Passage to Belize
We checked out of Utila in Honduras and did an overnight sail in light easterlies the 82miles. We went through the shallows on the south western corner of Utila in good light and do not recall seeing less than 5m. We had very rolly and messy seas for most of the journey but it flattened out the closer we got to Belize. We arrived just after dawn and entered via Sapodilla Pass.
We used the Cruising Guide to Belize and Mexicos Caribbean Coast by Freya Rauscher, it is an old guide and ours wasn’t the latest edition but it is very comprehensive and the best available. There is very little “life” on any of the cays, don’t plan on dinner and drinks ashore too often. Because of our 8foot draft we did not go to the northern area (Cay Caulker etc) above Belize City, but it is more touristy. There was very little phone coverage, no wifi accept for Placencia, internet cafe in Dangriga, ATM’s in Placencia and Dangriga. We were in company with New Zealand yacht Bandit for nearly our entire stay in Belize. We never felt unsafe at all and there were no reports of any problems when we were there but we do like visiting these remote places in company. For weather info we listened daily to Chris Parker on the SSB, downloaded the GRIB files via our satphone and listened to the daily Northwest Caribbean Cruisers Net.
Lime Cay 16 06.155N 88 16.636W
3.7m Rocky. We just pulled around into this anchorage after our overnight passage to await better light to move a little further.
Nicholas Cay 16 06.997N 88 16.105W
6.6m grass and hard sand patches. Beautiful island, sandy beach. Caretaker lives ashore and many derelict damaged buildings from a resort that got wiped out in a Hurricane. Nothing open now. We dinghied over to adjacent Hunting Cay island to pay our Park Fees. Paid USD10 each, think the actual fee may have only been BEL10 each which is USD5, who knows! All very laid back and they reminded us to check in when we got to Placencia. Good snorkelling.
Tom Owens Cay 16 11.248N 88 13.941W
6m dropped in sand, settled over weed. Cmap charts show no entrance inside reef and reef slightly further east than it is. Failed to spot shallow patch in middle of channel shown in guidebook. Really do need good light for this entry and anchoring. Plenty of room for the 2 of us but then 2 charter/tour cats came in and things got quite tight but they were in shallower water. Type of backpackers/dive resort ashore, nothing fancy and no bar/cafe/internet but they made us welcome ashore for a walk around (takes nearly 3 minutes). No wifi
Placencia 16 30.550N 88 21.814W (by adjacent island)
7.5m sand/mud. Good sail up in lovely flat water from Tom Owen. Charts accurate enough. Anchored by island for first couple of nights as slight south westerlies sending swell in and flatter by island. No wifi over here. Placencia is the main town accessible on the Belize coast and is a popular anchorage. It can get very rolly in southwest winds and would be ghastly in south winds but there are options close by to move to if you need.
Placencia 16 30.667N 88 21.958W (off town)
6.5m mud. Port of Entry Checking in procedures were a bit of a challenge and advice on how to complete them varied immensely depending on who you spoke to. Basically the facilities are not at Placencia, they are at Big Creek but you can not take the Big Boat there and those that went by dinghy were denied landing access. It seems this is quite a fluid situation so check with others already there first. To get to Big Creek (only Skipper need go) walk up main road to water taxi (on left by Hardware/Timber store), they go to Independence at 10am or 12.30pm, BEL6 each way. When off water taxi get car taxi to Big Creek, drivers know where to take you and will wait for you BEL25 return per person but this fare varied greatly. Check in cost BEL160 for 2 of us on New Zealand Passports and included one month visa and 2 weeks cruising permit, general consensus was just get a couple of weeks and pay rest on checkout if charged. We checked out at Dangrira, see below under Garbutt Cay for details. We had wifi with external aerial, Paradise Resort. its locked but go into bar for a drink and get code. Didn’t eat there but meals didn’t look too inspiring. The little shacky bar on stilts next to it is great and always busy, quite noisy with live music (but our sort of music) most nights but closes early. Both these places have dinghy docks. There is a laundry 7BEL behind these two bars, just walk inland and its on the corner right hand side of first block, downstairs in a 2 storey wooden house (there is a sign on the terrace) it is very basic but its a washing machine! There was another laundry but I never looked hard for it. The main dinghy dock is a little further north behind some derelict piles, don’t go in too close as it shallows at low tide. There was a big new wharf being built, the dinghy dock is before that. This dock is basically at the bottom of the main street. There is a gas station there but it was closed most of the time and an ATM. Further up on the left is the first of the Chinese Groceries, there are two more (newer and slightly better) some walk up this street almost out of town. These two are worth the walk and had some things we hadn’t got in months. Back down after Chinese No 1 there is a bike hire/souvenir place 6BEL half day worth taking for an afternoon. On the right is the Above Ground Cafe, very good coffee and free wifi but not many seats. Next along on the left is Greg’s Fruit &Veg, it is more expensive but the produce was much better, they also have lots of meat (best option in town for meat) and dairy products in their fridges and freezers that you don’t see but just ask, they are very helpful and the quality was very good. There is another mobile vege truck further on the left next to the sports field, it came most days, quality of produce varied. Just after this is a blue shack which has quite simply the best burritos ever tasted, they are only open for lunch – if you like Mexican do not miss this place (don’t think it had a name but has two lift up wooden windows and a couple of seats.) Another much smaller mobile veg stall was a little further on the right, quality not great but had some different things. We ate out at Omars (byo liquor), and the big place next to it (has free wifi) and across the street at Dawns. Dawns was excellent and her hot chilli sauces to buy have a real zip. There are more cafes and some great icecream shops, there are a couple of bakeries that you have to order in advance but one that you didn’t, can’t remember name but it was a locally owned (many places are foreign owned) place that had a few signs up (maybe called Johns), all the bakeries were on the footpath that runs adjacent to the beach, parallel to the main street. There was a cellphone provider and we investigated getting a sim but they did not do prepay and also advised we would not have coverage once we left town so we did not pursue. We loved Placencia, found it a laidback place where we felt safe, it is very small but has most of what you need, a real jewel.
The following are in the order we visited them, it may look a little odd if you plot them but you are at the mercy of the weather more so here than in the rest of the Caribbean as the USA Winter Northerlies get this far south and affect the local weather.
North Long Cocoa Cay 16 33.645N 88 06.274W
3.5m find a sandy spot in between soft coral. Caught a couple of Yellowtail Snapper enroute, yummy. We intended to stop at Rendezvous Cay but with a couple of yachts already there we were unable to find shallow enough water to anchor. We moved on the extra 3 miles. Snorkelling ok but we had ben told it was excellent but maybe didn’t find the right spot.
South Long Cocoa Cay 16 29.943N 88 12.664W
Dropped 8m settled 13m. Quite hard to find a shallow spot. Sand and hard coral. 1st day we snorkelled the top left shoreline and it was ok. 2nd day was lovely and flat so we went around the top and drift snorkelled nearly back to the boats (retracing much of the previous day). It was outstanding, maybe the best we saw, loads of fish, a nurseshark, beautiful soft corals, excellent, don’t know why it was so much better than the first day but light was better and flatter seas. We returned to Placencia from here to sit out another norther.
Sittee Point 16 48.179N 88 16.028W
4m mud. Very good coverage from the north here. Did dinghy excursion up the river trying to find the town, weather turned rainy and never made it. Good bird spotting. Left after one night but returned as conditions to rough to enter pass to get to Twin Cays
Twin Cays 16 49.663N 88 06.250W
4.5m mud. Excellent all round coverage within mangroves. Hard trip from pass through shallows, water very hard to read depths and with 2.5metre/8 foot draft we did not have much to spare , nurdled our way through and never touched the bottom but you do need calm conditions if deep draft. Nice snug anchorage in the mangroves, heard there are crocodiles but never saw any in Belize.
Southwater Cay 16 49.068N 88 05.129W & 16 48.928N 88 05.123W
6.6m/6m sand. The 2 1/2miles from Twin Cays took us 1 1/4 hours, got down to 3.1m enroute, took it very very slow but it was worth it, absolute stunner of an island and lovely anchorage – paradise found. National Park fee payable, 10BEL per person. On our 2nd visit conditions were calm enough to take the dinghy outside and do a drift snorkel back through the pass. It was excellent - saw schools of tarpon, a lionfish & lovely soft corals.
Tobacco Cay 16 54.093N 88 03.968W
5m find a sandy spot. Had a lovely sail in the 4m shallows inside the reef up from Southwater Cay. BEWARE in our guide book it showed a shoal going right across the entrance to the anchorage that you need to avoid, in the newer version this was not shown but IT IS STILL THERE. So take your time and try to have light behind you. There is life on Tobacco Cay, a small resort with a great little shacky beach bar for sundowners. Think they may have done meals if you order in advance, no wifi.
Glovers Reef 16 42.985N 87 51W
6m sand. A very lively exit from inside the reef at Tobacco Cay with plenty of water over the bow, but then pleasant sail 25 miles to Glovers. Entrance was easy to see in good light. Lovely anchorage, could snorkel straight off the boat. Went ashore to sit on the beach for sundowners but caretaker asked us to leave, this is a private island. After much pleading and telling him we had sailed all the way from New Zealand he let the 6 of us stay without setting the dogs on us! Dinghied around to neighbouring island with small resorts on it following day, very very quiet, more places where it would be necessary to prebook dinner if you wanted. One place has sign for wifi but there was no one there, extremely laid back dive holiday place. We didn’t venture further inside Glover reef as another Northerly was coming so we headed back to the mainland and entered through the wider channel at Southwater Cay and stayed there another night.
Garbutt Cay 16 58.168N 88 05.596W
12m muddy. Caught 2 fish enroute. Mangrove anchorage, good shelter and holding Beach ashore looks lovely from a distance, not so nice up close. Harry (the local mayor!) paddled out, nice bloke traded lobster which we really didn’t need but gave him some books, tiny rum and coke. Next day we left Balvenie and the 4 of us went on Bandit to Dangriga to check out (our 1month was nearly up), there was an onshore wind which didn’t abate so Mark, Brenda and I went ashore in the dinghy while David drove Bandit around. Very lively and wet entry and exit over bar on river in dinghy. Tied dinghy to dock on left, walk up to bridge and turn left. Supermarket on corner, fruit and veg stalls along road, Customs and Immigration along further on right, internet cafe almost opposite C&I. Checking out quite quick but had to wait for staff to arrive. Customs Fee BEL45 and Park Fee 15BEL, weren’t charged any more for Cruising Permit.
Middle Long Cay 17 15.787N 88 05.539W
4.5m sandy mud. Had a brisk sail up inside the reef. Went snorkelling over the partially sunken wreck just to the south, lots of lobsters but they had too many places to hid. Quite good snorkel but quite murky water and big barracuda lurking in the dark!
English Cay 17 19.750N 88 03.066W
3.5m sandy patch in coral. Snorkel stop only, too exposed for overnight. Snorkelled on outside off reef in very clear water. Not a huge variety but thousands of fish and some we hadn’t seen before. Definitely worth the short stop, and our last snorkelling for the season.
Bannister Brogue 17 26.450N 88 04.216W
4.2m sandy mud. Total protection within mangroves, yes more strong winds to tuck up from. There was a resort on one of the little neighbouring islands but we did not go ashore.
Robinson Island 17 21.637N 88 11.199W
11.5 m mud. Moved here as much more room to swing for sitting out northers for a couple of days. Nothing there but good protected anchorage. Did a couple of fun dinghy excursions around the mangrove islands.
Turneffe Island – Cay Bokel 17 10.391N 87 53.798W
2.7m hard sand/coral …. then the tide went out! Our worst night ever at anchor. Had intended to anchor on southwest tip of Turneffe but lee shore when we got there so entered through reef in poor fading light, guide book showed 9 feet inside we never really found it and had our worst ever night at anchor, aground for hours. Wind shifted to southeast and got very bouncy over reef, finally got off and into slightly deeper water and left at first light. Had hoped to go to Lighthouse Reef from here but southeast too strong.
Turneffe Island – Southwest Tip 17 10.333N 87 55.164W
4.2m sandy spot. No longer a lee shore so stopped here to gather our thoughts. Decided to abort plans to go to Lighthouse Reef and made our way up Turneffes west coast heading for Mexico.
Turneffe Island – Midwest 17 14.267N 87 56.945W
7.5m sandy spot, just kept nudging our way in, went over a couple of shallow patches. Just an overnight stop. Had a good forecast to head north with easterlies so that was the finish of Belize.
Heading to Mexico
Forecast was not correct and we were hard on the wind the entire way, Gulf Stream running with us giving us a couple of knots current but wind over GS gave us horrible seas. Couldn’t take shelter on Mexican coast as lee shore and very shallow entrances to the couple of anchorages. Considered stopping in lee of Chinchorro Bank but arrived at dawn and water flattened giving us false sense of improvement!!! Carried on and anchored during the night at Cozumel, Mexico
To read our full blog postings with photos of Belize click on this link http://yachtbalvenie.blogspot.co.nz/search/label/Belize