Capt. Gregory C. Daley

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Sea Stories
Sailing the Belize Cays

The really great thing about being a boat captain is the amount of time off you have. Working 90 days on the water and then having 45 days off allows for three really great vacations a year. Belize was in August of 2007.

Belize was a total surprise. I was looking for a good place to do some relaxed sailing and learn more about the culture of Central America. Belize offered a Moorings Base and a challenging cruise through the Cays, 365 small islands inside the barrier reef. The surprises were how clean the country is, how good the food is, how beautiful the islands and sea life are and how awful the Moorings Charter Company has become.

Belize was formerly known as British Honduras. The predominant language is English with some native Creole thrown in. Very little Spanish is heard. It is one of the world's best kept secrets for vacationing or even as a place to live.

The pictures on this page are cropped from a full size picture which gives a better perspective to what is being shown. To see a picture full size, simply click on the picture and it will appear full size in a new browser.


Click on picture to see an enlargement. Half the fun of going on vacation is getting there, even if it is in a small Cessna 208 flown by a very young Belizean pilot landing on very small runways bounded by forests, ocean, and rivers.

The flight from Belize City to Placentia, Belize had several intermediate stops. We did four take offs and landings.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The Inn at Robert's Grove was quite a surprise. A very upscale resort, yet very quiet and relatively unknown. The rooms were spacious and air conditioned. The chef and service were world class.

Mahogany is indigenous, very cheap and used in almost everything. The pier led out into the Gulf of Honduras. The waters are protected by a large barrier reef running the entire length of the country (150 miles) protecting 365 cays (islands) within it.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The tour of the Monkey River Jungle was quite an adventure. The guide is violently moving his hands and arms up and down the side of his body fending off the hundreds of mosquitoes attacking him. Bug spray only partially protects you. The mosquitoes bite plenty in spite of being covered in OFF Deep Woods.

The growth was so thick that at points you almost needed a flashlight even though it was high noon. The trees had medicinal values. This bark cured malaria. That bark healed wounds. This bark acted like Viagra. It was mother nature's medicine chest.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The howler monkey is quite a noisy animal. This little fellow was hollering at us quite loudly. There are several different communities of monkeys roaming in the jungles along the river.

Seeing bats sleeping on a log in the river in broad daylight was a bit unusual. They are another of the many inhabitants of the Monkey River Jungle.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. There were several crocodiles swimming in the river. Here is a small baby croc catching some rays while resting on a log.

There were all sizes of crocodiles. Many were very difficult to see as they blended in well with the river water and the sticks and trees. This one was only two feet from the boat. I could have reached out and touched him. I didn't.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The entrance to the trails is nothing more than running your boat up into the bank of the river and climbing up the muddy bank of the river. Several different resorts and groups out of Monkey River City maintain and use the trails.

These were some very unusual bird nests we saw along the river.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The food at the Inn was fabulous. Here is a nice three pound lobster they cooked for me after expressing concern about what the size of the lobster would be. There was an all you could eat bar-b-que on Saturday night with a steel band. There was a whole grilled pig, grilled lobster tails, grilled shrimp, grilled fish, grilled steaks, grilled scallops...just about anything you could imagine grilling. Quite a bargain for $55US. For dessert they had Bananas Foster, grilled bananas marinated in rum and brown sugar over ice cream. I'm ready to go back, especially on any Saturday night.

Of course, one of my favorites is grilled bananas. Here are some plantains being fried up for breakfast on the sail boat we chartered.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. As we approached our charter date we were lucky enough to get our chart briefing a day early, greatly reducing the stress of the first day. The green areas on the chart are the no sail zones and the red is the extent of VHF radio coverage.

The boats were in good shape, though we had problems with the refrigerator which cut our voyage short one day and with the AM FM radio which never worked.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The quality of customer service at the Moorings has gone way down hill. They have been purchased by the Company that owns Sunsail from Charley and Ginny who founded the company and ran a warm hospitable operation. We had a couple cancel 25 days from our start date and the Moorings would not refund us the money for their food. We received no recompense for the trip being cut short due to their refrigerator not working. We had to eat junk food for two days and go back in early a day. If you can find another company, use them - don't use the Moorings.

The base operations people were kind and friendly, but you could tell that the corporate office would not let them run the operation the way it should be run. Overall, the experience was enough close to how the Moorings used to be.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The night before the charter we enjoyed the mahogany bar of the Inn at Robert's Grove and their "Blue Holes". This is drink named after a very famous Cay in Belize. It is a large Cay shaped like a ring. In the middle of the Cay is a huge lagoon that is over 400 feet deep. It is world famous and is a beautiful place to dive. The drink consisted of two kinds of rum, Curacao, and lime juice. They are really good.

The main salon of the hotel is appointed in many local artistic pieces.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. Finally!!! Underway for seven nights in the Cays of Belize. As we leave the Moorings Base in Placencia, you can see our dinghy which we towed behind us the entire trip. She was in pretty good shape and the motor behaved amazingly well.

The Pelican Cays, our first stop, are a series of islands with a deep water anchorage. 120 ft of chain in 60 ft of water. I wasn't very happy with a 2 to 1 scope for an overnight stay. It did work, just as they guaranteed me it would.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The first couple of nights we were at the same anchorages with two French families. They thought they were at the French Riviera and dressed appropriately. They were very entertaining. They had a great time!

Onboard the Lucky Erin we settled down for a feast of shrimp and wine. Something about being out on the water that makes food taste so good.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The passage to the Pelican Cays is 14 miles. The entrance to the anchorage was quite tight and tricky. I'm glad I have good waypoints for a return trip one day.

There is not a whole lot to see or do there, but it is a strategic stopover on the way to locations Northwards. Click on the charts to see more detail.

The pink lines are GPS routes I made on the fly from notes and a book on the islands. There are NO detailed charts!!! The black lines with white dots or blue lines with black dots are tracks of our actual passage. The GPS was not on all the time. The red stick pins are points of interest or islands. The diamonds are way points I used to construct the routes.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The second day we proceeded to South Water Cay. The route includes a passage through Blue Ground Range (left picture). No one could tell us who owned it and it appeared to be used very infrequently. It was quite a beautiful villa in shallow water with a school of dolphin.

Approaching South Water Cay you can see a patch of very light blue water. This indicated somewhat to very shallow water, usually having no grass growing on the bottom which gives it the very light blue color.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. This is one of several bars on South Water Cay. At night you could hear the generators running on the island, the only source of electricity.

We took the dinghy for a ride around the west side of the island. There were a couple of resorts. We did a little snorkeling on the South East side of the island. The snorkeling was good here.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The passage from Pelican Cays to South Water Cay through Blue Ground Range is 18 miles.

Twin Cay is a back up anchorage in case the wind was not out of the East. The anchorage at South Water was relatively unprotected. Click on the charts to see more detail.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. On the way to North Long Cocoa Cay we passed Robert's Cay (left). It is the same Robert as in Robert's Grove. It is four bungalows built over the water with a common building with kitchen and restaurant. Definitely an upscale way to experience the Cays.

North Long Cocoa Cay is a long, uninhabited island with thick growth. We dinghied the west side of the island and snorkeled on the south side. The snorkeling was good here.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. Just one of many beautiful sunsets and sunrises in the Cays.

With only 20 feet of water I let out all 120 feet of chain. I'm glad I did as you can see from the GPS screen - there was a major wind shift in the night. Having all that chain on bottom held us in place. Click to see more detail for the GPS.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The distance from South Water Cay to North Long Cocoa Cay is 28 miles. We had to go through Blue Ground Range again.

North Long Cocoa Cay is a small island running North to South. It offers protection only in an easterly wind.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The Queens Cays also called the Silk Cays consist of three small, very small, islands. The Northern two islands are bird sanctuaries. You can't anchor there. The southernmost island is used by many hotels for their day trip to the Cays for snorkeling and diving.

The snorkeling is excellent here. There are reefs all around the islands providing a variety of coral and fish life to view. This was the second best stop.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The passage from North Long Cocoa Cay to the Queens Cays was one of the shortest, only 11 miles. However, it was one of the most challenging due to the navigation of a complicated reef system.

It appeared that it would rain soon when we left North Long Cocoa. By the time we arrived at the Queens Cays it was pouring down. The lack of light further complicates the navigation of the reefs as it makes it much more difficult to see them.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. Ranguana Cay is my Pick of the Belize Cays. The beauty of the island, the reefs and the beaches is outstanding. The area is teaming with aquatic life. Ranguana Cay is my favorite cay.

On the right is yet another Robert's resort. This one is much more casual, a kind of get back to nature style. It is a small bungalow style hotel. There is still a nice restaurant and bar.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The Manta Ray made Ranguana Cay very special. These Rays are huge. Their wing spans were over 6 feet and from nose to tail was over 9 feet.

I heard that these Rays will come out of the water and fly for 10 to 20 feet before diving back in again. I just could not imagine such a large fish flying that kind of distance. I became a believer when I saw three of them separately do it. It is quite a sight!

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. You must click on these pictures to really appreciate these Rays and see the amount of the sea life swimming with them. These pictures were taken from the deck of the sailboat. I am so glad that they came out as well as they did.

I'm not sure what the names of these two types of Rays are. If you know, email me so I can include their names.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The Rays never showed up when we were snorkeling. We never got a close look at them underwater which is probably okay given the fate of the crocodile wrestler.

The mooring ball from hell kept banging against the hull all night long. It's hard to sleep well when something is knocking on your door all night long.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. Truly a breath taking island. If you can only see one Cay, this is it.

Here is another really great GPS anchor diagram. Given the wind shifts during the night, you can see why they installed a mooring. You can easily see four distinct wind shifts on this recording from one night. Incredible! I wonder how many anchors were unseated with all this motion and wound up on the coral reefs before they invested in a mooring.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The passage from Queens Cays to Ranguana Cay is 11 miles.

The passage is pretty simple, but the departure and arrival is complicated by the maze of reefs you must traverse.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The next destination was Nicholas Cay, but the light was not good enough to make out the reef system. We anchored one island South, Hunting Cays and dinghied over to Nicholas.

Hunting Cay is the home of the Belize National Defense Force. There were several soldiers exercising on the beach. Must be a nice way to do military service. There was a rescue boat here as well.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. Lucky Erin on a mooring ball west of Hunting Cay. What you can't see is that there is less than 9 inches of water under her keel. I wouldn't want to be in this anchorage in any kind of swell. I could literally hold on to the stern at the waterline and push myself down and stand flat footed on the grassy sea bed.

Here is a close up of the Defense Force Home. We snorkeled on some beautiful reefs here and in Nicholas Cay. There was a lot of fish life here, especially barracuda. We saw some large ones.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The passage from Ranguana Cay to Hunting Cay was 17 miles. You really need good light to navigate the reef systems.

We tried to find a ship wreck South of Hunting Cay to snorkel on, but never did locate it.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. We had plenty of red sky storm warnings. The storm lasted through the night and into most of the next morning. Our refrigerator died about 36 hours prior and we were dumping bad food. Of course, we were out of radio range this far south and could not get a radio relay.

We left in a storm. I had good GPS waypoints coming into the anchorage so I followed them back out. The leeway produced by the storm made for a harrowing departure.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. The 30 mile passage back to the Moorings Base was uncomfortable. The boat was bobbing up and down in 6 foot seas. Notice the rain gear and PFD.

As we had no food, we had to cut our trip short one day. As I said, we received no consideration from the Moorings for our lost day. I was so disapointed in how the Moorings has changed.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. Click on this chart to see the entire route of the charter. Belize was quite a pleasant surprise. I would definitely do it again, especially if I didn't have to use the Moorings.

This fellow caught a four foot, fifty pound barracuda. The ones we swam with were much bigger than this one.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. As we could not proceed on to our last stop, Wippari Cay, we stayed on anchor near the Moorings Base. We did make it into town to eat at the Purple Space Monkey. Very good food, very American style.

Everywhere you turned, there was mahogany used like it was plywood. There was a huge crowd that night for a free outdoor beach concert which we could hear from the boat. We were exhausted and enjoyed our last meal on the boat.

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Click on picture to see an enlargement. Flying back to Belize City from Plaencia, I took a few photos of the Cays. It gives you a better perspective of how they cover such an immense area, 365 Cays along a 150 mile coast line.

Our very young pilot leaning on his very small airplane. What a great trip! Belize is a beautiful, clean country, definitely a destination and potentially a great place to live.

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Captain Gregory C. Daley
PO Box 3826, Lafayette, LA 70502

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