We're under way again! When we saw the beautiful weather this morning, it was a real wrench to tear ourselves away from the Holandes Cays; still, the weather is ideal for sailing, and at this time of year weather windows are sparse, so it's best to grab the opportunity and go.
We upped anchor and left at 10:14 am.; our position in the Holandes meant that we sailed round the corner of one island and right out into the Caribbean, where we did indeed find conditions perfect for sailing -- a nice steady breeze and near-flat seas.
We're now 43 miles away from the San Blas islands, and heading northwest. While the wind is about as good as it gets, the angle of the wind is still marginal in terms of our destination. With the wind north of north-east, we can (based on our present course) make San Andres, but the island of Providencia, our other possible stop, may be too far north to reach without tacking or motorsailing. So we're sailing as close to the wind as we can, and we'll see where we get to. Either San Andres or Providencia would do; San Andres, which is 204 miles away, has better shoppingfor provisions -- but Providencia, 231 miles away, is nicer. We'll see.Mon 29 Mar 2004 21:38 America/Panama
Making great speed -- 6.5 - 7 knots, and the wind has shifted east, which means we can easily make Providencia, so that's where we're currently heading. Should be there tomorrow. The sea has been eerily empty -- no traffic, and no wildlife. We just met our first freighter in hours. We're hoping that this weather holds!Tue 30 Mar 2004 20:11 America/Panama
We had an amazing run today, with perfect winds and 3-4 foot seas, which is pretty tame for this run; we were routinely making over 6 knots, and our day's run from noon yesterday to noon today was over 140 miles, which is not bad for a small boat.
We got in to Providencia at about 3.30 pm., so our total run from the San Blas was 2 days 5 hours; pretty excellent going! The whole trip was very smooth, and completely uneventful; we saw few ships, and no wildlife.
The radio, on the other hand, was pretty busy. Quite a few boats were in the San Blas waiting for a weather window to go north, so on Saturday and Sunday mornings there was something of a mass exodus; at least 10 boats that we know of through the radio nets were sailing north for San Andres and Providencia.
As we pulled into the harbour here we were glad we settled on Providencia for our stop; the island is absolutely beautiful, a steeply mountainous, lushly green volcanic landscape surrounded by clear blue water. The island was settled by English puritans, so English is the main language here; it was also used by the pirate Henry Morgan as a base, so the British connection is pretty strong, despite the fact that we're technically in Colombia.
The harbour is at the northwest corner of Providencia, between it and a small adjacent island called Catalina. When we got here, the anchorage was pretty crowded, naturally; but we found a space to anchor, in just 7 feet of water, right in front of the town of Santa Isabel.
The first priority was to check in to the country, and fortunately that is really easy here. Use of a maritime agent is mandatory, which sounds bad; but we're lucky that the agent here is a Mr. Bush, whose fees are reasonable, and who makes everything very simple. One call on the radio was all we needed, and pretty soon a launch appeared containing Mr. Bush, the port captain, the immigration officer, a health officer, and a police officer. Crowding them all into the cockpit was a slight challenge, but the process was extremely simple -- I had all our papers (3 copies of the crew list, ship's registration and a copy, and port clearance from Panama) all ready, and the gang grabbed them and began a frenzy of form-filling. A few minutes later our passports were stamped, and we were officially cleared in to Colombia; and the launch moved on to the next arrival.
So here we are, safely anchored in Providencia, and well ahead of schedule. We're now 286 miles out of the San Blas, and with 195 miles to Cayo Vivorillo. Since the weather is still fantastic for sailing north, and since it may be hard to find another weather window like this for a while, we're tempted to stock up and leave pretty quickly; but Providencia certainly looks to be well worth some exploration. We'll see.Wed 31 Mar 2004 20:23 America/Panama
We spent a fairly relaxed day today, exploring the town at a leisurely pace. This was mainly because we got there after 12, which meant that the whole town was on siesta until 2 or 2.30; and the banks were closed for the day, since it's the last day of the month.
The anchorage here is wedged between the main island of Providencia and Catalina island, which is just a hundred yards or so away at the narrowest point; the two are connected by a picturesque and brightly painted footbridge, which is mostly on floating pontoons. This has a raised section with steps in the middle, and room underneath for a small launch to pass. We strolled over the bridge and on to Catalina, which warrants farther exploration, but we found a nice little cafe serving seafood; crab, fish (snapper), or conch. We had a plate of crab and one of conch, both served with coconut rice, salad, and fried plantains -- I'm not sure what the plantains are, but the whole thing was absolutely delicious.
After lunch we hit two of the three small supermarkets in town; the first one took dollars, and our change from a $50 bill covered us for the day. So we got some initial provisions in, and some ice and soda for treats tonight -- our first iced drinks in quite a while! Providencia has a distinctly Caribbean character, more so than anywhere else we've been so far -- Portobello is similar to some extent, but everyone speaks Spanish. Here, Spanish and Caribbean English are both widely spoken, although Spanish seems to be gaining ground. Regardless, everyone is very friendly, and it feels like a great place to stay for a while. But we're watching the weather carefully.Thu 1 Apr 2004 19:16 America/Panama
Had a great day here in Providencia, which really is turning out to be a fantastic place to stay. We had actually been thinking of leaving today, purely because the weather is so great for sailing north; but that plan didn't last long.
We went over to town this morning for some more supplies -- before siesta time this time -- and stopped off in a little coffee shop come bakery for a coffee and a bun. The coffee was wonderful, and the bun too. Not surprisingly, the shop was obviously a cruiser hangout, with a load of boat cards stuck on the wall from many of the boats, from all over the world, who have visited (we added ours); and a huge shelf full of books to swap. We'll certainly be going back tomorrow for some more great coffee and to trade some of our stock of books.
After that we headed back over the footbridge to Catalina island, intending to walk around for the afternoon; but when we stopped in the cafe for a couple of sodas, we discovered that lobster was on the menu today. Since we had arrived in the San Blas islands the day that their lobster ban started, we'd been missing out on this, so we decided to stay for a late lunch.
When the food arrived, it was amazing -- a huge lobster each, split in half and cooked in a delicious garlic sauce. There was a huge amount of meat, and it tasted absolutely wonderful. It turned out to be a little pricey -- $10 each, including drinks -- but well worth it. After that, it was all we could do to walk a little way down the path, and row back to the boat, where we're planning a full evening of lounging around reading.Fri 2 Apr 2004 20:21 America/Panama
The next leg of our journey, to Cayos Vivorillo, is quite short -- just under 200 miles -- but in some ways quite dangerous. This stretch of the Caribbean is rather shallow -- starting about 80 miles north, depths won't be much over 60 feet for quite a while. The area is strewn with reefs and shoals, notably the huge Media Luna reefs. To make matters worse, it's rumoured that Media Luna (Half Moon, from its shape) is used by drug runners; a few years ago, some cruisers were attacked and robbed there.
With all these problems, and with this whole area being firmly astride our route to Belize, it seems like a good area to practice pinpoint navigation. Unfortunately, it seems that the charts can't agree about where Media Luna actually is! Actually, all our electronic charts agree to within a mile at least, so it's not that bad. Still, it's certainly wise to take precautions when transiting this area, so this morning we met with a nice Canadian couple aboard their yacht Paraquina and agreed to buddy-boat with them until Cayos Vivorillo, which is well past the dodgy areas. Paraquina will be going about the same speed as Moonrise, so we should have no problem with sticking together. (Most of the other boats here are longer, and hence faster, than Moonrise.) We'll be passing 10 miles north of Media Luna for safety, which is about as far as we can easily, due to the shallow Gorda Bank to the north.
So far we're planning to leave on Sunday, while this great weather window will hopefully still be holding; actually, most of the boats that flocked here a few days ago will be doing the same thing, so poor old Providencia is going to be deserted again!
Meantime we decided to make the most of the island, so this afternoon we rented a couple of scooters and went for a drive around it. There's only one road, which follows the coast around the island, and it's only 17 km (just over 10 miles) long, so getting lost certainly wasn't a problem. Still, it was interesting for me, since that was the first time I'd ever ridden a motorbike seriously! We had a great drive, taking it easy on the rather scrappy roads, and had some great views of the reefs that surround the eastern shore of the island. Having got almost all the way around, which didn't take long, we turned round and came back again!
On the way back we stopped at the house/gallery of Carmeni, a Colombian lady who makes art in papier mache. We'd read about her in the logs of some other cruisers, and she was very happy to show us around her house, which was beautiful -- high on the hillside overlooking the sea, and with huge unglazed windows, so the whole place was open and breezy. Only wooden shutters provided shelter from bad weather -- not that they'd be needed often.
Once back on the boat with a fresh bag of ice we had about enough energy to collapse with cold drinks. It'll be as well to get some rest; snorkelling tomorrow!Sat 3 Apr 2004 19:44 America/Panama
We're under way!
We started today with a snorkelling trip, with the folks from Paraquina, who kindly gave us a ride in their dinghy, and also Good Medicine and Promise, the two boats we anchored and snorkelled with at Banerdup in the San Blas. We motored out well into the reefs on the east side of the island, anchored in a sandy area, and dove in. The variety of sea life and coral wasn't quite the same as in the San Blas, but for a nice easy snorkel, the area would be hard to beat -- a uniform depth of 8-10 feet, mostly white sand with lots of interesting coral formations, lots of coral caves, and still quite a few fish (including the now ubiquitous nurse shark).
We spent a while there and headed back in, discussing our options for heading on. Given the rush of cruisers leaving tomorrow, the marine agent (Mr. Bush) had organised a mass check-out on the island today at 5:00 pm. Looking ahead at the weather, Paraquina and ourselves decided that sooner would be better than later, so we decided to leave as soon as possible after checking out. The formalities were easy, we paid Mr. Bush $40 for our check-in and check-out, and then we headed back to the boat for a record-speed tidy-up session. We actually got the anchor up just after 6 pm., and now we're 8 miles out, on our way to the Cayos Vivorillo.
Whether we'll actually stop there is still open -- we'd like to, but it depends on what the weather does over the next couple of days. We'll see.Sun 4 Apr 2004 19:09 America/Panama
Moonrise is sailing beautifully, fast and smooth, across the calm, blue, warm Caribbean, under a full Moon. The weather conditions here are as close to perfect as it gets; almost no waves, and a nice steady breeze. Paraquina is just ahead of us, as they have been the whole way; apart from that, there's nothing in sight as far as the horizon. We're 55 miles from land, although the Alagardo reef is just 9 miles to port.
Given how good conditions are, we're expecting to get to the Vivorillos sometime tomorrow afternoon, after a good fast run. Meantime, we'll be relaxing under the Moon and stars...Mon 5 Apr 2004 18:17 America/Belize
We're swinging at anchor in Cayos Vivorillo, a couple of patches of sand and palm trees in the middle of the Caribbean, 35 miles from the mainland. We had a great trip up here; we got in at 11 am., which made our trip from Providencia 18 hours -- not bad at all for 200 miles. The trip was pleasantly uneventful; we did motor a bit, though, due to light winds. We could have sailed it, but this was one stretch where we didn't fancy hanging about.
Cayos Vivorillo is part of a group of reefs and islets -- Cayos Cajones, Cayos Becerro, Cayo Caratasca, and Cayos Vivorillo -- all belonging to Honduras, and just off its easternmost tip. It's a great stop-off for Belize, but also a beautiful destination in itself; the snorkelling here is supposed to be very good. We'll find out tomorrow.
We got one small repair done since anchoring -- the top slide which holds the mainsail to the track came off the sail when the webbing holding it in place chafed through. I got that replaced with new webbing while sitting on the boom. Not only that, but Rachel made a Honduras courtesy flag in record time.
Tomorrow, we have a zinc to replace -- the darned prop shaft zinc came off again -- then it's off to the reefs.Tue 6 Apr 2004 19:31 America/Belize
More sewing today -- this time on the bimini (cockpit sunshade), which is coming unstitched. After that, the folks on Paraquina came over and gave us a lift to one of the islands here which is home to colonies of boobys and frigate birds. We got quite a display of the frigate birds puffing up their huge red throat pouches, and saw many young boobys on their nests on the ground.
Later on we tried some snorkelling on a reef to the south-east, but that wasn't a very interesting spot. On the way back, though, we found loads of fish in some small, shallow-water coral formations quite near the boat; including one huge Spanish Hogfish, which changes its colour dramatically when it moves from sand to coral, and even develops stripes which vanish again amazingly quickly.
A few boats are talking about leaving the day after tomorrow; we may do the same. Meantime, there's still more to explore here.Wed 7 Apr 2004 19:21 America/Belize
Today was planning day -- a bunch of cruisers got together with the folks on Queen Mary and Sea Camp, two boats that have been cruising the north-west Caribbean for years, to exchange information. Rachel made up a CD of information on Panama and the San Blas, which we swapped for a CD full of waypoints and hand-drawn charts of the reefs of Belize; these latter are essential, since the official charts are extremely rough, inaccurate, and in some places actually blank.
That took up most of the morning; in the afternoon, we did some boat tidy-up, got some more stitching done on the bimini, and attended to a failed lifeline. Our lifelines are plastic-coated stainless steel, and the warm tropical saltwater has been eating them up (as with all the other steel on board). One of the lower lines broke when I was leaning against it -- and none too hard either. So I replaced it with some half-inch rope, which looks better, is completely rust-proof, and should work better too.
We're still thinking of leaving tomorrow, but it will depend on how we feel. Meantime, we're sitting here looking out at a fairly incredible sight -- 12 sailboats, anchored in what looks, at most angles, to be open ocean.Thu 8 Apr 2004 18:51 America/Belize
The party at Cayo Vivorillo broke up this morning, when every boat there (as far as I know) decided that the weather was right to leave today. We made the same decision, so with just a few boats heading south, we're now sailing west as part of an impressive flotilla of sailboats heading west for Honduras and Belize.
So far conditions have been great; light wind at first, but filling in a little, so we're now rocketing along, dead downwind, at up to 7 knots -- more when we surf down a wave. We're towards the back of the pack, partly because we got a slightly later start, and partly because of the long, sleek yachts most people seem to have.
We had a fantastic lunch, of huge fillets of Wahoo -- that's a type of fish, and I don't know much more about it except that it's huge and tasty. We didn't catch it ourselves, unfortunately; in fact, the folks on Queen Mary, another of the boats at Cayo Vivorillo, took pity on our hopeless fishing exploits and gave us a chunk from their freezer. (Yes, they have a freezer!)
Right now we're trying to decide where to go. It may seem odd to head off without a plan, but the fact is there's no point in detailed planning of your route until after you get where you're going -- up until that point, the wind dictates everything. For example, we had been thinking of a route south of the Bay Islands of Honduras, but when we got here, the wind was such that we would have had it just off astern, which is a particularly awkward point of sail -- you can't use the jib, because it's hidden behind the mainsail. So we changed our plan and set a course farther north, and now we're dead downwind, with the jib and mainsail on opposite sides of the boat, pulling evenly -- and having a great sail.
We're still heading for Belize, of course, but we may pick a more northerly point to make landfall. Then again, we may stop before there for a day or two. It all depends.Fri 9 Apr 2004 18:50 America/Belize
We had an absolutely rotten night last night... as the sky got dark, the wind rose, and the sea was stirred up into a horrible, uneven, short chop that had the boat rolling sharply from side to side every 4 seconds or so. We spent the entire night sailing downwind under the double-reefed mainsail, and very uncomfortable.
Some good news arrived in the morning, on the net, as some of the other boats heading west reported calm weather south and west of us. We set our course appropriately, and sure enough, by mid-day, we had the genoa back up and were sailing nicely on a much more sedate sea.
For now, we're pushing on west, and hoping that we're past the nastiest part, which is probably caused by the effect of the land in that area, since the weather charts showed no unusual winds there. We'll see if we have the stamina to last til Belize.Sat 10 Apr 2004 18:57 America/Belize
We had another rough night last night, as the winds got up again, but not quite as bad. Still, pretty sleepless for me, and Rachel has been feeling the effects of the nasty, jerky motion brought on by these short, steep waves.
We decided to pass south of the Bay Islands of Honduras, hoping for more sheltered conditions. Today we passed Roatan at dawn, then Utila later. Now we're in the clear, making the last crossing towards Belize.
The entrance to Belize is interesting. The whole coast is behind a huge barrier reef, some 10-15 miles offshore, and about 100 miles long. This is what gives Belize the best diving in the world; but it makes getting in a little tricky. We had been planning to go in by a wide opening at the south end of the reef, but at Cayo Vivorillo we picked up a guide book, as well as hand-drawn charts and waypoints, from other cruisers, so we're now well equipped to explore some of the smaller passes. The one we're currently heading for is at Ranguana Cay, and is right in front of the town of Placentia, where we're thinking of checking in.
Those hand-drawn charts are a godsend. The official charts have notes on them like "This island is reported to be 2 miles from its charted position", or "Numerous uncharted reefs are reported in this area", or just complete blanks -- such as the whole Turneffe atoll, a region 8 by 29 miles, which is blank on the chart with just a note saying "Innumerable islands and lagoons. Good passages for boats." The hand-drawn charts make these areas passable for us, which is good, because these are the best diving spots.
So, right now we're 40 miles from the reef, having covered 747 miles since the San Blas islands. We're 16 miles off Honduras, and cruising along -- for the moment -- nicely, in a good wind and more moderate sea. Let's hope it lasts the night.Sun 11 Apr 2004 20:41 America/Belize
Well, we made it! The weather never really improved; the whole passage along Honduras' coast was rocky and rolly. Still, we stuck with it and got to the barrier reef around dawn this morning. Since the sun wasn't high enough to see through the water, we waited for a couple of hours before attempting the pass; when we did, it turned out to be pretty easy, specially with the GPS waypoints we'd been given. As we came through the pass, the water was so clear that I was taking photos of the bottom 40 feet below!
Once through, we investigated a nearby island for anchoring, but couldn't find a decent place to settle in. So we set off on the last 15 miles to Placencia (it's called Placentia on the official charts, but apparently is known as Placencia in Belize), and got here in the early afternoon.
Now we're completely exhausted after our rough passage, so time for bed!