Belize - Sailing SolitudeBy Mark Stevens

We’ve just weighed anchor off Thatch Caye, a tiny island nuzzled by Caribbean waters flowing between the world’s second longest barrier reef and the mountainous coast of Belize to our west, and now we’re navigating a serpentine course through a crowded congregation of coral heads.

Once safely in deep water we raise sail. I spin the wheel of “Kavok” (a Lagoon 421 catamaran we’ve booked for our weeklong Belize bareboat adventure from Dream Yacht Charter) until we’re pointed south – steady on a lazy beam reach.

Dream Yacht ChartersGetting boat and crew ready ofr our adventure at the Dream Yacht Charter base in Belize.

Ten knots of wind. Boat speed a leisurely five. It’s the fourth morning of our charter and winter is a world away.

Waters are flat, neon green and aquamarine, royal blue outside the white collar of water that marks the reef off our port beam.

My wife and our friend, Kim North, lounge on “Kavok’s” trapeze as we glide past one island, two islands, five islands. They do lookout duty to keep us free from the plethora of coral heads that can make chartering here as tricky as it is appealing.

Kim’s husband Ed sits topside with me. He periodically indicates the chart-plotter and shakes his head. “Incomplete survey,” he says. “Incomplete survey.”

Two hours in our wives call out. There’s a sailboat off our starboard bow. It’s the first boat we’ve seen since leaving Thatch.

Ed disappears below, reappearing with sweating Belikin beers. “Calls for a celebration.”

“Welcome,” says Kim, “to solitude.”

She’s not wrong.

Sailing Belize is synonymous with sailing solitude.

Back in Placencia during the chart briefing on our first afternoon, Pacôme Touzé had laughed when I asked him about crowding in the anchorages.

“Seven boats in our fleet,” said the Dream Yacht Charter base manager. “Four hundred fifty cayes. Crowding is not an issue.”

He then sketched out a sample itinerary, variation on the Dream Yacht Charter version we’d been studying for weeks back in Canada.

“Do Lagoon Caye,” he suggested. “Check out South Water. Ranguana is one of my favourites.”

His advice was both comprehensive and helpful, though we ultimately modified it.

Sometimes the journey itself wins out over the destination.

Happy Hour
A Whole Meaning to Happy Hour

Consider our next waypoint after leaving Thatch. Midafternoon we pull into Pelican and lash “Kavok” to one of the only mooring buoys we’ve seen all week. We swing and bob in a blue hole sheltered by mangrove islets. Dustin and Kim Ingersoll, co-proprietors of nearby Hideaway Restaurant, maintain the two buoys located here for their patrons.
Tonight Ed and Kim, along with my wife Sharon and I, are patrons. Dustin’s wife prepares the catch of the day in the great open-air dining room; Dustin updates us on the appeal of nearby snorkel spots.

Next morning we explore a couple of those places in the dinghy. When we experience the best snorkeling I’ve ever done we re-assess our float plan: hidden gems like this are priceless perks of sailing in solitude.

That unspoiled – almost primal – sense of solitude is a Belize charter leitmotif.

Before we’d even cast off from the Dream Yacht Charter base someone from the boat berthed beside us came back from the head attached to the base office with a warning. “Watch out for the scorpion.”

Placencia's Barefoot BarJust one more day (at Placencia's Barefoot Bar) in paradise.

We had encountered a greedy pair of ring-tailed agoutis when we returned to “Kavok” after dinner that first night. Catching them in the act of trying to steal plantains from our cockpit table, we had to shoo them off the boat.

First day on the water, roughly eighteen nautical miles out, we drop anchor at Lagoon Caye; we swim off the stern; we lower the dinghy and go looking for the manatees that are supposed to hang out in the mangrove-ringed lagoon.

No manatees, but we see an osprey wheeling and soaring overhead. A flock of pelicans skims the water’s surface, mere metres from our dinghy.

Lagoone CayeLagoon Caye: Where sailing solitude meets anchoring solitude.

A lone cabin cruiser swings on the hook inside the lagoon itself (we don’t have enough depth to go in ourselves), a fishing boat carrying two men sporting bandit-style kerchiefs and straw hats to combat the bellicose sun, idles while its occupants pause to say ‘hello’. That’s it for traffic today.

Welcome to solitude.

Next day it’s civilization Belize-style. We make our way to South Water Caye. a gorgeous islet decorated by swaying palms. It boasts an alabaster beach, a handful of docks and two actual resorts. True, we see more pelicans than people as we steer for South Water through a protected marine reserve, but it’s all relative.

Thatch Caye ResortAn Irresistable cottage at Thatch Caye Resort.

“Congestion’s getting to me,” says Ed, as we dinghy into shore in search of a shore-bound galley after we anchor off South Water.

“Blood pressure’s rising,” I say.

No free tables at either Blue Marlin or Pelican Beach (Touzé did warn us to get an early start on reservations) but a delightful and rustic establishment that reminds me of a summer camp dining hall (International Zoological Expeditions) has both food and room.

Our repast proves delicious (“I’ve got chicken, fish or shrimp,” says Paulette, the cook at IZE), accompanied by a pleasant conversation with a couple at the next table over, guests on a skippered holiday on the Dream Yacht Charter boat sharing our anchorage.

Caye's Serenity PointChilling at Thatch Caye's Serenity Point.

But it’s back to nature next morning, sailing north, hugging the inside of the reef, dropping the hook just south of Tobacco Caye for an hour-long snorkel where we’re entertained by a prowling lobster and a slow-moving conch, colourful brain and fan and elkhorn coral for backdrop.

At our next waypoint, Thatch Caye, we discover another defining characteristic of a Belize bareboat charter.

Cruise here and your Circadian rhythms decelerate to island time.

Case in point: on Saturday Touzé had conducted the Dream Yacht Charter briefing in a pair of floral print swim trunks and barefoot.

Case in point: the thatch-roofed cottages perched on stilts over the water offer panoramic views of cayes devoid of human habitation; a gazebo at “Serenity Point” sheltering a hammock Ed occupies for a late-afternoon siesta.

The Loneliest CayeThere are more than four hundred cayes off the belize coast; here's one of the loneliest.

Case in point: a lunch stop at Moho Caye on our last full day, a coral islet decorated with emerald palms and incandescent lime waters, a sanctuary boasting such tropical beauty I annoy my crew by saying over and over “This is the most beautiful place on earth.”

Case in point: the final sail of our adventure in Belize, when solitude and island time come together in a sort of metaphysical duet that stirs the very senses.

PlacenciaPlacencia is a great beach town boasting watering holes, souvenir shops and a couple of great galleries. 

After lunch we weigh anchor for the second last time. We raise sails and head west. Plan A had been to make for Hatchet Caye to overnight but instead we decide we’ll anchor in the bay fronting the village of Placencia, a beach resort replete with a rainbow collection of galleries, watering holes and souvenir shops, sharing the anchorage with no less than five boats sporting Canadian flags.

Dinner ashore tonight. Tomorrow we’ll chill on lemon- and tangerine-painted wooden chaise longues at Barefoot Beach Bar, sipping on Mango Pina Coladas while we relive the week’s highlights.

But first this penultimate romp. Three hours across. One island, two islands, five islands.

Two other boats, three dolphins. Two chase us west, one surfaces to greet us the moment we drop anchor of Placencia.

Savouring the fair winds and following seas I turn over the helm to Ed and go forward to chill with Sharon and Kim.

“Nice day,” I say.

“Very nice,” says Sharon.

Ed’s wife looks around: at the glittering waters ahead, off our stern back at Moho Caye.

“Welcome,” says Kim, “to solitude.”

Ends.

 

 

FLOAT PLAN

• To start on your charter float plan, from picking one of the seven catamarans in the Dream Yacht Charter fleet to choosing skippered or bareboat options, from information on local cruising requirements to a sample itinerary, click on https://www.dreamyachtcharter.com/destination/belize/

• For a useful overview of both your immediate cruising grounds and other attractions in Belize, from rainforest tours to beach idylls, check out www.travelbelize.com

• Sailing here is delightful but there are a couple of caveats. Charts often lack important detail, as does the cruising guide most visitors use. While proficiency in coastal navigation is a definite asset, keeping a solid lookout on the bow and careful attention to your depth-meter are crucial.

 

Article originally published in the February 2020 issue of Canadian Yachting magazine

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