Sunday, January 22, 2012

 

FREEDOM

Free at last! Bright and early (9am) we tossed off the mildew covered lines, waved good-bye to the staff and friends at Mario's Marina and pointed the bow down-river towards the sea. All systems (chart plotter, engine, engine exhaust fan, running lights, auto-pilot, manual helm, sail roller furlers etc.) checked out perfectly in the first half hour so we were confident that this was really going to be the start of our 2012 open sea cruising season.

I managed to stay awake a couple of hours to knit on a new sock project (secret) but then fell asleep. During my recent work re-organizing storage lockers on the boat I found some great sock  and fingering weight yarns that I forgot I had sneaked brought aboard! Check out this old skein of "Red Heart Super Fingering" 100% WOOL - yes real wool from Red Heart brand. This went right into my current project.

We passed through the beautiful river jungle gorge – I, of course slept through it all because we had to get up at the crack ‘o dawn to get ready to leave and I had barely gone to bed by then. So, no new pictures, sorry.

Jonesy woke me up in time to drop the anchor in the port town of Livingston, Guatemala where the river meets the sea. As I stood guard on both the anchor's ability to stick in the mud and the boat in general (theft issues here) Jonesy scooted into the town to visit our agent Raul who handles all of our paperwork cha-cha dance for both our passport visas and our marine travel documents. Check out this fishing boat with the pelicans loitering on the back. We could actually smell the pelicans before we could see them – eeeew. About an hour and a half later Jonesy returned to the Niki Wiki after successfully checking out of the country of Guatemala (and buying bread and bananas which were not available locally before we left). Already the air was different - much dryer than up in the jungles where we have spent the last 7 months.

Now came the scary part – crossing the very shallow areas of the sandbar which tries to block our path to the sea. We had timed this trip for a high tide exit (1.6 feet) during the daylight hours. We draw 5 ½ feet (our boat measure 5 ½ feet from the waterline to the bottom of the boat) so we needed at least that plus a margin of error for safety so we wouldn’t hit bottom. We need the extra depth from the peak of a rising high tide to float us higher. Plus we needed the seas to be calm with no wind waves so we wouldn’t bounce up and down – it’s the “down” part that may cause us to hit bottom. Our date for this departure was carefully planned to optimize our chances of a safe crossing. Piece ‘o cake…we never saw less than 6 ½ feet of water so that means that we had a full foot of sea beneath us! Obviously, you can see why we needed the high tide and didn’t want to bounce!

The winds and seas were calm that afternoon so we motored for about 3 hours over to our planned stop to anchor overnight at Tres Puntas Guatemala. Jonesy had checked with our agent to ensure that there hadn’t been any violence there lately and we glad to hear that there hadn’t been. Last year we made the trip out to the islands straight from Livingston due to a murder of a cruiser on a sailboat along the same coast a little farther southeast in Honduras. But apparently the violence hasn’t spread north up to Guatemala so we could have a restful night before the 24-hour trip out to the island of Roatan. And peaceful it was indeed. The sea was flat and glassy and there were no clouds. After sunset we sat out on deck under a sky full of stars. The stars were reflected across the flat water so it looked like an endless sky. . Jonesy tucked himself into the berth and I stayed up knitting with my LED headlight.

Early the next morning we took off for some Caribbean sea cruising. I went back to sleep so that I could be awake and alert to knit all knit take my watch at the helm. The seas were still calm and the wind was only 3 knots out of the north – right on the nose again. Jonesy spotted some dolphins which were our only sighting of the trip. If you look closely at this photo you will see the mountains of Honduras on the horizon. Our route takes us far enough way from this dangerous coast, but we can still see it!

At 7pm Jonesy went below to sleep and I knit (and glanced at the gauges and looked about for other ships). Still, it was lovely calm conditions until around 1am. Monsters appeared on the radar screen. At first small dots as if another sailboat had suddenly appeared, but then it grew to the size of an island and was joined by other “islands” all lined up in a row. Dang, I knew what it was then – a line of tropical squalls. For an hour I watched as we approached the squalls. I secured the cockpit by rolling down the plastic rain shields and zipping them closed – and waited. Soon we were in the squalls, but all I got was some higher winds and choppy wind waves which woke Jonesy up. We luckily had passed through the line and not a drop of rain!

Now Jonesy took the helm and I went below. No sleep though because the winds had picked up (on the nose still) and the seas were like a washing machine. I couldn’t stay in one position in bed but was rocked back and forth no matter which way I positioned myself. Finally exhaustion set in and I was out. While I slept Jonesy battled another set of squalls that had the most rain he’d ever seen at one time! The wind blew the rain sideways so that it was forced under the plastic cockpit rain panels and drenched every seat in the place. Meanwhile it squirted under the forward hatch and soaked my newly covered V-berth cushions. But in our rear berth I was safe, dry, and dreaming about new color combinations and stitch patterns for socks.
Roatan Island Immigration Office

Finally, the sun came up as we approached the island of Roatan – right on schedule. Not too early as to arrive in the dark, and early enough that we had time to head to shore to check in with the authorities. We headed to our GPS waypoints for the cut in the reef, motored in and picked up a Roatan Marine Park mooring ball (a good one too because the sailing vessel Pavo Real had just given it up and sailed out as came in).

Within minutes we had dropped the dinghy in the water and scooted to shore to the little village of West End. Picking up a “collective” which is a (12) passenger van for public transportation, we joined 22 other people crammed like sardines for the half hour ride to the main town of Coxen Hole. First stop has to be the Immigration office. Whoops, nobody was there. So we meandered around town and stopped for lunch. We checked again and the immigration officer had returned so we got our passports stamped and bought our 90-day tourist visas (US$3).
Roatan Port Captain and Customs Offices

Next stop was the Port Captain’s office which is right next behind the Immigration building and next door to the Customs (Aduana) office. I know, you can't really read the sign because some of it has fallen down. No worries - it was like that last year too. Everybody knows what it is so why fix the sign?

There was nothing to do but sit and wait. because now it was lunch hour for the Port office. Here's Jonesy waiting in the little park next to the Port Captain's office. See that "briefcase" the older gentleman has open on his lap? Well, it was made of wood! Soon the Port Captain returned and we did the paperwork cha-cha dance to officially bring the boat into Honduras.

So now we are in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. I snapped my hammock into place under the boom of the main sail – ah, back in the hammock again. Already we have social plans; today is Football on TV and domino games at Foster's Grill, tomorrow we meet a friend in West End to deliver dinghy repair epoxy that we carried with us from Guatemala then a potluck supper on sailing vessel Sunbow, and Tuesday is a gathering of cruisers at the Creole Chicken restaurant where we can enjoy island style food in the open air on the beach.

By the currently accepted definition of "cruising", Jonesy got to immediately make a boat repair in an exotic location. Our rear electric head had broken another impeller so he got to take the toilet apart in a small cramped space and replace the part. Yep, we had the replacement part. What was my job? Well I stayed out of his way and knit.

Then I prepared a late lunch/early dinner of chicken fried pork loin, country gravy, baked real russet potatoes, a green salad with fresh tomatoes, and a hefty slice of garlic bread.

Niki Wiki on a mooring Last night I realized that I had not once said the words or phrases "hot" "clammy" "sweating like a pig" "let me cool off before I do that" nor had I used a sweat rag at any time! The bright sunny skies and cool Caribbean trade winds have made life so very comfortable for me. Here's a photo taken yesterday of the good ship Niki Wiki safely on a mooring in the Roatan Marine Park in West End.

Oh! Another green sea turtle just swam by…life is good.

Comments:
NICE You are finally out of paradise, and back to better paradise!
 
I just spent a day in Roatan and wish it had been longer. We were on a cruise and only had time to visit a botanical garden, a bird and butterfly place and the cruise line beach. I look forward to your photos of this beautiful island!
Bonnie from Sacramento
 
Hope the two of you are compiling a shopping list of items for me to bring along in my suitcase. Can't wait to see all of this and YOU first hand!
 
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