Voyage to Belize

Voyage to Belize

6 May 2016, and we are now in Belize, off of tiny Ranguana Cay, a palm covered island covering maybe two acres. The wind is from the northwest at 15 knots, kicking up an uncomfortable chop. So we bob on the anchor, waiting for a favorable wind to head northwest.

The sailing life is not all fun and games. Our departure from Guatemala was badly delayed while a boat improvement project—a fiberglass bimini (a partial roof over the cockpit) with 390 watts of solar power mounted on top of it—took longer than expected. We’re not talking a few hours here. The project was scheduled to take 2 weeks, and the contractor delivered promptly in the middle of week 10. On the upside, it seems to be an awesome bimini, and our battery banks recharge fully on all but the most overcast days.

(Contrast this to Jack London’s experience, described in his book, Cruise of the Snark: “It was planned that the Snark should sail on October 1, 1906. That she did not so sail was inconceivable and monstrous. There was no valid reason for not sailing except that she was not ready to sail, and there was no conceivable reason why she was not ready. She was promised on November first, November fifteenth, on December first, and yet she was never ready…. Eight weeks became sixteen weeks, and then, one day, Roscoe cheered us up by saying, ‘If we don’t sail before April first, you can use my head for a football.’ Two weeks later he said, ‘I’m getting my head in training for the match.’’” [Ultimately, the Snark, nowhere near completed, set sail on 23 April 1907—6 months later than planned, and full of never used but nonfunctional equipment, including an engine and a winch for pulling up the anchor.])

While waiting, we had some maintenance work done on our steering system. That, too, turned into something of a contractor fiasco—when we launched, turning the helm to port turned Rocinante to starboard, and turning the helm to starboard turned Rocinante to port. Even in an older yacht crewed by two biologists, reverse steering is a less than desirable feature. But a couple of hours of effort corrected the contractor’s sins, or at least that particular sin, and for now it is behind us. (Jack London also had some less than flattering words to share about boat contractors—little has changed in the boat contracting world in the century that has passed since the Snark set sail.)

While our contractors were busy, we were busy too. We painted our anchor locker and our starboard cockpit locker, and we built a new mizzen boom using a piece of local wood (which required laminating three planks to get the required strength), did some woodwork, downsized our ever shrinking collection of possessions by giving some items that we no longer needed to the nonprofit that is installing solar panels in remote Mayan villages (Pass It On), etc. And we took Spanish lessons for a week in beautiful Flores, a lakeside town in northern Guatemala.

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[image caption=”Bill building the boom”][/image]
[image caption=”Lisanne doing some other boat chores”][/image]

At the end of April, we sailed down the Rio Dulce. Our friend Rogelio, who lives on the west coast of Guatemala but works as a caretaker on a yacht in the Rio Dulce for 2 months out of every 4, came along for the ride downriver. Along the way he told us of his adventures as an illegal alien working in the US. If Rogelio is anything like a typical illegal working in the US, Donald Trump might want to rethink his position.

That night, in Cayo Quemado, 10 miles above the mouth of the river, we swam in what was the most remarkable bioluminescence either of us has ever seen. Bear in mind that we have seen our share of bioluminescence, but this was way outside the norm. Imagine a pale greenish aura, about 6 inches thick, surrounding every part of your body in the water, and you have it. Really amazing.

The next morning we sailed for Livingston, at the mouth of the river, passing through the Rio Dulce’s famous gorge. Toucans flew overhead, along with parrots, king fishers, cormorants, egrets, pelicans, and others.

We dropped Rogelio off in Livingston, filed our clearing out paperwork, and sailed in what started as fair winds from the east toward Placencia in Belize, where we hoped to clear in and connect with some friends from Alaska. By midday, the east winds had swung to the northeast, straight out of Placencia, and strengthened to over 20 knots, so we anchored in a cove behind a mangrove island. The cove was charted as shallow water, but we couldn’t find anything less than about 20 feet of depths right up to the shoreline, and it turned out to be a fine anchorage for the night. The next day followed a similar pattern, with favorable winds in the morning and strong winds right on the nose in the afternoon, so once again we pulled into the shelter of a mangrove cove—this one called Monkey River Cove, just beyond No-Name Point. Another short sail brought us to Placencia.

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[image caption=”City of Flores peninsula”][/image]
[image caption=”Typical mayan house in the Rio Dulce canyon”][/image]
[image caption=”Dropping off Rogelio in Livingston”][/image]
[image caption=”Pelican on fisherman boat in Livingston”][/image]

We joined our friends from Alaska who had hired a charter boat in Placencia and sailed back to Monkey River Cove for the night. And since then, we’ve been bouncing around a bit, letting the winds dictate how far we go each day, and even whether we go or just stay.

A late season norther came through one night, with strong winds and lightening, bringing with it the gift of a sleepless night, but our anchor held well—snorkeling on the anchor the morning after the blow, we could see that it had not moved an inch. That same morning, an exhausted bird landed on Rocinante but had the energy to fly into the main cabin, and, as far as we know, back out through one of the portholes. We found another exhausted bird, a warbler of some sort, resting on our deck. Two days later, it was still resting, and it didn’t seem to be taking the food or water that we left for it. We considered euthanizing it, but before we could act it died on its own, and we gave it a dignified burial at sea (i.e., I tossed it over the transom).

Which brings us to last night, when another squall blew through around 10 PM, weaker than the norther but still enough to get our attention. Out on deck, while looking at the squall, we saw four eagle rays swimming on the surface, circling our boat, almost rubbing against the hull. And tonight, we lowered a light into the water, drawing in nine of the rays, and collectively they lured us into the water, where they occasionally bumped us as they calmly swam. Eagle rays are common and we swim with them often, but it is nice to be with them while they circle Rocinante, flying through the water without a care (granted, they have pretty small brains), their wing tips occasionally breaking the surface, their spots glowing in our light beams, reminding us of why we put up with boat contractors, unfavorable winds, and interminable repairs.

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[image caption=”Ranguana Cay in Belize”][/image]
[image caption=”Eagle rays around our boat”][/image]

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