Schizophrenic Winds

Saturday December 7, 2013

Private island in Belize

It took two days of waiting around at Middle Long Cay in Belize, waiting for that perfect opportunity to bring the anchor up and motor the three miles out to Rendezvous Cay for that crowning Mesoamerican Barrier Reef snorkeling, but the day still never came. Winds have been kind of nasty around here, and while we sit protected behind our little shelter of mangroves, it’s not hard to see that just around the corner are small white caps and disturbed water. We reasoned that even if we did bring the boat around, the visibility would probably be poor anyway and our day of snorkeling would not be so grand after all. Which is ok. It’s not like we’re leaving Belize tomorrow, and we’re only headed further north where the water can only get cleaner and crisper. We will not leave this country without a successful snorkeling trip!

The goal set in front of us today was to make the 20 or so miles north to St. George’s Cay, via the Eastern Channel and out to open waters where we would re-enter the cays though a cut in the reef. Instead of taking our 1996’s paper chart’s version of the magenta line, we reasoned that we should have no problem getting through the Twelve Foot Banks where we could cut right in the middle of the channel, instead of adding 10 miles taking the roundabout way. Plus going that route might mean extra maneuvering, and Matt’s still on engine shut down mode (as much as possible anyway) until we can get to Mexico where we know if the thing really breaks down on us we should be closer to finding spares. Plus we’re not sure where we’d be able to purchase extra fuel since we’re trying to stay at as many isolated islands as possible. Let’s just say that we don’t want any officials knocking on our hull checking for cruising permits.

Getting across the Twelve Foot Banks on sail power alone was harder said than done since the wind seemed to be just a few degrees close enough to our nose in the direction we wanted to head, which left us tacking all over the banks and probably adding just a few miles. When we finally had the option to turn east and point ourselves toward the channel and the exit, a large tanker was in there following the swirly path out, and Matt wanted to make sure we had no chance of intersecting with it. Holding our course a little longer than what was necessary we finally made the turn, found the red and green markers, and entered the 120 foot depths of the channel.

The same NE winds we were trying to avoid in the Twelve Foot Banks were also dictacting our travel pattern out in the Caribbean Sea. Instead of just clearing the picturesque private island filled with palm trees and pointing our bow in the direction we wanted to head, we had to motorsail a mile out from shore before we could head up. Once we got on this path, the sails were trimmed, the engine was cut, and we were flying along at 6.5 five knots in clear Kool-aid blue waters. Sitting on the combing and resting my back on the lifelines, I smiled blissfully, sun resting on my shoulders, thinking that we might be able to make it to our destination in just a little over two hours. This feeling lasted about 30 minutes.

Directly to the NE were some mounting storm clouds. I don’t pretend that I’m an expert on weather, but it’s my job on board to try and read it as best as possible, and when Matt made the remark that those clouds were going to come nowhere near us, I corrected him that, no, they’re actually headed directly for us. For a little while we stayed as we were, the sky growing darker and winds building to the upper 20’s. I told Matt I still felt comfortable as we were, as long as things didn’t get worse. But unfortunately, wishing for something does not mean it is going to happen. Prepping for the unavoidable, we put two reefs in the main and began the job of putting up the smaller headsail. There were only a few minor f#ck ups with quick remedies while changing out the sails, and I’m still so happy we tried it for the first time on Lago Izabal.

Since the original headsail needed to be rolled in while we prepped the new one, we had lost almost all forward drive and were now drifting west back towards shore and that pesky barrier reef. Once more we had to get ourselves east, with a lot of south thrown in there as well, almost losing all the ground that we had covered in the last hour. When we were finally able to adjust back to our original course, the sheets of rain started in on us. Because I’m stubborn, and for other reasons still unbeknownst even to myself, I held my position at the stern instead of hiding under the protection of the dodger. The showers passed quickly enough, and wind gusts only hiked up to the mid 30’s. Speeds were incredibly diminished though, winds becoming schizophrenic and dropping down to 15 before jumping up to 25, and we weren’t even sure we’d make it in before sunset anymore.  We wanted to change out the headsail once again, but another set of dark clouds in the distance told us we should just bear with the slow going for the moment.

With a few more rain showers and gusts, we eventually made it to the St. George cut around 3:30 in the afternoon. Still plenty of daylight to get ourselves inside and anchored. The entrance was incredibly easy and we couldn’t even make out where any of the barrier reef was where we passed through, which is part of the reason we chose this anchorage. Wide cuts are always favorable in our opinion, the last thing I want our hull bashing into is hard coral.  Plus, with the wind once more building to 30 knots, we were now getting some pretty big swells pushing us from behind, which could have made a smaller cut very tricky. Once again deviating from the magenta line, on our actual chart plotter this time, we spent the next 30 minute watching the sun slowly make it’s way out if it’s shell of clouds, and the swell that had been directly behind us fade with every few hundred feet in.

Dropping the hook in 7 feet of cloudy water, we went through the steps of after-passage clean up, somehow tired to the bone.  When the last line was coiled, and winch cover placed on, I had just enough energy to drag up one of our sport-a-seats from the depths of our storage before immediately falling asleep on it in the cockpit, ready for a late afternoon nap.

sunset in Belize 1

sunset in Belize 2

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2 thoughts on “Schizophrenic Winds

  1. I recently started reading your blog and really enjoy it. We will be starting cruising this year and have a similar path as yours planned. I like hearing about the snorkling/spearfishing opportunities that you are encountering as that is what we enjoy most aboard. We are a bit worried that we will be too spoiled from the Bahamas as we make our way around the rest of the Caribbean when it comes to that. Hope you find a good spot soon!
    Deborah s/v Wrightaway

  2. Deborah, so far we haven’t found any waters as good as the Bahamas for spearing and fishing, although we also have been further in the Eastern Caribbean than the Bahamas. Grand Cayman has great snorkeling, but no fishing in water under 80 ft. Good luck on your adventures and thanks for following!

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