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We have quoted Bill's letter in full. They chartered a Bahia 46 cat from TMM in April/May, 2007
'BELIZE BAREBOAT 4/28/07 to 5/5/07
46’ 2001 F-P Catamaran, 4/cabins, 4/heads, generator crew 8
Rented from: TMM San Pedro
The arrangements were made through Ed Hamilton Company (www.ed-hamilton.com), as were my last two trips in the BVI. Great, responsive people, very accommodating on crew changes, information, provisions, reminding you of time schedules for payment, resumes’, contracts, etc. Doesn’t cost you any more, and an easy way to go. Simple email does it.
Crew from NJ and CA arrived in Belize City at various times and took the Tropic Air flights to San Pedro (about 25 mins.). We all stayed (and met up) at the Sun Breeze Hotel...right across the street from the airport. No long ‘hucks’ of the baggage...you could throw them there. Nice place, on the ocean, with a pool, bar, and restaurant. Great food. Ice cold rooms (yes, you can adjust). So we had a swim, a few cocktails, and went to our 4 rooms to put on shorts and t-shirts (very casual in Belize). Dinner, friendship, a little wondering around ‘town’ and sleep...
Met up for breakfast at 7 AM. After breakfast, ladies (4) went on a provisioning excursion, while the guys (4) went to the boat briefing. The ladies told me that renting a cab for a few hours is the way to go since provisioning (at least for us) could not be done in one place. Wine and cheese store, general grocery market, beer distributor (8 cases), meat market, fruit market and vegetable market...as you can see, you can get all you want but it does take some traveling around and four people could not carry it all. Some of the places delivered. In any event, with some shopping around, you can get what you need. Meanwhile, back at the cat...guys going thru a very thorough chart/boat systems briefing from TMM, waiting on the ladies, and stocking provisions (some) as they are delivered.
TMM’s policy is to give you a sail ‘check out’ which, for us, was their motoring out to the sailing area, define some reef and sand bar visuals, raise sails, see if you know what you are doing (we rented a 47’ cat from them, last year, in the BVI), have a dingy pick up the check out captain, and you are under sail and on your way.
First day: Cay Caulker. Anchoring is the norm in Belize...you will find few/no moorings. Dive your anchor, since most times you are anchoring in less than 10’ of water and it is an easy dive/look. Secured the hook (and secondary) as we did every night, went ashore for dinner. Several recommended places for dinner that were reasonably priced and served very good food. This place is all dirt streets, many little shops, stores and restaurants. I was surprised. Provisioning (limited) available. Back to the boat around 10 PM….zzzzzzz.
Day two: St. George’s Cay. 7 -8 knots, in 15-18 knot breeze. Sailed thru the ‘famed’ Porto Stuck (do a web search), without problems. We anchored on the east side at a pre-arranged destination, with TMM, to have our A/C repaired. Pay attention to the charts and use a ‘sighting compass’ for bearings, as the approach requires a ‘hook’ to the south of the Cay in order to avoid shallow water. Some went ashore (I didn’t) in search for a can opener (missing on the boat) and ice. Scored on the can opener (loan) from a local resort (lots of windsurfers & Hobie Cats), but no ice (found out later that others got some from, or near, the British Navy Camp). A TMM guy worked on the boat a/c for about three hours, bypassing a bad pump; no a/c in the salon...bypassed, but working in all four cabins (temporarily). Anchorage was a little ‘rolly’ due to ‘winds from the east’, but OK. Had dinner on board, with ‘cool’ beers, and ice in the freezer for mixed drinks. No other boats at anchor.
Day Three: Set off about 9:00 AM, and stopped as Goff’s Cay. No cruise ships letting off ‘day trippers’, so we had the place to ourselves. It is like living in a postcard. A few palapas for shade, clear water, good snorkeling...and small. Great day stop (overnight anchoring is not recommended). After a few hours and lunch, we pressed on east and southward. Brisk sailing, paralleled the ‘Drowned Cays’ (west side) and sailed to Bluefield Range.; met Mario, the caretaker at the Bluefield Range Resort (more of a backpacker place). Talkative and welcoming...but no supplies except for some fish. Gave us a tour. We anchored in the ‘lagoon’ to the east and you must pay attention to the approach between Bluefield and Alligator Cay...shallow reef to the south of Bluefield. Good time to explore looking for Manatees, but we did not see any. Dinner on board.
Day Four: Set off about 10AM, averaged 7.5 knots to South Water Cay. About 1⁄2 dozen moorings available...took one... no charge. Crew went ashore for, mainly ICE...none to be had, maybe in the morning, we were told. Bought 100 gals of water for $1.00/US per gallon...ouch. End of the dry season, cisterns empty, etc. No dinner available onshore unless you give a day or two notice. Resorts only stock for their guests; can’t blame them. Warm beer, no ice for cocktails, and an unhappy crew. Dinner and early bedtime for all, except for those watching DVD movies onboard.
Day five: Up early, went ashore for anticipated ice...none. Ice machine was not working properly, but nice people. Snorkeled north of the Caye in the ‘flats’; not good...a lot of shallow grass that you had to ‘belly’ snorkel through. Took the dink to the south side...much better, but a swell coming thru a ‘cut’ in the reef. The Blue Marlin offered to get us any provisions we needed, but they wouldn’t be back until about 1PM. After speaking with some people, we decided to head to Dangriga (Stann’s Creek) for provisioning. We were cautioned to keep 1 person with the dink and send a few into town. So off we go, did a nice wing on wing on the downwind, and anchored in about 6’ of water. 4 went ashore, and the river ‘mouth’ was nearly closed by sand. A few locals came out from shore and showed the way (method). Stop the motor and get out and walk the dink across the sand, fire up, go a few hundred yards up river and dock. 3 went into town and in less than an hour, had everything on our list and great quantities of ICE. I stayed with the boat but the crew reported that there seemed to be a lot of poverty in this place with a lot of people looking for a handout...$$$, for any little or no assistance. Loaded up with supplies, and happy, we sailed to the Colson Cays. A few tried the ‘lagoon’ for fishing and possible Manatee spotting...no luck with either. Happy night onboard with only one other boat anchored. Dinner on board.
Day Six: After breakfast on board, headed a little north past the ‘cut’ in the Colson Cays and snorkeled at a spot shown, on the chart, as ‘excellent’...it was. Sand sharks, many fish, nice coral, etc. Before we motored to the snorkel spot, two of the crew decided to check out the ‘Lobster Camp’ (as shown on the charts). We had been previously warned about ‘dogs’ at this (and many other areas); pay heed to those warnings...crew could not get within 50’ of the dock without the “welcoming committee”. I wonder how many inquiries they (named Lobster Camp) get in lobster season! Hoist the sails (ah, electric winches), set our northerly course and we are off to Spanish Look-out Cay. Being unfamiliar with the approach, we sent two in the dink to check things out. They came back with the info and we motored in to the dock and tied up for the night. No fee if we had dinner ashore...we did. Since our A/C had not been working I asked if they had a mechanic. The guy I was speaking to (Daz) sp? From Australia, said yes, that’s me. He went to work on it right away and in a couple of hours had things working well. Said he worked on their (resort’s) boats. Do a web search for Hugh Parkey Belize at Spanish Look-out Cay...this is the place. The brochure, like most, shows some nice pictures. This place is what you see in the brochure...it is NEW. Only began full operations a few months ago so everything is new...buildings, docks, boats, etc., with more new construction underway. The place is immaculate. They cater, mostly, to the ‘cruise’ industry, taking up to 300 divers/snorkelers in a day. Dinner ashore was $20/US per person, fixed menu for fish, rice, vegetables, bread, soft drinks and dessert. Well worth it. A nice night’s sleep with A/C working well.
Day Seven: Up reasonably early, breakfast ashore, $9/US p/p, with juice, scrambled eggs/bacon, coffee, Johnny cakes (you’ll just have to try them), and fresh fruit. Happy crew. Now, I have been many places where you can do a ‘dolphin encounter’, but having never done it, I decided to do it here. 2 dolphins and 2 trainers in the water. 4 visitors per dolphin. Nice, enjoyable and personal contact with the dolphins. If you have a chance (timing), I highly recommend it. Cast-off about 10:30 AM (remember, we were tied to the dock) and sailed north between the reef and the ‘Drowned Cays’. Stopped twice to snorkel the ‘reef’ and you can get really close…nice, since you are on the ‘calm’ side. Continued past English Cay (next time stop), went south of St. George’s, back thru Porto Stuck, past Chapel Cay (also on our next time list) and anchored (again) at Cay Caulker. Back into town, dinner, conversation with another Cat ‘driver’ that we had seen along our route, and back to the boat around 11 PM.
Day Eight: After breakfast, and a swim, (ran out of water after doing dishes) up anchor for about a two hour sail to San Pedro to turn in the boat. TMM (after radio call) comes out to ‘meet’ you, pilots the boat to the fuel dock (fuel is extra on this boat), and pilots to their base. Refilling water tanks, all were invited to have a ‘shower’ on board; yeah, now use a much water as you want, put on some clean shorts and a T-shirt, and you are a new person, prior to our flights out that day, and they provided luggage handling to the airport (less that a half mile)...San Pedro to Belize City, and connecting home.
Summary: Great destination, some of the best sailing and weather that I have had in the last three charter trips. This is definitely, in my opinion, “cat waters”. Most sailing, except for a few channels, is done in 10 to 14 feet of water (remember, you are inside the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world...Australia is 1st) we did see 5 6 feet, in some instances, on the depth meter. Winds were very constant, from the east, building to 15-18 knots in the afternoon, on ‘very flat’ water. I don’t believe that I saw a wave over 3’. So, let’s see, winds out of the east and you are sailing either north or south during most of your trip...hmmm, now you get it. Temperature was, typically, in the mid eighties to low nineties, during the day; low seventies at night. It was humid, but bearable in the shade with a breeze that is always there. The water ‘colors’ are gorgeous...shallow, clear water; with sand, grass, and some coral bottoms. Coral is really not an issue unless you are close to the reef. Felt like I was sailing in ‘White Bay’, Jost Van Dyke. Water temperatures were in the mid to upper eighties. I will, definitely, return to Belize.
Provisioning: As stated above, be prepared for some ‘logistics’, initially, and while on your ‘route’. Yes, ice and water became a concern. Now that I have knowledge of the area, just a few route changes would keep me consistently supplied, even if the crew is not ‘frugal’ in their consumption. Unlike the BVI, we planned four dinners aboard knowing ‘eating out’ would be difficult (we did eat out three times). But, with four couples aboard, it was cooking one night per couple, for the ‘whole gang’. I (and the others) was pleasantly surprised. You would not believe what your friends can cook, whether it is tacos, spaghetti, steaks, chicken, etc...and how it tastes compared to your own recipes. Some of the best food I (and others agree), was the dinners we had aboard. Yeah, I know it’s your vacation and you want to forego all that, but having eaten in many restaurants, in many places throughout the world, some of the best food I have eaten was prepared by the different ‘crew members’. This will be a must (and fun) on future trips.
Navigation: Are you bored yet? I did some research on Belize, but found limited information. Take a nap...then read on. The most important tools on this trip are your depth meter, watch, and handheld sighting compass (ours was provided with the boat). Sometimes, you just cannot head straight for ‘that anchorage’, or island. You are dealing with some shallow, albeit, calm water and trying to figure out ‘depth’, by sight, is a challenge. I am not trying to dissuade you, but encourage you. Remember my comment above ‘hook to the south of St. George’s’? It is true. Although the charts (at least the one I had) are over ten years old, they were accurate and had a lot of valuable information. You can easily do this, with your sighting compass, and avoid grounding (usually in sand). Like the BVI, you are always in sight of land. But on a longer sail(s), sometimes visual landmarks (islands) can become confusing. So, it is simple, we left here at 9 AM, varying winds say we are doing 6 8 knots, so let’s average 7. We have been under sail two hours, having done about 14 nautical miles....our chart is divided in 5 nm increments, so we are about here. Take a look...now it makes sense (visually). No need for the sextant, GPS, or shooting azimuths off the sun. Really simple. Just pay attention.
By no means do I profess to be an expert on Belize; I am only relaying the experiences of my trip in hopes to provide some useful information that I could not find previous to my trip. Like this and other sailing adventure, do your own research and try to find the things that meet your individual needs.'