Caribbean Sailing at its Best
Elaine Lembo, editor of Cruising World magazine, recounts here sailing experience in Belize: “We’d go ashore to picnic and explore on remote islands where, four centuries earlier, British pirates, whose ships had wrecked on the reef, camped out and plundered Spanish galleons. … There are things I still miss about Belize, like sailing for hours with relentlessly consistent, perfectly positioned Trades in sparkling waters – navigation mostly line of sight, air so clean the oxygen makes you giddy.” Belize offers spectacular sailing grounds with the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, 3 offshore coral atolls, hundreds of islands and great fishing, snorkeling and diving. Compared to popular sailing destinations like the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands, Belize is still relatively undiscovered. Many times you won’t see another sailboat for days and you’ll have anchorages all to yourself.
The barrier reef parallels the coastline for 185 miles, providing calm protected waters for smooth sailing. Along these crystal clear waters there are over 200 islands. Some are nothing more than tiny mangrove islands with seabirds while others are large islands with fun towns. Each island offers something different. Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize with San Pedro Town offering a variety of beach bars and restaurants. You’ll also find the most famous diving and snorkeling site in Belize here, Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Caye Caulker is a laid back village where you can grab a cold drink at a beach bar. St. George’s Caye is where British colonialists won an important battle against a Spanish armada. You’ll see the old canyons from this war lined on the shoreline. Randevous Caye is a beautiful deserted island with a sandy beach and a dozen coconut trees. Bluefield Range is a cluster of islands with 2 fishing camps where you can buy some fresh seafood from the local fishermen. Tobacco Caye & South Water Caye lay right on top of the barrier reef where you can do some excellent diving or snorkeling. A typical week charter might take you to about 10 different islands. If you navigate outside the Barrier Reef you can visit one of Belize’s 3 coral atolls. Turneffe Islands Atoll has a central lagoon with miles of saltwater flats renowned for bonefish and tarpon. Glover’s Reef Atoll is a UN World Heritage Site and has some of the most pristine coral reefs in Belize. Lighthouse Reef Atoll, the most remote of the 3 atolls, is home to the Blue Hole, a 500 foot underwater sinkhole. Here you’ll also find Halfmoon Caye, named for it’s beautiful beach shaped like a halfmoon. One other option if you are sailing south is to go up the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. This beautiful jungle river winds through rainforests and mountains.
Bareboat & Crewed Charters
The tropical weather is mostly sunny with steady winds. Winter brings in a few cold fronts with accompanying squalls while summer brings Trade winds with occasional tropical waves. Generally the weather is excellent most of the year. Navigation can be quite tricky. The cruising charts are out-dated and sailors unfamiliar with the waters need to keep an eye on their depth-finder and have a bow watch to avoid coral heads and shallow bottoms. Most charter boats in Belize are catamarans, whose shallow draft is easier to maneuver than monohulls. It’s important to note that bareboats cannot go outside the barrier reef, so if you plan to visit Belize’s coral atolls, you need to hire a captain. However there are also several privately owned sailboats that specialize in crewed charters. Crewed charters are a great way to sail as the captain and crew often go to great lenghts to insure you have a good time.