09 July, 2009

Odyssey to San Pedro

No, it wasn't on the Thunderbolt. It was aboard Bob Carpenter's twin-engine cat. Yesterday at 6:15 AM, I rode my bicycle over to Bob's place, the soon-to-be Almond Tree Hotel and Resort, where His wife Lynn was kind enough to ferry us up to Tony's Inn and Beach Resort, where Bob keeps his boat moored.

Here it is, ready to cast off and head into the rising sun. It started out as a simply glorious morning. Just a few more things to do before we get underway - warm up the engines, connect the chartplotter, and retrieve the anchors - used to keep the boat from chaffing against the concrete pier.
Just Another Ho-Hum Day
Here's a shot of Bob hooking up his chartplotter in the wheelhouse. Pretty cool tool. You can get weather images (with good reception, that is), which can be overlaid on charts, you also can view all the pertinent data, water temp, depth, course, speed, distance to turn point, etc., etc., etc. It will even double as a DVD screen after you've anchored for the evening.
Hooking Up the Chartplotter
We got underway about 6:45 AM. That's important as the Thunderbolt Ferry, which runs twice daily between Corozal and San Pedro (with the occasional stop in Sarteneja - by request) would be leaving on it's morning run to San Pedro at 7:00 AM. We planned to fall in behind them and bird dog them all the way to San Pedro, taking advantage of their local knowledge for the shortest route there and navigating in to San Pedro.

One of the necessary things aboard a boat is keeping things clean and properly stowed. Here's Bob, after we hoisted the bow anchor, which had been set in deep mud in the moorage basin, cleaning the muck which had splattered on deck from the chain and spring line.
We're underway and on our way up to meet up with the Thunderbolt. Unfortunately, there was a slight problem with the plan. Oh, we got to the vicinity of the Thunderbolt's pier in plenty of time, and saw them take off. That all went quite well.
Leaving Tony's
What we hadn't anticipated was water in the fuel. The starboard engine decided that was a good time to choke. This caused Bob to have to go back to the engine, remove the cowling and drain water from the final fuel filter, and the main or primary fuel filter.

That put us behind more than we had intended. But, anyway, we managed to get underway and were able to follow them on out of Corozal Bay into Chetumal Bay and swing starboard around to Sarteneja.

Just past Sarteneja, Bob had to drain the filters again. And again. And again. About the time we were approaching Rocky Point, south of Sarteneja, we lost them as the Thunderbolt, using it's local knowledge, took a shortcut through the rocks. We were far enough back by this time that it would have been dangerous for us to attempt the same maneuver. So, we swung wide and continued on to San Pedro.

The sky also became darker as we went along. We got a little drizzle and a bit of wind, but nothing too bad. Every so often Bob had to venture out to the fantail to drain the filters, but by then we were on our own, the Thunderbolt having left us in the swirl of its wake.

Navigationally, at this stage, we were doing fine. The chartplotter, with it's GPS and autopilot, kept us on our track with no problems. As we approached Ambergris Caye, it became a different matter. As you might guess, there's no good, detailed charts for San Pedro harbor. Not only that, but navigational aids - something almost taken for granted in the States, thanks to the US Coast Guard Aids to Navigation teams and other government agencies at all levels. Well, that doesn't exist here.

What passes for NavAids here is the occasional stick, literally, sticking up out of the water, which may or may not indicate a passage, shoaling, or maybe just a good fishing spot for the guy who stuck the stick there. You just don't know.

There are a couple more formal navaids, like in the blurry picture below. At one time, these had lights and probably had been painted as well. We're not sure what they were supposed to indicate as there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary where they were positioned. It certainly couldn't be to mark shallow water.
Local Navigation Aids
I had always hear that Corozal Bay was very shallow, and it is. Judging from Bob's depth sounder, it looks as though the average depth of Corozal Bay is around 10 to 15 feet. You certainly won't get any cruise ships pulling in there.

But, what really surprised me is this. Corozal Bay is some of the deeper water around. All the way down to San Pedro, the average depth was anywhere from 5 to 9 feet. Having flown over it several times, I just assumed that due to clarity of the water in the channel, that you could see the bottom. Well, that's part of it, but mainly, it's just damned shallow. You'd be hard pressed to not see it.

Of course, then we come to San Pedro. We finally decide that the vague line of stakes we see must indicate a channel of some sort. No indication of left or right of the markers or what. Every now and then you might see a stick with an orange plastic 5-gallon paint can lid tacked to a stick. What that indicates is anybody's guess.

Naturally, once in a while, we'd find a white PVC pole stuck into the bottom. Again, we weren't sure if that indicated a channel, a turn, or just a piece of debris. Flip a coin.

And talk about shallow! How's 3 to 5 foot depth sound? In several places, it's even less. We could hear and feel the bottom being scraped clean several times as we ventured in.

We made a wrong guess on a couple of the channels we tried, turned around and headed for another likely looking channel. Eventually, we did make it into the San Pedro Harbor, turning what should have been a two-hour voyage into a four-hour exercise.

As we came in, I recognized a couple of features right away. First was the Sunset Grill (, with a public dock. At least we assumed it was public. Bob asked the restaurant staff if we could moor there if we bought lunch later. "No problem, Mon," was the answer. And right behind the restaurant is a large three story condo still under construction by Weibe and Camara Construction. That is noteworthy as they are the guys who built our Mennonite house and finished off the downstairs. Franz Weibe, a Mennonite, and Jose Camara, a native Belizean. Franz lives in Shipyard, and Jose lives in Guinnea Grass, neighboring villages.

So, after we moored, we trucked off to Front Street, so Bob could find the Immigration Department to renew his cruising certificate for the boat. Since it was 11:20 AM, they tried to fend Bob off till 1:30 PM. Not wanting to spin our wheels for that long, Bob offered to buy the Immigration staffers "lunch" if they would process his renewal right then. There was enough time, before stopping for the noon meal, to process his application after all. Strange how that works sometimes.

Then it was back down to the Sunset Grill for lunch. As we were waiting for our food, I looked up to see Jose grinning at me from the awning of the condo. I trotted over and shook his hand and we got caught up on what's been going on. Jose's a great guy. He'd do anything for you, and it'd be "no trouble" to do it.

I need to back up for a bit. You noticed the last picture was blurry... and I mentioned "last picture' right? Guess who's camera decided to lose it's mind for the rest of the day? Not one photo came out after that. In fact, I couldn't zoom the thing, nor would it even operate the shutter most of the time. Arrgghhhh! I couldn't take any pictures of the huge (4+ foot) tarpon cavorting pierside at the restaurant. Nor could I take any shots on our return of the three bottle-nosed dolphin who appeared alongside us, cavorting and riding the bow wave for a bit, before they headed off on their own adventure.

All-in-all, it was a fun day. We made it back to Corozal about 5:00 PM, got the boat moored properly, with Lynn meeting us at Tony's, for a ride back to their place to retrieve my bike and head home.

Next adventure, Bob wants to go up the New River to scout out some possible hurricane holes for the boat. That'll be fun too. I'll have a camera along that works next time. And, Bob should have the water in the fuel problem solved as well.

More adventures await however. Today (Thursday) we head off to Belmopan with Doug and Twila. Seems some progress on the way to getting our residency. We have to bring in our passports and full copies (so they can see we've kept up with our monthly tourist visa payments, fill out a security form, and then, well, who knows. Perhaps another trip or two before we actually get our residency stamps in our passports.

I'll let you know. I'm borrowing Dianna's camera for today's adventure. This will be the camera that went for a swim last year in the Macal River and managed to resurect itself after several weeks drying out. I hope it works.


Lion Lady said...

D & D:

I finally got caught up on all your blog. Was just wondering if the guest house is finished. I have less then 12 working days left before blowing EMD's pop stand. Are visitors welcomed? (JL)

Dave Rider said...

Hi Jeanette,

Well, if it was done, yes. But we're still a good ways from being there. We probably aren't going to restart construction until September at the earliest. And then, it will take a couple of months, if everything goes well, before it's finished.

We're hoping to have it done by December, but it could slip all the way to Feb. A lot depends on weather - we'll still be in hurricane season till the end of November, and the other variables are workers - are they going to be available, and finally parts and cabinetry. Cabinets seem to be the most uncontrollable aspect and always take forever.

We have our fingers crossed that December will be the time. If it's done and ready, you're welcome to come and stay.

Congratulations on retiring. Woohoo! I hope you like it as much as I do. It'll be the best thing you've ever done.

Dave and Dianna