Monday, March 31, 2014

Bonacca, Guanaja, Honduras

CzechNMate's dinghy approaches Bonacca
Guanaja and its main settlement  Bonacca is in the east of the Bay Islands and the first place to check in if arriving from the east or south. It was discovered (by Europeans) by Christopher Columbus in 1502 on the fourth and last voyage to the New World. He was met by Paya Indians in giant canoes each holding 25 people. It was covered with dense forests of pine that quite recently were devastated by Hurricane Mitch. There are still many of these stately trees and the island is really beautiful. It is very lightly developed with small guest houses and tiny resorts.
Eight thousand of the ten thousand inhabitants live on the tiny island of Bonacca or The Settlement just off the mainland. The original cay is almost invisible now as homes built over the water stretch out on every side. We anchored in The Bight, a very protected harbor about a mile from the town and an easy dinghy ride away. 
Between Utila and Guanaja we stopped for a week in French Cay Harbor on Roatan but I'll cover that area in another post. During our week at The Bight we enjoyed visits to the town, dinner at the Manatee Restaurant and Hans' Place and a wonderful day trip over to the north side of the island which I'll cover in a separate post. Each day we hiked up into the hills with our two buddy boats; Jerry and Deborah on CzechN Mate and Dave and Ellen on Cordelia. Dave is an excellent musician and played Saturday night over at the Manatee. He wrote a song (on his CD) called Bonacca Town and the locals loved it. Hans' Place is the place to be on Mondays when they make pizzas in the wood fired oven outside.
The easiest place to leave your trash in 11 years cruising
A drive by trash boat - just throw it in.
Looking over to the mainland side of the town
Piles of tiny boats are piled up on the top of the "mother
ship". Fishermen going for conch or lobster spend the day
diving for both and then their nights on the main ship,
sometimes for weeks offshore
Shrimp Boats wait for the start of the season
Canals criss cross the town
Some are quite attractive but others, with little
circulation not so much
This one was particularly lovely
Kids are everywhere in this town and seem to have
free reign - everyone knows everyone for sure!
There are no roads or cars but "sidewalks" of various kinds
This is the "main road" 
One of the side "streets"
We had lunch at the Mango Cafe and it was delicious
BBQ chicken, stew beans, coconut rice, sauteed vegetables
and fried plantains - all for $5
Mutton Peppers are a specialty of this area
and on every table, whole or in a hot sauce
Some of the homes are built on the foundation of the
original cay and have lovely gardens, but not many.
One of our walk took us up the well paved roads of a
want-to-be development that like so many we've seen in
the Caribbean, fizzled out. Only 2 homes were built and
only 1 occupied.
The caretaker's family at that one home
View of the anchorage at The Bight 
Jerry and Scott follow me up the trail
The landmark hotel on Dunbar Rock
Some of our walks took us along the endless beaches
That's Dave on the right and the manager Klause of the
 Manatee Restaurant accompanying him on the left
His wife Annette is so vivacious and welcoming
Scott took this amazing shot of one of the many hummingbird's
feeding near us.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Walk Around Utila, Honduras

We had been checking the weather carefully for several days and tentatively decided to go overnight to Utila, Honduras on 2/28. We talked to our weather guru Chris Parker on the Single Side Band Radio at 7am and got a better than expected forecast. We could expect light winds, unfortunately mostly in front of us, but waves only 2 -4 feet. So we motored out to the reef near Ranguana, about 3 hours, and in good light found the cut in the reef just south of the island. After going through it, we backtracked and anchored in the cut. It was a little bouncy but fine. We didn't want to leave until 6 pm when it was almost dark (we expected the trip to take from 13 to 17 hours and didn't want to get into Utila until we had good light as it is a tricky entrance through the reefs there). It was an easy evening although the waves and wind were against us the whole way so we still had a bit of bashing.
We checked into the NW Cruiser NET on the SSB at 8am so when we got to the entrance to the harbor at Utila, Czech N Mate called us and gave us some good advice on the navigation. Actually we could see the deep channel between the reefs quite clearly once there. We were anchored by 10:30 am. After checking in with Customs/Immigration and the Port Captain we spent most of the day just resting up.
Munchie's Cafe is a favorite breakfast hang out on their
breezy front porch.
The enormous number of wires strung in a
haphazard fashion force some strange
pruning on the trees.

The local elementary school during a boisterous lunch session

The variety and well kept cottages and gardens are a delight
for the eye

This huge private motor yacht anchored in the harbor
along with the cruisers. In the background is the
Honduran mountain range on the mainland over 40 miles
away (and the mountains are even further)

Walking along the shore west we came to some lovely
public beaches

Where the sunbather can have a long private stretch of beach

After a few hours of walking we needed some sustenance.
Here, the nachos from El Picante.

That's John the owner and now a friend.

Walking east from the town we enjoyed the charming
private homes and small Inns

Most have a Victorian cottage look about them

And most are quite small and have a front porch where we
often saw the residents sitting and watching the foot traffic

Most of the food was local but occasionally the chefs
branched out.

Debby and Jerry from Czech N Mate, our cruising friends
from Tortugal Marina and Oklahoma.

And new friends Cindy and Scott on Amazing Grace. They
headed up to Cuba from Utila while we and Czech N Mate
went on to Roatan.

On the next day we explored the town, walking up to the east. We became friends with Judy and Chris. She runs a lovely gift shop and he runs a cafe/theater. We had lunch with Czech N Mate and their friends Amazing Grace at the Bucchaneer and met the owners Melly and Patrick. Previews of that night's Academy Awards were on and I expressed regret that we couldn't see it because we were worried about leaving our boats for the evening (our guide book calls this harbor Burglery Bay). Patrick picked up the phone and called the Mayor and arranged for a patrol boat to keep an eye on the harbor! So we all came in for dinner and managed to stay awake till about 9:30 pm (Cruiser midnight). On Monday we took a long walk down to the end of road going west. A lagoon entrance there prevents going further by foot - most traffic on the island is by boat. There are few roads. For lunch we went to El Piquante and met owner John. We were the only ones there to start and he sat down with us. What an interesting life he has led, born in the Congo, immigrated with his parents to California and 8 years ago he married an Honduran and they moved here. That after noon we had some great snorkeling out on the main reef, right on the edge of the drop off. Our good friend Barbara who we stayed with in Florida in January arranged for us to contact her friends Maria and Roger who live down on the western end of the island. They picked us up on our boat and took us out to lunch on Tuesday. We really enjoyed their company and will spend more time with them on another visit. Due to weather constraints we decided to move on to French Harbor, Roatan the next day with Jerry and Debby. More to come...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tobacco Cay, Belize

Jim takes photos of our boat as we do the same to Emerald
Seas. We're on our way from Blue Ground Range to Tobacco.

Tobacco Cay
We joined Jim and Renate on Emerald Seas for a week out to the barrier islands of Tobacco and Tobacco Range during a good weather window. Tobacco is a tiny island, only 3 acres, but packed with equally small "resorts" and around 20 residents. Tobacco Cay Lodge is the largest of the 4 places and consists of 4 cottages contained 2 rooms each (see photos below). A wooden relief carving of a fish identifies each room. They have a minuscule "store" and a small bar.
We were greeted by honorary dockmaster George who gave us a tour. One of my favorite areas is shown below with the memorial to Grace Lane. The beautiful "road" through their compound was lined with conch shells and lovingly kept up by her family.
We anchored in sandy patches right off the reef north of the island. Our anchors bit right in, happily as the winds blew hard at night. Even though the waves broke on the reef, it was bumpy enough so we decided to move over to nearby Tobacco Range Cays next. This has a very well protected anchorage tucked in between small mangrove islands. The entrance was difficult and we scraped our bottom across the sand going in, but realized once there that we had gone too far to the left. We had no problem on the way out.
The snorkeling was great everywhere. The coral reefs are lovely and what we normally do, but here we snorkeled the mangrove roots for the first time and saw lots of fish, many juveniles of types we see out on the reefs. We saw manatees also and Jim managed to swim with them!
We were joined by Free Will, a boat that Jim and Renate had cruised with in Cuba. They had us all over for tea one afternoon and we had everyone back to our boat for the next evening. We left them there finally to head back to Placencia, as we had a date with Dan and Barbara, old friends of Russ Wolf. Scott and I are planning to sail overnight to Honduras in a few days. More on that to come.
Scott made bread and I did a big salad with
ham, feta, green beans and lots more.

The picnic tables at the Tobacco Cay Lodge Bar

A memorial to Grace Lane who built the
lovely shell "lane" along the east side of the

What a beautiful street in Paradise.

I think these cottages belong to the Tobacco Cay lodge but
there are 4 or 5 little "resorts" on this tiny island

One of the cottages with 2 rooms

Looking along the south side of the cay

These elevated walkways used to belong
to a now defunct "resort" here. Only one of
them was (barely) usable still.

Another view of the east side of the cay facing the reef.
This abondoned hut now is home to an Osprey family
The Eagle rays were very easy to spot in the shallow water
That's Scott Free in the distance off the shore
"Dockmaster" George welcomes new arrivals and takes
you for a tour around the island.
Local kids dive and swim off the docks.