Monday, February 11, 2013

Snorkelling the Reef

Up early and down the beach to Lilly"s Treasure for a bracing Huevos Rancheros breakfast with fresh-squeezed OJ (Ooh, that'll spoil you for any other kind!), and cups of Honduran coffee.  Then we were off to a nearby dock for 9 AM to board El Gato, a 30-foot catamaran owned by Geraldo Badillo.  He and his mate were to take us snorkeling near the barrier reef.

Paul expressed some reservations about sailing in the 25 knot winds, but was overruled and off we went.  After motoring sedately out into a two-foot chop, the crew hoisted mainsail and jib and we tore off northwards, paralleling the reef, the stable catamaran not even healing over.  Since we weren't in a hurry and safe sailors become old sailors, they took down the jib after ten minutes or so and we carried on beating into the wind on starboard tack, under mainsail alone, still making ten knots, wind whistling in the rigging.  It turned out we were the only passengers: in effect, Reggie had unknowingly chartered the boat and crew for the day!

Seated in a curious, bow-mounted cage arrangement, we were high and dry and very much in the sun.  Six weeks of experience with the Belize sun prompted a scramble for the sun-tan lotion and we slathered on the SPF 40.  The winds appeared to be a remnant of the Trade Winds, never varying in direction or strength and we boogied northward for about 8 miles, catching a Yellow-Tail Jack for lunch before pulling in and anchoring closer to the lee of the barrier reef.  It was startling to see 6-8 foot breakers smashing onto the reef 100 yards away, while we bobbed serenely at anchor in 6-12 inch wavelets.

Once firmly anchored and fitted with appropriate gear, the first mate led us over the side into 4 feet of 83 degree water.  After trying the masks and snorkels and fins, we loosely clasped a life-ring which he towed as he guided us towards the coral.  Paul had woken up with a sinus-cold this morning and was immediately in trouble.  After inhaling some very salty Caribbean and being unable to clear his leaking mask due to a clogged nose, he began to tire and returned to the boat.  The indomitable Reggie who still professes to be unable to swim, stayed out for another 40 minutes, taking pictures with her disposable underwater camera (which we hope to post later).  Her guide hand-picked a couple of Spiny Lobsters that were hiding in the coral, as well as a conch and all returned safely to the boat.  The captain fired up the BBQ, filleted the fish, cut the lobster tails, and with assorted veggies and tortillas and salsa, served up a gourmet lunch.

We were happy he prepared the lobsters after our swim, since he returned the unwanted bits to the sea which quickly drew the attention of a six-foot nurse shark.  Two large Leopard Rays also cruised by.

We up-anchored and set off northwards again, slathering on more SPF40.  An hour's cruise brought us to Mexican Territorial waters and since no one had their passport, we jibed around and started back,  The unfailing winds now had us essentially on a beam reach, so the jib came out again and we zipped back along the coast, arriving at our departure point at 4PM and catching an Amberjack along the way.  Seven hours at sea in a stiff breeze had crisped us up nicely, Paul in particular turning a rather nice mahogany shade.

Two more items off Reggie's Bucket List: snorkeling and sailing in the Caribbean.  Cost for the whole day for boat, crew, snorkeling and lunch for two people?  $160US.  What a deal.

Eponymous El Gato catamaran


Reggie snorkeling off into the distance in the colourful water

Happy sailors

Amberjack caught on way home

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