Sailing inside the Barrier Reefs

Placencia Sunset
Placencia Sunset

Can you blame us for not wanting to leave this paradise? After four days in heaven we realized that if we wanted to reach Isla Mujeres before the northers really started to take hold, we needed to take advantage of our continuing weather window. We had used up five of the fourteen days we saw, and decided we could only push our good fortune so far. It would take at least three days if all went perfectly to reach San Pedro, and we knew we had a few treacherous reef passes to deal with (remember Xcalak?) So we pulled anchor and headed north hoping to make it about half way to Belize City harbor. We scouted out several possible stopovers mentioned in Captain Freya Rauscher’s “Cruising Guide to Belize and Mexico’s Caribbean Coast”. We wanted a very secure anchorage, preferably a calm one, and we wanted quiet. We found it at the cut between two of the cays making up Colson Cays. Good holding, a sand bar to the east blocking ocean surges, and nothing around except a fishing camp, clearly someone’s home, but all was peace and quiet that night.
A Fishing Family's Home
A Fishing Family’s Home

The next day brought an uneventful sail across Belize harbor, around the shipping channel, dodging a few reefs and shoals, then at the end of the day working our way into the uncharted Drowned Cays. Our cruising guide had good sketch charts of the area, but they were all labeled with the caution that they were not to be used for navigation. Hmm, so what are they for? Well, I guess we know why they have to be cautious, but we actually found the sketches to be excellent and in almost every case, right on the money. We worked our way into a cut labeled Mapps Bogue finding deep water all the way in and eventually anchoring in about 12 feet over a mud bottom. With mangroves all around we were sure we’d be eaten alive, but with a nice breeze blowing from the north not a single bug found its way aboard. We grilled dinner and called it an early night as we needed to leave at daybreak, about 5:30 AM, in order to have high tide to our advantage when we reached the infamous “Porto Stuck”, yup, that’s the name all right, and I’ll bet you can guess why. Four and half to five feet at low tide supposedly, and that meant we might be helping to dredge the channel for them.

Porto Stuck Channel Marker
Porto Stuck Channel Marker

Well, here’s one of the channel markers guiding us through Porto Stuck’s narrow channel. It was shallow, but we never touched bottom all the way to San Pedro. We followed the directions in Captain Rauscher’s guide very closely, and her directions and the markers kept us out of trouble. Small tugs and barges and local ferries use this passage daily, so they keep it pretty well marked, and we had no trouble at all even with our 6 foot 6 inch draft until we reached San Pedro. Right where the water became very shallow as we approached the reef a nasty squall blew in reducing visibility to near zero. But, we simply retraced our track on our MaxSea navigation program and kept working our way back and forth on that track until the storm lifted enough for us to see our way inside the reef and into the anchorage at San Pedro. It took several tries before were happy with our location as the anchorage is shallow, but once set, our big Bruce held like a rock. We never moved.

Beautiful 5 foot sting ray right off the dock at San Pedro
Beautiful 5 foot sting ray right off the dock at San Pedro

Walk the Streets of San Pedro