Thursday, March 31, 2011

Snorkling in Belize

Rauguana Caye in the Coral Reefs of Belize

Yesterday was lovely. We stayed moored off Rauguana Caye for another day, partly because it was a lovely spot, partly because the mooring buoy was good which allowed Bruce and Ryan to sleep at night, and partly because the tiny little island protected us from the wind.

We swam,

we snorkeled,

explored the island again,

had dance lessons,

and watched a lot of other boats come in.

I attempted to shoot more birds, but ended up deleting about one hundred pictures of just sky, or just water, or with a blurred wing. Just these three pitiful shots remained. All my shipmates began pointing out birds at the last minute just to watch me fumble with my camera and miss the shot.

We did our best to avoid Nelson and his video camera. We played Uno and took naps. Becky and Nelson did the cooking, as usual, and the rest of us took turns doing the clean-up.

I admit, I wanted to go to bed by 7:15pm. It is because I didn't take a nap, okay? And it was dark out. Really, really dark. And I was tired. I'd spent a good deal of the day dangling my feet in the water and that takes a lot out of a person. But I promised myself before the trip that I wouldn't fall asleep before 8pm, like on the last trip.

For forty-five minutes I sat in the salon, forcing my eyes open. Shipmates came and went, peering at me and asking, "How much longer?"

I'd look at my watch. "Another thirty-five minutes."

They'd nod and walk toward the door leading out to the cockpit, only to turn around. "You know, it is okay if you go now."

"No, I'm not going to bed before eight. I'm a grown-up."

A long time later, another shipmate would come in to get some ice, or a bag of chips. "How much longer?"

I'd look at my watch. "Another thirty-two minutes."

"We have discussed it and we won't tell anyone if you can't make it until eight."

"Nope," I'd shake my head. "I can do this, dang it."

At five minutes to eight, I decided it would be fine to go below and just get ready for bed. No harm in that, right? As long as I didn't get into it.

At 8:00, straight-up, I crawled into the bunk and at 8:01PM, I was asleep.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sailing to Rauguana Caye


We’ve stopped using the days of the week. Today is Pina Colada day. We don’t drink during the day. We could, if we wanted, but Captain Bruce won’t allow anyone who has been drinking to help crew. No one wants to miss out on anything having to do with sailing, so the alcohol stays in its bottle until we’re anchored for the night. But that doesn't stop us from planning the drink of the night. The blender is ready.

Today the seas are calm compared to the last two days. We haul up the main and set the genoa and head to Rauguana Caye, where we’ll be protected from more northerly winds. Black, boiling clouds line the horizon as we approach the caye.

“Prepare to get wet,” Bruce shouts. “Batten the hatches.”

The crew scatters, rushing below to check our cabin hatches and battening all the ones in the salon. The wind howls and rain pelts our decks. We furl the sails and the big diesel engine rumbles to life. Rauguana Caye is ahead and we glide into the shelter of the island and the reefs extending out on either side.

We’d heard from Moorings that most of the mooring buoys are not maintained, so we anchor near one and Bruce and Ryan jump in the dinghy and motor to the island. A short time later they return, cheerful and smiling. The mooring buoys at Rauguana are good. We raise the anchors and tie off to one, just as another boat snatches the other.

Some of the crew scrambles into the dinghy and races to the island, finding shells, a dog who digs up crabs, a cabana boy for Winnie, (who has talked about obtaining one for three months before the trip). I did not see him and I suspect he was the bartender at the little island bar, but just what makes up a cabana boy is so subjective.

Back at the catamaran, Dennis and Nelson lower themselves into the salty water for a swim. Moments later Nelson leaps from the water onto the deck, flapping like a fish. “Something touched my leg,” he pants.
I’m pretty sure it was a barracuda or a whale shark, or maybe a stingray. Nelson decides to stay on board and soon the whir of the blender signals the start of Pina Colada night.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pelican Caye in Belize

Bruce got out the maps and charts and the book on Belize. He charted out a course, altering our original itinerary. “Okay, everyone, listen. After last night, I think it would be good to change our plans and head to Pelican Caye. It will be protected from the Northerly.”

We nodded our heads with the exception of Winnie and Sheila, who still sat in a corner, nursing their seasickness. Although I hadn’t been ill, it was exhausting trying to stay still on the bed when the boat tried its hardest to toss me across the mattress.

We stowed the breakfast dishes and weighed anchor(s), motoring north, through 20 to 26 knot winds. We rode up swells and down troughs, up more swells. It was like an “E” ride at Disneyland. I sat in the bow, spreading my arms wide, enjoying the up and down motion like a carousel ride. The sun peeked out of the cloud-dotted sky. The brilliant blue of the water would change with the depth and there were times we’d see a dark spot and think it was a coral reef trying to lure us to scuttle the boat. We’d veer to starboard or port, only to realize it was a cloud shadow.

We were the first to put in to Pelican Caye. We dropped the main anchor and then sent Nelson and Ryan out in the dinghy with the secondary anchor.

While some of the crew jumped into the dinghy to go explore the island, I sat on the deck of the bow and shot birds. Well, I attempted to shoot birds. Mostly all I got were pictures of the sky, of the sparkling waters of the Caribbean, of the coconut palms, but very few birds stuck around long enough for the delayed reaction of the digital shutter. Sometimes there’d be a wing in the corner, or a head at the bottom. Sometimes there’d just be a blur. Besides the movement of the birds, the vessel continued a gentle rocking and the more I zoomed in on my targets, the more the rocking mattered.

Another catamaran glided in, flying the flapping banners of sickness in the form of bed sheets. They had even hauled up the mattress and tied it on deck. Unfortunately, a gust of wind sent if flying into the water and they had to jump in their dinghy and fish it out.

A man paddled his kayak out from a nearby caye and invited us to have drinks at his little bar. We declined. He chatted with Bruce for a while. “Where’d you spend last night during the Northerly?”

“Whipray Caye,” Bruce answered.

His eyes widened. “Well, I guess you got pretty beat-up.”

“Yeah, that’s why we’re here tonight.”

The man scanned the sky. “We’re in the lull. It should be pretty good tonight and tomorrow, but the northerly should hit again the next night,” he advised.

Black clouds gathered overhead, but a rainbow cheered us. When everyone returned to the boat, the bar on board opened. It was rum and Coke night. Becky and Nelson made lasagna, warmed bread and tossed a salad.

Nelson, Bruce and Dennis jumped off the stern and swam, but the water was still a little rough and they climbed back aboard, washed their hair in the stern shower and settled in to a warm, 86 degree evening. Below, and in the salon, the air conditioner kicked in to make sleeping more like the Pacific Northwest. Even a downpour in the middle of the night felt like home, except Dennis left his hatch open and got soaked. Tsk, tsk. Honestly, these lubbers don’t know to close the hatch for those sudden, middle-of-the-night downpours?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Drinking Rum with a Pirate

Whipray Caye
Belize 2011

We dumped our bags in our rooms and rushed out to sit in beach chairs, listening to the gentle lapping of water, the rustling of coconut palms and birds chirping.

Before long my cabin mate, Sandra, and I headed to the open air bar and were introduced to Panty Rippers; a drink made with pineapple juice and coconut rum. The rest of the women joined in while the men swam in the pool.

Being up about 36 hours, I struggled to stay awake through a dinner of curry shrimp, white rice and tequila lime pie. I fell into bed immediately after dinner and slept like a vampire in a coffin.

Today, I exited the room and pulled the door shut behind me. When I turned, a beautiful yellow bird the size of a robin chirped on a bush. My hand sneaked up to my camera case, but there was no case. I’d left it in the room. By the time I returned, the empty branches waved in a light shore breeze.

Some of the group headed into town to buy fresh vegetables and fruit while Bruce and Ryan walked over to Moorings to attend the captain’s meeting. The rest of the food and drink were provided by Moorings. We met back at the hotel and hauled our suitcases out to the parking lot. A driver for the Laru Beya Resort jammed them all into the back of a van and carted us over to Moorings where Bruce and Ryan were already aboard the Bonac Witch II, making a boat inspection. The Moorings staff threw the cases onto the deck of the 46 foot catamaran, and helped us board.

“Where are you heading?” one of the Moorings employees asked.

“We’re going to anchor off Whipray,” Bruce said.

The man raised an eyebrow. “There’s a northerly coming.”

Bruce glanced over the map and furrowed his brow. “Yes, I heard that, but we’ve got reservations for a private dinner with Beverly Cabral on Whipray Caye. She’s already begun baking the bread. Julian Cabral is out fishing for our dinner right now. We can’t disappoint them.”

“Hummm, I guess not.” The man leaned his head back and studied the sky. “It should make for an interesting night.”

We’d heard stories of Julian and Beverly Cabral in the short time we’d been in Belize. “A pirate,” they’d said about Julian. “A sweet woman,” they’d said about Beverly. I’d already decided Julian had captured Beverly off the decks of a ship he raided, and the colorful stories only added to that idea.

We motored out of the harbor and the waves were choppy, heading straight into 15 to 20 knot winds which kicked up small whitecaps. We pitched and dipped the eleven miles north to Whipray. Off to starboard, dark grey clouds showed jagged lines of lightning and rolling claps of thunder scattered across the Caribbean. I sat on the bow, watching for shallow water and debris and anything that might indicate we’d run aground in the shallow waters of the coral reefs. By the time we got to Whipray Caye, the wind blew hard and the cat rocked and pitched. We dropped the main anchor and then took the secondary anchor out in the dinghy, tossing it over the side a distance from the main.

Bruce and Ryan motored toward the dock in the dinghy, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves. Luckily we knew where the One Barrel Rum was stored. We splashed some into glasses, along with ice and a touch of Coca Cola, and ripped open a bag of pretzels. By the time Captain Bruce and First Mate Ryan came back, we were hungry and looking forward to dinner with a pirate.

We rode to shore in the dinghy in three trips and trudged up to the open air room, with a wooden floor, thatched roof and horseshoe bar. The menu consisted of scrumtious snapper, grooper, shrimp, salad, coconut rice, homemade bread, a chutney sauce to die for, followed by a chocolate cake made from scratch with a chocolate fudge frosting. I noticed Sandra kept very still, didn’t talk much and didn’t eat much of her dinner. I was afraid the eleven miles through rolling whitecaps had made her feel sick.

After dinner, we sat around the bar listening to Julian tell tails of his ancestors, the Portuguese Cabral pirates, who hid in Belize in the 1600s and filled the islands with their off spring. Bruce told him I’d written a book called The Pirates’ Reckoning and his face broke into a brigand’s smile.

“Well, then, here,” he said as he held out a shot glass with a picture of a pirate on it and the word “Belize” under the pirate. “You must have this as a gift from a pirate.”

Touched, I closed my fingers around it and tilted my head. “I’d love this, thank you.” I shot him a grin and added, “But I’d love it more if it were filled with rum.”

He laughed, snatched the glass away and returned it brimmed with One Barrel rum. I don't think I've ever had rum straight up, but, hey, I was drinking with a pirate. I held up my glass to him, then took a sip. It burned like a pirate's bonfire, causing my eyes to water. Strong stuff, that One Barrel. Julian lifted his glass and took a swig, not showing any signs of distress.

About nine o’clock we trudged over the white shell pathway and piled into the dinghy and Julian’s launch and headed back to the Bonac Witch. The winds had picked up and strong gusts rocked the cat. Lightning flashed around us and thunder rumbled over the wind. I drew in a bracing breath of clean, salt air. The pitching and rocking made it hard to keep my rum and Coke from spilling.

Sandra valiantly tried to brave the storm, but her seasickness got the better of her and she staggered below to the port, aft cabin. Deciding to check on her, I followed her below a short time later and found her sprawled on her side of the bed, a greenish cast to her skin. She groaned.

I went topside. “Sandra is sick. Does anyone have a seasickness pill?”

Winnie jumped up and tottered below, returning with a chewable pill and some saltines from the galley. Bruce held up his hands. “Okay, the worst thing you can do on a boat is to stop up the toilet. Tell her, if she has to throw up, use the wastebasket or a plastic bag.” He reached into a cupboard and pulled out a small, clear plastic bag. The thought of vomiting into it and then having to see it in the bag nearly made me retch. I almost didn’t want to give it to Sandra.

Below, I explained about the bag and the trashcan. She stared at me, her eyes glassy, took the pill and flopped back on the bed. By now it was about 10PM and the boat rocked in earnest. I slunk onto my side of the bed, ready to make a run for the wastebasket, but I felt fine. I checked the outlet to see if it worked for my CPAP. Nothing.

I climbed up the ladder and opened the door to the cockpit. “My outlet isn’t working.”

Bruce rocketed to his feet as I opened the door. His eyes cut to mine for a moment, not really seeing me, then he jogged along the side of the boat toward the bow. Nelson, scrambled along the other side, and Ryan was no where to be seen, but I suspect he was at the helm.

My gaze traveled to Winnie, Becky and Sheila and my eyebrows shot up.

“Oh, there’s all sorts of things going on,” Winnie said. “We’re dragging anchor.”

“Winds are 30 to 40 knots,” Becky added.

“We’re surrounded by coral reefs,” Sheila whispered.

I went below, hoisted myself onto the bed and pretended we weren’t in danger of running aground. Sandra didn’t need to worry about that in her condition.

Feet pounded overhead, shouts rose above the howls of the wind. Waves slapped the hulls. The Bonac Witch lifted on a roller and cracked down with a thud. Flashes of white light zigzagged on all sides, lighting up the hatch windows. I braced so I wouldn’t roll into Sandra and thought about the clear, plastic bag. When I heard Sandra’s heavy breathing, I climbed up on deck. Bruce and Ryan each held a GPS, showing the movement of the boat. They talked about anchor watches, but I knew Bruce wouldn’t sleep. I offered to take a watch and told him to come get me whenever he needed a break, but I don’t think he took it seriously.

Sheila, who had been below, came up on deck holding a wastebasket. “Um, I’m very sorry, but I got sick. I was fine until I went below and went into the head.”

Bruce leaped to his feet, dumped the contents over the side, used the deck shower to rinse it out and handed it back.

Winnie groaned. “I’m fine, but now I’m afraid to go below.” Becky stretched out on a cockpit bench and rested her head on her arm. Dennis was already below, and reports were that he was sound asleep.

I returned to my cabin and climbed into the bunk, falling into a restless, rolling sleep. A short time later the sky dumped a deluge of rain, most of which seemed to find its way into the hatch above my head. Within moments my pillow was soaked. I groped my way up to batten it down, falling to port, then starboard, nearly crushing Sandra. I heaved my way back to my side and rode out the night.

In the morning, sun peeked through the swirling gray clouds. Winnie clutched her stomach and looked pale. The storm had driven Becky and her below when the rain slammed into the deck. Once below, she made use of the wastebasket several times, bringing it topside to dump it between bouts of sickness.

Sheila groaned and wanted a dry piece of toast. Sandra felt fine. The rest of us looked bleary-eyed from weathering the rolling vessel.

It was fabulous.

I can’t wait to see what happens now.