Arriving Back in the USA

Having 17 days in a row of guests put us in a new mindset. Our visitors, Cay, George, Kenny, and Jenna all live in Maine, and spending time with them caused us to happily wrap our hearts around being back home there with them and all the other people and places we love. So, as soon as we finished our planned inland trip to San Ignacio, we set off for home.

Birthday dinner for Mary
Birthday dinner for Mary

While on our way north 45 miles to San Pedro to clear customs and leave Belize, we heard some of our OCC friends on the VHF. They were wishing Mary, on Echo, a happy birthday. Of course we jumped in on this and also sent her radio greetings. During these conversations, we learned that Shamal and Echo were going to be staying at Cay Caulker that evening. Oh, so quickly our plans change! We figured one more night in Belize couldn’t hurt, so we dropped anchor there too.

Celebrating Mary’s birthday was wonderful. Pelican, the restaurant, was excellent, and the company of Echo and Shamal was even better. We put our heads together to figure out when it was best to head north, and what route to take. All six of us had our hearts set on stopping in Mexico to see the country and to have one last OCC party when Suzie Too returned from the UK the following week. We considered all of the information we had gathered over the past week, regarding the high costs to clear in and the upcoming cold front, and decided to skip Mexico this trip. We all resolved to visit Cozumel, Cancun, and Isla Mujeres next year.

Our next challenge, was to figure out how to get through a cut in the reef that protects Belize like a strong fortification. This reef runs north to south with only a few breaks large enough for Alembic. The problem was that the wind was pretty strong from the East; excellent for a brisk sail north, but terrible for the cuts. When we went up to San Pedro by water taxi, we zoomed by the cut there, and saw boats trying to get out. The waves were so steep, causing the boats to pitch up and down violently, preventing any forward momentum. We watched them turn around and come back into the anchorage, giving up the hope of passing through there.

BillBrace
Bracing a foot helps us stay put underway


Echo and Alembic made plans to head south thirty miles to the ship channel, passable in any weather because it is wide and deep. This was the exact wrong direction for our destination, but the right decision for our safety. Shamal decided to wait another day for the seas to calm down. We knew a cold front was coming in a few days and that we had to be hunkered down in the Dry Tortugas or Key West by Wednesday afternoon, so we sailed north in time for this plan. This cold front would provide much wanted north winds, after the squalls passed, for our trip from Dry Tortugas to Miami, a course that usually has east winds, right on the nose, for weeks on end. While the seas were choppy and confused, we had a great sail, riding the currents which ran as much as 3 knots on parts of our three day passage.

Sunrise as we head north off the coast of Mexico
Sunrise as we head north off the coast of Mexico

Just a few hours earlier than Chris Parker, our weatherman had indicated, the cold front hit on Wednesday morning at 1 am. On my watch, I lay on my back reading my kindle, oblivious to the spike in wind. Bill came up the companionway, bleary-eyed from sleep, asking “what’s going on?” My book must have been engaging, because I hadn’t realized a squall was upon us. We quickly doused our big genoa and the mizzen and double reefed our main sail, just in time for the squall to finish. We only clocked 31 knots and this only lasted fifteen minutes. We sailed easily into Dry Tortugas, arriving that afternoon. Unfortunately, Shamal and other OCC friends on Blå Ellinor and Mad Romance were hit pretty hard by much stronger squalls a few hours later.

The Dry Tortugas was beautiful and sheltered many species of wildlife that I wanted to explore. Unfortunately, the rough weather made dinghy riding, snorkeling, and swimming unpleasant, so we just lounged around and visited with Echo and other boats in the anchorage. Legally, we were not allowed to go ashore anyway, since we had not cleared customs and there is no place here to do so! We stayed only two nights, waiting for the calmer weather, and set off Friday morning for a long day sail to Key West to clear through customs.

Trying to keep up with Echo as we sail to Key West
Trying to keep up with Echo as we sail to Key West

Home at last. Not quite. Actually, far from it. First, the customs were giving us such a hard time over the phone. Phone! Our Verizon phones had a signal! This was the first time we used those in a long while. I mentioned it was Friday, right? And that it was a long day sail? So we were arriving at about 6pm. Calling them while still offshore at 5pm, they told us they were about to close their office. For the weekend. And that we had to clear in within 24 hours. They suggested we clear in at the Miami office. That couldn’t work. We couldn’t, or wouldn’t, get there in 24 hours. UGH. Finally they indicated that we had a clearance number, by this call, and that we could maybe clear in at the airport the next day.

The famous Jolly Rover in Key West
The famous Jolly Rover in Key West

Another reason we were far from home was that Key West is nothing like Maine. Wild. Loud. Crowded. I had fun, though, visiting with Shamal that night at a packed noisy bar. They had skipped the Dry Tortugas and came in to Key West the day before, having been kicked around a bit in the stormy weather. Bill couldn’t wait to leave this busy spot, so we left the next morning and sailed through the night to the upper Keys, traversing Jewfish Creek, a skinny mangrove opening we had discovered thirty years ago on Wings, our Westsail 32.

Mothers' Day breakfast.  See all the clothing and gear I've used in the overnight sail?
Mothers’ Day breakfast. See all the clothing and gear I’ve used in the overnight sail?
Sitting on the same chain where the five of us sat 15 years ago.
Sitting on the same chain where the five of us sat 15 years ago.

Spending Mothers’ Day at Boca Chita and Sands Key, just north of the creek, was a real treat. We have many fond memories here from when we chartered catamarans and taught our kids to snorkel. I can still feel Lindsay’s hand in mine, as she watched a huge Spotted Eagle Ray swim beneath us when she was only about seven. And I can hear Erica’s sweet voice singing as she danced on the heavy decorative fence around the Boca Chita lighthouse. I smile with the memory of Kenny begging to go spear fishing again in the cut between the islands. Miami could wait. I was savoring these moments here for the day.

We have old family pictures of the kids on this tree!
We have old family pictures of the kids on this tree!
My only "kid" today on Mothers' day.  Luckily, I was able to hear Kenny, Lindsay and Erica over the phone.
My only “kid” today on Mothers’ day. Luckily, I was able to hear Kenny, Lindsay and Erica over the phone.

Raising the anchor, heading into Miami late that afternoon, was anticlimactic. After squeezing through a few bridges, and ducking out of the way of far too many wild speeding power boats, we dropped our anchor in a safe spot. Most of the traffic here was just jet skiers, who couldn’t produce much of a wake, thankfully.

Slaloming speed boats threw many dangerous wakes as we headed through the bridge
Slaloming speed boats threw many dangerous wakes as we headed through the bridge
The familiar cityscape of Miami
The familiar cityscape of Miami

Miami seemed so different from how I had remembered it. We lived in the Miami Beach Marina on Wings for two years before the kids were born. The marina is now packed, very fancy and expensive, as opposed to the unfinished facility that we lived in. South Beach has turned into a lively scene, packed with vacationers, where what I remembered was a wide open beach for us to ride our ten dollar yard sale beach bum bikes. We felt like strangers in a place we once called home; helping us to keep up the desire to keep moving to our actual home in Maine.

Bill got a fresh haircut in Miami
Bill got a fresh haircut in Miami

Next trip, Ft Lauderdale, only twenty-five miles north, was our next adventure. Arriving here was surprisingly pleasant and peaceful. We picked up a mooring in a tiny cove with only a few other boats. Our mooring neighbors hailed from Canada, France, New Zealand, and the Netherlands, making us feel like we were in a foreign port again.

Many wealthy boaters flock to the canals of Ft Lauderdale to build their castles
Many wealthy boaters flock to the canals of Ft Lauderdale to build their castles

Visiting with Paul and Ann was the highlight of this stop. Almost twenty years ago, they welcomed us warmly to York Maine, and helped us to settle in to that community. In like fashion, Paul and Ann went above and beyond to help us enjoy our five day stay here, as we waited for better weather to head offshore again.

Three boats from the OCC rally reunite in Ft Lauderdale
Three boats from the OCC rally reunite in Ft Lauderdale

Seeing Blå Eleanor and Mad Romance safe in Fort Lauderdale was a relief. They were hit quite hard by a very brief, but dangerous storm cell on their way to Key West. Asa mentioned recording 57 knots before their wind speed instrument went blank. They tore sails and their bimini pole became dislodged, pinning her to the wheel. Asa shared the details of this event with her heavy Swedish accent and her unshakable positive attitude. “The storm was so beautiful: everything went black at mid day, then the lightning created the most beautiful show”. Mad Romance experienced the same wind, along with the wild darkness and lightning. The instruments on both boats have been acting wacky ever since. It’s possible they encountered proximity lightning strikes, without the more dangerous direct hits. All were in great spirits, enjoying the protection of a safe harbor, and making plans to fix things so they could head out again for more extended adventures!

This trip home has become a wonderful blend of past and present. Combining old favorite places and people with new places and friends makes my world jell. We are transitioning back to Maine, warmed by the many events in our lives, from long ago to today, that make me smile.

San Ignacio, Belize

Going inland was a blast. Next cruise, we will plan more inland excursions. A completely different set of wildlife, human culture, and climate was found. Leaving Alembic was disquieting. I was convinced that the bugs or rats would invade my galley, while Bill was more concerned with safety and security. The day before we left Alembic, we saw a huge dead rat on the dock that didn’t help my state of mind. I coached all the trolling iguanas to guard Alembic, and fed them compost scraps as payment. They didn’t let me down. Maybe Bill had coached the many wandering dogs and the nearby parrot to patrol our floating home, because all was well upon our return.

Our rental car, with 120,000 miles, ran flawlessly and survived without a scratch from the passing speeders on the 200 mile trip or the aggressive wildlife surrounding the inland parking spot beside our cabana.

Our sweet little cabana
Our sweet little cabana
Midas was the perfect getaway, with sweet tiny cabanas nestled in the forest packed with birdlife. Each morning, I enjoyed watching the parrots, toucans, hummingbirds, flycatchers, seed eaters, warblers, tanagers, woodpeckers, hawks, and falcons interact. This hysterical flycatcher kept sweeping his body up and down our windshield while pecking at his own image. I later realized that we had parked right under his nest, and he was attacking the “predator”!
Flycatcher attacking his predator
Flycatcher attacking his predator

Lindsay had lived in San Ignacio for a few months five years ago, and she gave us specifics about the hot spots. We visited the same mayan ruins and caves that she had, and as we wandered on foot every day throughout the town, my heart warmed to think about Lindsay passing through the same areas.
Walking to school
Walking to school

Tech School
Tech School
Our first meal was at Cenaida
Our first meal was at Cenaida

Our last meal was at Guana Limb with lovely gardens
Our last meal was at Guana Limb with lovely gardens
I’m certain we even met some of the same people. This town has some tourists, and many expats, but the bustling town was predominantly folks whose families have been here for generations. Teak plantations were evidence of long term plans and hopes for generations to come. Endless acres with carefully planted teak trees surrounded the town. Farmers have to wait decades before the wood is harvestable. Most who plant these trees will not live to reap the benefits, but their grandchildren will appreciate the efforts.
Cahal Pech
Cahal Pech

The first day, we walked from our cabana to the Cahal Pech “Place of the ticks” ruins. This is one of the oldest Mayan sites in Belize, yet it was discovered relatively recently. It is believed to have been settled in 1200 BC, abandoned in 900 AD, and discovered around 1950, with excavations occurring from 1988 to 2000. The forest had overtaken the site, hiding the evidence of its civilization for centuries.
Cave
Cave

Mayan pots
Mayan pots

Swimming into the cave
Swimming into the cave

The next day, Oscar picked us up at Midas and took us to the ATM caves, for an amazing tour. Oscar was the perfect tour guide. He mixed humor with depth of Mayan knowledge, always respecting the spirits, the ecology of the site, and our needs. He was the only guide who insisted on turning off headlamps every time we stopped to hear his instructions or Mayan details. Darkness gave us a feel for how the cave felt for the mayans who came in for ceremonies and rituals. Traversing the cave required swimming, hiking, squeezing through tight spots, and lifting our bodies up over slippery steep rocks. It’s staggering to think of the Mayans making this trek with torches, heavy pots, sick people, and often while intoxicated!
Xunantunich
Xunantunich

Spiritual messages
Spiritual messages

The third day was a trek to Xunantunich “Stone Woman,” only 20 minutes by car. This site was thought to have been settled around 600-300 BC, abandoned around 1000 AD, and first explored by a British officer in the 1800s. We opted to skip the guide and to climb and discover the site on our own. I marveled at the complexity of the architecture and culture and now am eager to read more about the customs and sophistication of the Mayans.

Having such a small taste of inland culture barely whet our appetite for understanding the depth of Latin and Mesoamerican culture. Living and traveling along the coast has given us a flavor for the pirates and seagoing folks, but the civilizations living on the land have a completely different story. I’m ready to begin reading.

Back at the marina, saying goodbye to Brit (his daughter, Kali, and Lindsay are roommates in Boston!)
Back at the marina, saying goodbye to Brit (his daughter, Kali, and Lindsay are roommates in Boston!)

Saying goodbye to OCC friends on Harmonie
Saying goodbye to OCC friends on Harmonie

Kenny and Jenna

Reef's end

They paddled every morning
They paddled every morning
Scrambling to transition from one set of guests to the next, with only a couple of hours in between, seemed crazy. Bill left for the airport in a water taxi before Cay and George left Alembic. I took Cay and George to their water taxi a few hours later, shopped for food, brought everything back to Alembic, washed the produce, discarded all cardboard, and stowed everything just in time to receive the VHF call from Bill saying that they had arrived and were ready at the dinghy dock. Yay!!!

As soon as I saw Kenny and Jenna, I dissolved into tears. Family. At last. Here in Belize. I’m beyond blessed.

They looked tired (much more tired than I was) and hot. First up: cool water, and naps in the cockpit for Kenny and Jenna while Bill and I went back to the dinghy dock to pick up the laundry at Marie’s (a local woman who does laundry for a small fee), get dinghy fuel and twenty gallons of water in jerry jugs. With these final chores done, we could raise anchor at any time. We were ready for another week of showing off our new home-away-from-home. Since it was nearing dark, we decided to stay in Cay Caulker one more night. Strolling around the sweet little island, browsing into all of the food establishments, we chose Haberneras and had a fantastic Belizean meal.

Kenny caught a King with the lure he made.
Kenny caught a King with the lure he made.

The next morning, after watching dolphins frolic all around the anchorage, we raised our anchor and headed south. Bluefield Range was 33 miles south with a strong breeze to take us there swiftly. Patch reefs around Bluefield Range were only mediocre; our plan was to build up the magnificence slowly. Jenna chose not to snorkel this day; the water was deep and we were far from shore.
Rendezvous Cay, getting ready to go in.
Rendezvous Cay, getting ready to go in.
That step was slippery!
That step was slippery!
Jenna became a fish
Jenna became a fish

We bought fish from this Belizean fisherman at Rendezvous Cay
We bought fish from this Belizean fisherman at Rendezvous Cay
Our second day, alone at Rendezvous Cay, Jenna braved the underworld. We walked right into the magical reefs from the calm white sand beach. After this introduction, Jenna was unstoppable! She swam deeper and farther each day, to the point where I was not sure we would get her back on the boat some days. One day, a turtle lured her away from us. It kept looking back when she went to the surface for a breath, waiting for her to plunge down again and follow him out to sea. I think he thought she was a mermaid.
This turtle lured Jenna out to sea
This turtle lured Jenna out to sea

We swam with so many eagle rays
We swam with so many eagle rays

Conch
Conch

We had many excursions on land, visiting romantic island getaways and simple beach retreats. Coco Plum Island Resort is set up for honeymooners and anyone who wants to celebrate romance.
Romantic
Romantic
They have dinner tables under palm canopies out at the end of piers and eighteen private cabanas with high end furnishings.
Lindsay was running the Boston Marathon again this week, so this was fitting!
Lindsay was running the Boston Marathon again this week, so this was fitting!

Entertained by Erwin at the bar
Entertained by Erwin at the bar

Alembic, sitting quietly as we enjoyed Coco Plum
Alembic, sitting quietly as we enjoyed Coco Plum
The staff is funny, helpful, and ready to make your stay idyllic. I think Kenny and Jenna are ready to book it for next year! A much simpler venue, Reef’s End, was a tiny place where we celebrated both of their birthdays! We were more than a week late, but birthdays are always worth celebrating!
Birthday cake!
Birthday cake!

Relaxing at Reef's End
Relaxing at Reef’s End

Every day was full of smooth sailing, reef explorations, and Belize beer and food. We ate most meals on board, but sampled the offerings ashore when that was an option. Spending a week with these two was such a gift. In Maine, we see Kenny and Jenna often, but usually only for day visits. Having this opportunity to blend our lives for an extended visit brought the affinity to a new level.

Time to read
Time to read
You see new sides of people when you’re together from those first groggy morning moments, through the exhilarations or challenges of the day, and on to the final exhaustion of the late evenings. As a mother, I now can say that I am completely convinced that my son is in the right place in life. Kenny has found the perfect person to spend his life with. Jenna completes him, makes him laugh, and cares deeply for him. There is a peace in my heart that makes me want to shout for joy and rest quietly at the same time. And I know this is rare.

I am Kenny’s mom, but I also feel a deep sense of connection to Jenna that extends beyond her marriage ties to our family. She has a soul that reaches deep into me with her sensitivity and honesty. What she values, I value, what she hopes for, I hope for. I look forward to traveling alongside Jenna on her journey as she opens doors and makes this world a better place.

Here's silly Jenna in her pj's, ready to jump in with those dolphins swimming around Alembic
Here’s silly Jenna in her pj’s, ready to jump in with those dolphins swimming around Alembic
Riding in the dinghy
Riding in the dinghy

Thank you, Kenny and Jenna, for coming to see us in Belize, for spending a full week with us, and mostly for being the wonderful humans that you are. See you in Maine!
Five minutes after this picture, Bill and I were in tears, as they headed to the airport in a taxi
Five minutes after this picture, Bill and I were in tears, as they headed to the airport in a taxi

Cay and George

Taking a strong friendship to a new level
Taking a strong friendship to a new level
Alembic
Alembic

Bill and I were looking forward to Cay and George’s arrival for months. Sharing this journey with family and friends makes everything more real, more special. I must admit that I was a little concerned that they would find Alembic too small, too salty, too rolly at sea or at anchor, the food too limiting, or the challenges of using a marine compost toilet too gross! You’ll have to get their honest reactions, but from my perspective, it was all perfect!

Cay and George came to our OCC farewell party
Cay and George came to our OCC farewell party
Cay wanted to dive into course planning
Cay wanted to dive into course planning

Cay had only been sailing twice; once on Alembic for a few hours in Maine, and once on another boat for a day trip. She didn’t really know the first thing about how anything worked or fit on a sailboat, let alone how to walk about without hurting herself. George had more sailing experience, but mostly on very small daysailers. Both have plenty of ocean experience on kayaks and skiffs, and their seamanship was evident.

George takes over the galley
George takes over the galley

George took over the galley for both production and clean up, and Cay did her best to try to keep up there as well.

Halyard lesson
Halyard lesson
Working jib lesson
Working jib lesson
Crazy hair moment!
Crazy hair moment!

Every task that involved sailing, from removing covers to raising and adjusting sails, steering, anchoring, and dingy hoisting and deployment, was mastered by both Cay and George by day 3.

It's handy having guests who will help with the maintenance of a cruising boat
It’s handy having guests who will help with the maintenance of a cruising boat

Most fun of all, was their eagerness to snorkel. Our days were spent seeking the next site and reading the books to learn the names of everything we saw. I learned more during the ten days with Cay than I had in the last few decades of snorkeling.

Cay shares her new findings
Cay shares her new findings

When we returned from a snorkel excursion, Cay immediately dove into the books (not enough on board) to learn the names and behaviors of each new creature and shared her new knowledge with all of us.

Many dinghy rides
Many dinghy rides
Starfish
Starfish

 

Bill shows Cay how to get the conch out of its shell
Bill shows Cay how to get the conch out of its shell

We sailed every day, many long days, and Cay and George both smoothly got into the rhythm of running around to set sails, then lounging and enjoying the passage.

Siestas underway were important
Siestas underway were important
Dolphins were often frolicking along with us
Dolphins were often frolicking along with us
A bunny was a bit unexpected!
A bunny was a bit unexpected!

We were blessed with perfect weather, so we could go anywhere we wished, as long as there was daylight to read the coral heads under our keel. We managed to go significant distances yet have energy for immediately plunging into the water to explore the underworld.

Barracuda
Barracuda
Angelfish
Angelfish
Grouper
Grouper

Our friendship with these two strengthened as we blended our daily lives and shared dreams and hopes about our futures in retirement. All four of us have had careers that we loved, still love, and are somewhat perplexed about how to proceed without the identity, salary, and structure that these professions have provided. We all have many projects and intentions that we are pursuing and I enjoyed the camaraderie around these conversations.

Beautiful sunsets every  night
Beautiful sunsets every night

Saying goodbye was sad, but I knew we would soon carry on with adventures together when we return to Maine. Seven weeks is not far off!!

This beach bar felt like Spring Break.  No, we did not order this ridiculous drink!
This beach bar felt like Spring Break. No, we did not order this ridiculous drink!
Ta Ta For Now
Ta Ta For Now