Bluefield Range

March 31, 2003. Bluefield Range, Belize.

N 17 deg. 13′ 39″
W 88 deg. 05′ 22″

 

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Well the wind blew!!! We got about 36 hours of over 30 knots of wind. It blew a steady 40 for a couple of hours with a maximum gust of 45 knots. We felt quite safe here as we have been experimenting with a tandem anchor setup using both our 60 lb plow and a danforth anchor. The two together really hold amazingly well and set in most any kind of bottom. The thing that surprised me most was that the setup is easy to deploy and retrieve. Well enough about that for now look on our equipment page in coming months and I will go into further detail. For now enough said that the anchor held throughout the worst of the wind. We had waves in the anchorage of a foot or two with the wind blowing the tops off. Our dingy was quite full of water even though it only rained a little bit. The spray filled the little boat. In the worst of the wind I decided to retrieve the solar panels before the wind removed them from the boat. I also shut down the wind generator and we spent most of yesterday and last night on batteries.

Today the wind is down to 15 to 20 knots. This is usually a fair bit of wind but we don’t even seem to notice it. We expect to stay hunkered down here till tomorrow and then we might put the motor on the dingy and look around a bit. I expect the diving to be very poor today and for the next few days as the waves must have stirred up a lot of settlement into the water and our sea water thermometer shows the water to be only 75F. It was 82F when we anchored here but the wind and waves have mixed the deep water with the warm surface water. Hope everything settles down soon.

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The weather report calls for the front to be gone and everything to settle down by Wednesday night or so. Since the storm arrived about 20 hours early we are hoping that it will settle down early as well. Until then it’s more books, computer games and movies for us here on Temptress.

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Bluefield Range

March 30, 2003. Bluefield Range, Belize.

N 17 deg. 13′ 39″
W 88 deg. 05′ 22″

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We stayed several days at Glover’s reef, enjoying world-class (so the guide book says) snorkeling in the clear water inside the reef. We anchored at 3 different locations within the reef and found new fish everywhere. Our last location, at the northern end of the reef, was the prettiest. There were no islands, just a reef around us to protect us from ocean waves, and the water around us was a tapestry in Caribbean colors: turquoise, pale green, bronze, and royal blue indicating different depths and bottom types. It is here that we saw a very large grouper (merou en Francais), over 4 feet long and very fat, watching us wearily but not moving away until Clark dove to get a closer look. We have seen longer barracudas and sharks but none (except the big sharks) looked as massive.

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We also saw for the first time the spotted drum juvenile which has such a long ribbon flowing behind the head that the entire fish has the shape of a horizontal V. Nature has created some very bizarre and fantastically colored fish here in the tropics, and the clear water shallow reefs provide a beautiful background for them. We did a couple of dives with the surface supplied air compressor but I (Birgitta) still am not comfortable diving with compressed air. I have trouble clearing my ears and get cold (the water is colder as you go deeper).

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Another way to spot reefs in advance, but not very confortable!

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Thursday, we motor-sailed in calm sea conditions to Lighthouse reef, another atoll outside the barrier reef. We anchored next to Half-Moon cay which is a park and bird sanctuary for the rare white morph of the red-footed booby, protected since 1928! You might remember how much we enjoyed the antics of the brown boobies and blue-footed boobies at Isla Isabella in Mexico, so we looked forward to see the red-footed ones. The white morph red footed booby has bright red feet as expected and is the most beautiful of all three boobies when in flight, with a bold white and black pattern on the wings. Unlike its brown and blue footed cousins, it nests exclusively in trees and we got a good view of them from the observatory tower on the island.

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Improbably turquoise water at Lighthouse reef. We are anchored in 7 feet of water over sand.

Lighthouse reef is where the Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau, is located. It is a circular reef with precipitous coral encrusted walls enclosing an almost 500-foot-deep pool. It is most impressive when seen from an airplane as its dark blue color contrasts vividly with the surrounding turquoise water. We were tempted to go see it but it was over 6 miles of dodging coral heads inside the reef. When we came back from visiting the boobies, we had a note from another boat saying they had gone to see the Blue Hole. So we decided to go there with the dinghy which is much faster than the yacht (15 miles/hour versus 6) and can go over shallow reef where the yacht cannot go. It is always somewhat risky to take the dinghy on such long distance trip because the outboard engine may fail and we can drift out into the ocean without much survival gear onboard. However, the reef would protect us from waves so we could row if necessary and it would also prevent us from drifting too far. In addition, we expected we could hitch a ride back on our friend’s yacht if the wind picked up too much in the afternoon. So we went flying (or so it felt) over the beautiful aquamarine water, as clear and transparent as the precious gem. We were traveling over a shallow sand bench which gave the water its amazing color all around us. The sun was high and giving the horizon shadows of rose and mauve contrasting in a startling way with the lighter colored water.

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Armed with an approximate GPS location, we did find the blue hole and our friends anchored nearby. From the dinghy, we did not get as good a view of the hole as we would from a plane (see scanned-in photo) but we could definitely see the contrasting deep blue water. When we went snorkeling, the sheer walls of the hole were a little dizzying as they disappeared in the bottomless deep blue. I did not dive below the surface as I had a cold and could not breath as fully as usual and Clark broke one of his fins, so he was not able to go very deep either. But we still felt sort of a sense of accomplishment at having snorkeled in a famous place, even though the snorkeling was not better than anywhere else on the reef.

We returned to Temptress in the dinghy to save time because we still wanted to move Temptress to another anchorage the same day before the light got too poor to see coral heads. We had to move to that other anchorage across the reef so we could make an early morning departure back towards the main barrier reef. The early morning light would have made it very difficult from the Half Moon Cay and leaving the reef the way we had entered it would have forced us to make a significant detour around the bottom of the reef. And we had to leave Lighthouse reef Saturday because a major cold front was forecasted for Sunday with near-gale winds. Lighthouse reef does not offer a anchorage with good protection from north winds.

So Saturday we had an excellent sail in 10 knots of wind from Lighthouse reef to Bluefield Range, a group of mangroves islands inside the barrier reef, offering relatively good protection from the north. And today, Sunday, we have 30 knots of wind with occasional showers. The wind is whistling around us but the anchorage protects us from waves which are supposed to be 9 to 14 feet high offshore. The high winds are supposed to stay with us until Wednesday.

When the wind calms down, we will sail to Belize City where Clark’s mother arrives on April 8.

Glover Reef

March 22, 2003. Glover Reef, Belize.

N 16 45
W 87 50

We moved to Pelican Cay to escape the strong south winds that were making us uncomfortable in the Queen Cays. The weather report called for several more days of south winds. When we got there the wind died. We stayed there 2 nights and decided that the wind wasn’t going to happen anymore. So we decided to move to Glover Reef. This mornings weather report supported our decision with a forecast of calm conditions for then next several days.

We started this morning at 9am with no wind at all. We motored out of the anchorage and started making our way through the coral heads and reefs to the barrier reef. I chose a pass in the reef that isn’t mentioned in the guide books but looked deep enough for us and was right where we needed it to be. Well it turned out to not be the best day for maneuvering through coral. There was no wind or waves so we couldn’t see the coral reefs by the breaking waves. The sun never really came out as today was quite overcast and hazy so seeing the reefs was a challenge.

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Traveling through reefs here in Belize is really something. You are just out in the middle of the ocean as far as you can see. There are very few islands but just under the surface the water will come up from 70 feet to about 1 foot in less then 20 feet. With the haze we only had about 60 feet of warning. I found our first reef of the day while traveling right at it at 6 knots. I slammed the helm over and hoped for the best. By the time the boat turned we were only about 10 feet from the shallow water. After that Birgitta stayed at the bow to give us 40 feet more warning. We had a very hectic hour or so threading our way through the coral heads and reefs until we got to the pass in the reef. Then it was just a couple of hours in deep water to Glover Reef.

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Glover Reef is a very large circular reef about 15 miles off the Belize Barrier reef. It is a conservation area where fishing is prohibited and a world heritage site. It is about 8 by 15 miles and only breaks the surface with 5 small islands in the south east 5 miles. It is very important to know where you are when approaching the reef as the bottom climbs from sea depth (really deep) to 1 foot in no time. We made our approach from an easy direction and had no problem entering. We are now anchored off one of the south west cays behind the reef in flat water. We are looking forward to diving tomorrow. Birgitta doesn’t feel up to it today as she has a bit of a bacterial infection.

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While I was writing this we ran into a bit of trouble in paradise. A local official came by with a hugely powerful 30 foot powerboat and wanted us to pay $5 Belize per person per day for the right to anchor behind the reef. I guess they need to pay for their big boat and fuel. I pointed out that they don’t give us any services for our fee and they pointed out that there were sticks in the reef as navigation markers. (BIG DEAL!!) They are just that: a stick stuck in the reef. Usually falling over. I think the total cost of the project was a hatchet to cut the stick and pound it into the reef. You cannot see the things from any distance and no one would trust them anyway without local knowledge. They don’t show up on any charts as there are no charts for this reef. But this was supposed to make me feel good about paying their fee. Just another make work job for someone’s cousin I guess. (Birgitta’s note: they are planning to put moorings inside the reef which would be nice since anchoring is difficult due to a hard grassy bottom).

Pelican Cays

March 20, 2003. Pelican Cays, Belize.

Hello everyone:

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We spent 3 days in the Queens Cays, three gems-like tiny islands with just a few coconuts each. We enjoyed snorkeling among the many reefs but were chased out of there prematurely by some heavy wind. The islands being tiny and the reefs too deep to really cut the waves down, we found ourselves rocking and rolling. We tried to tough it out for a full day but after 2 bad nights we had enough. The Queens Cays were supposed to be a great spot to see the whale sharks between mid-March and mid-April. But they had not been sighted yet by the time we left, on March 19.

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We took refuge in the well-protected anchorage of the Pelican Cays, way inside the barrier reef. The Pelican Cays are mangroves islands which are not as pretty as the sand and coconuts cays on the barrier reef, but the calm water is very welcome. We caught up on our sleep, dove on the reefs and Clark made some really good bread and a pizza which are wonderful treats after eating the tasteless white bread from Punta Gorda. We are waiting for the wind to abate a bit before sailing to Glover reef, a coral atoll outside the barrier reef.

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The sunsets have been very red and purple and the moon has been rising like a globe of gold, casting a shimmering path on the water. It is apparently the result of the seasonal field burning taking place in Belize right now.

We do know the war against Iraq has started and are following the news through BBC radio broadcasts.

Nicolas Cay

March 14, 2003. Nicolas Cay, Belize.

N 16 deg. 07′ 21″
W 88 deg. 15′ 46″

Ten days ago, as off last email, we were at Castillo San Felipe in the Rio Dulce. We stayed there a couple of days to do laundry and work on the boat. It was great to be able to do laundry with an unlimited source of fresh water from lake Izabel. We were able to use more soap, since we had plenty of rinse water, and the laundry smelled fresher and cleaner at the end. Clark replaced the engine oil again and cleaned the oil filter to remove the last traces of water. We updated the website.

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We returned for one day to the town of Rio Dulce/Fronteras to provision on our way to Belize as we had been told that prices were generally higher in Belize, particularly for beer. However, since the cash machine was not functioning, we were somewhat limited by our few remaining quetzals. Then we motored back towards lake El Golfete where we anchored a couple of nights near the mouth of a river, between small islands surrounded by water lilies. Many colorful water birds were foraging or fishing in the shallow water, some light enough to run over the water lily pads. I really enjoyed observing their antics, watching one steal a tasty morsel from another, listening to their songs, spying on the spying hawk, admiring the graceful movements of the egrets and laughing at the awkward moor hens.

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I did more laundry while Clark fixed a leak in the head gasket of our 7.5 HP outboard engine so we can use it again. He also had to rebuild again our washdown pump (the one used on foredeck to spray water on the anchor chain to remove bottom mud). I was using it to fill my laundry tubs with lake water and overheating it in the process. Since its bearing are in bad shape, it does not last long before overheating. Another item to fix in the US where it will be easier to find a new bearing.

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Monday we moved down the Rio Dulce, and anchored against the shore of a smaller river with tree branches entering the cockpit! We took a nice little hike at the head of the river, inhaling the rich humus smell of the jungle as we went along. We saw lime green parakets and a few toucans at dusk and listened to frogs and crickets at night.

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Many Mayan families lived on the river shore and it was interesting to observe their community. We could almost feel part of it as we did our laundry at the same time with river water. Employees of a community development project near the end of the river arrived together in a large motor launch at 6:30 AM, which then came back to pick up kids to go to school at 6:45 AM. Half the kids were barefoot but all laughing and happy looking. Other adults went to work with white shirts and dark pants, precariously seated in their dugout canoe, which barely has any freeboard, and paddling gracefully. After the early morning departures, the women came out to the shore to do dishes, laundry and take a bath. Many boys and men were also fishing in the river. Clark went up the mast to re-fasten the radar reflector which was threatening to fall down. He also changed our alternator to a smaller one which suits better the primitive backup regulator we are currently using.

One thing that surprised me was the number of signs advertising Pepsi. Blue Pepsi signs indicated which houses were grocery stores and they were literally covered with them. Signs were also hung in trees or on navigational marks in the river, and the school kiosk was painted with the same logo. They appear to have a monopoly in the Rio Dulce. I hope they give money to preservation of the ecosystem.

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Tuesday, we motored back through the gorgeous canyon at the entrance of the Rio Dulce. This time we saw it in full light, the rich green forest gleaming in the sun. We anchored near Livingston to get our zarpe to leave for Belize. The paperwork was easy and straightforward, the cash machine more willing than in Rio Dulce, but finding flour was more arduous. After asking in numerous stores and two bakeries, we were finally directed to a sort of everything store (from toys to men’s underwear and flour), where I was able to buy flour by the pound.

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Livingston

We finished eating our last fruits as no fruits can enter Belize which is fighting an infestation of the Mediterranean fruit fly.

Wednesday morning, we crossed the shallow bar at the entrance to the Rio Dulce and sailed to Punta Gorda, a port of entry in Belize, just 3 hours away. The entry paperwork was easy with officials speaking English, and the agriculture inspector was satisfied we had no fruits. Then came the big disappointment. Punta Gorda sells fresh fruits and vegetables only on market days in the morning. We had missed the Wednesday market and the next one was on Friday! Since the anchorage was very rolly and unprotected, we were not going to stay and wait. The lone supermarket in town had onions, potatoes, a few tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, carrots and one single watermelon. Watermelon is not one of my favorite fruit but I did buy it. So I have one watermelon for nearly four weeks before we stop at another town in Belize! And not as much vegetables as I would have liked to have. The most beautiful diving spots are on the Belizean reef which is mostly uninhabited. From Punta Gorda on the mainland coast, we are going east to the southern tip of the main barrier reef and then working our way north along the reef and visiting also some of the offshore atoll reefs.

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After a rolly and uncomfortable night at Punta Gorda, we motor-sailed to Nicolas Cay in the Sapodillas which are a group of cays in the southern portion of the barrier reef. The anchorage here is smooth, in beautiful deep turquoise water, and surrounded by beautiful coral reefs to explore. We went snorkeling in the afternoon and saw a Lemon shark, another one on our list of dangerous shark. Today, we went back in the water to explore another reef and spent a long time meandering through a beautiful garden of coral, part rock garden, part soft coral (looking like real plants), part sponges. The soft coral was particularly graceful swaying in the water. My current favorite lilac-colored. We saw a couple of new fish to add to our list also.

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The Queen Angel fish, first seen in Honduras

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A butterfly fish, pretty and very common

We plan to move north slowly, with one important stop in Gladden cays on the day of full moon. We heard that traditionally whale-sharks feed on snappers near the Gladden entrance on that date and we would like to see more of them, and maybe even swim with them.