On the rails in Guatemala
10 April 2013 | 15 39'N:88 'W, Rio Dulce
There comes a time every year or two when the boat must come out of the water, in order to apply new anti-fouling paint to the bottom, and other assorted maintenance. When I arrived at the boat in Panama last October, there were hard barnacles peppering the hull, which could be taken as failure of the paint to do its job. But a long wait would have been required to do the job there, so I have been scraping dutifully since then. Time to fix it for reals.
The Rio Dulce is Guatemala is quite a nice place for boats. First off it is the best hurricane hole in the western Caribbean, 20 miles upstream in a fresh water river, and lots of boats summer here, living on board, or not. There are lots of marinas and boat oriented services. Cost of living is extremely low, like I have never seen before. The tortilla stand up the hill from the boat yard sells tortillas de maize for about 5 cents each. Several bags of nice produce from the outdoor market was $10, and the marinas charge 1/4 of what I paid in Panama. There was only one obstacle standing between me and Abel's boat yard, a bridge, or more specifically the electric cables just beyond the bridge. The center of the bridge has a clearance of 90', very good, but for some Guatemalan reason the power cables have only 75' clearance at mid-span, a no-go for my 78' mast height. However it is possible to pass the bridge at center span, then maneuver deftly to the banks of the river where the cables are higher, while keeping the mast in the meager 30' between the bridge and cables until in position to pass the cables. Whew. I really don't need to touch those cables. I solicited about 100 opinions on the feasibility of the whole thing, rejected 98 of them as being mere guesses, and with Abel and his mate Chilo aboard, we successfully made the maneuver early in the morning, when the wind was calm and cables cooler and tighter/higher. It was like intentionally going over a waterfall. I went into it with good knowledge that this was possible, but also a non-trivial risk that there could be some major issue. I had removed the masthead antenna and other hardware and disconnected electrical cables for added assurance. It made positioning the boat for the underwater railway a short while later seem fun and easy, when there were 6 guys in the water yelling instructions in Spanish at each other and me, we all being named "Amigo" at that point, move left! Back up! Stop engines! Put 6 lines in the water! Got a swim mask for me (thanks, can I keep it?).
Life in this boat yard is not great. It's gritty, sanders and machinery are running often, and the boat is slanted about 15 degrees. Usually there is water but don't dare drink it. I could walk up to a hotel nearby but it's easier to just live on board. Only another day or two!
Life in the Rio is pretty good. Nearly all goods and services are accessed from the water, there are few roads other than the highway/bridge, and the dinghy is the mode of transportation everywhere. We live in a jungle; I hear monkeys and birds at night, and up the road there is a flightless parrot who chats with passerby's, apparently doing so from the same tree for 10 years. The Guatemalans are friendly and happy. It is definitely a third world existence though, few locals can afford gas on which to cook, so smoky wood cooking is the norm. Questionable restaurant meals can be had locally, or good gringo meals at any of the marinas. I still have a lot of fish left so have not been eating out. BTW I have determined that the big fish is a king mackerel, typically 5 to 30 pounds but can get to 90. There are lots of gringos here who came 5 or 10 years ago for a couple months and are still stuck, happily going to the bar every afternoon, smoking and drinking and just hang ing out. A few have started enterprises serving the boating community. I can find great imported meats and cheeses and any boat service required. But not to worry, I am not a member of the every-afternoon club, I'll get back in the water, take a little cruise farther upstream into the pretty Lago Isabele, then make my way out and on to Mexico.