March 1996 - Rio Dulce to Florida

1 March 1996   Mario’s Marina to Caya Grande, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Hangover this morning – I’m so stupid!  I messed about until half past ten and then went over to Riotel.  A lady in Guatemala City read two faxes from John Barrett out to me on the SSB.  The first one said that they sent all the paperwork to Paul Preston on the 23rd but hadn’t been able to contact him.  The second fax said that Paul Preston has refused to approve the papers and wants a solicitor to look at them – John Barrett is asking for further instructions!  I’m so bloody mad!  We’re sick of waiting so we’re going to Livingstone to use the Guatel office there to get more immediate responses.  

I went and said goodbye to “Southern Cross”, “Filia” and “Boston Scrod” and we motored down river to Cayo Grande.  We anchored next to “Gooseberry”, who were very surprised to see us because we said goodbye to them at nine o’clock!  Glenys went ashore with Brett for a chat with some cruisers who have built a small house.  I stayed on board and nursed my hangover, what a mess!

2 March 1996   Caya Grande to Livingstone, Guatemala
It was absolutely boiling last night, Brett and Glenys slept in the cockpit and I spent the night sweating and fuming about closing the Trust.  At six o’clock, it started raining, so to make matters worse we had to shut all the hatches.  We waited for most of the morning for the rain to stop – the good thing was that we filled the water tanks.  

I wrote two faxes, one to Paul Preston asking him to explain his worries and one to John Barrett asking him to send me a copy of the documentation.  

We motored up the River Canyon – beautiful!  We anchored off Livingstone and I went to Guatel to send the faxes.  It threw it down again in the afternoon, so we had a quiet afternoon.  It’s nice to see the sea again, even if it is across the dreaded sand bar!  The anchorage is amazingly settled considering that it looks so exposed.

3 March 1996   Livingstone, Guatemala
Back to listening to the weather.  I listened to David on “Mistine”; “Good Morning everyone.  This is David on Mistine, with the Caribbean weather.  Mistine is currently located in Charlotte Amalie Marina where the wind is ENE at 20 knots …..“

He does a very good forecast, but he does get some nerds checking in.  “This is Sea Hawk in Grenada looking for a weather window to go to Carricou”.  There’s only 20 miles of unprotected sea between the islands!  They must drive him mad (and he shows it sometimes!).  

There is a stalled front in Belize and another front will be here on Thursday, which is when we hoped to be leaving – oh well!  We did school work in the morning.  I heard on the local Net that the official amount of Clorox to put into water is 2-4 drops per quart.  Typical Americans using quarts as the definitive measurement of volume!  We had a very quiet afternoon reading and playing the clarinet.

4 March 1996   Livingstone, Guatemala
I went to Guatel at half past seven and picked up two faxes.  Paul and John still havn’t talked to each other.  Paul was saying that John was asking about the name of a solicitor in the UK to de-register the loan at the Land Registry and he thought the same solicitor might as well look at the documents.  John sent me a copy of the papers, which consisted of a letter clearing the loans and a “Deed of Appointment”.  The deed looks like it basically passes the capital back to the settlor (me).  

I went back to the boat and wrote three faxes, one to a solicitor asking him to look at the documents and the other two to Paul and John. When I got back to Guatel there was a fax from Paul saying that he had now talked to John and was happy with the papers.  I modified my fax to John saying that I was waiting for a fax from him and explaining that I would sort out the Land Registry later.  Chaotic, but things were happening.  

I went back to the boat and wrote two more faxes, the one to John instructed him to close the Trust and one to Paul to tell him what I had told John.  All I can do now is wait until it’s all been done!  I finished at two o’clock and I was exhausted!  Glenys did school work in the morning and took the boys out in the afternoon.  In the evening, we went to a bar and ended up staying for dinner.

5 March 1996   Livingstone, Guatemala 
We watched two yachts go out over the sand bar – we feel trapped!  The anchorage was a bit bouncy last night, but not life threatening and it’s good for our sea legs!  At eight o’clock, I checked for faxes – none.  We did school work in the morning.  

I checked for faxes at half past ten (1630 GMT) – none.  I wonder what’s going on?  We’re hoping that we’ll get a fax today, so that we can clear out and leave on the nine o’clock high tide tomorrow morning.  The suspense is terrible.  

We finished school work, had lunch and then filled up with diesel.  Glenys and I then went into town.  First stop was Guatel.  The fax from John Barrett had arrived – I could see it sticking out of a folder.  The woman in front of me was taking ages; the guy on the counter was typing one of his damn receipts.  Come on!  Was there a problem?  Had it been done?  Finally, I got my hands on the fax and they’ve closed the Trust – Yahoo!  They’ve put £16,088.78 into our bank account and everything looks good.  

We then went and cleared out and spent all of our quesales on food and beer.  The wind had been picking up, so we went ½ mile down the river next to La Marina where it is a little more sheltered.  When we went to the Port Captain’s Office we got a good view of the sand bar and it looked very rough – I hope the wind drops in the morning!

6 March 1996   Livingstone to Long Cay, Lighthouse Reef, Belize (Day 1)
We got up at half past six and prepared the boat for sea.  High tide was at nine o’clock, so we pulled up our anchor at quarter to eight so that we could be crossing the sand bar in the hour before high tide.  I managed to get the GPS working and put in the inner and outer coordinates.  As we approached the inner coordinate, we had to wait while an 80ft cruise ship came in.  Apparently, it only draws six feet.  

Finally, the way was cleared and with a deep breath we started across the dreaded sand bar.  We were a little worried because the tide was 2” lower and we were going out with our fuel and water tanks full.  This time I knew where the channel was, so my strategy was to go out at 4 knots so that we would “skip” over any shallow bits.  After about 200 metres, we touched bottom with a depth reading of 6.4 ft. but carried on.  I was getting readings of 6.7 ft for most of the time.  Glenys was down below reading out the GPS cross track error.  

About 2/3rds of the way across, the depth dropped to 6.4, 6.2, 5.8! …  We could feel the boat slowing down as we dragged across the bottom.  I decided to go for it and put full power ahead.  I could see the outer buoy only 300 metres in from us; it was like trying to push the boat through treacle.  Black smoke was pouring out of the exhaust.  6.2, 5.8, 6.4, 6.0.  The slight wave action was picking us up and dropping us down with a lurch.  200 yds to go.  I started to talk to Glencora “Come on, girl! Come on!”  Another violent lurch and that was it …..!  The depth gauge was reading 6.8 ft – we were through!  

I was too shocked to shout, my mouth was dry and my pulse was up to 150.  We motored out to anchor just to seaward of the outer buoy.  I deflated the dinghy, while Glenys made us a nice cup of tea and some toast for breakfast.  We sat and pondered the trauma of the sand bar and eventually decided it had been worth it to see the Rio Dulce and Guatemala – the highlight of our cruising (so far!).  We put up the main and motored into the light wind to Cabo Tres Puntas and then headed east towards the outside of the Belize Barrier Reef.  

We had a beautiful sail, beating into a 10 knot wind with fairly calm seas.  The skies were blue and the azure sea sparkled in the sunshine – life was wonderful!  By three o’clock, the wind had picked up to NE20 and the sea was very confused.  We were all feeling queasy after our 6 week stay on the calm Rio Dulce.  Life was becoming less wonderful!  

At four o’clock, we tacked north to skirt the Barrier Reef.  The wind was coming from the north east, which was the direction we wanted to go – we faced a night of beating – Yuk!  At five o’clock, we tacked east so that Glenys could go below to make dinner – she prefers to be on port tack, so that she can open her cupboards without everything falling out on top of her.  She could only manage to throw together a one pot stew – potatoes, tinned carrots, tinned peas and tinned stewing steak.  We were a sorry sight as we slowly ate our meal, trying not to throw up.  

In retrospect, we should have heaved to on the port tack for an hour to relax, but when we feel ill, everything is too much effort.  For the first time, we saw Portuguese man-of-war jelly fish floating by.  They have 6 inch long, 3 inch high, crescent shaped, pink/purple floats that stick above the water so that they can drift with the wind.  They look like odd shaped condoms as they sail by.  

At eight pm, we tacked eastward again for Glenys’ watch, so that we could move away from the Barrier Reef.  Unfortunately, the wind veered about 20° at ten o’clock, so we were heading 140° so she had to wake me up so that we could tack – I was a grumpy bear!  At eleven o’clock, we were still 5 miles further south than we were three hours earlier and then the bloody wind died!

7 March 1996   Livingstone to Long Cay, Lighthouse Reef, Belize (Day 2)
At midnight, the wind was practically nil but we still had 6ft waves.  After rocking and rolling for a while, I started the engine, and we pounded into the seas.  At five o’clock, I managed to start sailing again, but only for a couple of hours.  It was a horrible night – I felt sick all night (even in bed).  All I could manage on my watches was to sit and stare into space.  

We listened to the weather at breakfast, and found out that there is a front due tomorrow.  We didn’t know whether Lighthouse Reef will be OK in a norther.  It looks very shallow on the charts – approximately 8 or 9ft. deep.   We were worried about hitting the bottom if any swell comes over the reef.  We eventually decided to go and have a look.  At half past eight, I went back to bed because I was feeling grim.  

At about half past eleven, while we were still 8 miles from the Atoll, I could see a blue glow in the sky.  The horizon was a little hazy and slightly pinkish.  Finally, we spotted land – there is no finer sight to a seasick man.  The entrance through the reef was spectacular – the water changes from deep blue to turquoise very abruptly – 500 metres to 8 metres in about 10 metres distance!  We motored around the anchorage looking for a deep patch.  The best we could find was a 3.2 metre patch of sand.  “Khaya” is the only other yacht in sight.

We couldn’t wait to jump overboard into the beautifully coloured water.  I snorkelled around the boat and checked the anchor, which was encouragingly buried.  I spotted a southern stingray and a few reef fish - it’s great to be snorkelling again.  I dived down and looked at the bottom of the keel.  We have scraped away the paint for 3 inches up from the bottom of the keel.  The bottom of the keel looks even worse with the green epoxy and some gel coat rubbed off!  

After our “traditional” arrival lunch of bacon and eggs, Brett and I went over to chat to Rupert and Judy on “Khaya”.  They went swimming with Honey the Dolphin yesterday afternoon – I’m really looking forward to it!  Rupert and Judy came spear fishing with Brett and me.  I speared a 12lb Grouper – wow!  

Just before bed, we could see lightning storms over the mainland, 40 miles away.  I was talking to Brett about how “Filia” was hit by lightning and they had $25,000 worth of damage.  The sum of money was too big for Brett to comprehend, but he understood the value when I told him “it’s enough money to buy twenty Yamaha 15 outboards”!  Gratefully, we collapsed into bed at half past eight – another day in paradise!

8 March 1996   Long Cay, Lighthouse Reef, Belize 
Paradise has its price.  I was woken at midnight by the whine of a mosquito.  We were anchored about ½ mile from the Cay and I had foolishly left our mosquito screens off – idiot!  There wasn’t a breath of wind.  I put the insecticide heaters on and went to check on the boys.  There were at least 10 of the little black buggers on Craig’s body.  I was revolted and started to slap them to kill them, which was a bit of a rude awakening!  I dashed back into the saloon and lit a mosquito coil and, in a frenzy, went back to killing the mosquitoes which were biting Brett and Craig.  

Once I had killed about 25 insects, I left the coil to finish off the rest and lit another coil for our bedroom, where Glenys was also furiously destroying the evil creatures.  I reckon that we killed 50 mosquitoes in 10 minutes.  A veritable invasion.  After liberally spraying myself with “DEET”, I fell into a restless sleep.  

I was awoken two hours later by a 25 knot gust of wind and then spent the rest of the night, dozing and getting up to stare at the anchorage, while Glencora was buffeted by 20-25 knot winds.  

I got up at half past six, (so much for a lie-in after our night passage).  I listened to the weather and found out that there will probably be two fronts back to back, so we will probably have strong winds for 3-4 days.  Fortunately, the encircling reef breaks up most of the wave action and the motion is not too bad.  Glenys and I just get headaches if we stay below too long – the boys don’t care!  

It was Glenys’ birthday today, but we decided to postpone it until 20th April when Ceris will be there.  (Also, I haven’t bought any presents!).  Glenys made a chocolate cake anyway.  It blew 20-25 knots all day and, as night fell, we started to get 30 knot gusts with rain.  We sat there at the saloon table, eating Grouper Chowder and listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  

The wind was howling through the rigging and rain was lashing into the cockpit.  I can tell when the wind goes above 25 knots because the wind generator changes its whirring tone and the mast starts to vibrate.  The sky was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything outside apart from the white tops of the waves as they swept past the light streaming through our hull windows.  The motion was bouncy but tenable, the anchor had held in these winds all day, so why was I so worried?  Glenys was also concerned about the night ahead, but the boys, in blissful ignorance, were completely happy.  

I was clearing away the dishes, when there was a big gust of wind followed by a terrific bang.  Rushing up onto deck, I found that the nylon snubbing rope, that I always put on the anchor chain, had snapped.  Glencora had then shot backwards until the 5 metres of chain hanging in a loop had snubbed.  Anxiously peering into the blackness and feeling the tension of the anchor chain with my bare foot, I checked that the anchor hadn’t been snatched out of the sea bed – at least we weren’t dragging!  

I tied on a new piece of rope and screamed instructions to Glenys through the howling wind and driving rain.  She started the engine and motored forwards, taking the tension off the chain so that I could let out another 5 metre loop.  I wrapped a piece of old towel around the rope to prevent chafing then, cold and wet, we went back down to the relative comfort of our saloon.  We now had 30 metres of chain out in only 3 metres of water.  That’s 10:1 of scope and the maximum gust has only been 30 knots.  It’s not as though it’s a hurricane.  Maybe I should have put out two anchors, maybe we should have gone somewhere else, I wish I wasn’t so nervous!  

9 March 1996   Long Cay, Lighthouse Reef, Belize
I got up at midnight – it was blowing 25-30 knots.  Nothing I could do, so back to bed.  I got up at half past two – still blowing 25-30 knots.  Up again at four o’clock – still 25-30 knots.  

At half past six, I got up to listen to the weather.  I couldn’t hear Mistine through the radio interference.  I waited to listen to WOM (Pennsuco, Florida) at seven o’clock on 8722 kHz.  They transmit the weather via a computer generated voice.  It is very difficult to understand at first and “it” talks very fast – I wasted my time and didn’t understand enough.  I then waited until eight o’clock to listen to the Cruiser’s Net.  Success!  

Apparently, the cold front has stalled over the Yucatan Peninsula and hasn’t reached us yet.  It is not expected to clear us until Monday the 11th, and we’ll probably have 20 knot winds from the N/NE until Wednesday.  It’s blowing 20-25 knots and it’s another grey day!  There is a deep low forming over the Bahamas which is going to cause 35+ knot winds over there – I’m glad we’re here!  We did school work in the morning, which was a bit traumatic for the teachers, with frequent sea-sickness stops.

I spliced a newish length of chain onto our rope anchor warp, because the old chain has rusted so much that it’s useless. I’d made the mistake of leaving the chain in a bucket on deck without any holes in the bottom – what a mess!  We then put out a second anchor as a back up – we’ll sleep better.  

We mounted a major expedition to “Khaya”, compete with full foul weather gear and we needed it!  As the dinghy ploughed upwind into the 2ft waves, we got drenched.  We had a cup of tea, some freshly cooked scones and a good chat.  Rupert has played the trumpet since he was nine, but amazingly doesn’t play jazz.  He plays classical music in orchestras and bands.  “Khaya” is anchored about 200 metres closer to the reef than us and their motion is much better than ours. The sight of 8ft waves breaking on the reef is very spectacular.  Reluctantly, we went back to Glencora and battened down for another miserable 25 knot night.

10 March 1996   Long Cay, Lighthouse Reef, Belize 
I was woken up at midnight by something.  I went on deck and discovered that the 20mm snubbing rope had snapped again. Fortunately, I had put a back-up rope on and that held.  Overnight the wind dropped and, in the morning, we had NW15-20 knot and, gasp! sunshine.  I don’t know whether the front has gone, but the forecast is NNW15-20 for the next 2-3 days with increasing winds at night.  By Tuesday it should be round to NE.  

I couldn’t resist it and just HAD to go wind surfing.  The wind was 25 knots at first, which was a bit much so I retired and went to help Glenys do school work.  At midday the wind was 20-25 so I went and had another go – fantastic.  I called in on “Khaya” to see how they were and Rupert asked if I wanted to use his Electric Rock windsurf board – course I did!  At the same time they invited us to lunch.  

I went for a quick blast while Glenys dinghied over and we had a pleasant lunch. Rupert hasn’t been windsurfing because he has hurt his back, but seeing as how it was just lying there he just had to have a go!  We spent the afternoon on “Khaya” and the wind gradually dropped to 15 knots – very pleasant.  Hopefully tomorrow we can do a dive.  I was in bed at eight o’clock exhausted after windsurfing!