Thursday, July 5, 2018

As we left Livingston and traveled up the Rio Dulce this time our trip was not as thrilling as it was our first time last year. The lush jungle foliage was there, the beautiful river, the unique jungle houses with their activity but this time the trip carried a significance that was missing before. We knew that we had a very short time to get the boat ready so we could leave to fly back to the US and we knew the return to the States carried with it lots of undesirable conditions. The first being that it would be very cold compared to the 90+ degrees in the Rio but more importantly the uncertainty of the outcome of Linda's spine surgery.

The beautiful Rio Dulce.

Our buddy boat, Livin Life started up the river ahead of us from Livingston but we soon passed them as we raced to get into the anchorage before dark. After our tranquil night in Texan Bay we continued up the river to Fronteras with Livin Life getting out ahead of us. When we got near Shell Bay we watched them pull into the fuel dock on AIS so we slowed down to give them a chance to fill up before we arrived. As they left, we tied up at the fuel dock to complete the first task of our return. We pulled into the marina with dock hands motioning for us to back into the dock across from the fuel dock. We learned it wasn't really us they were calling. Another boat backed into our soon-to-be slip to get hauled and then were pulled into the well. While we were fueling and looking at the dock where

The shores of Livingston.

we were going to be berthed another boat came in without permission and tied up in our spot waiting to be hauled out. So when we finished fueling we asked the marina about our berth because they didn't want us sitting at the fuel dock. Deciding not to ask the other boat to leave they let us remain at the fuel dock wasting about 2 hours of valuable time we needed to get our boat put to bed. Finally they left our slip to be hauled out and we got in but by then it was late in the afternoon and we were unable to get any of our outside chores done. As in most of the tropics night falls early so with little more than an hour of daylight the outside tasks would be deferred.

Nothing changed on the street in Fronteras.

Our initial plan was to fly back to the States for 2 months and then fly back after Linda had her surgery. We would come back and spend about 2 months on the boat while she recuperated but then we needed to fly back to the States in late August for medical follow-ups, travel around to visit family and attend my 50th High School reunion scheduled for August.  This meant our boat would be in place for about six months so we needed to prepare it for that despite the fact we would be there for part of the time.

The preparation chores included: removing, cleaning and stowing the sails; removing as many outside lines as possible and replacing with messenger lines; covering up as much of the boat and running rigging as possible; prep the dinghy; fill the fuel and water tanks; clean the boat inside and out; service all mechanical equipment; setup the AC air conditioning in the companionway to keep the boat cool and dry; and implement a pest control plan. We needed to do this while we continued living on the boat and packing for our uncertain trip.

We had our cockpit cushions recovered. 2 day turnaround.

Over 2 days I was able to get much of the outside work done, service the engine (the genset had recently been serviced) and Linda started on cleaning the inside of the boat. On the 3rd morning we were at the dock listening to the local cruisers net when our boat was hit by a boat that was trying to get onto the fuel dock. There was no wind or current but somehow the pilot was unable to negotiate his 36' boat to the fuel dock 25' away without hitting us. When we ran out on deck the crew on the other boat was yelling at us in French as if it was our fault for being in their way. This was the second time we were hit while tied to the dock across from the fuel dock. Last year we were hit by a local lancha taking off from the fuel dock. So we asked the marina manager to be tied elsewhere.

On Saturday as our worked continued in earnest there was an opening on another dock and the marina agreed for us to move so we would be away from the fuel dock. When the dock hands arrived to help us I started our engine and while it was warming up it died.  After several failed attempts to start the engine we let the dock hands manually move our boat from one dock to the other and get us into our new slip. Quite disgusted I deferred until the next morning to begin an investigation of the engine issue.

The next morning I began looking at the fuel system and the likely culprit appeared when I removed the filters. As I removed the filters the villain was obvious. We had water in our fuel. Not a little water like from condensation but enough that the fuel didn't smell like diesel fuel and looked like milk.  I spoke to the marina manager and she suggested I get an independent mechanic that worked around the marina to come look at our boat because clearly we had something wrong with our boat to get that kind of water in the fuel. The marina denied any possibility that it was their fuel. I also contacted a contractor that had the capability to polish the fuel to come by to try and see if we could get the water out.   

Our farewell dinner with our friends at Dreamcatchers in the jungle.

With our need to get ready to leave we tried to expedite every action. The mechanic came by early Monday morning and could not find any possible source of contamination from our boat. He even commented about how unusual it was to see an engine compartment as clean as ours. But, he was unwilling to tell the marina that he could find no source of water from our engine or on our boat and it was probably their fuel.  Later in the day we began the process of removing the fuel from the tank for polishing with the contractor and in a short while he removed quarts of water. His machine consisted of 2 large water separation filters and even though he got lots of water out much passed through.

Working on the engine.

We pulled out about 2/3rds of the tank for cleaning. Then ran it back through the filters a second time and into the tank. Later that evening we bled the fuel lines and were able to get the engine to at least turnover. But, we decided that the only thing to do was pull out all the fuel the next day, Tuesday and replace it. So the next morning we removed 160 gals of diesel fuel until the tank was completely empty. Then by hand I poured fuel back in through a triple Filter designed to remove water and dirt. I poured in about 30 gals, bled the fuel lines again, changed the filters, bled the lines and we got the engine to run.  We ran it for about 20 mins.

Next day, Wednesday, I was able to go back to the fuel dock and refill the tank running all the fuel through a water-fuel separator and motored back into our slip. Over the next few months I will need to continue running the engine and drain off water and dirt changing the filters frequently to restore the fuel to a reliable condition.

Though we were able to fix the problem It cost me almost an entire tank of diesel, time for our mechanics and most importantly our time that we needed to get ready to leave. Meanwhile the marina continues to deny there was anything wrong with its fuel but has no explanation for how it got there other than that I might have added water to the fuel.

Schedules collided as we crashed getting all our chores done getting ready to leave while working the fuel issue because we had a local woman come in on Tuesday to help Linda clean the inside of the boat. So working around the challenges of the fuel issue Linda got done what she could leaving a big portion of the work for after we could close up the engine compartment. But that night we took a break for a few hours and had dinner with several of our friends before we left to come back to the States on Thursday.

Wednesday we wrapped up the cleaning, got the fuel tank filled, packed and did all the last minute stuff we needed to for leaving at 0530 the next morning. So after a lot of stress, scurrying around  on last minute details, trying to see friends and packing we finally crashed late Wednesday night with some assurance the engine and the boat should be ok.

After a few hours of sleep we were up, finished packing and closed up the boat. As many boaters know closing the boat is a very sad time. We really hate to be leaving our home to unforseen risks and threats until we return. We really enjoy being onboard our home and really enjoy being in Guatemala. It's tough to leave but it helps knowing we will be back and better for the future.

At 0530 we were waiting and Otto our driver arrived. We have used Otto for going to and from the airport because he is great. A local businessman from Fronteras he shows up early, is very helpful and knows how to provide great customer service. This is our 5th trip with him and we have recommended him to others and we will of course continue to use him.

Our flights back were uneventful although we were able to get upgraded on both of them and try out the new American Flagship Lounge in Miami. But, these amenities did not soften the blow of landing with temperatures in the 30's and getting ready for what's next.

Our next blog article will be about our time in the States. But we would rather be back on the Rio with friends or cruising the Caribbean.

Last sunset in the Rio for a while.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

After enjoying the Bay Islands, home again

So much has happened since our last blog update. So much fun that has now been put on hold for another day. So please read on and follow our fun-filled time in the Bay Islands and our travel back to the Rio in prep for return to the States.

We left Utila on 12 March after spending a great week there diving and enjoying the wonderful little places on the island. We headed out with little wind and a general swell heading to the eastern end of Roatan to stay at Jonesville Point Marina for about a week to do some maintenance, refresh a few things and get familiar with Roatan. We had visited the island 6 years ago and stayed with friends on the east end but we had to reconnect as cruisers.

Mountains on the Honduran Mainland visible from Utila.

We started out with a little wind ahead of us that enabled us to sail for an hour or so before it dropped to nothing. Then we motored. The distance between Utila and Roatan is about 20 miles at the nearest point with Roatan lying to the northeast and farther from the Honduran mainland. On the Honduran mainland are high mountains that are visible frequently on Utila as they were when we left but we watched as they became shrouded in haze as the day wore on. Very shortly after rounding the southeast point of Utila we began to see the hills of Roatan rising out of the water. For most of the trip we could see Pumpkin Hill of Utila, the only high spot on the island and the hills of Roatan at the same time. Roatan is like a long mountain with various peaks along its ridge as it sits in an almost east-west alignment off the coast.

Fading view of Pumpkin Hill.

Roatan West End in the distance.

Roatan, with Utila and its sister Guanaja form the Bay Islands of Honduras. The islands were actually British for many years before being turned over to Honduras. The old-time residents on the islands speak a form of English that is very similar to that spoken in portions of the Chesapeake Bay, Bahamas, Jamaica, Belize and the Caymans. Most likely because the inhabitants were separated from the mother country by hundreds of years. There are many Spanish-speaking inhabitants who also speak English because of the large influx of tourists to the islands. In fact, the only 2 people we found on the islands speaking mostly Spanish were the Immigration Officer and Port Captain. Probably being government officials they were required to transact in Spanish. Most prices everywhere were even listed in US$.

With Amekaya at the dock, Linda at the bar I am washing down Amekaya.

We tied along side a long pier for what became a fun week in a very out-of-the-way place. The dock had no shore power so CJ, the young dock hand brought down an extension cord that we plugged into. It would run most small power needs and the battery charger (although the batteries were mostly topped off from solar and wind) but not our air conditioner. So at night we ran our genset to cool down the boat. When it came time to fill the water tank we were able to reach a potable water faucet that was actually spring fed. Life was good.

Our mast from the top of Lodge.

Our plan for our first day was to pick up a rental car so we could do provisioning and shopping at the many stores on the island and facilitate some work we needed to do. But first we met our friend Janice Rowland who had been there for several months while her husband traveled back and forth to the States for medical appointments. We got together for happy hour and dinner but we met one of the owners, Dennis who was an absolute hoot.

Looking our from Cal's after our Lunch with Janice.

Jonesville Marina is owned by the Trico Shrimp company of Fort Myers, FL and the bar is named the Trico Bar and Grill.  Dennis one of the owners spends lots of time at the marina. During the course of that evening and many others he joined us at our table and whenever our drinks were low told us he was buying us a drink. I think in the 9 days we were there we paid for less than 10 drinks for the two of us. Like most of the places we've been beer and rum drinks were less than US$2. It's very easy to like that. They also had entertainment on Tuesday afternoons that was quite good.

Trico Tuesdays at the marina with great local entertainment.

As planned we picked up our car at the airport and Sherry, who co-manages the marina with her husband Bryan, took us to the airport for our car as she had to pick up a guest for one of the other places they manage. We were then able to meet up with friends on Mikhaya and Moody Mistress from back in the Rio for a quick chance to catch-up. Both boats are similar Moody 43's.

Happy hour at Sundowners Beach Bar with great music.

Over the next couple days with the car we got to grocery and hardware stores on the island to shop for things we hadn't been able to get on board in many months. We also got the chance to spend time with other friends on Roatan. On Friday I got out with Tropical Divers in the East End for 2 dives in some very rough conditions. For several days later in the week and over the weekend the trade winds were very heavy. Unfortunately, the wind drove swell into the marina and rocked us for several days at the dock. But after a fun 10 days we left the friendly family at Jonesville and headed to the West End.

At West End we knew we would be meeting up with other friends on Mikhaya and Moody Mistress but also Trish and Tom on Double Up who we spent time with in Antigua. After days of high winds there was barely a breeze so we motored the 15 miles from Jonesville to the anchorage by the West End. Using way points Trish had given us we crossed through the reef and put down anchor in a sand patch we found among the heavy turtle grass. Over the time we were anchored there we found our anchor holding very well in some heavy winds.

One of our dinners with Trish and Tom and the Beach House.

Over the next 2 weeks we spent time with our friends. Trish and Tom also had dive gear so most of the days we went out in our dinghies to dive sites and blew bubbles for an hour and Linda snorkeled over the amazing reefs. Roatan has some of the best diving in the Caribbean. We saw many turtles and eels swimming along the wall. Tom and Trish always carried spears to kill Lionfish that provided amusement watching them get killed and then having a fish come by and swallow them in one bite. Hopefully the fish will learn they can eat these tasty morsels of invasive species and the Lionfish will get under control or even eliminated. Unfortunately I never had my camera ready to catch the banquet.

Getting ready for another dive.

Our last dive was on the wreck of the Aquia. One of the 3 wrecks on Roatan. The wreck was in 105' of water and featured several swim through opportunities although unlike other wrecks I've swam through there weren't lots of fish around. During our decompression phase of the dive after the deep water we swam the reefs in shallower water with beautiful canyons of colorful coral.

West End beach at night.

What a great 2 weeks we had. Dive in the morning, dinghy to the dive shop to drop off our tanks for refill, take a nap, have happy hour and dinner. The weather was beautiful and it was Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the West End was packed with tourists celebrating the holidays. Besides all the excitement there were fireworks on several evenings. While this was just a part of our ongoing liveaboard cruising it seemed like spring break with all the celebrating going on. Dive, nap and party. How can it get any better?

Sunset from Roatan West End.

The day before we left our friends Bob and Nina on Moondance arrived from Belize and the last night we had a very nice dinner with all our friends.

Our last night dinner in Roatan on 2 April.

The calendar was ticking and we knew we needed to head back to the Rio in order to prepare the boat for us to leave. So after just a few weeks we sadly left Roatan and headed back to Utila to enjoy Tapas Tuesday at Mango Tango and then check out of Honduras for our trip back to the Rio so we could get back to the States.

Running on the spinnaker on the way back to Utila.

We had great wind for the 20 mile passage back to Utila with the wind on our beam for about an hour before coming behind us so we hoisted the spinnaker that took us right to the channel where we needed to haul it in and turn through the shoal to the anchorage. We pulled down the spinnaker and motored in and anchored in the same sand spot we were in before.

Cruising at 8 kts.

Once anchored we tried to make reservations at Mango Tango only to find they were closed until later in the week. In our last few days at Utila we visited some of the places we had been before and enjoyed another dive trip. We went out again with Utila Dive Center and had 2 more wonderful dives. Besides a great wall dive complete with turtles and eels we also got so see a moray swimming along the bottom for a great distance and watch as he slid in and around coral heads. We met crews from several new boats and quickly made new friends spending several happy hours with each as we got to know them.

Our anchor buried on the bottom of East Bay in Utila photo taken from the cockpit.

But, it quickly became time to leave and we coordinated with our friends on Livin Life who had moved over to the West End of Roatan to buddy boat back to the Rio with them. We were both concerned with past incidents of assault that had occurred along the Honduran coast between Utila and the Rio. It isn't really the hot spot for pirates but attacks have occurred.  Livin Life was leaving from Roatan and we decided that we would go around the east end of Utila and head north northwest until we were well clear of the coast and then head southwest into the Bay behind Cabo Tres Puntas. By coordinating we should be close in the event of any issues.

Sailing across the Bay to Livingston.

We coordinated our departure as we were both clearing out of Honduras and the process on Roatan required more time than did we. So late afternoon we brought in our anchor and motored out of the harbor and pulled out our sails. The first part of our sail was a beat into about 25 kts of apparent wind at less than 40 degrees so it went very slowly with big swells slowing us as well. After an hour and 3 tacks we made it out around the northeast point of Utila and fell off to a beam reach as we quickly shot up to 8-10 kts of watching Utila shrink in the dimming sky as we ran away from the island. Our plan was to get about 25 miles north of Utila before we turned west getting us far from the Honduran coast line and closer to Belize. We finally turned downwind and went to just the jib which we carried until about midnight when the wind dropped to the point it wouldn't hold the sail. At that point we brought in our sails and motored.

By daybreak we were around the Guatemala border and continuing on we were anchored behind the Cabos Tres Puntas by 1030. On several occasions during the evening and early night we spoke to our friends over the VHF but soon we got out of radio range. After getting down the anchor on a beautiful morning we had breakfast, napped and swam. About 1600 that afternoon we saw our friends Livin Life approaching on radar. They got their anchor down before sunset and we all had an early night to get ready for crossing the bar.

Late afternoon anchored off Cabo Tres Puntas.

The night was beautiful with a full moon and even some phosphorescence in the water that was still and peaceful after our previous night's journey. What a contrast to how we left it earlier in January. Swimming around the boat during the day we found lots of starfish and dead sand dollars. I think there's a correlation because we've seen this before. I believe based on research that starfish eat sand dollars (or at least the animal part of them).

The beautiful peaceful evening slipped by quickly as we all got a nice night's rest after our passage from the Bay Islands. In the morning we lifted anchor to cross the bar just before high tide. Remembering our first experience crossing the bar where we ran aground and had to be pulled off we approached the crossing apprehensively but once again we got across the bar without touching. We're now 2 for 3 in successful crossings. We put down our anchor in the Rio Dulce with the brisk river current and a sea breeze opposing it pushing us around as we tried to back down on the anchor. With it down we called our clearing agent Raoul to come out to get us checked in.

Livingston's main street.

Normally clearing into a country is not an issue but we arrived on Sunday and that meant we would be charged a premium and the officials would not be immediately available although we advised them we would be in so they were expecting us. There was another boat in the river that had come in ahead of us so it didn't take too long for the authorities to arrive and request our paperwork. They advised that we could collect our papers in an hour and we set about for lunch.

The Livingston waterfront.

In about an hour Janice from Livin Life came by and took Dave and I ashore to collect our papers and pay the fees to secure our entrance to Guatemala. Janice returned to her boat and Linda stayed aboard to be sure that heavy-handed elements from Livingston didn't come by to help themselves to pieces of the boat.   Dave and I went to the ATM to withdraw Quetzales, the local currency of Guatemala because they do not accept US$ and walked to Raoul's office for our documents. For whatever reason the documents weren't ready as advertised and we stood outside of the office in the 95 degree Guatemalan Jungle heat for 2 hours until we finally got our docs and could head up the river.

We rushed back to the boats and got underway quickly as the day was fading and we wanted to make Texan Bay before dark. While the river is easy to navigate in the daylight it becomes difficult at night because there are obstructions along the way and shallows that protrude far from shore that must be avoided. At night seeing these becomes more difficult and the entrance to Texan Bay is narrow and visual piloting is required.

Anchored in Texan Bay.

We made it into Texan Bay and got the anchor down before sunset. But our friends on Livin Life developed an engine issue a few miles from the Bay but made it in before dark and we all went in to Mini Mike's for dinner and a welcome beer for being back on the Rio.  I've written about Texan Bay in previous blogs but it is a very pretty respite from everything. It is well protected from weather, shallow with good holding, peaceful and the community of Mayan's and ex-pats that live there keep it that way. During the day tour boats go through the Bay to take their tourists up the several creeks that go back into the jungle.

The jungle at Texan Bay.

About noon the following day we got ourselves together and motored the remainder of the way to Fronteras, also known as the town of Rio Dulce and into RAM Marina where we spent last year. We brought our boat back home to the Rio unexpectedly and not happily. We now had to rush to get Amekaya prepared for our departure to the US and we had to get ourselves ready as well. We didn't want to be back in the Rio and we didn't want to be returning to the US now. But life gets in the way of living. Our cruising time was cut short and we didn't make it to Panama as planned. In all, we had a great time in Belize and the Bay Islands. I can see why some people do that every year. It could become addictive. But now back to the States.

Back to the hustle bustle of Fronteras.

A beautiful Roatan sunset.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Life interferes with cruising

Looking across the Harbor at Placencia.

Since we have been in Belize we have been able to sail most of the places we’ve gone. In fact, as of the time of this writing (3/10/2018) we have only run the engine a total of 40 hours since last June when we fueled up after arriving at Rio Dulce. That includes leaving our marina and traveling down the Rio Dulce, traveling through Belize and crossing to Utila, Honduras. After all, the reason we came here was to sail everywhere.

Since we haven’t run the engine like we did in the Bahamas a bigger challenge has been power. Even though we have 650 watts of solar and a wind generator, most of the days have been mostly cloudy and generally windless. As a result we have had to run our generator more than before but it only includes 94 hours since last June. We have less than 300 hours on our generator after nearly 4 years of cruising. The weather is starting to improve and we are able to have days where the solar enables us not to have to run the generator every day to charge the batteries. The power requirement depends on how much we use during the day and how much wind there is. As a result we have only used 46 gal of diesel since we filled up in June of last year after we got to the Rio (about 9 months). Compare that to the year 2016 when we were doing the US East Coast and Bahamas and we used 890 gal of diesel.

View of Amekaya with her wind and solar power sources.

At Pelican Cay we split from our buddy boat who was going on to cruise some other cays and we headed to Placentia to deal with living aboard business issues. Just like living on land, living on a sailboat has the same life challenges in addition to those unique to living in a floating home. In our last blog update I mentioned one that appeared but another one has become foremost in our minds.
After our wonderful experience in Lagoon and Pelican Cays we returned to Placentia to reprovision and to deal with our upcoming insurance challenge. We also knew Linda would need another back surgery this summer, but some new conditions raised the question about when would it be best for her to do the surgery. Working to resolve this drove the remainder of our time in Belize. Looks like we will be able to resolve our insurance issue and have great coverage for hopefully the remainder of our years in the Caribbean.

The Pelican Cays.

Dinner at Pelican Cay Hideaway Lodge with our friends Pete and Jill on Regina Oceani.

We knew an MRI was a prerequisite for surgery and that led Linda to discuss with her surgeon back in Virginia who suggested she get one as soon as possible. We learned that there was an MRI Center at the hospital in Belize City and with an order from her surgeon Linda was able to get an order from the local government clinic for $2 who provided the necessary contact information and an appointment was scheduled for the following Monday.

The beautiful Belize mountain countryside on the way to Belize City by car.

Ironically, we had just driven to Belize City with our friends on Regina Oceani who needed to buy a new outboard dinghy motor from the only dealer in Belize that could provide one. We enjoyed spending the time with our friends Pete and Jill but it was a long trip. After we got back from the trip that Tuesday we were not in a hurry to drive back to Belize City. We considered our options and found out from another friend, Debbie Baldeo on Plucky Lady who was able to get us a slip for a few nights at Cucumber Beach Marina in Belize City where they were staying. Debbie spoke to the manager who made room for us to arrive on Sunday and depart on Wednesday after the MRI. Taking our home to Belize City sounded like a good option.

We left Placenica for the final time on Friday 23 February and our first night out was to be in Sapodilla Lagoon just about 13 miles north visiting many of our friends had holed up there after leaving Pelican Cays to ride out some bad weather. Shortly after we successfully got out of Placencia and we were going to sail the shackle that fastens the mainsail sheet block to the traveler came undone and released itself. After working unsuccessfully to repair it I was able to find a replacement among my spares because the broken shackle was bent beyond repair. After fixing it we sailed all the way to Sapodilla lagoon slowly but at a wind angle of about 38 degrees off the apparent wind. It was slow but it was sailing. That shackle had opened up on us once before a couple years ago and I was able to close it. The stresses of heavy weather sailing cause things to happen. I now wrapped seizing wire around the pin so it should not come loose again.

Doing the repair on deck while still sailing.

Several years ago developers tried to build a community along the shores of Sapodilla Lagoon that like many similar projects in the tropics have gone through numerous reorganizations. However, at some point early on a very nice marina was built that has fuel, water and some very nice facilities. When we got to the channel entrance we were surprised to find that the marina had installed lit marks all the way through the shoals and into the marina making this one of the easiest entries in a long time for us. We got to the fuel dock and turned around in time to see a squall bearing down on us. We had just enough time to secure everything and drop the enclosures and we watched as winds exceeded 30 kts and drenching rains fell. When it was over we got fuel and motored back out to the lagoon and dropped the anchor for a very peaceful night. Rain squalls continued through the evening so we didn't get to visit with many of our friends.

Sailing very close-hauled toward Middle Long Cay.

The next day we sailed about 30 miles to an uninhabited cay, Middle Long Cay, that is only 16 miles southeast of Belize City. Middle Long Cay is about 2-3 miles long and about a quarter to a half-mile wide so it affords excellent protection against the prevailing easterly winds. Unlike many cays, this one was totally deserted without another boat in sight. After dropping the anchor we went for a snorkel to see what was in the area. Snorkeling wasn’t bad and for the first time I found 2 very large conchs that we could have (we find them often in restricted areas). I’ve never cleaned conch before so it was an educational experience. Since we already had dinner planned it is still in the freezer. In Belize there is still wildlife to catch and eat unlike many other places.

The 2 captured conchs waiting to be cleaned.

We had a very pleasant night’s sleep and after our usual Sunday morning of blueberry coconut pancakes we headed to Belize City unaware of the conditions outside the shelter of the Cay. The wind was mostly dead behind us as we left so we turned south to catch the wind to avoid the shoals to the north and began a very pleasant reach with the main and jiob. As we got away from the Cay the wind increased, and the chop grew in size.  Before we jibed I pulled in the jib and pulled out the staysail to make jibing easy and we would then see what wind we would be dealing with. After the jibe we brought out a reefed jib and we were cruising between 7-8 kts with 20-25 on the beam and some heavy chop all the way to our marina.

Looking at the shore line of deserted Middle Long Cay.

Looking back across at the mountains on the mainland in the distance.

The water around Belize City is shallow and the access to the marina was reported to be 6’ at MLW. High tide was forecasted to be at 1749 with tide of less than a foot. With the great wind we arrived at the marina before we anticipated. Our plan was to get there less than 2 hrs before high tide for the best chance of getting in. When we were about 2 miles out from the marina we called on the radio and the manager told us we couldn’t come in because we needed to wait for high tide which at this point was in 3 hours She also mentioned the boat in our slip had not yet left but would be leaving shortly.

An unusual working vessel anchored along the way to BC.

We were too close to the lee shore to heave to so we tacked around in the choppy wind-swept sea. As we retraced the track we had just come we began to wonder if we could get into the marina at all. With the heavy wind and chop getting stuck in the channel after sunset could be disastrous. If we waited until high tide to make other plans we would be trying to go someplace else in the dark. Not to mention the complications of rescheduling the MRI. Much to our relief after the second tack the marina manager said we could come in so we proceeded to the waypoint for the marina entrance but could not see the channel opening. 

Breaching the channel past the jetty.

Coming through the breaking waves at the channel entrance.

The calm inside.

Usually I like to look for the smooth water between the breakers but the only thing visible was crashing waves. A small skiff passed us and we watched them going in. The channel approach was angled farther to the south and as we got around we were being pushed toward shore until we saw the opening and rode the waves between the rock piles to smooth water. We never saw less than 6’ of water in the channel and once inside the calm water and greatly reduced wind made it easy to get into the dock and secured. 

After we got settled we had drinks and learned about life at Cucumber Beach with Debbie and Luc from Plucky Lady whom we had met on the Rio. They gave us insight on getting around in Belize City. Cucumber Beach Marina is about the only marina in Belize City with water deeper than 4’. It is a working boatyard and dock for the shuttle fleet that ferries cruise ship passengers from the cruise ships to the City. The water around Belize City is shallow and cruise and cargo ships need to anchor about 5 miles out. Then passengers and cargo are ferried in and out. Several of the days we were in Belize City there were as many as 3 cruise ships were anchored off shore. The cruise ship tourists don’t see much of Belize City as they are bussed off to Mayan ruins, zip lines, jungle tours and other attractions of Belize.

Our time in Belize City was the intersection of many competing interests. The primary reason we were there was to complete Linda’s MRI but it was also the first time in a marina since leaving the Rio almost 2 months earlier so boat chores gained import. We also were trying to resolve our future travels in Belize and elsewhere that would be largely driven by the results of the MRI.

As we began to get busy on Monday the hospital called and said their MRI machine was not working but they would call when fixed. We found out from Collette, the marina manager there was an MRI in Chetumal, Mexico about 3 hours away and she called and made an appointment for 0800 on Tuesday. She also arranged for a cab to take us leaving at 0430 since time in Chetumal was an hour earlier.

Sunrise with a small shower on our way to Chetumal.

Just after 0430 on Tuesday the cab driver arrived to take us to Chetumal. About an hour into the trip a tire blew out. There seemed to be an issue with the tire replacement and we soon found out there was one lugnut that had been rounded off and wouldn’t come off with the lug wrench. The driver was able to go to a local farm and get an old wrench that got the nut removed. After that we quickly got back on our way and about 30 mins later the spare blew out. The driver called a friend that drove us the 45 minutes to the border where we cleared out of Belize.

Leaving Belize looking at the Mexican border.

Driving along the Mexican border wall toward the check-in.

The border crossing from Belize to Mexico is interesting and very controlled. The entire are is secured and a wall runs a long the entire border with a 4 lane road from the Belize checkpoint to the Mexican checkpoint several miles away. We took another cab to the Mexican checkpoint where we cleared into Mexico and then got another cab that took us to the hospital in Chetumal.

At the hospital everything was very informal and they took us back to the waiting room where there were several other people also from Belize waiting for MRI’s. The technician came out and talked to me in Spanish about the process. He explained that the MRI would be 3,000 pesos (US$172) in cash but I would not get a receipt. He said if I wanted a receipt it would be 6,800 pesos (about US$400). I opted for the 3,000 pesos and no receipt so we won’t get reimbursed by insurance. But at that price difference it’s not worth the hassle.

Looking down the Boulevard along the Bay.

Our lunch spot, La Viagra Jarocha.

We got the disc with the images and took them to the Chetumal FEDEX office and paid for it to be shipped to Virginia. Mission accomplished.

Our original taxi arrived at the hospital and after going to the FEDEX office drove us to lunch after at the La Viagra Jarocha (The Viagra Jar) and then shopping at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, it never occurred to us that fresh things and some foreign goods (especially alcohol) would be an issue crossing the border. We were able to make it through with only losing 1 avocado to the inspection. After our very interesting discussions with the customs officials we then made it uneventfully back home.

The next day became a confusing discussion with the marina manager about when we needed to leave the slip as we needed to have some time for last-minute shopping and to clear out of Belize. We finally resolved that we could leave before hightide the next morning, Thursday and that would give us time to get done what we needed. Our friendly cab driver took us to the places we needed to go for our shopping and to clear out. By about 1300 we were cleared out of Belize so we would be free to leave the next morning.

We decided that after we left the marina we would sail back to Middle Long Cay, the following day out to Lighthosue Reef and then to Utila. We settled with the marina and left without any challenges in the channel and sailed all the way back to the Cay. After all the rushing around for the previous week it was nice to get to a place to decompress.   

We checked the weather and after much discussion decided the weather didn’t favor a sail to Lighthouse Reef but the weather would be great for going all the way to Utila on Saturday. So we relaxed for the day, did some swimming and a little sightseeing about the island while we prepared for an overnight crossing.

Our last sunset in Belize as the sun sinks over the mountains in the distance.

From Middle Long Cay we figured it would take us about 20 hours to get to Utila. Wind was forecast to be out of the NE making for sailable wind. Our course would take us almost due north to the main commercial channel coming out of Belize City and then sailing almost due east and then southeast between Turneffe Reef and Glover Reef and then straight to Utila a total distance of about 120nm.
We brought up the anchor about 1130 and motor-sailed for about an hour up to the channel because we needed to be really close to get around shoals until we got to the channel. Once we got into the channel we were able to sail and ran all along Turneffe aand then to Glover at about 6-8 kts with winds starting in the upper teens but dropping to about 10. We continued sailing as the wind dropped.

Linda took a first shift and got me up about midnight as she laid down to nap with the sails flopping about. We had a nearly full moon but looking at the sky it appeared that we could be in for some weather so we pulled in the sails and closed the enclosures just in time for a squall to hit. Like most the wind kicked up to over 20 kts and clocked around with heavy rain but was gone in 15 mins.

English Cay by the channel entrance into Belize.

The remainder of the night the wind varied from low 4-7 kts either on the nose or dead behind us. Over night the wind clocked all the way around so that in the morning it was on the nose all the way into Utila. We sailed for about 13 hours and motored for about 7 until we got the anchor down about 0800 in Utila.  In the weeks on either side of the passage the only rain we had was the squall on our passage. Fortunately for most of the night during our passage we had nice moonlight from the nearly full moon to help our visibility.

Our water tracks sailing at 7+ kts.

Turneffe Island. A reef off of Belize.

We arrived in Utila not as burned out as we usually are after an overnight passage and on our second try got the anchor set nicely in some grass. East Harbor in Utila is a very nicely sheltered harbor with about 270 degree protection open only to the south through west. The first attempt we drug but found a better spot where it set right away. I swam down to check the anchor and it was buried very solidly. The only issue was that the wind was out of the southwest when it normally comes out of the east so our anchor would be almost opposite of what it needed to be. The big question was would it reset as the wind turned.

Our first view of Utila with the rising sun. The high point is Pumpkin Hill.

Very shortly after we anchored the wind did shift back to the east but it was very light. There were only 2 other boats on the west side of the harbor when we anchored so finding a good spot was easy. After breakfast we went ashore to see if the authorities were open for us to complete our registration processing into Honduras. The Port Captain was in and offered to start our check-in. After completing some forms and reviewing our zarpe he wanted to go out to our boat to take pictures which we understood to be the case. But when we got to the boat he wanted to go inside and he asked to see our life jackets and flares. He took pictures of them. We took him back to the dock and he said to come back tomorrow when Immigration was open.

Anchored in East Harbor, Utila with our "Q" flag.

After a very pleasant and early evening we got our things together in the morning and went back to check-in. Having already visited the Port Captain we went to see the Immigration Officer first and he wanted copies of our passports which we didn't have so we had to go to a small shop around the corner and make them even though he had a copy machine there. We did all formalities with him and then went back to the Port Captain. Each office wanted copies of our crew list so I offered them a copy of what we got when leaving Guatemala and even though it said the destination was Placencia

Having lunch at Buccaneers after meeting with the Port Captain.

they took it and didn't seem to care. The port Captain completed all our paperwork and said he would have to send it to Tegucigalpa the capital and we could pick it up at 1600. Then he requested that we provide him one of our life jackets.  The previous day when he was on the boat he wanted a piece of our staysail furling line but I told him we needed it for the sail and he relented. But, since he knew how many life jackets we had it was hard to argue need since there only 2 of us on the boat and we had 10 to match the boat capacity as required. So if a life jacket we never used bought us peace with the local authorities it was a small price to pay and far less than entry fees into Belize. We heard from some other cruisers that he also asked them for a life jacket.

A view looking down the Main Street.

Utila is a unique and wonderful place. It is as good or better in many ways compared to places we have already been. The harbor offers excellent protection with some good holding. Check-in was easy with the authorities being right next to each other at the municipal dock. The town is one street and everything is in easy walking distance with lots of bars, restaurants, dive shops, hardware and grocery stores. The main street is very busy with motos, tuk-tuks, bicycles and small trucks. The crowd on Utila is a mix but mainly young kids there to dive or just backpacking. The proof of that is the number of bars that open at 10 or 11 and go until 4 AM. Not your typical cruiser lounge.  Utila is reputedly the cheapest place in the world to get your diving “C” card (Open Water Certification).

Utila is part of Honduras and the official language is Spanish but so far the authorities were the only people that spoke primarily in Spanish. The traditional language of the Bay Islands is English as they were controlled by England before ceding them to Honduras. Most of the people we’ve met here who were born here speak with a brogue like they do in Belize, parts of the Bahamas or Tangier Island in the US. With the large number of US and European tourists mostly everything is in English (and USD) as well. Our Spanish is getting rusty since we left Guatemala.

Clever coozies from Skid Row.

The harbor is also active with the many dive boats going in and out during the day. Launches go back and forth to other parts of the island carrying people and supplies. Ferries come to the municipal dock twice a day and several different cargo boats come in daily. There is even a roll-on, roll-off site but the containers stay there and get unloaded since the streets aren’t wide enough for a shipping container. As a result shopping is good and the stores got restocked at least twice a week and some three times a week so fresh fruit and produce is readily available in easy walking distance.

Having a drink at Relapse.

We found some very good restaurants here as well. Beer and rum drinks are less than US$2 and most meals are between US$6-8. Although on Tuesday we went to Mango Tango for Tapas Tuesday had 4 tapas entrees which were outstanding, 2 glasses of wine each and a great dessert. With tip the bill came to about US$55. This would be an easy place to spend lots of time. 

Mango Tango.

The Lionfish tacos at Mango Tango. 

As we get ready to expand our adventures in Honduras it appears we have solved our insurance challenge with a new policy offered that will cover us throughout the Caribbean without restrictions at a very competitive price.

We have resolved our schedule to address Linda’s medical issues. We will be returning to the Rio in early April and leaving the boat there and flying back to the US on the 19th of April when she will begin her surgical protocol. Then we plan to fly back to the Rio in late June and then we will return again to the States in August for follow-up. During that time we will visit friends and family and take care of other business. Then if all is well head to Panama in the Fall and spend the next year or so exploring Panama, Colombia and do other traveling in South America.  Although spending more time in Belize and Honduras is very tempting.