Lighthouse Reef, Belize (2016)

Monday, May 9, 2016

017-12.939 N
087-35.982 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!

LHR MapI'm going to roll back time and pretend that we're now located at Lighthouse Reef in Belize and we're not actually back home. Lighthouse Reef is one of my favorite places on Earth. It's an atoll located about 40 miles off of the coast of Belize. An atoll is ring shaped coral reef system surrounding a shallow lagoon. Belize has 3 atolls: Turneffe, Glovers and Lighthouse Reef and this year we've had the pleasure of visiting all 3.

The Lighthouse Reef atoll is about 22 miles long and about 5 miles wide and has 4 cays (islands) inside of it. It also is home to the Blue Hole, which was made famous by Jacques Cousteau. The reef on the windward side is drying and impassable, but there are many deeps spots on the leeward side where you can pass over the reef and enter the lagoon.

We spend most of out time at Long Cay, which towards the south end of the atoll. When we were last here 10 years ago there were plans to develop most of Long Cay into a housing development. Thankfully those plans never came to fruition and for all intents and purposes, not much has changed. A lodge, which was under construction when we were last here, has been completed, but there seem to be very few guests and there is also a dive resort (also with very few guests).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. After spending several days at Cay Caulker, we took advantage of a good weather window and moved to Cay Bokel, which is at the south end of Turneffe. The next morning we headed out bright and early and we got to sail for about an hour before the winds switched to being on the nose and then almost completely died. As a result we had one of the smoothest passages to Lighthouse that we've ever had. Typically we have 15-20 kts on the nose, so this was wonderful.

Dive balls chartOne of the first things that we noted as we approached was that all of the large mooring balls that live aboard dive boats tie up to appeared to be missing. Our GPS waypoints to cross over the reef used to take us right by one, but it was no where to be seen. We followed the waypoints and got in without issue and eventually found our way to "our" anchoring spot, which is where BlueJacket has spent many months in past years.

At first we were concerned that all of the dive site mooring balls were missing, but as we explored we realized that they were still there, but had been replaced by very small mooring balls that were just hard to see. We remembered that 10 years ago that the dive companies were having problems with someone cutting the lines and stealing the balls, so I guess that they gave in and replaced them with a much cheaper alternative. This was a big relief, as without the dive balls, it would be much more difficult to dive at Lighthouse.

AquariumThe next morning Sue & I made our first dive. Sue wanted to go to a dive site called the Aquarium. It's the 2nd dive site on the N end of Long Cay and got its name due to the number of fish that hang out there waiting for divers to arrive. When you jump in the water you literally get swarmed by all of the Chubs, Sargent Majors and Durgons who are hanging out waiting to get fed. The top of the reef is around 35' and then a wall drops away a couple of hundred feet. It was perfect for a first dive.

Sue & I typically dove at 10 AM each morning and then sometimes John Terry (Best Day Ever) and I would dive at 2 PM in the afternoon. I was absolutely thrilled to see that the reef hasn't been stripped of fish by either cruisers over-hunting, locals over-hunting or foreign fishing vessels. The coral and sponges were outstanding and it's hard to describe just how beautiful this area is. We've dove all over the Caribbean and the only thing that even compares to Lighthouse Reef would be Bonaire or Little Cayman.

Half Moon CayUnderwater landscapeAfter hanging out at Long Cay for about a week we moved to Half Moon cay (see the photo below), which is 3+ miles as the crow flies to the east of Long Cay. It's a tricky and shallow passage, but well worth the effort as shown by the photo on the right which was from 2004.

Half Moon cay is a UNISCO World Heritage site and is run by the Audubon society. As a result, they charge you $5/pp/day to be there, but there are some absolutely beautiful dive sites there, as shown by the picture to the left. Due to the amount of spray coming off of the drying reef, you only want to be there during settled weather, which is what we had for our last few days at Lighthouse Reef. We had 2 great days of diving at Half Moon and then we had to start heading towards Guatemala via Placencia due to the high winds and seas which were forecast for the area.


I've posted a series of albums on my web site from Lighthouse Reef which you can view by clicking here.

-- Geoff & Sue

For the cruiser:

Half Moon CayThis year we watched as several boats utilized a combination of the Rauscher waypoints and photo charts to pilot their way through the reefs. This is very dangerous as proven by a catamaran who hit the reef, damaging one pontoon and 1 rudder to the point that it wouldn't turn any more. Luckily they didn't sink. Photo charts can't resolve individual coral heads (and there are many of these) and you can't determine depth.

The following are the waypoints that we use to get in and out of Lighthouse Reef. This is a very safe route and we've even entered at night using these waypoints.

Outer: 17-12.691N, 87-36.888W (this is at the Que Breda dive ball. Be careful not to run over the pick-up line)
Inner: 17-12.697N, 87-36.782W (you should see no less than 15')
Grass: 17-12.794N, 87-35.963W

Morray EelAt this point turn N, being very careful about the patch reef to the W and find a spot in clear sand where you can anchor. We anchor in about 8-10'.

At this time there are 2 resorts on Long Cay: Itza and Hurrican Diving. Both can fill tanks for about $10 US each. Itza has a nice bar and restaurant (we've never eaten there). There is a dock on the NW side of the cay where you can dock your dinghy and follow the path to the resorts. Be forewarned that there are LOTS of mosquitos along the path. There's also a dock on the N end of the island which is much closer to the resorts, but it can be wet getting there based upon conditions.

The live-aboard dive boats have installed and maintain the mooring balls around the island and they regularly move between balls. They don't mind you tying up to them for short periods of time, but don't sit on them for extended periods.

Log ID: 2281

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