Sunday, April 21, 2019

Belize it or not!

The morning we left our slip in Rio Dulce.

We checked out of Guatemala through our agent in Livingston on Thursday 17 January, spent the night at Cabo Tres Puntas across the Bay of Amatique and then on Friday 18 January made the short trip to Punta Gorda, Belize where we checked in. We stayed in Belize for two months leaving on 17 March for the Bay Islands of Honduras.

Our last sunset in Guatemala looking across the Bay before heading to Belize.

We left Catamaran Marina on Wednesday 16 January and headed down the Rio stopping at Texan Bay to spend our first night at anchor in over 7 months. Everything went great and all of our work got

After an hour of motoring we got to sail for the first time since going into the Rio April 2018.

tested successfully. Thursday about midday we up anchored and rode the river down to Livingston where we got our zarpe documents and exit visas.We waited until nearly high tide and with two other boats following us pushed out and over the shallow Livingston Bar and spent our first night back in salt water.

First morning in Placencia.

Friday morning, not too early we up anchored and began our trip to Punta Gorda, Belize. Forecast didn't look favorable for sailing and when we started out the wind was right on our nose. But, it began clocking around (moving clockwise from our bow) and we could motor sail and a short time later it had clocked enough that we could sail. So with all our sails drawing wind we shut down the engine and enjoyed our first of many sails. As we got into the channel for Punta Gorda we dropped our sails and motored into the anchorage.

The windlass motor fixed.

But that's where it goes.

When we went to raise our anchor at Tres Puntas we found the windlass would not run. I was able to get the anchor up manually but we would need to use our secondary anchor until we could get the windlass repaired. I suspected that it was perhaps the brushes in the electric motor which turned out to be the case. But this was just the first thing to go wrong as we began our journey.

Lunch at Barefoot Beach Bar in Placencia on a windy day that we sailed in.

So when we got to Punta Gorda I used our secondary anchor and had trouble getting it to hook. After a few tries it finally did and we along with our friends John and Susie Knowles on buddy boat Summersalt rode in to do our processing. Clearing in was uneventful but it was now getting to be late in the day and clouds were appearing. All the anchorages in the area required good visibility to enter. Another boat friend that had come in after us claimed to have good charts so we followed her for a way until it became clear we would not be able to follow into an anchorage. At that point it was very late in the day, a squall was coming and so we made the decision to make the push all the way to Placencia because it was the only safe anchorage we could enter in the dark.

One of my other major projects was to replace the impeller in the genset. This is the old one.

As soon as we made the decision to go to Placencia and began heading for deep water the squall opened up. It rained so hard the radar was red with rain and winds were 20kts+ right on the nose. We needed to head due east for about 2 hours before we could safely turn north and then Placencia would be about 3 hours away. The rain and wind continued for about 5 hours turning northerly with us and the long fetch inside the Belizean reef brought in high fast swells. We fell off to get lift from our sails and so as to not go directly into the waves and that helped. The rain stopped about an hour before we got to Placencia and since we could get in behind some land the swells subsided. We got the anchor down at 2330 in a relatively flat and quiet anchorage to enjoy a good nights sleep.

Dinner one night at Rick's in Placencia with our friends on Summersalt, John and Susie Knowles.

While bringing up our anchor in Punta Gorda we experienced the next major malfunction. Our deck wash stopped working. Just another item to fix when we got settled.

Our view while having lunch at Maya Beach Resort.

We spent a week in Placencia provisioning, enjoying some of the attractions there and doing boat work. Shortly after we arrived our generator overheated becoming the third major project. After exploring we found the impeller had disintegrated far earlier than expected and the spares that I had were the wrong part. So the first challenge was to find a replacement. After some texts we were able to get the correct part from a friend. Next I had to fish out all the old pieces from the heat exchanger 

Looking at all the boats anchored in Placencia.

which I was able to do with less effort than expected.   With that the genset was up and running quickly. Without it we would have had to go to a marina to keep our batteries fully charged since there were lots of cloudy windless days. We slowly worked through the other tasks getting the windlass and deck wash fixed and a few other things that came up. Placencia is not a bad place to be stuck.

One of our beautiful days flying the spinnaker.

Over the next couple weeks we sailed to some of the places we'd been before along with some new places. We met up with old friends and interchanged with our buddy boat from time to time. Compared to last year the weather was slightly better so we could actually get out to some of the Cays and snorkel and sail. In fact, sailing was great!

The Beach Club at the Reserve became one of our favorite hangouts. Good food and cheap drinks.

Last year we spent a night at Sapodilla Lagoon but did not go to the Beach Club. This year we went to the Beach Club and had a marvelous time each time we went. The Club has a beautiful pool, beautiful beach and great food. There is a development underway by Sapodilla Lagoon of which the Beach Club is a part and the development is under prosecution by the US FTC which has placed

In the sea in front of the Beach Club we found this black sand dollar.

severe strains on the project. But, the homeowners are doing a great job to weather through and keep the place in business hoping for an eventual favorable outcome. But the menu offerings at the Club are exceptional and prices reasonable. Any cruiser should stop by and enjoy the amenities offered. During our time in Belize we spent a few nights in the marina there too. Fees are reasonable and the marina is really very nice.

A beautiful sunset by Sapodilla Lagoon.

Amekaya in her slip with our friends Lequesteau and Mango Jam. 

In the western Caribbean there is a cruiser community just like in other areas. Many of the people are snowbirds that leave their boat in the Rio and cruise in Belize and the Bay Islands for 3-6 months and then return to their land homes up north. In the last 2 years we have gotten to know many of them and we see friends wherever we go. Like us, each year there are some that move on to Panama and beyond or back to the US pursuing other directions. We plan to head to Panama in the Fall and leave this wonderful group of cruisers that we have gotten to know. In Panama there is another group that we are waiting to discover.

Some lobsters we bought from a local fisherman.

After some time in the south part of Belize we headed north on a quest to reach Cay Caulker. Cay Caulker has become almost a mythical destination from lots of the cruisers we know who like it there and from other stories we've heard. We know that the winds are higher in Cay Caulker because it is closer to the reef and that's why it is a favorite of kite boarders

Our lobsters waiting for the grill that we traded for rum.

On the table with butter and broccoli.

So we began our way north with a beautiful close reach all the way from Sapodilla Lagoon to a night in Coulson Cay. We found the snorkeling there limited but while we were snorkeling a panga came up and wanted to trade for lobster. After a little discussion they were wanting to trade 6 lobsters for 1 bottle of rum. So we traded a bottle of Belezian rum (about US$12) for 6 lobsters that they cleaned and split for us. That night we grilled all six and had 2 apiece for dinner and the next night we had lobster pizza. The lobsters were all fresh caught and still moving after they were split.

View of the Pelicans Cays.

On our way to the best conch dinner anywhere at Hideaway Cay.

The next day we had a beautiful broad reach sail from Coulson Cay up to the Drowned Cay where we anchored in the protection of a mangrove creek. Expecting a major wind shift overnight that was

Broad reaching toward Cay Caulker.

unfavorable to the anchorage at Cay Caulker we opted to stop at the Drowned Cays even though they are known for potential crimes from miscreants coming from nearby Belize City. We anchored in 13' of water in a 300' wide creek that had 360 degree protection from swells and wind.  It
was so quiet and peaceful there with an occasional panga going by that the 180 degree wind

Our anchorage in the Drowned Cays.

With our lobster pizza for dinner.

shift almost went by unnoticed. We turned off our anchor light for the night but posted lights on our bow and stern so any boat coming through the creek would see us. We also locked up everything on deck and installed our security gate and we slept peacefully at one of our best night on anchor in quite some time. During the night we got up to check the anchor and saw one of the best views of the Southern Cross we have seen recently.

Looking at Cay Caulker from anchor.

Next morning we were not in a hurry to leave as we would be going through the infamous Porto Stuck. Porto Stuck is a narrow shallow pass between two cays. We wanted to go through just before high tide so that meant getting there by 1400. We decided to up-anchor about 1230 and headed down the creek. As we started with our anchor I noticed a barge going through the channel slowly and thought we may be forced to follow it all the way through Porto Stuck. But, we continued retrieving the anchor and returned to our route from the previous day falling in behind the barge. We tried to follow our waypoints onto the shallow bank that went all the way to Caye Caulker and we almost ran aground near one of the recommended waypoints. I saw the barge off to starboard and thought it might be deeper water and it was even though it was only 6'.

Walking from the split down the main street on Cay Caulker.

By the time we got close to Porto Stuck the barge was several miles ahead of us but moving very slowly. I tried calling them on the radio to tell them I would follow them through Porto Stuck but they never answered the radio call. Then about a mile from Porto Stuck they pulled over and stopped so we could pass. I was hoping they would lead the way but instead we were suddenly put up to find our own way.

Street views on Cay Caulker.

We had several sets of waypoints on our chartplotter from different sources and we had watched a boat on AIS go through the shallows earlier so we had a good idea of how to go through this well identified shoal (who names a pass Porto Stuck for no reason!).  Porto Stuck is a narrow channel through several shoals and sandbars that divides the large shallow flats north of Belize City. So with what little knowledge we had we motored slowly through the shallow water and never grounded coming out the other side and then we motored straight for the anchorage at Caye Caulker.

Our first Cay Caulker sunset from The Split.

We got into the anchorage at Caye Caulker near some friends and dropped the anchor with north winds and bad holding but got our anchor to catch. We planned to be there for over a week with some forecasted heavy winds coming in a few days so we ensured it was well set. But it was now time to reconnect with friends we hadn't seen in weeks.

The Main Street after sunset.

Over the next several days we got caught up with friends from Catamaran Marina back in the Rio as they got us acquainted with Cay Caulker. Cay Caulker is very close to the barrier reef of Belize and is subject to stronger winds and more severe weather than down in Southern Belize which has miles of water and shoals to protect it from the heavy offshore trade winds. Just a few weeks before we traveled to Cay Caulker it had been hit with a squall of northwest winds reaching 70 knots that caused havoc with several boats grounded on shoals or the shore.  That same squall barely registered farther south where we were.

The Split at Cay Caulker.

Cay Caulker is a fun little island with lots of beachy bars and restaurants although no real beach. Most of the people go there for kiteboarding or diving. The big attraction is to go to the Split every afternoon to watch the sunsets. The Split is a cleft between the two parts of Cay Caulker that was caused by a hurricane several years ago and now serves as a midway channel from the front to back of the Cay. The Lazy Lizard has turned the split into a big playground for kids of all ages.

A seahorse on the Seahorse Farm at Cay Caulker.

A couple days after arriving in Cay Caulker we took the ferry to San Pedro on Ambergris Cay to renew our visas. Belize, unlike most other countries only grants permits for 30 days and has a maximum limit of 90 days. We were able to quickly renew our status and had a wonderful day in San Pedro. After getting our official obligations completed we did shopping. We had been recommended

Pizza with our Catamaran Marina dock mates Greg and Caroline from Lequesteau and live entertainment.

to a nice wine shop, a wonderful marine chandlery and we found a wonderful eatery serving our kind of food. Mesa Restaurant had a very eclectic menu at reasonable prices. We could spend more time in San Pedro. But, not much more. I can see why tourists vacationing from winter like it. It's warm, sand everywhere but being used to Guatemala, like everything else in Belize San Pedro was expensive. If you're used to east coast or west coast prices it's cheap.

Downtown San Pedro.

The Beach at San Pedro.

After the first weekend on Cay Caulker the winds came up and until the time we left later that week it was blowing over 20 kts continually which is the normal seasonal trade winds.  The anchorage in Cay Caulker is notorious for its bad holding so we were concerned about the anchor set. But other than 

Scenes from the elbow on Turneffe Island.

checking the anchor everyday we went on about enjoying Cay Caulker. Several of the dive services on the Cay did trips to the atolls. So even though forecasts for the next couple days were for winds in the 25-30 kt range I thought this could be my only chance to get out to the atolls I signed up for a trip to Turneffe Island. Also, by taking our pad with Navionics on it I could get a track through the reef and on the atoll.

A last lunch with our good friends Bert and Dorothy at Maya Beach before we head to Honduras.

In spite of the high winds the trip to Turneffe was rough but not so bad. When we got to the dive site the boat stopped but did not anchor or moor and we jumped in and went straight down without spending time floating on the surface. The dives were incredible. The coral all looked very vibrant and healthy. There were also incredible amounts of sea life including eels and octopuses.

Our sail back south.

In all, the time we spent at Cay Caulker was fun and we're glad we went but it was a long way there and back. After spending a week there we headed south in the high winds. We were able to sail all the way back although we motored through Porto Stuck.

Happy hour with friends on Amekaya one Saturday night shortly before we left.

We had great sailing during our time in Belize. Winds were often heavy but that just made for fast sailing. We had a couple opportunities to sail with our spinnaker and we found some new anchorages.

We checked out of Belize on Friday 15 March after being their for 60 days. There are lots of fun things we got to do in Belize and spent many fun hours with friends. But as we push on to the Bay Islands many more adventures wait.

South Water Cay as we cross the reef.

Cruisers that like the Bahamas will like Belize. Even though it is the most expensive in the western Carib most things are cheaper than in the Bahamas. Lots of north-south sailing in east winds. Out in the Cays the water is clear and pretty. But in Belize you get lots of nice coral reefs that you don't get in the Bahamas. Provisioning is so much easier because unlike the Bahamas, Belize is a real country that grows and makes things so fresh produce is readily available at reasonable costs.

Belize fading into the background.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Finishing boat work and ready to go

Amekaya on the hard for a bottom job.

During the months we were in the Rio and not travelling I was able to finally finish the engine reinsulation project that I started over the summer. The puzzle-like task took lots of thinking to ensure pieces were installed in their correct order. The new insulation was thicker than the old and changed the way pieces fit together. Because of the increased thickness many of the pieces required trimming because they were made from templates of the old pieces. Finally, it's finished and will hopefully last another 10-15 years.

The old pieces of insulation laid out to make templates from plastic sheeting.

The finished engine compartment with new insulation

Another issue I never thought much about was the solenoid for our propane system. I never thought much about it because it seemed to be in good shape. I thought that at some time I would buy a spare

The original solenoid installation.

and then I discovered that the original part was no longer available. Often when an old part isn't available the new part is an easy fit but as I began looking for a replacement, I discovered that a direct match would be unlikely. I contacted the factory to little avail and then wrote to IP guru Norm Pierce who provided some insight on the installation. The big question was the size of the connections.

The old and new fittings with the locally procured one on the left

I borrowed some fittings from a friend with the 2 common size connections (1/4 and 3/8") to check for compatibility. After much effort I was able to disconnect the gas supply hose from the solenoid to try them and found that neither fit.  One was too big and the other too small. So I ordered the solenoid that had a 5/16" fitting through the West Marine store here in the Rio and the part actually got here quickly.

The old solenoid removed.

I tried that fitting on the supply hose and it fit. Hurrah! But now I had to get the existing solenoid off to get access to the flange on the line to the stove. To do that I had to destroy the solenoid so I could get a wrench on the flange. It’s always a leap of faith when you have to destroy the existing and functioning part to install a new one. The 5/16" connector fit the flange but the other connection in the solenoid kit was 3/8". Having destroyed the working solenoid I had no working solenoid, no way to make it work and most importantly no way to use the stove. All the connections on the old solenoid 5/16". Here in Guatemala many people cook wood or charcoal but lots of people cook with propane. So, gas is readily available and so are parts. I found a gas service shop where I was able to get the exact connection I needed, installed it and we can cook again.

The new installation

We are again enjoying the holidays here in Guatemala as we accomplish our boat tasks and wait for our new batteries. The weather has cooled off immensely from the summer and is in fact cool with highs some days only reaching the low 70'sF. There are many beautiful days with nice blue skies, warm temps and a nice breezes but too cold to swim. We decorated the boat for Christmas and enjoyed several parties. The Gualtematacas celebrate with families and lots of fireworks. For the time between the holidays the Rio fills with holiday celebrants from the City coming to their national playground.

Decorated for the holidays.

Our biggest project that kept us in the Rio much longer than planned was our replacement batteries. After I left in August to return to the US the boat was at Catamaran Marina. We paid the marina for their staff to check our boat and service it weekly. Among the tasks to complete was to check the power and ensure everything that should be on was. We left the fridge on but unfortunately the power wasn’t checked, our battery charger was off and the batteries died.

Finally our new batteries arrived.

We checked the batteries and only one was actually bad but the rule is they all need to be replaced because the old ones will wear down the new one. In October we spoke with Karen at RAM and she told me they had six new Grp 31 AGM batteries. I asked her if she could hold them because I did not want to install them until December when we would be ready to leave. She said she would order more so when we installed their inventory she would have more to sell.

The original battery installation had neatly run rows of cable with the batteries aligned.

When we visited her in December after our travels, we were advised they had sold one and would have to order more. Into the second week of January and the batteries had still not arrived with no firm date available. We had found another store in town that had the batteries and were able to get them installed in a few days.

The new installation with wires running in multiple directions but it works.

The installation was a challenge because the new batteries were bigger than the old but they required a confusing array of cabling to make them work. But they are in and working wonderfully.
During the hiatus we had all our canvas cleaned and the isinglass polished by one of the canvas shops in town, we had a local contractor sand and apply a maintenance coat of Cetol to our teak and had our fuel cleaned to ensure there was no lingering issue from the water we suffered when we filled back in April. Our canvas looks great, the teak looks great and our fuel had no traces of water! Yay! We’re ready to roll.

The refinished teak

Two engine related tasks that needed to be accomplished were repacing the engine impeller and cleaning the fuel. I checked my log and was not sure exactly when the impeller had been changed. The last record I had of it was 3 years ago. But, a year after that we had completed a 1000 hour service which should have included changing the impeller but I hadn't noted it separately. On examination it was clear the impeller needed to be changed.  

The old impeller before removal.

Since April when we resolved the fuel issue  there has been no evidence of water or dirt. But as a precaution we had the fuel and tank cleaned and found no water and only a little dirt. Hopefully, it will prevent any problems while we're cruising.

The photo doesn't show how clean the bottom of the was after the cleaning.

Everything on the boat was checked, everything worked and we felt confident in leaving.
Knowing we had a good tide and a relatively calm weather window we untied the dock lines on 16 January and motored down the river to Texan Bay for the night and the next day left the Rio for Belize. How great to be off cruising in salt water after spending 9 months on the Rio.