Frigate (Man-0-war) bird at Mangrove Cays, Belize
Near Mojo Cay in the Mangrove Cays, Belize
Diane & Harold, Sea Camp
The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 6: What a difference a day (cold front) makes
Sapodilla Lagoon was a great diversion. Two years ago, Joan and I had explored the tributaries of the lagoon to their extremes, so while we put up the 1 meter TV dish, Peter and Angelica (Awab) rooted around looking for a landing for their dog. What they found was a newly dug one mile long canal that led to a start up shrimp farm. Exploring further, they met the owner and some of his staff and were invited for a tour, drinks, etc. The owner, Herman Haney, had retired from the shipyard business in Florida. Much in the tradition of old west cattle ranching he is bootstrapping a 2000 acre parcel into an impressive enterprise. He built roads, a house, generates his own power, etc., starting from jungle and marsh. From that he now has 10, 15 acre ponds about ready to go. Each pond will support nearly 15 million shrimp with a growout time of 90 to 120 days. A couple of days later, he and his cook/housekeeper/sometimes manager, Miss Emma, dinghied out to our boats with Peter and invited us to visit the farm also. What a treat. Herman took us all around the property telling about his plans and proudly pointed out many of the exotic fruit trees he had planted. He said that his shrimp farm was only a small one compared to a couple of others; one of which to the north has 200 ponds. Later, we had dinner at the farm house. Isolated, I'm sure they were happy for the company, but still, with so much work to do, I was amazed at Herman's patience in having us there.
January 6, the weatherfax indicated things were settling down again. So, "Awab" and "Francesca" left the quiet of the lagoon and headed 20 miles back out to the reef and the island of Buttonwood Cay. We trolled, but did not catch anything this time. At Buttonwood, there was no north or northwest protection, but the winds were low and we decided to tolerate a little rockin n' rolling. Last hurricane season, "Iris" rolled through here and flattened Buttonwood. What a shame, most of the palm trees were either broken or uprooted. The fishing shacks, that were once on pilings, now are scattered debris. This beautiful sandy beached island is a shambles and will take many years to return. Now its best attraction is that is has some great coral patches, with fantastic sea life.
That night, around midnight, the northwest wind picked up and the rockin n' rolling changed to pitching and bucking. "Awab" dragged just enough to get his attention and we all spent the night on anchor watch. In the morning, still rough and now cold (65 deg.), Peter and I donned wet suits and went exploring. Wow-, we were greeted by wide rivers of fingerling fish that were often so thick they obscured the bottom and coral. They mostly ignored us even as we swam through them. Such a profusion of bait brought in lots of other fish. A king mackerel repeatedly swam by within a few feet and a large tarpon was similarly curious. Peter also saw a large manta ray. After only one hour, we were both cold. The passage of several cold fronts during the last week, had dropped the water temperature significantly. I began to remember our last trip and that the water was cooler than we expected this time of year. It was the reason we left Belize early and returned in May to better conditions.
The weatherfax was now calling for NW winds 15 to 20+ knots for the next 3 days. Not wanting another trashing at Buttonwood, we moved a few miles south to the island of Little Water Cay. The charts showed that we would have reasonably good NW to NE protection. On arrival, however, we found that the charts had the island orientation wrong. Again, no NW protection. The good news was that the winds abated and the seas had calmed considerably. It wouldn't be too bad. Around 3:00 AM (of course) the wind picked up again and we did our little dance. But, the anchor was in good holding and we had no concerns about dragging. By morning, it was clear that we were again being driven away from the reef by the weather.
With agreement that we should go for the protection of Placencia for the next night, "Awab" and "Francesca" were underway about 10:00 AM. We needed the sun high overhead to be able to see coral heads and because we were just slow getting going that morning. The trip to Placencia was a bit rough. The wind had picked up to 20 plus knots and we had a beam sea. "Awab", motorsailing, was a straight course running about 7 knots, while we had to tack =/- 30 degrees and run a little harder. Even then, "Francesca" was rolling nicely in the short 4 to 5 foot chop.
Placencia is a small town of less than 1000 people. As you may recall, hurricane "Iris" hit Placencia straight on last fall and we heard that it was mostly destroyed. Approaching for landing we found that the dinghy dock exists only as pilings and we had to beach to dink. We were pleased to find the town had recovered some and returning to its former self. But, many of the buildings had been repaired or were in a state of repair. Trash and debris were still being piled high and the towns support services weren't yet up to speed. The two grocery stores and liquor/beer store were open. I wonder which one opened first? Also, a waterfront bar and a restaurant were back in business. Most of the small shops, however, remain closed.
Wednesday, December 9, contrary to the previous days weatherfax predictions, the wind was light and the seas calm. The weatherfax predicted light easterly winds and calm seas for the next 72 hours. Where do they get this stuff-, from a weather beetle? Well, we've fallen for that enough. We gathered on "Awab" and decided that we would move slowly down the coast to Guatemala's Rio Dulce (Sweet River). As we had found before, Belize is better in the spring with more settled weather and warmer water. Also, we must check out of Belize by December 17 or renew our visa. So, we headed south 18 miles to No Name Lagoon near Monkey River Town and tomorrow we will explore Monkey River by dink. A woman in Placencia said that "Iris" had damaged the howler monkey's habitat so badly that many were on the road looking for food. We hope that was an exaggeration, but Monkey River Town, a small village of perhaps 200 people, located at the mouth of the river, was also reported destroyed by "Iris". We shall see for ourselves.
This afternoon, on the way, I spotted some diving birds and put out the trolling rigs. In a few minutes we had three reasonably size Spanish mackerel aboard - dinner for four. And at this writing, "Awab" and "Francesca" are anchored snuggly in No Name Lagoon. No one else is about except for a few no-see-ums. The bug repellent seems to have control of that problem. I have filleted the fish and Joan is preparing dinner. Pretty nice day.
The beautiful mountains of Guatemala loom in the south while the ghosts of ancient Maya in cayucas paddle slowly around our boat. Under the constellation of the Southern Cross, we will sleep well tonight.
Joan, Ben & the all important one, Maggie