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Cruising to Guatemala - the Wheeler Family on Mima

by Mark Wheeler on 30 Aug 2008
Hold On, Our First Major Squall In Sapodilla Cays, Belize .. .
We continue the story of the Wheeler Family, Mark and Susan with their children Marshall and Amy in their yacht Mima. They are heading for Guatemala from Belize where they will remain for the next three months. Here they continue their tale of sailing as a family, with distance schooling and a journey rich with life experiences:

We were enjoying ourselves in Sapodilla Cays in Belize so much we decided to stay another day and do some more fishing and snorkeling.

The following day started like any other I guess - that is if you are fortunate enough to find yourself sitting on a sailboat in the middle of paradise. The sunrise brushed the sky with a plethora of oranges and reds beyond description, and as the sun made its daily journey into the sky the water turned from black to blue and then settled on a shade of turquoise only the sun and sea seem capable of creating.

A Surprising Fishing Expedition:

Marshall awoke and his feet had barely touched the floor when he began pleading to call Greg on buddy boat CToy and go fishing again. I informed Marshall that Greg watches more sunsets than sunrises, so after a quick breakfast we headed out for a little fishing on our own. We had experienced good fortune yesterday trolling a couple of lures around the cuts between the reefs and so we rigged up and began to wind our way in and out of the reef.

If you have ever taken kids fishing in the ocean you know what the conversation consisted of. 'Dad what if we catch a Marlin that weighs 200 pounds or one of those giant Tarpon we swam with yesterday?' 'That would be awesome!' I said. Secretly hoping for maybe a 10 pound snapper or grouper but not wanting to dampen Marshall’s enthusiasm.

After trolling for an hour and a half a squall blew in with quite a bit of rain and we decided to head back to Mima to wait out the rain and maybe get Greg to join us for round number two.

As we began to head back I asked Marshall, 'Do you want to troll back or bring in the lines and go fast?'
'Let’s troll back,' he said.
'Good choice.' I commented, 'You never know when you are going to catch a fish.'
We were making our way slowly back to the boat when Marshall’s line was slammed.
'Dad I got one!' hollered Marshall as he began to play the fish. After a few violent runs the fish tired and Marshall landed a nice little two foot long Barracuda.
'Can we show Greg?' Marshall asked as we slowly towed the barracuda behind the dinghy.

Once alongside CToy, Greg rewarded Marshall with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and encouragement. We were chatting and telling fish stories with Greg and Barbara when Marshall suddenly let out a blood-curdling scream heard by all three boats in the anchorage. In my peripheral vision what I thought had been a chunk of coral under the boat began to move and was heading directly for us. I was so alarmed that I literally stepped back, which is hard to do in a dinghy, trying to avoid the vague leviathan approaching. A moment later a mouth appeared out of the water and swallowed the barracuda whole.

Now this created a problem. The barracuda was still attached to Marshall’s line and we now had a Goliath Grouper hooked on very light tackle. If we landed this fish it would be a world record. Marshall was fishing with the equivalent of a medium weight trout rod. Perfect for small reef fish but way under powered to land a giant grouper.

Marshall handed the rod to me and as line screamed off the reel we both stood in shock at what we had just observed and Marshall realized he had been robbed of his fish by none other than a fish larger than himself.

His earlier 'what if' questions seemed to be coming true and for a few brief moments I just held onto the rod and Greg kept saying 'Whoa! Did you see that?'

As the grouper headed back to where he had come from I tried to set the hook but eventually the grouper decided this little barracuda was not worth the trouble and spit the fish out whole. Marshall landed the barracuda for a second time and he was much the worse for wear. Scarred and cut up by the grouper’s teeth we got the barracuda on board and sat in awe of what had just happened.

Like true fishermen everywhere we spent the rest of the day trying to catch that grouper again on stronger tackle, but in the end I guess that grouper did not get as big as he was by falling for the same trick twice.

Off to Guatemala:
The following day found us sailing for Guatemala. Another 8 hours of motor sailing into the wind and we arrived in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala greeted by a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. We spent a day looking around the town and visiting a mall where the kids eagerly hit McDonalds for lunch while we opted for tacos.

We were up and weighing anchor the following morning at 2:30 a.m. to take advantage of a high tide crossing over the bar at the mouth of the Rio Dulce River at sunrise. Mima draws a little over 6 feet and the mean low water level at the bar is 5 feet 6 inches. If you do the math that means we need extra water to make it over safely without hitting bottom or going aground. Add to that equation a rather narrow 'sweet spot' in the channel and you have an exciting bit of navigation before you.


We were at the set up buoy at 6:00 a.m. and with S/V Dream Odyssey and S/V CToy in the lead, both of which draw less than Mima, we began our slow and well planned crossing. For the next 15 minutes we carefully followed GPS waypoints with Greg calling out depths to warn me of any potential shallow spots. I was a nervous wreck, Susan faired pretty well, and Amy and Marshall were still in bed asleep. Sometimes it is good to be the crew and not the captain.

Our crossing was accompanied by the shrimp fleet returning and once we had cleared the shallowest part of the bar Susan quickly got in the dinghy and was negotiating for shrimp before we were ever anchored. Marshall woke up and helped me set the anchor and by 6:30 we had crossed the bar and Susan was now the proud owner of 10 pounds of fresh shrimp.

We checked in with the local authorities and spent a few hours in Livingston, Guatemala before beginning up the Rio Dulce to our new home for the next 3 months.

What a week it had been. Three countries in seven days highlighted by a pristine jungle experience, snorkeling and fishing in a paradise-like setting, Marshall being robbed by a giant grouper, and finally, safely crossing the bar into the famed Rio Dulce.



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