The Rio Dulce in Guatemala

Geoff & Iza Prower Posted: September 19th 2015

Dreaming On anchored in the Rio Dulce
Dreaming On anchored in the Rio Dulce

This is our second trip up the Rio Dulce and it hasn’t lost its magic. A two day trip down from Belize to Livingston at the mouth of the Rio Dulce to clear in to Guatemala. We then headed into the river and once between the 300’ high jungled cliffs, we dropped anchor. An amazing place to be. No roads to villages and towns up the river and into the fresh water lakes so all personal transport is by river. Fast, locally built launches passing us by during the evening “Rush Hour!” Quite a contrast to the local fisherman balancing in dug out canoes while casting their nets. Great bird life. At night, total silence.

As we headed up river in the morning, a number of “School Buses” passed us by, again the local fast launches delivering children to school. In a major change from our first visit 7 years ago, when we bought Dreaming On, the Rio Dulce has, it appears, been discovered by newly affluent Guatemalans and many other nationalities. This time we saw a number of smart sportsfishing boats and motor cruisers making their way down river.

300 ft high limestone cliffs line the Rio Dulce
300' high limestone cliffs line the Rio Dulce

When we arrived in the first lake, El Golfete, although lakeside development is still sparse and remote, there are far more new lakeside homes than on our previous visit. But where the lake narrows at its western end at Fronteras, where all the marinas are and where so many cruisers have arrived and stayed, (we are now 5 hours inland), the first town, the first road and a 90’ high bridge, the lakeside home development is incredible. Still mostly tasteful architecture, with every house having a boathouse and an expensive motor yacht. The development hasn’t ruined the place yet. It has added a new flavor and also some local prosperity.

Fortunately there are a couple of natural limits on boat size due to many shallows in El Golfete and a 5’ bar entering at Livingston from the Caribbean. However, we fear that jet-skis and fast noisy cigarette boats will take over. Quite how the fishermen in their dugouts will survive that, we are not sure. Meanwhile, we enjoy the place. So different from anywhere else.

Meandering up the Rio Dulce
Meandering up the Rio Dulce

We have now moored Dreaming On at Nana Juana Marina, a new resort/marina/boatyard, which wasn’t here in 2008. We were going to use a friends dock in El Golfete, but we need mains power so had to change plans. Dreaming On will stay here until we return at the end of October, while we fly back to UK. 

Dare we say that there has not been a hurricane in this area since records began. Hence its popularity with cruisers.

Snorkelling in Belize

Geoff & Iza Prower Posted: September 14th 2015

Fans, soft corals

The diving and snorkeling are superb. Pick a reef, any reef, jump in and see what you find. Many more vibrant varieties and colours of both coral and fish than we ever experienced in the BVI. Every island has a reef. There are patch reefs all over the place to explore. Then there is the barrier reef itself and the offshore atolls. This is an area that could take years to explore properly.

And then there are those magical moments such as when a magnificent, curious Eagle Ray swims past, or, as when sailing south from Turneffe Reef to Glover’s Reef, (both offshore atolls outside the barrier reef), we were joined by probably around 40 spinner dolphins. They stayed with us, playing in the bow wave and the wake for almost 30 minutes. 

 

Lots of Grunts

 

First exploration of the Cayes of Belize

Geoff & Iza Prower Posted: September 14th 2015

North Long Cocoa Cay
North Long Cocoa Cay

We have now covered close to 350 miles and visited 35 islands, locally known as cayes, of this exciting new cruising ground and still many more to see. It’s a huge area.

The islands here are like little gems floating on every shade of blue and turquoise water imaginable.

It can be quite challenging. First of all, there are no “official” charts of the area. All boats in the area use a very comprehensive publication written by Freya and Tom Rauscher. This is THE only guide to the area. All the charts are hand drawn and with so many small islands, reefs, sand bars around, it must have been a monumental task to produce such a book. However, some errors have crept in and most areas are not surveyed in detail. There is confusion on the names and actual location and orientation of some cayes which makes life interesting. Also many cayes have the same name! Some cayes were there when the charts were drawn but have since been wiped out by hurricanes. So navigating here is concentrated eyeball the whole time and often a bow lookout. Take your eyes off the water for a moment and the water depth can have changed from 100’ to 5’!

Moho Cay
Moho Cay

Because of the number of potential navigational hazards, it takes a while to become confident enough to sail some of the channels, but we are making our own chart notes as we go and archiving safe waypoints and tracks. We often use the dinghy with a portable depth sounder and GPS to check some areas out before taking Dreaming On into questionable waters.

Finally in Belize!

Geoff & Iza Prower Posted: August 28th 2015

No wind - zero!

We are now in Belize, after a total journey of over 2,000 nautical miles from the BVI, via The Bahamas and Florida. Yes, we did take the long way around! The final leg, Key West, non-stop, 650 nautical miles.

The Gulfstream that runs north along the east coast of Florida, is made up of several tributary currents from the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Channel along the east coast of Mexico and running north east into the channel between Mexico and Cuba.

As we were basically heading in the opposite direction, we had to pick a route which used the counter currents that run in the opposite direction just outside of the main north easterly flow. We managed that and had a positive current for 75% of the way and only a half knot adverse current for a short time. The rest was neutral current, so we did not lose too much time.

Rafts of Sargassum weed

Our trip down from Key West was much calmer than the trip to Florida. In fact, too calm. There was no wind. The first time that we have seen our wind instrument showing 0.0 wind speed! 

When we say calm, it was like a mirror, only disturbed by the tracks on the surface as flying fish escaped our path. There was also a heat haze, so at times, with such a calm sea, it was difficult to differentiate sea and sky at the horizon. And huge rafts of Sargassum weed floating everywhere. Although we had the main sail up all the way, it really was only used for perhaps 12 hours of the trip, so we motored 90% of the way.

We had a few visitors along the way. Birds that stopped for a rest. One spent all night sleeping on the genoa lines. We also enjoyed a pod of adolescent dolphins playing with us for a while.

Long Cay at Lighthouse Reef

Our first stop in Belize was to anchor out at Lighthouse Reef, an offshore atoll famous for its superb diving and The Blue Hole. We rested up and then headed for mainland Belize through the barrier reef and outer cays.

We arrived at The Placencia Resort Marina in Placencia to a great welcome and assistance in clearing in to Belize and sorting local communications. Our plan is to base our charter program at the resort, which is only a few miles from the local airport.

South from Fort Lauderdale to Key West

Geoff & Iza Prower Posted: August 20th 2015

Our primary task in Fort Lauderdale was preventative work on Dreaming On. Trying to premeditate all the work that might be required over the next year in Belize, either by doing the job now, or in finding the spares we might need later. All this on the basis that it will be far more difficult and expensive to find bits and fix things in Belize.

So after 4 weeks of very intense work on Dreaming On, we finally left Ft. Lauderdale on 13th August, heading for Key West (170NM) and then on to Belize, another 600NM.

We stayed close to shore heading down past Miami to stay out of the northerly flow of the Gulfstream and found wind and quite a good southerly counter current to help us.

The trip down to the Keys is always a choice between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea! The Devil being the thousands of crab trap markers, (small, multi-coloured floats attached to baskets on the sea floor), which are everywhere in the Hawks Channel, which runs between the shore and the outer reef in about 20’-30’ of water. Each line of a particular colour of floats belonging to one fisherman may be 150’ apart or so, but then there are other colours criss crossing that line. So it’s like navigating through a minefield. Great concentration, observation and a lot of hand-steering required, especially while sailing.

The Deep Blue Sea is the water outside the outer reef, which has no fish trap markers, but is in the northerly flow of the Gulfstream. We chose the Devil and sailed the Hawk Channel in daylight only.

Now we have had many types of bird visitors finding their way on board in our various journeys. All looking for rest and water, but the most amazing visitor so far came aboard on this trip. A bright green baby Iguana! Iza opened the anchor locker as we were about to leave our overnight stop at Newfound Bay heading to Key West and there he was lying on the anchor chain! Iguanas swim very well, so we can only assume that he came up the anchor chain. There were very strong currents where we were anchored, so maybe he stopped for a rest.

As we were too far offshore to drop him off, we took him with us the Key West, then dropped him off at an uninhabited island there. Hope he has a happy new life!

Now we are almost ready to leave for our 600NM hop to Belize, but keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Danny, out there in the Atlantic, but maybe heading through west Cuba next week. Our route takes us around western Cuba!