My Blue Heaven: Bareboat Sailing in Belize

Bareboat Sailing: The only way to island-hop  (Corbis)

In the 17th century, pirates scoured Belize's vast network of small coastal cayes (pronounced 'keys') for that ever-elusive Spanish galleon gold. Today, the country's nearly 200-mile-long, reef-sheltered coastline offers a different kind of bounty: clear, calm waters, steady winds, and an endless maze of cayes, coves, and atolls, conditions that make Belize the most alluring sailing destination in Central America. Its popularity is further enhanced by the coastline's prized asset: the Belize Reef, the longest coral reef system in the Western hemisphere, which attracts legions of scuba and snorkeling enthusiasts.
Until recently, access to the coral reefs was limited to large-scale live-aboard or single-day excursions. However, a slew of bareboat catamaran rental agencies have recently cropped up on the tiny island of Ambergris Caye, offering a stylish alternative to the powerboats cluttering the reef's more popular dive sites. Bareboating—chartering a sailboat sans crew—invites freedom you won't find when dealing with a mainstream scuba outfitter. Think there's too many people at the reef's world-renowned, 1,000-foot-wide Blue Hole? Simply hoist anchor and glide over to Cathedral Reef and Eagle Ray Wall. Alternatively, leave the Lighthouse Reef region behind altogether and sail to Turneffe Atoll to explore the wreck of the Sayonara, or make for Shark Point at Glover's Reef, where you could run into a behemoth Whale Shark depending on the time of year. Non-divers will also enjoy the freedom bareboat sailing offers. Laughing Bird Caye—a national park resplendent with swaying palm trees—makes for a good first stop. Nary a soul resides on Goff's Caye, and St. George's Caye, the first English settlement in Belize, is almost strictly residential and, like most small cayes, sees very little tourist traffic. Turneffe Atoll has some of the world's best bone fishing, while the mainland hosts some of the most diverse jungle wildlife on the planet if you're in need of just a little landlubberly distraction.
The basic bareboat charter is a one- or two-hulled catamaran, stretching anywhere from 35 to 50 feet, sleeping 6 to 12 people. The boats are very easy to operate—only one crew member needs sailing experience. The less seaworthy can also hire a local ship's captain, who'll take you to spots so remote they haven't been named. Snorkeling enthusiasts will find plenty to keep them wide-eyed simply by diving off the ship's deck. Some boats are even outfitted with dive compressors, freeing you to follow the wind, drop anchor, and then plunge in whenever—and wherever—the impulse strikes you.

Published: 12 Sep 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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