25 December, 2010

Christmas Wishes

Dear Friends and Relatives,

There are some big differences between Christmas in Providencia and Christmas in the US or UK. For one thing, there's no snow and we're walking around in shorts and t-shirts! We've also not been able to find any Christmas pageants, Christmas plays, Christmas carolers, or Christmas bell choirs - that doesn't mean there aren't any - we just haven't found them yet. Palm trees replace pine trees, loud, thumping music replaces "Silent Night", fireworks replace the lighting of the community Christmas tree, and fresh wahoo stands in for turkey or ham at Christmas dinner. And needless to say, we miss the sounds of our grandchildren opening their presents with shrieks of delight.

There are also some big similarities. The people here are SO friendly. We've been met with nothing but smiles since we've been here. One new friend offered to let the cruisers use her house for a Christmas potluck. Random "Welcome to our island"s pop up in unexpected places. We've been wished "Merry Christmas" or "Happy New Year" everywhere we've gone, and the houses are all decorated.

Our Christmas traditions on Rachel remain the same, however. A lovely, romantic dinner at home on Christmas eve (our 9th wedding anniversary this year), decorations on the mast moose (or, as we call it at this time of year, the "Christmoose tree"), presents at the base of the mast, watching "Miracle on 34th St.", "White Christmas", "It's a Wonderful Life" and other Christmas favorites snuggled together on the settee, visiting and exchanging gifts with our friends on other boats, and many other little things too numerous to mention remind us of home, family, and all of you. You have enriched our lives and for that we are truly grateful.

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful, and fulfilling Christmas.

21 December, 2010


Sheesh we forgot to tell you that on our first day we had a pod of about 25 dolphins come to play with us for about 30 minutes. They were swimming around the boat, leeping into the air and twirling around, and swimming in the bow wake. As usual we ran up onto the bow sprit, which sticks out in front of the boat about 6ft above the water, and looked down on sometimes 8 dolphins of varying sizes swimming right below us. One time 2 of them flipped over onto their backs and slapped their tails as they were swimming along as they were looking up at us. They wove in and out of each other crossing the bow. It was stupendous and the best dolphin displat we've seen yet.
We took this as a sign that we were going to have a good passage, and it was so.

Wahoo? Woohoo!!

Date: 21 December, 2010
Location: Providencia, Columbia
Position: W13 22.785 N081 22.398

Hello all. We had a good passage and are now anchored in Providencia, a Columbian island in the middle of the western Caribbean, actually nowhere near Columbia.

We set off from Guanaja, Honduras with light winds and motored with the main sail up for almost 100 miles. This was the trickiest part of the trip, getting around Cabo Gracias a Dios (Cape Thanks be to God) named by Christopher Columbus after it took him 30 days to get around it. The prevailing winds and current are on the nose from the East so you have to basically wait until there's a light wind and then make a beeline to get around before the wind picks back up again. Thank goodness for today's modern diesel auxiliary engines - we bet Columbus would have loved to have one <g>.

We were lucky enough to have a light north westerly breeze and were able to motor-sail to make the turn to SE by the Vivorillo Cays. Then the light wind turned north, further assisting us in getting around the Cape, another 100 mile leg.

We had glorious weather and decided to get out a brand new fishing lure as we hadn't had any luck with our old one for over a year. 20 minutes after we put it out Julie came up from down below and said 'What's that?" We looked back and thought something was caught on the line. As we pulled it in we realized what we were seeing was a huge open fishes mouth with our new lure wedged sideways inside it. Sheesh! Wish we'd taken a picture of that!

Immediately we were busy clearing out the cockpit, getting the big gloves, the gaff, and the 'fish vodka'. As we pulled it in close enough to identify, we had to scurry below to get the fish book, we couldn't tell if it was a king mackerel or a wahoo. Mark did his usual great job of gaffing and landing the monster, this time without smearing blood all over the side of the boat, much to Julie's joy. Turns out we had a 45" Wahoo - woohoo! Now for the hard part. We wrestled him into the cockpit where Julie spent some quality time filleting and skinning it. She stripped down to her underwear, not wanting all that extra stinky washing to do, and set about it. An hour and a half later we had 4 huge ziploc bags full of boneless, skinless fillets, a scrubbed and sparkly cockpit, and Julie back in her clothes now that the excitement was over. No more fishing for us this trip since we have no more room in the fridge.

The rest of this 2nd day and night was spent crossing the shallower banks. Some of the 5 other boats we were traveling with also caught fish so we were all happy. We had got too far apart to chat on the VHF radio so we set up an hourly schedule to check in on the SSB and make sure everyone was OK. Towards morning on that 2nd night we started seeing a lot of blips on our radar but no lights. We were starting to get close to the deep ocean water again and decided they must be fishing boats. As daylight came we could see 10 or so boats all within 6-8 miles. This must be a great spot for fishing. These boats probably come from Honduras and Nicaragua, both about 90 miles away, to fish these abundant waters.

After we got into the deep water again we headed SSE for a 3 day run down to Panama. The wind was almost dead behind us and it was a pretty rolly ride. We did our usual morning routine listening to the weather and checked into the Caribbean Nets on the SSB. We called into our weather guru, Chris Parker, to get an update on our weather for the trip down to the San Blas. The first 2 days were going to be great but the last day the wind was shifting to dead behind and there would be numerous squalls, 35 knot gusty winds and a lot of rain. We really wanted to get down to Panama for Christmas but we also really didn't fancy getting all that bad weather on our last day after being at sea for 4 long days. We tossed it around, anguished, pondered and made the decision to head to Providencia.

We'd heard wonderful things about this island and were planning to visit it on our way back north, whenever that may be. Well, if we're going to get stuck somewhere for Christmas this seems a good place. As a bonus, the other five boats we set off with were all planning on stopping here so.....

We had a problem, however. We were going to arrive after dark into an unknown anchorage, no sailor's choice. We chatted with a few people on the SSB net and got waypoints from some friends for getting in. Everyone we spoke with told us it's a nice, wide, easy entry. We were able to get accurate, up-to-date waypoints for getting in, the weather was benign, and the moon was full, so we decided to take the chance and go for it rather than dawdle around overnight and wait to go in during daylight. So that's what we did!! We had plenty of light and dropped the anchor in a spot, for which a friend had sent us the position, at about 10pm. Then we got the first good night's sleep we'd had in three days <yawn>.

This morning we awoke to a drizzle and pretty gusty wind so we were glad we were already in and safe. The harbour is surrounded by mountains and what looks like a quaint little town. We're looking forward to going ashore, checking in, and going exploring. That is, after we get the boat in order and eat a full English breakfast.

Then it's wahoo for lunch and wahoo for dinner for us and all our friends in the anchorage. We wish we could serve up some of Julie's famous "Traditional Olde English Christmas Grilled Wahoo" with all of you too!

Happy Holidays, best wishes, and lots of love from The Rachels,

15 December, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Position: N 16 27.257 W 085 52.254
Location: Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras

The Good: we are still in Guanaja waiting for weather. It's been over two weeks since we arrived in Guanaja. This island is really beautiful. It's only 3 x 11 miles but mountainous with trails and waterfalls, surrounded by stunning reefs to snorkel and dive.
A bunch of us dinghied around to Michael Rock on the other side of the island to hike up to the falls
Michael Rock falls after an hour spent scrambling up a rocky trail

We have a resident dolphin in the anchorage who spends his day visiting all the boats and playing and fishing around us. The best part is that Guanaja is practically undiscovered by the tourists. No cruise ships, no big resorts, no crowds. We were here back in April and are glad that we've had the opportunity to come back and spend more time here, discovering more of the islands natural delights.

The Bad: we are still in Guanaja waiting for weather. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of cruising for us. Every day we get up and spend a couple of hours poring over the forecasts. Our passage will take 3 to 5 days. We start out heading east for a day, turn SE for a day and then just east of south for 1 to 3 days depending on where we decide to stop. This means we need a chunk of good weather, preferably with winds and waves that aren't too big. If possible, we'd also like to arrange for the wind to shift around as we change directions. So far, we haven't had enough pull with the weather gods.

We look ahead on the forecasts for 5 days and often see an opportunity to leave but as our departure day gets closer, the forecast changes, the weather window narrows or closes, and we decide not to leave. We're all provisioned up so it's necessary to go to town every few days to top up our stores and underway treats as we use them. We can't start any major boat jobs because we may have to leave at a moments notice. Back to 'Good', however, this means we have more time to explore and have fun.
Mark playing pool with the Osprey kids, Kaeo and Birdie, at Manati, German Restaurant in El Bight while we are waiting for weather

The Ugly: we are still in Guanaja waiting for weather. Ugly is what we are hoping not to encounter. Ugly would be to leave when the weather is not 'right' and come across 30+ mph winds and 10-15 foot seas. Rachel can handle those conditions, and we can handle them, too, but we really prefer not to have to - we do our best to avoid “Ugly”. Given the weather tools available to us, our flexible schedule, and our self-imposed caution, we've managed to do pretty well so far (knock on wood). But longer than about 2-3 days out, weather forecasts can become notoriously unreliable. So we'll choose our time carefully, and after we leave we'll continue to monitor the weather as we sail. If it looks good, we hope to continue on to Panama, but we won't make that decision until we approach our “3 day” destination.
El Bight, Guanaja
Once we leave here we will probably not have Internet access so we've set up our blog so that we can email postings to it from our ham radio email. There will be no pictures but we can send our position and text to keep you updated. When we get Internet access we'll post pictures. So please check the blog to stay up to date with our adventures for the next few months. If the current opportunity doesn't close up on us, we hope to start heading East and South this coming Saturday, 18 December.

Our “3 day” destination is either Providencia (N12 20.685 W081 22.763) or San Andres (12 32.746 W081 42.896), both Colombian owned islands off the coast of Nicaragua. Our “5 day” destination is either Portobelo (N9 33.209 W079 39.255) on the Panamian coast or Porvenir (N09 33.20 W78 57.00) in the San Blas Islands. We're hoping to spend the next few months exploring the beautiful and reportedly pristine San Blas archipelago. After that, who knows? We'll keep you posted.

Oh, by the way – a cold front just passed and it was downright chilly here last night. It got down to 78, but the wind chill made it feel like 70. We know you feel sorry for us....

06 December, 2010

Decisions, decisions

Date: 6 December, 2010
Position: N 16 27.257 W 085 52.254
Location: Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras

We left Guanaja yesterday morning in unpredicted SE winds and snotty seas. After motorslogging for 2 1/2 hours, Diva and Rachel decided to return to port, and Osprey chose to keep going. We were pretty uncomfortable, and, since the wind wasn't as predicted we also began to lose confidence in the forecast. It was a tough decision and we both have mixed feelings about it. However, it is what it is and we'll deal with it and carry on.

We've been following Osprey on the weather and cruising nets - the wind is higher than predicted, but they're doing well and should be in Providencia sometime Tuesday or Wednesday. We'll continue following their progress and are still planning to meet up with them again in Providencia or the San Blas as soon as we can get there.

In the meantime, Rachel and Diva will clear back in to Honduras today, then sit here and wait for that elusive "perfect weather window" to show up. It looks like we might get an opportunity next weekend, but that's pretty far out for a forecast, so we'll just have to wait and see. After mid-December opportunities to head east and south diminish. The easterly trades known as the "Christmas winds" settle in and can blow nearly continuously until sometime in March.

As always, we'll do our best to keep you apprised of what we're doing and where we end up as soon as we know.

We'll be in touch again soon,

Mark & Julie
s/v “Rachel”

04 December, 2010

Catching up and moving on

Date: 4 December, 2010
Position: N 16 27.257 W 085 52.254
Location: Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras

We left Guatemala a couple of weeks ago and headed back to last spring's old stomping grounds in the Bay Islands of Honduras. Thanksgiving with friends in West End, Roatan (where we visited w/ Julie's son Dan last spring) was followed by a flurry of provisioning and edging ourselves as far East as we can get before “jumping off”.

We're finally ready to make the big leap East and South from the Bay Islands in Honduras to the San Blas Islands in Panama. If we go nonstop it should take about 5 days. The weather seems to be cooperating although it's beginningto look like the seas will be higher than we're comfortable with. We're traveling with our friends Carl & Debbie on “Diva” and Johnny, Wendy, Kaeo, and Birdie on “Osprey”.

We've shopped 'till we dropped and filled every nook and cranny on Rachel with food, toilet paper, wine, rum, and other essentials. We leave Guanaja tomorrow morning and plan to make it to the island of Providencia off the East coast of Nicaragua before we have to make the decision to continue or stop for a while because of weather or high seas.

As always, we'll do our best to keep you apprised of what we're doing and where we end up as soon as we know.