Log #56g Placentia, Belize to Roatan, Honduras

March 4, 2013 in Log Series 50-59, Logs by Series, Series 56, The Logs

Toronto, Canada

March 16, 2013

Hi Folks,

We are still here until the end of the month. Judy had her MRI last week, and we just got the report yesterday. We had to sort through the medical jargon with our family doctor, with such terms as marrow signal intensity, cerebellar tonsils, bilateral facet osteoarthritis, neural foramina, all of which when put together suggest no need for surgery, and that exercising should control any discomfort. However, we were concerned about one statement of “severe right foraminal narrowing secondary to a large uncovertebral osteophyte with probable right C6 nerve root impingement” with the word “severe” worrying us. I assume the word “impingement” confirms our layman’s diagnosis of a “pinched nerve”. We considered a referral to a neurosurgeon, but on second thought with the input of our family doctor and the fact that exercise has helped Judy back to fully functional with minimal discomfort, we decided to head back to Veleda, and resume our sailing plans unless this flares up again.

We have made flight arrangements to Roatan for Saturday, March 30, arriving at 1:30 pm, but for the first time ever, we took out cancellation insurance, just in case anything comes up between now and when we leave. It will be good to get back to Veleda.

This log also gets us back to the Bay Islands of Honduras from Belize, an arduous passage.

All the best,

Aubrey

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Log #56g Placentia, Belize to Roatan, Honduras

Toronto, Canada

March 4, 2013

Our friend Linda left early Jan. 17 at 0600 to catch a local puddle jumper to fly to the main airport in Belize City. However, when she got there 90 minutes before her flight, there was no one at the airport. So, after waiting around for someone to open up she made her flight connections to Belize City and on to Toronto.

The night Linda left was one of the worse nights we have had at anchor. The wind had shifted and was now coming from the southeast, creating metre high swells that were coming around the island at a slightly different heading from the wind. This resulted in a very uncomfortable pounding and rolling, as bad as if we were in a force 8 gale, even though the wind speed was only about 15 knots. I refused to stay at anchor there next day as the wind was predicted to keep up for a few more days. I thought of either leaving the area for a more sheltered anchorage or going inside the canal in the offlying island. This canal which goes through the island is part of a failed resort development with over 200 metres of good solid dock space on each side, but only four condos built and occupied. The rest of the dock was empty. I planned to go alongside on this long dock stretch. When we were in town I was telling a tour guide about our intentions and a gentleman overhearing said he owned one of the empty lots and that I would be welcome to use the dock in front of his property. So we weighed anchor and went the few hundred metres into the island channel, leaving about twenty other boats still bobbing and weaving in the uncomfortable swells in the anchorage

While we were alongside, another Canadian dinghied in and we told him why we were there. He came in too, and was welcomed by one of the owners in a finished condo to tie up at the dock adjacent to his. This owner even let him hook up to the electricity and water that serviced all the entire dock space. We did not bother to hook up. I wandered over the dock of this stalled development  and into the boardwalk through the mangrove bushes (see picture of termite nest along the board walk).

                                                        

It is unfortunate that this project is so badly stalled. It was started about five years ago, but only four individual condos are built. I think most of the properties have been purchased, but not developed, and the large multi-condo buildings advertised have not been started. Faded billboards advertise the lavish completed plans. The infrastructure of the docks, water, electricity, a marina office with working showers, and a dockside gazebo are all in place, but no further development so far.

The town did not want cruise ships to come, but it looks as if they have lost that battle. A new town dock and marina are in progress to accommodate the small boats that will ferry passengers ashore. However this project seems to be going at a snail’s pace. The pilings are being filled with concrete using wheelbarrows taken out on small rafts to pour into the shafts. There was a major delay last year when a crane on a barge toppled over into the water.

There has been a port development a few miles south in Big Creek where a channel for merchant ships has been dredged and port facilities are under development. But this project too has been ongoing for a few years and not near completion yet. Ships have to anchor offshore and offload their cargo and containers onto barges that are then towed ashore. The infrastructure for customs and immigration are in place just outside of this port area, and would be a good location for cruisers to check in or out of the country. However, there are no facilities for yachts or their dinghies to go alongside to access these services. I’m not sure if there are any plans for such small boat accommodation. It would be a good idea as there are no convenient facilities to check in or out of the country from Belize City south past Placencia. Remember in Belize City, from previous logs, how we had to pay the taxi fares for the officials to come to the boat? San Pedro, north of Belize City, is the only port of entry where one can dinghy ashore and walk to the customs and immigration services, and dinghy officials out if an inspection is warranted.

Belize is also expensive, as I outlined in my previous log, “Thus the total we paid in US dollars was $20+50+ 35+30+30+25 = $190.00 for a 16 day stay in Belize.” However, Belize is a lovely destination with friendly people, good sailing, anchorages, snorkeling and diving, and in addition, English is spoken. To check out we had to take a water taxi over to Big Creek and a land taxi to the customs and immigration where we had to pay another $20.00 for the four extra days we stayed in Belize.

We spent two quiet nights in the canal dock, a short dinghy ride across from the town dock, where we enjoyed the Caribbean take-out from the friendly eatery on shore where Brenda had a local special each day in addition to her salads, fried plantains, dirty rice (rice with a brown sauce and black beans), all done on a barrel barbecue. She starts the barbecue about 10:00 each morning and cuts and dices the vegetables and meats, cooking the meats for over an hour to be mixed with her spicy sauces and simmered for the rest of the day for a delicious stew served from about 11:00 to mid-afternoon. Sometimes she stays open longer before closing up and leaving all her pots and pans, spices, and charcoal in her open, wooden bamboo slatted shelter. Our last night there she stayed open as it was a community celebration of her birthday; she put on an evening spread with a big pot of rum punch, constantly being filled with more rum and fruit mixes. We had a good time with her and her friends, some of whom brought small gifts. A chap played a guitar and we had a good sing song, and of course sang “Happy Birthday” when the big cake was brought out (see attached pictures of her party).

       

We enjoyed the seafood at Omar’s, a down-to-earth local restaurant, bringing our drinks from the bar next door, ending each of the two meals we had there with delicious ice cream from a tempting, modern, well designed gellateria . Each day we spent an hour or so at the Coffee House for good coffee and tea as well as their croissants, muffins, and bagels while we used their WiFi for E-mail and reading a couple of Canadian newspapers on line (see attached picture of the Above Grounds Coffee House).

The swells lasted for over three days, but were down a bit the day we left for Roatan. We motored out of the anchorage, past the couple of ships unloading their containers onto barges, and down the coast before heading out through the reef. The passage we took through the reef is about ten nautical miles from Placencia, a nautical mile southeast of a small coral island according to our charts and the GPS. There are no navigation aids at the 200 yard natural opening through the reefs. There were a couple of fishing boats anchored in the lee of the island, as there was a stiff 15 knot wind from the northwest. As we approached the island and the opening (which we could not visually see, and the seas were too rough to gage the depths of the bottom), we could see white water swelling around a submerged reef ahead to port, but we did not know on which side of the disturbed water lay the passage, or if in fact the white water was at the edge of the opening with possibly reefs extending from it. The reef extended in a northeast-southwest direction, but could not be seen from the surface. 

About three miles from the island and the passage through the reef our GPS froze up! We still had our mainsail and genoa up and the engine was in gear. We could DR our course from the position where the GPS died, but was it reliable? As we approached closer to the underwater reef, I was very nervous and was just about to change my mind and head to the island to drop the hook, and maybe ask for some local guidance from the fishermen. We had furled the genoa and were about to head to the island when the GPS found our position, and started responding. But, was it reliable? Judy also confessed that the waypoints she had entered were a best “guesstimate” of the waypoints before and past the passage to follow, as the chartlet did not have coordinates, and the GPS charting for this entire area is approximate.

We went dead slow as we approached what we thought was the entrance through the reef. I left the frothing water well to port, but was unsure how wide the passage was and how far the reef extended underwater from the surface disturbance. I watched as the depth sounder showed shallower water. Judy indicated the depths would get down to about eight feet. This is not a marked or dredged channel, but just an irregular break in the hundred mile reef system at this point. The chart on the GPS did not have much detail and I was just hoping that there were no coral heads scattered in the channel to snag our boat as we slowly went through the shallows of the opening. The depths went from 30 to 15 feet, then down to 10, 9, 8, and 7, bouncing between 7 and 9 feet for a hundred yards or so as we inched over this shallow, lumpy water, hoping we were heading in the right direction (SE) through the channel. If the depths continued to shallow we did not know which way we should turn to get into deeper water. The three foot swells did not help anything, for if we grounded we did not know if it would be soft sand or solid coral. The depths stayed between 7 and 9 feet for an agonizingly long period of time, before fluctuating between 8 to 12 feet, then 10 to 13 feet, then finally 15 to 20 feet. We were through!

It was a great sense of relief as we got out into open water that late afternoon on our way diagonally southeast to the Bay Islands of Honduras, another 90 miles to go.

It wasn’t easy!  We initially had the wind with us, a northerly which allowed a broad reach on our southeasterly course. During the night it veered to the southeast, right on our nose, creating three metre seas as we pounded into the 20 knot winds. Judy’s course took us north of Utila, a small island west of Roatan. I queried going south of Utila so we would have a harbour of refuge closer (there are no anchorages or harbours on Utila’s north coast) if needed, but Judy was concerned for the reefs that extended out the  from the west tip of the Island. As we passed north of Utila in the morning, we were still pounding into the winds and seas, with another 25 miles to go to Roatan.


I made an executive decision to alter course to go around the east end of Utila and back to its relatively sheltered harbour (sheltered from this southeasterly wind) still ten miles away, but at least in a good direction relative to the wind. With a sense of relief after our twenty-two hour overnight heavy sail, we anchored off Bush’s grocery store and gas dock in the middle of town. We dinghied ashore and walked to the customs and immigration offices just down the street. It is easy to check in at Utila as the office is downtown (and at no cost!). Unfortunately in Roatan there is no satisfactory anchorage for sailboats in Coxen’s Hole where customs and immigration are located, and a taxi has to be taken from French Cay Harbour to check in there.

The anchorage was sheltered from the wind and we enjoyed a quiet night at anchor. In the morning we dinghied to the gas dock for some fuel and a few last minute items from the grocery store before weighing anchor for our final 25 mile passage over to Roatan and French Cay Harbour, our favorite anchorage.