Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Entering Belize

Well finally on Sunday we upped anchor and motored down the remaining length of the Rio Dulce to anchor just off the town of Livingstone, our exit port. The weather was a little blowy so there was a bit of swell running, doesn't make for the most comfortable night, but no worries.

Bright and early TBH launched the dinghy to head in search of Raoul, an agent who manages the paperwork need to leave Guatemala. We had tried to email him a day before but no joy, all the addresses we had bounced back. Including the one in the latest pilot book. AAgh! Having been told that Raoul had 'a bit of a night' and wouldn't be in his office very early we resigned ourselves to a late start. Fortunately we only draw 4' 6" so can cross the bar, mean depth 5' at low water but if we hadn't we would have not been too pleased.

Raoul managed to empty our pockets of 540Q to leave, a massive increase from last year, we were also told it was now 900Q to re-enter for 3 months. TBH told Raoul he wouldn't be getting our business again, we would do it ourselves next time. The American in the queue in front said the same thing. Not that it seems to make much difference. Cruisers are so often seen as cash cows to be milked. Perhaps as the recession bites deeper and we become rarer beasts there may be some more power behind our words.

we finally got going just in time to cross the bar at the river mouth at the lowest point of the tide, great I thought! For every boat and every guide there are any number of routes promoted as 'The One'. I decided to follow my nose and watched the shrimp fleet the day before. They hung well to the South of the sea buoy but apart from that were pretty spread out. It's always traumatic as the depth gauge shows less than 18" under the keel but lining myself up on the southern bank of the gorge and the sea buoy off we went. A steady 2-3 knots and calmish waters and I only sensed the bottom once. Hows that!!

We had a marvelous sail to Punta Gorda, about 20 miles and the entrance port to Belize. Calmish seas and 12 knots of wind had us skimming across the sparkling waters. Both us and the boat delighted to be at sea again. The Monitor self-steering gear leaving us free to admire the scenery and play at trimming the sails. Utter bliss. Mind you the wind got up as we made our approach, always the way! Punta Gorda is only to be attempted in settled conditions as its a wide open roadstead and pretty shallow, 8 feet. Gently i followed TBH's navigation and we anchored safely in 1.7 metres in lovely thick mud. It's a wonderful feeling when you sense the anchor really bite into the seabed. Sadly our nights rest wasn't so great as the rolly conditions confined us to our sea berths for most of the night. Checking in was a delight. The officials welcoming and helpful. All for $25 Belize for a month, made Guatemala seem even more expensive.

Early Tuesday we set off again in flat calm seas with no wind. We had a 45 mile passage to Placencia nd were keen to arrive well before dark. What can I say, we motored all the way into a 15-20 knot headwind with a small short sea that disappeared into a big hole every now and again slowing our speed almost to a halt before allowing us to build up again to 4 knots! Speedy it wasn't. But not too uncomfortable. Nothing broke, stowage held up and so did the crew. Nine hours is a long trip after 9 months at the dock!

We arrived to be greeted by Mike and Cindy who whisked us off to 'Happy Hour' and fried chicken. It's great to be back out here folks!

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