Archive for January, 2009

Day Trippin’ Through Belize

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

I have discovered a new delicacy. Like many great discoveries, it was pure serendipity. For Nancy’s birthday, I had baked a cake. I used yellow cake mix and a chocolate icing. The icing was the Betty Crocker kind that comes in a can. After applying what I deemed to be the perfect thickness of icing to the cake, there was still some icing left over and I felt it would be a shame for it to go to waste, so I put it on Ritz crackers with some peanut butter. WOW! What a taste sensation. Everyone knows I have quite a sweet tooth and like to have desert after every meal. For simplicity’s sake, I often put peanut butter on crackers and then add something sweet like jelly and that makes for a quick and easy desert. Nutella on crackers is also good. I actually prefer the Keebler’s Club Crackers, but you can’t find Keebler’s down here. I don’t know if perhaps they don’t have any hollow trees down here, or maybe elves just don’t like the tropical climate. Anyway, they do have Ritz crackers, which are almost as good. My favorite topping for the peanut butter and crackers is apple butter, but you can’t find that down here either, so I’ve been using various kinds of jelly and marmalade. But now I’ve discovered the palate-pleasing combination of peanut butter and cake icing. I’m now on a can of vanilla icing and it is just as good as chocolate. Give it a try sometime and tell me what you think.

Well, to continue with our travelogue, we arrived in Cay Caulker, Belize, on Christmas Day after a very short and only slightly eventful trip. The water inside the reef in northern Belize is very shallow, less than 6 feet in many places, which is how much depth Stolen Child needs. Leaving San Pedro, both Stolen Child and Daydream bounced on the bottom a few times and each of us got stuck at least once, but not very bad. Ralph was able to motor off when he got stuck and we tied a 5 gallon jerry can of water to the boom and ran the boom out over the beam causing the boat to heel over just enough to allow us to motor off. Once we were a couple of miles south of San Pedro the depth stayed above 8 feet. Cay Caulker has a very protected and placid anchorage on the west side of the cay and we really enjoyed being there after the rocking and rolling we had done at the last couple of anchorages we were in. The town of Cay Caulker is much more laid-back and quiet than San Pedro, but we still found it to be rather busy for our tastes. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stay there. Cay Caulker does not have any paved roads, the streets (both of them) are sand and dirt (or mud, depending on weather). There are no cars, but quite a few golf carts, and the beer is delivered to the various bars and restaurants by a tractor hauling the cases of beer on a wagon. We got a propane tank refilled and I found a local guy who gave me well water to replenish our water tanks. The locals don’t drink the well water, they drink rain water they catch in cisterns. We carry 200 gallons of water on board but it had been about a month since we had topped off our water tanks and were down to about 120 gallons, so I got about 80 gallons from him. I used 5-gallon jerry cans to haul the water to the boat. Ralph loaned me his two jerry cans and with my two I could carry 20 gallons on each trip. Each trip took about 30 minutes to dinghy to his dock, tie the dinghy up and carry the jerry cans to his water spigot, fill 4 cans, carry them back to the dinghy, run the dinghy back to the boat, and empty the cans into our water tanks. After repeating that process 4 times I figured we had enough water for a while. The guy I got the water from was really nice. While I will filling the cans on one of the trips, he cut the top off a green coconut and gave it to me so I could drink the coconut milk in it. It was very refreshing.

We left Cay Caulker and went to Cay Chapel on Wednesday, December 31. It was another very short run and this time completely uneventful. There isn’t much on Cay Chapel except a posh resort, a golf course and an airstrip. The day before, while still in Cay Caulker, some local fisherman had sold us some lobster and we’d put them in the fridge. After we got all anchored and settled in, Nancy and I swam over to Daydream and had a few Beers with Ralph and Tiffany, then went back to Stolen Child to get the lobsters, which Tiffany cooked in a pesto cream sauce with pasta. It was delicious. Ralph fixed up some coffee with Khalua and rum for an aperitif. I normally like my coffee completely unadulterated, but this was really good. Unfortunately, we drank all of his Khalua and at $40 a bottle in Belize we haven’t yet replaced it. Thursday I worked on scraping the hull for a couple of hours, but other than that it was pretty much a lazy day.

We left Cay Chapel on Friday the 2nd and went to St. George’s Cay. It was only a 3-hour trip including the time we spent stuck in the mud. Between Cay Chapel and St. George’s, there is a narrow channel named, quite appropriately, Porto Stuck. We must have been just a little too far over to one side of the channel because we grounded and Daydream, who also draws 6 feet, was a little to starboard of us and didn’t get stuck. We weren’t stuck long before one of the ferry boats zoomed by and their wake lifted us just enough to get off and continue on. After we got to St. George’s and settled in, Ralph, Tiffany and Max came over and Nancy cooked some lobster we had bought from some fishermen the day before, along with some saffron rice and black beans. Tiffany brought over some boat pie for desert. Boat pie is really good and really easy. You just crumble some cookies, crackers or whatever you have in the bottom of a pan, then mix lime juice and sweetened condensed milk and pour over the cookie crumbs and refrigerate it for a while. It looks and tastes almost like key lime pie. There isn’t much on St. George’s Cay except for private homes and a couple of resorts. We thought we’d go ashore and have dinner and a couple of drinks at the St. George’s Resort restaurant. When we got there, though, they politely informed us that they only serve guests of the resort and cruiser’s are not welcome in the bar or restaurant. Oh, well, back to the boat.

Sunday, January 4, we sailed to North Drowned Cay and anchored. North Drowned Cay is just under a mile from Belize City. We thought we might do a little provisioning in Belize City and perhaps see about spending a night at Cucumber Beach Marina, which is just south of Belize City, where we could top off our water and diesel and do some laundry. Monday we went into Belize City. We actually moved the boats and anchored just outside of Belize City, dinghied ashore, and then moved the boats back to North Drowned Cay. The anchorage at North Drowned Cay is not especially good, but it is much better than being anchored just off Belize City, where there is no protection from the north, east or south and very rolly. Anyway, we got plenty of groceries at the Bottom Dollar Grocery in Belize City, including grits, which we had not been able to find since we left the States and we’d long since run out.

We were able to get a couple of overnight slips at Cucumber Beach Marina on Tuesday, but in retrospect, I don’t think it was worth the effort. It is a very nice marina and we topped off our water tanks and diesel and got our laundry done, but we got stuck entering and leaving the marina. The marina has a long breakwater channel leading into it and the depth is 8 feet or better for most of it, but there is a short stretch just at the mouth of the breakwater where the depth is about 5 feet. Remember that Stolen Child and Daydream both draw 6 feet. The shallow spot is soft mud, but since we replaced our engine, our prop has been undersized (we have been on the lookout for a new prop and hope to get one in Honduras). Daydream went in first and got stuck but was able to eventually power on through at full throttle. We went in and get stuck, but couldn’t generate enough thrust with the prop to power of
f. Fortunately, a ferry boat was leaving about that time and kicked up enough wake as they passed that we were able to come free. One of the major disadvantages of marinas in general is bugs. Most of the time when you anchor, you are just far enough away from shore that you don’t have any mosquitos, flies, or no-see-ums. You get really spoiled. In a marina you usually get attacked by every kind of flying and biting insect known. Needless to say, we were glad to leave the next day. After we took on fuel, I calculated that Stolen Child is using about 0.44 gallons of diesel per hour, which is very good. That is actually a little less than the old engine used and the new engine has about 65% more horsepower. I expect our fuel consumption will increase after we get a bigger prop, but I’m very pleased with this new engine. We also changed the oil, oil filter, secondary fuel filter and cleaned the raw water strainer while at the marina. Leaving the marina we waited for high tide, but still got stuck once again. The tidal range through Belize is usually less than a foot. This time a local boat was on its way into the marina and they pulled us off.

From the marina, we went to Robinson’s Cay for an overnight anchorage, then sailed on to Bluefield Range on Thursday, January 9, and then continued on to Tobacco Range on Friday. Tobacco Range is a little group of islands, or cays, about a mile inside the reef that has a very well-protected anchorage in the middle of the islands. We had gotten up and underway early that morning, so we arrived a couple of hours ahead of Daydream. We were just poking around on the north side of the group of islands, checking depths and then started to proceed into the anchorage in the middle of the islands. The chart showed a channel that would allow 6 feet, but maybe we were not exactly in the channel, or perhaps it had shoaled up since the chart was printed. In any event, the depth came up to 6 feet almost as soon as we started into the anchorage, so we put the wheel over hard to starboard, thinking there was deeper water in that direction. Nope. We were almost turned around and heading back out when we went aground, and although we weren’t going very fast, we were very solidly aground. We tried hanging a 5-gallon jerry can of water from the boom to heel the boat over a little and then running the jib out, but no luck. I took a halyard (rope) from the top of the mast and tried pulling the boat over with the dinghy, but no luck. By this time, a couple of Belizean fishermen had come over to see if they could help. The Belizeans were named Jaime and Wilson. We loaded the anchor in the dinghy and Jaime (Spanish for Jamie and pronounced “high-may”) and Wilson carried the anchor out about 150 feet so we could winch the boat forward with the anchor windlass (this is called kedging). We were able to move the boat, but very slowly. Jaime and Wilson tried hanging off the boom, along with the water jug, but still we were stuck. We ran the anchor back out and started kedging some more when Daydream arrived. We tied a bunch of dock lines together and Jaime and Wilson took one end over to Daydream and Ralph set his anchor and tried using a combination of his windlass and engine to pull us off. We moved a little, but still we were stuck. Ralph repositioned Daydream closer to Stolen Child and we shortened our tow line, thinking perhaps there was too much stretch in the line, then Jaime and Wilson hung from the boom while Ralph and I gave our engines as much RPM as we were comfortable with. Slowly but surely we began moving inch by inch, then finally we came free. We were very grateful to Jaime and Wilson, as they had worked very hard for two or three hours to help us. Unfortunately, we were running low on both cash and beer, the two universal tokens of appreciation. I gave them all the cash we had, which was about $40 Belizean ($20 U.S.) and our last 6-pack of Sol (a very good brand of Mexican beer). They seemed very happy with that, but I would like to have done more for them.

Nancy and I have voted Ralph our personal hero. He’s come through for us many, many times. Once, while we were on a road trip in Mexico and had left Stolen Child at the marina in Isla Mujeres, a storm had come through and Ralph, knowing we were gone, checked our docklines and moved our cockpit cushions where they wouldn’t blow away. He’s always doing thoughtful things like that and is ever willing to lend a hand with whatever you need. Oh, while I’m on the subject of Ralph and Daydream, I have to make a correction. I said in an earlier post that Daydream is 38 feet long, but she is actually 39′ 10″ long (Ralph seems to be really sensitive about size, hmm…).

After getting free from our grounding, we just anchored on the north side of Tobacco Range instead of trying to find a deep enough channel into the middle. The next morning we moved from Tobacco Range to Tobacco Cay, which is right on the reef. We anchored in 16 feet of crystal-clear water. We thought we’d do some snorkeling and/or diving there. Tobacco Cay is a small island with a couple of resorts on it. These are not ritzy resorts, though, and they were more than willing to serve us beer at the bar. I decided to have a little fun, so I rigged up the whisker pole (a telescoping aluminum pole used to hold one end of your jib sail out when sailing downwind) with the end at full extension high over the port beam. I had a dockline tied to the end and I would stand on the cabintop holding the line, swing out over the water, let go and land with a big splash. The second day we were there, Ralph and I took the dinghy out to the reef south of Tobacco Cay and snorkeled around a bit. We saw dozens of large sting rays sitting on the bottom and several spotted eagle rays swimming around. The reef was quite interesting and good for snorkeling, but there was a very strong current flowing out through the cut and a large surf breaking on the outside of the reef, so we decided not to try diving on the outside. It would probably be pretty good diving under calmer conditions.

Monday afternoon, January 12, we moved on to South Water Cay. Shortly after anchoring, we were sitting in the cockpit when we saw a Belizean fishing canoe approaching. I told Nancy that the fisherman looked just like Jaime, one of the guys who had helped us when we were stuck at Tobacco Range. He got closer and, sure enough, it was Jaime. I should explain about the Belizean fishermen. In Belize City, there is a fleet of small sailboats used for fishing. Each sailboat will carry 8 or so fishermen, each with his own canoe. The sailboat will go to a particular area and all the fishermen will get in their canoes and paddle out to different fishing spots. Each fisherman has a mask and fins and they free-dive for their catch of lobster, conch and fish. At noon and at the end of the day, they paddle back to the sailboat and the boat captain puts their catch on ice. At night they rig a tarp over the deck and some of the guys sleep under the tarp, some sleep in the cockpit, and some sleep in a below deck area in the bow. There is sometimes a cook aboard, as well as the captain and 8 fishermen, so they can sleep 10 people on a 24-foot boat. They stay out for 8 days and then return to Belize City. Anyway, we invited Jaime aboard and fixed him a cup of coffee. He’d finished fishing for the day and was waiting for the sailboat to come up this way and pick him up. We chat for probably an hour or better before the sailboat gets close. While diving for fish, Jaime had found the shell of a lobster, which they shed when the outgrow it (they crawl out of it and grow a bigger one). I’ve seen bits and pieces of them before, but it is rare to find a whole one and the one Jaime had was in perfect condition. He said he already had a couple of them at home and gave it to us for a decoration for the boat. Just as he was getting ready to leave, he said he had a fish for us, and he jumped down in his canoe and began cleaning a really large jack, which he gave to u
s. I’m starting to feel bad because I can’t think of anything to give him in return. We’re out of beer and money, and all I can think of is a ball cap, which seems really inadequate, but I give it to him anyway. He paddles off to his boat and I call Ralph on the radio and ask if he and Tiffany want to help us eat this fish. We take the fish over to Daydream because Ralph’s grill is almost twice as large as ours and this is a large fish. Ralph grilled the fish and Tiffany cooked up a very tasty wild rice and mushroom side-dish to go with it. Ralph had a good supply of rum aboard and he suggested I take a bottle over to Jaime’s boat, which had anchored near us. When I got to Jaime’s boat with the rum, they invited me aboard to look it over. They make these boats by hand from Mahogany in Jaime’s hometown of Sarteneja, Belize. This boat was very strongly and beautifully made. It was purely functional, with no amenities to speak of. There was a below-deck hold amidships with a large built-in insulated cooler to keep the fish on ice and a small area for cooking on a single-burner camping stove. There was another below-deck hold in the bow where some of the crew would sleep. While I was aboard, about 5 of the crew were down there watching a Bruce Lee movie on a portable DVD player. It was very interesting to see the boat and how they live and work aboard it. Jaime said they have races among the boats every Easter in Sarteneja and invited us to visit him there sometime. All in all, I have to say that running aground in the Tobacco Range was one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve had.

We sailed to Placencia on Thursday, 1/15, and anchored at the edge of a very large fleet of cruising and charter boats. A pretty strong norther blew through about 3:00 a.m. Friday morning and Ralph and I chatted on the VHF while watching for boats to drag in the gusty wind. We went ashore a few times through the weekend but pretty much just took it easy. The weather was overcast and drizzly for the most part as one front after another moved through. Monday Ralph, Tiffany and Max were going ashore and their dinghy motor drifted under the dock and the shift lever got broken off. There is a guy in Placencia who works on outboards, but he didn’t have a shift lever for that particular outboard, so Ralph jury-rigged it to always be in forward gear. It is a 4 horsepower outboard, so it is pretty easy to start in gear. A large part of cruising is figuring out how to work around problems because it can be very difficult or impossible to get parts and supplies to actually fix them. Tuesday Ralph and I took our dinghy to Big Creek where there is a large industrial dock with a Customs office and a Port Captain. We cleared out of Belize with Customs and the Port Captain, then walked the two miles into the village of Independence to clear out with the Immigrations official. It was a beautiful day and the dinghy ride and walk were quite enjoyable. Wednesday morning we weighed anchor and went to the fuel dock to top off our water and diesel before heading out to Northeast Sapodilla Cay.

We got to Northeast Sapodilla Cay in the late afternoon on Wednesday. Thursday Ralph and I took the dinghy outside the reef to go for a dive. I had a handheld depth sounder, so we found the shelf where the bottom drops off from 30 feet deep to several hundred feet deep. We anchored the dinghy in 30 feet and then dove back out to the shelf. We dove down to 130 feet along the nearly vertical wall, then back up and onto the shelf. The patch reef along the shelf was pretty interesting and there were lots of brightly-colored fish swimming around. Ralph found a stainless steel propeller for a Volvo I/O drive. It was in excellent condition and had obviously not been down there more than a few days. It is worth a few hundred dollars, so hopefully he’ll be able to sell it.

Northeast Sapodilla is our last stop in Belize and from there it’s on to Honduras. We’ve spent almost a month cruising Belize and though we’ve enjoyed it, we’re ready to leave. Some friends of ours from the Kansas City area are coming to visit us in Roatan, Honduras, and we are anxious to get there and see them. Sabrina and Tom are arriving early in February and Rob is arriving late in February and we are really looking forward to their visits. We plan to stop in Laguna El Diamante on the mainland of Honduras and in the island of Utila before arriving in Roatan. I’ll probably post another log entry after we arrive in Roatan.