Cliff Wilson is the owner and captain of luxury catamaran that offers private charters. He has been sailing in Belize and taking guests to explore its coastline for many years. We talked to Cliff about his views on sailing in Belize.
Tell me about yourself. Where were you born? What do you do? What key moments in your life have brought you to where you are today?
“I have been a sailor at heart most of my life, and finally got bored with being a lawyer, so we sold everything, bought a boat, and moved to Belize. My wife was sweet enough to go along with my plan. We have been married for about 33 years.”
Belize is not as popular as destinations like the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands when it comes to sailing. Why should sailors consider exploring the coast of Belize?
“Why Belize? For the reason we picked it. It boasts the second-longest barrier reef in the world, it is not crowded like the Easter Caribbean, and only hours away from anywhere in the US. You can still find anchorages that you will have to yourself (in fact, most of them are that way), and it has not been over-fished so far. Belize has been at the top of the list for divers and salt-water fly fishermen for years. It just has not been brought to the attention of the general public.”
The extensive coral reefs in Belize have been known to wreck quite a few number of vessels. What is the navigation like on these waters?
“Navigation — yes, the barrier reef made Belize the premier pirate hide-out for many, many years. It is difficult, and the charts are outdated. It is not a good idea to attempt a bare boat charter here, although TMM and the Moorings are doing a fair amount of business. It took me about six months of exploring before I could start to enjoy myself, as opposed to being constantly watching the charts, the depth sounder, and maintaining a bow watch.”
Belize is in the tropics, which produces sunny skies on some day and not so sunny skies on others. What is the weather like? What are the wind conditions? What is the best time of the year for sailing?
“Weather — tropical. Basically, it is the same as any other location in the Caribbean at this latitude. Winter months see cold fronts coming from the north every 3 or 4 days, which bring squalls from that direction. Squalls are very localized rainstorms, that hardly ever last more than a few minutes. You can be anchored in the sunshine, with thunderstorms on either side of you, or have one on top of you. The summer months see trade winds, with tropical waves coming from Africa every 3 or 4 days, which bring squalls from that direction. Basically, the weather is wonderful most of the year, unless you get a hurricane.”
There are many different types of sailboats. The one that seems to be the most popular in Belize are catamarans. Why is this?
“Catamarans are most popular in Belize because they are shallow draft vessels, and can get to many, many more locations than a mono hull.”
One of the main features of Belize’s coastline, aside from the barrier reef and atolls, is the hundreds of islands that stretch north to south. Most are small mangrove and coral islands, while the larger islands harbor booming towns. What are some of your favorite anchorages?
“My favorite anchorages are (in no particular order), the Drowned Cayes (lots of manatees and mangrove critters), St. George’s Cay, South Water Cay, Caye Caulker, San Pedro, Placencia, Robinson’s Cayes, Goff’s Caye, Tobacco Cay, Tobacco Range, Bluefield Range, Garbut’s Cay… There is something for everyone at each location. Some guests want to be isolated — others want a beach bar to go to.”
Aside from the many anchorages to explore, what activities can one enjoy when out sailing in Belize?
“Activities include kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, napping, reading a book, enjoying a rum drink and much more . . . .”
The majority of travelers who charter a sailboat are sailors themselves. However, people who are not sailors can also go sailing by chartering a sailboat with a captain. Why should a non-sailor consider spending his vacation (or at least part of his vacation) at sea as opposed to a hotel?
“Anyone who wants to spend some serious time exploring the reef should be on a sailboat. There are a handful of land-based resorts on the reef, but being on a boat permits you to see more than just one location.”
Are there any final words you would like to say for those who might be considering sailing the coast of Belize?
“To summarize, it is great fun to explore the second-longest barrier reef in the world aboard a luxury catamaran.”