Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Battle of St. Georges Caye Sailing Regatta

A few months ago, a fellow CYC (Consejo Yacht Club) member had invited me to crew on his Hobie Getaway in the Battle of St. Georges Caye Sailing Regatta, September 11,2011, representing our club in it's second race of the year. I was more than happy to join him and thought we would make a good team. The other Hobie Getaway, that Bud and Anne had just received 5 days earlier, was also going to represent the club, but we still needed to assemble the boat and get its crew ready for the race. So the club now had two entries in the regatta, which was now, just a few days away. We had to put together Bud's new Hobie, then head out to our bay to get some much needed practice.

Unfortunately, the winds gods did not want to cooperate and we slogged through 5-8 mph winds for days. And, we still needed time to get the trailers ready to handle the Hobie Cats for the trip to Belize City. Bud was getting his trailer delivered with the boat, or so he thought. When the boat arrived, only part of the trailer was in the container. Apparently, the trailer was too long and they had just shipped the racks that hold the Hobie Cat to the trailer. The actual trailer would not arrive for a few more weeks. That would not help us, as the race was only days away. So in true Belizean fashion, we took another trailer and modified it to handle his Hobie. First problem solved. The second trailer, that would carry our entry in the race, had its own set of problems. It had sat for years, unused, and the leaf spring attachments had rusted to the point that even a minor bump, they would break. So, off to the welding shop we went, to get everything welded up so we wouldn't have any problems out on the road. I hadn't bothered to look at the tires, until then, but they were as bad as I have ever seen a set of tires. Cracked and rotted, we had no time to replace them. No tire store had them in stock and it would take weeks for them to arrive. And our spare tire was just as bad. But we decided we were still on track to go to Belize City, where we were going to launch the boats, we would just have to be extra careful during the drive.

With the boats loaded up on their trailers, we headed off to Belize City, early Saturday morning. It was a nice, uneventful trip and we arrived around 1PM at our final destination. We unloaded the boats, then went off to get some lunch before our sail to St. George's Caye. By the time we had finished lunch and got back to the boats, it was now getting close to 3PM. We still had a several hour sail over to the island, but the winds were up, so we thought we could make good time.

We followed the boats that had started out for the Caye a few hours earlier, but were much slower than us, so we figured we would catch them in a hour or so. An hour and a half later, our tacks had taken quite a bit north of our destination and we still could not see St. George's Caye and had only made up half the ground on the other boats. It was now approaching 4:30 and sunset was just a little before 6PM and total darkness by 6:30. We were not equipt to sail in the dark and with all the small islands in front of us, we needed to locate St.George's Caye and get there as quick as we could. This was open ocean and there was no Coast Guard around to help us if something were to happen.

We could see the other boats approaching an island off in the distance, so we followed their lead and sailed towards that same island. Bud and Jim were on the other Hobie Cat, two or three miles behind us, and sunset was fast approaching. We arrived at the St. George's Caye harbor just after sunset but the other Hobie was now disappearing into the night. Now we had to hope that they saw where we had gone and were able to keep a true course to get there. And, of course around sunset, the winds begin to die down.

A half an hour later we saw a flashlight off in the distance. They had made it to the harbor. We had waited for them at the mouth of the harbor, so we could both sail in to the harbor together. It was now around 7:30 PM, and the journey had taken us over 4 1/2 hours. It was time to check into the hotel then head to the bar for some ice cold Belikins. It had been a very long day.

The next morning we were able to see the suroundings and our hotel cabanas. St. George's Caye is a small island about 10 miles out from Belize City. Beautiful clear waters surround the island and the races were going to be held just about in front of our hotel.

As we watched the other races begin, we studied the winds and talked strategy on how we wanted to race when it was our turn. We were scheduled to start at 11AM, so around 10:30 we readied the boats for the race. We watched for our flag, that would indicate that it was our turn to sail. Around 11, the flag went up, which meant we had 5 minutes to start time. As we waited for the second flag to go up, indicating three minutes to race time, the multi-hull race flag came down. Our race had been postponed until 12:30. No problem. We tied up the Hobies' and watched the other races, just waiting for our turn.

The once beautiful sunny sky was now beginning to fill with dark clouds. As our start time drew closer, so did the menacing dark clouds. The multi-hull class flag went up, signaling that the start of the race was now 5 minutes away. The winds had now picked up to 10-15 mph, which is ideal for sailing a Hobie, but the menacing clouds were now even darker and much closer. We saw the multi-hull class flag drop, indicating that the race had begun. We were first across the start/finish line, headed to the first marker, with the other boats close behind. As we cleared the second and third markers, heading back to the start/finish line, of this two lap race, the wind had really picked up and we were now heading into a rather large squall. One of the other Hobie Cats, from San Pedro, had pulled a couple of boat lengths ahead of us at the start/finish line of the first lap. The wind was now in the 25-30+ mph range and we were being pelted with rain. As the Hobie from San Pedro cleared the first marker bouy, we watched as it was toppled over by the wind. We rounded the first marker, flying as fast as I have ever been in a Hobie Cat, we passed the overturned San Pedro Hobie, heading for the second mark. The other Hobie from our club, had seen what had happened to the San Pedro Hobie, evaulated the weather conditions and headed for the safety of land. We were attempting to clear the second marker, when all of a sudden, both hulls dug into the water and we were catapulted forward into the ocean. Pelting rain and blistering winds were hindering our attempts to right the boat. We were able to get the Hobie righted, only to have it blow over again. Twenty five minutes in the water and we finally had to get help from the race committee boats. Our race was now over, but as we found out, everybody had been eliminated from the finish of the race. We had come in second place, due to the fact we were in second place after the first lap. But, we'll take it. It was an exciting race, even though we didn't get to finish.

The next morning was the trip home. The day started out with dark clouds on the horizon, all around the island. The wind was from the north, so that would help us getting back to Belize City, but we were still looking at a 3-4 hour sail. As we started off, it looked as though we might make good time, but that only lasted for an hour or so. Soon the rain began, and the winds began to shift around. No where to hide, so we slogged on. Soon, the rain really began to fall, but we could see Belize City in off in the distance. By the time we made it back to the launch ramp, it was raining cats and dogs...and we still needed to load up the boats.

After breaking down the boats and loading them on their trailers, it was finally time to head home. After a couple of stops for munchies, we were on our way. By the time we got home, it had been a long 10 hour day. I was going to sleep well tonight.

The races were lots of fun and I look forward to doing more racing in the future. This is my second race, and both times I have been on the 2nd place boat. Next year, I plan to win!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Dodged Our First Tropical Storm

I spent the better part of my birthday, getting ready for tropical storm Harvey, that ended up hitting the southern part of Belize. All we got was a little rain, but surprisingly, no wind. But it was a good dry run for when the first tropical storm or hurricane, does come.

We were trying to decide on the type of hurricane shutters we wanted to protect the doors and windows, and we wanted to make the decision before hurricane season started on the first of June. Well that didn't work out and it was nearly the end of June before we actually made our decision on which way to go.

Our first thought was plywood. It was not overly expensive, easy to cut and I could get it right away. But the drawbacks were storage (we don't have a garage yet), treating it for bugs and rot, the large panels were heavy and it would make the house seem like a cave, which means lots of candles or a generator going full time. If we went with plywood, our cost, including installation, would be around $1500US.

The second option we looked at were aluminum panels that attach to a permanent railing system. The panels are light weight, strong and easy to store, with minimal maintenance. They can be installed in a fairly short time and even quicker if there are two people. The down side is, the feeling of being in a cave, the rather high cost of the panels and the time it takes for the company to cut it to size and installation. If we went with aluminum panels, we were looking at around $7000 - $8000US, including installation and three weeks before they would be ready.

Our other option was semi-clear polyurethane panels. Florida rated, they could be bought from Home Depot or Lowe's, online. A permanent attachment system would hold the panels to the window and door frames, so installation of the panels before a storm would be quick and easy. A full 4X8 sheet of polyurethane panel weighs less than 20 lbs. They are thin and easy to store. No worries about bugs or rot. They're simi-clear, which allows light in during the day. The only down sides were the cost, about $3000US (including shipping, duties, taxes and installation), it being twice the cost of plywood but less than half of the cost of aluminum panels, and the shipping time. From the order date to delivery in Corozal would be about 5 to 6 weeks.

After careful consideration we decided to go with the semi-clear polyurethane panels, from Home Depot. They came in a contractor pack of 5 - 4X8 sheets for about $715, before taxes, and we decided to buy 3 packs. Home Depot delivers free on orders over $250, so we had them ship it to Marage Shipping, in LA for no charge. From there, Marage would ship it to Belize in a container, that would take about 3 weeks, then they would unpack the container in Corozal and then call us to pick up the panels a day or two after that. It wasn't the quickest way to get ready for hurricane season, but if we could dodge any hurricanes until August, we might be OK.

So that leads us to now. The hurricane panels arrived in early August and we had no threatening tropical storms or hurricanes up until then. If it would just hold off until I could get them installed. I needed a permanent attachment system first and I have to work with what they have here in Belize. I went to our local window manufacturer to look at aluminum rails then to all the hardware stores in town to find stainless steel nuts and bolts (we don't want them rusting in a few years). After looking at a number of options, we decided on the rails we wanted but ended up having to order the stainless steel nuts and bolts. More waiting time. No hurricanes in sight, but now we were starting to press our luck. Sure enough, as soon as the bolts arrived, we get notice of a new tropical depression forming off the leeward islands, and it was headed our way, over warmer waters. Was this going to be the first hurricane of the season? Was it going to hit Belize? Was I going to be ready?

As luck would have it, the answer to all three of those questions was "no". The storm did hit southern Belize, but only as a tropical storm. And a good thing, as we were not ready for it. I had just started cutting the panels to size, but had not even began to install the attachments.

So that is where I am today, rushing (in Belize time) to get the panels cut and installed. I have installed almost all the panels for main windows and tomorrow I will start on the small windows and doors. I hope to have this all wrapped up in two or three days. At least no tropical storms or hurricanes are headed our way.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I'm A Star (or at least my 15 seconds of fame)

The most recent Belize Tourism Board (BTB) video has just been released, highlighting all the positives in each of the six districts throughout Belize, and the first episode is on the Corozal area. The host, Emaun, toured our area and selected my neighbor, Jason Pierce, to take her out sailing on the Corozal Bay. Jason asked for my help with this video project, so he could explain the highlights of sailing, while I steered the boat. Here is a link to the first episode and my claim to fame.


It was a fun day and I was glad to promote the best of the Corozal Area. The bay is a under utilized area where sailing, windsurfing and kite boarding could be a well known draw to the area.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fish Fry At The Casablanca Hotel

Our local hotel, the Casablanca, was hosting a Fish Fry, with our local fishermen supplying the fish and different preparation techniques by the local fisherman's wives. The hotel invited the Consejo Yacht Club to participate and host a booth along with other local vendors selling their goods and food. The yacht club gladly accepted and in accordance with the goals of the club, offered to take local kids and their parents, out sailing on a couple of Hobie Cats that the members of the yacht club had purchased for their own use, free of charge.

The goal of the yacht club is to provide sailing experience to the new generation of children, that has been part of their heritage, but is quickly being lost. In the Corozal and Consejo area, fishing and sailing have been a big part of the livelyhood and trade for the whole northern Belize and southern Mexico. The club has also joined the newly formed Belize Sailing Association and has qualified to help Belize start a sailing program with the end result being an official entrant in the Olympics, sometime in the near future. The Belize Sailing Association and the Consejo Yacht Club are currently in discussions to purchase boats for training to achieve the needed experience to compete at such a high level.

The sailing experience for the kids (and the adults) was overwhelming, with 53 adults and children taking part in the sailing event. For many, it was the first time being on a sailboat. Almost all came back with a grin from ear to ear, and not one of them got seasick, even though it was a rough day, with rain and thunderstorms all around. But all the bad weather seemed to miss us and the event went off without a hitch. I hope it will turn into a yearly event, as everyone seemed to have a good time.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Our First Tropical Wave

Mischelle and I have now been here in Belize, just short of of nine months, full time. For the most part, the weather has been just what we expected, comfortable during the winter/spring months and hot and humid during the summer and hurricane season. But this will be our first hurricane season, full time. We've been through hurricanes in Cabo, but we could leave after it was over, and our hotel facilities could get us through all but the worse storm. Here, we are on our own. But that statement is not really true. I feel our neighbors are here to help in any distubance, and would go beyond what is need to make sure you're secure. It's just the things that are beyond the normal circumstances. It's a slippery, mushy seven mile drive to town after a good rain. The road has been flooded so that only 4 wheel drive vehicals could make it through to town. There is no immediate help so you better do the best you can to be safe.

We got a small taste of that when a tropical wave came through. Some high winds in the 50 mph range and heavy bouts of rain at times, but overall, not too bad. But it gave us food for thought about how we are going to protect ourselfs.

Our usually calm beach area was totally underwater. There were times you could barely see we even had a seawall.

Now we need just need to get our hurricane shutters we ordered from Home Depot delivered before the first hurricane hits us. And we also need to find space for all the outdoor furniture we have. I guess in the worse case scenerio, we could put all that furniture in the guest room. I shudder to think of all the geckos, spiders and other bugs that have made their home in the nooks and cranies of our outdoor furniture. Next on the build list...a storage shed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Visiting The Local Sites

We had our friend Bruce, visit us from the States, and he wanted to see what Belize had to offer. So we started off in San Pedro for some diving and a little partying. It was just after Easter and the tourist season had come to a screeching halt. The place was empty, and I mean empty. Nobody on the beach, nobody in the restaurants, nobody at the bars, but that also meant there was nobody at the dive sites. We had some great dives with loggerhead turtles, nurse sharks, eagle rays, and the list goes on. Definitely a good time to go if you want pristine diving and only a few people. Not a good time if you want to party.

Then it was on to the Mayan ruins at Lamanai. A fun two hour boat ride up the New River that is part Disneyland Jungle Cruise and part Florida air boat ride.

We had to stop along the way to see the monkeys, feed them a couple of apple bananas, then move on to Lamanai. Beautiful birds and lush fauna lined the shores of the river, and the viewing opportunities made the trip to Lamanai seem short.

After we arrived at Lamanai, we sat down and had a lunch provided for us by the tour company, then it was off on a short walk to the ruins. Our tour guide had studied the Lamanai ruins for over 20 years, so he knew a lot of the history, not only of Lamanai, but of the neighboring ruins and their part in the overall development of the area.

The ruins are in fairly good condition and you can still get close to and climb to the top of some of the taller ruins, unlike some of the ruins in Mexico. It is deceptive how steep the stairs are that going to the top. It can be a little bit unnerving to some people, but they do provide a rope to hold on to on your accent and decent.

But the view from the top is amazing, allowing you to see for miles in any direction.

Mischelle climbed to the top of one of the ruins, and her thighs burned for days. It's not the usual step pattern, so muscles get used that don't normally get used.

She's smiling now, but that won't be the case tomorrow!

After a long, but enjoyable day, it was time to take the boat ride back to Orange Walk and head home from there, or at least to the bar near home.

The next day, Bruce wanted to explore the Free Zone and the local casinos. Not much in the Free Zone to do but shop for "knock offs" of just about anything in clothing, shoes or handbags. Not a place to take the wife or girlfriend, if you plan on doing anything else that day. But then again, she could say that about me and going to the casinos. But at least the drinks in the casinos are free....well sort of, if you're lucky.

On Bruce's last day, his flight didn't leave until late afternoon, so we thought it would be a good time to visit the Belize Zoo. It has a very good reputation, especially for being such a small facility. But don't let it fool you on the size. They do a great job on displaying the animals and you really have a chance to get up close and personal. Just don't get too close, as the signs say. Fingers can come up missing if put in the fence at the wrong time.

The zoo does a great job educating the people about the inter-relationship between the different animals, and how as caretakers of the country, they need to preserve the forest and not exploit the resources that are natural to the country.

The zoo was great experience that I would recommend to anyone that visits Belize. But it was time for Bruce to end his vacation and head back home to LA. I'm sure glad I'm no longer in that boat. Back to work on Monday and months before your next vacation. In Belize, I'm on permanent vacation.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

At It Once Again

After a few months of no posts to the blog, I am hoping to begin again, with at least a few posts a month. Even comments from Julian couldn't get me back to posting on my blog. I spoke to a few others that also blog and it's not unusual to get blog burn-out or a sort of writers block. But what ever it was, I hope to get back into some kind of routine. There is so much here to blog about, I just need to do it. So here we go. I'll include things from the last couple of months, just to get started again.

Mischelle's mother, Fay, stayed with us until early April. She was here for 4 months, and I'm sure she'll be back soon, probably after the hurricane season. But for now it will finally give us a chance to get settled into routine around the house. We still have a lot to unpack.

We went to Sarteneja for their Easter Day Boat Races. Our friends, Tom and Terri joined us for the drive. Unlike last year, we decided to drive there rather than take the boat. The road out there was recently graded, so the drive shouldn't be too bad. What could take the most time was waiting to cross the river on the ferry. It only holds four or five cars at a time, so if there was a line, we could be there for a while. But as it was, there were only a few cars ahead of us, so we made it on the second ferry across.

We arrived in Sarteneja, after driving for about an hour and a half, and found that the boat from Consejo, with our other friends and neighbors, had also just arrived. The Consejo Yacht Club had entered the Maranatha in one of the races, so there was a large group yacht club members there to support them.

Unfortunately, the event wasn't as well organized as last year, and there several mix ups involving the boat and the captain. Also, the Maranatha was way out of her class, due to the fact that the other boats had brought larger sails and extra rigging, just for racing. So, it turns out that we all just watched from the sidelines this year.

There were not as many booths selling merchandise and food. There was no information board showing when the races began or what classes of boat were racing. It was a two day event, this year, instead of just one, so some of the bands had played the day/night before. It just seemed to be a much quieter affair this year. But we still managed to have a good time, drink a few beers and chow down some food.

After a few hours of walking around the town, we decided to head back to Consejo and finish our Easter celebration there. I was a little disappointed in the races this year, but we will go again next year, and hopefully it will be better.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Things Are Moving Along

I can't believe it's already been a month since my last post. We've got a few more things going on around the house. We are getting quotes for the fence work we need to do and we are starting the landscaping of our front yard. They have begun to bring in marl to raise the level of the lot by about 6 to 8 inches. There are several areas in the front of the lot where the water pools because the crown on the side of the road is higher than that of the lot.

They are going to start with four loads of marl for the driveway and the carport pad. After that, they will bring in the top soil for all the landscaping and then crushed rock to finish the driveway. This will probably be an ongoing project for the next several months.

I finished my pet project down at the seawall, that included adding a handrail, umbrella stand, and a nautical flag pole. I do seem to get things done, it's just done at a Belizean speed. All and all, I think it adds a nice touch to, what was otherwise, just a plain seawall.

We recently attended our local art fair called Art in the Park. It was a very enjoyable evening that started with pizza and beer at one of our favorite drinking establishments, Jam Rock.

After finishing off a pizza and a couple of beers, it was time to head over to the park. It was a lively gathering, with lots of families attending. There were some beautiful wood carvings, jewelry and paintings throughout the park and of course, food vendors. I was beginning to wish I hadn't eaten before we came.

We met many of our neighbors from Consejo and lots of our friends from town. We came across Dave and Diana, who write the Winjama blog, also there for the food and fun.

We picked up some meatpies and stuffed jalapenjo peppers, which were absolutely delicious, to take home for later. We toured all the art stands and found a very unusual mahogany bowl that we ended up buying for $50 BZ. There was some very good deals there on local artwork. It's a well attended monthly event.

And this past weekend, I helped our neighbor, Jason, who was hosting a video shoot for the Belize Tourism Board(BTB). They were videotaping a young lady, Iman, in various places throughout Belize, that would showcase things to see or do in that particular area. For the Corozal district, they had contacted Jason about sailing on his Hobie Cat out in the bay. He wanted another crew member to help out, so he contacted me. It was a great morning for sailing, with about a 12 mph wind and small chop on the ocean. We went out for a couple of tacks and let Iman steer the boat for a while. She was really having a good time. The cameraman said he got some great shots of us out sailing. So who knows, I may be in the next Belize tourism video.

On Sunday, we sailed Jason's boat down to town, where they were hosting the first annual Corozal Waterside Festival and Expo. It's an idea that originated from members of our Consejo Yacht Club(CYC), and we were originally going to host the event as the Corozal Sailing Regatta. But the logistics of planning and hosting an event like that was just too daunting for such a new and small yacht club. So, we conacted other groups about helping us, and the Belize Sailing Association (who knew Belize had a sailing association?) stepped in and ran with the idea. They were well connected to the right people, so that most of the things the yacht club would have needed to provide, if we had hosted the event, were provided for FREE. That included port-a-potty's, park space rental, booth spaces, etc. They got the Belize bank to donate the prize money and others to pay for the transportation of the Sea Scouts and 10 of their boats, to Corozal, so they could race.

We sailed Jason's Hobie from Consejo and Gerard had sailed his in from just outside of town, so we were able to race in the multi-hull catagory.

The Belize Sailing Association came in, set up the course, explained the rules and provided the officials. There were 12 boats total, with three different classes.

There were lots of food vendors selling meat pies, shish kabobs, BBQ chicken, tacos and all kinds of other good things. It makes me hungry just writing about it. There were also several companies showcasing their goods, to see if there is a market for them in the Corozal area. And what would a festival be without a beer tent?

Finally it was our turn to race. As we waited for the starting horn to go off, we got caught up in "irons", which means we were sitting dead in the water. The air horn sounded and the other Hobie was off and sailing, but we were still caught up in irons. After three or four minutes, we were finally off and sailing, but we were well behind the other boat and had a lot of ground to make up.

But, after two laps on the course, we were on their tails and closing fast. We had two more bouys to clear before the race was over, so it was now or never. Unfortunately, we missed our tack and had to regroup to try and tack again. We got close, but we came in second (there were only two boats in this class, so I look at it from the best side).

The waterside festival was a smashing success and everybody seemed to have a good time. As the kids played in the water, their parents listening to the band as they ate and drank, other kids participating in art workshops or learning to sail, it was a truly fun day and the weather could not have been better. I'm already looking forward to next year.