Cruising 2007

To Return or Not?

Chapter 7: Diving Belize with Renate, Gary, Colin and Cassie

By October 15 I am back on the Rio Dulce to prepare the Sirius II for her next adventure.  I am not sure what to expect as I had not been able to contact anyone about the Sirius II since leaving nearly two months ago.  The quiet 2007 hurricane season in the Atlantic and Caribbean did produce two Category 5 hurricanes.  The first one, Dean, slammed into the lightly populated coastal border region between Belize and Mexico, lost most of its strength crossing the Yucatan Peninsula before regaining some of its force back in the Gulf of Mexico.  Fortunately, property damage and casualties are light.

The initially landfall was less than 200 miles from where I was in Guatemala.  We experienced some minor rain that day on the Rio Dulce.  That’s all.

The second Category 5 hurricane, Felix, made landfall in a low populated fishing area off Nicaragua, lost most of its potency over the mountainous terrain of Nicaragua and Honduras and passed just 30 miles to the south of the marinas on the River Dulce in Guatemala, leaving some rain in its wake, but no wind.  This I find out later as I am in Key West at this time.  To my chagrin, every call and e-mail attempt I make to check on the Sirius II go unanswered.  Indeed, the Canadian couple who had agreed to check on the boat from time-to-time, and to keep me informed, was not even in the marina when I return!

Sirius II
Sirius II at her berth at La Hoya del Rio, Guatemala

Thus, my return has some uncertainties.  Thank goodness the only problem I encounter is that all batteries are discharged and that the main bilge pump has worn out from over heating or over use.  I suspect that the float had somehow caught on something and forced the pump to run continuously even though there was little or no water in the bilge.

While waiting for my guests I perform some general cleaning.  Mildew and moisture are always a challenge in a tropical climate.  I install a new bimini I had made in Key West, install the new solar panels and wire in a new, temporary bilge pump.  Finally, I did some initial provisioning for a week’s sail.

Renate and family fly into “The City” on October 19, stay overnight, take a bus the next day to Frontera and a water taxi to the marina La Joya del Rio where I am waiting.  I soon introduce them to the “cat walk;” we each pay our five quetzals, cross the swamp and go out for dinner at Backpackers, just across the highway from La Joya del Rio.

The Child Family
Gary, Colin, Cassie and Renate visiting in Guatemala

Two days later as rain clouds move all around us, we motor across the Gulfette, down the river and observe for the first time ever for me a rainbow where we can see both ends at the same time!  Amazing! 

We check with Guatemalan immigration the next day, then ease across the bar.  By nightfall we are moored off Huntington Cay, reputed to be the best snorkeling cite south of Belize’s Barrier Reef.  The next day we spend a delightful morning snorkeling and swimming around the island.  One other boat (from Key West) is on a mooring; otherwise we see only a couple of local boats during the day.  Essentially, we are alone to enjoy this island.

After lunch I see what appears to be an afternoon squall approaching.  I scurry about gathering up loose items, securing the towels and closing the hatches just in case.  When the wind arrives, the kids bound up the swim ladder, amazed that the weather so quickly changes from so calm and peaceful to a 30 knot wind; first, from the east, where we are in the lee of the island, then, to the northwest where we are blown toward the island and its surrounding reef.

By dusk it is obvious that the “squall” is in fact a significant weather change.  Our water sports are through for the day.  I begin to wonder about the mooring.  It didn’t look very sound when we tied to it in calm weather yesterday.  Both Gary and I eyeball it from the bow and decide the fragmenting line is a repair and it will hold.  Nevertheless, when it comes time to bed down I decide to sleep in the cockpit, close to the engine controls, leaving the depth sounder on, just in case.

After a nearly sleepless night, for Gary and Renate, too, I soon discover, Gary arises and makes our morning coffee.  There has been no let up of the wind.  While sipping coffee in the cockpit, pondering our choices for the day, Gary observes that the island appears to be moving.  “We’re loose,” he shouts, heading for the bow.  I had heard a noise and now realize that it was the mooring line snapping.

As the wind pushes us toward shallow water and the reef, I start the diesel while Gary secures the bow lines.  I engage the engine without waiting for the 10-minute warm up recommended by the manufacturer and turn the bow away from the island, in what appears to be five feet of water (remember, the Sirius II draws 5.5 feet).


I turn the helm over to Gary while I turn on the computer to chart our way out of this shallow, reef-ridden anchorage.  Unfortunately, the safest course for the boat will put us out in the open sea where the waves, without the protection of the reefs, appear to be in the 5 – 7 feet range.  And I have two children aboard who have never experienced blue water cruising.

My apprehension is soon proven well founded as both Colin and Cassie succumb to sea-sickness as I motor all morning toward Livingston and protection from the gale-force winds.  Our fun in the sun is cut short.  We weave around the bar at the mouth of the Rio Dulce and, without stopping at immigration, wind up river.  Toward dusk we anchor in the Golfette (about half-way to the marina) near a restaurant which the guide book claims serves a tasteful dinner.  (I find it so-so.)

The next morning we causally motor on to the Lagoon, tie up in the marina, and enjoy the life in Frontera for the rest of the day.  Since our sea voyage ended earlier than planned, we drive north 250 kilometers the next day to explore the Mayan ruins at Tikal, near the Belize border.  Again I am impressed by the efforts the government has taken to preserve not just the monuments but the whole area in its natural environment.  We see many birds, howling monkeys, anteaters and a few mosquitoes.

The following day Garon, the marina owner, takes my guests into Frontera by boat for them to catch the bus to Guatemala City for their flight back to Seattle.  So ends a delightful visit with enough twists and turns to generate memories for everyone.

I have already decided not to proceed to Panama this season.  Carmen Rosa had contacted me earlier with a request to spend as much time as possible in December in Los Mochis to help her and her family with their business interests.  However, when the time comes for me to depart, I learn that this assistance is no longer needed.  This lagoon has proven to be a safe and secure place to leave the Sirius II for the winter.  So I proceed with my plans.

Chapter 6  

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