Belize Adventure: Sailing

I’m finally getting to write about part 2 of our Belize adventure. (Kelly writing here just in case you were wondering.) If you are interested in hearing about the start of the trip, more about why we chose Belize, and an overview of our 11 days, you can find the first post here. The main goal in coming to Belize was to spend time on the reef so having the opportunity to do a bareboat charter on a sailboat was perfect for seeing what we wanted to see and interacting with the second largest natural reef in the world. It was an absolutely amazing adventure. It definitely had its difficulties, but overall none of us would trade the time at sea because of so many unforgettable memories. Day 3-8 of our trip were spent at least partially on the water. We went through the Moorings Charter Company for our sail, and our boat was the Beneteau 38.2 monohull named HELM OVER HEELS.

June 4, Tuesday: Debrief and checkout by Moorings; overnight in Placencia Harbor.

June 5, Wednesday: Took off at sunrise (4:45), Made Lark Caye by around 6 am for snorkeling, Moho Caye for more snorkeling and relaxing, anchor at Lagoon Caye for the night by 4 pm.

June 6, Thursday: Sailed for Ray Caye. Saw dolphins on the way. Mooring at Ray Caye for the night.

June 7, Friday: From Ray Caye took a guided trip to Gladden Spit Marine Preserve. Stayed another night at Ray Caye.

June 8, Saturday: Took off for Ranguana Caye in the morning, Spent the day there and sailed to Placencia Harbor for our last night on the boat.

June 9, Sunday: Returned to the Moorings harbor, and continued our vacation by heading out of Placencia to the Belize rainforest in a rental SUV.

We didn’t get too far on the first day of our sailing trip. The debrief and checkout with Moorings took much longer then expected mainly because this was our first charter. There is a pretty heavy vetting process. Belize does have very challenging sailing conditions due to the extensive barrier reef (which is visible from space by the way.) Mark had just come off of a pretty intense week of sailing in Milwaukee on Lake Michigan getting his certification to teach from US Sailing. He had the advantage of having spent a lot of time in the water leading up to this trip; however, Belize did present a lot of unique challenges that were new to us as having only sailed in the Great Lakes. That first day was pretty exhausting for him mentally because of so much to take in and still being pretty tired from traveling.

In Belize, Moorings requires that you be at anchor by 4:00 pm. The sun sets at just after 6 this time of year there so it gets hard to see the shallow areas and reef, the closer it gets to sunset as you head West. I thought this seemed strange at first since sunset sails are our favorite at home, but I did understand after our trip the difficulty in seeing the reef when the sun was low. By the way, if you damage the reef its a hefty fine and possible jail time.

Our first night at sail, we anchored in Placencia harbor and enjoyed a delicious dinner on deck of jerk chicken tacos, homemade salsa, and lots of fresh fruit. Sydney concocted some yummy fruity drinks for us while Riley and Mark planned our itinerary based on what wildlife that she was hoping to see. The girls and Mark went on a dinghy ride to the lagoon close to sunset, and they saw an eagle ray and held a starfish which was a good preview of what was to come. They were thrilled seeing that first eagle ray.

Our first night of sleeping was rough. The boat has no air-conditioning off of shore power, and that first night in the harbor was HOT and HUMID! After all…Wisconsin girl here! There are plenty of fans on board, but they weren’t cutting it that first night. I quickly realized that sleeping in the v-berth (front bedroom) was a no go for me, but meanwhile Mark had no trouble passing out. I eventually wound up attempting to sleep on deck just hoping morning would come quickly. Luckily the first glimpses of daylight come around 4:20 am. I’ll be honest, that first night I had a little private panic attack that there was no way I was going to survive 5 nights at sea in this weather. The girls too had a rough night of sleeping. This part of the trip got better for us all thankfully. All the subsequent nights, Sydney slept on deck. Riley stayed in the cabin that they had been sharing. Mark kept the v-berth, and I made the salon table into a bed and slept there where there was a better breeze and fans. Plus, out at sea away from the harbor, temps and humidity dropped to be more manageable at night.

Our second day at sea was a busy one. We took off before sunrise, and headed to Lark Caye. It was a mangrove island with some awesome snorkeling. The variety of sea life and beauty under the surface is mind-blowing. We spent around two hours exploring Lark, and then headed to Moho Caye pictured below. Moho was island paradise. The beach was one of the best of the trip. There is amazing snorkeling around the island. We spent a ton of time snorkeling here, and definitely got the sunburn to show for it. (Word from the unwise to the wise, always wear sun protective shirts snorkeling, because sun screen does not work.) The island was beautiful and we even got to try some coconuts. For five BZ dollars, the worker got some off the tree and opened them for us. All in all, we were moored at Moho Caye for a few hours, and then we headed northwest for our anchorage at Lagoon Caye.

Lagoon Caye was our destination for our second night on the water. This unusually shaped island is a favorite hangout spot for manatees so we all got up at 4:30 am and headed out in the dinghy in search. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful although we did see something in the distance that may have been one, but no good looks. It was good motivation to get an early start and get moving early to our next destination.

At sail, there was a lot of dozing off by me and the girls expect when we were needed at lookout on deck watching for reefs and depth. One such time, we were all kind of dozing, and Mark saw a flash come up beside the boat. He yelled dolphin, and we totally didn’t believe him. He persisted, and we all quickly got more alert when we saw a few in the distance. One swam under our boat again, and then we chased a group of them for probably an hour, losing sight of them, and then finding them. It was so fun, and definitely a highlight of the trip for all of us. We could not have done this in a tour situation. So the freedom of being in charge of where you go and how long you stay is really a huge advantage of chartering.

After the dolphin chasing, we made our way to Ray Caye which was a little oasis in the sea. Do you see those happy faces below?! Ray Caye was just the coolest island resort, and it provided a great break from the sun and salt water that at this point the girls needed. We were tired and burnt. Mooring at Ray Caye for the night costs $15 US, but for that minimal fee, you can use a lot of the island amenities. We enjoyed the pool which had some shade. Their restaurant, the Lionfish Grill, was amazing. The girls were happy to order chocolate shakes and smoothies and drink them in the pool if they wanted. And after cooking on the boat for a few days, I was happy to be ordering off the menu as well. We loved the island’s efforts to be sustainable. Nothing goes to waste here. On this tiny island, they have a desalination plant, solar power, and they grow the majority of their vegetables and herbs in their greenhouse. From the island, you can enjoy some great fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, and snorkeling. The island has a long pier perfect for jumping (you can see Sydney mid-air below), hammock swinging, or just looking for sea life. At night, they light the pier with blue lights and eagle rays and other fish come around the pier to swim. We saw 20-30 rays at night and watching them swim in the light was completely mesmerizing. We loved Ray Caye so much that we ended up mooring for 2 nights there. The staff and island completely exceeded our expectations.

On our second day at Ray Caye, we took a guided trip to the reserve. You can not go in the reserve without a guide. If you go to Belize, this is a must do! Snorkeling right off the boat, you get to swim with nurse sharks, rays, and usually sea turtles. The local fisherman come in from the ocean and clean their catch around Silk Caye, and so there is always marine life hanging around for table scraps. Let me tell you, jumping into the water off the boat with sharks swimming all around it is a bit unnerving. But we did it, and I am so glad we did. What a cool experience! They swim right under you, and you are definitely close enough to reach out and touch them. The sharks love the shade of the boat, and they literally will come under the boat and just chill in the shade.

Our last full day on the water, we headed to Ranguana Caye. This was Mark’s favorite island, and he wishes we had gotten to spend more time there. It is much more rustic than Ray Caye, but this island is known for its Bonefish opportunities on the fly rod which was one of the things Mark was excited to do. We did fish off the boat, but the gear we rented was pretty poor, so it was very limited. (We did watch barracuda and a shark literally come and bite this little fish on his line off! But the fishing off the sailboat was nothing like on Ranguana.) This island is also a great place to see nurse sharks in the sea grass beds off the island. Mark saw a lot when he was out fishing around the island. While Mark was out, Sydney and I did some snorkeling and swimming, and Riley hunted the island for crabs…she found 61…yes, she counted every single one. There is also a 3′ iguana on the island, but it remained elusive.

After Ranguana Caye, it was time to head back to the Moorings base Sunday morning. We had to have our stuff cleared off the boat and checked out by noon on Sunday, and then we were off to spend some time seeing inland Belize especially the rainforest. I’m hoping to do one last post sharing this last part of our trip which turned out to be even better then we were anticipating.