Old Sailing ShipThe year was 1992, and I was heading south from Canada and into the US. After stopping in Los Angeles for a week or so, I managed to pick up some work at the ‘Banana Bungalow’ youth hostel. I had a great time working there, but my feet were getting itchy again, and it was time to move on.

Whilst finishing my last day of cleaning bathrooms and sweeping floors, I was pondering my next move. I knew I was heading south, but I had no idea on where I was going. That afternoon I was kicking back in the hostels foyer, chilling out and having a few drinks with some fellow hostel workers, discussing our future travel plans. I glanced up at the large world map on the wall, and scanned my eyes in a southerly direction from LA, and over the countries of Central America, until I became fixated on the small country named Belize.

In my early years of travel, my geography wasn’t the best. To be quiet honest, I’d never heard of the place, but it was time for me to move on, so I jumped up and said, “ I’m going to Belize, who’s coming with me?”

I managed to get a few people signed up for my adventure, and the deal was done. Tomorrow we would begin our overland trip through Central America, with our main goal of reaching the tiny nation of Belize. After a couple of weeks of overland travel through Mexico and Guatemala, we arrived in Belize City. For those that have been there, you’d know that it’s certainly a place you need to keep your wits about you, especially when walking the streets at night, but from day one I loved the place.

I’m not sure why they call it Belize City, as it’s more of a town, with a mere population of somewhere around 70,000. I suppose Belize Town just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Maybe It was a bit of forethought by the founders, as in a few centuries it will eventually become a city. Whilst making our way overland to Belize, we spoke with other travellers that were heading in the opposite direction, and they all mentioned that Caye Caulker was a must visit, and was a great place to chill out and relax. Caye Caulker was only a short 45 minute water taxi ride from Belize City, so we loaded our backpacks and off we went, for a week of relaxation, on this tiny limestone coral island.

Caye Caulker was exactly as I pictured it, a real travellers hang out, with cheap food and hammocks galore to spend the days lazing around. To give you some perspective of what the place was like back then, there were no credit card facilities and cash was king, without it you would go hungry. To make matters worse, there was only one place where you could get cash on the island, and this was a small outlet, that was basically opened by appointment only. Whilst there we also organised a snorkeling trip out to Belize’s famed reef, and it was on this day that we met our infamous captain. He quoted us a very reasonable price for the days snorkeling, that also included a trip over to Caye Caulkers bigger brother, Ambergris Caye.

As it so happened, our day trip was arranged for September 21st, this being the 10th anniversary of Belize Independence. We arranged to meet early in the morning so we could get some snorkeling done before it got to hot, and then spend the middle of the day at San Pedro to soak up the atmosphere, and grab a bite to eat, before heading back to Caye Caulker in the late afternoon. Once in town, our captain advised us to go and join in the fun, and to meet him back at the pier no later than 4.30pm.

This would give us enough time to sail back to Caye Caulker, as doing so in the dark would be dangerous due to the reef, and our boat with it’s tiny engine was a little slow to say the least.

Snorkelling Belize’s famed ‘Barrier Reef‘ was great, but the real adventure of this day was about to begin. The town of San Pedro was a buzz with activities, and we would spend the remainder of the day soaking up the Independence Day atmosphere, and gorged our selves on a large seafood lunch before heading back to the jetty to meet our captain. We were back at the jetty right on time, but there was no sign of our illustrious Captain. We waited and waited, but to no avail, what were we to do now? The time was now a little after 5.00pm, and a couple of the girls on our trip were beginning to worry, as the weather was also beginning to look a little worse for wear. It was still a beautiful sunny day, but the wind was starting to pick up.

A couple of us went looking for him, whilst the others stayed at the jetty with the boat. We hunted high and low, and were about to give up and head back, when we chanced upon him staggering down one of San Pedro’s small alleyways. It seemed our captain had also been enjoying the festivities a little to much, and to put it mildly he was completely smashed, I mean legless!

What were we going to do now, none of us were experienced enough to sail back to Caye Caulker, but the captain kept telling us with slurred speech and eye’s rolling back in his head, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get us back safely’.

Belize - Tim and I, with our drunken captain

Tim and I with our drunken captain. We though it was quite funny, but some others on the day trip didn't think so. Oh yeah, Im the big fella on the LEFT with the bulging muscles.

We walked the captain back to the boat, as a couple of the girls were becoming a little unhinged, and people were beginning to argue on what we should do. To make matters worse, Tim and I were laughing and taking photo’s with our drunken captain. The way I saw it, we only had two options, try and find some accommodation and stay the night, or roll the dice and try and get back by ourselves.

After some quick deliberation, we chose the latter, and quickly swung into action, force feeding the captain a litre or so of water, and put him behind the wheel. We unhooked the ropes and pushed off the jetty. Whilst casting off, there was a group of onlookers, some laughing while others had a slight look of concern on their faces. The whole time our captain was adamant, he would get us back safely. We had to try and make him believe he was still in control of the boat, when In reality it was us who were steering the vessel, with the odd direction uttered by the captain.

I’m sure he’d sailed this route many times, and even in his state, he still seemed to know where to go.

It was hilarious, there we were bobbing up and down with the swell, with the captain barely with enough strength to stand and hold the wheel, with the sun slowly making it’s way beyond the horizon. He was singing Kriol songs, and as a team we safely guided our selves back to Caye Caulker, arriving a little after dark. To be quite honest, after a few minutes we were pretty confident of making it back safely, and the hardest part of the journey was docking the boat at Caye Caulkers jetty, in the dark. Once back on dry land, we left our captain with some of his friends, and headed back to our guest house, laughing at what had just taken place. To this day, the captains name still eludes me as it was almost twenty years ago, and I hope he is still in good health. He was quite a character, and looking at the photo above, I always get a great laugh, thinking about the day we were left with the decision of ‘What shall we do with a drunken sailor?’

I wrote this post for ‘Laurie’, over at TacoGirl.com , after we got chatting on twitter about Belize. If you’re heading there, her site is a wealth on information and worth a look.