This was the 10th annual winter Caribbean cruise of, mostly, Downtown Sailing Center, Baltimore, members. This year we had 22 people on three Moorings 4000 catamarans. Getting a group this large organized can be a bit like herding cats, but everyone arrived on time and, miracle of miracles, with their entire luggage. The observation I would make about the group was that they were entirely too shy, retiring, introverted and inhibited. <img src="" alt="" /> <img src="" alt="" />

As this was the first time using Moorings, perhaps I should start with impressions of them and their boats. In preparing for the trip I sent e-mails to our rep at the Florida base. Invariably each would go unanswered. Then I got in the habit of phoning to follow-up on the e-mail. Invariably he would say the e-mail had not been received. So I would resend it exactly as before and, miraculously, it always arrived that time! Moorings arranged the Tropic Air flights from Belize City to Placencia and back. I provided the Florida base with exact information on the flights of each person arriving and departing Belize City, so they could make reservations with Tropic Air coordinated with those flights. For about 6 people they scheduled flights from Placencia that were LATER than the scheduled departure from Belize City. The contracts e-mailed (and sometimes mailed) have had errors, duplicates, etc. Overall, not a great impression of the Mooring’s Florida operation.

On the other hand, e-mails sent to the Placencia base always had a thoughtful and helpful response. The base operation in Placencia was very smooth. Those working on the boats were cheerful, efficient, hard working and went out of their way to be helpful with luggage, etc. The “paper work” part of checking in was easy. The chart briefing, however, was in the needs-to-improve category. It turned out the person doing the regular (twice a day?) briefings had not actually been out in the sailing area in a long time and provided us some rather inaccurate information. While sailing, my radio decided to only broadcast intermittently, and, the windlass decided to start running on its own (gets your attention when you have hands near the chain!) Neighboring boats very kindly notified the Moorings base of these issues around 16:30 and their crash boat arrived first thing the next morning. They replaced the hand-held remote on the windlass and replaced the radio (took a new one “out of the box”.) After a radio check with the base, they departed. During the day the radio started acting up again and Moorings sent their crash boat again. This time they met us underway, under power in very calm seas. We continued slowly and one of them did the bosun-chair thing to the top of the mast and replaced the antenna. Talk about good service!! That fixed the radio.

For those interested, I rented fishing equipment from Fred Cabral (sp?) who has an “office” immediately behind Moorings. He is a character and, along with renting the required stuff, advised me very specifically how and where to catch exactly which fish. Needless to say, after carefully following his instructions (honestly!), I caught NOTHING during the week.

Regarding the Moorings 4000 – good news and bad news. The boats were certainly clean and generally in good mechanical condition – which is what the local base can control.

The things we liked were:
- “Rubberized” material for the trampoline. Much more comfortable than the usual “strings.”
- Hard bimini, hard sliding hatch over the helm and “wind screen” easily attached for rain and heavy seas.
- Large water tanks (needed in an area with almost no re-watering options.)

Our negative observations were:
- The design of the boat makes both the cockpit and the salon much smaller than they needed to be, and smaller than we have had on shorter boats.
- There is less storage in the galley, salon and staterooms than comparable boats.
- The freezer/fridge (while working VERY well) was located outside the galley, right by the sliding glass door (high traffic area) and under the chart table. Awkward all the way around.
- The davits were made of plastic, broken and unusable. Terrible design flaw.

On the Moorings 4000 all the sheets, furling line and traveler controls are led to the helm station. This would be great if sailing short-handed. However, with 7 people wanting to participate in sailing, it got very confusing.

Some of the crew arrived a day or so early and a couple of us stayed at South Water Resort: I recommend it. It is a few steps from Moorings (in fact the Mooring’s office is in one of their units) and facing onto the harbor. The South Waters management, when they learned a group of 22 was going to be doing a sleep-aboard at Moorings very alertly “sold” me on the idea of having a party for everyone in their Crow’s Nest Café – which we did. They closed the café to the public (probably no big deal given the economy), put on a nice buffet dinner and arranged a fun (“jump up”) band. It was a great way to bring everyone together to start the trip.

After the sleep-aboard we had the usual first morning chores of finishing provisioning (which we all did very successfully in Placencia), boat briefings, picking up snorkel equipment, etc., and underway around 11:00. We had decided to do what was evidently not the usual route; we went counter-clockwise by going to Ranguana Cay first, then head north. This trip started in what turned out to be the end of several weeks of rain and (relatively) cold – in the middle of the dry season! So the first couple days were rainy with no wind, then no wind, before the trade winds finally kicked-in with clear skies and some great sailing. So we powered to Ranguana, picked up a mooring and hung out on the boat as it was still raining hard.

The next day started clearing and we motored and sailed to Laughing Bird Cay. This is a typical cay of mostly sand, palm trees, thatch hut and a “ranger” hut. This was the first of several National Marine Reserves where we needed to pay the ranger for stopping, in this case $5 per person/day. I snorkeled around the southern end of the island while others seemed to have better luck going straight east of the northern end of the island.

From Laughing Bird we sailed out to Queens Cays. This may have been my favorite spot. It has about 6 mooring balls and (despite the caution during the chart briefing) is very well protected by surrounding reefs. The beach (on the southern cay) was very pretty and easy snorkeling right off the beach. Several of us took the dink and snorkeled the north side of the reef immediately south of the anchorage. It was OK, but those who went around to the southern side seemed to see more and bigger fish. We had been cautioned about staying overnight in Queen Cays and Little Water was recommended for overnight. However, the first two of our boats to arrive there were struggling to get an anchor set. That was when I discovered my windlass was going crazy and I did not relish the idea of dropping the anchor, which probably would not set, with a malfunctioning windlass. As we were radioing each other about this, a Moorings captain who was on a ball in Queens Cays very kindly suggested we come back there. Which we did, and really appreciated it. We bought lobster tails from local fishermen and had a wonderful dinner onboard.

Leaving Queen Cays we had no wind so we made a six hour hop under power to Blue Ground Range. We took the dink around the mangrove channels looking for manatees, no luck. One member of our crew is a semi-professional entertainer (not his day job) who brought his guitar so we all went to his boat after dinner for a great sing-along (and killed more than a few Belikin.)

The next day had nice wind so, after clearing Blue Ground into the Inner Channel, we decided to sail around to Southwater Cay. Given the wind direction we sailed nearly up to Garbutt Cay on starboard then tacked to clear Tobacco Range and fetch Tobacco Cay. We stopped at Tobacco Cay for lunch and to stretch our legs on some firm ground. This is an interesting cay with several families living here full time, a couple “hotels”, restaurants and a dive shop. After lunch we sailed on and picked up a ball at Southwater Cay for the evening. This was the third time I had been on Southwater and I have yet to see anyone at the International Zoological Expeditions (although we did see some kayakers hanging out there.) We had drinks and then dinner at the Blue Marlin Lodge. I think it was a stretch for them to handle our group for dinner, but they did a great job. This turned out to be the only dinner ashore during this trip.

The next morning we dinked across the pass to snorkel around Carrie Bow Cay. There is a dink mooring right inside the south side of the pass with good snorkeling around it. After that we powered west to and through the Blue Ground Range (you REALLY must read the water colors for some very narrow passages between Southwater and Blue Ground!) into the Inner Channel and then sailed down to Pelican Cays. This has a tricky entrance where reading the water color keeps one off the sandbars. Then anchoring is in 50 – 60 feet of water. But a pretty spot. We entertained one of the other boats for dinner, then everyone got together to kill more of those pesky Belikins.

Even though our target for the day was south to Wippari Cay, we needed another sailing fix so sailed north on starboard to almost Sittee Point. Then tacked back for Wippari. By the time we arrived the balls were taken and I had a miserable time anchoring – probably 8 tries. We had beer at the small (!) lodge – which pretty much stressed their “infrastructure”. They are set up to handle maybe a handful of people staying there for the fishing. NOT an additional 22 thirsty travelers. One of the other boats invited us for dinner – fun time.

The last morning we started early and leisurely powered back to Placencia. Everyone busy packing, cleaning and spiking their coffee with leftover rum (waste not, want not.) When approaching the Moorings base we called in and they had a crew onboard promptly to do the “Mediterranean mooring” thing. As several of us were staying over another night, after everyone had cleared out for their flights we checked in at Southwater. Then we walked the famous mile-long sidewalk and took in the “Art Fair” along it. Lunch at Da Thatch (had dinner there the first night and HIGHLY recommend it) and then a laid- back dinner at Crow’s Nest.

The three legs of my return flights were changed, delayed and cancelled, respectively. But made it home safely from a wonderful trip.