Saturday, June 30, 2007

Turneffe Atoll, Belize

We left the dock in Belize City about noon yesterday and arrived at the south end of Turneffe about 5pm after a nice 10 mile sail down the lee side of Turneffe. We are anticipating several days here before we move out to Lighthouse Reef. There's a tropical wave (thunderstorms & wind) coming about July 3/4/5 and we want to be hunkered down at Lighthouse for that.

I'm still working on the 'inland' post that goes with the pictures... it's coming soon.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Back on Board

We are back on board. Pictures are posted here: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

More on the trip soon!

Belize Inland - Belize Zoo

On the 4th day, we caught the 'Benque to Belize City' bus in the center of town for our trip back to Belize City. This bus again stopped for about 15 minute in Belmopan. When they stop, vendors open up the back door of the bus and come down the aisle hawking food (hamburgers, pizza slices, burritos) and drink (water, soda, chilled seaweed water). They also walk down outside the bus holding their baskets up to the windows.

We had the bus let us off at the Belize Zoo. It cost $10US to get in the zoo. We ate our lunch in the shade with a breeze on the zoo grounds. We spent about an hour walking around. The entry fee got us a map of the zoo with all the animals labeled. They were also well-labeled outside each enclosure. In the heat of the day, most of the animals were sleeping, but I think we did get to see every animal in the zoo... all local indiginous species including toucans, tapirs (pigs), crocodiles, and
several species of lions/tigers. The zoo was very eco-friendly and the emphasis for locals was co-existence with the animals. They had one sign posted about a resort that was selling "Viper Rum"... rum with a snake in it. They had posted letters to the resort and to the government to get the resort to stop this non-eco-friendly tourist practice.

The zoo was good and clean and the animals looked well cared for. Both Dave and I had fun walking around.

We were able to catch another east-bound bus after a few minutes wait along the road, for the remaining 20 miles to marina.

Soggy Paws was in good order when we got back. We were happy to be "home".

We spent Thursday with me on the computer (posting pictures, answering email, doing some financial stuff) and Dave doing small boat projects and getting filled up on fuel and water. Diesel was $3.65/gallon US. We took on 75 gallons (what we used since Marathon).

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

Belize Inland - Caves Branch Tubing

When Dave was in Belize last time, they did a tubing trip through a cave called "Jaguar Paw". From San Ignacio they didn't have that on the list, but had a similar trip called "Caves Branch Tubing". This time we booked with Eva's because Mayawalk didn't have a trip going. (Eva's turned out to have a better guide and better lunch than Mayawalk, in comparison to our ATM trip the day before). Both places charged $65 US per person which included lunch, transportation, a guide, entry to the site,
and an inner tube rental. Mayawalk offered a $15 pp add-on to stop off at the Belize Zoo after the tubing.

Well it turned out that "Jaguar Paw" and "Caves Branch Tubing" were one and the same. There were 4 of us, a guide, and a driver, in a minibus. The other couple were 2 kids fairly fresh out of college who had quit their jobs to go walkabout for the summer. They had spent 3 weeks in Guatemala--2 in intensive language study and one hiking around the volcano district. Our guide, Joanne, was a Belizian lady who was part of a family of independent tour guides. Each person in her family had a different
specialty (site). They contracted out to the various hotels/resorts in the area to put together tours. And on Thursday, to the cruise ships. Joanne said that all certified guides had to take a year of instruction and then take a set of 8 tests on Belizian culture and history to become certified.

Joanne picked a good specialty--it was an easy day for all of us. An hour drive, a 30 minute hike through the forest carrying an inner tube, and then a nice 3 hour easy float down through the caves. There was only one other group of 4 within sight. But Joanne says that on Cruise Ship days (Thursdays) they take groups of 45 people down through the caves! See the Caves Branch Tubing section of our photo gallery.

We got back to San Ignacio about 3 pm, spent about an hour in Eva's on their internet terminals reading email, and had a nice nap. For dinner we went to Elva's (on a back street 2 blocks from the main street). This turned out to be the best food we'd had in Belize and a more reasonable price than the places on the main drag. We went back for breakfast the next morning, and got a carryout lunch from them for the trip back to Belize City.

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

Belize Inland - Actun Tunichil Muknal

The next day (Monday) we were up bright and early for our 8:30 departure with Mayawalk Tours to see Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM). We were told to bring sturdy shoes for walking, a pair of socks, a change of clothes, and a bottle of water. Mayawalk provided the rest: lunch, and helmets and headlights. It took about an hour to get to the locale, half on paved roads and half on dirt roads. There were no signs to guide the way, at all, anywhere (ie you couldn't find it on your own at all)

Once we got to the end of the road, we geared up and had a 45 minute hike thru the forest (crossing 2 streams) to a base camp outside the cave. There we had our lunch and then donned helmets and headlights.

Our guide, Emil, gave us a stern lecture about listening to him and doing exactly as he said. He threatened to confiscate the headlight of anyone who didn't (and presumably leave them there in the dark...??). Our group was pretty well-behaved so we never tested that threat. Emil also gave us his version of the Mayan culture, what the caves were used for, and the history of their use as determined by researchers. Then we went inside.

The entry of the cave is a pool of water that you have to swim into. We swam about 10 yards inside the cave and then scrambled up onto a ledge. From there we walked/ scrambled/ waded/ swam for about an hour in the dark (with head lamps). Sometimes we were at the front of the line of people (about 10 of us) and sometimes we ended up at the back. Emil instructed everyone to pass his instructions (where to step, etc) back down the line, but this was done haphazardly. About half the time it was garbled. If Emil said "watch the left, step on the right", at the tail end, we'd get something like "go left" or "(mumble) left".

At the end of the trek, we were instructed to take our shoes off and put on the socks. Then we walked in several levels of caves in our socks for about an hour, with Emil using a high powered spotlight to point out artifacts and the most spectacular cave features . There were shards all over and a number of nearly-whole pots as well as 4 skeletons.

Emil was careful to make us walk on a path that kept us clear of anything we could harm. He went slowly and was clear with his instruction, and allowed plenty of time for people to take pictures (so people weren't lagging behind to get that last shot). He pointed out several crushed artifacts saying "some tourist stepped on that one". The final chamber of the cave, we had to climb up an aluminum extension ladder, about 10' to a higher level cave, had the most intact of the skeletons.

To sum up the purpose of the cave... it was considered a portal to the gods of the underworld. Toward the end of the period when the Maya civilization was at its height, around 900 AD, there was a 30 year drought, and the caves were used for sacrifices to ask the gods to send rain and help the corn grow etc. Only priests and rulers, generally, were allowed in holy places like the caves. See my photo album for our hike and pictures of the artifacts in the ATM cave.

The hike back went much more quickly. This is where we ended up at the tail end of the line and at times felt "left" by the guide. Because we weren't getting the guidance on the route through the rocks that was most efficient, we got further and further behind the group. And we felt obligated to wait for the one guy who was behind us as well. But eventually we made it out to sweet daylight (and a 45 minute hike back thru the woods to get to the van).

Another nap in the A/C completed a very nice day. There was a TV in the room, but every time we found a news channel, all they were covering was Paris Hilton's exit from jail, and we just weren't interested... Most channels were a little snowy, except the Cartoon Channel, which came in crystal clear. This must have been from a Satellite TV. The CNN channel seemed to be CNN Mideast. We got more about the weather in Hong Kong than about the US or Central America.

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

Belize Inland Travel - Day 1

We spent 4 days 'inland' waiting for the wind to quit blowing.

We left the boat at Cucumber Beach Marina (aka "Old Belize" oldbelize.com), about 5 miles south of Belize City. It is a secure marina with nice facilities (significantly better than the old Mojo Cay marina). We had no qualms about leaving the boat there for a few days under the watchful eye of Carlos. The 7-day rate was reasonable, about $25/nite US for our 44-foot boat. Dave's friend Cliff (www.catchartersbelize.com) was docked behind us so we knew he'd keep an eye on things as well. They have
diesel, gas, and water, too.

We hopped a westbound bus, marked either 'Belmopan' or 'Benque' and for $3.50 USD for each of us. We made the 75 miles to San Ignacio in about 2 hours. This was not an 'express' bus, so we stopped for anyone anywhere that was going our way (many stops as we were entering and leaving towns), s well as a 15 minute stop in Belmopan. The buses run about every half hour. They seemed to be on a schedule but we never saw anything published. You basically get out there and wait and flag one down.

We arrived in San Ignacio about 2pm. We had previously scoped out several hotels to check out near the center of town using a combination of the Lonely Planet Guide to Central America (2001), a local tourist magazine, and the internet. We got there and walked around and checked on rooms at each of the hotels. All the low end rooms were booked. Even though several people said it was 'low season', there were a lot of college students taking up the low end rooms. ($12/nite US for a double without
a private bath or A/C). After looking at a couple of rooms, and trudging around in the heat, we ended up back at the Venus hotel, in their nice room with private bath, king size bed, and A/C, for about $37/nite US. It's a little steep compared to Guatemala, but still pretty reasonable for what was probably the best room in town.

Once we got settled in at the hotel, we checked at Mayawalk Tours, and at Eva's, both just down the street from our hotel, about their excursions going the next day. Both had trips to "the most phenomenal trip you can go on" (Cliff's words), the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) trip. This is a 'strenuous' hike through a huge series of caves, with a number of Mayan artifacts (pottery and human remains) plainly visible. The other trip we were interested in was the "Caves Branch Tubing" trip--more caves,
but less strenuous as you float down through the caves in inner tubes. We settled on Mayawalk for the ATM trip, primarily because the guy manning the desk was a better BS-er, and their lunch sounded better (it wasn't). The cost was $80 US per person. This included transportation, entry to the park, lunch, and a guide for the day. A little on the high side, but we had to do it. There is no way to visit ATM without a guide, and there are only 2 companies authorized by the government to do this
trip (due to the unspoiled nature of the site and its religious and cultural sensitivity).

Once we had the next day's trip booked, we took a local bus out toward Xunantunich (soo-NAN-to-nich), one of the Mayan temple sites. When Dave had been here before, it had been a long hot walk uphill for about a mile, to get from where the bus leaves you, to the site itself. "Jimmy", the guy at Mayawalk had told us that we could probably pay someone with a car to take us up. We got off the bus at the free car ferry, and paid a local taxi $2.50 US to go across on the ferry with us and take us up
to the entry point of the site. We paid about $5 pp to get in (but received no pamphlet or anything, just a wave up the hill to the information building). There was a nice information center with pictures, maps, and explanations, and a set of bathrooms, but no concessions, vendors, glitzy tourist crap, or crowds of people. It was a nice quiet site. We spent about an hour exploring. We were kind of limited on time, because the site closes at 4pm. But an hour was pretty much enough time. We
climbed to the very top of the tallest structure, the temple, and sat for awhile in the cool breeze to cool off. We were fortunate that a group was there with a tour guide, and we got to hear her spiel about Xunantunich, surrounding sites (Tikal is only about 50 miles to the west), and general info about the Mayan culture. Xunantunich is a typical Mayan site with buildings at opposing ends of a plaza built in a pyramid. (see pictures posted in my photo album)

We met 2 different 'missionary' groups from South Carolina while at Xunantunich. Both were mostly teenagers. One group's focus was primarily singing and performing religious skits. They ended up at the other end of the site, at the observatory (about a quarter mile away directly across the courtyard from us), and sang a song. It was very nice. They were spending several weeks going from place to place, performing at local churches, and talking to people on street corners. The other group was
doing pretty much the same thing. We met a third group that was actually helping build a new room for a school house. I think Belize is a favored destination because they speak English, but are still as poor and primitive as Guatemala, once you get outside the 4-5 bigger cities.

On the way back, we managed to bum a ride with one of the missionary groups, in the back of a pickup truck. They wanted to go see the Guatemalan border, so we took the side trip with them (It was only about 5 miles further west). They let us off back in San Ignacio, where they stopped for dinner.

We had a nice nap and a shower before strolling out for dinner. We ended up next door at Serendib, a Sri Lankan restaurant. The typical meal price in San Ignacio was about $5 US for breakfast and lunch, and $5-$15 US for dinner. The cheapest, and on every menu (including breakfast) was 'stewed chicken' which is a few pieces of chicken on the bone and beans and rice. This normally cost about $4.

Photo album link: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Going Walkabout in Belize

Well, we WERE going to leave Belize City today and go to the outer reefs for some diving, but the wind is blowing like stink and is forecast to do so for a few more days.

So Dave suggested hopping the western bound bus for the city of San Ignacio, which is in the middle of an area of Mayan ruins and caves and rivers. It will only cost us a few dollar each way, and we've used our Lonely Planet guide and the internet to scope out a couple of low budget hotels to use as a base ($20-$25 US per night). We plan to spend a couple of days doing some sightseeing/backpacking. I am taking camera, but not the computer. I promise to post some pics and a recap of our trip when
we get back.

Belize City

We arrived at the dock about 10am on Saturday. It took until about 1pm before we were completely checked in. We were visited by a total of 4 officials, each of whom charged us a $30 "taxi fee" to come out from town. We hadn't known about this, or might have chosen to check in at San Pedro (40 miles north of here). The San Pedro routine is to require you to go to them. Another cruiser here said he spent quite some time walking around and waiting in line, but it didn't cost him a dime to check
in at San Pedro. Oh well, live and learn. (We did ask ahead of time on the NW Caribbean Net if anyone had any advice and info on checking in to Belize City but didn't get any useful info).

The dock electric here is 220v/50amp service and we could not plug into it with our 110v/30amp plug. The dockmaster said they used to have adaptors to loan out, but they had 'disappeared'. Fortunately Dave knew someone in the marina who had one we could borrow. Another cruiser here is still without his A/C... It was looking like a $200-$300 proposition to get a taxi into to town and buy one at the only marine store. He did get an extension cord to a regular plug on a lamp post, so he has some
110v for fans.

The dockmaster offered to get us a taxi to go into town, but we opted to use the local bus system. We flagged a bus headed into town, and paid $1 each (US) round trip to go the 5 miles into town. We ended up at the downtown bus station, which is right next to the open air market. We didn't buy anything (yet) but did look it over thoroughly to see what they had and what prices were.

We trekked into the center part of town and wandered around until lunch time. We stopped in 3 hardware stores, a diesel motor place, 1 'department store'. The couple that went with us were looking for the adaptor plugs (or the parts to make one), Muriatic acid, and a 'watch battery'. Dave had a small list too.

We walked past a stand that had a sign 'unlock your cell phone'. One wanted 3 days to do it, another guy said he could do it in 2 hours. I had my cell phone with me and paid him $25 US to have it done. (I had previously researched it and didn't think it was an easy prospect with my phone).

I have lost my watch--it went missing the night we got in. We thought it was 'LOB' (Lost on Board), but I have searched high and low, and haven't heard it beeping since I misplaced it, so I think it went over the side. I may have taken it off and put it on the swim platform and knocked it off while I was bathing. I was pretty sleep deprived then and may just have not seen it. And so I was on the lookout for another Timex. After checking vainly for a decent ladies rugged watch, I gave up and
bought a big fat men's watch for $5, with the brand name QUEMEX (sorta sounds like Timex...). It says water resistant, but I don't believe it. I'll get my daughter to get a replacement one at WalMart and put it in the next mail package. This one will keep me from going crazy for the next month or so. (Changing 2 timezones AND losing your watch at the same time is very disorienting, I just couldn't deal with it.)

We had a really nice lunch at a place recommended by a local... with A/C, very clean, good food, and reasonable prices. (Grilled fish plate with drinks and tip for $10 each).

We walked into the bus station just as a Western-bound bus was pulling out, so we had a fairly quick trip back to the boat.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Anchor Down Belize

Belize! (Dreams do come true if you work on them hard enough).

About 2:45pm we came in through the pass in the reef just north of Long Cay (south of Ambergris Cay), and proceeded down through Porto Stuck (a narrow passage) and to an anchorage about 9 miles east of Belize City. We've had a swim and put the boat in order. Now for Happy Hour.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Milky Way, The Southern Cross, and Shooting Stars

Wow, what a beautiful night we had! We had half a moon until about midnight and then just "billions and billions of stars" (I can't ever look at a star without thinking of Carl Sagan, the guy who had the great TV show about the Universe on Discovery Channel. His favorite saying was "billions and billions").

They were ALL out last night, every one of them. When you live around lights, you forget what the heavens really look like. If everyone went on top of a mountain somewhere and looked at the stars every now and then, NASA wouldn't have any funding problems for space exploration...

We had a good 24 hours, though we did have to motor for quite awhile to keep a reasonable speed up. It seemed to go on forever though (more than 24 hours between waypoints!) We passed close by the southeast end of Chinchorro Bank about 4am. I remember having a "Pizza Cookoff" there with 3-4 cruising boats 10 years ago, on our way back to the States from our Caribbean trip. My favorite was Conch Pizza. There were lots of conch at Chinchorro. (Dave promises fresh seafood soon, but we haven't
had any luck with the fishing pole yet).

Anyway, we are about 25 mile east of the north end of Belize. We are aiming at a pass in the reef about 35 miles ahead of us (north end of Long Key), and we expect to arrive there about 3:30pm. We'll stop somewhere between there and Belize City for the night, and get into Belize City fairly early tomorrow morning. We have a lot to do once we get there (Customs/Immigration, fuel, water, laundry, groceries, INTERNET) and we want to get out of there by Sunday and get out to the outer reefs.

Weatherwise, it's nice now. 10-15 kts out of the East. Typical 'tradewind' day. However, a Tropical Wave is forecast to come through here tomorrow, so we expect some showers in the next 2-3 days.

Current Position: 18-01N 087-32W

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Are we there yet?

Yes, we are definitely to the 'are we there yet' stage. The passage has been pretty nice, but we are both getting a little tired of standing the middle of the night watches.

We are motorsailing SSW and are currently located about 50 miles east of Cozumel Mexico. We are currently motorsailing due to light winds, and may have to continue motoring for the next 24 hours (or slop around out here forever).

Looking forward to Belize. We have booked 2 nights at the Cucumber Beach Marina in Belize City to get checked into Customs, get fuel and water, and do some grocery shopping. Then we'll head out for the offshore reefs about Sunday.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On Passage to Belize, Day 3

At 0700 this morning we are just clearing the western tip of Cuba and headed south. Our original plan was to go straight south for 80 miles and then angle over toward Belize. This was to minimize Gulfstream effects. However, the weather forecast is for good winds today and lighter winds tomorrow and Thursday. So we're thinking we may crack off soon and make some westing and do more south tomorrow in the lighter winds.

Right now we are still feeling the effects of the Cuba land mass. We were able to sail nicely all day yesterday, but had to motor sail most of the night in very light winds. But as we clear the western tip we expect the wind to settle in at 15 kts out of the East. Right now we have huge swells from the Caribbean wrapping around the S coast of Cuba. Hopefully these will ease off as we clear the coast.

Other than that, can't complain. We're having a ball!
ETA Belize is still sometime Thursday.

Monday, June 18, 2007

On Passage to Belize, Day 2

We finally left Dry Tortugas about 2pm. Wind was SE 10Kts. Our first hour was exhilarating... we turned off the engine and were making 7 knots.

2 hours later, we were drifting along at 3 knots and Dave suggested we motorsail for awhile. The wind finally came back and about midnight we turned off the engine. It got boisterous enough that we reefed the main (more for comfort, and for Janet, our autopilot, than anything else).

It is now 5:45am and we're jogging along at about 5 kts making good 210 degrees. We are definitely in the Gulfstream... and trying to cross it quickly by heading south more than west. Our plan is to go as close to the Cuban coast as we dare (12 miles out) and try to pick up a counter current. Someone told us you can't find the counter current without going closer in, but I don't think Dave will go in closer.

The stars are finally out... we had a funny high overcast all yesterday afternoon... a very uniform gray... almost like fog. But it looks like it has cleared out and will probably be a pretty typical tropical tradewind day.

We saw 3-4 ships about 20 miles out of Dry Tortugas. It seems that most of the traffic is headed into the Gulf, and so they were all rounding the end of Florida and heading NW.

0500 Position: 23-34.6N 083-50.4W "All is well on board"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Leaving for Belize Today

The weather has cleared. We are leaving Dry Tortugas today about noon.
Destination: Ambergris Cay, San Pedro, Belize

Planned Route: Leaving Dry Tortugas headed S and SW toward coast of Cuba. Plan to stay 12 miles offshore and follow the coast of Cuba to Cabo San Antonio, then drop about 60 miles straight south, before angling off for a direct route to San Pedro Belize. Total distance: 531 nm, approximate time enroute: 4 days.

General expected waypoints & progress:

Leave Dry Tortugas 1200 17-June
12 miles off coast of Cuba 0900 18-June to 0500 19-June (Tuesday)
Due south from Cabo San Antonio Cuba 80 miles (to 20-30N 85-10W) arrive abt 2000 19-June
Sail straight SE from there direct to Ambergris Cay
Off SE Tip of Chinchorro Bank, Mexico 0400 21-June
Ambergris Cay, San Pedro Pass, 1200 21-June (Thursday)
(all times EDT, and assuming a 5.5Kt average speed. We can go 6-7kts if wind is favorable)

Our bailout plan for bad weather or problems will be as follows:

(a) Back to Dry Tortugas or Key West if in the first day
(b) Coastal Cuba for a temporary severe weather or mechanical situation, when along the coast of Cuba
(c) Isla Mujeres or Cozumel, once south of Cuba
(d) Chinchorro or maybe Xcalac once near Chinchorro Bank

Expected Weather: Current weather forecast is showing SE and East at 10-15 for the foreseable future.

General Communications:
Northwest Carribbean Net at 1000 EDT on 6209 or 6212 USB
We may listen daily at 2000Z to Herb's Southbound 2 weather net on SSB 12.359 MHZ USB.
We will listen to Chris Parker's Caribbean Weather Net. 0630 4045 USB
We will attempt to check in on the Waterway Net at 0815 EDT 7268 LSB
We have not been real regular on the Ham/SSB freqs yet, so if we're not there, don't worry!
We will be doing daily updates to our website (http://www.svsoggypaws.com/blog2008/) and we'll send a 'we've arrived' message out when we get there. (assuming email/computers still working).

Our position is updated and displayed at the following website each time we communicate ashore via the WINLINK system (at least daily when weather an propagation permits);
http://www.findu.com/cgi-bin/find.cgi?call=KN4TH

However, lack of an update should not be grounds for concern!! We may just be too tired or have equipment problems.

We have worked hard over the past few months, and Soggy Paws has never been in better shape for going to sea. Weather looks good. We hope for an easy trip!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Waiting for Weather in Dry Tortugas

Well, we were all poised to set out for Belize... but between our planned arrival on a weekend, and (more importantly) a weather forecast which indicated we'd run into a nasty squally system in the middle of the trip, we've decided to hang our for a few days in Dry Tortugas and let the weather go by.

The weather for hanging here is beautiful (for now). Glassy calm most of the time, and the water is starting to get really clear.

Dave sent me up the mast yesterday morning to put the 'top of the mast' stuff back in place since we're free of 65' bridges for awhile. After we finished our chores, we up-anchored and motored Soggy Paws across to Loggerhead Key. We anchored off a drop-dead-gorgeous beach and took the dinghy out snorkeling. We snorkeled a marked wreck... an old steel schooner that wrecked in the early 1900's. Lots of fun, fish, old wreck pieces, and one HUGE Jewfish (aka Goliath Grouper). On the way back, we
stopped off in an area of big coral heads. They were fantastic... about 10' diameter live coral heads, loaded with fish.

The weather is supposed to turn nasty here tomorrow afternoon, so we will probably dive today and then get ready to tuck up inside the protected harbor til Monday. After Monday things are looking better.

To all those women racing in the PCYC Mermaid Regatta this weekend... I'll be thinking of ya! Have fun and most of all remember to "Put your ass into it".

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dry Tortugas

We arrived at the outer bouy at about 6pm and were anchored west of Fort Jefferson by about 7pm. We hopped in the water for a reconnaissance snorkel and to make sure the anchor is set (this side of the island is notorious for bad holding). The anchor was pretty well set, but we decided to move it to a better spot... our anchor chain was a little close to some live reef, and of course we want to be eco-friendly. It took us 2 attempts to get it where we wanted it, but finally Dave snorkeled it one
more time and said it was well in and clear of any reef life.

We are finally away from the lights of civilization and so the stars on the foredeck were gorgeous.

We have no cell phone coverage out here (gasp!), so Dave used the Iridium phone to call Matt at the NWS office for a forecast update. He still says there are signs of a developing low down in the NW Caribbean that we might run into (though I can find no evidence of that on any of the charts I pulled yesterday morning). I will pull some more data via Winlink myself, and Dave said he'd call the NWS again just before we make our final go/no go decision (noonish today).

This morning is glassy calm. The sun is rising over the fort (anyone who wants to see pictures, Google Dry Tortugas Fort Jefferson). There are dolphins swimming around next to the boat (feeding). And I can hear the birds on Bird Island making their bird noises. If we didn't have the worries about approaching hurricane season I could easily stay here for a week or two.

Enroute to Dry Tortugas

We left Key West this morning at 0830. I hooked the big wifi antenna up this morning just before we left, and was getting 2 commercial wifi providers pretty strong. I paid $12 for a 24 hour pass on the Beacon Net wifi... so we could download weather and email, and upload our 'weather guy' picture to the blog. We had wifi for about a half hour while motoring a miles or so off Key West. But then it died. The cell phone lost signal about an hour later, as we were nearing the Marquesas. We are officially
homeless, phoneless, and internet-less. I'm on tranquilizers to cope with it. (just kidding). I did get a little panicky when I realized late Saturday night that I wouldn't have much internet access after I left my house in Satellite Beach. But, I realize it's the old... "Price you pay for the life you lead".

It's beautiful out here, but the wind is negligible and we are motoring almost due West in glassy seas. Our ETA in Dry Tortugas is about 7pm.

We just passed Mel Fisher's dive boat on the Atocha Wreck. I took a picture and marked the spot on the chart.

We finally did a detailed plot of our trip from Dry Tortugas to Belize, including estimated speeds, etc, and realized that our most likely arrival has us arriving in Belize on Saturday. That usually means more Customs hassles and likely overtime fees. We are discussing options to delay entry til Monday. We may stay a day at Dry Tortugas if our weather assessment indicates everything looks stable. And/or we may hole up on the north end of Turneffe Reef in Belize til Monday morning.

Once we are sure when we are leaving Dry Tortugas, I will post a Float Plan for the trip.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Weather Briefing, Key West

After dinner last night (Thai Restaurant in Key West) we went with Dave's friend Don Byrd to the NWS Key West Office and got a personal weater briefing from Matt Russell, the Chief Meteorologist in Key West.

Bottom Line: There's a little bit of a low forming up in the SW Caribbean, and until that low either forms up or goes away, the models are forecasting conflicting information. But current forecasts are for E-SE at about 10 kts. If the low forms up, it is supposed to move off toward the North, so it probably won't affect us directly, but may make the wind 'variable'.

Matt invited us to call him on the satellite phone once a day and exchange a conditions report, in exchange for a weather update.

Right, Matt at his desk. (cool computers)!

We are going! (Dave is waiting for me to finish this post to unhook the docklines.) Dry Tortugas tonight, onward for Beliza (via the NW Cuba coastline per Nigel Caulder's recommendations for getting to the NW Caribbean).

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Key West (& Melbourne) for a Couple of Days

We got up at 0645 yesterday to get underway for Key West and were tied up at the dock at Boca Chica Marina by 1015.

By 11am I was on my way north in the rental car... taking laundry, various boat parts to be returned, and a few items we wanted to leave back at the house. The stops (Marathon Power Systems, Key Largo West Marine, and RPM Diesel in Ft. Lauderdale) went OK, but the traffic was horrid in Miami/FtL. I seldom go thru there on a weekday--man I'd hate to live there! There was a big nasty afternoon storm system moving through also, so that made it even more fun.

Dave spent the day running around Key West with his friend Dave Whall (propane refill, stops at several marine stores, Radio Shack, etc). He got a personal weather briefing from the NWS office in Key West. The weather guy told him that it looked like the current weather would hold thru next Friday. So we are on track to leave Monday for Belize.

I made it to Melbourne Yacht Club about 7:15... just in time for a beautiful shuttle launch. We watched it on TV in the MYC bar and then went outside to see it go up. It was picture perfect--wish I'd had my camera in my pocket.

When I walked in the bar at MYC about half the people said "Hey, what are you doing here" and the other half said "Hey, I've been reading you blog and I know why you're here". It was fun both ways. I got kidded a lot about "fast trip around the world"

Nicki showed up a few minutes after I did, and got to go through a round of "I remember when you were running around here at 5 years old." with all our old friends (she's 21 now). We had a nice dinner together at Longdoggers.

I'm in the Melbourne area for today and I'm headed back in the rental car at the crack of dawn tomorrow. (need to have it back by 11am). I think Dave plans to stay at the marina Sunday night and then pull out for somewhere (direct to Belize or out to Dry Tortugas) early on Monday. He needs to send me up the mast to put back the stuff we took off to get under the bridges, and do a rig inspection before we go offshore.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Underway to Key West

We left Marathon yesterday about 2pm. The engine is running well and the cushions look great in the cockpit.

Wind is about E 15. We rolled out the genny and motorsailed (charging batteries) and were making about 7 knots. We had enough time to stop at Looe Key for a short snorkel. We arrived at about the same time as some of the Boy Scout boats, including the dive schooner Conch Pearl (http://www.schoonerconchpearl.com), and Siesta, both close friends of Dave's. The visibility has finally cleared up some from all the winds last week. It was a little rough for snorkeling on the reef, but it was REALLY
good to go swimming in water you could see in.

We dropped the Looe Key mooring at about 5:30 and sailed to one of Dave's old Boy Scout anchorages, Key Louis. It is a typical Keys anchorage... behind a mangrove island in about 6' of water. All the other Boy Scout boats went to the Palm Island anchorage (more scenic and a little more protected), so we had the anchorage to ourselves. Miles from nowhere...

Our plan is to get up early and get underway by 0730, and get into Key West by about 10:30, so I can get off in the car by about noon. Dave wants to get me on the road to Melbourne as soon as possible, as I have several stops to make for him on the way up. :)

The weather forecast continues to show decent East winds for the next 5-10 days. So we are thinking to get underway towards Belize on Monday. We are still discussing whether to stop at Dry Tortugas or not. We can probably afford a day or two stop time-wise but it would be foolish to gamble that the weather will stay benign forever. We'll assess the weather situation when I get back from Melbourne on Sunday afternoon...

We are literally a couple of miles from the nearest habitation, so I haven't even tried the wifi. This is going out via HF. (yay Winlink!)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Cushions are Done!

I am happy to report that my 'one day' project is now done. (5 days later). Shown are only 2 of a total of 6 cushions I covered.

It has been a rainy day, and Dave doesn't have the engine back together (at least not as of 2 hrs ago), so I'm sitting in at the sewing table at the City Marina taking advantage of the 110v power to make some blog updates (posting pics on old posts, etc).

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Head is Back on the Engine

The 'Re-do the Head Bolt' project is now 90% complete. The drilling and tapping of an oversized bolt hole went pretty smoothly yesterday, and by 5pm, the head was back on and all the bolts properly torqued. Dave's friend Jim Dill was a great help and we could not have done it without his help and guidance.

Sherry got word yesterday that the management company for her Melbourne Harbor Condominium rental unit no longer wants to be in the rental management business. Bleah!(Construction on a condo next door has been making the job more difficult than normal). So Sherry has decided she needs to attend a meeting of owners in Melbourne this weekend. But at least it's only renting a car and driving up from Key West rather than flying back from Belize. Anyone interested in renting a furnished one bedroom
condo on Melbourne Harbor?

http://www.melbourneharborcondominium.com.

The cockpit cushion project is nearly done. Would have been done yesterday except Sherry took advantage of a visit from Dave's cousin Jay to make a trip to Publix. Between socializing and Publix, the afternoon was pretty much shot. The cushion covers are turning out really nice. They are made of Phifertex and the color is Lattice Bisque (http://www.sailrite.com/150112?sc=2&category=168). This is a really nice material to work with, and is very rugged, but also has a nice pattern to it. (a competing
product is called Textaline). It is basically the same stuff as the outdoor PVC furniture cushions are made from.

We are looking forward to getting out of here on Thursday and spending one night on the hook before we stop in at the Boca Chica Marina for a couple of days, so Sherry can drive back to Melbourne.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Marathon, Boot Key Harbor

We have been here for a couple of days now. We made it into Boot Key just before really squally weather hit. Had not been settled on the mooring for more than 30 minutes before the first bout of rain and wind hit. This continued all night and all the next day. On Friday night we heard that it had been upgraded to a tropical storm and named Barry. We thanked our lucky stars several times over the next 2 days that we had pushed on and made it into Marathon. It nice to be in an enclosed harbor on a secure mooring, and where we could get off the boat easily (between squalls).

By late Saturday morning, we could see a little blue between the clouds. By noon we had a nice sun (though some intermittant squalls came thru during the day).

And yesterday (Sunday) it was just plain gorgeous. We are finally in the "Fabulous Florida Keys". (in Marvelous Midtown Marathon).

We had to hold off on the engine project until we were getting enough sun to keep the batteries up with solar. But yesterday we ran out of excuses, so Dave and his friend Jim took the head off the engine. Dave's doing a run to Napa today to get some parts and by Tues or Weds it should be back together.

Meanwhile, the cockpit cushion recovering project has become my highest priority (finally). I hauled the sewing machine into the work area at the City Marina and spent yesterday working on recovering the cushions. I got the prototype done by noon and got it approved by the captain. I should be able to finish this project today.

We have been socializing a lot. Dave lived in Marathon for about 15 years, and spent the last 4 or 5 in the Boy Scout charter program. He lived aboard several times in Boot Key Harbor also. So we are getting hailed all the time by old friends. We are both really enjoying a return to the cruising life.

We had a nice dinner last night at the No Name Pub on Big Pine Key with Ed and Daisy, some CSY friends of Dave's. There was a 50 minute wait to get in to eat, so Ed drove us around No Name Key.

The Key Deer were all over the place! I have only glimpsed one or two in all the years I've been in and around the Keys (they are hard to see at 65 miles an hour!). We saw maybe 20 last night, driving slowly around the semi-residential streets.

We plan to stay here a couple more days to finish the engine project, hopefully fix the radar, and do yet another tweak on the refrigeration system. We expect to head for Key West about Thursday, and stay there a couple of days before starting to look for a weather window south to Belize.

Friday, June 1, 2007

In The Keys!!

We had a nice sail yesterday, outside from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami and then down Biscayne Bay. We spent the night at Pumpkin Key last night, and went out through Angelfish Creek at about 8am this morning. Followed the chart and the marked channel. Tide was nearly high, with about 1/2 knot of current running in. Lowest depth we saw was 7.3 feet. All the marks were there as charted.

We are now having a beautiful sail down Hawk Channel with reefed main and genoa. Rolling along at 6-7 knots. ETA Marathon about 6pm tonight. We'll be in Marathon at least thru Tuesday of next week.