The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 31: Best of the best
Thursday, 20 April 2000
We received an email from Heide yesterday. They made it home, but not without some anxious moments. I reported earlier that they had engine raw water pump problems. Marv was able to jury rig the bad pump such that it would get them home. They also had a main engine heat exchanger leak develop that required the frequent addition of fresh water.
Heide left Isla Mujeres, Mex. on April 14, Friday at noon. The distance from Isla to the Dry Tortugas is about 300 nautical miles and they had planned to stop there for a few days. But, they didn't arrive until 10 PM Saturday night and without local knowledge you can't enter the Tortugas at night because of the various reef obstructions. So they went on to Ft. Meyers. On Sunday morning the starboard engine began loosing oil pressure and Marv had to continually add oil. The oil cooler heat exchanger was leaking, but in a rolling sea sometimes it's hard to diagnose problems right off. They continued to add oil, even scavenging the oil out of the generator engine. Finally, they came upon a fishing trawler and were able to get enough oil from them to get home. About the same time, Marv found the problem and changed out the heat exchanger. Heide made it to Ft. Meyers at sundown and at their dock by 8:00 PM. Total straight line open ocean distance about 440 miles, actual distance run was probably closer to 500 miles. Needless to say, we're very happy there weren't any more serious problems and they had generally good weather for this long crossing. We miss you, Marge and Marv!
Back to Belize. The North Spot was so good that when Delphys came back from provisioning in Placencia, we encouraged them to join us. They did and during the next few days, Mark speared, red snapper, yellow tail snapper, grouper, hog fish and grunts. Food fish and the now out of season lobster were abundant. For for the next several days we ate high on the hog (fish).
North Spot was the best of the best for us. We explored the numerous extensive reef patches behind the barrier reef and also outside the barrier reef. On almost every excursion we saw something we had never seen before, like parrot fish with rainbow colored tails, queen lobster, large ocean trigger fish, a dozen variety of snapper, really huge pufferfish and unusual varieties of coral. There was also the occasional nurse shark and frequently hanging about were 3 to 4 foot barracudas. We were in the water up to 5 hours a day.
Well, the excesses of the Rio (too much food and beer) have melted away. We're back to lean and mean and feeling great. After a couple of weeks of heavy snorkeling our improved breathing and energy management have resulted in routine 25-30 foot free dives. We're not ready for the rest farm yet.
On Tuesday, April 18, after another morning of rooting around the reefs near North Spot, we decided to move north a little. Our choice was the Queen's Cay group, but when we got there these tiny islands were covered up with people. Day boats from Placencia were running people out. Ugh, phooey! So we went a few miles west to Hatchet Cay. The Frea guide book really got this one wrong. There was no place to anchor as shown clearly in the book. We did, however, find a reef to the north that hooked around to give us North to North East protection. In the morning, we dived this reef and it was very impressive with ledges dropping to around 60 feet. On the steep slopes there were very large coral heads reaching up 20 feet. Even though this was not on the cruisers route, there were only few fish on this reef.
By noon, we were ready to move to another location. Five miles north of Hatchet Caye are Buttonwood and Jack's Cays. We opted for Jack's. On the west side there is a lagoon almost completely ringed with coral reef. There is a very small entrance to the lagoon and the cut is only 6 feet deep at best. I scoped this thing out with the dinghy and then led Delphys in. We brought Francesca in last. The anchoring in this lagoon leaves a lot to be desired. There is a thin sandy layer over a rock hard clay substrate. It took about 8 tries to get an anchor set, but we still had to dive and set them by hand. Inside the lagoon the depths range from 6 feet to 25 feet.
Jack's Cay is a mangrove island with no beach for Maggie. There are several ospreys (one persistently landed on our bimini top this morning at 5:00 AM), lots of pelicans, egrets and herons. We look forward to diving and exploring the area for the next few days.
Joan, Ben & Maggie