Friday, January 31, 2014

Crossing the Bar of the Rio Dulce

Last minute provisioning from Esmerelda - she comes around
to the Marinas with lots of fresh produce, bread, cheese and
eggs. That's Linda behind me.

The next morning after our haul out the trees near our
anchorage were white with herons

Another look at the "bird trees"
The Rio Dulce is a beautiful river in Guatemala on the Atlantic side and a refuge for a huge number of cruisers during the hurricane season. A cluster of over 15 marinas, 11 good sized ones center 20 miles up river around the town of Fronteras. The river is generally deep, up to 60 feet at times but the mouth is silted over with mud and sand brought down river. The controlling depth for 1/2 of a mile is 5 feet. We draw 6 and 1/2 so we have a problem. We were supposed to cross last night with two other boats but when we pulled out of our slip at the marina we couldn't get the boat up to speed. Scott spent an hour checking the transmission and shifter (gear mechanism) and then he got into his scuba gear and checked out the propeller. Happily that was the problem, but after 50 minutes he'd used up his air and still hadn't freed it up. Zebra mussels had invaded our folding prop. So we called the boatyard nearby and luckily as we know the manager pretty well, they agreed to haul us and take a look. Scott and they managed to clean and grease it, and get our boat back in the water. But by this time it was 4 pm and it's 3 hours to the mouth of the river (plus we need time at the small town there to check out with customs etc.) 
So we anchored for the night and this morning we're trying again. Hopefully we'll make it out this evening, unfortunately later than yesterday - 7 pm. We'll motor the 2 hours over to an anchorage and spend the night (we normally don't go into a harbor in the dark but it's open and we've been there several times and have waypoints). It will be a huge relief to get the anchor down tonight! 
Well it's Thursday, we made it and we're safely at anchor in Placencia, Belize - but it didn't work out as nicely as we hoped. Wednesday morning we left our anchorage in the pouring rain and motored down the river. It cleared up a few hours later and was lovely for the section across the lake and down the narrow part of the river. There vertical cliffs rise on either side covered with lush green vegetation hanging over the river. It's really lovely. There is a small rather charming town called Livingston at the mouth of the river where we anchor and check out of the country with customs and the port captain. All went well and we had a great lunch of fish in garlic sauce, beans & rice and a salad at Malecon Restaurant. 
I was rather a nervous wreck waiting the hours until we could start across the bar. There is only one high tide a day and as I mentioned only 2 really high tides a month so 7 pm was the optimum time to depart. We went an hour early as the tide was still rising and there was some light. It's a half mile across the bar and we just went as fast as we could. We scraped and bumped the bottom for about 1/4 of a mile, slowing down to half speed as we plowed through the soft mud. Luckily we have a big engine and she got us through.
We motored over to our anchorage, dodging a big freighter on the way but as we went the wind increased and the waves got larger. The wind direction change predicted for Thursday came early and our usually protected anchorage was no longer great. But we anchored carefully and figured we'd be OK. Unfortunately at 11 pm it really started howling and the boat was bucking badly. We decided it wasn't safe to stay and weighed anchor. Plan B was to motor up to Belize overnight. The first two hours were rather miserable as a squall hit us and it poured fresh water from above and sea water over the bow and showering the cockpit. Very uncomfortable but our boat can handle it. Further complications when our autopilot stopped working and we had to hand steer - difficult in these conditions.
Anyway - long story short. By 1 pm the rain had ceased and the stars came out. The wind died down and the waves abated. We pulled into Placencia, Belize at 6am, anchored and went to bed. We'll both feel better tomorrow after some sleep. Scott has an early morning tomorrow as he takes a 7am bus to another town 2 hours away to check in with customs etc.
It's Friday now and I'm getting this blog post posted. I'm also waiting for Scott to come back from checking into Belize. Unfortunately I just got a quick text from him and the bus broke down on the way back. Poor guy - he's been gone since 7 am and is probably starved. I have a great lunch waiting for him - jalapeno, corn and shrimp chowder. Hope he's here soon!
In between the showers as we headed down the river
were rainbows!

Near the end of the trip the river narrows and steep cliffs rise up on both sides

Looking down the main street in Livingston at the harbor where we anchored to check out of Guatemala.

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