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, May 10, 2008
Islandia, San Blas Islands, Panama

Late yesterday, we moved to Islandia, about a mile away from Aligandi, out by the reef. 09-13.47N 078-00.60W

It is a nice anchorage, pretty protected, and away from the town. It is also the former home of WWI pilot Johnnie Golf, who once worked for Al Capone. He spent his last years here hiding out from the Feds. We swam ashore on the island and found a few bricks, a concrete pad, and a rusted-out large tank that probably held water or fuel.

We were looking forward to dinner at one of the two hotels out here, but neither one has any guests right now. One offered to feed us, but the menu was expensive for Panama, and Dave said the restaurant was mostly enclosed and hot and airless. We're going to move to Achutupu today, where there is supposedly a 'five star hotel', so Dave can take me out to dinner. (Dave's getting tired of doing dishes. :)

Islandia Lodge

Near the end of the day we dinghied over to a small lagoon, Golandrina, on the mainland to do some tarpon fishing and have happy hour. The Bauhaus guide says that there are "big tarpon fish" here. Dave was anxious to hook a tarpon. Well we can tell you that after an hour of fishing there are no tarpon here. Not even a ripple on the water and no strikes. Maybe it is the wrong time of year for tarpon in Panama. Sherry participated in fishing by reading her book.

Last night we had our first ITCZ storm. The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, a windless band of thunderstorms that sits roughly along the equator, moves a little north about this time of year (along with the sun), and I think we are right underneath it right now. Last night we had lightning all over, but fortunately very little wind. We did about 2 360's during the night, but never with more than about 5 knots of wind.

We are remote enough now that we've only seen one other cruising boat in 3 days. Most boats go direct from the western San Blas to Cartagena. The boat we saw passed by yesterday out in the channel. We tried hailing them on VHF but never raised them. Couldn't see the name or flag.

We do have some other cruising contact on the SSB nets... We actually listen in on 3-4 nets every morning, from 8am to 9:30am, including the Central American Breakfast Club, a ham net on 7083; the SW Caribbean Net on 6209 (mainly Bocas cruisers); the Panama Connection Net on 8107 (mainly San Blas cruisers); and the NW Caribbean Net on 6209 (NW Caribbean and offshore islands). We also sometimes check in on Ben's Net, a ham net on 14261 in the late afternoon. This schedule keeps us pretty busy!

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Sunday, March 30, 2008
Escudo Veragas, Panama
We left from Bluefields this morning and motorsailed in light southerly winds to Escudo Veragas, a small island offshore.

Dave caught a very small tunny as we rounded the point leaving Laguna Bluefied, and let it go. As we approached Escudo, he hooked and landed a very nice 25-pound King Mackerel. It is 44 inches long. We are having fish sandwiches for lunch!

We scoped out the 2 anchorages recommended in the book, and though the current wind is a light NW, the best anchorage is on the west side of the island (open to the wind, but mostly protected from the large easterly swell). The SW anchorage suggested in the Zydler guide for westerly winds, seemed like it would be more protected, but there was a huge SE-ly swell breaking on the beach.

West Anchorage: 09-05.64N 81-34.42W
SW Anchorage: 09-05.26N 81-33.98W

Our raster chart seems pretty accurate, though there are no depth details when you get close in. Though the west anchorage spot plots just on the edge of the reef, the reef is actually about 150' north of us.

There is a nice beach ashore, with palm trees, and some fishermen's huts up the beach aways. We would like to go exploring in the dinghy, but without having someone to stay and watch the boat, we will probably just opt to swim ashore and explore a little close by.

Shortly after anchoring we were visited by Mauricio, one of two gentlemen that are 'caretakers' of the island. He solicited from us a small donation to help with the upkeep of the island. (Phone service, trash cleanup, etc). We gave him the carcass of our fish, for soup, and $10.

He said that now there were about 200 people living on the island, maintaining a 'coco' plantation. (we are not sure if this is cacao (chocolate) or coconut). He nvited us ashore to visit. Dave said we'd bring some small gifts for the children we can see playing on the beach.

We took a walk on the beach and found a nice fresh water stream along the south shore. Dave really enjoyed soaking in the cool fresh water.

We will leave after dinner for a short overnight to the entrance of the Chagras River.

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Friday, February 08, 2008
Fish On!
On our trip to Calabash Bight, Mike and Sue rode along with us. It was fun kinda cruising and socializing.

Mike and Dave Fishing

We were also blessed with our first fish in 2008. Dave caught us a nice dolphin.

It was delicious!


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 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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