A Temporary Change of Vessel.

Aqui estoy mis amigos. Here I am: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=02OMbJyQzLrxlajbnC79YlbiTI0uDqtG3

I am going out to the offshore reefs aboard Samphire so for the next two weeks any SPOT locations will be sent from that vessel not my own. Desesperado is stored on an islet near Cay Caulker where I think he is safe; I shall return here by water bus after being dropped off at Belize City.

If you took a big double handful of mixed beans and wet spaghetti and scattered them across a table so that not too much fell off you would have some idea of what Belizean waters look like on a chart – an incredible maze of cays and reefs. Most are on the landward side of a long barrier reef (second longest only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef) running north-south miles off the mainland. However outside of that reef lie three other groupings – The Turneffe Islands, an archipelago covering 200 square miles, Lighthouse Reef and Glovers Reef. The latter two areas have fewer cays but all three places are ringed by reputedly fabulous reefs and have great lagoons within containing manatees, dolphins and even 20-foot crocodiles not to mention thousands of fairy castles of coral with all their amazing lifeforms. We will be diving and exploring these as best we can given the weather which at present is blowing a gale as usual though only the trickiness of the reef pass here at Cay Caulker prevents us from departing to the open sea and making the crossing to Turneffe. As I write intrepid Paul and Twyla are off in the zodiac scouting this pass; if they think we can run it safely I will soon be heaving my guts up over the rail into a wild sea. Ah well, nothing comes for free.

Sunset at the Split.

Aqui estoy mis amigos. Here I am: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=02OMbJyQzLrxlajbnC79YlbiTI0uDqtG3

High time I wrote a post even if it is only brief. I am inhibited from a full description of events here by the exorbitant price of internet access in Belize.

I am still at Cay Caulker; I’ve been here over two weeks and I’m losing track of time… My trip is going slower and slower; I feel I ought to move on because that’s what people do when they voyage but I like Cay Caulker and am enjoying life here and the north and east winds howl endlessly with frequent black rain squalls making further progress at least uncomfortable if not downright dangerous. It is tropical winter, most objectionable – I never signed up to sail in this kind of stuff. I do sail when I can in the brief intervals of relative calm. A mile out the reef roars and I slip between the coral heads and out through the passes out into the beautiful rolling swells where I trail a lure for barracuda down the reef a hundred feet from the break. Sometimes I get one and Twyla converts it into fabulous ceviche or burgers. More about Twyla in a moment.

Cay Caulker is a low island of sand only 5 km long, ish. The main settlement is a strip of local dwellings and small hotels for the tourists, restaurants and bars, everything on a small scale and nothing over three stories. There are about 2000 people including the tourists and a very laid-back, friendly and casual atmosphere prevails. There is no pretense, no fawning to the tourists, the feeling is that the islanders work the trade without the usual massive influx of outsiders getting in on the game and turning it into a mill. The island motto is “Go Slow”. There are no cars, only golf carts and feet. There is little beach but that does not seem to matter, people wander up and down the strip, eat, go snorkeling by boat out to the reef where big rays and harmless nurse sharks cruise. take trips to see the manatees, dive, kitesurf, sail on old Bahamanian sloops with a rum punch or a panty ripper. Rastafarians hawk carvings and street food on the strip along with other black locals and the Guatemalans. The Chinese own the stores. The local men are not shy, they hawk their wares quite aggressively but with humor, engaging all who pass, but if you don’t want to buy that doesn’t mean the conversation is over.

“The Split” is where Cay Caulker was cut in half I think by Hurricane Hattie and beside this lies the Lazy Lizard bar where at sunset the tourists gather on the sand beneath the palms for a Belizean Beliken beer or a rum punch or a panty ripper and to watch the sun set to the west; it is a Cay Caulker tradition.

Neil of Madelin’s Hardware very kindly let me moor at his dock and Desesperado bounces away there secured by 5 lines against the howling winds. I sail, walk the strip, repair and maintain the boat, swim, fish a little. Some of the locals know me as “Robinson Crusoe” and frequently approach me to express their respect for what I am doing, and sometimes to offer me drugs. They speak a thick Creole which they tune down when speaking to tourists such as myself but it is still hard to understand – when they speak amongst themselves they are almost wholly unintelligible to me. Some are white and it is kind of strange to hear them speak this tongue. They can be rather touchy when drunk – which they are frequently – and though they are big, tough and brave people who need top make a living there seems no malice in most of them. I have been away from Desesperado for several days and nights and nobody has stolen a thing.

I am usually tired by nightfall and go to bed on my platform early (the asphalt shack ceased to stench so badly, but began to leak once more in the frequent blasting downpours so once again I had to tar it and thin the tar with gasoline, the eleventh coating I think, so the stench is back and I have to raise the windward side to let air blow through) but a few times I have been out at night drinking attemptingĀ  to dance to the most terrible music anybody ever heard. This seems to be a peculiarity of Belize, this awful rhythmless reggae-derived subtlety-free horror-noise to which the locals don’t exactly dance but perform explicit acts of quite serious unsmiling mock-sex on front of all on the dance floor, without the music seeming to move them much at all. We are talking full-on doggie-style and dry-humping. The children do it too and the adults laugh. The tourists are to a man bemused and astonished by all this, none of us can dance to the stuff, even the lyrics are mostly a kind of A.D.D. “whining for sex” as I call it and there is no apparent joy or humor in it at all. On New Years Eve some new DJ was somehow aquired and he played some great stuff from whitey-world which had the floor packed and frenzied and screaming with pleasure and there is just no comparison between the two styles and the fun derived from them so why the hell do the locals stick with stuff that as far as anyone can see is not working even for them, it’s just a mystery to us. I had a terrific New Year’s eve, by the way.

I have made two wonderful friends, Paul and Twyla, aboard their amazingly unique and bombproof sailing vessel, the 52 foot monohull Samphire. http://samphire.ca/. They are anchored off of Cay Caulker whilst considering their next move; they have equipped themselves and Samphire as an expedition vessel-for-hire with marine videography and editing capabilities with a strong bent towards marine biology research. Captain Paul and Twyla are not Benneteau yachties, they are young and tough and practical with scars on their hands with no time for frippery but plenty for laughing and making me feel welcome aboard. Captain Paul, tough, personable and pragmatic with a big smile and a way with words and nuts and bolts and his equal Twyla, immensely capable, utterly fearless, completely endearing, no way a princess but rather beautiful, she is the videographer and webmaster and the glue that holds Samphire together and while Paul makes it possible for the boat to move, it is Twyla who finds the destination. I have spent the last few days and nights afloat with them whilst the weather makes things uncomfortable ashore; we have been making repairs to Samphire and eating well… I love the windy rides out through the dark in the rubber zodiac to the big orange boat swinging at anchor, the spray on my face, bucking over the weirdscape, an experience you could film but it would never look real. I am happy, it has done me a power of good to be befriended by such people and have quality time and intellectual discourse; I am inspired and though it will be sad to move on, I am ready when the time comes. Doubts about the wisdom of continuing persist, but some determination has returned as well.

Yesterday we saw dolphins approaching and jumped overboard in our snorkeling gear to swim with them. They came within a few feet but were either wary or uninterested in us. It was nonetheless thrilling.

I may travel aboard Samphire out to the offshore reefs for a week or two if I can find somewhere to leave Desesperado.