Belize Sailing, Charter Boats and Boating

Here's some information of what we use around here for boating- for fishing the reefs, and for touring.

The Boat I am using, Ray's old "Buccaneer" -- now called "Tzabcan" (Mayan for Rattlesnake) draws around 32 inches at it's deepest point when well "balanced". With your average wave action considered, that means I need four feet of water not to be bottom knocking! But horror of horrors -- there are many rocks on those flats behind the reefs!! One has to dive and do the final anchoring by "hand". Also keep in mind the boat will swing with changes in wind and currents, so make sure the swath is clear of rocks as well. Keep a short anchor rope in these places -- ergo -- my special anchors.

I can't count the times I have hit bottom!

In any case, a 4 ft 6 in draw means don't leave the "blue" -- around here -- specially at 41 feet!! So that means using a "dingy" to get where I go now. A dingy is a terrible diving platform. I like snorkeling within easy swimming distance of the "house". Just raise the spear and plop the fish into the bucket. When finished, swim to the side, take off fins and mask, throw them on deck, climb the nice ladder, "Honey I'm home -- what's for supper?"

You do not want to much length either. It is a very twisty path we go at the best of times. The Belize standard is 24 to 26 ft. The reefs are simply strewn with stories where people tried to do it different.

I see the nice big boats all the time -- anchored off San Pedro town, or Placencia -- but never on the reefs here!

Belize is not -- and never will be -- a big chartering center as, for example, is the British Virgin Islands. For one thing, stiff winds, strong currents and the barrier reef with its hidden coral heads can make navigation dicey, even for sailors who know local waters. Still, a few bareboat and crewed charters are available in Belize.

The only "name" chartering outfit with an office in Belize that we've been able to locate is Tortola Marine Management (TMM), which is located at The Palms. TMM has a small fleet of catamarans (sail and new motorized cats) for bareboat and skippered chartering. Reports from readers who have used TMM appear favorable. Rates vary depending on the boat and time of year, but range from around US$2,200 to more than US$6,000 a week, not including provisions or a US$20 per-person sailing fee. Skippers are an additional US$100 per day. Contact TMM (Belize) Ltd., Coconut Drive, San Pedro, tel. 501-2-63026, fax 501-2-63072, e-mail [email protected]

Crewed Charters, based in the United States Virgin Islands, says it offers just that in Belize. Contact Crewed Charters, 5100 Long Bay Road, St. Thomas, USVI 00802, tel. 800-522-3077 or 340-776-4811, fax 340-776-3074, e-mail [email protected]

The Corpus Christi Sailing Center and Captain Christopher Day offer a few group sailing cruises in Belize, mostly sailing from or to Isla Mujeres in Mexico. Rates are around US$1,050 per person for a week's sail. Tel. 512-881-8503

For boat transportation around Ambergris Caye, the Island Ferry leaves from San Pedro many times a day going north and returning every hour or so. For further details and their schedule, click here.

The Winnie Estelle is a former freighter (or "island trader") now doing day trips and some charters The Winnie Estelle, an island trader motor sailer based in San Pedro, sometimes does charters along the Belize coast. Contact Roberto Smith at 501-2-62394, or at the Blue Hole Dive Center, San Pedro, tel. 501-2-62982, e-mail [email protected]

The Sirena Azul (Blue Mermaid) has a sunset sail, and is also available for snorkeling and charters. The 40 foot traditional style sailboat is made out of hardwoods found in Belize, including Santa Maria, Bullet and Mahogany. The boat has a very unique style with its cabin shape and wide beam. Beto Munos says it was the largest wood sailboat ever built and launched in Sarteneja. The boat capacity is 20 people plus 2 crew.

Cats, motorboats and sailboats temporarily in Belize may be available for charter from time to time. These boats come and go at the whim of the seas and their captains. Ask locally in San Pedro (especially at the Belize Yacht Club) or at the marinas at the Radisson Fort George or Fiesta Inn in Belize City or on Moho Caye. Catamarans for day or short charters may be available at Ramon's and Journey's End and elsewhere.

Liveaboard dive boats are also an option for those seeking the salt. The two best-known operations are Peter Hughes Diving with its 120' Belize Wave Dancer and the Aggressor Fleet, with its similarly sized Belize Aggressor III. Per-person rates shown include a seven-day trip with around 5 1/2 days of diving, food, drinks and airport transfers. Port charges about an additional US$45.

Peter Hughes Diving, 1390 South Dixie Highway, Suite 1109, Coral Gables, FL 33146, tel. 305-669-9391 or 800-932-6237, fax 305-669-9475, e-mail [email protected] Rates US$1595 to US$1695

Aggressor Fleet, P.O. Box 1470, Morgan City, LA 70381, tel. 800-348-2628 or 504-385-2628, fax 504-384-0817, e-mail: [email protected] Rates US$1,695.

The Belize River Lodge near Belize City offers a liveaboard fishing boat, a 58" Hatteras. Tel. 888-275-4843.

What’s in a boat name?

Boats are a normal sight around our clear waters, but have you ever wondered what the story is behind their names? Having picked out a boat, most captains then have the difficult task of naming the boat. Many take the obvious route, naming the boat after their wife, sisters and/or a loved one. Some however, let their imaginations run wild and end up choosing some intriguing, original names that just grab your attention. Many captains entertain classic superstitions, regardless of whether friends and family will be embarrassed or offended by the name chosen. Giving a boat/vessel a name is steeped in tradition and history and the reasons are practical, as well as sentimental. According to a survey conducted in the United States, many boaters claimed they named their boats/vessels by special women in their lives. Anthropologists have found that in addition to attesting to the relationships fishermen have with wives, girlfriends and daughters, fishers also choose names that project hope for ‘victories’ and successes at sea.

Nowadays, naming a boat has grown into a ceremonial act, known as a christening. Whether it is a ship in a large fleet or a smaller, personal watercraft, receiving a name is a necessity, according to mariner tradition. The ancient Egyptians allegedly began the tradition of naming boats centuries ago on the Nile River, and boat owners have been racking their brains ever since for the perfect boat name. If you want to get boat owners talking, ask them how they arrived at the name they gave their boat. In fact, most will confess that they spent far more time thinking about a perfect name for their boat than for their own children.

It’s interesting to note that there are superstitions in the boat naming process as well. One superstition in particular revolves around whether or not it is okay to rename a previously- owned boat. It is believed that if a boat owner would change the original name of the boat, that the individual would have bad luck such as having motor problems, or investing a whole bunch just to make it a good working horse.

Another superstition holds that since a boat’s name allegedly reflects its personality, then the name should always have a positive spin. In other words, it is a case of “what you name is what you get.” An owner may think that bestowing the name of “Last Dollar” is a humorous way to reflect how much money has been invested in the boat; however, those who believe in this superstition would say that the boat will ultimately be more trouble than pleasure.

One of the more telling findings about the naming process is that boats named after people most often show relationships of the fishers’ own choosing, rather than inherited relationships. Names used, more often than not, pertain to wives, girlfriends, daughters or friends or are composites of several names (boat captain’s choosing), rather than to mothers or sisters (inherited). It’s also an interesting note that naming a boat after a significant other is slightly more popular than naming it after children.

This naming process also seems to be deeply ingrained in the commercial fisherman’s psyche. Many believe it is a smart marketing move to name your boat after your company, and instill your brand at every port. Even then, the boats usually have an individual name as well. Some boat owners claim that when a boat is named and christened, energetically, it has been enlivened, and from that point on must be treated with the same respect as we would a person. The San Pedro Sun made an attempt to get comments from our local boat owners in San Pedro. Our task was made easy as the boat owners were willing and more than pleased to have their boats featured in our survey. So, with all said, we can attest to the fact that the names of boats do indeed have a story or distinct meaning to their owners. After all, to many of them, their boats are part of their passions and dreams - so why shouldn’t they have names that help them define who they are and what they enjoy?

Question: “What is significance of the name on your boat?”

Francisco Gutierrez, “My boat got its name from my grand daughter Laurie”

Pete Graniel, “The name on my boat has an interesting story behind it; it got its name from a close friend of mine who had problems with his demanding wife. My friend eventually divorced her and I thought the name “Free at Last” was appropriate enough.”

Pedro Graniel, “I decided to name my boat after my daughter, Elise”


Living on your sailboat anchored inside the reef, about a hundred yards, more or less, offshore, is an established and enduring custom on Ambergris Caye. One couple lives on a houseboat tied up to a wharf. Tight US waste disposal regulations make it rough up there, where there are multitudes of boats. But here, outside the reef there's a four-knot prevailing northbound current, inside the reef there's a prevailing countercurrent, and a passing whale with dyspepsia enriches the environment more than our whole water-dwelling fleet. Security can be a bit of a problem. When aboard, the distress flare is considered a good deterrent if you've checked in and checked your armory at the police station. When not on board, you want your engines either very heavy or hoisted aboard and locked away, the boat in general sealed tight, somebody checking. You might consider hiring a good sea dog. They have some in Polynesia that even fish for a living.

I do not Captain my own boat either. Figure it takes at least 20 years to get to know the channels here -- and then only for parts of the reefs.

The Belizean fishing sloop is a design developed over centuries of experience. Short long keel that can take a licking. I do not know of any other sail boat that can make it here.

For more questions, ask Ray Auxillou. He presently has a 30 footer that draws 4 ft and feels he can go any where with it. He sure knows more about all this than me. But then he does know the area in question very intimately as well.

But I still know for a fact that he would not have gotten to within 300 ft of where I anchored most of the time this past expedition. Maybe 300 yard is more like it. That is a long swim to plop a fish on the deck!

For a boat to do tours in, say to hold 30 people or so, you would want a houseboat hull in fiberglass, outboard powered, twins. Probably for load, a 4 cycle outboard, with a factory order bigger prop and reduction gear for pushing a load. Give you the greatest motor efficiency, reliability and costing. Might be slightly more expensive to buy, but not much. They just change the foot apparatus on a standard model.

You can probably find what you want in the USA. Or go to Mexico around Campeche I think and they build them around there someplace. Just get one made to order. Since it is a one-off design, they would use a beaverboard mold. Might be a little rough construction, but they do build sturdy boats in Mexico. You esstentially want a rocker bottom. Go for length in the hull, not width. A six inch rocker in the bottom will give you a fixed hull speed of 8 mph or so, depending on hull length at a very economical cost of operating fuel. The USA houseboat hulls are planing hulls that have straight chines, but they are expensive to push with 30 people aboard. So better to get one made in Mexico with a curved chine, the deepest part around 6 or 8 inches in the center of the boat. This creates a wave trough and you could effectively push 30 people with any number of cargo, at a constant 8 mph speed. Hull speed then is calculated by the square root of the length of the waterline, X 3.14 if I remember my formulas correctly. Horsepower requirement depends on hull width and load, but twin 25's should push it with enough horsepower. When you go to planing hulls, straight chines, it takes hundreds of horsepower to try and lift the boat on the top of the surface of the water and hundreds of dollars in gasoline too.

For more on sailing and the tides, click here.

Itinerary for Belize

Cruising the Reef Seven days of wonder inside Belize's famous
Barrier Reef.

San Pedro's premier snorkel location is just half an hour down the reef in "Stingray Alley" where the local tour guides hand feed the stingrays and nurse sharks. Set sail again and within two hours you can enjoy a beautiful sunset in the back bay of Caye Caulker.

Head south through Porto Stuck for a 4 hour sail to Goff's Caye, a small personal island right on the reef. There is a beautiful beach and superb snorkeling either inside or outside the barrier reef.

Across the channel is English Caye where a local family maintain the lighthouse. A quick sail either inside or outside the reef brings you to Southwater and Tobacco Cayes. Here there are restaurants plus a dive resort. The Smithsonian Institute was so impressed by the pristine waters that they have built a research station just south of here at Carrie Bowe Caye.

Heading back upwind brings you to a perfect little anchorage at Bluefield Range. Ashore is Ricardo's Fish Camp. A little bit funky for some, but a seafood dinner by Finn will not be easy to forget.

Heading up Victoria Channel past various cayes, you might be lucky enough to see some manatees. These large mammals often visit this area with their calves - although they can never be categorized as cute they do have a charm all of their own. The lee of St. Georges Caye provides the evening anchorage. Ashore at St. George's Lodge you can enjoy a great dinner - but book ahead as the whole resort is run on DC voltage. Twenty years ago it was definitely before its time in the lucrative eco-tourism market!

Leaving St. George's is easy usually a broad reach back to Porto Stuck and then upwind to the backside of either Caye Chapel or Caye Caulker. Caye Chapel is a privately owned island with the first golf course in Belize. The owner is now awaiting the results of an environmental study which will allow development of the island into an exclusive community.

Spend some time enjoying either Caye Caulker or Caye Chapel. Try hiring a bicycle or golf cart to see it all. A mellow 2 hour sail takes you back to San Pedro once more and the end of a perfect week.

Here's what its like reef crawling on a fishing trip with us.
Not counting the two days for sailing from Corozal to BC -- and the two days to get back, we spent 6 days living on the reefs from Cay Chapel to the North to Alligator Cay to the South.

Staying right on the Barrier Reef at all times. Just South East of Cay Chapel are some incredible coral heads. Ten plus feet in size. This is not shown on the maps.

Rendezvous Cay has some great "blue-veins" where the reef grows on the top and top sides, then it plummets down into the "blue". The Blue is truly blue!!

The best fishing is in the shallow reefs -- which have the poorest views. Many times the water is only 18 inches or so and tricky to swim through. The deeper, nicer, reefs have less conches -- as example.

You have to be moving very slowly and on a steady platform to find the better sites. A speeding skiff can only go to a known site. And you can't stand high enough to look down into the water for proper observation. Also, as soon as they slow down they bounce a lot on the always choppy water.

The best "moving" viewing is when under sail, as your platform is silent. The water is super clear -- the sail boat makes no wake -- just cuts through the water -- so visibility is incredible.

We also carefully anchor near the reef and drift out using the anchor rope -- up to 300 feet at a time -- tying up when we find a promising dive spot.

You really do not want to try this with any sail boat that draws more the 3 ft!! So big luxurious boats are out!!

By moving the anchor forward by hand -- we were able to get within a few feet of the reef in some places, over sandy bottom, with reef heads all around. Getting back out is just as tricky. My boat, Ray's old one, draws 26 inches at the bow. When properly ballasted.

We do not use a "dingy". The boat is our diving platform. I mounted a side ladder that swings up when moving. This makes getting in an out easy. I also built a side railing around the decks. A high boom bracket allows a good sized tarp to be hooked up quickly and easily, down to the rails. This gives us a great shade -- very, very important, as the sun can cook you in no time!! It also makes for a tunnel of wind -- keeping one very cool.

The hatch cover has been modified in an interesting manner so that it can extend internal head room -- and also slide forwards and back wards -- yet always remains a very steady platform. Great place to dry off. Getting into the hold (a small ladder) bring one to the two main berths. These have a 3 ft center walk way. The back of which crawl-spaces to the galley. We have a curtain there for privacy when changing etc.

The from leads to the bow, which is a huge storage (but crawling) and two more large berths. The galley has a berth for the captain and can sleep one more across the floor.

The bow has a false floor -- under which is extra ballast (14 large cement blocks with more stowage -- reached by lifting floor panels).

The two births under the hatch are supported by 12 five gallon buckets which are water storage and more extra ballast. Under the heavy (2 in. Macheche planks) bottom floor is 1800 pound os scrap cast iron ballast.

At night the tarp is down, the hatch cover slid back, one lays facing the skies -- truly sleeping under the stars and moon. In the forecastle, the small hatch is opened for the same result. Temperature is water temp. Around 80 deg F. -- whether El Norde is blowing or it is like now -- the high heat of May --

Two 12 volt batteries make a further ballast in the stern. These are charged when ever the Honda Four stroke (a quite and very reliable machine) is running. A 12 volt light system from heavy house wiring goes from one end to the other with three major outlets -- all polarized house style prong receptacles. Pure copper -- everything! Three lights with pure copper switches -- Galley, Hold and forecastle.

We carry a small broadcast band radio which keeps us informed to weather conditions and also some fine Belizean music as back ground when needed.

We carry one very powerful spot light which is great for night viewing the reef. Then three extra car tail light bulb extension cords for total deck lighting if required.

We have a double ring cast iron stove running on butane that can boil two gallons of water in ten minutes (we purify the rain water we carry stowed in this manner).

There are numerous other "improvements" including two kinds of anchors. One, a sixty pound chunk of diesel crank shaft is our "drag" anchor. The other is a special anchor I designed that easily is set into sand or mud for a very, very, good grip. We never sleep badly worrying about a slipped anchor.

There are many special purpose shelves rigged in dead space areas for stowing gear.

All and all -- Ray would never recognize this boat. It is also the best sailing sloop in Belize at present -- of traditional design -- bar none!

Any one into four wheel drive or Baja style survival vehicles would freak at this boat -- which is the ultimate Belize Reef crawler I could design.

I mention all this just to point out that "Reef Crawling" is not so simple as we make it out. You can get into serious trouble very easily unless properly equipped.

We avoid the bug and mosquito problem by never putting anchor down within at least a couple of miles upwind from the nearest cay.

I am especially proud of the toilet. A five gallon bucket adapted (using two plywood "washers" to fit a standard toilet seat and cover. Simply put a few inches of sea water in the bottom, dump over board after.

The conveniences one uses to Reef Crawl has so much to do with the comfort of the experience. This boils down to good kitchen, good berths, plenty of stowage, proper ballast, and a great toilet.

Presently, Belize is into great power skiffs or large sail boats - neither can function where I go -- ergo we are out their alone. Like the last people on planet earth!

Cuisine is fresh sea food of many variations at all times (I especially love the "Shell Fish" or "Chicken of the Sea" and always find one or two). Rice, split beans, flour, plantain, coco yam, onions, chili, tomato paste -- and the list goes on. We maintain a gourmet galley. Try that in a power skiff!!

Nothing like very fresh snapper fillet dipped into boiling water for 3 minutes (both rings blasting!). Let cool and then eat!! Or spread on top of rice boiled with ripe plantain. Conch soup with coco yam is superb!! I should be writing a Reef Crawling cook book -- but am more satisfied with the idea that all this will be lost when I die.

The daily itinerary is swim, eat, sleep. We are in the water at least 4 hours per day. This combination of exercise and eating whole sum foods makes sleep so easy! We start at 4:00 Am, coffee, toilet and brush the teeth -- coffee and a fried jack or two. Relax -- by 6:00 AM snorkeling. Eat our first feast at 9:30 AM -- sail till 12 noon. Anchor and set up the tarp. Sleep till 3:00 PM. Wake, coffee, snorkeling till 5:30. Second feast at 6:30. Sleeping soundly by 7:30.

As is usual, the average Belizean got lost somewhere along the way. Suckered as usual by glimmering, glossy, American style nautical devices, and the peer pressure to much of a current for them to swim against.

Cest La Vie!

Eat your hearts out folks. The only way you'll ever experience any of this is by sailing this boat.

This is not an experience that can be easily put into words.

Think of this next time you are at them thar "fancy" resorts. No matter how good your eyes be, you'll never see me any where about. Maybe in a speeding water taxi -- or a fast "tour" boat -- driving you and the other 10 plus people to some arranged 30 minute dice -- you'll see this boat of mine like a mirage -- for just about 30 seconds -- and then at a great distance -- cause your boat can't go there!! You may as well be flying in a 747 over Belize!!

Diesel Outboards -- Yanmar
When I enquired at the distributor in Peters Burg Florida a few months back -- they mentioned that Barry Bowen just bought one.

The 26 HP will push a 40 ft barge at hull speed -- no problems!

Have appended the GETWEB "dump" of that site at the end. They give some pretty good examples.

If you think 26 HP (diesel) is not enough -- hang an extra 40 HP Yamaha 2 stroke as spare power -- if and when you may ever need it!

Fuel costs are a real killer here -- this diesel is the way to go -- expensive initial capital cost -- but pays for itself in no time -- if you plan on pushing a boat around a lot.

I use a 15 HP Honda four stroke on Ray's old boat. It is the most economic system in Belize right now -- until Barry gets that diesel. We have not met the storm yet where we had to go over 1/2 throttle!

Belize people do not believe in motors less than 100HP now. So they stopped selling the 15 HP Honda. I believe I am the only one that got one!

All the rest believe in using at least a 40 HP Yamaha for fishing sloops like mine. The cost is slightly over double -- in gasoline consumption -- given equal circumstances.

This adds up fast when you are working a boat steady!

The big advantage of the four stroke is it is much more efficient at low rpm operation.

The 15 HP Honda is just like their single over head cam motorcycle engine. Except that the 370 CC outboard only produces 15HP!! In a motorcycle "tune" -- it would be well over 30!

Makes for an extremely hardy machine -- which I can personally attest to.

And very quite -- that diesel is supposed to be silent as well.

The 15 Honda cost $3879 (new brand) when I bought it two years ago. It is still "new" after untold hours of use. By the way -- no mixing gas and oil.

And my Honda still does not take oil between changes! And very easy starting -- either by pull or the built in electric starter. Plus generator to charge the battery!

That boat and motor combination has quite a record here now -- after two years. I believe all the fishing boats know it.

When we are in a rush -- we sail and steam. The Honda gets over 25 miles per gallon then-- just barely over an idle.

Compare this with the Water Taxis -- some of which burn over 50 gallons of fuel per hour!!

A Mexican Skiff with a 65 HP Yamaha came from Caye Caulker to Corozal a couple of weeks back -- $300 of gasoline!!

The Tzabcan (my boat -- Ray's old boat) does that same run on 12 gallons of gas -- cruising hull speed -- no sailing -- which costs $60. And that is pushing 5 tons at least!

We always steam to around Rock point going out. Normally -- that costs us around 3 gallons -- we do the rest under sail.

Peter Singfield

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