22 February, 2010

Sweating and Swimming

Location: French Cay Harbour, Roatan, Honduras

Position: 16 21.255 N 086 26.646 W

We’ve spent two great weeks in Honduras. We are anchored between a reef and the island. The reef isn’t visible from the boat much of the time, so we sit aboard looking straight out to the ocean. It was a little disconcerting at first. It didn’t feel like we were protected, at least until we got used to it. The reef soaks up almost all the energy of the ocean waves and all we get are small waves from the short fetch inside the reef. And the sea breeze really cools things down nicely. All-in-all it’s a fine, safe place to sit while we explore.
Being so close to the reef it’s a short dinghy ride to some great snorkeling. There’s a wall dive nearby. The reef is close to the surface and there are lots of colorful fish. But as you swim along the reef drops off like a cliff edge going down as far as you can see. It was a bit disconcerting the first time we went out there - it made us dizzy, like stepping off the edge of a cliff, but now we are used to it. The days we don’t go snorkeling we just swim off the boat. The temperatures are pretty hot most of the time (in the 80s and 90s) and it’s a great way to cool off in the afternoon.

Coxen Hole is the capital of the Bay Islands and is about 10 miles west of here. A seeming rabbit warren of narrow bustling streets, it hosts a myriad of stalls and shops selling everything from backpacks to TVs to clothing to woven hammocks. Street venders selling fish out of plastic coolers, meat hanging from hooks in small butcher shops, and small cafes are all commonplace. It’s very much like any major city - there are lots of things to buy, you just have to find where the best prices are.

Cruise ships stop here a few times a week - you don’t want to be in town then as all the prices are higher. We can see them passing by the anchorage so we know when they are here. Much of the local economy revolves around the cruise ships. The disparity between local prices and “cruise ship” prices is really something. Being good cruisers, we always make sure to tell people we’re not from a cruise ship and get the price nailed down before we take a taxi ride or sit down for a beer or a meal.

French Harbour, the town nearest our anchorage, is not very touristy. Mainly locals live here so we get to really feel the flavor of the island. There are, however, a couple of dive resorts to the east of the anchorage that have happy hours a couple of times a week. Of course the $1.25 beers attract all the cruisers, so it gives us a great opportunity to socialize with the other boaters in the anchorage. During the last happy hour we noticed several people drinking what is apparently the local drink of choice. Named the “Monkey La La” (http://www.caribbeantravelmag.com/article/Recipe-Finder/Drink-of-the-Month---Monkey-La-La) it’s a concoction of ice cream, vodka, Kahlua, and ice, blended to the consistency of a milk shake. We’re certain they contain no calories and they looked really delicious – we haven’t tried one yet, but will let you know what we think after the next happy hour.

There are several open double-ender boats around that seem to be unique to these islands – at least in our limited experience. They’re around 25-30 feet long, only about 5 feet wide, and are powered by “single lunger” diesel engines. The nicest one is all prettied up with a center console and bimini and sometimes sits at the iguana farm dock about a hundred feet from us (we’ll tell you more about the iguana farm in another Khronicle). Our favorite one is bright yellow and has no steering wheel – the rudder just has a couple of lines led forward and when the driver wants to steer, he simply pulls on one line or the other. We really enjoy hearing them put-put-put through the anchorage.

As always we try to buy foods that the locals eat - they are usually cheaper and we enjoy trying new foods. We had some funny shaped wrinkly squash the other day that almost had the texture of a melon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chayote). It was very tasty, especially when stir fried with garlic. Yum!

Our hearts go out to all of you in the frozen North. Think warm thoughts and have a hot toddy on us. Just remember – the groundhog saw his shadow so there are only six more weeks of winter to go. That’s not so bad, eh?

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel

04 February, 2010

Further South

Location: French Cay Harbour, Roatan, Honduras
Position: 16 21.255 N 086 26.646 W

We had originally planned to slowly work our way down the coasts of Mexico and Belize, then head east to the Bay Islands of Honduras. After talking with other cruisers and studying the prevailing weather patterns we decided that this was not a good plan for us. The wind generally comes from the SE and currents are generally from the south so to coastal hop south is to work against these forces and can be “not very comfortable”.

Of additional concern is the reputation Belize has been gaining among cruisers lately. Much of the scuttlebutt these days consists of “The fees to clear in are arbitrary and the officials are surly and looking for bribes – they’re all a bunch of crooks.” and “Everything there is expensive – the beers are $5 each and it’s lousy beer.” and “The outer atolls are beautiful – well worth a visit, but don’t bother checking in – it’s not worth the hassle.” True or not, these stories had an effect on our decision to avoid Belize and we know several others who have decided likewise. Let’s hope for Belize’s sake they clean up their act – otherwise more cruisers will decide to bypass it for other, more friendly and predictable destinations.

At any rate, although we weren’t very thrilled about making another three day passage we decided to wait for a front to pass through and ride the northerly wind SE across the current in the Yucatan Channel. Once past the Yucatan Current, we’d be out of the confused “wind against current” seas and start heading directly south to the Bay Islands of Honduras. A 320 mile passage at our 5 knot planning speed the trip should take around 74 hours or just over three days.

We set off in the morning from Isla Mujeres with our buddy boat “Diva” – we’ve travelled with Carl & Debbie off and on for a few years now and have found that our personalities, our relatively cautious approach to weather and routing decisions, and our boat speeds are very compatible.

The first day we encountered several rain showers making it a wet day in Rachel’s cockpit (Mark: “Can we get a full enclosure now?”). Using the radar we were able to avoid several more squalls that day and night and by the 2nd day we had sunny skies and more comfortable seas.

One of Rachel’s most valuable pieces of equipment, especially on a long passage, is her autopilot (which we’ve named “Otto” – pretty original, huh?). Even an hour spent hand steering the boat in ocean waves can get tiring over a long period of time, preventing us from taking the longer 3-4 hour off-watch rest periods we prefer.

Unfortunately during the 2nd night Diva’s autopilot developed a problem, requiring them to hand steer for the next 36 hours. Diva has a tiller instead of a steering wheel, so they were able to hook up some bungee cords to the tiller to help hold her on course and make steering easier. At this point Rachel took the lead so Diva could use our masthead light as a beacon to steer to. Between the bungee cords, Rachel’s dancing masthead light, and hour on – hour off watches they made it the rest of the way to Roatan without any additional problems. We all arrived safely at French Cay Harbour at about 10 am Wednesday after 3 days and 3 hours. All in all, it was a good trip and we’re happy to finally be here.