Recovery in Texas
13 August 2021 | New Braunfels, Texas
Bert Dorrestyn | Hot and Humid
During our stay in Belize, I had many episodes of heart "Fibrillations" which lasted for hours and when it was over, I was exhausted. Doctors in Belize could not help me, and we headed as soon as my condition allowed me, and the weather was acceptable back to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and we flew back to the USA. In the first month after we returned to Texas, many tests were done including tests during an overnight stay in the hospital on both my heart and lungs condition. The good news was I had no heart attack and my heart condition is good. It was concluded that due to an old lung infection my oxygen level dropped, and the stress caused the "Fibrillations". After a month of many doctors' visits, I received from both the heart and lung specialists the green light to go back to my normal routines as long as I keep using the medications as prescribed.
We like to thank all family and friends who supported us during this time both in Belize, Guatemala and back here in Texas.
For Dorothy the first action back in Texas was to get the Covid-19 vaccination. My heart specialist advised me to wait with this vaccination until all health tests were done, which I did and now we are both fully vaccinated.
I was so happy to return to my normal activities while in Texas which start with swimming in the recreation center of the city of New Braunfels. This 77,000 square feet facility offers two full-sized gymnasiums, a comprehensive fitness floor, two pools, one for competition swimming and a leisure pool. The leisure pool has besides a resistance channel, a play area for younger children with an interactive spray and an indoor and outdoor waterslide, a 3-lane lap swim area which can only used for adult lap swimming from 5:00 AM until 8:00 AM. Every morning I am one of the first in line to do my 20 laps. Dorothy is waiting for me when I come home to take our close to one hour morning walk. It is still dark when we leave, but it is still nice and not too warm compared to the 90 to 100 degrees during the day. We are not the only ones during this time in the morning and we are seeing many people; while we are greeting each other we are keeping our walking speed. In the weekend we meet more younger people riding a bike or running while during the week there are more older people.
In February 2021 while we were enjoying the warm weather in Guatemala, a North American cold wave was an extreme weather event that brought record cold temperatures to a significant portion of Canada, the United States and parts of northern Mexico. Temperatures fell as much as 25-50 °F (14-28 °C) below average as far south as the Gulf Coast. Severe winter storms brought extreme cold weather in Texas with record-low temperatures not seen in decades or even a century. The record cold caused enormous strain on the power grid and froze pipelines, leading millions to lose power and many pipes to burst. At least 217 people were killed directly or indirectly by severe cold, and the damages are estimated to be at least $195.6 billion.
Besides many power outages our house did very well with no problems at all. However, our drought resistance yard with mostly south Texas native plants and shrubs was a different story. Many plants were frozen and did not recover. When we came back, we asked our landscape designer to replace these plants and he laughed and said if I can find them since everyone in Texas lost the same type of plants and you cannot find them anymore at a normal price. We replaced these plants with alternatives and the yard looks good again.
As usual when we are back in the USA, we have a long list of parts and other items we need for the boat and our first business is to start shopping. The big items this year included a new air-conditioner for our main cabin. We learned from last year that it is a lot cheaper and less expensive to purchase most of the items with Amazon which resulted in a daily arrival of packages. All the boat items are done, and we will continue to order the personal and food items closer to our departure date at the end of November.
Our small neighborhood of only 37 lots is still in development with 5 houses under construction when we came back. Our private access to the Guadalupe River is the center point for meeting our current and future neighbors. Dorothy and I were surprised to see and hear how the construction time of the new houses was extended so much and it was explained to us with the two reasons: lack of labor and shortage of material plus the incredible increase of cost of the lumber and other building materials. Price increase of over 100% and more. When I purchased some floor plates for the attic above the garage, I paid $31.00 per plate, and I remember when I built our house at Medina Lake the same plates were only about $12.00 a piece. Life is changing very dramatically in the USA and we do not know if we like it.
While we were planning trips and other activities during our stay in the USA our son Robert asked us if we could pick up a Campervan in Tampa, Florida. Since he did not need the campervan immediately he offered us to use the campervan. We started to plan a trip that included a visit to friends in south Florida and return trip via Savannah in Georgia to Asheville in North Carolina to visit the "Biltmore Estate" and back to Texas through Tennessee and Arkansas.
We rented a car to drive to Tampa, Florida. The dealership where we had to pick up the Campervan is called Lazydays RV Supercenter. Their dealership in Tampa is the world's largest RV dealership, sprawled across 126 acres and packed with everything RVers need. We received the orientation of the Campervan and we were a little disappointed about the lack of knowledge of the electric systems of the vehicle. The vehicle had a lot of very expensive batteries that allow you to use all the electric systems including the a/c for about 8 hours without charging. After we completed the orientation, we moved to the resort of Lazydays, and this resort is also very big, and we have never been on a RV Resort of this size.
After a nice calm Sunday, we drove early Monday morning from Tampa to Key Biscayne which is about 290 miles. It was a great trip, and driving the Campervan was very nice and comfortable, but when we reached IH95 just south of Ft. Lauderdale it reminded us of the time we lived in Miami Beach and experienced the horror to drive this section. Although it is a main highway it is more like a moving parking lot. Our friends were in the middle of their move out of the house they lived in for 37 years, but they found time to meet us to share stories and we enjoyed a great lunch.
After lunch we drove north along the coast to a beautiful Florida State Park called "Jonathan Dickinson" close a small town called "Hobe Sound". This is very small town but it has a very wealthy neighborhood along the coast where a.o. the famous golf player "Tiger Wood" lives. Our friends in Hobe Sound who we wanted to visit have purchased a very nice big lot for their future home. We explored the town including the beach and concluded the day with a fantastic meal in a nice small Italian restaurant.
Our friends dropped us off at the State Park and then the fun was over. Although the campervan was connected to the shore power of the campground the power to the electric system dropped 7 times during the night and we had to reset it. It was clear something was seriously wrong. We returned to Tampa and after a long investigation it was found that the batteries were damaged and after a recovery process determined not serviceable. These are awfully expensive batteries, manufactured in Canada and not expected to arrive within a month. Needless to say that we were quite disappointed. We rented a car and drove back to Texas. It was still an adventure and the highlight was definitely catching up with our friends.
Our next trip we planned will bring us back in South Florida but now to Key West the most southern of the keys. Our son Robert has a house in a place called "Stock Island" just one bridge east of Key West. In our original plan for our Caribbean trip was to sail from Guatemala to Cuba and Mexico and return to the USA via the Dry Tortugas which is a National Park about 70 miles west of Key West. The Dry Tortugas National Park comprises of 7 islands, plus protected coral reefs. Garden Key is home to beaches and the 19th-century Fort Jefferson. Loggerhead Key has a lighthouse and sea turtles. On nearby Loggerhead Reef, the Windjammer Wreck, the remains of an 1875 ship, is a popular dive site. Bush Key is a nesting site for seabirds like sooty terns. Since we will not sail our boat back to the USA we will use the opportunity during our trip to Key West to take the ferry and visit the National Park. We are looking forward to this trip and hope to describe our experiences in our next blog.
Short Trip to Belize
30 May 2021 | RAM Marina - Rio Dulce Guatemala
Bert Dorrestyn | Hot and Humid
After many months of hard work and testing on the hard we were ready to put the boat back in the water and do some further testing. We had two problems I could not resolve. The engine alternator did not seem to work and one of the a/c’s we have on board did not to work either. Chris Wooley and his crew fixed the engine problem and Chris Stanley fixed the a/c or better said he connected a wire I forgot to connect. The only test we could not do was the watermaker since we needed clean salt water and for that we needed to go out. Since we are scheduled to fly out of Guatemala on June 9, 2021, we needed to have at least one month sailing.
On Sunday April 18, 2021, we sailed from RAM to Livingston to be able to check-out the next morning and to cross the bar at high tide. I was a nice day with a lot of sun and a nice breeze. Anchoring in Livingston is never nice since the outgoing current of the river always ‘clashes’ in the evening with the incoming wind which means that the boat takes the nasty waves on the stern or from the side. The wind typically dies down during the night, and it becomes genuinely nice and quiet in the early morning when the fishing fleet comes back.
That Sunday evening and night; however, were quite different. There was lightning everywhere around us, and the wind became stronger from all different directions. Suddenly the wind became very cold and in seconds the wind speed increased tremendously. It became the most horrible storm we ever experienced with wind gusts of over 60 knots and horrendous rain which lasted for 5 hours. Our anchor slipped for over 500 feet due to fact that the boat was never with its bow in the wind but turned from side to side. I had to tie down the rudder since even with the brakes on I could not hold the helm. An enormous lighting strike hit somewhere in the village of Livingston and all the lights around went out. After an hour, the lights in the resort came on with a generator and that was a great help to see our location. It took 3 days for the power to come back on in Livingston. The weather guru Chris Parker told me the next morning that this was a complete unforeseen storm caused by a tropical wave and extremely cold temperatures at 8000 feet.
After a day of rest, we checked out of Guatemala and took a Covid-19 test which was negative. It was very noisy in Livingston since every shop, restaurant and other facilities had a small generator running since the power was still not restored. We crossed the bar, sailed to “Tres Puntas” and anchored out for the night. The next morning, we sailed to “Punta Gorda” in Belize to check-in. We were met on the pier by a health official who checked our test certificates and took our temperature. Thanks to our agent the entire check-in procedure took less than an hour and we continued our trip to “New Haven”. We anchored out in this very secluded bay for two nights and Friday we sailed to Placencia. We arrived just in time to go to the phone company to update our Belize Sim-card phone with data and minutes.
On Saturday, our friends of s/v Aeeshah and another sailing vessel left, and we were the only private boat in the anchorage together with two charter boats. This was typical for the rest of our trip; we were or by ourselves or with a charter boat.
We had some great sails to different islands north of Placencia, made a stop in “Sapodilla Lagoon” and had a great sail to “South Water Cay”, “Tobacco Range”, “Tobacco Cay” and “Garbutt Cay”. The sail along the outer reef from “South Water Cay”, Tobacco Range was extremely exciting to be so close to the reef and hear the waves hitting the reef. From “Garbutt Cay” we sailed back to “Sapodilla Lagoon” with exceptionally light wind from the north and we hardly reached a speed of over 4.5 knots, but it was so peaceful, and we both enjoyed it a lot.
Dorothy announced that she had to do laundry and “The Reserve Marina” in Sapodilla Lagoon had the best facilities. We decided to go in the marina for the weekend so I could do some boat chores while Dorothy took care of the laundry. Our plan was to leave on Monday morning but during night I had an episode of heart “Fibrillations” which lasted for hours and when it was over, I was exhausted. We decided to stay in the marina for another day so I could recoup. However, the next night it happened again and again each night around 3:00 in the morning I woke up with Fibrillations.
The marina is in the middle of nowhere and we decided to sail to Placencia which has a medical clinic. The weather was not good with a lot of heavy squalls, and we decided to wait a couple of hours. We had a good sail until 3 miles north of Placencia when we were hit by a down draft with extraordinarily strong wind from the west instead of the east wind we sailed with up to that moment. John from s/v Aeeshah warned us to go to the Placencia lagoon to be protected from the strong westerly wind. When were close he guided us to a nice anchoring spot, and we took the dinghy to go to shore to visit the medical clinic. However, we were too late to see the doctor and since it was Friday, we had to come back on Monday morning.
After a weekend with several episodes, we went to the clinic with the help from John of s/v Aeeshah and Michael from s/v “Sea Mist” and saw a visiting Cuban doctor who did not speak a word of English. He took an “EKG”, ordered blood work and a chest X-Ray and advised me to reduce the dosage of my blood pressure medicine. Next day we took the “Hokey Pokey” water taxi to “Independence” medical clinic for the blood work and a chest X-Ray and the following day I received the results from another visiting doctor in Placencia. Except that the chest X-Ray was clear I was not given a diagnosis and the doctor advised me to go back to the USA and see a cardiologist.
For the remainder of the time, I rested as much as possible and started feeling better, even so much better that we accepted the invitation for a brunch from Renee and Michael from s/v “Sea Mist” who are house sitting a small attractive resort at the channel which runs along the coast in Placencia. We also went to a local restaurant called “Pickled Parrot” for the Friday special “Fish and Chips”.
The wind had been blowing already for a few days, so we needed a calm day to sail back to Guatemala and our weather guru Chris Parker suggested for the first calmer day to take Saturday or Sunday. We selected Saturday and raised the anchor at 5:30 in the morning. When we came in, we followed John in his dinghy, and we forgot to set up a track and although John had warned me about some mudbanks between his boat Aeeshah and ours I instructed Dorothy when I raised the anchor to take a short turn in the direction of Aeeshah and we ran aground. It took 2 fishing boats and John and Don of s/v “Rainbow’s End” with their dinghies 4 hours to get us off.
Since we did not want to lose more time, we directly took off to “Tres Puntas” in Guatemala. We had wind between 5 and 24 knots from the east, but 6 to 8 feet breaking swells from the north/east which made the boat rolling violently especially when the wind went down. It was a very wild ride, and we were happy when we got behind “Tres Puntas” and could anchor in calm water.
The next day, Sunday, we crossed the bar, checked-in on Monday morning and arrived in the afternoon in RAM Marina our home in Guatemala, where we received a warm welcome back.
After returning the boat to our home away from home RAM Marina we need to do a lot of work to prepare the boat for storage on the hard (that is when the boat goes on land). The first action is to take the sails down and put them in storage. That needs to be done with no wind or light wind and that is in the Rio Dulce early in the morning. Dorothy and came out of our bed on the first day in the marina and did this job very professionally in less than 2 hours. However, that made me aware that I was not really in a good condition to do a lot of work, so we decided to do every day something and rest the remainder of the day. We have two marine air conditioners on board which have served us well since we purchased the boat in 2009. During a nice rest after a morning of completing a couple of chores the cabin a/c stopped working with a loud noise. To make sure we could keep the boat cool in the close to hottest time of the year, I installed the next morning our window a/c which can be used on land. The marine a/c’s are using (sea)water for cooling and the land a/c cools with air circulation. Our a/c mechanic Chris Stanley tried to repair the unit and even installed a refurbished compressor. However, the verdict is in: we need a new unit.
The work I did and the problems with the a/c were too much for me and I did not feel well. Karen our adopted daughter and the manager of RAM Marina found an oxygen machine. We moved from the boat to the cabana we rented and with more oxygen my body slowly recovered. Since the boat was still in the water, we had to walk a small distance and normally that is nothing for me, but now I had to do it slowly. So, it was so great that Bryon the lift operator took “Island Girl” out of the water and put her on her own place in front of the house which makes it a lot easier to complete the work on the boat. For the heavy lifting work, we got help from the marine staff, so the jobs got done fast.
On May 27, 2021, we celebrated Dorothy’s birthday with a lot of phone calls, e-mails and reactions on the Facebook Post. We had a great lunch in one of the best local food restaurants called “Rositas” which has a beautiful view of the Rio Dulce. In the afternoon, the staff of RAM Marina surprised Dorothy with a big birthday cake ordered by the owner of the marina Richard Monstein. It showed us again how great it is to be part of the RAM Marina family.
If everything will work out a taxi will bring us on June 8, 2021, to Guatemala City where we will take our Covid Test and fly the next day back via Houston to San Antonio where our daughter will pick us up to take us to our home in Texas.
Major Upgrade of Island Girl in Guatemala
17 March 2021 | RAM Marina - Rio Dulce Guatemala
Bert Dorrestyn | Very Warm, Sunny with a nice Breeze
A couple of years ago we had an indirect lightning strike which caused the slow deterioration of our electrical system and the failing of many systems on board. It became so bad that we could not use our wind generator anymore and had to use the watermaker in manual mode which made in very difficult to flush the membrane after use. I had to make a direct connection to the house battery for our freezer/refrigerator and navigation system. It was also clear that cruising this year was going to be very complicated and expensive due to all the regulations governments put in place based on the Covid-19 pandemic. It was in the beginning of the year so bad that the cost to enter Belize and/or the Bay Islands of Honduras was over $1,000.00. This amount is lower now but it is still over $500.00. With all this in mind we decided to do a major upgrade of the electrical system and replace some of the devices. We made a long list of all the needed items and started shopping during our stay in the USA last year from July until November 11.
The only good and basically the only store for offshore boats in Texas is West Marine in Kemah. We also needed parts and repairs on our watermaker and the only service provider in Texas is also in Kemah. It took us two trips to Kemah which is about 250 miles from New Braunfels to get it done with basically very bad and disappointing results. I will not go into details, but we are so happy that there is Amazon.com. We created over hundred orders and it was amazing how fast we got our stuff delivered. Some even the next day and some on Sundays. On the other side we waited over 2 months for the repairs and ordered items from the watermaker dealer and it was done wrong or incomplete. It was so nice for these failed organizations to blame the Covid-19 pandemic. This was our lesson for future purchases: order on-line which is faster, in a lot of cases cheaper and no complications. We went even that far that we ordered clothing items and footwear. Dorothy's special sandals came all the way from England in less than 2 weeks.
After we received most of the items on our list we started making shipments to RAM Marina's shipping agent in Doral, Florida. Typically, the shipping agent sends all the packages in one shipment to Guatemala where RAM Marina takes care of the import, customs clearing and shipment to the marina. We took one of the most expensive items, the Main Electric Distribution Panel, with us in our luggage. To protect the item, we ordered again with Amazon a large hard-shell suitcase and packed the panel with quite some foam, etc.
RAM Marina has two cabanas which each as 3 guest bedrooms, the largest one has a private bathroom and the two other rooms share a bathroom. The main living room and the kitchen with the appliances are common areas. We had the room with the private bathroom and a smaller room for storage while the other room was used by other guests. I really was not very happy with this and did not want to share the cabana on a long-term basis until we can move back into the boat. The marina manager Karen, who happens to be our adopted daughter allowed us to rent the entire cabana and we have a very comfortable house across from our Island Girl.
In my previous blog I described how I started the upgrade process for which I planned to take 3 months. We are now 4 months in Guatemala and although the electric upgrade is done we are still working on the boat. I am very happy with the electric upgrade and professional experts that came to our boat were surprised that an amateur like me could do such a job. We tested the system as much as we could but of course, the real test will come after the boat is back in the water.
The biggest problem was the replacement of the electric system of our anchor windlass. The manufacturer did not give us proper documentation but fortunately we found on the internet another expert who gave us proper instructions. When the boat is on the hard we take all our 2 times 250-foot anchor chain out of the locker so it was a good test when we put all the chain back into the locker.
After I installed the watermaker we did not get any information on the control and display unit. It turned out that although we were told that the old unit would work it was not the case so we had to order a new one and we are waiting for the arrival of a good friend who offered to bring this item for us to Guatemala.
We know that the teak top and side rails were in a bad condition and this was proven during all the heavy rain when we discovered a lot of water intrusion. To fix and install new teakwood was impossible for me without proper tools so a few very skilled workers of RAM Marina did this work. The work was a little delayed by days of heavy rain, but the new wood is installed and the rest is restored with epoxy, covered with 3 coats of epoxy and will now get several coats of 2 component varnish. Also, this work will be done by the very skilled and friendly RAM Marina staff. We enjoy so much to work with these people they are so friendly and fun to be with and we admire their skills and work ethic. The results of their work are always amazing.
I replaced and/or upgraded several thru-hulls and a few of them are intakes and below the waterline. One of my most favorite workers told me how to do it and I decided to let him do the work since mistakes during the installation can have very bad consequences. A new owner of a boat purchased here in the Rio Dulce found it out this week when during the maiden voyage one of the thru-hulls failed and the bilge pump could not pump out all the incoming water so the crew had to call a "Mayday", abandoned the boat and were saved by tanker who came to the rescue.
This blog is only about what most people may consider "Work", but I do not work. I stopped doing that the day after I retired. I have a hobby and my hobby is fixing things and making things and most of the time I have a lot of fun doing it. I am very happy to wake up in the morning around 4:30 and walk to the boat between 5:00 and 5:30 to start my day. My only interruptions are breakfast, coffee break, lunch, tea-time and I stop at about 4:30 in the afternoon so I am ready for my 5:00 rum drink in anticipation of a small dinner. That may sound very boring to many people, but not for me because I like it and I am having fun.
Not because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but I do not need a lot of social contact; however, a couple of days in the week I like to go to the RAM Marina office to talk to my wonderful daughter Karen or I have a phone chat with my children Dominque and Robert in the USA. Social contact now-a-days is in my opinion very boring with endless stories about the virus, lockdowns, wearing masks yes or no and other issues. People are so depressing most of the time and have completely forgotten how to live an enjoyable life. But we retired people are so lucky, we have our fixed income and nobody to tell us what to do if you do not listen to the so-called experts, scientists and bureaucrats. Be safe, be careful and responsible and everything is fine.
It is already a long time ago, but for me it is like yesterday when we celebrated my birthday with a great lunch in the jungle with "Dreamcatcher" together our new granddaughter "Melissa". Oh, what a delicious Christmas dinner she cooked on the typical Guatemalan Christmas Eve. It was a wonderful new experience to celebrate Christmas with my great Guatemalan family. When daughter Karen and her husband celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary we had a "Steak Lunch" with the largest steak I have ever seen (see my pictures).
RAM Marina is often used by people traveling Central America with relatively small RV's or modified vans. Over the past weeks we had neighbors from Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, Hongkong and the USA. Our Austrian neighbors have a large RV with a garage in which they transport a nice ATV. We had a very pleasant evening with our 'next door neighbors' - two couples: both women from Japan, one man from Hongkong and one from the USA. What an interesting visit.
We hope that our boat is ready to be splashed in a couple of weeks and that all the tests we have to carry out will be successful so we can have a small sea trial before we leave for Belize or the Honduran Bay Islands and still get some sailing in before the start of this hurricane season.
Boat Upgrade in Guatemala during Hurricane Season
14 December 2020 | RAM Marina - Rio Dulce
Bert Dorrestyn | Very nice warm and sunny
We had a great time during the summer in our home in New Braunfels. The bad news we heard about Texas with the Covid-19 pandemic was grossly exaggerated and with a few small living adjustments life was good.
When we arrived, we agreed with our children and neighbors to keep our social contacts to a minimum until we got used to the situation in Texas. After some time, we realized that contact with people we know did not need any restrictions and the same became valid for anyone we met during our daily routine. I went daily at 4:50 AM to the swimming pool and needed to wear a mask when entering the building but not in the pool area. We did our grocery shopping and my almost daily visits to the hardware store while wearing a mask. Twice a week we had our Latin American dance lessons and had a lot of fun doing it. Some instructors had a mask on some of them not. We did not go to restaurants and bars and missed the entertainment we used to have in these locations. We had many doctors' visits and I had again eye surgery and no problems. We used the first opportunity to do early voting and had to stand in line for about one hour. If we had waited one day we could have voted without any waiting time. But this is Texas, no mail-in voting except if you are over 65 or if you are out of the country. Disabled people could stay in the car and real judges came out with mobile voting machines.
We love living in Texas, but my projects were done, traveling in the USA was not very attractive with all the restrictions and "Island Girl " was waiting for me to start the major electric wiring upgrade. Over the previous months I purchased all the equipment, wires, panels and tools I estimated we needed. We packed most of the stuff in boxes and shipped it using RAM's shipping agent to Guatemala. We decided to take some of the material with us as luggage which resulted in three (3) 50 lbs. bags. Our new wind generator was shipped directly by the vendor to Guatemala using RAM's shipping agent.
Shipping always includes waiting for the arrival of the packages and hoping that nothing is lost or damaged. The shipment of our wind generator was the opposite of this. When we arrived in RAM Marina the wind generator had already been delivered. Wow that was fast, but then 2 weeks later another wind generator arrived. That was a big surprise and it really confused me. "Did I already have one??" Yes, the next day an e-mail arrived from the vendor that by accident they sent another unit. So now I had two and paid for both of them the shipping costs and custom fees. Shipping the second unit back is very costly. We agreed with the vendor that I would sell the unit for a reduced price in Guatemala and we found a lucky buyer.
Just a week before we planned to fly to Guatemala a major hurricane named "Eta" made landfall in Nicaragua and caused major flooding in this country, Honduras and Guatemala. We followed the news and understood that the fast-flowing rivers caused major damage to the roads and bridges and large parts of the south/eastern area of Guatemala had major flooding. Our taxi service to the Rio Dulce updated us on a regular basis of the situation and the repair on the two bridges which were destroyed on the highway from Guatemala City to the Rio Dulce. On Tuesday he reported that he would pick us up from the airport on November 11, 2020 but that heavy traffic and traffic jams over the damage bridges and the emergency lane through the riverbed at the location where the bridge was completely destroyed would make this a long trip. It was more than we expected, the traffic was very heavy and very slow and at some places it came to a complete standstill for a long time. The traffic to Guatemala City was even worse. But we made it and we arrived at 8:30 PM in RAM Marina. The absolute devastation we saw along the road was incredible.
The water level in RAM Marina was just below the land and dock level, which was a lot better than other marinas which were partly underwater. The owner of the marina said that he built the marina above the water level of the devastating hurricane Mitch, so not to worry. But then the National Hurricane Center warned that Tropical Storm Iota was expected to strengthen, bringing "dangerous winds, storm surge and rainfall" to Central America. Iota turned into a major hurricane, which had intensified into a Category 4 and made landfall on the coast of Nicaragua, bringing strong winds and heavy rains, and flooding coastal cities and rivers. The water resulting from hurricane "Eta" had not gone down yet and the water now rose to unprecedented levels. Villages, roads and bridges became flooded and thousands of people became completely isolated. RAM Marina got flooded with the docks and fuel dock in more than two feet of water. In the Rio Dulce you could now use your dinghy to go to the entrance of the new grocery store which kept the water out with a small dike.
No FEMA in Guatemala but local organizations jumped in to help the people. Aeroclub Guatemala flew in tons of food and other needed items, Casa Guatemala dropped the items off by boat and cars to the villages, while many volunteers assisted the "World Central Kitchen" to prepare food for people in the shelters. The owner of a local restaurant "Las Amandas" and his wife cooked on behalf of this organization up to 3000 meals a day while during the day volunteers prepared the food items. In RAM Marina food was prepared and delivered by the staff, while the Marina Manager's daughter, Melissa, together with her friends cooked 300 meals a day and delivered it to the shelters.
We have always loved and respected the people of Guatemala, but after what we experienced during these horrible events we respect them even more. Hard working resilient people who take care of each other.
Now that the water is down the next phase is to clean the villages that are covered with mud, rebuild houses, roads and bridges and all this without emergency funds by foreign countries. We sincerely hope this will change and money will flow in to help the people of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
It is also clear that people's attention to the Covid-19 virus is completely reversed. Before we left in July masks were used by everyone and everywhere, now only a few people are using them. They have more important things on their mind and that is to survive the flooding, having no house, no income and no regular food. It became clear to me that all the excitement in the western world about the virus is a result of societies where everything is available and where there is nothing to fight for and everything is presented to you. A disturbance of what we expect to get causes major problems which are used by politicians to show their power.
In the meantime, I started to take all the wiring out of "Island Girl" rerouted and where necessary replaced the wiring. The boat is completely unlivable and we live in a cabana next to the boat. We rented an extra room in the cabana to store all the items we had to remove from he boat to make all the tight places accessible. It is a very difficult job since most of the wiring is under the floor or in the lockers. This means that I am constantly on my knees reaching as far as I can to remove and install wires and connectors. During this process I find many items that need my attention and I end up fixing a lot of other problems that I was not aware of. I also removed a lot of wires and hoses that are no longer in use and the deck is full of all the redundant stuff. I have cut new holes and closed old ones and at the end of the process a specialist has to come to fiberglass and gelcoat many places. The progress is slow, but I planned 3 months to do this job and I am just one month into it.
Experiencing the Covid-19 Virus and Election Fever in Texas
28 September 2020 | New Braunfels, Texaa
Bert Dorrestyn | Partly Sunny but very windy
In our last blog written on June 10, 2020 I described how we, after a long wait were allowed to enter Guatemala. So, it is a long time ago that I wrote a blog. The reason for this big gap is that after we returned in Guatemala we came in more relaxed state of mind after living for 4 months in uncertainty what to do with the boat in the approaching hurricane season. The Rio Dulce in Guatemala is the most safest hurricane location to store our boat in the entire Caribbean and RAM Marina is for us the best; it is like coming home and putting ourselves in the care of our daughter Karen, the manager of the marina. We knew that we could fly back to the USA and that we have a beautiful new home waiting for us in Texas.
The first 2 weeks in Guatemala we were in quarantine with the boat in a Mediterranean mooring 6 feet from the pier and no access to land. Mediterranean mooring, also known as “med mooring”, is a technique for mooring a vessel to a pier at a perpendicular angle. The ship thus occupies less space as it is connected to a fixed length of pier along the width rather than its length. This mooring gives you no privacy since there is only a foot separation between boats. We expected that we would have to be on anchor in an isolated area in the Rio Dulce Golfette and we had for over 3 weeks of food and other necessities on board. We did not need a lot of help, but the marina staff was the entire day available to help us and supply us with whatever we needed. The health authorities came to check on us on a regular basis and that could only be accomplished by us hanging from the back of the boat and the nurse reaching as far as possible from the pier. It was every time a hilarious event.
There was a lot of confusion what would happen at the end of the quarantine time. We knew that we had to be checked and get a certification of health before we could leave the boat. We waited the entire morning and no health authorities. In the late afternoon Karen, de marina manager took both Dorothy and me together with our neighbors Sabrina and Tom from s/v Honey Rider by car to the health clinic in town and we received the certificate of health and could move to a normal location in the marina. Some people were disturbed by this special service, but what can you say when your daughter is in charge.
We moved to our typical and favorite spot opposite the fuel dock and started to prepare the boat for the “Hard”. Going the hard means that the boat gets hauled out of the water and put on stands. We installed the window A/C and the humidifier which both can be used on the hard. We ordered some repairs jobs and installations. The biggest one was the replacement of our awning which covers the entire boat. We took the sails down, cleaned the boat and stored many items inside. We topped off the diesel fuel tank and polished the fuel with a system we purchased last year after a lot of problems with contaminated fuel and a dirty tank.
The past years we were experiencing problems with the electricity on board. We had an indirect lightning strike and many items started to give problems. During our stay in Belize the wind generator began to make a lot of noise and produced only limited power for the batteries. We shut it down and ordered a new one. However, the biggest problem is that we are losing a lot of voltage in our wires from the battery to the equipment on board. When we return to the boat some time in the autumn I intend to replace all the wiring and install new switch and breaker panels. This is a very big job and there is a lot of money needed for the materials, but nothing is cheap on an offshore sailing vessel. I started the job before we put the boat on the hard to get an inventory of what we need to buy in the USA and take back to the boat.
We stayed in the water as long as possible so we could use our own shower and bathroom facilities instead of the public marina facilities. When we went on the hard we rented a room with private bathroom in one of the cabanas in RAM Marina and this made it also more convenient to organize and clean the boat on the inside.
We left on July 7, 2020 to Guatemala City to catch the next day the repatriation flight back to the USA. Since no public transportation was available we made the trip by taxi. The taxi driver needed to be back the same day in the Rio Dulce before the curfew time of 6:00PM. The taxi picked us up 15 minutes after the end of the morning curfew time of 5:00AM. The trip was different as we were used to, very light traffic and no buses on the road and we made it in less than 6 hours. We arrived in the hotel in Guatemala City at 10:00AM and since we were the only guests in the hotel we could check in and get our room. Driving through the city was weird, the normally very crowded and busy city was nearly empty. Restaurants were closed and only outside pick-up was allowed. In the hotel we could eat our picked-up food in the empty unused restaurant which made it convenient. The hotel has a “Beauty Salon” which was closed, but the lady of the reception desk (the only employee in the hotel) called a stylist who arrived an hour later and she did Dorothy’s hair.
The next day the hotel paid Uber drove us to the nearly empty airport, with about 100 passengers for the morning flight to “New Jersey” and about 50 passengers for the “Houston” flight. After the New Jersey flight left it was very empty in the airport. The only flights that could leave are so called “repatriation flights” with special permission from the government of Guatemala and these fights arrive empty from the USA. Arriving in Houston was special again since the normal very busy airport was very quiet. The other special ‘event’ was that the security dog in the arrival hall smelled our half-eaten salami sandwich and after a serious reprimand we were sent to the special customs desk where the remainder of our food was confiscated.
Our daughter Dominique and our granddaughters Kristin and Katelynn picked us up from the airport and drove us home to our new house where we lived for 4 months last year. It was great to be home, but we needed to get used to the new world of Covid-19 Virus. We planned to play it safe and did not visit people or invite people including our family. After a couple of weeks, we started to relax a little and now we are still careful but live our normal lives. At 4:50AM I go to the swimming pool in the New Braunfels City Recreation facility called “DAS Recreation Center”. When I return we drink a cup of tea with a slice of raisin bread and we make an intensive 4 miles walk in our neighborhood. We signed up for private Latin American Dance lessons and two times a week we dance with our very young 18-year-old beautiful dance instructor Sarah.
My first project was to complete the construction of our patio on the backside of the house and put some nice partly self-made furniture there. We planted 3 Italian Cyprus Trees in the back yard and filled the nice flowerpots that our friends Kitty and Kurt brought for us from Mexico with flowering plants.
When I was working in the garage on our patio furniture an older gentleman stopped and ask me if I could restore an antique rocking chair which was made by his wife’s grandfather. After some hesitations I told him to bring the chair and I would see if I could do this job. Long story short I am now already for a month working every day a couple of hours on this chair and have a great time doing it.
We have a large window above our front door which we did not like. We asked a stained-glass designer to design for us a window with a sailboat feature. After some line designs he created a color design that we liked a lot and he created a wonderful stained-glass window and installed it for us. See our album for the pictures.
We have a long list of parts we need for our boat and items that need to be repaired. We visited a shop in Kemah for the items for the water maker and the repair of other parts. It is unbelievable but after 2 months’ waiting we still do not have the things we need new and/or repaired. The virus is the typical excuse given for these issues, but for us it is hard to believe. We live in a small new neighborhood with only custom build homes. At this moment 5 of these homes are under construction and we see daily how the hardworking people are doing their job. I talk a lot with these people and it is good to practice my Mexican Spanish.
Coming back to the USA always includes doctor visits. I needed to have some checkup about conditions and development that last year became an issue during my yearly checkup. Fortunately, everything was fine and I only need to return for another checkup next year. Despite a lot of pain treatments last year for my neck issue with very limited neck movement and a lot of pain the problem only became worse and there was no treatment available. My son advised me to take “Glucosamine with Chondroitin” capsules and to my big surprise these have reduced the pain and gave me a lot of mobility again. I had to see two eye doctors, one for a regular checkup of my corneal transplant and a retina specialist for surgical removal of a wrinkle on the retina of my left eye. The surgery went well, but as a side effect due the glaucoma tubes in my eye I lost all the pressure. This is a dangerous condition and although I use stronger eye drops than usual the pressure is not coming back yet.
Up to today it was a very active hurricane season this year and the suffering of people and destruction of property some of the hurricanes caused became personal for us. Before we knew that the Government of Guatemala allowed us to enter the country one of our options called “Plan B” was to store our boat in “The Reserve Marina” in Sapodilla Bay in Belize. It was and expensive option since we had to pay our Boat Insurance an additional premium of $1,950.00 to leave the boat there. In hindsight it was a good choice to not use this option since hurricane “Nana” hit Belize as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph with its center close to the lagoon and the marina. Buildings at the marina were destroyed and one boat sank.
Tropical Storm Beta coursed major flooding in Houston again which delayed the repair and delivery of some parts in marine repair facilities in Kemah. Friends of us have their home base in Louisiana and the area where they live was hit by Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm, and tied with the 1856 “Last Island” hurricane as the strongest storm to make landfall in Louisiana.
Hurricane Teddy brought tropical storm strength winds and 30+ foot waves to Bermuda and friends of us who are from Bermuda sent us pictures and a video how the waves came on land and flooded their swimming pool and backyard. Hurricane Paulette made landfall in Bermuda as a Category 2 hurricane but luckily caused only minor damage.
With the Presidential elections coming close, our county becomes more and more a banana republic. It started in 2016 when we started to discredit the outcome of the elections and the status now is that the outcome of a future election is already discredited. Riots in the street are called peaceful protests, while peaceful protests are disturbed by rioters and sometimes armed rioters. The irresponsible and sometimes criminal behavior of a few police officers is now a reason to ask for defunding of police departments in large cities. Respect for opposite opinions are gone and if you express your opinion you are a socialist/communist or on the other side a racist. The most extreme example of this idiotic society is the call by the speaker of the House of Representatives to have an Impeachment of the President one month before the Presidential elections. Our system of our country is based on a form of the “Separation of Powers with Executive, Legislative and Judicial independent branches. Since the early 70th this system in not working anymore since the Judicial Independence is gone with judges who are representatives of political parties and ridiculous and disgusting accusations are now the most important part of the conformation process of judges.
It becomes very urgent and important to us to leave and go back to our boat where we can live a normal life and we hope we can leave soon.
We can return to the Rio Dulce
10 June 2020 | RAM Marina - Rio Dulce
Bert Dorrestyn | Hot and Humid
In our last blog I described a big storm we had in Placencia and that we sailed to a very nice marina in Sapodilla Lagoon called the Reserve Marina. It was our intent to stay in this marina until we could return to Guatemala for the hurricane season. Together with us some other boats arrived, but they had different plans.
There are a lot of Americans living in very nice homes in Belize but many are returning to the USA during the hurricane season. But the borders are closed as well as the airport. The American Embassy in cooperation with United Airlines negotiated with the government of Belize a repatriation flight to Houston, Texas every 1 to 2 weeks. The flight comes in empty and the people who want to return to the USA need to go through a process to get a place on these flights.
The 2 boats which came together with us in the Reserve Marina kept their boat in storage in the marina and took one of these repatriation flights.
When we left the marina, they already had 6 other boats that took this option. Dorothy and I considered this option very seriously but decided to wait after talking to our adopted daughter Karen the manager of RAM Marina in the Rio Dulce. The borders of Guatemala are closed and it is expected that they will stay closed for some time. A group of people from the marine industry, local government and other interested people started to put together a proposal to get the cruisers in who want to spend the hurricane season in the Rio Dulce. This proposal needed of course be approved by many governmental agencies before it could be presented to the President of Guatemala for his approval since this proposal would be an exception to all the rules and restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
These are the official rules regarding the boats coming to Rio Dulce Marinas
“The Guatemala government has granted humanitarian relief to boaters that have been stranded around the Caribbean and are in danger of being in the path of oncoming hurricanes.
All of these boaters have been in quarantine in the countries from where they are coming and have not had any exposure to COVID-19. Belize for example, has been COVID-19 free for more than 7 weeks. Roatan where many boats are coming from has never had a COVID-19 case.
After the boats are checked-in in Livingston the boats will proceed directly to the marinas where they have a reservation. It is required that the marina be INGUAT registered and that marina personnel provide support for the quarantined personnel. This was a change of the original proposal but it is a presidential order and must be followed.
All of these boats are to proceed to the marina where they will be required to quarantine aboard their boats for 14 days. The quarantine order requires that they remain aboard the boat. They must be wearing a mask when on deck. No one is allowed to go on the boat other than Guatemala health officials. They can receive assistance from marina staff but there must be no contact between marina staff and the quarantined personnel. Example, money can be placed on deck for purchases and the purchased items can be placed on deck without having any close contact with the personnel on board. Marina staff must wear masks when in close proximity to the quarantined boats.
Guatemala government health personnel will make periodic visits or phone calls to monitor the quarantined personnel.”
The original procedure called for that all the boats coming in would be quarantined on anchor somewhere in the Rio Dulce. Based on this we rented a car and went together with our cruiser friends from “s/v Kooky Dance” on a shopping spree so we could survive for 3 weeks on our way and on anchor. We also wanted to use this trip to do the checking-out of Belize. But to our big surprise Belize refused to grand our exit permit since the borders are closed. The officials in Guatemala informed us that they will accept our special entry without a so-called “Zarpe” and exit stamp in our passports. We did not go to immigration and customs and the next day we casted off at 5:00AM to sail to Guatemala. In front of the Rio Dulce in Livingston is large sandbank which you can only cross in a very narrow channel with high-high tide and not even with the high-low tide. To be able to be at the right time in Livingston, boats usually stay about 10 miles away on the other side of the bay called Tres Puntas. But while we were on our way we received notification that the Livingston Port Captain wanted all boats under strict control of the navy and we only could anchor in Livingston. The high tide was the next morning at 8:25 AM so we had to anchor in a very open area next to the river entrance. The weather was good so it was not too bad to anchor out in the open and we slept well.
The weather during the sail from “Sapodilla Lagoon” in Belize to Livingston, an 11 hour and 15 minutes sail with a distance of 62 miles was very variable and still under the influence of tropical Storm named first “Armanda in the Pacific Ocean” renamed to “Cristobal in the Atlantic”. We had from great sailing wind of 15 to 22 knots to no wind at all and had to use the engine also called the noisy sail. We reached Livingston and together with 3 other boats anchored out. The next morning other boats arrived from the last anchorages in Belize after they had to leave very early to make it, while we had a great night’s sleep after we kept an anchor watch during the first couple of hours of the evening.
All the boats lined up to go over the bar, but although I asked the boats with too large draft to wait, a Canadian boat waiting for the tow boat was exactly at the starting waypoint of the channel and although I passed him within a couple of feet we touched the bottom but did not lose forward speed and we crossed the bar without any problems. The surprising thing for me was when anchoring in the river in Livingston is the strength of the outgoing water from the river. You expect incoming current during high tide, but no the current is still very strong outgoing. During the day we had a very nice sea breeze which made it very comfortable on anchor. At the end of the afternoon the breeze became very strong and the wind waves high because the current from the river kept flowing. The boat made a lot of jumps at the stern which is very unusual while anchored.
The wind became less during the night and we slept well although it became very hot in the boat. We woke up with no wind and when the sun came out it became very hot inside the boat it. But what can we say and complain about? The boat with the officials came and all had medical masks and hazmat suits and the navy guard and boat driver were in full uniform, but they were very friendly, efficient and professional. The doctor took our temperature and asked questions about our conditions, we filled out the paperwork. We did not have sufficient Guatemala cash and are not allowed to go to the ATM, so we gave our card to our agent and he will take the money from the ATM.
Just after 1:00 PM our agent came to return our paperwork and gave us instructions to go without any stops to our marina. We left in a hurry and arrived at 4:30 PM in RAM were our adopted daughter Karen and her staff were waiting for us to put our boat in a mediterranean moor in a special area where all boats in quarantine needed to stay for the next 14 days. Although we were not allowed to come ashore and hug each other we are so happy to see Karen and her staff. After we got secured we put on the a/c went inside, had a small bite to eat and just crashed.
The next day it was very hot and humid. We did the necessary boat jobs and welcomed the rest of the group who decided to stay overnight in Livingston. We could talk to Karen from a distance and started to get used to the fact that we will need her staff for any necessary help for the next 14 days. We are so happy to be back and no longer have to live with the insecurity we had before the Guatemalan Government allowed us in.
Most people who read my blogs will not recognize the names of the group that worked so hard to get us in, but I want to show their names so Dorothy and I will never forget them and what they have done for us.
Karen de Lopez – Legal Representative RAM Marina - Coordinated communications with Guatemala government officials
Eugenio Gobbato – Owner Tijax Marina and President of ECORIO - Communications with Guatemala government officials
Emilio Mendizabal – President COCODE 2nd Level of Rio Dulce
Oswaldo Contreras – Vice President CAT Rio Dulce
Richard Monstein – Owner RAM Marina - Background communications
Oscar Pensamiento – Hotel Vinas Del Lago
Omar Solis Cervantes - Local representative of INGUAT (Ministry of Tourism)
Daniel Pinto – Mayor Municipality of Livingston
Lic. Hector Eduardo Morales Alarcon – Governor Department of Izabal
Licda. Lorena de Leon Teo – Representative of Izabal on Congress of Guatemala
Raul Veliz - Agencia Maritima Servamar - Liaison with Guatemala SAT, Immigration, and Port Captain
Captain John Brandes – Owner Captain John’s Marina and Rio Dulce Marine Surveyors - Mouthpiece and Juggler Extraordinaire.