Rio Dulce, Guatemala
11 February 2007 | Lat 15 50'N, Long 88 44' W
Despite all the evidence, we have not fallen off the face of the earth, in fact we are alive and well and at Mario's Marina on the beautiful Rio Dulce in Guatemala. Since it has been so long since I last wrote you, I will go back a ways in my story to bring you up to date. To Wit:
We left Little Washington (the first time) in November 2005 aboard Morning Star, the Shannon 51 we had spend the previous three years getting ready for a long journey. We headed South from Beaufort NC, stopping in Key West for a few weeks while we got some small jobs finished on the boat and visited with John's part-time Key West family, then proceeded to sail non-stop from Key West to Livingston, Guatemala, on the Rio Dulce, about a five day run. As fate would have it, we met a beautiful catamaran named Javelin who (?whom? which?) was leaving for Belize as we were clearing in. Two weeks later, as we were clearing out, the very same beauty was returning from Belize and we had the chance to meet her and her owner/designer and talk cat talk. This was the first time we had considered cats as interesting sailing/cruising vessels and as a result of this fortuitous meeting we took every opportunity thereafter to finagle ourselves on to every cat we came across between Guatemala and Panama to talk cat talk with the owners and peek in corners. When we finally arrived in Bocas del Toro, Panama, after some beautiful cruising with four other boats through the Bay Islands of Honduras and the Columbian islands of Providencia and San Andres, we were ready for a serious look at cats and aided by the Internet (bless it) we determined that the place to seriously look for a cat was in Florida. It took two trips to the States, first to Ft. Lauderdale and then to Houston and Pensacola for us to find Resilience II, a 54 foot cat with a 28 foot beam designed by Chris White, the owner-operator of Javelin. Small World. Not wanting to be the proud owners of two large sailboats, we flew back to Panama and sailed Morning Star (with the aid of a fellow cruiser) from Bocas del Toro to Ft Lauderdale and put her in the capable hands of the same broker who had found her for us three years earlier. Small World again. We sold her in less then six weeks. To say that we were motivated sellers would be an understatement. Then followed several cross-country marathons to get our boat stuff off of Morning Star, in Ft. Lauderdale, and either into storage in Little Washington or on to Resilience (renamed Silkie) located in Pensacola, then to sail Silkie from Pensacola to Little Washington in time to comply with insurance requirements (remember those pesky hurricanes that love Florida?). Once back in NC, we took her to our favorite boatyard in Oriental which has a beautiful travel-lift which could easily life 50,000 lb. Morning Star but couldn't life 26,000 lb. Silkie because of her "ample" beam. The solution was a 65 ton crane which came on wheels from New Bern for the job. Fourteen weeks later another crane came again to Sail Craft and put her back in the water. To see this very large boat, which looks somewhat like an alien spaceship, and into which you have poured too much money and untold hours of hard work, hovering above pilings and docks and other implements of destruction, held up by the slenderest of threads, is an experience not to be missed, unless of course it ends unhappily. In this case all went well and Silkie's transition from water-borne to land-based and back went smoothly and she left the yard much the better for the tender ministrations of the skilled folks at Sail Craft Service.
By now it was getting cold and the time to move South was fast approaching. We left NC (the second time) mid-December 2006 and retraced our steps to Key West, spending almost 6 weeks there doing boat chores (still), thoroughly enjoying the company of John's part-time Key West family again and hosting various family members and friends on board. We spent all this time at anchor just west of Fleming Key in about 20 feet of water and a five minute dingy ride to Key West Bight. We had anchored at this same spot the first time through and had really enjoyed the location but this time we experienced at least four episodes of 25+knot winds which added a certain element of excitement in the form of several boats which took off on their own. In an abundance of caution we dropped a second anchor and slept better as a result even though our spade anchor had been holding very well. We learned at least three important lessons from our stay off Fleming Key: (1) Silkie's 12 solar panels can go a long way toward supplying the power we need to operate the boat at anchor, (2) Silkie "sails" at anchor depending on the wind and current and therefore we need distance between us and "normal" boats, i.e. monohulls, which react to the same conditions quite differently and (3) playing Mexican Wild Train (dominos) is lots of fun.
We left Key West late afternoon on February 2 with David and Laurie Rice aboard and headed for Isla Mujeres on the Yucatan peninsula. The first part of the trip was uneventful but the second night out found us in fairly large seas kicked up by 20+ kt winds blowing against current and we ended up hove-to for about 8 hours. This was a first for us and it worked well: the boat calmed down, the slamming (which we expected but had not experienced up to then) almost disappeared and the boat slipped to leeward at a little over 2 knots/hour. These were the largest seas we have ever been in on this boat and Silkie rode on top of them like a cork. In short: she did great! We spent three nights in Isla and then sailed and motor-sailed one overnight to Xcalac Mexico (near the Belize border). This was another first for us: navigating to an anchorage through a relatively small (75 yards) break in the protecting reef. While we were putting down the anchor we received a call on Ch. 16 from the port captain urging us to come on it and check out ASAP as it was 2:00 pm on a Friday and he was closing down his shop. We checked out and had a very nice dinner on the beach at a restaurant owned by Americans. There is NOTHING in Xcalac except a long beach, two dirt roads, 400 people, one house for sale (see email@example.com), the port captain, two restaurants, range markers for finding the break in the reef, and a quiet anchorage in 8 feet of water behind the reef. We talked with a British lady who had just built a new house on the beach next door to the restaurant. She had lived there for five years. She had the internet and not much else. The nearest civilization is a long way by coastal dirt road that doesn't do well during hurricane season or a 2.5 hour boat ride to the nearest "city".
We left Xcalac the next morning and had an uneventful sail-motorsail overnight, arriving at Livingston about noon. Livingston is notorious for its shallow bar which averages about 5.5 feet a MLW. Last year on Morning Star (6 ft. draft) we ran aground and required some help getting over the bar and into deeper water. This time we sailed in on our 4 ft. draft, no problem. NO sooner then we got the anchor set but the port captain showed up with four other officials to check us in (and this was on a SUNDAY!!). By 2:00 pm we were on our way up the river, as beautiful as ever, and anchored outside Mario's Marina. We are now side-tied to the dock at Mario's, waiting to receive a repair kit for a broken batt car and impatient to get going downriver and onward. (More about Fed Ex in Guatemala next time when I can tell the story without &@*%&($@ deleted.)
Our to-do list is really/finally getting significantly shorter, we have made the boat "ours" in every sense of the word and the world is good.
Till next time.
Admiral and Senior Attorney