Monday, April 27, 2015

Hot Days on the Rio Dulce

Heather and Scott (with drum)
I'm not kidding about the heat. It's 104 today and it's not dry heat. It will be a relief when the thunderstorms and rain come on Tuesday night. There are 2 good mitigating factors for us; the first is our excellent air conditioning on the boat - 2 zones, and the second is a fairly constant breeze which makes the restaurant at the marina comfortable almost all the time.
Carlos, Ellen and Thomas
But the real reason we're happy here is the great company of other cruisers. And we've made some wonderful friends here at Tortugal Marina. Last night we enjoyed a pot luck supper up at the temporary home of Jo and Steve Stucko of . Jo's been revamping the menu here for owner Daphne and Steve is working on their boat. The food was terrific and Dave from Cordelia entertained us with his own compositions and lots of other great blues songs.
We're getting a new boat cover made to protect the boat while we are away. The boat is being cleaned, top and sides, right now (a 2 day job). Tomorrow Scott has help working up the mast and re caulking windows. He has finished cleaning  both water tanks out and installing the new water pump. I'm in the process of washing the inside of the boat. That means taking everything out of all the cupboards and cleaning the inside of them as well as all the outside surfaces with vinegar and water (to prevent mildew). Then of course, the heads and refrigerator need to be clean. We've taken down the sails and stored them already. So, in short, we're pretty busy.
We should be finished by next Monday and if so, we'll go up to Antigua and enjoy that cool beautiful city until flying back to the U.S. May 11th.
Four beauties; Jo, Lizzie, Uli and Judy

Luis starts the buffet line

Judy, Andrew and Dave (Kathy's feet)

Judy from Lapis enjoying the music

Thomas and Uli

Judy and Woodie said goodbye for the season that night

Our hosts, Jo & Steve. Jo's playing the bowl

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Belize to Guatemala and up the Rio

Our new friends Nadia, Richard and Selma on "Callisto"
After our exhausting 24 hours at sea we anchored at Blue Ground Range and ate a huge breakfast. Our neighbors called on the VHF to chat and introduce themselves. Richard and Selma and their daughter Nadia became our new cruising friends. They were concerned about the weather that night and we all decided to continue on to Sapadilla Lagoon - a favorite hideout for rough weather. We certainly wanted a quiet evening. And we got it! That is after a tea with deserts over at their boat. Richard built this steel boat Callisto himself in Vancouver and they sailed it down the Pacific Coast and through the Canal.
Next day we sailed down to Placencia. Our good friends Linda and Mike Odom on "Casa del Mar" needed to leave the next morning to head north to the States and we wanted to celebrate my birthday with them. Dave, Ellen and Ellen's daughter Kerri from Cordelia joined us at MoJo's Restaurant in Placencia. It was a marvelous evening - great company and food. This was April 13th. April 14th was our 36th wedding anniversary and we spent it with Dan and Barb Hankey at Rick's Cafe also in Placencia. Dave went to high school with Russ and his sister Judy and lives half the year here and half in Newton, MA.
April 15th was Sean's birthday and we talked to him on the phone while he was enjoying a birthday dinner in Boston with friends. He and I are celebrating our 100th birthday (I'm 70 and Sean is 30) by going to Martha's Vineyard together June 5 -7th.
We love Placencia and enjoyed lots of walks, great food and drink, ice cream at Tutti Fruitti and swimming in the bay with Russ until Friday the 17th. On that day we sailed down to Tres Puntas in company with Callisto and Cordelia, anchored for the night (a lovely quiet one), a had a 3 person party to celebrate my birthday for the last time.
It was an easy crossing the next morning at 7 am with only a few bumps on the bottom to slow us down a bit. The officials came out right on time and we spent the morning walking around Livingston and eating lunch with Dave and Ellen. There was a brief scary moment not long after we pulled up the anchor when our engine overheated. The fresh water level was way down. We anchored and waited till the engine cooled down and then filled it up and continued slowly. There's a leak in our water pump and Scott has ordered a new one from the States.
We stayed one night anchored off Burnt Cay Marina in Texan Bay, about 1 and 1/2 hours up from Livingston. The river widens up into a big lake, Golfite, which extends 10 miles before narrowing down again to a river. In another few miles you cross under the 80' high bridge at Fronteras before reaching Tortugal Marina on the right. Just past us the river passes by the San Felipe fort and then widens again into another even larger lake. If the security was better you could cruise this area for many weeks but there has been a lot of thefts away from the marinas.
Russ had 2 nights here before taking the bus up to Guatemala City. He stayed in the Grand Tikal Futura hotel for one night and then flew back to the U.S. the next day. Scott and I will be here for a couple more weeks getting the boat ready for the summer. We're having a new cover made for the boat, cleaning out the water tanks, cleaning the whole boat outside and inside, and lot of other things. We hope to have a number of days relaxing in Antigua before leaving Guatemala. It is VERY hot right now, 102 degrees, so a challenge to keep working. Happily we have air conditioning in the boat while tied up to the marina and it cools down at night (to 85).
Russ, Dave, Ellen, Linda, Mike, me, Scott and Kerri

Barb and Dan at our Anniversary Dinner - Rick's Cafe

My actual birthday party anchored at Tres Puntas, Guatemala

Two of my gifts Belize coffee cups

Russ and some of the officials checking in at Livingston

Nadia's shot of Russ while visiting the water lilies

Beautiful Texan Bay where we spent our first night in the river

Scott Free at anchor

And the other boats there

Exploring the mangrove creeks all around

With lots of water lilies

And here and there a house over the water

This one bordered both the creek and the lake

One of the entrances onto the lake with mountains behind

Friday, April 24, 2015

Roatan to Belize with no Pirates

Scott, Jim and Renate stroll on the north side beach

And cool off in a convenient little "swimming hole"
But first let me relate some exciting moments in our trip this year that haven't been covered so far in my blog posts. They are in the category of our midnight reanchoring in the Cayos Cochinos. First, and the scariest, happened our first night in the West End, Roatan after arriving from Utila and before Julie & Peter joined us. A fierce squall hit us in the evening with gusts up to 30+ knots. The boat sails around normally but with these winds we were really being whipped sideways. At 9 pm while we were sitting in the salon we heard a loud crack, almost like a gunshot. I knew what it was immediately - the mooring line had parted. Now we were among 15 boats on moorings inter spaced in the area between the beach and the reef. Behind us, about 100 feet, was Emerald Seas and behind them about 200 feet was the reef. I ran up to the wheel and Scott started the motor. We were drifting back sideways towards Emerald Seas. I called them on the VHF to let them know the situation. I then managed to turn the boat and motor forward towards the beach. Scott ran up to the bow. It was essential that we not catch the floating mooring lines in our prop and frankly we were just lucky we didn't do it! Once ahead of the former mooring we tried to anchor. The first time it didn't work but it caught the second time. This was all in the pitch black with the wind howling. Meanwhile Jim had launched his dinghy and motored in front of us in his bathing suit and a dive light. He dove in and checked out our anchor and pronounced us safely dug in. It allowed us to sleep soundly that night! Thank you Jim!
The next day we let out some more chain and managed to connect directly to the sand screw on the bottom that had held the mooring. Something we should have done the day before! We cut off the broken mooring  line and discarded it. But we kept our anchor down as well! The news was disseminated (by VHF radio, directly and on the SSB Net) to all the other boats and everyone either/and put down safety lines to the bottom or an anchor. Jim put down 2 anchors as well as being connected to the mooring! Now sadly weeks later a French boat that hadn't heard the news (they didn't speak any English) was on one of the moorings in a squall and later in the night their mooring broke and they didn't wake. The huge catamarin went up on the reef and despite the efforts of 3 cruiser dinghies to help them, was holed and sank!
The water dropped off immediately to 4 ft.

This is a Sea Hare on Jim's hand - cool eh?

The beach stretched on for a long time

Another entrance to the beaches along the canal

The view of Emerald Seas behind us at Port Royal

The second rough night happened a few weeks later in Jonesville Bight while anchored with Emerald Seas, Expectations and Eiland. Again a fierce squall hit us around 11pm (the same one that wrecked the catamarin in the West End). I woke up and was keeping an eye on our position (we were all anchored) when I heard Eiland trying to reach Expectations on the VHF radio. Expectations (a big catamarin) was dragging their anchor and moving slowly towards Eiland. The rest of us went on deck and used spotlights and noise makers to alert Dave & Carmen to their danger. They must be heavy sleepers. It took Uli from Eiland in his dinghy to pound on the hull to wake them. Luckily they weren't moving fast and were able with Uli's help to put out a second anchor and stabilize. The last exciting night was our overnight trip to Belize. But first let me fill in some lovely times. After Julie and Peter flew back home we joined the other 3 boats in Jonesville Bight and had the adventure just covered. Besides that we explored the series of bays connected by canals and enjoyed another BBQ at McNab's and socialized among ourselves. We enjoyed Uli & Imke on Eiland, Dave & Carmen on Expectations and Jim & Renate on Emerald Seas a lot this season.
 After the weather settled down the first two boats headed back to French Cay Harbor, and Emerald Seas and ourselves sailed up to Port Royal where we spent an idyllic week. We anchored in the furthest east end of the bay just off of the reef. It was very protected from the strong trade winds that revved every afternoon into the evenings. Scott, Jim and Renate did a number of great dives, we all swam and snorkeled and explored the area by dinghies. The best trip was heading east through connecting canals from our anchorage through Old Port Royal Bay, Mr. Field Bay and then through a long mangrove lined canal over to the north side of the island. The long beach here is protected by an offshore reef and is a lovely spot as you can see from the photos.
 Finally we sailed down to French Cay Harbor and anchored for several nights, doing some shopping and getting the boat ready for company. Our great friend Russ Wolf was flying into Roatan for a few weeks visit. More bad weather was predicted so we joined Emerald Seas at the Fantasy Island Marina. This bad weather kept getting postponed and we became concerned about our coming overnight voyage to the Rio Dulce. Chris Parker has been our weatherman for most of our time on Scott Free. We listen to him every morning on our SSB radio and often talk to him about our weather concerns or trips. Our deadline to enter the river was just over a week away when he became concerned about our getting there. Increasing trade winds with gusts up to 35 knots and the increasingly large waves that went with this forecast stretched out for an indefinite time. His advice was to leave ASAP and wait in Belize or Guatemala for our high tide crossing of the Rio Dulce. So Russ arrived on Friday and we left the next morning for Belize. He did have a chance to enjoy several swims and snorkeling at the beautiful resort before we left. And some time enjoying Jim and Renate's company too!
 It was a rough trip. The winds were on our stern quarter and gusty. The waves were confused and often large. One rouge wave piled up behind us and dumped a load of water in the cockpit. Unfortunately the hatch over our bed was open and the water dumped in. I frantically pulled the sheets and mattress covers off the mattresses. One of the memory foam toppers got wet but the other one and the underlying mattresses didn't. None of us felt much like eating, especially that evening. It was wonderful to have the calm company of Russ and sharing watches with 3 people is a lot nicer than 2! When it got dark we first double reefed both the main and jib and later took in the jib. Even under just a double reefed main we were still going 5 knots! But the motion was a lot easier then.
 After midnight it calmed down some and around 1:30 am we pulled behind Glover's Atoll (an atoll 12 miles off the Belizian reef system) and sailed slowly up and down, waiting for the dawn to continue on through the reef entrance at South Water Cay. Going up north to the middle of Belize was way out of our way but we did so for 2 reasons. First the boat sailed better and the seas were easier pointing that direction but second, we wanted (particularly I wanted) not to worry about PIRATES. Two weeks before there was a second incident of pirates boarding a cruising boat off Honduras. This second one was quite violent and although no one was seriously hurt, the boat was run up on the beach and totaled. Our route took us no closer than 30 miles from Honduras and that was a safe distance. It was easy entering the reef and we motored in calm seas now over to Blue Ground Range Cay, anchored and had a terrific breakfast. More to come in another post!
Heather, Jim, Renate and Scott
Russ, Heather and Scott

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

Julie and Peter Gowan, our Kiwi/Aussy friends
 We met Peter and Julie years ago in Marathon, FL and buddy boated with them and their catamaran "Anything Goes" in the Bahamas for some glorious months. Since then they've visited us in Vermont and Maine and sailed from Guatemala to Mexico for 2 weeks several years ago. Last January we visited them at their condo in Punta Gorda, FL. This time they flew to Roatan and vacationed with us there and in the Cayos Cochinos.
We rented a car for 2 day,s when they first arrived, and drove down to Jonesville Bight to meet our friends on Expectations and Eiland. They took us through a series of canals joining a number of bays along that coast. We stopped in BJs Bar, the Hole in the Wall Bar and McNab's for their Sunday BBQ. After a few nights in West End enjoying the wonderful beaches and water, we sailed down to the Cayos Cochinos for several days. These consist of 2 small islands and 13 other small coral cays located 20 miles off the Honduran coast. They are part of a Marine Park and have only 108 inhabitants.
Julie & I at the lighthouse on Roatan
Uli, Julie, Imke and Carmen as we cruise the canals
Sometimes they are wide and lined by homes
BBQ Sunday at McNab's Restaurant, Jonesville
Shrimp boats lined up (love the little guy in the center)
Scott, Heather, Julie and Peter
And sometimes they are narrow and lined with mangroves
Uli center, then Julie, Peter, Scott, Carmen, Imke, Dave and I
Our Bus Berkley routine!

Scott chats with the Marine Reserve officials

Resting at the lighthouse, now unfortunately closed
The steep descent to the east side of the island
Sunset from our anchorage at Cochinos Grande

The front terrace at Turtle Bay Eco Resort

The traditional double ended launchas at the east end

Most of the houses are built of scrap wood
We anchored off Cochinos Grande in the bay at the west end of the island. It was very hard to get a good spot for the anchor and we had to try several times before seemingly being set for the night. Not long after that the Marine Park officials showed up to collect their fees - $20 each person for up to one month (It's $10 per person for one night).
That night I woke up to the sound of coral bumping under neath our hull. I bolted up and discovered from our depth sounder that we were in shallow water. The wind had shifted 180 degrees moving our boat onto the reef. Our weather man Chris Parker had forecast steady east winds all night. Oops!
We put on the engine and Scott used the anchor winch to pull us off and towards the deep water where our anchor was set. Now it was a pitch black night and only 2 lights on shore to steer by. After 2 tries we anchored in deep water in the channel into the bay. Scott set the anchor alarm and we all managed to get back to sleep. Julie and Peter were very helpful during the crisis and everyone was pretty calm. There was hardly any wind so no real danger - just tiring in the middle of the night!
The next morning we were into the Turtle Bay Eco Resort and our problems were solved in one swoop. Their terrific Manager Clement pointed out the safe mooring off their dock and we moved there immediately.  When we asked about hiking he volunteered to lead us that very afternoon and arranged a tour of the Garifuna community on a nearby cay for the next day.
Two couples from the resort joined us on the hike up to the lighthouse and then across the island to the east end (down a very steep hill). A small village of Honduran/Garifuna fishermen and their families perch on the beach behind a nearby reef. They have a one room schoolhouse for primary school children. We met the charming teacher who showed us around. The walk back around the perimeter of the island was really beautiful with some lovely beaches separated by rocky steep sections. It was a challenging walk at times but lots of fun.
We became good friends with one of the couples, Yunus and Nan from Toronto, and had dinner with them at the resort the next night. We joined them on the resort launcha over to the Garifuna village, built on a tiny sand island nearby. The island had no vegetation and seemed totally exposed. One storm and the whole thing would be swept bare - and has been. They just rebuild.
The Garifuna people are descendents of African, Island Carib and Arawak people that refused to bow down to the European invasion. The French expelled them from their islands to St. Vincent and Dominica where they lived until the English invaded. After an unsuccessful rebellion those more noticeably African in descendent were deported to Roatan. The 2500 who survived the
This little girl was fascinated by strangers in the village

The one room elementary school
journey were too many for the small island and later successfully petitioned the Spanish to immigrate to the mainland. Today there are around 600,000, many in the U.S. The Garifuna language is a member of the Arawakan language family but atypical due to it's being spoken outside the Arawak area and it's unusually high number of loan words. Half is Arawakan, one quarter Carib and the rest a mixture of French, English and Spanish.
It doesn't take long to walk around this tiny island and in fact visit every hut. People are very friendly and we met a young European couple that were staying there for several days - sleeping in a hammock and sharing the local food. A number of the young children had necklaces and other things made of polished wood and shells for sale.
Our good friends David and Carmen on "Expectations" joined us for one night. On the way there Dave caught a huge wahoo which he proudly showed off when they arrived (see photo).
The next day we left mid morning for a lovely sail up to French Harbor on Roatan where we tied up for a night at the French Harbor Yacht Club. Luckily we have air conditioning so it was a pleasant last night for Julie and Peter. It was sad to say good-bye the next morning but we look forward to our next adventure together!
This mural was painted by a man with no arms

Clement joins the sea scape

Our group on the main "street"

Julie checks to see I'm still behind on the trail

Which follows the coast line.

We had some steep climbs over cliffs
It's hard to show how steep it was here
Beautiful beaches one after another
Dave's Really Big Fish - a wahoo
The tiny island home of a Garifuna village
Crowded with small huts
Where about fifty people live
Most of them are built of palm fronds
The kids are great salespeople!
The boats are mostly wood
The "cafe" is getting a thorough cleaning with sea water
This charmer made several sales
The main and only "street"
Unorthodox clothes drying system
The sunset at the West End - pretty dramatic
Dinner at Turtle Bay Eco Resort
Adam, Christine, India and Clement - terrific folks!
Scott Free at anchor at Cochinos Grande at sunset