Throwback Thursday: Racing Almost Skebenga

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

For most of our time in Cay Caulker Belize, the weather was not agreeing with us.  Lots of overcast skies and rain which meant no reason to go to shore, and worse, no solar to power our electronic toys on the boat.  I actually had to take to reading Chapman’s for fun.  Those were some dark days.  Literally.

We did brave a few passing showers to make it off the boat and to one of the many restaurants on shore to celebrate our 9 year wedding anniversary.  Some local food was eaten, and even though we should have been paying attention to each other on this special day, we head our heads buried in our computers as it was our first opportunity to charge them and/or get internet in a long time. A few days later we were back on land for one last internet and weather check before departing and unfortunately received some bad news from back home that one of our grandparents had passed away.  It was not sudden, but it was still sad and made us even happier with our decision that we had gone home that summer to see all our family once again.

Then, it was time to leave Belize. After sitting in Guatemala at a marina for five months and then mostly traveling inside the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, this was our first real open water passage in a long time.  It started out a little rough, and there may have been a few jokes about trading in the boat for a RV, but we eventually made it up to Mexico all in one piece.  Minus working navigation lights at our bow and me fit to play a zombie in a movie, but all in one piece nonetheless.

You can find the original post here.

Friday December 20, 2013

beans, Cay Caulker, Belize

This photo has nothing to do with anything, I’m just running out of photos.

 

Yesterday finally gave us the opportunity to leave Cay Caulker and make our move to Mexico. Conditions out the window still looked slightly rough, but I was tired of sitting in one spot. It had finally gotten to the point that I would have taken an uncomfortable passage (read: not dangerous, just uncomfortable), over sitting still any longer. Plus we had finally gotten an email communication from Skebenga that they were leaving that day as well to head up to Cozumel. There was a little bit of security in knowing that we’d have a buddy boat out there with us. Now our only task was getting Serendipity out of the San Pedro cut at Ambergris Cay, a tricky little thing that we’d heard cautionary tales of from people who’d entered it coming down from Mexico. It has low lying reefs on both sides, a fun little turn in the middle, and apparently is a bitch to try and navigate in anything but calm seas.

Coming up on San Pedro I scanned the anchorage with my binoculars, searching for any sign of Skebenga. I didn’t see their steel hulled boat sitting with all the others, but I did see a few other boats traveling out on the water. One looked like it was headed toward the cut we were about to enter, so once more, I whipped out the binoculars in that direction. From what I could see, this boat had a white hull, dark blue sail covers, and double headsails, just like Skebenga. Handing over the binoculars to Matt, he took a look as well, but didn’t think it was them. We let the debate continue for the next 30 minutes as we watched this other boat, Almost Skebenga, we finally decided on, as they traversed the cut. All morning we had been debating if we should try it ourselves or not, how the weather would affect it, possibly make it harder. Once it was clear that Almost Skebenga was going for it, we watched with desperate intent.

Passing through the boundary of relatively calm water behind the reef, we stared on as they bobbed up and down like a teeter totter through the rough waves coming in, me becoming more panicked each minute. Should we save this for another day? Possibly when the waters were dead calm? But who knew when that day would be. Even though it was a bumpy ride, Almost Skebenga had made it out. If they could do it, so could we. Gathering our wits and triple checking the waypoints we plugged in to the chart plotter, we were ready to attempt this hair raising cut. It was decided that I should be put at the bow to try and guide us through any coral that we might accidentally get acquainted with, so strapping on a harness I clipped on the lifelines and made my way up front.

Before I had gotten up there, when we were back in the cockpit deciding on which person should take what role, I asked Matt, “So, say we should crash…who’s fault would it be? The helmsman or the bowman?” I was trying to save my skin of any burden placed on my shoulders. I did not get the answer I was hoping for. “If any accident happens, it’s the captain’s fault”. “I know maritime law, but I’m saying, in this boat, who would be to blame, you or me?” “The captain.” “So you’re trying to tell me that no matter what, if we crash this boat today, whether I’m at the helm or the bow, it’s going to be all my fault?” “Yup”. And with those words of encouragement I moved myself up front, satisfied by the fact that at least I wouldn’t have the guilt of miscalculating any turns should our hull puncture something hard that day.

It turns out my position at the bow was hardly doing anything for us, the water was choppy enough that I couldn’t clearly see through it, plus anything more than five feet out from the boat was basically just one large mirror, reflecting the clouds on it’s surface. I hoped the waypoints we picked up online were trustworthy. Matt seemed to be doing a good job navigating with them though, and soon we were in line with a large yellow buoy that marks the turn out of the cut. By this point we were also starting to turn into a teeter totter, our protection from the reef gone, and 5-6 foot waves rolling in at us. Normally I’d think this kind of thing would scare the crap out of me, but being right up where the action was turned out to be like a thrilling amusement park ride. Remember these waves from Stocking Island? Picture me standing at the bow going through them. We would shoot up into the air, and then the floor would come out from under us and we’d come crashing back down, a spray of warm sea water crashing over the deck.

As I held on to the head sail with both hands, I had to contain myself from whooping with joy at the sheer exhilaration of it, for fear of scaring Matt into thinking something was wrong. It was a short lived adventure though as, even without screams of delight, he thought I was a risk to myself being up there in those conditions. “JESSICA!!”, I heard a scream from the cockpit, “Get back here now!!!”. Prying myself away and crouching down to lower my center of gravity, I made my way back to the cockpit, my ride getting cut short before it was even finished.

Cay Caulker, Belize

restaurant, Cay Caulker, Belize

 We’d made it safely through the cut, and before we knew it, depths were dropping back into the hundreds of feet before our sounder couldn’t even read them anymore. Sails were raised and the engine was cut, ready to start our 200 miles to Isla Mujeres. If we averaged 4-5 knots, we’d be there just about 48 hours. Our start wasn’t great though, the winds coming directly out of the NE direction we needed to head. Tacking to the SE just to get some distance from shore, we kept an eye on Almost Skebenga, whom was headed the same direction, just a few miles ahead of us. Just like racing nameless boat on Lago Izabal, we followed all the same tacks until we realized one really long tack to the SE was needed to put us on a decent course to keeping us from having to do any tacks in the dark if we could help it. Almost Skebenga shot north and out of our sight as we made our way further out to sea.

I wouldn’t call conditions rough, but they were definitely uncomfortable enough that for the first time, both of us were feeling sick. I had put on a scopalmine patch before leaving, and was even attempting the ‘ear plug in one ear’ trick that was supposed to stave off seasickness, but the only thing it did was make me deaf to the sounds Matt was constantly trying to point out. We had a late lunch of cheesy onion bread and a dinner of Pop Tarts. It was enough effort just for one of us to make it down the companionway to grab something edible from the cupboards, and I was thankful I took 20 minutes that morning to stockpile snacks and canned foods in an easy access area. As the sun was setting we caught sight of Almost Skebenga again in the distance, and it looked like they were going to have to make another tack, while us now on a comfortable course, would totally catch them and kick their ass if they had to take time and run away from the shore.

Even though we were working with a double reefed main plus the headsail, and winds were steady around 20-25 knots, we must have had a pretty hefty current on our side since we were keeping a steady pace of 6.5-7 knots. When darkness grew, Matt decided to catch up on sleep with a short nap, and I kept watch, where an unexpected moon rise made me think that we were about to have a run in with a tanker, a sudden orange light on our port side that hadn’t been there moments before. I also watched us catch up to and pass Almost Skebenga as, just as predicted, they had to tack further away from shore.  When it was my turn to go down I had a surprisingly calm slumber, falling asleep almost immediately and staying that way.  This usually doesn’t happen until my second sleep shift where I pass out from sheer exhaustion.  Matt had somehow found a way to keep the boat from rocking violently back and forth as she normally does, and I was able to nestle into the crook of the boat.  Until I felt water dribbling down my back, but I was too tired to care at that point.

Today was met with the same kind of attitude from both of us as yesterday.  Neither of us was feeling great, and we wanted this passage to be over as quick as possible.  We tried to distract ourselves with talk about how a previous cruising couple just traded in their boat for a RV, and how that seemed to be the right way to go.  The two of us are constantly talking about the countries we’d like to visit and all the things we’d like to see inland, but how limiting it is trying to get there.  Putting the boat in a marina, finding transportation, getting lodging.  Yes, a RV is not a bad idea at all.  But we made a commitment to Serendipity, so we will stick with her.  Plus, you have to sometimes disregard the things you say about your contempt for your boat while on passage.  You’re not thinking clearly.

As the afternoon wore on and we were very sick of traveling and could think of nothing better than a anchorage to stop in, get a good night’s sleep, and regroup ourselves, we talked about our previous plans to go to Cozumel.  Yes, this would mean getting there in the dark, sometime between 7 and 9, but just like Great Inagua and Grand Cayman, there are no channels leading into a harbor.  Just a certain spot on the west side of the island used as a designated anchorage.  All we had to do was sail or motor up and drop anchor.  We also rationalized that 1.  As a cruise ship port, it would probably be much easier to check into the country there since usually they keep all the officials in one place.  As was the case in Nassau and Grand Cayman.  2.  Did we really only want to have one stop in Mexico?  Why not see at least two places, even if one of them might be extremely touristy.

Changing our course to come up on the west side of Cozumel instead of passing by it’s eastern side, moods instantly lifted.  Sure, if we just sucked it up we’d have been in Isla first thing in the morning, but again, this never sounds as intriguing when you’re on passage.  Sailing into the lee of the island just after 7, we lost all wind and our speed diminished to barely 5 knots.  Normally something we’d be quite happy to take, but after keeping a steady 7-8 knots all day (yup, that current just kept getting stronger), it felt like we were crawling along.  It was just past 9 when we made it into the anchorage, the bright lights from shore blinding our virgin eyes.  There were a few tense minutes while coming in where Matt was picking up three images on radar, but we couldn’t see them in the water.  It turns out they were boats at anchor, it’s just that none of them decided to have any kind of anchor light on.  Even though we were only a few hundred feet from a brightly lit shore, we couldn’t make them out until we were right upon them.  I know it’s not illegal to keep themselves from being lit in a marked anchorage, but this is seriously one of my biggest pet peeves.  It just seems like you’d want to make sure that you can be seen by any traveling vessels out there.

I was too tired to be any more upset than a scoff at them though, and we hurriedly put the boat back together so we could rest.  I forced myself awake long enough to make sandwiches for dinner before passing out in a wet bet with wet sheets.  Apparently we have a few leaks that this last passage has now brought to our attention, and everything on the port side of the boat is soaked.  Including our bed and every bit of clean laundry.  That doesn’t happen on RVs, right?  Can anyone tell me where I can sign up for one of those?

sunset in Mexico

Throwback Thursday: Caye Caulker…Go Slow

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

Getting ourselves out of Guatemala after five months there, we had our sights set on Belize.  Knowing we’d only be quickly passing through the area on our way to Mexico, we aimed our bow for the outer cayes, and after one overnight on the water we were finding ourselves anchored in a private bay just in front of the Colson Cays.  Letting ourselves relax there a few days as well as wait out strong NE winds, we then took one of the few channels outside of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef before cutting back in to a beautiful spot in front of St. George’s Cay.  It was another few days of bad weather there, but once the rain did let up we followed the inside paths to our next destination.  Complete with a dolphin escort for the first few hours of our journey.

Navigating through a few very shallow channels where we thought we’d for sure kiss bottom, we ended up in at Cay Caulker in the early afternoon.  Dropping our anchor we prepped ourselves for our first time of touching land in 7 days.  What we found on this little island just off the coast of Belize was a perfect mix of friendly people and a light Caribbean flair.

Find the original post here.

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