Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!
It's clearly been too long since I've written one of these blogs, but getting the boat back up and running, attempting to run Fresh Start from afar and just taking time to enjoy where we are doesn't leave a lot of time to write blogs. Note that I can't test my links to the images in here, so they may be broken.
We've been in Belize for about 6 weeks. We spent the first week in Placencia where I could get good wireless Internet and download manuals/software to get all of our new electronics up and running. After the lightning strike I replaced my Ray Marine equipment with B&G and I can't say that I'm in love with it. It's extremely complex and has a user interface that requires a lot of training to utilize properly. To me it feels too much like software designed by engineers without enough user-interface feedback studies. I also think that the equipment is designed more for the racing community than it is for the cruising community.
Placencia has changed a LOT since we first came here in the early 2000s. I suppose that sounds stupid when I think about how much things have changed around our home, but the magnitude of the changes here are much greater. It feels like everything is for sale and is being developed. There are hotels and homes going up everywhere and mother nature is taking a real beating with mangroves being stripped and cays being filled in. We're amazed that many of the cays that used to have nothing on them now have restaurants or small resorts. Many cruisers now jump between these cays because they can get fed and stay in cell phone/Internet range. The good news for us is that the provisioning is *much* easier.
After getting the electronics running we departed from Placencia and then headed to South Water Cay where we made the jump to Lighthouse Reef (LHR). In general it's a 2 day trip that you make when the winds & seas are low enough and/or in the right direction. As a result the vast majority of cruisers never make it out here. On the NW Caribbean SSB (high frequency radio) network, boats would only sporadically check in from Lighthouse. I guessed that once someone was checking in on a regular basis, that other boats would start to show up. I was right. Within a week boats of our arrival boats started showing up and the manager of the diver resort stated that he had never seen so many boats out here.
The diving at Lighthouse is still wonderful, but it's not the same that it was in 2002-2006. Back then there were lots of large fish, such as Grouper, swimming around. Now you rarely see them. One of the really sad things is that the atoll sea floor used to be covered with conch. Now it's rare to see one and when you do, you say "Run! Hide!" as the area has lots of local fishing boats filled with guys who spend their days swimming in the water and searching for conch, lobster and whatever else they may find. You also used to see Sea Cucumbers, but those are an Asian delicacy, and now they're rarely seen. The Belizean government doesn't seem to care enough to enact rules to protect their marine habitats and eventually these fish stocks will crash and then the fishermen will move on to whatever else they can plunder. Happily Halfmoon Cay is a p rotected park where the bottom is covered with live conch and you'll encounter large Groupers who don't run away upon seeing you. Overall, the coral is in OK shape, but the patch reefs show significant bleaching, but then again, I'm sure that's occurring world wide.
While we were at LHR we discovered that the windlass, which is the device used to raise and lower the anchor chain, was having problems. I ddetermined that the worm gear had been stripped out. The unit was original to the boat (1997) and has raised the anchor hundreds, if not thousands of times, so it owed us nothing. Sue handles the anchoring and isn't comfortable driving the boat at very slow speeds, so she got to haul the anchor chain up by hand and I jury-rigged a system to use the electric winch to pull the anchor up the rest of the way. She got a good upper body workout. While that was an OK system for use a few times, it wasn't a replacement for a windlass, so we needed to quickly fix the problem.
On a daily basis I was going into the dive resort at LHR to use their incredibly slow (about 10-20 Kbps) satellite connection. But at least I had a connection that I could use. One of the major problems was that this was just before Easter and many people/companies take this period off. The confounding issue was that Freedom used a specialized windlass in an unusual way. Muir, who made my windlass, is located in Australia and no longer makes this unit. Thy could do a special build of one, bit it was a 12 week lead time and big $. I finally found an Italian unit that would fit, but I was very leery of buying a windlass from a company that I knew nothing about. I had posted my issue in the Freedom Yachts forum and just before ordering the Italian windlass I got an e-mail from an engineer for Imtra in the US who handles Muir who told me that th ey had replacement gear box in stock.
On the Tuesday after Easter, and while underway back to Placencia, I ordered a replacement gear box and I was going to ship it via AmeriJet who would ship it to Belize on Thursday. AmeriJet handled all of the details of pick-up and delivery. They were supposed to have a courier service pick it up in New Bedford, MA on Wednesday and take it to Logan airport in Boston, where AmeriJet has a hub. They were supposed to have flown it overnight to Miami and then on Thursday it should have gone on a flight to Belize. Instead they had FedEx pick it up and shipped it to Miami via ground! It finally made it to Miami on Friday, which meant that it could make the Monday flight to Belize. Monday came and went and it was still sitting in Miami on hold. Finally I got a manager involved who told me that it would go out on the following Monday's flight. I went ballistic as there was a Thursday flight and they finally relented and got it on that flight. It arrived at 6 AM on Thursday and then procee ds to sit in Customs. The Customs agent that I had hired, Ernesto Perera, seemed to have bigger fish to fry and was terrible about replying to e-mail/texts. He finally picked it up on Friday and brought it to Tropic Air at the regional airport in Belize City. He told me that it would arrive on the 3:30 flight. I was all excited and at 3:00 I headed to the airport to pick it up, only to find out that the flight only stops in Placencia if there are passengers disembarking there. So I had to wait until Sunday when it finally arrived in Placnecia. I spent the next day installing it and we were back up and running. This whole process took 2 weeks...
We had pulled into Robert's Grove Marina in Placencia to wait for the part as we didn't want to be anchored in Placencia harbor while we waited. Robert's Grove Marine is much better described as a resort with docks. They know next to nothing about boats and couldn't even tell us what the depths were in the marina. After a nail biting trip to the marina with depths dropping below 6' (we draw 5.5'), we pulled into the first spot on the dock as if we had gone any further, I think that we would have been aground. This gave us a nice long walk to anything, but the staff was very friendly, there were 3 nice pools across the road at the resort, and there were 2 good restaurants within close walking di stance. Not bad for $23/day...
We took advantage of the time to get virtually every boat project finished that we could think of. Sue then accused me of making up new projects, which was true. We also took a tour one day and visited Mayan ruins at Lim Ni Punit, a chocolate plantation, where we made chocolate (that's Sue husking cacao beans), and we went to a spice/flower farm. Other than being stuffed into the back of a van for 2+ hours each way, it was very enjoyable.
Two weeks after pulling into Robert's Grove, we departed and pulled into Placencia harbor where we finished provisioning and then headed towards LHR, but that will be a story for another blog.
-- Geoff & Sue
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