03/21/2013, 30 miles off Gladden Cut
We're not complaining about the heat, but we are having to keep it in mind. The nights cool off to the high 70's and by 9 am its just too hot for much but sitting and reading, limeing (talk with neighboring boats) or swimming.
And that about sums up our 5 days in West End. It is a beautiful anchorage, one of the nicest we have been in. To enter you run through a marked cut in the reef about 60' wide with depths from "off-soundings" (too deep for the depth sounder, meaning greater than 400') to 8' in about 200 yds, a nail biting experience. Then you pass through the reef with waves breaking on either side of you, and you're in... swell gone and flat clear water.
We picked up a park mooring and quickly settled in. We were in with two other boats we have met, and were soon joined by Chewink, with Cabot and Heidi Lyman aboard there Seguin 47' (built in Cabot's boatyard, Lyman-Morse, in Thomaston Maine).
All settled in the anchorage, we headed for the dive shop to arrange diving for the following morning. Next, we wandered the beach heading down to West Beach. Its a 2 mile walk with small resorts continuously lining the shore. By then it was time for sundowners on Appleseeds (Pete and Eileen, better known as Ace, from Vancouver), and the day was done.
The following morning we went diving off our dinghies, another beautiful reef. In many places we have seen reefs under obvious stress, but here they seem healthy with lots of healthy coral and great fish diversity. In mid-afternoon, Swift Current (Howard and Lynn from Vancouver) came in and picked up a mooring, so our fleet was complete. Swift Current had been delayed in French Harbour having their engine mounts replaced, Three had sheared off completely on the trip from Providencia. But all was now well. So dinner for all aboard Chewink, and we had managed to fill another day.
On it went with snorkeling, diving and eating until the weather forecast told us it was time to move. So early Wednesday (yesterday), Swift current headed out for Mexico. We delayed our departure for Belize until evening. The trip is just slightly too long to do in daylight, so we decided to leave at dusk, arriving at the reef cut at dawn so we would have plenty of excellent light for the required "visual navigation". In Belize, we'll check in with Immigration, Customs, and the Port Captain, then play "Hide the Boat" from strong (gale force gusts) winds on the weekend. Then next week we'll head out to explore the beautiful offshore cays with more snorkeling. Hopefully our friend, Lynn Young, from Belize, can join us for a few days.
03/14/2013, Fantasy Island Marina, French Harbour, Roatan
Chapter II and Estelle, Fantasy Island Marina, Roatan, Honduras
Well, we have been in Roatan for two weeks, and still no sign of moving on. Here at Fantasy Island Marina we have been busy doing little. We have been diving, snorkeling, playing tennis, touring and just messing around. John and Paula Dennis left two days ago for Rio Dulce. We spent quite a bit of time with them, touring, and snorkeling with John.
The diving and snorkeling are fantastic just 100 yds off the marina, so we've been in the water lots. Pictures to come when I find time and a good internet connection to post them. I have four small boat projects to do, but they seem to remain unattended to. On sunny days, its too hot to do them, and today, the first cool and cloudy day, its too rainy. Maybe tomorrow.
But tomorrow will also be re-stocking day as we prepare to head off. And this is the best grocery shopping we have found in the Western Caribbean. Between the Bulk Gourmet and Eldon's Supermarket we can find just about anything we need. So we'll do a good stocking up for Belize, where we are really only assured of fresh fruit. Oddly enough, bananas are rare here, as are oranges, both locally grown.
The plan is to head to West End (of Roatan) on Saturday for a few days. It has excellent diving and snorkeling, as is available all around Roatan. And ashore, it is a bit like a tiny Key West with one dusty street filled with dive shops and restaurants, and sunburned gringos. It is a fun place. We've been there a couple of times by car, and look forward to a visit by boat.
Then some time next week, when we have had enough of West End, we'll do a short overnight sail to Belize. Its just 82 miles from West End, a bit too far for a day sail. And we need light to exit the reef at West End and to enter the reef in Belize. So an evening departure and a lazy sail should do just fine.
The plan, written in sand at low tide, is to spend a week to ten days in Belize, then off to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, our jumping off port for Key West, and in the US in early April. But before that, more snorkeling and diving before we get into the cooler weather.
03/03/2013, French Harbour, Roatan
Exploring Roatan with John & Paula Dennis
I have been reminded of my delinquincy in keeping this blog up to date.
On Feb 25th, we watched as Providencia's mountains disappeared in the mist behind us. We were on our way north to Roatan, 450 miles away. We were underway at 0700 hrs after shedding a large chunk of fish trap from our anchor.
After ten days in Providencia, the boat was ready to go, all projects completed, but we could have stayed longer. During our stay, we toured the island by motorcycle, climbed its 1000' peak, 1.5 hours each way in the tropical heat, to gaze down on the tiny harbor below us, seeing Estelle gently bobbing on her anchor. Providencia is an oasis in more than one way. It has an excellent protected harbour in the middle of the S-W Caribbean, making it an excellent stop-over for boats heading north and south. It is also extremely safe. There are no records of boater crime, an unusual claim in this part of the world. And English is as commonly spoken as Spanish. It has a long history of English occupation, both by settlers and pirates. It finally became Colombian about 100 years ago, and today, there are more than a few who are suggesting that they should go back.
In January, the World Court at The Hague came down with a decision on the islands and the fishing rights around them. And it did not favour Colombia. Although the islands remain Colombian, all the surrounding waters have been given to Nicaragua. The decision sent the navies of both countries scurrying out bristling, but all remained quiet.
So when we were there, people were to say the least, unhappy. When we heard the President was coming to address the people, we hustled ashore to watch the fun. The local school band played the national anthem, all four long verses. Then the mayor spoke (at length), the local member of the federal government spoke even longer, and finally, El Presidente arose. He spoke long and passionately, but not a word about the fishing rights dispute. Instead he unloaded a series of promises that puts any of our politicians at home to shame. He promised new schools, hospitals, lower ferry rates, a new marina and more. Then he headed home. But nobody seemed fooled. Politics are the same everywhere, it seems.
Our last day there we dinghied ashore to watch two local baseball teams compete. It was great fun with the game competing with the fans for entertainment value.
So as we watched the island disappear, sailing past Morgan's Head (named after the infamous Captain Morgan who laid in wait for the Spanish treasure ships sailing from Portobelo to Spain) we thought about the new friends we had made during our 10 days there.
Our course was NNW in an ESE breeze of 15-18 knots. We were sailing in company with Swift Current, a Sabre 45 and Camelot, a Catalina 47. With their longer waterlines, they soon pulled ahead. But in the fresh breeze, we romped north at 7.5-8 knots. In late afternoon a large target appeared on the radar. These waters are known to be a bit unsafe, with a bit of piracy against boaters not unknown. So we watched the target with interest as it slowly bore down on us. By the time it was within sight, we recognized it as a Colombian Naval frigate. In addition to the odd pirate (mostly poor fishermen) the waters are also heavily used for drug smuggling between Colombia and Mexico. The navy just passed us slowly then headed off south in search of more interesting quarry.
At 0400, after 21 hours and 156 miles, we reached our first waypoint. I was on watch, so roused Jeannie from her bunk to help gybe us over onto a course due west to pass the Cayos Vivorillos another 54 miles away. On the map, the ocean off Nicaragua, the Mosquito Coast, looks empty, but a closer inspection shows it infested with reefs and shoals out 100 miles. That's why we headed NNW before gybing due west. And the banks make good fishing, so through the night we had to keep a sharp lookout to make sure we kept well away from the boats and their gear.
At noon, we sighted the Vivorillos. They are a beautiful set of cays surrounded by reefs that can provide a beautiful anchorage in the right conditions. But in the fresh south-westerlies, it was wide open. And again there is a question of security. It is not the place to anchor alone. And finally, our weather window was closing. We were racing a major cold front that was due to hit Roatan with 35-40 knot winds later in the week. So we watched the Vivorillos disappear as we again altered course to the north west, this time to keep at least 20 miles off the coast of Nicaragua for the night.
Again the wind stayed a fresh 15-20 with gusts to 25, we romped along until dawn found us with just 50 miles to go. As the sun rose to yet another glorious day, the wind slowly died, leaving us motor-sailing by mid-morning. Our buddy boats were about 18 miles ahead of us, both developed problems. Camelot lost their auto-pilot the previous day, leaving them hand steering in the boisterous following seas, and when they began motoring, Swift Current broke a motor mount, requiring them to motor the last stretch at low speed. So by mid-afternoon we were all safely into French Harbor, Roatan. As we rounded up to our marina berth at Fantasy Island Marina, we recognized Chapter II from our yacht club, in the next berth. Before we had our lines secured, we were catching up with John and Paula Dennis, a warm welcome!
Trip over, 420 miles run in 55 hours, an excellent passage. Plans kind of run out here. Roatan is known for its spectacular diving, so I hope to find time for a couple of dives. We will probably spend 10 days here then off to Belize for a couple of weeks, who knows?
02/18/2013, Isla Providencia, Colombia
On "The Peak"
Yes, Mr. Bush, we are relaxin! Mr Bush is the marine agent who gets you through all the officialdom of checking in and out of Colombia. That we are "relaxin" seems to be his major concern.
We left Colon on Thursday for a beautiful overnight sail here, making great time in the best conditions we have ever experienced... 12-18 knots on a close reach in seas 2`-3`. We made 260 NM in 37 hours, an excellent passage for us.
We arrived off the harbor at 8 pm in darkness, but having been here before, we were able to enter without problem. Neither of our charts is accurate, but we made notes leaving, so were fine. We had a three day weather window before the winds and seas kicked up, so we are now sitting out 20 knot winds whih 10'-12' seas outside.
Saturday morning we checked in along with two other boats that had arrived, one 60` , Renegade, with Natalie and Paul aboard, arrived ahead of us from Colon, and another arriving from the San Blas pulled in at dawn with a family of three aboard. Together we were easily cleared in, and just as easily relieved of $140 in the process.
Fees vary greatly from country to country. Belize and Panama seem to be highest at about $200 after the questionable parts are included, and Jamaica is free! Bahamas is $300. In any case, having cleared us in, Mr Bush`s next concern was that we were `relaxin`. And we can assure him that we are.
Talking to Chris Parker this morning, it sounds like we may be here for 10 days before the wind and seas will let us continue.
There are 13 boats in the anchorage, and already two have dragged anchor. I won`t go into too much detail, but one was from eastern Canada... PEI to be exact. But with the anchor re-set and a second one set, we are fine. This morning a squall blew through with 30 knot winds and heavy rain. We held fine and the rain was welcome as it washed off the heavy salt layer from our passage.
Then after the squall blew through, we headed ashore for excitement... El Presidente de Colombia was in town!!! In December, the International Court in The Hague issued a binding decision on waters around Providencia and San Andres. The dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua has been long-standing, and both parties agreed to binding arbitration.
Big mistake for Colombia. With the exception of a 12 mile limit around the islands and a small access corridor, huge fishing grounds went to Nicaragua. The locals were unhappy to say the least, so we waited for the fur to fly. We listened in both English (English is spoken equally with Spanish due to the island's English origins)and Spanish as local and federal politicians spoke about the wonderful projects the government was undertaking.
An agreement for a new water system was signed. New education, health and tourism projects were announced (including a marina), but not a word from anyone about Nicaragua or the fishing grounds. With that, El Presidente hopped on a plane and was gone, leaving an island full of very unhappy people.
Next, off to see Mr Bush about someone to look at our outboard engine which is acting up. Then to the bakery for pastries and back to the boat for an afternoon of boat projects.
On my list are four major projects: re-pack the rudder stuffing box, adjust (again) the generator governor, re-commission the watermaker and investigate why the radar is not working. Then, I will be relaxin. We'll tour the island by motor-bike, do some snorkling on the beautiful reefs, try out a few restaurants and hike some of the spectacular trails that climb the steep mountains.
02/14/2013, 125 miles off the Panama coast
D Dock at Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama
Exactly 51 weeks after our arrival in Shelter Bay Marina, we cast off our lines and headed out for Providencia, Colombia, 250 miles northward. In that year, we have traveled through Panama, Peru and Colombia while Estelle has acquired a new engine and had a myriad of other improvements and repairs. We have met countless new friends, both cruisers and Panamanian and will always look back on our time in Panama fondly. But it was time to go and the boat was loaded, so we cast off. We have a weather window that will allow us a nice sail directly to Providencia, so we'll take it. Its a bit unusual, directly out of the east, giving us a nice sailing angle. So the trip back to San Blas is off and we're on the way home!
Last night we said goodbye to friends in the marina with a small party in the cockpit, then turned in. We'll spend a week or so in Providencia then head for Roatan. From there we're off north.
Its good to be sailing again and the forecast looks like we will have excellent winds, arriving in Providencia just at dusk.
02/06/2013, Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama
But not in Estelle...
The list is getting Longer, but the number of items that are checked off is growing faster, so there is an end in sight.
So far, the completed projects are:
Galley Light Installed
New Fans (3) installed
Propane Solenoid installed
New Sailcover and weather clothes installed
BBQ Starter replaced
Dinghy gas tank flushed & re-filled
Alternator Belts Replaced
Generator fixed (new capacitor installed and governor adjusted)
Marina Bill fixed
Gybe Preventer fixed
Projects underway are:
Propane tank out for re-fill (day 3)
Life raft out for re-packing
Brightwork Varnish (two coats to go,,, waiting for varnish)
Provisioning (about half done)
Haulout for bottom cleaning (Tomorrow)
Top off fuel (Tomorrow)
Replace Watermaker Filters (Friday)
Exit Zarpe (Friday... Next week is Carnival, nobody working)
Final Provisioning (Mon/Tues)
And Saturday, we leave to head through the canal with Bill and Caroline on their 40' cat. It will be a two day trip, starting Sat afternoon with us heading up the Gatun Locks (3) and spending the night in Lake Gatun. Then Sunday we will finish at the Balboa Yacht Club in Panama City on Sunday morning. We'll spend the night in Panama City and do some more provisioning Monday before heading back to Colon. The grocery stores in Panama City have a much better selection. Then we'll finish off our provisioning on Tues at Cuatro Altos in Colon.
Provisioning is a big deal as we will probably have a two to three week wait in the San Blas where provisioning is sketchy at best, and very unpredictable.
So its been a busy two weeks and fun, re-connecting with cruisers we have met before, and meeting new friends. But its time to be off. The only iffy parts are the ones where we are waiting for others (propane, varnish, life raft, etc.).
02/03/2013, Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama
Toucan in Cartagena Hotel
We arrived back in Panama on Wed night and spent two nights in Panama City, mostly just enjoying the restaurants. We visited an are exhibition of Paul Gaugan works, and although its not usually my first choice of entertainment, it was very interesting.
Back at the boat, the re-commissioning list began to take shape... and the list seems to take shape significantly more quickly than the jobs get attended to. Realistically, we'll be here for another week to get everything done. By way of example, we want to get two propane tanks filled. Because it takes two or three days to do, we can't send both out at once, so there's a week right there. And waiting for things is always a long job in Panama. This morning my two jobs were to get the dinghy gas tank filled and pick up a parcel that had been delivered here during our absence. I got the gas tank delivered, and with luck it will be back tomorrow at the earliest. No luck on the parcel, but by early afternoon I finally found it, after a three hour search. Its a new galley light, a spiffy new LED thingy to replace the old Flourescent one that died last October. Its been dark on the boat since it died, but now we'll brighten up again, and save energy too!!
Other jobs include things like repair the windlass (again!). I'm trying to keep it alive until we gat back in the spring. The major jobs are things like get the generator going (new parts from home willl hopefully do the trick), get the life raft re-packed, install new fans, haul-out for bottom cleaning, and about a dozen small jobs. And always a big favorite is getting our Zarpe, permission to sail off. That takes a morning trip to Colon and the Port Captain's office. To smooth my way and avoid getting knifed, I will use Teddy, a burly fast-talking taxi driver we use.
And we're trying to get it done by mid-week. Carnival is scheduled to start this weekend and it seems that it gets started informally a few days early, so no one is sure who will show up for work.
But one major prize I snagged was a duty-free case of Gin! At $11/bottle, I grabbed a case for stores!!!
So, lots to do, but we have no schedule as the winter trades are still blowing, so we won't be heading north for a bit yet.
01/27/2013, Whistler, BC
Powder Skiing, Whistler BC
Well, we're finally getting set to return to Panama. Our stay here in Whistler has been extended due to snow... too good to resist, so it gave us an extra week of great skiing. But we have also been bust, with more gear.
We have been accumulating boat parts at an impressive rate. We have generator parts, a new outboard engine lifting strap, new engine belts, light for galley, new SSB radio KISS ground system (complete with a grat chat with Carl, its inventor), plus lots of bits and pieces.
We spent today getting stuff organized, sorting out cabin stuff, what stays, what goes to Panama, etc.
But we will just leave the cabin as is as family will be using it weekly throughout winter.
So tomorrow will be the last skiing day (its snowing tonight!), then down to Vancouverthen to Panama City on Wednesday and to Shelter Bay and the boat on Friday.
Plans will have us spend a week or so in Shelter Bay to get stocked up, then off eastward. We will take every opportunity we get to head east to give us a better wind angle for heading north to Providencia, then off to Roatan.
Realistically, we will have a wait as the winter trades offshore Panama are north to north-east, with the occasional system pusing them further east. Its one of those we will be looking for to give us a decent wind angle. Once to Providencia, things should improve as the winds there tend to be more easterly... or so the theory goes. But we have lots of time so will just wait until we get what we want. There's lots of snorkling etc to keep us busy while we wait.