A Wild Ride to Belize

Thursday, January 20, 2000

Our New Year's Greetings to you all,

This is the day that we arrived in our first foreign country - except that great Northern Neighbor, Canada, but I'm afraid that it did not turn out the way we had always dreamed. We are safe, Satori is safe, and we have learned a lot. That's the good news.

We left the Dry Tortugas last Tuesday after two days there. WE absolutely loved the islands. We had wonderful calm days and nights. Dived on the hull and got a lot of the nasty critters from the Chesapeake off. We thought that the trip from there to Belize would take about 3 days and figured we would leave the D.T. to be in Belize by Friday or Saturday. First mistake - poor planning.

We reached our destination just off the coast of Belize by SAturday; however, by that time we were in the middle of a raging mess. All of the big waves were on our "arses" and we were riding those waves from behind with waves of 60'-70' and winds upwards toward 30 knots. We obviously decided that we would not be able to enter through any of the reef openings in Belize until the weather calmed down. By the time that we needed to get the engine started, she decided that she had already worked hard enough. The engine was dead and we were surfing waves that had the two of us in the cockpit looking down a wave at our bow pulpit scooping water from the trough of the wave. That one was obviously 56' tall at least!

On Saturday evening we talked by ham radio with our friend, Dave, from Chicago and we learned that the "norther" was to continue to affect us through Tuesday (tomorrow). What a bummer! The seas are so absolutely powerful and scary. WE got very little sleep any of those days or nights.

Our auto pilot was not working so that meant that we did watches on and off.
If you were not steering, you were sleeping. VEry little eating, I might add. Jane had a slight accident - thrown off the settee in the pilot house by a rogue wave - and then Sander took away the propane fuse holder. That meant no more cooking! So we ate lots of cereal and crackers with peanut butter.

On Saturday night Sander decided to try several routines with the engine to get it started. Absolutely amazing that he could do any work under those conditions, but nothing worked - no engine.

We both got used to listening to the loud noises. The centerboard bangs around in the cavity. The water is whizzing under the hull and the wind is howling. All of the cans in the cupboard shift constantly. You can probably imagine that it makes a tremendous racket all of the time.

As I said, we both got used to the big noises. The surprise was the voices that we heard - almost like having our own personal set of ghosts with us.
People laughing and coughing...Sander listened to Italian Opera and I kept hearing radio commercials and my favorite radio people from Chicago. I even worked my way across the saloon one night to seek out the voices. Finally used ear plugs to shut out the voices and got some sleep. Why doesn't anyone ever write about the voices in stories. Then we might have realized that we were not going crazy.

On Monday morning we decided that we needed to try to get through the reef as we were becoming more exhausted every hour. We used a reef opening north of Belize City and got through the reef using a GPS waypoint that had been given to us. We tuned that waypoint in 1.5 miles outside of the reef opening and followed it religiously all the way through. We were ready to abort the crossing at any point, but there is a certain place where you must decide to go or turn back. We made it through the reef but gained a reputation here about those "crazy Americans who sailed through the reef at St Georges".
We thought we might actually be able to sail all the way to the anchorage in Belize City but ended stuck on a sand bar. The centerboard had to be raised once we were through the reef. Without the centerboard the boat drifted right onto the sand bank.

With the help of a diver named Tim, an American, we were put in touch with St. Frances. He is a Jack of All Trades. He hauled us off the sandbar and to a place safe to anchor. He then came on board and worked with Sander for about two hours to get the engine started - still no luck. The two of them determined that we probably got water on top of the pistons when we had to go through the huge waves without the engine running.

Since they could not get the engine started we then had to negotiate with St. Frances to get hauled over to the regular anchorage for Belize City.
That took at least another hour. The whole thing cost us $200 for which St.
Frances was thrilled. All of our cruising friends in the USA can certainly figure out what that would have cost with Towboat U.S. in the USA. It was not a fee that we had figured on spending our first day in Belize but we were lucky to deal with Frances. Actually he even helped Jane doctor her wound on her forehead. Made some butterfly bandages and pulled it all together.

It is Wednesday evening now...
We have dealt with immigration, customs and health dept. That took all day on Tuesday. Today we got into town and found some new Renco deep-cycle 12V batteries. Actually quite a deal - $88/each - and Sander was pleased about that.
Tomorrow Sander will do the work to get the engine started again -cross your fingers about that one.

That's all part of the story. It has been the experience of a lifetime. Not entirely bad as it is something that we will never forget. At the same time we do not want to go through anything like that again.

Sander and Jane