Cruising with Vida Dulce

11 May 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
08 May 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
03 May 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
01 May 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
26 April 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
25 April 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
23 April 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
16 April 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
12 April 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
11 April 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras
10 April 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras
09 April 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras
05 April 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras
30 March 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras
25 March 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras
24 March 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras
23 March 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras
22 March 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras
20 March 2017 | Fantasy Island Marina Roatan, Honduras

We Meet Again

11 May 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
Susan / clear blue sunny day, breezy 89 degrees F
I look out the window this morning after putting the full teapot on the stove to heat and see a new arrival in the anchorage, a catamaran. Thinking it looks familiar I grab the binoculars to take a look. The boat name is Viva. We know a Viva, owned by Bob. Last time we saw him was in Portobelo, Panama several years ago. In fact that last time, we shared a cab along with Green Flash Dave to Panama City. Viva Bob was headed through the canal and to the Sea of Cortez where he said he would be until his last days. I mention the Viva catamaran to Jerry who also takes a look thru the binoculars. He agrees it looks like the Viva Bob boat. We'll run over later to check, he says.

A couple of hours later we notice Viva is much much closer to the reefs than before. Another reason to head over. We need to go to Palapa Papa's anyway for internet. We dinghy over and who comes out from the aft cockpit... Bob! Well, I'll be... he says. Hi! We chat for a bit then I ask him if he'd re-anchored recently. No, he says, we're just dragging. All nonchalant. All four of them are sitting in the aft cockpit having coffee and a bite to eat while dragging back toward danger. Bob is low-key, but really?! They'd arrived from San Andres, a rough 72 hour passage, he said, so perhaps it is just exhaustion. We mention the moorings - he'd anchored on the edge of the mooring field anyway - and gave him the usual cautions. His reaction was OK, yeah, it probably makes sense to get a mooring but no actual movement to do so until Jerry said we'd pick one of the ones we thought were still viable for him if he'd like. He jumped on that quick.

The process of getting the picked-up mooring pennant line to one of the people on the bow, and that line secured is a bit of a circus. Bob is extra cautious in positioning Viva as to not run us over, which is much appreciated, however his crew didn't know where to lead the line, then lost it when we gave it back to him, then Viva was too far away and needed to re-approach. Then the crew couldn't get the line attached to a cleat when he got it back a third time. But we all hung in there and eventually got one line thru the mooring pennant and back to the boat and secured to a cleat. Bob obviously needs to dive the mooring, attach a safely line and get the proper bow lines to pennant run and secured, yet at least they are safely away from the reefs. We mention that we're headed to Palapa Papa's for internet & cold beers. They all need both as well so will meet us there.

We have more than two hours of software downloads to do so order a lunch to share and a couple of beers while waiting for those processes to complete. Just as we're finishing, Bob and his crew of three arrive in their dinghy. One needs a doctor. Jerry tells him about the Anthony's Cay clinic, how to get there, between Bob's crew they make sure he has the appropriate collectivo bus fare and I run out to stop a passing bus for him and the other gentleman, letting the bus driver know where to let them off. The one that needs the doctor is acting somewhat confused. Thinking back, it was him on the mooring line fiasco.

We spent a hour or so answering Bob's questions and getting him up to speed on the Rio Dulce (he'd been there years previously, just needed the newest info). I walk Charlene down the main street to show her the best places for local, inexpensive food, and help her purchase fresh produce from the produce pickup that just happens to be along our walk. Then Jerry & I say our "so long for today" and head back to Vida Dulce.

We got a good samaritan karma bank deposit and got to catch up with a cruiser we'd thought we'd probably never see again. Which goes to show, you never know...

Passports Retrieved

08 May 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
Susan / mostly sunny, breezy, 85 degrees F
Friday was much to windy to leave the boat, West winds unfortunately too, so we head out early this morning to get our stamped passports. While in the area we also stop by Eldons for a few items. All in all, a quick trip to town & back with no hassles or delays.

Lithium (LiFePO4) Batteries, Part 1

04 May 2017
I've been very interested in lithium batteries for years. When Vida Dulce was struck by lightning last year it created the opportunity to look more closely into them since the lightning, although causing no obvious damage, will reduce the life of our existing batteries.

This is the first of a multi-post series on my rational for moving some or all of the house battery bank to lithium, and my experience in doing so.

Part 1: Why lithium? 

Let's look at some numbers.

We currently have 5 batteries (AGM) for a total of 1050 Amp hours of capacity. That's how much energy they can store. But the usable capacity is quite a bit less. You can only really use 30% because If you discharge the batteries to less than 50% of their capacity you damage them, and on the charging side, once they get above 80% of their full capacity their charge acceptance rate drops. To charge above the 80% of capacity you have to run the generator for a long time because the batteries won't let many amps come in to recharge them.

Lithium batteries are different. They will essentially take all the current that you can throw at them. However, if you over charge them or excessively discharge them you will destroy them. I'm starting with a fairly conservative approach and will use 70% of their capacity, between 15% and 85% of full charge.

This has important consequences. My current batteries (AGMs) have a useable capacity of about 315 Amp hours. I plan to replace that 1050 Amp hour bank with a 600 Amp hour lithium bank (6 x 100 Amp hour batteries) which will give me (conservatively) over 400 Amp hours of useable capacity.

Looks pretty good, and it gets better when you consider weight. The AGMs weigh 125 lbs each for a total of 625 lbs. The Lithiums weigh 28 lbs each for a total of 168 lbs. I can reduce the weight of the batteries on the boat by over 450 lbs. That's really good for many reasons.

A third factor is the cost of the batteries. The AGMs retail for $795 each for a total of $3975. The Lithiums retail for $625 each for a total of $3750.  On the surface, it looks only marginally better however when you add in the lifetimes of the batteries, the numbers dramatically favor lithiums. Lead acid based batteries generally have a lifetime of 500 charge-discharge cycles. Lithium's have discharge cycle ratings above 1500. So the cost per recharge cycle for each battery bank is:
Lithiums $2.50
AGMs $7.95

Usable capacity, weight, cost and the expected lifetimes all favor the lithiums.

But there is a dark side.

Lithiums do burst into flames. You know that from all the cell phone horror stores you've heard. However, there are different lithium batteries chemistries. The ones I'm using are lithium ferrous phosphate (LiFePO4). They don't have the energy density that other lithium ion batteries have but they are far safer. They don't burst into flames. Their energy density is far better than lead acid batteries so I'm happy with that.

I alluded to the issue that if you are not careful managing your lithium batteries (charging or discharging) you can destroy them. They are not as forgiving as lead acid batteries. For this reason you need a "battery management system". And you need to look closely at the chargers that are currently installed and how compatible they are with lithium batteries (mostly they are not).

I'll address these issues in more detail in future blog entries, but for now a preview of my transition and testing strategy. I've installed one 100 Amp hour lithium (LiFePO4) battery that I'm using to power our heaviest load, our freezer. I've limited it's charger to a max of 80 Amps. When the charger goes on that battery sucks in those 80 amps all the way up to the 85% (my conservative approach upper-limit). As a comparison, an hour later the AGMs are still not fully charged (80%).

Immigration Extension Request

03 May 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
Susan / mostly sunny, 86 degrees F
Today we take the collectivo to the immigration office to get an immigration extension of one month. We’d planned to be gone well before our time expired however equipment failures changed our cruising itinerary, and since we’re still here, our friend Joel and his girlfriend Misti have planned a second visit attempt. If all goes well this time, they’ll arrive on the 16th.

From our arrival to the immigration office, to filling out the required paperwork, to going to the bank to pay the fee (L. 470 each, approx US$20 however no USD taken) and back to the office, an hour passes. Good thing we started out early as they only process visa extensions on Monday, Wednesday & Friday from 9am - 12noon, 1pm - 4pm per the notice on the door.

The process has improved substantially since our first visit where we needed an extension. There is now an air-conditioned office housing a flimsy structure with three small booths for resident & visa requests, along with a desk dedicated to check-ins / outs. all staffed; an upgrade from the rarely-there one-person desk office or worse, the airport runaround, and the new office has chairs for those of us waiting our turn. The fee is standardized and paid at the bank rather than as a (exorbitant US$150 per passport) propina to the immigration officer agreeing to provide the stamps as last time. Today, once the stamped payment and application paperwork is in order, we’re told to return Friday afternoon for our passports.

The two day delay in getting an extension, also applies to the paperwork required to get checked out. Paperwork travels to the mainland for the official stamps now. This delay incensed one of our friends recently. Why does it have to work this way? he fumed more than once.

It is what it is. But we’re used to a long, paper-bound and often arcane process. A two day delay in getting our passports back in a place we know no one is going to ask for them or attempt to deport us for being illegal is no cause for concern.

And Blow It Did

01 May 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
Susan / sunny & windy yet humid, 89 degrees F
The highest sustained winds arrived a day later than forecasted, Friday into Saturday and then Saturday into Sunday, and boy did it blow. At the airport winds were steady 30+ kts, gusting 40 kts from the East. The West End anchorage was sheltered from the worst of them by the land, and the distance between land and anchorage is only a couple hundred feet so while the water white-capped just off shore, there wasn’t enough distance to build up a troubling swell. Nonetheless, monohulls sailed relentlessly on their anchors & mooring lines, us catamarans moved too, just not as much. Despite the wind velocity, the air continues to be very humid and the temps high; “real feel” temps in the low 100’s. Even the locals are melting into pools of perspiration.

Today, the first day of May, the winds have eased a bit and there’s less humidity. A more comfortable morning. Until… At 10:30am the winds turn us South, and then surprisingly, West. By 11am we’re getting full frontal West winds at 33 kts and seas spilling over the reefs into the anchorage in 2-3 ft swells. None of the forecasts have West component winds but Mother Nature will give us what she does. The sea swell combined with the tourist boat swells make for a motion-sick day for me. For our friends Elina & Greg, s/v Sapphire, who are traveling East then South to Panama, this unexpected Westerly flow is a plus. By noon, they’re off to the East side of the island. In the coming days they’ll day-hop to Guanaja, and then start the multi-day passage to Bocas. Happy Hour brings another wind shift, reversing direction. By dinner-making time, we’re once again pointed East.

A Nice Thank You Mango

26 April 2017 | West End Roatan, Honduras
Susan / a clear sunny humid day, 88 degrees F
As expected, the winds kicked up around sunset and blew hard until early this morning when they collapsed. Mid-morning the gentleman we assisted yesterday afternoon arrives at our stern with a nicely ripe thank you mango. He says he’s Russian, and more alert this morning so his English is slightly better. He is thankful for our help and he slept very well last night.

Then he asks Jerry about changing the oil in the engine. Jerry shows him his engine oil change setup and the man asks to borrow it for a few hours. Jerry agrees even though he’d normally only do this for a friend. Jerry’s faith in the goodness of most other cruisers is reaffirmed with the Russian is back with the setup a few hours later.

Tonight the wind pattern will repeat. On Thursday into Friday the winds will be the strongest with sustained winds in the 30 kt range with gusts to 40 kt, remaining very windy until Monday. While the winds are light we check our anchor - it’s well set - and make a quick trip to town. If the winds even approach forecasted strength, we’ll be boat-bound for the duration.
Vessel Name: Vida Dulce
Vessel Make/Model: Lagoon 440
Hailing Port: Seattle, WA
Crew: Jerry and Susan Barber
About: Jerry and Susan moved aboard Vida Dulce in late October of 2010. We are currently in the Caribbean.
Vida Dulce's Photos - Iles des Saints
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