05/20/2009, Turneffe Island & Ambergris Cay,Belize
We sadly left Roatan on an overnight passage to the offshore atoll of Belize, Turneffe Island. Another amazing place! Wow the water is various shades of blue and very very shallow (6-8 ft)! Our boat draws 5'6", so there is not much water under Four Points keel, while we sail around these outer reefs/islands! We are slowly getting use to having so little water under the boat. We started towards an anchorage listed in the cruising guides that is just off the resort Turneffe Lodge, however the wave points only lead you to just outside the reef. We attempted to call the lodge via VHF but they were not as helpful as the guide mentions. We decided to head around the other side of the reef. We headed towards Blue Creek, and found a dive mooring that was not being used just south of the charted anchorage. We pulled up the mooring and fell fast asleep since we were up all night sailing!
The next day we woke up early and headed to Ambergris Cay, Belize. This was a day sail approximately 50 miles up the coast of Belize. Ambergris Cay is one of the many keys of Belize. The reef is absolutely beautiful and is consider another diver's paradise. We were glad that we arrived while the sun was still high so we could see the reef in the very clear and shallow water (6'...Four Points draft is 5'6" so we were just skimming across with min water below her!). It helped that there were several sailboats that were anchored.
We went to shore and explored the island. We rented bicycles one day which gave us the mobility to tour the entire island within only a few hours. Ambergris Cay is a fairly busy island with vehicles......mainly golf carts. Golf Carts are the main mode of transportation on the dirt roads of the island. During our cycling tour, dodging in/out of golf carts, we were in search for some boat parts to repair the regulator for the alternator but it was not found although we did finally find oars (remos). Yeah!! We have been looking for oars (only needed one...really a challenge to row a dinghy with one unless you like to go in cycles!) b/c one of our oars broke early in the trip. Oars apparently are not used anywhere in Central America, only paddles.
We decided that we need to keep moving north so we can get to Florida well before the storms hit the Gulf of Mexico. We provisioned at the well stocked grocery store (a little on the expensive side) the day before we pulled up anchor to head towards Mexico. Brian downloaded weather and we calculated our route, expecting to take 3 days, 2 nights for the ~252 miles. We were glad when other cruisers reminded us that this leg of our journey we should expect a favorable current (estimated anywhere from 2-3knot current). With this added boost we had to recalculate our trip and figured that we could sail the distance in one overnight! Yeah! We pulled up anchor early the next morning headed towards Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
05/14/2009, Isla Roatan, Honduras
We developed a navigation plan to head to Roatan from Providencia a trip of 400 miles non-stop. We had a nice time in beautiful Providencia but we need to keep moving towards Florida because the Hurricane season is approaching. We have discussed this with other sailors and they all say our trip should be done in two seasons so we could slow down and explore this beautiful part of the world more. I have to say I do like to keep moving and see/explore each new place but at times we have felt rushed on this side of Central America. We will just have to come and visit again.
This passage was exciting because we had to sail around the Nicaraguan Bank. This area is shallow water with many small-uncharted Cays. Also, the wind can crank. We left Providencia in the afternoon so we can make a daylight landing in Roatan. The wind started out good and just got better. We had a 6kt beam reach all the way until we started hitting shallow water offshore of the Hobbie & Vivorillo Cays. We then had to turn West towards Honduras with a strong 20-25kt East wind. We set the sails wing & wing and were sailing around 9kts. This was great sailing but there was one problem. We were going too fast and would arrive at Roatan in the dark (which we do not do). So wouldn't you know it but with some of our best sailing we had to take down all the sails and were still doing 6kts with bare poles. We arrived offshore of Roatan after a three night windy passage. We kept calling on the VHF radio for a couple of Marinas but no one was answering (we found out later that we had passed a time zone so we thought people would be up but it was still 6:00am). Roatan has a barrier reef around it so you have to find a "cut" through the reef to get moor Four Points. After slowly entering one cut we realized that with the morning sun in our eyes we were not going to be able to see the shoals in the inner lagoon. We left the first cut (the outside wind was blowing a strong 20kts) and found another, hoping to find somewhere to anchor. The entrances and the lagoon were a shallow 6 feet (we draw 5'6"). Finally, someone answered my mildly panicked radio calls and he said he would meet us in a panga outside of the next cut down. So again we headed out the narrow/shallow cut into the steep windy seas. We were happy to follow the dock masters panga through the tight cut into a great marina. The marina is called Barefoot Cay Marina and I have to say it was one of the best marinas we have ever visited. It was not inexpensive ($1.25/foot per day) but very clean & classy (www.barefootcay.com). After a day resting around the pool for a day we rented a truck and explored the island. This is a great place and I could stay here for a while.
Before our trip I have been following other cruisers web blogs. My favorite has been the adventures of a Canadian couple Ed & Julie on Free Radical (www.svfreeradical.com). After a trip around the world they have made Roatan a temporary home. From their website I knew they were moored in a place called Calabash Bight. We looked on the island map and found it was way out on the Eastern end of the island. We decided to hunt them down. After driving over dirt roads and down steep sandy hills we found Calabash Bight. We didn't want to just drop in on them, but we didn't have their phone number (do they have a phone?). We have never met & I would read their blog but I never contact them. We thought they might think we were crazy. We found their "boats", Free Radical & their new catamaran Spirit of Free Radical (Free Radical is for sale, see their website) but no one was home. We waited around for awhile not sure if we should just head back then luckily both Ed & Julie showed up wet from showers at the local small resort. They were great! They showed us around Spirit of Free Radical & Free Radical. The work they have done restoring both boats is amazing & inspiring. They gave us beers and we felt welcome and right a home. They are starting a chartering business so if anyone out there wants to experience cruising keep an eye on their website. After a couple hours and a short rainstorm we decided we should head back across the island. I'm sure glad we got connected with this inspiring couple and appreciated their warm reception and friendship.
During our driving around we also visited the West End, which is a small funky village with mostly diving resorts & good restaurants. We could see yachts anchored just offshore in the lee of the island. We asked around and found out where the "cut" was to enter the lagoon. After a couple more relaxing days at Barefoot Cay we headed for the West End anchorage. We entered the cut with the sun overhead so we could see the reef good and picked up a mooring in 10 feet of crystal clear water (the moorings are provided by the island to protect the reef from anchors). This is an awesome place! The next day Nancy & I took the dingy outside the reef and tied up to a small mooring directly over the reef. The visibility is about 80-100 feet and the reef was beyond description. The variety of corals was unbelievable with brain, stag, fan, barrel, etc. and all kinds of colorful reef fish. This place is a premier dive spot and Nancy & I took full advantage diving everyday at a new reef site. Again, we were not ready to leave but Florida is calling us and we still have many miles to sail.
05/09/2009, Isla de Providencia, Columbia
As we bid a farewell to our new friends in Bocas Marina, we started towards our first wave point for our next destination in a very hard pouring rain! I think this was the hardest rain that we had experienced thus far since we crossed the Panama Canal. We have had rain ( "big" rain as Brian calls it ...growing up in southern CA (only 7 inches of rain/year if lucky) he really has not experienced the hard rains on a consistent basis like we have been having here)pretty much every day since we have arrived on the Caribbean side, usually a soaking rain then it would clear up just long enough to start drying cushions, towels etc. before it would rain again! We have found a few leaks here and there in Four Points but glad that the new hatches that Brian put in last year passed the rain test...well all except one...of course this one is in the aft cabin, the large hatch that is over the bed, his side of the bed! The good thing was that since we were making a passage (approx 255 miles), the bed had time to dry before it was going to be slept in! During passages we use the bed in the saloon to make it easier and more accessible for watches.
We really did not know what to expect for this passage other than that there was a good possibility that we would be beating in to the swell and the wind could be at our nose. Not fun! We picked a weather window that we thought could be favorable for us (less swell and wind possibly at a close reach or maybe at our beam!) But we would not find out until we were actually out there! Our goal was to go ahead and try to make it to Providencia even though we knew it would take two overnights. It had been a while since we have done overnights so we were not looking forward to it. We had a bail out anchorage to head to if once we got out there we were just getting beat up with the seas.
Well we lucked out! After we motor sailing in the rain for several hours in lumpy seas and a light wind at our nose, the rain dried up, the sun came out and the wind switched enough so we could pinch our way to Providencia. The wind was variable throughout the days and nights ranging from 13-25 knots but enough for us to set the sails and sail the rest of the way, reaching Providencia in the early morning just as the sun was rising. We were sure glad to make landfall!
Once we set anchor, we called ashore via VHF to Bush Agency (Providencia requires an agent to get the check in process started. We were informed that we had to stay aboard until the "officials and doctor" come to the boat. Because of the threat of the possible swine flu pandemic, Columbia (and other countries) have been doing medical screens before anyone was permitted to come to shore. We arrived at approx 6:00AM, called Bush Agency (Mr. Bush) around 8:00 AM, officials and doctor arrived at 3:00 PM, I would definitely call that "island time" punctuality. We were finally cleared in the country of Columbia by 4 pm and allowed to go ashore!
After being on the boat for several days, we were anxious to get off to stretch our legs so to speak and to explore Providencia. We actually got to see two islands for the price of one. Santa Catalina (or Kathlena as it is advertised in the local directory given to us at time of check in) is connected to Providencia by a low wooden footbridge. Funny, this directory is not only ads for restaurants, dive shops, tours, etc. available on the island but also a phone book of all the island's residents. I guess it would come in handy if we wanted to call someone on the island while we are visiting. The island is close knit and has common family names (similar to tons of Smiths, Jones or Johnsons except Columbian surnames) listed in the phonebook (this book is only 10-12 pages long...it is not the size of yellow or white pages). It appears to be only a portion of the residents on the island b/c the gas attendant told us that there are approximately 4000 residents (this is for Providencia and St Kathlena).
The island has a rather neat flair (very low tourism) and history of the infamous pirate Morgan who raided the island long ago. There's a large rocky prominence that we passed coming into the anchorage that looks like a profile of a head that is called Morgan's Head. We were able to walk up a small incline to center of town to find small shops, bank and small grocery stores (very limited supplies, so tough to call grocery store especially since they did not carry Bimbo bread!). What we saw of the island was that they had one main road that was paved while the other smaller roads were dirt. What surprised us was that there were so many vehicles driving around, you really had to watch out while walking along the narrow road. The island actually offers a lot for sightseeing but we only planned to stay for only a couple of days so we can continue to sail north. We were able to check in and out of the country all at the same time. We cannot believe how time has flown by and we are concerned about getting to Florida before all the tropical storms as well as the threat of hurricanes!
Next stop will be the island of Roatan, Honduras, approximately 400 nm.
04/28/2009, Bocas del Toro, Panama
We are here now in Bocas del Toro, Panama. We were able to get in to Bocas Yacht club & Marina. Finally we have some decent Internet so we can get pictures and text downloaded to blog!! We are loving it here. We have met some really fun and interesting people that have been cruising and have decided to stay in Bocas del Toro. Bocas del Toro (aka Bocas Town) is below the hurricane belt and the hurricane season is approaching fast, most of the cruisers are hanging here until the season is over. It is a great spot where there is a funky town, surf, diving, great cruising grounds and fun people. We are staying here until we have a weather window to head north although this is one of the first places we both feel like we could stay longer. We definitely will have to make our way back through this area! The tentative plan now is to wait here until we have a weather window to start heading north towards Isla Providencia, Columbia. We are close to being up to date with our blog except there are more pictures that we need to load. We hope to continue to update the blog as we get Internet time. Looks like we are going to leave Saturday morning and will be at sea for several nights and do not know what the Internet access will be along the Moskito Coast or around the Nicaragua Bank. Stay tune. We hope to hear from you. We sure miss everyone and hope all are staying healthy!
04/25/2009, Isla Linton, Panama
Just before daybreak the "airport taxi" (panga) arrived promptly to take our friends away...to another airport is what we were told. We were not really sure what to think when we sent them off in the dark, just after a large squall dumped rain. We were hoping that we would be able to talk to them once they arrived Panama City to make sure they arrived safely. Yikes! We were very happy later to hear that they arrived safely and in a timely manner. We were definitely impressed with their attitude about the sudden change in plans when we found out that there was not airport in Provenir. As we say the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude!!
Since we were up early we were going to sail over to the Lemmon Cays, another group of San Blas Islands to do some skin diving. Unfortunately, Brian got my cold and we decided to take a day of rest, staying were we were, anchored off Island Wichubhuala, San Blas Islands. The next day Brian was feeling a little better so we decided that we should start heading north towards Isla Linton. We were able to sail the entire 55 nm in good time averaging 5.5 to 6 knots. I was excited about visiting this island because the guide mentions that the island is run by monkeys! Really! It said that the island has a family of monkeys that are happy to see you come to island but become rather aggressive when you try to leave. The island only has one house that has been abandoned, except for the monkeys. We anchored pretty close to the island and kept a close eye out for the monkeys. Brian offered to drop me off to the island to wait for the monkeys so I decided to take him upon it and I met Sabu. He climbed on my head and around my neck and up my leg! No, not really I met Sabu in Portobello. I was disappointed that I did not see any monkeys on Isla Linton until the time we started to pull up anchor early the next morning. It was amazing I saw one monkey come out of the jungle walking upright as if he was going out to get the morning paper. He looked around walked to the edge of the sandy beach then continued on towards the dock and walk to the end of the dock as if he was waiting for the next panga! I lost sight of him as we headed out towards our next destination, Bocas del Toro
04/22/2009, Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands), Panama
Cheryl and I became temporary crew members on Four Points in a search for adventure, and for two weeks thats what we got. But, when it came time to leave things got really interesting (read scary).
5:30 AM arrived with the sound of an alarm going off and the gentle down pour of rain on the upper hatches. It was time to get dressed and packed for the ride to the airport. Our 'limo' would be a panga (read long rowboat with an outboard engine, open to the elements (read rain) in the pitch black, NO lights of any kind. Fortunately for us, the rain subsided and we joined two Panamanian women and a driver, none of whom spoke English.
As Brian and Nancy waved goodbye, we sped off into total darkness the damp air typical of the lull between rain showers. We watched Four Points disappear in the darkness of the anchorage we wondered: would we ever see them again? Would we ever see anyone again? If the boat flipped in the darkness, could I out wrestle the small Indian women for one of the two life jackets this boat of five was carrying?
Then we were there. We arrived at the beach location where we would catch our commuter flight back to Panama City. Please note that I did not use the word "airport." To do so would imply something more than we found. What we found was a hut next to what looked like a long driveway hacked out of solid jungle! The building had a roof and a dirt floor. The only light on the property was the flashlight used by the airline official to check our paperwork (airline official seems like an inflated term for a guy with a flashlight, but I cannot come up with anything else). Anyway, it was light now, and it did not start to rain until we were in the terminal building (read hut).
The little twin engine airplane arrived, our bags were put on, and off we went. One stop at another little island to pick up a Kuna Indian woman in native dress and a French girl one and a half seat sizes wide, and we were off to Panama City. A taxi ride across town to a nice hotel next to Tocumen International Airport and we were checked in eating breakfast by 8:30 AM.