Posted by: catamarantwooceans | July 14, 2008

April 2008-Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras

April 1st – As morning came (sunrise was at 0715 Cuba time) we were about 45 miles from destination. The wind abated somewhat during the night and the current that helped us near Cuba was gone, slowing us down, but as the day progressed, the wind came back and I could see that although my hope of doing the distance in 48 hours will not happen, it’ll be a very reasonable 51 hours to Isla Mujeres in Mexico. As we got closer, the signs of the western world started appearing: airplanes, ships and sportfishing boats were in sight all around us. At 20 miles we could see the high rise buildings of Cancun. There was a moment of disorientation when we saw the northern point of the island too far to the right, but then we understood that it was the effect of the strong current going from south to north, perpendicular to our track, making it necessary  to aim to the left to compensate for it. All morning we tried fishing with no success, now as we were 5 miles from the tip of the island I tried again and got a nice Spanish Mackerel. Furling the jib and lowering the main-sail were done in a sort of a celebratory mood, we turned around the tip of the island, with the big hotel perched on it, found the channel in and approached the marina we decided to go into. This was El Milagro marina, a small but nice operation, owned by an absentee American and run by Julio and Jaime who came to help us tie up and helped with all the necessary entry procedures (including briefing me on the required tip for the immigration officer, who delayed his visit for the morrow).

El Milagro Marina

El Milagro Marina

The marina has only 14 slips, free electricity, water and Wi-Fi and costs 1$ per foot per day which is very reasonable. As evening came we took a taxi to town. I was looking forward to a good Mexican meal, especially after the plain, tasteless restaurant food in Cuba and was not disappointed. We sat at a place on the beach, sand for a floor, spicy, tasty food and cold beer. I love Mexico!

April 2nd – We finished the entry procedures and just passed the day relaxing and resting. Tomorrow – a trip to Chichen-Itza, a famous Mayan city, not to be missed by anybody travelling in these parts. At some time in the afternoon, Shosh and Mair have gone to town and I was dozing in my bed, a knock on the hull made me jump outside. A couple stood there and introduced themselves. They were Bill and Marilyn Sauers from the catamaran “Luv Cats” a Fontaine Pajot Marquise 53 footer. We started talking and very quickly found out that we used to share the same profession – Bill was a pilot for TWA and before that in the Air-force, flying F-105’s in Vietnam.

Bill and Marleen

Bill and Marleen

April 3rd – We took a local bus (12 pesos – 12 American cents for the three of us) to the ferry dock and reached Cancun in 15 minutes. A taxi to the central bus station and at 0745 we had the tickets for the 0900 bus to Chichen Itza. I used the time to look for a marine store that Jaime told me about and found out it was open. I bought Mexican and  Belizean flags, a charts book for the Mexican coast thus saving a special trip to Cancun.
We boarded the modern, air-conditioned bus and embarked on a three hours ride, with monotonous bush view along the entire way, to reach the site with, what seemed to be, thousands of other tourists. We started by having lunch and then made the good decision to take a guide. Guillermo spoke very good English and seemed to know the place, it’s history and the meaning of the many symbols depicted on the stones that made up the impressive structures. We could have never experience the magnificence of the place the same way we did with him. This is not the place to go into the history or the description of the various pyramids and other structures and their astronomical meaning. I’ll just put in some pictures that will tell the story better than I ever could.
                                                          

                                                         

Pyramid

Pyramid

Maya-Budha

Maya-BudhaRound structure

The historians say that the Mayans did not know or have the wheel. Strange! Look at the structure above and the following picture.

No wheel?

No wheel?

This is found in a court in which they played with a rubber ball and, according to Guillermo, had to throw it through the hole. And finally – some skulls.

Skulls

Skulls

I have a principle – I never go to a place where the visit takes less than the total drive time to get to it. Lucky for me I have another principle and that is keep an open mind for other alternatives. The total time in the bus was over 6 hours. The time we spent in the site was about two hours and it was worth any minute! If you ever go to Mexico… Don’t miss it (and take a guide…).

April 4th – Shoshi and Meir left in the morning. I did some shopping and left the marina to anchor in the bay. After a few days of having trouble with the Yahoo site builder program, with which I write here,and just as I was getting ready to speak to my son ( a computer expert) I succeeded in following the Support team instructions and resolve the problem. Now it will be up to date.

April 5th, 6th & 7th – The next friend joining are coming to Mexico on Friday the 11th and we meet in Puerto Morelos, 27 miles south of Isla Mujeres. This means I had some time to kill and since the wind on these three days was strongish and from the SSW, I just stayed put, doing some jobs on the boat, resting and reading. The only excitement was produced by a monohull bearing a Canadian flag that entered the bay and confidently aimed towards a shoal patch, disregarding my frantic hand signals as they passed by. Not enough time to look for them on whatever VHF channel they were, I just watched as their mast bowed when the keel hit the soft sand and the yacht was stuck. Normally it shouldn’t be such a big problem but they didn’t seem to know what to do. I took the dinghy over to them and saw that another yachtsman, from a nearer boat, was already there pushing them backwards and liberating them from the embarrassing situation.
On the 6th the Gypsy in my soul made me restless so I formulated a plan that will keep me moving. I wanted to go out on the 7th to Puerto Morelos, the 8th to Cozumel, do a day of diving then stay at another anchorage until Friday, when I will meet my friends in marina El Cid at the south of Puerto Morelos. Satisfied that I was “On the Go” once again I went to buy some things in the big supermarket in the town square and saw that a big stage was in construction. “Will there be music here tonight?” I asked one of the locals. “No, Manana, eight o’clock in the evening”. Judging by the size of the stage this should be something worth seeing so I moved my plans one day forward and waited eagerly for the evening of the 7th. I used the day to walk around town, looking at the east coast, open to the onslaut of the ocean.

East coast

East coast

The houses on the east side showed signs of damages probably suffered in the last hurricane and there was a lot of construction work going on. The fantastic thing is that the distance between the east and the west part in no more than 50 to 100 meters and the difference is enormous. The west side has all the action, beach restaurants with the blinding white sand as a floor and good, cheap food. In this one I had a two course meal, one Tequila and one beer all for 16 U.S.

Beach restaurant

Beach restaurant

Near the restaurant Pescadores were cleaning a few barracudas and throwing the entrails into the water. Pelicans were waiting for the food but so were the Frigate birds, attacking from above and taking pieces of fish right out of the pelicans mouths.

Frigate attack

Frigate attack

Come evening I went to town again and reaching the square a bit after 8 pm (did not expect the show to start on time) was quick to discover that the happening was a political gathering in honour of the newly elected Mayoress! The only music played there was the drums and bugles of the islands Navy unit, sounding like an elementary school band in their first ever concert.

April 8th – Waited until 8 o’clock to leave because I wanted, as instructed, to call the Capitania to let them know of my movement. I called on 16, tried 14 on which some fast Spanish was spoken, also on 12 but no answer. I decided to simply go on but al the radio operations distracted me and I almost imitated the Canadian boat’s trick of going aground, saving myself at the very last minute. Out of the bay we motored against a 15 knots wind, right on the nose, in water that was 5 – 7 meters deep until we reached Cancun point and could lay a course 30 degrees off the true wind, motor-sailing along the miles and miles of hotels covered white beach.

Cancun hotels

Cancun hotels

Once the depth reached 15 meters I let the fishing line out and had a strike. This was a big one! I slowed the boat and started pulling it in, which was quite an effort. Suddenly the line gave, I was able to see the splash the fish made far behind as it freed itself. I took the line in feeling that the lure was also gone and when the line came back I could see the teeth marks on the thick nylon. That made me go into my fishing tool box and prepare a wire, metal leader. I let it out with no immediate results and occupied myself with sailing the boat. I was not happy to be motor-sailing and decided to head out to sea and give myself a better angle that will allow using the sails only. Half an hour of going 90 degrees to the desired track did the job and we did the remaining miles sailing close-hauled which is something we didn’t do for a very long time!. At one point I was glancing astern and thought I saw something trailing far behind. A fish? There was no noise from the reel! Can’t complain, though, it was a nice Spanish Mackerel good for two meals. I was glad to be out on the water and did not mind it when a shackle fell from the mainsail sheet system or when the main halyard tangled and made it difficult taking the sail down when we arrived at the entrance to Puerto Morelos. That’s life on the water and I like it!
To go into PM you have to skirt a reef and follow a channel that will keep you out of harm’s way. Obviously some were not concentrating and the picture below is an example, the ship is hard aground.

Stuck ferry

Stuck ferry

I anchored behind the protecting reef in 5 meters, dived (or should I say dove?) to check the anchor and we, that’s Two Oceans and me were set for the night.

Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos

April 9th – As planned I set sail to Cozumel. Put in the waypoint that I took out of the Mexican chart and it showed 174 degrees. The guide book by Freya Rauscher said it should be 200. I rechecked the coordinates and they seemed to be fine. I kept on sailing being sure that somebody made a mistake and it was probably me! Checked the numbers again and found out that I inserted the longitude 86 50.8 instead of 86 58.0. I sailed with second reef in order not to go too fast for fishing – the freezer is almost empty – but no fish took a bite. From the distance Cozumel looked like a dock in Miami, full of cruise ships. One of them gave me a fright when she overtook me passing a bit closer than I liked.

Cruise ship

Cruise ship

I dropped anchor near a big one, on a sandy patch, in clear turquoise water that Cozumel is famous for. The main reason of my coming here is to dive. I looked for a dive club ashore, found a place called “Eco-divers” and arranged to go out with them tomorrow morning. Oh, and do you want to know how San Miguel, the main town in Cozumel is? Same as St. Thomas in the U.S Virgin Island – a huge shopping center, the streets near the port are full of cruise ship passengers “cruising” the shops for cheap (?) jewelery, T-shirts and other stuff tourists go for. Not my kind of town! I cancelled my plan for a dinner ashore and had half of the fish I caught, curried in coconut milk, flavoured with cilantro on a bed of white rice.

April 10th – Yoshi called to tell me that they are having a delay on their flight and will get to Cancun not on the evening of the 10th but at 1030 on the 11th. I thought the original plan was to come on the 11th! We agreed on a different meeting point – Puerto Avanturas marina instead of Puerto Morelos – this will save us a day on the way to Belize.
At a few minutes to 0900 I entered the dive shop. Jorge, the diving instructor in charge, gave me the necessary equipment and took me in his VW to Caleta marina, 10 minutes ride to the south, the place we were joining the dive boat. On the way I could see a lot of diving clubs and diving hotels. In the marina I met two other divers who were going with the same boat, Doug and Don from New Jersey. Then the boat arrived, it looked a bit shabby, had a 200 H.P outboard on it and was driven by a man of small stature who was laughing and joking and had a tendency to look everywhere but in the direction the boat was going at full throttle. Jorge introduced us to the dive-master who will lead us, a stocky fellow who called himself :”Antonio Banderas”, and had a sense of humour that manifested itself in sneaking behind his colleague and pulling his shorts down every now and then. The two of them brought us to the dive site, Santa Rosa wall and we did a drift dive, nothing dramatic but a nice one all the same. The second dive was of course shallower, in a site that had a lot of fish and some BIG lobsters. Back in town I ordered a takeaway Pizza, the air-condition in the restaurant was too much for me, had it on board with a beer and took a good nap.
At 1630, a new man, I sat in the cockpit with a cup of coffee, going through the last pages of an Ian Rankin detective Rebus book (Good!) when a feminine voice hailed me. They were Frances and Christina, from the yacht Snow Dragon II, which came in the morning and anchored to our starboard. Frances bought the 49 foot monohull and fitted her out herself. On this trip they came from San Diego CA through the Panama canal, Honduras and Belize and were planning to go to Cuba, Bermuda and then across the Atlantic to Spain. We shared our disappointments – they from Belize and me from Cuba and ended swapping my Cuba lonely planet book for a chart they had which I needed.
Frances gave me her card, which had a web site on it and when I looked it up it turned out that she is an artist, you can see for yourselves: www.francesbrann.com.                                                          

Snow Dragon II

Snow Dragon II

Frances and crew
Frances and crew

April 11th – 0730 I was on my way to Puerto Avantura. I should have remembered that Avantura means adventure and be ready, especially when the guide book says that:”The pass can be extremely dangerous when the trade winds kick up sizable waves, etc…” On the chartlet they say:” Caution – do not attempt pass if raging seas”. Well, surely the trades are normal and there is no reason for any raging seas! Out of the anchorage in Cozumel the wind is so light I can put the main up without turning into the wind. After a while the wind goes up and I end up by reducing sail to first reef. I convince myself that this is mainly in order not to go too fast for fishing. At 5 miles to destination, with the wind at about 18-20 knots true I am surprised by the appearance of good size waves from time to time. At 3 miles to the entrance I call the marina on VHF and the person answering me says:” Well, I don’t know, the marina was closed the last two days because of waves, today some fishing boats went out, but I am not sure of the entrance condition”. I decided to have a look-see and came close trying to find the pass into the marina. I saw a big catamaran day tripper going out and it looked OK.The cat skipper came on the radio to say that the situation was only half as bad as it was yesterday and suggested that I time my approach in accordance with the wave pattern. “The waves are coming in threes or fives” he said “with the last wave open full power and go in quickly.” How do I know if it is a tree or five wave train? But anyway, I got closer, motored at 90 degrees to the approach line, looked at the wave pattern and selecting the moment I thought was right, knuckles white on the wheel, heart in my mouth, I opened the throttles and went in, two steep waves just ahead, not threatening. Once inside it became completely calm and I could breathe normally again. I later went to the entrance and looking at the waves gave me the creeps. I wonder who was the genius who planned the pass in such a way? Surely there are other options that will be much less dangerous. The picture will show the waves as seen from the inside. Photography tend to flatten sea and wave images but use a bit of imagination and you will understand that Two Oceans and me went, again, through an unintentional Avantura!

Avantura entrance

Avantura entrance

Marina Avantura is a part of a big development, with condos, many businesses and restaurants and reminds me of Palmas del Mar in Puerto Rico. A part of this man made marina is enclosed by net fences inside which dolphins are kept for people to swim with and probably for other marine shows. The captured dolphins make me sad – they should be free in open water and not behind bars.
At 1230 Yoshi and Irit showed up. We put their things on board and went to the grocers to do some shopping. Going out tomorrow is bound to be less dramatic because going into the waves you have a much better directional control of the boat while when you are with the waves, the danger is broaching – the wave turns the boat to the side, it surfs sideways uncontrollably and may end breaking on the reef.

April 12th – At 0700 Yoshi and me went to look at the entrance. Better than the day before, no doubt. Gentlemen, start your engines! We’re going! We motored to the last part of the pass that was not affected by the waves outside, watched the wave pattern and timing it right we opened up and flew outside. The forecast was for SE wind at 10 knots, we saw 15-17 and decided to have all sails up. It didn’t take long to put in the first reef in the main because the combination of wind and waves called for it. Still, we were going at around 6 knots SOG which we considered good, with a current that was running against us at close to two knots. We had 45 miles to go to a position from which we will turn and sail another 4.5 miles into a shallow, reef protected anchorage near the fishermen village of Punta Allen. All the time we were trolling but caught no fish, getting close to the end we almost gave up the idea of fresh fish for dinner. At 2.5 miles to the turning point the reel gave out its familiar shrill noise, a fish! Yoshi held the helm and succeeded in slowing the boat beautifully while I strained to bring the fish closer and closer. This fish gave me the fiercest fight ever, when we were ready to lift it aboard with the gaff it fought with such a force and pulled quite a few meters of line back. This last struggle drained it from all its strength and we hoisted it aboard. I think it was an Albacore tuna or maybe Skipjack.

Skipjack

Skipjack

On to the anchorage, in which a single yacht, a ketch, was at anchor, we inched our way slowly when the depth gauge started showing less than 2.5 meters and anchored on sand, motoring backwards to make sure that the anchor dig in properly. While we were getting ready to go ashore we saw a motor boat towing a dinghy towards the ketch, a single occupant in it. He was safely back on his boat and we took the dinghy ashore, a long 15 minutes ride, and strolled in the village. A beautiful, palm covered beach, some restaurants and a lot of fishing boats made for an idyllic picture.

Beach

Beach

During the walk we saw a lot of rectangular moulds and contraptions made in them. Their purpose became clear on the following day.
We sat at a beach bar, ordered drinks and Nachos (made by the local cook – not out of a plastic bag) and salsa and sat there enjoying the quiet atmosphere and the view. Back at the boat I set out to convince Irit that tuna can be a tasty fish, since her previous experience in restaurants left her sceptical. I am glad to report that dinner was a success on all fronts.

April 13th – We decided to depart at midday and sail through the night to Xcalac (pronounced Ishcalak) the port we intended to leave Mexico from. This way we will arrive there in the morning, do the formalities and sail the 20 odd miles to Belize and save a day. So we got up in the morning in a relaxed mood and around 9 o’clock took to the dinghy  and motored toward the reef, where we saw two buoys we thought we could tie to and do a little snorkeling. As we were on our way Irit spotted a motor boat on our stern, lights flashing just like a police patrol car. They signaled for us to stop and when I turned in their direction I saw that they were Park Rangers. They said we were not allowed to snorkel on the reef unless we do it with the local co-operative, paying of course. I tried tempting them by suggesting that we make a direct payment “to the Park” but though it seemed for a moment that it will work they declined. So we will snorkel in Belize! Back to the boat we went swimming and right on our starboard side I saw the same rectangular thing we saw so many of on the waterfront. Diving down and peering inside I understood its use. This was a lobster man made home! It seems that when lobsters find them to be a good shelter, live inside them until the fishermen come and take them. In the one near our boat I counted five lobsters waiving their antennae and a big crab. A bit later we saw our neighbor, the ketch man, in his dinghy, trying to start his outboard. He started it once but it failed again and all the while he was drifting away from his yacht. I noticed that he did not have oars on the dinghy and came over in mine to offer him a tow. He was a man roughly my age or a bit more, his boat – “Morning Star” was from Honolulu. He was not very communicative so I said goodbye and went back home.

Ketch man

Ketch man

At 1230 we exited the anchorage, I had a misunderstanding about the place of a reef that we should have stayed clear of, but Yoshi set me right and we followed the coast of that remote part of Mexico, battling a 2 knots current that slowed us down. The night was a mixture of calms, strong winds that had us reefing and then calms again, necessitating the use of the motors. As I got up for my morning watch, from 0400 till 0630, the wind came back and we sailed to Xcalac, our last port in Mexico, arriving at the narrow entrance at 0810. The opening in the reef is only 50 meters so you need to line up two structures on the beach in line to be on the right track. Inside two yachts were at anchor, actually – on a mooring. After trying twice to anchor and dragging, we got the idea and took up a mooring too. Went into town to do the exit formalities, we found a sleepy, poor town. The harbour master did all the necessary procedures, including customs and immigration, having to type the “Zarpe”, the sailing permit, twice – on an old typewriter, apologising that the electricity was off that morning. Once this was finished we hopped back on board and sailed to San Pedro, the settlement on Ambergris Cay, our port of entry into Belize. Fishing line in the water, it did not take long for a fish to hit. Yoshi started taking it in, but as he is a left-hander he found it difficult to operate the reel and I took over and with him using the gaff we brought a nice Big Eye Tuna on board. Storm clouds were closing on us from the north so I reefed before they hit us but still the boat sailed fast and we reached San Pedro, making the 24 miles in three and a half hours. The anchorage in San Pedro is a very shallow one behind the reef. We thought of going to the fuel dock to fill water, stopping at 1.2 meters, near a German flagged catamaran to ask for information on the depth of water there.

San Pedro anchorage

San Pedro anchorage

They didn’t know so we proceeded with caution and found out for ourselves… A hundred meters short of the dock it was less than one meters and we had to turn back. On shore it was immigration, long line and grumpy officer and a customs man who was not in the office and was called back by a nearby barman. San Pedro was much like I remembered from my previous visit with golf carts the main mode of transport. The only change was that the streets were now paved and not gravel as it was 15 years ago. After some shopping we went back on board to prepare for an evening ashore. The weather had other plans for us, the wind blew hard, up to 27.7 knots and in these condition I was afraid to leave the boat unattended. So – dinner on board, Irit cooked the Spanish Mackerel with Tehini in the oven and we even opened a bottle of wine.

Irit

Irit

We were quite tired and went to bed early.

April 15th – The wind blowing noisily did not wake me up, it was a feeble shout :”Help me! Help me!” that did. I rushed out waking Yoshi up. A man with a life vest was swimming, swallowing water, retching and crying for help. With thoughts alternating between compassion and alertness to a possible foul play, we brought the shivering,exhausted, man on board, put a big towel around him and gave him water. Now safe on board he was looking around, calling and trying to whistle against the howl of the wind to a friend he said was with him in the water. A glance at my watch told me it was 0230. Pieces of information were slowly gathered. According to him, he came from Xcalac, on a 25 foot tuna fishing boat which had 6 men on board and capsized in the rough sea. He claimed to have been in the water for 6 or 7 hours. Lights started shining at us from shore and pretty soon somebody came on the VHF, voices identifying themselves as Security and San Pedro police. We advised them of the situation and requested that they take care of the man. The guy repeated time and again:”No cops, no police” and Yoshi thinks he also may have said:” I am wanted”. Suspicious stuff!The voices calling themselves “Police” came back on the radio requesting that we bring the man ashore. I gave the poor guy a pair of my shorts and took him, with Yoshi for added security, to the dock and the group that waited there. We couldn’t and did not care to verify whether they were really police and returned to the boat glad that the man was safe on land and this strange episode was over. In the morning our first priority was looking for a place to fill our water tanks. A dock with three catamarans drew our attention and we dinghyed over to check it out. It turned out the dock belonged to TMM, a charter company. Their dock master, Michael, a young man of German – Honduran origin,was very helpful, gave us information about the right way to approach the dock, had his people help us tie up and at the end waved off our offer to pay and invited us to stay at their dock as much as we wanted. Thanks Michael! A stroll in town, a visit to an Internet Cafe concluded our stay in Ambergris Cay. We met the German yachtie that we spoke to the day before. While I was busy updating the site he told Yoshi his nautical Curriculum Vitae: He has been sailing for the last 20 years, first a circumnavigation in a monohull, then a second one on a catamaran and now he is tired of long range voyages,so he is staying in this area. We left the TMM dock and sailed inside the reef, in water that had depth of 1.2 – 2.2 meters, using reefed jib only so as not to go too fast in the shallow waters. Destination was Caye Caulker, 11 miles to the south of San Pedro. Caye Caulker is today what Ambergris was like 15 years ago. Laid back, easy going, roads of compacted sand, beautiful beaches with low cost hostels and beach bars that had happy hour with “two for the price of one” from 10 am till 6 pm. When Gili and me came here on a diving trip we may have visited the same bar, where they showed the Japanese movie “King Kong versus Godzilla”. Coconut trees on shore, traditional work boats bobbing near wooden jetties on which young people were relaxing – Caye Caulker was magic.

Cay Caulker

Cay Caulker

The island has a lot of lobster fishermen and now, the lobstering season being closed, they are working on refurbishing the lobster-pots right by their homes.

Lobsterpots

Lobsterpots

We had dinner at the Rainbow restaurant,watching the moonlit, calm sea, enjoying a Margarita with our food and felt content and peaceful.

April 16th – We left Caye Caulker early in the morning in the company of a traditional local sailboat, sailing the shallow water past Cay Chapel and then east, passing the barrier reef into the deep blue ocean aiming at the northern tip of Turneffe islands with the ultimate destination being Lighthouse reef.

Local boat

Local boat

The wind that has started as a pure northerly, slowly veered to the north-east and we had to tack to clear the point, battling the strong wind and the waves it produced, that was tough sailing! Once we eased the boat into a reach the ride became much faster and comfortable. We did the rest of the way, 27 miles in three hours and fifteen minutes, surfing from time to time at more than 10 knots with true wind of 17 – 20 knots. Two big dive boats were on moorings in the Long Cay ( a part of Lighthouse reef) and three monohulls at anchor closer to shore. We joined them, anchoring in 1.5 meters and quickly put the dinghy down and went snorkeling. Unfortunately the sun hid behind clouds, the wind blew and made us feel cold, so we cut it short and retreated to the boat, Hot shower and a Margarita put things back in order.

April 17th – The initial plan for the day was to go to Half-Moon Caye, just three miles to the east, visit this little island with its bird sanctuary and then go on to Glover reef. Thinking of the timetable I suggested that after Half-Moon Caye we’ll go back to Long Cay, do some snorkeling and just relax for the rest of the day. That’s me acquiring the cruiser’s way of thinking instead of rushing from one place to another restlessly. The route to Half-Moon Caye goes through reef strewn, shallow waters and better done with high sun from behind. The chart for the area indicated that it should be a simple matter of following a straight line from a starting way-point towards a wreck on the reef north of destination and at a certain point go around a shallow spot to the anchorage. I thought I was doing exactly that, when suddenly, looking behind, I saw that we just passed close to a reef on our left which was very close to the surface and which I did not see because the low sun (it was one and a half hour after sunrise) made the sea glare. Instinctively I turned slightly to the right and then we scraped the bottom, which was reef, not sand. We got off easily and proceeded with caution, Yoshi and Irit standing on the bows to look for corals, until we got to the anchorage, where a Venezia catamaran was at anchor.

Halfmoon Cay

Half-Moon Caye lived up to my memories of it and to all our expectations. Beautiful island, white sandy beach with palm trees and of course the bird observation tower with the Red Footed Boobies nesting and the Frigate birds flying all over the place, males inflating the bright red sac they have above their chest trying to impress the females.

Boobies

Boobies

Frigate bird

Frigate bird

Just as it was when I was here 15 years ago, an Iguana crossed our path and waited patiently until everybody took her pictures.
On the way back I doubled my effort to stay on the exact route, passing well to the south of the reef we hit in the morning, which meant that I made some mistake back there in the morning. A lesson learnt: You need the sun to be high in the sky for reef navigation! By the way the only damage to the boat was in the paint department. Coming back to Long Cay, we passed by the moorings laid for the dive boats and I had the bright idea to take one that was in about 5 meters depth and do our snorkeling from there instead of from the dinghy. Going into the water with mask and fins, I was surprised by the multitude of fish that found shelter, or perhaps it was shade they were seeking, under Two Oceans. This area is, of course, great diving location and many live-aboard diving boats frequent it. One interesting to watch was some sort of a “quatromaran”, sailing on four flotation hulls,with what looked like a big lift on its stern.

Quatro-ship

Quatro-ship

Back at the anchorage we had lunch and an afternoon snooze and then started to go through a list of maintenance jobs. Replacing the bolts on the port forward locker, cleaning the speed underwater sensor of marine growth that had it stuck at low speeds and so on. At a certain moment Irit asked what was this noise of water pouring out to sea. We immediately saw that the starboard bilge pump red light was on. It turned out that it was the one in the engine room and when I entered it to investigate I discovered a water leak from the raw water pump or one of the pipes connected to it. The water pump on this boat is so hard to get to and it was made harder by the fact that whoever did it last time placed the bands securing the pipes to the pump in a way that made it impossible to reach and unscrew. It took hours to dismantle the pump, minutes to change the impeller, but by that time I was so exhausted and hungry that I decided to call it a day and finish the job tomorrow.

April 18th – At six o’clock we were already on the job. In daylight and after a nights rest it progressed satisfactorily and at 0700 we started the engine, confirmed that there were no leaks and sailed on.

On the job

On the job

South-Water Cay, our destination for the day, is just inside the Belize barrier reef and has a diving and fishing lodge on it as well as an establishment called the Pelican Pouch, probably also renting rooms. On the south of the entrance to it there is an even smaller island – Carrie Bow cay, with only one building on it, used by the Smithsonian Society for reef research.

Carrie Bow

Carrie Bow

We anchored west of South-Water in the company of a 64 foot charter catamaran, a Venezia and two other Moorings boats. Two guys from the Fisheries department came to collect 5$ U.S per person that will hopefully help take care of this lovely place.

Southwater Cay

Southwater Cay

We asked them about the best place for snorkeling and they sent us to the reef near Carrie Bow cay, about 500 meters to the south. After trying it we understood that they were just fee collectors, not marine biologists and knew nothing about the diving or snorkeling sites.
Sometimes I write about what we eat on the boat. This is what we had for dinner: Thai Satay Tuna, recipe taken out of “The Cruiser Handbook of Fishing”. Although I was the chef and perhaps should not brag, I can honestly say that this was one of the best dishes we ever had on board.

April 19th – At 0630 we went out of the anchorage toward our last Belizian port of call – Placencia, where we hoped to clear out for Guatemala at the Big Creek banana port near by. During the night we had rain and the clouds stayed to make a grey, unpleasant morning. At least the wind was from the right quarter and we ran at 7.5- 8 knots, arriving at the port at 1100. The port, entered via a river with mangroves covering its banks, was empty save for a tug, to which we were instructed to tie along side.

alongside tug

alongside tug

“Customs?” “Not working today, Monday to Friday only”. So how does one clear out on the weekend? The security guard at the ports gate called a taxi for us. A beat up car came, price agreed upon and we were on the way to Mango Creeks police station. The immigration officer was not present but our driver went to his house and fetched him. 10 minutes later we had our crew list and passports stamped. We will stay the night in Placencia and tomorrow go to Livingston, port of entry into Guatemala, just at the entrance to Rio Dulce, 45 miles away. Motoring towards town, we discussed the best place to anchor and noticed that the TMM charter company had a base in a narrow channel on the southwestern part of town. “Why don’t we call them and see if they have space?” They did, the price was very reasonable and they sent Claudio in a dinghy to take us in, as the entrance was shallow and a bit complicated.

Claudio

Claudio

Good decision! Water, Internet, in a word: Civilization…
Today is the Jewish Pesach holiday evening and Irit brought some Matzoth from home but could not find them! After a frantic search they were found hiding behind the flour container. She then made a traditional “Matzia” thus celebrating the holiday.

TMM dock

TMM dock

So to all our readers – Happy Passover wherever and whoever you are!

April 20th – At five minutes to five Claudio showed up. He took the helm and steered Two Oceans out of the channel. Strange as it may seem I had such confidence in him that even when the depth gauge showed 0.7 meters I was completely calm. I thought that we touched bottom at 0.9 but maybe the calibration of the instrument changed. Out in open water we said goodbye to our well tipped pilot, raised the sails and with a good following wind started ticking out the 45 miles towards Livingston, the port of entry into Guatemala. On the last 7 miles the wind abated somewhat and we needed to sail wing and wing to steer the course straight to our way-point. This was the opportunity to check, for the first time, the operation and effectiveness of the spinnaker pole. You sail wing and wing when the wind is right from the stern and if the sails were on the same side the main would have covered the jib and rendered it ineffective. The problem is that you have to steer a very precise course and keep the wind exactly behind. If you don’t, you risk either an accidental jibe by the main, passing violently to the other side, which is a bad thing at any time or just the jib stubbornly going back to the other side to hide behind the main, which is simply bad sailing. Poling out the jib enables, so we found out, to sail up to 30 degrees off the wind without ill effect to the jib. This experiment opened a whole new dimension of downwind sailing for Two Oceans and I was happy that we did it.

Poled out jib

Poled out jib

Approaching Livingston, which sits at the entrance to Rio Dulce, we lowered sails and motored towards the shallow sand bar that builds by the river carrying huge amount of mud to the sea. We motored in with relative ease, the smallest depth reading we saw was 1.3 meters and anchored near a yellow flag carrying ketch that, Hey! Isn’t it Morning Star that we saw in Punta Allen, Mexico? The one I towed the dinghy with the bad motor for? We came close to them and asked about the entry status.- this being a Sunday. “If you hurry up you may finish it today” . At least the officials were on the job and not elsewhere. The normal procedure in Livingston is that you wait on the boat for them to come to you but since the port Captain did not answer when we called on the VHF we went to his office. “Wait on the boat we will come shortly” said a young, smiling officer. True to his word, a boatload of Immigration, Customs, health department and Port Captain showed up, checked our papers, took a crew list and told me to come back to their offices to stamp the passports and pay my dues. All this took less than an hour and was done courteously and efficiently. At 1555 we raised the anchor and with both engines at cruise power glided into the Rio Dulce, to cover the 15 miles or so in land, through beautiful, green scenery, then via the Golfete lake to Bruno’s Marina near the Rio Dulce small town. A few pictures will tell the river story better than any words I can compile.

Rio dulce

Rio dulce

The gorge

The gorge

Marina area

Marina area

April 21st – Irit, Yoshi and me took a van to go to Tikal, a Mayan city that hid in the jungle until discovered in modern times, centuries after that nation disintegrated. We reserved rooms in a hotel, Jungle Lodge, right on the entrance to the site and waited for Gili, Karni and Danny Kav to join us. The jungle is all around the hotel grounds and all sort of birds and animals show up, especially Howler monkeys, whose growls fill the air every now and then. Meeting Gili after more than two month… Was great!

April 22nd – Yoshi and Irit went for the sunrise tour – wakeup at 0430. Not for us! We went on the 0930 one. Our guide, Nixon, did his thing reciting the information about the different pyramids and structures and leading us from place to the other. Here are a few pictures that will give you an idea about the magnificence of it.

Tikal pyramid

Tikal pyramid

Tikal

Tikal

Gili in tikal

Gili in tikal

The site has a spiritual significance for the Mayans and a couple on the top of one of the buildings did a ritual that seemed to take them to some other places.

Spiritual energy

Spiritual energy

I could not help but compare Tikal to Chichen Itza and it seems that the latter wins by points. Mainly because of its location right inside the jungle. Both are experiences I will always cherish.

April 23rd – Back to Rio Dulce and the Bruno’s marina. What a place! It has everything a yachtsman wants at a more than reasonable price. Steve, the marina’s manager, is a cheerful guy who is eager to help at all times. He told me that his father is a Canadian and that he was raised in Alabama. Monica, who is mostly to be found in the restaurant, may be his wife, is a very efficient lady. There is a mini-market at the entrance to the marina, a laundry service (that misplaced my favourite underwear), duchas and banos (showers and toilets), a communication center with computers and also WiFi you can use on the boat. The restaurant is very pleasant and the food is really good. The town is a bustling place with supermarket, shops, banks – that did not want to change Euros – and a lot of food stalls. This was the first place in all the Caribbean we could get fresh, good quality fruit and vegetables. I needed to replace the port engine starting battery and found the Agromar store, where they had deep cycle batteries including Trojan, AC Delco and others. Cash got me a 5% price reduction.

The market

The market

The market

Market food

During the day there was a lot of activity around the marina, boats motoring at high speed, fishermen paddling their dugout canoes and casting net right by our dock.

Casting the net

Casting the net

When the time to leave came Steve took out his calculator. “Three days, was it?”  “No, four” I corrected. “O.K, 23.30$” says he. No wonder there is a large community of live-aboard people in there! One question was left unanswered:”Who is Bruno?”. We went out, through the El Golfito lake, back into the river’s gorge to anchor for lunch in the entrance to Rio Tatin. Took the dinghy for a mile’s trip up that creek, enjoying the forest around us and the picturesque local wooden houses right on the water. There were even small hotels that proclaimed themselves to be “Ecological” and did bird watching trips for the guests. Nice, peaceful scenery. 
On to Livingston, we anchored near the town dock in 1.6 meters with the evening wind raising an uncomfortable chop on the water. As we tied our dinghy to the pier two Kayaks approached. They were the ocean type ones and speaking to one of the guys it turned out that they came from Belize. “Do we need to raise a yellow flag?” he asked me. The trip took them 7 hours! Long trip in open water in those craft is a big deal in my opinion.

Kayak

Kayak

On shore the clearance procedure went smoothly, the only annoying thing being the fact that the officials are not giving receipts. The sun was low so we hurried back to the boat to find an anchorage for the night. The guide book (the one by Captain Freya Rauscher, which is a very good one) recommended a spot on the northern bank of the river but I saw a spot on the opposite, southern side that looked much calmer and we dropped the anchor at 4 meters, reversing with a lot of power to make sure it was well dug in. Happy hour followed by an excellent Tuna dinner cooked by Gili and then early to bed in anticipation of an early morning departure to Puerto Cortez, Honduras.

April 25th – I woke up with first light. The scene out side was magical. During the night the wind died, the surface of the water was like flat glass, on the green banks of the river the outlines of trees and dwellings became clearer and on the horizon one could see a lot of fishing boats working the entrance bar. We started the engines and raised the anchor, there was a current of 0.8 knot flowing out and before I had a chance to look at the depth gauge we were aground, in mud, with the instrument showing 0.6 meter! Starboard in full reverse, port fully forward, the boat turned slowly and then came out into deeper water. Passing the bar on the way out we saw a minimum of 1.2 meters and I was left wondering how did all those keeled mono-hulls got inside? I did not think there was a more recent publication than the one we had on board, but maybe they played the tides.
We motored on one engine up to about 15 miles to destination, when the wind allowed us to go close-hauled right into the harbour. We went in and sought a place to anchor, all the while trying to raise the port captain on VHF. Somebody came on finally but communication was difficult, I understood that the port captain is coming to the boat. I anchored on the east side of the port and waited. After a while a boat showed up but they were operatives of the company that run the port and only came to tell us that we could not stay and need to re-anchor near a Naval base a bit more to the south. Danny and me took the dinghy ashore and asked the Navy guys about the right thing to do. According to their advice we took a taxi to immigration in town, then to the port captain office, got our passports stamped and the Zarpe, (the sailing permit) and after a quick dash through a supermarket for a few things we thought we needed, went back to the boat. During the day a red light signaled that the bilge pump was running in the starboard engine compartment.
I now looked into it and found a considerable amount of water in there. We started the engine and confirmed that a leak existed only when the engine was running. This was the water pump I thought I fixed when Yoshi and Irit were on board. Now it seems that maybe the pipe is the culprit, I’ll replace it tomorrow and then we’ll see.

April 26th – At 0600 I started working on the water pump. Let’s go to the bottom line: the water pump is leaking and I will need professional help with it. So where can I get it? I called Lagoon marina in La Ceiba and spoke to Rita, the manageress. She said they did not have a mechanic for diesel engines and that I should try La Ceiba shipyard. So this is what we will do, go there on Sunday and on Monday morning see if they can help. At any rate we can go on sailing. If we need both engines we can use the starboard one and sponge the water out of the bilge later. In the meantime we set sail to Tela, a town that the taxi driver that took us from place to place in Puero Cortez described as: “Muy Bonita” very pretty. On the way we passed a big river estuary and it was interesting to see the border between the sea water and the river water.

Sea and river

Sea and river

Like the previous day the wind only came at midday and we had nice sailing to Tela, finding an anchorage near a resort that had dock we hoped to be able to use with our dinghy. By that time the wind was about 15 knots and swell was entering the bay, making small waves break on th beach. Getting close to the dock we saw that there was no way we could climb it so I drove the dinghy carefully onto the shore, we pulled her behind the tide line and prepared to walk to town. A security man of the resort said we could go to town with the dinghy and enter the river. Why is it that we tend to listen – and believe – everything we are told? The ladies went on foot and Danny and I took the dinghy to the river. Waves were breaking over there too and passing the bar we had to wade in water that had a fair amount of suspected liquids flowing into it from the shore. We found our ladies wandering on the beach and went on to explore Tela. No charm to that town!We did some shopping, had coffees, I had a haircut and was glad when we got back to the boat.

April 27th – Early in the morning saw us motoring on the port engine towards La Ceiba, some 40 miles away. Again, no wind up to midday and then when it came it was too light. When the time came to lower the mainsail it stuck on top for a minute, a thing that happened not long ago and was perplexing because I spent quite a lot of money in Martinique fixing it. We entered through the breakwater into a basin full of fishing boats and found our way to La Ceiba boatyard dock.

La Ceiba entrance

La Ceiba entrance

Then we took the dinghy and went deeper into the river towards Lagoon marina.

La Ceiba marina

La Ceiba marina

When we got there we saw that there was a spot we could squeeze into easily. Surprisingly, we found Rita at the office and she agreed to it. We brought the boat over and after securing her I noticed something wrong with the headboard car on the mainsail. Looking closely I found out it was broken! That was really bad news since it meant we could not use the sail and had to stay put until things will be fixed. Dinner at Arecife, a restaurant not far from the marina, situated in a dark, simple quarter,was surprisingly good.

Broken headboard

Broken headboard

April 28th – I thought that a shipyard whose business was mainly fishing boats will surely have a diesel mechanic in house. Not so here! Giovannni, the manager, took the pump and told me to come back in two hours. Then again at midday. He told me that the mechanic thinks he has a suitable pump and will bring it over soon. At 1530 the story changed, now he said that he sent the guy to town to bring a shaft seal and that he’ personally will bring it to my boat. Nothing of the sort happened. As we sat in the cockpit around five o’clock a man approached, introduced himself as Brent, out of a catamaran called Wild Wind, a Prout Quasar- 49 footer, out of the water in the shipyard. We started talking and when he heard of our pump problem he told us that in a similar situation he used an electric pump. That is an idea worth exploring and since I have one on board we’ll surely give it a try.
In the evening we took a taxi to town to have dinner and a look around. The driver took us to a place that did not look so good so we turned and drove to what was supposed to be the stylish area near the beach. When we sailed past we saw big hotels and from the distance it looked quite nice but close up the contrast between fancy hotels with security all around and a shabby neighborhood said it all. This is third world town, lots of crime and poverty. We knew that before we came here. Ritas family was hit by gunmen last September sitting in a restaurant, her husband Tony, murdered and her daughter wounded, still undergoing therapy. Back to the present – we found a place called “La Palapa”, palapa being a big thatch roofed open air hut, and had our meal there.
Since it did not seem that a solution to the malfunctioning water pump was near, Danny and Karni decided to leave and go on with their plan of touring Costa Rica.

Karni and Dani Kav

Karni and Dani Kav

April 29th – After a lot of soul searching and a consultation with Greg, the marina’s technical man, I decided, with  heavy heart, not to go on sailing without a proper water pump. In aviation we had something called DDG – Dispatch Deviation Guide. This is a manual that dictates to the crew what malfunctions are O.K to fly with and which are “No Go”. Nothing like that on a yacht but a skipper should assess the possible outcome of going out with inoperative systems in various scenarios before making his decision. Having decided to stay in Lagoon marina there was no point in staying in Honduras so we arranged to leave on the 30th. The boat was transferred to a Med Mooring style berth with Rita and Greg orchestrating the repositioning of all the yachts that were previously along-side taking too much space.

Rita

Rita

Greg

Greg

Gili and I started working on the boat, me dismantling the water pump to take home for repair and Gili cleaning the interior to an unprecedented degree. We worked like slaves from 1100 to 1800, that is the joy of sailing…
Future plans? I will be coming back on May 22nd. If I have crew – I’ll go on to Panama, if not – back to Rio Dulce for the hurricane season. For now – Adios! See you in May!

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