Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Adventures In Belize - Day Eight

Thursday, October 18, 2012 - Day Eight
This morning the sun rose directly behind Laughing Bird Cay, silhouetting the coconut palms, the figure of a ranger raking the sand, and the thatched palapa. 

     A deep orange sun peeped through the palm fronds, turning the still water near the beach a rippling gold and laying a shimmering colorful path out across the water toward the boat. A flock of gray and pick parrots flapped past, close to the surface of the ocean. A manatee raised its large round head above the surface for a look around and vanished again beneath the surface.

    I thought I saw someone swimming over the reef in the distance, but realized that there was no snorkel sticking up. I had seen an old water soaked log gently bobbing in the swells, appearing and disappearing as if someone were diving.....I guessed. 
I watched the dark spot for at least 15 minutes before seeing an oar-shaped fin lift out of the water and go under again, revealing that I had been watching a sea turtle foraging for its breakfast in the shallow waters over the reef.
    I also observed a tiny finch flutter past and dip into the water a hundred yards away between the boat and shore. It beat its wings with a brief flurry of motion, propelling itself several feet closer to shore, but not breaking free of the water. It rested perhaps fifteen seconds and repeated its fluttering lurch ahead. I expected at any moment that some large fish would suddenly appear and gobble the struggling bird, but it kept on fluttering, resting fluttering, and resting, each time a shorter distance and with obviously fading strength. At last it fluttered no more. All motion stopped, and the small lifeless body floated off slowly on the current.
    An after-breakfast swim was agreeable to everyone, so off in the dinghy again. As we were pulling away a dive-charter launch out of Placencia came roaring into the beach, and a dozen eager visitors clambered ashore. 
     John immediately changed course and headed away from the spot where we had planned to land, in favor of a more isolated bit of shore near the end of the island.
    John, Sheila, and Mary Ann headed for the edge of the reef with their gear, and Jane, Ruth and I opted to swim parallel to the shore down toward the beach where the dive boat had landed. We swam along very slowly mostly over white coral sand, and saw lots of smaller colorful fish and scattered small corals.
    Approaching landing beach I saw a dark cloud of something in the shallows. As I got closer the cloud resolved itself into millions two inch long dark little fish, swimming and darting as one amorphous mass, constantly changing shape and direction first one way and then the opposite, then swirling briefly into a tight vortex before become amoeba-like once again. 

     By the time we came ashore the rest of our party was resting in the shade of the palapa, and eager to start back to the boat. They waited patiently for another twenty minutes while I splashed contentedly in the shallows along the four foot wide beach to the end of the cay and back, taking pictures along the way.
    It was almost lunchtime, but we saw that our next anchorage at South Long Coca Cays was only about an hour's motoring time, and decided to have lunch once we got there. I was at the helm, and several times posted lookouts in the bow to warn of shallow water. We skirted several reefs, swinging wide around the privately owned Mosquito Cay. As we approached the mooring ball at our destination we saw thirty and forty-foot mounds of coral sand and rock piled in huge heaps in several spots on the cay, and a large area that had been excavated and smoothed and leveled to create an artificial harbor. 
      We were told that a large Japanese firm was able to get around the strict environmental laws of Belize (rumor has it that there was a lot of paying off of the right people), and were in the process of building a large resort. In the meantime the whole place is an atrocious eyesore. Large plumes of coral silt drift in the water down the current, totally clouding any view in the water. We opted to cast off from the mooring ball and head for Lark Key instead.
    I set a course almost due west toward Logger Cay, passing between it and the northernmost of the Lark Cays.  Instead of trying to thread our way through this challenging and potentially dangerous area, I took us north of the main Lark Cay, and turning southwest skirted along a very long bank of sand and coral, heading toward Bugle Cays. 
     On reaching the recommended distance to the south and west, and giving it a bit more, I turned due south to cross the bank, and watched with increasing apprehension as the depth gauge went from sixty to forty to twenty to ten in rapid succession. Going forward at a snail's pace, my hand on the throttle in case of a sudden need to rev the engines full astern, the depth reading progressed to eight, then five, then three, then one-point-eight before starting to drop to deeper depths, and I began to breathe again.
    We ran up to the north east again, paralleling a line of small mangrove-covered cays. Reaching the spot indicated as an anchorage on the charts, the depth forty feet from the edge of the mangroves still read fifty-five feet. With John in the bow giving directions, we edged very slowly into a sheltered lagoon, decided that it was too narrow for good anchorage, and backed out again. John dropped the anchor on the muddy bottom as close to shore as we dared, and let out a hundred feet of anchor chain, finally coming to a stop in the deep water again. 
     We will be fine this evening unless the wind changes. In that case the first thing that wakes us may be the scraping of mangrove branches against the side of the boat.

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