08/03/2014/10:28 am, El Bight, Guanaja, Honduras
We went climbing with Poul (Pi) the other day - and discovered how out of shape we are! We wore long pants to protect ourselves from the sharp grass and the ticks, and good footwear to grip the steep hillside - at least I thought mine was good until I checked the bottoms to see why I was sliding so much on the pine needles. Then I saw that the tread part of the soles was completely gone - the glue must have dried up in the summer heat and allowed them to wear off or fall off. You can bet I was doubly glad to have the sturdy walking stick that Poul provided.
We took a path behind Manati restaurant, followed a pleasant trail past houses and gardens, and then made a sharp turn to starboard and straight uphill, steadying ourselves with a not very well secured rope, and pausing for breath every few steps. From there the narrow path wandered along the ridge of the mountain, gradually rising to give gorgeous views over first, El Bight on the south side of the island, and then Pine Ridge Bight (where we climbed the faux lighthouse the other day) on the North side. From this vantage point you can really see how densely populated Bonacca cay is.) We walked along paths of white rock, and through semi shaded areas with long blades of sharp grass reaching out to grab at our pant legs. Jim and I stopped after a couple of hours but Poul continued to see if he could find the peak. He got close but would have had to go down and back up through a gulch to get where he thought it was so he decided to content himself with this visual accomplishment. While it seemed like hard work at the time, it's a good excursion for anyone with a moderate to good fitness level - and (unlike our trek to the lighthouse at Cayos Cachinos) the views are stunning. The whole experience reminded us of how important it is to push ourselves physically whenever we can - that rush of endorphins feels so good.
When we got back to Madcap, I stripped off my long pants and shoes and jumped straight into the water - ah blessed relief!
The next day, we opted for a watery excursion. A gorgeous coral reef lies just off El Bight - inside the main reef and the line of cays that curves up the coast - just a 5 minute dinghy ride out from the anchorage - and better to go on a calm day. We tied the dinghy to a stake and spent a wonderful hour drifting along among coral heads rich with texture and colour, and feeding fishes. The heads dropped off to deep water so we could also enjoy that fabulous sight of schools of fish emerging from the blueness that so captivated us last year in Roatan. Jim spotted a porcupine fish, a big tiger grouper, among other good sized fish. I missed the big ones for some reason, but spent long periods watching brilliant tiny fishes flitting in and out of the coral. One of the joys of this particular snorkeling area is the varying depths of water and coral - we were following pathways, and looking sideways as well as downward.
After reluctantly dragging ourselves out of the water (it does get chilly even here in the Caribbean unless you wear a wetskin or suit) - we continued along the cays until we reached Graham's place. This was once called Josh's cay but I guess "Josh" gave up the name when Graham's place was built. It's an attractive and well-tended resort with hotel, bungalows, and open air restaurant all brightly painted in blues and pinks and yellows and greens. Right beside the dock, we watched sea turtles swimming in a penned area. I always hate to see sea creatures in pens, and I'm not sure if these are there merely for entertainment or if they are part of a protection program, but it was a nice chance to view these large and oddly elegant animals.
Our evenings have been filled with happy hours on Pi, Lady Mys and Madcap, as the six of us - from Denmark, Sweden and Canada have shared stories and great laughs along with food and drink. Alice and Bjorn outdid us all in the food department with platters of smoked salmon, potato salad and tomatoes. While we often forgo "dinner" after spending the early evening nibbling on a happy hour array of nuts and olives and crackers and assorted dips and cheeses, we really dined well that night.
And so it's been a week now since we arrived. We thought we might go around to Michael's Rock today but ... we want to go back to that special snorkeling spot, and Matt and Renee (Outlandish) have arrived, along with a beautiful little ketch from Nova Scotia with Dave and Sara on board. There are people to visit, and good food to eat and more fish to watch. Maybe not another mountain to climb - unless we stay another week!
03/03/2014/10:42 am, El Bight, Guanaja, Honduras
We worked on the head problem some more on Saturday morning and then Jim ripped out the "new in the fall" pump and replaced it with his spare Jabsco pump. While we don't think it has quite solved the problem, it is certainly working better and we are not in danger of filling the tank without being able to empty it.
We went back to Manati restaurant for their Saturday special (BBQ pork or Goulash) and had a wonderful time with Vibeke and Poul (Pi) from Denmark, and Alice and Bjorn (Lady Mys) from Sweden, along with chatting with a number of expat Americans and some who have vacation homes here.
We managed to spend the whole of Sunday without fretting about any boat issues - sort of. I spent a couple of hours stitching up edges of the canvas on our bimini - the cockpit cover - where the sun has rotted out the stitching, and we hoped for wind to top up the battery charge a bit more. Now that the battery charge has dropped, it takes much longer for them to get and hold a proper charge.
Poul investigated the two-gabled house halfway up the hill and on Sunday evening, the Danes, Swedes and Canucks dinghied to the dock behind the two-story grey building and climbed the endless stairs to the top where we were rewarded with frosty beers and a stunning view of the anchorage. Note to cruisers - it is well worth visiting this restaurant, but place your order immediately upon arriving. We made the mistake of enjoying our beers for a half hour or so before requesting menus. And then we waited another hour and a half for food. It was delicious and affordable when it came (mains in the 180 lempira range - under $10 - for Bonacca shrimp in tomato sauce or cracked conch or sausage or crispy fried fish) but it was far too long to wait considering that there was just one other group eating food.
But the company was superb! The six of us range in age from early 60's to early 70's and both the Pi and Lady Mys crews have been sailing on fantastic adventures. Poul and Vibeke sailed around the Horn and spent many months exploring South America. Both boats have visited the Galapagos on the Pacific side, traversed the Panama Canal, spent time in the San Blas, and think nothing of visiting far and wide despite returning home for the summers. We sometimes think that perhaps this is as far as we need to go, but listening to these folks whets our appetites!
We dinghied through the canal that joins this side of the cay with Pine Bight on the north side. It's only about a 10 minute run and opens up on a lovely big bay that would be a nice anchorage in settled weather. Although our guide book said there is a marker to commemorate Christopher Columbus's visit in 1502, we didn't find it. We did find a sturdy dock and pretty gazebo where we tied up the dinghy, enjoyed a swim and a picnic lunch. I strolled the beach but found no shells or sea glass. All the beaches here have been barren of shells - a bit of a disappointment.
We then stopped at the dock below a lighthouse-looking structure. As we walked around the outside, trying not to intrude but still have a look, Carlos called down a greeting and welcomed us inside. He is doing construction for a fellow who wants to open it as a restaurant - and it will be a lovely spot when that happens. The signs request that people respect this private property but Carlos said if he is there he is happy to have company. We climbed to the top where we had a fabulous view over the bay and could easily pick out the coral heads scattered around.
There are 3 Canadian boats in El Bight now - Monashee is from Vancouver with Scot, Sara, Alex, Chris and Katie on board. They are on a one year journey through the Northwest Caribbean and it has been great fun to talk with them. And then on Monday, Nina Belle, a big ketch from Victoria, arrived with 6 young men and women aboard, bound for the canal and then across the Pacific. Madcap joined Monashee in stopping by to say hello to fellow Canadians and it wasn't long before Julie said, "My mother grew up in Amherst" - where Jim and I also grew up. It turns out that her grandfather is Robert Purdy - still in Amherst, NS and a friend of both our sets of parents. Jim's dad would have been her mother's guidance counselor at ARHS. Another crewmember is a grandson of Lawren Harris (and great grandson of the Group of Seven painter) who was teaching art at Mount A when Jim was there.
How amazing to find such connections. It happens often enough that I suppose it shouldn't really astonish me, but it always does! So we have not only a beautiful and interesting island to enjoy, but also fascinating people and continual surprises.
28/02/2014/10:29 am, El Bight, Guanaja, Honduras
We have been having quite an amazing time in Guanaja.
We had a lovely trip over and used good waypoints for an easy access through the reef and past the huge (unoccupied) hotel that sprawls all over Dunbar Rock to the large protected anchorage at El Bight. Boats come and go but there are usually about a dozen here - from Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Canada - and a couple of long term unflagged ones that we think are American.
We had the anchor down for only about half an hour when Ken and Karin (mv Bagan) came by to say hello. They are from Vancouver, and know the neighbourhood where we lived in the 90's (Karin taught in Lynn Valley), Ken was born in NS and lived for a while in the Wedgewood area of Halifax where we lived back in the 80's. And even more than that, their son's favourite professor at Mount Allison was ... wait for it ... Jim's brother in law, David Beatty. Can you believe such connections way down here in Guanaja? We enjoyed a most wonderful evening with them at Manati, the German restaurant we heard so much about from Steve and Sandi (Yonder). We were so sorry that they had to leave the next day on their journey north.
Manati lived up to its reputation as a friendly place to gather for beer, wine and good hearty food - we opted for German sausages. Claus and Annette were wonderful hosts. The large open space is colourful and homey with a large take-one-leave-one library, drum set and music area just waiting for musicians, and big wooden tables with hand crocheted granny square coasters and table runners. I had a fine time chatting with John (Mermaid) - an engaging long term solo sailor who kept me smiling with his witticisms and wide ranging knowledge on all sorts of topics!
We've got the "holding tank blues" again this year. Really - if it wasn't so smelly and irritating and never-ending, it would be boring the way this happens every single year. Once again, the tank doesn't seem to be clearing the way it should, so we spent the morning problem solving - trying the simple things first to see what might be wrong. It is especially annoying this year since Jim installed a new, more expensive and heavy duty pump in the fall that was supposed to prevent this problem. Grrr. We eliminated some possible issues and then decided to leave it alone for a while.
So we dinghied to town - or the settlement - or the cay - or Bonacca. This has got to be the strangest community we have ever visited. Guanaja is a collection of several cays - one mountainous one (18 km long) containing the bight where we are anchored, where small houses, restaurants, boathouses and large shrimp boats are scattered along the shore, another group of sandy cays curving along the outside of the coral reef, and then Bonacca - the cay that holds the town. One report we read is that of the 10,000 people who live in Guanaja, 8,000 of them are on Bonacca.
It is overflowing with buildings, the ones along the edges are on stilts out over the water, those on the interior are wooden or concrete. There are no streets, only concrete alleyways. "Main Street" is a couple of metres wide and most buildings are 2 story. The temperatures are in the 30's most days right now, and it must be blistering hot in the summer time. Little canals reach in from the edges but are pretty much covered with concrete. You can walk around the whole thing in less than half an hour and it is so compact and winding that we immediately got lost. There is a Banco Atlantida with an ATM, several small grocery stores, an internet café and several places to top up our phone and TiGo stick.
We had heard that it is a bit like Venice - we can't imagine that - there is no room for boats in the interior. We had heard that it is mostly English - we didn't find that either. Most folks answered Hola to our greetings, and we heard lots of Creole and some English. It is nothing like anywhere else we have ever been! Reason enough to come and see it! The whole area was badly damaged by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and we can still see some evidence of submerged pilings and walls, but the local folks have built up their community once more.
After finding our way back to the fuel dock and buying some gas for the outboard, we headed back to Madcap to do some more exploring. We snorkeled the small collection of coral heads near the anchorage and then went to Manati for drinks in the evening where we enjoyed chatting with Hinnerk and Kenga (Paulinchen) from Germany and discovered that Hinnerk solo sailed from Germany to Halifax before making his way down here. Thomas and Ulrike (Toriba) also from Germany arrived today and Vibeke and Poul (Pi) from Denmark are anchored right behind us and are great sources of information about what's where.
It is so exciting to be among folks from so many countries who have sailed so many places.