Snakes on a…Boat? By John Cole Cover: Enjoying the waters of Belize on a catamaran charter.
ur adventure began when my good friend Ken gave me a call in November asking me to help him out by acting as captain for a charter and to bring my wife Amy along. Ken and his wife Julia have long dreamt of downsizing their home and moving aboard a sailboat. Now that their four children are all on their way to their own careers, it was time to take some positive steps towards their goal. Ken and Julia had taken a couple of Cruising 101 classes in the Midwest and were looking forward to learning even more on the ocean. Ken and I had worked together back in the ‘70s teaching kids to swim at summer camps. They gave me a call because I had worked for 10 years in the Florida Keys as a charter captain while living aboard my own Cal 36. As you can guess, it took absolutely no arm-twisting to entice Amy and me to agree to join them the following January in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in Belize. The crew of TMM did a really fine job of preparing the boat and in giving us every bit of assistance that we needed to get ready to go. The very thorough chart briefing was followed by an in-depth introduction to the yacht’s systems. They even supplied us with a cell phone that could be used to contact the charter base, since we would quickly get out of VHF radio range. We had perfect sailing conditions. The wind speed varied between 15 and 25 knots during our week with the air temperature ranging between a very comfortable 78 to 85 degrees. The cruising ground is a long string of cayes (pronounced “keys”) that run north to south with Ambergris Caye being at the north end. With the prevailing wind being easterlies, the sailing here is normally on a reach. This was bliss for our catamaran, giving us an average speed of seven knots and a top speed of 9.1 knots for the week. Even though I had spent many years in the Keys and the Bahamas where shallow water is normal, seeing the reading on the depth sounder showing only two feet of water under the two keels for hours can put your heart in your throat. The crystal-clear water reflected that incredible blue that lets you know that you are in a bit of paradise. Caye Caulker lies an easy two-and-a70 May 2013
half hours’ reach to the south, which makes a perfect first night stop as you get to know your boat, as well as the closest protected anchorage for your last night of your charter. The settlement here has a motto, “Go Slow,” that sums up the pace of the island. There are no cars there. A few golf carts that shuttle people around when needed are the only powered vehicles. Walking is the primary mode of travel, which is just fine as the settlement is only a few blocks long and only three streets wide. There are a surprisingly large number of very good eateries, and we were eager to try out a couple that were suggested to us during our chart briefing. Rose’s Grill features a unique format for the menu. A chef laid out the fresh catch onto a table just outside of the covered porch, alongside the charcoal grill that would be used to cook the entrées. Hogfish, kingfish, grouper, shrimp kabobs, and whole spiny lobster enticed passers-by to stop for dinner. For the lubbers along, there was chicken and beef available. We also enjoyed the Rainbow Grill, which is built on stilts out over the water overlooking the reef that is less than a quarter mile offshore. The fish fingers, cracked conch, and cold Belikin beer were a hit. We anchored out each night in locations that were protected from any swell, but still had plenty of cooling breezes for very comfortable sleeping. The night skies were incredible due to the absence of the lights of civilization. The morning of our fourth day of our charter found us raising our anchor after
spending the night in the lee of Spanish Lookout Caye. Ken was at the helm and I was on the bow recovering the anchor, which was easy since the electric windlass was doing the lifting of the chain. I then moved to the base of the mast and began to raise the main sail with Ken taking up the slack in the halyard. Amy was watching the sail go up when she noticed there was something unusual on the stacking-type sail cover. She looked more carefully when it moved of its own accord. That is when her unbelieving brain identified what she was seeing. “Holy crap, it’s a snake!” she called out. I took a quick look and was surprised to see that she was correct. It was a big snake that turned out to be a boa constrictor that was about six feet long. My first action was to jump down off the cabin top to the cockpit, and I closed all of the hatches in case the snake dropped in. We were surprised to have a snake on the boat, but we certainly didn’t want it to be inside the boat down below. I then grabbed my camera because the photographer in me knew that I would need some photos for two reasons. First, in case I got bit while removing the snake, I wanted the medical people to be able to identify what had killed me. Second, I knew that no one would ever believe that this actually happened without photographic evidence. Ken did an excellent job of staying at the wheel even though the snake was directly over his head—at least until he quickly swung the boom out over the starboard side. After I snapped off a couple of pictures, Amy passed up the boat hook to me. I used it to gingerly encourage the snake to go for a swim, which he did quite well. We were moving slowly ahead and our reptilian friend swam after us, since our boat was the closest dry spot. But he quickly figured out that he was not going to be able to catch up to us so he diverted to the cay which was about a quarter mile away. So the mystery, which I am certain will never be solved, is how did the snake get onboard, how long had he been there, and did he go anywhere else onboard during his visit? All questions that we wish we knew the answers to, but upon further reflection, perhaps it is best not to know! www.southwindsmagazine.com
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