Thursday, March 1, 2001

Sunsets in the Caribbean - MacGregor 65 - Winter 2001

The Plan

            SUNSETS sings her siren song in my captain’s ear, “Leave land behind.  Follow the sea as far as you can.”  First mate Joyce had logged only a 1-week return trip from Bermuda and a 1-month circuit, Annapolis-Bermuda-NY-Annapolis loop, scant experience for a long range-long term cruising lifestyle.  Our winter adventure will test and stretch our limits at sea as a sailing couple assisted by crew.  Our schedule this year permitted a 3 month span; the vessel’s draft and bluewater capability suggested the Ruta Maya, the waters of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and south along the Central American coast of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras that the ancient Maya plied as part of their trade routes.  Frequent ports of call made crew exchanges feasible.  The invitation to join us circulated among family and friends:

Ahoy fellow crew members. We plan (hope) to be at or near the following locations on these dates. Check them out and e-mail your availability and preferences asap and I will try to sort it out. Intermediate destinations are also possible, as are other arrival and departure days. Due to potential health, weather, and mechanical considerations flexibility is desirable and last minute schedule changes are likely. We will keep in touch by e-mail and phone when possible to coordinate arrivals and departures. On the 5600 mile trip from California to Annapolis in ‘93-’94 13 different crew members participated and everything worked out well, so I hope for another great trip. Thank you all for participating.  Don’t forget passports and immunizations.  ~Jim and Joyce Perrie

12/16  Brunswick, GA 245 miles to [departure delayed to 12/18 by winds]
12/23  Ft. Pierce, FL 220 mi. to
12/30  Key West, FL 350 mi. to
1/6      Isla Mujeres (Cancun) Mexico 250 mi. to
1/13    San Pedro, Ambergris Cay 130 mi. to [arrived 1/14]
1/20    Guatemala, Rio Dulce 210 mi to [arrived 1/25]
1/27    Roatan Honduras 190 mi. to [deleted from trip due to lack of time]
2/06    Belize 200 mi to [arrived 2/2]
2/10    Cozumel, Mexico 380 mi to [arrived 2/5]
2/17    Key West 150 mi to [Marathon on 2/20 substituted for Key West]
2/24    Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. 320 mi. to
3/3      Brunswick, Ga. 350 mi to [arrived 3/2 but will delay final until 4/1]
3/10    Beaufort N.C 300 mi. to
3/17    Annapolis, Md


            The first to respond were Allen and Carol Perrie, Jim’s oldest brother and his wife.  Captain and Mark Talbott, customizer of M26Xs and crew extraordinaire, set out from Annapolis November 1 with a pleasant sail to the Choptank River, and later a little beat under staysail into Solomons.  A flurry of final preparations resulted in the most dockings in the shortest span of time:  5 in 4 hours culminating in the arrival of Allen and Carol.  A bon voyage dinner at the Captain’s Table and drinks later with Calvert Marina owner Matt Gambrill, future crewman Wally Szot and their wives capped the day.


            SUNSETS was underway in earnest at 10 am on the 2nd blasting out of the Patuxent river at 10-11 knots, broad reaching in 15-20 knots, later wing and wing, ending the day at a serene anchorage in Dividing Creek just south of the Rappahannock River.  The big city sights of Norfolk enlivened November 3rd’s passage through bridge openings and the Great Bridge Lock that led to Pongo Ferry and our anchorage where we were treated to a spectacular sunset mirrored perfectly in the marshland waters; the mariner’s crowning reward at the end of a busy day: a panoramic canvass of sky, land and sea aglow in day’s fading light.  SUNSETS says it all.  On our continuing foray through the ICW waypoints of Coinjock and Bellhaven on the 4th the crew adopted the leisurely pace of southern living stretching out in the hammock rigged on the foredeck.  We docked at mile marker 135 for the night at River Forest Marina dining at and touring its antebellum mansion and grounds.  After a delicious onboard breakfast we set out on the 5th for Pamlico Sound.  Sailing up the Neuse River under genoa in 9-11 knots was great all the way to Morehead City, but a fixed 63’ bridge we couldn’t clear meant finding a channel through to the ocean near Beaufort.  Earlier winds of the day were spent and we motored all night in the mighty Atlantic.  Dawn on the 6th ushered in a pleasant sunny day perfect for fishing-and catching a small Bonita!  Breezes picked up steadily through the late afternoon and night as we reduced canvass, reefed and re-reefed the main, then restored sails the morning of the 7th, then reduced to motoring the 35 miles to Brunswick, GA arriving at 2pm.  SUNSETS berths here until the adventure resumes mid-December.


Hi All - Joyce and I made it to Brunswick 12/15 and worked on the boat 2 days.  The 17th was windy with gusts to 40 mph we hardly noticed until we ventured past the lee of the Casino boat docked next to us.  That, and the low temp, 25 colder than MD made a local sightseeing excursion to Hofwyl, an historic rice plantation a must.  Sherman’s scorched earth campaign missed this one homestead isolated on the marshy shore.  The victory song, “Marching Through Georgia” skirts the loss of thousands of civilian lives, nor is the story of blacks and whites banding together to fend off the invaders often told.  It was the struggles of women to survive war’s turmoil in Hofwyl that is told in “Gone With the Wind.”  We departed the 18th for Mayport at the mouth of the St. Johns River near Jacksonville FL motoring the whole way in near calm.  Singletons Seafood Restaurant is a memorial to its founder, Cap’t Ray, a character complete with peg leg and parrot.  His woodcarvings of the shrimp boat fleet fill one room:  great food and great down-home atmosphere.  Should make St. Augustine on the 19th on schedule.

Christmas Crew

Would you like to accompany us down the ICW in spitting rain and near record cold?  Hello?  Hello? Who needs Christmas, anyhow?  No sale.  It was just the Grinch and I staying on the inside despite favorable sailing conditions, a concession to wind chill. Dancing a jig at the helm boosted spirits and circulation alike on watch; grog gave way to mugs of soup and hot chocolate.  Thus passed the days of the 20th to 22nd.  12/23 SUNSETS made it to West Palm Beach, completing the 45 miles from Ft. Pierce in a blistering 5 hours under #1 reef and staysail.  Dinner at the Holiday House restaurant was in tribute to Mark Talbott; their triple layer cake is a diet buster.  Jubilation!  Bob and Angela Jennette found space for us at their condo marina at Hillsboro Inlet, and room for us at their inn on the 3rd floor overlooking the ICW for their family Christmas Eve dinner.  It was just the tonic for seafarers who 2 years before had made the same passage in idyllic weather coping with the contrasting conditions this season.  Out the Hillsboro Inlet on 12/25 we were one of the 3 ships sailing by of carol fame in 30 knot winds motorsailing with staysail the 21 miles to Miami Beach Marina hitting 16.1 knots surfing down a wave:  SUSNSETS’ Christmas present to the captain.  It was double reefed main in unabated winds on the 26th  motorsailing 10 miles to Hawks Channel (hitting 16.4 knots) before unfurling the staysail for a sail into Port Largo.  Lolligagged in port the 27th ‘till 1:00, well actually, the Captain tended to maintenance; I did the lazying before sailing in 8 knot winds in pleasant conditions to our overnight anchorage and dinner aboard.


Dec 28 we arrived at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon with an impellor that won't and two loose top shackles on the main.  Jim's pulling the dinghy out of the rear since we are on the hook, two hooks actually.  The barometer is 973 millibars and falling, the lowest we have seen-ever.  We're expecting a blow, and you will have snow.  It is about 70 degrees under the sunniest skies so far.

We inflated the dinghy, got the 2 hp motor onto the bracket, but it was a no-go.  At 4:00 pm Thurs parts stores will soon close, rain will soon arrive, and the prospect of rowing into town dwindle.  Jim's is trading his Captain’s hat for mechanic’s blue overalls:  handy that he can do both.  We hunkered down for the night.  No close encounters with neighboring anchored boats in the squall and no anchor resets.  Miracle worker fixed the 2 hp Friday morning, put in a new impellor in the engine, dove overboard to check the intake valve.  It’s off to town to drop in on retired friends. We got the new wind vane going today for juice at anchor. And with new sail slides stitched in place we are on our way to an exposed anchorage at Newfound Harbor, no neighboring boats, and no problems.

New Year’s

Great sailing in 8 knots of still chilly breeze-50-60 degrees carried us into Key West on schedule. Having fallen asleep with the chickens, the thunderous reports shattering the still night awakened us with a start preventing us from missing a spectacular fireworks display unfolding directly overhead.  New Year’s day we bustled into town to do laundry, laid in supplies, and awaited Wally Szot, second captain and gregarious companion for the sail to the Dry Tortugas on the 3rd.  Ft. Jefferson seems to rise Brigadoon style from the surrounding sea.  Time does change familiar destinations.  A beach sign advises swimming hastily across the cut to adjacent Bush Key which just 2 weeks before our arrival had become connected to the Fort site courtesy of a storm that formed a sandbar link overnight.  Wally, into vacation mode, dove in for a swim but quickly emerged.  We’ll still need coats and scarves for our night watches following our 3pm departure in 10-15 knot northeast wind, mostly motoring at night, sailing the day under sunny skies and waxing moon on the 5th, motoring the night of the 6th arriving at Isla Mujeres at dawn.

Isla Mujeres

Nirvana:  the Captain has checked into the marina from the 6th to the 9th, 3 consecutive days in one spot!  Port Captain.  Customs.  Immigration.  Double entry fees for weekend arrival:  ouch.  Shorts.  Bars.  Beaches.  Bicycles. Snorkeling.  New crew-female-Jennifer Beck, Captain of our former Catalina 27 race boat, BATTLE CAT.  Rental golf cart for 4 to loop the island.  Tourism has not deprived this spot of its sleepy, small town feel with numerous shops and restaurants as different as their owners who likely will greet you as you stroll inviting you to stop in.  This is the life!

Domingo, enero siete

Buenos dias, amigos.  Vamos al playa Garrafon.  Vamos a nadar con pescado.  Jennifer Beck es aqui.  Es muy caliente.  Nada nieve aqui.  Es parasio!  Adios.  Senor y Senora Perrie

[2/06 PS] Our earlier Spanish e-mail read as follows for those who haven't worked out the translation yet:

Domingo, enero siete (Sunday, January 7) Buenos dias, amigos.(Good day, friends) Vamos al playa Garrafon. (We are going to Garrafon beach.)  Vamos a nadar con pescado. (We are going swimming with the fish:  snorkeling.)  Jennifer Beck aqui.  (Jennifer Beck arrives.) {Sniff, she is gone now, and I still miss her!} Es muy caliente.  (It is warmer.)  Nada nieve. (No snow.)  Es parasio!  (It's paradise!)  Adios-Goodbye


We left Isla Mujeres mid-day on the 9th after checking out with the Port Captain and enjoyed a rip snorting sail climaxing in a 19.5 knot burst surfing down the waves-the fastest speed ever for SUNSETS yet.  We had sailed wing on wing using his new whisker pole and needed the coordinated efforts of all 4 crew to set and manage it underway.  We ducked out of the strong winds into a snug marine basin, homeport for the pilot boats and dive and parasail fleets.  The 10th found Jim in his glory-behind the wheel of a rental jeep that we repaired with duct tape in strategic weak spots haring over the 30-mile coastal highway with his usual devil-may-care regard for speed bumps.  At the extreme southern tip is a national park, Punta Sur, where we parked our jeep and boarded a double-decker flatbed truck with super structure built like a deck.  Lurching over the parks roads was like riding on the swaying back of an elephant.  Naturally, we took the top deck.  Up the 185 step lighthouse, into the next single tier truck for a ride between the coastal vegetation and inland alligator lagoons with the tops and sides of the truck scraping the vegetation much of the way.  We then snorkeled the reef spotting conch and manta rays before repeating our madcap rides back to SUNSETS.  After our harrowing rides restorative libations were partaken on the beach at Senor Sanchez and after dark at Carlos & Charlie's- Cozumel's equivalent of College Park's notorious "Vu".  After a serene smoke at the Havana Club we called it a day.

Military Inspection

On the 11th we had a beautiful sail into the total isolation of the Bay of Espiritu Santo 65 miles down the coast.  Before moonrise there were only the two flashing lights of the lighthouses to compete with the starlight after our steak dinner aboard.  A 40-mile sail on the 12th at 8-10 knots brought us to our anchorage at Cayo Norte by noon to snorkel one of the Carribean's 3 coral atolls.  Afternoon snorkeling was serious business producing 4 conch plucked from the grassy bottom, then sliced wiggling to make our appetizers: cracked conch fritters and conch in lime, both superb.  We didn't have to find the port authority.  We had anchored just off the dock of the local military outpost.  All 5 of the troops were mustered in their 20' boat, 2 bearing M-16's to fill out forms and make an inspection-all done in Spanish with copious use of calendar, maps and our handy phrase book.  The officer was very friendly, but they would get more tourists with a lower key reception committee. We had a private dolphin show in our lagoon with a pod of 6 cavorting off the bow along with skates and schools of fish by the reef.


After tonight's anchorage we'll be off the coast at the southernmost tip of Mexico in a town named Xcalak (sh-lock) 6 miles from the Belizean border where I hope they have a phone capable of sending my growing message to you.  Arrived 1/13 at 1:00 after motor sailing.  Too hot for crew in the sun in the cockpit:  the helmsman steered alone.  Alas, the world is going digital and pocketmail is analogue:  we were out of phone sh-luck.  We dinghied ashore for a delicious seafood dinner at Sylvia’s Restaurant with no walls or screens under a thatched roof next to the well from which all their water was drawn.  The bathroom was a delight.  What it lacked in addition to running water was compensated for by a tiny puppy's nest box being conveniently located for petting during your visit to the loo.  An authentic native experience.

Ambergris Cay, Belize

Today saw Wally's departure on the 15th as we await Jennifer's friend Andrew's arrival on the morrow.  He was glad to hear that Guatemala's earthquake aftermath tidal wave had not affected us.  Actually the most daring thing we have encountered so far was leaving Xcalak before dawn on Sunday instead of waiting until Monday to pay the double entry port fee (because of arriving on a weekend) AND the departure fee.  With only 6 miles to the border, we made a run for it!  We fetched up at Ramon's Bar in San Pedro's on Ambergris Cay, Belize.  Culture shock.  They all speak English-and we keep attempting Spanish.  Ramon's is as sophisticated as Sylvia's Restaurant was rustic.  Jim's birthday began with a 10 am snorkel-the best I've ever done.  Jen and Wally swam back to SUNSETS rather than dinghy back from the reef.  Jen spied a school of large fish and became VERY excited as she approached as she spotted an 8' presumably hungry shark.  Taking NO chances she clambered aboard Wally's back.  He advised heading away from the reef snack bar by swimming over open sand.  They made it back swiftly and safely.  Hoisting me back into the dinghy was almost as adventuresome.  Lunch at Elvi's with coconut rice and chicken shish kabobs, bean soup and nuclear hot sauce made us think of Wally fondly: his flight was before lunch.  Jen and I found Jim the perfect b-day gift: a shirt with the slogan, "You betta Belize it."  Life has grown as liquidly languid as the emerald seas around us.  We have eliminated Honduras from our itinerary and Guatemala is in doubt as Jim's ambition to check in and out of yet more ports (or make dawn border runs) and thread every possible reef channel is pitted against Ramon's incomparable Pina Coladas.

Welcome, Andrew

Our new crew, Andrew Parks lives in a waterfront house overlooking Thomas Point Lighthouse in Annapolis.  He has globe trotted from Zanzibar to China, and best of all, he eats TV dinners!  Wally dodged our freezer cuisine, and he will be relieved to know that that threat will be gone before his return.  Our day began as usual:  snorkeling the at 8:30.  The reef is endless with schools of fish looking like beltway commuters streaming past on the outer lane.  We found a lobster and a giant ray.  Andrew used his dive tank the 17th although it is shallow here.  We broke out the "wind faller" yesterday.  Jim got up and gave Jennifer a lesson.  More wind today saw both Jen and Andrew struggling with Jim making it look easy.  After a farewell beer at Ramon's we'll move SUNSETS for our afternoon snorkel.  Our crew is looking forward to diving the blue hole, a deep lagoon in the reef off Cay Caulker.  With phones variable I have taken advantage to send news while I knew I could.  If you don't hear again soon you'll know the phones won't allow.  Captains Perrie & Beck and Scurvy Crew

Caye Caulker on the 18th

Caye Caulker has twice the charm at half the price of Ambergris Caye, although the only way we could tear ourselves away from Ramon's Bar was to fill a bottle with it's sands.  It is our new native soil.  Wally will be further relieved to know that our vertebrae-crunching two-tone purple and rust bicycle was exchanged for art work before we left Ambergris-but not without coming to the attention of the eagle eyed Port Captain who chastised Jim for "importing" goods from our vessel without paying duty.  Hurricane Keith delivered 125 mph winds to both these Cayes for two days in late October.  On Ambergris every roof and every boat was lost.  Jen had a catamaran charter scheduled this year that was cancelled because they did not know how soon they could replace their fleet and get up and running again.  They are remarkably resilient and very vigorous in their rebuilding campaign.  School on Caye Caulker is being held in a large store in the center of town until a new one can be built.  The town itself is quaint:  streets of sand patrolled by an officer in a golf cart with every child old enough to toddle free to happily rove in and out of shops well past dusk.  I wish I'd had a camera last night when I spotted a 3 year old tenderly clutching his pet baby raccoon around it's neck nestled against his chest out for an evening stroll.  There are more restaurant/bars per acre here than anywhere else.  Tenting space can be had for $5/day, rooms not much more.  This caye is about no frills diving and unwinding when you get back.  It's specialty drink is The Panty Ripper:  rum and pineapple juice.  All our food has been superb.  Hot sauce has pepper seeds in it that bore through your tongue like molten metal.  The young and restless signed up for a dive excursion 40 miles away at the blue hole.  They were picked up at SUNSETS at 6 am for an open speedboat ride in 20-knot winds.  Breakfast and lunch are included.  We hope they serve breakfast after they get to the first dive site.  Ma & Pa Kettle are content to listen to the wind generator howl off our stern in the placid company of 5 other yachts in the anchorage and catch up on our reading.  Ma & Pa

PS. Now you may be wondering how with all this good food I managed to unload my cache of Hungrymans.  Andrew has dived 125' deep, climbed Kilamanjaro, braved China on the eve of Tianamon Square, and hiked Scotlands highlands 'till exhausted, with bloody feet, he laid down on the ground to sleep and was taken up bodily by a venerable Highland's dame and deposited into a tub of Epsoms Salts.  A man formidable! A man who could face any challenge was clearly the man to delve into SUNSETS' frozen locker.  Now Andrew's face sweats when he eats.  His Hungryman failed to raise a single bead on his brow confirming what Wally asserts:  dining on TV dinners does not constitute eating.  Zounds!  Their 80 mile round trip to the Blue Hole was probably a cover to escape their quota of Mean Cuisine!  Ma and Pa

Blue Hole at Lighthouse Caye, 1/19

Our "kids" had been dropped off by their speedboat at SUNSETS when we returned by dinghy-rowing for lack of gas in our mighty Evinrude "Little Junior" 2 hp, downwind, fortunately, last evening.  They were full of tales of red-footed booby birds, the best coral in the world, and a unique blue hole dive into a Luray-type cave with stalagmites now submerged and opened on top by erosion.  Other than a decided preference for padded seating, they survived their ride.  Escaping shipboard cuisine was a wash transaction:  their "lunch included" was cold spam sandwiches on white bread.  We had to break out the steaks, fried potatoes with onions and lots of red wine to keep them from jumping ship.  We dinghied ashore this am in even stronger winds to arrange an excursion tomorrow up a jungle river to support the wildlife on the Mosquito Coast and to see the Maya ruins at Atun Ha.  The bar TV kept talking about Inauguration?-George W somebody? While we were ordering our first round of Panty Rippers at 10 am. to sip while we test the hammocks on the beach.  The Intrepid Crew of SUNSETS

Windsurfing Contest, 1/19

Yesterday afternoon's attenuated winds rekindled the high-stakes wind surfing contest between Jen and Andrew:  loser to eat the last Healthy Choice.  Andrew by far had the most creative falls, but by days end BOTH had surfed and we declared it a draw.    By default, the judge was left with the “prize.”  Andrew proved to be an excellent guest chef whipping up spicy Italian Sausage spaghetti.  Overnight our barometer had sunk to 970 millibars, winds spun 180 degrees from the north, and lightening played behind the western clouds.  At 6 am we reset our anchors and deployed a third anchor.  Fortified with an on-board breakfast of fresh pineapple, onion-tomato-cheese omelet, steak and hash browns we awaited our tour boat arrived at our 8 am appointed pick-up for Altun Ha to no avail.  Manyana manyana.  Neglected journals will be filled, Scrabble contests held, rerun movies will be shown for crew who snooze through the evening showings in our aft air conditioned amphitheater.  With time for reflection it has come to our attention that we have failed Jimmy Buffet 101: "Booze in the blender."  Blender?  What blender?  We'd ask incoming crew to remedy our deficiency but importing untaxed goods can be a snag at customs. Best regards from the Hunkered 4

Porto Stuck, 1/20

Our restive captain has pressed on past Porto Stuck (named for the area's depth) for a new anchorage off Mapp Cay snuggly nestled in the mangroves.  The adjacent cay, St George's, is the site of the battle between the rag-tag locals known as Baymen and the Spanish Armada determined to mop up the pirates.  Local knowledge gave the Baymen the edge.  The British were only too happy to support the "privateers" harassing the Spanish, and that's how British Honduras was formed, now independent Belize.  Ham Cordon Bleu from the galley after our round of grog.  Sunday, 1/21 dawns with clear, cold sunny skies.  Our rising barometer heralds the arrival of Yankee weather.  Off to Belize City.

Belize City, 1/21

After picking our way through thin water we anchored and dinghied up Overhaul Creek into what was the capitol city before hurricane Hattie in 1961 prompted an upriver capitol, Belmopan, be created.  The mouth of the creek has rows of work boats similar to Buy boats at home staked to poles in tight formation below the world's oldest hand drawn bridge that opens twice daily.  The city of 60,000 is laid out like Annapolis but lacks helpful aids like one-way signs.  No problem, mon.  The natives just tell you when you need to go the other way.  Aside from a few hotels and embassies the city is low-rise squalor that we passed through on the way to the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha.  They lie in the cradle of the Maya world and were a coastal trade center until the 9th century.  The roads are patrolled by "sleeping policemen," speed bumps whose paint and signs are both long gone.  Belize River parallels much of the northern highway that runs along the coast so we drove to our destination in our Suzuki Sidekick sans suspension instead of gliding over the river.  The countryside is scruff vegetation, all that is left after the logging industry was spent, with hardscrabble homesteads lingering on.  In their midst rise the massive stone walls of temple/burial chambers built by muscle alone:  no wheel, and overlooking elevated plazas.  Maya farmers live here still in the same kind of huts as their ancestors-they simply no longer build big buildings.  Belize City is NOT oriented to tourists:  most businesses including restaurants curl their toes on Sundays.  But we found a delightful courtyard dinner spot, The Smoking Mermaid.  We'll run errands Mon am with our car before heading out for Tobacco Cay 39 miles south.  The Explorers

Dangriga, 1/22

After seeing the oldest Central American Anglican Church in Belize City we introduced Andrew to SUNSETS under sail, although shallows meant mostly motoring.  A school of huge striped jacks inhabited a wreck off Robinson Caye, our snorkel destination:  rewarding despite the milky water stirred up by your Yankee weather pushed all the way here.  In the hopes of the delights of soft shore life we pressed on to Dangriga, a city of 8,000 founded by black Caribs:  Nigerians who survived a slave shipwreck and intermarried with the native Caribs on St. Vincent Island.  The British deported the whole population to Belize to facilitate working sugar cane plantations on St. Vincent with fresh slaves.  The Maya Mts. along the coast made a spectacular sunset backdrop, but alas, all we saw of Dangriga was a ship dock.  It was wieners and beans aboard.  Lured on by the promise of development on South Water Caye we got underway early 1/23 beset by strong north winds, glare and a bewildering array of mangrove clumps looking for a deep passage through the Blue Range.  With 2 crew spotting, Jim on helm and me below at the GPS, we made it.  Wally would laugh.  Having found our passage to reach South Water Caye, we immediately reversed course and set sail for Placentia.  Why waste a good norther on another round of milky snorkeling?  It's on to the Lagoon  Saloon serving triple-decker rum punches, Lagoon Monsters!  A sandy beached Shangri-la.  The Buccaneers

Windsurfing in Placencia

Thwarted!  Lagoon Saloon is closed Tuesdays.  Fortunately, the palappa-roofed Pickled Parrot with low beams warning, "Duck or Grouse," served Parrot Pis and friendly banter by 19 (Brice) and 21 (Cassie) year old sisters supplanting Jen.  We could only pry Jim away for windsurfing by making Brice promise to come to SUNSETS Wed for a private wind surfing lesson from Jim. 1/24, Overcast. Despite vows of shore leave today to sample the elusive "Monster" and the Key Lime Pies to-die-for plus no more border crossings or customs officers, Rio Dulce is only 65 miles south.  “Ranked as one of the all time ultimates in Caribbean cruising . . .this wondrous tropical fairyland,” beckons Beagle Puppy Captain ever onward.  Brice came aboard for a fond farewell with a sailor's promise of a return to port.  Guatemala, here we come via Punta Gorda, our Belizian exit city and port of refuge for dispossessed Confederate War vets!  Captain, Gilligan and Cast Off Women

The Perfect Rescue

[1/25] We sailed over the dreaded Rio Dulce sandbar with nary a hitch and fetched up for 3 hrs in Livingston, a town with internal roads but no roads to the exterior countryside, clearing immigrations.  The Sierre de Santa Cruz range forms a narrow gorge at the river's mouth affording scenic hillside vistas on both shores.  Proof of the region's volcanism came upstream where we anchored and dinghied to a shore-side spa created by a scalding spring emptying into a rock rimmed shallow pool:  nature's hot tub.  The Captain, soaking in the spa, gazing at the mountains while luxuriating with his crew realized the worth of the morning's travails. The river widens out into a 10-mile lake upstream, the El Golfete Lake, with a 25-mile lake above that, Lago de Izabal, that we'll tour 1/26 in search of spider and howler monkeys.  Poking into a marina around 4:00 in the afternoon in 14' of depth we returned rounding the corner to continue upstream when SUNSETS sank both of her wings firmly in the bottom.  Before we could launch our dinghy to take soundings another dinghy buzzed out from the marina and in Spanish explained? their plan of attack, immediately began pushing the bow, then was joined by a launcha with a big engine that succeeded in rotating SUNSETS until her rudder was fast aground as well.  More inflatables joined the effort:  Gulliver aided by the Lilliputians.  Various schemes were attempted, but success was attained when a bi-lingual sailor arrived to coordinate heeling using the spinnaker halyard with our faithful launcha crew by now rope starting their 35 hp engine.  A mighty cheer arose from the marina, beers were liberally shared, and we spent our evening with our translator enjoying dinner at Mario’s Marina on movie night, the title film:  The Perfect Storm.  Rio Dulce Regards from SUNSETS


1/26 we set out for the town of Fronteras in search of El Banco arriving on market day.  Stalls overflowed with the fruits of the earth as pickups rigged with a mid-bed overhead handrail grasped by the standees carried people into town along with Greyhound buses that transported people and produce to and fro.  We watched as one passenger after chocking the rear wheel of a bus climbed a ladder to untie his goods from the roof rack.  Two sacks were lowered each containing a live, hogtied piglet that two children toted off for sale.  The ambience was broken by the arrival of a van topped by 4 loudspeakers blaring political rhetoric to the captive audience.  Getting underway we realized monkeys are too far: Lago Izabel is huge.  Where is our 26X when we need it?  A fort built to stop the British pirates from stealing all the Peruvian gold the Spaniards had plundered at the near end of the lake was today's excursion.  We'll shoot for a Manatee reserve manyana on our return down the Rio Dulce, but tonight it's off to Restaurante Rosita in search of authentic Guatemalan food.  Rosita's 3rd floor overlooks the lake that supplied its delicious bounty in dishes ranging from whole fish to palm size prawns and a soup of whole crab, fish, prawns and bananas for our meals. The group's evening tab including cocktails, beers and dinners totaled $40.  Tied to Rosita's dock we can hear the calls of peepers, animals and cicadas imagining scenes from "The Lost World".  Daytime sights of Maya paddling in cayucos, hollow log canoes, with thatch roofed huts along the shore is as the Spaniards found them in the 1500's and 1000 years before that, belying the private jet airstrip across the cove.  Our 1/27 1/2 mile hike along the "Zompopos" (leaf-cutter ant) trail in the coastal forest at the Manatee Reserve gave us the flavor of the jungle:  great low flying strings of black ducks over the lagoon, and a hint of summer's tropical torpor.  This extensive watershed provides a hurricane season haven for 3-400 Caribbean cruisers.  We return to Punta Gorda, Belize 1/28 am, Superbowl Sunday, in Placentia, then crew departure 1/31.  Fritz & Lily Wray, and hopefully Mark Talbott will be joining us.  The Homeward Bound Mariners

Return to Placentia

Tues, 1/30, Mark's first day in paradise, warm, sunny, brilliant blue sky and balmy breezes just right for windsurfing.  Breakfast at Merlene's restaurant was a feast, a two-hour eatathon, plus we took home a fresh baked coconut meringue pie hot from the oven for lunch. The rest of the day was spent reading, windsurfing, swimming, and showering off the transom, lathering up, diving over board for a saltwater rinse, and a fresh water rinse for good measure. Now it's off to the Pickled Parrot for happy hour rum and coke and pepperoni pizza.  Fond goodbyes to Jen and Andrew departing at 11 am Wed.  Then it's off to South Water Caye for snorkeling, back through the Blue Ground Range, our shallow passage nemesis before our first stop in Placentia.  Cheers, Jim, Joyce and Mark

South Water Caye

South Water Caye, 2/1

The past two nights have been balmy enough for me to sleep in the cockpit under the stars, although a shower did send me below.  South Water Caye, Wednesday's anchorage, is a tiny enclave reachable only by boat, and the home of Pelican's University.  It offers college credit in marine biology and ecology catering to students looking for enrichment interim semester mini-course credits. It had an elegant restaurant serving haute cuisine lobster:  no roughing it for this island's guests. Adjacent Carrie Bow Caye has a Smithsonian scientist supervising studies of a natural Caye with its mangroves intact holding the island together.  The sandy  beached  Cayes cleared of natural vegetation have lost 50% of their land mass.  Tobacco Caye, deserted 10 years ago now sports several watering holes and is covered by cottages.  After a brief Thursday morning landfall here, the 30 knot easterly wind had the Captain underway for Robinson Caye under staysail at 7 knots, then 10.5 when the genoa was unfurled:  no main, this is vacation, mon.  Mom, Crusoe, and our man, Friday

Watermelon Folly

[2/02] Alas, a flare up of lumbago has side lined Fritz & Lily: they won't be coming after all.  I'll especially miss the feminine companionship with no cute blondie sitting cross-legged in the forward cabin and no one to replace her.  I am adjusting to practically being an empty nester with Jen, my surrogate daughter, and Andrew, my substitute surrogate son, both gone now.  Oh, I have Mark, my true surrogate.  But sons are not interchangeable.  Andrew met every challenge-save one on the way to Guatemala.  It happened like this.  We had reprovisioned before setting out from Belize City wherein I found a 12 lb watermelon I had to have: no matter that we had sightseeing ahead of us, and at least a mile trek back to the dinghy.  I stoically packed my incubus in a canvas sack and lugged it as we toured streets and church, then hastened to beat the Captain back to the dinghy, my 12 lb fruit gaining weight by the minute-but I am a determined woman and would NOT share my prize!  Chilling in the cooler, it promised days of scurvy protection.  Our accelerated approach to the Guatemalan border brought the terror of surrendering my labor of love to an agricultural inspector while yet uncut.  Unthinkable.  If we all ate 1/4 apiece for breakfast my efforts would not have been in vain.  Crew balked and I settled for 1/8th apiece.  All were up to the challenge and tucked into it with gusto-except Andrew.  He who had single handedly emptied the frozen locker of its delectables choked.  Jim had to take up his slack.  I treasure Andrew, and enjoyed getting to know him, a fierce competitor.  But I wouldn't back him in a watermelon-eating contest.  Actually, Guatemala had no agricultural inspector at all.  Our fresh food crossed then re-crossed the border when we returned to Belize. No more watermelon for me this trip.  Momma Joyce

Return to Ramon’s

Feb 2: leaving Robinson's Cay we made our way to St George's Cay, site of the decisive naval battle against the Spanish.  One commemorative cannon is on the beach.  Today the cay is a residential fishing community that comes alive on weekends when the wealthy from Belize City arrive in their game fishing yachts.  The British Navy Seals still maintain a presence here.  After military training in the jungles, troops enjoy R & R windsurfing and sailing.  Were it not for the continued British military presence Guatemala would seize Belize as it's 13th province.  Guatemala has only a small access on the Atlantic Coast at Rio Dulce: the majority of the coast is in Belize and Honduras.  Retracing our path through Porto-Stuck we anchored again at Caye Caulker where we felt like 3 gunslingers of the Old West striding down its dusty streets.  Fortunately, there are many watering holes to quench a man's parched throat. Saturday's destination is Ambergris Cay and the delights of Ramon's poolside bar and restaurant.  Our favorite child, Mark, will head home on the 8th just after Ray Aubrey's arrival on the 7th in Cozumel followed by the arrival of the ever popular crewman, Wally, on the 11th.  Then we'll be underway again at sea. The Salty Dogs

Ola, Mexico

Bienvenido, Cozumel! ?Que passa muchachos?  After checking out with the port captain in San Pedro Saturday, 2/3/01, that evening we made Mark ready for a dawn run through the 100 yd gap in the reef:  we catched him and patched him.  In the morning we filled his belly full of lead, at least that is what it could be it's so dense. Among my purchases while in Belize City was native gingerbread, twice as dense as the oiliest brownie, possibly suitable for asphalt repair.  As to it's edibility, suffice it to say, it outlasted Andrew the Appetite's tour. Its specific gravity guaranteed it's retention:  once down, no force could expel it. Thus fortified, Sunday's rosy-fingered dawn saw us underway.  After 2000 miles of downwind sailing we had to expect an upwind slog sometime and that time is now.  We got underway with reefed main in NE wind of 15 knots, sailing 5-7 with current giving us 2 more to the good.  The only possible anchorage would have been too close: Xcalak, (sh-lock), the Mexican town we had given the shlip before entering Belize on the way south.  One of Jen's friends sailing after us aboard the vessel "Midnight Mail" stopped at Xcalak and asked if they had seen "Sunsets", but drew a blank with the authorities.  It's good to know the heat there is off!  Since the M65 was self-steering we decided to take 3 hour watches through the night after having my "lean cuisine", so dubbed because of the galley's angle of heel, of macaroni & cheese with a cup of soup.  The 2 Bonito (1 & 2 lbs) Jim caught as we passed through a feeding frenzy will have to await port for frying (they proved delicious!)  All went well until the end of my 3-6 am watch when the wind shifted to the north allowing only 5 miles of progress towards our goal in my 3-hour stint.  By 11:00 am on a tack to shore we were caught in a southerly counter-current that was carrying us 2 knots backwards despite the knotmeter reading of 5 prompting Captain Donald Duck to immediately motor-sail on the opposite tack whilst squawking mightily until we were making good headway and could sail again.  SUNSETS cuts through the waves and tosses off spray as well as any of them, but her mighty 32000 lb. lunges through the seas suit only seasoned sailors.  Adios, Amigos.  Senors  Mark & Jim y Senora Joyce

Sunsets at Club Nautico, Cozumel

Cozumel Revisited

[2/08] Benny Hill's humorous "Benny's Tours" skits puts me in mind of our two park excursions at Cozumel. On our earlier stop in Cozumel with Wally & Jen we intended to visit Chankanaab but missed the turn off. Having reached the end of the island, rather than double back, we went to Punta Sur instead. It is a Jurassic Parkesque rival, that Punta Sur, with its hellish truck rides past swampy lagoons, bare beach snorkel site and lighthouse ascent.  Chankanaab, which we found  this time around on Tuesday the 6th, is a veritable Garden of Eden.  The name means "little sea" and it has a salt water lake with underground caves joining the sea for divers, lush botanical gardens and walkways past replicas of Mayan ruins, dolphins to swim with (an extra fee), snorkeling, showers and bath houses, waiters to take food and beverage orders while you lounge on the beach, all for the same admission price as Punta Sur! Mark Talbott got the benefit of our earlier reconnoitering:  Chankanaab and Mr. Sancho's FREE beach, the throbbing nightlife at Carlos and Charlie's, and for his final day we sent him by ferry to Xcaret, the best of the Mexican parks with night shows thrown in.  He'll catch his flight home at dawn on Thursday, my last fledge out of the nest.  Ma and Pa, worn out by our various children, were content to spend the whole day at Mr. Sancho's and await Rai's arrival before leaving Thursday for Puerto Morelos.  Mexican transportation is "anything goes":  no driver's licenses, seat belts, doors, or vehicle inspections.  Heading back Wed from Mr. Sancho's we spotted a resort shuttle-taking workers home conked out on the shoulder with a crowd of passengers attempting to hitch hike.  With the back seat and aft luggage area of our open jeep empty, we stopped.  With much wedging, 5 workers, 2 of them quite ample, climbed into the back with it's unpadded "rumble" seat.  They laughed all the way, especially when our undercarriage scraped across the "Topes," (speed bumps) as we dropped them off near their homes.  When in Rome . . . Momma Joyce & The Taxi Driver

18 Miles in 2 Hours, 2/9

Invigorated by the arrival of fresh crew, the Captain grew restive in port.  While wussie sailors hovered over their weather faxes fretting about the strong north wind, we extricated ourselves from our Mediterranean mooring and set out into 8 - 10 foot seas motoring with just the staysail.  White water surged over our decks and soon found the unsecured midship hatch sending in a bucket of briny, then advanced to sneak in under the closed companionway hatch.  Captain Kirk was at the helm, Rai was on deck, and Sulu monitored the Nav station calling out course, track and distance as the fierce Klingon attack was waged-or so it seemed as Sunsets plunged through waves that were akin to an elevator making a hasty descent.  Talbott debarked just in time, and Rai was welcomed with a baptism of fire.  Seas calmed as we neared port.  The strong current in our favor made for the fast passage, 18 miles in two hours.  Puerto Morelos is a fishing town with a commercial port that is becoming gentrified as development spreads out from Cancun.  We had fresh catch of the day at the Pelican restaurant overlooking Sunsets anchored behind the protective reef.  While her twin anchors held fast through the steady 20-knot overnight winds, the rigging vibrations through the hull had Sunsets quivering like a racer at the starting gate.  The snorkeling here would be good in calmer seas, but it's off to the Flemish Cap for us, I mean Isla Mujeres.  By God, we'll arrive before 3:00 Friday the 9th and beat the weekend double port fee! Sunsets is reveling in port after her strenuous workout lapping up a full tank of fuel and water, and enjoying a much deserved fresh water rinse.  We are almost to the northernmost tip of "La Ruta Maya", the ancient coastal trade route of the Mayan world that is believed to have had 4000 cayucos plying these turquois seas.  Modern Isla Mujeres has strong ties to the US gulf coast playing host to the annual Regatta del Sol al Sol sponsored by the St Petersburg Yacht Club.  Gilbert's devastation in 1988 rallied the yachtsmen to get Isla Mujeres back on her feet after being flattened by 200 mph winds.  When Wally joins us Monday we'll aim for Miami.
-The Gloucestermen

Busman’s Holiday, 2/10

With 2 full days to lollygag in port before setting out on the 12th, we had the leisure time for quality people watching on Isla Mujeres' beach, the Isle of Women, many of them bare breasted.  It's as well the impressionable children have all gone home!  We complimented our earlier island tour by bicycle and golf cart with a dinghy ride around the harbor where we found a secluded, modern marina tucked in a quiet back lagoon, much calmer than our marina adjacent to the ferry dock marina, but, understandably, full.  Snorkeling the rock coastline here was both popular with tourists from Cancun and rewarding.  Sunday we took a panga (open Mexican runabout) tour of Isla Contoy, a bird sanctuary just to the north.  We pass it as we approach, but have never dropped anchor there.  The tour for 11 included fishing native style:  baitfish are trolled on heavy line that is pulled in by hand.  About 5 barracuda were caught in short order; more could be spotted trailing our boat.  Reef snorkeling, petting tame manta rays just off the beach, a tower climb affording panoramic views of the Caribbean, the natural vegetation, birds whirling in the air, and a grilled fish picnic lunch on the beach made for a very pleasant day capped by Wally waiting aboard SUNSETS on our return.  To bid adios to Mexico, we returned to our newly discovered marina for an elegant meal while being serenaded by a quartet.  The Sunshine Gang

Miami, 2/21

A change in crew coincides with a change in the weather:  seas are as meek and mild now as they had been boisterous before.  Linda and Mark Kempster arrived at 10pm on the 20th, Wally cast us off from Faro Blanco's dock in Marathon on the 21st and headed for his plane. Motorsailing and sunbathing have been the order of the day Wed and Thurs, a humane introduction to sailing for our non-sailing but game cousins and a welcome change of pace for us veterans!  Mark & Linda are recent immigrants to Anna Marie Island off Florida's west coast, so naturally the first adjustment to their lifestyle will be deciding on their first boat.  Fresh from the Miami Boat Show their sojourn on Sunsets is the ultimate demonstration sail:  balmy breezes, anchoring off exclusive Fisher Island with Miami's harbor skyline as a backdrop at sunset, diving overboard for a swim, cockpit dining and trolling Friday as we wend our way north along the intercoastal waterway to Ft Lauderdale past the fabulous homes and yachts of the rich and richer.  SUNSETS lies alongside a cabin cruiser Friday evening in the condo complex of the Jennettes with whom we spent Christmas Eve.  At the height of the season marinas are full.  The Florida Four

West Palm Beach, 2/24

Saturday dawned with brisk easterlies and 4-5 ft seas affording our crew seafaring at its finest under reefed main, staysail and genoa with the decks rolling beneath us for 4 hours to build their sea legs on the way to Riviera Beach Marina.  Zounds!  Another M65 occupied our favorite dock!  It's setting the anchor for us off Peanut Island and lighting out for shore by dinghy to replenish our perilously low rations of grog and to partake of the landlubbers grub at the Crab Pot while gazing at SUNSETS at anchor just beyond the 62' bridge.  Beachcombing along the 1.5 mile coast of Peanut Island before dark surprised us with the amenities converting this former Coast Guard Station into a destination bird sanctuary/park with docks, camp sites, cabaƱas, a paved perimeter walk, an event pavilion, and the JFK (underground) Bunker Museum, a relic of the cold war.  Our 65' mast height dictated heading back through Lake Worth Inlet with our now seasoned mates for another glorious sail under blue skies and 80 degree air with nary a fleck from the captain's cat o' nine tails for the hands.  Our anchorage in the Indian River at Ft. Pierce with men fly casting from waist deep shoals beside us tipped the scales of our dinner debate:  what could shore possibly offer to compare to the contentment of relaxing aboard?  Alas, Monday's sail to Port Canaveral is our cousins' last port of call but we will be welcoming  Bob and Cathy Masson for the return to Brunswick, Ga. The Fair Weather Sailors


[2/28] Skyrocket in flight, afternoon delight! Leaving Cape Canaveral at noon we were advised to bear east only for 72 nautical miles before heading north by the Coast Guard through 7pm, to avoid the potential of a rocket awry.  At 4:20 from 6 miles offshore a glow followed by a vapor streak arched higher and higher over our heads.  We could see the mighty first stage burn and the Titan rocket itself, then a gap, followed by the second stage ignition before disappearing into the heavens with half the sky recording our thrill in the lingering vapor trail.  With our late start up the coast, landfall in Daytona would have occurred after dark prompting the Captain to call for an overnight passage to St Augustine.  Bob and Cathy, Classic Mac 26 owners, slept with the lee cloths in the mid-ship cabin and stood their watches like veterans in their first all night ocean passage.  We began under main and genoa, but falling wind that left Sunsets wallowing in sloppy seas gave way to motoring under main alone.  Shore leave in St Augustine offers a wealth of choices with a 7-mile tram tour giving an overview we all shared then we fanned out trying to do it all, not neglecting our 1.5 pounds of fudge for which I will atone at 7:30 pm Ash Wednesday service.  The Pudgie Fudgies

Bonita, 3/1

A half hour north of the St Augustine inlet while under motor the reel paid out, Bob throttled back, Jim landed a 2' Bonita (5 lbs) and Cathy got the picture!  Over our Jambalaya lunch underway we fantasized about the bounty of the sea dinner in the offing but found the charm of St Mary's City, Ga. irresistible with its barbecue buffet and southern hospitality.  The city is 10 miles up the river of the same name off Cumberland Bay near Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island.  This city in the past attracted the wealthy who languished away from harsh northern winters here in its mild embrace.  Daffodils are already in bloom. Friday's mid-day tram tour of Jekyll Island's Historic area included 3 millionaire cottages.  Their clubhouse is now a hotel. March 3rd marks the end of our phenomenal streak of favorable weather sending us into Brunswick's safe harbor where SUNSETS will await our return, hopefully when cold northers have spent themselves.  We will make her ship shape in her slip, unload our refrigerator and clothes into our waiting van before the weekend rain and gale force winds. I'll have time to bake son Steve a birthday cake to commemorate his 22nd B-day on the 11th!  Mark and Linda had an eventful trip home in their rental car on the 26th:  en route they collided with a cow, no injuries to them, but fatal for both car and cow.  Avis chauffeured them home the following day.  Godspeed to all.  Scheherazade, Captain and Crew bid our readers a fond adieu.