An update from Belize… I had forgotten about this scare. The weather is never dependable. Reminder: always have an escape plan before you lift the anchor, just in case conditions change and things don’t go as planned. This was definitely too close for comfort – I can feel my heart pounding just thinking about it!
Every now & then, despite our best precautions, things go totally haywire! A few days ago we were anchored behind the reef in Central Belize beside a little cut … this cut doesn’t even have a name. Along with our buddy boat, Kristiana, we explored it by dinghy & snorkeling the day before & knew it was plenty deep & wide enough for our two boats to get out & sail to Turneffe Reef Atoll 7 miles almost due east. Doug on Kristiana is the weatherman for the Northwest Caribbean SSB Net & the forecast was for light easterlies, along with possible squalls. We’d had one squall pass us about 6:30 AM & it was now 9 AM, after the SSB Net & the skies to the east were bright blue with puffy white clouds. It’s a 2 hour motorsail to Turneffe & there’s literally no wind.
Winterlude followed Kristiana out the narrow pass & by the time we were less than a mile out, despite bright blue skies, the wind had built to 27-28 and the wind chop was dangerous, breaking over the bow … very confused seas with too few seconds between waves for the bow to ride up & down smoothly. In literally the space of 3 minutes, this morning had gone from a languid day in paradise into a dangerous lee shore. Acutely aware that this is how people lose boats on reefs we briefly considered turning & surfing back in the cut. But it was a very small cut & if a big wave set us to one side, we could have easily been on the reef.
Our diesels were suddenly unable to make forward headway into the waves going out that pass, the knotmeter read 00.0 and we could see the boat being forced back toward the reef. We had to get sails up fast or the consequences were unthinkable… and if the diesel were sputter, it would go from bad to worse. Luckily, one of the only things we did right was to have cleaned the diesel tanks before we left the Rio Dulce.
David, who is always the more cautious between us, had put the jacklines (safety lines) from the bow to stern & made us don our lifevest harnesses & rig up. At the time it seemed silly, but now, with the boat bouncing like a tilt-a-whirl on steroids, it was still very scary having David up on deck putting a reef in our mainsail, but less scary than it would have been if he’d been up there untethered like our friend Doug.
I was holding the boat more or less on course, into the wind until he could get that sail up … my feet were braced at least 4 feet apart & my knuckles white as I had a deathgrip on the wheel. David’s cursing came above the deafening wind & wave noise & I knew all was not well at the mast. He ducked back in the cockpit just as an enormous wave drenched me behind the wheel & momentarily flooded the cockpit before draining out. Finally, David figured out the main was reefed at different reefpoints at the boom versus the mast, which accounted for why the sail refused to go up & still had loose cloth lying on the boom. In the space of literally 40 seconds, although it seemed like hours, he had the main up & I was able to turn the boat slightly off the wind.
Seconds later we had a reefed jib out & once again were making forward progress. Forward progress came at a price, unfortunately we could not sail a heading to quickly get us behind the atoll which would block the waves, we were pretty much headed for the Bay Islands of Honduras… NOT!!! We sailed almost 13 miles, tacking back & forth to make the 7 miles to Turneffe and the last couple tacks we could finally feel the shelter of the atoll on the waves.
Later, anchored in the lee of the mangrove islands on the west side of the atoll, both boats relaxed & rehashed what the hell went wrong with our morning. The best we could come up with was that the squall that had just gone through developed into a stronger LO pressure system & kept pulling strong winds in long after it passed, keeping us in its ill effects. We also discussed how neither boat usually goes out a pass without an easy re-entry strategy… we violated our own rules to save a few miles & if anything had gone wrong, we could have easily paid for it with severe consequences.
We were cognizant of not having the mainsail ready for a reef – reefing lines should be left the same on the front and back reef points which would have eliminated the delay getting the main up. We probably should have immediately pulled out the jib and then gone back to the main.
Needless to say, as we progressed up exploring the west side of Turneffe to Rendezvous Point and then sailed to Lighthouse Reef Atoll, we were more mindful of our options should everything deteriorate suddenly and we need immediate shelter! Lesson learned!