BuiltWithNOF
Belize 2008 Cruise

Health Care Reform, Insurance Reform, Quality

Roger H Strube, MD

Roger H. Strube, M.D.

This is the log of my third visit to Belize and based on my memory of past events. I have a friend with one of my favorite T-shirts: “I make stuff up!” My mother (“Grandma Random”) was notorious for “filling in the blanks” with events I am sure she believed were factual but, in reality, were fantasy. As I get older I frequently end a story with, “But I might be making this up.” Keep this in mind as you read on.

Our first “vacation” was to Captain Morgan’s Retreat, a rustic (with flush toilets) “resort” on the beach on Ambergris Cay in January of 1989. We celebrated my daughter Jill’s 21 birthday atop a Mayan pyramid near the western board of Belize On January 4th. The resort consisted of thatched roof one room palapas on stilts with running water and lights when the generator was running. The dining hall was on the second floor over the sand floor bar at the south end of the complex. The peace and tranquillity was wonderful. We scheduled daily dive excursions and lessons for Jill and our son Mark. We got to know the cut just off San Pedro where our dive master fed the “pet” moray eel. Our final dive was through the deep hedge row reefs in deeper water further to the north. During this trip I became familiar with the north end of the barrier reef and the shallows between it and the shore. It was one of our best family vacations.

My second trip to Belize involved flying into Belize City for a boat delivery. A friend had sold his 42’ Shuttleworth catamaran (“The Beast”, formerly “Hunky Dory”) to a Orthodontist from St. Pete. The doctor had been cruising Belize for several months and wanted his boat delivered back to Florida. My friend was the delivery captain and I was part of the delivery crew. We boarded the catamaran and finally left the next day just after noon. We sailed and powered all day through the shallow northern waters and cleared Cay Caulker just before dark. We arrived at the southern end of Ambergris Cay well after dark. The night was pitch black and I steered the cat into the anchorage just inside San Pedro’s Pass toward a few anchor lights by listening for the waves on the reef to the east and watching the few lights on shore to the west. We anchored in 9’ and in the morning we were in the middle of the channel and 200 meters from the pass. The next day sailing north we met some nice gentlemen from the Mexican Navy who invited us to visit Cozumel (with escort) but that’s another story. 

Wildflower Nautitech 40

(“A Six Knot Boat”)

TMM Charters Belize

 

CAPTAIN & CREW

CAPTAIN, SUPREME COMMANDER, STAR AROUND WHICH THE HEAVENS REVOLVE:
  Captain Richard (Judd; a.k.a., “Dick”) Hammond
  Mate:   Marilyn Hammond

CHAPLAIN / MISSIONARY:
  His Eminence Michael (Chef) Owenby
  Mate:   Ruth Owenby

VICE COMMODORE:
  Himself Steve Chupak
  Mate:   Mary Chupak

B.I.M.B.O. (BROTHERHOOD of INTERNATIONAL MARK BOAT OPERATORS), ANCHOR YANKER FIRST CLASS
  Anchor Yanker First Class Roger Strube
  Mate:   Kathy Strube

 

CRUISE LOG
PLACENCIA, BELIZE, C.A.
APRIL 22 TO MAY 2, 2008

 

The charter was scheduled for seven days with a day or so at each end in the hotel managed by TMM to allow for Whale Shark watching and a local ecological tour on each end. This was the fourth charter with TMM for cruise organizer, Dick & Marilyn Hammond, and his long time cruising friend, Steve & Mary Chupak. Mike & Ruth Owenby were friends of the Hammonds from their church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and had recently returned from a mission in South Africa.

Kathy and I were invited to join the adventure by Steve and Mary Chupak, our neighbors across the street in Punta Gorda, Florida. Steve and Mary had been cruising with their friends Marilyn and Judd from Louisiana for many years. Steve and Mary had joined Judd and Marilyn for a Belize cruise with TMM charters last year. That cruise was out of Ambergris Cay and the north end of Belize and included Water Cay. Judd organized a Belize charter with TMM out of Palcencia, near the south end with access to the Whale Shark watching area at Gladden Spitt and off shore to Glover Atoll. Marilyn and Judd’s friends from Louisiana, Ruth and Mike did not have much sailing/cruising experience and didn’t really know what to expect but were a great couple. They were used to adventure as they had just returned from a mission in Africa. It turned out Mike loved to do Cajun cooking so we really experienced some wonderful gourmet meals. Although Mary, Steve, Marilyn and Judd had cruised together for many years and done many charters down island, there cruises were short (several weeks) and involved flying in, sailing from place to place then experiencing sights and people of the local terra firma. Other than dining ashore, all food was stocked on the charter boat prior to departure. They frequently dragged fishing lines while sailing but had caught few fish. During our two years living aboard the Dragon and extended cruising in the Bahamas Kathy and I had gone on frequent “hunting” excursions with other cruisers motoring off shore in small dinghies to shallow reefs. We always found Langouste, Hog Fish, Grouper and Conch to bring back for dinner. Arriving in Belize this crew stocked the boat with enough food for the full two weeks as Steve, Mary, Judd and Marilyn had difficulty believing we could live off the sea for many of our meals. Because we wanted to sail off shore to Glover’s Atoll we were required to hire a “guide”. A captain or guide is required if the charter involves sailing beyond the reef. Our guide, Alex, was well worth the $300/d as he new the waters, the reefs, the locals and the places and procedures for checking in and out of the Parks. Hiring Alex was a great decision as he was an excellent diver and fishermen. The second day into the charter we caught fish while dragging a line and, after dropping anchor at Glover Atoll Southwest Cay, Alex and I took off over the horizon in the hard bottom dingy. We drifted over the reefs just south of the Glover’s Atoll Park and hunted. We came back with several Hog Fish, a Grouper, several Queen Trigger Fish and 6 conch. Kathy had been snorkeling around the boat at anchor and found another large conch. The crew was delighted and amazed as Alex unloaded our bounty onto the cat then proceeded to clean all the fish and conch. For the next several days Alex took Judd and Michael “fishing”. Using the fish the crew caught & speared, the conch we picked up, coconuts we found and staples from the ships larder, cooked by our gourmet Cajun Chef Mike we ate like kings & queens. We had many adventures, some more “interesting” than others. Some of the fun and many of the pictures are presented below.

If you are planning a fly in charter of several weeks duration I encourage you to arrange to hire a captain or guide, at least for the days you want to sail outside the reef to the Blue Hole (charter out of Ambergris Cay) or Glover’s Atoll (Charter out of Placencia). Do this at the start of your charter so you become accustom to the deep water becoming very shallow very quickly and so the captain may introduce you to the area and locals early on. Once back inside the reef, the captain or guide could hop a ferry from one of the cays inside the barrier reef and you could continue your cruise to other protected locations. We extended the days we had arranged for our guide as we were having just too much fun with him aboard. If you are living aboard your own blue water cruiser by the time you have reached Belize you should have no problem reading charts or the water. In any case, prior to flying in or voyaging to Belize I suggest you purchase a copy and study contents of “Cruising Guide to BELIZE AND MEXICO’S CARIBBEAN COAST including Guatemala’s Rio Dulce” by Freya Rauscher (http://tinyurl.com/66cqre). Don’t go there without a copy. The guide has excellent descriptions of the Belize coast, Cays sheltered by the barrier reef and offshore atolls including the Blue Hole. These descriptions are accompanied in the pages of the guide by reasonably accurate hand drawn maps of the areas described. In addition, found in pocket attached to the front and back cover, are large fold out paper maps of the entire area. One of my copies laid on a portion of one of the fold out maps is pictured below.

       

 

 

DAY ONE – MONDAY - APRIL 21, 2008

Richard & Marilyn arrive in Placencia planning to spend the first two nights in a hotel. They explore Placencia, do some shopping and find several interesting restaurants

A large scale map (I wouldn’t call these hand drawn diagrams “charts” as they are “guides” and not to be used for navigation). The Placencia area and lagoon are pictured above. A larger scale map of Placencia Settlement is pictured to the right. TMM Charters is located on what is pictured as a mangrove island to the west of the settlement across a narrow creek. This location provides increased security although in Placencia security did not seem to be an issue. The docks and building complex are pictured at the top of this page.

DAY TWO - TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2008

Steve & Mary / Roger & Kathy Strube Arrive Placencia

Greeted by Judd & Marilyn on the dock at TMM Charters. Paul & Carol of TMM Charters complete the paperwork and we check into the hotel at TMM for the first night. Tragically, Paul was killed in an auto accident several months after these pictures were taken. Wildflower, the Nautitech 40 we chartered needed some minor engine work. One of the people working on the engine turned out to be our guide, Alex. The massive batteries under the port aft bunk were replaced. More on these batteries later. After checking in with TMM the crew hired a taxi to take us back to the airport. The Peckish Deli is located just around the corner from the east end of the runway. After finalizing our order for the ship’s stores the taxi took us back to town to do more exploring. The crew had lunch at Wendy’s restaurant. The supplies were scheduled to be delivered to the boat by the folks at Peckish the next day. The list of supplies and their prices at the time are found at the end of this page. The crew then walked the town of Placencia and had a pleasant dinner at one of the local restaurants. This night was spent at the TMM hotel.

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

DAY THREE - WEDNESDAY – APRIL 23, 2008

Whale Sharks at Gladdin Spitt Play Hooky

Whale Shark (actually bubble watch) tour at Gladden Spitt. This was a long day spent on a dive boat and snorkeling off shore in 4’ to 5’ seas. The boat departed the Sea Horse (Belize SCUBA) dock at Placencia in the morning. The Whale Watch is for SCUBA divers and snorkel’s. The boat transports the group through the cays, shallows and patch reefs inside the barrier reef to mooring buoys inside Gladden Spitt. The course taken is illustrated on the above map. Leaving Placencia Lark Cay is left to starboard. A slight southeasterly turn is made at Logger Cay and then a slight northerly correction at Cary Cay. The course to the mooring balls at the Spitt is fairly straight from here. Note the depth of the water inside the barrier reef in the south. Sailing here is definitely not like sailing in the northern areas of Belize or across the Great Bahama Bank in 6’ to 15’ of water. In the Bahamas (on the Banks) and in northern Belize waters you virtually always see the bottom. The channels are “read” by how deep the color of the water. In Belize the water is very deep in the south and very deep blue, then abruptly gets very shallow or a Cay pops out of the water. Mooring balls are scattered about the patch reefs inside the barrier reef at Gladden Spitt. A Park Ranger is anchored there and allows several tour boats at a time to leave the mooring area and go out into open water where the Whales are suppose to be. The whales are there for the small fish, krill and other nutrients that “hatch” out at the full moon. These tours are timed for the full moon. The SCUBA divers enter the water first with their dive master followed by the snorkel’s with their dive master. The dive area is over an under water mound. The currents concentrate the small fish & krill in this area. The divers, after descending to about 70 feet, move in an arc over the mound. The snorkelers follow the divers/bubbles. If a whale shark is seen, the divers form a large circle so their bubbles form a large, shiny ascending cylinder. This is supposed to fool the shark into thinking the small fish and krill are ready for dinner. The divers later said they saw a couple of whale sharks below them but couldn’t get them to swim up after their bubbles. We, in the snorkeling group, saw SCUBA divers and a lot of bubbles. A large pelagic shark (gray suit) did swim by our group. I dove down to take a few pictures but didn’t get close enough for detail. I saw a school of large fish and took a few pictures but saw no whale sharks. The tour boat then loaded all the divers and came back inside the barrier reef for lunch. After lunch Kathy and I swam the patch reef near our mooring ball with our snorkel guide. He pointed out various fish and corals. When the Ranger allowed, our tour boat powered back out through Gladden cut into open water over the mound for the afternoon attempt to fool the sharks. The rest of the party were a little chilled and tired and did not join me in the water. I bailed out a little early. Nothing but bubbles and no fish to see while snorkeling on the surface in open water and 4’ seas. It got a little tiring. When the rest of the swimmers got back on board and the head count was confirmed, we powered back to the dock at Placencia. Pictures of this tour taken with cheap one time use snorkeling cameras (film) are presented below. 

Our crew had dinner at one of the closer restaurants (shorter walk) this evening. We spent the final evening before the cruise at the TMM Hotel.

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

DAY FOUR - THURSDAY – APRIL 24, 2008

Leave Placencia for Buttonwood Cay

 

Our first day on Wild Flower involved last minute preparations, meeting our guide Alex, a crew check out on the catamaran and stowing of all gear. The picture of the crew on the starboard stern of Wildflower was taken just before we departed TMM (see album below). The crew got a slow start Thursday morning as we didn’t leave TMM until around noon. We had planned only a short sail to the area of Gladden Spitt as our first anchorage. Mid afternoon we determined we could reach Buttonwood Cay well prior to sundown. It was a powerboat ride most of the way. I had expected us to follow the same route taken by the Whale Watch tour boats. I was a little concerned when Alex set a compass course directly for Gladden Spitt as the map (chart) showed this would take us directly over lots of coral heads and small reefs. It turned out to be no problem as the open water is very deep in the south and all obstructions are easy to see with the sun overhead and behind us. My concern was foolish as we had hired Alex as our guide and he had grown up on these waters (Dah). 

 

We arrived at Buttonwood Cay late afternoon with enough light to see the coral formations as we entered the anchorage. Dinner in the cockpit as the sun went down. During clean up I was probably too harsh with Ruth regarding water use. Most flat-landers and non-cruisers do not understand the importance of water conservation. Letting the tap run while doing anything is a no-no. I probably could have started my explanation of water use with words other than, “Princess Ruth, yada, yada...” Water did not, however, become a concern until late in the cruise. The entire crew was in their bunks very early this first evening aboard.

          

 

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

DAY FIVE – Friday – April 25, 2008

Power from Buttonwood Cay to Glover Atoll

The crew was able to weigh anchor reasonably early in the morning. The wind was light so Wild Flower traveled under power from the Buttonwood Cay anchorage through Gladden gap then north to Glover Atoll.

            

The rest of the crew was skeptical about catching any fish as they had always dragged a line during prior charters but we had a secret weapon – our guide, Alex. Alex knew the bates to use and how to catch fish while trolling. We hooked into a Jack and Mike had a great time landing the fish. Alex went directly to work cleaning the fish. We motored into the anchor at Southwest Cays, Glover’s Atoll early in the day.

          

Alex and I launched the dinghy and headed over the horizon to the west between the park marks and south rim of the Atoll barrier reef. I had arranged for loading of several pole spears prior to our departure and these were loaded into the RIB. Alex had been here many times before and knew where the good patch reefs were located. To the surprise of the rest of the crew we came back with several large fish and six conch. Kathy had been snorkeling while we were gone and picked up another conch. Following our triumphant return the crew took the dinghy to shore to walk the Cay. After their return a dinner of fresh fish and cracked conch was prepared. Following dinner the crew celebrated the day with a few adult beverages. I noticed that despite several hours of motoring the batteries were not at full charge. This seemed odd at the batteries had just been installed and some mechanical work done on the engine prior to our departure from TMM. This was, however, the harbinger of an adventure to come.

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

DAY SIX - Saturday - April 26, 2008

Power north inside Glover Reef to Northeast Cay

Wild Flower departed the anchorage at a civilized hour in the morning after breakfast and, as the wind was light once more, powered north inside the south east rim of Glover’s Atoll barrier reef toward Northeast Cays. Once again it was a little over a six knot stink boat ride. Heading north the scattered patch reefs atop the Atoll are easy to see with the sun overhead and behind us. Shortly after passing Middle Cay we saw several sea kayakers based on NE Glover’s Cays.

                

We entered the anchorage and moored Wild Flower to a PMM ball. Although Glover’s Reef National Park preserve is well marked by buoys to the south, NE Cay is well within the area of the Park.

           

The angler fishing crew (Judd & Mike) got into the dinghy with Alex and motored out the gap to fish the deeper reefs on the east side of the barrier. They came back with a skinny fish (King Fish?) and several other species. The dinghy then transported the crew to the beach to walk the Cay and shop for T-shirts. The new batteries were down further in spite of the engine time so Judd made an “emergency” call to TMM. He arranged to meet their mechanic, “Half Inch” when we returned from Glover’s Atoll.

Alex picked up some fallen coconuts and arranged the use of a machete. He made quick work of the husks. When we returned to the boat we made Coconut Gin (a Bahamian drink new to Alex) and began to prepare dinner. We had a wonderful time in this anchorage flying a kite and watching a beautiful sunset as we ate another exquisite fresh fish meal. We would spend this night at NE Cays then sail back (outside the reef) to SW Cays to anchor the following evening.

 

MOTORING TO NE CAYS AND MOORING

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

THE CREW LEAVES WILD FLOWER FOR NE CAYS

EXPLORING THE BEACH

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

NE CAYS INTERIOR WALK

SHOPPING

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

NE CAYS GLOVER’S ATOLL

BACK TO WILD FLOWER FOR COCONUT GIN AND DINNER

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

DAY SEVEN – SUNDAY – APRIL 27, 2008

THE HUNT - JUDD, MIKE & ALEX

THEN LEAVE NORTHEAST CAY FOR SOUTHEAST CAY

 

By morning the house bank of new batteries were completely discharged and the port engine would not start. Refrigeration was also not working but we did have ice in the coolers to keep the perishable food from fermenting. The anchor windlass is powered by the house bank so it is fortunate we were moored to a PMM ball. Alex left with Mike, and Judd to fish outside the great reef. The hunting party came back with a nice catch of fish and conch.The park ranger came by (Alex knew him) to collect the fee for a week. The cost is about the same as daily charges for two days. The fee is for entering the park and is a per head charge, not a fee for use of a PMM mooring ball. The PMM mooring balls are free on a first come first serve basis. The Glover’s Cay Park Permits are pictured below.

             

Wild Flower sailed through the cut at Northeast Cays and sailed south along Glover Reef in open sea. We sailed south along the eastern rim of the Atoll reef in light air on a gentle Caribbean swell.

           

 

The wind became light once again and we motored into anchorage at Southwest Cay for the afternoon and evening. After anchoring we had to tolerate another evening meal of fresh fish. 

         

The following day we planned to sail out of Glovers Atoll and cross the great barrier reef at South Water Cay Pass then north to Tobacco Cay. Tobacco Cay has ferry service so Half Inch could travel there to meet us and, in the event the electrical problem proved fatal to the cruise, the crew could be transported back to Placencia.

 

GLOVER’S ATOLL - NW CAY- THE HUNT

FINAL DAY AND NIGHT BEYOND THE GREAT REEF

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

DAY EIGHT – MONDAY – APRIL 28, 2008

DEPART SOUTHWEST CAY
MOTOR SAIL TO SOUTH WATER CAY

 

The batteries were now completely dead. The Water pump no work. Port engine no start. Roger and Alex attempt to diagnose the problem but the cause remains unknown. Switching the starting batteries fails to start the port engine however the original port starting battery immediately starts the starboard engine. The problem is not with the starting batteries. All wires transit through a black hole entering the battery box under the aft port bunk. We decide to stop fooling around with the wiring and sail to South Water Cay to meet “Half Inch”, the TMM mechanic and have him deal with the problem. Anchor was weighed hand over hand (it weighed a lot;^). Motoring a large catamaran up onto the anchor is a challenge with only the starboard engine working. The crew was successful and we got underway.

We sailed once again in light air to the great reef and entered between South Water Cay and Carrie Bow Cay. We anchored in the lee of South Water Cay and, once again, had a marvelous dinner prepared by master Cajun Chef Michael with the help of the crew.             

            

Alex got into the coconuts again so we were able to enjoy coconut Gin one more time. Coconut “water” is used to make coconut Gin, a favorite drink of the Bahamas. The hard coconut “meat” is used to make “coconut rice”, a favorite dish in Belize. The solid coconut is shredded and soaked in water for several hours. The water is then saved to cook the rice and the “pulp” is discarded. We had eaten all the conch by this time so fresh fish had to do. A few pictures from this day are presented below.

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15