Monday, November 12, 2012

Adventures In Belize - Day Seven

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
            I missed sunrise this morning. The night was very still, and virtually no breeze came through the open ports and hatch. The small fan was on, but provided little comfort from the heat and humidity, and it was hard to sleep. It cooled some before dawn, and I slept soundly until the sunlight shining through the port hole and the rippling reflections of sunlight on the water shining on the ceiling woke me.
       After breakfast John, Sheila, and I took the dinghy to the dock, walked thirty yards across to the other side of the cay, and explored the reef there. In the sea grass shallows there were countless thousands of two inch long golden striped fish in endless schools and layers. Swimming farther, the grass gave way to a strip of white coral sand, and as we reached deeper water we began to see larger fish, sea fans, and colorful coral formations.
    We spent a good hour floating among the coral heads and branches. Swimming around a large mass of coral I came upon a four foot shark resting on the bottom, its head halfway inserted under a ledge. I backed up, got Sheila's attention, and we swam back to take another look, the video camera turned on. This time the shark saw us. It started, jerking back a bit, and then leisurely turned and swam off into the slightly hazy water.
  We prepared to leave sometime after ten o'clock. The electric winch clattered, reeling in the anchor chain, and then suddenly stopped. Kneeling on the trampoline and looking over the front, I could see that the chain disappeared underneath a very large coral head. We were stuck. Snagged!
John put the engines in reverse slowly while I continued to peer over the front. I could see that the chain curved off at a different angle on the other side of the coral, so all we had to do was maneuver the stern while backing to straighten the anchor line, and we'd be free. John expertly did that, we finished anchor-cranking, and we were under way at last.
            There are a couple of different ways of planning a course between the cays. One mind set dictates that since we are on a sailboat, part of the fun would be to actually use the sails, even if it means sailing a zigzag course, tacking into the wind and taking five or maybe six hours to travel the eight and a half miles to the next destination. 
    A different, equally valid mind set evaluates the situation somewhat differently: The wind is blowing almost directly toward us from the direction we need to go. If we put up the sails it might take most of the day to reach our destination. 
   On the other hand if we turned on the diesels and left the sails down, it wouldn't take more than a couple of hours to reach our next anchorage, and we'd have more time to go snorkeling. Option number two prevailed.
  By one o'clock we were picking up the mooring buoy at Laughing Bird Cay. Two launches were resting their bows on the beach, and we could see people from the dive expedition both in the water and gathered in a palapa - a large open sided thatch roofed shelter on the cay. We ate some lunch and waited. A short time later they all roared off toward Placencia, and we had the island to ourselves, except for the two park rangers that soon came out to collect the $10 per head park fee.
   In the afternoon we all jumped off the back of the boat with masks, fins, and snorkels. The water was forty feet deep, so we couldn't see the bottom, but by the time we had swum fifty yards toward shore we began to see sand and coral far below. In twenty feet of water there was abundant sea grass where we could see conchs inching along.
     The main population of coral was in water ten to twelve feet deep, intersected by random slightly deeper sandy bottom channels. The water was deep enough so that no one had to worry about accidentally kicking any of the delicate coral, and deep enough that there were abundant varieties of medium size fish. We saw angelfish and butterfly fish, yellow tangs and funny little cleaner wrasse. 

     We all saw spotted rays and a black ray flapping along slowly near the bottom. We swam watchfully six feet above a four foot long barracuda that was hovering completely motionless a few inches above the sandy bottom watching us. Jane saw a large shark go finning off toward deeper water as we approached.

   The wind had died by five o'clock, and we sat on the aft deck sipping cold beer and watching the sun edge down toward a clear horizon. A distant haze turned the sinking sun deep red, and the clouds higher above the western horizon were arrayed from peach to apricot to tangerine to orange to scarlet to red to dark, dark red. Above all that a two day old thin crescent moon shone against a darkening azure sky.

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