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...

Sounds fun to me! If you ever want to trade places let me know.
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