Sailing Away from the Pandemic in Belize
Written by Colgate Sailing Adventures® Trip Co-Leader, Heather Hild Atwater
February 6, 2021 – Starting Our Adventure
Here we are, February 6, 2021 in Belize, starting off another Colgate Sailing Adventures® Flotilla. Belize is a small country in Central America where our cruising grounds were some of the 400+ Islands and Cayes that make up Belize. Our healthy, COVID-free group of fifteen sailors, found each other unofficially around the Laru Beya’s resort pool. The set-up for this cruise is a nice one, with Laru Beya right across from The Moorings’ Base in Placencia which overlooks the inner channel of the Caribbean Sea. To get to this special place, we flew into Belize City, then took what I call a “puddle jumper” to Placencia.
That night, Nate and I hosted the Meet and Greet dinner party where we reviewed important safety information and logistics. We enjoyed Rum punch and a tasty meal prepared by the Chef at Laru Beya. We all met one another and got to know a little about each other. Many had just arrived that day so it was a busy one and they were exhausted by the time dessert was cleared away.
February 7 – Fleet of Three and Away We Go
The Skippers and Navigators met at the base for the Navigational meeting with Diego. Our three Catamarans were ‘Vie en Rose’ with Skipper Dave Hassett, crew Joe Bolger, Dawn Grogan, Barb Resch and Diana Dean; ‘Seventeen’ with skipper Nate, me, Bonnie Urbanski, Scott Thiel, and Gene Klark aboard brand new Moorings 5000’s; and ‘Stella Maris’ with skipper Dennis Bauer, and crew of his wife Toni, Larry and Fran Desonier, and Robert Delgado aboard a Moorings 4800. The fleet was provisioned as we met. The rest of the crew arrived around 10 am to move aboard and put the provisions away.
By the time all the necessary items were located and stowed with the usual hubbub, we set off from the dock around 1pm to head out for our first night aboard in the Pelican Cayes. It was light air but we did set sail to familiarize ourselves with all the rigging. We sailed for as long as we could until we had to power to our destination waypoint. We had reservations at Hideaway Caye with Dustin, Kim and their daughter Ama as our hosts. There were three moorings ready for us as we watched the sun set over the Pelican Cayes. There is something wonderful about sunsets on these flotilla cruises, constantly reminding us of the complete natural environment that we have entered into.
It was a thatched roof, clubhouse-styled, Belizean wood structure that Dustin had built. The roof is designed to blow off in about 115 knots of wind or so Dustin figures, thereby letting the rest of the structure survive. Dustin has ridden out many a hurricane between living in Florida aboard his boat, and now living at Hideaway Cay. His wife, Kim, single-handedly cooked a lovely meal for all fifteen of us. The Conch Ceviche, King Fish, Lobster or Chicken, were all delicious. After the meal, we all cheered and clapped for Kim, Dustin and 8-year-old Ama. Dustin said on a typical night in non-COVID times, they would have had fifteen boats drinking and dining with them this evening. Instead, they’ve hosted just 15 boats to date this year.
On the way back to the boats, we could all relax, thankful, breathing deeply the clean air while gazing up at the inky, black sky dotted with a zillion tiny lights. The sky when you are far from civilization, is a wonderful sight. We have truly begun our cruise in this moment.
February 8 – Bays, Cayes, and Sharks
We awoke to a welcome change from the glassy calm, 8-10 knots of breeze from the East. After Nate and I went boat to boat for the navigation meeting, we retraced our waypoints out of the Pelican Cayes to deep water. Raising sails, we set off on a starboard tight reach to our waypoint outside of the Blue Ground Range. It was a good sail. It’s a tricky bit of water, the Blue Ground Range, so we threaded our way through the passage strewn with coral heads and sandy spits with no waypoints. We moved like ducks in a row, following Nate’s lead. Once we were at our destination of South Water Caye, we all anchored in 8-18 foot of water. Our Cat had 200 feet of chain and a delta-type anchor. We put out around 80’ of chain with the bridle. It was a warm day so we all went for a dip, then got in the dinghy to ride to the South end to snorkel. We saw Jacks, Flounder, Barracuda, Eels, Nurse Sharks, a baby Turtle, Rays and lots of old Conch. That night we hosted a cocktail party aboard ‘Seventeen’. At 5:30 everyone gathered bringing a shared appetizer and Nate made delicious blender rum drinks. Toni and Roberto went the extra mile to concoct an entirely uncharted appetizer. I cannot tell you what was in it, but it was made with bagels and a lot of other stuff. You know how creative sailors can be.
We all let off a little steam from the first few days of travel stress- danced and sang a little – a good time was had by all. Our crew of five aboard ‘Seventeen’ sat down to a nice meal prepared by Bonnie and I of marinated chicken on the electric grill, carrots and brown rice with Yum Yum Yummy coconut pie for dessert.
February 9 – Visit to Thatch Caye Was Delightful
We awoke to a stunning sunrise over South Water Caye. Again the wind was 8-10 knots from the East. After a breakfast that Scott made of scrambled eggs, bacon and doing the Navigation rounds, we set off for a day stop at Tobacco Cay, just inside the long barrier reef. We sailed under genoa alone the four plus miles. There were some shallow spots that we took care to slow down for. Tobacco Caye was a small palm strewn island with a dozen or so colorful wooden structures and not a lot more. I watched the young men paddle back from Conching in their dug-out canoes to hear the sound of them knocking the shells to clean the conch out of them. Most of the crew went snorkeling off the caye……the first attempt there was too much wave action and current, so they ended up in the lee of the island. The snorkeling was reported to be good with Squid, large Rays and abundance of fish and dolphins in the anchorage. The locals were setting fire to the palm branches around the time we picked up anchor to sail to our nighttime anchorage of Thatch Caye, the northern portion of Coco Plum Cay that was split off during a hurricane. It was a beautiful sailing day. Wind picked up a bit to 10-12 knots still from the East and we enjoyed the relaxing reaches around the reefs. Again, we anchored since the moorings did not look up to snuff. We had reservations at Thatch Caye for dinner. Some went in early because the resort looked beautiful. We gathered in a tiki hut on stilts, walking over a wooden bridge to get there. It was a Belizean dreamy spot. The drinks were made with fresh herbs and fruit…. a good start to a really special meal. The chef was trained by her Mom and grandmother but was current with the culinary trends. The chef served up a Conch Chowder, Belizean salad, a watermelon salad, chicken, ribs, and delicious fish, a curried lentil and chickpea dish, mashed potatoes and steamed veggies. A huge chocolate coconut cake loomed at the end of the buffet line.
It was homemade and wonderful!! Dancing in the lobby entertained some as we waited to pay our separate bills. The craftsmanship of the builders of Thatch Caye was exemplary and we felt lucky to be part of it, if only for a night.
February 10 – Excellent Sail to Moho Caye
Another beautiful sunrise over Thatch Caye. After breakfast of French toast and sausages, and Navigation rounds, we set sail right after picking up the anchor and enjoyed a great sail down the inner channel to Victoria Channel. It was 8-14 knots from the East and the 4800 really took off under Dennis’s tutelage- he said they tweaked and tweaked adjusting 1 degree on the auto helm and comparing the speed. It was an excellent long sail. We arrived at Moho Caye to one mooring instead of three so we anchored again. We went ashore to go exploring the small sandy spit of an island with two small wooden huts and lots of palm trees. This time ‘Vie en Rose’ had the whole flotilla over for cocktails and made Sangria, rum drinks, Bruschetta and other yummy appetizers. Two fellows were on the island and came to collect $10 per person who went ashore. That night we ate aboard, enjoying sautéed, marinated chicken, mashed potatoes, squash and broccoli.
February 11 – Colorful Coral and Fish Everywhere
The gentle rocking of the boat was good for sleep the night before. You can hear the waves breaking gently around the reefs surrounding Moho Caye. Some of us gathered aboard ‘Vie en Rose’ for a morning gentle yoga stretch, it felt good to move. We picked up anchor after the Navigation meeting around 9:30 a.m. and headed to Ray (Hatchet) Caye. It was a short power as there was very little breeze. Ten of us had reservations for a snorkel cruise out of the dive shop there at 1:30 p.m. Once on the tour we powered in the dive boat about 15 minutes to the Silk Cays. We snorkeled with the Nurse Sharks, big Rays, Turtles even the big old huge granddaddy loggerhead….we snorkeled around a beautiful coral reef and spotted many fish; spotted parrot fish, blue chromis, sergeant majors, schools of blue tans among the bunch. We saw fire coral, purple sea rod, purple sea fan, huge brain coral, elk horn coral.
After the snorkel we went back to the Ray Cay Resort, where those who did not go on the tour relaxed around the pool or beach. Back to the boat to shower and get ready for dinner….. we all ate out at the Lionfish Grill. It was a memorable evening.
February 12 – Tutti Frutti Gelato Was the Perfect Ending in Paradise
It’s wonderful to wake to a peaceful sea and calm sunrise, light breeze from the East at about 4 knots. The plan is to drop mooring at 8 a.m. to power back to Placencia Harbor. People had their COVID test for re-entry to the United States and a made a quick trip to Tutti Frutti Gelato. There were a few little shops open in Placencia to visit. From our boat, we swam for the last time in Placencia Harbor. I prepared a final meal of meatballs and spaghetti with a homemade fresh tomato sauce. Aboard ‘Seventeen’ we talked the week over and enjoyed the last meal on the aft deck. The Moorings 5000 ‘Seventeen’ treated us well for the week – tomorrow we head back to the base, lifting anchor at 7 a.m.
It was a good flotilla but the mark of COVID is all around if you pay attention. We heard the stories from the locals as we traveled throughout the Cayes of their difficulties due to COVID and yesterday a man came by the boat in a canoe begging for food. You are not really traveling to a place if you do not pay any attention to the locals. Even as we sail through, we are experiencing ‘the place’ both through the people and the unique nature.
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