Monday, April 30, 2012

A week on the outer reefs in Belize

You can barely see Scott Free anchored in the far left surrounded by 3 tiny deserted islands in a sea of every shade
of blue possible to imagine.
We left Placencia for a week visiting the small islands on the outer reef of Belize. Our first stop, Ranguana, has a small three cabin resort with a kitchen and a few picnic tables. Desiree and Denby spend four weeks there and then have five days off. It's a drop dead beautiful place and Desiree is a great cook. We shared the moorings with two other big charter catamarins our first night and met some very interesting people over drinks on the beach. The next night we had dinner with our hosts by ourselves and it was marvelous. Breakfast was also good the next morning. Then we were off to a group of tiny deserted islands called the Queen Cays. They are part of the Belize Marine Park system and managed by park rangers that live out on Little Water Cay nearby. We stopped there to visit and I, Heather, got eaten alive by ferocious sand flies. The bites itched madly for days. This was the first time this had happened and hopefully the last. Queen Cays were so lovely and we had them to ourselves for several days. Snorkeling everywhere is amazing with very clear water and a wide variety of fish and coral. Our last night was a contrast for sure - Hatchet Cay. This is a high end all inclusive resort on a small island out on the reef. It was busy with guests so we just walked around the island and had a drink at the bar. As it had been for the whole week, we enjoyed another quiet night. The weather was perfect with light winds and clear skies. But we had to get back to Placencia and get ready to check out this week. Our trip back was interesting threading our way through small islands and isolated reefs. Our guide book has excellent charts but they can't tell you where every reef lies and the charts on our chart plotter were off by at least a quarter of a mile. We have to pay attention and watch the color of the water. Deep blue is the best and you can follow the channels around the reefs easily with good light. On the way back we stopped at Cary Cay for a great snorkel and lunch. Another post on Placencia coming up soon.
Ranguana Cay was blessed with a couple,
Desiree and Denby  who cooked up some
lovely meals for whoever stopped by.
They served us conch fritters, a whole baked
 fish in Creole sauce with
coconut rice and sauteed vegetables - and
then, for dessert, coconut custard pie!
We sat talking to our hosts and watching the beautiful
sunset and then the moon rise.
The kitchen was small but was well equipped.

Sunset every night is an occasion out on the water.
Whether on the land or the boat
This cormorant is drying his wings after a fishing
expedition. That's Scott Free in the background
Rather out of focus but this tiny bird paid us a long visit
perhaps to rest up for another long flight off shore.
Palm trees line the island's beaches
Another perfect tropical island - here in Queen Cays
This group of three islands is part of the many Marine
Parks here in Belize and the islands and the water around
them with all their inhabitants are protected.
Because this a popular destination for Belize citizens and
guests for picnics the park rangers have built a barbeque
and bathrooms. Seemed a bit odd but it keeps the place
Meals on board Scott Free are great too.
Scott made bread and I whipped up a
terrific salad.
Picnic benches are convenient on many of the islands
This pelican picks a good spot to watch
for fish.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Birthday Heather

We enjoyed several days at the Blue Ground Cay anchorage in a deep harbor surrounded by reefs with a terrific couple chartering "Sparrow" from the Moorings in Placencia, D.J. and Lianne. It was their first night out and they were glad to see another boat sail into the harbor. D.J. came over in the dinghy to invite us over for drinks later. It was luckily a comedy of errors when we did. Luckily a comedy rather than a more serious problem. On the way over our outboard died and we were quickly taken by the current towards the reef entrance (and out to sea). Our oars would probably have handled the situation but D.J. jumped in his dinghy and flew over to get us. Then his outboard died too. In his haste he had forgotten to get his fuel can. So both of us are drifting off. Scott and I paddled over to him and happily they both had the same type of outboard and were able to connect our fuel tank to his outboard. We were a long way away from our boats at that point and glad we didn't have to fight our way back with oars. Our boat doesn't handle very well with them. The evening was delightful. We were very upset later by not being able to reach our son Sean on the SSB WCO phone system as there was too much interference. It was his birthday and we'd counted on being able to call him. It did work the next morning although we just had to leave a message. On my birthday two days later we anchored in Placencia, a lovely small town in the south of Belize. At Yoli's bar we met several cruisers and arranged to have dinner later at Dawn's Grill and Go. I met Dawn in San Pedro a week before so it was nice to spend the evening at her place. And it was a great meal. Afterwards we had gelato at the best place in Central/South America (according to a number of people), Tutti Fruitti. Fantastic stuff and we should know, having spent a month in Italy last fall. So a wonderful birthday once more, despite not being with our family, which would have made it perfect.
D.J. affects a rescue and tows our dinghy back to Scott
D.J. and Liane on board "Sparrow" at Blue Ground Range
Cay anchorage
"Working hard" at the wheel?
Captain Scott off duty
Heather's Birthday dinner at Dawn's Grill and Go in
Placencia, Belize
A rowdy group of friends sing a chorus of Happy
Close up of my Curried Prawn dinner
Tutti Fruitti Gelato rivals any we had in Italy

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cay Caulker, Belize

Every color of the rainbow adorns the waterfront of Cay Caulker
The channel to Cay Caulker is too shallow for our boat so we took the ferry instead. It's only a 20 minute fast passage and the schedule is very flexible. We loved it right away. Laid back, low rise, sand streets, pastel colored gingerbread wooden architecture - who wouldn't?
It's a small island. We walked all over in about 2 hours. Happily at the end of a charming hot sand street we found a deep channel separating the south end of the cay from the north end. It was the "public beach" with a typical graffiti adorned beach bar/restaurant, the "Lazy Lizard" and lots of happy patrons. We recognized the two couples that came on the ferry with us and introduced ourselves.  After a quick change into suits we were diving right off the bulkhead into clear cool water. Oh my God! Heaven.
There wasn't a lot of shade so we walked a bit down the street and ate at a local "fish fry" place. The fish is marvelous but takes a bit of work dissecting off the flesh. No problem for us as we were taught by the master, my father. It was delicious. As is all the food we've had here in Belize and of course Mexico.  The problem is - everything is too good, for my figure.
Well, back on the ferry later and on our boat. We're off traveling south again. This anchorage isn't safe for stronger winds and they are coming in few days so we need a better anchorage. Early in the morning we headed out the pass on our inward track and down the coast. It was a lovely day and we made good time to the ship channel towards Belize City. It's a deep clear entrance and then we just had to decide on an anchorage for the night. We made our way down to Middle Long Cay and plopped down the anchor just on the west side, south of what was supposed to be the Moonlight Shadows Lodge. Despite circling the island and exploring the mangrove channels we never found the lodge. But it didn't matter as exploring these quiet green alleys was so lovely. The next day we motored only 5 miles south to the Bluefield Range Cays. Unfortunately it was later in the day and we couldn't get our anchor to set right. Scott dove it as usual but the grass was tough and our anchor wouldn't bite in. We should have probably moved but it was fairly calm so we just let out a lot of chain and let it go. Later in the evening it was clear it was dragging so we moved forward again and tried our best to set it. No luck. So we set the alarm and got up every two hours to check it. Annoying, but we didn't move far enough to worry. Nevertheless we decided to seek a better spot for the next few days. How about a marina? The Cucumber Beach Marina is supposed to be nice, near Belize City so we can see that. So we headed that direction. Unfortunately the wind was on shore and built up so by the time we got near it was clear it would be a rocky entrance. And it was a shallow one. The combination was too difficult so we turned around and headed south. A careful look at the quide book showed a very secure anchorage at Blue Ground Range Cay. Perfect. And it was. A tricky entrance but clear light so worked great. And then, another sail boat! More in my next post.
Chinese Food Belize style

Or maybe a fresh fruit smoothie

I LOVE the palm tree shadows - here on the sand "street"

This is the main thorofare here on the island

Weird sign - why not loiter?

Sponge Bob in Paradise

The happy surprise at the end of a long walk

Crystal clear water of many colors

And a friendly bar/restaurant. We could dive right off
the edge of the water on the front.

We met these two couples on the ferry over to Cay Caulker
and enjoyed some time with them here.

Fried fish, rice and beans, and a salad - all for $6

A look at a typical guest house here - choice of a lounge
chair or a hammock

This porker was being prepared for dinner

And movies every night under the stars and in the sand.

The simple cemetery still had a great view

And on the way back on the ferry we had a fun conversation
with two couples from the U.S. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

San Pedro, Belize

Scott and his Dive Master Israel prepare to head under
water at the Belize Marine Park
One of the many nurse sharks and sting rays we swam
with at Shark Ray Alley
As I mentioned in my last post we had some difficulty anchoring off San Pedro as it is very shallow throughout the harbor. We did manage however and headed into town to check in. Due to the long Easter holidays (Thurs thru Monday) we had to wait until the following morning. There is a lot of paper work to get through. First we visited Immigration, then Customs, and last had a visit from the Naval official and an Agriculture Inspector. They came aboard, ferried back and forth by Scott in our dinghy. But finally we were legal and could raise the Belizian flag.
San Pedro is a really pretty and lively village, the largest town on the islands. Belize has made an effort to keep all development low key and low rise.
This country was British Honduras until it achieved independence in 1964. The population (only 333,000 people) are a combination of descendants of Mayan, African slaves, British and other Commonwealth countries. In addition there is a large number of Americans and Canadians who have moved here to work or retire. It's been a comparatively peaceful nation for Central America and has the highest growth rate in the area.
Scott Free anchored in San Pedro all by itself
One thing that surprised us was the lack on cruisers. We were often the only boat anchored there and no one was in the single "marina". We did have one high class neighbor however. A huge mega yacht anchored outside the reef for 24 hours and the officials that checked us in also went out there. It had 21 crew and according to them, Bill and Melinda Gates were on board.
We met several friendly locals and enjoyed a great trip out to the Marine Park at Hol Shan. We had our own boat from the dive shop, and one guide each. I can't dive anymore unfortunately due to my operation for lung cancer last year so I went snorkeling. I didn't feel so bad however as the viability was excellent and we both saw lots of fish, coral, rays, turtles, moray eels and on our second dive/snorkel swam with lots of manta rays and sharks (thank goodness nurse sharks but they were really big!).
The food is excellent here as well but close to twice the cost as in Mexico. We hung out a bit at the Blue Water Grill as they had a nice pool we could use. Walking through the town is endlessly fascinating. There are three long streets on the Cay and the beach facing the reef. Alleys connect them and every color of the rainbow is utilized. Ginger bread decorates the mostly wooden buildings. Grocery shopping is a full time job as usual. We must have visited at least 8 or 9 small shops to complete our needed list.
No complaints though...
I love these signs. They are so personal. 
The beach at San Pedro stretches along the length of the
village and functions as a road, but without cars
Local vendors ply their wares throughout the town
We had a great Belizian breakfast here with homemade
tortillas, bacon and eggs
The homes, Inns and businesses all are in brilliant colors
Quirky competitions are common here in
San Pedro. This is the home of the famous
chicken drop contest. You pay for a square
and then hope the chicken poops on it.