TLC For Beyzano

Whilst Belize suffered some damage from Hurricane Earl with power lines down and some devastated beaches, in the Rio it was eerily calm and dry for a few days whilst the system passed just north of us. On the diagram you can see how close it came, as we are in the medium green section. In the north of Guatemala there was a lot of rain so we wondered if the river level might rise here and got ready to loosen our lines and those of our neighbours but it barely changed and all was well.

The Path Of Hurricane Earl

The Path Of Hurricane Earl

So with that little excitement passed, we have just continued to enjoy the socialising and time to relax. Most days we float around in the swimming pool just to cool down, as it is incredibly hot at the moment. Over 90 degrees most days and blazing hot by 0900. I shower and by the time I’m dressed again I feel in need of another shower, not pleasant. Our awnings and fans help a lot but we stay inside the boat more and spend time on the Internet or tidying up the lockers.

Recently we had a lot of the contents of our friend’s boat to store whilst he had a prospective purchaser to stay on his. Unfortunately, despite flying from Canada and spending a week here, the deal didn’t go through as he had decided that having a boat was going to be out of his comfort zone. Disappointing after all the hard work and expense put in getting the boat ready but we all know you have to be lucky to find a genuine buyer and even more so to find ‘the one’ who falls in love with your boat!

One Of The Rooms At Nana Juana

One Of The Rooms At Nana Juana

On the subject of boats something that always amuses us are the names some people give them. Ours is bad enough, usually needing an explanation of where it came from but we have noticed that many Americans like to give their boats names which are statements, such as ‘Sold The Farm’, ‘Never Bored’, ‘Smart Move’ and ‘Best Day Ever’. They are often linked to what the people used to do, for example ‘Fried Chicken’ and ‘Plane To Sea’.

Skype has been keeping me in touch with Kym and John’s wedding plans, down to helping choose colours, picking flowers and looking at outfits. We have already booked our flights in May using another batch of air miles earned over 5 years ago. The taxes alone were 1.5K GBP though, not nice. We have enough air miles left for a final flight and after that we’ll have to pay the entire fare. I love flying but am especially excited this time as we are flying on the Airbus A380, a plane I saw in testing many times at Filton when I worked there but never got to fly on. We have almost no luggage to take to the UK but will take a case inside another so we can bring out the usual supplies on our way back to Washington. Better check the rules for importing foods, as I’m sure the USA will be very strict.

Roger's Boat With The Fuel Polishing Kit

Roger’s Boat With The Fuel Polishing Kit

By the beginning of September we will have been in Guatemala for 3 months and our Immigration and boat permits need to be updated. We contacted Raul, the agent in Livingston and I met him during his regular visits to Nana Juana to remind him we need the new paperwork. The boat gets a 9 month extension pass but our passports only get a 90 day stamp each time. Some cruisers just go off on a short break abroad but Raul somehow manages to get the passports updated and I’ve left everything in his hands but it does feel weird to rely on someone else for the first time. I’ll be glad when it is completed.

The boat work continues slowly and is mainly being done by contractors. We last bought fuel in February in Panama, so don’t use much over the year but when we need the engine, we really do need it! After the engine cut out off Utila one windless night due to a blocked pipe or filter, we decided to get our fuel polished and the tanks emptied and cleaned out. We have never done this and don’t know if the previous owners did, so there could have been 14 years of gunk in the tanks. Although Mike on ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ kindly lent us his machine, we couldn’t get the fuel pumped through so paid Roger Day 60 pounds to bring his kit to our boat and do the job for us. Most of his kit was kept off our boat in his launcha meaning a clean and easy job. It didn’t take long and we have shiny tanks filled to the brim with 500 litres of clean fuel. Rather than leaving the dock, we jugged the fresh diesel and filtered it as we added it to the tanks. The fuel from RAM is very clean anyway, as they filter it too and are very careful to clean out the cans for you beforehand as well. Fingers crossed all will be well with the fuel supply now.

Watching The Fuel Polishing Operation

Watching The Fuel Polishing Operation

We have obtained quotes from local workmen for polishing our stainless steel and smooth white GRP. It is quiet here with many cruisers gone back home, leaving people looking for work. At 15 GBP a day we think it is better to give them some money than try to spend time out in the heat doing the polishing ourselves. When we bought the boat there were some thin cracks on the stern platform and we have always wanted them repaired. We also have a couple of scratches on the white GRP and a stress crack around the starboard fuel filler cap and are in the midst of having those mended. The old GRP was dug out and several layers of new GRP added, smoothed and shaped. Next the shiny topcoat will be painted on to match the colour and the non-slip finish can be replicated with a special template. I will be posting photos further when this is complete.

Where Our Fine Cracks Used To Be

Where Our Fine Cracks Used To Be

As prices are so competitive it is tempting to get a lot of work done here. We are even thinking of getting replacement stern cabin mattress covers made for when we finally sell Beyzano. Having used those cabins as store rooms and the occasional guest cabin for 8 years the mattresses could do with being re-covered and we can always keep them in a cupboard until the boat is emptied ready for sale.

Repairing The Area Around Our Starboard Diesel Filler Cap

Repairing The Area Around Our Starboard Diesel Filler Cap

Being at Nana Juana is still lovely and we are very fortunate to be here for the hurricane season at less than 200 pounds a month, including electricity. Our view from the stern must rate as one of the best in a marina and we wouldn’t be without the pool. Several of the ‘inmates’ meet there each afternoon to chat and chill, along with socials on Fridays at the Palapa and Sunday BBQs under the boatyard Palapa. The bar is shut and the restaurant is expensive and not as pretty as many of the restaurants in other marinas. It is too big, isn’t under a thatched roof and it lacks ‘atmosphere’ being empty most of the time. The grounds are pretty and we feel very secure here, seeing the security guards wandering around all through the night.

The Storage Yard At Nana Juana

The Storage Yard At Nana Juana

Next weekend we are heading off to Texan Bay once more, in ‘Horizons’ with Jeff. Texan Mike is opening a new restaurant across the bay and holding a Tex-Mex evening and a BBQ to celebrate. Cruisers have been asked to donate anything a new restaurant might need to help him out. It will be a good excuse to go sailing again and it is really pretty bay to anchor in. Our friends Robert and Carla on ‘Moody Mistress’ flew back from Canada this week and brought me 5 packets of ginger nut biscuits for the lime pie base. Good to see them again. Time passes by and our fears of being totally bored here were unfounded but we are planning next season already and looking forward to being at anchor again in clear water. With the flights booked and the marina berth at Deltaville also reserved we do at least know we have to be in the Chesapeake by 1 May.

Posted in Costs, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Maintenance, Techy Stuff, UK, Weather | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hurricane Earl – Just A Whisper Away

We have all been watching the Tropical Storm named Earl for a few days as it was predicted to take a path quite close to us and may reach hurricane status this afternoon as it approaches Belize. Being tucked up so far from the sea makes us feel quite cosy but once we heard the ‘H’ word we soon clicked back into cautious cruiser mode and started looking at the NOAA hurricane centre site again. Honduras, the Bay Islands, Belize and Mexico have all been put on TS Watch and the latter are now on Hurricane Watch officially. We are well inland but with up to a foot of rain possible, the danger here could be flash floods, mudslides and the river rising. We have decided to stay on Beyzano for the next couple of days until the danger is past and hope that Belize is not too badly affected. Placencia is located on a flat, sandy spit several miles long, with houses right on the oceanfront and there are countless flat islands which could be virtually washed away in a big storm surge.

Don't Leave  Your Crocs Flip Flops Out In The Sun!

Don’t Leave Your Crocs Flip Flops Out In The Sun!

Although I didn’t intend posting too often whilst moored up for 6 months, little things happen on a daily basis and if I don’t record them I’d just forget. So the rest of today’s blog is just a list of disconnected small events.

I bought some new croc flip-flops in Colombia at a modern mall and they weren’t cheap. Perfect for using around the pool in Nana Juana, I left them on our deck last week and the result was a curled up shrunken pair of shoes that I can no longer wear. Surely flip-flops are likely to be used in a hot climate, so they are clearly not fit for purpose. There wasn’t a notice with them to say do not leave in the sun! In the bin they went and I ‘had’ to buy a nice new pair in the West Marine chandlery in the next door marina, Ram. They have little blue anchors printed on them, very apt.

Rob had a pair of sandals with glued straps, which snapped. Normally we would have thrown them away too but seeing how the local people fix and mend, we decided not to be so wasteful and sought out the cobbler in town. He has another small stall at the side of the hot and dusty main road, inches from the lorries taking cattle around the country. They were stitched back into the rubber soles for 1.50 GBP. Amazing. The cobbler was very proud of his work; another humbling moment for us and Guatemala has been teaching us lessons I hope we never forget.

Mayan Style Houses On The Rio Dulce

Mayan Style Houses On The Rio Dulce

We read about the Dutch being the tallest race on earth with Guatemalan women being one of the shortest, at 4 foot 9 inches average. Rob and I do feel tall here, quite a novelty for us. The Mayan ancestry is evident in nearly all the people we see locally, a totally different ethnic mix to those living in the Eastern Caribbean. Their daily struggle is humbling to watch, with children helping their parents sell a small amount of produce at the side of the road. Women chat whilst holding squawking chickens, Jeff spotted a piglet being carried into a tuk-tuk and having its head accidentally bashed on the metal frame. Fruit and vegetables abound, from beetroot and radishes to spring onions and papaya. All fresh and costing next to nothing. Cruisers benefit from the low wages and cost of living, being able to buy so much produce for so little, comparatively. A bag of fresh mushrooms, 6 perfect limes and a cucumber cost me a pound.

Rob & Jeff Enjoying The Excitement Of Sorting Out 'The Man Drawer'

Rob & Jeff Enjoying The Excitement Of Sorting Out ‘The Man Drawer’

We also appreciate the seasonal nature of supplies here. Now heavily into lychee season, there are mountains of the spiky red fruits on wooden stalls all along the main road in Fronteras. We didn’t even know what they were at first, having only seen them tinned in syrup I guess but once we tried them we were hooked. Juicy, fresh and nutritious.

It isn’t all take, take, take though. Several charity projects work around the area to help the local communities, orphanages and remote villages. One such project is called ‘Pass It On’. Old solar panels and boat batteries are taken high into the hills to villages without power. Solar lights are also donated to help children do their homework in the evenings, as it gets dark around 1830 here all year round.

Our New 'Upside Down One Zip' Sprayhood Window

Our New ‘Upside Down One Zip’ Sprayhood Window

We have been paying local tradesmen for new canvas work and Elmer’s team has now made us a brand new sprayhood with a separate cover to keep the sun off the windows, a cover for the outboard, a new life sling bag, a new back piece for the bimini (shades the cockpit from the evening sun) and reinforced the dinghy chaps. The new sprayhood has the opening window the other way up so it is easier to open and the zip is a continuous one rather than 3 separate zips. A few more inches were added to the sides to give more protection in the cockpit but the lockers can be opened with it still in place. We also had them clean and waterproof our bimini as it was letting the rain straight through, meaning we couldn’t sit in the cockpit when it rained. All of this work cost less than 1300 pounds and it was all done on time and as agreed. We have been really happy with the work done and glad to put something into the local economy.

The New Bimini Extension

The New Bimini Extension

The Guatemalans are resourceful people, able to make anything you need it seems. Rather than buying and importing items for the boat, it is worth seeking out the local guy, located somewhere in town who can just make it instead. Someone on the daily net will usually know of a contact.

Debbie the chef is back from her holiday, thankfully. She lives on a boat at Mar Marine and loves to cook for the rest of the cruisers. On Tuesday evenings she cooks a starter and main from a different country each week. For a fiver you get the food, beautifully presented and a glass of wine. Last week we had the most tender, lean beef bourguignon with dauphinoise potatoes. Real treat! Yesterday we had a Chinese meal but decided to go at lunchtime to dodge the rain.

Smart Cover For The Outboard

Smart Cover For The Outboard

Friday night was the weekly film at Tortugal Marina, under the bridge. They were showing ‘The Great Escape’ and I had never watched it right through. Salad and a choice of pizzas plus a glass of wine or beer comes at 5.50 and everyone gets a bowl of hot popcorn during the film. Unfortunately it tends to really pour down at around 1700 every night, just as we are going out to the dock to be picked up in the different marina’s launchas. We even resorted to our Musto jackets and salopettes last time, kit we hadn’t donned since the early days of the Atlantic crossing in November 2011. Kept us dry but they were hot to wear!

Last week we had a croissant and coffee at the Café de Paris twice but in August we plan to cut back on our spending to help pay for being in Antigua next month. We are living within our means day to day but for the bigger items, such as the new mainsail and annual insurance, we are dipping into savings. Fortunately a new cooker is not required at the moment. Rob dismantled the gas hob as it was down to just 1 working ring. I went off to order our new mainsail and got back to a clean and working cooker. It’s hard enough to manage a full roast dinner at Christmas on 2 rings, let alone 1. Despite all his efforts the main burner went back to not working properly the following day, so we will need to buy a new cooker in the US in May and they aren’t cheap.

Our Extended Sprayhood Sides

Our Extended Sprayhood Sides

We have had a few expenses this year with the Rally and the clearance costs for so many different countries but the sail is the next big item. After weighing up all the different options and costs, we came down to Doyle or Mack. In the end the cost was around the same, at 3000 pounds but Rob preferred the sailcloth that Mack use and they had some brilliant reviews for service and quality on the forums. Wonder if we’ll notice any difference in speed?

On Saturday we were invited on board ‘Argosea’ for a delicious chicken curry. Jeff made Bombay potatoes and so I took a spicy red lentil dahl to go with it. I made fruity flapjacks yesterday to use up the oats and golden syrup but hope to be able to replenish the lockers in Belize and Mexico for Christmas. It is something we took for granted in the UK, being able to replace items we ran out of but here, once it is gone it is gone for a long time. We even save jars of chutney and marmalade for Christmas and go without the rest of the year. Something you can always buy is Kellogg’s corn flakes, Pantene shampoo and conditioner and Lay’s crisps (similar to Walkers). Nutella, Lipton’s teabags and Oreo biscuits seem to be everywhere too.

Sunday was our weekly day of rest and socialising starting with breakfast at Tortugal with Tony and Anne, swimming to cool down, dominoes with 10 other cruisers at Nana Juana and the marina BBQ accompanied by torrential rain and high winds. A lot of people have gone home but a surprising number are still here and live on their boats almost full time. It seems a lot spend their days drinking and smoking interesting things as a few are ‘away with the fairies’ to say the least. We heard that some of the chocolate brownies you can buy from one of the boats are quite special as well!

I was going to head off to the office to post this blog up before battening down the hatches but it is raining. Nothing for it but to hope I can post photos using the onboard WiFi, make some pastry to go with the jar of mincemeat I need to use up and await Hurricane (it did reach hurricane force this afternoon) Earl to pass just north of us.

Posted in Belize, Costs, Domestic Info, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Honduras, Maintenance, Techy Stuff, Weather | Leave a comment

Exploring Lago de Izabal On ‘Horizons’

Jeff invited us for another mini-holiday last week and this time we headed west to the 25 mile wide Lake Izabal. During the mornings it was very calm but the wind can kick up in the afternoons and it isn’t a place to get caught out. Other warnings in the guide suggested only anchoring in company but we were safe enough for the 2 nights we stopped, once by the Castillo de San Felipe and then in the anchorage near the hot springs and waterfall. We didn’t see another yacht the entire time, apart from unoccupied ones at anchor but the scenery and vastness of the lake was definitely worth seeing.

Tranquil Lago de Izabal

Tranquil Lago de Izabal

The first day it was too calm to sail so we motored under the huge bridge we see every day to the Castle, a couple of miles away and dropped the anchor just north of the pretty park in nice sticky mud. There is a jetty where the tourist launches moor and we tied the dinghy up there in sight of the gatekeeper. It cost us 2 pounds each to get in (20Q) and was money well spent. The castle is on a tiny island and is beautifully restored and kept. One of the prettiest castles we’ve visited and it has a cordoned off swimming area off the beach and plenty of shady areas with tables to picnic in. A basic café staffed by students has drinks, snacks and ice cream.

Castillo de San Felipe

Castillo de San Felipe

Our Spanish lessons came in handy as the guide was entirely in Spanish. The castle was built to deter constant attacks by pirates and guarded the lake from further incursions. It was repeatedly damaged and rebuilt, has a small drawbridge over the moat and a prison. We didn’t wade through the water into one of the ‘water cells’ but guess it was a pretty miserable place to be incarcerated. The airless main prison was grim enough and you can imagine the prisoners chained to the wall in the few recesses around the room. Several cannons remain pointing out to sea.

Beautiful Day For Exploring

Beautiful Day For Exploring

Next we dinghied over to find the Kangaroo Lodge, another pleasant thatched restaurant with a really hospitable Australian owner. It is located down an inlet but is signposted. A couple of 8 week old kittens were playing but fortunately both had owners, otherwise I’d have been tempted, again! Amongst the vegetation of the jungle were a few villas, a Jacuzzi and gym. Looked like a tranquil place to stay. The food was good too.

We stayed the night at anchor without any problems and headed off the next day for the small resort called Denny’s Beach, 10 miles further into the lake. Only 2 moorings of the original 4 survive but we decided not to tie up. Although the entire resort is for sale, trips to the waterfalls and Mayan ruins are still arranged and the staff were friendly and welcoming. The view across the huge calm lake was breathtaking and probably not done justice in the photograph.

Top Of The Castle

Top Of The Castle

They obviously get some bad weather there as a stone filled breakwater was protecting a couple of run down yachts and another yacht was washed up ashore, a sad sight. We just anchored off the swimming area and had a drink before heading to the opposite side of the lake after lunch to find Finca El Paraiso, the settlement near the Rio Aguas Caliente (hot water river) and waterfall.

Horizons Off Denny's Beach

Horizons Off Denny’s Beach

We had left it late despite the good sail and didn’t arrive until 1800 but there was plenty of room to anchor, once we had left the rocky bar a good eighth of a mile to starboard. It is marked. There are also shallows and fishing nets to avoid nearer shore but the holding was good in about 5 metres. Just a mile east of the anchorage was another sheltered but isolated bay with very calm water, probably too bug ridden for us.

Stunning Scenery Around The Shores Of The Lake

Stunning Scenery Around The Shores Of The Lake

Ashore we found a restaurant and small resort so we had dinner of fried chicken, rice, salad and french fries. You can easily walk to the waterfall yourself or hire a guide from the resort. Horses and tractors can take you to the hot spring, otherwise it is a 40 minute walk. Another 20 minutes will take you to a cave, through which you can swim to the waterfall inside the mountain.

Drawbridge, Moat & Gardens

Drawbridge, Moat & Gardens

After a peaceful few hours of sleep the wind direction changed and it became choppy for a while but the dawn soon broke and we were off on our way back to the Rio Dulce, stopping in Tortugal for a delicious breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice with caramelised cinnamon apple pancakes served with cream. Then it was back to Nana Juana, a new berth for Horizons around the corner from the main dock and back to Beyzano for us.

Tortugal Marina - Our Breakfast Stop

Tortugal Marina – Our Breakfast Stop

Sunday was busy with dominoes from 1300 through to past 1600, then the weekly BBQ, attended by over 20 cruisers based in the marina. Its not all fun and socialising though as we were up at 0545 yesterday to take advantage of the calm wind to get our genoa down and folded away. It hasn’t been off the forestay for 2 years and needs the stitching checking and a general clean. I also cleaned the deck, hatch covers and hatches whilst the front awning was off. Today I put neat white vinegar all over the headlinings and walls of the cabins, washed the floor, dusted all the shelving and sorted out the paperwork.

Starting early means it is much cooler to work but we have a routine of working, then swimming once the day’s chores are done and this is often by 1000. It is a routine which is working well as we feel we are both making progress and enjoying being here, not just guilty that we haven’t done anything constructive. We intend staying in the Rio throughout August, getting the annual tax returns completed and finally ordering the new mainsail and parts we need to service the watermaker but in September we will head off to Antigua, the old capital, allegedly a town with beautiful old colonial buildings and some rather swanky hotels. Rob’s birthday beckons!

Posted in Costs, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Tourism, Weather | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week Learning Spanish In San Pedro La Laguna

On Saturday 9 July we met Alex from Rio Dulce Travel, at 0630 for our journey to Lake Atitlan, west of Guatemala City. Richard and Kay from ‘Atalanta’ and Tony and Anne from ‘Argosea’ joined us. We booked a 16 seater van with air conditioning and comfortable seats as we knew it was going to be a long day. In the end it took over 12 hours with a couple of short stops plus a late lunch and we were glad we had gone for the more expensive option. The return trip cost 800 pounds in total, split by 3 but it was worth every penny.

Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan

Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan

We first headed for Morales, then turned west along the main road to the city. They are improving the road between Morales and Guatemala City but it is arduous and slow work as they cut into the mountains to expand the carriageway. Long queues of traffic can delay the journey by hours and there is no other option. It was amazing to see the diggers higher up the sheer cliffs and the rocks falling down. Local families sit along the dusty road selling fruit and drink and everything was covered in red dust.

Our Favourite Restaurant - El Barrio

Our Favourite Restaurant – El Barrio

The farming land is nestled between 2 ranges of mountains and very fertile. Crops grow everywhere in neat little parcels of land and countless stalls fringe the roads selling pineapples, melons and other fruits we don’t recognise. It is dramatic scenery so I spent most of the trip just looking out of the window. What spoils it is the quantity of litter in every place a car could stop. Awful.

San Pedro Spanish School

San Pedro Spanish School

Guatemala City is a shock to the system. Huge, noisy and from what we saw, ugly. The shanty area looked desperately poor perched on the hillsides with ‘waterfalls’ of rubbish just underneath the shacks. Must be unbearable in the heat. During our return journey we stopped at a sparkly clean and modern shopping mall to see what it offered compared to Fronteras. The contrast couldn’t be more extreme. They had plenty of big names, designer clothes shops, all the fast food chains and a huge Walmart supermarket.

As we drove away from the city it got cooler until we ascended into the clouds on top of the mountains near Lake Atitlan and got up to 8500 feet. The bus then had to wend its way down again, zig zagging along the sides of the mountain into the towns on the lake. The road wasn’t in great shape, with lots of pot holes and it took hours to make the last few miles into San Pedro.

Town Taxi Rank By The Ferry Dock

Town Taxi Rank By The Ferry Dock

We had all decided to stay at a hotel rather than take up the homestay option the school can arrange. Given only Tony could speak Spanish, it seemed unfair to the host family to have us there, unable to converse but I would go for that option next time to avoid speaking English with my friends after classes. Hotel Sakcari is situated on a pathway next door to the school with a stunning view over the lake but it is basic. We had a private bathroom with clean towels, a TV on which we saw the Wimbledon final but you had to go to the reception area to get coffee. Cold drinks and alcohol were available on an honesty box system as well. There were pretty areas to sit all around the garden, by the pool and hammocks to sleep in after a hard morning in class. We didn’t find any other hotels in town which looked any better.

The first evening we strolled across the pathway to El Barrio, a great restaurant where we ate no less than 6 times. They did an amazing breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays for only 4 pounds and this included a glass of champagne, huge bowl of fresh fruit with yoghurt and granola. Next was a choice of bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs, omelette, frittata, tomatoes etc. None of us managed the final course of pancakes.

Breakfast In The Italian Bakery

Breakfast In The Italian Bakery

The place was run by Stuart, originally from England, so we didn’t use much Spanish there unfortunately. In the Italian Bakery, the other side of the San Pedro School, we were able to try out our new phrases for excellent coffee, croissant and cinnamon rolls topped with almond icing. The whole area is full of bars and restaurants, catering for the students and tourists. Naturally there was an Irish Bar.

After class there is plenty to do with horse riding costing a mere 6 pounds for 2 hours, several massage rooms, a cookery school specialising in local cuisine and the town to wander around. I was keen to visit the museum but it was shut the entire week. Countless shops and stalls sell the traditional cloth that the women all wear. They have a long piece of material just wrapped around their waists and it is held in place with a belt, again without fastenings and the ends are simply tucked back under the belt. We barely saw a female child or woman who wasn’t dressed in this style. They match the colour of the skirt with a coloured top and cardigan but the outfit is quite expensive, so they don’t have too many sets.

Rob and Tony Off For A Jaunt Around Town

Rob and Tony Off For A Jaunt Around Town

The climate on the shores of Lake Atitlan is perfect. Cool enough to feel wonderfully fresh all day rather than exhausted and needing a shower every hour but the occasional burst of sunshine to warm up the pool and enjoy a lie in the hammock. It rained a couple of times and was torrential for a while but it soon cleared up. It wasn’t humid like the Rio Dulce and we really appreciated being away for the week. For the first time in years I actually wore a nightie and the bed had a sheet and blanket.

The hotel was a short walk from the ferry dock and there are tuk tuks to take you around the town for a pound or less. We found a market in the square and a huge church amongst the small houses. One coffee shop arranges tours of the coffee plantation and production line and sells great coffee. Our meals were all very good and we didn’t spend more than 25 pounds for the both of us including drinks. It was good value and our hotel was 200 pounds for the week, as was the school.

Rob With Clara At Graduation!

Rob With Clara At Graduation!

San Pedro Spanish School is a well-established school set in beautiful grounds overlooking the lake. Rob and I decided to take individual classes as Rob thought he would hold me back, given his lack of linguistic skill and feel uncomfortable. My tutor was Lupita, very patient and full of interesting information about local life. She spoke in Spanish nearly all the time so although I couldn’t understand all the words, I did get used to the pronunciation and speed. Our classes were taken under small thatched palapas in the garden, each with a table, chairs and whiteboard. We had exercises to do, conversations to write up and share, games such as scrabble and homework every day and by the end of the week I felt I had learnt something, even if I still can’t sit down and chat easily with a local speaker. The school has a conversation class at 1715 each day, showed a film about the life in a town in 1993 and gave free salsa dancing lesson on Thursday.

My Profesora Lupita In Our Classroom By The Lake

My Profesora Lupita In Our Classroom By The Lake

In the picture of Rob with his teacher, Clara, he has a split lip, the result of my elbow hitting him during salsa class! She said she laughed with him every day. We all took our respective profesoras out for a meal on Friday and I would happily return for another week’s class. They gave us certificates and a statement of our Spanish level so we can take lessons in another school if we wish. Rob and I would like to see the old capital, Antigua, in September and there are lots of Spanish schools there too. Another option is Flores, nearer here.

What we have noticed in Guatemala, is that the majority of people are working. Much of the manual work is done by hand and we saw a man carrying half a dozen rocks on his back, taking them time and time again to where they were needed. They dig the soil by hand and cut the grass with scythes. Even if they are selling a few pieces of fruit and barely making ends meet, they are working. In the eastern Caribbean we got used to seeing a lot of the men ‘liming’ in bars in the morning, drunk for the rest of the day. We rarely encounter beggars here whereas it was a daily occurrence in St Lucia and Grenada. Life is undoubtedly hard here with no benefits system to help the mentally or physically disabled if they can’t work.

Private Palapas Make It A Great Learning Environment

Private Palapas Make It A Great Learning Environment

Lupita explained that only small children have birthday celebrations and when people marry they can’t afford a big cake, a new dress for just a day nor a big party. Education is hard to finance so not many people are well educated. Lupita told me that she started at University with 175 students in her year. Only 17 made it to graduation, as they couldn’t afford the 150 pounds a month. The families have to support one another and the average daily wage is very low. Despite all this we have found the Guatemalans to be very friendly, happy and interesting people, used to working hard and getting by.

The Mayans make up the majority of the population but they are under-represented in government. Guns are everywhere in towns, guards keep watch even in the electrical appliances store but how anyone could run off in the middle of the day with a freezer on their backs, I’ve no idea. We were told that a policeman in one village demanded alcohol and money after hours and was refused by the young shopkeeper. The policeman then shot him 3 times in the head before running back to the police station. A witness alerted others and the town bell was rung, bringing everyone out of their homes. They surrounded the police station and all but 5 ran out of the back entrance. The villagers got into the police station and the perpetrator owned up and was beaten up but survived. He got just a year in jail despite being responsible for 6 murders.

Steep Plots Of Land To Farm

Steep Plots Of Land To Farm

Here in Fronteras we heard that some gangsters were robbing tourists and cruisers a few years ago. This brought extra police into the town and questions were asked. One morning several of the criminals were laid out on the bridge, having been shot dead by the local ‘mafia’ who didn’t much like the police investigating their area. It all feels very safe here for us so guess it worked.

One afternoon Rob and I got the ferry across Lake Atitlan to Panajachel, a larger town with better road links to the city. There was a bigger supermarket rather than just the small shops or Tiendas we found in San Pedro but there wasn’t much more choice. Panajachel has a lot of stalls selling dubious tourist wares, seen in most towns here. I think the plastic horses by the ferry docks set the tone as we arrived. The 6 of us decided to take the ferry to meet Alex in Panajachel for our return journey to the Rio, thereby cutting down the journey time by a couple of hours. It costs 2.50 GBP to cross the lake and took half an hour. The mountains rise steeply from the lake and some of the cultivated fields are on precarious slopes. A set of tower blocks looked utterly out of place.

Why???

Why???

I read that the US Embassy was putting out a warning about the volcanic activity in the area. If I had had more time, I would have taken a 2 day tour of the volcano to see the lava flowing at night, as it is a bucket list item. Perhaps next time.

Beyzano was as we left her and our thanks go to Jeff for bailing out the dinghy after each rainstorm. There is nowhere to leave our dinghy out of the water, now that the boats are close together, so we have to stop it sinking. He also welcomed us back with a chilli con carne, very kind. Yesterday was dominoes all afternoon then a BBQ with other yachties staying in the marina. 2 big BBQs are courtesy of the marina, complete with gas cylinders, tables, benches and a palapa to keep us dry.

Bless!

Bless!

This week we need to get on with some tasks on the boat as we are already a quarter way through our time here and need to order the mainsail and decide whether or not to haul out and where we are going in the spring. Should we head for the USA in late April or come back into the Rio in May? Decisions, decisions.

Posted in Costs, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Tourism, Training | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fourth Of July In Texan Bay

Jeff has been getting bored being tied up to the dock so when we heard that they were having a BBQ in the bar in Texan Bay, so called because of a Texan who has set up a restaurant and bar there, it sounded like an excellent opportunity to cast off the lines and head away for a couple of days.

Texan Bar In Texan Bay

Texan Bar In Texan Bay

Rob and I packed a small bag for our mini-holiday and were crew for the first time in a while. ‘Horizons’ is a 30 foot long catamaran and crossed the Atlantic in 2012 and we met Jeff and Di in Trinidad just 2 years ago. We have spent many happy hours on their boat but never slept aboard, nor sailed on her, so it was a great experience. The trip to the bay was just motoring as there was barely any wind but with a draft to dream of, we slowly explored a narrow, shallow inlet not that far from Nana Juana on our way east. It was very tranquil with lilies on the water and a few small local houses on the banks.

We didn’t think much about depths but the clear plastic bottles marking fishing nets and pots had to be avoided and weren’t easy to see. These litter many areas in the Rio Dulce and lakes so you need to stay alert.

Clear Plastic Marker - Beware!

Clear Plastic Marker – Beware!

It was just outside Texan Bay that we had our nightmare storm last month and a little chilling to motor past that area again but we soon entered Texan Bay and found plenty of room to anchor in the calm water. The depth was around 3 metres throughout and the bay goes around a corner, not easily seen from the narrow entrance. A few houses, tiny marinas, a couple of bars and a sail loft make up the bay. We dinghied into some smaller inlets through lily pads and past pretty houses secluded in the rainforest.

The Texan Bar was easily found with a big Texan flag draped outside. We had lunch then returned in the evening for the celebrations. The BBQ pork was lean, tender and delicious, served with salads and dessert was pieces of fruit dipped in a chocolate fountain. There were a fair few people there but it didn’t get raucous and nobody even danced. They let off some spectacular fireworks once it got dark. As we left the heavens opened but although we managed to get back before it really rained, we were all still soaked. The wind died completely during the night and the photo shows all the boats in different directions, sterns very close at times.

Bobbing About In All Directions

Bobbing About In All Directions

Our friends on ‘Ayeesah’ came into Texan Bay, having just arrived from Utila. We last saw them in Linton and Antigua before that, Trinidad prior to that. Small world but connected by Facebook, which is a boon for sailors. John had Tom check his rigging and told us that the 28 year old rigging is still in good shape but the newer rigging, just 8 years old, needs replacing. They just don’t make it like they used to!

After a leisurely breakfast waiting for the wind to pick up, we left for Nana Juana. This time we had a fast passage under the cruising chute and Horizons shot back across El Golfete. Rather than negotiate the mooring buoys with all the lines tied down to them, Jeff decided to anchor off the dock and had the marina staff assist him with the lines the next morning. Once we were anchored Jeff produced curried chicken in roasted peppers, a lovely lunch to cap a great couple of days.

Local Home On The Tranquil Bay

Local Home On The Tranquil Bay

Jeff offered to look after Murray, the cutest little dog, whilst we were all away for the week. Dogs are not allowed on the public buses here, nor in most hotels, so Kay and Richard were stuck. Having pets on boats isn’t straight forward, with many countries having strict rules about pets coming in. We have been tempted a few times but managed to resist homeless puppies and kittens. It is by no means certain that we could find somebody to care for our animal for a month or more so it wouldn’t be fair to get a pet. Not all countries have kennels and taking pets on flights to the UK would be very expensive and I’m not sure what the quarantine rules are these days.

Heading Into Shallow Inlets

Heading Into Shallow Inlets

Posted in Friends & Family, Guatemala | Leave a comment

Life In The Rio Dulce – 5 Years On

Today it is 5 years since Beyzano sailed out of Falmouth harbour in Cornwall and headed across Biscay to Spain. It was the start of our big adventure and the realisation of a long held dream. Looking back it was a huge step to take, especially difficult given our family circumstances at the time. It was both exciting and daunting but we took the opportunity and 99% of the time we are glad we did.

Bridge Over The Bay Into Fronteras

Bridge Over The Bay Into Fronteras

We have only been here for 3 weeks but already feel part of the furniture. Our days are whizzing by somehow but it is often hard to say what we have actually done. Normally we have a short timeframe in which to complete our boat tasks but this year we have months and have settled into a lazy, unhurried way of life. No doubt once October arrives we will be like headless chickens trying to get everything finished but for now we are happy to take it slow and easy. To be fair, Rob has replaced the outlet hoses in both heads, not a pleasant job. The engine throttle lever has been re-fibre glassed and he has taken the watermaker pump off to get the part number. We have cleaned and stored cushions and ropes and sorted out a few lockers.

Further progress has been made by employing a local canvas shop to re-stitch and glue our dinghy chaps and add some more material to where it usually rubs on the docks. They also made a new yellow bag for our lifesling and are in the process of manufacturing a completely new sprayhood with extended sides and the window opening from the top rather than the bottom. I have also asked for a cover to go over the plastic windows to cut down the glare and heat from the sun whilst we are at anchor. They are also making a new back extension for the bimini, as the one we have is in 3 pieces and an eyesore (to me at least). These 4 items cost less than a thousand pounds and Beyzy deserves a present for going through that storm the other night. I have chosen a beige linen tweed for the back piece and hope the pattern will not show up the dirt as much as plain oyster. All the materials are sunbrella, known to be resilient in these climates but the stitching thread is equally important and should be Gortex if possible.

Fronteras Main Street At A Quiet Time

Fronteras Main Street At A Quiet Time

We had some issues starting the outboard engine and although Rob took it to pieces and cleaned everything he could think of, it still didn’t want to start easily. We were glad to be introduced to Tyrone who is based in Nana Juana whilst he does up his own boat. He worked for Mercury in the USA for several years and ours is a Mercury. We took the petrol tank to next door marina, RAM, to dump the fuel, clean out the tank and get fresh petrol. The staff were very helpful and the dock is easy for yachts to tie up on too. It started yesterday to get us into town for the 0800 bus to Morales and also started first pull when we got back 5 hours later, so long may it continue.

With Nana Juana being linked by road to Fronteras it didn’t matter too much that we were without ‘our car’ as reception ordered us a Tuk Tuk taxi instead. It costs a pound each way and was fun to go over the bridge, one of the largest in the Central Americas. The town hasn’t grown on us much, mainly because it is so manic (the photo was taken early in the day) and you can’t really get the provisions you want. I don’t say ‘need’ as we can live on fruit, vegetables, rice, pasta and chicken but it would be lovely to have different cheeses for example. Our food bill is very low of course and I don’t think we have spent more than 20 pounds on any shop so far.

Local Taxi - Tuk Tuk To Town

Local Taxi – Tuk Tuk To Town

We leave our dinghy locked at Bruno’s dinghy dock across the bay, near the bridge. The tiny shop nearest the bridge has boxes of Clo wine for £3.80 and we have it chilled, even the red wine and it is fine. Along the road you mainly find shops selling cheap clothes, plastic shoes, fried chicken and chips, fresh fruit and veg stalls and tiny supermarkets. You can spend hours going in and out of each one but as they all sell slightly different goods you never know if the next one might have what you want. Mobile phone shops are everywhere.

Agriculture is vitally important around Fronteras and a few of the shops specialise in animal foods and medicines. We saw chicks and chickens in cages outside one shop and lovely leather saddles. Farmers stroll around in cowboy boots and big hats. Most of the stalls are small and only offer a few items for sale but Rob found all the fuel filters he needs for the generator and main engine in one place, which only sold filters. There is another small unit, which makes and sells hoses, so you can take your old hose there and get one made to fit.

Leather Boots Anyone?

Leather Boots Anyone?

I can’t say Guatemala is a gourmet’s paradise but you won’t starve. The Café de Paris is a favourite as it is air-conditioned, clean and pleasant. It is like an oasis on the high street and we go there for great coffee, croissants, crepes and a lunch special of a main (today’s was lasagne with salad), drink and pastry for only 35Q, about 3.50 pounds. We had good pizzas at Sundog, overlooking the water. Their dinghy dock is very convenient and they have a proper pizza oven. The drinks are huge and the atmosphere is fun there.

Health & Safety Not A Big Concern On Our Bus

Health & Safety Not A Big Concern On Our Bus

So yesterday we got the local bus to the next town, Morales. The minibus took a good 45 minutes through the countryside and the whole trip was an adventure from start to finish. There is always a driver and a helper, someone to encourage passengers onto the bus, same as in Grenada. Here they keep the sliding door open and hang out as the bus is careering along. At one point he opened the passenger door and jumped from the main part of the bus into the drivers part!

We saw lush, green fields along the way, with small farms where families sat by the road cutting up coconuts and selling fresh coconut water. Larger farms had big fields and lots of cattle. We see hundreds of cows being moved around in trucks going through Fronteras and they seem very healthy. At least we can get fresh milk here with no problem. Morales is a nicer town than Fronteras we thought. There were some traffic officers keeping the cars and lorries to one-way streets so it was safer walking around. There were even pavements in some areas. There were more shops and we found the big supermarket. Still couldn’t get ginger nut biscuits for making the base for lime pie, nor digestives for cheesecake base but we can do without desserts for a while.

Juggling Machetes For A Living

Juggling Machetes For A Living

Jeff found a coconut in the gardens at Nana Juana so we have been chopping coconuts on the dock with my machete. Seeing a young man on a unicycle juggling machetes deserved a few Q and a photograph as I can barely hit a stationary coconut myself. Whenever the traffic lights changed he would get out in the road again and try to earn some cash.

There are 3 movie nights a week, a trivia quiz night, a poker game and a dominoes session. All are at different marinas so you get the chance to see what the other locations are like. Tortugal is set in more wooded land than Nana Juana with a wooden walkway over the swampy ground. The bar area was really nice though. We also like Tijax, again set in the vegetation but with gorgeous domed thatched palapas and a nice pool. Monkey Bay can only be reached by water, is quite small but has a lovely social area and well-equipped kitchen for cruisers to use. There are many other marinas around the Rio and people do move around during the season but we are happy here for the foreseeable future as it is convenient with a great pool.

The Walkway At Tortugal

The Walkway At Tortugal

We can buy 10 day’s supply of drinking water for 2 pounds at the restaurant and have been socialising in the palapa most nights. We used 2 Cobb BBQs and a gas BBQ one evening to cook baked potatoes to go with the 7 lobsters we had bought that morning. 4 boats took part and brought along pasta and green salads, garlic bread and chocolate brownies. That was us of course, known for desserts these days! I don’t often bake cakes on the boat as it is so hot but with our fans blowing it is bearable. I want to use up all our supplies before we leave Guatemala so I can restock in Belize and the USA. Some of our tins are from June 2011.

Our days are starting later than before, as we are not getting up early to do any work on the boat. We download a newspaper from the UK and rant and rave about the news for a while over breakfast. We are plugged into shore power so can have toast and use the hairdryer without running the generator. Then we check the emails via Tigo, the local provider. We both bought SIMs for our iPads and have had no problems with getting online. The marina WiFi can be slow, so when I need to use the MacBook I go to the office for the best signal and just quickly publish this blog there. Nearly everything else can be done on the iPads on the boat.

Produce Stalls In Morales

Produce Stalls In Morales

It is really hot some days with the ‘feels like’ factor being over 110 degrees. I stay in the boat a lot more, keeping cool with the fans and having all the hatches covered. It isn’t unbearable by any means and we don’t need air-conditioning. The palapa seems to get a breeze blowing through during the afternoons so it’s a great place to hang the hammock and chill out.

One thing I do every day is my Spanish course. Using Duolingo, I am plodding through the words, writing the new ones down and trying to use them. We have booked a week’s Spanish lessons in San Pedro La Laguna, on Lake Atitlan, a beautiful area, surrounded by volcanoes. It is supposed to be cooler there and we are looking forward to our week in the mountains. We will have 4 hours of 1-2-1 lessons a day, with homework and conversation groups in the evenings and I’m keen to get started so we can converse with the local people more. In August we plan to go back to the same area to take another week of classes but live with a local family for ‘total immersion’ rather than a hotel as we are doing this first time.

Ornate Dresses In A Tiny Shop With Minions!!

Ornate Dresses In A Tiny Shop With Minions!!

The rest of our time we potter about on the boat doing minor jobs. We have a list with a schedule but for the major jobs we need specific parts and that is one thing that is difficult to source. Mostly parts have to be flown in from the USA, adding time and cost to every job. Some might have to wait until we take the boat to the US, including our mainsail as we were quoted over a thousand pounds to ship it here.

The watermaker and the remote for the windlass are the 2 items we should fix just to make life easier. We have managed without the watermaker for some months and I can press the up or down buttons at the helm to raise or lower the anchor but it is better if Rob can do that from the bow whilst watching the anchor. We need to service the generator, outboard and main engine, put some more antifouling on the hull and service the steering wheels and winches. We need to repair some caulking and teak screw hole tops, clean the dinghy and generally prepare for the next season.

The Big Fuel Dock At RAM Marina

The Big Fuel Dock At RAM Marina

Beyzano is still totally sound and nothing of an urgent or safety nature is making itself a priority. The only issue is the lightning. Virtually every evening we watch the thunder and lightning show, getting huge downpours of rain and hoping the lightning doesn’t get too close. We double checked we had insurance cover for a strike for this area. A power surge took out the laptop on a boat just 4 up from us the other night, so I am putting the electronics in the oven whenever we leave the boat or before we go to bed, just in case. We are used to seeing the flashes carrying on through the night. The rain is soft and fresh though and there is no salt in the air here, given we are so far from the sea. The stainless steel is remaining rust free.

Our stern is sitting in the water as always and is getting a fair coating of brown slime but it comes off easily. The dinghy is also in the water constantly and will need a good scrubbing before long.

Chicks Awaiting A New Home

Chicks Awaiting A New Home

As we are here for another 5 months and I don’t expect too much to happen, the posts will be less regular but I’ll write about our trip to Lake Atitlan next time.

Posted in Costs, Domestic Info, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Maintenance, Techy Stuff, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Final Few Miles To Our Delightful New Home For The Next Six Months

After managing to sleep again after the storm we woke to the sound of egrets twittering and the wonderful sense of calm water and no wind. Who needs to sail! We ate some ‘Christmas cake’ I had frozen for our 20th Wedding Anniversary as a celebration and started to motor the final 13 miles across the lake to the area where the marinas are located, at Lake Izabal.

Guatemalan 'Dragon's Breath'

Guatemalan ‘Dragon’s Breath’

Following all the rain, there were clouds of mist draped along the forest reminding me of the Welsh hills with ‘dragon’s breath’. It was a picturesque few hours with a couple of pilings to avoid but no other dangers. The depth was usually 4 metres but after we exited the lake and went into the next section of river, we first saw 7 metres but then it shallowed to just 0.3 metres under us at around 15 degrees 41’ N 88 degrees 57‘ W and we had to miss several fishing pots at the same time.

We called up Nana Juana Marina on VHF Ch. 68 and got our lines and fenders ready for berthing stern to the dock but in the event they put us alongside for a couple of days before being moved into our final spot next to our good friends ‘Moody Mistress’ and ‘Horizons’. We are stern to a high dock, using a plank to get ashore. The bow is held in place with a line to an underwater fixing and the other is tied to a post. The stern lines are both to posts on the dock and we are held tight with the ropes like guitar strings. In the high winds earlier in the week we saw a boat’s bow leaning so far over that it touched ‘Horizons’ and we’ve left our fenders down on both sides in case our bow also catches the wind and starts to move onto our neighbours but we are hoping it doesn’t. The dock hands were great in the wind and rain, swimming down to the mooring fixture and tying an extra bow line on it to keep the other boat off ‘Horizons’ and they were checking all the boats.

Needing To Walk The Plank From Now On

Needing To Walk The Plank From Now On

‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ saw us motor by and called us up, as did ‘Ocean Rainbow’ and Jeff came out in his dinghy to welcome us in and check we were really OK after the night before. In no time we were tied up and able to give everyone a hug and relive our adventure!

The marina is small, as most are on the Rio but it has beautifully kept gardens, lovely thatched roofs over the bar, restaurant and reception. There is another thatched area called a ‘Palapa’ with sofas, chairs and tables especially for cruisers to socialise, hang hammocks up to relax in the breeze and swop books. We are allowed to use the area for small boat tasks and once we got our mainsail off the mast we laid it out on the floor of the Palapa to take measurements for the sail makers to quote us for a new one.

Our Daily Cooling Off Area

Our Daily Cooling Off Area

There is a big pool with shady umbrellas, thatched of course and recliner rocking loungers and we have been going there late afternoon when it is cooler. It is a very sociable place as we are all on the dock or in the yard and another area has a BBQ available. Literally a hundred metres away is RAM Marine with a small West Marine chandlery, small supermarket and an ATM that would take all our cards. The currency is the Q or Quetzals and there are about 10 to the pound, so nice and easy for us to work out. We end up with wads of cash though, as in Trinidad and Colombia.

The Social Area Just Next To The Dock

The Social Area Just Next To The Dock

For the first evening Rob and I decided to pay for an air-conditioned room in the grounds as an anniversary treat and our friends organised for us all to go out to eat at a nearby marina and booked the launch to pick us all up. As marina guests we get 30% off the rooms in Nana Juana and they start from 36 pounds a night. Typically, just as we were ready to go out for the evening the daily storm arrived with rain and howling wind sweeping across the marina. We sheltered in the bar and were thankful we weren’t out at anchor again. Once it lulled Rob got his shirt off and ran down to the boat to pick up some crisps, drink and a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate to take back to the room for a picnic. There was nothing else to be done but get our waterproofs on and run. It might not have been a top class meal out but it was amusing and memorable.

Shaded And Dry

Shaded And Dry

Beyzano has all her awnings up now to protect the deck and keep the inside cool. The canvas over the saloon is high enough to sit under and stops the rain coming into the hatches and cockpit. They don’t seem to be too badly affected by the wind, which tends to come side on. We filled a tank with the non-potable dock water and our solar panels are still providing all the electricity we need. I used the small laundry here but the washing machine beat the clothes to a pulp by never ending spinning so I’ll take my next load to Backpackers where they do it all for you for the same price as a token here. A full set of bedding, plus 7 towels, 6 t-shirts and shorts cost just 4 pounds for a wash, dry and fold. Bargain.

The marinas are all within dinghying distance; offer movie nights and special meal deals, sending a free launch to collect you too. Prices are good and there are plenty of workers to help with boat tasks. For 6.50 GBP we had fish fillet, baked potato and vegetables with a glass of wine, popcorn and a movie as well as the launch.

The View From Our Bow Across To Fronteras

The View From Our Bow Across To Fronteras

Jeff and Di took us into the local town, Fronteras, to show us the shops and supermarkets and find the French creperie. It is an interesting place, at the bottom of one of the biggest bridges in Central America and basically along a busy highway with huge cattle trucks going by within inches of you and there are no pavements. Young policemen carried big guns and signs on the restaurants said ‘No Guns’, something we Brits are not used to! The main supermarket had fresh milk and some basics but we can forget many of the foods we are used to I think. I will explore the other smaller shops in the hope I can find a few more of our ‘normal’ items but the fresh fruit and vegetables are excellent and we bought huge ripe mangoes at 4 for a pound. A delicious cooked chicken was less than 5 pounds but enough for 2 meals and it saves cooking and making the boat hot. Rob got some thin sweet bread and Di and I shared 30 eggs as they only sell them in that quantity. We won’t starve but it isn’t exactly Waitrose!

The Hotel Reception

The Hotel Reception

The day we went into town all the power was down, so there was no air-con, no cold drinks and no croissants in the creperie but they could still cook crepes on gas so we enjoyed a brunch and fanned ourselves with the menu. It is really hot and humid, 91 degrees sometimes but our fans on the boat are enough and we don’t want to get used to aircon and have to pay huge electricity charges. We bought a small, quiet 12-volt fan with a sticky suction pad and use it in the cockpit as well as inside. Otherwise we swim when we get too hot and try to work before 0800 if we can.

Local cruisers run a VHF radio net on 69 at 0730 providing weather and social information. There is plenty going on, trips to be organised and boat jobs to be completed but with at least 6 months here we have more than enough time to spare. We are settling in happily but this week Di, Carla and Robert go home for a few months. ‘Ocean Rainbow’, ‘Oystergo’ and ‘Makani’ are also leaving, some to travel in the area and some back to the UK. On Friday night the remaining 6 OCC Rally boat crews gathered in the Palapa for drinks and snacks as a temporary farewell. Later John and Claire played guitar whilst we all tried to sing along. Rob, Jeff and I will have to make some new friends and get on with maintaining the boats between social events. Our task list isn’t pressing and once we had moved into our final docking position we simply washed off the decks and lines and put the awnings back in place. With water falling out of the sky in torrents, we don’t mind using copious quantities to wash everything. Ordering the new sail is the first priority as it may take some time to arrive but we are going to rest for a couple of weeks before getting on with the other tasks and not exert ourselves too much.

Not A Bad View - From Our Stern

Not A Bad View – From Our Stern

On Tuesdays and Saturdays the Casa Guatemala orphanage boat goes to all the marinas, announcing their arrival on the VHF. They sell fruit, vegetables, anchor butter, Brie and other cheeses, frozen meats, beer and bread. They will also try to source anything you need. You only pay a little extra for delivery and it is for a good cause. New neighbours have been stopping by to say hello and we are already talking about arranging a few social events. It looks like we are going to have a very happy few months here.

Posted in Costs, Domestic Info, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Maintenance, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Over The Bar Into The Stunning Rio Dulce – Then The Night From Hell

Our 3 days getting to Nana Juana Marina in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala were eventful to say the least. We had to endure 3 thunderstorms, being dragged over the shallow mud bar at the Rio entrance, then getting stuck and having to be tipped right over to lessen our draft enough to get into the Rio. At last we thought, we’ve made it into the gentle river and left the squalls behind us. How wrong can you be?

Beyzano Enterting The Rio Dulce

We cleared out of Belize on Friday at a cost of 14 GBP to immigration and paid our cruising permit of just 1.70 GBP a day or 2.5 US$. As we left Placencia on Saturday morning there was next to no wind and we had to motor the 23 miles south to the almost perfectly sheltered New Haven bay, arriving in time for lunch. Sheltered from every direction except the south-southwest. It is a large bay surrounded by mangroves so very quiet, calm and beautiful and we were the only boat there except for a small boat with a sole fisherman. Holding was excellent as proved by the muddy chain and we had a nice evening and an early night for another early start. We weren’t quite asleep when there was a noise at the bow and for the first time we both thought there was someone on the boat. My stomach churned as I threw on some clothes and Rob grabbed his diving knife. We went to the companionway and watched, not needing a torch as lightning was lighting up the cockpit for us. We waited a while and heard nothing more so braved unlocking the doors and checking the deck properly. That done we watched the lightning for a while and hoped the storm would keep its distance. The rain wasn’t too bad but the wind picked up and changed direction to the southwest, bringing choppy waves lapping against the boat for the rest of the night. I didn’t think anyone would bother going out robbing in that weather so felt a lot happier!

Calm Before The Storm In New Haven

Calm Before The Storm In New Haven

The next morning it was blowing 18 knots into the bay, with the entrance surrounded by reefs but we managed to motor out following the track from the day before and plunged into the wind and waves for a few miles before we were able to turn and get the sails up for a nice few hours sailing south for 25 miles to Guatemala. Eventually the wind dropped a little and then even more as we approached Tres Puntas, a large anchorage opposite Livingston where we had to meet Hector at 0800 on Monday. The bay is only open to the west but when do you get westerly winds in the Caribbean, hardly ever! We dropped the hook in a huge empty bay and decided to have lunch and then see how the weather looked. The wind had died to less than 5 knots and it was calm but unpredictable wind directions were expected.

Just as we were finishing lunch the sky turned black and threatening to the west and the wind suddenly increased to 28 knots, screaming across the 10 mile fetch towards us. Against the black sky, the white topped waves looked very nasty but we stayed put on the anchor and bounced around for nearly an hour before it died down. By this stage we knew we had to move before nightfall and hoped for a lull long enough to motor the 4.5 miles to Bahia Graciosa, which is protected from nearly all directions. Between lightning flashes we made a dash for the bay and were glad to get anchored by 1630 in sticky mud and much calmer waters. There were 2 shallow bars before the entrance but we saw a metre under us throughout.

Squall At Tres Puntas

Squall At Tres Puntas

Again we were the only boat but slept well and even when the wind came round to a more northwesterly direction it was still calm enough. Thank goodness we moved. We set the alarm for 0500 as we had 12 miles to cross before Livingston and if the wind had been strong we would motor quite slowly into it and needed to leave by 0515. This done we were glad to find the wind was less than 16 knots and we made the 0800 rendezvous with 3 minutes to spare. Hector was waiting for us with his friend and approached us as we came near the waypoint off the bar.

There is supposed to be a controlling depth of 5.5 feet at MLW and with a 2 foot tide on top of that we should have been OK in theory as we draw 7 feet. Knowing that nothing goes to plan with the sea we decided to engage the services of Raul Veliz a marine services agent and organise help to get us across the bar. Firstly they just put towing ropes on our front 2 cleats and towed us along. We were soon showing zero metres under us and then touched bottom in the soft mud and finally got well and truly stuck. No amount of pulling or our engine power was going to move us through it so Hector resorted to attaching a long line to our fully extended spinnaker halyard which comes out at the top of our mast. Hector’s friend came onto our boat to guide us, all in Spanish and hand gestures and Hector motored away from us until the line was taut and we started tipping over to starboard. Only once has Beyzano been right over on her side until the water lapped the deck but this was the second. This made us more shallow and we started to power on through the mud and within 20 minutes we had crossed the bar and had at least 1 metre under us off the town where we anchored with 0.4 metres under us.

Being Towed For The First Time

Being Towed For The First Time

Getting Raul and Hector’s help cost us 60 US$ or about 40 GBP and it was worth every penny. We would never have been able to get over the bar ourselves with our depth. The lines were detached and Raul radioed us to welcome us to Guatemala and inform us that all the officials would come out to the boat within the hour. 4 other yachts were also needing clearance and we spent the time tidying up the boat and watching countless fast launches buzz about ferrying people to the town from upriver. Livingston isn’t the prettiest of towns, with some rusting hotels and lots of small ferry piers but the scenery around it is spectacular. Mountains rose up behind the river mouth and we were keen to get cleared and on our way up the Rio Dulce.

Anchored Off Livingston

Anchored Off Livingston

A launch brought 4 officials out to us, Port Authority, Customs, Immigration and a Doctor. They checked our paperwork, looked at the outboard but didn’t go inside the boat nor check us over. I guess we looked healthy enough and we told them we had had yellow fever jabs and chikengunya a couple of years ago. That all took about 10 minutes and we were told to take down our Q flag and go ashore to Raul’s office. We launched our dinghy but you can easily get a water taxi cheaply if that is easier. The dinghy dock is by the main launch pier and we paid a man 2 GBP to look after it whilst we walked the 2 minutes to the main road, left up the hill and just after the community washing area were some steps up to Raul’s office. He was very welcoming and efficient, had already printed out our emailed documentation, copied our passports and told us to return in an hour to pick up our papers. This saved us walking to the other 3 offices in town and again was well worth the 30 GBP his services cost.

Being Tipped Over To Make The Bar

Being Tipped Over To Make The Bar

We had a quick wander around the quirky town, had lunch and went back for our clearance and paid the 100 pounds for all the fees. We had obtained 100 US dollar bills at the bank in Belize to avoid using the ATM in Livingston. This initial clearance gives us and the boat 3 months in Guatemala but you can extend the boat for 9 months and ourselves for 3 months at the end of the 90 days. Raul handles all of this too. Then we rushed back to the boat to head up the river for what promised to be an amazing afternoon.

The depths in the river varied from a couple of metres to around 20 and there were some shoals around the bends of the river but we didn’t have any issues the first day. The scenery was certainly stunning with trees growing to the water’s edge and towering above the green river. Having spent so much time in blue water with blue sky above it we marvelled at how green it all was. White egrets flew about, pelicans dived into the river and local people paddled their canoes against the current upriver. We took our time as we intended to anchor half way once the river opened up into the huge lake El Golfete but 2 of the other yachts were trying to make the marina area some 13 miles further on.

Lush Green Rio Dulce

Lush Green Rio Dulce

We passed some beautiful homes, thatched in Mayan style but with expensive thatched boathouses beside them and pretty palm filled gardens. At a few points there were thatched restaurants and a church but in general it was rainforest and mountains all around us. Finally the river opened up into the 4 mile wide lake and at the mouth we had to avoid several small boats laying out fishing nets but they were marked with a single plastic bottle. Then we motored another mile to anchor outside Texan Bay beside a few tiny islands. One was the roost for hundreds of noisy white egrets but the view was so beautiful we just relaxed and enjoyed our peaceful surroundings.

Expensive Homes With Boathouses On The River

Expensive Homes With Boathouses On The River

A family rowed out to us selling their wares and I bought 5 little lidded baskets and gave them a drink. We really need to learn some Spanish as soon as possible because not many people speak English here and we will struggle. Then we toasted getting into the Rio and settled down for a peaceful night, which didn’t materialise in the end.

Our worst ever time on the boat began at about 2230 when we were awoken by a howling wind and the boat being pushed over onto her side. We jumped up and went into the cockpit to see what was going on and saw we were facing up the lake with a 4 mile fetch and into the huge wind. Next was to get the navigation equipment on to see where we were and the wind strength. It was around 50 knots, a force 10 and the worst conditions we have ever been in. Being anchored in shallow water and so close to land was a worry despite it being mud and the strain the anchor was taking was appalling.

Our Route During The Force 10 Storm

Our Route During The Force 10 Storm

We wanted to let out more chain but with the wind howling I couldn’t hear or see Rob on the bow and the force of the wind and waves made it impossible to lift the chain for Rob to detach the bridle. I wanted to get into deeper water and away from the land, so motored ahead until we must have dragged the anchor out and continued to drag it across the bay. Some of the distance we travelled may have been just wind blown but whether it was that or the engine we ended up in 7 metres of water rather than 4 and travelled about a mile in all, finishing 0.5 miles from our original position. The photo shows our meandering course and proximity of the land. We were back in the area where the fishing boats had been in the afternoon but fortunately still a little way from the nets.

I was totally drenched, couldn’t open my eyes sometimes against the wind and rain but there was nothing else we could do. I worried about the boat most of all and the possible risks such as running out of fuel if the storm continued too long. We had run down our water and fuel tanks to lighten us for crossing the bar. I worried about Rob being blown overboard when he went to the bow, as he would then have had to swim ashore as I couldn’t launch the dinghy or move the boat. All the scenarios were bad and all I could do is say out loud ‘Please stop’!

Guatemalan Family Paddling In The Shade Of The Trees

Guatemalan Family Paddling In The Shade Of The Trees

After about an hour of sustained Force 10 winds, not just gusts, it died down to under 30, then under 20 and finally under 10 knots. The relief was amazing as we lifted the bridle and let out all our chain, 75 metres of it. When Rob put the bridle back on he only tied it at deck level rather than letting it drop down into the water, just in case we were in a calm between storms and had to go through it all again.

Finally I switched off the engine and dried off. Lightning struck the land nearby and we listened to the thunder for a while but the wind had stopped and we were safe. I was so proud of Rob and Beyzano and at midnight it was our 20th Wedding Anniversary, definitely one to remember.

Pretty Mayan Style Houses

Pretty Mayan Style Houses

Posted in Belize, Costs, Guatemala, Weather | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Months In Paradise Comes To An End

Briefly we are back in Placencia to clear out of Belize after a wonderful couple of months cruising in the beautiful waters and visiting the lovely cays. Placencia feels like home now and we will be sad to leave but a new adventure beckons and on Monday morning we should be anchored off Livingston in Guatemala to clear customs for a six to seven month stay in the Rio Dulce or ‘Sweet River’. No doubt the Nanajuana Marina Resort will soon become home and we are looking forward to exploring another new country. With our deep keel we are limited to the highest tides of the month and the very highest is on Monday, giving us the best chance of not being stuck in the mud as we cross the shallow entrance to the river. Beyzano has rarely been in a river and we hope her engine and outboard will enjoy a rinse through with fresh water.

Beautiful, Safe Anchorage At Placencia

Beautiful, Safe Anchorage At Placencia

We have been revisiting some favourite cays and a couple of new ones this past fortnight. At the beginning of the first week we travelled with our friends Jeff and Di to Ranguana and South Cocoa but they needed to clear out earlier than us and sailed south last weekend. We managed to sail most of the trips but at South Cocoa we dropped our anchor into a deep blue hole and saw the depth change from 4 metres to 20 in an instant. The island is private but where we anchored piles of bricks and old tyres spoilt the view. Hopefully building will start soon as the southern part of the cay is nicely developed.

‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ came into Placencia one day and we last saw Mike and Jean in Curaçao a year ago. All of us had a meal at the ‘Pickled Parrot’, priced at just over 3 GBP for their special of shrimps in light batter with a mango sauce over white rice. Amazing value, as are their other specials, all just 10 BZ$ and they serve a different one each day. We had ice cream for dessert as usual, choosing from a wide array of flavours and all made on the premises each morning from the best quality ingredients. A medium sized pot with a couple of flavours cost 2 GBP or 6 BZ$. Another ritual Rob has founded is courtesy of his favourite Belizean lady. She sells warm cinnamon ring donuts and seems to find Rob any morning we go ashore. They are good and only a pound.

South Water Cay With Our Swimming Pool To The Right

South Water Cay With Our Swimming Pool To The Right

It is quiet season in Belize now so all the shops, bars and restaurants need to have made enough during the past 5 months to retain their good staff until it picks up again in December. It is a good time to do renovations and take a holiday though and most establishments shut for a month at least. One boost is the re-opening of lobster fishing in the middle of June. A big festival takes place in Placencia with stalls selling lobster cooked in every conceivable way, including on pizza and battered pieces. There are big fishing competitions and charity events but after that it is definitely low season.

We bought a geological/geographical atlas of Belize and some mahogany salad servers as souvenirs but our photographs and memories will keep us content until we return here either just before Christmas or in the New Year. This is certainly a special place and I guess the Eastern Caribbean used to be similar a couple of decades ago. We appreciate the empty anchorages, spacious dinghy docks and total lack of boat boys and people begging for money. Many of the people here do not have a great deal materially but they are happy, friendly and welcoming.

I spoke to a lovely young lady working in a local shop and she told me that she travelled 4 hours a day by bus to work there. Previously she had worked from 5am to 6pm for just 6 GBP a day or around 9 US$/18 BZ$, standing up all day in a factory. She leaves her young children with her mother and only sees them at the weekends as she gets home too late to see them on weekdays. She speaks 4 languages fluently, including English and Spanish. Secondary school costs a lot of money here and parents need to pay for everything themselves. We saw adverts in the bank for loans to cover tuition, uniforms, books and extra expenses.

Nope, You Can't Fool Us, These Bricks Are Not Mayan Temples

Nope, You Can’t Fool Us, These Bricks Are Not Mayan Temples

This week we spent a couple of days at one of our favourite islands, South Water Cay. It is just as one would imagine a tropical island with white sandy beaches, palm trees and pelicans diving into the crystal clear turquoise water. The anchorage is well protected with lots of big sandy patches to drop the hook in and dig in well for the night and the water is so clear we can see every blade of sea grass in 20 feet of water. The snorkelling is excellent and we also enjoyed anchoring our dinghy on the sandy spit to the south of the cay where it is shallow enough to sit in the warm water. No spiky urchins, no weed, just white sand. Dolphins lazily swam past the boat one morning and rays often leap out of the water for the fun of it. Just south of the cay is a cut through the reef out to Glover’s Atoll, 14 miles away but the winds have been so light that we decided not to motor almost 30 miles and to keep a visit to Glover’s for next time.

Our sail to South Water Cay was so close to the wind we needed to put in 5 tacks and it took all day to get from Placencia to Blue Ground Range but we were determined to have a last swim in these stunning waters before we get marina bound. The next morning we motored across the shallows east of Blue Ground Range, seeing 0.7 metres under the keel but keeping to our track from last time. Even so, we went very slowly when the depth got under 2 metres and it took ages to do the 4 miles. We spent 2 restful days in our swinging chair and hammock, snorkelling over the reef and going ashore to wander around the island and have a sundowner in their small bar.

An Empty Anchorage Means An Empty Dinghy Dock

An Empty Anchorage Means An Empty Dinghy Dock

Our sail back south was easy and gentle under a full main and cruising chute and we are now in the empty anchorage of Placencia, one of the prettiest I’ve been in so close to a town. There is so much space and the entire area is around 6-7 metres deep with good holding in the sticky muddy sand. We are now officially in Hurricane Season and a tropical low is forming to the east meaning more unsettled weather. We may get an isolated squall during the next 2 nights and have put out a lot of chain and dragged the anchor into the seabed at 2000 revs to make sure we stay put. We may also get unusual westerly winds on Sunday night and Monday, needing an all round protected bay for Sunday evening off Livingston. Just as well we are heading into the Rio.

Today we stocked up on items we may not be able to source in the Rio, such as fresh Parmesan having been given the heads up by our friends who arrived there last week. We left the boat before 0800 to avoid walking in the sweltering heat. It gets hot by 0900 really and the poor boat is suffering. Under the sun awnings we notice such a marked difference in temperature inside the boat and we will get the entire boat covered as soon as we have washed the decks off and got our sails down next week. I stupidly kept a couple of very expensive bras ‘for best’ and went to get them this morning. The padding in the cups has completely disintegrated! Lessons learned: don’t bother with anything expensive and don’t keep anything. I’m also doing away with my habit of buying in bulk when we see items we need somewhere. No point wasting money if they just melt away or go off. We just need to buy what we need as we need it and if we can’t find it, then do without.

Later today we Skype with Kym, as she has lots to tell us about the wedding plans. Both of us feel sad that we are not there in person to share all the excitement with her and this year more than in the past, our ‘children’ have been saying they wished we were at home. It has been a price to pay for the life we chose but we are aware that our family did not choose it, we did but we are all paying the price. The University of St Andrews will confer Owen with his MSc in November and sadly we won’t be there to witness that either. There are many who feel very guilty and some ‘children’ who play on it but ours have been very fair and selfless, leaving us to enjoy our time. We have been lucky.

Farewell Belize - Our Last Night In Placencia Anchorage

Farewell Belize – Our Last Night In Placencia Anchorage

We feel like the last couple in the restaurant, with everyone else we knew on the Rally already in the Rio or in the USA and only 5 other boats in Placencia. Tomorrow we clear out, getting the Hokey Pokey water taxi again to Independence at 0745 and the taxi to the offices at Big Creek. We will need to pay for our last month’s cruising, about 50 GBP and 5 GBP to exit Belize. Then we can set sail for the anchorage at Tres Puntas, 10 miles off Livingston and meet Hector on Monday morning to be assisted across the bar into the Rio Dulce. There are waypoints in the Belize Cruising Guide and the Navionics and Garmin/Active Captain electronic charts. Stray off them and you are likely to run aground. Carla and Robert from ‘Moody Mistress’ are already there and kindly emailed to let us know their bank cards wouldn’t work in the ATMs and the officials wouldn’t take anything less than a 100 US$ bill so we got some dollars out of the bank in Placencia just in case. We need 130 GBP to clear in for the first 3 months and another 40 pounds for Hector’s services. After clearing we will motor up the river to anchor for the night and then on through the lake ‘El Golfete’, said to be one of the most beautiful passages a cruiser can experience. Can’t wait!!

Posted in Belize, Costs, Domestic Info, Friends & Family, Guatemala, UK, Weather | Leave a comment

Visiting Belize’s Offshore Atolls & The Blue Hole

The 3 atolls are Turneffe, Lighthouse and Glovers, Turneffe being just 8 miles east of the barrier reef and our first stop. We left Placencia with ‘Moody Mistress’ to sail close to the wind for Garbutt Cay for an overnight stop and ‘Beyzano’ loved the flat sea behind the reef with a pleasant force 4 wind. We touched 8 knots at times and were tucked up in the anchorage in time for lunch. Two other boats joined us this time, rare company for us in the cays.

Sunrise - Time To Head Out To The Atolls

Sunrise – Time To Head Out To The Atolls

The following morning we headed towards the Southern Grennels Channel near Belize City to exit the reef. There is a 12 foot bank we could have crossed instead but having to slow down and pick our way across meant little saving in time, so we used the deep channel seeing 50 metres of water under our keel sometimes. A couple of buoys are missing but the charts are accurate and the tiny Goff’s and English Cays were a lovely sight. In calm weather it would be a pretty place to anchor. 2 huge cruise ships were anchored near Belize City and we could see hundreds of their passengers on the beach at tiny Goff’s Cay. We also saw a cargo ship anchored off the channel being unloaded by smaller boats. The area is so shallow that many boats can’t get close to the city, us included.

Trying To Convey The Colours!

Trying To Convey The Colours!

Once out of the channel we managed to sail all the way to the southern tip of the Turneffe Islands, heading for the 2 derelict lighthouses on Cay Bokel Reef. The water between the barrier reef and Turneffe was off the depth sounder and we enjoyed the sail across. From being hundreds of metres deep the water starts to shallow a short way offshore but we continued in until we were reading a metre under us and anchored in a rare sandy patch a few hundred metres off the island. In the sand our holding was good but the rest of the anchorage has grass over sand, nothing dangerous but you would need to really dig the anchor in. Further north another reef on the western side shields a wide area for miles where you can anchor between the islands and the reef but as our friends were staying near the south, we did too. It was windy and a little rolly the first day or so but not enough to stop us sleeping.

Rob Chasing Dinner

Rob Chasing Dinner

The atoll is huge, some 30 miles long and up to 10 miles across with an enormous lagoon inside the islands and reef. Several cuts gave our dinghies access into the lagoon where we visited ‘Ocean Rainbow’ and ‘Makani’ the next day for a catch up after a month going our separate ways. They had intended cruising Mexico but the clearance costs put them off. With shallow drafts their boats could get into the lagoon but the long fetch still made it choppy in the breeze across the reef and they had to stay well off the islands due to biting flies. Then we headed across the lagoon into the waves towards a snorkelling spot they recommended and spent an hour with Carla and Robert in the clear water finding pretty corals and a few fish.

The Turneffe Lodge Resort is an all-inclusive establishment with a dive shop on a lovely island but they can’t provide any services to cruisers as no cash is used there. You can use their computers to check the weather but no WiFi is available and you can’t even buy a drink. Apart from that and a small fish camp the whole area is remote and tranquil. The scenery isn’t dramatic but being in one of the few atolls in the western hemisphere makes it special.

Beyzano Entertaining The Dolphins

Beyzano Entertaining The Dolphins

‘Moody Mistress’ kindly hosted ‘Eiland’ and us one evening. ‘Eiland’ has been into the Rio several times so it was good to hear about the summer we have ahead and as they have the same deep draft as us, good to know they have managed to get over the bar. We snorkelled again on the reef south of the anchorage and later hosted a dominoes game for a few hours before getting the boats ready to leave for Lighthouse Reef, 20 miles further east. It was a passage of motoring into the wind but only took a few hours and the waves died down as the morning progressed. As we left Turneffe we saw a huge white building on the eastern shore of one of the more northern islands, a real eyesore.

About halfway across a large pod of dolphins spotted us and you could see their joy at having something new to play with. They all sped towards us leaping out of the water in excitement and stayed with us for ages, jumping and frolicking in the bow wave. We managed to get a reasonable video clip of them this time but the wind noise is very loud.

Clear Water For Snorkelling

Clear Water For Snorkelling

Getting into the anchorage west of Long Cay in southern Lighthouse Reef was challenging due to the numerous coral heads rising to near the surface. The waypoint given in the cruising guide was fine, then a 90 degree course in through the barrier reef, something marked as a continuous reef on our charts. No issues with depth there but we had to be very careful to weave our way around the coral inside the bay to find a nice sandy spot to drop anchor. Fortunately the water is incredibly clear. The holding was excellent and we quickly snorkelled to check what was around us in case we swung into coral. All was well so we swam over to the nearest coral and found lots of fish, several rays hiding in the sand and lots of pretty purple fan coral.

After a quick hello to our friends and an even quicker lunch we dinghied over to the outside of the reef just north of the 4 boats to tied up to a dive buoy. The dive boat was using it but allowed us to tie our dinghies as well. They even threw in some fish food as they departed to encourage lots of fish in for us to see. The coral and fish were pretty and we saw quite a big shark, looking very ‘sharky’ so we bravely stayed clear of it. The nurse sharks are fine, sleeping in caves or under ledges but if they look more like people biters, then we keep still and avoid them! Carla and Robert accompanied us during an exploration of the Cay, almost running the dinghy aground in the shallow sand and grass but it was soft seabed around the Cay. There is a small resort here and they do allow cruisers to use their WiFi. A long way north is another resort but we didn’t visit.

The Famous Blue Hole Visible Behind The Ring Of Coral

The Famous Blue Hole Visible Behind The Ring Of Coral

On Sunday Claudio and Janine kindly offered to take their catamaran ‘Makani’ into the lagoon to make the 7-mile trip to the famous Blue Hole. This is best seen from the air, appearing as a dark blue circle in the turquoise surrounding water. The colours are amazing, pale blue for miles, then a sudden circle of coral with a perfect dark blue circle of deep water some 150 metres across going down to more than 150 metres. It is another bucket list event so all of us in the anchorage jumped at the chance to see it. The weekly trip there isn’t taking place at the moment as the resort is on leave but the park rangers said we could take our own boat and given the shallows and coral heads, a catamaran was perfect. Even so, when it rained as we approached the Blue Hole it was very difficult to see the coral and gave Claudio some nerve wracking moments until we anchored. The only suitable buoy inside the circle of reef was taken so we stayed outside but 3 red navigation buoys mark the channel in. It cost each of us 30 US$ or around 20 pounds in marine park fees and we swam from ‘Makani’ over the reef into the blue hole to snorkel. Getting over the circle of reef wasn’t easy, as it came to within a few inches of the surface and we needed to find the best path over it to avoid scraping ourselves on sharp coral but we all managed to get over it and into the deep blue water. It wasn’t as cold as the inland blue hole and there actually wasn’t much marine life to see, as it just got too deep too quickly to see anything but it was good to have swum there to experience an amazing natural phenomenon. Hopefully the photographs convey something of the colours and the circle with the catamaran moored inside.

Souvenir Of Our Memorable Day On Makani

Souvenir Of Our Memorable Day On Makani

After a memorable day we prepared the boat to sail south again, to get back to Placencia before a few days of bad weather hit us, potentially bringing 40 knot squalls again. A tropical wave marks the beginning of hurricane season when we watch them evolve as they cross the Atlantic from Africa to see if they turn into hurricanes. This is the first of the year, our fifth hurricane season in the Caribbean. The sail to the pass through the reef at South Water Cay was a slow few hours until we energised ourselves into flying the cruising chute so we could arrive before 1500 and not have the sun low in the sky and in our eyes. ‘Ocean Rainbow’ took the photo of us but they and ‘Makani’ had to divert to Tobacco Reef instead as they were concerned it was getting late. We and ‘Moody Mistress’ were able to press on and anchored in the beautiful white sand soon enough. We saw plenty of water under the keel coming through the wide pass, a good place to leave for the atolls. The scenery is stunning, the sight of palm trees on white sandy beaches is something I’ll never get tired of and I find it hard to contemplate giving up this lifestyle and thinking I won’t be anchored in these places again.

The Shark - It Looked Bigger In Real Life!

The Shark – It Looked Bigger In Real Life!

The weather forecast turned out to be too cautious and the blow we expected didn’t materialise. Shame really, in one respect, as we would have loved to have stayed offshore for a while longer but it is always best to be sensible and err on the side of caution. Being back in Placencia is no hardship and we are with friends, so socialising again ashore and happy to see Jeff and Di from ‘Horizons’ who arrived last week to complete the Rally. We need to get food after 9 days away and get some more water. Nearly all the other boats are clearing out today and tomorrow to head into Guatemala but we are waiting for an extra few centimetres of tide to help us get over the bar. We are also emptying the water tanks and haven’t filled up the diesel in an effort to keep us light but with all the bottles and tins onboard this might not be a lot of use! If the weather is favourable for the next fortnight we have a few more cays we would like to visit before we are willing to call this season over and our friends Jeff and Di are spending a few days with us at South Water Cay and Glover’s Reef, the last in the trio for us to tick off the list.

Beyzy With Her Coloured Sails

Beyzy With Her Coloured Sails

Posted in Belize, Costs, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Sailing Pictures, Tourism, Weather | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment