Puerto Aventuras

Monday, April 28, 2003 Puerto Aventuras, Mexico.

N 20 deg. 28′ 54″
W 87 deg. 13′ 29″

We stayed 2 nights at Cayo Norte. There was quite a lot of wind and the anchorage was really rolly. It was yet another anchorage where the holding was very bad. It didn’t worry us all that much though because with the wind direction if we dragged we would slip right through the wide reef opening and be out to sea. Unlike the earlier anchorages where dragging would have us on the beach in short order. We expected to enjoy some diving there but it was quite wavy. We did dingy out to the reef and dove for a bit but the waves made it uncomfortable and the diving wasn’t spectacular. Much nicer further south. We went to bed early and woke up before 5am to start the next leg of our trip. This would be 105 miles to Puerto Aventuras. That is a lot of miles to cover in one day but we figured with all the wind we have been having and the current we expected to find from the golf stream we could make it in the one day. There was a break in the reef and a bay behind it at the half way point that we could into if we didn’t make good time but I really hoped we wouldn’t need it as the reef entry didn’t look all that easy and our charts didn’t agree where the reefs were.

When we took off at 5am there was all but no wind and the sky was very overcast. I had downloaded a weather report the night before that called for:

W OF 80W SE WINDS 15 TO 20 KT. SEAS

4 TO 6 FT.

ISOLATED SHOWERS AND TSTMS. SMOKE OCCASIONALLY REDUCING

VISIBILITIES BELOW 3 NM W OF 84W.

I guess the smoke is from burning of sugar cane fields in Honduras but it seemed weird. We have been out for a couple of days and the mind starts thinking was there a big volcanic eruption somewhere or what? I guess if there was a comet impact or a nuclear bomb the weather report wouldn’t have used the word “SMOKE” but you wonder when you are out there. The sky has been looking very strange for the last couple of days. Odd sunsets.

We put up all of our sail and motored out of the reef. Once we were outside and on course the wind was right on our beam and we were able to sail at 4 knots. With the current we felt that that was enough and shut down the engine hoping for more wind and current. After a few hours we got some more wind. We had a terrific morning sail with about 10 knots of apparent wind, moving through the water at 7 or more knots. Add to that as much as 2 knots of current push and our speed was 8.5 to 9 knots over the bottom. Birgitta wasn’t feeling too chipper with the seas so I sent her below where she could spend the day on a nice soft couch. I figured that we were making such good time that I could make the sail single-handed without a break with no problem.

This lasted until about noon when the overcast sky started to get down right menacing. It got so dark that it was uncomfortable reading my book on deck. The wind hadn’t changed but I got a bit concerned about the sky so I reefed the main. About when I returned to the cockpit the wind started to come around to the bow and freshen so I rolled up the jib. Then the wind really started to build and moved right on the bow, so I called Birgitta and started the engine. I intended to put a second reef in the main so it would be flatter and not slap around while we motored into the wind for a bit but when I got up there I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and dropped the main completely. I’m glad I did. By the time I got everything tied down the wind was over 40 knots and still building. Soon the wind was over 50 knots (in fact the wind instruments tracked a maximum gust of 53.5 knots or about 60 miles per hour). The sea spray was literally blinding. I had to ask Birgitta to get up and get me my scuba mask as I couldn’t keep my eyes open. The wind was blowing the tops off the waves and the droplets were stinging to the skin and eyes. Birgitta further challenged her sea sickness to bring me a t-shirt and a harness and tether. The boat was flopping wildly in waves from both the old wind direction and the new. Coming at each other about 160 degrees apart they would make little steep towers when they crashed into each other throwing all 35,000 lbs of Temptress around. The engine was unable to move the boat into the wind so I tried to hold a course about 50 degrees off the wind with the bow pointing offshore. It took the engine and the rudder full over to hold the boat in this position and it was more like heaving to then motoring as we were only making about 1.5 knots through the water. But it made the boat much more manageable. The worst of the wind lasted for about 15-20 minutes then the wind dropped to about 35 knots and the rain started. It rained like in Panama. And the lightning was much more violent then any Panama storm we experienced. One strike hit between 50 and 100 feet from the boat. It was really scary. I always expected the storm to only last a few minutes and be over as squall at sea should. The forecast only called for “ISOLATED SHOWERS AND TSTMS.”, nothing like this. This thing looked like a major front or a tropical wave. I was so glad that I had gotten a forecast before starting out that day. I understand that the Carribean has already had it’s first named storm of the season which was amazingly early and we have been away from good communication for a bit. I might have thought I was in the beginning of a tropical storm or hurricane with all the strength of this storm.

All in all it lasted for more then an hour. After that the wind clocked around to it’s former direction but blew at more like 25 knots for several hours and the waves were quite high and really confused. We might have made for our half way point but I didn’t want to try the reef entrance there with the big seas. I decided the best thing to do was press on to Puerto Aventuras. The current was building all the time and with the wind we were making 9 to 10 knots over the bottom with our jib alone. It looked for a while like we would make Puerto Aventuras by 5:30 pm. This was encouraging as the marina entry looked hairy in our guide book and I would appreciate the light of day to negotiate it. As the afternoon went on the wind calmed down and then all but died. I had to motor for the last 2 hours or so and didn’t arrive until just after 6pm. The sun had just set and things were confusing in the twilight. I called the marina but got no response on any frequency. Thankfully the cruisers on the boat Rima, who were in the Marina, picked up my call and described the entry to me. I decided to give it a try and we made it in but it wasn’t easy. I could see that some of the waves were breaking in the entrance so I came in quite fast to have good steerage. Just as we were in the narrowest part between a sea wall and a reef a particularly big wave came and broke under us. The boat wanted to broach, which would have meant hitting the reef or wall and wrecking the boat. I gave her full throttle and did a lot of fancy steering and was able to keep her on a mostly straight course. Once we got in we found out that some boats have been trapped here for days waiting for the entrance to be calm enough to chance leaving.

We tied up to a wall inside and had showers. Birgitta make a nice nourishing dinner for us and then we turned in very early. This morning we checked in and decided that we really appreciate being behind a sea wall and tied to something we can trust. We haven’t had a good anchorage with descent holding and flat water since Cay Caulker.

We plan on staying here a few days and take a short bus trip to Tulum, a Mayan site in the area. Then we will head north again to Isla Mujeres, our last Mexican port before heading back to Florida.

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Cayo Norte

Friday, April 25, 2003 Cayo Norte, Mexico.

N 18 deg. 45′ 11″
W 87 deg. 18′ 27″

We checked out of Belize Wednesday night and headed north on Thursday morning. We arrived in Xcalak around 1pm and passed through the shallow, narrow, and very scary reef entry. There was quite a sea running and the boat didn’t want to stay on a straight course. Once we got in and were in only 10.5 feet of water we realized that we had left the center board down. With it down Temptress needs 10 feet of water so we hauled it up fast. Then moved around to a place behind the reef in 7 feet of water and put the anchor down. Wouldn’t hold! There is just an inch or so of sand over hard base in Xcalak bay. We tried again with both anchors and a lot of chain and it sort of held. We were only holding by the shear weight of the 2 anchors and 100 feet of 3/8″ chain but we stayed where we were for the night.

We then checked into Mexico and made ourselves all nice and legal for only about $80 US. Isn’t Mexico great. We were asked by the Mexican navy if we had any drugs aboard. I guess if we said yes we would have been arrested but we said no so we could go. I imagine they were supposed to search us but they didn’t seem to have a boat so they just asked. They must only get honest drug runners down here.

This morning early we fought ourselves out of the bay through the reef. The waves were so big that the engine could sometimes only hold us at 1 knot and we were scooping seawater up with the bow. When we cleared the reef we rolled out the jib and took off like a shot. One thing that is different here in the Caribbean then in the Pacific is there is always wind. We had 15 to 20 knots of wind and we expect to keep having it for a while. The waves here are of a very short period and therefore make for a lumpy WET ride. We saw waves as high as 10 feet today and when they hit the side of the boat we got drenched! On the other hand we were flying. We were on a close reach both days and were moving through the water at about 7.5 knots with minimal sail up. Add to that the current and we saw 8.5 knots over the bottom quite often. We are in the very beginnings of the gulf stream here and the current should only get stronger as we continue to Florida. It should be about 2 knots on the next leg and it may hit 3 before we leave Mexico. On the way to Florida it could go as high as the record of 7 knots. All of it in the right direction if we don’t get caught in a back eddy. This really makes a difference in how far one can go in a day. We had to plan on 5 knots in the Pacific for a long crossing as the wind would likely be light or nonexistent and we would have to motor. Here we have started using 7 knots for planning and we still arrive early.

First order of business upon arriving here was to shower. As Birgitta said “We were as salty as a cocktail peanut”. Then we will just rest. We hope to spend 2 nights here before moving on. We planned on diving this reef as some friends really liked it but right now we aren’t very interested. We are tired from our day in the waves. I guess we have lost our conditioning while we were in Belize where you could hide behind the reef whenever you wanted. We both felt the sea out there, Birgitta got sick for the first time in quite a while. It is also too windy to enjoy diving the reef here. The wind is currently just over 20 knots and the waves near the reef would be very uncomfortable. So it’s just resting and eating for today.

Cay Caulker

April 22, 2003. Cay Caulker, Belize.

N 17 deg. 44′ 38″
W 88 deg. 01′ 50″

 

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After leaving Belize City, we spent several days at Rendezvous Cay, a lovely, tiny, coconut tree covered island located in a break in the main barrier reef. There were many reefs to explore snorkeling, and, after fixing some equipment problems, Clark’s mom started really enjoying the underwater world. We were happy to see her excitement in seeing the bright fish we have come to know well. We also had fun chasing our favorite fishes with the underwater camera, trying to capture them on film. We sent the film back to the US with Linda, so we will not see the pictures until we get to Florida.

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Linda took possession of the island, installing her hammock between two palm trees to enjoy an afternoon of reading in the shade, as a change from reading a book in the cockpit hammock!

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After the third day there, the wind picked up and we decided to retreat to Banister Bogue, a pretty and well protected anchorage between mangrove islands. Sunday we returned to Belize City so we could drop off Linda whose flight was really early Monday morning. We hope she had a good night sharing the airport hotel with a sport team. We have heard that she has arrived safely back to Florida.

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Tuesday, we motor-sailed to Cay Caulker, a resort island near the barrier reef to the north of Belize City. Cay Caulker is neat with clean houses painted in pastel tones, sand street, and quiet golf carts driving around. We saw only one combustion-engine truck.

We had lunch in town. I ordered a whole fried snapper and was surprised to see two small snappers on my plate. It is a sad remainder that over-fishing has depleted the stocks of large adult fish capable of reproducing. I felt guilty eating the snappers, knowing they did not even get a chance to mature and produce more fish for the future. Maybe it is time to stop eating fish.

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Sand transport by sailboat!

We will leave for Mexico in a few days after checking out of Belize at San Pedro, 10 miles away.

Rendez-Vous Cay

Wednesday April 16, 2003. Rendez-Vous Cay, Belize.

Hello everyone:

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On April 7, we moved into the overpriced (US$34/day), very poorly maintained marina on a tiny island near Belize City. The channel is poorly marked and although it is supposed to be 6 feet deep, we had to plow Temptress keel through sand to get through. Then, it turned out the boat slips are not really slips, the boat is placed between two piles (poorly anchored palm tree trunks), with the bow tied to a dock running around the marina basin. So to get off the boat we had to step over the bow pulpit, on the anchor and then take a big step to reach the dock, something Linda (Clark’s mom) was not particularly fond of doing. The dock itself was quite rotten and there were places where we could have broken through it with a careless step. When we tied Temptress to the starboard palm tree, it bent alarmingly and we were not sure how well it would withstand a blow. Clark was real unhappy about this state of affairs as another front was supposed to come through during the time we would be in Tikal. Fortunately, the marina is well protected from waves.

Linda arrived on-time on Tuesday at the small international airport of Belize and brought with her many presents, parts we needed for the boat, books we had requested and surprise birthday presents for me (Birgitta). My birthday is next month but since one of the present was an underwater camera, for which I would have the most use in Belize, I was allowed to open it early. It is a perfect gift! I also received a book, always welcome, and a pretty scarf.

Wednesday morning, we stepped onto a bus headed for Flores, Guatemala. Border crossing was a breeze since very few people were around and the trip took only about 4 hours. In the past, robberies occurred frequently on the stretch of road just past the border into Guatemala but my guidebook and the bus company assured us that security had improved since the road had been paved. This only partially reassured Clark, who would have preferred to fly to Flores, but we made it through without seeing anyone (maybe because it was raining). Flores is a small town, about 1.5 hours from Tikal, where most tourists visiting the Mayan site stay.

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Flores

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We checked in one of the cheapest hotel in town ($6.50/night with private bathroom and hot water) and spent the rest of the afternoon visiting Flores and shopping. Flores occupies a tiny island in a lake, connected to the shore by a long bridge. It is prettier and cleaner than an average Guatemalan town but it did not have the splendid buildings of Antigua and was not as bright as Copan Ruinas had been. We ate at one of the best restaurants in town (I prefer to spend money on food than fancy hotels) and went to bed early to get rested for the exploration of Tikal the next day.

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Diner at La Luna

In the morning, after a traditional Guatemalan breakfast of eggs, refried beans, plantains, cheese and bread, we took a shuttle van to Tikal and arrived there at about 10 AM. We bought a booklet about the site and spent some time coming up with the best plan to see all the ruins and 2 museums in two days. The whole tour is about 6 miles (10 km) and it takes 30 min just to walk to the first buildings. So we bought a lunch to go and headed in.

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Temple I, likely designed by Ah Cacau (Lord Chocolate) also known as Moon Double Comb due to the shape of his glyph’s name, and built by his son over his tomb.

The ruins lie within the Tikal National park, a 576-sq-km preserve containing thousands of ancient structures, nestled in the jungle. The city’s central area occupied about 16 sq km and held more than 4000 structures. Tikal was one of the major Mayan center during the Classic period (250 AD to 900 AD) and very large temples were built at the site, generally above the tombs of kings. Just like in Copan, the Tikal Mayan tended to build temples on top of older ones and one of the buildings in the Acropolis was partially dismantled to show two other (better preserved) temples underneath.

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We first walked to the Great Plaza, and climbed the steep steps of Temple II, 38 m high (125 feet). Temple II faces Temple I (slightly taller) with other complex structures on either side of the plaza. The ruins are really massive and succeed at inspiring awe at the former kings of Tikal, even 20 centuries later, especially considering the Mayan did not have metal tools or beast of burden! Unfortunately, erosion has erased most of the sculptures which once adorned the temples, particularly the roof combs. At the top of Temple II is a small three-room building. The carved wood lintels have been removed and can be seen in museums in London, Basel and New York. I wish copies had been installed but building restoration has not gone that far (yet?).

Vault

We found it interesting that the Mayan did not come up with arched ceilings. Their rooms are very narrow because they were limited by their high corbelled vault ceilings.

Many of the rooms in Tikal buildings were supposed to have Mayan graffiti showing ceremonial or sacrificial scenes, but most have been destroyed by plaster mildewing and the overwhelming modern graffiti of visitors engraving their names on the walls! We did find a couple after going through the entire site.

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North Acropolis

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The lost world pyramid

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Tikal has numerous carved stelaes and altars, some fairly well preserved, but none as intricate as the work we saw in Copan. Tikal is famed for its enormous temples and its very large size but Copan has the better carvings.

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Later in the day, we climbed Temple IV, the tallest at the site (212 feet or 64 m) but not the hardest to climb because nice wooden stairs have been installed on the back. The view from the top was spectacular as we were above the tree line with a view of all the tallest pyramids emerging from the jungle. It gave an idea of how large the city had been.

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During our walks through the jungle, going from one group of structures to another, we were delighted to see many animals: coatimundis (a raccoon like animal), curassows (a very large walking bird, something between a goose and a turkey), wild turkeys in beautiful iridescent blue, green and gold colors, spider monkeys, toucans, oreoles (funny black and yellow bird which curtsy every times it makes a call), green parrots, and a deer. We also heard very loud howler monkeys. Tikal offers a very pleasant combination of a walk through a beautiful jungle park and an impressive archaeological site.

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After a long day of climbing temples and visiting various structures of unclear use, we were happy to walk to one of the very overpriced but local hotels to rest. I (Birgitta) wanted to get up early so we could see the sunrise from one of the temple top, which is supposed to be very impressive. The park opens only at 6 AM and the sun rises at about 5:30 AM , so we did not have time to go all the way back to Temple IV (about 1.5 hour walk), which would have given us the most spectacular view. But we managed to get to the top of Temple II before the sun rose above Temple I.

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After exploring another remote temple, we went back for a late breakfast and visited the museums. The first contained mostly pottery and jade pieces but the most beautiful pieces found at the site were in the Guatemala City museum or western museums. It was still interesting to see the evolution in pottery decoration. The second contained many posters showing the history of excavation and restoration at the site, from the early explorers to the carefully planned explorations of the University of Pennsylvania. It was very interesting to see the progress and the amount of restoration done. It was also sad to see pictures of pieces who were later stolen or partially cut off for sale on the looted art market. Many of the better carved stelaes were also in the museums, showing various important kings. The kings have been given names by archaeologists based on the shape of the hieroglyphs naming them and the some are quite funny and likely bear no resemblance at all to the real name. There was a “Curled Nose”, “Celestial Toad”, “Moon Double Comb”, etc.

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We picked up another lunch to go and went back into the site to visit the last group of structures to the north of the center plaza. It is much nicer to eat a hamburger in the middle of the jungle while gazing at a massive and mysterious temple, than to eat it in a restaurant! We came back in the middle of the afternoon and by that time I was really intrigued by the Mayan civilization and frustrated by the lack of information in the little guide book we got. So Clark decided to give me an early birthday present and offered me a nearly 900-page, fifth edition book covering the Ancient Maya with all the recent discoveries included to get a better understanding of the Mayans (sold at the visitor center). I was absolutely delighted and have learned a lot about the Mayan in the last few days, including the fact that a lot is unknown. I will spare you the details!

At 3 PM, we took the shuttle back to Flores, and the next morning we boarded the bus back to Belize which was over an hour late! The border crossing took an hour as Immigration was quite congested, maybe because it was the weekend or more likely because it was the beginning of Holy week (the week before Easter). We had lunch in Belize City, did some grocery shopping and went back to the marina where Temptress was safe and sound.

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Sunday, Kate (with her son and daughter-in-law) had invited us to go to the Belize zoo. It was great to see and identify the animals we had observed at Tikal without knowing their names such as the coatimundi and curassow. We also saw a baby howler monkey, tigers, bright toucans and red macaws (and many others). The zoo cages are very large with lots of vegetation and the signs describing the animals hand-painted and full of humor. It was a very nice zoo and we really enjoyed the visit. Kate also delighted us with a second loaf of her homemade bread which is vastly superior to any bread we have found in Belize City.

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The female curassow

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Sunday afternoon, we left the marina to anchor at Peter’s Bluff. Monday morning, we went to the Fort George dock to take on diesel (very expensive compared to Guatemala and Mexico), then we had a great sail to Bluefield Range. But since the snorkeling was disappointing there, we moved Tuesday to Rendez-Vous Cay located in a break of the barrier reef. Fortunately the weather is really calm, allowing us to stay in this rather unprotected anchorage. We have enjoyed diving and visiting the tiny island.

This a very long email, I hope you haven’t fallen asleep by now!

North Drowned Cay

April 5, 2003. North Drowned Cay, Belize.

N 17 deg. 30′ 43″
W 88 deg. 10′ 7″

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Belize City skyline

After 3 days of high winds and 2 days of rain, we finally left Bluefield Range and headed to Belize City. We wanted to arrive in the city a few days before Clark’s mom lands so we could organize the trip to the Mayan site Tikal in Guatemala and start re-provisioning the boat.

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Local fishing boat

There is no comfortable anchorage close to the city so we have to spend the nights at North Drowned Cay, 2 miles away, and move Temptress close to the city dock each morning so we can dinghy ashore. The dinghy ride is unpleasant through big waves but is mercifully short.

My grand-aunt Nancy (Birgitta’s family) put us in touch with a childhood friend who has lived in Belize City for many years. Kate is a wonderful guide, very knowledgeable and helpful and we have really enjoyed her company and her insights about Belize. Belize City, although the biggest town in Belize, has only about 80,000 inhabitants. The whole country counts 250,000 people, a lot less than Seattle! The country is only slightly larger than Massachusetts.

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Today, Kate took us on a tour of Belize City, showing us the colonial homes which have escaped destruction from the hurricane, the main shopping streets, the growing suburbs, the university and the port. A country as small as Belize and still relatively poor cannot afford to provide advanced education in all fields, so you can become a nurse, a teacher, an accountant, or get a degree in business in Belize, but if you want to become an engineer or a get a degree in literature, you have to go abroad. Belize City gets visited by 4 cruise ships a week, but most passengers take tours inland to Mayan sites or a boat shuttle to Cay Caulker to go diving. The city itself is not attractive enough as a destination, although it is an interesting melt pot of cultures. As far as politics, in the recent election, Belizean have “chosen corruption over incompetence” as the newspapers said!

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Haulover creek in Belize City, used to float the logs cut inland towards the sea for shipping abroad.

Monday, we will move the boat to the only marina (which, as a result, is extremely overpriced). Tuesday, we will pick Clark’s mom at the airport and Wednesday we leave for our trip to Tikal. We expect to be back Saturday. So you are unlikely to hear from us for at least a week.