Erica and Wes in Belize

Wes and Erica
Finally Erica and Wes joined us for a week in Belize! They’ve spent so much time with Wes’ family in Colorado over the last three years, we were beginning to feel left out. Of course coming to us is challenging for two college students with very busy schedules. This journey to us was definitely complicated. An overnight flight, a taxi to the bus station, then a three hour unairconditioned bus ride, another taxi to the Hokey Pokey, a twenty minute water taxi, and finally a wet trip out to Alembic by our tiny dinghy.
Crazy Bus with puppies!
Hokey Pokey Water Taxi

While I waited for them to arrive by bus, I wandered around the bus station and the nearby market and school.
Such a sad sick dog. I wanted to take it home.
The government is trying to develop markets
Sweet outdoor market. But it was closed…
The sign for the High School could use a little repair. Class project?
Part of me felt sorry for the locals, seeing the dilapidated state of affairs. But how can I judge? Here I was, eager to spend time in this paradise: warm breezes, tropical fruits, idyllic underwater scenes, and safe anchorages among the hundreds of islands. My expectations and experiences from growing up in suburban US do not necessarily pertain to the folks here.
Ibrahim, security guard a the high school, told me his story while he made a hammock.
Meeting Ibrahim, and hearing his life’s story helped me to recognize, yet again, that every human has a story, and every culture has its own set of essentials.
The high school
Students learned how to care for baby chicks
The school’s mama goat protects her babies
After touring the school grounds, they were ready to go to Alembic

After wandering all over Placentia, collecting provisions and indulging in a few offerings from local tiny outdoor restaurants run by entrepreneurial women (Yoli’s and the Juice Bar), we were ready to sail away to outer islands.

In Placentia, they want to take a dip, together!
So they jumped!
Coming up for air
Our first adventure was to head to Ranguana. Here, we sailed past the island, anchored in the cut of the reef to enjoy excellent snorkeling. Bill shot three lion fish with his Hawaiian Sling. These invasive fish consume ridiculous amounts of the local reef fish and have become a true threat, so killing them helps the ecosystem. As a bonus, they are also delicious, if you can remove the 13 venomous spines without poisoning yourself. Swimming with an enormous spotted eagle ray was another treat at this snorkel spot.

Waking up in the tranquility of remote Ranguana was spectacular. Luckily, Erica and Wes didn’t complain about the rolly anchorage. When you are far away from the mainland, and just inside the cut of the reef, swells can roll around a small island. Dinghying to shore, we enjoyed exploring, playing with Blue, and beach flyfishing. Permit were everywhere, but they are a significant challenge to hook.
Blue was the local guy’s parrot
What a hack job they did to Blue’s wings!
Appropriate: Bienvenido means Welcome!
Bill found a shotski
Tree kids
Wes was after those permit

Erica and Wes tried again to flyfish when we arrived at Hideaway in the Pelican Cays later that day.

off they went to flyfish
Catching starfish is cheating
Here, Erica caught a starfish and Wes caught a barracuda, right in the eye, unfortunately. Visiting with Dustin in his open air thatched roof home was a delight, especially for Wes, who pondered: “I could do this…build a home on a mangrove island, fish all day, and entertain guests at night”. Wes saw that Dustin had built his dream home for himself and his wife (and now 4 year old daughter) and was embracing every moment.
Erica and Wes only met Dustin, but here he is with Kim and Ama

Stormy weather could have socked us in the next day, but we knew our crew could handle a bit of rough seas, so we sailed off north to explore more special places. We had hoped to go to Tobacco or South Water Cay for awesome snorkeling, but it was much too rough, with winds blowing 25-30 knots. We tucked into Twin Cays for a quieter anchorage up a creek. Erica and Wes took off in the dinghy again to explore the island.

A little rain didn’t bother them

We made it to South Water Cay the next morning, even though it was still blowing like stink. Here, after anchoring, we prepared to snorkel, leaving our Hawaiian Sling on Alembic because it is a preservation area. The IZE (International Zoological Expedition) Resort on South Water Cay has built tables underwater where they are growing coral experimentally. Snorkeling around these tables was interesting and I thought of all the lucky students who get to study here. Bonefish lined the shore, tempting any flyfisherman!

Reef Boi takes care of South Water Cay
Cormorant is drying his wings to prepare for flight

Back on Alembic, we readied ourselves for a wild ride to Colson Cays through large swells building in the Victoria Chanel. This channel is usually flat calm, but with this relentless 25 knot north wind, seas had a chance to establish themselves. Erica and Wes proved to be mighty fine sailors, helping when we needed a hand, and relaxing enough to play Backgammon and Mastermind even though the boat was pitching back and forth.

Playing Backgammon

Colson Cays was our final anchorage before heading to the marina the next day. Erica and Wes again took off in the dinghy to explore this last set of islands. Even though the weather was still a bit dreary, they had fun. Bill and I knew that this weather was unusual for Belize this time of year and were bummed that we couldn’t show the kids the spectacular endless sunshine and calm harbors, but Erica and Wes seemed so happy to just be out in the warm air, adventuring in a unique area and sharing time with us on our floating home. It warmed my heart to see their endlessly cheerful approach to all of these new experiences.

Being silly
One last sunset at anchor

After one last dinghy ride the next morning, we headed for Cucumber Beach Marina in Belize City. The marina is a few miles from the actual city and is more of a resort. Erica and Wes headed straight for the water park while I taxied to town to get a rental car. We enjoyed our last night together at the resort restaurant then locked ourselves in Alembic, behind screens, to keep out the annoying no-see-umms. Good name, as you can’t see the little bugs coming at you, but you can sure feel their bite, and, in Erica’s case, you could certainly see the evidence of their existence all over her legs the next day.

Cucumber Beach Marina

Before dawn, we drove to the airport to watch Erica and Wes head back to Colorado. Sleepily, we said our goodbyes. Walking back to the car, it seemed so quiet, just Bill and I. Erica and Wes had filled our week with such joyful sounds, chatting with us and with each other and laughing readily through all of our adventures.
Saying Good Bye

I am having the hardest time putting into words how I feel after spending a week with my youngest child and her dear friend. How has this happened? She was my baby for the longest time, wanting to be held (by me or anyone!) until she was about five, and holding my hand (still!) through many more years. Now, she lives in Colorado, is about to graduate from college at age 20, and is a mighty strong woman. I only get a glimpse of her now and then. And my heart is bursting. Bursting with pride that she has accomplished so much with her jobs and studies. Bursting with joy that she has found love that is so mutually supportive. Bursting with longing for more time to be with her. Being a mom is hard. And wonderful. Especially when you have a delightful, appreciative, inquisitive, confident daughter like Erica. I will always be grateful for any moments together. Anywhere.

Breaking Things: Grand Cayman to Belize

Sad to see Kenny and Jenna leave, but excited to have Erica and Wes, just one week later, we prepared Alembic for the three day voyage to Belize. Easy, right? A three day sail and 6 days to do it. Well, not so easy this week. Winds were blowing above 30 knots and kicking up huge seas. Alembic can handle these conditions, but Bill and I prefer a mellower ride. So we waited. And waited.

Breaking seas near the reefs

Wednesday was Bill’s birthday, so we celebrated by bracing ourselves for an exciting exit out of the tranquil North Sound of Grand Cayman and into the unknown. Three days would bring us to Saturday, the day Erica and Wes would hop on a flight in Colorado to join us for a blissful week in the sunshine; we had zero extra time. Remembering Kenny and Jenna’s experience at the airport, where they were asked “which hotel are you staying at?” and their reply was “a sailboat named Alembic”. The authorities would not clear them at the airport if Alembic had not already cleared through customs. Luckily, we had accomplished our clearing a few days prior to their arrival. We were worried that when asked, the authorities would find no cleared boat named Alembic in Belize, and send our darlings back home to Colorado. And clearing through Customs, Immigration, Agriculture and the Port Authority in Belize could take all day, and was closed on weekends!! We were pushing for Friday arrival. No pressure. None at all…
Mountainous seas and 30 knots of wind

You know how you’re oblivious to stormy weather if you are hunkered down in a windowless basement or hanging out at the mall? Well, that’s how it feels when you are tucked into a creek, off a sound, with glorious sunshine overhead. The weather is delightful, with a steady 15 knot breeze to keep you from getting too sweaty hot. Our weatherman was not wrong. Unfortunately. He told us of the 25 to 35 knot winds, with 15 foot seas, just outside of the North Sound entrance. But, not to worry, the winds were subsiding, and the waves would settle also, probably in the next day or two… We didn’t have another day or two!! So off we went.

The biggest waves we’ve ever seen greeted us as we exited the sound. The entrance buoys were leaping up against their chains with the huge swells. As soon as we rounded the corner, with deep Caribbean blue to our right, and gorgeous reefs to our left, we were committed. As those 15 foot swells came steaming in to meet the reefs, they stacked up to be super steep and pointy waves, less than a boat length apart. This means that Alembic was either going straight down, or straight up a wave, with no space in between to regain her momentum.

Our progress forward was slowed down to a crawl. Revving our beloved engine up to 2500 rpm (usually we cruise at 1600-1800), we found traction. Never has this engine let us down. Thanking previous owners yet again for re-engining Alembic with a 100 hp turbo Yanmar (most Whitby 42’s have 45-65hp) we punched through some pretty awesome mountains of water, sending walls of saltwater over the bow to bulldoze the dodger. Alembic repeatedly shook off the water with a booming shuttering shake as if to say “Give me some more!”.

flying fish kept landing on our deck

Soon, we were able to turn the corner on the island and head southwest, allowing the northwest swells to kick us in the rear, a much more pleasant angle than on the bow. Now the waves seemed to be raising us up and pushing us along our way. We loosened our grip on whatever we clung to and settled into our cockpit positions, bracing our feet against rigid surfaces so the rolls wouldn’t cause us to somersault across the boat. This was much more pleasant than hanging on with both hands and both feet for every soaking crash.

Unfortunately, Alembic was not so pleased with the downwind run as we were. Once we cleared Grand Cayman, the swells rolled in from the southeast, while the winds continued to howl from the northeast at 25 to 30 knots. This gave us a twisting corkscrew kind of motion for every wave. Preventers on our sails helped keep the booms somewhat in place, but there was no preventing the banging and slatting when the boat lifted and spilled the wind. Seven failures happened as a result of this crazy banging.

Mainsail snagging behind the top shroud

First, the mainsail kept snagging behind the top spreader and getting stuck there, hung up by the stiff upper batten. I was sure that we would tear the sail as we yanked and twisted it from down below to free it. Somehow it never ripped. Next, Bill noticed that the main mast was shifting and twisting with the largest of waves.
One of the 14 wedges fell through into the bilge
He removed some of the woodwork in our cabin below to see that one of the wedges that keeps the mast in place where it goes through the deck had fallen into the bilge. This required some major effort to reinstall it while underway. Third, a loud snapping sound developed in the cabin near the aft bulkhead door.
Sleeping on the floor! His head was right next to the snapping sound
A tab that holds the bulkhead to the hull probably snapped. We will have to look into this later. For now, it is just incredibly annoying as it snaps with every wave, making sleep nearly impossible.

This list is long! Fourth, we both heard a very loud pop from behind us as we stood in the cockpit. Being pitch dark, we couldn’t find the source, but daylight revealed the origin: a collar for the life raft had popped.

Upper band is intact. Lower band now has a rope. Note the bird on the lifeline!
Luckily, the huge life raft didn’t explode out of its tiny enclosure like a Jack-in-the-Box! Bill tied a safety line in its place to contain the beast. Fifth, another very loud BANG! The extension line to the whisker pole broke.
The whisker pole fully extended before it broke
Here is the partially furled genoa and the shortened whisker pole
What a stupid design. The pole holds the genoa out so we can capture the most wind possible without the sail collapsing. This part is excellent. And the idea that the pole telescopes is also helpful, as we roll up that sail to make it many different sizes. The stupid part is that there is a skinny line that you pull, to make the pole longer. This leaves a tremendous load on a tiny line. Well, it broke, leaving us with only one possible size pole: the shortest. UGH. Bill’s great idea of making it adjustable with through bolts is perfect, but we did’t have the supplies onboard to fix it underway. And the sixth failure was the scariest. The gooseneck broke.
Bill is repairing the gooseneck
Actually, a bolt broke, which caused the track that holds the gooseneck to separate from the mast. We had to drop the mainsail. Now we were stuck with a much-too-small genoa and mizzen. Luckily, we still had a lot of wind, and we carried on Jib and Jigger (term for just these two sails).
Catching a mahi mahi just before entering Belize!

Many say that the seventh one is a charm. Well, this was no charm. Saltwater dripping down on our Single Side Band radio (SSB) is not welcome. This is one rugged installation. It has taken saltwater across the top before and seems to be unfazed. Again, we packed towels around the beloved source of most offshore communications. Soon, Alembic was decorated with hanging wet towels.

Those wet towels were soon put to a second use as we sopped up a black, silvery, sooty mess in the cockpit and around the aft companionway. Those huge waves earlier in the trip had given our boat a thorough wash-down, including funneling water through our boom, cleaning years worth of aluminum corrosion. Aluminum is a funny metal. It reacts to saltwater slightly, creating a surface oxide, which actually protects it from further reactions. Well, we washed out the inside of our boom. Stuffing towels into the aft end was the only way we could stop the black drips.

So many dolphins crowded under our bow
The dolphins gave us quite a show

Gladden Spit was a most welcome sight! Dolphins greeted us as we entered through one of the openings of the 560 miles of Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. We felt like we were home. Maybe it was the relief of ending this crazy journey, maybe it was because we sailed here last year, and most likely, it was because our baby girl, now a brilliant strong woman, was about to arrive and join us for a week. We played with the dolphins, watched as black clouds skirted by us just a mile north, rinsed off in the light sprinkles, and headed into Placentia to anchor.
Arriving in Placentia harbor

This marvelous quiet anchorage, with friendly cruisers who are willing to share tools, was the perfect spot to fix all of our broken pieces. Alembic was back in fine working order just in time for a delightful, failure-free week with Erica and Wes!