Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Stung by a Scorpionfish!
We went snorkeling for the 3rd time at 'The Grottoes' in the East Holandes of San Blas. While we were fooling around in the cave area, I was treading water, talking with Dave, and accidentally put my hand down on a Scorpionfish.

At first I thought the feeling in the palm of my hand was just from a sharp rock, but as the pain lingered, I started looking around for something else. It took a couple of minutes of looking around before I finally discovered this well-camoflaged Scorpionfish sitting on the top of the rocks where I'd just been hanging out waiting for Dave.

Do you see it? (if not, see next picture down)

When I first spied the fish, the dorsal fin was up, and that's probably what I touched. I could clearly see two puncture wounds on the palm of my hand, one under the 2nd finger and one under the 3rd finger.

Fortunately, Mike on s/v Infini was snorkeling with us, and he is a doctor. Though I was disinclined to leave everyone and go back to the boat (Dave and I were the leaders of the expedition out to the Grottoes). Mike told Dave to get me back ASAP and administer Benadryl and watch for signs of heart problems or shock. It still only felt like a bee sting, so when Dave left the decision to me, I almost told Dave I was fine.

But we finally decided to head back right away. Good thing! By the time we got to the boat (about a 15 minute dinghy ride away) I was in severe pain, and my hand was starting to swell. Dave anxiously watched for signs of more serious problems. We were both glad that we'd spent the extra money on DAN Emergency Evacuation insurance, in case things got really serious.

I first took 2 Advil, then 2 Benadryl, as per Mike's advice. Then we started some hot water to soak my hand in. THEN we got out our various medical books and started looking for treatment issues. The pain was excruciating and I was having trouble thinking rationally. I was glad Dave was there.

All the books we had confirmed Mike's advice, that the best treatment was to clean the wound, remove any visible spines, soak in hot water to 60-90 minutes, watch for signs of shock. See DAN's advice.

Mike also recommended a preventative course of antibiotics (Cipro), since we're out in the boonies away from medical attention. We are well stocked with Cipro, so I started taking those twice a day.

My hand continued swelling but within about an hour, the hot water soaks and the Advil had diminished the pain significantly. My hand was so swollen I couldn't make a fist.

Above, my swollen hand on the left side. It looks a funny color because it's been soaking in hot water for an hour.

By the next morning the swelling was mostly gone. The wounds still looked clean. The pain was mostly gone. (But even now, 5 days later, the hand is still painful around the joints and the tendons of the two fingers).

I consider myself lucky and will be more careful in the future where my hand goes down. We have saved the DAN web page about stings to our Medical folder on our computer, and also ordered a copy of the book Dangerous Marine Creatures - A Field Guide for Medical Treatment.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008
Cayos del Este Sudeste (near San Andreas)

Some details about our anchorages and two night stay in Cayos del Este Sudeste.

This island group, located about 15 miles ESE of San Andreas, belongs to Colombia. It has a barrier reef, 3 islands, and a sandbar with a statue on it. The barrier reef runs for about 5 miles north-south along the eastern side. Though mostly awash, the reef has several wide gaps in it that do not break.

The permanently inhabited island is Cayo Bolivar. There is a small Colombian Navy detachment there, and a light structure that sticks up high over the trees (makes it easy to identify). Nearby to the west is a clearly visible large sandbar with a white statue on it. The light was working, but on a slow blink (15 second interval according to the chart).

The other two islands are located where Cayo del Este is on the chart. They are close together with a cut between, may have originally been one island. These two islands seem to have fishermen coming and going in lanchas, and probably a fish camp there. Though remote, they are close enough to San Andreas that they may also be visited by tourist boats or weekenders.

The water here was very clear (visibility approaching 100') everywhere we went. The chart (M26081S3 - Cayos Del Este Sudeste) seems fairly accurate in features and depths, except displaced about 200 yards to the NW. Our track through a pass in the reef showed up on the chart as 200 yds SE of the pass.

We rounded the NW end of the island about 4pm at waypoint SENW and proceeded south on visual behind the reef, in the deeper water between the reef and the scattered heads to the west. The water was clear, and even at that late hour, it was pretty easy navigating around the reef areas. We looked for a good anchorage in the the extensive sand near the NE corner, but the sand was either 5 feet deep or 35 feet deep, so we kept working our way south.

There was another sailboat anchored west of Cayo Bolivar, so we decided to go down there and check it out. As we got closer to Bolivar, we got a VHF call 'Yate yate, Bolivar'. We eventually figured out they were calling US, and it was the Colombian Navy on the island. The caller spoke only Spanish and wanted to know the name of the boat, our nationality, the Zarpe number, where we were from, how many people on board, and how long we planned to stay. We were not required to physically go to the island. We told them we were going to try finding a 'mas tranquilo' anchorage to the east, and they said 'OK'.

We could see that the sailboat anchored there (a Dutch vessel named s/v Garimar) was rolling a little, so we decided to try to work up closer to the reef and behind Cayo Este.

We eventually worked our way up into about 8 feet of deep sand behind Cayo Este, with a minimum depth of about 6-7 feet getting in. See way points SE11-SE13 below, and the anchorage at SEESTE. This is definitely a 'requires good light' entry, and we did have to weave around a few coral heads. This was a relatively calm anchorage in ENE 10-15. However, it would be EXPOSED in SE winds, as the reef to the SE was pretty broken in that area. The water here was crystal clear, and the sandy bottom flat for several hundred yards in all directions. The two cute little cays ahead and off the port beam had sandy beaches and palm trees. Unfortunately, we had the dink on deck, and needed to get going, so we didn't explore the islands. There was no coral within swimming distance from the boat so we didn't snorkel either.

The next morning, we moved to an anchorage to do some snorkeling and allow an easy departure in the wee hours of the morning. We went out from our first anchorage a different way than we came in. This route was deeper than coming in the previous day, and would be a better approach to SEESTE than the first one. See waypoints SE13-SE17 below. We passed a nice anchorage in 9-10 feet sand on the way out, more protected than where we ended up. See SE15Anch.

When we reached deep water, we looped back to the east and anchored between a reef area to the north and east and a grassy area to the south in 15 feet of nice deep sand. This would be a good daytime anchorage for snorkeling, with several nice reef areas nearby and a few conch in the grassy area. It would also be a possible night approach anchorage, or early morning departure anchorage. But it was pretty rolly, with swell from the south wrapping around the south end of the barrier reef, even in light ENE wind. See SE18 and SE18Anch. It might be possible to get away from some of the roll by moving several hundred yards further east in this same anchorage.


SENW 12 27.750 N 81 29.713 W Approach waypoint in 50', from the north
SE11 12 24.221 N 81 28.638 W 1st wpt to Cayo Este Anchorage
SE12 12 24.377 N 81 28.131 W 2nd wpt to Cayo Este (skinny water, heads, between 11 & 12)
SE14 12 24.049 N 81 27.786 W 3rd wpt to Cayo Este Anchorage
SE13 12 24.038 N 81 27.561 W 4th wpt to Cayo Este Anchorage
SEESTE 12 23.971 N 81 27.386 W Anchorage at Cayo Este

Note: An easier entry to SEESTE is below

Navigate around Cayo Bolivar to the west and start WSW of SE17

SE17 12 23.727 N 81 28.197 W 1st waypoint in 35 feet, approach from WSW
SE16 12 23.794 N 81 28.136 W 2nd waypoint in 20 feet
Between 16 & 17, coral heads, but none shallower than about 15 feet
SE15 12 23.945 N 81 27.942 W 3rd waypoint
SE15Anch 12 23.945 N 81 27.942 W Nice sandy anchorage in 10 feet
Can also proceed from SE15 to 14 & 13 to SEESTE, carry 7' in.

Easy in/out Anchorage (rolly)
SE18 12 23.679 N 81 28.023 W 1st waypoint in 35 feet
SE18Anch 12 23.713 N 81 27.938 W Anchorage (don't drift left of course in

You might do better anchoring behind Cayo Bolivar
for an easy in/out anchorage.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Seahorses in the Anchorage

Yesterday when we were snorkeling, I turned over a broken off sea fan (looking for 'Flamingo Tongue' snails) and found a pair of Seahorses.

Dave and I watched these guys motor around... they look like little electric horses... they seem to swim without moving anything (but they have very small fins on their back that move them).

We got the camera out and took a picture of them before we left the anchorage this morning.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008
Cayos Cajones (Hobbies) & the Big Fish Waypoint
Saturday, Mar 1, 2008 - 16°02.44'N 083°06.27'W

Just as predicted, in the middle of the night Weds, the wind switched to light NNE and slowly picked up all day Thursday.

On Thursday morning, we set out for the outer reef right after the Northwest Caribbean Net was over, to hopefully find the 'Big Fish' waypoint our friends had told us about. The GPS said it was 1.4 miles NNW of our current location. We took the handheld GPS to help us find the spot. As we skimmed along just inside the outer reef, I took waypoints periodically so we could upload them to our Nobeltec chart program, and plot the approximate edge of the reef on our not-detailed chart, to see how it
compares (it actually matched up pretty well).

We actually had 2 waypoints from different people, for the Big Fish place, located a few hundredths of a degree apart. Once we got there, we circled around in the dinghy until we thought we'd identified the spot. In this area, the outer reef starts breaking up, and there is a large cut where the bottom is about 35' deep, and the tops of the coral heads are just awash, and in light air, it is possible to take your dinghy outside.

There is a dramatic profile between the bottom and the tops of the heads. The 'heads' are not solitary coral heads, but reef structures 100 feet in diameter. At the base of each head, the reef has been undercut by wave action, and most of them have some kind of cave-like area. At least one had a very pretty arch that made a nice swim-through. We circled all the heads within about a 200 yard radius, and found lots of places where the big fish should be (ie cave structures etc). But didn't see
anything like the fish life that had been described (large grouper, snapper, nurse sharks, just teeming with big fish). Bummer!

The next day we called our friends on the HF net (they are in the San Blas now) and got a better description of what the right spot should look like. So yesterday we went back, this time with a different (better?) GPS, and the waypoint entered fresh and double-checked. It seems as we were in the right place the first time. But now the wind was blowing close to 20 knots and all the heads we had snorkled around the day before were breaking. The water was really stirred up and visibility was bad.
So we didn't even bother to go in.

We stopped instead at a few spots near our anchorage that we'd spotted the first day there. Dave managed to spear dinner within a few minutes (a nice fat snapper). One snapper hole has a 4 foot long (~50 lb) snapper with a spear mark on his shoulder. Dave wisely opted to shoot something a little smaller.

While Dave was looking for fish, I went scouting for conch and lobster. I covered a lot of shallow reef area, and it is pretty cleaned out. When the fishing boats anchor here for the night, they send out a couple of guys in a cayuca to find dinner, and they must be pretty thorough. I saw a few horse conch, which I opted to bypass, and a couple of undersized lobster, which I also left alone. The shallow reefs are a combination of live and dead coral. They have lots of pretty fish and invertebrates,
but anything edible has already been taken (how sad).

The wind is forecast to slowly switch to the SE and ease off. This will be better for exploring around here, and not so good for us to head SE.

I think we'll stay here a couple more days and play a little longer, do a couple of boat projects, and wait for the next weather window to head further south.

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Friday, February 29, 2008
Vivarillos and Cayos Cajones
We arrived in the Vivarillos on Monday after a 2-day motorsail. We spent Tuesday recovering from our overnighter, and exploring the Vivarillos a little.

The approach we made to the Vivarillos from the west, at night, was to waypoint 15-50.46N 83-18.13W. It is clear to approach slowly from the west, and the depth shallowed to a minimum of 12 feet. At the waypoint, it is about 10-12 feet deep in good sand. It is possible to go another 100 yards further in at least, but you should probably do this during daylight. At this point, you are between the Grand Vivarillos island to the south and the Bird Island to the north, with a continuous reef out
in front. It is good protection in weather from NNE to SSE, but does get rolly if the wind goes too far north or south. It is possible to move around behind Grand Vivarillo in a westerly, but this is really not a good place to weather a strong frontal passage.

We have a fairly detailed chart of the Vivarillos in our raster electronic chart (and I think the CMAP chart is similarly detailed).

Yesterday, we opted to take advantage of the light wind and good sun conditions to go explore another reef area 16 miles NE of the Vivarillos. This area has 2 names, Cayos Cajones and The Hobbies. Our chart of the Hobbies is not very detailed. It looks to be just reef with no land. We were really not sure what we were going to find here. But friends had told us it was a 'not to be missed' place. We also weren't sure what the weather was going to do. There is a front approaching and we didn't
want to get caught in an unfamiliar area with stinky weather.

But the GRIB file was forecasting light winds and no westerly component, and the skies were clear. So we thought we'd leave early, go up and check it out, and if we didn't like it, we could go back to the Vivarillos anchorage before dark.

So yesterday, we motorsailed in about 5 knots of wind, up to the two waypoints our friends had given us. 16-01.829N 83-06.214W and 16-02.500N 83-06.320W. Once we got in close, we had to go on visual navigation, because the area is strewn with coral heads. But it was easy getting in, and after checking out both anchoring spots, we opted for the second waypoint. We were surprised to find 2 islands with vegetation, and several visible sand islands, since there is no land indicated on the chart at

The first waypoint is right off the southern island and has good protection from the SW around to the East, if you tuck in close. The second waypoint is good from South, around to the East, and all the way on around to the NW. Both are good anchor spots in the normal ESE trades, but since we were expecting the wind to soon switch to the NNE, we opted for the second anchorage.

But all day yesterday, the wind remained very calm... less than 5 knots out of the SW. We checked the GRIB (wind prediction) forecast again and decided it would be OK to stay for the expected frontal passage.

So we all (Dave and I, Mike, Laura, and Liz from s/v Gilana, and Sophie and Bernhardt from s/v Stella) jumped in the dinghies and went out to explore the reef. Dave and I quickly found a couple of spots inside the reef with good relief and some fish, we marked them with the GPS so we could come back later. But the water in the inner reef was kind of murky. So, we went further out to the outer reef. With the calm wind it was an excellent opportunity to explore the outer reef--which normally has
breaking waves over it.

Gilana found a swim pass from inside the reef to outside, and we all went snorkeling through. There were lots of fish and at least one small Hawksbill turtle swimming around. After a bit of looking around, we found a big school of snapper, with several of them close to 2 feet long. Mike had brought his spear gun, and eventually picked out one of the biggest Red Snapper, and speared him. Then he loaned Dave his gun and Dave got a Cubera Snapper. Mike's fish was big enough that they shared half
with Stella, so everyone had fish for dinner.

The sea was glassy in all directions at sunset and it made a spectacular sunset.

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Friday, February 15, 2008
Josh's Cay, Guanaja, Honduras
We are anchored off 'Graham's Place', which is a small resort on Josh's Cay in Guanaja.

Josh's Cay is one of the small islands on the barrier reef that surrounds Guanaja, the easternmost of the Bay Islands of Honduras. This is a good staging point for the big jump to the Vivarios (or Vivarillos as they are also called) 150 miles to the east. We are right behind the reef, so we can easily see waves out there and feel the wind, and get an accurate picture of the weather we'd be getting into if we set out.

We have heard about Graham's Place from other cruisers. The word we got was that they welcomed cruisers and have free water, free wifi, free ice, and free moorings. It just sounded too good to be true, so I didn't really believe it. But it really is true!

This is the first place in a year (other than Catamaran Marina in the Rio Dulce) that we have felt really welcomed. Usually we are tolerated for the dollars we spend. Most of the Guatemalans and Hondurans have no idea why we are here and what our priorities are... we are lumped in with all the other 'Gringos' (which include pretty much anyone from out of the area with white skin).

When we called on VHF Channel 06, on our approach, we were answered immediately by Reggie, who turns out to be Graham's most excellent chef. He directed us to the appropriate vacant moorings and welcomed us to come ashore.

The owner/proprietor, Graham, is originally from Grand Cayman, and he talks with a distinct Caribbean island accent. Over the past 12 years, he has built (and re-built, after Hurricane Mitch) this small resort, and still maintains it to American standards (ie the toilets flush, the lights work, the grounds are well-maintained, and the staff is knowledgeable and eager to please).

When we came ashore in our dinghies, he welcomed us on the dock, and encouraged us to come ashore and go whereever we wanted on his island. He showed us his ice machine and said to help ourselves if we needed some ice. He showed us the hose and said we could jerry-jug water if we needed it. We asked about coming in to eat at the restaurant and Reggie himself told us that he was open 24x7, and we didn't need reservations.

Larry the Bartender

Sherry 'Doing Wifi' at the Bar

(Later we discovered that if we moved a little closer in, we could pick up passable wifi on the boat, with the EUB-362 and the external antenna)

Graham put in 7 moorings for visiting yachts to use when they are here, though only 4 are currently there. The anchoring is actually not too bad here, in good sand, but the shelf is 5' deep and rapidly drops off to 35', so sometimes it is difficult to find a good spot. We picked up a mooring for the first night, but since the wind was supposed to get up to 20 knots last night, we dropped the mooring and set our anchor. (Though Graham's moorings look pretty well tricked out, we have a general policy not to trust our boat in high winds to anyone else's equipment).

Infini on a Mooring

At the dock, Graham keeps a few pets in pens, including turtles, nurse sharks, grouper, conch, and lobster. When you hop out of your dinghy, they all come over looking for a handout.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, so we went ashore at sunset for a few drinks and dinner. The other two boats here were also ashore. One is Swedish and the other is Danish, and they have 3 pre-teen kids between the two boats.

One of the boats has just come up from Cartagena, so we got some recent information about the marinas there, and some good info about some inland travel within Colombia. Colombia has apparently become safe enough now for foreigners to travel outside of Cartagena. So now Dave has me researching a 6-day hike to see the 'Lost World' in Colombia.

I have finally gotten the correct position showing on our Findu/Shiptrack page. If you looked yesterday you would have seen our position as north of Roatan, 60 miles west of where we actually are. (Operator error in entering the position, one degree off). Now it is showing accurately and the Google satellite picture is amazingly accurate.

Today we plan to move a couple of miles south, closer to town. We heard the supply ship comes in from the mainland today, and it's the best time to get fresh veggies.

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Friday, February 01, 2008
Relaxing and Enjoying Fine Weather
We are still hanging out and diving in West End. More pics to make you drool...

Fabulous Sunset
This picture doesn't do the sunsets we have been seeing justice

Soggy Paws at Anchor West End

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Thursday, January 31, 2008
West End, Roatan, Honduras, Day 2
We spent Tuesday afternoon ashore in West End, poking around and looking for dive shops, grocery stores, bars that will carry the Super Bowl, and the Marine Park Office.

West End's 'main drag' is a sandy 'dirt road' that is very bumpy, so auto traffic moves very slowly here. (Good for us pedestrians).

Mike, Sue & Dave on Main Street, West End

Like Utila, in West End there is a dive shop about every other business. Plus lots of bars and eateries. The composition here is 44% dive shops, 44% restaurant/bars, 10% real estate offices, and 2% everything else. There are several internet cafe's and several grocery stores with basic stuff. (Anyone who wants anything fancy takes a bus to the main city of Coxen Hole).

We stopped in the first 6 or so dive shops, asking about tank fills and dive trips. Prices are just about double here, compared to Utila. The standard price for a single 1-tank dive here is $35 (PLUS your gear rental, if necessary). You can get that down to $25 if you buy a package of 8 dives or more. Most dive shops tend to do 3 1-tank dives a day rather than 2 2-tank dives, so the quoted price is PER DIVE vs per trip. Fills universally seemed to be $5. We never did ask if we could reduce that by buying a package of fills. Dave has decided to break out our compressor and make sure it is working, while we're in a place to get spare parts.

Mike and Dave Working on Dive Equipment

Mike from Infini had bought some used dive equipment in Utila and was also trying to find a place to get his new (used) dive tank hydro'd. As well as buy a few more bits and pieces of dive gear to complete a one full set of dive equipment. There are more places here with dive equipment for sale, and also parts for compressors. We did finally find a shop (Sueno del Mar) that seemed to know what they are doing, and agreed to do some PM on Mike's regulator, and hydro the tank.

Fresh Fish for this Restaurant on the Water!

We found a couple of small grocery stores. In front of the main grocery store, there was also a guy selling veggies out of the back of his truck, and another guy selling frozen seafood (shrimp, lobster, crab). We didn't buy much, because we are still well stocked from Guatemala. But we are always on the lookout for the small 'specialty' stuff. "Oooh, look, they have Extra Crunchy Jif Peanut Butter!" (We did finally find Dave some Cheerios in Utila, which we've been looking for for 6 months!)

We also checked in at the Roatan Marine Park Office ( and bought dive tags for $10 each. We could probably slide by without this expense, but we feel that preservation of the marine environment is a very important cause, and we want to be 'good cruisers'. We also bought a nice color guide to the Roatan dive sites, complete with a description and color sketch of the dive profile for each dive, and GPS waypoints. Sherry spent some time yesterday entering the waypoints into her handheld GPS.

We really needed to do a few small maintenance projects yesterday, but opted to go diving instead. It was absolutely flat calm yesterday and the water was fantastically clear. Dave and I did 2 dives from the dinghy to 60-70'. It's only a 5 minute dinghy ride to the closest mooring bouys, and there are bouys that stretch from a couple miles south of us to a couple miles north of us.

Dave Hanging Out in the Dinghy Between Dives

I think we'll be staying here until the Super Bowl. Dave and Mike already scoped out a bar that will be televising the game.

Dive Compressor Comes Out of the Closet

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008
West End, Roatan, Honduras
We picked up anchor from Utila this morning about 8am. The wind was forecast to be light SE, and maybe sail-able. But it was too light and too close ahead to sail.

But we had an easy motorsail and arrived in West End about 12:30.

There is not much guidebook coverage of West End. It is pretty much a 'fair weather' anchorage and a very small town. You have to come in through a narrow cut in the reef (marked by PVC bouys) and then find a sandy spot to anchor in off the beach. Most of the bottom is heavy grass, and not good holding. Someone told us 'don't be here in a strong cold front'.

But we had a perfect day, and a set of waypoints from the Windswept 42 list. It was an easy entry and easy to find a good spot. There are some moorings here, but right now they are all taken. So we found a nice sand spot and we are well stuck to the bottom.

The West End Reef Out Our Back Door

After we got the boat secured, Dave urged me to check to see if we had wifi... and we do. Someone with a 'linksys' wifi. It's pretty tenuous, I'm barely getting it with my external antenna. But it's enough to do email and get weather.

West End looks like even more of a diver's paradise than Utila. More later...

Infini Anchored West End

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Monday, January 28, 2008
More Utila Diving with Paradise Divers
Well, after 2 more days of diving with Paradise Divers in Utila, I am happy to report that they are 'a good operation at a budget price'. They are so convenient to us at anchor... 2 minutes in the dinghy and we can unload all our gear directly into the dive boat.

Though we did do one afternoon of diving from our dinghy, we opted to take 3 2-tank trips with Paradise, to go to places further away. 2 trips to 'The North Side'... walls that drop to 500 feet, and one to the 'Sea Mount' on the east end of the island.

Paradise's boat and the equipment IS a little worn, but it all operated properly. The instructors are good, and really care about the students. And everything went smoothly on our dives.

We still didn't see a Whale Shark (but didn't really expect to, this time of year). Our divemasters (DM's), Joaquin and Daniel, were good knowlegable guys and safety conscious. And all were 'characters'.

Oli, Joaquin, and Daniel

It was interesting diving on a boat with such a diversity of people. We had students from Germany, Israel, Spain, the U.S. and Ireland. Language is an issue with the divemasters and instructors! One Divemaster told me a story about having to coach a student from Israel through the written test via pantomime, because they didn't have any tests in Hebrew, and the kid didn't understand enough English.

And of course us 'cruisers' add to the exotic mix. I'm sure they think we are as old as God. (I remember at that age thinking that my 30-year-old teacher was OLD). Dave talked about first getting certified to dive in 1970--that's about 15 years before any of these 20-something students were born!!! And they just couldn't believe we were sailing around the world for 10 years.

A couple of the DM's were interested in seeing how we live, so we brought them out to Soggy Paws for Dave's 'engineer's tour'. They were both ready to go buy a boat and sail around the world. But Dave showed them all the 'systems' he has to maintain...they understood after hanging out with us for a few days, that it isn't all 'margaritas in the sunset'.

We did a total of 8 dives... 6 with Paradise Divers and 2 out of the dinghy. We took the camera on the last dive and got a few good pics.

A Tasty-Looking Crab (6" across)

Beautiful Soft Corals

Two Banded Coral Shrimp

Tomorrow we leave for West End, Roatan, 25 miles away... the 'front' we've been expecting passed through today. We got some rain and a little wind shift, but nothing more than a 5 knots from any direction.

The forecast for tomorrow is for light SE winds, so it should be a nice motorsail further East (to windward, but only 25 mi).

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Saturday, January 26, 2008
Diving in Utila
Utila is widely known to be the cheapest place in this part of the world for Dive certifications. There is literally a dive school about every third building all through the town. The island is now ringed with very nice dive moorings, which are regularly maintained. We can see 5-6 dive bouys just outside the harbor within easy dinghy reach.

View of Utila Harbor and Closest Dive Bouy

Dive Bouys Along "Black Coral Wall"

It is also well known as a great place to see (and dive with) Whale Sharks. Whale Sharks are the world's largest fish. Try this link for more info

I was really excited about seeing some whale sharks. However, the main 'season' for seeing them is not til March and we will likely be long gone by then. Though the websites say they can be seen any time of the year, the dive shops didn't seem so encouraging.

We stopped in several dive shops in the center of town and asked about dive trips and dive tank refills. The standard price for a 2-tank dive seems to be $50 US. (The going rate in Florida is about $65-$75 now).

But Dave found a place on the water that he dealt with 5 years ago, owned and operated by native Utilians, that offered us 2-tank dives for $30 with our own equipment, and $35 for our friends without their own equipment. And tank refills at $2.50 apiece!!

Dave and Sue Getting Ready to Dive

So we did a 2-tank dive yesterday with Paradise Divers to the north side of the island (too far for us to dinghy). Mike and Sue on Infini hadn't been diving in 4 years, so this was a nice easy refresher dive for them. It was kind of an overcast day so it wasn't as pretty as it could have been. But visibility was good, and there was lots of live coral and a few interesting fish and wiggly things.

The dive operation was a bit low-rent... the boat slow and not well maintained. The rental equipment kind of ragged. The captain, divemasters, and young students all seemed well hungover from a night of partying. But we circumnavigated the whole island in the course of the trip, and the crew were real characters and gave us lots of information about places we could go diving on our own. We had our own equipment and so were just looking for a cheap ride, so we didn't care too much.

Dave and I plan to try to do at least one or two dives on the dive bouys off the harbor in the next day or so, and maybe another dive on the north side with Paradise.

It has been squally in the mornings here. While we were in the dive boat, we saw a cloud with 2 waterspouts. Fortunately they were not heading for the harbor!

The WaterSpout

Mike and Sue from Infini, headed ashore between showers

Lickety Split left here today for Roatan. They are trying to hook up with some other friends waiting for them there. We'll probably catch up with them in a few days. I think we are targeting a weather window on Tuesday to head east to Roatan. We have a few more dives to make before we leave here.

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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:

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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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