March 2013 - Back To Cuba

1 March 2013   Garbutt Cay to Sittee Point, Belize

I was woken at one o’clock by a heavy rain shower.  I jumped out of bed and spent five minutes removing our cockpit mosquito netting and putting up the spray hood.  Two hours later, I was woken again by the strange motion of the boat.   I got up and found that the wind had increased to over 20 knots from the north west, the waves were a couple of feet high with white caps and we were close to the shallows that were now behind us – a lee shore, bugger!  

Fishing Camp, Garbutt Cay, Belize

Was this the cold front?  I turned on my laptop to check the latest weather forecast which I’d picked up yesterday.  I first confirmed that it was actually Thursday night and that I hadn’t had a senior moment and yes, the front shouldn’t be here for another twelve hours.  By this time, Glenys had also climbed out of bed and after a few minutes of deliberation, we decided that we’d better leave and go to a better anchorage which was 12 miles away.

This is the first time that we’ve been caught out like this and have had to leave an anchorage in the dark.  Fortunately, our chart plotter still showed our track coming in, so we were able to follow it out through the shallows near the anchorage.  Once out into the open water, we had 3 foot breaking waves and 20-25 knots winds, so we unrolled some genoa and set off on a broad reach into the night. 

It was a bouncy ride in the chilly north wind – I had to put on fleece and a jacket because it was so cold.  By dawn, we were approaching Sittee Point and soon rounded it, sailing into the anchorage which gradually shallows towards a tree lined shore and best of all the sea is very calm in the lee of the headland.  We anchored in 3 metres of water and we gratefully collapsed into bed at seven o’clock.  

We had a quiet day pottering about.  The wind calmed down and it was a lovely settled anchorage.

2 March 2013   Sittee Point, Belize
It was a fairly peaceful night with a north-west wind gusting occasionally, but we were nice and secure in this well protected anchorage.

We had another relaxed day doing our own thing.  Glenys spent quite a bit of time looking ahead at where we’re going next when we leave Belize.  We’re planning to head back north to cruise the south coast of Cuba and then to Jamaica, so our main concern is where we head for in Cuba to have a half reasonable sail there and then not beat our brains out when we head for Jamaica.  It looks like Cayo Largo or Trinidad are good options to clear into Cuba and then we can cruise the cays from Trinidad to Cabo Cruz.  From there it’s straight south to Jamaica. 

Sunset, Sittee Point, Belize

By lunchtime, the sun was starting to show its face and the afternoon was very pleasant, but with a cold wind - it was a good day for Glenys to wash our smalls.  There was a nice sunset with the sun disappearing behind the mountains to the west of us.

3 March 2013   Sittee Point to Twin Cays, Belize
I downloaded the weather forecast and it looks like the wind will be between the North and the East for the next week.  There’s another front coming down on the 7th, but it looks like it will weaken before it gets here.  It was a nice sunny day, so we decided to move on.

We sailed out of the anchorage and headed directly east to the Blue Ground Range.  There’s a very narrow channel to get into the anchorage, but it was no problem once we’d identified which small cays to go between.  The anchorage is lovely, but unfortunately, it is not protected from the north winds that we had today, so we had lunch and moved onto Twin Cays. We could have stayed a couple of hours to go snorkelling on a nearby reef, but the cold north wind put us off.

It was only three miles to Twin Cays, so we motored there, weaving around a couple of shallow patches - the depth was no problem, never less than 3 metres.  Twin Cays are two mangrove islands with a wonderful narrow bight between them almost like a river.  We negotiated the sand bars on the bends and found a lovely spot surrounded by mangroves – very peaceful.  A couple of Manatees popped their heads up on our approach into the bight.  

We had a very peaceful afternoon, chilling out.

4 March 2013   Twin Cays to North Long Cocoa Cay, Belize
It was another lovely morning in this peaceful anchorage.  A park ranger came along just as we were about to pull up our anchor and charged us $10 for the privilege of staying here last night – apparently, we’re in part of the South Water Cay Marine Park.  We headed west, dodging shallow banks until we entered the deeper water of the Inner Channel just to the south of Ragged Cay.

It was a lovely sail down to Rendezvous Cay, going past several cays following a deep water channel between reefs – the colours are lovely, this really is a fabulous cruising area.

North Long Cocoa Cay, Belize

The cruising guide says that Rendezvous Cay has a “fine anchorage to the south … anchoring on a 10-20 foot soft coral bar…”  There is a shelf there, but it’s mostly coral heads on broken coral and sand.  We motored around slowly in depths of three metres trying to find a sandy patch, but couldn't find anywhere to anchor.   We’d just given up and were discussing where to go, when we drifted into a coral patch and jammed solid.  I couldn't go forwards or backwards – don’t panic Mr Mannering! 

Glenys dropped the dinghy into the water, while I used the bow thruster to try to swivel us around.  I jumped into the water and saw that we were bumping onto some coral, but at least we were now getting some water under the keel, so I asked Glenys to motor forwards, while I stayed in the water hanging onto the dinghy until we were clear –phew!  

We had a vague look at the north side of Rendezvous Cay, but that looked horribly shallow, so we motored over to North Long Cocoa Cay.  On the charts, the anchorage doesn't look too good, but the sea bed is sand and it very gradually shoals towards the beach – perfect!  The cay and reef to the north provide good protection from the north to the east.  We like it here.

After a late lunch, we went snorkelling.  The reef to the south is not very inspiring, but the reef to the north is much prettier and we spotted a couple of nice large Nassau Groupers, but foolishly, I’d left my pole spear behind – maybe tomorrow.  I checked the drop off, but it’s mostly sand with the occasional coral patch – I don’t think that it would be a good dive.  I'm desperate to go diving…

5 March 2013   North Long Cocoa Cay, Belize
It was very overcast when we awoke, so I downloaded another weather forecast.  Have I already said that I love having a satellite phone?  The forecast is for a weak cold front to stall and dissipate to the north of us tomorrow night and we should be getting 10-15 knot winds for the next five days swinging between east and the north and back again.  No major problems there.

We went over to Buttonwood Cay, but couldn't get the anchor to hold at all.  We had three attempts and each time the anchor immediately dragged - I'm guessing that it's broken rubble and thin sand over rock.  It's a shame because the snorkelling should have been good and there's a large fishing camp on this tiny cay - it would have been good to stay the night. 

We cut our losses and headed back towards North Long Cocoa Cay, stopping off at an isolated reef just off the Funk Cays.  After lunch we went snorkelling, which was okay - I picked up a couple of Conch.

Back at North Long Cocoa Cay, we had more trouble anchoring.  A catamaran had anchored where we were last night and, in the only place left, the sand was very hard, thin and with rock or rubble beneath it, so our CQR anchor wouldn't penetrate.  I had to dive in and give it a helping hand – it was holding, but I knew that if the wind veered and the anchor pulled out, it wouldn't set again.  So the only thing I could do was to put our Fortress anchor out as a second anchor.  It dug in straight away, but only went in about six inches.

 I went snorkelling with my pole spear to try to find a couple of Nassau Grouper that we’d spotted yesterday but no luck.

Innards of two conch

Once we were settled, I processed the Conch, which is easier said than done.  When we were on Glencora twenty years ago, I didn't know how to do it and resorted to smashing the shell open with a big hammer. In the process, I damaged some of our teak deck and totally destroyed the creature inside.

The instructions in my favourite fishing book were spot on and it was easy to get the creatures out of their shells.  All you have to do is bash a small slot in the shell at the second whorl, slide a knife in, cut the abductor muscle and the creature slides out – looking pretty horrible, I must say.  Cleaning it is a laborious process of cutting away bits and then skinning it - not easy because it's so slimy and tough.  It was worth it to have Cracked Conch for dinner.

6 March 2013   North Long Cocoa Cay to Wipari Cay, Belize
The anchors didn't drag last night, thank goodness – in fact it was a very calm night.  We left the anchorage at around nine o'clock and headed towards Lagoon Cays to the north.  It was a beautiful day with a 10-15 knot wind from the north, the sea was nice and calm, so for a change, we sailed just for the pleasure of it.  The beat upwind was sheer joy, tacking between the light coloured reefs.

We sailed very close to Robert’s Cay, which is one of the most unusual places to stay in the area.  The cay is tiny and has four cabins which are built on stilts over the water – each room has steps leading down into the sea.  It’s supposed to be ideal for honeymooners, but I’d probably go stir crazy if I stayed for more than a day or so.

We arrived at Lagoon Cay and anchored in 12 metres of water.  The cruising guide says that there’s a sand bar with 8 feet of water, but it looked shallower than that and I've had enough of going aground for the moment.  It’s an interesting place with a crescent shaped lagoon that has a very shallow bar protecting it, but the anchorage is not too good, so we only stayed for lunch.

An hour later, we were motoring down to Wipari Cay, which is a very small island that has a few rooms mostly aimed at fly-fishermen.  The anchorage is (again) not the best that I’ve seen, being 12-15 metres deep and close to a reef.  However, the holding seemed to be very good, so we stayed the night.

Another yacht came into the anchorage just before dark.  This is only the third cruising yacht that we've seen for the week that we've been in Belize.  There are a few bare-boat charter catamarans around, but I'm amazed about the lack of cruising boats.  Where are they all?

Placencia, Belize

Before the sun went down, we dinghied ashore to see if we could get a drink in their bar.  Beverley, who owns the island with her husband Julian, was quite happy serve us and chat, but there were no other people staying on the island – only a couple of marine rangers that were staying overnight.  During our second beer, it became obvious that they had been just about to sit down to dinner and our presence (and their politeness) was holding up their meal – we drank up and left them to it.  Nice people.

7 March 2013   Wipari Cay to Placencia, Belize
It was an okay night, the wind picked up to 15 knots and we had some waves coming into the anchorage making us bounce around.  Neither of us slept very well being a bit worried about our close proximity to the reef.

We had a pleasant sail down to Lark Cay, where we anchored in 20 metres off the entrance into a lagoon in the middle of the island.  It’s a lovely spot sheltered from the north and east, but the water is far too deep for my liking.  We stopped for lunch and had a quick dinghy ride into the lagoon which is (errr…) another mangrove lagoon surrounded by mangroves.

Our sail across to Placencia was very restful, drifting along at four knots with just the genoa out.  As we rounded the corner into the anchorage, we could see at least twenty cruising boats at anchor – so this is where they’re all hiding.  We dropped our anchor in 7 metres of water and the holding seems to be good.  Within ten minutes, a dinghy approached us and Suzie from “Cabaret” came over to welcome us to Placencia.  She told us that there’s a cruisers net at half past eight every morning and a pot luck was organised for this evening – it’s obvious that Suzie’s the "Queen Bee" around here.

I went ashore for an hour to access the Internet at a bar, but nothing much has happened in the past two weeks.   We went to the pot luck and met a lot of new people – it looks like most people have come up from the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and then get stuck here.