Cruising 2007

To Return or Not?

Chapter 5: Belize

In preparation for our next leg, we first have to duct tape the broken control unit to the side of the cockpit.  I knew this would be an ongoing repair as even duct tape is not impervious to doses of seawater. 

On July 23d we hoist sails and depart Cozumel for Belize.  Yes, hoist sails.  For the first time on this expedition we experience favorable winds, even though we still have to deal with a counter current for much of the way.  Our destination:  San Pedro on the southern tip of Ambergris Cay, a distance of about 170 nautical miles.  I figure, based on the passages so far, it will take us 48 hours for this leg.

Now Belize presents some interesting challenges for the sailor.  What makes it so attractive for fishermen, divers, snorkelers and those who just enjoy swimming in warm, clear water,  the Barrier Reef—the second longest in the world—also creates many hazards for boaters.  Ambergris Cay is protected by this reef.  I had anticipated a mid morning arrival whereby we could enter the L-shape cut in the reef just a mile away from San Pedro.  But we arrive at 3:00 a.m.  There was no way I will venture an entry through the reef in the dark, and the seas were too rough to wait around.  Also, the rough seas might make an entry through the cut in daylight too dangerous as well.

So, on to Belize City.  The challenge presented by the entrance to Belize City is not the reef, as there is a wide break in the reef here.  It is lack of depth.  Very shallow.  After several attempts and scrapping the mud bottom many times, we finally tie up at the very windy Radisson Hotel pier at Fort George, located on a point that is exposed to the north and east winds that prevail in this area.

Each day we are here, the wind increases in intensity.  The water at the pier is so rough that I find it hard to enjoy what should have been fun excursions into the quaint old former capital of Belize.  Finally, after four tortuous days of watching the Sirius II bucking and rolling in the swells, and watching one solar panel disintegrate on a piling, I asked the dock master to round up a crew to push the heaving boat away from the pier.  We’ll take our chances in the open seas.

I had been told about a new marina five miles away protected by a breakwater, and that is where we are going!  Here I spend the better part of two days trying to make telephone contact with the makers of my broken solar panel and automatic steering, only to find that both units are no longer made and parts are not available—except maybe from a local dealer.  In Belize?  Let’s get real.

Belize City
Fishing Boats and Water Taxis in the Harbor at Belize City

During our time in Belize City, Carmen and I tale some side trips.  First we go by water taxi to San Pedro, the most popular tourist stop in Belize.  We rent a golf cart and in an hour we see everything of interest on Ambergris Cay.  This is not the cay that I remember from 10 years ago!  But then I was here with Sirius II, anchored out by the reef with another boat, Just Imagine, enjoying swimming and snorkeling.  My expectations may have been different under these circumstances.

Then we go on bus excursions inland to Belmopan, the new capital city of Belize since 1970 after a hurricane ravaged Belize City, the Belize Zoo (which is very interesting because of the manner in which the natural environment has been incorporated for the zoo inhabitants), and the Blue Hole—a terrible waste of time for the entrance fee that is levied.  Many people go here to swim in the warm, fresh water, but there is no bathhouse or other conveniences close by.  We did not bring swimming suits and are quite reticent to swim in the nude!

Belize Zoo
Parrots in the nearly natural environment at the Belize Zoo

Enough of Belize City; it’s time to go.  South to Placentia.

Placentia is a well-protected anchorage.  It is 60 nm distance, so an early start is necessary if we are to make it before nightfall.  Which is what we do.  Because of its excellent anchorage, Placentia is attractive for cruisers.  Because it is quaint and pretty much off the beaten path, it is also an attraction for low budget tourists, mainly from Europe, who are trying to get away from other tourists.  We enjoy our relaxed stay here, especially the many fine restaurants catering to sea food.

Next stop:  Punta Gorda to check out of Belize, about 40 nm distance.  An easy day’s cruise, but there is absolutely no safe overnight anchorage here.  So, based on the recommendation of the Belize Cruising Guide that I have been using, I elect to anchor off nearby Moho Cay for the night.  But the island is so small that the wind comes over the top and the rollers come around both ends of the island.  It is not a restful night!  Maybe the island has been downsized since the author last visited.

Checking out of Belize is straight forward and we are soon on our way to Guatemala, the Rio Dulce, less then 17 nm away.

Chapter 4 Chapter 6

Copyright © 2008 Steven Jones. All Rights Reserved.
2007 Cruising