Can You Say Chill ?

We’ve been in Placencia for a few days now… wow… make that 4 days!!

Lindsay's fender
Not quite what we’d planned… but there must have been something about this sleepy little place that has sucked us in. We stopped by to check out the local charter companies for the chance of work… but we pretty much did that last Friday.

Placencia shop
Maybe it has something to do with discovering the funny little Seranade Bar and Hotel with it’s cheap happy hour and funny Ruddy the singer who entertained us and our new-found friends on Thursday? Or maybe it has to do with being a little hungover on Friday when we started our jobsearch? Actually I think it has something to do with the presence (previously mostly unseen) of the rainy season. Oh… and the lack of wind that seemed to accompany the rain clouds.

And then, just when we were definitely leaving the prospect of a potential job, and knowing that as much fun as checking out Monkey River Town and it’s river full of wildlife, it would leave us without internet, and therefore communication to most of the world.

So, one day turned into another, and then yet another… with it’s tie to the internet cafés in this, to be honest, overly chill town filled with glazed-eye rastas and crazy ladies trying to sell you the worst coconut macaroons ever, not to mention the fact that, presumably due to the lack of tourists, most things are closed or only open sporadically on their own, mysterious and indecipherable schedule!

So… ok… one more day spending money on the internet for the sake of gainful employment….. JUST ONE MORE!

Third Aye on cloudy anchor

Now This Must Be What They Mean by Cruising

Up with the sun as usual, we left behind our lapsed paradise island of Southeastern Cay on Glover’s Reef and headed back west to the mainland.

Glover's sunrise
Heading almost downwind on the easterlies we surfed the waves and snuck behind Glover’s Reef in search of some illusive respite from the swells. 6.5 knots with just the jib!! Now that’s sailing… we eventually added in the mainsail and maintained our speed as we headed for gap in the reef between Southwater Cay and Carrie Bow Cay (who named these places?? I mean what was with the dive site off Ambergris – Victoria’s Canyon… are they kidding??)

Third Aye Mast

Still trying to surf the somewhat erratic waves… pushing the bow this way then that… we spotted the tiny, low-lying cays and pointed the boat as best we could for the gap between them. It certainly wasn’t the scariest of cuts, but we kept a close eye on the breaking reef on either side and headed in. Even before we had passed through the cut the seas began to calm… got to love the shelter of the reef! We continued to follow the plotted course (from our trusty Rauscher guide) but started to get a little suspicious of the heading as we were instructed by the GPS to turn towards the pale green patch or water to the south that clearly indicated a sandbar… well she got us here… close enough!

Third Aye Jib
Sailing inside the reef was so different… passing numerous tiny… and I mean tiny – just a matter of feet in length – cays, cruising gently through channels, while keeping a keen eye on the lightening waters that cover the nearby corals and shallow sands.

A few adjustments to the course here and there to avoid what could have been shifting sandbars or mis-directions and we continued to fly downwind, leaving behind cays and finally the coast of mainland Belize (a new thing for us!) until at only 2pm, instead of the predicted 5pm, we arrived at the skinny channel between the rustic, lazy beach town of Placencia and it’s Cay next door.

Placencia anchorage

Some of the easiest anchoring so far in our trip, left us with plenty of daylight to head ashore and check our what was doing in our new temporary home.

Third Aye Placencia Anchor

Gleb gleb gleb

Elkhorn Coral

It was a little strange being in San Pedro without Dave and Corinne (happy travels!) but we found something to help fill the void.

Tadd and I had talked about continuing our PADI training in hopes of having some fun and also making ourselves even more employable, so having talked to a bunch of dive shops on the island, I set out to get my Rescue diver cert with Crazee Eddie.

Crazy Eddie

The whole thing only took a couple of days and Tadd was able to come along for a free dive one morning so not too shabby. Eddie was fun, but being slow season here, he didn’t have many students lined up, so we decided to go with Ecologic Divers (next door) for our Divemaster certifications as they had a steady stream of people through their doors.

It may not have been the cheapest place in the world to divemaster, but we were already here… with a free place to live.. and had begun to get to know the island a little and where to get cheap food and shopping. And as we were going to spend 3 weeks training we reckoned the number of dives we would get to do would outweigh a cheaper location that would just push us quickly through the course.

Ecologic Dock

So we began our life as, “lower than whale sperm,”  according to Steve Lee (one of our instructors at Ecologic).

The diving was great and we got lots of dives in! We spent just under 4 weeks hanging and training with Steve, Junior, Shelley, Juanita, Charlie, Marcos… and all the other quirky characters at the dive shop.

We got to go to lots of the different sites outside the reef with the long finger canyons of coral reef that reach out east from the Meso-American Mayan Reef (2nd biggest in the world) that stretches south from the Mexico to Belize and beyond) and dive with up to 14 nurse sharks at once, spotted eagle rays, turtles, moray eels, giant grouper and dozens of other multicolored species of fish, corals and sponges. We even got to go dive the wall at the Elbow of Turneffe Cay, as well as exploring the Hol Chan channel by night (Tadd’s first night dive!).

Ecologic tanks

But one of the most memorable dives was the day I spotted a poor yellow-tailed snapper with a hook in it’s mouth… I pointed it out to Tadd who gestured to indicate that it was done for… and so he grabbed the end of the fishing line dangling from the hook (hoping to trail the fish back to boat and for our dinner!) … but the snapper was having nothing to do with that plan and began to swim around like a crazy fish… Charlie the divemaster reckoned he could get the hook out and took over… at which point a big, black grouper came close by… and then out of nowhere the black grouper whizzed up from somewhere beneath us and inhaled the snapper, the hook, the fishing line and almost Charlie’s hand in one huge, and amazingly audible gulp… and it was all over!!

The challenges of underwater fishing I guess!

Headed for Paradise

We woke up early, after a rough night, with two choices… to find a better spot and chill for the day, or head out into the rough, open sea for a couple of hours before reaching the shelter of another Cay… well, as Tadd put it, “it could get worse!”

That clinched it… keep moving! Rough? Yes, a little. But not a bad angle on the waves, so we weren’t shook around too much and the strong winds certainly make some fun sailing. And after all, from what we read in our guidebook, we were headed for paradise! A nice resort, with excellent facilities, amazing diving, kayaking, fishing and snorkeling… and most importantly the quintessential white sand beach, shaded by coconut palms that swish soporifically in the wind. We could spend the night… the next day… and if they had internet…. Perhaps even a couple of days!! It sounded like the perfect place to hang our hammocks and relax.

CRACK! “What was that??!!” I asked. “Just a wave hitting the dinghy,” Tadd replied calmly… “Really? Oh, Ok.” Followed a few moment later by… “oh crap”… not just a wave after all… one of the pulleys holding the dingy off the back of the boat on the davits had gone… luckily we had tied the dinghy securely with several lines to stop it swinging… one of the lines had stopped it dropping all the way to the sea, while the other end was still hoisted high on the back… now that could have been SO MUCH worse…. Feeeewww!!

Back on track until we could see the tiny cay from a long way off… unfortunately the it was almost directly to windward so, a few tacks, and we finally gave in and turned the engine on. It looked so wonderfully enticing!

Glover's Cay
Using our trusty sailing guidebook (I think we’re getting better at reading the hand drawn charts and translating them to what we can actually see!) we made our way through the gap in the reef and wiggled between coral heads and sand banks to get up close to Southeastern Cay of Glover’s Reef.

Glover's building

Awwww… well it still looked like the promised palm-fringed paradise… but a definitively out-of-season paradise…. No umbrella-ed cocktails for us.

Glover's beach
We relaxed with cocktails on Third Aye after anchoring in the wonderfully calm lee of the cay and decided to chill on the boat for the night, leaving the exploring for the following day.


Third Aye on hook and Glover's

The morning was filled with repairs and domestic chores… so after lunch we stuffed books, glasses and hammocks in a dry bag, filled a flask and snorkeled our way to shore. The caretaker came down to say hello and we learned that the owner hadn’t opened the resort for 3 years and was supposedly going to do some rebuilding, but there was no sign of anything happening soon for the imminent Caribbean season…. What a shame… the island already had a slight neglected feel to it.

Tadd on Glover's
In any case, we found a few appropriately shading palm trees and slung our hammocks… a perfect spot! Well… almost… if it weren’t for the sand flies… strangely, they seemed to lose interest in us mostly once we were established in our hammocks, so we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon reading.

Lindsay in hammock at Glover's

Glover's sunrise

On the Move Again

All the assignments handed in, skills approved, certifications checked, and exams passed… and we are now PADI Divemasters!! But, unfortunately, a potential employment situation didn’t work out, so it was time to get on the move again.
Ecologic Divers Dock View
It was a little sad saying goodbye to our friends at Ecologic, but it was time to head out (and anyway, we’ll be back at Christmas to meet my family).
Bye Charlie
We didn’t necessarily pick the calmest day… but then again the wind had been blowing pretty consistently since we had arrived. But the extent of the conditions only became evident as we headed out through Tuffy Channel in front of San Pedro… against the incoming waves and sea swells that seemed to tower over the bow at times… especially when that one wave crashed full force over the bow… and the hatch to the companion way was open and the hatches not secured… yes a tad soggy and salty down below.San Pedro reef map
But we fought our way through our trial by fire and got back into sailing mode quickly as we headed south to Turneffe Cay.

Turneffe Cay

We had been there for the dive and seen mooring balls down the western side of the cay, so we thought it’d make a good stopover for the night and wouldn’t be too tricky arriving after dark…. Well, we spent a good hour or so searching for those maldito moorings, while avoiding a rain shower or two, and we never found them… so back to the hook once more. Fortunately it was almost a full moon so there was a lot of light to play with, but once anchored the wind and the sea started to kick up… so needless to say that wasn’t our best night’s sleep!

Belly Say (Belize)

We left Mexico behind and, finally, just a day sail away, we reached Ambergris Cay in northern Belize. The Mexican pronunciation is “belly say”.  The local expats say “buh-leeze”.

Moon over Belize

The Rauscher’s sailing guide book predicted another tricky entrance through the reef, but this time we had another ace in our pockets. My mad, Scottish friend Dave, who I met during my adventures down in Ecuador, had been living down in Ambergris for a couple of years and was part owner of the local water taxi company, Island Ferry, so he had offered to send a boat out to guide us in. Awfully handy – the next thing we knew we were anchored off the island and prepping to head in and deal with customs and immigration.

Tragically the officials were moving offices and didn’t seem to have the new one set up yet and so had taken the Friday afternoon off… so there was nothing left for us to do, but head to the closest bar and catch up with Dave and Corinne.

Tadd and Lindsay in cart

The next week basically involved more of the above… hanging out… drinking beer and rum (Arrrrrr!) … we finally got our papers sorted after being in the country almost 4 days… talking to the local charter company (no luck with work as we’re not Belizian)… checking out dive companies to see if we wanted to do out divemasters…. And helping out Dave, Corinne, Sterling and Isobel with their yard sale… as everyone was heading off!!

Tadd in Pirate Pizza

Yup, we finally get here and Dave and Corinne had decided to move on after 2 years here… aw well, just in the nick of time!
So just before everyone disappeared north… we had the pleasure of attending Sterling and Isobel’s wedding and the drunkenness that followed… not to mention the first crazy, high-speed golf cart ride through San Pedro.

Sterling and wife
The Happy Couple

… Welcome to the cays!

What we do all day

Q: So what do you do all day?

A: It’s not just what we do all day, it’s what we do all day and night. I can best explain this in a chronological breakdown for you. For illustrative purposes with entertainment value, I will combine several typical situations that may or may not all occur in one 24 hour period. If all of these things happened in one day, most assuredly, we would either move to a new location or sleep the entire following day. I’ll start in the morning, using the 24 hour clock, or military time.

0200: Wake up for a squall. Winds are blowing from a new direction. Lie there and feel for the tug of the anchor lines and wonder if we are adrift. Worry if the anchors will hold. Get up out of bed and stand up on deck. Watch the lightning in the distance and gage the direction of the center of the storm. Wonder if the wind will blow harder or subside. Decide that there is no way to predict this and go back to bed, but don’t sleep until it starts raining. Get back out of bed and close the hatches. Turn on the fans, start to sweat a little under your back and wait for the storm to pass.

0400: Fall back asleep.

Belizean thunderstorm

0600: Wake up with the sun. Wonder if the batteries are approaching the critical level of 10.5 volts. If they do, they will never last as long again. Get out of bed. Look at the battery meter. Look at the refrigerator temperature. Decide to start the engine to save the batteries. Let the engine heat up the cabin while you go back to bed for a bit. Sweat.

0800: Peel yourself off the sweaty sheets and be disgusted. Get out of bed. Scratch yourself all over. Put the kettle on. Check the battery meter and refrigerator temperature. Turn off the engine. Go topsides for a look around and rub your eyes. Make sure the dinghy is still tied to the boat. Make breakfast of coffee or tea, hot or cold cereal, perhaps yogurt or fruit and if you’re really hungry, both. Put up the bimini and the tarp over the boom for shade. Bring in any laundry that’s still on the lifelines.

Dishes aboard

0830: Wash the dishes and check the to do list. Realize it’s longer than yesterday. Dress for the day. Tilt the solar panel to the East. Check the battery meter. Make a stink in the head.

Repairs onboard

0900: Try to get a free internet signal. Read something. Discuss with your mate what it is that seems most important to get done during daylight. Fix something that’s broken. Write down on the list what you have found to be broken while fixing the thing that was already broken or corroded from salt. Sweat some more. Write a blog.

1100: Apply liberal amounts of sunscreen. Gather your things. Put them in a waterproof bag. Stow the rest. Think in exacting detail about what it is that you’ve set out to do ashore. Talk out loud about those things. Realize you’ve forgotten to pack something that you need. Go back down below and get it. Repeat the process from think until you’re irritated about it and decide to just get going. Get going. Pull the dinghy alongside. Tie the dinghy alongside. Shut the hatches and lock up so it gets real hot and stinky inside, if anyone breaks in, they won’t be able to stand it long enough to find anything of value. Get in the dinghy. Untie the second security line from the dinghy. Load the dingy with the items needed ashore. Look for your flops. Get back out of the dingy for your flops and sunglasses. Rotate the solar panel level to the horizon. Get back into the dinghy. Hope the engine starts. Untie and putter to shore.

Tadd driving dink
1130: Approach a dock or the beach. Assess the waves and depth. Abandon the original plan and find a new spot to come ashore. Bounce all around in the surf and get salty. If you swear, now is a good time for it.

1200: Beach it or tie it to a dock. Run a cable through everything that remains in the boat and lock that cable around something that cannot be easily pulled up or cut off. Bounce all around as you hand up all the things you need ashore to your mate. Don’t take your eyes off the item or dare let go until they have firmly taken it from you. Clamber out of the dinghy and quickly get your sandals on your feet or be burned. Sweat some more. Get your backpack or shoulder bag on and get going to the first place that has shade or air conditioning.

1215: Be hassled by the vendors because you look like a tourist. Keep walking.

1500: Finish the banking, shopping, exploring, or whatever it is that seemed so important earlier. Accept the fact that prices are different for you because you look like a tourist. Notice that you are carrying more weight and there is much less wind onshore. Sweat profusely. Smile, you’re in paradise.

1600: Fill the water jugs before leaving shore. Carry them back to the dingy. Load up and look offshore to be sure your boat is where you left it. Sigh relief and get going. Get salty from the waves splashing up over the front of the dinghy. Again, if you cuss….

1630: Unload, tie up the dinghy with two lines, fill the water tanks, rotate the solar panel to the West. Check the battery meter and refrigerator temperature. Open the hatches. Hand things down below to your mate. Stow everything. Drink something cold. Sit up on deck in the shade on cool off. Swim if you feel like it, you’ll have to shower later anyway.

1700: Wash yourself with a hose in the cockpit. Hang your clothes on the lifelines. Go online and look for free internet. If you get some today, check for tropical depressions, go to Facebook, look for a job online, and read your email.
Tadd looking glum
1800: Play the ipod and have another cold drink. Feel the contentment of living in a beautiful place. Watch the sun go down. Take a picture of it.

1900: Think about starting dinner or watching a DVD on your laptop in the v berth. Pump out the holding tank. Check the battery meter and refrigerator temperature. Decide to run the engines again. Wonder if you have enough diesel fuel in the tank. Check the tank. Top up the tank with 5 gallons and start the engine. Talk very loudly over the engine noise and sound irritated even though you’re not. Cup your ear at your mate. Give up on communicating.

2000: Make dinner. Wash the dishes. Wonder if the water in the tank will last until the last dirty dish. Shut down the engine.2100: Finish the movie or read if you haven’t started watching one. Perhaps you can write a blog now that it’s really cooled down outside.

2200: Go to bed and be happy that today, the wind is blowing right down the wind scoop and onto your face. Read a couple of pages and drift off to sleep.


Here lobster, lobster, lobster

On the way to Tulum we’d had such strong currents working against us, so on our next leg we gave ourselves lots of time… of course this time we didn’t need it, and found ourselves headed for yet another tricky passage through the reef at Bahia de la Acension, in the pitch black of a new moon at 11 pm… not good… so some quick recalculations and we were off again.

But we had come in too close to shore, and Tadd found that we were being sucked in closer and closer… the usually stoic Tadd was quite flustered. Then to top it off… having yelled to wake to me for help… the depth sounder suddenly fluttered and read 15 feet!! Aaaahhhh!

Luckily it was just another of those whalesharks, or giant schools of fish, or perhaps just a phantom reading. But we were taking no chances and so headed further out into the Caribbean and on to the next bay, Bahia del Espirutu Santo.


What a strange isolated place – a big, wide shallow bay. A little more tricky navigating through the shallows, winding our way in behind the reef to the north of the bay, and we found a nice anchorage. Although there were a couple of houses visible amongst the trees, we really seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

Lindsay snorkeling for lobster

So after brunch went for a snorkel on the reef in search of a free lobster dinner.

Elkhorn in BahiaIt was a bit of a swim against the waves, but there was some really nice coral… on top of coral… on top of what looked like huge outcrops of ancient petrified Elkhorn coral… and forests of purple fan corals, waving in the tide. We were followed around by couple of typically mean looking barracuda… they were kind of like barracuda police… decided there wasn’t much going on except the isolation and to head out again that night….

Lobster hunting?

But not before one last search for those cockroaches of the sea with a torch… then a stressful exit… the tide had dropped a foot or so… just enough to make it hairy in the total darkness.

Tadd having one more go at lobster fishing… at night! No luck!

In the footsteps of the Maya

We spent yet another night sailing from Cozumel to Tulum… it’s not our choice, it’s just that the tricky thing is always needing to arrive with plenty of daylight in order to navigate the next hazardous entry into a new place without navigational aids like the ones we’re used to in the US and UK. And in places like Tulum, where there is so much reef, even the daylight isn’t always enough…

Mexican sunrise

It wasn’t a bad night on the water, and Tadd finally got his first sighting of the Southern Cross, faint though it was. By early in the afternoon the next day, we finally came around a bend and spotted the ruins (also Tadd’s first sighting of Mayan ruins). Tulum truly is a spectacular sight, even from a couple of miles offshore… and to think that the Mayan traders would have sailed in to the majestic town just like we were doing.

While we continued south, past the waves crashing on the white sand beach below El Castillo, in search of the tiny gap in the reef, we spotted a sea turtle swimming along, rolling on his side and eyeing us up as we went by.

We reached the coordinates according our trusty cruising guide and tried to line up the heading to get in. The current was pushing us south and the waves were pushing us in towards the reef… there was no sign of the gap… no sign of the exposed rock … and the waves didn’t seem to be breaking anywhere in particular… we kept going, but when we reached 9 feet of water we balked and turned around.

Tulum coastline

We headed back out and regrouped… the next attempt was no less scary, and again, at 9 feet we turned tail and headed back out for deeper water.

As we were only a couple of hours from sunset, we started to weigh our options and were just about to give up and miss out on visiting the ruins, kill some time, and then head out for a second night at sea to reach the next stop, when a fishing boat came along. Tadd grabbed the brightest thing at hand… his yellow foulies (sailing rain jacket), ran to the bow and started waving for all his worth.

After some discussion, a call to see if there was enough depth for us to make it in to the beach and a lot of driving around in circles (and avoiding the rock splashing out of the water nearby that we had completely failed to see as the book had us looking in the completely wrong spot) we nervously followed the fishing boat in… woohoo! We made it!

Tadd snorkel face

We anchored and congratulated ourselves over a celebratory beer… but perhaps a little too soon… the anchors were dragging… ugh… another snorkeling trip to the anchors. It took a couple of tries, during which we managed to bend the stem of one of them (it still works fine) but we felt fairly sure we were set… but going nowhere that evening and I can’t say it was the best night sleep I’ve had… gotta love waking up convinced you’re drifting into the beach!

Tadd and Lindsay at Tulum

The next day we enjoyed a visit to the ruins, though it was unpleasantly hot, so we didn’t hang out long, and headed back to the beach for a beer and a dip. After a trip into town for lunch (yummy arroz con mariscos and fish tacos) and to stock up on big beers, we headed back to the boat to relax before heading out, only a little less nervously, through the channel, just before sunset… Yup! You got it! Another night of sailing ahead! Ugh!

Friends in paradise

After the whale sharks, we went once more in search of a Belize flag, in vane, and packed up, paid up and said goodbye to El Milagro Marina.

At helm

We sailed out from Isla Mujeres at sunset and headed south through the night, past the insane lights of Cancun and into some more frustrating currents, not to mention the added fun of tiny fishing boats without lights to dodge – at the last minute they’d grab a torch and shine us in the face to get us to miss them. Not much fun, especially after Artie the autohelm pooped out on us during the night!
By the time I woke in the morning to relieve Tadd from his watch, we were already sailing right offshore… and I mean right offshore… only maybe less than a quarter of a mile, past the beaches of the north end of Cozumel.
It’s totally crazy how deep the water is just off the island – it really is just smack bank in the middle of the depths of the Caribbean Sea.After much discussion we finally picked a spot to anchor, knowing that it would be a bit of a challenge as it was rock covered in a little bit of sand. Just for confirmation we did our due diligence and called into the port captain… but he was not interested in chatting with us, so we went with our instincts and picked an anchorage.

We’d planned to do some diving on the island… but ended up only snorkeling on the anchors… but we did get them solidly in there.

Our time on the island was mostly spent catching up on the internet… searching for a replacement for Artie and hanging out with Teri, John, Jaime and Tyler – can you say margarita???

Cozumel sailing
As ever, Tadd and I don’t have a lot we can offer in thanks to all the generous people who’ve been helping us out along the way… but we do have to boat and, obviously, we do LOVE to sail…. So, especially in light of the fact that John and James had just done a sailing course (with the crazy, shouting instructor!) back home, the least we could do was to take them all out sailing.Now, our little dinghy already offers a rather soggy ride with just Tadd and I and a jerry can of water… so adding 4 more people… wasn’t going to happen. So, having seen all the local tour boats just pull up to the ferry dock, we though what the…

Ferry dock in Cozumel

As you can imagine the officials were not having any of it…. Waving us off…. No can’t come in…. well, until, that is money was mentioned. It worked out damn cheap. They had to pay the price of a ferry ticket (we think) which was a whopping $1… and bob’s your uncle… all the courtesy in the world… they helped us tie up… help us head off… and when we got back from a couple of hours of fantastic sailing (gusting to 18kts and running at a top speed of over 7kts with the current) the guy came running over to grab our lines – I thought he was going to be a new guy rushing to tell us we couldn’t be there!

After a couple of evenings with everyone, and some other friends of Tammie and Dad – Jan and Leo… we came over early and cleared out Terri & John’s kitchen, fridge and drinking water supply and saw them off.

The rest of the day was just preparing to leave (oh and getting my shoes stolen from the cooler in the dinghy…. Was that the drunken fishermen spiting us for not tipping them for their useless drunken dinghy security on the beach??)…

Cozumel Steaks

and a huge steak for dinner (we did save the other one for later!!)So just as the last few bars of salsa were fading into the breeze of the pre-dawn morning from the nearby disco… we upped anchor around 4 am and set sail back towards the Mayan town of Tulum.