We had not been anchored for very long when we received a visit from a couple in a little dink. Chris and Shannon were from the opposite end of Canada in the province of Newfoundland and when they saw our big maple leaf fluttering off our stern they just had to come over and welcome us to their adopted home. They had purchased a bit of land with a dock on the island that forms the harbours eastern edge, with the intent on building. At the present they lived aboard there 38’ Bayliner secured to their dock. I explained to Chris my engine issues so he offered to return in the morning with some tools and to lend a hand if required. We had a peaceful night at anchor and I was up early as I was eager to get the engine fixed and to find a marina in which I could leave the boat for up to 6 months.
We took the dink on a tour of the harbour then headed over to Chris and Shannon’s Island to borrow some tools. I must say that at first glace I was impressed with the waterfront community and was looking forward to getting to know the town and meet some of its people.
Back aboard Maiatla I set about finishing tearing down the raw water pump and rebuilding it. Two hours later when the engine roared to life, we rejoiced then made plans to head to town. When we left Guatemala, we had planned to hit several marinas all along the coast of Belize and with the intent of sailing all the way up to Belize city where there seemed to b a suitable marina for leaving the boat. But with the steering still acting up and leaking fluid which in turn played havoc with the electronic autopilot, and with only two weeks left before flying home, I decided that if I could find a suitable place here, Placentia would be as far as we would go.
The town of Placentia from the air. Main dock is the long pier at bottom of pic. Lagoon upper left.
A short cab ride out of town we visited Thunderbird Marina which was run by an American expat from California by the name of Doug. The Marina is several miles up in the lagoon and then inside a channel cut deep into the mangrove swamp. It was about as protected as you can get in these parts. Not a big marina, but it had a well stocked chandlery with a large mechanical shop. A perfect place to leave Maiatla and perhaps get some engine work done on my 15 horse merc, which was still acting up.
Placentia lagoon. main portion of town is to the right of pic.
Placentia lagoon is massive with several mangrove cays dotting its perimeter and center, but it was shallow with an average depth of 7 feet. With Maiatla’s 6-foot draft that could be a problem but Doug assured me that if we stuck to the channels, we could get in. Oh, but I wished it would be that easy. So, it was decided.
In the morning, we up anchored to make our way to the deepwater entrance to the lagoon. By all accounts it should have been an easy motor into and across the lagoon, but we would not have such luck. Jackie did the driving while I nervously watched the depth sounder bounce between 9 and 6 feet as we skirted around hidden sand bars and tiny patches of mangrove trees. As anyone who has ever been to sea knows, that if something is going to go wrong, it will at the worst possible moment, and today would be no exception.
We had scarcely travelled a mile into the lagoon when I noticed a trickle of black smoke wafting up through the steering column. My first thought was that there was a fire in the engine room so in an instant I had opened the engine room doors and was instantly engulfed in a cloud of dense black smoke. It took a few moments for the smoke to thin out for me to see the engine. To my relief, the engine was not on fire but there was a nice thumb size hole in the exhaust pipe where it attaches to the engine. Shit!
Not a show stopper but definitely annoying. We still had a few miles to go to the marina so I just decide shut the doors and carry on. Back on deck I resumed giving Jackie directions as we wove our way through the maze of bars and trees. Remember that thing about things happening at the worst possible moment, well this was this time.
Our route from the anchorage to the marina.
Just as we reached the center of a narrow and particularly shallow channel, there was a loud bang followed by the ear deafening engine roar, then seconds later the boat and cockpit was full of eye burning diesel smoke. Back in the engine room I realized that I did not have to worry about the tiny hole in the exhaust any longer, because it was no longer there, and neither was my exhaust riser. The entire pipe had sheared off allowing raw exhaust to billow into the boat.
Instantly I killed the engine and ran back topside to fill in a confused Jackie, but before I could even begin to explain, Jackie pointed over the side while saying “Andy I can see the bottom”. Well in all the excitement we had missed our tern and had run solidly around. And without an engine we were stuck. I quick check of the sounder indicated that we were in less than 4 feet of water. Thankfully it was a soft mud bottom.
A cruiser in a little dink with a 5-horse outboard came along, took pity of us and offered to try and tow us off the bank, but his little dink was no match for Maiatla’s tonnage, I even tried hoisting the sail in an effort to try and “sail” off but to no affect, in fact I think we actually drove the boat another few dozen feet further onto the bank. I made a phone call to Doug who said he would try and arrange a tow; we would just have to sit tight and he would get back to us.
Our dock at Thunderbird Marina.
After about an hour of fruitless effort, I manage to flag down a passing panga fisherman who was gracious enough to pull us off the bank and tow us the remaining way to the Marina. When I ask the fellow how much do I own him for the tow, after a ponderous thought, he finally said $100 USD. A gift at twice the price. Secured to a safe dock, I began to prepare Maiatla for leaving her here. After making a carful list of required boat parts and dismantling the helm pump and packing it up to take home for repairs, we were finally free to relax and enjoy the sights.
Safe at the dock at Thunderbird.