature was concerned but the wind failed to co-operate. Either there wasn't enough or there was too much from the wrong direction. This resulted in more motoring and less sailing than we were used to! There were some nice days however and we worked on our suntans. On route down the waterway we were able to see the destruction caused by hurricane Isabel which turned out to be the most expensive disaster ever to hit the Marine Industry (up till that time). We had to clear out of North Carolina before the trail of damage stopped! We managed to get outside in the ocean between Beaufort and Wrightsville Beach but we were stuck on the inside from there to Charleston where we got a weather window that let us go offshore again. We had to duck in at St Augustine but as we arrived in the early morning we didn't stop but pushed on till nightfall and that took us down to Daytona Beach. Two days later we were in Vero Beach on a mooring and getting the boat stored and ready to move off into the Bahamas. We were there for almost two weeks and did a lot of work checking the gear, the rigging and the engine. The latter got special attention, all the filters were changed, the oil was changed in both motor and gearbox, the fuel tank was cleaned out and the shaft seal tightened. I went through the spare's kit and put in some extras. While I was doing this Paula was laying in all the required stores checking them, entering them up in her 'food stores log' and stowing them. The boat was cleaned and polished from the truck of the mast to the waterline. Eventually we were ready to go the problem was the weather, which was still working against us.
We have another little rule here that seems to work well: "If the weather is not favourable to cross to the Bahamas, go south down the ICW. If you get far enough south the wind will eventually be in the right direction". On the U.S. Coast it pay’s to have your special customer cards for all the main stores. They are free and issued immediately right there in the store. We eventually ended up in Miami where we met up with S/Y "Magpie" with Tony and Jeanne Cardwell aboard; it was one of those instant meetings of the mind. We sealed our friendship with a visit to the movies to see 'Master and Commander', after which we all vowed not to complain about the weather ever again! They were going to the West Coast of Florida but we scheduled to meet up in the Bahamas later. When it looked like there may be a short window for the crossing we went down to No Name Harbour on Cay Biscayne to be better positioned for exit. No Name Harbour quickly got the name of '$12 per Night Harbour', we got caught, I don't often get caught but our pilot book was out of date and by the time I had the charge laid on me it was too late to find an alternative anchorage. I was a bit peeved as we had arrived late and expected to be away before midnight, we were just waiting for a wind shift. As it was the shift did not arrive until the early hours of the morning and we left at 0430hrs. Outside the wind shifted to the south but that wasn't good enough as there was a lumpy, left over sea from the Southeast and we couldn't point up enough to make Bimini. I decided to come off on a fast reach and make use of the current to take us up to Grand Bahama where we arrived of Port Lucaya just as it was getting dusk and just as the Cold Front arrived with 25kts of North westerly wind. We were lucky, it was a short window and not many boats got to use it. Being south paid off, we lost a lot of ground to the north but at least we got across the stream without getting our heads blown off! The I.C.W. in Southern Florida gives a good view of what the “American Dream” is all about…….
General advice on getting across the Gulf Stream
We have a few rules that we try to apply to crossing the stream and they have worked well for us in the past. Don't plan on any arrivals at night. In fact, unless you absolutely have to, don't do anything at night in the Bahamas! Most of us want to make the trip in daylight; this is all well and good if you can but imore important is to try and arrange your arrival in daylight. Anything over force five, don't go near the stream no matter what the wind direction. With any north in the wind, even a force three can be a rough ride for a small boat. The wind is always one force (or more) higher in the stream so stay a little undercanvassed until clear. The west to east crossing is the difficult one and to make it easier try and get as far south as you can before crossing. I don't believe in waiting in Lake Worth (as many do) for a cold front to pass through, use that northerly breeze to get further south. Lauderdale is a start but Miami is better. With the wind in the southwest through northwest you can sail close offshore down the coast and miss all the bridges. The Lake Worth to Grand Bahama route is still good if the weather is right and many yachts do this especially when heading to the Abaco's. Just remember you will have to shoulder the stream to make good your course and that will knock your speed down considerably; There are very few yachts that actually sail this route but if you don’t mind motoring then it’s certainly the quickest way into the Abaco’s Stay abreast of the weather, keep an ear on the forecasts; there is no shortage of weather information and little excuse for getting caught out. Although some of the Bahamas are close to the Florida coast they don't always have the same weather so keep a check on the forecasts coming out of the Bahamas. Listen to BASRA and the Waterway Net for updates on your SSB (Single Sideband). When you poke your nose out, if it’s not what you are expecting out there, turn round and go back, as you go further offshore into the stream it will only get worse! A bad crossing of the stream can ruin your whole cruise. Many a wife / girlfriend has flown right back from the first Bahamian port after a bad crossing and more than a couple of boats have been returned to the brokers by a delivery crew! Google your arrival port and any ‘back up’ destinations that you may have….. you should always plan alternatives, just in case! I find that a good look at a google view helps me get perspective of the dimensions of places we intend to visit.
Above are some of the many, many routes out to the Bahamas, all of them will work for someone but only one will work well for you, thus it pays to do a little research and know not only where you want to be but how your boat will perform in getting you there. My personal favourite and the route most easily sailed is from No Name Harbour, Key Biscayne, Miami to Lucaya (on Grand Bahama Island); from there to Great Stirrup Cay in the Berry Islands is another sailing leg as is the next one to Nassau. Whilst this covers a lot of distance, it does save on the diesel and on the nerves! When ever we have taken this route it has been great, Lucaya is an easy place to arrive, you can ‘Clear In’ at the marina and fuel up, then if you don’t want to stay at the Marina you can find anchorage in the Lucayan Waterway, there are several spots not far from the Marina (but check to make sure no changes have occurred since this was written!). You can take a severe ‘front’ in Lucaya without breaking a sweat and after it has gone through you can ride the northerly winds on a reach across to the Berry’s.
MY reasoning for this route……. I don’t want to motor the whole way and I don’t want a rough Gulf Stream crossing, therefore I need to leave whilst the wind is in the east or southeast and have enough time to arrive in a protected anchorage before the next front comes barrelling in. Even with the wind in the southsoutheast and pointing up as best I can, the Gulf Stream will have me way north of Bimini in no time. There really is no point in bucking the stream when you can go with the flow, so it’s best to just keep pointing up as best you can and hope to be across the Stream before you get north of Great Isac Light, if you can get across and near to Great Isac Light then you can bear off a little and make for Lucaya. Although this is some distance it is possible to do it in one day if you get away from No Name Harbour really early or use the engine for a few hours and cheat a little.
By ‘going with the flow’ you are getting over four knots of extra push and cover ground at quite a rate! Although I wouldn’t advise it, especially for a first timer, I have to admit that we have done Lucaya a few times in the dark and it wasn’t too difficult. If you have any doubt about making a night approach either leave earlier or leave late afternoon and do a slow overnight for early morning arrival… the lights on the approach buoys are not always working and the vast amounts of shore lights can make it confusing. Over six foot draft and a low tide arrival could also be a little ‘touch and go’! The departure time may not be something you can play with that much, the fronts are usually coming through one behind the other and usually you have to leave as soon as that wind starts to clock southeast from east. We once were still five miles out when a front caught us south of Lucaya however, by then we were in the lee of Grand Bahama Island and it was not a big problem to ‘down sails’ and motor up the remaining distance. In theory you could even ‘heave to’ and let the worst of the front come through whilst under the lee of the island, then, when things have settled a little, make off to the southeast with the north / northeast wind that invariably follows the passage of a front, getting your ‘easting’ in before the wind shifts back round to the east and it becomes a tough beat to windward.
we have done and probably over eighty percent of the sail boats on this run do……. Is to wait till it goes light, pick the direct route and burn diesel……. If you can do it, there is no shame in it; the object of the exercise is to arrive safely, where you want to be!
The rest of the route I will cover in the various chapters as we get there; depending on your objectives and your boat configuration, you may come up with a different approach; ‘we did it our way’ and it worked out OK!
The Bahamas northern section
Northern and north-central Bahamas; with a little planning and an ear to the forecasts all the route shown can be sailed on daylight hop’s and good anchorages available each night.
Continuing our story; With our arrival at dusk we just had time to find an anchorage in the Lucayan waterway before it was dark; we flew our ‘Q’ flag, left the dinghy stowed on board and made no attempt to go ashore. There is a Marina and if you have any doubts about clearance then it would be wise to go directly alongside; we took a good nights sleep then moved alongside on the Marina fuel dock early morning. Clearance into the Bahamas is painless and we managed to get in at the reduced rate for boats less than thirty-five feet. The Bahamas increased the charges for a cruising permit just a few months previous. Before we were all paying $100 US for our six month stay, now its $300 if you are over thirty-five feet and $150 if below. Some people view that as a little steep, in my opinion it’s a bargain so long as you are going to be using your time quota. We had been in Lucaya the previous year and knew this protected anchorage well. We didn't launch the dinghy having 'been here / done that' before, instead we prepared to take off the very next morning. We did leave the next morning but we had only got a couple of hours out when we got the 0700 forecast, which predicted winds 20-25 gusting 30+. This we thought could be a bit much so before we were out of the lee of the island, we turned around and went back. We had the hook down by 0900 and this time launched the dinghy to go ashore in the hope that spending some money would lift our spirits! That never works! We did get away the next morning and had a good, fast reach down to Great Stirrup where we spent two nights before moving down to Bonds Cay. I did get a nice swim at Great Stirrup and we were thinking we'd get to swim in Bonds, however two sharks appeared in the first two hours; thus we went beach combing instead.
Paula drops a quick reef in the main as the wind pipes up
The next day we sailed and motorsailed in very light conditions down to Nassau, the capitol city of the Bahamas, where we came to anchor close by the BASRA (Bahamas Air Sea Rescue) centre. Experience has taught us that this is the best anchorage available but we have never been happy with it. The wakes of passing harbour traffic make it at best uncomfortable; wind against current makes it worse. The water is dirty, the air is polluted and it has all those things that one came to the Bahamas to escape! There was a front coming so we took care of our necessary chores ashore as quickly as possible and moved over to Rose Island where we found some solitude and clear water. It is only a few miles away and one can still see the 'big city' in the distance but the difference is beyond belief. We were in Rose Island for three days before getting a window to move south, so that gave us a little time to explore the area. We walked ashore, although this was quite restricted, as much of the island is privately owned. We took the dinghy on long expeditions up the coast and went to examine Salt Pond. This old salt pond had been cleared out and a cut dug through to it in the hope of development back in the late seventies. Rose Island Just a short hop from Nassau but almost a different planet! During the Bahamas Drug Wars investment in the islands had fallen off and nothing had developed for many years. It became a Hurricane Hole for local boats and saw occasional use by passing yachties. When we went to have a look further development was well under way, they were digging more of the island away to make a large marine basin around which they were scheduled to build some nice houses and condos. All a million dollars and upwards of course! The Bahamas is looking towards expansion in the more expensive areas of property development.
South through the Exumas
On the 1st of December we had a fast reach down to Shroud Cay in 15-20 knot winds. The next day the wind was in the east and blowing 30 knots, the boat was shaking as the mast pumped in the gusts. We were close enough inshore to get some protection so we went ashore to the islands well and got some water. We don’t put this stuff in our tanks, it stays in the containers and we use it for washing etc which helps us keep the good stuff for drinking in the tanks. It became overcast so the rest of the day we tried to catch up on paperwork. Shroud Cay in the Exuma Park has lots of areas to explore with a dinghy The next day it was still creaming out of the east but we braved the wind (only because the sun was shinning) and managed to get into the mangroves with the dinghy. We visited Camp Driftwood on the windward shore, got the dinghy filled with sand (it was blowing everywhere) and watched the 'elephants' out in the sound. I did find a spot, where the wind wasn't howling, to take a quick dip but Paula wasn't being tempted as it was still a little cool.
There are plenty of well’s in the Bahamas. You may not want to drink it but it’s a great help for washing and showers. Next day we decided to move down to Waderick Wells. This was definitely, not the best idea I ever had! The forecast was still 25 to 30 but I thought that if we kept inshore it wouldn't be so bad. Wrong!
It took us five hours to do 17 miles and the boat was submerged half the time. The boat did very well considering the conditions and I have decided to reward her by not doing anything quite as stupid as that again! To add insult to injury the next day was in fact much better, A C&C 25 came in from Shroud and said that he had a great sail down. Putting the Trysail to the test was something that I hope not to be repeating any time soon. To leave port knowing you are going to ‘use it in anger’ is not such a great idea. It may well pay to wait a while for the conditions to improve!
To avoid paying mooring dues and putting a dent in our cruising kitty, we decided to volunteer to work for the Park. We were back at the building work! Constructing big wooden boxes in which they hope to fit transformers and fuse boxes. It was just like old times; Paula was assistant and No.1 gofer!
The “Exuma Park” moorings at Waderick Wells
Whilst we were toiling ashore the Front arrived and the wind went slowly round to the NW and started blowing a good 25knots. We should have gone for a potluck at the Rangers place but by the time we knocked off (worn out) and got back to the boat (drenched and cold). We were not so keen on going ashore again, especially as there were big waves rolling in to the mooring field. Our dinghy was wet, if not marginally unsafe, for the conditions. Thus we cried off. For evening entertainment someone, even crazier than I, decided to arrive just as it was getting dark. He ran on to the putty out at the entrance having got a rope stuck round his prop during a spectacular display of how not to lower sails approaching a lee shore anchorage! I was very impressed by the response from our fellow yachties, just about every RIB in the bay
was out there helping to get him off and safely on to a mooring. I watched it all through the binoculars and I have to say, it was quite spectacular. Behind the boat I could see waves smashing against the rocks of the cut and leaping twenty feet or more into the air; the wind was howling through the rigging, there were white caps everywhere and darkness was settling in fast. The tide was only two hours off high so action was imperative and, on top of all that, it was freezing!
Sometimes you have to be a little careful reaching into holes, you can never be quite certain what’s in there!
Many areas around Waderick Wells have wall-to-wall fish so getting into the water is always a pleasure.
Once the weather improved we decided to push on southwards. Working is fine but we needed to get back in the water and go snorkelling and fishing again. We had a nice reach in a lively northeasterly breeze from Waderick Wells down to Pipe Creek, it was good to get out and sail again. We put the fishing line out and as we turned onto the last leg Paula caught a twenty-six inch Mutton Snapper which guaranteed another great dinner.
We came in at Little Pipe Cay and took the channel close south of Wild Tamarind Cay to the southern entrance of Pipe Creek. This is a beautiful area, large sandbanks that dry when the tide falls, shallow sand bores and reefs with narrow channels of deep blue water.
The contrasting colours on a sunny day are truly magnificent. We anchored in just eight feet of water and stretched our chain our along a white sand bottom. Moments later we were swimming round the boat, cooling off from the heat of the day. During the winter period the temperature swings down here are quite pronounced. It depends very much on where the breeze is coming from and how much cloud cover there is. By late afternoon it was cool and overcast again, we returned from a dinghy expedition in need of a warm up and ready for baked fish with all the trimmings. Our next stop was Sampson Cay where we went ashore to look at the Mega Yacht Marina and see how the other half lived. We shared a tub of the local ice cream and sat out on the patio like we were millionaires with little else to do. The accommodations looked nice but I think I'd feel a prisoner if I signed up for a two-week vacation in a place like this. In the afternoon we
were snorkelling and swimming on the nearby reef when I spotted our first "free" lobster of the season; it was unexpected in this location and we were unprepared. By the time I'd gone back to the boat and picked up my spear he was gone. It was a week since we had left Waderick Wells and the Cold Fronts were coming in on a weekly schedule so it was time to find a place to hide again. We moved down to North Gaulin Anchorage, a spot that had worked well for us before in Frontal Passages giving a fair degree of all round protection. The next two days were not so good for weather but we did get out and about in the dinghy and took Mr John around to Thunderball Cave where we anchored as close to the Grotto as we could get.
At ‘Thunderball Cave’ the fish come right up for feeding as soon as you slip into the water.
‘Thunderball’ gets its name from the movie that was shot down here in the sixties. There is quite a lot of memorabilia over in the Stanial Cay Yacht Club, which one can peruse over a cold beer some time. The grotto is the hollowed out interior of a small Cay with a hole in the roof to let in the sunshine and a network of underwater caves that give access to the interior without the need to deep dive or use tanks. At low tide you can snorkel right in there and paddle around in the dome. What makes it neat is that over the years the locals have been bringing tourists out to see the cave and feeding the fish in the area at the same time.
The result is a lot of very friendly fish! When you slide into the water here they surround you right away, all looking for food. Some of the more aggressive ones may give you a little nip if you are not paying attention to getting them fed. We got some great pictures and had lots of fun.
With the Front gone the weather quickly improved and we moved south to Black Point where we were able to secure a few jugs of fresh water to top up our tank. This is a neat Bahamian settlement where the people are friendly and not a lot seems to happen from day to day. The men gather in a community building at the head of the dock and seem to pass time exchanging tall stories or arguing about football related matters. They have a couple of Sunfish sailing dinghies and it is a pleasure to watch them chasing each other round the buoys they have laid out in the bay. They are highly vocal in criticism of each others sailing abilities and it has made them all good sailors. Taking water at Black Point We went around Black Point to Little Bay, which is still within walking distance of the settlement. There is a lovely sandy beach and we thought we'd have a little more privacy being away from town. It was a good job that it was Sunday, for as we moved into the bay, we could see earth moving equipment ashore and a Castle style villa had been built close to the north. From the yachties point of view this was another beautiful spot about to be ruined and another anchorage to be removed from the guide- book. Ashore we could see the unmistakable signs of basin digging; it was to be another Marina Development. The scrub had been cleared and plots laid out and numbered. Roadways had been constructed and they were starting to lay in the infrastructure. This was a big project and I would have thought that in the present economic situation, a big risk as well. It was obvious that many millions of dollars were being sunk here and they were a long way away from resurfacing with any form of profit. I could never understand why people want to live out here in a little prison away from home where once 'been and seen' there is very little of interest other than renting to those that have not yet 'been and seen'. It seems to me that they see paradise and immediately want to change it. If they were smart they'd buy a yacht. Then they could visit, enjoy and leave, whilst paradise remains for those that follow behind. I see a future where there are few if any nice anchorage's in the Bahamas, where most of the land is in the hands of foreigners and what few Bahamians are left in the islands do the menial work of serving cooking and cleaning. The Government will grandly tell the people how well they are doing in the Hospitality Industry but in reality they will have been returned, full cycle, to the Slavery their ancestors tried so hard to escape. In my cruising guide I have marked the 'Private' islands where we are not permitted ashore; there seem to be an awful lot of them. I wonder how the Bahamians feel when they pass by islands where once they roamed freely and are now excluded. Maybe this is not a worry to the government employees in Nassau but I bet it weighs heavily with the 'out island' fishermen. The friendly fish of the Bahamas will come up and peer into your lens.
On the Monday before our peaceful anchorage was shattered with the noise of mechanical diggers, we heaved up anchor and returned to North Gaulin for yet another Front. It was mainly a precaution, we were not expecting a lot of wind with this one but they often get it wrong. So no matter what, we always get a good bit of protection when there is a front coming through. As it happened this one was over with in less than twenty-four hours so the next day we used the northerly breeze behind the front to take us south to Rudder Cut Cay. It turned out to be a great day's sailing and we still had time after we arrived to go exploring in the dinghy.
These old ‘sink hole’s’ abound in the Bahamas, You can row right in and look up at one of natures wonders. Here we met up with "Sleepwalker II", a similar type of boat to "Mr John" but a little bigger at 37ft. She was also a centre board boat and the couple on board were also enjoying the freedom that shallow draft brought to cruising in the Bahamas.
We got to know Ron and Leslie quite well and we sailed in company for a while moving south. The next morning we went down to The Darby's where a couple of islands blended together to offer a small natural harbour. Unfortunately the area was not deep enough to offer room for the two of us. Also, an annoying tide ran through promising a lively time in any adverse weather. We decided to move on and passed out through Rudder Cay Cut hoisting sail as we went. It was a little choppy in the sound but better than expected and we all made good progress down to Lee Stoking Island where we came to anchor of the Research Centre. This was a good anchorage for the night and we slept well in it, in the morning we tried to secure a visit to the Research Centre but they were understaffed and overworked, maybe next time. We all felt there was a need to get back in the water and snorkel, after all that is where all the action is in the Bahamas! So we heaved anchor and went across to Leaf Cay where there was the chance of good snorkelling and fair shelter for our next Cold Front, which was already sweeping in from the northwest.
At Lee Stoking you could swim down to just about any coral head and find a Lobster. BUT : Look don’t Touch! This is a Research Area
The remainder of that day was magic; we went off snorkelling and found a lovely coral garden with lots of fish and some huge Lobster. We didn't spear anything as we felt this was part of the study area for the Research Centre. It was just nice to be in the water with them and to see all the fish and the colourful corals. That evening the Front came through, we were fine as I had already put out a second anchor and made sure both were well buried. However, another boat in the anchorage, "Violet" dragged in the middle of the night and I alerted them with my air horn. Their anchor did get a hold again when they veered more scope but we all had a fairly sleepless night.
By morning the wind had dropped to eighteen knots so we decided to heave up and make a run for Georgetown. We went out of the cut in a lumpy sea with a double reefed mainsail but I was soon shaking out the reefs, as both wind and sea dropped away quickly. It was a great sail and as we bore down on Conch Cay Cut Paula, the fisher-woman, caught three large Mahi Mahi and a small tuna in very quick succession.
We arrived at the cut with a cockpit full of live fish; we had fun trying to navigate in under full sail whilst getting somewhat re-organised underfoot. We had lots of fish to give away on arrival and that made us popular for a while. We have never had difficulty finding friends to give fish away to and in Georgetown there was no shortage of people we'd already met whilst cruising south. Georgetown, locally known as Chicken Harbour, was at one stage the 'end of the line' for most North American cruising yachts going south to the sunshine. That was before GPS changed everything in the cruising world, now everyone can go out of sight of land! Of course there are still other factors to consider, like doing an 'overnight' and even going out into the Atlantic. With special forecasts, detailed cruising guides and sailing directions, you would think that the candidates would arrive prepared. Sadly many arrive woefully unprepared, wrong boat, wrong equipment and wrong attitude! Thus Georgetown has become a hangout for many over the years and many return each year to occupy their little spot away from the cold northern winter. These visitors have everything organised, clubs for this, that and the other. No matter what you want to do there is something organised for everyone and if this is enough to drive you to drink, there's even a regular AA meeting to help you out! We find it 'OK with reservations’! At least it provides some sheltered spots to hide from those nasty cold fronts that sweep through in the northern winters. Hanging out at Georgetown, Exuma’s
We have had some good times in Georgetown but it's one of those places where time passes to quickly and in the end you wonder what was achieved for all those days that slipped by. Somehow we spent nearly a month here; Christmas and New Year came and went with good cheer and good company. We made new friends and reacquainted ourselves with old ones. We moved around the harbour going from one anchorage to another as dictated by the weather and the vast social calendar that quickly developed with our arrival. Paula broke a tooth and we had to wait for the dentist to return to the island from his Christmas Vacation. It was apparently well worth the wait as he turned out to be an expert tooth-puller. Santa comes around for a visit at Georgetown
Going South to Acklins…
There are many options and plenty of good anchorages to stop at along the way; You have to watch the Cold Fronts but the weather but the forecasting is excellent
We finally cleared away on the 15th of January and had a great sail out to Conception Island where lobsters the size of dogs can be found scurrying about the anchorage both night and day (or so the story goes!).
From there we had to motor most of the way to Rum Cay in a flat calm. On arrival we stopped off at a beautiful beach to take a walk and look for shells then moved down to anchor off Port Nelson for the night. We went ashore to check out the 'town' but seeing as there wasn't much town to be found it didn't take a lot of checking out! The Bahamas is great for fishing and you don’t need to be a great fisherman to make a catch
When you do make that catch, it’s some of the best eating on earth…….
In Clarence Town you may get chance to see the Wreck of the “Minnow”. (And if you’re old enough it will have some meaning!)……………………………… As we were keen to get moving we shifted down to Clarence Town on Long Island the next day and Long Cay, Crooked Island the day after. We had some nice sailing and we were enjoying it. The Fishing was also good and we were reeling in the Mahi-mahi again and again. We shifted up to Albert Town and anchored off the 'east dock'. The Beauty of the Bahamas is under the water and the clarity is usually great. You don’t need to have tanks or be Diver to enjoy this………….. Ashore we explored the small but friendly settlement and pursued the Pink Flamingo's, looking for the perfect picture.
On the 24th of January we went across to Delectable Bay, after a couple of hours sailing and a couple of hours drifting in light airs we eventually motored the remaining distance in flat calm conditions. We were on a plate glass sea in five to six feet of water, everything on the bottom was perfectly clear as we flashed overhead. It was a truly mesmerising experience; we were so lucky to have this window and to be able to see so much in such a short time. Just as we arrived in Delectable Bay, we lost visibility and the water became stirred up and mucky. Undeterred we moved close inshore, anchored and took the dinghy to the beach. There was a small dock and a small graveyard close by. It was interesting in that all the gravesites seemed to have concert replicas of ships as tombstones. I'd never seen anything like it before. We followed the track to the main road and the settlement. There was nothing to be seen, I never did find out what was so delectable in Delectable Bay! The next day we gave up on our exploration of The Bight of Acklins and headed back to Clarence Town where we take Cold-Front that was sweeping in our direction and to meet up with 'Magpie' once again. Once the Front was gone we both left going our separate ways, they were headed down island for Trinidad and we were headed into the Northwest Caribbean for Jamaica. Water like glass; mile after mile of it in the Bight of Acklins
Jamaican Adventure (Route).
The Windward Passage is probably the easiest bit to get right, especially if you anchor off Mathew Town, Great Inagua and watch for good weather; the more northerly the wind, the further it will help you as you move south. Easterly or southeast wind may give you a calm Windward Passage (where you have to motor in the large wind-shadow); however this may be storing up problems for later. In the southern part, when you move clear of ‘The Passage’ the first thing you encounter is a confused swell, being small we found it very uncomfortable (on all our passages through). This area is one where the Caribbean winds and the swells that have been produced by strong trade winds all try to squeeze through the gap between Haiti and Jamaica whilst the seas and swells produced by Higher Latitude Atlantic gales roll in through the Windward Passage; all this wave action meets to the west of Haiti in an area which often has little wind, the result is a very confused sea! Both to the North and South of Haiti the daily heating of the land mass causes the trade winds to increase velocity and to complicate things, the irregular bottom in this area tends to throw up some nasty breaking seas. It is an area which needs some careful attention and planning. I believe that in most cases the ‘Red Route’ indicated in the plan above is better than the more direct ‘Blue Route’. Yes, you will have to motor at least part of it but you won’t be thrown around nearly as much in so doing.
We had a good sail south in generally light winds; calling at Landrail Point, Datum Bay and Jamaica Bay on Acklins Island. Then there was a great overnight sail down to the Windward Passage where we lost the wind a spent some time motoring in a confused and lumpy sea with very little breeze. One after the other we broke slugs on the luff of the mainsail, it was a good racing sail but the slugs were to lightweight for this kind of heavy cruising. We put a reef in the main to take the 'bag' out of the sail but it didn't help much. It was tough going but the wind eventually filled in and we made some progress. We were very happy to arrive in Port Antonio, Jamaica and get out of the swell. It was a late arrival but we had no difficulty and picked up a mooring in front of the Marina at 2230hrs to the sound of distant reggae.
The Marina at Port Antonio with yacht moorings in the background.
Port Antonio was a welcome change to us; we had been doing well without all the amenities of modern living however there are some things we do yearn for in our Hobo existence. Thus we stayed for eight days on a mooring which we thought was very good value at $5 U.S. /day including use of the (heavenly) showers which were newly constructed and nicely appointed. There was FREE Internet access with three computers available in the office. The town of Port Antonio is a little run down but the Marina area is all new and very secure. It is all fenced off and there is lots of security. Having said that, we didn't feel at all threatened when we were down town and outside the fence . Each day we walked ashore and round the town, we got used to the dirty and run down state of things; as I guess the inhabitants had also got used to it. The people were quite friendly though poor; it would seem that they are trapped in a situation beyond explanation in this document. I did hear that the Jamaican Government is trying to change things, trying to rebuild the area and improve standards. They seem to have a lot of work ahead! We took a ride in a "jitney" along the coast to look at some of the bays and beaches, also to see how the locals live. I cannot say I was impressed by any of what we saw but the way the "jitney" driver threw us around the hairpin bends of the coastal road was quite memorable. From Port Antonio we sailed directly to Ocho Rios. This used to be a Bauxite terminal but the Bauxite trade died as prices fell on world markets and made all these small Bauxite ports unprofitable. Now it’s mainly a Cruise Ship Terminal and when we arrived there was the 'Master of the Seas' alongside, it took up most of the bay and there was little room for much else.
Our arrival was a little exciting as we discovered that the electronic chart we were using was over a mile off on the Longitude. If we had trusted it for a night-time arrival there is little doubt that "Mr John" would be history by now. It was a timely reminder not to put to much trust in electronic aids and to keep an eye over the bow at all times. Everything in Ohco Rios is geared towards the cruise ships and they get a different one in nearly every day (sometimes two or three!). Thus ashore it was clean, tidy and quite presentable with the prerequisite KFC and Burger King Etc. The beach was clean and you had to pay or have a special ID to gain admission, at least the dinghy was safe (and we didn't pay!). The anchorage was in good holding but you could have only got a couple of cruising boats in and it would have been full. The main problem was the Jet Ski's that went round and round us in little circles with lots of noise and wake. The bay was much too small for all this activity but with the lumpy seas outside, they had nowhere else to go! We went ashore to escape! The Cruise ship left in the evening and it went quiet for the night but as we left the next morning there was another Cruise ship waiting to come in and we had no doubt the circus would re-run the same each day. Our next stop was Montego Bay. I remember the stories as well as the song. In the sixties this was a great place where the rich and famous came to let their hair down. It had wealth, good government and exported its products all over the world. What the hell happened? Looking around I could still see a few old colonial type buildings down town and they gave an impression of once former grandeur or at least organisation. Not much of that today I'm afraid. I have never been to any other place that made me rush to wash my hands so fast after returning from ashore! There is Garbage strewn about all over, looks like the Garbage Men have been on strike for a year or so! There is a river / run off gully that runs through the centre of the 'down town' area and it is piled high with all sorts of Garbage and smells like an open sewer. The pavements are crumbling away; there are large holes and missing gratings, which make walking a hazard. The roads seem to be in a continual state of disrepair, just as we noticed in Port Antonio, there were potholes all over and drivers would swerve all over the road to avoid them. It would seem that everyone knew where the potholes were, but no one was prepared to go and fill them! We asked at the tourist office about the local vegetable market, as we wanted to stock up on a few items. We were told that it would be best to avoid the 'down town' market as it wasn't safe, even the guy in the tourist office said he would never go there! We were recommended to a local supermarket where, like most of the stores, there was a security officer on duty outside with a pump action shot gun! I actually counted three rivers or drainage culverts that passed through the city and into the bay. They were all equally full of the most indescribable garbage and sewerage. This all trickled its way into Montego Bay except, that is when they had a heavy rainstorm. At that time all the contents would be flushed out into the bay in a somewhat cleansing action. I have no doubt that this much improved the air quality 'down town' but it did little for the bay or the waters of the Caribbean. Less than a mile north of the town stand the tourist hotels and the beaches of the Holiday Brochures. People swim off the sandy beaches of their hotels or at Bathing Clubs. These are small sections of the beach that are cordoned off by security fences and under private control. They are kept clean, have facilities and are patrolled by both private security and local police. It’s a bit like the sun deck of a crowded cruise ship but with sand and salt water and for the life of me I cannot figure out why anyone would pay good money to use one. I was not impressed! Still, that's cruising, you get the chance to see and sample everything. On the Friday night they had 'Jump up' at Pier 1, the bar on the dock ahead of where we were anchored. It didn't sound much like jump up music to me, more like some guy getting
castrated! It went on till 3AM and we noted in the Log not to anchor again in this area on a Friday night! Time was moving on and we were getting quite impatient to be away. The weather was not cooperating and the wind was screaming through the rigging each day. When we heard that a strong cold-front was headed our way we shifted anchorage over to where the Montego Bay Yacht Club had its premises. Once more we were very disappointed; the charges levied were well above those justified. The dock was exposed to swell and all the boats moored stern too would roll heavily when there was any bad weather around. The basin was the collection point for all that rubbish that got washed out from 'downtown' and drifted here with the prevailing winds. So as not to use the Yacht Club and escape the high tariff they wanted from us for using their meagre facilities, we took the dinghy ashore on the "beach". It was the filthiest beach I'd ever been on; we had to clamber over heaps of garbage to reach the road, we were caught between a rock and a hard place! As soon as the weather looked somewhat settled we left Jamaica and I was not too unhappy to see those Blue Mountains slipping below the horizon astern.
Down at the Yacht Club the rubbish lines the high-water mark, you have to slide your dinghy over a mixture of weed, waste, general refuse, plastics and used hypodermics…….. Not very nice!
Jamaica What looks great from afar is not always what you get ‘close up’
Downtown Montego Bay (the notice on the wall in the centre of town says “do not urinate here”)
The next Robert Redford Film… “A Sewer runs through it”
The anchorage in Montego Bay. Two yachts can be seen above the breakwater to the left of the photo… It may look a long way out but it’s never far enough to escape to music! The Port and the Yacht Club are in the background.
The route to Cuba
Getting to Cuba from Jamaica is an easy run although it can sometimes be a little windy
until you have sailed under the lee of Cuba. The wind is usually easterly for the crossing and then more northeast as you sail up Cuba’s offshore reefs. The whole southern shore offers some great sailing with a fair degree of protection from the stronger winter winds and cold fronts that can be felt on the northern shore. When Cuba is finally opened up to the American Cruising Yachts this is going to be “the next best thing”! Check before you go to see what the latest requirements for clearance are, these seem to be in a state of flux and we got caught out by going to Casilda, which had just been removed from the list of clearance ports. It was not a major problem however as we were permitted to leave and proceed directly to Cienfeugos. As time moves on and regulations become more relaxed, this will become a major cruising destination for many American and Canadian yachts that at this time are restricted to the Bahamas. Both the charts and the Pilot Books could certainly have been better, if I were returning, I’d spend a bit of time with Google Earth and the Lat/Long Grid…. It is a great tool for spotting potential anchorages!
To Cuba’s Southern Shores
Our trip from Jamaica to Cuba was not quite as expected; we ran out of wind yet again and were forced to motor for fourteen hours. We flopped and bounced in a lumpy 'left-over' sea and eventually motored into Casilda early on Monday 23rd Feb. Welcome to Cuba, not quite! We were told that they were no longer handling International arrivals and that we must go to Cienfuegos to clear. By 0830 we were under way again and defeated the odds (from what it said in the Pilot Book) by not running aground in the harbour approaches either inbound or outbound. The wind came up fresh during the morning giving a good run down to Cienfuegos; actually, that wind came up and stayed up for the next two weeks. It was twenty knots plus the whole time for the whole area and we were not the only ones who were harbour bound for the duration. Our inward clearance went quite well, whilst we did have an endless procession and a mound of paper work the officials are very well organised and the process moves along. We went alongside at 1818 hrs and completed at 1954 hrs at which time we left the Marina and anchored a few hundred yards away. The next morning they brought a couple of dogs out to visit us for a good sniff. We had some fun getting them on and off due to the strong wind blowing through the anchorage but we managed. The dog did manage to find one of our onions that was going off and I was very grateful however I would have preferred if he hadn't slobbered all over the rest of our vegetables. The main shocker was that we ended up paying out $105 to clear in and then there was a further $10 when we eventually left On top of that we had to pay $10/day for anchoring and due to the weather we were stuck for eleven days….ooch! Despite all this we really enjoyed our visit, time flew by to quickly and there were never enough hours in the day. We spent most of our time ashore leaving the boat to bob about in the strong breeze, which honked through the anchorage. Fortunately the holding was very good and whilst I did put a second anchor out for security it wasn't required. As she lay into the waves the whole time it was rarely uncomfortable and we seemed to get our sleep, it was however a little wet getting to and from shore at times. Cienfuegos is a beautiful old city and although a little faded and crumbling in places you can clearly see its past magnificence. We were enthralled and Paula was taking lots of Photos, where ever we showed an interest in a building there was always someone who showed up to give us a tour, no matter what the building was now used for. No one put their hand out for this service; it was just that they were happy to show us what they had.
In the more 'tourist' areas, where many of the buildings had undergone reconstruction, there were plenty of places to part with money. In fact I have to assure you that there is no more a Capitalist place in the world than Cuba, these guys really know how to get your money!
We decided to do a couple of tours by bus, one to Trinidad (the Beautiful) and the other to Havana. Both of these were well-organised and great value for money. With regards to Havana, we concluded that it would be best to fly in for a week and stay ashore in the down town area. Our brief visit was enough for us to fall in love. Words cannot describe what a magnificent place it is. We found it an oasis of history and culture in a part of the world that is otherwise devoid of these things. One must have a week at least to do it any justice and without the burden of a boat to worry about. With Cuba it pays not to get confused between real history and recent history, the later being a somewhat sad and unfortunate episode now rapidly drawing to a close. Whilst we found many who believed otherwise I have faith that this chapter will end much the same as the Franco era did in Spain in 1977 (which was the time I first moved out to live there). We did enjoy our time in Cienfuegos, on two evenings we went out late to see the floor show at the Hotel Jagua. We paid $3 each to get in and this included a beer! Where else in the world could you get such good entertainment at such a great price? During our visit everyone seemed most helpful and courteous.
Impressions of Cuba
There were more people begging on the streets of Toronto last time I was there than we saw in Cuba, in general the people are fit, healthy and happy. Sure enough, to our western values they seem to lack all those things that we take so much for granted. I don't believe however that this constitutes ‘poverty’; it’s just a different way of life and a different set of values. Perhaps the Fat Underbelly of Western Democracy (now under attack) could learn a little from our Cuban neighbours (before we lead them down the same slippery path of our own demise!). We left Cienfuegos early on Friday 5th March having cleared out the day before. The wind seemed light but it is deceptive on this coast. About four miles offshore the wind was waiting for us and filled in quickly, we had a very lively passage in twenty-five knots plus and rather lumpy breaking seas. Maybe I should have waited another day; however the guidebook indicates that this is more often than not a turbulent piece of water.
We cut across the Prohibited Area and headed directly to Cayo Sal, a part of Cayos de Dios on the Banco Jardinillos. This was a nice stop over point; good holding ground but a little swell crept in and kept us rocking about. We had two nights anchored here and took the dinghy to explore and swim on the local reefs. On the following Sunday we moved down to Cayo Largo and anchored off Playa Sirena, a beautiful stretch of white sand beach but again the swell kept us moving. The next day we went in to the Marina and 'cleared in' with the local officials, it was nice and easy and the marina staff was most helpful. We didn't stay in the marina but moved out to anchor again finding a spot in the small bay just outside the Marina Channel and East of Playa Sirena. This was our home for the next ten days; it was more protected and less roly than anchoring off the beach, however the holding ground left much to be desired. Whilst we were there we saw several yachts drag and three of which spent some time on the beach! The Marina at Cayo Largo
We did hear that they intend to start charging yachts for anchoring in this location starting some time next year. We went ashore and had a good look around, then spoke with several other yachts that had arrived from the west. Weighing up all the Pros and Cons, we decided that we would forgo spending another $30 to extend our visas and leave Cuba when our first month was up. As good as it gets off Cayo Largo – Cuba’s South Coast
The original plan had been to sail through the islands of this archipelago and leave from Isla de la Juventud to go to Belize. This was no longer possible as there was no longer anywhere to make an International Clearance between here and a new marina at Los Morros just north of Cabo San Antonio. I didn't want to give up all our 'easting' and the idea of sailing west only to have to beat back here to Cayo Largo was not appealing. However we were game enough to take a crack at it and sailed down to Cayo Rosairo one morning for a look around. On arrival we found the water murky and the anchorage exposed, even with our draft finding a snug anchorage was difficult. We both decided right then, that Cayo Largo, and the immediate area around it, was probably as good as we were going to get. We turned around and sailed back that very afternoon! It was a wise choice as we had a great time exploring the area and seeing the sights. It was also relaxing as we were not compelled to rush, we had easy days strolling on the beach, snorkelling the reefs and fishing from the dinghy. We discovered the Lobster and had some nice meals; there were also lots of Conch and fish. We even found time to catch up on some boat jobs.
Off to Grand Cayman
The weather continued to upset our plans and our final departure was delayed twice, we were having such a good time this was of little consequence except that we did want to be away before our visas expired and we were forced to renew. Eventually our weather window came along and we departed on the Thursday 18th March . Departure time was critical as we knew that we had to clear into Grand Cayman during working hours for the Customs otherwise there was a $70 fee. It was a fair passage down, 'par for the course' with what we had already experienced in these waters. After the first couple of hours of good sailing the wind left us and we were forced to motor for six hours in lumpy seas with the mainsail flopping and crashing despite a reef to flatten it up. Then the wind returned and it went back to a twenty-knot beam reach with spray going all over and the occasional light head coming aboard. It was good however as we arrived and got cleared in normal working hours. The officials were helpful and friendly and the procedure did not take long, most important, it was free. We then left the dock and were lucky enough to pick up a free mooring, which was strong and well located.
The harbour at Grand Cayman was a little short of space
Small yachts are required to go alongside for clearance in Grand Cayman…. It can be tricky, what with the heavy traffic and a few rocks!!
So there we were, the wind was howling through the rigging again and bouncing us around on the end of our mooring rope. It seemed that the heavy breeze was returning for at least a week and we were stuck again! We were not concerned though as we soon found ways to beat the system and keep our budget under control. We had lots to do on board and quite a lot that we wanted to do ashore. Thus we were well occupied right through to departure. We took a visit to Stingray City, it is just inside the North Sound channel (which is well marked and has plenty of water). There are free moorings so you don't drop your anchor and damage the coral. Once secure we went overboard and within a few moments were up to our necks in Stingrays… They were totally friendly and would come up for a cuddle. They seem incredible and intelligent animals; we spent hours with them. A team of scuba divers arrived and their leader was able to coax out an eight foot Moray Eel, which was also almost tame and played about the divers also getting cuddles… Without tanks I had to keep coming up for air but still it was only 12ft of water and I was able to stay down a fair amount of time. All in all, it was a great experience and something you wouldn't want to miss if you were in this part of the world.
Stingray City in Grand Cayman; where you can ‘get close’ with some of these most beautiful creatures
If you had any ideas that Grand Cayman is a peaceful tropical island with a relaxed and laid back way of life. I have to shatter that illusion; that may have been the case in 1953 but now there are often five cruise ships anchored just off the town. Ferry boats rush madly all over the bay; moving nearly fourteen thousand passengers between their floating hotels and the elaborate tourist trap that lies waiting to take their money. It is unfortunate that most of these tourists do not get to see the real beauty of the Cayman Islands. For the beauty of the Caymans is all below the water. The whole place is a wellprotected Marine Park and just below the keels of these rushing ferryboats lie some spectacular coral and a good assortment of reef fish.
Knowing what most of the tourists seem to want, the downtown area of Georgetown has been transformed into a compact bazaar. It has that Caribbean flavour but looks just like St Thomas / St Martin / St. Barts and all the other tourist traps to which cruise ships go. There is even KFC and McDonalds just in case anyone feels homesick. The prices however are very high whether it is tourist goodies or basic foods. We couldn't afford to buy very much but hunted out enough bargains to keep us going. The most memorable of the bargains were the free samples of Rum Cake. Just about all the shops had taster trays outside. I could eat a whole cake in tasters whilst getting from one end of town to the other; then we'd go and share a large coffee between us at the local supermarket just to wash it down. A great lunch out for just over $1 !
Getting the chance to take this photo was well worth the sail south….. Isn’t this just beautiful?
We went for a long walk every day stopping off to read our newspapers in the library. In the evenings we did manage to socialise (using some of that good Cuban Rum I'd picked up for $2.80 a bottle) or we'd exchange movies with another boat in the anchorage. Most mornings we'd work on the boat and do odd jobs; there is always plenty to do. Every day it was a pleasure to drop over the side and snorkel around getting acquainted with all the fish that lived on the reef below our boat. It was just a pity that I couldn't go down and spear one for dinner! After over a week of blowing, the wind finally died down and we cleared out for The Bay Islands. The first day and night of sailing were fine and we made good progress but after that the wind died away leaving us crashing about in a lumpy sea with not enough breeze to keep our sails full. We ended up doing about fifteen hours of motoring. That made it a fairly normal passage for this part of the Caribbean!
Cuba to Grand Cayman and on to the Bay Islands of Honduras.
Note: Quite a lot of wind seems to funnel through the gap north of Jamaica and Grand Cayman is right in the firing line; thus, more often than not it seems blowing fresh in Grand Cayman. This however, should not deter you going, nor should it deter you from leaving as it will usually subside as you get further away from the island. The run down to the Bay Islands is normally a downhill sleigh ride and an enjoyable sail.
A detour to Cayos Cochinos (Nature Reserve) would be well worthwhile…..
The Bay Islands of Honduras
Our first Bay Island was Guanaja, which is quite hilly and looked something like what you'd expect 'down island 'in the Caribbean. We went into El Bight and anchored for the night before heading down town to 'clear in' the next morning. Anchorage off the town was rather chaotic due to the amount of traffic moving around. The town is called Bonaja and it is perched on a very small Cay just off the Main Island. The Cay is the size of two football fields and in this space are crammed about three thousand people living in all sorts of houses jumbled together in some mish-mash pattern with narrow walkways zigzagging all over. There is little room to walk and certainly no motorised transport; it was a real eye opener. The people were obviously not rich but they were not poor either. The first thing that struck me was that they were very clean and tidy (I guess they had to be, living in such a small space). The second thing was that they all seemed so happy and ready to assist a stranger. No one seemed to have a problem talking to me in English although it was obviously not their first language. They are most certainly South American Indians but there are a lot of different nationalities and cultures in the mix. I found the Port Captains Office in a wooden building on the end of the ferry dock, he was very nice but couldn't do anything to help me 'clear in' as it was Semana Santa (Easter Week) and the Immigration Officer had gone to the mainland on holiday. He shrugged his shoulders and told me to carry on regardless hinting that if I tried hard enough on my way through the islands I'd eventually get cleared. I could see that we were getting into the Manana Culture here and it was fine by me. It was my Birthday so I rowed back to the boat and picked up Paula so that she could take a look at the place; after which we found a presentable restaurant where we could get the best meal in town… a hamburger! Well, it wasn't a bad hamburger. GUANAJA is a small and crowded township perched precariously on a very small island…. Full of interest and friendly locals!
In the late afternoon we moved back to El Bight for fear that if we stayed where we were someone would run into us during the night. The next day we had a nice sail down to Roatan where we anchored in Port Royal for a couple of days. We suddenly realised that we'd not had a nice calm anchorage since leaving Cuba and it was such a relief to feel the boat stopped. We were able to do all those nice things like put the awning out (without it getting blown away and taking us with it!). We got the cockpit table out so we could take some of our meals outside for a change. It was great! I even managed to do some work on the sails and clean up the hull, which was looking quite messy. We swam off the boat and explored the local reef (no fish). Time passed and we decided we should move on, our next jump was ten miles down the coast to French Harbour which was an even better anchorage! We tucked in behind a nice barrier reef over which the cooling sea breeze flowed with just the right amount of force to keep us 'bug free'. At high water we could get over the reef in the dinghy and snorkel on the other side where there was a drop off with a good selection of corals (but not a lot in the way of fish). We could swim off the boat and did so as much as we could. There was water available on the dock only a short dinghy ride away and in the other direction we could go into 'town' where there was a safe place to leave the dinghy at the Roatan YC. Just a short walk from the Y.C. was a modern, well-stocked, supermarket and a few other useful stores with a bus stop from where you could, for less than a dollar, get a ride into Coxen's Hole. Not that there was a whole lot in Coxen's Hole but it was an interesting day out and we did get to see a bit more of the Island. I do like to ride on the local buses, you get to meet the local people and see all sorts of things that one would otherwise miss. Whilst we were in French Harbour we had a strong Frontal Passage go through, we moved a little way down the bay to take this and managed to find some good holding in sand for our anchor to dig into. Thus when the blow came through we stayed put whilst about half of the eighteen boats in the anchorage dragged and ended up re-anchoring. I was hoping that there would be some rain with the front but we were not that lucky, we really need the rain to wash off the rigging and the boat. Our beautiful blue hull requires lots of fresh water to keep the salt from building up. Right after the blow we had wanted to go to Cayos Cochinos however I managed to get 'something' (maybe food poisoning - but no fault of Paula's). I was laid out flat for two days, then it took another day or so to get my strength back and that put us a little behind schedule. We put that visit on hold for another time and motor-sailed our way across to Utila. We did get the Cruising Chute up for an hour but the breeze promptly left us and we had the usual big sea and very little wind for the remainder of the passage. On arrival in Utila we 'Cleared in'. The clearance from Grand Cayman was beginning to fade with age so I thought we'd better do the right thing. Whilst it is not for free I thought we could handle $10 ! The officials were very polite and no one seemed to worry about where we'd been since leaving Georgetown, it was a most painless process. We were immediately very taken with the Utila, a little 'get away from it all' place for the backpack brigade who are adventuring through South America. The town clings to the shore of a large and well-sheltered crescent shaped bay. There are narrow streets for use with Golf Buggy's and ATV's but a lot of the locals come to town on horseback. There are plenty of bars and hostels catering for the young backpackers who have come for the ultimate diving experiences at prices much lower than anywhere else in the Caribbean. It's cheap and cheerful, unpretentious and even we could afford to have one nice meal ashore!
Here we made the acquaintance of Mr Edwin Jackson, his family was one of the first to settle on the island and he is proud of the little bit of Scottish blood that his family still carries. We had heard of Mr Jackson whilst in Cuba; a report had gone out on the radio net saying; there was a new Dentist in Utila who was giving good service at special prices to yachties, we had taken note at the time and now we were here. It took a little while to locate the Dental Clinic, which was located up several twisting alleyways, past a small lumber yard and carpentry shop. Outside the clinic, in the yard where an assortment of hens, chickens, cats and other animals scampered around, we met a well spoken local labourer who was obviously part way into a painting project. It soon became apparent that this gentleman, in paint-splattered shirt, jeans and heavy boots, was none other than Mr Jackson, labourer, part time preacher and local Dentist. He apologised for his dress state and invited us into the clinic. The waiting room was somewhat worn, various dental supplies were piled into a glass cabinet so that one could admire the lack of organisation involved. A couple of fading dental posters let you know you were in the right place. We had a short talk and I got a glance into the surgery where a young female dentist was working on one of the local children with an anxious mum looking on. It was decided that we would return in an hour to get an estimate and a feel of the dentist chair. We walked back to the Internet where we tried (once again) unsuccessfully to get logged in to our Pocketmail account. I don't recall too much of what we talked about during that time but whilst the ‘immediate presentation’ wasn't so good we had been reassured by Mr Jackson's calm and gentle manner. There were also too many good reports on the airwaves to ignore so on our return we were ready to give it our best shot. Having renegotiated the yard we were back, Mr Jackson had donned a smock, under which the jeans and heavy work boots were still in evidence. The check up and estimate was a 'freebee' and there would be a discount for quantity. It went well, I lay on the worn dental couch and admired the ceiling whilst Mr Jackson donned surgical gloves and went to work. The ceiling needed some paint but the removal of all the cobwebs would have improved things, the cable for the drill equipment snaked across the cracked concrete floor where a couple of large spiders walked slowly across to where Paula was sitting. At the window were a couple of faded curtains on a broom-stick which rested on two rusty nails, when the wind blew the curtain would bellow out and eventually the broom stick would slip off the nails and crash to the floor. Mr Jackson was unperturbed and completed his thorough examination with running commentary, Paula got the same treatment, after which there was a lot scribbling in a small notebook which resulted in an estimate of 1,350 limps for four fillings and two sets of polishing. That was $75 or forty-two pound Sterling and a fair deal by any account! Treatment was scheduled for Sunday morning at 0830hs! Mr Jackson is a Seventh Day Adventist, as are most people on the island, so Sunday is an OK working day round here. There are no anaesthetics used unless really required, we managed all four fillings without. There can be no doubt that people out here on the islands are made of tough stuff! I was in the chair for two hours and apart from the periods of drilling I could almost have fallen asleep. I remember one time when I was in the States and went for some treatment from one of my ship’s, the dentist was conducting at least two surgeries at once and running between them to do the main work whilst his assistant did the prepping. So different here, nice and slow, steady and methodical!. I could take time out to watch a large mosquito land on Mr Jackson's shoulder and carefully go to work sucking blood whilst he described the various spiders that lived in his surgery and assisted in keeping the mosquito population under control. Mouth wash facilities were a little primitive; first one had to get to the plastic cup of water. This involved sitting up in the couch
which was leaning back at the usual acute angle. In most places they press a button and the couch adjusts to assist this action. No such thing here, Mr Jackson's couch was going no where, no matter how many buttons got pressed, it was well into rigor mortis and rust. That is also the condition of my back so getting into a sitting position was about the most painful part of the whole process. After drinking from the plastic cup one has to spit into a bucket, located strategically close by on the floor. My aim improved with practice! Paula told me after we had paid up and left that Mr Jackson hesitated before starting work on me, pulled out his Bible and digested a few lines to give him some inspiration. If I'd seen that, I'm not sure if I'd have found it comforting. Whatever, It seems like I got a good job, well done at a great price and you can't ask for more than that. The price of all that work in the US would have set me back the cost of a new mainsail, something to consider on the cruising budget. We are both 'good to go' for another six months or so, one less thing to worry about. Utila:A Backpacker Resort…Great for Diving! Now all we needed was a little nice weather, I don't so much mind the wind blowing but I required it to stop raining and for the overcast to clear away so we can see where we are going when we get to our next destination. We didn't have too long to wait. Our departure from the Bay Islands was easy; we paid a small fee ($3) to the Port Captain and received our Clearance documents for Livingston in Guatemala. We had enjoyed our stay in Puerto Este, there were many things to do and no doubt we could have remained longer but we do have a sort of schedule and time was passing. So, with just a little hesitation, due mainly to cloud cover and lack of water visibility, we heaved anchor and moved off to the west. Our destination for the day was not very far away, less than ten miles. So it didn’t take us long to motor-sail down to the West End of Utila; conveniently called West End (or the Water Cays). We had to locate what first appeared as a tricky entrance between two reefs, however when we arrived and the sun shone down on the situation, it was fairly obvious where we had to go. Two hours after leaving we dropped our anchor in a clear patch of sand off West End, Utila. Just in time for lunch! In the afternoon we took the dinghy to explore the area, first we headed north to Ragged Cay which didn't have a great deal to offer. Then we headed east across the channel that leads out to sea; the local Dive Boats who have a couple of moorings offshore on 'The Wall' use this channel. However, we looked carefully and couldn't find water deep enough to safely allow Mr John to pass this way, nor did we find any where that we thought safe to snorkel. In the end we found a very nice spot on an internal reef which lay between Middle Cay and us. Hear we found some very nice coral, lots of small fish but nothing to write home about. I have to admit that my efforts in this region only produced a Grunt and a Squirrel-Fish. None of which made exciting eating!. We spent only one night at West End and the following morning moved off towards Punta Sal on the mainland coast of Honduras. There was little wind at first and we motored till clear of the reefs to the South West of Utila then motor-sailed as best we could until the breeze filled
in, about mid morning. Shortly after that we were able to get the Cruising Chute up and had a great four hours of reaching in a steadily increasing breeze. We surfed around Punta Sal and along its western coast shedding sail as we approached the anchorage. We passed Puerto Escondido and were not impressed as it looked like quite a lot of the swell was getting in; our back up anchorage was Laguna El Diamante (sometimes known as Laguna Tinto). The entrance is quite narrow and there is not a great amount of water inside, however we made it in without any problems and found a very peaceful spot surrounded by lush, tropical vegetation. By the time we were cleared up, it was too late to go ashore so we sat in the cockpit admiring the view and listening to the sounds of the Howler Monkey's high above us in the trees. It was a lovely evening in a beautiful spot however the night was not so good as the breeze changed direction twice and each time increased to over fifteen knots. We were quite safe in this very secure anchorage but each time the boat moves round I wake up feeling the change. It makes for disturbed nights!
Detour to the Sapodilla Cays of Belize
The next day, Tuesday 22nd April, we decided to take advantage of the settled conditions and visit the Sapodilla Cays of Southern Belize. We were away at 0630hrs and had two fine hours of sailing in the last of the offshore breeze. This was SSW'ly at 15 to 18 knots and gave us fast close reaching until it eventually failed us leaving no option but to motor until the onshore breeze set in later in the morning. However, by the time we'd had an hour or so of sailing from the onshore breeze we were arriving in Sapodilla Cut and crossing on to the banks It was a great day and seemed to be over far to quickly. We had read that it was wise to get the anchor down in a patch of good sand before 1500hrs each day when sailing In Belize, that way you don’t have too many traumatic experiences when conditions suddenly change. Our patch of sand was just to the west of Hunting Cay, a part of the Sapodilla Group and where the 'officials' hang out. Not having cleared in to Belize, we went ashore to see the local Police to get permission to stay. This seemed the logical thing to do. It turned out that the local police were not at all worried however the Parks Service Officer wanted $10 per person per week and we thought this a little heavy as we were only expecting to stay a couple of days. There was little alternative but to hand over the twenty bucks and hold a fixed grin in place! (We did get a receipt for our twenty bucks and the guys ashore were all smiles and helpful). North East Sapodilla Cay - Belize
The next day we went out in the canoe exploring, I snorkelled some of the reefs but could find little of great interest. The coral was nice but the fish were all missing! The anchorage was also a little exposed and lumpy during the afternoon breeze. We decided to look at some of the other islands and when the sun was high (to give us better visibility), we heaved up anchor and motored north. Nicolas Cay was privately owned so we passed that by, Franks Cay had two boats already anchored off and there were some chalet bungalows ashore so we passed that by as well and this left us with Northeast Sapodilla Cay. We soon discovered why there were no boats anchored off Northeast Sapodilla, it was shallow! We were getting quite close to the bottom on the way in but managed to find a spot off the beach with eighteen inches of water under our keel where we dropped the anchor in sand and turtlegrass. It was a Pacific Island setting, snug behind an island full of Palm Trees, reef protecting us from three sides and a sandy beach ashore. This was just the ticket! We were soon in the clear blue water which was remarkably warm in places, we snorkelled round the anchorage and over to the nearest available reef which we found full of beautiful coral and colourful ferns. The fish were getting better also! There were lots of them and a very colourful spectacle they made, we were very impressed! We spent the next two days here exploring this idyllic location. We went to as many of the reefs around the island as we could and each one seemed to be better than the last, but they were all beautiful. We could see why it was deemed a Marine Reserve and the twenty dollars was well worth it (but I would not have said that had we remained at Hunting Cay). The weather during our stay was very co-operative for once, the sky's remained clear and blue whilst the breeze came in around 1000hrs, increased to 12-15knots around 1600hrs and died away by 2200hrs. It was great for sleeping and for running the wind generator for a couple of hours each afternoon, thus keeping the fridge cool. It is still a luxury for us to be able to have a cold 'sundowner' in the evening.
Guatemala: The Rio Dulce and Tikal
On Sunday the 25th April we departed this tropical paradise and headed for Guatemala. We should have waited a few hours and would have had a little more sailing, as it was we motored for the first three hours then had a great cruising chute reach for the remaining two and a half. It was good to be able to sail into the anchorage at Cabo Tres Puntas as it seemed like along time since we had anchored under sail and it is one of the parts of sailing that I enjoy most. Cabo Tres Puntas was just a stop over for us; it is a handy eight miles from Livingston but much more sheltered. We were now in a good position to get across the Rio Dulce Bar and get 'cleared in' to Guatemala during normal working hours on the Monday morning. We had a nice relaxing night and in the morning heaved anchor and drifted out of the anchorage under sail whilst having breakfast in the cockpit and listening to the screams of the Howler Monkey's and Parrots etc. ashore. Of course this did not last for long, after half an hour we were forced to start the motor for the remaining distance and came to anchor off the Port of Livingston at 0830hrs.
Main Street, Livingston.
Livingston is a transit town, most people are either coming or going but few stay for long. There is an abundance of cheap accommodation and low cost restaurants aimed at the 'backpack brigade', it is a fun place for a short time but has little of interest. The Officials were very prompt and efficient, they came out to see us for the preliminary paperwork and we followed them ashore to complete it. The cost was sixty-two dollars U.S., which was somewhat more than we had expected. We were lucky to meet up with two very nice couples on a boat that was just 'checking out' and in a very short time gleaned a guidebook full of current information on what was available and what was happening in the Rio. This sort of information exchange is one of the great things about the yachting community and sets it apart from many other sports. Everyone is so helpful! We decided not to remain in Livingston overnight, the anchorage is unattractive and there was no reason to stay. The Rio was now close at hand and we were keen to go and look. We
heaved anchor and motored up stream into the Rio Dulce canyon. It is difficult to describe the trip but in the two hours it took to get to our next anchorage, Paula managed to take over a hundred and fifty pictures! Such is the majestic beauty of the place. The Canyon walls tower three hundred feet to overhanging precipices where vines and creepers hang down into the luxuriant vegetation that lines the sides. In mid channel, fishermen cast nets from dug out canoes, flinging a silvery spider's web far over the water. As the net lands water jumps skywards to sparkle like a million diamonds in the late afternoon sun. We were impressed! Our first anchorage was off the Rio Tatin where we had been told there was a training school for the local Indians, which was well worth a visit. By the time we got the hook down however, it was too late to go ashore so we had a quiet evening in the cockpit admiring the view and watching the parade of local water traffic go by.
The towering walls of spectacular Rio Dulce
We set a good anchor light and watched the river slowly go to sleep. Soon after dark it was just us, the Rio, the sounds of all the jungle animals and a multimillion-dollar luxury yacht anchored just a short distance down stream. It seemed strange that in this whole stretch of the Rio, if you'd taken all the properties and all the boats; added all the outboards and all the income of all the people for the next ten years. There still would not have been enough net worth to put a down payment on that yacht! It seemed so out of place with the setting. Next day we were in the cockpit for breakfast before the sun rose, in time to hear the Rio awakening. First the Birds and other animals making their morning calls then the outboards getting started as the locals went off to work or sent the children off to school. Everything goes by boat here; there is no other transport system. By the time we were ready to go off exploring the river side life was already in full swing. Babies were being bathed, laundry was getting washed, and houses were getting built or repaired. It was a hive of activity. We checked out both the tributaries of the Rio Tatin and then went ashore to see Ak ' Tenamit. This is a charitable organisation, which promotes sustainable development of the rural communities in the area. They aim to educate the locals whilst promoting the Maya Q'eqchi (Indian) culture. It was somewhat unfortunate for us that school was out and very little was taking place at the time of our visit. We did however get a good look around and were impressed with what we saw. Most impressive however, was that after struggling up to the top of quite a major hill in the jungle; we came upon a building that was packed with computers!
Twelve of them, all linked to the Internet via satellite and all running Linux software. This building had a tin roof, no windows and no A/C! There were a couple of fans going but the humidity had to be over 95%. It will have to be a good computer to give long service in those conditions! I was impressed at their hunger for technology but out here in the middle of the jungle I didn't really see a lot of use for computer literacy and as a teaching tool the computer has many drawbacks. I think they have a chicken and egg problem here. At least they should have got the A/C in first! Most of the funding seemed to be coming from Canada… We did enjoy our little visit but pushed on back to the dinghy so that we could continue exploration. Next was the Rio Lampura which ran to the south and we explored about two miles of this before turning back a little worn and hungry for lunch. The day was still young however and we decided to have lunch on the move so we heaved up anchor and set off up river again. We were out of the canyon by this time and the edges flattened off rapidly as we came out into El Golfete, this is the first lake and is about nine miles long by two miles wide.
Going off the beaten path and exploring in the Rio
Just as we came out into the lake Paula spotted our first big clump of Water Hyacinth and not wanting to miss an opportunity we steamed across and ran up close whilst I jumped in the dinghy and took some photos. That little job done we continued into the gulf and came to anchor off the Manatee Preserve on the northern bank. Off we went in the dinghy again (this time armed with a bottle of water each). There were no Manatee's at the Preserve. (I think it is supposed to be 'Reserve' but the local translation into English leaves a lot to be desired). The more correct name for the place is 'Biotopo Chocon Machacas' which refers to a conservation area in the Rio Chocon Machacas Delta in which the Manatee have greater freedom from human intrusion than in other parts of the gulf. We did not expect to see Manatee but we had heard that they had a nice little jungle trek where one could go and admire both flora and fauna with a little help from sign posts and a leaflet that informs the uninformed (us) what they are looking at!
It was a lovely walk and had been well laid out with a good path and plenty of information. It was well worth the small fee ($2.50) each. Whilst we were out and about we took the dinghy across to a small waterway that lead to another inland lake, Laguna Salvador. Our route gave Paula plenty of wild life to photograph and we enjoyed the lush vegetation however the sun was going down and it had been a very full day. We returned on board well worn out and ready for a quiet evening in the cockpit but it was not to be. Dark clouds quickly bore down on the lake, the rain arrived and a thunderstorm passed a couple of miles away with vivid lightning. We fitted the side protectors to our awning and sat in the cockpit watching the display and listening to the thunder reverberating off the mountains to the south of us. It was awe inspiring and as the sound of thunder gradually faded away we slept that little bit closer to nature. The next day we decided that Mr John was going to explore and go beyond 'the beaten track' of other yachts. We heaved anchor and retraced our dinghy route into Laguna Salvador then we took a fork off the main waterway and found our way into Laguna Calix (the author of the guidebook had not been this adventurous so we were in virgin territory). As we entered Paula cried out with joy as the whole north-western section on the lake was covered in the Water Hyacinth. This was our chance to get better photos and we did so want to see "Mr John" amongst them. It would seem that they only grow in shallow water so we could not get far into them before we were in the mud and could go no further. I stopped the engine and we just sat there, held in place by lily pads. It was a beautiful setting and we live in hope that some of our photos will do it justice.
I used the dinghy and towed "Mr John" clear of the Lily Pads using the oars before starting the engine, otherwise we would either have blocked the water cooling or fouled the propeller, possibly both! We went back across Laguna Calix and tried to get into the waterway that ran south towards the Rio Chocon Machacas. This proved impossible and we were turned back by trees fallen into the waterway and trees overhanging so much that we would loose the mast.
Still it was a good try so we retraced our track out into El Golfete and went down the coast a couple of miles to the main entrance to the 'Machacas'. On entry, we turned left and proceeded to a very nice anchorage in another part of the delta. It was a tight spot with room only for one boat and little swinging space however it was stunningly beautiful and as close to nature as one was likely to get. We could sit in our cockpit and admire Snowy Egrets, Warblers and a few dozen birds that I could never name. Every colour, shape and size seemed to be represented. Close behind us lay a large patch of Lily Pads and we were amazed at how much activity took place atop the Pads, All sorts of birds had adapted to life on the Pads; special feet spread the weight so that the pads would not buckle as they walked across. I was intrigued. We sat in the middle of all this grandeur for an hour or so, watching the antics of the birds and taking lots of photo's after which we explored the river. Late in the afternoon we were drifting back towards the boat with the gentle breeze pushing us along when a local resident stopped by a nice and well meaning lady who lived on the other side of the lake. She warned us that another yacht had been boarded at night in this area only a couple of weeks previous and that we should take precautions if we were intending to stay. We did stay and we did take our usual precautions. We also had no problems but our beautiful anchorage was not the same place anymore so the next morning we left and motored down to Fronteras in pouring rain, coming to anchor off Catamaran Island.
Fronteras is far from charming, however it has a good selection of stores and sits astride the main road, making it a good starting point for interior exploration.
Fronteras is the main town in this area; around it are a growing number of Marinas providing services to the ever-increasing amount of yachts visiting the Rio Dulce. In particular, there are an increasing amount of Americans who have come to prefer this area to Florida. The sailing season down here is November through May and this is just the time that many want to be absent from the inclement northern U.S. and Canada. In the past the Rio has been Hurricane proof although it lies inside the Hurricane belt. Many people sail in Belize during the Hurricane season with the knowledge that there is a safe haven in the Rio if something should come their way. I'm a little sceptical about this, as they say in finance, "past performance is no indication of future performance". As we expected to be here a while and do at least one trip into the interior I secured a nice berth in which to put the boat (in the best Marina in town) for $50 /
week. We now had chance to catch up with e-mails and snail mail. I was able to polish the boat again and try to remove some of the salt that had gelled to the hull. A blue hull looks very nice but to keep it looking nice is hard work. The salt spray dries on impact when sailing in the tropical sun so on making any arrival in port or at anchor one has to remove this white cake before it sets totally solid. After a while it still builds up and the only way to remove it without damage to the paintwork is to wash the hull with vinegar and then wash that off with fresh water. You can see why most good looking blue boats are either in a Marina or between Marina’s! The Marina we had chosen was 'Catamaran' and we quite liked it here. I have never been very happy leaving the boat and prefer to have it out of the water when we go away for any length of time. We felt however that there were lots of nice people around us here and that she was in good hands. Thus we packed our bags and took off to see the Mayan ruins of Tikal. We had done a little research on what there was and what we wanted to see; also we had checked out the transport system. We caught a nice air-conditioned coach from Rio Dulce to Flores (some three and a half-hours away). There, after a brief transfer ride in a Passenger Van we found a Hotel to stay in for the night. The first one we looked at was a 'bust' but the second one was reasonable for $32 / night and we had a view over the lake from the small patio outside our room. Arriving before the sunset we had just enough time to wander around the Old City and work up an appetite for dinner.
Our Hotel in Flores had a nice view for the price!
I cannot say I was that impressed by Flores. It has a lot of history; full of cobbled streets and quaintly situated on a small island in a large lake. Today it is joined to the mainland by a road bridge but I believe it was not always so. It was once a centre of government and an outpost of Colonial Spain. Now it’s a 'passed by' town that has for sure seen better days, They do, however, seem to be working on it, quite a few of the streets had been torn up to improve drains etc. There were lots of restaurants and Hotels to cater for the broad spectrum of tourists that pass through. Also, there is a nice Zoo close by, which we sadly missed, having heard all about it only after our visit!
The next day we had time to wander around and have breakfast before our shuttle bus picked us up and took us to Tikal. It takes about an hour to get there from Flores so we were in the Park in the mid -morning and ready to go. We elected to stay at the Jaguar Hotel $32 / night and this got us a small detached cabin with bathroom. It was a little primitive and basic but proved to be adequate for our purpose. Once we were without luggage we moved off to explore. It takes about twenty minutes to walk from the Hotel to the nearest ruins and another twenty to get to the furthest. That is, if you go direct, however Tikal is full of interesting things to see along the way so by wandering around you can soon manage to clock up some miles! I'm not going to try and describe Tikal to you, except to say that it is the magical and mysterious place that it’s made out to be. One cannot help but be overawed by its beauty and magnificence. The setting is perfect and the presentation unbelievable. We are so lucky to have this link with the distant past; it sets in perspective the great achievements of human evolution. No matter what your view on History or Culture there is something for everyone in Tikal and I shall never forget the time we spent there. Our luck was in, the rest of our first day the weather remained a little overcast, which made activity more pleasant; there was enough sunshine to get some photos but not so much that it slowed us down. We tried to cover everything but of course, could not. There is just so much to see you need at least two days and a week would not be excessive. The next day we started early and covered all that we had missed the first time around, most of it by shortly after lunch so that we had a relaxing afternoon strolling around the more interesting ruins. Late on there was a rain shower which sent most of the sightseers home early, it was good as we had The Great Plaza almost to ourselves and the moment the rain stopped all the Birds seemed to come alive, their calls filled the air. It was almost possible to imagine how it was when the first explorers came across this ruined City completely swamped by the jungle around it. On that subject I have to admire the amount of work that has been done in restoration of the buildings and the area. When you see the Photo's of how things were back in the 1950's and before and read the names of those involved in the early uncovering and restoration one realises that a lot of American money, blood, sweat and tears was responsible for getting this whole project up and running. Though a poor country the Guatemalans continue to work on improving the area and restoring these magnificent buildings.
The wild life both in and around the Park was a special and somewhat unexpected bonus. One is very much out in the Jungle here and you can never tell what you are going to come across round the next bend of the trail. We saw enough wildlife to fill a small book and Paula got some great Photo's! On our last morning we were up with the dawn and went for a Jungle Walk on a nature trail just a short distance from the Hotel, we didn't see as much as we would have liked but there were a few things around. The highlight was 'Mirradore' a sort of tree house arrangement where one could go up into the canopy and come face to face with some of the bright and beautiful things that live there. In the early afternoon we checked out and made our way back to Flores by shuttle bus. Here we found our coach to Rio Dulce already waiting. We purchased tickets and boarded. After ten or fifteen minutes the attendant came along and told us that the coach had been cancelled as there were not enough people to warrant running it! Great, well it is Central America! We got booked on the next coach which was not for another three hours, I wasn't happy about that as it would make our return to Rio Dulce well after dark. The people in the office assured me that there was nothing earlier so I was somewhat surprised to find another coach had arrived outside leaving for the Rio right away. It didn't take us long to decide to jump aboard although it was one of the local, slower busses with no air-conditioning. It was a ride and it did get us back to The Rio just as the sun was setting. Riding in the local busses in Guatemala is an experience not to be missed; the people are very friendly and polite. However this is a very poor country and the value of human life is low. Most of the busses would be condemned if this were Europe or the U.S., out here they take a pride in getting the most out of what they have and most of the bus drivers go at it like Formula One. Overtaking on the uphill, on a blind corner, is normal practice so you don't want to sit to near the front or you may get to see where you are going, not a good idea in this part of the world! Back in Rio Dulce we arranged a boat to pick us up and return to Catamaran Marina where we had dinner in the otherwise empty restaurant and found 'Mr John' as we left her in the berth. We were of course quite ill for the next two days but it would seem that this normal for just about everyone who visits Tikal, after all these years Montezuma is still taking revenge! Eventually we went out to anchor but were hampered by heavy rains. It seemed like the rainy season had arrived early this year and there was much talk of increased Hurricane threats and more rain than average. It was somewhat depressing, as was the weather but we had to move on and slowly made our way down to Livingston where we cleared out on the 13th May. On the 14th we put Livingston fairway buoy behind us unfurled the Genoa and pointed for Belize, one hour later we had Livingston behind us and were again motoring up the Rio Dulce Gorge! We put back into Gringo Bay at the eastern end of El Golfete and spent the next forty-eight hours in torrential rain and thunderstorms. It blew hard from around the clock and we very much appreciated our wisdom in turning back! There was seemed little point in sitting at anchor in the middle of nowhere in those conditions when there was an interesting town just a few hours away. So we decided to return to Rio Dulce for a while, to re-establish communication with family and to let the weather 'cool off'. It was the 21st of May before we again crossed the bar at Livingston (we are getting quite expert at it now!) and on the next day had a nice little motor-sail in calm and settled conditions from Cape Three Points to Placentia. We were at last in Belize!
The Rio Dulce will forever haunt our memories; it is a beautiful place like no other in the world……
Behind the Great Reef of Belize:
Not only did the sun come out and stay out as we approached Belize but a nice size of Tuna jumped onto the lure. After the weather we had been getting over the previous two weeks it seemed that we had discovered paradise. For sure the boat was going to miss all that Fresh Water but we were happy to be able to see the bottom again and feel that lovely sea breeze blowing through the boat. We were all squared away by lunchtime and went ashore to check out the local scene. Paula found an Internet and we had a look to see if there was anything in our mailbox. There wasn't but we were impressed by the speed of their equipment. Guatemala had been cheap for Internet but it was incredibly slow, Belize was more expensive but at least things got done. We were at this time uploading pictures into our new Web Page and we decided that we would make use of our time here to complete this work
Walking around the paths of Pacencia was more like walking through someone’s garden!................
Our arrival was on a Saturday and due to a holiday on the Monday (Commonwealth Day!) it was the Tuesday 25th May before we went over to Big Creek and presented ourselves at the Customs for 'Clearing In'. My clearance from Livingston was almost ancient history by then so I was ready for a hard time. However the Customs Officer just asked me where I'd been in the intervening period and I told him Isle de Aves, bird watching. He seemed happy with that and there were no further questions. The officials, who were both quick and courteous, impressed me. I was even more impressed when they didn't charge anything! Whilst in Big Creek I 'checked it out' as a possible Hurricane Hole and concluded that it could be good depending on how many other boats were using it. I was concerned that the Moorings
Operation in Placencia would run all their boats in and just leave them, as Charter Operators are wont to do. That would not be good. We motored back to the anchorage in Placencia and spent the rest of the day exploring both by dinghy and by foot. Whilst there seems to be a tendency to cater for the 'back-packers' and divers, the layout of the town is quite up-market. We rather liked the way it was all kept neat and tidy with flowers and bougainvillaea growing in nearly every garden. There were lots of small guesthouses and 'hotels'; these were all well painted and maintained, with colourful hand painted signs hung outside. Names like "Enchanted Garden" and "The Purple Parrot Hotel" were scattered along the town's boardwalk. There was also a lovely beach and in retrospect it was probably one of the best beaches in Belize which, in our opinion, was somewhat (unexpectedly) short in that department. We did learn a little later that many of the Islands we were to visit had suffered badly through Hurricane damage. All the Palm Trees had been lost and the sandy beaches torn away leaving only the Mangroves which hung on tenaciously through the tempest. Even the reefs were badly damaged as big seas pounded them leaving areas of broken coral that would take hundreds of years to recover. Our first outer Island was Lagoon Cay, two hours Northeast of Placencia. We anchored as close in as we could and took the dinghy to explore over the shallow bar and into the interior of the Lagoon. It was cute but had little that tempted us to stay, it was a Mangrove Island and there was little else there except an Island of Mangroves. We did hear, but didn't see, an Osprey nesting somewhere in the middle of the Mangroves. There were a few other birds but not many and there were some little fish but nothing to get into the water for. We checked out the areas recommended in the guidebook for snorkelling but found the water murky and without fish. We decided to move on and see if things improved. The dinghy was re-stowed and we sailed off to the north to Blue Ground Range, which we passed through and then on to Twin Cays where we detoured into the Lagoon between the Cays to 'check it out'. Twin Cays is just another Mangrove Island and offers little other than a protected anchorage and a large crowd of very friendly mosquitoes! We moved on to South Water Cay and anchored in a sandy spot to the northwest of the Island. It was mid afternoon but we launched the dinghy and went exploring right away. The reef area to the south of the Island was quite nice. There were quite a lot of fish and plenty of colourful coral, it was also a 'protected area' so spear fishing was not allowed. Not that I saw much that was big enough to spear anyway! It kept us well occupied until the sun started to go down at which point we returned to the boat well worn out again.
South Water Cay
We spent a second day at South Water Cay and returned to the reef for some more snorkelling. Paula took a whole roll of film on the corals and the fish (which does tend to indicate that there was something to see!). In the shallow bay on the lee side of the Island we spotted a shoal of bonefish all over sixteen inches long. There must have been a hundred of them swimming in lazy circles and not paying us much attention. Ashore, South Water Cay is well occupied; there are two resorts and a few private houses. The Pelican Beach Resort on south end actually has some sand on its beach; guests can just swim out any time to the reef, which is just a short distance off. We went to look at the Blue Marlin Lodge on the north end, which had a restaurant, and bar open to the public, there was a little gift shop (closed on our visit). It was not the sort of place we were going to eat, or drink, on our budget! It seemed to me that unless you had very deep pockets and was heavily into diving; signing up at a place like this could be more a prison sentence than a vacation. The next day we decide to try getting out to Turneffe Island. Belize has three offshore Islands outside of the barrier reef and these are said to be the gems of this cruising area; so we thought we'd better do something about trying to get there. Once outside the reef however we decided otherwise. The wind was gusting 18-22knts and the sea was quite lumpy, whilst we felt that the boat could make it we were not in the right frame of mind to get bashed about for three hours. Thus we ducked back inside at Tobacco Cay Cut and reached off to anchor in the lee of Garbutt Cay. It was a very pretty anchorage and we did our usual exploration with the dinghy. The next day the winds were down to 15-18knts and we moved off north, it was a nice sail on a beam reach. I was able to test the inner headsail and came up hard on the wind for this. We had purchased a special sail, a cross between a Blade and a Working Jib, to get us to windward in heavy airs and we were very pleased with the way it fitted; it was the right size for the conditions in which we expected to use it Our next stop was Colson Cays where we anchored and went exploring. We were again hampered by the weather, as with 15-18knts of wind it was a little rough for our small dinghy once we left the shelter of the Cay. After several attempts we did find some coral heads to dive on, the water visibility was down to about 12 / 15 feet but it was the best we had seen it for a while. I got a nice Hogfish for dinner so we would have some fresh meat but it was a lot of work for small reward. Next day was the 30th of May and the wind dropped to 15 knots, we heaved up and had a short sail north to Alligator Cay where we anchored off the Fish Camp that occupied the small beach on the western shore. There seem to be very few if any beaches out here on the Belizian islands and if you do find one it is guaranteed to have either a Fish Camp or Resort on it. Moments after we anchored we made the acquaintance of 'Clint', a young man (+/-20) who was caretaker for the Fish Camp. He was obviously in a bad way and definitely in the wrong job! Alone on this little patch of sand for weeks on end, he was suffering from hypertension and a weak heart, He said he ate Cornflakes for most of his meals and couldn't eat any shellfish at all. Some Lobsterman! He was lonely and needed someone to talk to and as we seemed to be getting little if any contact with the Belizians I invited him aboard for a coffee and a chat. We learned that there are many of these fish camps that have caretakers and some of them stay out for six months at a time, mostly alone, awaiting the start of the Lobster Season when they would be joined by
a team of seven or eight extras. Then they would hunt Lobster, bringing in a hundred pounds, or more, per day. When we recounted the amount of Fish Camps we could see on the islands we'd passed and did a little arithmetic, we concluded that the poor lobsters didn't stand much chance and us poor, hungry, yachties even less chance! After a couple of hours of 'ear bending', we managed to get rid of 'Clint' and go exploring in the dinghy. I found us a Large Coral Crab with nice claws to give us something different for dinner. The small lagoon had nesting Frigate Birds and Shags however; the mosquitoes chased us off as the evening approached. Coral Crab with plenty of meat in the claws
The Last day of May and we heaved up anchor and motored the couple of miles across to Bluefield Range. It was blowing 20kts and the water clarity was poor, this made spotting the many coral heads along the way difficult. The official charts for this area are laughable and the Cruising Guide is not as accurate as it could be. The standard local weather forecast is "easterly 10-20 knots with higher gusts", that covers a lot of territory as far as small boat sailing is concerned (you can see how well we were getting 'stuck in' to the Belize experience)! We also have the semi-professional forecasts; these are actually the most accurate available but seem to rely on adding 5-10 knots to the official weather bureau forecasts. Anything from the WMO is hardly worth reading and none of this makes for easy cruising! We went hunting again in the afternoon but were hampered by the wind and the water clarity, which was now less than 10 feet. I came back with a Hogfish, a Grunt and a Dog Snapper, which we had to throw back having read in our fish book that it may be poisonous. Bluefield Range had plenty of areas to explore
The next day the first Easterly Wave of the season arrived and we decided that we would remain here and let it blow through. The wind went up to 20-25kts and it was gusty, none of the Mangrove Cays are very high so they don't stop a lot of the wind, they do however keep the sea down and offer secure anchorage often in mud. Paula baked bread in the early morning as she does every three days and I listened to the Nets and the weather forecasts. We were sorry to hear that a cruising boat, "Picasso", had been boarded off the Rio Tatin in the Rio Dulce, no one was injured but money and other items were stolen. Soon after we had anchored in that same spot another boat "Fairwyn" had been boarded. We were certainly very lucky! We were boat bound, the wind whistled through the rigging and the mast pumped in tune to the halyards clunking up above. In these conditions we always have things to do, there are always jobs on my list which require doing and we find our computers occupy available time very well. Paula was working on her Slide Show; the first one was so good she is going to be hard pressed to improve on it. I was playing with my Navigation program, I'm having difficulty getting the GPS position to update the ship icon on MaxSea but I won't go in to further detail. We also spend quite a lot of time with correspondence, trying not to forget whom we have already written to and who is due for a letter so even a bad day can pass quickly, but who has ‘bad days’ when cruising in paradise? We were stuck for three days; the winds remained above 20kts gusting 25 and higher. There were showers and it was overcast for the most part however during the sunny spells we managed to swim around the boat. I guess we could have moved on if pushed however we were reluctant, as we would be saying goodbye to all chance of reaching one of the outer islands. In the end we were rewarded with a nice day and 15kt winds from the ENE which gave us a good sail out to Turneffe Island. On arrival we anchored just ahead of an offshore patch of coral and veered scope on the anchor until we had little distance to swim when we went snorkelling. It was nice, although the water was far from clear; I got the impression that being here so late in the season everything worth eating had already been taken! After our swim we moved in towards Blue Creek where we anchored for the night. We had been invaded by Horse flies on arrival and they had a terrific bight, fortunately we got our mosquito nets in position early, otherwise we would have suffered another onslaught! By late evening there were hundreds of Horse flies and mosquitoes going crazy outside the nets so we watched a movie to drown out their buzzing sounds. Next morning I shovelled away a heap of dead mosquitoes and used half a tin of 'Raid' to get rid of the hangers-on which lurked under our dodger etc? Having got here to this jewel of Belize cruising, we were determined to see a little more so heaved anchor and went through Blue Creek into the Lagoon. It would have been nice had it not been for the wind, which was still blowing fresh enough to put us off dinghy operations. After much consideration we decided to give up and return to the mainland before the next Easterly Wave arrived. Lighthouse reef was only eighteen miles to windward of us but I was fast losing interest in crashing out to far-flung Belizian destinations only to be disappointed. 'Lighthouse' didn't
sound like the greatest of places to get stuck for a blow and we were forecast to get 25-30kts with thunderstorms! It was a great reach back to the English Cay Channel and back behind the barrier reef. On entry we went south down to Rendezvous Cay and anchored several times behind coral heads and coral patches. For some reason the wind in the afternoon dropped to 10kts and we had a great time. The water visibility still wasn't that great, it was further reduced by a large cloud covering the sun however I did find some nice coral. During those brief moments when the sun broke through I could see that this would be a really great place to spend time should the wind ever go below ten knots and the sun shine at the same time! Belize Sailing at it’s best Returning from the reef, we had no sun but the light was in our eyes. There was a period at the south end of Middle Long Cay where the depth below the keel was less than two feet for quite a while and we nudged forward carefully, feeling our way until the depth went back up to five feet plus. It was an example of how easy it is to get caught here. This is an easy place to come to grief and even loose a boat! We are collecting GPS Waypoints as we go along, if ever we come back they will be most useful but for now it's still a question of eyeball navigation and going carefully. We spent a quiet night behind Middle Long Cay and the next day had a spanking reach to the north in 15-20kts on a beam reach, I was sorry to arrive at the Drowned Cays and have to stop. Truly, if zooming up and down on a reach is all you want each day there is some magnificent sailing to be had in Belize. We picked one of the northern, unnamed Bogue's to go into and moved up to its furthest end where we found a nice anchorage which we thought would be a good place to hang out whilst waiting for a little bad weather to pass through. Soon after the anchor was down we had the dinghy afloat and were off exploring. Exploring the Drowned Cays
There were miles of small channels and many larger channels to investigate and we hung close to the banks as we went along, looking for any indication that there may be fish about. We didn't see anything although later in the day I did see a Sportsfisherman trolling three lines in the main bogue so there must be something around! We didn't want to leave the boat unattended as close as we were to Belize City, thus we didn't venture very far but enjoyed what little we did. That evening it blew quite fresh at 20kts and more, it continued to blow into the night and through to the next morning. We decided that as the front was upon us, we would remain for a day and see if things improved. They didn't so we did a few jobs and worked on our computers. The forecast in the evening called for conditions deteriorating and remaining that way for some time so, in desperation, we watched Terminator III and went to bed! Tuesday 8th June dawned with the same stiff breeze blowing through the rigging and a forecast of 15-25kts with higher gusts. It was however a bright sunshiny day and we took advantage of that to move north again. We were lucky that during our preparations to leave, three Manatees appeared close by and were feeding off the bottom. Them came by a couple of times and if the water had been clearer I would have been tempted to jump in and join them. No sooner we were clear of the Bogue, but still under the lee of the island, we got gusts over 20kts but we pushed on regardless. We stopped the motor and sailed under 70% Genoa, as we cleared the Drowned Cays it was a close reach across to Porto Stuck. We could just hold the course line without the Genoa flopping and it was not a bad sail. The wind and sea had creamed up the shallow water to a milky white mix. It looked bright and wild but was very difficult to read! Once through Porto Stuck (named for the amount of vessels that have 'stuck' there) we furled the Genoa and motored up to Long Cay; which lay a couple of miles directly to windward. It was a bit of a thrash even under power! My guidebook says “if you can make it across the bar, you'll enjoy one of the most protected anchorage's in northern Belize". We anchored and took stock. Standing on the deck I could see over the island to seaward where the Blue Caribbean was crashing on the outer reef, there are just a couple of scattered palm trees and a hundred yards of land which was at best eighteen inches above the high water mark. The wind whistled through the rigging unhindered. That was not protection in my opinion but we were prepared to settle for it under the circumstances. In fact there is very little in way of protection anywhere in northern Belize and should a hurricane materialise from one of these 'Easterly Waves' that are marching in. We would have little choice but to run for the safety of the Rio Dulce now a hundred and twenty miles to the south.
The Caribbean is full of testimonies as to mans battle’s against the elements…… The results are always the same! We launched the dinghy again and went for a look ashore. There is a small Fish-Camp at the entrance to the lagoon and another, known as 'Camp Oakley', at the head of a small boat dock on the Eastern Shore. This building has 'somewhat fallen down' and there is a shack beyond that where we were surprised to see a Belizian woman doing her washing. We talked to an old fisherman and were given permission to wander round, not that we could wander far. A hundred yards took us to the weather shore where there were the remains of a grander building, once over the water but now lying in it. A testimony of mans inability to build things that can withstand both time and weather. There was however an almost intact little bungalow, somewhat rotted but still standing. On its porch was a model, about eight feet long and four feet wide, covered in 'Plexiglas' and several layers of dirt. The Model depicted Long Cay with roads and waterfront properties, a small marina, an airstrip and all the trimmings. No doubt all that is left of someone's dream, a few hundred thousand dollars thrown into the wind. It is always sad to see these failed dreams but from the Bahamas to Belize we've seen a few! There was little to do ashore so I took Paula for a row around the lagoon and we took some pictures of the cormorants and the mangroves before returning to "Mr John" for afternoon coffee. It was still blowing in the late afternoon and I noticed that there was a boat some way outside the lagoon seemingly on passage south but not moving. After awhile I could hear him on the radio trying to arrange a tow as he had grounded on a sandbar. There was little we could do to help, we could not see to move from this anchorage and our dinghy wouldn't make the trip. I gave him a call to let him know that we were in sight and monitoring his situation, also I said I'd put our mast light on to guide him into safe anchorage if it was dark when he got off (it was). He ended up paying $500 US for a work boat to give him a tow, it was a very short tow and we thought that he'd been ripped off. However it went to show that one must watch carefully the depth sounder!
The next day we moved north again, when there was enough light to see our way out of the lagoon. We proceeded to Cay Chapel, where there is a Marina, from which we did hope to buy fuel.
The Marina no longer sold fuel but gave us as much Fresh Water as we wanted. They were making sixty thousand gallons per day just to water their Golf Course!
Cay Chapel, where the wealthy fly in for a quick round of golf….. Next stop was Cay Caulker; it was the first place we could have a decent walk ashore since leaving Placencia two weeks earlier. Whilst here the weather did some strange things but most importantly we had two nice sunny periods with a very light breeze which we used to get out to the barrier reef. It was a change for the better and we enjoyed every moment of it. We came back from the reef with both Lobster and fish wishing the weather had let us do more of this before. On the negative side, we also had rain and a thunderstorm with lightning, the wind swung around and blew into our anchorage for a while, bouncing us about, but the holding was good and only sleep was lost. We were however acutely aware that time had moved on and we were well into Hurricane season with few if any places to shelter. It was time for us to be gone! San Pedro, Belize was much talked about by the yachting crowd we had met heading south so both Paula and I were much looking forward to a visit before leaving the area. Unfortunately, we had also heard that its anchorage could be very lumpy, even in settled weather and that you were fully exposed to everything coming out of the NW Caribbean. I had looked very carefully for a back door but the lee side of the island was far too shallow for much too far out. With no alternatives we picked the best weather we could and sailed north. It's only a couple of hours but the water thins out along the way so one has to pay attention. Even paying attention we got very close to grounding on a couple of occasions and I was more than ever grateful for our shallow draft.
Along the way we passed a couple of the local fishing boats, they still sail most of the fishing fleet out here and these small but sturdy craft are always a joy to behold as they flash up and down inside the reef. They are about twenty-eight feet long, have very low freeboard, carry lots of sail, usually have half a dozen dug out canoes on their deck and have nine or so crew. They even manage to find somewhere for everyone to sleep at night!
Local Fishing boats sail behind the reef. We found a nice patch of sand for our Bruce Anchor off San Pedro so at least we were not concerned with dragging. The anchorage was however roly, most of which caused by the commercial traffic that came passed in an endless stream. We did the only sensible thing to do in these circumstances, launched the dinghy and went ashore!
It didn't take us long to view San Pedro, it was just a larger version of Cay Calker and in our opinion more expensive! Having little interest in Bars and Restaurants we were soon done (for without the bars and the restaurants San Pedro is just a sand dune in the middle of nowhere).
Paula took lots of photos and we spent the last of our Belizian money on goodies for the trip north.
Local Fishermen cut up the days catch. Showing no attention to the small sharks swimming round his ankles!
The weather was, 'as good as it was going to get'. Very good compared with much of what we had been getting during most of our visit! So we returned on board and prepared to get under way. I took a little time to clean off the hull underwater. The antifoul seemed to have found a new life since it visited in the fresh water of the Rio Dulce; I had little to do so we were quickly 'all stowed' and ready. At 1342hrs on the 14th June we started the engine, heaved up the anchor and headed out the cut to the open sea. This is not a reef opening for the faint hearted; I was glad we were outbound and not, inbound. With the sun behind us we could at least see the reef! There was a larger yacht on the ocean side looking for the passage in, I hope that we pointed the way to him during or exit. I don't think we shall ever be entering by that cut, I'm not that gung-ho! Out in the big ocean we found the wind still a touch North of East, it should have gone South of East a couple of months back but it seemed locked in this direction. We were soon under single reefed Mainsail and the inner headsail, crashing to windward in 15/17 kts of breeze. It wasn't a lot of fun and we were lucky to be crabbing offshore inch by inch to clear Rocky Point two hours to the north of us. Once in the lee of the Chinchorro Bank, the wind shifted more easterly and our situation became less tense. As we progressed further north we finally picked up the SE trades and progress picked up equally. Twenty-four hours after leaving San Pedro we anchored off the northern end of Cozamel and had arrived in Mexico. Looking back at Belize, I think we were unlucky with the weather. Maybe it wasn't the best time to be there. There is some good sailing to be had, the charter catamaran's zoom up and down behind the reef at great speed. Mostly on a reach but if things get tough they have the size and power to motor through it. For a smaller boat, especially one that’s loaded down with cruising gear, it can be hard going at times. I don't believe there are any islands in Belize that you can have to yourself. Sure, you can anchor alone behind some mangrove Cay but if you want to walk ashore you'll be hard pressed to do so alone. In fact, you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere that you can walk! If you meet a cruising boat that really enjoyed Belize I think you will find the following applies: Powerful boat over 42ft long, a big dinghy with a big outboard and dive tanks.
Charges: Almost every boat we met had to pay for (and sometimes undertake) a quarantine inspection at a cost of between thirty and fifty USD. There is a 'Clearing Out' fee' of fifteen USD per passport (but sometimes more seems to be charged depending on when and where you clear). Would we go back to Belize? Maybe! But to be honest, it was better in the Bahamas…. We felt trapped on board a lot of the time; there were few places to go ashore exploring where we felt safe leaving the boat. It was fine to ‘pass through’ but if you really want to see Belize; it is, in my opinion, better to come without a boat!
Paula gets a trim…not an easy place to find a hairdresser!!!
From Belize to the Chesapeake
The first part of this leg was in many ways the only real challenge regarding ‘boat against weather’, the reason for this being that when escaping from Belize you will invariably have to beat (or motor) off a lee shore for at least a few hours. Once beyond Cayo Norte the wind, which is onshore along the northern Belize coast, turn a little more south-easterly and you can start to ease sheets as you proceed north. Also north of Cayo Norte the effects of the strong north-going current begins to kick in; once you get out in the current here, you have a hard job in not going to Florida!
Watch out however, as you do not want to
encounter fresh north or north-easterly winds whilst in the stream, this would produce some very steep and lumpy seas making life most uncomfortable.
I would love to be able to tell you how much we enjoyed Mexico but for this trip time had run out. The Hurricane season was upon us and the north-east coast of Mexico is a very unprotected area right in the firing line for those early Caribbean Storms. We had thought about calling at 'Isla' but the latest news from the net said that clearance fees were now running about $250 US! The next day we were off without even putting a foot ashore. I do however fondly remember when serving aboard the Sea Cloud our Doctor gave a talk to the passengers on the day we set off to cruise Mexico. They were all German passengers and all very wealthy (Sea Cloud wasn't cheap!). The Talk went something like this, "Dis land is full of faeces, dey are all over. Don't drink de wasser, don't eat der food or you'll ave de Delli Belli for de rest of your time ear". Maybe some time we will get chance to check out if the good Hr. Doctor was correct. We never go hungry! Paula makes up some treats for the offshore passages. Whilst the forecast for our trip was not great it was light winds that we would have to fight not gales so off we went into the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. The first twenty-four hours the current was strongly in our favour and we made good progress, after that we struggled in light airs until we got close enough to the Dry Tortugas that we could motor the remaining distance. A High Pressure Ridge had moved down to twenty-five degrees north and covered the area with light and variable winds. Although we were cursing this and having to motor on the last part of the journey it turned to our advantage when we arrived. We had beautiful, settled weather for our visit and this is a place, where you need it! Whilst the forecast for our trip was not great, it was light winds that we would have to fight not gales, so off we went into the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.
On the morning of the 19th June we motored into the anchorage just south-east of Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas National Park.
Raising the U.S. Courtesy Flag as we enter U.S. Waters.
Paula had caught two Tuna just outside the park on the way in and these we served up for a hearty breakfast whilst taking stock of the anchorage. I was surprised that there were about twenty boats in the area; I assumed that the Florida Keys would empty of boats as the hurricane season approached but this assumption proved unfounded. We were back in the land of 'Finance', where people rarely own their boats; they just make the payments. Thus the taking of risk with material items is no longer considered by the individual but by the insurance companies. I have never been able to understand why an insurance company will cover a vessel sailing in the Florida Keys whilst it will not cover the same vessel sailing around (say) Puerto Rico at the same time of the year. The U.S. gets hit by far more storms than Puerto Rico does, there are much better / safer anchorage's in Puerto Rico than anywhere in Florida and if you should get some damage labour is cheaper when it comes to fixing it.
Enough said, without a doubt we were sitting in paradise. Beautiful, calm, clear water stretched away to the horizon, a handful of puffy white clouds drifted across a perfect picture sky. To our north was an island-nesting colony for a variety of seabirds and to our west was the magnificent and imposing structure of Fort Jefferson, a National Monument since 1935. We were still a little worn after our passage and it was 'way to hot' to go exploring the Fort, so we settled for a lazy day snorkelling around the anchorage and the old coaling wharf. We swam from the boat and after just a short time came across a large Loggerhead Turtle feeding on the bottom, he seemed quite unaware of us watching until I ventured a little too close and he moved off. On the way back from the wharf an eight-foot Nurse Shark, that came lazily swimming by, inspected us and moved on. Back at the boat we found four large (4ft) Tarpon had taken up residence in the shade we were providing from the sun. A large Barracuda circled around just to let us know who the boss in this area was. Time flew by and it was soon evening but it was so calm and relaxing we didn't want to leave the cockpit. After all those windswept days in Belize this was a welcome change. Touring Fort Jefferson, a historic treasure and a well kept secret!! Next day we were fully recovered fit and ready to go. On the good advice of another yachty in the anchorage, we went ashore early and joined a tour group that had just arrived from Key West on the Fast Ferry. We took a walking tour of the Fort with them and had a guide explain all the detail and various points of interest along the way.
I would not wish in any way to denigrate this fine structure and the effort that went into getting it built out here. However, in reality it was just another of those 'broken dream' construction projects that litter the Caribbean. It was destined to fail from day one of the building. Its main problem was it was overtaken by history, it took too long to complete, and indeed it was never fully completed. By the time it was anywhere near useful the warfare in which it was designed to engage had changed and it was outdated.
The Fort was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, but not a shot was ever fired in anger. They died trying to construct and man this far flung outpost in a harsh environment without good water, clean sanitation or the medical knowledge to ward off all the disease that plagued them. To us, today, this is a tropical paradise; back then it was a living hell.
It was a great tour and we were very impressed, we were also impressed by the way this history was being preserved and presented to the American people. It is my considered opinion, from what I have seen at home and around the world, that America does very well in preserving its heritage for future generations and at the same time presents it at little or no cost to all those interested in looking. There are indeed many countries with a finer more 'colourful' history, but few that do anything to preserve it in the way they do here.
Beautiful brickwork preserved for future generations.
When we were done exploring and watching historical movies in the air-conditioned theatre, it was time to venture out into the blazing hot sun once more. We quickly decided that it was a good day to get into the water and stay there! We returned to the boat, heaved up the anchor and motored across to Loggerhead Cay where we anchored off the dock on the eastern side. The Cay is named for the Loggerhead Turtles that nest on its beaches each year and there were several swimming around offshore awaiting the cover of darkness to come ashore and lay eggs. We took all our snorkel gear ashore to walk across the island and swim on the western side where there was reported to be some very nice coral and fish. Our first attempt failed after only twenty yards. We came 'hot-footing' back to the beach where we made clouds of steam immersing our feet in the water! The island was way to hot to walk on without footwear so with our 'reef-walkers' protecting our soles (and probably our souls) we made it across and slipped into the water off the rocky shelf. The back side of the reef, towards the beech, seemed a disappointment; however the other side was a pleasant surprise. The coral was nice and there was quite a bit to be seen, also there were loads of fish.
The biggest surprises of all though, were the Tarpon. A shoal of them seemed to live on this reef and glided around without fear. We had to get quite close before they would turn and swim away. It was a great experience swimming with them and we got some lovely photos, which still didn't do them justice!
The Tarpon were bigger than me In the late afternoon we returned to the anchorage by the Fort, as it is not permitted to anchor overnight anywhere else. It was another great evening following a brilliant day; we relaxed, drank cheap Cuban Rum and watched the stars appear in a cloudless sky. Next day was the 21st of June and it was a scorcher, the sun beat down unmercifully and the boat was incredibly hot. Again we elected to spend most of the day in the water and took the dinghy to the area just west of Fort Jefferson. I believe that the fast ferry's and the seaplanes coming and going stir up the water a bit in this area as the visibility was less than perfect but still quite good. We found lots of good size fish, some huge lobster and another shoal of Tarpon (it was a good thing we still had film for our underwater camera!). In all, it was top rate but after nearly three hours in the water we needed a little rest so we returned for a little light lunch on board. After lunch Paula did a little on the computer and I checked the engine over before going back over the side to clean up the hull and cool off. No sooner had I come out again and showered, Paula spotted a ‘monster grouper’ swimming past. I grabbed my gear and camera and went off in pursuit. A Giant Grouper, right under the boat The result of this great chase was some fuzzy photos and me worn out, but I do believe I made a friend. For in the evening, in the middle of dinner, our Giant Grouper came back and brought four of his friends along. Yes, Yes, Yes, we had FIVE of these huge (250lbs plus), magnificent creatures sitting close under our boat. It was calm enough to see them clearly and we got the photo's to prove it. We watched them till the sun went down and for all we know they spent the night there sleeping with us in our little patch of paradise.
Just to keep us on our toes, a Thunder Buster came through close to the south of us in the night, we were treated to a good lightning display and the wind went round to the south-east and piped up to 25kts. We were OK but a couple of boats dragged and had to re-anchor. We saw it as a reminder from nature that we should be moving on, getting to someplace with a little more protection.
I think I have to work on my sun awnings! Next day we moved off after an early breakfast and made the passage to the north of Rebecca Shoal and via the Northwest Channel in to Key West. We were sorry to leave the Dry Tortugas and will look forward to another visit sometime in the future. The passage to Key West was a mixed bag, we started with some good breeze and nice sailing but ended up motoring when the wind died and went on the nose. The bonus for the trip was to catch a 53-inch Wahoo; it provided over 40 lbs. of fish fillet and proved to be the final influence on us to do something about our onboard refrigeration! Needless to say we had fish for dinner and fish for both breakfast and lunch the next day; however we did end up giving the most of it away and it seemed such a waste. The following day we went alongside at A&B Marina fuel dock and 'cleared in' to the U.S.A. As usual we found the officials helpful and courteous; the procedure went quickly and painlessly and we were soon on our way. For once we actually had an inspection, more like they strolled down to the dock to look over the boat! Again they were most hospitable and in short order we were cleared to leave the berth. I have heard complaints from people at the hands of American Bureaucracy, more than once in this very port, I have never experienced this, in fact, quite the opposite. I guess it goes to prove that if you try hard enough, you can rub even the nicest people up the wrong way!
I won't harp on about our beautiful boat but I have to say, that whilst manoeuvring in the Marina Basin in Key West, the crew on the (replica) schooner "America" stopped work to look us over and hailed us to tell us what a nice boat we have! We had to work hard on finding a good anchorage here in Key West and even harder in finding a free dinghy dock! We made it and did the town, we got a bus that took us around the Key and we visited Publix and K-mart just to get back into the swing of things. The down town area was different and we enjoyed our little walk around, however it was a tourist trap and I can live without seeing it again. We decided that we would do the inside route from the Key's back to Miami, most yachts go on the outside due to draft restrictions but with ours at 4ft we took advantage of being able to see a little more and stop off at some of more interesting places. The theory worked well in that we did get to see lots of places however I can't say that they were that interesting! Miami brought us back to ground level; we put in some more stores, indulged in the things we had been missing or run out of and cleaned up the boat with plenty of fresh water. On the Forth of July we were treated to several spectacular fireworks displays. Unfortunately some of the displays went off at the same time so it was difficult to know which way to look to see the best of the best. Taxpayers always like to see their money going up in smoke; it confirms what they already suspected!
A Safety Harness is worn where ever there is any risk of going overboard, we try to minimise risk whilst not going so far as to take the fun out of the sailing!
We made a couple of hops up the outside and were soon in Vero Beach where we caught up on boat work for a few days. I managed to get the hull cleaned off and polished whilst Paula brought the slide show up to date. We only stayed three days this time and I think in the future, we will be cutting that further. The fees are going up from $8 to $10 and whilst this is cheap for Florida it does eat into our cruising kitty. Two weeks here would pay for storing the boat for four months in the Bahamas! We were lucky with the weather going north; we came out at Fort Pierce and went directly to Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. We were trying to make Beaufort but the wind went on the nose when we were still eight hours out. Rather than motor into it (or spend a whole day tacking), we bore off and three hours later had our hook down. From Wrightsville we decided to go up the inside, there wasn't going to be much wind around and we thought to break up the trip into small segments and try out a few different anchorages. We spent a night at Mile Hammock and would like to go back to do further exploration in that area. It has good access to some remote and beautiful beaches, foreshore and wetlands.
No matter how good the sailing, there is always maintenance to be done…..
Another success was Spooner's Creek, which we had all to ourselves. This was a nice anchorage and very well located for great shopping when storing up a boat. The drawback was that it is rather small and just a couple of cruising yachts would fill it! The rest of our journey was a mixed bag of motoring in calms, motoring or sailing in the rain and sailing with a nice following breeze. We had the Cruising Chute up for a good number of hours and made up for not getting much use out of it in the Northwest Caribbean. All good things 'come to an end' however and on the 28th of August we came to rest in Coan River Marina where "Mr John" was hauled and blocked up for a period ashore.
And that was the end of Voyage Two
We had been out for one year, almost to the day. We had stopped off in eight countries and covered several thousand miles. Breakage's, loss and damage was confined to small items like the mainsail slugs (I had expected that and had a bag of replacements along for the ride). The refrigerator didn't so much die, as never really developed life. We have decided to start that whole story from scratch; at least I know more about refrigeration now than I did before!
I did loose a Stainless Wine Goblet, actually I lost it four times but on the other three occasions was able to dive down and get it back! After three years of use one of my lengths of anchor chain has been condemned and my HF radio isn't performing so well on 8 MHz. When we hauled out I noted that we should really have a look at the lower bearing on the rudder before she goes back in. All in all a very short list and I have to say that looking over the boat when she was ashore she looked more like a boat ready to be launched than one that had just completed a long cruise! It is my opinion that every eighteen months a GRP boat should have six months ashore to dry out; this helps avoid the dreaded osmosis. This also has the advantage of firmly planting ones feet in one spot for a while and this has numerous benefits. Like, for instance, getting to know people properly; instead of the usual 'passing acquaintances'; getting to know an area and seeing it change with the seasons, becoming a part of it. Then there is catching up on all those projects that one puts aside because there is something else going on Maybe, even some time for relaxing, and not having to worry about the weather. Not having to worry the anchor dragging or the thousand and one other things that can go wrong on a small yacht. For all of us, there is always an adventure just around the corner but the important thing is to get out there and get started on it; we were already packing to embark on several. I guess the ‘relaxation’ will come soon enough, For now:
We have to go!!
John and Paula Wolstenholme “Mr John VI” firstname.lastname@example.org yachtmrjohn.blogspot.com
My special thanks to the light of my life; without whom this Travelogue would never have been possible…..
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