If you’ve ever been tempted by a paradise-brimming Belize vacation at least once in your life, then prepare your imagination for the ultimate treat as Canadian travel blogger Gerry Feehan takes you on a delightfully-detailed and light-hearted journey of his Crewed sailing charter in this radiant destination…
Imagine sailing on a private yacht in the Caribbean, where every coral reef and mangrove island is yours alone to enjoy. Where the cook jumps overboard to spear lunch and the captain serves cocktails at dusk.
My bucket-list is not that deep. Many destinations have been checked off ✔since I abandoned the working-stiff life a few years ago. But every once in a while a new hole gets punched in the pail and the spot needs filling.
So it was with Belize. En route home after a lazy week on a black sand beach in Costa Rica last year, I was examining the pathetic map at the back of the airline magazine. I drew an imaginary line along our route and calculated that we might skirt the edge of Belize. Sure enough, about an hour into the flight, 10,000 meters below us, there appeared a spectacular display of islands and ocean. The water was aquamarine, turquoise, cobalt – every colour of blue – spilt around atolls, snow-white beaches and the swaying green of coconut palm-covered cayes.
I was mesmerized. Belize immediately climbed to the top of the wish list. I made inquiries. Half of Belize is ocean so it made sense to book a two-part adventure: time at sea coupled with an excursion into the country’s craggy interior.
I knew we were in good stead when my phone rang the week before our departure:
“Hello, Gerry? This is Garrick from the Moorings. I want to talk about the sailing charter. Did you have any special destinations in mind”?
The only place I’d ever heard of in Belize was the Great Blue Hole, a deep sinkhole in the middle of a reef-fringed atoll, famous for extreme scuba diving.
“Nah, we won’t be going there,” explained Garrick. “It’s too far from the dock in Placencia for the time we have on board.”
“No worries,” I answered. (Actually, I didn’t say that. I hate that phrase.)
We arrived in the sleepy seaside village of Placencia at 8:30 on a sunny tropical morning after an arduous five-hour red-eye from Los Angeles and a quick puddle-jump from Belize City. I was ravenous and ordered a Belizean breakfast and a Belikin beer (what the heck, my eyes were already red). The worry-free waitress delivered a heaping plate of stew chicken with beans and rice (not rice and beans – don’t get them mixed up in Belize) accompanied by fry jacks, triangular pieces of deep-fried dough. I ordered a second Belikin, purely to demonstrate solidarity with the national brewery:
A wonderful beer is the Bel-i-kin,
I can drink more than a pel-i-can
(with apologies to Ogden Nash)
After this hearty petit dejeuner, Florence attached a scopolamine patch behind my ear. We were boarding the boat at noon and the slow-release medication needed some lead-time to work its anti-seasick magic.
At the Moorings dock we reunited with our four fast friends and erstwhile travelling companions from Victoria and Saskatoon. The crew, Captain Lee and chef Garrick, introduced us to the 48-foot catamaran and showed us our well-appointed staterooms, each with a private head (crucial for such close-quarters).
We left the dock in high spirits and with great expectations – unaware those expectations would be vastly exceeded by the scenery and service we were to enjoy during our ten days at sea. Lee and Garrick are South African ex-pats. Lee was raised on a yacht. The sea is in her blood. Garrick was a landlubber until he met Lee a few years ago. (I would say he was smitten by Lee but Garrick is a rather powerful, matter-of-fact fellow and of course, these types are never “smitten”.) In any event, he quickly committed to the sea-faring life.
After setting sail, I asked Cap’n Lee about the itinerary:
“Change of plans. We’re headed for the Blue Hole’” she said. “It’ll take some sailing to get there but you can’t very well go back to Canada and tell your friends you visited Belize and didn’t see the Great Blue Hole, now can you?”
Garrick was filleting a barracuda and fashioning fry jacks in the galley. He looked up with a wry smile.
The journey to the Blue Hole was not a race. We spent six fantastic, circuitous days getting there. The key to safe sailing is finding harbour well before dark. So each afternoon Lee would motor into a quaint, isolated cove and moor lee of the wind.
Captain Lee considers a mooring situation
At every stunning spot, the moment anchor hit bottom, the six Canadian guests raced to don mask and flippers. We’d hop overboard and explore the remarkable underwater Belizean experience: brain coral, fire coral, soft orange coral, purple sea fans, curious spiny lobsters – and a smorgasbord of shy (and not-so-shy) tropical fish.
At one mooring we drifted through a forest of mangroves, their spiky roots offering a nursery for anemones, sea stars and thousands upon thousands of infant fishlings.
In the crystal-clear waters we’d hover and watch a queen conch slowly crawl across the sandy bottom far below. Incidentally, conch is pronounced conk, like when a falling coconut connects with the noggin.
For almost a week we had every snorkeling spot, anchorage and each glorious sunset to ourselves – our own private ocean playground.
As we toured, a trolling line sped along behind us. When a fish was on, Garrick would jump at the telltale “zzzip” of the reel and in a flash all hands were on deck. We took turns landing delectable snapper, barracuda and hogfish.
Evenings were spent enjoying the crew’s six-star attention, glorious cuisine, lovely wines, raucous laughter, R-rated charades and lively discussion (volcanoes are what’s responsible for climate change, right?).
We also engaged in late night feats of strength and, of course, pole-dancing. For clarity, the latter two activities were gender exclusive. And each morning we’d compare bruised biceps, blemished calves – and damaged egos.
The world’s second largest barrier reef skirts the Belizean coast. The reef provides protection from tropical storms for hundreds of quaint cayes. Many of these islets have a solitary lonely dwelling suspended precariously over a tiny limestone footing.
Passage through the reef to the deep ocean is possible in only a few spots and is so treacherous that bare-boat charters (people who captain their own rental vessel) are forbidden to navigate these openings.
We had no such restrictions. Lee sailed us through with flying colours and into the wild blue of the deep sea and onward to the outer reefs and stunning atolls that mark Belize as a unique sailing destination.
An atoll is a shallow coral-ringed lagoon surrounded by ocean. There are only four in the northern hemisphere – three of them are in Belize. The 70-fathom deep Blue Hole is situated in the middle of Lighthouse Reef, one of those atolls. As we motored cautiously in the thin turquoise water of Lighthouse, we noticed we had company. A catamaran christened “Karmalita” was parked in the shallow reef.
We slowed, anchored and jumped in the water. I swam toward the gaping hole. As I neared the edge, the shallow pale water changed to dark impenetrable blue. I ventured nervously out over the precipice and looked down. Two barracuda hovered below, eyeing me hungrily. I shuddered and quickly crawled back to the safety of the shallow reef.
The snorkeling was perfect, the visibility remarkable. It is hard to exaggerate the beauty of the light, the coral, the fish, the Great Blue Hole. But after an hour of exploration, I began to get a wee bit peckish, so we swam back to the boat for some of Garrick’s snapper ceviche.
Two snorkelers from the Karmalita were in the water. The sunburnt head of one popped up. He tore off his mask and shouted loudly over the waves, “Karma, come’ere, hurry, look at this fish.”
An appealing blonde swam toward where the man beckoned but when she arrived he was gone.
Then he re-surfaced at another coral head, “Honey, hurry up, ya gotta see this turtle.” Dutifully she swam his way but again, by the time she got there, he had bolted, like a dolphin with Tourette’s syndrome.
This performance repeated itself until “Karma”, clearly exasperated, gave up the chase and returned to her boat. Climbing out of the water, she nodded at us with a polite hullo and said, “Watch this.”
“Shark!” she shouted. Her wayward snorkeling companion looked up, puzzled.
“Shark!” she repeated urgently and pointed his way. Like a cartoon character, he came flailing boatward, and in a flash was standing on the Karmalita, mask fogged.
“Geeze Karma, I think I shite myself,” he said from the poop deck, while she laughed hysterically.
You may recall our interaction in India with a fellow named Joe Tourist, the affable laughable wag who, recently retired, was inexperiencing the world for the first time after a fertile career in the seed business. It was he, in all his buffoonish, bald glory.
He stood there staring into the water, then said, “Look.” We all peered overboard as two eight-foot sharks swam malevolently between the boats.
“Not funny, Karma,” he said. And with that Joe Tourist disappeared below decks.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t get seasick. The scopolamine patches work.
Tip: bring an underwater camera on your next ocean adventure. My inexpensive Fuji took great pics – although admittedly the shark video I took is a little shaky.
Images courtesy of Gerry Feehan
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