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 Plus the charts are outdated - islands have been reconfigured in recent hurricanes.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

WHAT'S AFOOT IN GUANAJA

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.
CHART OF GUANAJA
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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.
PICTURE OF DRINKING WATER RESERVOIR
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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.
VIEW TOWARD BONACATOWN
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And here’s a view toward the second  settlement of Savannah Bight.
VIEW TOWARDS SAVANNAH BIGHT
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And a view of the anchorage of El Bight
EL BIGHT ANCHORAGE
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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?
G ON PEAK LOOKING S&W
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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.