Monday, April 29, 2013

Bareboat Charter - 7 days in Belize!

Greeting from beautiful Belize!  We are on a 7 day bare boat charter with 6 crew from the Bay Area.  We arrived at the Sunsail Base in Placencia on Sunday afternoon.  After a 3 hour shuttle ride and provisioning in Placencia, we were ready to board the boat.  She is a 38 foot cat with all the amenities.  After loading the boat and getting settled were were all very tired after a long red eye flight from California.  Sleep came quickly and we all rested comfortably.

Monday morning we had a few boat issues to sort out with the biggest being the oven/stove.  A very nice gentleman came out and replaced the solenoid which had failed.  Next we were off to the chart briefing.  The pictures of the cays we would be visiting got us excited and ready to hit the water.  At 11:30 we shoved off for our first stop at Wippari Cay.  It was a 3 hour motor and we were feeling groovy.  We snagged the mooring ball and everyone jump into the Belizian water for the first time.  Temp was about 85 and perfect.  I went for a long swim towards the island and loved it.  Back to the boat for some hammock time in the bow and then I prepared dinner for the crew with prep help from Ali.  The pasta primavera was great as was the red wine.  We finished the night on the trampoline talking and listening to some great tunes.  A dip before revealed phosphorescence in the water, which I love as it looks like fireflies in the water, same color too.

Ed. note:  the pronunciation of cay is key.

After some coffee and more swimming, we are now headed to South Water Cay on a broad reach at about 5 knots in some mellow winds!  We continued our beautiful sail thru lunch.  We had a great auto pilot and once we set our course in the 15-18 knot winds, it was a dream.  The boat held the course and off we went at 5-6 knots.  I turned the helm over to Wayne and went below for a glorious 1 hour nap.  Our destination is South Water Cay (pronounced key).  A question came up what is the difference between a cay and an island.  Our skipper answered that a cay is built up from the reefs and is mostly coral.  We anchored about 3 and put out two anchors just in case.  Soon we were on our way to the island and looking for ice and cold beer.  We found the beer but they were out of ice.  Had a nice conversation with the bartender and I felt the warmth of the Belizean people.    After a few, we headed back for dinner. A refuge official came by to collect fees for anchoring.  He asked if we needed anything and we told him ice.  He took off to find some for us and in a short time he was back with a bucket full.   He said he would give us more but he needed the ice to preserve evidence for a trial against poachers.  They illegally obtained a large amount of conch and were going to be fined a hefty amount.  We said goodbye and proceeded with a grilled chicken dinner and great conversation.  Later I hooked in my iPad to the sound system and we watched the delightful Life of Pi.  I was definitely moved.

After a great nights sleep and some weird dreams, we prepared for our first of two dives.  Our first dive will be with Avadon Divers.  They are rendezvousing with us at our boat. At a bit after 0930 they arrived.  We jumped on board for our 3 tank dive.  They were about 15 folks already on board and anxious to dive.  My first dive was a check out dive as I had not been diving since 2008 in the BVI's.  There were 5 of us assigned with dive master Arthur.  We went over the basics and then set off for a 15 foot dive thru the reef.  Lobster, octopus, tarpon and lots of reef fish.  Along the way a spotted eagle ray came into view.  Beautiful, easy dive and then we waited for the boat to pick us up.  On our second dive, I was assigned to Moses.  We were headed down on the second largest reef in the world, the Meso American Reef.  We descended to 60' feet and glided slowly above the shoulder of the reef.  The nice thing about our dive master was how slow he went.  Many of the dives I have been on have felt rushed and too fast.  Mo was sloow.  I loved it. Half way thru, I noticed that when I took a breath, the flow of air would cut off towards the end of my breath.  That's frightening.  I got Mo's attention and we buddy breathed for about 15 mins.  He motioned for me to go back to my reg and I shook my head no and handed him my reg.  He then noticed that my tank was only half open.  He adjusted the valve and I was good to go.  We finished the dive with a 3 minute safety stop which is SOP.  After lunch we headed out once more. I added some more weight and the last dive was the most comfortable and relaxed of the three.  We had an excellent dive and we saw tons of reef fish and several lobster.  Great dives and we will see the same group on a different part of the ref on Saturday.  Back on the boat for some napping, swimming and cold beer.  At 1830, we departed for dinner ashore.  The Blue Marlin lodge has some friendly staff and a nice dock to hang out on.  After a shrimp dinner and some red wine, John and I played a game of the pool.  It was one of my poorest showing ever but we had some laughs.  Back at the boat, the conversation continued about favorite bands, concerts and songs.  We ended with a long talk about the Beatles.  I was asked my favorite 2 songs by them, that's easy: Mother Natures Son and Blackbird.  Ali mentioned Dear Prudence.  I mentioned that I knew who they were singing about.  They were going thru there Ravi phase and visiting the Maharajah in India and they ran into Mia Farrow and her sister.  Prudence was cute but shy and the song was about her not joining in on the fun.  You just never know where this blog is going to take you!

Didn't sleep so well and in the middle of the night a box fell that woke everyone up.  No big deal and I dropped into a dream sleep of wars, delivering furniture and more. Gorgeous morning of coffee and my specialty of blueberry pancakes.  We take off in a couple mins for Pelican Cay.  Had a great sail out of the cay and to the south heading at 5-6 knots down the channel with the wind hovering at 15-18 knots.  A beautiful sail indeed! When I first considered cruising Belize, i heard about the skinny water and that cats were recommended. Now that I have sailed here, I realize that there are also some major portions with plenty of depth. There are some very shallow areas but they are not as prevalent as I was lead to believe.  We had to access the anchorage from the south and then head north.  We wound thru the cays and then found the Hide Away anchorage.  We swam over to nearby reef that was no too exciting but ok.  Then we headed out on the dink for a look around the anchorage.  We saw a dock with a sign on it and headed a short ways.  We were greeted by the owner Dustin.  He welcomed us to his island in paradise.  We headed upstairs thru the swamp that makes up most of the low lying cays in the area.  He had built board walks all through the cay to get to the bar/restaurant, home, guest house and dock.  We ordered a round of margaritas and shortly were toasting to our new found friends, Dustin and Kim and their 6 mos. baby girl, Ama.

Dustin our host.

He and his wife had bought the island 5 years hence.  They toiled and brought every piece of lumber and nails from the mainland an hour away.  They had built it using local woods and help from the Mennonites.  Two years later they had their first customers just as they ran out of money. Beers were served to some young Belgian women and set them on a course of opening a restaurant and a guest cottage.  They get a steady stream of customers during the 6 month cruising season from Nov.-May.  We made a reservation for 7 and noticed the boat had dragged a bit.  We repositioned closer to the mangroves as another Moorings boat settled in next to us.  We also dropped the secondary anchor just to be safe.  I settled into the hammock for a nap and a beer.

We arrived promptly at 7 and our host was waiting to tie up our line.  Dinner was waiting and served shortly after opening the wine.  The dinner was fresh conk, snapper, rice and a squash mix.  Our desert was made by our crewmember/chef de cuisine, Ali.  She did a wonderful job of prepping, cooking, helping in the galley.  She served a banana, chocolate chip bread pudding.  Delicious!  Dustin and Kim sat near us and continued their amazing life story.  During hurricane season, they head to FLA and work in the fishing/hospitality industry.  They also have a nice sail boat called Naked Tyme.  Dustin was familiar with our boat named Liberty Dream 2 out of Nice, France.  The meal was amazing and we had a great playlist (thanks Ali) on the Bose speaker that I had brought along.  What a great evening and we all enjoyed bringing another fun couple into the mix.  One of their big concerns of the recent arrival of cruise ships in the area.   Belize is just starting to hit it's tourist stride and tourism is it's largest industry.  We finished the night and headed back to the yacht.  After a nightcap in the bow, we headed for our bunks.

In the morning, we headed out for a short snorkel and then pulled up anchor.  I was also able to find a shackle for our main halyard from the Moorings boat next door.  I accidentally dropped the previous shackle in the drink.  We took off for a wonderful sail on a broad reach on our way to Hatchet Cay.  The winds blow 15-18 every day and the sailing is easy and fun.

What a great sail!  We arrived at the lovely resort island about 1500.  We jumped in the dink and headed over.  We met some folks getting off a boat that had just returned from a whale shark dive.  Apparently, they feed during the full moon.  How many did they see?  None.  Bummer.  We had tried to sign up for the whale dive but they were all full.  We hit the bar for a cold one and some WIFI.  I asked several folks where  they were from and everyone said Calgary.  We headed back to the boat and took off for a short snorkel into a beautiful coral garden.  Some nice fish in places.  For dinner we had a nice dish that Ali and Shelly prepared.  The Thai Curry was amazing.  The moon rise was great and we enjoyed the hammock in the foredeck with some great tunes and talked about the formation of the moon.  The popular theory is that a huge asteroid hit the earth as it was forming and the debris eventually coalesced into the moon over ions of time.  It was a windy, gorgeous night and it was difficult to leave the deck for bed.

 Ali and Shelly

On our last day, Saturday, we are heading out to the reef for a two tank dive.  The dive boat arrived and we took off for the first dive.  We jumped in and went down to 60 feet.  The dive was ok but the highlight came when we surfaced.  A pod of dolphins was right below the boat and close.  There were 20 or more hanging out for 5-8 minutes.  Wow.  During our stop, a very large turtle came by.  I was hoping to see one.  The second dive started with my reg going nuts on the surface.  Air was flowing freely and I lost 1000 lbs.  Because of this my dive was very short.  As I waited for the rest of my crewmates, a downpour of rain hit us.  We headed back to our boat for a 2 hour motor back to Whiperay Cay.  Dinner is coming up in our last anchorage.
Shelly and Ali did another boat cooking masterpiece:  Crab enchiladas!  We had a great evening of conversation and where the next charter would be?  We discussed a future trip to the Grenadines.  I have had several friends cruise there and they had nothing but great reviews.  Wayne gave it a hearty endorsement as well.  It rained overnight with several showers.

I went for my morning swim and a Remora fish was trying to parasite on me.  I had to keep brushing him off me.  We headed to the Sunsail base and soon were on our way to the airport.

We had a devil of a time with the fridge and it would not keep our food cold.  The gals did a lot of unneeded work and were none too happy.  On the plus side, Belize is a beautiful cruising ground.  There were only a few other boats and tons of fish and wildlife.  Navigating the waters takes great care as there are dangers in the reefs.  We were very fortunate to have Wayne as our Skipper as he has tons of experience and is a sailing instructor as well.  Thank-you Wayne for being a great skipper and friend! A very memorable trip and I hope to return and hit the north side of the reef.  Our adventure was unbelizable!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Departing for our bareboat charter - Belize!

On Saturday we will take off for a 7 day trip in Belize.  Our crew of 6 will sail on a 38 ft cat out of Placencia.  5 of the 6 are looking forward to some great scuba.  My friend Wayne will be the skipper as he is a skilled instructor and has chartered around the world.  It's great as it will give me time to relax and enjoy.  I will be keeping a log and will post it to this blog upon our return to California on the 29th of April.  I have been trying to get to this reef system for a couple years and now the wait is over.  In case you don't know this, the reef we will be diving on is the second largest barrier reef in the world.  Can you name the first?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

California's Most Beautiful Lake

Over the last 33 years of living in California, I have been to Lake Tahoe over 60 times for skiing, boating, family fun, visiting my best friend from childhood, and I have biked around the 72 mile circumference.  It does not get much more beautiful than this.  It is at an elevation of 6200 feet and is over 1500 feet deep.  I can tell you from experience that it is very cold for swimming, even in summer.  The Flume Trail on the east side is mountain bike nirvana and I have biked the trail a half a dozen times.  It is considered the most beautiful mountain bike trail in the west. (although it can be dangerous in spots as 1000' cliffs abound).  The skiing in the area resorts is amazing and I have had the best skiing days of my life here.  If you have never been, please add a trip to the lake to your bucket list. Behold the majesty of the heavenly body of water!

Tahoe Blue from Josh Michaels on Vimeo.
Full screen me please!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Best Speech You've Never Heard

In this 70 year old comedy, Charlie Chaplin plays the role of a poor Jewish barber mistaken for Adolph Hitler. This is a speech Charlie gives at the end of the movie that seems like it fits pretty well with the events of the world today.  The movie is called The Great Dictator.

One Of The Greatest Speeches Ever Made - Watch More Funny Videos

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bonehead Move of the Week

We depart in about a week for our sail charter/SCUBA adventure in Belize.  Really looking forward to warm water and cold beverages.