Sunday, November 11, 2012

Adventures In Belize - Day Six

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
      A few sprinkles during the night woke me long enough to close the overhead hatch, but we slept soundly. This morning the wind has picked up to a brisk 16 knots, and the dark blue open water is highlighted with lots of small whitecaps. Today the plan is to sail south to Ranguana Cay.
      John loves the autopilot. It is an amazing piece of electronic wizardry. Coupled with the GPS chart plotter, you can move a cursor on the chart screen to a place on the map, push a button and the automatic steering will keep you exactly on course to that destination. Other buttons at the bottom have easy to understand functions. Push the button on the left side that is labeled one degree, and the rudders will turn a bit, the bow of the boat will come one degree to the left or port side, and then straighten out on its new course. If you push the button labeled ten degrees, the new heading will be ten degrees to port. The same is true for the left. A push on another button lets you take over manual control of the wheel. We stayed on autopilot for most of the eleven miles from South Queens Cay to Ranguana.
      We kept a lookout posted in the bow most of the time to watch for changes in the color of the water ahead from the deep cobalt blue of deep water to the lighter blue that indicates that the bottom is closer to the surface. Correlating the shade of blue to the reading on the depth meter is an easy learning process. Before long I could look ahead, see the color of blue, and realize that I could proceed at our cruising speed of 5 knots, and didn't have to go slowly to avoid running aground. Other areas of lighter blue were indications that we might have to push the autopilot ten-degree button to the left twice, to make a twenty degree deviation from our course to thread our way through a deeper channel between two shallow banks of coral.
      John gave me the helm about halfway to our destination, and I enjoyed playing with the autopilot, although I would have had the wheel on manual had I been making the decisions. Eventually I did take it off auto to pilot the boat manually for the last two miles, swinging wide to the south of the cay to a way-point marked on the navigation map, and then approaching the anchorage slowly to motor close by one of the boats already anchored there. I made a tight 180 degree turn to bring the bow into the wind halfway between the two boats at anchor. Sheila dropped the anchor in ten feet of water, and I put the engines in reverse to back up slowly to a point where all motion stopped, and we were certain that the anchor was holding.
      We went ashore in the dinghy, paid our $10 a head fee for unlimited use of the island and anchorage, and also put in an order for dinner at the small shack that served as kitchen for the restaurant, a coconut frond thatched open sided palapa with picnic tables that served as a dining room. For a few minutes we watched a film crew setting up a shoot about the island for showing on The Wealth Channel.
   Back on the boat, we all donned our diving gear, and slipped over the side into very clear, warm water. the sea floor, only eight feet below was covered with sea grass. We floated lazily along, looking at small fish, conchs, and then a beautiful thirty inch wide spotted ray that flapped its way across the grassy bottom.
     We soon came to a submerged sand bank where very little was growing, although we did see a big gray ray with its wings undulating as it made its way across the empty expanse of rippled sand. At the far edge of the sand bank we began to see bunches of low coral heads, sea fans, and brain coral, about which hundreds of small colorful fish darted in and out of hiding.
Back at the boat again we rinsed off the salt water, dried, changed clothes to shorts and shirts, then motored back to the dock in the dinghy again at six o'clock to return to shore for dinner. The structure may have been crude, but the dinner was elegant...lobster curry, coconut rice, Belikan beer, and then a wonderful coconut pie for dessert.
      At was seven o'clock by the time we finished, and down at the short pier the night was dark as black velvet. John's forehead flashlight came in handy as we scrambled into the dinghy for the trip back to the boat. It's nine p.m. now, and I'm the last one up.
     The wind has died to almost nothing. The surface of the anchorage around us is so smooth it almost seems like the boat is suspended between ocean bottom and the heavens. Small waves chuckle against the bottom of the dinghy and the "Lovely Cruise" pitches gently, bow to stern. Time to sleep!

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