Cay Caulker….Go Slow

Wednesday December 11, 2013

palm tree at Cay Caulker

I love when a place has it’s own catchphrase.  Normally you might see it for a whole country or even just a large providence, but we’ve stumbled upon a little island that has it’s own catchphrase.  Everywhere you go on the island you’ll see it posted on boards, painted across buildings, and imprinted on tee shirts.  Cay Caulker…Go Slow.

Today we decided to follow just those rules, to go slow.  In our dinghy that is.  Now that we’ve gotten rid of our Johnson 9.9 hp, all we’re left with is our Mercrury 3.3, which is normally just fine for us.  Before we even sold the Johnson though and had the chance to slip those crisp hundred dollar bills in our pockets, we thought to ourselves, ‘If only we could keep it long enough for Belize’.  The reason being that Belize has a lot of great snorkeling sights, but none of them are usually near anchorages.  Which leaves one with two options. Take your dinghy out there, or pay a fairly hefty price to hop on a tour boat and have them take you the 3-6 miles to a decent dive/snorkel site.  We decided against the latter since we’re cheap and would kick ourselves later for paying money for something we could get to on our own.  Maybe not here, but in general.  Which left us with the dinghy and our little 3.3 hp engine. Oh, and only about two gallons of gasoline.

We never really communicated between each other what the plan was when we left Serendipity, sitting in the west bay of the island.  All I knew is that we had our snorkel gear, the dinghy anchor, a nalgene bottle full of water, and our two gallons of gasoline.  Puttering out through the dinghy cut to the east side of the island and the barrier reef lying a mile out, we passed a popular restaurant situated right on the cut full of already tipsy backpackers and vacationers which were probably wondering where these two people were going in a 9 ft inflatable boat.  Due to the non-communication between the two of us, I assumed that we were planning on motoring the one mile directly out to the barrier reef to see what kind of diving we could find out there.  It’s not like we wouldn’t be able to find it, the thing stretches for hundreds of miles with very few breaks in it.  The reason I assumed this is because all the dedicated snorkeling sites on our charts were at the north and south tips of the island, and we were somewhere in the middle.  Which would have meant about a six mile round trip in the dinghy to get there and back.

Not only was I not sure if we would have time or fuel, for some reason I had a distinct feeling that if we went that far away, something would go terribly wrong and either the dinghy would become untied from the anchor leaving us stranded in the water, or worse, we’d be carried out to sea with it.  Don’t ask me how these thoughts make their way into my head, but once they’re there, it’s 100% certain that it will happen.  I can see into the future, trust me.  So when Matt asked which way he had to turn to make it to the marked snorkeling site, I violently shook my head back and forth.  Not that he usually believes in my fortune telling (although I have frightened him before by being eerily accurate) I told him the more logical reason, that it was a six mile trip, we were moving at about three miles an hour, and it was already mid afternoon.  He bought it, and we continued on a direct path to the barrier reef instead.

Motoring out until we were only about a hundred feet from the reef, we dropped the anchor for t/t ‘Dip in about ten feet of water with a sandy bottom.  It’s surprising how much eel grass is all the way out here even, trying to find a spot to anchor the dinghy was a challenge in itself.  Slipping our gear on and dropping into the water, we were greeted with a large head of brain coral.  Score!  The two of us absently bumped into each other as we tried to explore the one piece of coral together, before finally taking opposite sides.  It definitely wasn’t as impressive as some of the diving we’d seen in the Bahamas or Grand Cayman, but again, we weren’t in a designated snorkeling spot.  We just dropped anchor on the first thing we found.

Dolphin kicking our way to the bottom, we’d drop further in the water and try to get a close up view of the coral without doing anything to disturb it.  When I came to the surface again, Matt was pointing to something off to our side, a few barracuda keeping their eye on us.  The first few times I’d swum with these things I used to get really nervous, but quickly learned they want nothing to do with you.  They may float there with that evil look that says “Watch your back because I’ll devour you in three bites”, but I’ve never actually seen one follow through on that promise.  We went back to our diving until Matt once more motioned for my attention.  Kicking over to his area he pointed at a little opening in the coral and mimed for me to do down and check it out.  Pumping my way down through the water I saw it was a lobster that had caught his attention.  Dinner?  Getting back to the surface, I asked Matt what he was waiting for, go catch it!  Luckily he had brought his diving gloves with him so his hands wouldn’t be sliced open by the shell, and now the chase was on.

Over the next 20 minutes he’d dive down and stick his hand in little nooks trying to capture the crustacean, but it was quick and always ducked just out of reach.  Then we’d both go on scouting missions, trying to find it’s new hiding spot, turning it into an adult version, with very high difficulty, of whac-a-mole.  We never did catch it but instead went back to our business of just admiring the coral and fish.  Matt only took one more opportunity to point something out to me, a lion fish that was lingering near a jagged edge of coral.  As many of these suckers as I’ve enjoyed for dinner after Matt or Brian would spear them, I’d never actually seen one in the water before, and honestly, it kind of scared the hell out of me.  All of it’s stingers were on full guard, and for as small as these things are, it looked pretty damn menacing.  Maybe only because I’ve heard a few first hand accounts of people that had been stung by them, but I knew that with no barrier between my skin and this predator, I didn’t want to get too close.

It was shortly after this that I thought we’d seen enough of that coral head and we went to move on to the next.  Swimming in large circles we discovered that we’d plopped down next to the only decent piece around, and turned our sights to the actual barrier reef to see what it had to offer.  Turns out, not a whole lot.  Once we got up close to it we found that it was literally just one large shelf of coral with no fish floating around it.  The top was only a foot or two under water, with large breakers constantly crashing over them, which meant no snorkeling.  Unless you wanted to put yourself in a human washing machine full of sharp bits to tear you to shreds.  Maybe tomorrow?  I don’t know, I’m just not in the mood for that today.

Once again proving ourselves to be the worst cruisers ever, we decided to throw in the towel.  Sure, we could probably motor around a little longer trying to find more coral heads to dive on, but neither of us were very much in the mood.  We came, we saw, we conquered.  One piece of coral.  Good enough for us.  Now it’s time to get back to Serendipity where there’s beer and sunsets.  That kind of puts us back into the cruiser category, right?  Maybe just a little?

dive shop on Cay Caulker

I’m starting to think forking over the dough might have been worth a real dive tour.

La Cubana restaurant, Cay Caulker, Belize

Hiding out the rain while eating lunch.

inside La Cubana, Cay Caulker, Belize

Serendipity, West Bay, Cay Caulker, Belize

 Serendipity, sitting pretty where we left her.

rain showers, Cay Caulker, Belize

 

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2 thoughts on “Cay Caulker….Go Slow

  1. The dive boats can take you to great spots on the reef. I don’t recall them requiring any office documents for signing up for a ‘three hour tour’ but my experience was long ago.
    It’s funny how smart crustaceans can be. That’s why lobster/crab traps are so popular.

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