Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
2008 Presentations
Sherry did a half hour presentation on the San Blas at the East Coast Sailing Association and Melbourne Yacht Club monthly meetings.

Dave did an extensive presentation on Cruising the Western Caribbean at the Seven Seas Cruising Association 2008 Gam.

Both presentations (and some useful cruising links) can now be found on our SSCA 2008 page.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008
Lots and Lots of Pics Posted

OK, all you armchair travelers, I have spent most of the last 3 days uploading all our photos from January to now to our Picasa photo album, including all of the San Blas. We have taken at least a few photos in every place we stopped.

Enjoy! Our Photo Album

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Monday, July 16, 2007
Goodbye Belize, Hello Guatemala
We are currently motoring for Punta Gorda, Belize, the southernmost place where there's a town with Customs and Immigration so we can check out of Belize. Punta Gorda doesn't have a protected anchorage, so we anchored in the Mojo Cays last night, and got up early to go Punta Gorda, check out of Belize and then to Livingston, to check into Guatemala.

We haven't been diving in days... between the tropical wave (finally gone) and the fact that the closer we got to mainland Belize the worse the visibility got, we have packed away all our dive gear until we get to the Bay Islands of Honduras, in a few months.

This corner of Belize is very close to big mountains in Guatemala and Honduras. The wind swings well north of east and blows like stink, and then turns to very light out of the south in the middle of the night. We found it challenging last night to find a protected anchorage. Where we first stopped looked fine when the wind was 10 kts, but by 4pm it was up to about 25, so we back-tracked a little and re-anchored in another spot we'd checked out on the way down.

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Passing Monkey River Town, Belize
We left Placencia after 2 days there, and are now passing Monkey River Town, headed south. 16-23N 88-24W

Placencia was a very small town...mainly subsists on tourism and the Moorings charter business here. Moorings had about 10 cats and 8 monohulls and a dock. Things look a little slow right now, but I bet the place is hopping in the winter time.

We were able to get a few fresh fruits and veggies in the town vegetable market. and a bag of white flour from the 'super market'. Dave and I took a stroll around town at sunset one evening. There are lots of places to stay... from bunkhouses and a campground to luxury resorts... but not many tourist-looking people.

The best thing about Placencia was the fact that there was wifi (weak) in the harbor. Several of the establishments in town have wifi and we could just barely pick up a usable signal out on the anchor. When we went in to the town dock to get water (about a quarter mile closer to town) I got a really strong signal and was finally able to download all my internet mail (~150 messages!). I kept getting stuck trying to download an 8MB file someone sent me and the link would break...

Dave took me (and my computer) out for dinner Saturday night at the Purple Space Monkey cafe, where they had good local food, cheap rum, and free wifi. We both read our email, checked weather, etc etc. (Didn't get much of a chance to respond to the email, however).

The whole time we were in Placencia, we were under a tropical wave, so it was squally and overcast most of the time. It was also a weekend, and so the town was pretty quiet.

After asking on the net the procedure to check out of Belize for Guatemala, Dave decided it was too expensive and that we should check out at Punta Gorda, a little further south. So we are now headed for Punta Gorda.

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Friday, July 13, 2007
40 Knots at Midnight!
Wahoo! The times that great bar stories are made of...

ALL the weather sources we had said that yesterday was going to be clear, light wind day. So we though it would be a good day to explore one of the 'settled weather' anchorages. Dave was hot to see the Pelican Cays. He had a penciled note in his guidebook that said "good fishing".

We got in about noon, after working our way in to a lagoon area surrounded by drying reefs and small mangrove islands. With a few waypoints acquired earlier from cruising friends, and good light, it was very easy. The only challenge was finding a spot SHALLOW enough to anchor. Depths inside the lagoon were mostly 60-80', with a few spots that were 2'. Sheesh. We explored around quite a bit and found what seemed to be the perfect anchorage. Almost 360 degree enclosed, right behind a reef that
would block the waves but not the wind, and we lucked into a 30' spot to drop the anchor. With a couple of passes over it, we dropped the anchor in the middle of the 30' spot and backed down hard. It SEEMED well set...

We went for our afternoon snorkel, but like Spruce Cays, the visibility was bad--about 10' at most, and the water was either too deep or too shallow. We did get some lobster though. A local boat came by wanting to trade lobster for beer. We only had one beer aboard, but traded a water bottle full of rum, one beer, and a box of crackers for 4 lobster and 2 huge crabs. We both thought it was a good trade.

On our way back from our snorkel, I finally managed to find our anchor (in 30', murky water), and it really wasn't well set. It was laying on its side near a coral head, and only the tip in a rock. I made Dave go look at it and he said "it's among big coral heads and good enough for this settled weather". (hear the foreshadowing music?)

About 6:00 (nearly sunset), we got our first squall. It didn't last long, we got some needed rain, and the wind only got to 25 knots. After dinner Dave and I sat on the foredeck admiring the stars and congratulating ourselves on the nice anchorage and great Seafood Gumbo dinner.

About midnight, we felt that cold breeze and a few rain drops... We hopped out of bed to monitor the situation. Our recording anemometer recorded gusts in that one of 34 knots. I sat on the helm watching the GPS (using the maplet and 'snail trail') and it was clear that we were swinging back and forth but staying put. Dave was on the radar keeping track of the storm cells. He went back to bed when the wind died down, but I couldn't sleep. I kept watching the lightning flashes ahead and could
see the big black cloud coming at us. We had an anchor that was not properly set, in a very deep anchorage surrounded by very shallow reefs, and a very very dark night. At least we had a big honking anchor out (88 lbs) and 140' of heavy chain. Dave optimistically said "if we do drag, we won't drag far". Sherry pessimistically replied "If we DO drag, we are totally screwed."

The next squall came about 2am. This one was really bad, darker and bigger on the radar than the other two, and visually much more impressive (black and lots of lightning). After the third or fourth 40 knot gust, I could tell on the GPS that we were moving. The boat was yawing so wildly in the guts that it was hard to see what was going on, other than via the GPS. Fortunately, we only dragged a little bit... maybe 15-20'. We seemed to hook up well and be swinging an arc just behind the previous
one.

We slept fitfully the rest of the night, but thankfully got no more big squalls. However, the final straw was waking up to west winds. We were backed up to our 'protecting' reef. Fortunately they were very light and we were just swinging on our chain. If we'd gotten enough wind to stretch out the chain, we'd have been up against the reef. By then the sky was getting light. As soon as it was light enough to pick our way out of there, we left.

Other than a mention of a tropical wave over Honduras (120 miles to windward), there is no mention in any of this morning's forecast of the weather we are seeing.

We re-learned one of the first cruising lessons I ever learned... whatever it takes, ALWAYS make sure your anchor is well set. And never trust the forecast, especially during thunderstorm season.

We are headed for Placencia this morning for a more protected anchorage, a few provisions, water, and maybe ice cream!

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Thursday, July 12, 2007
Moving South in Belize
On Tuesday we finally broke free of Lighthouse Reef and headed for the 'mainland reef'. We went in the South Water Cay cut, about 25 miles southwest of where we were at Lighthouse. We trolled a fishing line the whole trip, and specifically followed the depth contour down Lighthouse and all the way down behind Glover's Reef, trying to catch dinner.

Dave Getting Ready to Fish

Dave got several strikes, and boated 2 barracuda before finally catching a 'Little Tunny'. By the time he got it aboard, some barracuda had eaten the back half of the fish. But there was still enough to cut 2 nice fat steaks off. Dave wasn't sure how edible this tuna-like fish was. But we marinated it a little and baked it and it was quite delicious.

Dave with a Barracuda

Our Poor Little Half-Tunny

We anchored for the night at South Water Cay, a cute little island on the edge of the mainland fringing reef. Actually, anchored isn't quite the correct term. We picked up a mooring. Dave's friend Cliff in Belize City, who operates a crewed charter, told us about the brand new moorings that the TMM (local maritime business association) had put in, primarily to keep the bareboaters out of trouble and from damaging the reef. He told us to go ahead and use them if there were moorings open.

We did our usual snorkel check of the "anchor" and a tour of the underwater area surrouding the boat. Though Dave was hot to go in to the Cay, was happy to have a happy hour aboard and check out South Water Cay the next day. The following day's forecast was for a tropical wave to pass through, squally and overcast, and so we thought we'd spend the day there.

Yesterday we awoke to the promised squally weather and had a nice time sleeping in after our grueling passage the day before. We had a nice big breakfast, answered some email, and about 11am, wandered in to South Water Cay. We wanted to have a look around, to ask about filling dive tanks, and check on the availability of dinner. We completed all of this, and a circumnavigation of the entire island, in about 15 minutes! The island is tiny, there are only 3 places to eat (all very expensive) and 1 dive operation (also expensive). Dinners ranged from $22-35 US, for basically chicken or pork chops. Dive tank fills were $11 US each. We passed on all of them.

As the sun came out and we'd explored the extent of South Water Cay by noon, we decided to go ahead and move to another spot. We dropped the mooring and were retracing our path out of the anchorage area when I ran us promptly aground. Apparently I wasn't doing such a great job of retracing our entry. We immediately tried backing off, but quit when that didn't look like it was working. Dave hopped in the water to survey the situation. We weren't very hard aground and there was deep water behind and not ahead. So we backed again to no avail. Dave finally put the dinghy in the water, and took the main halyard off to the side, while I backed, and we slid right off. (This worked with just the 5hp motor and Dave holding the halyard!)

After that we made our way into Spruce Cay with no further adventure. Spruce has no 'spruce'. It is a tiny mangrove island with a very small deep lagoon surrounded by a fringing reef. There was reportedly one small spot where you could drop your anchor in 12', and the rest of the area was either 1' or 25-50'. We found it with no problem and got firmly anchored. We went out for a snorkel but it was pretty windy and the surrounding area was rough (and a little shallow to be of interest).

We were originally going to Placencia today (a small town on the mainland), but the weather is supposed to be perfect today for reef exploration (sunny and light wind), so we may stay out on the reef another day, and go to Placencia tomorrow.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Heading Further South Today
We made 2 more dives on the Half Moon wall on Sunday. On one dive we went back to find a big green moray eel that we'd seen the dive before when we were low on air and our cameras were both out of battery. Dave got a couple of good shots. He wouldn't come out for me. We also came upon a smallish turtle feeding on a coral head. He totally ignored us and just munched away at the rock. We got several good shots of him.

Yesterday we moved back out to Long Cay, in preparation for our departure for points south. We were originally going back to our previous anchorage, but Dave had put the fishing line out, and the batteries needed a little charging, and so we kept on motoring south along the wall. We saw another opening in the reef here we could get in, near the south end of Long Cay. So we went in and anchored near some nice looking coral heads.

We spent a few hours snorkeling and exploring in the dinghy, but though there were a whole bunch of lobster holes we only got one (a nice big one though), and never did see a live conch. Quite a change from further north. But we had fresh lobster spaghetti last night. Dave promises to catch me a fish today.

Today we are leaving Lighthouse Reef, sailing along the back side of Glover's Reef, and in through the mainland reef at South Water Cut. We may stop for a snorkel along the back side of the reef at Glovers, if we see a spot we can pull in and anchor. Our dive book has a few dive flags on that side, but it doesn't have waypoints. Neither of our two guidebooks mention anything about the back side of Glovers.

Still having fun!

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Sunday, July 08, 2007
Diving Half Moon Cay
Wow, Dave was right that this is a spectacular dive site. We made 2 1-hour dives yesterday. In each dive we went out (away from the mooring bouy) along the wall face at about 60-70', and then came back over the back side of the reef in about 35'. The water is crystal clear, the reef is chock full of soft and hard corals and sponges, and it is teeming with fish and other reef life. One of the neat features of this reef is that there are canyons cutting through the reef from the sand to the drop-off
about every 15'. So there is always an interesting swim-thru. Even the inshore sand was a lot of fun. Just before we ran out of air, we hung over the sand and watched the conch, hogfish, and grass eels. The grass eels look like little pieces of turtle grass swaying in the water until you get close, and then they withdraw into their holes. If you are patient (and hold your breath so the sound of the bubbles doesn't scare them), they will slowly come back out and you can make out a tiny set of
eyes and their mouth.

Visibility was great and Dave and I both took our cameras. We'll have lots of pics to share when we next get internet access.

We also went in to the park 'office' and checked in. We were astonished at how expensive it was. They charged us $30 US APIECE to dive the Blue Hole and $10 US each to be in the Half Moon Cay park area (not per day, but for as long as we stay here). When I was here in Island Time in '97, there wasn't any charge, and when Dave was here in 2002, the charge was only $5 for the boat. We had only taken in $25, so had to go back out to the boat to get more money. We were first suspicious that we were
getting ripped off, but he had pre-printed 4-color 'tickets' to give us, showing the price. It isn't THAT expensive in U.S. terms but it is outrageously high in Western Caribbean terms. Belize has certainly been discovered.

We haven't seen another cruising boat since we left Florida, except for one in the marina in Belize City, and he was making way as fast as he could back to Florida. There is a 'Northwest Caribbean Net' on the radio that we've been listening in on. Us and 2 other boats are the only ones on. Everyone else has either gone back to Florida or skedaddled up the Rio for hurricane season. There are a couple of charter sail boats in Belize and one bareboat outfit that operates out of the south end of Belize,
but the bareboats aren't allowed out to the outer reefs.

I think we're going to stay here another day or two, and then start making our way further south.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007
Half Moon Cay, Lighthouse Reef
We dove the Blue Hole yesterday morning. There are a number of 'fast dive boats' that come over from Ambergris (about 30-40 miles) for the day. They all arrived at the Blue Hole about 9:30... there were about 30 divers in the water at one time, all in one spot. We waited for them all to leave and then took the dinghy over. We didn't see any mooring balls so anchored outside the reef surrounding the Blue Hole and then squirmed our way carefully thru the reef to go down. When we got inside the hole area, we did see at least one floating line that was a mooring (no ball on it though).

We descended quickly straight down into the black hole. There were big black grouper hanging around the rim (probably well fed by the dive boats). At about 70' we saw several reef sharks circling the rim. We continued down to where the edge receeds under the rim--supposed to be caves and stalactites, at about 120'. I took a few pictures with the camera, but am still struggling to figure out how to make it all work together. It's a relatively new camera, the manual is terrible, with an external strobe with no manual, and I haven't used it in a year.


Between the depth, the darkness, and the sharks, we didn't stay long. But we did dive the Blue Hole.

After lunch we moved back south to Half Moon Cay (about 6 miles), picking our way through the coral heads in about 7-8'. We stopped at a nice looking coral head for a snorkel, but found it to be cleaned out by the 'reef raper' boats... piles of cleaned conch everywhere. We moved to another one and still didn't find any lobster, but got enough conch for dinner (conch salad and cracked conch).

We hope to make a dive here today, if the weather's not too bad. The Half Moon Cay dive sites are on the south side, exposed, and so you need pretty settled weather to dive them. Dave keeps telling me that this is one of the top 3 dive site in the entire Caribbean. I can't wait.

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Friday, July 06, 2007
Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef
17-19.03N 87-32.26W

We spent 4h of July doing boat projects because the wind blew 20-25 knots. One of the things we did was load up our 6 tanks into the dinghy nd got them filled from the Sun Dancer II, at $5 a fill. It was quite a project getting the 2 of us and 6 tanks over, up, and back in those wind/seas. We hung onto their side while they filled the tanks.

We also did some more snorkeling on the small spot reef next to the boat and found a couple more conch and lobster.

Dave spent half a day working on the solar array, trying to figure out why it's not putting out quite as much as it should be. He thinks one panel is only putting out about half it's capacity, and that's dragging the whole array down. With 2 110-watt panels and 4 55-watt panels, wired in series to output 30volts, it has ended up a fairly complicated setup. At full sun it should be putting out about 24 amps, and we're only getting about 18.

Yesterday morning, the wind had calmed down to the more normal 10-15 kts. We took the dinghy out for a dive on the Long Cay wall at the "Cathedral" site. It was pretty spectactular. Lots of fish, especially a school of big tarpon hanging out in the shade of a cave. I haven't seen any of the big grouper we saw here 10 years ago. Probably got eaten by some local.

The wind is forecast to be in he 10-15kt range for the next couple of days. So yesterday we moved from Long Cay up to the Blue Hole in the center of Lighthouse Reef. In the guidebook this is listed as an 'easy passage through coral heads that are easy to see'. About the time we started on the passage, the sky clouded up, so it wasn't that easy. But we made it fine (Sherry just worried). We are anchored on the west side of the hole. It is clearly visible, but hard to photograph from here, because it's so big and we're so close. I may climb up the mast today to see if I can get a better pic.

We plan to dive the hole this morning. I snorkeled it once before in 1997, but didn't get a chance to dive it. Dave says there are some caves at 100', but other than that, all the interesting stuff is within 30' of the rim. See tomorrow's post for Blue Hole pictures.

This afternoon we'll move back south to Half Moon Cay. This is where Dave says the primo dive sites are. We are hoping for fairly light winds to go dive the SE wall.

Yes, we're having fun!

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Lighthouse Atoll, Belize
Yesterday we surveyed all the dive sites within a mile of Soggy Paws. We had several sources of information, most specifically a 1998 edition of Diving and Snorkeling Belize, published by Lonely Planet, and a printout from the Nekton Pilot's charted dive sites, from when Dave was last here in 2002. Unfortunately neither source gave exact Lat/Longs. We plotted them as best we could on our chart using Visual Navigation Suite, and then downloaded them to a handheld GPS. Then we took the GPS out to
the drop-off and looked for dive bouys in the approximate location. We located most of them close to where we had them plotted. We located 7 of the moorings we originally plotted and 2 more in addition. At each bouy we updated the location, and Sherry jumped in to check the mooring and look at the site, while Dave stayed dry and took notes.

Around noon, all the dive boats started showing up. The 2 big boats had gone over early in the morning to Half Moon Cay, to the east. I think the walls on the west side are not that good in the morning, because they are all in shadow. A couple of small boats came from the direction of Ambergris Cay (about 45 miles across mostly open ocean). A least one looked so small that it must have come from somewhere locally. At one point in the early afternoon we had about 7 boats on the moorings.

Dave called the Sun Dancer on the radio and asked them the name of the bouy/site they were on, so we could correlate it with our book, which has nice descriptions of the dive sites. He also asked about filling our dive tanks. They said they'd fill them for $5 each and they'd be around until Thursday. So our first order of the day is to get the tanks filled.

We finally got ourselves organized to dive by about 3pm. We chose one of the closer bouys that nobody was on. By the time we got in the water, it was 3:30 and the sun was starting to decline, so visibility wasn't as good as it was around noon (sunset is 6:30pm here). We spent a half hour on the wall, never going deeper than 70', and then another half hour in the coral/sand on top, at about 35'. Dave showed me some Black Coral (it looks like a greenish fern). We saw a huge green Moray, a big
Nassau Grouper and acres of living coral, sea fans, huge basket sponges, brittle stars, coral shrimp, and pretty fishes. There was a 4' Tarpon hanging around, as well as a similar sized Barracuda.

Last night the wind blew like stink (probably 20-25 kts). So we may do boat chores today and let it calm down a little. The 5 day forecast shows the wind doesn't lay down until about the 7th. Then we'll move east to the more exposed Half Moon Cay dive sites.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Conch Fritters for Dinner
Our passage out of Turneffe was easy except we were "technically aground" again as we crossed the grass bar to get out into the cut headed east. We could have gone around the bar by going 1/4 mile further south, but we had dipped it all from the dinghy the day before and it seemed OK. But we did end up with some numbers on the depth sounder that indicated we were probably dragging the keel a little through the soft grass and sand, for a boat length or two.

The pass thru the reef was easy--about 12 feet deep and pretty easy to see because the reef was breaking on either side. The break in the reef is about 100 yards wide. This pass is not noted in Freya Rauscher's 2001 guidebook, but it saved us about a mile to windward, versus going out the SE pass, that IS shown in the book.

It was pretty bouncy for the first 5 miles. We were going straight to windward in 15 kts, and so opted to motor sail with a reefed main and staysail. It took us just over 4 hours to go the 15 miles to Lighthouse Reef.

Both the liveaboard dive boats were here when we got here. Wind Dancer and the Belize Aggressor. Their clients fly into Belize City for a week of intensive diving. I think they do about 6 or 8 dives a day, including a night dive. They are each on mooring bouys. They stayed the night, but Dave thinks they'll leave today to go somewhere else, and we'll have Lighthouse pretty much to ourself.

We identified about 6 mooring balls for diving the walls on the back side of the reef...a few big ones for the big dive boats and a few smaller balls, probably maintained by the fast dive boats that service the mainland resort guests and the cruise ships. We plan to check them all out... probably with a snorkel first and then come back to dive the ones that look good. We still have a tank and a half each of air left before we need to break out the compressor.

We are anchored on the back side of Long Key about a quarter mile inside the reef. The passage in thru the reef to the anchorage was easy. We had waypoints, and with Dave on the bow as a lookout, we just motored right in. We are anchored in about 13' in sand. We hopped in the water to check the anchor and look around a little, and within an hour we had 5 more conch and 1 lobster.

I was sad to see piles of conch shells on the bottom that were 25% small conch that we'd never consider taking. Probably one of the local 'reef raper' boats. They come over in fairly small boats with 4-5 guys and several nested cayuca's and then just spread out and comb the reef, taking anything that they can sell in the market. A few years of that and this reef will be barren too. We are pretty selective about what we take--using Florida and Bahamas rules and size limits, even though the Belizians
really don't have any limits.

Dave cleaned 4 nice conch and we had a great batch of 'Island Time Conch Fritters'. I made my standard batch for 4 conch and forgot there were only 2 of us to feed. I saved half the batter and we'll be eating conch fritters for dinner again tonight.

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Monday, July 02, 2007
Lobster Pizza for Dinner
We visited the Turneffe Island Lodge yesterday. It is a very upscale resort with a very nice look. When Dave was here in 2002, the owner/manager welcomed them and invited them in for dinner, and was happy to share diving spots and fill tanks. The new manager, a German, was not interested in having us ashore at all. We inquired about doing a dive on one of their boats and they said that it was a private island and they did not invite the public ashore. He said we should have called on the VHF
16/68 before we came ashore. (We had called them 3-4 times the day before with no answer, so didn't even try yesterday).

The Lodge manager said he could fill our dive tanks for $10 US each. It costs about $3 in the States at the local dive shop, and about $6 at a high priced dive shop in the Keys. So this was pretty outrageous. But it's the only possibility within 15 miles. But we passed on that. Dave is pretty sure he can get his compressor going, but we just haven't tried yet. It has been in deep storage on the boat for several years.

In the afternoon, we took the dinghy out to explore the reef to the SE of us, and locate the pass in the reef. We took the handheld GPS to make some waypoints. We managed to scare up 2 lobster and 3 conch while snorkeling in water under 10 feet inside the reef. We took one lobster and made a delicious Lobster Pizza with it. The other one went into the freezer for future gourmet meals. The conch are dangling in a bag in the water--Dave didn't feel like cleaning them last night.

Today we are moving 15 miles further east to Lighthouse Reef. We'll probably spend tonight anchored in the lee of Long Key and dive the walls on the west side of the reef til the wind dies down a little. (current forecast is E 15-20 for the next few days). Dave REALLY wants to move to Half Moon Cay where the walls on the south end of the reef are just spectacular. But that will require a little lighter winds.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007
Full Moon Over the Reef & Lobster Dinner
Belize, Turneffe Atoll

We arrived here 2 days ago after a 10 mile motor from Belize City, out the English Channel and straight east in the lee of Turneffe, and then a NICE broad reach down the island to the anchorage on the south end. We anchored right off "Joe's Fish Camp" as shown in Freya Rauscher's 2001 guidebook.

Yesterday we snorkeled around at the south end. We located the 'good snorkeling in 20' just south of the lighthouse as mentioned in the guidebook, and a ship wreck Dave had found years ago with a friend. The coral was easy to find but the wreck was not. Two guys in a cayuca who were lobstering nearby pointed out a buoy (Styrofoam ball) and said that was right on the wreck. But we had already checked it out and knew that it was not. It turned out to have dragged downwind a hundred yards or so.
We finally found the wreck by Dave dragging Sherry behind the dinghy 'trolling for sharks'.

It was worth the effort as there are 3 huge anchors and a lot of huge pile of old chain. There is still some structure as well, and lots of fish. Dave said he and his friend Roger, an underwater archaeologist, found it when they were here last time only after hours of dragging around. The locals say it was HMS Advice, wrecked in the 1790s but Roger looked at the anchors and chain and dated it as mid-1800's. Still pretty neat.

The anchorage at the south end, though protected, was kind of rolly. So we decided to move inside the atoll. We could either go the short way, south around the end of the island and in through a pass, or the long way, backtracking and in at Blue Creek. The problem with the short way was that we had to go out in the big seas that we could see breaking on the reef. We opted to take the long way (still only 5 miles) and stop somewhere to look for lobster on the way.

We got underway after lunch, towing the dinghy. We stopped at a random set of coral heads halfway to the Blue Creek entry, anchored Soggy Paws and took the dinghy out after lobster. In about an hour we had 4 nice lobster--all "Florida legal" size.

Entry into the center of Turneffe through Blue Creek was easy, following the guidebook and a couple of way points Dave had from before. It was dead low tide and we did drag a little for a boatlength or two. Dave says we were "technically aground" according to the depth finder. But we made it OK. The center of Turneffe is wide open and covered in heavy grass over deep sand. We found a tiny sand spot to put the anchor in, and spent a nice night in calm water.

Full moon, reef, lobster. This is what we came for!!

Pictures later! (need internet access)

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

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Saturday, June 30, 2007
Turneffe Atoll, Belize
We left the dock in Belize City about noon yesterday and arrived at the south end of Turneffe about 5pm after a nice 10 mile sail down the lee side of Turneffe. We are anticipating several days here before we move out to Lighthouse Reef. There's a tropical wave (thunderstorms & wind) coming about July 3/4/5 and we want to be hunkered down at Lighthouse for that.

I'm still working on the 'inland' post that goes with the pictures... it's coming soon.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007
Back on Board
We are back on board. Pictures are posted here: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

More on the trip soon!

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Belize Inland - Belize Zoo
On the 4th day, we caught the 'Benque to Belize City' bus in the center of town for our trip back to Belize City. This bus again stopped for about 15 minute in Belmopan. When they stop, vendors open up the back door of the bus and come down the aisle hawking food (hamburgers, pizza slices, burritos) and drink (water, soda, chilled seaweed water). They also walk down outside the bus holding their baskets up to the windows.

We had the bus let us off at the Belize Zoo. It cost $10US to get in the zoo. We ate our lunch in the shade with a breeze on the zoo grounds. We spent about an hour walking around. The entry fee got us a map of the zoo with all the animals labeled. They were also well-labeled outside each enclosure. In the heat of the day, most of the animals were sleeping, but I think we did get to see every animal in the zoo... all local indiginous species including toucans, tapirs (pigs), crocodiles, and
several species of lions/tigers. The zoo was very eco-friendly and the emphasis for locals was co-existence with the animals. They had one sign posted about a resort that was selling "Viper Rum"... rum with a snake in it. They had posted letters to the resort and to the government to get the resort to stop this non-eco-friendly tourist practice.

The zoo was good and clean and the animals looked well cared for. Both Dave and I had fun walking around.

We were able to catch another east-bound bus after a few minutes wait along the road, for the remaining 20 miles to marina.

Soggy Paws was in good order when we got back. We were happy to be "home".

We spent Thursday with me on the computer (posting pictures, answering email, doing some financial stuff) and Dave doing small boat projects and getting filled up on fuel and water. Diesel was $3.65/gallon US. We took on 75 gallons (what we used since Marathon).

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

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Belize Inland - Caves Branch Tubing
When Dave was in Belize last time, they did a tubing trip through a cave called "Jaguar Paw". From San Ignacio they didn't have that on the list, but had a similar trip called "Caves Branch Tubing". This time we booked with Eva's because Mayawalk didn't have a trip going. (Eva's turned out to have a better guide and better lunch than Mayawalk, in comparison to our ATM trip the day before). Both places charged $65 US per person which included lunch, transportation, a guide, entry to the site,
and an inner tube rental. Mayawalk offered a $15 pp add-on to stop off at the Belize Zoo after the tubing.

Well it turned out that "Jaguar Paw" and "Caves Branch Tubing" were one and the same. There were 4 of us, a guide, and a driver, in a minibus. The other couple were 2 kids fairly fresh out of college who had quit their jobs to go walkabout for the summer. They had spent 3 weeks in Guatemala--2 in intensive language study and one hiking around the volcano district. Our guide, Joanne, was a Belizian lady who was part of a family of independent tour guides. Each person in her family had a different
specialty (site). They contracted out to the various hotels/resorts in the area to put together tours. And on Thursday, to the cruise ships. Joanne said that all certified guides had to take a year of instruction and then take a set of 8 tests on Belizian culture and history to become certified.

Joanne picked a good specialty--it was an easy day for all of us. An hour drive, a 30 minute hike through the forest carrying an inner tube, and then a nice 3 hour easy float down through the caves. There was only one other group of 4 within sight. But Joanne says that on Cruise Ship days (Thursdays) they take groups of 45 people down through the caves! See the Caves Branch Tubing section of our photo gallery.

We got back to San Ignacio about 3 pm, spent about an hour in Eva's on their internet terminals reading email, and had a nice nap. For dinner we went to Elva's (on a back street 2 blocks from the main street). This turned out to be the best food we'd had in Belize and a more reasonable price than the places on the main drag. We went back for breakfast the next morning, and got a carryout lunch from them for the trip back to Belize City.

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

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Belize Inland - Actun Tunichil Muknal
The next day (Monday) we were up bright and early for our 8:30 departure with Mayawalk Tours to see Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM). We were told to bring sturdy shoes for walking, a pair of socks, a change of clothes, and a bottle of water. Mayawalk provided the rest: lunch, and helmets and headlights. It took about an hour to get to the locale, half on paved roads and half on dirt roads. There were no signs to guide the way, at all, anywhere (ie you couldn't find it on your own at all)

Once we got to the end of the road, we geared up and had a 45 minute hike thru the forest (crossing 2 streams) to a base camp outside the cave. There we had our lunch and then donned helmets and headlights.

Our guide, Emil, gave us a stern lecture about listening to him and doing exactly as he said. He threatened to confiscate the headlight of anyone who didn't (and presumably leave them there in the dark...??). Our group was pretty well-behaved so we never tested that threat. Emil also gave us his version of the Mayan culture, what the caves were used for, and the history of their use as determined by researchers. Then we went inside.

The entry of the cave is a pool of water that you have to swim into. We swam about 10 yards inside the cave and then scrambled up onto a ledge. From there we walked/ scrambled/ waded/ swam for about an hour in the dark (with head lamps). Sometimes we were at the front of the line of people (about 10 of us) and sometimes we ended up at the back. Emil instructed everyone to pass his instructions (where to step, etc) back down the line, but this was done haphazardly. About half the time it was garbled. If Emil said "watch the left, step on the right", at the tail end, we'd get something like "go left" or "(mumble) left".

At the end of the trek, we were instructed to take our shoes off and put on the socks. Then we walked in several levels of caves in our socks for about an hour, with Emil using a high powered spotlight to point out artifacts and the most spectacular cave features . There were shards all over and a number of nearly-whole pots as well as 4 skeletons.

Emil was careful to make us walk on a path that kept us clear of anything we could harm. He went slowly and was clear with his instruction, and allowed plenty of time for people to take pictures (so people weren't lagging behind to get that last shot). He pointed out several crushed artifacts saying "some tourist stepped on that one". The final chamber of the cave, we had to climb up an aluminum extension ladder, about 10' to a higher level cave, had the most intact of the skeletons.

To sum up the purpose of the cave... it was considered a portal to the gods of the underworld. Toward the end of the period when the Maya civilization was at its height, around 900 AD, there was a 30 year drought, and the caves were used for sacrifices to ask the gods to send rain and help the corn grow etc. Only priests and rulers, generally, were allowed in holy places like the caves. See my photo album for our hike and pictures of the artifacts in the ATM cave.

The hike back went much more quickly. This is where we ended up at the tail end of the line and at times felt "left" by the guide. Because we weren't getting the guidance on the route through the rocks that was most efficient, we got further and further behind the group. And we felt obligated to wait for the one guy who was behind us as well. But eventually we made it out to sweet daylight (and a 45 minute hike back thru the woods to get to the van).

Another nap in the A/C completed a very nice day. There was a TV in the room, but every time we found a news channel, all they were covering was Paris Hilton's exit from jail, and we just weren't interested... Most channels were a little snowy, except the Cartoon Channel, which came in crystal clear. This must have been from a Satellite TV. The CNN channel seemed to be CNN Mideast. We got more about the weather in Hong Kong than about the US or Central America.

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

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Belize Inland Travel - Day 1
We spent 4 days 'inland' waiting for the wind to quit blowing.

We left the boat at Cucumber Beach Marina (aka "Old Belize" oldbelize.com), about 5 miles south of Belize City. It is a secure marina with nice facilities (significantly better than the old Mojo Cay marina). We had no qualms about leaving the boat there for a few days under the watchful eye of Carlos. The 7-day rate was reasonable, about $25/nite US for our 44-foot boat. Dave's friend Cliff (www.catchartersbelize.com) was docked behind us so we knew he'd keep an eye on things as well. They have
diesel, gas, and water, too.

We hopped a westbound bus, marked either 'Belmopan' or 'Benque' and for $3.50 USD for each of us. We made the 75 miles to San Ignacio in about 2 hours. This was not an 'express' bus, so we stopped for anyone anywhere that was going our way (many stops as we were entering and leaving towns), s well as a 15 minute stop in Belmopan. The buses run about every half hour. They seemed to be on a schedule but we never saw anything published. You basically get out there and wait and flag one down.

We arrived in San Ignacio about 2pm. We had previously scoped out several hotels to check out near the center of town using a combination of the Lonely Planet Guide to Central America (2001), a local tourist magazine, and the internet. We got there and walked around and checked on rooms at each of the hotels. All the low end rooms were booked. Even though several people said it was 'low season', there were a lot of college students taking up the low end rooms. ($12/nite US for a double without
a private bath or A/C). After looking at a couple of rooms, and trudging around in the heat, we ended up back at the Venus hotel, in their nice room with private bath, king size bed, and A/C, for about $37/nite US. It's a little steep compared to Guatemala, but still pretty reasonable for what was probably the best room in town.

Once we got settled in at the hotel, we checked at Mayawalk Tours, and at Eva's, both just down the street from our hotel, about their excursions going the next day. Both had trips to "the most phenomenal trip you can go on" (Cliff's words), the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) trip. This is a 'strenuous' hike through a huge series of caves, with a number of Mayan artifacts (pottery and human remains) plainly visible. The other trip we were interested in was the "Caves Branch Tubing" trip--more caves,
but less strenuous as you float down through the caves in inner tubes. We settled on Mayawalk for the ATM trip, primarily because the guy manning the desk was a better BS-er, and their lunch sounded better (it wasn't). The cost was $80 US per person. This included transportation, entry to the park, lunch, and a guide for the day. A little on the high side, but we had to do it. There is no way to visit ATM without a guide, and there are only 2 companies authorized by the government to do this
trip (due to the unspoiled nature of the site and its religious and cultural sensitivity).

Once we had the next day's trip booked, we took a local bus out toward Xunantunich (soo-NAN-to-nich), one of the Mayan temple sites. When Dave had been here before, it had been a long hot walk uphill for about a mile, to get from where the bus leaves you, to the site itself. "Jimmy", the guy at Mayawalk had told us that we could probably pay someone with a car to take us up. We got off the bus at the free car ferry, and paid a local taxi $2.50 US to go across on the ferry with us and take us up
to the entry point of the site. We paid about $5 pp to get in (but received no pamphlet or anything, just a wave up the hill to the information building). There was a nice information center with pictures, maps, and explanations, and a set of bathrooms, but no concessions, vendors, glitzy tourist crap, or crowds of people. It was a nice quiet site. We spent about an hour exploring. We were kind of limited on time, because the site closes at 4pm. But an hour was pretty much enough time. We
climbed to the very top of the tallest structure, the temple, and sat for awhile in the cool breeze to cool off. We were fortunate that a group was there with a tour guide, and we got to hear her spiel about Xunantunich, surrounding sites (Tikal is only about 50 miles to the west), and general info about the Mayan culture. Xunantunich is a typical Mayan site with buildings at opposing ends of a plaza built in a pyramid. (see pictures posted in my photo album)

We met 2 different 'missionary' groups from South Carolina while at Xunantunich. Both were mostly teenagers. One group's focus was primarily singing and performing religious skits. They ended up at the other end of the site, at the observatory (about a quarter mile away directly across the courtyard from us), and sang a song. It was very nice. They were spending several weeks going from place to place, performing at local churches, and talking to people on street corners. The other group was
doing pretty much the same thing. We met a third group that was actually helping build a new room for a school house. I think Belize is a favored destination because they speak English, but are still as poor and primitive as Guatemala, once you get outside the 4-5 bigger cities.

On the way back, we managed to bum a ride with one of the missionary groups, in the back of a pickup truck. They wanted to go see the Guatemalan border, so we took the side trip with them (It was only about 5 miles further west). They let us off back in San Ignacio, where they stopped for dinner.

We had a nice nap and a shower before strolling out for dinner. We ended up next door at Serendib, a Sri Lankan restaurant. The typical meal price in San Ignacio was about $5 US for breakfast and lunch, and $5-$15 US for dinner. The cheapest, and on every menu (including breakfast) was 'stewed chicken' which is a few pieces of chicken on the bone and beans and rice. This normally cost about $4.

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

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Sunday, June 24, 2007
Going Walkabout in Belize
Well, we WERE going to leave Belize City today and go to the outer reefs for some diving, but the wind is blowing like stink and is forecast to do so for a few more days.

So Dave suggested hopping the western bound bus for the city of San Ignacio, which is in the middle of an area of Mayan ruins and caves and rivers. It will only cost us a few dollar each way, and we've used our Lonely Planet guide and the internet to scope out a couple of low budget hotels to use as a base ($20-$25 US per night). We plan to spend a couple of days doing some sightseeing/backpacking. I am taking camera, but not the computer. I promise to post some pics and a recap of our trip when
we get back.

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Belize City
We arrived at the dock about 10am on Saturday. It took until about 1pm before we were completely checked in. We were visited by a total of 4 officials, each of whom charged us a $30 "taxi fee" to come out from town. We hadn't known about this, or might have chosen to check in at San Pedro (40 miles north of here). The San Pedro routine is to require you to go to them. Another cruiser here said he spent quite some time walking around and waiting in line, but it didn't cost him a dime to check
in at San Pedro. Oh well, live and learn. (We did ask ahead of time on the NW Caribbean Net if anyone had any advice and info on checking in to Belize City but didn't get any useful info).

The dock electric here is 220v/50amp service and we could not plug into it with our 110v/30amp plug. The dockmaster said they used to have adaptors to loan out, but they had 'disappeared'. Fortunately Dave knew someone in the marina who had one we could borrow. Another cruiser here is still without his A/C... It was looking like a $200-$300 proposition to get a taxi into to town and buy one at the only marine store. He did get an extension cord to a regular plug on a lamp post, so he has some
110v for fans.

The dockmaster offered to get us a taxi to go into town, but we opted to use the local bus system. We flagged a bus headed into town, and paid $1 each (US) round trip to go the 5 miles into town. We ended up at the downtown bus station, which is right next to the open air market. We didn't buy anything (yet) but did look it over thoroughly to see what they had and what prices were.

We trekked into the center part of town and wandered around until lunch time. We stopped in 3 hardware stores, a diesel motor place, 1 'department store'. The couple that went with us were looking for the adaptor plugs (or the parts to make one), Muriatic acid, and a 'watch battery'. Dave had a small list too.

We walked past a stand that had a sign 'unlock your cell phone'. One wanted 3 days to do it, another guy said he could do it in 2 hours. I had my cell phone with me and paid him $25 US to have it done. (I had previously researched it and didn't think it was an easy prospect with my phone).

I have lost my watch--it went missing the night we got in. We thought it was 'LOB' (Lost on Board), but I have searched high and low, and haven't heard it beeping since I misplaced it, so I think it went over the side. I may have taken it off and put it on the swim platform and knocked it off while I was bathing. I was pretty sleep deprived then and may just have not seen it. And so I was on the lookout for another Timex. After checking vainly for a decent ladies rugged watch, I gave up and
bought a big fat men's watch for $5, with the brand name QUEMEX (sorta sounds like Timex...). It says water resistant, but I don't believe it. I'll get my daughter to get a replacement one at WalMart and put it in the next mail package. This one will keep me from going crazy for the next month or so. (Changing 2 timezones AND losing your watch at the same time is very disorienting, I just couldn't deal with it.)

We had a really nice lunch at a place recommended by a local... with A/C, very clean, good food, and reasonable prices. (Grilled fish plate with drinks and tip for $10 each).

We walked into the bus station just as a Western-bound bus was pulling out, so we had a fairly quick trip back to the boat.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007
Anchor Down Belize
Belize! (Dreams do come true if you work on them hard enough).

About 2:45pm we came in through the pass in the reef just north of Long Cay (south of Ambergris Cay), and proceeded down through Porto Stuck (a narrow passage) and to an anchorage about 9 miles east of Belize City. We've had a swim and put the boat in order. Now for Happy Hour.

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