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.
Waypoints NOTE: GOOD LIGHT REQUIRED!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I'm still working on the 'inland' post that goes with the pictures... it's coming soon.