The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 28: Back to Belize
Sunday, 9 April 2000
April 6, Thursday morning at sunrise we slipped out of Suzannah's Marina and headed down river. It really felt good to be underway again. Engine checks that morning revealed a main engine belt had been slipping a little and as it was 3 years old anyway, it was replaced. After traveling 2000 miles during the last 6 months this belt and the small inverter have been the only casualties.
We met up with Delphys at Livingston at the mouth of the Rio and together we were checked out of Guatemala by noon. Then, crossing the bar, we found that the seas in the Gulf of Honduras as slick as glass. With no wind, Delphys had to motor all the way to Punta Gorda, Belize at about 5.5 knots. We went on ahead at about 6.5 knots, but were running only 1200 rpm. We all got back together at Punta Gorda by around 3:30 PM and had time to check in with the authorities. P.G. is by far the best check -n/out place we have encountered on the trip. All of the various departments are located in the same small building and within 100 feet of the city dock. They are helpful and pleasant and there are no fees.
By the time we finished checking in, the day was gone and we remained for the night on the hook. The anchorage at Punta Gorda is fully exposed to the Atlantic, but that night the wind remained calm and Francesca was as steady as if it were cast in concrete. A benign cold front had moved through and it was very cool (low 70s). We had a great nights sleep with no smoke and even had to use a blanket.
In the morning, we set out for the Sapadilla Cays located about 30 miles east and across the banks. Almost immediately Mark caught a nice 12-15 lb. king mackerel. We matched speed and he came aboard Francesca with the fish. It was filleted and in the refrig. within minutes of arrival. The weather held and the seas remained calm. The Sapadillas are the southernmost cays of the Belizean barrier reef. There are no really good anchorages except to say that the reef offers protection from the open ocean and if you're lucky a small island may break the wind a bit. Our first night was at the very first and very small island. Snorkeling there was disappointing as the coral we saw was either dead or dying. We spent the night there, but the wind picked up and Francesca rolled uncomfortably.
In the morning we moved about 7 miles north to Frank's Cay. There, next to the island, a lagoon is ringed by a coral reef that is mostly submerged. It has a narrow entrance and depths of less than 10 feet, but offered a lot more protection than we had the previous night. The snorkeling here is better too. More fish, a few lobster and several square miles of coral bottom to explore. Frank's Cay is beautifully palmed and has a few rental cottages, but we have seen only a couple of people. The next cay, a half mile to the north is larger, densely covered with palms and uninhabited. Joan, Mariam and Maggie explored that island while Mark and I snorkeled it's coral edges.
In the evening, the four (five) of us had the second meal from the mackerel. The wind had picked up to 20 knots. While we ate, a small voice on the outside said “hola.” We couldn't imagine, but it turned out to be an indian in about an 8 foot cayuca. He had only a mask and set of fins in the little craft. He asked if we had a cigarette. Non of us smoked, but we gave him a beer and he happily set off for an island about 2 ½ miles to the south. It was hard to imagine how he could be out all day with no water. These islands are almost all devoid of drinking water. With the wind up, the seas between the islands were running 3 to 4 feet, but I'm sure it was just another day for him. If you try to think about how he got way out here and how he survives, you just get a headache.
Later last night, the wind picked up more and blew an easy 25 knots. Joan and I took turns on anchor watch until about 2:00 AM, then it dropped to less than 15 knots and we finished our nights sleep. This morning it is just lovely with a nice breeze and around 80 degrees. We will probably stay here at Frank's Cay for another day or so.
Joan, Ben & Maggie