Chinchirro to Half-moon Cay is 97 nm just east of south at a bearing of 176°. I was anticipating the wind being more true east than south of east, but even so, 176° made me grimace in disdain thinking back to the roll of 191°. I went back to the charts and kept exploring different ideas, after a half an hour I had a new plan: We would not go the shortest route to Half Moon Cay - but instead the longest route - hah! We would first do a u-turn around the northern tip of Chinchurro Bank under enginer power and earn 10 nm of easting the hard way, then on a single straight line sail 197° to the west side of the chain of cays that had Half-Moon Cay on the south end. This would increase our journey from 97 nm to 130 nm - a 33 nm increase, maybe the first time I have consciously increased our planned passage distance. But we would be sailing at 197° - that is a huge 20° difference.
Hauled up the anchor and we started to beat our way east with the iron canvas, the seas were about 1.5 m and the winds were about 20-22 kts.
No Wind Instrument
Side note: our wind instrument failed the year before, and between the diving in Bonaire, the exploring in the Mayan Riviera and the coding, installing the new Maretron wind instrument still had not managed to get to the top of the boat list. But to be honest, I have not found wind instruments very useful. Sure, to get the most out of the sails it is best to set up your auto-pilot to maintain a course relative to the wind, but I never really got into that, and in my experience the wind here in the Caribbean is relatively slow to change its direction. But as for the strength of the wind, if you rely on what a digital read out says to you to make the decision to reef or not, you are probably in trouble right there. As a cat does not heel, it does not have the easy pressure relief valve of simply being pushed over to its side if it takes on too much puff. A cat will not flip, the rigging is designed to snap well before you can flip a big cat, but the more likely problem is just unnecessary mechanical stretch, wear and tear on that gear. You can feel it. I feel the need to reef even with my eyes closed, I can hear the low frequency and sub-audio vibrations of the rigging. It is really subtle and would be hard for me to explain. But if you open your mind and close your eyes, and feel the boat when too much canvas is up, and then feel the boat again once you have reefed, you will feel the release of strain in all of the systems across the boat. Feeling the speed, you will take a peek at the SOG and most of the time you will see you have not lost any boat speed at all. That is a great reef.
Faster than Expected
Given that we ended up sailing into Chinchurro doing about 6.3-6.4 knots I did our passage plan to Half-moon Cay assuming an average speed of 6 knots. As we pushed our way around Chinchurro and into the east, we were seeing just 4.5 knots with both screws at 2200 rpm. Then we started to turn to about 135° and I was expecting the speed to pick up, but still we were doing maybe 5 knots. I frowned, I was not yet worried about our passage as 130 nm is a long way to go and the first 10 is nothing.
Around 1400 we made enough easting to make that clear shot to Half-moon Cay, turning into the wind we took those 1-2m swells and raised the main rather smartly I would say. We rolled back to 197° and released the full genoa to compliment the main with a single reef and bang! Ad Astra sprang into action, in just a handful of minutes she accelerated into the low 7 knots. I will always be amazed that all of those threads woven together in the sails have the strength to capture the power of the wind to push us through the water faster than an engine. It is so beautiful.
Now we are flying along, still have a bit of swells from the east, but at 197° it is better than 191° and the wind did back at least another 10° as expected. Now for a land-bound person, going 6 knots or going 7 knots both sound slow and hard to tell the difference right? But on a boat, especially doing a 100 nm+ passage, it is a big difference, 1 knot more is 18% faster than planned. Getting there faster is always better right? Nope. We are heading into tricky skinny water with countless coral heads, and no depth sounder. We will need good light to eyeball our way into Half-moon Cay. At 7+ knots were will be arriving before the sun rises. Not good.
Technically off-watch, with my eyes closed, but up on the fly-bridge, listening to Ad Astra, I pondering this good problem. An idea occurs to me, dashing to my navigation table to check on a hunch, I some measurements to our next planned stop after Half-moon Cay - Tabacco Cay. From Half-moon Cay to Tabacco Cay we were expecting a 30 nm passage, but if instead we were to sail straight to Tabacco Cay it would add only 13 nm to our journey - but more importantly we would be arriving at 0800 with sunlight behind us - yeah!
As an added bonus we also adjusted course another 4° to 201° - and yes you can feel even that small difference in changing of your heading in terms of motion.
For this second night passage everyone was in good spirits and the night watches went easily and well rotated - even Sue Kuei took the 0600-0700 watch under my supervision.
Entering the reef system of Belize was straightforward with good overlapping directions from our guidebooks, and this time the charts were in better agreement, heading 288° through the large gap in the reef was fine. Rounding the tiny Cay we slipped across the skinny eel grass bottom of 6 to 8 feet of water with our 4.5 foot draft. A Sunsail and a Moorings charter ct were already anchored with the two obvious bits of sand. We at first tried anchoring in the think eel grass, but as expected that our anchor was not even going to try.
Then we tried snuggling up between the two cats to share the sand, but the Sunsail group with a group from Kansas surprised me and told me that they laid claim to all of the sand by way of a second anchor off from their port side. Just in time to answer where to? The Moorings professional captain reassured me that there was enough water to carry Ad Astra if I were to go 6 boat lengths ahead of the pair to a small patch of sand. Grateful for the local advice, we grabbed that bit of sand. I went to snorkel on the anchor as I always do, and I chuckled at myself as I passed our keels just about 12 inches above the eel grass. The anchor was well set, but along the way to the anchor, the chain laid over a slight rise in the sea bed. Noted.
We dropped Exit Strategy the dinghy for the first time since Cozumel and went to thank the Moorings captain. His name was Egbert, but he preferred being called “Eggy”. Despite having charter guests aboard he was super cool and invited Kyle and me on board and shared a bunch of local knowledge of the cays of Belize. In particular I wanted the best route to Hatchet Cay, given the lack of a depth instrument. Eggy could not be more cheerful and helpful, total island folks, reminded me of Bequians such as Kerry. He plied into Kyle’s hands two of the cold cokes that belonged to his own passengers.
After tidying up the boat, the crew was super eager to go to shore after 4 days of excommunicado and packed up all of our laptops, tablets and such to get us some wifi. But at 11 am this sleepy islet was not yet awake, and the one bar was not yet open, and the Paradise Resort was also not yet ready for non resident guests.
Back to the boat we lazed around, even did some drawings. Curious about that slight rise in the seabed, I strapped on my Shearwater dive computer and got back into the water, now our keels were rubbing the sea grass. Carefully re-measuring our keels’ depth with the Shearwater, I then traced our anchor chain, and yup. The rise in the sea floor is about a half a foot too skinny for Ad Astra at this low tide.
For the first time in our Caribbean travels, I would actually need to factor in the tide to plan our next passage. Later in the afternoon the bar opened, and the crew went ashore again. We had some drinks, got caught up on wifi, and we had an interesting conversation with a young programmer / mathematician for CBRE, good for Kyle and Max to ask questions aboyt non-game programming careers. But the key information would be that high tide would be 0855. We would raise anchor at 0800, giving ourselves about an hour to float off the rise if we got stuck.
We have three ways to get that anchor: simply drive up and pick it up. This should work fine as we will be doing the maneuver an hour before high tide. The second, is that I could drive up to the edge of the rise, shorten the scope and then use then engines to pull the anchor out and back to us without crossing the rise. The third method, is to send Kyle out to the anchor and simply have him pull it out and flip it on its back and scoot it into the eel grass. Then it will slide across the eel grass - hey dragging its a feature not a bug! The last option is the most conservative as we will not cross the rise, and we will not take a chance on straining the anchoring systems.
Two Years Dock Lines Castoff
Two years ago to the day, we left our Ausin life behind and set sail on Ad Astra as full-time cruisers.
It is funny, thinking back 10 years ago when I got started sailing on Knot-a-Bus in Long Beach, I remember going into the local West Marine and drooling at the nautical charts, the EPIRBs, the safety gear and then going up to the clerk and try to ask him questions about passage planning the incredible distance across the PACIFIC OCEAN to Catalina - hah! Now, there are thousands of sailors more salty than me, but I am feeling capable these days. We will thread our way through these cays in skinny water, we will get our anchor from over the rise, and we will make it up the green Dulce without our depth meter. But so what, you should not have your nose glued to a screen. Open your full mind, and sail the actual world.
The super soft mud had sucked our anchor in quiet deep, and Kyle was unable to man handle the anchor out of the bottom. We raised the anchor the simple, old fashioned way, with Kyle in the water to provide underwater advice if I needed. After some hesitation, the sea floor returned our anchor and we were off towards Hatchet Cay 34 n to the south.
We had a sublime sail of full canvas doing 6+ knots on this inner sea of Belize. With frequent, but shallow changes of heading we wound our way through a maze of reefs and isolated rocks with brilliant turquoise moats. All around you were tiny cays with perhaps one or three buildings, and occasionally a house on stilts was bigger than its own cay.
We grabbed a mooring ball on the north side of Hatchet, and I was pleased to explore a healthy reef with loads of French Angelfish in 10-15 of water as part of my mooring ball inspection.
Hatchet Cay itself is a beautifully manicured islet of perhaps 2 or so acres. The grounds had several guest rooms with whimsical tropical, victorian styled architecture. There was an impressive garden on site with basil and mint for the mojito I would be drink in their rather grand open-air bar - the Lionfish Grill. The Lionfish had an impressive array of classic board games, and I really liked the hardwood laminated wooden arches, however the Lionfish was also impressed with itself and charged about $12 per cocktail and $11 for a bag of ice. We were not in Mexico anymore.
The WIFI at the Lionfish was not very impressive. We sat around nursing our drinks and got caught up again on the happenings in the world. At sunset we noticed a large catamaran pull into the anchorage, and we recognized them as some folks from the SF Bay area we met briefly in Aventures. We ended up have a drink together at the Lionfish, and decided to have dinner aboard Ad Astra after having a tour of their impressive Leopard 58. I really liked the vaulted ceiling and the airflow from the front opening door blew me away. I had to admit that it appeared to be more solid and protected than I had judged from afar. The flybridge was huge - they had a wet bar and a BBQ upstairs! Could be just me, but I felt a little sad walking around their boat, as it still looked model-perfect and did not seem like anyone actually lived on the boat. The couple still works and somehow hops their boat from marina to marina and fly back to SF to make more money. I cannot help but feel like they would be happier with a smaller boat that they would own, rather than the bank, and with smaller expenses, cruise full-time.
Hatchet to Rio Dulce
The crew got Ad Astra underway by 0530, and with light winds from deep aft of the beam it was time to test the Gennekar since its repair on Cancun.