26 April, 2010


Location: Bahia La Graciosa, Guatemala
Position: N15 51.400 W 088 33.406

We leave the island of Utila and begin to head further west. Our ultimate near-term goal is to is to arrive at Livingston, Guatemala by April 27th.

This date is significant to us because the high tide there at 7:00 am is 1.84' higher than mean low water. Rachel draws 6' and the entrance to the Rio Dulce is blocked by a wide sand bar that's 5' deep at mean low water. By waiting until the 27th, we should see 0.84' under our keel as we approach Livingston to clear in to Guatemala.

The fact that the high tide occurs during the morning is an added plus for us. Livingston has a terrible reputation for theft and boardings – everyone's advice is to clear in and get the heck out, heading up river to spend the night at one of the “safe” anchorages further up stream. Needless to say, this got our attention and we decide that the 27th fits our plans to a “T”.

Rachel in Puerto Escondido
We've planned our trip west in a series of day trips so we won't be doing any overnight sails. Not for any particular reason other than we feel like it. We need to clear out of Honduras on April 22nd because our 90 day visas expire on the 23rd. This will leave us in limbo for several days between clearing out of Honduras and clearing in to Guatemala after we cross the bar at Livingston, but everyone we've talked to about it tells us a week or more is fine – no one will mind – so we decide to not let it bother us, either.
Our first scheduled stop along the coast of Honduras is Puerto Escondido. We sail across the Bay of Honduras to Punta Sal and head south along the mountainous and rocky shore. As we approach, the anchorage opens to us and we see a beautiful beach surrounded by mountains and jungle. There are no other boats here, so we pick our spot, drop the anchor, and relax (position N 15 54.544 W 087 37.908 W). This little harbor lies within the bounds of the “Parque Nacional Jeanette Kawas”, a 782 sq. km. National park - and it's a total gem.
We see a couple of locals walking the beach with a dog. The dog runs into the woods and we hear what sounds a bit like a bunch of other dogs barking at it. We finally realize that the “barking” we're hearing is the resident howler monkeys hollering at the dog! We eat dinner in the cockpit listening to the varied sounds of the jungle and the howler monkeys. It's amazing and a little spooky. And we love it.

In the morning we enjoy another show from the howlers. They seem to be more vocal in the morning and at sunset. The whole troop participates in this morning's serenade.
Today is our 3rd year anniversary living aboard Rachel and cruising. We couldn't ask for a more perfect location for this milestone occasion.

The cruising guide says that there are trails in the park so we get ready to head in to shore for a hike. Julie looks over and sees a group of people on the beach. “Hurry” she says to Mark “we can ask that group about the trails”.
On our arrival at the beach we discover it's a group of Americans! They are in Honduras with a church group from Mystic, CT. The church built a school a few miles inland 20 years ago and each year a group comes down to add a new building or do upgrades and repairs. Today is their last day and they traveled here with a couple of guides for a day off before returning to the US.

We ask if we can tag along as the guides speak English and they say sure. We walk through the jungle trail and the guides point out the howler monkeys way up in the trees, gorgeous flowers in bloom, and a few different types of edible wild fruit. We walk with the group over to the next bay where they all get back in their boats and leave us to wander the trails and the miles of empty beaches alone again in this magical place. There are supposed to be jaguars here too but we are hoping we don't bump into one.

It's hard to tear ourselves away, but on Saturday morning we haul anchor and head for our next stop – Omoa. The anchorage at Omoa is protected from the south and east, but is exposed from every other direction. The wind is supposed to be light and from the SE, so we feel pretty good about being here.
That is until the “music” starts. Bump ba dump. Bump ba dump. Bump ba dump. Poor Rachel is shivering her timbers. We're being thrown about the cabin. Bump ba dump. Bump ba dump. Our brains turn to jelly. How can anyone possibly enjoy this? If Rachel were a wooden boat, the caulking would be vibrating out of its seams. Bump ba dump. We turn on the fans hoping for some acoustic masking. We turn on our own music hoping to drown it out. But the insistent bass continues to rumble through all our attempts to mitigate it. We scream and howl, we weep like children and beg for mercy, we cover our heads with our pillows. We drink. Exhausted, and a bit tipsy, we finally pass out and dream strange, rhythmic dreams.

The thumping finally stops at about 4:00 am. Hallelujah! Quality sleep! Until 7:30 – Bump ba dump. Bump ba dump. For crying out loud! It's Sunday morning and they've started it again! Aiiieee!! We'd hoped to spend the day here and check out the town and the nearby castle, but this is too much. We haul anchor and get the heck out of there a day ahead of schedule.

We arrive at Cabo Tres Puntas, Guatemala in late afternoon (position N 15 55.686 W 088 36.028). The anchorage is nice and calm, protected as it is from the 15 knot easterly trades we're seeing. We have a day to kill, so we plan to spend tomorrow relaxing and getting ourselves and Rachel ready to cross the bar to Livingston. It's calm, there's a light breeze and we sleep soundly, hearing only the sounds we're used to – each other breathing and Rachel's little creaks and gurgles.

We wake up in the morning and notice that we're bouncing a bit more than we think we should be. The wind, predicted to be light from the SE to E for the next several days has shifted to the West and is building. By 7:30 am it's blowing 20-25 knots and we're taking water over the bow!

We decide to haul anchor and head for Bahia De La Graciosa, a 5 mile trip south. Julie goes up on the bow to operate the windlass while Mark mans the helm, keeping Rachel's bow into the waves. Suddenly the chain piles up in the chain locker and the windlass jams. So here we are, bouncing around on a short rode, yanking at the anchor (which holds wonderfully), and wondering how long the windlass can take this abuse before it breaks loose. We trade places and after about 10 minutes of effort (and generous application of the “appropriate language toolbox”) Mark manages to free the chain and we finally get the anchor up and are under way.

The best part about our new destination is that getting there puts the wind and waves slightly aft of beam (that means coming at us from the side and slightly behind us) making the ride a lot more comfortable than is was when we were banging right into them. We feel our way through the entrance, tuck up behind Punta Manglar, and drop the anchor.

The difference is amazing. We still have the same wind we had at Cabo Tres Puntas, but there are no waves. It's like being in a lake! The breeze cools the boat above and below. And there are no bugs! We really like this place and wonder why more cruisers don't stop here.

What contrasts we've experienced over the past several days! Going from Puerto Escondido and it's howler monkeys to Omoa and it's howling basses. From being bounced around like a cork at Cabo Tres Puntas to this peaceful, quiet anchorage. We decide to spend the remainder of the day relaxing, reading, and generally winding down from all the excitement, looking forward to a new experience tomorrow when we enter the Rio Dulce.

PS - Real time update – 27 May, 2010

In case any of you heard about the volcano erupting in Guatemala City, don't worry it's 150 miles from us. Poor Rachel does have some black volcanic ash on her decks. And her canvas. And her awnings. And her dinghy. So we are obviously not quite far enough away. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/latin_america/10186112.stm.

Oh, and that potential tropical storm in the eastern Pacific? The one that may track right over us? Not to worry.

Then there's the weevil infestation that Julie just found in our beans and flour.

And the ants sneaking in via our docklines – ants, schmantz.

We're doing just fine. Thank goodness Weather Underground downgraded Monday's predicted heat index of 150 degrees F to a mere 120 degrees F or we might have had a problem!

15 April, 2010

Overcoming Obstacles

Location: Jonesville, Roatan, Honduras
Position: N16 23.240 W086 22.568

All over the world people overcome obstacles, annoyances and inconveniences in their lives on a daily basis.

Here in the Bay Islands each island is largely surrounded by barrier reef. These calm the ocean waves before they hit land and therefore provide a safer place to build communities. The islands are covered in high hills covered with rain forest so transportation from one community to the next, before roads were built, was by water. The problem was that to travel from one bay to the next you had to go outside the reef into the ocean and sometimes big seas.

Calabash CanalCalabash Bight Canal

The canal at Jonesville

Oak Ridge Canal. These names are not sounding very Central American are they? Remember the British owned this part of the world for a while.

Solution!! Cut through the coral and mangroves inside the reefs to make canals from one community to the next.

Result – delightful passages through mangrove swamps which create a canopy overhead to provide some shade. On the south side of Roatan you can travel between several bays and about 10 miles without even going out into the ocean. On Guanaja you can travel through the middle of the island from the town of Bonacca to the less populated western side.

Then there are the dories.

In Honduras, a dory is a double ended boat usually ranging from about 15-25' in length with a very narrow beam. Based on dug out canoes, the newer ones are made from wooden planks or fiberglass.

old dugout canoes ("cayucos") still in use in the Bay Islands

They have an external rudder which is steered using two pieces of line. The driver sits in the aft end of the boat and pulls one string or the other, depending on which way he wants to turn. Most are powered by a single cylinder gasoline engine, though some have modern high-power diesel engines. The gasoline ones don't seem to have a transmission. If the engine is on, the propeller is turning. Imagine starting your car and it immediately takes off in gear. You have no brakes, so you have to anticipate way ahead of time and turn off the engine to coast to a stop at exactly the right place. This of course takes lots of practice. It is also necessary to not pull in front of one of them when they are clipping along because they cannot stop - they will just run into you! The good part is that, since the un-muffled engines in most of the older dories make a putt putt putt sound, so you can always hear them coming.

The Lady Nell

All of the communities here are on the water and most people do not have land based transportation . Most of them either have some kind of boat, or they ride on water taxis. In the morning you'll see a dory full of kids in their school uniforms being dropped off at school. You'll see older ladies with their umbrellas, for shade, going to church or the store. All the stores have dinghy docks and some communities don't even have roads - they are completely water access only. We have really enjoyed exploring the canals and wandering though the communities by both dinghy and foot. Everyone is so friendly and will wave and shout hello.

Mark relaxing in Bonocca on an old cayuco converted to a swing

PS – it's really May 18th and we wanted to let you all know we're safe and sound in Guatemala, tied to a dock on the Rio Dulce for the next several months. We'll get caught back up with the Khronicles over the next few weeks.