Thursday, March 28, 2013


Beautiful Belize

Caye Caulker, Belize 
Last night the storm winds from the North suddenly abated and today is beautiful here on Caye Caulker, Belize where we are now enjoying the easterly trade breezes. Just as suddenly, most of the boats in the anchorage took this chance to continue their travels - North for most folks and left with shouted good-byes. But also the charter catamarans needed to go-see-do more before their week aboard was over. We are almost alone now out in the anchorage.

We had a thrill yesterday evening. A catamaran came close to our boat on their way up to the shallows to anchor and when they spotted Jonesy they called out to him. "We love your blog - we've been reading it for years" hollered a man on the catamaran! What a hoot! I got goose-shivers! Unfortunately, they were one of the boats that sailed off this morning so we didn't get a chance to chat. We are still giggling and smiling about it today.

So, the beach photo above was taken just 2 hours ago while I was out scoping sites to take photos of my newly finished pair of socks. Even though it is Easter Week, there aren't a lot of people about. We do see groups of college aged young and healthy folks wandering around with sunburnt skin but not nearly as many as we expected. We wish our sons could have come down to play on the boat.
Eggplant Parmigiana Socks 

See? I've been busy. I finished these Eggplant Parmigiana Socks by Nicole Rodgers for her recent KnitAlong.

To be able to post this blog, and do anything that involves the internet, we have to come ashore. Actually we love coming ashore here! Caye Caulker is a quaint little island with flat crushed coral streets that make walking fun. Most residents and tourists walk everywhere, some ride  bikes, and a few drive golf carts. The streets are spotless and are even raked every day! What a change from other places we've been!

We have already researched the different little grocery stores (interestingly all owned by Chinese people). Prices are eye-popping! After a few days you just get used to it. Even so, when Vivian (my new friend that I miss already) and I saw a baggie of sugar marked "11b" we were outraged. 11 dollars Belizean is $5.50US. Heck they grow sugarcane in Belize! Vivian, we were wrong...the marking is 1 lb for one pound of sugar and costs 55cents Belizean!

We found a lovely lady to wash our laundry. We don't like to (hand) wash on the boat as it releases detergents into the fragile reef environment - oh, and it roughs up my hands which negatively impacts my knitting and makes me hot, sweaty and crabby.

We've found a couple of friendly restaurants and bars who encourage us to bring our laptops and use the wifi if we buy something. So we buy our lunch and enjoy the breezes.

Here we are at Bambooze Restaurant and Bar on the beach. We sat on swings at the bar as that is where there was a power outlet for Jonesy's battery challenged laptop. Sorry for the awful quality of the photo. There is just so much difference between the inside shade and the bright tropical sun.
No, neither of us fell off of our swings. Really. We both can eat, keyboard, and swing all at the same time.

We've ordered a replacement carburetor for the 15hp Yamaha outboard engine. We've been fighting an expanding problem with how the motor runs. The carburator has been taken apart 8 times now by not only Jonesy but two other hired mechanics. Finaly they tried simply to put a known good carburetor on our balky motor and it worked! Of course, there is not a single spare carburetor to be found in Belize, so we ordered one from the states and it is now on it's way FedEx down to us here. Our address here? Simply: c/o Tropic Air, Middle Street, Caye Caulker, Belize City. Tropic air operates little Cessna Caravan airplanes between spots
Niki Wiki at anchor on the lee side of Caye Caulker, Belize
throughout Belize for passengers and cargo. Sure, we're paying a fortune for shipping but that's part of the cruising budget. We need reliable transportation.

Now here's something wierd. After spending time in Belize, our ears have gotten tuned into Caribbean music including reggae. Sure, we've liked some of this before, but now we CHOOSE to listen to the "Joint" station on our Sirus radio. See? Even old cruisers can gain new appreciations for different cultural expressions. Who would have thunk?

Life is good.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Not Always Palm Trees and White Sand Beaches

Oil Barges in Robinson Caye
Cruising isn't just about loafing under coconut palms on sparkling white sand beaches. Those times are the crown jewels of our treasure sack of cruising experiences. Nature often presents speed bumps in our otherwise smooth sailing and gives us the "opportunity" to experience alternative adventures.

We, and the professional weather gurus, thought that the late winter storms from the north were done terrorizing us for another year. Nope. We have again had to hole-up in a safe place to wait out another one of these "norther" brutes. Sailboats all throughout Belize, Mexico, and the Bay Islands of Honduras scrambled a couple of days ago to relocate to anchorages which give better protection from north and northwest winds and waves. Not just the 25 to 30 knot winds, but also the high seas and rain that accompany them. It's no fun riding a boat which is rocking, rolling and bucking like a hobby-horse on worn out springs. Things break, including humans in these conditions. It's not just uncomfortable, but there is the risk of pulling the anchor off the bottom and taking a walkabout (dragging) to someplace you don't want to be, like on the reef.

Entertainment: A tugboat moves the barges during the strong winds 
Because our goal is to cruise the coastal islands of Belize while heading north to Mexico we decided it was time to tear ourselves away from the comforts of beautiful Placencia. Thus, we sailed northward to a group of cays named Blue Ground Range a few days ahead of the forecasted storm. These small almost-not-islands are simply mangrove mounds in the sea between the mainland and the world's second largest barrier reef.

We had a lovely night as the only sailboat under the stars in calm water. There we traded bottles of rum, tequila and vodka for over 5 pounds of fresh-caught and filleted snapper with the fellows from the fish camp on one of the cays. That's my most successful fishing this year! I use Liquor Lures.

The weather forecast on the sideband radio network put the storm out a couple of more days so we had time to sail north up to another group of isolated cays. Robinson cays are, again, mostly mangrove mounds but they offer more protection from the incoming storm. So, above is a photo of our view as were were tucked safely away with a couple of oil barges ("lighters") until the blow dissipates. Yep. We were here alone to wait out the storm with scenic oil barges and scrubby mangrove cays as the view, but not for long.

A tugboat arrived and asked us to move for a a few minutes so they could swing both barges out and go to work. Of course we happily complied (who wants a barge bashing into them driven by the wind?). So we hoisted the anchor and took a little motor trip in the narrow channels within the mangroves. It was an interesting little tour including going aground in the mud once, and having to spin this 50-foot boat around in a narrow, and shallow area and not hit the other sailboat which had anchored there for one night. Let's just say there were some tense moments, and we were very relieved to anchor again in our spot after the tug and barges left.

Alone among the mangroves - See? No waves!
"We might be stuck out in the middle of nowhere, but we're well equipped." Jonesy said during our stay, and he was right. Our galley had been fully stocked with food, we had solar power, a functioning wind generator (whooo hooo!) and our reverse osmosis water maker. We had shopped for fresh produce before we left Placencia, and the fridge was packed. Produce doesn't last long in Central America because it is picked much riper than in the states, is not refrigerated, and the ambient storage temperatures are higher.
DAK canned ham - ugly, but tasty

We did tap into our shelf-stable storage just for some variety. OK, I just gotta say these DAK canned hams are not what they used to be years ago. They are now more like coarse SPAM with scary bits of fat and pink-ham-slime. But it tasted yummy crumbled (as it couldn't be sliced), fried and mixed in eggs.

New VHF radio
For entertainment, we listened to Sirius radio for music, BBC, and NPR. We have a locker full of paperback books, a stash of movies on a Terabyte drive, and there are always boat maintenance and repairs to entertain us, and knitting. Check out this photo of our brand new VHF radio that Jonesy installed! Our old, (old as in ancient) radio died suddenly in mid-conversation while in Placencia. Miraculously, we found a new radio in town of the same brand and it fit exactly in the same slot in the binnacle. Of course, now the new radio makes our other equipment appear sea-weary.

Next, Jonesy tackled our weak transmission signal on our SSB (Short Wave Radio). He climbed up the back stay, then dove down into the bilge under the rear bunk to clean corrosion off of the antenna connectors. They are clean now, but we still aren't getting our signal out very far.

The temperatures during the cold front attack hovered down in the low 70's with overcast skies that occasionally spit drops, rather than rain enthusiastically. Jonesy wore his warm wool hand knit socks, and my monster-sweater-in-progress lived on my lap for days.

I finished the bottom ribbing, then cut off the cuffs and reknit them looser and longer in plain rib. Finally, I have picked up and knit the two sides of the zipper placket, and am now working the neck edge. After so many years in my UFO stack, this sweater is going to be done. Zippers are wildly inexpensive in Mexico and we'll be there in a couple of weeks.

Manatee viewing site - note how close we were to the mangroves!
We enjoyed watching the flotilla of giant cruise ships either passing by the cays, or anchoring out. We saw three out at one time! At night, their lights are so beautiful and we can imagine all the activity onboard as we sit alone in the quiet of the mangroves.

We watched a manatee loiter about off of the stern of the boat, and our favorite topic of discussion was what we would eat for the next meal. Such is the rhythm of life at anchor in a group of remote cays off of the coast of Belize.

Corrosion on copper connector for the SSB
This morning we got up early and sailed up to Caye Caulker. We had to sail over really, really shallow waters (like only 6 feet deep) and watch our depth sounder. But we made it here safely at about noon. First order of business was to chat with some of our cruising friends to get the local knowledge of where to dump our (week-old) garbage and use a wifi. Obviously, we found a restaurant with wifi so I can post this blog and we're now enjoying our shrimp kabobs (me) and cheeseburger (Jonesy).

All's well...

Thursday, March 07, 2013


We Be in Belize

View of Placencia, Belize from Niki Wiki
Finally…at the tail end of February, we pulled away from the magnetic pull of the Rio Dulce and escaped across the speed bump (sand bar) and out into the open sea. We took the slow, long way out here to the little town of Placencia, Belize.

First we motored down river to spend a couple of nights in a relatively safe cove, Texan Bay (aka Burnt Key) to let all of our off-shore systems run and get a last minute check. Jonesy rode the water taxi down to the port town of Livingston and did the paperwork cha-cha to check both us and the boat out of Guatemala. In Latin America we are always required to also have a piece of paper called a "Zarpe" which is permission to leave one country and travel by sea to another. Of course if all costs money. I stayed on the Niki Wiki in Texan Bay and knit (and made sure that nothing burst, leaked, growled, went dark, etc. and to guard the boat from locally known thieves).

When it was time for the high tide, we safely crossed over the sand bar and simply headed out to "Tres Puntas", a large peninsula in Guatemala and dropped the anchor for the night. As we passed Livingston we were surprised at the large number of pelicans hanging out! We have never been in this area this late in the year so we figure these seabirds had migrated into the area. Also while passing Livingston, I turned on my computer and managed to get a wifi signal so I could send a quick message out to our friends telling them that we'd be a few days later to Placencia than we had told them earlier. That was our first access to internet in 3 days and was to be our last for another week.

 Our plan was, and still is, to travel during daylight hours. Overnight sailing is exhausting so if we can break up our passages into day-hops we will do so and love it. The islands of Belize will allow us to do that this year. We enjoyed our first night at sea anchored in Tres Puntas, gently rocking. An immature Ibis stood stock still along the beach under the cover of the mangroves. What a treat!
Latvian Style Gift Card Pouch Ornament

 Early the next morning we hoisted the anchor and motor-sailed to Belize. Our first stop was the small harbor of New Haven which offered excellent protection from the forecasted storm coming down from the north. Other than two other sailboats that came and went, we were alone for our 3 night stay. There were no people on the shores, and we only saw one open fishing boat motor across the mouth of the bay. The strong winds came in as expected so we simply stayed on the boat and entertained ourselves. I knit until my hands were stiff and Jonesy made a few little repairs just for fun. Now, remember, I also need to prepare all of our meals onboard so there was a LOT of cooking going on. I even baked a gluten-free cornbread and pressure-cooked a butternut squash and made a squash dessert like pumpkin pie.

The winds from the storm were quite nippy (in the 60's) so it was a great time to get the galley oven going while I had plenty of wind flying through the boat. The storm passed through quickly so soon it was calm enough to enjoy a day sail up to Placencia.

So here we are! First order of business was to head to shore and dance another paperwork cha-cha. We walked through town (getting our land legs) and hopped aboard the Hokey Pokey water taxi to Mango Creek. Even though the sign clearly stated "No Loafers" they still let us ride.

I guess we clean up real nice when we try. Along with two other couples we hired a taxi to take us the couple of miles to the Immigration Office, Customs, and the Port Authority (Captain).
Jonesy waiting in the Immigration office in Big Creek, Belize
Here's Jonesy with holding our precious blue binder which carries all of our boat documentation in line at Immigration. Next stop was the nice new building which houses both Customs and the port Authority. Unexpectedly, all the officials we dealt with were quite friendly! So after parting with $145US for the privilege to stay and operate our boat for 30 days in Belize, (plus $25US for the taxi and $12US for the water taxi) we were free to….go shopping! Not only were our stores of fresh fruits and veggies getting low, but we knew from our land-travel trip to Placencia last year that Belize imported goodies from the USA. We also knew that the prices would be high, but still it was shocking to actually see them! Whoa! Good thing that we had stocked up on shelf stable staples while in Guatemala. We can also fish for food so I got out my gear and had already dragged a lure during our trips. No luck. Some friends gave me some advice for fishing up in the other atolls in Belize and loaned me some lures so there's still hope.
New home of the Port Captain and Customs in Big Creek, Belize
So what has been all the knitting going on? For the most part I am trying to knock out some UFO (UnFinished Objects). The biggest and oldest project is my FLAK Aran Cabled sweater. Knitting a sweater all in one piece from the top down sounded like a great idea when I started. But it just doesn't work so great in the tropics. It's just too dang hot to have a large wool sweater on my lap. So I can only work on it when there is a nice sea breeze – like the last week. Right now I'm on the ribbed lower edge. After that I only have to add the neck treatment and zipper closure!! This "monster" as I've named it will be sent to the kids in the orphanage in Kazakhstan. 

Socks, too, have been keeping me entertained. I have a new pattern in test so I knit the second sock of the pair for the photo sample. In years past I would only knit one sock for the picture on the pattern, but now that I have a place to send PAIRS of socks I am more motivated to work that dreaded second sock. Then I'm still chugging along on the chartreuse socks but because I didn't have access to internet I didn't have the last two parts of the pattern – but now I do! 

March 1st was the release date for one of my new ornament patterns to the Holiday Mystery gifts Yahoo group. The photo higher up in this post is the LATVIAN STYLE GIFT CARD POUCH ORNAMENT. I've always loved the detailed color work of the traditional wool mittens from Latvia. When you give a gift card, or cash as a Christmas gift you need to dress-it-up a bit to make it festive. So if you're a knitter, you can whip one of these up with your leftover fingering or sock weight yarns. Enjoy!

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