We are pitching and rolling, heeled over to the port side. Waves are crashing over the bow and the rain is making a steady advance into our cockpit. The sea is dark and gray as we roll from one wave crest to another. Matt and I look at each other. This isn’t quite what I was thinking for our first day out at sea.
Just 24 hours earlier we were anchored outside of Livingston, waiting for the tide to rise so we could cross over the shallows. We were so excited and anxious to finally make it out to sea from the Rio Dulce. We had been working for this moment for over 6 months and it was finally coming to fruition. Never-mind that it had taken an extra day to line out all our paperwork in Livingston. Never-mind that our single-side-band radio, our main source of weather stopped working. Never-mind that our anchor had drug the night before, narrowly missing a concrete pier that the river somehow guided us around.
First we had to cross the bar outside of Livingston. It is generally only 5.5 feet deep but our boat drafts 6.5 feet. So we have to wait for high tide. Only the high tides in the Caribbean aren’t all that high. We had a two-day window in this month and this was the second day. So we went for it. We bumped the bottom a little bit but we made it out.
The wind was at our side which made for perfect sailing weather over to the closest spot to anchor which was on the other side of the bay. We ate coconut bread and carrot soup out of mugs for dinner. By the time we got there it was pitch dark. There was not even a moon and the darkness ate up our flashlights like they were nothing. I hoped that there were no boats anchored in our way.
We set our anchor but the wind was blowing from a different direction than normal and the anchorage was not very protected. We tossed and rolled as I read the boys books. Matt stayed up and watched to make sure the anchor was not dragging. Eventually he got a few hours of restless sleep.
I got up early with the boys and the boat was still rocking and rolling. The Aeropress exploded, burning my fingers with hot coffee and then I realized the refrigerator was not working. I couldn’t do much about it with the boat rolling around so the boys and I hung out in the cockpit. After a bit Matt got up and we got on our way. Breakfast dishes still in the sink, we motored out toward the open sea, to get over to Belize.
It was drizzly at first, but we had no idea it would turn into this. The boys are wide eyed as the boat heels over impossibly far. Unsecured items come crashing down below. Cushions and cantaloupes are rolling. My few potted herbs crash into Matt who is trying to steer us. Rambutans, our midmorning snack, are now rolling everywhere, and Rylan’s half-eaten coconut bread with cream cheese manages to get smashed into the portable speaker that we had been listening to stories on just a little while ago.
When the seas get too rough, we bring in the foresail. The roller furling is stuck around something and Matt had to go free it. The safety lines are not set up yet and I am acutely aware at how unprepared we are. What will I do if Matt goes overboard?
Somehow, when it seems like it can’t get any worse, it does. I wish we could just pull over and get a break for a bit like we could when we were driving the trailer. I wonder what we have gotten ourselves into. And yet, the boat handles fine. It is made for this. We might be uncomfortable, but we are not in danger.
Matt goes forward once again to bring in the main sail. I hold my breath. Rylan is sleeping now in my arms, lulled to sleep by the wind, the waves, and the diesel engine. How lucky he is to be able to sleep through this! As we near the keys the wind backs off a bit. The sky lightens and the swell is less. We anchor close to West Snake Caye, but the swell is still rolling. Rylan wakes up and we have some lunch, suddenly starved by our treacherous morning.
When I try to put the boys down for a nap, the sand fleas come out to the boat and I convince Matt we have to go. He pulls anchor and we are on our way again. We head over to New Haven, a protected bay on the mainland. The weather calms and as we pull in to the mangrove-lined bay, we are so relieved to be in a safe spot.
Did I mention that it is Thanksgiving? Normally we would be getting ready to eat a huge meal with family and friends in a cozy home. I am tired and homesick as I try to pull something together for a special meal. Rylan helps me make an apple and starfruit galette and I pan-fry some chicken and whip up mashed potatoes. The oven goes out several times so the roasted veggies never quite get done.
At least the water is calm and the sun even comes out for a bit, brightening the afternoon. But the real treasure is that we are all here safe. We give thanks for our our sturdy boat, Beatrice, and our capable captain Papa. And we say thanks that we are finally out at sea, having the adventure of our lives.