Monday, March 19, 2012


Some of you may know that I have a Catalina 22 and enjoy sailing in San Diego Bay.  I am also on the race crew for Sabbatical, a Catalina 36.  I've been crewing for Larry, the Sabbatical's owner/captain for the past year and we have been pretty successful racing against others in our fleet.  We usually manage to pull out a first or at least finish near the top.  Once a year the National Ocean One Design  Regatta, commonly referred to as The NOOD (pronounced nude) comes to San Diego for a weekend of racing.  This is a really big deal in the sailing world with 141 boats entered in 17 different classes.  Races are held, offshore, in San Diego Bay and Mission Bay.  Our class of Catalina 36s'was in for 5 offshore races with three on Saturday and two on Sunday.

Weather became a issue with a rather large cold front heading our way.  With the forecast for 30+knot winds and 10 to 20 foot seas, the race officials cancelled all offshore races and moved them inside the bay.  Even with that the winds were steady at right around 30 knots with gusts to 40.  Larry said we're going, so we suited up in our foul weather gear and got the boat ready.

To give you an idea of what winds of 20 knots are like, here is a video of a Catalina 36 in Puget Sound.  Keep in mind that winds in San Diego Bay for our races were clocked as high as 40 knots!

With all the boats inside the bay, it gets pretty crowded at the start.

In the first race we are the last class to start as the Catalinas are the slowest.  There were four starts ahead of us at 5 minutes intervels.  Race signals are horns sounded from the race committee boat and with warning horns leading up to the actual signal to start.  If you cross the start line before the horn, you must go back and cross again.  Well, we were way off on our timing and confused at which horn had sounded.  We actually started on the one minute warning and didn't realize our mistake.  So we were off, ahead of everyone.  Even if you subtract our one minute head start, we were actually faster than most of our fleet and crossed the finish line first.  But because we screwed up we were scored in last place.

With the weather getting worst and visibility down to just a couple of hundred yards, the rest of the races were cancelled for the day.  We were cold, wet, tried and dejected.  We knew we had to do better on Sunday and not make any mistakes. 

Sunday morning the weather had changed, mostly for the worst.  The rain was scattered and included hail.  The offshore swells were higher than Saturday and the wind was still howling.  Another great day for racing.  In the first race we timed our crossing of the start line to the second, along with several others.  We could have passed beer between the crews we were so close.  We fared better and finished in 3rd.

In the second race we managed to squeek by and take 2nd place.  While racing we clocked a wind gust at 40 knots.  With winds like those the skipper is always fighting to keep the boat going in a straight line.  When healing over in strong winds, more of the boat's hull is in the water.  The more upright the boat is means less hull surface in the water, thus less drag and more speed.  That's why you see crew sitting on the side of the boat with legs hanging over.  Those crew members are called "rail meat".  So when you're not tacking or trimming sails as many of the crew as possible become rail meat.  And I did a mighty fine job too.   

When all was said and done and the scores were tallied, we ended up in 4th place overall.  You might say that, "well that's no too bad considering", but since there were only 5 boats in our class, 4th is the same as "next to last".

For me, this was the first time I sailed in these conditions and I managed not to fall overboard.  Cold, wet and tried but it was pretty exciting.  Next year there won't be any mistakes and we'll get our pride back. 

Hear's a great Photo of Sabbatical coming at you.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Because I'm experiencing writers block, plus the fact that most of you are most likely getting bored, this will be the last entry about our Belize trip.  Lots of photos and some about what we did.

We went on a second norkeling adventure, this time with Avadon Divers out to the Barrier Reef.  The Belize Barrier Reef is second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in size.  From Placencia it's a 25 mile boat ride out to the reef taking a little over an hour.  There were three other customers on the boat who were going to be SCUBA diving.  Once we arrived at the reef the divers were put in the water on the ocean side of the reef.  The boat then moved to the other side where we were put in the water.  With our guide, we swam along the reef at a depth of around 15 to 20 feet for about an hour.  The fish here were much more plentiful and the water much clearer than our first excursion to Laughing Bird Caye.  We saw a huge stingray and so many colorful fish, I can't remember them all.. After about an hour the boat came, picked us up and took us to our second spot near a small island.  We were put in the water on the windward side and I immediately saw two very large Spotted Eagle Rays swimming peacefully along the bottom.  It was a sight to behold.

We swam around the island to the leeward side we were were once again picked up by our boat.  After our second snorkel we made a stop at South Water Caye for a potty break before heading back to the mainland.

South Water Caye is a 12 acre island on the barrier reef that for a price, and high price I might add, you may stay in one of the small resorts.  A very beautiful setting.  


Of course every trip requires eating at the local establishments.  Overall we had some great food and in large quantities  The helpings in most restaurants were huge as evidenced by our collective weight gain, which we won't discuss further.  Only one bad experience.  Although the food was good, the service was extremely slow at Wendys Creol Restaurant.  Seemed like they prepared the food for one table at a time.  Took over an hour for our meal to arrive.  To top it off, when I got home and checked my Visa statement, they charged me twice for the dinner.  Won't be going there on our next visit.






Although we had a kitchen with all the utensils, we really didn't use it much.  Coffee and toast in the morning and chips and salsa in the afternoon.  Our excuse was that there was only room in the refrigerator for beer.  We did try for some healthy alternatives.



We had two days of rain but it really didn't bother us.  We still managed to enjoy ourselves and stay dry for the most part.


I snapped this picture from a bridge overlooking this river.  Right after capturing this image, the ladies gave me the one finger salute.  I guess they weren't to happy.  Sorry ladies.


The beaches in Placencia were really clean but much of the surrounding areas were not.  Lots of trash along the roadways and in the smaller villages.  Just kind of junky looking.

Are there bugs in Belize?  You betcha and just about every one of them found Gary.  They really loved the taste of his blood.  Cathie and Diane got bit a couple of time, and me?  Not once.  Besides the mosquitoes, there are sand flys and the bothersome, noseeums which are not stopped by screens over the windows.  Bring lots of Deet, which I only had to use on my visit to the wildlife sanctuary.  A good item to bring is a product called "After Bite" available at REI.  It takes away the itch and really works. Gary used a whole bunch.


We heard they had something at the local pharmacy that prevented the bug bites, but the day we found this out was election day and the shop was closed.


Lots of buildings had these roofs covered with palm fronds.  They are tightly woven together and really keep the water out.  We were told that the roof lasts for 12 years or so before having to be replaced.

Pelicans feeding on our beach in the morning.


Driving in Belize was pretty trouble free.  Not to many signs telling you where to turn or the name or number of a highway, but there aren't very many highways to choose from.  Most roads are well maintained with pot holes only evident on the Hummingbird Highway.  As I mentioned before, making a left turn is different.  Pull to the right and wait for the traffic in both directions to pass before turning.  There are some place where there are left turn lanes.  They just happen to be on the right side of the road.  At every town, village and small settlement there are some very large speed humps.  They don't look like much from a distance, but their about a foot high and if you hit one at high speed, they will cause severe damage to your car not to mention causing it to go airborne, so lookout!


The Philip Goldson International Airport near Belize City is the country's main airport.  Small by most standards, it handles mostly small commuter planes and about 8 large jet flights a day.  So when we taxied out for take off, I wondered what was up when we stopped short of the runway for about 5 minutes.  As I was looking out the window I saw and airport employee with a large sack chasing a very large Igauna.  Wouldn't want one sucked in the engine.


We had a great time in Belize.  It was very relaxing and stress free.  Both Cathie and I agree that at some point we will be returning.  We couldn't have asked for more with our rental and the staff at Maine Stay.  With the best snorkeling ever and the unmatched experience of floating down a river inside a dark cave, this trip was one of the highlights of Gassaway's Adventures.

You can also see some more photos at Gary and Diane's blog.

Monday, March 12, 2012


We had a couple of days of rain, so I figured it was a good time to visit the rain forest. My traveling companions decline the opportunity to get wet and elected to stay back and rest up for the next meal.  Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a unique sanctuary in southern Belize. It covers an area of about 150 square miles of tropical forest, and is the world's only Jaguar Preserve. Declared a Forest Preserve in 1984 and finally a Jaguar Preserve in 1986, the park is the culmination of many years of work and perseverance by individuals and national and international organizations.

The park area is rich in beauty, wildlife and even Maya culture.  The Cockscomb Mountain Range towers over the basin to the north. The highest mountain in Belize, Victoria Peak at 3,675 feet presides over the range and offers in its largely unexplored reaches chances for unrivaled exploration and adventure.  Unfortunately Victoria Peak was not in plans for the day. The 17 mile climb to the summit is only for the extremely fit and determined and climbable only in the dry season, with a guide. Be warned, it takes 4 days, and has turned grown men into gibbering wrecks.  Some say that I'm a gibbering wreck most of the time so I didn't want to push my luck.

Rainfall averages anywhere from 100 to 180 inches a year and on the day of my visit it rained the entire time.  After paying my entrance fee of $5, it is about a 6 mile drive on a muddy but passable road to the park.



The Jaguar is the third largest member of the cat family and endangered in most of its range. At Cockscomb, the Jaguar is doing quite well and is by no means the only beneficiary of the safety of the preserve.   A visit to the Jaguar Preserve may likely provide one with signs of recent Jaguar activity, but it is highly unlikely that an actual Jaguar sighting will occur. These rare animals are masters of stealth and their very existence is based on their seeing, but not being seen. Other cats such as the Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi and Margay, as well as Peccary, Paca, Brocket Deer, Tayra, Otter and Coatimundi, enjoy a population density difficult to achieve in most locations. Now I don't profess to know what all the above animals are but I was hoping to see some wild animal, but I never did. 

This is what happens if you park your car for too long in the jungle.

At the visitor center I was provided with a map of the different trails in the preserve.  Because of the pouring rain and lack of rain gear, I opted for a short on hour walk on one of the loop trails in the park.

This is a termite nest beside the trail.  They are plentiful and I even saw them around Placencia.  I also saw some pretty big ant hills and there very large inhabitants.

Walking of the trail is just not possible.  The foliage is just too thick.  A machete is required plus a lot of work.  While driving around Belize we often saw people walking beside the road and most of them carried a machete.

Just think about trapezing through the jungle grabbing on to tree trunks to keep you balance.  This particular tree is very common and has very fine needles all over the trunk.  That's not all, there are many poisonous plants.

Ah, sap! It’s all New England and maple sugar candy, right? Not quite. Here in Belize, some trees ooze chichem, an entirely different type of sap. If it hits your bare skin, it causes a third-degree burn & massive welts. It has a tendency to spread, because it’s a sticky oil, so you have to be careful.  How do you get hit by chichem? Basically by being inexperienced. When clearing brush say, the novice might be a bit wild when they swing their machetes, and hit nearby trees. (The Maya workers use much more short, controlled movements when using the machete). If you hit the trees, the chichem flies, and hits your bare skin. Ouch!



I saw this flower several times on my hike.  I stopped at the visitor center on the way out to ask what it was called.  They didn't know, so I found the name with Google.  Hot lips is the common name but is really called Psychotria poeppigiana. Say that three times fast.

A short distance of the park road is this 4-seater Cessna which crashed back in 1984 when Alan Rabinowitz chartered it to do a routine tracking of the signals on the collars of the jaguars (neither the pilot nor Alan were seriously injured in the crash). Alan had studied the jaguars, and had worked with the locals in finding them, placing monitoring devices, and tracking their movements. Airplanes were used to track the signals, and their movements were recorded and studied. The plane, which encountered problems on take-off, causing it to hit a tree and crash, is now overgrown with shrubs and vines.

By this time I was pretty wet, so I figured it was time to head back and rejoin the rest of the crew.  Upon my arrival I learned that everyone was well rested and ready for dinner.  We headed into Placencia and decided on Italian.  We had one of the best meals of our trip at La Dolce Vita, whose owner/chef immigrated from Italy 8 years ago after a visit to Belize.  He met his future wife and made the move opening a restaurant.  After being in business for 8 years, he said he's staying put.  With her dinner Cathie order a Lighthouse Beer,a product of Belize that she's grown fond of, but the waiter said they only carried premium beers.  Not wanting something different, Cathie declined the offer of something else.  The waiter later returned with her requested beer, having run across the street to the market to get a couple of bottles.  The charge?  The store price of $1.25. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012


We spotted this place along the Hummingbird Highway on our way to Placencia and stopped in at the visitors center.  We learned that we could hire a guide to lead us on a tube float though St. Herman's Cave.  A couple of days after arriving we called and made arrangements to meet with a guide the following morning.   We arrived at the appointed time and met Omar Deras, who was to lead us into the bowels of the earth where we would be floating along an underground river.  Omar owns Belize Inland Tours and has been guiding people in jungle tours, rappelling, vertical caving and cave tubing for the last 10 years.

Here you can see that we've been issued our safety equipment which will be used to transport us through the deep and dark underground river.  Omar led us though the jungle to the cave entrance.  Along the way he pointing out various plants and taught us about which plants would kill us.  He explained that this information might become useful if we should become separated from him.  He suggested that shouldn't do that as we would in all probability die without his help.   Omar said that he recently saw some jaguar tracks in the area, all the more reason to stay close.


After making it though the jungle without getting lost, not to mention being eating by a jaguar, we arrived at the cave entrance and then descended into the earth.




Ok, so we got down into the cave at river level.  Omar issued  us headlamps and filled us in on the rules.  Try not to touch any of the formations, stay together and don't let the air out of your tube.  Omar explained to us how the cave was formed and informed us that the river appears out of an underwater cave and flows though the section we were now in.  Some distance down stream it disappears once again before coming to the surface further downstream.

Having entered the cave about midway, we had to walk along the river to the upper end of the of the cave.  Actually the cave continues on as a dry cave, but rope climbing and repelling is required to travel deeper into the earth.  Since we were only paying for tubing, this was far enough for us.  The river, really more like a large stream, is clear and about 65 degrees and drinkable.  The depth varies from 15 feet to a couple of inches and it's speed changes with the depth.  So the idea is to sit in your tube and float down the river, only Omar said before going downstream, we had to paddle upstream to the beginning of the navigable river.  The shock of entering the water was soon forgotten and we began paddling up river.  It wasn't long before we couldn't go any further and we began the float down.

At first it was kind of an strange sensation, floating through the dark with only your headlamp to illuminate the way, but it soon became relaxing and fun.  With Omar in the lead we twisted and turned, following the course of the river.  Omar was in the lead issuing commands, "keep right, rock in the center" and the all important, "butts up", for the shallow sections.  It was a very comfortable ride with the exception of bouncing off the walls of the cave from time to time.  Shinning one's headlamp on the ceiling of the cave reviled not only interesting and beautiful formation, but the occasional bat.  A really neat sensation was to be at the back of the line and turn off your light.  You could see the lights of your party in front of you lighting the way.

Soon we could see daylight ahead and came to the spot where we entered the cave and we floated right past it!  "Hey" Omar, isn't this where we're supposed to get out?"  Omar was still issuing his commands, "keep left, watch your head", and "butts up", but nothing about, "this is where we get out".  On we went, lazily floating to our impending doom.  After some time, we came to the point where the river disappeared into the rock and we couldn't go any further.  We got out of our tubes and our fearless leader told us we walk from here.  With the river covering the entire bottom of the cave, we waded and half swam back upstream to the entrance.


All kidding aside, this was one of the best guided tours I've ever taken.  Our tour group consisted of just us, which made for a personal experience.  Omar was great, with his knowledge of the rain forest, caves and the Mayan Culture.  If you are ever in Belize and need a guide, be sure to contact Omar at: Belize Inland Tours.

Of course after our adventure we had to stop for refreshments and sustenance and we found this place along the highway.

We don't always eat in the restaurants that cater to the tourist.  Some of the best places we've eaten have been the ones that the locals frequent.  This spot served simple fare but I really enjoyed the chicken tamale served with rice and beans.


Friday, March 09, 2012



The following was taken from a tourist brochure:

Placencia is a beautiful peninsula in southern Belize with 16 miles of sandy beaches. The Caribbean sea is to the east and the Placencia lagoon lies to west looking to the mainland. The entire peninsula can be easily covered on a a beach cruiser bike. The busy part of Placencia is in the south where the visitor will find the greater concentration of coffee shops, bistros, Internet cafes, the harbor, guest houses, and local restaurants.

The northern portion of Placencia includes the Garifuna village of Seine Bight, is less densely populated and the outskirts include many of the more expensive resorts. Because of its distance from the reef – it also has “real’ though not very high) surf. The water is clean and clear; the trade winds gentle and cooling. There are few sights more calming to the spirit than a Belizean sunrise on a deserted Placencia Peninsula beach.

The Spaniards that traveled the southern coast of Belize gave Placencia its name. It was once named Punta Placencia (Spanish) or Point Pleasant (English). Placencia used to be primarily a fishing village but it has now become a major tourism and resort area offering many attractions and entertainment ranging from kayaking, snorkeling, diving, saltwater fly fishing, whale shark watching during the full moons between April and July of each year, light tackle saltwater fishing, and an annual Lobster Fest.

Cathie was really disappointed about missing the Lobster Fest, but lobster is currently out of season.  Our snorkeling guide, Prince said he could get us some for $100 (USD) each providing we paid his bail if he got arrested.  Guess there won't be any lobster on the barbie.

To give you an idea of what the town of looks like, here is a video of a bike ride through the town.

Of course the tourist brochures don't tell the whole story.  It seems most of the local inhabitants work in the tourist industry and live in some pretty simple conditions.  Wooden houses raised above the ground on stilts, some without electricity.  Most have shutters over the window to keep the weather and thieves out and open to allow for the cooling breeze off of the ocean.  Rain water is collected off the roof in most homes, including our rental, and stored in large plastic tanks.

Most of the vacation homes here are owned by Americans and a whole bunch of Canadians.  There is also a smattering of Europeans.  We have found that most of the businesses catering to the tourist are owned by foreigners.  We have yet to eat at a restaurant in Placencia that wasn't owned by an American, Canadian or European.  There is a great Italian Gelato spot in the center of town called Tutti Fruitti owned by an Italian.   Some of the smaller food stands are owned by locals and all the food choices have been excellent.  I was curious to find out what the wages are for the typical Belizean.  According to a government web site, the current minimum wage is $3.50 in Belize dollars.  That's only $1.75 (USD)! 

The exchange rate is one US dollar to 2 Belize dollar and it never changes.  Some things are cheaper, such as prepared food, but much is more expensive especially here in Placencia.  Things you buy in a store in Belize City are cheaper, but Placencia  is towards the end of the distribution chain, thus the higher price.  Gas is around $5.60 USD a gallon and is set by the government so $4.40 at home doesn't sound so bad.  The least expensive wine at the grocery store is around $13 USD (so much for 2 buck chuck) and it goes up from there.   If you like rum, you're in luck.  Lots of rum here in the Caribbean and it's what to drink if you want to save some cash.

Food has been great!  A real good mix, from Italian, Chinese, Creole and of course seafood.  We've eaten some of the local fare too, chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves and just about everything in the local establishments comes with rice and beans.  Breakfast consist of just about everything you see on a menu in the US, but if you eat like the locals, it's scrambled eggs, black beans and Fried Jacks, a sort of pastry, unsweetened that is fried.  This morning for breakfast I had Stuffed Fried Jacks at the De Thatch Cafe which is right on the beach.