3 Weeks Along the Barrier Reefs of Central America on a Mega yacht
It’s a windy and rainy midnight of March 6,2012 when we arrived in Belize City from our 1,239 Nautical Mile journey across the Caribbean sea from St. Lucia in the West Indies. It took us 6 days to get here. Luckily the weather was coming from behind making it a pleasant trip even though the wind reaches up to 35 miles per hour occasionally making the sea very rough. That morning the weather shifted from the North turning the 3 to 4 meter waves to hammer us from the starboard side. Luckily our stabilizers never let us down even though one of the controllers stopped due to over heating. Good thing we had a back up.
It took us about an hour to get to where we are supposed to anchor because the harbor around Belize City was so shallow that we have to crawl our way in. We Dropped anchor about 1 kilometer by the wharf of Radissons hotel with just a little over half a meter of water under our keel. From there we got the boat ready for the guests’ arrival and took on all our provisions including deliveries from our suppliers from the United States. On Mega Yachts our Chefs do not rely on local supplies when it comes to guest food. They will always get the best supplies from the top suppliers from the US and the UK of which the guests will pay for anyway. One thing for sure, as long as they get the best food, our guests do not worry about how much they pay to get their food and drinks. For charter guests who can afford to pay 240 thousand dollars a week excluding fuel, food alcohol and etc. I am sure that they want to have the best food and the best service no matter how much will it cost to get it.
Midday of March 10 when our guests arrived. They were met with the sight of 6 dolphins swimming around the boat. It’s a good start. After they are all settled and lunch was getting served, we picked up anchor and headed south to Robinsons Cay just an hour south of Belize city so that the guests can swim or Kayak just before sunset.
The next morning we lifted up anchor at 4 am trying to get to Gladden Spit National Park right after breakfast. We dropped anchor on an island 8 miles west of Gladden spit and we embarked on our search for the Whale shark. Its been known that during full moon the Caberra Snappers spawn creating a massive feeding frenzy of all fish and predators. This frenzy also attracts the whale
sharks, the biggest fish in the world which are on their migration around the Central America area. The guides told us that in some occasions they have seen ten 59 foot whale sharks feeding on the snapper eggs. The spawning happens just before sunset and the park rangers normally close the area during that time to the public so that the spawning will not be disturbed and on the other hand it is so risky because there is a lot of bull sharks joining the feeding frenzy. During the spawning session, the female snappers shoots up to the surface and release their eggs into the water. Then the male snappers follow them up and shoots their sperm into the eggs. With a thousand female snappers doing this act and thousands of male snappers following, the area becomes very cloudy with the combination of eggs and sperm that it will be so dense that it will hide the 59 foot whale sharks from view. If you happen to be in the middle of that contortion, you will never know what’s next to you and it may be the bullsharks that are chasing the snappers. Bull sharks are known to be one of the most aggressive sharks in the oceans.
Being the dive master on board I get to dive with the guests even though we have our dive guide. I will be there just incase the guests encounter some difficulties and I can be of help as soon as possible.
That day we did not get a glimpse of a whale shark. We had 2 meter swell rolling into the Barrier reef and it was quite challenging to climb back into the dive boat. On out first dive we leveled around 30 meters deep and 10 meters down bellow us we can see the schools of Cuberra snappers and the bull sharks hanging around them. We did not go down to get close to them first the bull sharks are quite dangerous and also at 40 meters we will not have enough bottom time to continue on our drift dive to find the whale sharks. We stayed at 20 meters occasionally coming down to 30 if we see a bigger school ahead to check them out. In the middle of our dive we encountered a big school of Horse eyed jack checking us out. They hang around for a little while just enough for us to get a few shots for our souvenir.
We did 2 dives on the same area of the National park but no whale shark was seen. We have known before coming here that the season for whale shark starts on the full moon of April up to May. Normally this time the whale sharks are around the Island of Roatan in Hunduras.
The next morning after our snorkel and dive we lifted up anchor and headed out to the Queen Cays. We have to put our 2 tenders ahead of our yacht to do soundings and mark the shallow areas since there are no well surveyed charts of the area. We have to dodge around reefs just to get to where we are going and there are lots of them scattered and do not show on the charts. Sometimes you will be travelling at 30 meters then suddenly it will shallow up. We have 3 meter draught and passing through a 5 meter patch is just enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck. Its really Terra Incognito out there. After 3 harrowing hours we dropped anchor next to one of the 3 little islands of the Queen Cays. There we snorkeled and the divers did the outside of the barrier reef. I did not have to go because we only have 1 diver since the Boss had a flu. I snorkeled with the rest of the group and it was really good. There was a boat of local fishermen cleaning their catch. They are filleting the fish that they spearfished and throwing the carcasses into the water. This attracts all sort of inhabitants in the area. Big Ridgetail Stingrays, Spotted eagle rays, Nurse sharks and big Luggerhead turtles and a lot of different fish fighting for little morsels missed by the big Pelagics. The good thing is that these fishermen always stop on the same area so the animals are used to this practice. They start gathering around the fishing boat when they hear the noise coming from the fishermen the feeding frenzy starts. There is a massive Luggerhead turtle that hangs around this area they named Rafael. Sometimes he’s a little moody and the guide told us that a few swimmers had been bitten by Rafael. Normally he goes around bumping swimmers that goes closer to the food that the fishermen are throwing in the water. If you get pushed give him some distance. If you will push him back you will just invite your self for a snap from Rafael’s big Beak.
From Queen Cays we continued towards south. 17 miles of dodging reefs left right center we dropped anchor at Pompion Cay. Another island near the barrier reef. The barrier reef in Belize apparently is the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world. It streeches from closer to Hunduras up to Mexico. Inside the Barrier reefs they have these little islands they call cays. Most of these Cays are just sandy islands with Coconut trees and some houses for the park rangers to live and some bigger ones have resorts on them. Foreign nationals are allowed to buy one of these islands for a hefty sum of money and among them apparently Leonardo de Caprio is a proud owner of one.
We also encountered one of these fishing boats anchored and cleaning up fish and Conce close to our boat. So we took the opportunity of snorkeling and taking pictures of these magnificient Pelagic animals that are feeding on the carcasses of the Groupers and snappers being filleted by the fishermen. These fishermen would go outside of the Barrier reef towing a little dug out canoe with them to put their catch. They would free dive down up to 20 meters plus, spearfish a big grouper or a snapper then bring it up to the surface and put it in the canoe. Once the catch is sufficient they will then come back to the mother ship and put their catch on ice before coming back to the anchorage in the afternoon to fillet them.
Everyday we have to do this ritual of dodging out reefs to get to the next distination. We went 20 miles down south to the island of Ranguana before we headed back north to Laughing bird Cay 21 miles away. Laughing bird Cay is the only atoll inside the Barrier reef. We did 2 dives there this time I dove with them because I have to do the night dive as extra security for the owner’s son.
The night dive went really well. Instead of normal night dive using flashlights., we used special Ultraviolet flashlights. Biolumenscence are single cell micro organisms that lits up when they are disturbed by such as kicking. On a UV night dive we are not looking for bioluminescence. By shining the UV flashlight to the corals and wearing yellow filters in front our masks, the fluorescence shows up. All the colors that you don’t see at night shows up. The corals that has fluorescence glows like a neon light. Bright Yellow green, orange , red, gold etc. I actually ordered some excitation filters and UV lights for my camera and test it when I come home to the Philippines next month. The only downside of UV night dive is that you have limited light. What you have in front of you is what you see. Also you don’t see normal stuff that does not give off fluorescence. Fish even though how big they are only becomes shadow. But if you want to see normal stuff just take off the yellow filter in front of your mask and its normal again. Well apart from that now you are seeing blue because UV flash lights normally comes out blue.
From Laughing Bird we continued north to Blue Ground Range. We wanted to dive the South water cay areas but we cannot take the big boat there because the water is so shallow for the big boat. So our guests have to endure an 8 mile speed boat run to the dive and snorkel sights. With 225 and 115 horse power on our speedboats it only take at least 10 minutes to get there anyway specially if the water is calm.
The trip was successful we enjoyed snorkeling seeing big tarpons, Moray ell hunting and most of all we enjoyed watching our guide spear fishing Lion fish. The bloom of lion fish around the Caribbean has made a lot of people worried. Not being on their normal habitat which is the Pacific waters, there is no normal predators for the Lion fish. They could eat up to 45 unsuspecting juvenile reef fish everyday. So authorities have encouraged divers to spearfish them to eradicate the bloom of the lion fish. It turns out that after taking of the really poisonous stinging fins, Lion fish has a very taste meat. So our guests enjoyed the Lion fish meal made by the chefs.
Early the next morning we went out of the English cay channel far north of where we came from to cross the Barrier reef to go to the out side Atoll called Turneff. Its quite close to South water Cays but we have to take a 51 mile journey since we cannot make a short cut due to the shallow water and the danger of unknown reefs around the area. Its not a good idea to risk a 50 Million dollar boat with the owner onboard just to save time.
We got there early in the morning just as the sun is coming up. Another dilemma is getting the yacht inside the atoll across the barrier reef with the sun in front of you. So we have to get the big tender off the tow and guide the big boat into the anchorage. Its sickening that it comes from more than 2000 meters of water it will suddenly climb up and show 20 and few minutes later you are in 6 meters of water. So we have to crawl very slow until we dropped our anchor. The only good thing is that the water is crystal clear and you can select an area where to drop anchor so that you wont damage any of the corals.
After breakfast our guest went fly fishing for the day and the rest went snorkeling, wakeboarding and kayaking. Turneff has a lot of Mangroves and you can kayak as far as you want. Just mind the currents when the tide is moving because it goes really fast on the shallower areas. When the tide is ebbing. The green water of the lagoon goes out into the sea and you can see it discoloring the clear blue waters of the bay. A few hours later it will start to clear up again and clear water comes back into the lagoons. This way all the nutrients comes back into the lagoon bringing food to all the inhabitants of the atoll like the massive amount of Bone fish and permits that the fly fishermen around the globe just comes here for just to fish.
Early the next morning we went back to Belize city to desimbark 2 of our guests and welcome 4 fresh new ones. We also got a new dive guide. These guides are from the Southern Environmental Authority that looks after all the atolls and the cays of Belize including the barrier reefs.
Our new guests arrived at lunch time. While they are having lunch, we travelled down to the Robinsons cay again just one hour from Belize city and when we got there, the guests had enough time to Kayak, play around on the jet skis and even had time for a quick wake surfing session before the sun set.
Early the following morning we continued south to Blue Ground Range. Its 33 miles from the Robinson Cay and we dropped anchor just as the guests are starting to have breakfast. Normal routine drop all the kayaks, jetskis, this time even out waterslide was out. We loaded up the tenders with dive and snorkel gears and soon after the breefing we are off to the South water cay marine park for diving and snorkeling. The children stayed and the enjoyed them selves going down the slide or zooming up with the jet skis.
The morning we got to Blue Ground Range, news of disaster met us. Few miles south of where we are A catamaran sail boat that belongs to the Moorings charter company got boarded by unknown assilants, robbed them and unfortunately 2 persons got stabbed. This altered our plans so by mid night we lifted up anchor and got out of the barrier reef and headed south to Glover reef.
Glover Reef is a southern atoll in Belize. Even though the water was clear, our captain have to make a bold approach and pass through a very narrow unmarked channel to get inside the reef and into our designated anchorage. I have to survey the passage my self just to make sure that there are no surprises as the big boat goes in. With the wind and current pushing the big boat to the left, there is only 75 meters max of clear space from the side of the boat to the reef. We manage to clear the channel with 2 meters under the keel full of coral heads. The captain made sure that he is doing a straight line because he is going to need that tracks on our electronic chart plotter to get out of the reef. You’ll never know if emergency comes up you might have to get out of the reef in the middle of the night.
Everyone enjoyed diving and snorkeling at Glovers reef. The kids were mesmerized upon seeing a lot of different fish in such shallow waters. Big schools of snappers, spiny lobsters, massive barracudas, sting rays you name it they have it. One ocassion we saw a nurse shark but just kept it quite just incase the kids well get scared.
We spent 2 days in Glover Reef before coming out and run up north to Turneff atoll. The waves were massive that day reaching up to 4 meters on our starboard side. Our stabilizers made the run comfortable but if you look out the window it’s a bit scary especially for guests that are not used to seeing waves that big.
Same activities we did in Turneff but this time the boss is well so I get to dive with him for extra security. We had an hour wit UV night dive of which the boss enjoyed taking photos of UV excited fluorescence on the corals.
Early next morning we headed back to Belize city to disembark our 4 guests and pick up 2 new ones for our final league.
The following morning we are back at Blue Ground range and right after breafast we are zooming out to Southwater cays at 35 knots for our dive and snorkel activities. Since we have 2 divers I get to dive with them to buddy up. I did not take my camera this time so that I can focus on the security of the boss and his son. Also I had the opportunity to spot critters for them especially when they are shooting with macro.
Coming back soth was easier this time since we’ve been tere already but we still took precaution of having the 2 tenders guiding the big boat every time we approach an anchorage.
On the 28th of March, we came out of the barrier reef using the English Cay channel and went on an 85 mile journey to Lighthouse cay. Its out in the open ocean east of Belize city. The dive there was Phenomenon having encounter big black groupers following us around. The wall was pretty close to the shore and the water was very clear. We saw sharks and big barracudas. Our guide had a near incident when he spear fished a lion fish and the barracuda stole it out of his little home made spear gun inches away fro his hand. I noticed him not carrying the spear gun anymore the next dive.
The 2 mornings our guest enjoyed bird watching on the Half moon Cay bird sanctuary. Normal routine after breakfast is diving and snorkeling.
Lighthouse Cay or atoll is where you can find the famous Blue Hole in Belize. It’s a big hole that goes down thousands of meters down. A lot of divers are fascinated by how its made by nature. We didn’t dive the Blue Hole since the boss has done it when we did a trip here 8 years ago.
After the morning dive we proceeded west back to Turneff atoll and dived there for our last dive of the trip. The guest as leaving Sunday and we want to give them a solid 1 day to gas off before taking their flight back home.
One of the surprise highlights of visiting Turneff is going to see the salt water crocodiles. This crocks are not caged and the just roam in the wild at Black bird cay north east side of Turneff. It makes you weary that you are diving Turneff and in the back of your mind, there are salt water crocks roaming around the area.
That afternoon we headed back to Belize city. Early the next morning I was at the airport making sure that luggage are safely handed back to the pilots of the private Gulfstream 5. After every piece of luggage was safely loaded to the back of the plane, we said goodbye to our guests. This is our last trip of the season and we will not be back here anymore next winter since we will be putting the boat on dry dock.
I had such a wonderful trip. Being in the wild. Learning that if you really protect the oceans around you it creates a lot of opportunities to the local people to get jobs and also it attracts a lot of tourists. With the Belize economy just relying on tourism, I would say that they did a pretty good job. I had been around most of the Caribbean islands but I could really say that they have not come close to what Belize has to offer. Its so sad that we are 1 month early for the Whale shark migration but I thin I did not miss so much. There is a lot for us to see and be overwhelmed on our 3 weeks here. One day, you’ll never know I will be back here again.
2nd Officer / Divemaster
160 Ft Feadship