Cruising On a Working Class Budget

Our Mariner 40 ketch, Sea Trek, has been our home for 17 years. In that time we have lived aboard and cruised her whenever the kitty reached the magic number we had set for our next voyage.
Since leaving our previous home base in the Florida Keys for this most recent trip we have put a bit more than 3,000 miles under her keel. We visited four countries and transited the coastline of five states — two with the largest coasts in the United States and two with the shortest. We have put 750 hours on our engine and that means eight oil and filter changes and five changes of our three fuel filters.
Our unscientific estimate of anchoring is that we have dropped and raised the anchor more than 190 times (and with a manual windlass). We were very fortunate in only having three pieces of equipment break down and we believe this is a result of good preparation and a good maintenance schedule along the way.

We only spent 127 days at a dock out of 20 months. We anchored behind a reef with nothing but ocean on the other side for thousands of miles. We visited remote Mayan villages and dispensed medicine to a people that once ruled the land in a grand civilization. We visited thousand-year-old ruins of that civilization. It has been a grand adventure. We also spent a few hard-earned dollars. Walk any dock or visit any cruisers’ hang-out or surf the Internet and stop in at any boater’s discussion board and the “How much does it cost?” question always pops up.

Our expenditures presented here are for one year only and do not include preparation, gear, provisioning purchased prior to leaving or money needed to get by once you return to reality, but before the paychecks start coming in again. It includes actual money spent from the time we left the dock until the end of the 12th month. Our cruise began April 1, 2005 and the figures are through March 31, 2006.
We enjoy eating out occasionally, and love to travel and explore the countries we visit. Boat maintenance and repairs are a fact of life and how much you need to budget for repairs is going to be mostly guesswork based on the condition of the boat and the age of your equipment.

Assuming that you have fully outfitted your boat with all the gear — watermaker, life raft, wind generator, solar panels, dinghy and outboard — that you feel you must have to enjoy cruising and to be comfortable and safe, you will then have to provision the boat with foodstuffs and other non-food items. Again, I am not counting this in our expenses, but mention it because there are some items we generally stock up on prior to leaving U.S. waters because they are often difficult or cumbersome to get in remote places. We buy toilet paper and paper towels in large quantities and store them in our largest hanging locker. (The clothes that resided there are packed away for the duration, off the boat and in storage in a friend’s garage.)

We also buy as much soda and beer as we can stow on the boat because it is much cheaper in the United States and it is easier than bringing it by dinghy back to the boat. A year’s supply of vitamins, herbal remedies, prescription meds, over-the-counter remedies, etc., are also placed on board. The over-the-counter medications are generally cheaper in the United States and you might have favorite throat lozenges and if, by chance, you can find them in Belize, they will cost two to three times the amount.

Regarding paying the bills: If you have a boat payment to make each month, have those payments automatically deducted from your account. We only use our debit card from that same account when traveling so we don’t have to worry about monthly credit card bills.
We decided to keep our car instead of selling it this time around so we had the insurance automatically deducted from said account every six months. The car was left with friends, who drove it instead of just letting it sit and rot. Any other bills that may be floating around get sent to us periodically through our mail forwarding service. They are great and will even open the mail and tell us how much the bill is if we can’t access it online, or if we don’t want to pay exorbitant postage to have it sent to us outside of the United States.

We also have made the decision not to carry health insurance while cruising outside the United States. If we need healthcare, we have found it to be affordable everywhere we traveled (except the States) and there are competent physicians in most places. Knock on wood — we have not had any serious health problems in all of our years aboard. This is a personal decision that someone with specific health issues may not be able to make. We don’t own a home or any property anywhere that has to be maintained and the kids are grown so when we are ready to go, all of the strings and umbilical cords have been severed.

Breaking it down
Now, after spending $1,000 or so putting canned foods, paper products, snacks, cookies, juices, shelf milk, rice and so forth into every possible nook and cranny aboard Sea Trek, we are ready to go. The budget consists of about nine months spent in the Western Caribbean and three months in the United States.

The category for boat fuel consists of both diesel for the boat and gas for the dinghy. Boat repair consists of what we paid others, and parts and materials for repairs and replacements that we did ourselves. We have found this figure to be pretty steady throughout recent years. Remember, the wear and tear you put on your boat while under way is much more than it would be just sitting at the dock, so these repairs are inevitable even for a relatively new boat.

The amount we spent on dining out was a big shock to us, but we have included all trips to the local ice cream shop and stops for sodas and beer as well as lunches and dinners in restaurants. If it didn’t get consumed on the boat, it was considered dining out.

Dockage was a fairly large figure for us, but it seemed we spent more time in marinas for various reasons than we usually do. In some places, anchorages just aren’t available due to shoaling or the anchorages have been replaced by mooring fields. In other areas, like Belize City, services can only be accessed by going into a marina. Entertainment included Internet cafes, CDs, museums, concerts, visiting ruins, satellite TV and the like. Travel is taxis, buses, rental cars, etc. Housing was our boat payment. Miscellaneous was haircuts, insect repellent and strange things that didn’t fall into other categories or cash that was spent that we could not account for. Maintenance included any item that was purchased to maintain the boat in her present condition. Most of the other categories are self explanatory and should not require any further explanation.

So here is how it breaks down per year:
Auto insurance (recreational use only) – $378.20
Gas for borrowed cars and rentals – $130.21
Bank charges – $270
Boat fuel (diesel and gas) – $1,440.06
Boat insurance (covering Caribbean) – $2,631.92
Charity – $13
Clothing – $63.02
Dining – $1,792.05
Dockage – $1,833.07
Entertainment – $654.46
Gifts – $229.02
Groceries/provisions – $3,828.54
Housing (boat payments) – $4,479.36
Laundry – $165.10
Maintenance – $888.97
Medical/doctors – $242.50
Medicine – $233.09
Miscellaneous – $730.39
Port fees – $608.83
Postage – $17.28
Subscriptions – $52.86
Taxes and registration – $45.60
Utilities/electric – $161.99
Phone – $304.40
Hotels – $395.07
Travel – $369.66

Our total expenditures for the year were $25,805.10. If your boat is paid off, you’re down to about $21,500 and the amount can be even less if you only anchor out, don’t eat out, etc. Again, we feel this amount is fairly accurate as other friends of ours whose boat is paid off figure they spend about $20,000 for a year off in the wild blue yonder. Surprisingly enough, as I look at our budget for previous years, the costs have not changed dramatically except in the areas of insurance and fuel.

Behind the numbers
To give you an idea of what boat repairs we encountered, the depth sounder transducer needed to be replaced and it had to be a special length so it cost more than your standard transducer. We hauled the boat and had the bottom painted, which should probably be in the maintenance category, but we had the depth sounder installed at that time so we considered it a repair. We also had our outboard completely rebuilt when it was becoming sluggish. We decided that our anchor rode was a little tired and should be replaced. Also, we had to buy a new microwave oven in Guatemala when the old one gave up the ghost. If it was on the boat and had to be repaired or replaced, it was counted in the boat repair category.
The last thing you have to take into consideration over and beyond the above-mentioned expenditures is the amount you will need when you return to keep you going until you are gainfully employed once again. We generally like to set aside about $3,000 for this.

Let your needs and considerations be the determining factors to help you compute your costs, but by all means go and have fun.

Preparations For Cruising

The true meaning of cruising plans are “made in jello” came to live with us several years ago. We had quit our jobs in the Florida Keys, sold our car and were ready to get underway when we had one parent die and the other become injured and need to go into nursing care. That idea that cruisers need to be flexible and change their plans at a moments notice was clearer to us at that moment than at any other since we moved aboard 17 years ago. Instead of turning right outside of our channel, we turned left and started heading North. After getting things settled up North, we were then underway in the ICW heading South after putting our cruising plans on hold for a year and a half and working in the Baltimore/Annapolis area.
You can generally predict the first question people ask you when you tell them you are quitting your job. “Oh, where are you going?” To be able to predict their response when you tell them you are sailing your boat from the Chesapeake Bay to San Diego is not quite so simple. The responses have ranged from “That is so cool!” to simply looks of amazement and open mouths. Once the shock has passed, another barrage of questions begins.

About The Boat

Sea Trek is a Mariner 40 Ketch designed by Clair Oberly and built in the Tayana yard in Taiwan. Her keel was laid late in 1978, she was finished in 1979 and shipped to the United States and commissioned by her first owner in 1980. She is a very traditional, heavy displacement (15 tons) extremely well built offshore cruiser. We purchased her in March of 1992 of moved aboard almost immediately. The previous owner had not abused her but also had not used her much. The equipment list was short so we pretty much started from scratch. She has a lot of teak on deck to keep us busy and a beautiful all teak interior.

Short trips on the Chesapeake Bay showed us the basics we would need. Our first weekend brought about our first addition. Bringing up the anchor from some muddy bottoms encouraged us to immediately install a good wash down system on the foredeck. The basic electronics such as speed, depth and wind instruments came very soon after. She had a VHF but it was old and also was replaced. Our first cruising plans were to head down the ICW to the Bahamas for an initial shakedown. Creature comforts as well as safety equipment took priority. The previous owner believed that the only way to cook on a boat was with an electric skillet and a microwave. He had a large microwave gimbaled in where a stove should go. We made the decision right from the beginning to do all of the installations ourselves as long as it did not endanger the safety and integrity of the vessel. Our first major project was a three burner propane stove with an oven. That meant we needed to completely install the entire propane system. This and all following installs were done according to all manufacturers and AYBS standards of safety and gave us a head start on repairs should something break.

We tried different types of dinghies from the hard rowing type to our final decision for a rigid hull inflatable. One of our friends came walking down the dock one day with a pair of beautiful stainless steel dinghy davits they had just remove from their boat. They ask us if we wanted them and before he finished asking I had them off his shoulder and sitting in our cockpit. The dinghy has almost never spent an night in the water since then.

Other than the normal and required safety equipment we were still pretty basic. But those creature comforts are what makes a cruising experience a pleasant one or a camping trip on the water. We installed a power inverter to run our small appliances and tools as opposed to a generator. We decided we could always change this later on. We never did. New cushions and blinds on the ports had the boat looking much more homey. With the inverter and more electronics we knew we would need a better source to keep the batteries up. Initially we installed a Four Winds wind generator as a starting point. It kept up on that first Bahamas trip but as we added over the years we also added three 85 watt solar panels.

That first cruise taught us a lot. We needed a good source for weather when not available through VHF or TV. At first a small transistor SSB receiver hooked to our laptop got us weatherfax and text weather forecasts. As our cruising expanded we joined all of our fellow cruisers with a SSB which of course did much more than our tiny receiver. Even later Susan received her ham license and we added ham radio to our communications. The 406 epirbs came into their own and we added those. A liferaft was next since we knew longer offshore passages were on the horizon. Over the years we have added new full batten sails to replace the originals. Our Perkins 4-108 proved to be woefully under powered for the boat so a new Yanmar took a big bite out of the cruising kitty. We have added a microwave, DVD/VHS recorder and player and a new LCD HD TV. Our original outdated autopilot did not survive that first trip down the ICW so we installed a heavy duty below decks hydraulic pilot that was designed for boats up to 75 feet and it has paid for itself over and over. One lesson we learned right off was not to buy cheap, ask others that have been out there and always go bigger than you think you will need.

On this last trip we replaced the canvas bimini and dodger with a hardtop that I designed from aluminum frame and Starboard, with a clear Lexan windshield. This has been a fantastic improvement. It allows us to completely enclose the cockpit like a pilothouse and gives us a good place to mount some of the solar panels. A plus lets me climb on top of it to deal with the mizzen. Radar, dual GPS units, a chartplotter, a new stereo set up and just recently a new central AC/Heat unit rounds out just some of the improvements we made along the way, The AC only runs when plugged into the dock by the way. We also found that a watermaker was much needed after that first trip. These are only some of the upgrades we have done. She has custom non skid decks, electric windlass, custom seats on the foredeck and in the cockpit and the list goes on and on.

We carry 78 gallons of fuel which gives us a cruising range under power of about 400 miles. We carry additional plastic jugs on deck with extra fuel for long passages or when in areas where fuel stops are few and far apart. Our water tank hold 100 gallons and can be refilled endlessly from the watermaker. Our draft is 6 feet and although sometimes a bit of a concern, it has not kept us form any cruising grounds. Over the years we have AwlGripped the boat form the waterline to the masthead. She has never experienced the problems many Tawain boats have had with leaks and deck problems. Perhaps that is due to our diligent maintenance or testimony to her solid construction.

To us she is the perfect cruising liveaboard and although she is unlike the new modern "cruisers" with 5 cabins that sleep 12 and can entertain 16 at dinner she is for us, very comfortable, and not too overwhelming should something happen and perhaps only one of us would need to get her home. Her solid construction give us that feeling of safety and well being no matter what the conditions. She has kept us safe and sane through 15 named storms, a few offshore gales and just a bunch of crappy weather. Don't know if you can tell but we kinda like our boat. Fair Winds

Let It Begin Florida Keys to Guatemala

We crossed the bar at 7 a.m. just as we had planned. Well, almost, since we originally thought we would be here yesterday. But today worked out even better after our rain delay because an astronomically high tide of a little better than 2 feet gave us more water to cross over and transit the shallow harbor into Livingston, Guatemala
Sea Trek’s full keel and 6-foot draft make playing the tides an important part of our navigation process. We don’t run aground like other boats — we park.

By 7:30 a.m. the anchor was down off the Municipal Dock and the Q flag was up. All we had to do was wait for the officials to come out to us to start the clearance process. It all went quickly and the officials were the friendliest we have met in all of our travels. After a short trip to town to finish the paperwork process, and the purchase of a few items at the grocery store, we headed back to the boat and hauled up the anchor. We motored across the harbor toward “the gorge.”
As we entered this narrow lower part of the Rio Dulce we were awestruck. Shear cliffs rose above our masts to more than 300 feet, but they were covered with lush green tropical foliage that reached right down to the water. Even with the drone of the engine we could hear the sounds of the jungle above us. Sitting at the helm, and with Susan on the bow watching for river debris, I tried to absorb it all. The contrast of the emerald water, the dense green vegetation and the narrow strip of crystal clear blue sky above was almost overwhelming. It was at that point that I really began to reflect back to the beginnings of our adventure.

Getting started
After waiting for parts, weather, and taking care of last-minute preparations, we untied the dock lines for the last time and pulled out of our slip in Marathon, Fla. We actually began this cruise six years ago, but for a while seemed doomed by last-minute health problems, family issues and financial setbacks that delayed us time after time. At one point this included a 1,200-mile detour in the opposite direction.
The marina was quiet that morning: No fanfare or bands playing to our farewell. We just quietly pulled out into Hawks Channel and motored about seven miles west to Boot Key Harbor.

One last problem needed our attention. During the insurance survey for this trip it was determined that the cutless bearing was worn. We decided to have it replaced now so it didn’t create a problem later. The stop was short and the repairs quickly made at Marathon Boatyard. Sea Trek moved out of the Travelift bay and made a short trip out into Boot Key Harbor where we again anchored and waited for weather.

After a day or so of strong winds coming from the direction we were going and a few squalls now and then, the weather turned calm and we motored the 50 miles to visit with friends in Key West and say goodbye. Living in Marathon we had forgotten the throngs of boats coming and going in Key West Harbor. Cruise ships docking at the main piers, tour boats in an endless parade and the ever-present sportfishing boats (waking everything and everyone) greeted us as we made the turn and headed for our anchorage behind Garrison Bight. 
Boats of all sizes and shapes were anchored everywhere outside the channel. Our plan was to spend a few days here, then move on to the Dry Tortugas 70 miles west of us. There we would wait for a weather window to cross to Mexico. Our go-to guy for weather, Herb Hilgenberg on Southbound II, was telling us that the forecast did not looking promising for some time. So we waited another 10 days for things to improve.
During that time, our daily discussions with Herb on the SSB radio about the weather patterns and Gulf Stream currents brought us to a change in our direction to reach Isla Mujeres.

The accepted route is to cross the Gulf Stream twice. Heading south from the Keys, most boats cross directly to the coast of Cuba, find the counter currents that usually run about 12 miles out, then follow the coast until just due south of Cabo San Antonio. From that point, most turn west and make a run for Isla Mujeres, crossing the Stream again, except it is now the Yucatan Current. But Herb’s research of the currents in the areas that we would cover revealed that the currents were very close to the Cuban coast and would be against us most of the way. Instead, we determined that a better plan would be to go due west into the Gulf of Mexico until we reached a waypoint of about 24 degrees north and 088 degrees west, then turn to the south heading for Isla Mujeres.

On April 20, with the outlook for good weather, we left Key West behind and had a great sail with winds on our port quarter to the Marquesas Keys about 25 miles west. Again we planned to go to the Tortugas for a few days and visit with our friends who bring the tourists out to the fort on the big catamarans. A check with Herb that evening told us our weather window was now and might not look better. So the following morning we pulled up the anchor and changed our plans. We were heading for Mexico.

Promises kept
Our first day out was a perfect sail: Wind on the starboard quarter, as promised, and soon after we left the shallow waters of the Keys the seas flattened out. Herb had been right on the money regarding the currents, and we did indeed have a favorable current with us for all but six hours of the entire passage. 
On Day 2, also as predicted, we lost all of our wind and the Gulf of Mexico took on the characteristics of a swimming pool. That meant motoring. One of our under way routines is to do a check of the bilges and the engine compartment about every three hours. This has headed off many problems in the past. During one of these inspections the gauge on the Racor fuel filter was starting to show a vacuum. This means the filter is dirty and will soon clog. So off went the engine and I did my first filter change in the Middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Since sea conditions were calm, the change went quickly and easily.
The rest of the passage went smoothly. A combination of sailing, motoring and motorsailing brought us off the southeastern tip of Isla Mujeres at around 2 a.m. We had excellent waypoints to get us up the channel on the western side of the island and with a bright full moon that you could almost read by, we dropped anchor about a mile off the island. With the moon and crystal-clear water we could see the anchor drop in the white sand below, even though it was still only 3 a.m.

The entire passage took us 68 hours — short by offshore standards — so we did not have the time to get into a good rhythm for sleeping and watch standing.
Although very tired and looking forward to a good night’s sleep, we both just stood together on deck thinking that if we really closed our eyes we might wake up in our slip in Marathon and once again this was just a dream. But not this time. Our adventure had finally begun.

Seeing and Being Seen

We had been anchored in the harbor at Isla Mujeres for two weeks. This was short by some others’ standards since many boats had been here for months and some even for years. This Caribbean island has much to offer so we do understand why many linger. From the tourist shops and restaurants in town to the reef at El Garrafon and the excellent beaches, the days are filled with all sorts of activities. But for us it was time to move on. A few days prior to departure we began the process of restocking the boat. This means provisioning for food, filling the water and fuel tanks, including the extra jerry jugs on deck. We also wanted to take an extra couple of days to finish a protective cover for the dinghy. Monitoring the weather forecast for several days finally gave us a departure date.

The departure drill
We have a pre-departure routine that is always followed without exception. This simple routine is done whether we are just planning a daysail or crossing an ocean. Some tasks we can take care of the night before, but usually we wait until just before we haul up anchor.
All necessary charts and guidebooks for the passage are at the helm or the nav station. We go through a checklist in our log, which includes checking all fluid levels in the engine, checking that all electronics and radios are working properly, and all through-hulls are secure.

In addition we note current as well as expected weather conditions. Our forecast was for east-northeast winds at 10 to 15 knots — absolutely perfect for our move to the south.
The anchor washdown system is activated and the time we begin to haul up the anchor is noted in our log. We also note how much fuel and water is on board. We turn on and test our two-way radio headsets for communicating between the helm and the foredeck. The engine is fired up and allowed to warm up for a few minutes. A visual inspection of the engine compartment and bilge is performed.

Under way again
At 7 a.m. we hauled up the anchor and got under way. By the time we had the chain and anchor washed off and hauled aboard, and moved out of the harbor, the morning net on VHF had begun. We said goodbye to all those we had met during our short stay, and motored south along the island on the same course we had come in on two weeks earlier. As usual at this time of the morning, the breeze was very light. Once we were out of the lee of the island it began to freshen, and we shut down the engine and raised all sails. Going past the beaches and hotels on Cancun we were amazed at how it reminded us of Miami. This resort area has prospered since its days as a small fishing village in the 1970s, and it is evident even from offshore. This would be a short run, since our destination of Punta Maroma — also affectionately known to cruisers in the area as Hut Point — was only a little more than 40 miles to the south.

The entire coast of Mexico here is paralleled by one of the longest barrier reef systems in the world. Any stops along this coast mean finding a break in the reef and negotiating it safely. That would be our challenge all the way to Belize. The other issue we would have to deal with is a strong 2- to 3-knot current running north along the coast. When you average 5 or 6 knots under sail in light conditions this can be a big factor. But if one follows the reef line at about a mile or two off, you can actually find a counter-current setting south of 1/2 to 1 knot. This passage is best done in daylight hours and during settled weather since the onshore winds could set a boat on the reef. Surf breaks on the reef almost the entire way down the coast, so even by sight you can see its location, and we found it did show up well on our radar screen. This was to be one of those perfect days that you read about in the cruising magazines.

Making the move
Around 2 p.m. we were at the GPS coordinates that had been given to us by our cruising friends for the break in the reef. Since this was to be our first run through a reef break we were a little apprehensive. With Susan at the helm, I climbed the mast steps to the spreaders to get a better read of the water and reef location. We could obviously see, even from deck level, where the reef stopped breaking. We had been told to stay about 200 feet south of where the breaking waves stopped. My climb up the mast confirmed this.

Each time we are in a situation like this we realize the value of our two-way radios. We would have liked to have had the sun behind us, but since we were heading west behind the reef that could not be. Still, everything went smoothly and we crossed behind the reef with 10 feet of water under the keel. About two-thirds of the way in toward the beach we turned north and ran parallel to the reef. Our guidebook noted the best anchorages were north of the resort located there and in the sandy patches. The bottom here is a thin layer of sand over hard coral, and there is a lot of turtle grass covering the bottom. The water is crystal clear so it’s easy to tell where the sandy patches are. Finding sandy patches would be our routine for anchoring for some time to come. After three attempts, following our usual anchoring procedures, we finally were able to set the anchor just before 3 p.m. The water behind the reef was flat and comfortable. We made sure we were anchored behind an area that was breaking fairly heavily since that meant the swells were being knocked down by the reef. We began shifting into our at anchor mode, not yet realizing this would prove to be an interesting anchorage.

Taking in the sights
On cue the winds dropped after sunset and we had a very peaceful night. The next morning dawned an almost perfect day. After the morning SSB nets, retrieval of weather faxes and breakfast, we began to explore. As is found along this entire coast, we were anchored off a beautiful white beach. Tall palms waved in the wind and the occasional Casuarina Pine dotted the coastline.
There is also a small resort here. We saw several large catamarans and tied to their dock, and a series of small powerboats with large outboards beached. Shortly after we were up and about, the first of the catamarans came out to the reef loaded with tourists for a snorkel excursion. They would be ferrying the tourists back and forth all day. On our first day we had designated one of the cats “the naked boat” since it had obviously been chartered by a group of nudists. They came close by us and invited us to “take it off.”

Circle the wagons
Suddenly, all of the small outboard powerboats on the beach launched one after another. They seemed to be playing a game of follow the leader with an employee of the resort as the leader. He would take them out and have each one follow in his wake as he did figure eights, circles and other geometric shapes, all at maximum speed. At some point another boat would station itself in a designated spot and the leader would bring his followers close in to the stationary boat. At that point the tourists would have their picture taken as they sped past the photo boat. This, too, went on three or four times a day. We found they took great delight in making our boat a tourist attraction, which made us think of what the early settlers must have felt like as their circled wagon trains were surrounded by the Indians. However, the boaters were always friendly and everyone waved as they went past.

Observing the tourists
We decided to do a little snorkeling on the reef and exploring of the beach and resort ourselves. We were disappointed with the condition of the reef. It was obviously distressed and damaged, and fish were scarce. A trip to the beach offered a few more surprises. The resort has a very nice restaurant right on the beach. The rooms looked inviting and all of the grounds were well-kept. At the far end of the resort area on the beach we found a line of tourists standing next to a couple of horses. Each tourist would get on the horse, which had no saddle, and a resort employee would walk the horse into the water. When the horse and rider were walking back out of the water after circling a piling, another employee took their picture, but they never actually rode the horse anywhere. We finally figured out how the package worked. The tourists were bussed in each day in shifts. When they arrived they were taken to the reef for snorkeling. On the way back to the dock the boat would anchor and the spinnaker would be raised. Anyone could sit on a plank attached to the spinnaker and ride it up as the wind filled it. There was lots of screaming and squealing with delight. Next they returned to the dock and hit the beach where the powerboats were waiting. They would then play the follow the leader game for maybe 20 to 30 minutes. After returning to the beach they would then be taken to the line for the horse in the water ride. After that they ate and drank in the restaurant, boarded their bus and returned from whence they came. This process continued all day until about 5 p.m., then we would have the anchorage back to ourselves.

This was amusing to watch, but after five days of swimming, beach walks, and boat wakes, we were ready to move on again, especially since we had only planned to be here overnight. More new experiences awaited us.

Be Flexible

For years I have dreamed about visiting Mayan ruins — ever since I dug up that first tooth in my mother’s flowerbed at the age of 10. I thought I had found some wonderful artifact, but it was, in fact, an old cow’s tooth. Our property used to be pastureland. Oh well. I was still interested in archaeology and decided one day I would immerse myself in history. Tulum, about 80 miles south of Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula and until the 1960s accessible only by sea, seemed like the place to start. Chuck and I pored over the charts of the Mexican coast to decide our next stop after Punta Maroma. The number of good and accessible anchorages is few and far between on this part of the coast and getting caught in the wrong place in bad weather here can be downright dangerous.

Our weather reports indicated very light winds and no rain for the next several days. We had heard from a number of people that the anchorage at Tulum had poor holding and was good only in settled weather. Still, after talking to the vessel, Nueva Vida, on the SSB one morning and getting waypoints and a thumbs-up on the weather, Chuck agreed to go there.
We were told the reef pass was easy to navigate and the holding was better than at Punta Maroma. The ruins of Tulum sit up on a hill directly on the Caribbean Sea in Mexico.

Charting a course
Before we leave even for a daysail, my job is to get out the charts and plot our waypoints, being careful to ensure our course line does not go over any hazards or shoal spots. I draw lines with the parallel rulers between the waypoints, and measure and label the distance and compass heading, noting whether the course is magnetic or true. Sometimes we use the GPS in true mode to navigate to our waypoints. The waypoints are then written in the top of our logbook for that day and entered into the GPS to determine our route for this leg of the passage.

I picked a waypoint a bit offshore to stay away from the reefs, but remain close enough into shore to avoid the counter current. The waypoint was a half-mile or so from the reef pass. The next waypoint would be just outside the reef at Tulum and the last where we passed through the reef. From there, we would just turn north and run parallel to the beach, as instructed by the guidebook.

Making way without wind
We had little wind the morning we left Punta Maroma. We’d had a nice time there, but it was definitely time to head farther south. After crossing our earlier waypoint outside the reef, we turned to head southwest toward Tulum. We motorsailed all day, never having enough wind from the right direction to turn the engine off. Any time the engine is running for a period of time, it is our practice to do a visual inspection of the engine compartment and bilge every two hours, and make a note in the log. While cruising along like this it is customary for us to stream a fishing line behind the boat. Chuck will decide what lure he thinks will attract the fish that day, and put it over the side. We have a rod holder secured to the starboard stanchion amidships. Once the line is let out about 100 feet, Chuck ties the rod to the holder. It didn’t take long and we were reeling in a nice plump little blue fin tuna for dinner.

It was a beautiful sunny day and by mid-afternoon or so, the ruins of Tulum began to appear in the distance. I got the binoculars out and tried to make out the different buildings.

Navigating the pass
As we got closer, we realized a sailboat was heading north and about to enter the reef pass as well. Lady Galadriel had been a vessel we spoke to on the Northwest Caribbean Net on 8188 a number of times in the morning. Being polite, we told them to go ahead and go first. OK, so I’m a chicken. I wanted to follow someone else in. This time, Chuck stayed at the helm and I crawled up on the main boom to get a better look at the bottom as we came through the reef.
The “flat awash rock” reported in the reef break was somewhat visible and right where it was supposed to be. The reef pass was much wider than I had imagined. I always have these visions in my head of going through these narrow passes with 2 feet on either side of the boat and big aggressive coral reaching up to hole the hull.

In reality, the pass was probably 100 yards across. Once we cleared the reef Chuck turned to starboard and began to head north toward the ruins.

Lady Galadriel made her turn again to starboard and was preparing to anchor just behind the reef. We passed well behind them to stay out of their way, and went a little further down the beach. At that point, we switched positions and I was back on the helm to anchor. We then turned toward the reef and dropped the hook.

Pitching and rolling
After our usual routine of dropping anchor, paying out a good deal of chain, letting it settle, then backing down, we realized it was not holding. We pulled up, found a sandier patch, dropped the hook a second time and got it to hold.

That’s when we realized we had a problem. No, nothing was wrong with the boat, the engine, or the sails, it was the anchorage. The wind had died down leaving us sideways in the swells; we were rolling, pitching and yawing like crazy.

Lady Galadriel had asked us to stop by for a visit before we realized what kind of anchorage this was. We called them back on the VHF and politely declined. It was actually too rough to launch the dinghy from the davits and, at one point, Chuck asked me to cook dinner earlier than usual because he thought if he waited any longer, he might be seasick. We considered a stern anchor to keep us bow to the swells, but decided against that because of the rocky bottom. Plus our secondary anchor is rode with a short piece of chain, so we might have a problem with the line chafing through from the motion.

The problem here is that the reef is too shallow to break up the swells as they roll in toward the beach. They come unimpeded for hundreds of miles and, unless it has been flat calm for many days, this anchorage would not be comfortable. The difference between here and Punta Maroma was that the reef there was higher and actually almost dried at low tide. We had even tried to get behind a patch of reef that we thought was breaking more than the rest, to no avail. At this point I realized I would not be seeing Tulum on this trip. The word “untenable” comes to mind. If this is considered a fair-weather anchorage we could only imagine what it must be like in a hard blow with large seas.

Reality and the rules
I sat out in the cockpit until sunset and looked at the spectacular view of the beach, huts, ruins and people frolicking. There was a small palapa-style restaurant right on the beach. It was a beautiful place and we were saddened to know we could not spend one more night in this place. If we stayed to visit the ruins the next day we would not be able to get out in good light. The rolling continued all night and moving about below was quite an exercise in balance. We got up at sunrise, raised the anchor and made all due haste to the reef opening as soon as we had light enough to see it. I think next time I will follow the advice of other cruisers who stayed the night at Puerto Aventuras, a marina about 20 miles North of Tulum, and take the bus to the ruins. Live and learn the hard way, I always say. But enjoying ourselves while cruising means sticking to two important rules: Never keep a schedule and always be flexible.

As we left Tulum behind, for another time, we wondered what new experiences we would find at our next stop.

Off The Beaten Path

By 8:30 a.m. we had crossed the reef line and watched with regret as the beautiful beach at Tulum faded behind us. The weather forecast was for another perfect day with the exception of predicted light wind. Our destination was only 35 miles south of our current location, but it would be a motorsail all the way. As with our arrival, we were holding our distance from the reef line to approximately one mile, and as a result a favorable current of 1.5 knots helped move us along. Since we were under power and charging batteries from the engine we used the time to run the watermaker and fill our tanks. The system is 12 volts and takes around 25 amps, so the assist from the alternator was welcomed.

At around 10:30 a.m. I did my usual visual inspection of the bilge and engine compartment with no surprises. The autopilot was steering us effortlessly to our next waypoint and all was good with the world. It is days like this that make all our hard work and efforts to prepare for this trip totally worthwhile.

Around noon we were sitting in the cockpit contemplating lunch when the familiar sound of the fishing reel set us into action. We had done well on this part of the coast so we knew what to do. Susan eased the throttle back to idle and I grabbed the reel. Within a few minutes we had landed another blue fin tuna. We were beginning to wonder if any other species roamed these waters but we were not complaining. Once again, fresh tuna would grace the captain’s table for dinner. And fresh tuna salad is always one of Susan’s favorites for lunch.

A dramatic reminder
The break in the reef at Bahia Ascension is very wide and there are few or no breakers to show us the edges at the entrance. As we approached the bay we first noticed something large and white some distance off to our starboard. As we moved further along the reef we both determined what it was at about the same time. The shining white hull of a pretty good-size sailboat was lying on its side on the top of the reef — a dramatic reminder that a mistake along this coastline could be serious and disastrous.

We wondered aloud how the wreck might have happened. Did the boat lose steering and drift up on the reef? Did the crew make a fatal mistake in navigation? Was a storm responsible? The hull seemed pretty much intact so it must have only been there a short time. Anyone who has spent any time cruising will understand the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach anytime you encounter such a sight.

Now it was our turn to cross that same reef without mishap. We had been provided a set of waypoints by a friend in Isla Mujeras that had been in and out of here only a couple of weeks before. Even with first-hand waypoints we are always cautious and a little apprehensive. We had plotted them on our paper charts, and on the electronic charts on the computer as well as entering them into the GPS as part or our route. All seemed in agreement that we would enter with a good margin of safety.

The first waypoint was outside the reef line and put us in a good position to maneuver to the second waypoint inside the reef line. Even with good coordinates we still always maintain a watch on the foredeck and, when entering a pass, will even climb the rigging using our mast steps to get us high enough to get a good visual on the depths and the periphery of the reef pass. Our third waypoint put us well inside the bay. Our anchorage was a good five miles once we had crossed over the reef line. From our third waypoint the rest was all eyeball. We knew from information we had gathered and from our guidebook of the area that there was a shallow bar that extended almost a quarter-mile off the north end of Culebra Cay, where we planned to anchor. So from our third waypoint we headed directly for the north end of the cay, then maintained the quarter-mile distance once we were close in. We saw no less than 12 feet of water all the way to our anchoring spot on the west side of the cay. There we would have good protection from the swells that worked in from the sea as well as the prevailing easterly winds. As usual, things were going too easily.

An uninvited guest
It became apparent from the thick grass on the bottom and a few attempts to set the anchor that our CQR was not going to grab. Both our primary and secondary anchors are CQR so that meant switching one out for our Danforth. This takes a little time since we always make sure the anchor shackles are wired closed for safety. But by 3:30 p.m. local time we were anchored, and began to open the boat up and settle in for a few days of rest and relaxation. Almost as soon as we had the cockpit stowed and went below we heard a scratching sound on deck. We both noticed it and went topside to inspect. We both know that new sounds unfamiliar to us sometimes mean problems.

As we came out on deck we found a pigeon had landed on deck and was walking around as if disoriented or not well. This has happened in the past when a stray bird came in contact with our wind generator. This one did not have any visible injuries. But we also knew what kind of a mess birds make on the deck and canvas. So we made an attempt to coax her off and convince her to fly away. She would have none of it and ran around the deck staying just out of our reach. The end of any passage, no matter how short, is time to just relax, so we decided to leave the bird be for now and perhaps she would just leave later.
We went below and started planning dinner for the evening, and doing a few boat chores. Not giving the bird another thought we finally sat down at the table for dinner a couple of hours later, and suddenly noticed the bird standing outside the companionway screen watching us eat.

Since Susan is an old softy she insisted on giving her food and water. I warned her that if we did, the bird would move aboard, and reminded her of what the decks would look like the next morning — but she insisted. The bird stayed with us for another day and a half, then just flew away. No thank you or anything, just little deposits everywhere.

Questioning the guidebook
For the next couple of days we just relaxed and enjoyed our quiet and peaceful anchorage. The VHF radio is always on and we had picked up the conversations of two boats that were heading into the bay. They were happy to hear that we were already inside, and we gave them our waypoints in. We had also picked up a boat on the Northwest Caribbean Net that morning that was heading in, and we shared our waypoints. The anchorage was soon to get crowded. By that evening we were sharing the anchorage with two trawlers and a large motorsailer with friendly crews aboard. We found that we were all heading in the same general direction, for Belize. The folks on the motorsailer had just made a five-day passage from the United States.

The settlement at Punta Allen was about three miles due north of us in the bay. Our guidebook suggested it was unimpressive and not worth a visit. In addition, there was a naval base there and a visit could result in a hassle from officials.

One morning we happened to pick up a conversation on the VHF from a couple of boats that sounded close by. So we jumped in and introduced ourselves. We were surprised when they told us they were anchored near the settlement, and it was really a great little place and we should visit before we left. Within the hour we’d hauled up anchor and moved the three miles to the anchorage behind Punta Gorda.

After we splashed the dinghy we stopped to chat with one of the boats we had communicated with earlier. They gave us the scoop about the town and where everything could be found, including the new town-built dinghy dock, the local tiendas — or grocery stores — and the all-important Internet cafe.

We found the town delightful, and the people friendly and helpful. We learned they are trying hard to attract tourists since this area is famous for its fishing, and diving and snorkeling on the reefs. As evidence of their sincere intentions, it appeared they had converted every other house on every street into a restaurant.

We stayed another two days just to enjoy the settlement. The navy presence was never a problem, and they were always friendly and polite when we met them on the street. But we knew it was time to continue pushing south.

Belize Begs For Exploration

The spring trade winds have been very kind to us along the entire Mexican coast, sometimes too kind since we have spent more time motoring than sailing. The upside is that we havent spent a lot of time waiting for weather windows. So far we have pretty much been able to move to our next destination whenever we were ready.
By now our routine was well developed and at 9 oclock Sunday morning we hauled up anchor and headed back out through the reef at Bahia Ascension, Mexico. We used the GPS track that we came in on to also leave. We always go out the same way we came in. If we get in OK then, logically, we should get out with no problem. This time was no different and we had very light northeast winds at about 5 knots.

The run out of the bay to cross the reef was more than 5 miles. For the next 26 hours we would sail a while, then motorsail a while, off and on for the 128 miles to our next port in San Pedro, Belize.

Around noon we hooked another tuna on the fishing line and shortly after that a barracuda. With that we hauled in the line for the rest of the day.

All along the Mexican coast we had played the currents to our advantage. By staying less than a mile off the reefs during the day and keeping a careful watch on our position, we were able to avoid the strong north-setting current that can run 2 to 3 knots at times. But in this area we were not able to avoid it and had to deal with a 1- to 1-1/2-knot counter-current. Even with that, we found ourselves just outside the reef break at San Pedro on Ambergris Cay Belize at 10 a.m. Monday morning.

Once again we had good waypoints outside the reef and through to the inside anchorage, but we arrived to find the area busy with boat traffic and dive boats anchored all along the reef. The entrance was still easy as long as we avoided the partially submerged portion of the reef that extends inside the break and required us to make a sharp turn to the north just after we entered. This cut would be treacherous in strong easterly winds.

The entire area shallows quickly, so we did not have much choice in where to anchor. With our 6-foot draft it was strange to have to anchor in 6-1/2 feet of water. The occasional wakes from the boats coming and going actually caused us to bump on the bottom. As we anchored we discovered that two other boats we had briefly met along the way were also anchored and had been there for several days.

Settling in
Ambergris Cay was once attached to the mainland. About a thousand years ago the Mayans dug a canal and cut the cay off from the mainland. The north side of this ancient cut is actually Mexico. This is a major tourist destination and is the largest and most developed island in Belize. Diving the reef is the biggest draw, but boats carrying tourists on snorkel and fishing trips are constantly in and out all day; and dive boats even run at night. San Pedro has its own airport and crewmembers can be flown in and out. We had timed our arrival for Monday morning to avoid any overtime charges by officials. The check-in is simple and only takes a visit to the immigration office, and then to customs, which are next door to each other. Occasionally, were told, the agricultural department folks will come out to inspect your foodstuffs and look for infestations.

To our surprise we learned that we had entered on a national holiday and had to pay the extra fees to clear in anyway so much for careful planning. Because of the holiday, we had to wait for about a half-hour for the customs worker to come from her house. No matter, we just went and had ice cream while we waited. We enjoyed our visit, but because of the heavy boat traffic and wakes, we decided to move on after only spending one night.

Playing the tides
Heading south into Belize there are two options. One is to go back outside the reef and head for the Belize City ship channel 30 miles to the south. This option is especially appealing if the sea state is too rough to allow safe entrance through the reef at San Pedro. The other option is to run south on the inside. Because of the outlying reef that runs almost the entire distance of Belize, a boat will encounter small seas while sailing on the inside. The problem for us with our 6-foot draft is shallow channels in several areas along the inside route, but only as far South as Belize City. We choose this course anyway and decide to play the tides to get to Cay Caulker, about 15 miles south of San Pedro.

Almost as soon as the anchor was up we bumped bottom, but were able to continue on our way. We had timed this to keep us about an hour ahead of high tide just in case we ran aground. With the exception of touching bottom at the anchorage, the average depths along our route were around 7 feet. We arrived at Cay Caulker three hours later.

Island life at its best
Cay Caulker is actually two cays after being cut in half by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Today its primary source of income is tourism as are most of the outer settlements of Belize. The lobster industry that was once its mainstay is still present, but not as predominant as it used to be. The best word we could think of to describe Cay Caulker is funky. Its few streets and roads in the settlement are sand and the primary means of transportation is golf cart. The carts are so quiet that you dont hear them come up behind you as you walk down the streets.

Restaurants line most of the streets as do the dive and fishing charters. The most famous eatery is the SandBox Bar and Grill, which serves great meals, sandwiches and even vegetarian food. We also found a post office, hardware and grocery stores, a bank, gift shops, a soda-and-beer distributor that sells to the public and one of the best bakeries we have found so far. Susan often bakes bread and other goodies on board, but we still found ourselves visiting the bakery almost every day. We also found a coin laundry a rarity in our travels.

There is a large commercial dock where the supply ferries come in on a regular basis. Cruisers can tie their dinghies here on a side dock built especially for that purpose.
After a couple of days we regretfully started our leisurely cruise south through the cays. Our next destination, Cay Chape, was a short 7 miles south. The cay has been bought by private developers and converted to a high-end resort and golf course. Landing here is discouraged, although we did explore the resort by dinghy. The marina area is sadly unused and would make a nice secure overnight stop. Instead, we anchored near the marina entrance in the lee of the island. From this point on cruisers can move from anchorage to anchorage in minutes or an hour or so. There is no shortage of cays to visit and enjoy. Most are close enough to dinghy to the reef for diving or snorkeling, and the fishing is some of the finest we have found. Anchoring here can be a challenge because of the heavy growth of sea grass around the cays so looking for sandy patches is essential.

In search of deeper water
To get to the Belize City area we would have to pass through the infamous half-mile-wide Porto Stuck channel between Montejo Cay and Hicks Cay. It is called Porto Stuck for a good reason. This is a winding, shallow channel with little in the way of markers (actually tree branches with plastic bottles hanging on them) and a 5-1/2-foot depth at mean low water. That meant we must pass through just at high tide.

We left Cay Chapel at 8 a.m. and passed through Porto Stuck at 9:30 a.m., just about 20 minutes before the scheduled high tide. Some of the shallow depths were nail-biters, but we navigated through without parking Sea Trek. We only touched bottom in the trough of a wave just north of Porto Stuck. 
There are also narrow, shallow channels that we needed to clear just south of there before we found ourselves in the deeper waters east of Belize City. One must use Ships Cay Bogue and not Swallow Cay Bogue unless you want to spend time waiting for high tide to lift you off the shoals. We settled on a great anchorage at the Drowned Cays behind Gallows Point. We picked our way carefully in until we had protection from all direction but west. These are mostly mangrove cays with many channels called bogues that can be explored by dinghy. We found several rusting wrecked barges in one of the bogues near our anchorage. These channels can be deep and, if careful, can be navigated and offer good all-around protection if bad weather threatens. We stayed here for two days.

In just six days we had traveled about a third of the way through the outer cays. All of the reports we had gotten before we arrived in Belize were all accurate. This is truly a wonderful tropical cruising ground that could take months of exploration.

Placencia Belize

The quaint village offers Caribbean flavor and more services than cruisers might expect
For cruisers in the Western Caribbean going north to Mexico and the United States, or heading the opposite way to Guatemala, Honduras and points south, a very logical and popular stop is at Placencia, Belize. The nearby Port of Big Creek is becoming more and more of a choice to either check in or check out of the country. Big Creek is a commercial port just west of Placencia. This is a port for large ships so the channel is deep and well-marked with red and green buoys. You must bring your boat to the port for either checking in or out. The Customs official will not clear you if you try to simply dinghy over. We found it’s a good idea to call Belize Port Control on Ch. 16 to find out if there will be any ship traffic as you enter or leave. The river is at least 20 feet deep, but it is also very narrow.

Travel up the river and drop anchor just beyond the commercial docks past a series of white floating buoys in about 8 to 10 feet of water. Anchoring beyond the buoys will put you out of the way of any ships or commercial vessels. Do not tie up to the commercial docks or you’ll be charged for docking as if you were a commercial ship. You can dinghy in past the commercial seawall to a small wooden dock with a roof and tie up for clearance. At this point you may very well be met by Elvis. OK, not that Elvis. But this Elvis has been working here at Big Creek for many years. He operates all of the heavy equipment at the port, but most importantly to the cruisers, he is a cab driver and his cab is almost always available. If he is unloading or loading a ship you might have to wait a bit.

Your first stop needs to be Immigration, and that is where the cab will come in handy. It is at least a couple of miles away and hard to find, so sharing a ride with fellow cruisers can save some money. As of Dec. 1, 2005, the fare was $25 (Belize) round trip with $1 (U.S.) equal to 2 Belize dollars.

Our immigration charges were $25 (Belize) for two passports. After returning to the port, the next stop is customs, which is right outside the front gate for the port. Paperwork is quick and easy, and if it is not a holiday or overtime hours there is no charge. Next you’ll need to go to Health and Agriculture, which has offices directly across the street from customs. Their process is also quick and easy and their charge is also $25 (Belize). After that, the Health and Agriculture inspector and Customs inspector will come to your boat for an inspection. They are looking for the usual things plus contaminated fruits, vegetables and meats that might be harmful to the agriculture and poultry in Belize. Small amounts for personal consumption are OK. You will need to ferry them back and forth in your dinghy. Remember that this port is primarily to receive large ships.

Tickets punched
After the clear-in process is completed the move to Placencia is a short trip. Once you’re clear of the last set of channel markers coming out of the river you can turn Northeast to the anchorage easily seen just off the village. There are no marinas here. We usually anchor just west of the small cay, also called Placencia, in about 20 feet of water. This gives good protection from the north to the east. If a swell works in from the south it will get a little rolly no matter where you anchor. Placencia, or Placentia as it is also spelled, has undergone quite a change over the last several years. This was originally a small fishing village with just a dirt road and a few amenities. It has since become quite a tourist destination with many resorts, guesthouses, restaurants and endless opportunities to snorkel, fish, dive or trek in to the mountains. Resorts both large and small are nearby with some still under construction — by film director Francis Ford Coppola.

Eco-tourism is the word we hear over and over again and the Europeans have definitely discovered the area. Most small hotels and guesthouses are full of what are affectionately known as “backpackers” — young folks who travel the country visiting out-of-the-way places with all of their belongings in their backpacks. 
Many of the guesthouses and restaurants can be found along the “sidewalk.” This is just what you think — a continuous sidewalk that extends from the waterfront near the Fisherman’s Co-op to the north end of town. It parallels the white sand beach lined with palm trees as it meanders past quaint homes and commercial establishments. The amazing thing about this particular sidewalk is that it took the local residents 30 years to complete. Different dates and names can be found embedded in the cement all along its length. The sidewalk is connected to the main road by many footpaths and short dirt roads. There are many hidden treasures along these footpaths, like John the Baker Man. Each morning the line forms for his breads and cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven. You must look closely for the signs directing you to his bakery.

Tips on food and fuel
As cruisers we are always interested in the ability to replenish provisions and other necessities. There are two small grocery stores on Main Street. They can provide almost anything that might be needed. Good supplies of frozen meats are always on hand, along with plenty of canned goods, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products on the shelves. Fresh vegetables arrive every couple of days and, in addition to the grocery stores, there is at least one fresh vegetable stand with excellent products just next to the smaller of the two groceries. Fresh seafood as well as ice by the pound can be purchased at the Fisherman’s Co-op just off the waterfront, but you must bring your own bag for the ice.
There is a fuel dock at the end of Main Street where you can also land your dinghy. As with any fuel docks in the Caribbean we suggest that you take an empty, well-marked 5-gallon container and ask them to put five gallons only in it. We have been very surprised at the results many times, but it helps us determine the “actual” cost we will be paying for fuel and has helped us determine in some cases whether we might want to fuel up elsewhere.
The gate at the fuel dock is locked after 6 p.m., so if you will be later be sure and tie up on the inside of the gate at the dock. We know of no security problems here with dinghies but we usually lock the dinghy to the dock no matter where we go.

Local flavor
If you nail down any cruiser that has been to Placencia before as to why they come back time after time, you will time after time get two reasons. One is the Tuttifrutti Ice Cream shop and the other is Skip and Magda’s Smoothie Shak. Skip is a transplant from Los Angeles looking for a simpler life and Magda is from Honduras, but has lived in Placencia for 20 years. Their colorful shop makes great iced smoothies using only fresh fruits and you can find flavors from mango to seaweed. (Don’t knock it until you try it.) They also serve fresh vegetarian, chicken and fish lunch dishes. You won’t find any red meat on their menu.

The other delicacy in Placencia is Tisiana’s Italian homemade gelato ice cream at Tuttifrutti. Tisiana is truly Italian and the recipe has been in her family for generations. The flavors sometimes change, but never the quality. She also serves fantastic shakes and sundaes made with flavors of your choosing. If you hang around long enough you will notice some people coming back several times a day.

There are many restaurants in town serving all types of food. With names like the Purple Space Monkey, the Pickled Parrot, Yoli’s and De’tach, the atmosphere and cuisine is quite diverse. We always ask around town where the locals tend to eat and get a pretty good idea who has the best menu and prices. You can dine right on the beach or find a place with Caribbean flavor. Some of the restaurants now offer Internet service with your meals and one is free if you are eating there. Placencia even has a Wendy’s (not the fast food chain), which serves a great breakfast and lunch and dinner with a down island flavor. Fresh seafood and local dishes are found on most menus, as well as some more familiar items.

Fun in the sun
Eating and provisioning are not the only reasons to stop here. Each year the village puts on a number of annual events that should not be missed.
Each February for the last three years the village has put on a Side Walk Arts Festival. The festival has been so successful that artists from all over the world, as well as some wonderful local artists, come to show off their latest creations. Paintings, sculptures, jewelry and just about anything you might be interested in is on display.

In June the tourism center sponsors a Lobster Fest that is now in its eighth year, and well-known to cruisers that come to the western Caribbean on a regular basis. Seafood and entertainment are the order of the day and the celebration goes on for the entire weekend.
The annual Placencia Fishermen’s Day Saltwater Fishing Tournament is also held in June. The tournament covers fishing for Kingfish, Barracuda, Wahoo, Dorado, Tuna, Rockfish and Mutton Snapper. Prizes run from $750 to $1,000 for certain categories. Most folks come down for the fishing and the fun, and not necessarily the prize money. This year will be the seventh year and the number of entries gets larger and larger every year.

A new festival held for the first time this year is the Jambalaya Carnival Parade. Street vendors, music, dancing, entertainment and, of course, the parade made this first year such a success that planning is already in the works for next year.

Each Halloween a big celebration is put on for all of the local children; everyone is welcome. It is designed to give the kids a fun evening and all proceeds go toward the local humane society. This is a major source of their funding. The adults seem to have as much fun as the children.

The Annual Mistletoe Ball is held each December. Everyone dresses in their most formal wear and celebrates the beginnings of the Christmas season. Music and dancing along with contests make this a favorite for the folks all around the village as well as all visitors.
Celebrations are also planned for national holidays with parades, music, dancing and a whole lot of fun. Add to that the wonderful snorkeling and diving on the reefs and outer atolls and the great year-round fishing and Placencia is truly an undiscovered jewel in Belize. There seems to be something going on almost any month here. More details for dates, times and events can be found at and also Information can also be found by doing a search for Destination Belize.

We have found this a wonderful place to stop and relax and highly recommend it to cruisers coming this way. We also know in doing that we take the chance on spoiling a great location but we felt the need to share Placencia with all of you. If you see a very pretty traditional ketch with red stripes and a white hull in the anchorage, stop by and see if it is Sea Trek. I suspect we will be here again and again.