Monday, December 27, 2010

Cabo Gracias a Dios

The trip 'around the corner' and down towards Colombia and Panama is not one that we were looking forward to, being 160 nautical miles to windward and then a run through a reefy area off the Mosquito Coast. But eventually the day came where the easterly tradewinds were trumped by the northwest and north winds of an approaching cold front, and it was time to go

We left Guanaja in company with another boat. Well,'travelling with' in the sense that Pluto travels with Mercury - this catamaran arrived half a day before we did. Here's a little video they took of us on our first day out.
Or not, lots of trouble uploading this six-second video clip.

This video is just a little experiment; can anyone see it? You need Flash.

Then, a white smudge that I kept peering at thinking it was a small boat heading our way turned into a waterspout. Luckily, it didn't reach to the clouds until it was past us, and stayed a respectful distance away.
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This part of Nicaragua is the Mosquito Coast, and from what people say about it, it sounds like a last frontier, out beyond the reach of the law. It's not a recommended destination due in part to drug-related activity. Plus the charts are outdated - islands have been reconfigured in recent hurricanes. I've read that it took Christopher Columbus 40 or 50 days (accounts vary) to work his way around this cape, hence the name Gracias a Dios. Good weather windows just aren't that big, he didn't have any charts, and not much windward sailing ability either. But I've also read that he had a fortuitous wind shift. I think Christopher Columbus probably had lots of opportunity to say Gracias a Dios.

Our last night out, approaching Providencia, was disconcertingly dark, like the inside of a coal mine. Shower clouds around the horizon blotted out the starshine; moonrise was about half an hour before sunrise. We were dawdling for daylight, so sailed off the wind under bare poles, drifting at about 1 kt down the west side of Providencia. Sunrise at the sea buoy, on through the channel, and ready for another adventure, after a little nap.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


If you look at the chart of Guanaja, Honduras, the easternmost of the Bay Islands,  you’ll see  a series of  ‘peaks’ in the one to three hundred-meter range. The highest point, Michael Rock Peak, logs in at 415 meters.
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You’ll also see the notation “Densely Wooded”. This is less true now, post-hurricane Mitch (1998), which mowed down huge swathes of pine forest on both sides of the island. Recovery is underway but for now the only dense woods might be in certain valley bottoms.
We took a hike up to Michael Peak with a resident gringo who probably knows more about the old trails than almost anyone else here. He hikes them regularly, carrying a machete as if it were a parade rifle.
Guanaja, we were told, doesn’t have the water problems that more developed islands like Roatan have. ‘Don’t believe everything anyone tells you’ said our friend.  ‘Water can be a problem here too.’ He took us to a dam which supplies the main settlement on Bonacatown the island.
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Then he told us: was it 2005? Lots of weather systems coming through, and three days,  each with more than 25” per day  = an inch per hour.‘We had so much rain there wasn’t any water to drink’.  How did that happen, I wondered.  Turns out that the quartz sand in the soil washed down into the reservoir and filled it, so much so that it had to be dug out during the dry season. Credulously,  I can see how that might happen.  There’s a big delta-fan of white sand in front of Hans’ bar from the same summer.
It seems like several valleys have dams and streams, even waterfalls. We met another property owner  whose land’s finest feature was a constantly running stream with a dammed pool.
It would be a real treat to lounge here.
Otherwise, much of Guanaja's land is little used. There once was agriculture, in the form of coconut products, but between disease and a blow from hurricane Fifi in the 1970s, that has long gone. Cattle, especially if loose, will ruin the water cachements. There are cows around, but not on that scale here. Even growing a personal garden is a struggle with the elements, the soil, and a multitude of critters. 

When I said that some day soon the trails would be too overgrown to find our friend said, no, your feet will find them. The soil is compressed so, that although vegetation may sometimes cover the visual track, the earth still holds the trodden line intact. And it seemed true. Trudging along, there was always room for our feet, no matter how much the grass, some of it ‘cutting grass,’ snagged at our shins.
On we went. A fire also went through here several years after the hurricane. In  areas,  the trees, some replanted and some volunteers, are finally getting tall enough to offer shade. And of course there are spectacular views under any conditions.
 Here’s a look to the south and west. The larger island is Bonacatown, where the bulk of the population lives despite the, to me,  salubrious environs of the peaks.
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And here’s a view toward the second  settlement of Savannah Bight.
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And a view of the anchorage of El Bight
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Can you pick out Galivant? You can also maybe make out the fan of white sand, and the canal with 6 feet of water that some local boats use as hurricane shelter.
Eventually, of course, we got to the top, just in time for a little shower from a little dark cloud that hangs out up here. I've been told that Guanaja means 'dark cloud'. Should I believe that too?
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 On the way home, I had to retrace my steps to find something that I dropped, while the guys napped in shaded grass.
 Doug and I got more exercise in a day than we’d had in the previous month. “There’s a lot more ‘middle’ to this island than we can see from the boat”, Doug said. Nonetheless, next time I’m back in Guanaja I’m definitely going to let my feet find another trail.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Out of LaCeiba for good!

Funny how what once was tolerable seems less so the closer it gets to the end. That’s how we were feeling as we slipped away from La Ceiba Shipyard early Wednesday morning with a huge sigh of relief. The woman who made Doug's lunch every day was starting to mark his styrofoam trays 'delgado' 'skinny', so it was clearly past time for us to resume our normal life.

We motored toward French Harbor, Roatan, and then, actually got to sail at a tolerable rate of progress. And then, we caught a fish. It seems like years since we’ve hauled one in. PHOTO OF FISH IN BUCKETPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugAs you might recognize, this is a red-meat fish, not to everyone's taste. We have a special marinade that we call 'fishkiller sauce', made with garlic, ginger, soy, oil. Makes anything taste good! Also, if you saw how fast a tot of alcohol to the gills stops a fish, you'd think twice about your own next shot! We used some of Thelma's Canadian Club which has been languishing in various bilges for quite some time.

And then, anchored in the familiar harbor, I got to go for a swim. We visited some friends, I finished a good book (Margaret Atwood, Payback).That evening it rained and we caught nice drinking and shower and washing water. Could life get any better?

Well, no. Doug was eager to move east towards Guanaja despite the looming rainclouds of a widespread frontal trough. It rained and rained some more, the west wind never materialized (thankfully, neither did the lightening). As befits a shake-down (trickle-down?) cruise, we found leaks running behind the chart table, past acres of wiring, under the refrigeration compressor and out onto the cabin sole.

But the weather cleared decently on our final approach to the anchorage at El Bight. Flow analysis easily revealed the source of the leak – the chainplates – and now they’re all goobered up again. I caught more rain, started another book (Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser, also very interesting) and life is fine again.

Being tied alongside a dock is nice for a change, but it’s great to be on the hook, where the humidity generally blows on through the boat rather than congealing on every interior surface. Even my wooden cooking spoons were growing fur! The solar panels and wind generator are back at work, trying to keep up with our ever-increasing power needs.

We’ve even got an invite for Thanksgiving dinner, which will be on Friday, since the supplies get off the boat late on Thursdays. Of course, we can’t commit until Thursday night – gotta check the weather, you know – but I hope we get to go. It’s the first invite I’ve ever had where jello shooters are on the Thanksgiving menu. Remembering that fish, I'll probably stick to beer.
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On the gadget front: I've got a fondness for cunning little things that work with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of 'elegance'. Here we have something called Super-Siphon. It's just a shaped piece of brass, with a pretty blue marble inside, attached to a plastic hose. If you want to start a siphon going you just stick it into the 'out bucket' and jiggle it until the flow starts. Neat, eh? And it really works.
*one definition of cunning Executed with or exhibiting ingenuity.

Monday, November 8, 2010

And We're BAACK!

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugDoug returned to Honduras a couple weeks ago, rarin' to go on the bottom job, and a few other things he had in mind. I stayed in Maryland, emptying, cleaning, painting and renting the house, selling the car, doing things my way! Neither of us got as much done as we had hoped, but that's to be expected. After the usual self-inflicted last minute rush, it was a relief to spend a few hours in anonymous airports, spacing out.

My first night on the boat, which was still out of the water, I woke up in that disconcerting, middle of the night place, not knowing where I was. It took a long time for pieces of information to drift in: this is not a feather bed, I was on an airplane recently, where was it going? oh, and a bus too...that's Doug over's the boat and my toes are pointing east-ish. Finally I got myself drilled down to LaCeiba Shipyard, where I find myself today.

But not for long, I hope. We need to get the sails back on, the cover stowed, if it ever dries out, the interior wiped down with vinegar. We need groceries, a fresh cruising permit, maybe some refrigeration gas (or, no refrigeration!) After a summer of sort of minimalist living, I feel like we need to get rid of some stuff here too (books!). And then we need to get moving.

The sooner the better - this political season was shocking!

Monday, June 21, 2010

U-Turn to US

We were in Guanaja enjoying ourselves and watching the weather for the opportunity to make a comfortable trip around Cabo Gracias a Dios. That's why we were still there when we heard of a few reasons why we might want to return to Maryland. That's how we ended up back at the shipyard in La Ceiba that we had so gleefully escaped only shortly before. This time we paid for bottom paint removal, worth every penny. So while we're away, the boat will be drying out; we'll put on a new barrier coat and bottom paint when we get back in the fall.

We took the 'most luxurious' Hedman-Alas bus from La Ceiba to San Pedro Sula's airport. Apparently luxury means tall seat backs with fresh covers freshly applied, and silence, which is indeed a luxury, since lots of buses show kung-fu movies in 'surround sound'. But where was the steward with the canapes and champagne?

We ourselves felt more like checked baggage, or hazardous materials. Couldn't buy a ticket without a passport, couldn't change seats, couldn't touch our own luggage once it was checked (note to self: next time, dress for arctic cooling); had our photos taken before boarding. Turns out H-A worry about hijacking/kidnapping; they'd want to know which passenger it was/had been in seat 23C. This isn't something that happens on the chicken buses. Or maybe this was the 'chicken' bus.

Then, we spent hours propped upright in the airport waiting for our red-eye flight. The reward was a hypnotizing view of bright moon over cloud banks as almost the entire plane-load of passengers slept, not unlike a nice night passage. And, ya know, it's only 888 miles/2 hours to a whole 'nother world.

In Ft. Lauderdale at daybreak we could barely stop remarking on how clean, that is, free of trash, and orderly, the landscape was, and how pink, and plump, were many of the locals. We knew this, but had forgotten. Tri-Rail expeditiously zipped us north for a brief visit with the only family I have whose memories are longer than my own.

Within hours we were in a car driving ourselves at 60 mph, as if we'd never left. We tried to sneak down to Goodwill for clothes that weren't so 'nautically' bleached and frayed as the ones we arrived in, but they were closed for Memorial Day. No problemo - everyone in the US has clothes they want to get rid of. Just as well too, I wouldn't know how to dress myself if I had to chose from the entire clothing universe.
We ate in restaurants that had entrees other than something-and-rice-and-beans on the menu. We shopped in supermarkets stunning in their range of stock.

And with a big-screen TV, we got the full effect of the oil spill and of all the spiteful arguments surrounding it. How quickly we adapt.

Clearly we would need a car of our own, and a cell phone. It took a week in Florence, Alabama during a visit with Doug's family and friends to organize both of these things. We used to laugh about the questions you have to remember to ask before making a deal in Central America; well, it's the same in this world too.

After a few false starts we had to buy the phone at a Walmart. Next, I need to learn to text without looking at the numeric keys. It will be like learning Morse code; an exercise in temporary technology, but possibly good for me.

After several further adventures (future posts) we finally got to our sweet little house on the creek in Maryland. I can tell you that in all our travels, there are few places that can compare.

Considering that the sprawl of greater BosNyWash has tsunami-ed Kent Island, I'm grateful that so little has changed within my frontal periphery (although lots outside it).

The weather is perfect. The crabs are running, honey flow is still on, peaches are in season, local 'lopes, sweet corn, and hallelujah, real, fragrant, tomatoes, are starting to appear. We're getting settled in for a social spell in The Land of Pleasant Living. But first, a visit with my remaining bees.

'My' bees have been on their own for two winters. Nobody told them they had to built rectilinearly, so they didn't.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I've never been to a rodeo ([from Spanish, from rodear to go around, from rueda a wheel, from Latin rota] says, and maybe that's still true despite the hours I spend at the fairgrounds out next to the airport in La Ceiba, Honduras a few Sundays ago. What I did see was bull-riding, and horse riding, in separate rings. I don't know what standards exactly the men in white were trying to express as they glided around above their horses but the atmosphere, broad-brimmed hats, kerchiefs etc all had a strong whiff of Seville.

The bull-riders just wanted to stay on for seven seconds, and their circles were much smaller and more frantic.

Here's a hapless bullrider whose boot got hung up somewhere and was dragged around the ring before being rescued.

There was one man in particular charged with diverting the bull after the rider was dumped. I was a little offended by his clownish, disrespectful-of-the-bull manner, except when the bull really got his attention.

This mule and cowboy team was the real worker of the day, calm, steady, effective, good at lasso-ing, also the only cowboy I ever saw wearing glasses.
The fancy-prancy horses occasionally appeared, but their saddles didn't have horns and their riders were only good at sitting still and exuding 'cool'.

Otherwise the fairground events closing the Carnival of San Isidro were pretty typical of a Maryland county fair, bovine division, with food tents, souvenirs, cows and horses on display.

Every time this vendor came around I wondered what his t-shirt was about. Dole?Standard Fruit? It says 'Warren Buffet Our New Top Banana'

UPDATE: From one of my smart friends "Is a play on the fact that Fruit of the Loom went bankrupt back in 1999 and in 2002 Berkshire Hathaway bought the company. You may or may not remember that the human fruits were part of one of the more classic TV ads of all time [Wiki side note: the grapes were once played by Academy Award-winning actor F Murray Abraham!]" Thank you Michael!

Here's my souvenir of the rodeo; a new hat. It's got some really stiff clear coat treatment over woven 'palm', not a very boat-friendly hat, but it will be very light and comfortable while it degrades in Ann's hat camp.

More rodeo photos here:
Sure is nice to have a fast-loading internet connection - Thanks Jim & Jackie!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Carnival of San Isidro

Back in La Ceiba, we arrived during one of the biggest events of the year, the week-long carnival of San Isidro, reputedly one million in attendance from throughout the country. It ended with a parade on Saturday and a rodeo on Sunday. I'm not sure what happens at night, but during the daytime parade people were very well behaved, even demure, compared to, say, St. Thomas.

Horses featured more than I had expected. One of our routes in Roatan took us near a stable where we occasionally saw these artificially pacing horses. It was beautiful to watch, if you closed your mind to how the horse might normally have behaved, and the fact that chains and hobbles were part of the training regimen. The horses' chins are pressed to their chests, and they prance a peculiar high-kneed gait, flinging their hooves out and around instead of straight up and down, sometimes frothing at the mouth and under the reins.
For the rider, however, the point must be to look insouciant and effortless. A martini in a stemmed glass of course would not spill, although I don't think these riders drink martinis.
Okay, so it's an artificial definition of beauty, like women in high heels, of which there are also a multitude.

Men, to appear attractive, often only have to be make money and spend it freely, which seems relatively easy compared to walking funny most of your life!

The carnival was street food

and toy vendors







At the head of all these floats are a few people with brooms and 'boat hooks' to lift the numerous power cables over the peacock feathers and other obstacles.




And, the picture I missed, the person who picked the pocket of a casual acquaintance who should have known better than to carry everything in his wallet, in his back pocket. All part of the adventure, folks!
The whole photo file is located here

Thursday, May 27, 2010


‘If you like it here, don’t say anything’ one man told me, and so I'm telling only you select few, sotto voce. It's sage advice here on Guanaja, where there seems a pleasant balance between the races, as one local told us. He defines races as: ‘people like us’(although others would distinguish his Bay Islandish-ness from our pure gringo-ness), Spaniards, Indians (two kinds: kinky- haired, and smooth-haired beautiful women), Garifuna (who are mixed African via St. Vincent), and... ” I forget the last – maybe it’s any mix of the above, which is where the tendencies certainly lie.

What’s there to do on Guanaja? The late lamented captain of the Windjammer Fantome used to introduce his talks about the island by following the question with a long silence, until people got the joke.
The Ship and the Storm by Jim Carrier is a most interesting book about the loss of the Fantome during hurricane Mitch. After a week-long series of bad assumptions and misinformation, the ship was lost south of Guanaja, in an area we'd sail over on our way east.

In Guanaja there is a good anchorage with great holding – El Bight, and other good anchorages too. PHOTO OF PHOTO OF BONACCATOWN
There’s a pleasant and compact little town, not on the big island but on a gradually expanding little one of sidewalks and small canals, free of sand fleas, just offshore. That’s Bonnaca-town;hold your mouth just so and Bonnaca=Guanaja are the same word. People have a fondness for building out over the water throughout the Bay Islands.

There are a few private or resort cays and reefs facing east-ish toward the tradewinds. Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter were here bonefishing last month - I saw the video. Even after all these years, they can't seem to travel without security and constant scrutiny. Diving is another attraction, of course.
This fellow has apparently been cruising this anchorage for years. Now I ashamedly make sure s/he's not around before I dump my grapefruit peels, laundry water, chicken bones, etc. Of course I try to communicate telepathically, but fail. "What does s/he want?" I asked someone. Attention, was the answer, and the story, how the dolphin found a boat with a dog that would bark at him, until the dog got tired of that and hid in the cockpit when the dolphin came around.

Round the backside of Guanaja, which is easily accessible by lancha and dinghy via a cut through the mangroves, past the airport dock, is a practically empty, beach-and reef- fringed territory. There’s even a ‘hike to the waterfall’ – one of my favorite destinations anywhere I go.

Guanaja has a small population, maybe 8-10,000. There are two other settlements, Savannah Bight on the southeast side and Mangrove Bight to the north, connected by an post-Mitch autobahn of a road for the tiny number of vehicles on the island.
PHOTO COOL BREEZE SAVANNAH BIGHT Mangrove Bight was practically wiped out in the hurricane, and not too many people there rebuilt on stilts over the water. It's the only place I've ever been where people have sidled alongside to offer the sale of building lots.

Guanaja once had more pine trees than it has now. The center of hurricane Mitch used Guanaja as its pivot and a dozen year later the scars are still visible. It has marble outcrops in the mountains, and perhaps because of the same underlying geological irregularities it has a sufficiency of fresh water that the other Bay islands lack. There seem to be a lot of fairly quirky locals of all ‘races’, and more than a few of the expats came here via deep-sea diving on oil rigs, like Mr. Canute.
I met a taxi driver in La Ceiba from Guanaja who sounded like you couldn’t pay him to live ‘back there’, but I like it just fine. Quiet and low-key Guanaja is just my style.
We’re getting to know the cast of characters in Bonaccatown. It’s a treat to sit on the bench across from the credit union drinking from a straw dipped in a plastic bag of ‘mora’ (I think it’s the juice from some mulberry-type tree) and watch the passing scene.
The fruit and veg boat comes about Thursday, there’s a bakery and several supermercados and ferreterias.
It may be the only place in Honduras where dealing with officialdom is ‘fast, free and easy.’This is about where we usually tie the dinghy.

On the shore of El Bight, the anchorage a half a mile or so away, is what I think of as the German quarter. You wouldn’t expect to find excellent schnitzels and spaetzls here, but there they are at the Manati. Last week they killed a pig and used all its parts, although I did not rush to the liverwurst. Maybe next time. I was having a gut reaction, remembering from fourth grade how hard it was to trade a liverwurst sandwich for something ‘decent’, like Susie's peanut butter and marshmallow.

The social event of the week, at least for gringos, is the Saturday afternoon meal at the Manati, where you can meet several curious people. Oftentimes ‘yachties’ are mere rank outsiders at these events. But here, despite our transience, people remember our names from week to week. And the book exchange is better than most.

Next door is the other Hans’ bar, tucked along the beach next to some storage containers.
He’s another great character, full of ideas; in the orderly German fashion, a lot of them have already been executed during his decades here. We talk beekeeping, cattle-raising, motorcycle racing. Right now he’s building a dehydrator – email me if you’d like to buy some delicious organic dried mangoes, available fresh, in bulk.
Finally, here's the jail. One day I saw a young man looking out through the grill in the door as I was trying to peep in. Inside it's like a cinderblock phone booth, best avoided!