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An Unfortunate Reef Encounter   

Sailboat Choupique hits a reef in Belize.  This is Bob's sad tale of what happened afterward.

Bob Smith, SV Defianceby Bob Smith, s/v Defiance

 

On June 16, 2005 at 3:30am, the sailing trimaran CHOUPIQUE struck the reef just South of Xcalak, Mexico, just inside the Belizean border.

The following is a reprint of a letter sent to the American Consulate in Merida, Mexico detailing the events before and after the incident.

 

Ms. Maureen Smith
American Consulate Office
Merida, Mexico

Dear Ms. Smith: 

Thanks again for your prompt reply, but there seems to be a misunderstanding concerning the logistics of the rescue. I have always kept a daily log on my boat and I would like to share this information with you, directly as it was entered on a daily basis:

Thurs, 16 June ’05 

  • 3:30 AM:  The sailing trimaran CHOUPIQUE struck the reef just south of Xcalak, Mexico, just inside Belize border.
  • 3:40 AM:  Called for assistance to anyone within the sound of my voice (at this point I knew I was near the border but not sure of my exact position).
  • 3:45 AM:  Xcalak Captain of the Port answered and informed me that help was on the way.
  • 4:30 AM:  Two pangas (boats) appeared, one with a Mexican Park Ranger and the Port Captain on board and one Mexican Navy boat with approx. 6 sailors aboard.
  • 5:30 AM:  Park Ranger attempted to pull the boat off, un-successful.
  • 6:30 AM:  Navy panga was in process of taking me off the reef.
  • 7:00 AM:  Both Mexican boats were told by a Belize Park ranger to leave Belizean waters and that a larger Belizean boat was on it’s way to the scene.  No boat of any kind showed up that day.

Fri, 17 June ‘05

  • No help came.
  • VHF radio failed (submerged batteries).
  • Belizean Park Rangers came out to inspect damage to coral.
  • Found minimal damage to reef (mostly fire coral).
  • Also found minimal damage to the boat.
  • I also made an underwater assessment along with the park divers and found only one hole, a cut about 8 inches long that could easily be repaired while boat was in the water, but boat had to be removed from reef first and quickly.

Sat, 18 June ‘05

  • No help came today.
  • I salvaged one of my boat batteries and re-activated my VHF radio.
  • Damage to boat getting steadily worse from the constant pounding of the surf.
  • Radioed my son-in-law in San Pedro and asked him to try to locate the proper officials and request help, he was un-successful in doing so.

Sun 19-June ‘05

  • Still no help arrived.

Mon, 20 June ‘05

  • Damage to boat getting progressively worse.
  • Began calling on VHF for anybody within sound of my voice.
  • Xcalak Captain of Port answered and informed me again that he was told to stay out of Belizean waters and that he could do nothing.
  • I received several calls from Cliff Evans (Xcalak) who had been on the radio continuously trying to get me some help. As well as Steve from XTC dive shop (Xcalak).
  • Son-in-law and daughter from Tulsa and two friends also from Tulsa finally hired a fisherman to bring them to the site, we worked all after noon trying to shift the boat away from the direct pounding of the surf using my (3) anchors, helped a little.
  • They left around  5:00 PM.
  • At approximately 9:00 PM a large hole appeared in starboard side of main hull (result of 5 days of constant racking and pounding from the surf).
  • It was obviously time for me to leave!! The weather was worsening.
  • In the process of launching my dingy I lost my fuel tank overboard and it was blown into the darkness and out of sight, so I began rowing. I estimate the time to be about 10PM when I started rowing. I headed for the Mexican Navy base, the nearest land other than mangroves.
  • I arrived at Navy base at daybreak (6:AM approx.). The Navy Commandant graciously put me in a Navy vehicle and took me to the Port Captains office.
  • I finally locate a private boat captain that agrees to take me out to get my personal belongings.
  • We arrived at the boat at 3:00PM to find that the boat had been completely ransacked. There was nothing left but the bare mast and the diesel and clothing etc. scattered around. I estimate that from first light until I got back to the boat, approx 8-9 hours had elapsed, the time the Belizeans had to strip the boat.

Sailing vessel CHOUPIQUE.Note: around 21 June, the Belize Diplomatic Office in Washington DC issued a bulletin that said the Belizeans had in fact rescued me and my boat from the reef on June 20!

EVER TRIED TO COLLECT INSURANCE ON A SUNKEN BOAT THAT HAS BEEN OFFICIALLY AND SUCCESSFULLY RESCUED BY THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND VERIFIED BY YOUR OWN AMERICAN CONSULATE??????

A couple days later a Belizean (with several of his buddies) came to see me and offered to sell my Passport (taken from my boat) back to me for 750 pesos.  I had no choice but to make the purchase.  A few days later when I was arranging to head south by bus the Mexican Port Captain came to inform me "not to cross the Belize border," The Belizeans had issued an order to confiscate my passport and hold me under arrest and fine me $6000 USD for damage to the reef.

Bob is currently re-fitting his new boat "Defiance" a 31' Friendship Sloop in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala.  He stays away from Belize.




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