Sunset sail in Belize: Sometimes this really is Paradise

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Sunset over Ambergris Caye, aboard the Lady Leslie catamaran.
Sunset over Ambergris Caye, aboard the Lady Leslie catamaran.

(This item was written recently for a popular magazine that specializes in prying Americans out of their comfy lifestyle and into overseas living adventures.  An awful lot of their copy feels like it has a rose-colored tint to it — and this one will strike you as much the same. However, I can’t help it. This was just a really great night at sea with some exceptionally nice people on a glorious Caribbean night. There are plenty of struggles, living in a tiny Carribean nation and I will continue to address them as they come up. But for the moment, let’s take a break and head to sea. — Bob)

One of the most delightful things to do in San Pedro is climb aboard a catamarant for a sunset sail with a collection of good friends -- and soon-to-be friends.
One of the most delightful things to do in San Pedro is climb aboard a catamaran for a sunset sail with a collection of good friends — and soon-to-be friends.

It is Friday evening, nearly 5 p.m.,  and the Lady Leslie feels as eager to slip its bonds and head to sea as we, its passengers, do.

This is, after all, a sunset cruise, and the ostensible reason for our sail seems to be too rapidly slipping toward the western horizon of Ambergris Caye, the Belize island on which we all live.

There are about a dozen of us on board, all ex-pats who have staked a claim in tropical island living. We gather on the fore section of this 38-foot catamaran, on beanbag chairs and a comfortable webbed trampoline, perfect for stretching out as the blue-green Caribbean slips past beneath us.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum punch, aboard the Lady Leslie for a sunset sail.
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum punch, aboard the Lady Leslie for a sunset sail.

Among us are a family of four from Canada who recently bought a large beach house north of town; an English couple who have lived and worked on the island for at least seven years;  a Midwest couple who bought a vacant lot years ago and are now building their dream home;  and a recently retired couple from Los Angeles who are renting south of San Pedro Town as their fourth-floor condo is being built.

We are all gathered to say goodbye to our mutual friends Chunky and Ruthie who leave in a couple of days for their other home in Minnesota. Chunky and Ruthie got in on the “ground floor” of the ex-pat migration to Belize 15 years ago when they bought a one-bedroom condo right on the beach.

Silly at sea -- why not be?
Silly at sea — why not be?

For years they came to visit on vacation and rented their unit out the rest of the year. When it came time to retire, they decided to live the six fall/winter months on Ambergris Caye and the six spring/summer months in St. Paul — some say the best six months of each.

Their departure also marks the end of High Season on the island, as weather in the States and Canada improve. Visitors now are mostly fishermen, honeymooners, bargain-hunters and barrier reef diving aficionados.

The beachside bars and restaurants are less crowded, the traffic is calmer and the pace of life once again falls back into the gentle island tempos. Ironically, the weather is probably the most spectacular you will experience all year. Blue sun-drenched skies and temperatures in the high-80’s are tempered by a near constant breeze from the north/northwest that blows night and day.

After sunset, racing other catamarans back north toward the rising moon, off San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.
After sunset, racing other catamarans back north toward the rising moon, off San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

It is on this breeze that we chart our course south, running close up on the barrier reef and parallel to it, chasing the setting sun on the horizon. As we reminisce over the past six months, Ricky and Jody, our crew, keeps us well supplies with rum punch, Belikin beer and sodas. Periodically trays of chips and ceviche, sushi, coconut pies and more appear and follow the conversation around the boat.

The weather is pitch perfect and the sunset has just enough clouds around it to provide a dramatic and colorful exit.

On the return leg north we enter a friendly “race” with two other catamarans from the island. They are out on the same adventure.  Frigate birds soar and hover above us in the slipstream of our canvas sails.

Flat on my back, under full sail, watching the frigate birds drifting in and out of the mainsail draft.
Flat on my back, under full sail, watching the frigate birds drifting in and out of the mainsail draft.

Ah, but the night is hardly over. This is also the debut night of the full moon and that amber orb is just making its appearance over the barrier reef to the east as San Pedro’s twinkling lights loom to the west. It will be another hour of oohs and ahs as we tack gently into the cool breeze.

Sunset cruises are special-occasion events here. Perhaps once every month or two. Ex-pats are more likely to gather at a local beach bar for a night of cribbage, trivia contests or darts. The healthier conscious among us might kayak out to the reef, standup paddle, snorkel, join a yoga or Pilates class. Every morning I watch many of the same ex-pats take their daily walk up and down the beach of this 24-mile long island.

Bicycling home in the dark from the Lady Leslie cruise I wend my way through the parade of locals and ex-pats out for a cool evening beach stroll. After more than a year here on the island, I recognize so many of them.

We wave, we smile and nod and I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I am able to live out my retirement years on Ambergris Caye.

Chunky and Ruthie at a farewell lunch at the over-the-water Bistro Di 'Vu in San Pedro, Belize.
Chunky and Ruthie at a farewell lunch at the over-the-water Bistro Di ‘Vu in San Pedro, Belize.
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