For Christmas week, I thought it would be fun to resurrect a Christmas post from Winterlude’s cruising updates from years gone by. Here’s Christmastime 2009 cruising Belize … “Oh, the weather outside is frightful…. not really, compared to all the ice & snow in the Midwest but why is it I’m surprised EVERY year when the weather in December stinks? We even said we weren’t going back to the boat this year until the weather improved, but here we are. On the other hand, I’m not sure why we dread “wasting” time in mangrove protected storm anchorages … I guess we’d rather be out on the reef in crystal clear swimming pool water snorkeling over colorful pretty fish. But mangrove anchorages have their own advantages beyond flat water and 360 degree protection from nasty northers where the wind switches 180 degrees hard – inevitably in the pitch dark.
A week or so ago, we paddled the kayaks upwind and drifted downwind again and again, watching the bogue’s resident manatee. We watched a dolphin seemingly in a feeding frenzy, little fishies jumping everywhere. Then the ugliest biggest jellyfish in the Caribbean, the stinging Cauliflower, swam up to take a look at us before swimming off upstream trailing his cloud of ugly streaming jellyfish nastiness behind him. Paddling up and down all the mangrove creeks, we were amazed at the literally thousands of entangled mangrove roots, all reaching down to the iced tea colored waters and the the tiny scurrying crabs running up and down. We startled the birds – the soaring American White Ibis with its brilliant white coat, elegant black tipped wings and bright red beak and legs crawked letting us know it’s displeasure. An entire flock of pelicans took to the air right over me, making me wonder if I was about to experience yet another “crappy” incident, but no fear, no problem this day.
After hiding from the norther that wasn’t for 2 nights (no bad weather as expected), we ventured out the main shipping channel for Belize City and sailed out to Turneffe, one of the three atolls offshore Belize – the three Belize atolls represent 3 of the 4 in the Caribbean, the rest are all in the South Pacific. Turneffe is usually used as a hidey hole for bad weather or a stopover on the way to Lighthouse Reef, but with the wind from the west, we were hoping to snorkel and fish on the east side – with the normal easterly tradewinds, most people never see these reefs. Unfortunately, the weather decided to pipe up to blowing over 30, the holding in the lagoon where we were anchored was grass, not good, and for the first time in over 5 years, we drug anchor … of course in pitch black, driving sideways rain of an intense squall. The anchorage was wide open … except for our buddy boat anchored somewhere behind us and invisible without an anchor light in the storm. Needless to say we had a fairly exciting hour and the boat was for sale again for a few minutes after the trauma.
Luckily, the weather the next few days was fabulous and we were able to sail out to Lighthouse Reef Atoll … the pinnacle of diving and snorkeling in Belize … the water colors are unsurpassed and the underwater life is astounding. Snorkeling, I was happy to see eagle rays glide gracefully past, tons of pretty little reef fish, a baby angelfish, it was good to be swimming in the aquarium again.
2 miles down inside the reef to anchor has to be one of the wildest places we’ve anchored in awhile! No land in sight, middle of nowhere, outside breaking reef walls surround us a couple miles out, patch reefs inside surrounding us 360 degrees – in good light, it appears we’re anchored in the middle of a “lake” – flat water and no bugs. Here and there in the middle of our “lake” are bright turquoise sand traps that stand out brilliantly from the rest of the bottom which is about 10 feet deep and covered in turtle grass. We dropped our anchor in the middle of a “sand trap” and watched as we backed down hard and the sand literally swallowed our hook!
Too many snorkeling places to explore and too little time! After two days of isolation, we’re chased back to Long Caye by more predicted squalls. Three days later, all the boats here are bouncing with the NE winds since the island is behind us and the reef is a ways in front of us, leaving considerable wind chop with the 20 knot plus winds. But this afternoon for the first time, everyone in all the anchored boats is out & about …. kind of like a neighborhood in the U.S. come the first really nice day of spring. David & Doug are out on a “Lion Hunt”.
The lionfish problem is apparently huge — I haven’t had a chance to do the research … no internet available out here … but the story goes that Hurricane Katrina released several lionfish into the Gulf of Mexico. They are native to the Pacific ocean. Lionfish are absolutely beautiful fish – and fatally poison. They have no natural predators on this side of the ocean and are multiplying at an alarming rate, eating all the young fish. This year is the first time we’ve seen lionfish on the reef, which gives credence to the rapid expansion. According to friends, if something isn’t done, these predators will wipe out the natural ecosystems of the Atlantic/Caribbean reefs.
No cruiser wants that to happen, so they organized a “Lion Hunt” and have gone hunting. These little guys are only about 6 inches long and have long graceful spines that wave with brilliant black and white or red and white coloring … they are one of the most spectacular fish we’ve ever seen. And as the rule goes, if it’s beautiful in the ocean, it’s probably dangerous.
Our Christmas was wonderful … anchored with 4 other boats at Lighthouse Reef, David & I donned our Santa Hats and went Christmas Caroling on Christmas Eve — took our dinghy around & serenaded every other boat in the anchorage … poor folks! Christmas morning, Mike from Windfree, the boat anchored next to us, brought us cranberry scones hot from the oven. His wife, Gloria, baked them for everyone in the anchorage! What a NICE way to start our morning – they went great with my morning coffee!
Later we got together with our friends on Kristiana and had a yummy Christmas meal – daughter Aly says we’re being European eating fresh grouper on the grill for Christmas dinner, but it was wonderful! Along with the garlic mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cornbread, asian cabbage salad and hot fudge pudding.
No one left hungry!
Just FYI, in stark contrast to the blatant commercialism invading the holidays elsewhere, for the past 36 days, 28 of them we’ve spent not a dime! There’s no place to spend money! On the downside, there’s no place to walk on dry land either … I haven’t stepped ashore on dry land in over 20 days … I’ll be glad to recheck the end of the first week of January just to wander the streets of Caye Caulker!
Our treat for the final day of the 2009 will be to set the alarm (yes, you all KNOW how much I HATE setting an alarm, but this will be worth it …) to see the International Space Station fly over us at 5:28 AM — apparently it takes 3 minutes, but the skies are supposed to be clear, so we’ll be watching! And later, we’ll get together with the rest of the boats here in our dinghies and all raft up for a floating get together ringing in the New Year … I’m SURE it will be midnight SOMEWHERE tomorrow afternoon!
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!!!
Jan & David
sv Winterlude, anchored at Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize
17 11.675N 87 35.958W
(if you go to Google Earth, you can SEE where we’re anchored!)”