S/V Stolen Child Sailing Log

Logbook for the sailing vessel Stolen Child and her crew, Patrick and Nancy.

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Name: Patrick

Monday, December 14, 2009

Roatan to Key West... Not Quite

We left Roatan on Sunday, December 6th, with the intention of sailing directly to Key West. We had decent conditions, not great, but not bad, either. The wind was mostly around 10 to 15 knots and was just a little more north of east than I'd have liked it. The sea state was only about 4 feet with a northeast swell, but also a dying northerly swell that made for a little bumpier ride than usual. The forecast had called for the wind to come a little more southerly, perhaps east-southeast, which would have made for a pretty nice beam reach, but instead we had to pinch pretty close to the wind to maintain our desired heading. No worries, though, we were making anywhere from 6 to 8 knots and everything aboard was working well.

Unfortunately, Nancy was getting a little green around the gills. Because of the northerly component of the swell, we were pitching fore and aft a little, in addition to the beam to beam rolling caused by the northeasterly swell, and we were heeled over perhaps 20 degrees from wind pressure on the sails. Not really a very bad ride, but the combination of motions makes it difficult to move around the boat.

On Tuesday morning, the start of our third full day at sea, I had just gotten to sleep in the quarterberth when I heard a loud crash and woke up to find Nancy sprawled on the cabin sole (floor) next to the quarterberth. She had been in the galley, on the starboard side of the boat, when a wave slapped into the boat and caused it to roll more than usual to port, tossing her across the cabin and down into the quarterberth. She didn't have any broken bones, but somewhere along the way her back had taken a pretty good blow and was very sore.

Nancy had fallen in the head the day before and banged up her elbow and by this point I'd only had about 4 hours of sleep in better than 48 hours, so we decided to head for Puerto Morelos, which was only about 40 miles to the west. We arrived at Marina El Cid, just south of Puerto Morelos, a little after noon and tied up to a mooring ball. We have been here almost a week now and Nancy's back is starting to feel better.

As far as our plans, we are not sure yet. We are still planning to head on to Key West, but we may stay in Mexico for a month or two before continuing on. We are talking to Rob about coming down for a visit, if we can convince him to leave all that pretty snow in Kansas City and endure this balmy 80 - 90 degree tropical climate. It may be a hard sell, but we are hoping he will come for a visit in February and perhaps even sail back with us to Key West.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Marking Time in Roatan

Wow, it has been almost 9 months since my last log entry. The main reason I haven't made an entry in all that time is that we haven't done anything really new and exciting. After Rob's visit we went back to West End for a bit, then back to Coxen Hole, French Harbor, Calabash Bight to visit more with Ed and Julie on Free Radical, and then wound up in Port Royal. These are all harbors along the southern coast of Roatan. Our original plan was to cruise around the various harbors in Roatan for a couple of months and then head to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, where we would sit out hurricane season. The Rio Dulce is where most cruisers in the Northwest Caribbean sit out hurricane season. It is located up the Rio Dulce river in the mountains of Guatemala and is very well protected from hurricanes. There are lots of marinas but they get pretty crowded with all the cruising boats during hurricane season. Many cruisers leave their boats there and fly back to the States and others stay on their boats. We had heard that there was quite a bit of crime directed at the cruisers in the Rio, most of it petty, but a growing amount of violent crime. After seeing what a great hurricane hole Calabash Bight would be, and factoring in the negative things we'd heard about Rio Dulce, we decided to sit out hurricane season in Roatan.

Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras. It is long and narrow, running more or less from the West Southwest to the East Northeast. There is one main, paved road running along the island linking the towns of West End, Coxen Hole, French Harbor, Jonesville and Oakridge. Just east of Oakridge, the paved road ends and there are various dirt roads leading to other settlements on the island. Port Royal (usually shown as "New Port Royal" on maps) is a very large and nice harbor just east of Calabash Bight. There is no town or village in Port Royal, but there are maybe a dozen private vacation homes, owned by wealthy Americans and Europeans. There are also two resorts, Mango Creek, a fishing resort, and Royal Playa, a dive resort, in Port Royal. As there are no roads to any of these properties, all access is by boat from Oakridge. The climate is tropical and houses require pretty constant maintenance, else they deteriorate quickly. Since most of the property owners only visit for a few weeks out of the year, they hire caretakers to live on the property year-round and keep it maintained. Our friends Ralph and Tiffany had taken on a caretaker's job in Port Royal, at the property known as Casa Gusto.

So, off we go to Port Royal, and there we stay throughout hurricane season. We had a list of projects we needed to do to the boat and Port Royal provided a very nice setting in which to do them. We replaced the propeller with a larger one, sized for the new engine we had installed back in Key Largo. We replaced all the screens in the hatches. We replaced all the hinges on the screens. We sanded and varnished all the exterior teak. We shined and waxed all the stainless. We scrubbed the hull numerous times. We stripped down and put a rebuild kit in the head. We did numerous other projects, large and small, all at a leisurely pace. The only drawback to doing projects in Port Royal is the ability to get supplies. To get from Port Royal to Oakridge, you have to go by boat outside the reef. In a good skiff or panga that can do 15 or 20 knots, it is only about a 15 minute trip. There is a hardware store in Oakridge that has a decent supply of stuff, but depending on what you need, you may have to go "down island," which means going to French Harbor or Coxen Hole. You can leave your dinghy or skiff at a waterfront bar called BJ's (more on BJ later) and from there you have to take a taxi or a bus. Taxis are expensive but fast, buses are cheap, but slow, take your pick. Of course if you can't find what you need on the island, which is quite frequently the case, you have to get it shipped in from the States. If you are in a hurry, you can have it flown in via RAS (Roatan Air Service), which can be quite expensive, and you'll have it about a week after it arrives at their Miami warehouse. If you aren't in a hurry, you can get it via DIP Shipping, which costs roughly one dollar a pound and you usually get it two to three weeks after it arrives at their Miami warehouse. If you used RAS, you have to go to French Harbor to pick your stuff up. DIP Shipping will deliver it to your door, unless you live in Port Royal, in which case they can't get to your door. They will deliver it to BJ's, though, which is about as convenient as it gets in Roatan. Needless to say, we made many "down island" runs and we now know where to find just about anything that can be found in Roatan.

More about BJ's. There is a waterfront bar in Oakridge called BJ's Backyard, or just BJ's for short. It is called BJ's because it is owned by a woman called BJ, though I've no idea what the BJ stands for. It is sort of a Roatan institution. BJ is a native of the island, although she has at times lived other places, including the Florida Keys. Several books have been written about Roatan and BJ is mentioned in all of them. BJ herself seems to be a sort of Roatan institution. BJ is 59 years old and her significant other is an 80 year old man named Carmen who is from the Pascagoula, Mississippi area (Gautier I think, to be precise). Carmen has lived in Roatan I think since the 70's, so he is an established local character as well. We have heard so many wild stories about BJ that we tended to discredit them, until just before we left Roatan, when another BJ story happened and now I pretty much believe all the other stories I've heard. One day we went into BJ's and Carmen was there alone. We asked where BJ was and he said "Oh, she's in the hospital under police guard." It seems that an attractive younger woman from Trujillo, on the mainland, was in BJ's one day having a beer. For whatever reason, she offered to buy a beer for Carmen. BJ seems to be quite territorial and definitely considers Carmen to be part of her territory, so she told the woman to leave her bar. The woman did not leave the bar, so BJ took a wire brush, like you use to scrub a BBQ grill, and hit her in the head with it (yes, with the bristle side, ouch). I assume that this put the woman in quite a foul temper, because instead of leaving the bar, she quite literally beat the crap out of BJ, and I don't mean in a hair-pulling, biting, cat-fight kind of way, I mean in a bare-knuckle, knockdown, drag out, fistfight kind of way. Now I assume that this put BJ in an even fouler temper than she was before, so she got her trusty .38 pistol and shot the woman in the leg. Both BJ and the woman from Trujillo are taken to the hospital in Coxen Hole, but the woman walks out of the emergency room before even seeing a doctor and hasn't been seen since. They kept BJ in the hospital for a couple of days. Since the woman didn't press charges, they let her go home instead of to jail and when we saw her next she definitely looked like she had been in a fight. This story is just to give you a taste of the colorful atmosphere in Roatan.

A couple of months before the end of our stay in Roatan, Ralph and Tiffany decided to take a trip to the States. Actually, Tiff was already there, visiting her mother, when Ralph got a call from a former client in New York, where he had a marine services business. The client wanted Ralph to come back and install a Webasto heating system in his boat and was willing to pay enough that it was hard to refuse. The only problem was that he couldn't leave Casa Gusto for two or three weeks with nobody to look after the place. That is how we got our first job in Roatan. Ralph hired us to look after Casa Gusto while he was gone and we moved ashore into the "casita," the caretaker's cottage next to the main house. It was a pretty easy job, Ralph had already taken care of most of the main problems, so all I really had to do was keep an eye on the battery bank (there is no electricity in Port Royal), keep an eye out for termites, and hunt for "wee-wee's." Wee-wee's are cutter ants and they can strip a tree completely bare of leaves in just a couple of nights (they are only active at night, so that is when you hunt them).

About the time Ralph was planning his trip to New York, Terry and Patrice, the owners of Mango Creek Resort, were planning a trip to Colorado, where Patrice is from. They had made arrangements with a couple who are friends of theirs to look after Mango Creek while they were gone. Unfortunately, their friends decided to back out, due to the political turmoil happening in Honduras. Now they needed somebody to look after Mango Creek for a month while they were in the States, starting just a couple of days after Ralph and Tiffany were due to get back from the States. That is how we got our second job in Roatan. There were no guests booked for the time that Terry and Patrice were gone, so we wouldn't have too much to do. Mainly we just had to live on the property (we stayed in one of the guest cabanas on the water), pick up the staff by boat on Monday mornings and drop them off on Friday afternoons, make regular "down island" trips for groceries, and handle any problems that might arise. The biggest problem that arose, however, was a personal problem. We got fat. Dalia is one of the cooks for Mango Creek and she prepared all our meals for us. She was trained by a chef from the U.S. and she is an excellent cook. Nancy helped create a recipe book for her of her favorite recipes, so of course, we had to try each and every thing in the recipe book, some of them more than once. I'm glad the job was only for one month, or else I would have had to buy new clothes. We actually quite enjoyed our time at Mango Creek. We watched movies every night on a big-screen TV. There is a real bristle dart board in the bar/restaurant, so I tossed lots of darts. One of the grocery stores in French Harbor sells Guinness, so I filled the fridge behind the bar with Guinness. Ralph would come over and we'd drink Guinness and toss darts. Mabel, Tai-tai, Randy, Perry, Manuel and Carlos, the rest of the Mango Creek staff, were very nice and we really enjoyed meeting and working with them. Take a look at the Mango Creek website, http://www.mangocreeklodge.com/, to see some pictures of the place. We were at Mango Creek over Thanksgiving, so we decided to get together with some of the other gringos in Port Royal and have Thanksgiving at Mango Creek. Ralph, Tiff and Max from Casa Gusto, Keith from Royal Playa, Kim and Joe from KiJo, along with their daughter and son-in-law, and Nancy and I had a very nice Thanksgiving dinner. Everybody brought a dish or two. Nancy cooked a Butterball turkey she found at the big grocery store in French Harbor and Dalia baked us some rolls.

By the time we finished up our tour of duty at Mango Creek, hurricane season was about over, so we started making plans to leave Honduras. We took the boat over to Calabash Bight for a couple of days to visit some more with Ed and Julie. Then it was back to Port Royal to say goodbye to Ralph, Tiff and Max. We had planned to leave on Saturday, December 5th, but Tiffany bribed us into staying one more day by making us a pecan pie. She had made the pumpkin and pecan pies for our Thanksgiving dinner and the pecan pie was really incredible (so was the pumpkin pie, but pecan is my favorite). She had found a recipe that didn't require Karo syrup, which is very non-standard, but I think I may actually like it better than the traditional recipe. Pecan pie is definitely worth staying an extra day for.

We really weren't too sure where we were going from Roatan until just a few days before we left. We toyed with the idea of going to Jamaica or the Cayman Islands, and then back to the States. We also considered going back to Mexico on the way back to the States. We knew we wanted to wind up back in the States for a while because we want to put some solar panels on the boat, get the boat hauled out and new anti-fouling paint put on the bottom, and various other projects that are much easier to do in the Land of Plenty. We just weren't sure what route to take to get back. We finally decided on a direct route without any stops. We would sail directly from Roatan to Key West and we left on Sunday, December 6th.

We enjoyed our time in Roatan. The climate is great and we made lots of friends. We got a lot of little boat projects done and did a lot of diving. The only thing we won't miss are the sand flies.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rob's Roatan Rendezvous

We had about a week between the end of Sabrina and Tom's visit and Rob's arrival on 2/21. We spent the time in a leisurely manner, as is our accustomed style. Ralph and Nancy finished up the scuba lessons and Nancy is now a PADI certified Open Water Diver. We stayed put in West End, Roatan and on Saturday the 21st, we met Rob at the Pura Vida Restaurant. It had been a year and quite a few miles since we'd seen Rob and it was very good to see him again.

We introduced him to Salva Vida, the local Honduran beer, and also to Ralph, Tiffany and Max, who popped into the restaurant to visit. That evening we just sat on the boat and visited and introduced Rob to Flor de Caña, the local Honduran rum, which mixed very well in his Cuba Libre's. Rob and I went for our first dive Sunday morning just outside the reef at West End. The dive was an excellent one. We entered in 20 feet of water and swam through patch reef to the edge of the wall, where the reef drops off sharply to another slope at about 90 feet, and then drops sharply again to hundreds of feet deep. We followed the wall down to about 80 feet. We saw two hawksbill sea turtles on this dive, one of them quite large, along with lobsters and various kinds of reef fish such as french angelfish, parrotfish, blue tang, etc. Nancy and I had bought a digital camera with a waterproof case and I have started taking lots of pictures on our dives, so be sure to check out the Picture Gallery page. They aren't professional-quality underwater pictures, of course, but they are still quite interesting. We went ashore to get provisions in the afternoon and saw Ralph, Tiffany and Max on their way back from Port Royal, where they'd gone for a job interview as caretakers of some property. We invited them to dinner that evening and Rob fixed boiled shrimp, rice and beans, guacamole and pico de gallo.

Monday was a rainy day so we didn't go diving. Rob made some excellent shrimp scampi burritos with the boiled shrimp left over from the previous day. Tuesday morning the sun was out and we went diving. Ralph and Tiffany heard that they got the caretaking job, so we invited them over for dinner to celebrate. Rob made shrimp salad and pasta with your choice of putanesca sauce or clam sauce and Tiffany brought over a boat pie for desert.

Wednesday we motor-sailed to Parrot Tree Marina in Second Bight, just east of French Harbor. We spent the night in the marina in order to fill our water tanks and top the batteries off on shore power. Thursday we sailed to Calabash Bight to meet up with our friends Ed and Julie, whom we hadn't seen for about 3 years, since we visited them on Free Radical in St. Marten. It was very exciting to see them again and they invited us over to Spirit of Free Radical for dinner. They still have Free Radical, their monohull, and have since bought a catamaran they named Spirit of Free Radical, which they have been fixing up for most of the past year. They are pretty much finished and have done a wonderful job fixing it up.

Friday morning Rob got a tour of Free Radical and we went for a dive later in the morning. After the dive, Ed and Julie accompanied us into the town of Oak Ridge and showed us around. From Calabash Bight, you can dinghy through a canal into Fiddler's Bight, across Fiddler's Bight and through another canal into Oak Ridge Harbor, and then across the Harbor into the town of Oak Ridge itself. Rob bought some pork chops to grill and we invited Ed and Julie over to Stolen Child for dinner.

Saturday morning Rob and Nancy dinghied into Oak Ridge for the vegetable market and then Rob and I went diving in the afternoon. Rob fixed lobster tails, spanish rice and candied carrots for dinner Sunday morning we left Calabash and motor-sailed to Guanaja, the next island east of Roatan. We anchored just west of Bonacca. Guanaja is the easternmost of the Bay Islands. Christopher Columbus landed here on his fourth and final voyage to the New World in 1502. There are approximately 10,000 people living on Guanaja, 8,000 of which live in Bonacca. Bonacca is the capital of Guanaja and is a tiny cay less than 100 acres in size. All the houses and structures are two and three stories tall and many of them are built over the water on stilts. It is quite interesting to see, but quickly looses its appeal after a few hours. We spent a couple of days there and met up with some very interesting and colorful local characters, but were glad to leave on Tuesday and head to Graham's Cay, just a couple of miles away to the east.

Just as we were approaching Graham's Cay, we saw a cruise ship entering the harbor. We picked up a mooring ball just off Graham's Cay and watched as the cruise ship anchored near us and began ferrying crew, food and passengers ashore to Graham's Cay. Nancy found out later from one of the women from the cruise ship that it is actually owned by the passengers, who each buy a condominium-sized chunk of the ship. There were 107 owner-passengers aboard and I would assume that there were almost that many who were not aboard. Every year the owners get together and figure out where the ship is going for the year and many of them live aboard all year round. It sounds quite interesting, but I have to think the operating costs would be very high. We had dinner ashore and just relaxed in the cockpit that evening. I woke up at 1:00 in the morning, as I often do, and checked the boat over, paying particular attention to the mooring line. Everything looked fine and I went back to bed. About 5:30 I woke up when I heard an unfamiliar bump. I went topside to discover that we were no longer moored and had drifted almost ashore. This is what you call an "Oh, Sh*t!" moment. I fired up the engine and quickly motored us away from shore with no harm done, other than using up my monthly allotment of adrenaline. Apparently sometime between 1:00 and 5:30, some chop had built up in the harbor and caused the mooring line to chafe through, setting us adrift. I knew when we picked up the mooring that I should have put some chafe gear on the line. Just one of several reasons why I'd much rather anchor than pick up a mooring. We decided that we'd had enough of Guanaja and headed back to Roatan, arriving in French Cay Harbor about 15:00, Wednesday afternoon.

After we got anchored in French Cay Harbor, Rob and I took the scuba tanks to Coco View Resort to get them filled. We got the distinct impression from the lady who runs the place that she'd rather not be bothered with it, but said they'd do it if we had current hydrostatic testing stamps and visual inspection stickers. Our hydro stamps were good, but they were out of date for visual, so she turned us over to a guy named Doc, who said they could inspect them for $15 per tank. We needed them filled, so we said ok. Doc was nice enough to let us borrow a couple of their full tanks so we could dive the next morning.

Rob and I went for two dives on Thursday. In the morning, we went outside the entrance to French Harbor and dove the wreck of a freighter named Mr Bud, which is right on the edge of the wall in about 50 feet of water. Mr Bud is a rather small freighter and it hasn't been down long enough to have lots of interesting coral growing on it, but it was still a very interesting dive. We saw a stingray, a grouper and a very large sea slug, in addition to the usual reef fish. After the dive, we took the loaner tanks back to Coco View to swap for our tanks, but they weren't ready yet, so Doc let us borrow a couple more full tanks and we next dove the wall outside the entrance to Coco View. This was a pretty spectacular dive site. The mooring ball is in about 20 feet of water right at the edge of the wall, which descends vertically down to about 80 feet, where it descends more gradually for a while before taking another vertical plunge. There are lots of crevasses and overhangs and we saw some large crabs, lobsters and queen angelfish, among other reef fish. Rob fixed shrimp scampi burritos and spanish rice for dinner and I ate until I was ready to pop. The shrimp scampi he fixes is very good all by itself, but then he puts a tortilla in a frying pan with a little butter to crisp it a little on the outside and while it is in the pan, he puts cheese, onion, tomato, avocado, shrimp scampi and probably some other good stuff on the tortilla. Shake a little hot sauce on that and roll it up and eat it with some spanish rice and wash it down with an ice cold Salva Vida and life just doesn't get any better.

Friday we returned to Coco View and two of our four tanks were almost ready, so we waited around for them to be filled, then went to dive the Prince Albert wreck. Unfortunately, the wreck lies in the channel into Coco View and the visibility was very poor. There is also a crashed DC-3 airplane near the Prince Albert wreck and we came across the DC-3 before we made it to the Prince Albert. Since the visibility was so poor, we decided to abort the wreck dive and go back to the wall we had dove the previous day. We had another spectacular dive on the wall for Rob's last dive before flying back to real life on Saturday. We were just returning from the dive as Daydream was pulling into French Cay Harbor and I dove their anchor for them since I was already wet and had my gear handy. Friday evening we went into French Harbor and ate dinner at a nice restaurant named Romeo's. Saturday was another somber goodbye day. Rob got all packed up in the morning and caught a taxi for the airport a little after noon. I'm really glad we got certified for scuba and bought our equipment because I think it really added an extra dimension to Rob's visit. He hadn't been diving in years and really enjoyed it. I know that we really enjoyed having him aboard and are looking forward to his next visit. We are also hoping for more visitors while we are here, as this is an exceptional spot to visit and it is pretty easy to get flights in and out from most anywhere in the States.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sabrina and Tom's Excellent Adventure

Saturday morning, February 7, we left Parrot Tree Marina and sailed back to French Harbor. I picked up our pack mules, I mean our guests, Tom and Sabrina at the Roatan airport in the afternoon. They had graciously brought us a lot of boat stuff we had ordered. There was so much stuff that one of their bags had started to come apart at the seams, so Tom had whipped out some duct tape he just happens to travel with and effected an emergency repair en route (this guy is a natural cruiser). Airport security in Roatan was about to inspect that particular bag when Sabrina cautioned him "be careful, that bag is about to explode." Fortunately, Roatan is a pretty laid-back kind of place and the security guy got a chuckle out of her choice of words. Not only did they bring us all the stuff we had ordered and the mail we'd had shipped to them, they packed a bunch of goodies for us, too, such as peanut M&M's, York peppermint patties, a Paddy O'Quigley's T-shirt, a couple of half-pint Guinness glasses, and lots of other great stuff from the Land of Plenty.

After getting them settled aboard, we went ashore for dinner and provisioning. We ate at a nice little restaurant and introduced them to Salva Vida, one of the local beers. There were only two tables in the restaurant and the other one was empty, but the food was great. After dinner, we stopped at a street-side stand selling fresh produce and got plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. They had these very large fruit objects they claimed were papayas. They were much bigger than papayas we had seen elsewhere, as big as a small watermelon. We bought one of the large fruit objects, some avocados, limes, a cantaloupe, some bananas and various other fresh things, then headed to the grocery store and got the rest of our provisions. After returning to Stolen Child and stowing the provisions, we dinghied over to Jupiter's Smile to visit with Jay and Barb. Jupiter's Smile is an Island Packet, which is one of the boats Tom and Sabrina are considering when they start cruising. We had a great visit with Jay and Barb. Sabrina and Tom have a Catalina 30 that they sail on Lake Perry in Kansas, and it turns out that the people they bought their Catalina from are good friends of Jay and Barb.

Sunday morning we carved up the large fruit object and Nancy made breakfast burritos for breakfast. The papaya was so large we only sliced half of it and I put out a call on the VHF to see if any of the other boats in French Harbor wanted the other half, which was promptly claimed by the folks on Pearl S. Buck. The weather was a little overcast and drizzly, but after breakfast we weighed anchor and set out for West End, Roatan. Practically all week before Sabrina and Tom arrived, the wind had been blowing 15 to 20 knots from the northeast and I was looking forward to a really good sail to West End. Unfortunately, and as so often happens, when we got out of French Harbor there was less than 5 knots of wind and we wound up motoring the whole way. We arrived at West End in the early afternoon and picked up a mooring. In West End they have put in a dozen or so moorings, which are basically permanent anchors, and attached a mooring ball, or float to them, so that boats don't have to set their own anchor and consequently dig up the turtle grass on the bottom. You simply drive the boat up to the mooring ball and pass your dock line through the mooring line hanging under the mooring ball. There is usually stiff competition for moorings in West End, but we managed to get the mooring closest to the reef so that we could snorkel directly from the boat out to the reef. A boat named "Watch And Sea" was moored close to us, with Ben aboard single-handing. We had been in radio contact with Ben off and on since southern Mexico, but we'd never met him in person, so he dinghied over for a few beers and stayed for the spaghetti dinner Nancy had made. Ben is really nice and it was good to finally meet him in person. He's an airline pilot who had taken a couple months of vacation and was now on his way back to the States and real life.

Monday morning dawned overcast and drizzly. I made pancakes for breakfast and by late morning the sky had cleared and we went ashore. West End is a very pleasant little village that is geared to scuba diving with more than a dozen dive shops. There is one street that runs parallel to the beach and isn't paved, but is packed sand. We had lunch at a restaurant on stilts over the harbor and then went back to the boat for some snorkeling on the reef. There was a school of squid in the water right next to the boat. At sunset we got out the sextant and Tom practiced taking sights on Venus and several stars.

Tuesday dawned clear and sunny. Nancy made breakfast burritos while Tom and I put on the sail cover (something I'm quite lazy about doing). After breakfast Tom and I rigged up the Stolen Child Super Duper Rope Swing. We rigged up the whisker pole (a telescoping aluminum pole for holding one corner of a sail in a certain position away from the boat) with the end out over the water just forward of the beam on the port side with a 3/4" dock line hanging from it. Next we lashed a 2x6 plank across the bow rail. You stand out on the end of the plank (walking the plank, so to speak) holding the rope hanging from the whisker pole and launch yourself out over the water. At the top of the rope's far swing, you let go and execute your fanciest dive or belly-flop, whichever the case may be, into the water. We're the only boat in Roatan with a Super Duper Rope Swing and I think Tom and Sabrina were duly impressed with the skill and determination we put into having fun. We went ashore in the afternoon for beers and a late lunch. Tuesday night we stayed up quite late debating politics, religion and philosophy. In other words, we drank a lot and talked a lot of trash.

Wednesday morning we saw the boat next to us, Beau Soleil, rigging its spinnaker for some spinnaker riding. What you do is turn your boat around at anchor, so that the anchor is attached to the stern instead of the bow, which makes your bow point downwind. Then you can fly the spinnaker (a big sail for downwind sailing) from the bow and someone can sit on a line tied between the two bottom corners of the sail. As the wind fills the sail, it will pick the person up out of the water and lift them pretty high, perhaps 20 feet or so. I went over and introduced myself to Mike and Karen and their son Falcon (so named because he was born in Malta). Falcon is about 20 years old and was on vacation visiting his folks. I invited him over to try out the rope swing and he came over later that morning to give it a try. Another boat moored near us, Aventur, was an Island Packet and the owners had heard that Sabrina and Tom were interested in Island Packets and had invited them over to see their boat. Sabrina and Tom dinghied over to take a look at Aventur in the early afternoon while we waited for Daydream to arrive from Utila. There weren't any moorings available when Daydream showed up, so I snorkeled over to hand-set their anchor for them when they arrived. After they got settled in, Ralph, Tiffany and Max came over and we had a nice reunion. I was glad they made it over in time to meet Tom and Sabrina and they invited them over to Daydream to, in Ralph's words, "take a look at a pretty boat." After dinner, Ralph came back over and we sat in the cockpit sipping rum and Kahlua until about 2:30 in the morning. I had learned how to tie Turks Head knots from a book I had aboard and I had tied some on my wheel to mark the center position of the rudder. Ralph liked them and I loaned him the book and he's now become a Turks Head fanatic. He taught Tom how to tie them and in the process, wound up tying Turks Heads on my furling lines and jib sheets. I think I still haven't found all the Turks heads he tied that night.

Thursday morning Tom made pancakes for breakfast and then it was time for them to pack up for their trip back to real life. We took them ashore around noon to catch a cab to the airport. Nobody broke down and cried, but it was a pretty somber farewell. Nancy and I really enjoyed having them aboard and hope it won't be too long before they visit again.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hello Honduras

Friday, January 23, we left Northeast Sapodilla Cay bound for Laguna El Diamante, Honduras. We had very light but favorable wind most of the way and also a favorable current. Unfortunately, Daydream developed what appeared to be a transmission problem on the way. His engine would occasionally rev up as though the clutch plates were slipping. Since the wind was so light we were motor-sailing as we needed to make it through the entrance to the lagoon before dark. Due to Daydream's transmission problem, though, Ralph didn't want to run his engine until just before reaching the entrance, so we went ahead to make the entrance before dark and then stood by waiting to guide Daydream in with a spotlight in the dinghy when they arrived after dark. The entrance to El Diamante is very scenic. The Honduran coastline is low foothills leading to mountains in the distance. To enter El Diamante, you pass through a moderately narrow gap in the shoreline, with the forested hills rising perhaps 100 feet on either side. There is also a very large rock outcropping in the middle of the entrance, so the moderately narrow gap has now become decidedly narrow. It looks a little scary at first, particularly because the water is muddy and you can't see the bottom to watch out for submerged rocks, but it is really a quite easy entrance to navigate. Inside the lagoon you are in a large, very well-protected body of water surrounded by 100 foot hills, densely wooded with palms and tropical hardwoods. The bottom is quite muddy, which means the anchor holds really well, so you could ride out quite a strong blow in this lagoon. Daydream arrived about an hour after dark and I met them at the entrance in the dinghy, shining a spotlight on the rocks to either side of the channel. Tiffany was on the bow with a spotlight as well, so they made it in pretty easy and didn't have to push the transmission very hard. Ralph and Tiffany have helped us out so many times that it was nice to be able to help them a little.

Ralph had had problems with his transmission before, and just happened to have a spare transmission aboard. The spare had good internals, but the housing had a repaired crack and so was slightly questionable. Ralph decided to swap the internals, figuring it was either the plates or thrust washers that were the problem. Saturday he performed surgery on the transmission and it seemed a success, based on how the input and output shafts felt (smooth and easy spinning, but almost zero end-play or run-out). He used a liquid gasket material to seal the housing together, so we decided to stay another day and allow the sealant to cure before putting transmission fluid in and bolting it back on the engine. While he worked on the transmission, Nancy, Tiffany, Max and I went ashore and followed a short path through the mangroves and jungle to a neighboring bay to the east. The neighboring bay, Bahia Escondido, has a nice beach and we strolled the beach and found some very nice seashells. Nancy made some incredible dinner using pork tenderloin, jerk seasoning, and apricot marmelade. Another boat, 40 Mile, with Grant single-handing, arrived Sunday and was also bound for Utila. Sunday Ralph installed the repaired transmission and gave it a little test and it seemed to work fine.

Monday morning Daydream, 40 Mile and Stolen Child formed a little flotilla leaving El Diamante bound for Utila. The wind was again very light, but still favorable and we were able to average 5 knots motor-sailing. Unfortunately and unbelievably, Daydream started experiencing the same symptoms as before. Ralph and I were both scratching our heads. I knew that a fuel filter that is starting to get clogged up will cause the engine to surge in RPM, particularly when advancing the throttle, so I suggested he change his fuel filter, just to rule that out as a possibility. He changed out the filter and bingo, the problem disappeared. Ralph said I'm now his hero and he'll buy all my beer for the rest of my life. Well, that's not exactly what he said, but little kids may read this blog, so I won't print what he really said, and I'm sure that is what he really meant to say.

Isla Utila, Honduras is a really neat, kind of funky island. The entire economy of the island is based around scuba diving and they cater largely to the young backpacker-type of crowd. We checked in with the Port Captain and Immigration on Tuesday and began exploring the town, staying a week before moving on to Roatan. We found a really nice little restaurant, the Cafe Mariposa, and met the manager, Jeff. I had shrimp grilled in a coconut rum sauce on a bed of saffron rice that was incredibly good. Best of all, from 4:00 to 6:00 beers are 20 lempira, or roughly a buck a beer. The coffee is also excellent.

Thursday I helped Ralph move a mooring. Ralph used to be a diving instructor in Utila years ago and had sunk an old engine block in the bay to use as a mooring. He found the engine block and wanted to move it a little further out and reuse it as a mooring. He rounded up 3 plastic drums to use for flotation and while we were moving it we met Louis from the catamaran Simpatica, who came over to give us a hand. Friday Ralph and I went diving with the dive boat from Paradise Divers dive shop, where he used to work as an instructor. He had stopped by Thursday afternoon and helped them rebuild some of their dive gear, and said they needed some 2-inch nylon webbing to replace their weight belts, which he knew I had a supply of. They let us dive for free since he had helped repair their gear and I had given them a bunch of webbing. We dove a site on the north side of the island named Duppy Waters, which is a wall dive. The sea floor goes from about 30 feet to over 600 feet almost vertically. We descended the wall to about 140' and there was still no end in sight. There was an incredible amount of coral growing all up and down the wall, much more than we had seen on the wall in Belize we had dove. We also dove a site on the southeast of the island called Ted's Point that has some really neat spur and groove coral formations and also the wreck of a 40' sailboat. Sunday we went to Daydream for dinner and to say goodbye to Ralph and Tiffany as we were planning to leave for Roatan Monday. Another boat in the bay had caught more fish than they could eat and gave some fish steaks to Ralph and Tiff, which they shared with us for dinner.

We left Utila early Monday morning, February 2, bound for French Cay Harbor on the island of Roatan, Honduras. We arrived after a 9-hour motor-sail and anchored near Jupiter's Smile. We had met Jay and Barb aboard Jupiter's Smile on our way from Dry Tortugas to Isla Mujeres. We had really enjoyed their company in Isla Mujeres and it was really nice to see them again. We had them over for coffee Monday evening. Tuesday we went ashore to Eldon's, the grocery store in French Harbor. I can hardly contain my excitement as I write this, because at Eldon's, they not only had Little Debbie Nutty Bars, they had cases of Guinness Draught!!! That was several days ago as I write this, and I still have a huge ear-to-ear grin. I haven't had a Guinness since we left Key West, way back in April of 2008, but now I have a case of them in the fridge. I am also quite a fan of Little Debbie, which I have not found in Mexico or Belize, where the leading brand of snack food is Bimbo, and it should be obvious that a Bimbo just can't compare to a Little Debbie (no, I'm not making that name up, Bimbo makes most of the sandwich bread and snack foods around here).

Wednesday we went ashore with Jay and Barb and explored French Harbor, then in the evening went to happy hour at Coco View Resort and met folks from some of the other boats anchored in French Cay Harbor. Thursday morning (this morning as I write this entry) we waited for a squall to pass, then weighed anchor and got underway for the short trip to Parrot Tree Marina in Second Bight, Roatan. It only took us about an hour to get here and it would have been a great sail had we been going the other direction, but unfortunately we were heading into 15 to 20 knot northeast trade-winds. It was such a short trip we didn't bother putting up the main, we just motored out of French Harbor and then put out the jib and sailed as close to the wind as we could without backwinding the jib, then tacked onto starboard tack and entered Second Bight. On the way we crossed paths with Ben aboard Watch And Sea, who we had shared an anchorage with in Bahia de La Espiritu Santo, Mexico. We had only talked via the radio, not in person, and were hoping to meet him in Roatan. He was headed from Guanaja to French Harbor, and then to West End before heading north again. We are hoping to meet up with him in West End while Sabrina and Tom are aboard. We are also hoping Ralph, Tiffany and Max make it over to West End from Utila while we are there. We travelled in company with them for over a month and we've really missed them these last few days.

Tomorrow we will take advantage of our shore power hook-up here at the dock and do some heavy-duty cleaning on the boat before Sabrina and Tom arrive. They fly in Saturday and we are really looking forward to seeing them. We'll pick them up at the airport and get them aboard Saturday, then Sunday we plan to sail down to West End. The beaches, restaurants, snorkeling and diving are all supposed to be excellent at West End, and I think they will enjoy the sail down there. We've had several cold fronts blow through in the last week, bringing rainy, squally weather, but that is supposed to have all cleared up by this weekend and we should have excellent weather for their visit. My next log entry should be shortly after their visit.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day Trippin' Through Belize

I have discovered a new delicacy. Like many great discoveries, it was pure serendipity. For Nancy's birthday, I had baked a cake. I used yellow cake mix and a chocolate icing. The icing was the Betty Crocker kind that comes in a can. After applying what I deemed to be the perfect thickness of icing to the cake, there was still some icing left over and I felt it would be a shame for it to go to waste, so I put it on Ritz crackers with some peanut butter. WOW! What a taste sensation. Everyone knows I have quite a sweet tooth and like to have desert after every meal. For simplicity's sake, I often put peanut butter on crackers and then add something sweet like jelly and that makes for a quick and easy desert. Nutella on crackers is also good. I actually prefer the Keebler's Club Crackers, but you can't find Keebler's down here. I don't know if perhaps they don't have any hollow trees down here, or maybe elves just don't like the tropical climate. Anyway, they do have Ritz crackers, which are almost as good. My favorite topping for the peanut butter and crackers is apple butter, but you can't find that down here either, so I've been using various kinds of jelly and marmalade. But now I've discovered the palate-pleasing combination of peanut butter and cake icing. I'm now on a can of vanilla icing and it is just as good as chocolate. Give it a try sometime and tell me what you think.

Well, to continue with our travelogue, we arrived in Cay Caulker, Belize, on Christmas Day after a very short and only slightly eventful trip. The water inside the reef in northern Belize is very shallow, less than 6 feet in many places, which is how much depth Stolen Child needs. Leaving San Pedro, both Stolen Child and Daydream bounced on the bottom a few times and each of us got stuck at least once, but not very bad. Ralph was able to motor off when he got stuck and we tied a 5 gallon jerry can of water to the boom and ran the boom out over the beam causing the boat to heel over just enough to allow us to motor off. Once we were a couple of miles south of San Pedro the depth stayed above 8 feet. Cay Caulker has a very protected and placid anchorage on the west side of the cay and we really enjoyed being there after the rocking and rolling we had done at the last couple of anchorages we were in. The town of Cay Caulker is much more laid-back and quiet than San Pedro, but we still found it to be rather busy for our tastes. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stay there. Cay Caulker does not have any paved roads, the streets (both of them) are sand and dirt (or mud, depending on weather). There are no cars, but quite a few golf carts, and the beer is delivered to the various bars and restaurants by a tractor hauling the cases of beer on a wagon. We got a propane tank refilled and I found a local guy who gave me well water to replenish our water tanks. The locals don't drink the well water, they drink rain water they catch in cisterns. We carry 200 gallons of water on board but it had been about a month since we had topped off our water tanks and were down to about 120 gallons, so I got about 80 gallons from him. I used 5-gallon jerry cans to haul the water to the boat. Ralph loaned me his two jerry cans and with my two I could carry 20 gallons on each trip. Each trip took about 30 minutes to dinghy to his dock, tie the dinghy up and carry the jerry cans to his water spigot, fill 4 cans, carry them back to the dinghy, run the dinghy back to the boat, and empty the cans into our water tanks. After repeating that process 4 times I figured we had enough water for a while. The guy I got the water from was really nice. While I will filling the cans on one of the trips, he cut the top off a green coconut and gave it to me so I could drink the coconut milk in it. It was very refreshing.

We left Cay Caulker and went to Cay Chapel on Wednesday, December 31. It was another very short run and this time completely uneventful. There isn't much on Cay Chapel except a posh resort, a golf course and an airstrip. The day before, while still in Cay Caulker, some local fisherman had sold us some lobster and we'd put them in the fridge. After we got all anchored and settled in, Nancy and I swam over to Daydream and had a few Beers with Ralph and Tiffany, then went back to Stolen Child to get the lobsters, which Tiffany cooked in a pesto cream sauce with pasta. It was delicious. Ralph fixed up some coffee with Khalua and rum for an aperitif. I normally like my coffee completely unadulterated, but this was really good. Unfortunately, we drank all of his Khalua and at $40 a bottle in Belize we haven't yet replaced it. Thursday I worked on scraping the hull for a couple of hours, but other than that it was pretty much a lazy day.

We left Cay Chapel on Friday the 2nd and went to St. George's Cay. It was only a 3-hour trip including the time we spent stuck in the mud. Between Cay Chapel and St. George's, there is a narrow channel named, quite appropriately, Porto Stuck. We must have been just a little too far over to one side of the channel because we grounded and Daydream, who also draws 6 feet, was a little to starboard of us and didn't get stuck. We weren't stuck long before one of the ferry boats zoomed by and their wake lifted us just enough to get off and continue on. After we got to St. George's and settled in, Ralph, Tiffany and Max came over and Nancy cooked some lobster we had bought from some fishermen the day before, along with some saffron rice and black beans. Tiffany brought over some boat pie for desert. Boat pie is really good and really easy. You just crumble some cookies, crackers or whatever you have in the bottom of a pan, then mix lime juice and sweetened condensed milk and pour over the cookie crumbs and refrigerate it for a while. It looks and tastes almost like key lime pie. There isn't much on St. George's Cay except for private homes and a couple of resorts. We thought we'd go ashore and have dinner and a couple of drinks at the St. George's Resort restaurant. When we got there, though, they politely informed us that they only serve guests of the resort and cruiser's are not welcome in the bar or restaurant. Oh, well, back to the boat.

Sunday, January 4, we sailed to North Drowned Cay and anchored. North Drowned Cay is just under a mile from Belize City. We thought we might do a little provisioning in Belize City and perhaps see about spending a night at Cucumber Beach Marina, which is just south of Belize City, where we could top off our water and diesel and do some laundry. Monday we went into Belize City. We actually moved the boats and anchored just outside of Belize City, dinghied ashore, and then moved the boats back to North Drowned Cay. The anchorage at North Drowned Cay is not especially good, but it is much better than being anchored just off Belize City, where there is no protection from the north, east or south and very rolly. Anyway, we got plenty of groceries at the Bottom Dollar Grocery in Belize City, including grits, which we had not been able to find since we left the States and we'd long since run out.

We were able to get a couple of overnight slips at Cucumber Beach Marina on Tuesday, but in retrospect, I don't think it was worth the effort. It is a very nice marina and we topped off our water tanks and diesel and got our laundry done, but we got stuck entering and leaving the marina. The marina has a long breakwater channel leading into it and the depth is 8 feet or better for most of it, but there is a short stretch just at the mouth of the breakwater where the depth is about 5 feet. Remember that Stolen Child and Daydream both draw 6 feet. The shallow spot is soft mud, but since we replaced our engine, our prop has been undersized (we have been on the lookout for a new prop and hope to get one in Honduras). Daydream went in first and got stuck but was able to eventually power on through at full throttle. We went in and get stuck, but couldn't generate enough thrust with the prop to power off. Fortunately, a ferry boat was leaving about that time and kicked up enough wake as they passed that we were able to come free. One of the major disadvantages of marinas in general is bugs. Most of the time when you anchor, you are just far enough away from shore that you don't have any mosquitos, flies, or no-see-ums. You get really spoiled. In a marina you usually get attacked by every kind of flying and biting insect known. Needless to say, we were glad to leave the next day. After we took on fuel, I calculated that Stolen Child is using about 0.44 gallons of diesel per hour, which is very good. That is actually a little less than the old engine used and the new engine has about 65% more horsepower. I expect our fuel consumption will increase after we get a bigger prop, but I'm very pleased with this new engine. We also changed the oil, oil filter, secondary fuel filter and cleaned the raw water strainer while at the marina. Leaving the marina we waited for high tide, but still got stuck once again. The tidal range through Belize is usually less than a foot. This time a local boat was on its way into the marina and they pulled us off.

From the marina, we went to Robinson's Cay for an overnight anchorage, then sailed on to Bluefield Range on Thursday, January 9, and then continued on to Tobacco Range on Friday. Tobacco Range is a little group of islands, or cays, about a mile inside the reef that has a very well-protected anchorage in the middle of the islands. We had gotten up and underway early that morning, so we arrived a couple of hours ahead of Daydream. We were just poking around on the north side of the group of islands, checking depths and then started to proceed into the anchorage in the middle of the islands. The chart showed a channel that would allow 6 feet, but maybe we were not exactly in the channel, or perhaps it had shoaled up since the chart was printed. In any event, the depth came up to 6 feet almost as soon as we started into the anchorage, so we put the wheel over hard to starboard, thinking there was deeper water in that direction. Nope. We were almost turned around and heading back out when we went aground, and although we weren't going very fast, we were very solidly aground. We tried hanging a 5-gallon jerry can of water from the boom to heel the boat over a little and then running the jib out, but no luck. I took a halyard (rope) from the top of the mast and tried pulling the boat over with the dinghy, but no luck. By this time, a couple of Belizean fishermen had come over to see if they could help. The Belizeans were named Jaime and Wilson. We loaded the anchor in the dinghy and Jaime (Spanish for Jamie and pronounced "high-may") and Wilson carried the anchor out about 150 feet so we could winch the boat forward with the anchor windlass (this is called kedging). We were able to move the boat, but very slowly. Jaime and Wilson tried hanging off the boom, along with the water jug, but still we were stuck. We ran the anchor back out and started kedging some more when Daydream arrived. We tied a bunch of dock lines together and Jaime and Wilson took one end over to Daydream and Ralph set his anchor and tried using a combination of his windlass and engine to pull us off. We moved a little, but still we were stuck. Ralph repositioned Daydream closer to Stolen Child and we shortened our tow line, thinking perhaps there was too much stretch in the line, then Jaime and Wilson hung from the boom while Ralph and I gave our engines as much RPM as we were comfortable with. Slowly but surely we began moving inch by inch, then finally we came free. We were very grateful to Jaime and Wilson, as they had worked very hard for two or three hours to help us. Unfortunately, we were running low on both cash and beer, the two universal tokens of appreciation. I gave them all the cash we had, which was about $40 Belizean ($20 U.S.) and our last 6-pack of Sol (a very good brand of Mexican beer). They seemed very happy with that, but I would like to have done more for them.

Nancy and I have voted Ralph our personal hero. He's come through for us many, many times. Once, while we were on a road trip in Mexico and had left Stolen Child at the marina in Isla Mujeres, a storm had come through and Ralph, knowing we were gone, checked our docklines and moved our cockpit cushions where they wouldn't blow away. He's always doing thoughtful things like that and is ever willing to lend a hand with whatever you need. Oh, while I'm on the subject of Ralph and Daydream, I have to make a correction. I said in an earlier post that Daydream is 38 feet long, but she is actually 39' 10" long (Ralph seems to be really sensitive about size, hmm...).

After getting free from our grounding, we just anchored on the north side of Tobacco Range instead of trying to find a deep enough channel into the middle. The next morning we moved from Tobacco Range to Tobacco Cay, which is right on the reef. We anchored in 16 feet of crystal-clear water. We thought we'd do some snorkeling and/or diving there. Tobacco Cay is a small island with a couple of resorts on it. These are not ritzy resorts, though, and they were more than willing to serve us beer at the bar. I decided to have a little fun, so I rigged up the whisker pole (a telescoping aluminum pole used to hold one end of your jib sail out when sailing downwind) with the end at full extension high over the port beam. I had a dockline tied to the end and I would stand on the cabintop holding the line, swing out over the water, let go and land with a big splash. The second day we were there, Ralph and I took the dinghy out to the reef south of Tobacco Cay and snorkeled around a bit. We saw dozens of large sting rays sitting on the bottom and several spotted eagle rays swimming around. The reef was quite interesting and good for snorkeling, but there was a very strong current flowing out through the cut and a large surf breaking on the outside of the reef, so we decided not to try diving on the outside. It would probably be pretty good diving under calmer conditions.

Monday afternoon, January 12, we moved on to South Water Cay. Shortly after anchoring, we were sitting in the cockpit when we saw a Belizean fishing canoe approaching. I told Nancy that the fisherman looked just like Jaime, one of the guys who had helped us when we were stuck at Tobacco Range. He got closer and, sure enough, it was Jaime. I should explain about the Belizean fishermen. In Belize City, there is a fleet of small sailboats used for fishing. Each sailboat will carry 8 or so fishermen, each with his own canoe. The sailboat will go to a particular area and all the fishermen will get in their canoes and paddle out to different fishing spots. Each fisherman has a mask and fins and they free-dive for their catch of lobster, conch and fish. At noon and at the end of the day, they paddle back to the sailboat and the boat captain puts their catch on ice. At night they rig a tarp over the deck and some of the guys sleep under the tarp, some sleep in the cockpit, and some sleep in a below deck area in the bow. There is sometimes a cook aboard, as well as the captain and 8 fishermen, so they can sleep 10 people on a 24-foot boat. They stay out for 8 days and then return to Belize City. Anyway, we invited Jaime aboard and fixed him a cup of coffee. He'd finished fishing for the day and was waiting for the sailboat to come up this way and pick him up. We chat for probably an hour or better before the sailboat gets close. While diving for fish, Jaime had found the shell of a lobster, which they shed when the outgrow it (they crawl out of it and grow a bigger one). I've seen bits and pieces of them before, but it is rare to find a whole one and the one Jaime had was in perfect condition. He said he already had a couple of them at home and gave it to us for a decoration for the boat. Just as he was getting ready to leave, he said he had a fish for us, and he jumped down in his canoe and began cleaning a really large jack, which he gave to us. I'm starting to feel bad because I can't think of anything to give him in return. We're out of beer and money, and all I can think of is a ball cap, which seems really inadequate, but I give it to him anyway. He paddles off to his boat and I call Ralph on the radio and ask if he and Tiffany want to help us eat this fish. We take the fish over to Daydream because Ralph's grill is almost twice as large as ours and this is a large fish. Ralph grilled the fish and Tiffany cooked up a very tasty wild rice and mushroom side-dish to go with it. Ralph had a good supply of rum aboard and he suggested I take a bottle over to Jaime's boat, which had anchored near us. When I got to Jaime's boat with the rum, they invited me aboard to look it over. They make these boats by hand from Mahogany in Jaime's hometown of Sarteneja, Belize. This boat was very strongly and beautifully made. It was purely functional, with no amenities to speak of. There was a below-deck hold amidships with a large built-in insulated cooler to keep the fish on ice and a small area for cooking on a single-burner camping stove. There was another below-deck hold in the bow where some of the crew would sleep. While I was aboard, about 5 of the crew were down there watching a Bruce Lee movie on a portable DVD player. It was very interesting to see the boat and how they live and work aboard it. Jaime said they have races among the boats every Easter in Sarteneja and invited us to visit him there sometime. All in all, I have to say that running aground in the Tobacco Range was one of the most rewarding experiences we've had.

We sailed to Placencia on Thursday, 1/15, and anchored at the edge of a very large fleet of cruising and charter boats. A pretty strong norther blew through about 3:00 a.m. Friday morning and Ralph and I chatted on the VHF while watching for boats to drag in the gusty wind. We went ashore a few times through the weekend but pretty much just took it easy. The weather was overcast and drizzly for the most part as one front after another moved through. Monday Ralph, Tiffany and Max were going ashore and their dinghy motor drifted under the dock and the shift lever got broken off. There is a guy in Placencia who works on outboards, but he didn't have a shift lever for that particular outboard, so Ralph jury-rigged it to always be in forward gear. It is a 4 horsepower outboard, so it is pretty easy to start in gear. A large part of cruising is figuring out how to work around problems because it can be very difficult or impossible to get parts and supplies to actually fix them. Tuesday Ralph and I took our dinghy to Big Creek where there is a large industrial dock with a Customs office and a Port Captain. We cleared out of Belize with Customs and the Port Captain, then walked the two miles into the village of Independence to clear out with the Immigrations official. It was a beautiful day and the dinghy ride and walk were quite enjoyable. Wednesday morning we weighed anchor and went to the fuel dock to top off our water and diesel before heading out to Northeast Sapodilla Cay.

We got to Northeast Sapodilla Cay in the late afternoon on Wednesday. Thursday Ralph and I took the dinghy outside the reef to go for a dive. I had a handheld depth sounder, so we found the shelf where the bottom drops off from 30 feet deep to several hundred feet deep. We anchored the dinghy in 30 feet and then dove back out to the shelf. We dove down to 130 feet along the nearly vertical wall, then back up and onto the shelf. The patch reef along the shelf was pretty interesting and there were lots of brightly-colored fish swimming around. Ralph found a stainless steel propeller for a Volvo I/O drive. It was in excellent condition and had obviously not been down there more than a few days. It is worth a few hundred dollars, so hopefully he'll be able to sell it.

Northeast Sapodilla is our last stop in Belize and from there it's on to Honduras. We've spent almost a month cruising Belize and though we've enjoyed it, we're ready to leave. Some friends of ours from the Kansas City area are coming to visit us in Roatan, Honduras, and we are anxious to get there and see them. Sabrina and Tom are arriving early in February and Rob is arriving late in February and we are really looking forward to their visits. We plan to stop in Laguna El Diamante on the mainland of Honduras and in the island of Utila before arriving in Roatan. I'll probably post another log entry after we arrive in Roatan.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Adios Mexico, Hello Belize

Ralph and Tiffany and their daughter Max are some very good friends we made while in Isla Mujeres. They sail a custom built 38 footer named Daydream. They left Isla Mujeres shortly after we did and we decided to wait for them to catch up to us in Xcalac. We got to Xcalac on Friday, December 19 and they arrived on the following Sunday. We both cleared out of Mexico with the Port Captain Monday morning, but decided to wait until Tuesday morning to set sail for Belize.

After clearing out with the Port Captain, we went to the little grocery store to spend all our remaining pesos. The truck that sells fresh produce was there and we were able to stock up on some really nice tomatoes, potatoes, tangerines, avocados, cantaloupes, carrots, and various other fresh items, then bought a bunch of canned and dry goods from the store.

Ralph and I went snorkeling for dinner Monday afternoon. The snorkeling was fun, but the hunting was disappointing. We were out for more than 3 hours and only found 3 lobsters and a smallish flounder. Tiffany took our meager catch and made a really good seafood pasta with some kind of cream sauce.

Tuesday morning we woke up and got underway by 07:00. We had a very nice sail to San Pedro, Belize and made the 25 mile trip in just about 5 hours. The entrance through the reef into San Pedro harbor is a little tight, but wasn't really difficult. The difficulty came after entering and trying to anchor. Daydream went in first and ran aground looking for a good spot to drop their anchor. With Daydream sitting there showing us where not to go, we tried anchoring a little closer to shore, just behind a couple of other boats already at anchor. The anchor didn't seem to set very well and after letting out plenty of chain, we were bouncing on the bottom with every swell that went by. By this time Daydream had gotten unstuck and found a spot to try anchoring. Ralph dropped his anchor and set it, then put on his snorkel gear to see how it looked. By this time we had picked up our anchor and were moving to another spot, hoping for better holding and at least a foot deeper water. Ralph reported that there was only about 4 inches of sand on top of solid rock where he had dropped his anchor, but that he had found a patch of deeper sand and stayed in the water to direct us there so we could re-anchor. We got a much better set on the anchor and we have almost a foot of water under the keel, so we aren't bouncing on the bottom anymore. I then put on my snorkel gear to give Ralph a hand. We found a likely spot and I stayed in the water while Ralph drove Daydream up and dropped the hook. It bit and seemed to hold, but would only dig down about 8 inches, so I just picked it up manually and hauled it manually across the bottom to another spot that looked better. This time the anchor dug down and buried the flukes and the shank, so after almost 2 hours of work we were both anchored. It is a good thing we got the anchors set well, because that night a pretty fierce squall roared through with winds of 30 knots and gusting a little higher, but both boats rode it out without dragging.

After getting anchored, we rushed ashore to clear in with Customs and Immigration, only to find the Customs agent out of the office. The Immigration agent said she would definitely be back the next morning at 08:00 and that we had to proceed directly from Immigration to Customs, so he wouldn't check us in until the Customs agent was there, also. We went back to our boats for a windy and rolly night. in addition to a little swell that makes it over the reef, there are ferries and several dozen dive boats that run through the anchorage at full speed from all directions, so it sometimes feels like you are anchored inside a washing machine.

The next morning, Wednesday, we go ashore once again to clear into Belize. The Customs agent is there, but the Immigration agent hasn't arrived yet. The Customs agent won't clear us through Customs until after the Immigration agent has cleared us. After a while, the Customs agent says she is leaving and will be back in just a little while. Not long after she leaves, the Immigration agent shows up, but now the Customs agent is gone, so we're still unable to clear in. Finally the Customs agent returns, the Immigration agent is still there, and we are at last officially cleared into Belize.

On the way back to the boat, Nancy and I stop for lunch and we can't get over how noisy and full of traffic San Pedro is. There was a steady parade of cars, trucks, tractors and golf carts along the street in front of the restaurant. After eating, we went in search of rum and any other provisions we might need. We found a well-stocked grocery store, but they wanted the equivalent of $40 for a half-liter bottle of Bacardi Añejo. We paid $9 for the same bottle in Isla Mujeres. Needless to say, we did not buy the Bacardi, but instead bought a local rum that was only about $10 a bottle.

Given all the hassle anchoring, all the ferries and dive boats zooming through the anchorage, the crowds and traffic ashore, we have decided to cut our visit to San Pedro short and head for Cay Caulker tomorrow morning, which also happens to be Christmas Day (Merry Christmas from Belize, everyone). We've heard that Cay Caulker is very laid-back and relaxed, and there shouldn't be as much high-speed traffic in the anchorage there.