After an amazing stay in Cay Caulker it was time to up anchor and sail on. This has definitely been the best port of the trip, so far anyways, for the relaxed feel, the great people and the amazing diving to be had just off shore. It’s a small place, but definitely somewhere enjoyable to get stuck.
One of the things I had been looking forward to on this trip was the arrival of my mate Joe, and after a few long flights he finally arrived from Indonesia, where he’s been running courses in surf survival and free diving for his company, one ocean. Over the years we have dived and surfed and been through quite a lot together, so to have him out here sailing with me is awesome. I have thoroughly enjoyed the passages and time I have done solo and feel that it was something that I have benefited and grown from quite a lot, but its great to have someone else here to share the journey. After the travel though he was pretty tired and it didn’t take too much to talk me into staying another day before hoisting the sails for out next stop, Turneff island, one of three outer atolls off Belize.
Turneff, Lighthouse and Glover’s atolls are some the only pacific like atolls in the Caribbean, with a large surrounding reef and inner lagoons that provide protection from the neighboring deep water. The water here rises from as deep as 3000 feet to the surface over very little distance and sailing into the narrow reef passes its amazing to see the colors change. Deep dark blue of open ocean give way to the light blue of shallow reef and into the varying shades of green, reds and blacks as the reef rises to the surface. Picking you way through these passes always puts me on edge but the reward of crystal clear, calm water, just on the other side is mare than just reward for carefully guiding Kuhela through and into the lagoon.
With a great wind for sailing, 15-18Kts from the east, we hauled anchor and headed out for a week or so of amazing diving and exploration. We had organized to meet up out there with my mate Henry, from Contour ocean expeditions in Cay Caulker, and to use Kuhela to live on and have his boat to run around and explore the area. With Kuhela surging gently forth, loving being alive on the ocean again, we made great time and it was about an eight-hour sail to get down to the southwest corner of Turneff atoll. Sailing with Kuhela, Joe, Perfect winds and the nervous excitement of what the next few days would bring made it near impossible to wipe the smile of my face, life is pretty good at the moment, I am very blessed.
Dropped anchor and sat out under the stars taking and catching up for a bit and had an early night before getting into it the following day. We dived a spot near where we had anchored but although the water was amazingly clear the reef wasn’t that good so we moved anchor later in the day and headed out to the area called “the elbow” where I’d been told of good fish and great diving. Henry still hadn’t arrived so we headed out in “Violet” (the dingy) to go get some fish and have a look. We found ourselves diving along a defined shelf at around 18M with lots of coral and clumps on the top with large sand gulleys running off the edge and into deeper water at around 25- 30M before fading away off into the deep. The potential for great fish was there and the area itself was truly amazing, and felt fishy, but after diving for a while and having to head home as it was getting dark, we only managed to pick up a small grouper for dinner and didn’t see the larger fish I had hoped to. While we were out Henry had arrived and so we got him set up on board and caught up over diner to hear the stories of his trip across and to fill him on what we had found so far.
The weather cooperated with us and after the great winds for the sail out we had no wind for the next day or two and early the next morning were cutting across the flat water, heading around to the east coast to see what we could find and scope out some new spots. The sheer drop off from the shallower water of around 20M to the deeper stuff at around 100M is visible as a solid line that runs parallel to the coast and with visibility of 40M or more we could see the bottom as we made out way along. We spent the day diving a couple different spots and Joe also ran through some free diving training with Henry, its always really cool to see the huge improvement people can have with just a few pointers. Again the ground was really good but the fish were really quiet. Found a few good holes and saw a few larger grouper heading off into the deep, but all stayed just out of range. We still managed to pick up some fish for dinner and spent the entire day exploring new ground and seeing what was on offer. Belize is a truly amazing and beautiful place, just the variety of what you see on every dive, eagle rays, giant loggerhead turtles (some of the biggest I have ever seen), huge schools of trevally, moray eels, just so much life, and all floating over the amazingly colorful reef below. The following day brought the return of the wind and Henry’s departure, but we still found time for a dive in the morning and managed a few good fish to send henry home with, and I gave myself a good reminder of why you don’t put fingers in the mouths of large angry fish, even if you think they’re dead. Few perforated fingers healing up as I type.
We spent the next day resting and relaxing and getting some maintenance done on board, for anyone who has never owned a boat this is pretty much what cruising is about, getting to work on your boat in exotic places. Were down to one tank of water so will have to budget a bit but, after a quick rebuild on the water maker, were making our own fresh water so no real danger of running out. The biggest supply issue, at this point, is that we have finished all the chocolate, which is a very serious situation. As the wind has returned we moved back up the coast a bit and anchored in a well marked creek which offers amazing protection and went for a quick explore and dive in the mangroves, amazing seeing the different type of marine habitat than what we are used to, but with rumors of crocodiles in the area, it certainly added some excitement. No need to worry though mom, I always made sure that I was closer to the boat than Joe. Besides with his big wooly head the poor croc would probably choke anyways. We dropped in to one of the fishing camps in the area and met some of the local crew that were out here building a jetty at the resort and had an awesome afternoon hanging out with them. They’re staying on a large boat that has been dragged up the beach and sitting around eating fresh sashimi and ceviche on a “sunset cruise” surrounded by coconut trees was not too bad at all.
We headed out to make our way over to lighthouse atoll but after rounding the corner and finding it still pretty windy we decided to turn back and wait it out another day. Turned out to be a good decision as we went for a dive in the arvo and found some of the best diving so far. Straight away we stared seeing big teardrop and mutton snapper, large grouper hanging just in the deeper water off the ledge and some solid kingfish or Spanish mackerel cruising through the area. Joe shot a really nice teardrop and we were able to pass it on to the local crew from the day before in return the hospitality for the “cruise” and of course got a feed for ourselves. Haven’t been getting many pictures of the fish as its pretty small in the dingy with the dive gear and been taking either spearing gear or the camera, you’ll just have to take my word for it. The spearing here is awesome.
We made the passage to Lighthouse the next day in much more pleasant conditions and entered the lagoon and dropped anchor off half moon cay. This is a little coconut tree and hermit crab covered island that sits in the middle of the ocean like an oasis, with Kuhela floating in transparent water above the sandy bottom just off the shore. This area is all Marine Park, so no spearing, but this is a good thing, it almost allows you to look back through time. To when you grandparents or the older guys you dive with speak of what it was like in the old days, huge fish everywhere, life like you wouldn’t believe all over the reef, sadly in more and more places the stories and exaggerated fish tales are all that is left. Belize seems to have taken a strong initiative with conservation and eco tourism and this evident every time you enter the water. Lying on the bottom with 30Kg cubera snappers swimming up to you while monster hog fish and grouper wander in and out of caves in the wall, which drops vertically from the surface to the blue void below, this is something that will be very hard to top. When you have that daydream, you know the one, where your lying on an island somewhere, crystal water, white sand, coconut trees swaying rhythmically in the breeze, look this place up and you’ll know where to go. We met the rangers from the Belize Auburn Society and they agreed to give us a lift up to the blue hole with them in the morning, stoked to get a chance to dive this again and save us having to navigate the 7NM passage through the reef.
We left early and headed up to the hole, as the rangers have to be there to record the number of boats and visitors and collect the park fees. Joe and I jumped in and took in the scene before us. I have written a bit about the hole from the last time I went out there, but to get a chance to dive it properly and to be able to spot for each other meant that we could push a little further and check out some of the deeper areas that I didn’t dive before. At around 25M there are old stalactites that hang off one of the ledges, finger like, dangling over the darkness, almost pointing the way and urging you to go deeper. Wasn’t long before all the dive boats that make daily trips out there were on site and was pretty fun getting a few amazed looks as you glided past people laden down with scuba gear continued on to the deep below. Personally scuba doesn’t hold much interest for me anymore, but each to their own. We dived for a few hours and did some good drops to 30M and felt really comfortable. Could have dived there all day but the rangers had to head back so we went back and explored the island a bit before pulling anchor and heading out to Long Cay to have a look out there.
This area is outside the marine park so we got geared up and went out to see what we could find. Similar set up out here, except that there are moorings that we could tie off and that sits us right over the dive sites, you step off Kuhela and there is amazing reef below. Hard to get any better than that. The wind had also dropped right off and the ocean was like a sheet of glass, so much so there was virtually no difference between ocean and sky; they simply melted into each other.
Its hard to remember what day or what dive we saw what, but we have both landed really good snapper, grouper and hog fish, with a P.B. dog snapper for both Joe and myself. These fish turned out to be magic fish as with a bit of slight of hand they could transform into other supplies as we took the snapper over to one of the large live aboard dive boats to trade and got stocked back up on milk and fruit and then that night decided to treat ourselves and check out a little resort on the island for dinner and the owner there said he had a boat coming out the next day and could get whatever else we needed, food supplies sorted. To show our appreciation we went spearing the next day and took some fish in for him and on seeing what we had he called it even on the supplies, gotta love those magical fish. We get to go spearing and hunt in amazing places, then get given food, and (best of all) CHOCOLATE for it, hmm, I'm not sure if I'm ever coming back.
The next day we decided to try some blue water hunting, which can pretty much be done from Kuhela as well, we hung the dingy far out the back, off from the wall and got the floats, flashers and gear set up to see what pelagic fish there were around. We chummed up for a few hours and did have some small mackerel come in and some trevally but the only good size fish we saw were some inquisitive Caribbean reef sharks, they definitely don’t mind coming in for a close look and for a few minutes Joe and I were back to back just keeping an eye on them and giving them a good poke with the guns when they came in, just to make them reconsider whatever it was they were thinking. Not much luck with the pelagic fish so far, but it all depends on the day and time, tray again another day. We moved in over the reef and picked up a nice black grouper for lunch, the menu last few days has pretty much been fish sandwiches, fish curry, fish and rice, fried fish and…fish.
We planned to lave early to make the 70NM passage to Placencia in one day but were woken just before my alarm went off by a large squall that passed directly overhead with 40-knot winds and huge bolts of lightening striking the water not far from us, so decided to delay till I could get the weather on the radio. With a favorable report, saying that should be the last of it, we dropped the mooring and headed south. It wasn’t long though till dark clouds started to sneak up behind us, the wind freshened a bit and the swell started to increase. Pretty soon we were reefing sails and getting ready for a blow, which certainly made its arrival known. Wind went from 12-15 knots through to 40, gusting 45 or higher in a matter of minutes and the horizontal rain and temperature drop had us in our wet weather gear pretty quickly. With both head sails furled away and two reefs in the main sail (which reduces the size of the sail by about half) we still managed my best speed in Kuhela, 8 knots. It was awesome; Kuhela and I enjoyed it thoroughly and Joe, well…he soon got used to it and got into the swing of things. It’s a great feeling to be able to trust in Kuhela and know what she is capable of; she has been through far worse I am sure. To be steering her along in that weather, making great speed, and best of all with lots of deep water and no land to worry about was one of the highlights of the leg of the journey. For an hour crazy, dark, cloud formations marched past overhead, each seeming to bawl and bellow with everything they had while passing. Then suddenly, when they had obviously said their bit, they drifted on ahead and off to the horizon, grumbling and murmuring like old men complaining about everything and nothing and we were back to lighter winds and a following sea for the rest of the trip down to the passage through the reef. We were being well looked after though, as on arriving at the small passage to enter the reef the wind died off completely, until we were just through, and then picked back up and had us flying along at 6 knots all the way to Placencia. The best distance I have covered in that time so far.
Siting on the bow having a cup of tea and hanging out with your best mate while anchored off atolls the middle of the ocean, this what I have worked and strived for and makes all the hard, lonely times worth every second. I am more convinced now than ever that if you have a dream hold it close, work towards it and bring it to life. It may not all be all great times all the way, but the fulfilling times and experiences you will have will more than make it worthwhile. I see that both in what I am doing with this trip and what Joe is doing with one ocean. If after reading this (very long) post you take anything away, take that…oh and the motivation to buy a ticket to Belize and find that daydream island. Thanks to all the many people who have been reading these blogs, I am blown away at the interest and the kind words. Sending good vibes your way. The journey continues.