Log #54e Down to Belize

April 14, 2012 in Log Series 50-59, Logs by Series, Series 54, The Logs

Mission to Seafarers, Toronto Canada

April 14, 2012

Hi Folks,

We are back here in Toronto probably until the end of May before we head off with our trailer to the Yukon and Alaska. We are ensconced in our 26 foot trailer here at the Mission to Seafarers in the Port of Toronto. Both the GMC Yukon and the trailer wintered well here at the Mission, starting up immediately once we installed the batteries. We have a few speaking engagements in the area. If you can make it, the most public one will be at Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club at 7:30 on Thursday April 26 when we will be talking about our trip down the east coast from Newfoundland to Belize. You can phone me now here at 647 992 2668, or Judy’s cell phone at 647 808 7321. It is good to see friends and family while we are back, especially as when we leave in May, we might not be back for a few years as we will be cruising and trailering on the west coast for a while.

Veleda is safely put away on a mooring in Gringo Bay on the Rio Dulce with a local person keeping an eye on it and opening it up to check and air it out each month. We are fine here in the trailer, and are looking forward to our trek out west.

This log gets us into Belize, formerly called British Honduras. I hope you enjoy it.

Aubrey

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Log #54e Down to Belize

Toronto, Canada

April 12, 2012

We left the atoll of Chinchorro Bank Feb. 14th, after waiting two days for the winds to settle down. They didn’t, and we did not want to spend another night in this open atoll. It was too rough to go swimming or snorkelling. We launched the dinghy to go around to the coast guard navy station on Cayo Norte, a half mile away, to enquire about weather. Not good! It was too rough to leave the dinghy on their pier to explore the island, and so we just returned to Veleda and left early next morning in a slightly calmer wind of about ten knots. We traced our GPS line north, out the way we entered as we knew it was OK, and then turned south for a good eight hour sail the 45 miles down to anchor off Xcalak (18 16.733N, 087 49.893W). En route I heard a thump on the bimini but couldn’t figure out its source. When we dropped the main before going through the reef passage we saw a shackle from our topping lift in the bimini. That could be replaced and we were able to furl sail without the topping lift. However, the boom fell on top of one of our solar panels, cracking it and causing all the lines between the cells to go fuzzy. We still do not know how much that impairs the output of that panel.

Xcalak is a small Mexican village with only dirt roads, and no restaurants or tourist amenities. (See the attached pictures of the dock with navy patrol boat and an iguana on the rocks.)
Log_54e_Iguana_on_rocks_at_Xcalak                                                          Log_54e_Terns_and_patrol_boat_on_dock_at_Xcalak
The only reason we stopped there was to complete our out routine for leaving Mexican waters. Next day, after we found the office (not in the area indicated in our pilot book) and did the formalities, we replaced the shackle at the top of the topping lift, and spent a quiet night not exposed to the heavy winds and waves we experienced at Chinchorro Bank. However in the morning we had a heavy time of it going out the passage through the reefs, as we were pounding into a 15 knot wind and 3 metre (ten foot) waves at the opening into open water. When we got out into the open water we were able to sail with a full main, but a 50% reefed genoa, until shortly after noon hour when we dropped the sails and again had to identify the channel leading between the reefs to anchor off San Pedro in Belize. It was a bouncy anchorage, as the many tourist boats and small ferries did not slow down to try to reduce their wakes. We dinghied ashore to this lively tourist town to do our paper work entry routine at the local airport right next to the town. Both customs and immigration were in the same building, and the routine was quite easy, especially as we could use English here. We took a couple of officials out to Veleda for their inspection, getting them a bit wet from the wakes of the power boat traffic. The cost was nominal, at $100.00 Belize dollars (the equivalent of $50.00 US).There were no other cruising boats at anchor, and only a few other charter sail boats at moorings along the town waterfront.

 We had a delicious ceviche at the local bar on the pier where we left our dinghy, but while finishing a beer, a man approached us to ask if we were from the boat out at anchor. Yes, we were. He then indicated he was with the harbourmaster’s office and that there was a daily fee for being in Belize waters. He was not in uniform, but had all the receipt books to collect our fee, so we assumed he was legitimate. There is a new fee in Belize for cruisers of $5.00 Belize per day! We could pay whatever we wished for our anticipated time in Belize. If we stayed over that period, the balance would be payable when we do our exit routine. So we paid for two weeks, and got an appropriate receipt which we could show upon our exit and pay any extra or get a refund if not in the country that long. OK!

It was not as expensive as the Bahamas, but was an unexpected expense.

San Pedro is a pleasant tourist town with plenty of restaurants, souvenir shops, tourist agencies, and a lively beach strip which people can wander, edged by hotels and restaurants with balconies overlooking the sandy strip. We got mixed messages about the potability of the tap water on the docks. We weighed anchor to go up to a fuel dock for fuel, but instead of getting water from their tap, we bought ten 5 gallon bottles of water and poured them into our tanks. It was heavy work lugging the bottles down the dock into Veleda and pouring them in without making too much of a mess. When we left, we anchored further in, hoping to avoid the many boat wakes. However, we did not go in far enough, so the ferry left from its dock and went full speed around our anchored boat several times a day, giving no consideration for the wake it put out. This was a factor causing us to leave after the second night to head 12 miles south, but inside the reef, to Cayo Caulker, a much pleasanter location.

However the second day there in San Pedro, we went on an excellent snorkel trip down to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and to Shark Ray Alley. The park restrictions do not allow private boats to anchor there, otherwise we would have done the trip ourselves. The term  “Shark Ray Alley” was no exaggeration as is was open water about ten feet deep where we swam with dozens of sharks six to ten feet long and a variety of stingrays and leopard rays wafting along the sandy bottom. The dive master had a food canister that the rays bounced around the bottom, allowing some of the snorkelers to stroke their undulating wings while colourful tropical fish wandered around in small schools. The water was quite clear and warm. At least here in Belize we did not have to wear life jackets while snorkelling, thus allowing us to dive to the bottom to swim in the midst of the schools of fish, hover over the sting rays, and drift along following some of the large brown sharks (they were bashful and gently swam away from us).

We then went to the reefs of the Reserve, led by the dive master, to swim around glorious reef canyons with depths from 5 to 30 feet deep. Apparently the reefs along this stretch are actually recovering, thanks to the efforts of the reserve and the climate. The reefs were the usual National Geographic colourful structures including the convoluted brain coral and the elegant spread of stag coral, with wafting sea fans of blue, purple, pink and silver. We saw the many colourful tropical fish darting in and out of the coral crevices. Underneath a couple of coral overhangs we saw the ferocious green head of a watchful moray eel, and a lobster tucked in as far as it could to escape our watchful eyes.  It was a very good reef dive.

Next day before we left, we went ashore for breakfast, then over town to refill our propane tank. It is a pleasant town with a variety of resorts, bed and breakfasts, and economical oldfashioned rooming houses. San Pedro is located on Ambergris Caye, separated from the Mexican coast by a channel leading into Chetumal Bay. The caye is like an extended peninsula sheltering the long large bay leading several miles up the north coast of Belize to the Mexican border town at Chetumal.  For the tourist there are water taxis and tourist launchas for local travel, including to the many cayes down the reef line, as well as ferries going to Chetumal, Caye Caulker, and down to Belize City. There is a “yacht club” but we saw no boats at the exposed docks and didn’t bother checking it out. All the docks on the waterfront of San Pedro would be subject to the surges and wakes of the inconsiderate power boats and ferries. At least with anchoring, we were not bashing against a dock. Perhaps had we gone further in we might have been out of the heavy traffic, but the channel was shallow. We even grounded going from our anchorage to the fuel dock, and so did not want to risk going further up the channel. It is a nice town, but a bumpy anchorage. We found a much better anchorage in the even more pleasant Caye Caulker next day.