Key West, Miami, Bahamas & Bermuda
20100519 Key West, Miami, Bahamas, and Bermuda
20100419 Ahhhh, back in the USA. It feels so good.
Not to say we have not enjoyed the cultural, geographic, climatic and ecological diversities of South and Central Americas, but seem to miss America, and the greater degree of civilization vs the 3rd world, not matter how scenic the palm tree covered sand strip islands may be. Key West is such a great place to land, and such a contrast. We have over a week here before we need to voyage north to Miami.
We sleep in the morning after arriving from the tiring passage from Mexico, and then back to work. Customs and immigration, shopping, provisioning, cleaning, internet, fix-it projects by day.
By night we watch the street performers at Mallory Square, walk Duval Street, dine out usually; we find our favorite KW latin resto-bar for some salsa dancing.
Brother Norm and wife Connie arrive in the afternoon for a week. After our pitcher of welcome rum punch and some salsa music/dancing on board, Norm makes another pitcher that knocks us on our butts and we all pass out for the night, without dinner. What is it they say about "the drunken sailor"?
The four of us explore Key West, walking far and wide, seeing the "southern most point in the USA", Fort Zachary, more Duval street and Mallory square, dinner etc. Our favorite breakfast place is Pepe's, oldest standing restaurant in Key West.
Next AM we go on a sailing schooner out to some Keys for snorkeling and kayaking the mangroves. Very nice day.
Our friend DaveK who visited us in Belize had shipped us a large box of personally selected, cut and smoked pork bacon and a variety of sausages. Time for the breakfast feast. Wow- great stuff- thanks, Dave!
While Norm and Connie get a massage, Rita and I go find a dentist to put a temporary crown to replace the one I cracked recently. We both get long overdue teeth cleanings as well. We find some relaxing music and medication at a local bar, dinner ashore, etc.
To give Norm and Connie a taste of sailing and anchoring out, we sail aVida to the Marquesa Keys for 2 days and a night. Walk the beach, shelling... not much to do here, but it is pretty.
While sailing back to Key West in the am, a large pod of dolphins escorts us for a while.
As we coming into Key West channel, we are all watching a smaller sailboat rocking terribly in the large waves. Then suddenly the mast breaks in 2 places and the 3 sections and sails tumble onto the deck and into the water. We hurry to take down our sails so we can motor back to the vessel to see if they need assistance. They are calmly sitting in the cockpit and wave us off- they probably have called a tow service already.
After a very nice visit, Norm and Connie depart, leaving us with a gift certificate for 2 fine massages- we immediately go use it- aahhhh....
Our friends on Saphira (a sister ship to aVida) have arrived in Key West, and we go out for dinner with them. One of the greater pleasures of this voyage has been some of the very nice sailors we have befriended. Many of these new friends are interested in crewing/sailing with us on aVida in the future.
We take 2 more days for cleaning, laundry, maintenance, etc. before voyaging to Miami. The watermaker has blown out the end cap of the high pressure membrane cylinder, and the mfg ships one overnight, and I rebuild the unit. It seems to work, then start blowing a fuse on the system board. I replace the fuse, and then it wont start. Arrangements are made to send a service man to meet aVida in Miami when we arrive.
20100429 Depart for Miami in am, with an overnight stop anchoring in a bay at Long Key. In AM, head for Miami- I choose to take a course outside all of the reefs and keys in deep water, and half-way up come to regret this- beating into the oncoming waves is a bit uncomfortable- so we head inshore through a pass in the reefs to follow the inshore passage- good winds, and much less wave action. Lesson learned.
Coming into Miami has lots of boat and large ship traffic to navigate around. We come into Miami Beach Marina, at the south tip of South Beach, to put aVida in a dock slip so we can make watermaker repairs, wash the boat, etc. While backing into the slip, too late I realize there is a 2 knot current running through the marina, and a forward line around a pole slips, and aVida crunches aft into the concrete dock. Fortunately, the only damage is one stanchion in the stb aft pulpit. Fortunately, the marina recommends "Bob" a good fiberglass repairman who works with carbon fiber and epoxy, and he agrees to do the job in the coming 2 evenings, after his existing commitments.
20100501 Rita takes care of laundry, cleaning, and provisioning. I work with the watermaker repairman to get the watermaker fixed. He replaces the system board and we are back in the water making business. Another project: our 2X2 bank of very large 8D size AGM house batteries is showing major imbalance between the battery banks. Originally in Chile, one of the batteries I shipped was faulty on arrival, so 2 mismatched batteries were installed. It appears that over time, this imbalance has led to some sort of deterioration of one or both battery banks. With a coming Atlantic voyage, I don't want Any risk with the critical house batteries, so am able to find a marine battery supplier who can deliver 4 new 160 Lbs batteries to the boat within the hour. I spend the afternoon getting them installed. Fortunately, the delivery man, and a marina helper, are willing to do the heavy lifting of the old batteries out of the bilges of the boat, and put the new batteries in place. I tip them well. Even the job of hooking up the heavy battery cables is a bit of a grueling sweat job- the terminal types are different. But, am very glad to put this possible problem to rest- the batteries are working great.
After this Very busy day, our friends Mark and Keith arrive to join us for a week, including several nights in SoBe, and the voyage to Abacos, Bahamas.
We know SoBe very well, having been here many times before. We begin with a taxi to Setai, a high end restaurant and bar with over the top interior design and ambience. The drinks are so expensive, we move on after one cocktail. Walking south from N22 street, we eventually end up all the way south at the marina on foot, but not until we do some serious damage. Delano hotel. Nice dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant on Ocean Drive. A look at Mangos- too busy, will come back another time. Then we end up at Nikki Beach Club, where there is a runway fashion show, and we find a great table right at the runway. Before the show, the elevated runway is full with people dancing, so we get up and dance as well. I am quite shocked to have a group of women stuff a dollar bill in my belt as I dance near the edge of the stage- hey, this could be my new career. Somehow we almost make it all the way back to the marina, but finally 4 blocks away we cave in and take a taxi the rest of the way. What a night. What's that again about the drunken sailor?
The rest of our days in SoBe are much more relaxed and sensible. Chillin in the am. Internet time. Lunch at Monty's. Bob finishes the stanchion repair- I will have to finish sand and paint later. Time in the swimming pool with a cocktail. Night walk on Lincoln Road. Dinner at Quattro- v nice. Beach time. A lot to do and see. Ahhhh.
20100505 AM depart for Abacos. This is a simple overnight trip, but the shipping and boat traffic through the night around Berry Islands, Bahamas is insane- we had a dozen radar targets going at one time at one point!
Our destination is Marsh Harbor, Abacos and we find a dock at the Moorings marina there, after filling up with diesel.
An interesting tidbit about Abacos is that after the Revolutionary War, the british loyalists in America did not feel too welcome, so many of them settled in Abacos. This explains the charming colonial feel, and the still strong UK influences and products they have. Abacos is quite different from the rest of the Bahamas.
AM brings breakfast aboard, then we dinghy about 2 miles to "Mermaid reef". This is not on the outer barrier reef, but it is a small patch of corals with Lots of fish.
My daughter Michelle arrives for a brief 3 day long weekend visit, and we take aVida to Hopetown on Elbow Cay for the night. Hopetown has charming colonial character, with a scenic protected harbor, overlooked by a large red and white striped lighthouse. We make dinner on board, what a feast it was. Michelle and Mark and Keith get along great together; all in all a very fine evening, again.
AM on the way back to Marsh Harbor (Mark and Keith depart in the afternoon), we anchor aVida off Mermaid reef again, and this time we take several bagels with us to feed the fish. We are surrounded by swarms of greedy fish, some quite large actually.
Briefly anchoring in Marsh Harbor again, Mark and Keith depart, and we sail with Michelle to Guana Cay- explore on land, and don't really find any place we like for cocktails and dinner. So we make our own feast on board. Rita makes bacon-wrapped filets, and Michelle makes an incredible bread pudding with mango bread, chocolate, nuts, and whatever else, plus a hot rum sauce to put on top. Ahhhh... After dinner we surprise Michelle's sister Lauren in Australia with a phone call together.
During the sail back in the AM, we have time to anchor off a "spoil bank" where they dump the dredgings from the channels. We swim to shore, to walk this excellent shelling beach, and we all fill a bag with shells for Rita to make more of her "shell mobile wind chimes". Back in Marsh Harbor, sadly Michelle departs.
We get a night to ourselves, then AM we are back in cleaning mode; laundry, trash, etc.
Afternoon Rita's sister Annette arrives for a 3 day visit. Dinner ashore at Curly Tails restaurant, named after the pervasive lizards with tails that coil up over their back.
AM we head out for Hopetown again to give Annette some variety of experiences.
Rita and Annette have a grand day ashore, renting a golf cart, exploring the island and its beautiful beaches. They walk on Tahiti Beach far out onto a sandbar. They say the incoming breaking surf looks like Big Sur.
In the meantime, I have some more maintenance work to do on aVida. One of the large Harken drum winches (7 total) started to slip its ratchet. These winches are exposed to serious amounts to salt spray and waves over the bow- tough corrosive environment. And again, with an Atlantic crossing coming soon, we can't take a chance on failing equipment. So I go ashore to a marine store to buy some special PTFE synthetic lube (not what Harken recommends, but probably better than trailer axle grease), and some other supplies, and head back to aVida to disassemble, clean, lube and reassemble the winches. The 3 forward-most winches take me all afternoon- these are complex buggers, and some bearings and ratchets are dry or slightly corroded.
Next, the Antal dagger board winch is malfunctioning, so I tear that baby apart too. This requires going into the cabin below and removing the bugger entirely- but it goes back together and everything works smooooth.
After a few happy cocktails ashore, Rita and Annette call me just as I am finishing up, and have found a great restaurant on top of a hill overlooking the harbor. We have a fantastic dinner there.
AM we sail back to Marsh Harbor. Rita and Annette go do some provisioning, and I do some more boat work. Isn't sailing fun?- arrggghh. Annette departs in the afternoon, she had a grand time and was very thankful for all the experiences we shared with her.
20100513 AM prepare for voyage to Bermuda. This is a fairly long one, approx 760 nautical miles on our course; hope to cover in 4 nights. We visit customs and the harbor master to get exit papers. MarkJ arrives back again in the afternoon to help us with the voyage, and we depart at 15H00.
There is decent wind, but it is too close to our ENE course, so we have to adjust our course northward, beating into the wind NNE. Sailing to the wind, rather than a course, we are adjusting heading all night long to make the best VMG- velocity made good- toward our destination.
By the middle of the next day, the winds have gone more north, and faded, so we set a rumbline course for Bermuda, and motor sail. Even though the apparent wind angle is 20 degrees or less (a sailboat can only effectively sail to a 30 degree wind angle effectively), putting up the main sail adds about 1 knot of boatspeed, taking us from 7.5 knots (into wind and waves) to 8.5 knots. Sometimes the wind angle goes aft enough that we can also put the genoa sail up, for a bit more boost, but the winds is still too weak to make acceptable progress without a motor running. Unfortunately, this is the story of the whole trip after the first night; light and variable winds. Our boat speed varies from 7.5 to sometimes 10.5, motorsailing. Sailing alone in 5-8 knots of true wind would be half that.. We are on track to make Bermuda in 4 nights, with an AM arrival on 5/17. Fortunately, aVida is a great motorsailer as well as sailboat. Her 200 gallons of diesel with give us a range of about 900 NM, plenty for this voyage. This motorsailing technique allows us to arrive after 4, not 5-8 nights at sea. Along the way, we spot several other sailboats, which we are able to "tag" as targets on our Furuno radar system, which tracks these targets and gives us heading and velocity. These other boats are making 1.5-3 knots, and going nowhere fast. This "tagging" ability is crucial when sailing a night and large 1000 foot long freighters are moving at 25knot speeds- we use the heading and velocity data to determine if we are on a collision course, and when and how to take evasive action.
They call this area the "Horse Lattitudes", a region of notoriously light and variable winds. In the old days of sailing, ships going from the new world back to Europe, when becalmed in these waters, would first toss all their horses into the sea to lighten the weight of the ship for more speed- we don't have horses to throw overboard, but we do have our iron sails..
The seas are so calm, the winds so gentle, this is a truly relaxing voyage. We are in a persistent high pressure cell, the skies are clear by day, the sunsets and sunrises just beautiful- and at night there are an amazing number of stars to see.
We spot 3 whales some distance off. Some dolphins. A flying fish lands on the aft deck, and we take some fun positioning it near MarkJ's face while he is napping in the saloon, take some pictures, then wake him up to see this thing looking him right in the face.
Evenings are spent playing cards, music, dinner, and vino. Very few boats or ships out here, just us it seems.
One evening while playing cards before bedtime, Rita gets up from the table for a moment to go below, and in the near darkness she sees a shape moving and lets out a series of blood-curdling shrieking screams. Mark and I freak out not know what is going on, then a dark shape flies past the saloon table and into the galley. As I look below, it turns out to be a sea-weary bird that was simply trying to find a warm resting place for a bit. But now the poor bird is trembling with fear over the screams and commotion. I pick up the bird in a towel, and he just wants to get out of here. We take him outside and put him on the aft deck. Mr. Birdie waste not time getting the heck out of here, and he flies off into the darkness.
Approaching Bermuda in the AM from the SW, a number of other sailboats are also converging on their approaches. We are heading for St. Georges Harbor, entering through Town Cut channel on the NE end of Bermuda.
Bermuda has the northerly-most coral reefs in the world, a result of the Gulf Stream (which we crossed 3 times in the past weeks) crossing the Atlantic ocean just north of Bermuda.
Bermuda has very picturesque and historic colonial towns and forts on a handful of islands totaling less than 20 miles in length. The 3 of us rent motor scooters for an afternoon and ride to almost the other end of the island group, all linked by bridges. Grand estates on beautiful beaches are on the south shore.
There are surprisingly few restaurant options, and the prices are the highest we have seen anywhere. It seems they must import almost everything, mostly from far away UK.
20100519 We have only been here for 2 days, but the weather data we download leads to the conclusion that we must leave Bermuda asap, or we will not have a suitable weather window to depart until approx June 1. We are not ready, and we don't want to go so soon, but there is no other sensible answer. The voyage to Azores is 1950NM (2300 miles), and we only have enough diesel to motor for about 900- so, we Must have good winds for most of the trip, otherwise the planned 10 night journey could take 15-20 nights, either drifting slowly in doldrums, or sailing on a close hauled beat tacking into strong winds and waves on the nose, because we don't have enough diesel to just power through it.
Our new crew BobS and MarkL arrive today at about 3:30PM, and MarkJ does not leave until tomorrow- so we find MarkJ a room at Antie Neas Inn in town. Presently doing internet blog updates, catching up on emails, some cleaning and provisioning.
When Bob and Mark arrive, we will go straight to Customs to get our exit documents, take aVida to the fuel dock to fill up on diesel (200 gallons in 2 tanks, plus 4x5 gallon jerry cans in reserve). Then we will head for sea before dusk. Sadly Bob and Mark wont get to see much of Bermuda except the drive from the airport. Also, we will miss seeing our friend MarkR, who arrives tomorrow, who sailed with us helping to take aVida from Galapagos to Panama last December/Jan. Mark is flying in as crew to help sail another boat from Bermuda to USA.
Next- voyage to Azores and Gibraltar, and into the Med.
Belize City to Isla Mujeres, Mexico
20100417 Belize City to Isla Mujeres
20100405 Well, it's just me and Rita again, after a week of great company. We depart Caye Caulker early for San Pedro, the northern-most port of entry/exit from Belize, in preparation for our voyages north. San Pedro is a very busy small town, with ferries, water taxis, tour boats etc zooming at full speed through the sailboat anchorage area. Very wavy, but tolerable in a catamaran. Our guests did a great job of cleaning their cabins and head, but there is a ton of laundry to do, and other general boat cleaning. Laundry ashore, explore the town, arrange a dive trip for manana, some provisioning.
Rita finds Chinese masseur for me who claims to heal everything from aches and pains to mental illness. I have what I believe is a pinched sciatic nerve due to a muscle spasm in my lower back that has been very painful for 4 weeks now. He massages and stretches me so hard he causes more pain that makes me forget the original pain. He gives me some Chinese compresses to put on (don't know how that helps with a nerve problem), and tells me to soak my feet in hot water and use my toes to mush up some ginger root. Weeks later am still recovering from the bruised muscles he caused. The compresses did not help, and I did not soak my feet.
20100406 Scuba diving at 2 dive sites. Great diving. We petted and wrapped our arms around and hugged nurse sharks! Amazing experience. Massive deep canyon and cavern structures to explore. Lunch ashore, some liquid muscle relaxers, then a nap on board. Saphira arrives, and we briefly catch up on things, and have dinner ashore.
20100407 After clearing out with customs, immigration and the Capitania del Puerto, we depart San Pedro for Xcalak, Mexico, the southern-most port of entry for Mexico. The sail is a great ride in 20 knots winds and 10 foot seas. As we cross the border into Mexican waters, a Mex armada patrol boat, with big guns on the deck, pulls up alongside us. I wave hello to them from the aft deck, then realize I don't have the VHF on. Turning on the VHF, they want to know about passengers on board, last ports, destination port, cargo, etc. They seem satisfied, and head out to sea chasing some other boat.
Once again, 2 boats that departed 2 hours before us, are passed as we approach Xcalak. So we get to be the first ones to find our way through the reef into the harbor.
The pass through the reef is only 150 feet wide, and the waves are breaking in the pass. We try to call the port captain on VHF for local guidance to make the pass- once again the sailor comraderie comes to the rescue, and a sailboat in the harbor helps us with visual landmarks to line up for the pass. The other boats follow us in on the same line.
Within 20 minutes, the Mexican armada comes to aVida, with 6 uniformed soldiers carrying M16s. 4 of them board aVida. They inspect our papers, and ask to search the boat. One of them goes through almost every cabinet, drawer, and floor boat, but it is a casual search- not really the nightmare "rip the boat apart" searches we have heard about. The leader of the group is more interested in having his men take his picture in various poses at the helm, in the cockpit, with big smiles. They are very impressed w aVida, and repeated say "bueno barque". We offer them ice water, and they all accept. We ask them for a signed inspection document, and they say there is none- so I ask to take their picture on aVida to prove we did have the inspection. They leave with big smiles, on to the next boat that arrived after us.
Xcalak is a tiny town. We go to the tiny immigration / customs office to get cleared in, near the end of the day. The printer and copier are not working, and it appears we are stuck until they get their systems working- in a place like that, it could be days?? Fortunately after an hour or so someone brings one from somewhere else on the island; the helpful staff is willing to work after hours, and we get cleared in.
Walking the town is a bit depressing, but the people are very friendly. We find a small resto-bar overlooking the beautiful shoreline, have a few cocktails and back to aVida for dinner.
20100408 Early am departure. The waves outside the reef have increase to 15 feet, and the breakers in the pass are 20 to 25 feet. Using the track line on the chart plotter, we know exactly how we came in yesterday, and we ride that line back out. aVida is bucking like a bronco in the pass- Rita is scared shitless but handles it well.
Once out to sea, with 1 reef in the mainsail, we close reach NE on the rhumbline (did I spell that right?) with 15 to 25 knots E winds. aVida is doing 10-15 knots- great ride!
Far out to sea, we see a shark fin and tail cruising near us- don't want to swim right now.
When possible, we try to avoid sailing at night by doing day sails with overnight anchorages. We arrive mid afternoon, having covered 97NM. We enter the reef through a wide and easy opening to Bahia del Ascencion, and anchor in the open behind the reef for protection from the big seas, but not the winds. The anchor(s) hold well, and it is a fairly comfortable night sleep. In any case, I usually set a GPS marker point on the boat position and watch a few times through the night to make sure we are not slipping- that is part of life on a boat.
20100409 Up early for the sail north, heading for Isle Mujeres. We cover another 95 miles by mid afternoon, and contemplate going all the way, but we would arrive in Isle Mujeres at or after dusk, and night entries through reefs and shallows are a bit more risky, so we head for Puerto Moreles for the night, on the Mayan Riviera coast, by mid afternoon, leaving time to explore the town before finding a good dinner ashore. Puerto Moreles is a combination of a quaint fishing town, with a tourist destination with great beaches- but seemingly for Mexicans, and not many foreigners. This is the peak vacation week after Easter, and it is very busy for a small port.
20100410 A nice easy sail to Isla Mujeres, still beating on the rhumbline most of the way. Passing Cancun to port, and a lot of fishing and ferry boat traffic all around. Hundreds of flying fish leap from the water together and fly hundreds of feet, apparently running from approaching aVida, the monster that might eat them.
On anchor by noon in the harbor. Lunch, vino and a nap. Then we walk the town- we know it fairly well We visited here 6 years ago for several days, and it was much less developed or busy then. But this is peak Easter vacation week also.
Ferries and fishing boats zip back and forth to Cancun. The beaches are packed with sun worshipers. This is nice island, but we like it better when it is quieter.
Remembering from our last visit, we walk to the north beach in the evening, and find the Sunset Grill, with table right at the edge of the beach with gentle surf lapping against the shore, and tiki lamps in line, for a romantic dinner. They charge extra for the premium beach tables, and Rita announces it is our anniversary (it is not), and several patrons turn and congratulate us, but the staff still charges us for the table. Dinner and vino are great, service is great- this is probably one of the best restaurants on the island.
20100411 More boat cleaning. Laundry ashore. Finally have internet again at a restaurant ashore. The dilemma is the weather window to Key West. In a few days, the winds in the passage will build to over 30 knots NE, directly beating against the gulf stream going NE, causing very big and steep waves. If we don't leave this afternoon, we will probably hit stressful conditions before we get to Key West. If we don't leave, we probably cant leave for a week- and we have a deadline- my brother Norm and Connie are coming to Key West to be with us for a week.
We have a professional weather routing service we consult on occasion, and they tell us the same thing- go now, or wait at least a week. I double check the weather forecasts, our route plan, and our expected progress, and determine that into NE winds, we will like motor into a headwind- not sail- reducing our speeds to 7 knots possibly, extending the voyage time into the bad weather coming. We need some time to catch up, un-wind, and relax. We have been so busy with guests and voyaging for a long time. . Decision is to not go, and wait for the next weather window.
We do lunch and internet ashore all afternoon, and back to the boat for dinner and a movie, after making arrangements for scuba diving manana.
20100412 The dive boat picks us up at aVida about 9am. It is just me, Rita, the divemaster and the captain. The divemaster, captain, and the guy in the shop are all brothers and run a family dive business. Small, but comfortable and friendly.
First dive is lots of large schools of many fish, many sharks, sting rays, etc. good dive. 2nd dive is "sleeping shark caves" where there used to be hundreds of sharks that collect in caves where the constantly flowing current can ventilate their gills. Recently, the fishermen heard about this, and they fished out all the sharks. Just this morning, the divemaster said the fishermen had 20-30 sharks they caught on the dock. This is a crime against nature- it is very upsetting. It seems even more so since we hugged and petted sharks just days ago (we wouldn't do that with just any shark, or without local divemaster experience!).
Back aboard, the macerator pump on the port head doesn't seem to flush. So I disassemble the shitter pump, clean the impeller, etc, and it seems to work ok for now. Rita rinses, cleans and dries the dive gear. Lunch, vino, and nap aboard. Then back to Sunset Grill for an internet afternoon, doing blog updates, business, dinner, vino, etc... same old routine.
20100413 Errands in the am. Internet lunch and vino back at Sunset Grill again. Seems to be the only place with good internet. A working day.
Departure weather window for Key West appears to be this Friday or Saturday, 4/16-17.
Probably do a dive day Thurs, fuel up aVida, deal with customs, immigration and the harbor master. Then go.
Next update, Key West, with brother Norman and wench Connie. (that is a most respectful term among pirates. arrrgh)
Turneffe and Lighthouse Atolls, Belize
Belize offshore Atols - March 2010
Dave and Linda Kohlmeier, together with Mike, Elaine and their son AJ, joined Mark and Rita for a week of sailing in Belize, specifically to the offshore atolls; Turneffe and Lighthouse reefs. Mark asked us if we might be interested in writing the blog... this was an exceptional piece of delegation by an experienced manager.... So the visitors discussed it and thought it might be interesting to take a slightly different approach to the blog for this week and put it in our prespective.... so here goes.
Five fitting tight in a single barely running taxi.........Cucumber Beach and Old Belize..... Two duffel bags full of surprises for aVida.....Quick Lunch and Launch into the sea.... Water Caye.......Fine Dinning and Drinks....Conversation and cards.... First Serious Sensual Salsa Session.......
2 hours 8 knot Close Reach ...... Charts amiss... where is Blue Creek ....found.... enter Turneffe .... Atol of Turquoise Waters .....Safe Inside the reef... Dependable Double Anchoring.... Private Resort Turneffe Resort Private.......3 in concert in the kitchen.....Rum Punch......ahhhhhh...............
Wind shifts to NE overnight....... 20 knot constant wind....... Reef the mainsail....Three hours 10 knot Broad Reach ...... Pods of Playful Dolphins......Omnipresent Coral Reefs .....Lighthouse Reef.....Half Moon Caye.... can't stay.........wind says Long Caye for protection....Short cut.... 3.5 foot draft in 3 feet of Water ....... Clouds of White sand stir..... change and take the long way round......Fresh fish and Conch from the locals.... Mike cleans..... Elaine produces..... Ceviche.......
More Coral Reefs... back to Half Moon Caye..... northside this time...... ashore to Belize national park....aviary..... colonies of Boobies..... beginner Frigate faces flight full on......2 hour Snorkel.... Shipwreck... Five Sleeping Nurse Sharks.... Live Conch leaving tracks across the white coral sea floor.......... Socializing on Sister Ship Saphira..... A late night Skinny Dip....
West side snorkel..... Baracuda... Grouper...Tall Coral Heads..... Two underwater cameras capturing..... Baracuda Shark Feeding.... Beef Bean Burritos on the beach barbie .... Dusk..... Armies of Hermit Crabs.....Hearts and the queen of spades.....
East winds.... sail North Caye......... frantic Flying Fish.... abandoned resorts.... Euchre trumps Hearts....
Long distance snorkeling.... schools of Blue Tang...... Mark "Phelps" Sinreich with babes in tow....10 foot following seas.....15.1 knots spinnaker flying.... no monohulls to pass.... trampoline naps....
Walking Caye Caulker coral sand main street..... Libations at the Lazy Lizard......... garafuna druming and Mike with A J's new drum..... Rationalists unite.....
She spiders with eggs galore hiding in sea shells....Mike and AJ Secure a "local" fish trip...... breezy afternoon at the Barrier Reef Bar and Grill....naps and dinner onboard...... passionately discussing world problems.... solutions elusive.....More Serious Sensual Salsa Sessions.....
Bacon frittata and french toast......2 full dingy loads....Byes....... water taxi....... Belize City.... home
9 special days in paradise.... sun... seas...sailing... swimming.... friends.... conversation... fabulous cooking.... cases of wine....2 bottles of rum.... cards..... salsa....Bogle....chess....books...9 special days in paradise.... Thank you Mark, Rita and SV aVida!
Placencia, Belize to Belize City
20100327 Placencia to Belize City
20090320 Said bye to our friends Jim and Jane, and Jim Lightheart, (for now..) and sailed from Placencia to Laughing Bird Caye for a snorkel stop. Fyi they pronounce Caye like "key" but it still takes us time to not say "kay" the way it is spelled. We had good snorkeling at Laughing Bird, saw spotted eagle rays, many large lobsters, schools of angelfish and grunts, etc.. Had lunch under way to Ranguna Caye- tiny island with one very weathered bar where we had a drink, and decided that dinner onboard aVida was a better choice.
20100321 Sailed in am to Blue Ground Range, a group of small Cayes. There is strong norther predicted in tonight, and there are very few Cayes that offer protection from north winds. Blue Ground is all mangrove covered, and there are channels between the islands that we can sneak into and anchor in relative calm. We put out 2 anchors just in case.
Going ashore on one island, there is a lodge and several cabins, apparently totally deserted. There is a rasta caretaker couple living there, and they let us explore the tiny island. Turns out, it is privately owned by an LA lawyer for use by his family.
As we are leaving, the rasta guy (who has no boat), asks if we can boat him over to another island to pick up the TV he loaned to the rastas over there. Arriving at that island, there is a well-used and odorous hooka sitting on the rickety dock. Our guy says "da people here, dey be crazy". He gets his TV, and we take him back to aVida to give him a couple of cold beers- but we don't bring him on board. General rule, don't bring locals on your boat- but in this case, making friends with the local caretaker might just be a security move to protect against some other local fishermen who live in shacks in the mangroves on the various islands. We take him back to his island and return to aVida for dinner aboard. The night blows over 30 knots, but we are snug in our anchorage.
20100322 While sailing from Blue Ground to South Water Caye, Rita bakes apfel kuchen per mom's recipe- it turns out Great. Later, our friends Peter and Jennifer on Saphira (Atlantic 55) arrive also.
On shore there is a resort that caters to schools that send large groups of students to the island for eco-education and experiences. Owners Fred and Sharon invite us to dinner, with the only guests there, Fred and Sharon. Great dinner and conversation. Turns out, Fred owned several other islands in the area and has been here for 30 years- he has seen it change dramatically. Fred says that originally, he could walk into the water anywhere and in 3 minutes pick up all the conch and lobster he could carry. Gross over fishing has depleted 95% of the populations, and they can only be found in deeper waters that are more difficult for skin divers to take. Fred has storied to tell, about pirates and locals.
Once a few drunk and rowdy locals came to the island, declaring they were going to rape the young girls there. As they advanced, Fred's assistant grabbed a shotgun and told them to stop. The intruder laughed and kept walking. With the gun pointed at the head, the assistant pulled the trigger- click. Misfire. He opens the breach of the gun, pulls out the real shell, and reinserts it, pulls the trigger again, and it fires into the air. The intruder was a bit shocked that the assistant really tried to blow his head off- and he retreated rather quickly. It was a much more wild place in the past.
20100323 Scuba day with Peter and Jennifer, out to Glover Reef, one of only 4 true atolls in the western hemisphere.
An atoll begins on top of an underwater mountain / volcano rim. The coral growth covers the entire ring of the mountain. Over millennia, as land masses sink and/or ocean levels rise, the coral continues to grow to remain near the sunlight at the surface, forming a giant ring of coral, tens of miles long and wide, with shallow sandy coral patches in the center. This vertical growth causes very steep living coral walls hundreds of feet high, dropping into the abyss. This structure provides protection for immense numbers of other life that live in and around the protection of the corals, from the open sea. It also attracts large pelagic fishes to the reef for its food supply. It is the meeting point of deep and shallow predator action. Makes for interesting diving. (for the true experts out there, pardon my layman description of atolls).
2010324 Sailed to Cucumber Marina, just south of Belize City. Very nice little marina, dinner at the restaurant. Early bed.
20100325 There are benefits to being in a marina. We arranged for locals Tony and his 2 helpers to do a thorough cleaning of aVida. The boat is salt-caked from weeks at sea, and the stainless steel is beginning to tarnish and bleed bits of rust. In 1 day, the 3 of them do an excellent job for a very reasonable price, even with our generous tip beyond their price.
Rita and I take a taxi into Belize City to a medical clinic to see a dermatologist about some spots on our skin. Nothing to worry about- common actinic keratosis, and he prescribes some creams and teaches us to be religious about using top quality sunscreen twice a day. We tour Belize City a bit with Mike the taxi driver.
Saphira arrives, and we have dinner at the restaurant with Peter, Jennifer, and their kids Tucker and Holly. Peter has taken Tucker and Holly out of school for a year, and they are sailing as a family from June 2009 to June 2010- what a great experience for the kids (ages 17,14 approx). Both boats are on a similar northward voyage to the US; Saphira ending their voyage this July, and aVida continuing on across the atlantic and to the Med.
Saphira has guests arriving for a week, as do we.
20100326 Laundry. Cleaning the boat inside and out. Trip to Belize City for provisioning. All prep for our 5 guests coming tomorrow. Dinner at the bar with solo-sailor Doug, who's boat is on the hard for some repair work. They actually dropped his boat today out of the boat lift and the keel and prop hit the ground. Fortunately, the damage is not too bad.
20100327 Final AM preps and cleaning. Friends Dave and Linda, Mike and Elaine with son AJ arrive. Lunch in the marina, then a quick departure out to the islands again.
Next blog entry....
Guatemala to Belize
20100319, Placencia, Belize
The sail from Roatan, Honduras to Livingston, Guatemala started with fair sailing winds. Several boats departed about the same time. With only 6 knots of wind, we cruised past a Lagoon 46 cat as if it was standing still. Then the winds died. We ended up motoring through the night to Guatemala. A number a radar targets crossed our path, large freighters, and we had to change course several times to make sure we stay a few miles out of their way. A miles doesn't mean much, when the LOA of the freighter is 1/8 of a mile, they travel at high speed relative to us, and they cant and wont turn to avoid us.
Arriving in Livingston at dawn are several other yachts, including an Atlantic55 "Sephira", a sistership to aVida. In Livingston, the customs agent Raul is very efficient, and we have 5 officials on board within 30 minutes: navy, port captain, customs, immigration, and health department. They ask many questions about guns, drugs, pets... As usual, to keep things light I say that I am the only pet on board. They laugh.
We are required to pay the fees in Guatemalan "Quetzales", so we go to the bank, where there is a line 50 people long, and we spend an hour waiting to get our Q's (7.8Qs/USD).
We had seen Sephira in Panama, and also in Roatan, but never had the chance to meet the owners, Peter and Jennifer and their 2 kids- very nice people. Went through the customs process together, and even though we are all eager to get underway again, Peter asks to come aboard aVida as see what has changed in the several years since Sephira was built, so we give them the tour, and exchange ideas and experiences. Peter and I think very much alike regarding ship systems, and we both like to innovate with new systems. Peter added lithium batteries and synthetic shrouds to Sephira in a recent refit, something I researched extensively, decided against 2 years ago when the decisions had to be made for aVida- these were and still are both emerging promising technologies.
By 1PM both boats head off again, into the Rio Dulce river gorge.
This is a deep river gorge up to 300 foot walls in many places, 8NM long, covered in tropical jungle vegetation- very beautiful. The original Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, swung through the trees here making movies. We have lunch and a bottle of vino blanco during the journey.
The river opens up into a large lake, "El Golfette" approx 8NM miles long. Sephira ahead of us sets a spinnaker for the ideal 15-18 knot aft winds, but we decide that after a bottle of wine we should stay in the cockpit and motor sail- it is less than a 1 hour sail across the lake, and a lot of work to set and douse the spi for such a short sail.
The lake turns into a river again, called the marina area. This is the hurricane hole where hundreds of yachtistas bring their boats to escape the hurricane season of the north.
There are probably 12 marina, and a town called Frontieras. It is a 3rd world frontier town deep in the the Guatemala jungle. The guide books warn us that people walk around with machetes, knives, and guns in town and on the roads. It is like the wild west all over. Well... some do, but once again it does not seem as bad as some guide books or sailors make it out to be. But what is true is that as in all of Central America, the primary economy is drug trafficking, and that drives everything. As long as we all stay out of their way, they are happy to have us around as a nice "cover" for their world. This applies to Panama (the drug banking center of the world), Colombia, etc.. did you know, Panama City is the biggest financial center in the Americas south of and including Miami, due to drug $$? Insane massive hi-rise construction projects going up with no tenants, just to launder $$.
And when some locals here in RioDulce rob and murder a yachtista (like last year), the local police are afraid to do anything about it because of reprisals from the families. But the drug lords dont want bad attention drawn to their world, so they "take care of it" in a fatal way- they kill them all. This has kept the crime against yachtistas down in the recent past, since several local banditos (pirates) were taken out by the drug lords last year. Yeah, we feel safe. Actually, we do.
The people are friendly, lots of other yachts around, but we must be careful to lock up the dinghy etc and be smart at all times.
We will be here for maybe 5 days, then on to Belize. We are presently quite tired, having sailed overnight from Roatan and spent the whole day getting to where we are. 4 hours of sleep each in 36 hours.
We found a med-moor dock (put an anchor out, and back the stern up to the dock) at Tijax Marina, a primitive but excellent marina nestled with jungle all around, and their own private jungle preserve, with canopy suspension bridge, trails, etc. We migrate to the marina restaurant deck overlooking the water, having wine, internet, and dinner. Its comfortable here, and amazing faster internet we have seen in 4 months.
Then we walk the dock back to aVida to get long overdue sleep. but not yet....
The boat next to us in the marina has been left here for 9 months while the French Canadian owners were away. They just returned today, and Remi looks totally despondent sitting on the dock next to his boat. The boat needs a lot of clean up, but right now his batteries are dead and nothing is working. So, tired as I am, I get out my clamp-on ammeter/voltmeter, and go aboard to help Remi track down the problem. His solar panels are putting out traces of energy from the fading evening light, but there is no charging current coming from the battery charger. I help him trace the AC power from the dock all the way to the battery charger, and then determine that the DC connection from the charger to the battery is missing- somebody stole the wire out of his boat!
Remi is now my best friend, he tries to return the kindness the rest of the time we are here.
20100304 Spent the day working. Rita hoisted me up to the masthead for an hour to replace the VHF antenna that fell off and broke the wind vane; glued a stiffener to fix the wind vane; and prepare to replace the hailer/horn that got ripped off by the spinnaker halyard. Tightened up all the screws and hardware while I was up there. Taxes, email, internet, etc... Rita worked on AVID forecasted sales opps, and did a lot of work for the coming AVID 25th anniversary event in July. We will take our employees, spouses, and key customers for a sail on 2 "tall ships" in Cleveland, and then have dinner and a band on the Cleveland harbour. Rita is prepping a photo slide show showcasing the long AVID history through prior Halloween events, company events, etc, showing our team in the most compromising and humorous positions possible. We have had a lot of history, memories, and fun, over the many years.
20100305 We wake at 5am for a kayak trip up a river into the mangroves, to hear the howler monkeys awake at dawn, and see the jungle intimately.
In the afternoon, we hike through the jungle to an observation tower on a high hill, then up into the jungle canopy where they have set up hanging bridges between the trees 100 feet up. There are a large number and variety of birds. Groves of rubber trees oozing their white natural latex into collection cups. Not many animals- we noticed this also in the Amazon jungle.
We are still keeping up quite a pace, and don't seem to find much downtime. After a day of internet and shopping in Frontieras, the next morning we catch a bus in Frontieras for a 1.5 hour ride inland to Rio Agua Caliente, literally river of hot water.
The bus is a cargo minivan overloaded with bench seats spaced too close, and it is full of people with a few hanging out the open cargo door. I offer to sit on top of the luggage rack on the roof to make room for a woman and her baby, and I climb up there, and they look at me very strange, because we had just arrived at our stop, and we get off here- lucky me.
As we hike into the jungle toward the river, Francisco, a local, offers to guide for us- good thing too, because the trail up the mountain is steep and winding and we would not have known how to find everything we saw. A 20 minute hike along the steaming hot river takes us to the source- several pools of water that are too hot to put your hand in, gurgling from holes in the ground. Source Rio Agua Caliente.
There is also a cold river here, Rio San Antonio, and we hike up the mountain to its source, from a cavern 75 feet high, in a deep river gorge. The cavern goes into the mountain at least 300 meters, and they say from there you can climb up the cascading waterfall inside the mountain much further. Rita and I swim into the cavern, around turns that cut off all light from the outside- (we brought dive flashlights with us). About 200 meters. We could hear the water cascading down from within the mountain ahead of us.
Hiking back down the mountain, we come to a place where the cool river forms a large swimming hole, with the hot river cascading over 50 foot cliffs creating a waterfall into the cool water below. We swim across the pool, until the hot water falls on us- even at this downstream point in the cold pool, it is too hot to stand for more than ½ second or so.
Large trees grow from the rock walls all around the pool, their impressive twisted branching roots tenaciously clinging to the cracks in the rock. Francisco serves as photographer as well, taking photos of us swimming at each location. I give Francisco 50Q for his services, and he says "Ciento". He wants 100. I happily give it to him.
The afternoon bus takes us back to Frontieras where we find a basic but good dinner and vino overlooking the river. The dinghy always seems to know how to get us back to aVida after such evenings. It was another excellent day.
We spend 1 more day in Frontieras, preparing for the next voyage.
At crack of dawn 6AM next day, as we prepare to depart, Remi and Jim (our friend on the other boat next to us, with whom we shared several late evening talks and indulgences), are on the dock helping to put away the pasarelle and throw off the dock lines for us. As we sail away, they remain standing and waving from the dock as the distance fades away.
Our plan is to go through the Rio Dulce gorge, clear customs in Livingston, get our papers, and sail to Punta Gorda, Belize, and clear customs, immigration, navy and inspection the same day. Punta Gorda is the southern-most port of entry into Belize, and it is only 20NM from Livingston. Once again the winds are light and on the nose, so we motor the entire way, and arrive there by 3PM.
Belize has the 2nd longest barrier reef in the world, and hundreds of islands to explore. Our plan is to work our way north over the coming 2 weeks, hopping between several ports and islands, to arrive in Belize City end of March, where we have 2 couples flying in to sail with us.
Punta Gorda has little to offer, and the whole town is shut down this Monday for a national holiday, so we depart early the next AM for Moho Cay, a tiny palm tree covered sand island with a small resort on it.
We arrive in time for a late lunch, and Breeze, the manager, comes out to the dock to greet us with a fish gaffe in hand- seems a bit threatening at first, but he quickly sees we are good potential customers, not drug runners or something, and welcomes us ashore for a very nice lunch and vino.
In this beautiful lodge with 12 private cabins, there is only 1 couple staying there- John and Amy- very nice people, and we spend the whole afternoon in conversation. We return to aVida for dinner aboard.
In the AM Breeze takes the 4 of us in their power boat out to Sapodillo Cays, the southern most part of the Belize barrier reef, for snorkeling and beach time. A very nice day indeed. We swim amongst quite a few large barracuda patrolling their territory; see a number of sting rays and eagle rays; nice corals and many fish. Another very nice day.
Dinner aboard, and depart in the AM for Placencia, Belize. This is a lively little village on the mainland. There are many yachts at anchor here, and it is a base for Moorings and other sailing charter companies. As a result, there are a lot of dive shop operators, restaurants, bars, and activities going on.
Since we arrived in Belize, we have still been in the habit of trying to speak our pig-Spanish to the locals. We do this here in Belize, and they look at us like we are crazy, because everybody speaks English. It takes us a few days to stop this habit, which we have built for almost 5 months now.
As usual, we don't yet know how to slow down for a minute. In the fading afternoon light, we explored most of the town, and then stumbled onto the best restaurant, Rumfish u Vino for a great dinner- these are US ex-patriots, John and Pam, with a great success on their hands, and now they want to open other cookie-cutter restaurants in other Central America locations- I warn John about the dangers of absentee ownership, and the fact that this restaurant succeeds so well because of their personal presence and charisma.
As we dinghy back to aVida, a rasta local on shore starts yelling to us repeatedly- Jah Mon. Hey Mon. They have some interest in us. Back on aVida, I get out my 24" military machete, mace, stun gun, and sit up for a while sharpening my machete so long as the rasta keeps calling to us. Finally I put my weapons at the bedside and sleep takes over. As I sleep, I imagine the ninja moves to use a machete to take out 2 attackers in a single thrust or rotary slice that does 2 for 1. I hope I never have to attempt these moves, but in my dreamstate, I can visualize it- maybe I could do it.
Early the next AM, we are on the dock for a 2-dive + snorkel trip to the outer wall of the barrier reef. It was quite good, but cant say it was spectacular- viz could have been better.
Then another day of internet and catchup work. We are now coordinating the next 3 months of our voyages, trying to predict distances, voyage times, departure and arrival times, safe anchorages and marinas, security, etc.. so that the many friends flying down to join us and help us with the major offshore passages can book airfare, etc.
The total passage is 3500NM, so we break it up into segments for breaks. We have Mexico to KeyWest. Miami to Bahamas. To Bermuda. To Azores. To Gibraltar. And to the Med. We now have different friends with sailing experience signed up for each of these voyage legs, and also for the non-stop 2800NM return leg from Canaries back to the Carib.
Sailing voyaging is not something you can schedule arbitrarily- the winds and weather can blow any schedule away. Our schedules are a bit tight, but all keyed into coordinating so many places and people- we shall see how our planning works out. The overriding factor is trying to get out of the southern Atlantic before early June when the probability of hurricanes becomes a major concern. So, once again, there is pressure and a timetable- which are at odds with sailing and not respected by King Titan, or the Sea Witch.
20100315 Another working day- at first. We do some work on the boat in the am, and go ashore to the Purple Space Monkey resto-bar for lunch and internet. As we complete our lunch plus several drinks, 2 older men sit at the table next to us, and we are quickly drawn into conversation. These guys have had a colorful and Hard life, with many stories to tell. Bob, 65, is a poet; Claude 84 is a sailor. Bob has so many poems in his head that speak of truth, objectivity, reality, insight, and wisdoms against a lost world that largely blindly follows fabricated mass-media, mass-delusions, mass-religions, and mass-insanity. His poems are complex, very carefully and perfectly chosen words, full of insight and awareness. It takes intense concentration and focus to just follow and digest the words as they stream from his mind across his lips- but I do, and they resonate. Bob delivers from memory at least 6 long poems. We buy them drinks; they buy us drinks. I would like to capture Bob's poetry, but he has never written them down. Bob did hard time for taking out the guys that killed his brother. Like I said- hard colorful lives.
Back on aVida, we are preparing to go to another boat for dinner- Jim and Jane, whom we first met in Roatan.
As we are getting ready to board our dinghy, we hear a holler from our stern- Hey Mark and Rita! It is Jim Lightheart, our friend from Rio Dulce. He has just sailed into Placencia, on sail only, because his motor stopped working (again). It must be a real challenge to navigate these reefs and shoals under only wind power, but he did it, alone.
After Jim leaves, we head off for dinner with Jim and Jane. She is a Brit who has been working on boats all her life- he is American, and has a business with several large charter catamarans in Jamaica doing tourist day cruises. Dinner and conversation are great, we play Jenga on the rolly monohull, and once again the dinghy autopilot finds our way back to aVida.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this sailing life is that the people we meet are invariably unusual and exceptional in their life and sailing experiences. And often a bit over the edge, in a number of ways. But that makes it fun and interesting.
20100316 Overcast, drizzling. A northern front is coming in tomorrow afternoon that will blow from the NW. Thanks friends up north for sharing your weather with us. This is the start of it. We work on the boat all day.
Jane comes over early AM to show Rita how she makes bread on a boat. JimL comes by with the local crew he has picked up, with his engine starter motor in a bag, heading to shore to get it repaired. Jim and Jane come by twice during the day, with gifts, requests for favors, etc.
We made arrangements for Thai massages in town tonight, and we will prob go back to RumFish y Vino for dinner after.
We also made arrangements to go to Belize City by taxi tomorrow, to see a dermatologist to take a look at some skin blotches to make sure they are not cancer, and to cut out whatever is in question. Just whack it all is what I say.
The trip to Belize City is a long drive on very bumpy roads. 60 miles takes over 3.5 hours. Dermatologist checkup is ok, no major concerns, but we do have some things that need treatment, and we are now converts to using SPF twice a day, using special skin creams, and sun avoidance. Before any major problems have started.
Another day of heavy internet. Taking care of AVID business, 2009 financial year end stuff, taxes. 2010 planning, comp plans, etc.
In the evening, we went to Robert Grove Inn, where they have a local Garifuna drum group performing. The Garifuna are descendants of Jamaican and Cuban sugar plantation slaves, and they fiercely defend and extend their culture, music and beliefs. The music is mostly African, with some carib and latin rhythms mixed in. Excellent.
We splurge on dinner. Rita has the Biggest crab legs we have ever seen, I have a NY strip steak. And good vino of course.
Saturday AM we depart for islands north. Northward to a few outer Cays on the barrier reef, then to Belize City to pick up our friends. Belize City is not a nice place. We don't intend to stay there- we will anchor off a Cay a few miles away. Will come in just to pick up our friends and then get away to the most pristine places in the western hemisphere- the Turneffe and Lighthouse Atolls, outside the outer barrier reef. The charter boat companies don't allow their charter boats to go here due to increased navigation hazards, but the appeal of 100 foot visibility, superb diving and snorkeling are what we and our friends are after.
There is the "Blue Hole", a perfectly round ¼ mile diameter very deep hole in the ocean rimmed by a living ring of coral, In 1972, Jacque Cousteau explored this geological phenomenon, where they discovered at 125 foot depth a forest of stalactites. The Blue Hole was once a cavern above the surface of the water, 12,000 years ago when ocean depth was almost 400 feet lower than it is today! Global warming or not, whether accelerated by man or not, the ocean levels will likely rise another several 100 feet more in the coming centuries. Don't buy that Florida swamp land.
Providencia, Colombia to Roatan, Honduras
Week of Feb15 Providencia, Colombia
Providencia is the smaller, low-key sister to San Andres. Beautiful mountainous island, with very friendly people.
Providencia and SanAndres have a true pirate history. Blackbeard's Cave on SanAndres is a big attraction, and his descendents are still searching for where he hid his biggest treasure. Henry Morgan used these islands as a base to plunder passing Spanish treaure ships, taking the gold stolen from the Mayans. Morgan was a Welsh Admiral and "privateer", which means a pirate operating as a sort of "black ops group" for England.
These islands are a blend of pirates, Caribe tribes, slaves brought from Jamaica (hence the strong rasta influences), freed African slaves and Spanish colonists. The islands display and honor their pirate roots in many ways. These islands off Nicaragua were part of Spain until after the Spanish-American war of Independence, when they were awarded to far away Colombia in 1821.
We did a hike to the top of the tallest mountain on Providencia with a sailor friend- spectacular view. Rented motor scooters with friends and circumnavigated the island. As usual, I like to explore every little side trail off the road. We went down one dirt side road to a beach where there was Roland's Bar. Roland is a Rastafarian, and the weed smoke was all around. For 27 years, Roland has been clearing and developing this patch of beach and jungle to create the reggae-paradise it is now. The rasta ambience was a lot of fun, the music was great, and the people were all so friendly.
All of the yachties have been downloading weather data and watching for the next weather window to depart- some going N, some S. Tomorrow is the day.
A number of the yachties gathered for dinner at a small restaurant, organized by the Bernard Bush, the agent who helped most of us get our customs and immigration clearances in and out of the island. The restaurant was unprepared for so many, and they only had beer. So we and our friends went to buy bottles of wine at a local market, and brought it back to drink. We drank our wine, and still were not able to order our food, so we left and found a great hole in the wall restaurant with great home cooking. The waitress was a lot of fun.....
Set sail from Providencia, Colombia for Roatan, Honduras. This takes us through the shoals of Nicaragua, notorious for pirate attacks. Sometime these are just poor fishermen far offshore, who see an opp to make a year's wage in what they can take from a yacht. But last year a 25 foot motor skiff with 4 men in paramilitary garb board a boat with shotguns and rifles, tied up the yachtistas, and cleaned out their boat. So we watch the radar all night long, looking at all radar targets, and tracking their course and speed, to see if they are approaching us. We see several targets, but none take an interest in us, and we pass.
Sailing north from Providencia was 15-20 knots of wind on the beam, and aVida screams.
5 other boats, 4 monhulss and 1 production cat, departed at 7am. We departed after 1PM. By 9-10PM, we see their radar targets a few miles all around us, and we scream past them, onward into the Nicaraguan night. We are doing 8-13 knots, they are doing about 6 knots, limited by hull speed.
Sunday AM we turn the corner near Cayo Vivarillo, and head West toward Roatan. Winds are soft, and we motor sail for a while to keep up boat speed. We are trying to make this 400 mile voyage in 2 nights only, and we don't want to arrive to early or too late (in the night), so we are pacing our speed and ETA.
Sunday evening the winds start to build to 15knots, then 20, 25, then by 3am they are 30+ knots sustained winds. With no mainsail, and the genoa double reefed, we are sailing at 8-15 knots boat speeed. Winds and waves are on the aft quarter, and the sailing is surprisingly comfortable and easy.
Rita and I are doing 2 hours shifts through both nights, and when we are off watch, by the time we fall asleep, and we don't sleep soundly, it is time to wake up. We are exhausted.
As dawn approaches, we are passing Guanaja, the island we first intended to go to. But our electronic charts for Guanaja are coarse at best, and we have no local knowledge to enter the anchorage, especially in a blow. So we bypass Guanaja and head further for Roatan. We can still make it by noon. Our Canadian friends on Obsession far behind us by now are expecting to find us in Guanaja when they arrive- but this is the best sailing decision for us. We email them to let them know our change of plans, and hope they don't call out search parties for us when they don't find us there.
We arrive in Roatan by noon- less than 24 hours of sailing.
Our customs agent when we arrive looks at our departure date and questions how we got here so fast. "good winds".
What they say about drunken sailors is so true. Once we got the anchor down and set, we headed for "Fantasy Island" dive resort adjacent to our anchorage.
As we walked into the resort, we were greeted by giant tail-less rodents as big as a small dog everywhere, collecting their palm seeds and small pipa coconuts and burying them in the sand. Very timid animals.
Then there were dozens of giant iguanas, probably 3 feet long head to tail. These were orange colored, with dark black strips. Very photogenic.
Then the palm leaves above us suddenly swayed and rustled, and a number of spider monkeys started accosting us. We had some nuts, and they came down and took them from our hands. Rita held her hand out toward a monkey, and we held a nut above her head- the monkey climbed down her arm and sat on her head, to get the nut. It was quite happy to sit there for a while for a photo or 2. We played with the monkeys some more, then moved on.
We got through the wildlife, and sat in the outside bar. Met a guy named Hank from Illinois, and talked a long while. He was on an "unlimited" plan, and proceeded to bring us drink after drink.
Then a giant peacock strutted up into the middle of the bar area, and was eating peanuts out of our hands. Unreal. No wonder they call it Fantasy Island.
They played great salsa and reggae music in the bar, and then a couple of rastafaris came out start started dancing to get the tourists involved. Of course, Rita and I are the only ones who danced, and we might have made quite a scene, but we don't care, and it was very fun.
We had the diver's buffet dinner and some wine, and a bit intoxicated motored back to aVida. As we approached, the neighbor boat tells us that we are too close, because they are on a mooring, we are on an anchor. They are totally right. I didn't notice their mooring ball when we came in. So, with a bit too much vino in us, we start up the electronics (for depth and nav data), and both engines, and pull up the anchor, and start motoring around the anchorage among many other boats on one side and the reefs on every other side, to find a new spot. Somehow we do this, and in a 28 feet hole in the water among the shallows, we drop the hook, it seems to set well enough, and we go to sleep.
Slept in. duh. Took the dinghy to explore the long channels behind the reefs of French Harbor. Went into town a bit and checked out the grocery and other stores for provisioning to come. Had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the bay- not the best local experience. As we get farther into the Caribbean, the workers here are starting to get the resentful carib attitude we see so many places, but did Not see in Columbia, Panama, Galapagos, Chile, etc.
Back to Fantasy Island resort, for a swim in the bay, and a nap on the beach. We considered venturing into town to find dinner, but it was far more comfortable to have the buffet dinner and vino (of course) at Fantasy Island, and go back to the boat earlier.
Spent the first half of the day flying in a small open cockpit seaplane. Took off within 200 feet of aVida, took some great pics. Flew SE down the south side of Roatan, and got a visual tour of the towns and ports, and landed at the west end of the island. The pilot Neil had a booking to take some tourists up for a 45 minute flight, so we explore "West End". Then we took off again, and flew NW up the north side of the island the full 30 miles to the NE corner of the island, out to a pair of small Cays, and landed at Pigeon Cay, motoring right up onto the beach, and put out an anchor. We set up an umbrella, had a picnic, and went snorkeling among the reefs S of the Cay- nice. Took off again, and flew SE again back to Fantasy Island, where we are anchored. There is a weather front coming in from the NE, and the winds coming over the mountains of Roatan created some "mechanical turbulence" creating a roller coaster ride. We buzzed the Fantasy Island anchorage and aVida several times, to get photos, and then landed within 100 feet of aVida. What a great way to spend a day.
We took the dingy back to aVida, and could see that once again the spade anchor was not holding in the grassy bottom, and aVida had dragged back from 28 feet of water, to 4 foot shoals. Just in time. We motored forward to reset the anchor, and it would not set solid. So we once again put out the Fortess anchor, that seems flawless in grassy bottoms, in tandem with the main space anchor. The weather Grib data we downloaded predicts 30+ knots of winds from the NW, and we don't want to have a sleepless night. Anchors seem to be holding well again.
So we went to the Fantasy Island resort (again) for some internet work in the outside bar area. The damn spider monkeys got hold of a bottle of suntan lotion, and climbed into the palm tree above our heads. 5 monkeys were biting the bottle to let the fluid out, and were competing to rub the oil all over their heads and bodies. We were all amazed at how they know to do this- it must truly be "monkey see, monkey do". For 20 minutes, they dribbled oil all over our table and computers and papers while we were working Many other people were crowding around laughing at the whole scene, and so were we. Then the monkeys moved over another table, and started leaving another kind of droppings. Not so funny- those people moved real fast.
Back to aVida for dinner and a movie on the boat. The 30 knot winds are coming in tonight around midnight, and we want to be on board and prepared for whatever.
The winds build from 20s to 30s to 40s. We watch the wind and the anchor until 11pm, then go to sleep. Other sailors tell us in the morning that the wind peaked over 50 knots. Quite a blow.
We found an excellent experience at Barefoot Cay, a luxury marina. We started with a deep tissue and relaxation massage, followed by dinner in their restaurant. This was probably the nicest fine dining experience we have had since last October.
We intended to spend our last day in Roatan doing 3 dives, but the weather front that came in made diving impossible. So our our last day in Roatan was spent doing internet and prepping the boat for the voyage to come. We verified weather data, and departed at 9am the following day for Livingston, Guatemala, and the RioDulce gorge, on the tail of the passing weather.